Indigenous Wisdom

In the 1980’s I began to experience ancient healing practices.  I have travelled to a number of countries throughout the world since then.   My experiences were so profound that I began studying them myself and continue to be a student, recipient, and now practitioner of this beautiful medicine.

We live in a culture whose medicine focuses on the levels of the body and the mind. Shamanic healing focuses on the heart, soul, and spirit.

We live in a culture whose medicine focuses on the levels of the body and the mind. Shamanic healing focuses on the heart, soul, and spirit.  The shamans and healers I have experienced indeed were somehow able to touch me in a very deep way.  Their open hearts helped mine to open.  The trauma I had experienced as a child of two alcoholic  ( sometimes violent ) parents healed in ways that years of individual and group psychotherapy had not been able to touch.  My heart is full of gratitude to my healers and teachers from Bali, Australia, Europe, the Philippines, and North, South, and Central America.

My first and most recent exposure to ancient indigenous wisdom was with medical anthropologist Alberto Villoldo Ph.D.  I stumbled on some cassette tapes of lectures he was giving about what he was learning from his experiences in the Peruvian rainforests and Andes.  In the 1970s Alberto had been hired by a drug company to go to the rainforest to find plants that could cure cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.  He was disappointed to find that no one knew of such cures, because those diseases were unknown in that part of the world.  While in Peru he became ill with pneumonia.  When his body failed to respond to antibiotics, a shaman was able to heal him using an ancient method of energy healing.  Since then he has written and taught the wisdom and healing practices of the ancient Inkas.  He gives workshops and is author of 17 books.  I was finally able to hear him teach in person at a workshop he gave at Omega Institute in New York last fall.

The shamanic teacher with whom I have studied the most is Sandra Ingerman Ph.D.  I met Sandra through an organization called the Foundation for Shamanic Studies founded by a psychologist,  Michael Harner Ph.D.   In the 1990’s I read Dr. Harner’s book called The Way of the Shaman.  Dr. Harner had spent years traveling around the world studying indigenous cultures and shamanic healing practices.  In my studies with his foundation, I learned the principles of what he called “Core Shamanism.”  Even though the various cultures he studied used different tools, he found that the basic principles were the same.  Like Einstein’s formula E=MC2, everything we know is made up of energy, and energy and matter are interchangeable.

A shaman’s work is conducted in the energy world.  The shaman travels into the energy world to do the work.

This is where things that seem strange to us, such as the use of rattles, drums, dancing, singing, chanting, feathers, plants, etc. come in.  The shaman uses these tools, depending on what part of the world they are in, to access the altered state.  It is the altered state that allows the shaman to travel into the energy world.  In this context, it is easier to understand, for example, the rhythmic dances of the Native Americans and Africans that may go on for hours.

Sandra, a student of Harner, wrote a book called Soul Retrieval.  She explains that in the shamanic philosophy, someone who suffers trauma experiences a “soul loss.”  In psychology, we call this “disassociation.”  Someone who experiences a severe trauma, such as experiencing war, rape, violence, an accident, or the unexpected loss of a loved one, may feel like they are not themselves.  They may feel detached, depressed, or constantly anxious.  The shamanic explanation is that when a person experiences these kinds of things, they may detach from their body as a survival mechanism.  For example, who wants to be in their body to experience a head-on collision?  When the danger is over, they are meant to come back into their body.  However, this doesn’t always happen.  If the trauma is ongoing or particularly severe, all the “soul parts” may not come back.  A shaman would say those parts are hovering in the energy world waiting to feel safe to return.  The shaman’s job is to travel into the energy world, find the soul parts, and help them return.  We are particularly vulnerable during our formative years of 0-8.  It was the soul retrieval work I experienced throughout my healing process that was particularly helpful.

My studies with Michael Harner and Sandra Ingerman helped me understand at least some of what my indigenous healers were doing when they were doing their healing work with me.  There was often a culture and language barrier.  All I knew was that something profound had happened with the healers I saw and most of the teachers I had.  There were a couple of exceptions.  Those are important as well because learning discrimination is always good.  This kind of healing is not a magic bullet or the instant fix we seem to seek in our modern lives.  I know that at least in my case, my healing was incremental and took time.  It also took commitment as it isn’t always easy.  But I would not trade these experiences for the world, and my gratitude toward the shamans and healers who helped me heal my heart and soul is beyond words.


Bonnie McLean
Bonnie McLean
Dr. Bonnie McLean O.M.D, A.P. has been in practice for 36 years. A graduate of Duke University School of Nursing, she practiced nursing as an RN for 20 years before embarking on her studies in natural medicine, which included an MA in Counseling from Pepperdine University, a Doctorate in Oriental Medicine from California Acupuncture College, and training in energy medicine and shamanic healing. In addition to her holistic acupuncture practice, she is a writer and speaker. She is author of Integrative Medicine: The Return of the Soul to Healthcare, which can be found on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Bonnie is a contributing author to the inspiring book Crappy to Happy: Sacred Stories of Transformational Joy

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