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.
Stepping into Ceremony
When we are well prepared and present to intention,
we set the stage to safely step back and allow healing to move through us
without trying to control or struggle toward a perceived goal;
opportunities unfold to perceive medicines and divine wisdom
greater than we can imagine.
An Initiatory Experience
An initiation marks a distinct time of "before" and "after". The kind of experience that, at its extreme, will feel like a complete life over-haul, almost like we have been reborn or achieved a new level of depth/height in awareness. Everything is somehow different or has shifted in a fundamental or cellular way.
Often it is a rite of passage, deep ceremony, intense personal medicine work, vision quest, or healing event that creates a significant shift in the way we relate to and experience the world. It steps us into a new phase of life or welcomes us into a community previously unavailable to us. It applies also to unplanned events like serious illness, accident, or tragedy, as well as natural life stages such as birth, puberty, menarche, labour/birth/parenthood, coupling/uncoupling, menopause, eldership, and death.
As I have learned it, there are 3 distinct phases to an Initiation.
Severance. Threshold. Integration.
Others may have different names or words to describe them, but the essence seems consistent in my experiences and observances so far.
The preparation phase. This is the lead up to the experience, and is when the healing work actualy begins. Sometimes as early as the moment when we commit to the opportunity. We go through a phase, consciously or not, of acts of letting go of our life as we know it, saying Goodbye to all that is familiar, releasing our grip on the anchors that make us feel stable - patterns, beliefs, relationships, perceived goals and desires, daily constructs, ways of relating, ways of being, ways of thinking - and cutting all ties to the way things are.
If you recognize you are in the Severance stage, you can support and deepen this process by:
This is where we cross over from the "before" to the "after". It is the Experience that changes us or the culmination of experiences that leads us to a pivotal threshold or doorway to step through. It may be marked by ceremony, ritual, vision quest, dark night(s) of the soul, a period of deep healing, or it may not even be fully recognized while in the thick of it - particularly when without the witnessing of community or when the experience(s) are viewed as trauma without resulting gifts.
When in this stage, you might support and deepen the experience by:
Often considered the hardest part, and sadly too often overlooked - integration occurs when we are able to Return to our usual life and keep the gifts we have acquired intact. We are challenged with bringing our internal shifts outward to affect change in our day-to-day living and resist falling back into old ways of thinking, reacting, and being. Many times this transition isn't easy, might be messy, and perhaps feels a bit chaotic as things shake up in order to fall into more harmonious places. Touching in with any community, elders, or teachers that held us through the Threshold phase can be a wellspring of anchoring resources.
When in this stage, you might support and deepen the experience by:
A few years ago I wrote some practical, hands-on, tips and suggestions for integrating the medicines from the Threshold, and bringing all of the unseen, personal, inner work Out into our mundane living experience. If you would like more on the Integration phase, find yourself post-ceremony or have recently undergone a personal healing session, please read "Integration ~ the often overlooked time after soul-work".
If you would like personal and direct support as you move through any of these stages, you are welcome to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or book a consultation.
One aspect that I have noticed is that when we do not fully immerse ourselves in the season at hand, we can begin to fall out of alignment, or out of step, with the natural cycle of energy present all around us. This will contribute to S.A.D., lead to frustrations, longing, and have us either scrambling or working against the natural flow of life. Returning to synchronicity and reverence is perhaps easier than one might think! June's Return to Reverence column in the PRL magazine offers up some simple practices that can be incorporated into even the busiest day seamlessly ...
Ahhh summertime soul-work season is upon us! So many exciting, deep, fun, and powerful opportunities for collective yet also personal healing work. Solstice celebrations, fire ceremonies, the Conscious Goddess Festival, workshops, vision quests, plant spirit experiences, spiral dances, labyrinth walks... yummmm! Such good stuff! and yet... afterwards...
What happens after?
After such moving and personal healing work, after our heart-felt connections and tribe building, we head home. Back to our mundane world of jobs, spouses, kids, emails, bills, television, grocery store lighting, facebook trolls, rigid scheduling or simply home alone to more solitary and solo lives...alone. Yet you just had this powerful, earth shattering internal experience! and these two worlds may feel like separate realities that really have a hard time even coming close to meeting. You might feel irritated, discombobulated, frustrated, having strange dreams, or simply dying to convey your amazing insights to others who can't fathom its depth. You might even just forget - like a lost dream upon waking.
This time of Integration is often considered the hardest part of any initiatory or deep healing work.
I can tell you from my experiences as a brainwave technician, as well as my personal development, and field of shamanic practice - this happens much more often than is desirable. It happens in the realms of medical, mental health, spirituality, alternative therapies, and training schools - this western workshop mentality has forgotten how to hold people all the way through to the other side of Integration. There is a lack of guidance and support for people working to bring their new gifts, healing and insights into their regular lives. (and actually the personal process often starts BEFORE the event!)
Here are some tips to support this sensitive and important time:
A bean feasa of Gaelic heritage shares stories & insights from her animist and 'shamanic' practice on the West Coast of Canada.