Consent in healing practice and spiritual communities is something that I bump up against very very often and yet I find is seldom spoken about. If it is, it tends to be short, vague, and encompasses the moral absolution of simply adding "for their highest good" before carrying on. To me, this conversation is essential. Not only for practitioners, teachers, and facilitators to have with those they work with, but for All Of Us. It is relevant in circumstances we regularly encounter in our day-to-day, everything from blowing out birthday candles and wishing on stars to social media pleas and conversations over tea. It plays out in a variety of ways, but here are a few common scenarios that I encounter:
I speak a firm counter stance on this and lay down strict parameters for those I am working with. There are only two.
The part I really want to speak to however is the hard truth that we can't assume to know best simply because our compassion is engaged. Humans are incapable of fully understanding the complexities, intricacies, and ramifications of any given event, particularly as time unfolds or the different realms it may affect. Heck we can't even see a full range of light and colour. Not even hear a complete array of tones and pitches. Yet a common consensus appears to be that we can freely impose our will over another when we think it is for their "highest good" or that asking the person's "higher self" or "spirit guides" for permission makes it okay. Perhaps even we double check later with that person to find they appreciated it, providing fuel for justifying this habitual response.
Myself? I believe this way of thinking to be out of integrity and dare I say, downright sloppy.
Let me explain by sharing a few true stories:
You may be familiar with the story of the man who helped a butterfly emerge from its cocoon. Essentially the butterfly could not fly because its wings had not developed the needed strength provided by breaking free on its own. I am not one to "love and light" anyone's hardship, or tell someone in the thickest dark night of the soul that "everything happens for a reason", but I also wont deny someone the transformative insights or strength of character that can only be found in our broken places. Who am I to impose my Will on another person's situation without their knowledge nor direct consent? No matter how rotten, no matter the suffering, how would I know that isn't the divine plan, pre-chosen soul path, or the exact poison needed to deliver the most potent medicine? What if our collective prayers inadvertently remove a stepping stone leading to their best life? most suited partner? invaluable wisdom? Is it okay to infringe on another's free will because we tag on "for the highest good"? What if their higher self says Yes but they themselves say No? Are we 100% certain we haven't projected our desire to fix into that divination? Is it enough to go against a conscious dissent?
What can we do?
Inquiring if someone is open to receiving your prayers or healing intentions, even if you have been friends for decades and you've done it a million times, shows respect and integrity. Every situation is different and what may have been okay before may not be this time. If it is someone you don't know well, or has beliefs other than our own on such matters, pay attention to the language used in asking for consent. If they think healing energy or divination readings are too "woo-woo" or aren't real, see if an equivalent that makes sense to them can be found. Even if it is something like, "Do you mind if I imagine you free from this challenge?" or "Are you okay with me meditating for an answer on this?"
It might be inappropriate or impossible to ask for consent leaving us with an uncomfortable feeling of "doing nothing", and sometimes we just have to sit with that. I like to check in honestly and ask myself if I am able to trust in knowing they have their own wisdom, their own senses, and their own journey in a matter or if I might actually be doubting or accidentally being condescending toward their natural abilities. Simply regarding, noticing, and appreciating someone is a powerful act. Quantum physics shows us the impact an observer can have in situations of all kinds from particle waves to ph levels of water. We aren't doing anything beyond witnessing something already present like their tenacity or the light of their life force.
What about the exception I mentioned for young children?
I recognize that small dependent children turn to their parents for all of their needs and it is up to us to draw on our skills and supports to do so. Whether it is applying aid during an illness or keeping them safe. It is expected of us. Wanted. Needed. Prayers and healing work included. I say "limited exception" because in my experience folks tend to want to push those boundaries toward pubescent and full grown adult children or stretch into areas that are life or behaviour controlling. Removing a troublemaking friend of theirs during a fire ceremony is different than praying for their ability to make wise choices. It can be exceptionally difficult for parents to honour a child's autonomy, resiliency, and need to make their own way through the dark woods. It can be hard to know when it is right to hold their hand, when we should stand beside or behind, and when to plain stay out of it. Clarity is good. Ask them.
This has been a long one. Much gratitude to readers who have made it this far. It is an area that I am passionate about, aim to follow, and am quite firm on since it comes up so often in my work and gatherings. Of course it is not always appropriate to broach in the heat of a moment either. It was time to put it all in one place and share out from here.
A bean feasa of Gaelic heritage shares stories & insights from her animist and 'shamanic' practice on the West Coast of Canada.