As a long-time shamanic practitioner, I’m often asked how I got my start in the spiritual business. It’s quite an interesting story, and I’ve written a memoir called Machete Woman, which answers this question and more. The TL;DR version is that I didn’t go looking for it; it came looking for me.
A large percentage of my work is helping others to find and develop their own spiritual paths. Some just want to get to know their guides, while others come to their first retreat weekend and then ask to be my apprentice. Obviously, there is a vast difference between these two points, but in all spiritual paths, there are some common elements that can be addressed.
For the sake of simplicity, I will use healer and guide interchangeably in this article, although there are some subtle differences between these two terms.
Why do you want to be a spiritual guide?
“I feel like I’m supposed to be some kind of spiritual healer or guide, but I don’t know what I want to do.” Is this you? If so, this is a great place to start.
If we were sitting together in a spiritual development session, I would be asking you questions, taking you through some exercises, and then journaling what comes up.
One of the first things we would address would be the why. Why do you feel that being a healer is something that you’re supposed to do? This is important to know, because your reason is your calling; it’s what will drive you forward when things get tough.
From my experience, many of us who walk this weird and wonderful road didn’t consciously go looking for it. For some, it may start as an insistent longing, while others get a bag thrown over their heads and dragged into the shadow worlds. Still, others may have started with S and kept following the yellow brick road along to T, U, V, and W before finally landing on X. Ah, X marks the spot!
Each of us has our own unique gifts to share, so if before we incarnate we chose to be some kind of healer or guide in this life, then at some point we will get directed to the starting gate.
In other words, it’s not usually something that you suddenly decide you want to do because it’s cool. Being a true leader with vision and integrity is lot harder than most people realize. With very few exceptions, being a spiritual guide will not make you rich and famous. Those that try to go into it for the imagined wealth and prestige will eventually be unmasked and sent packing.
Mirror, mirror on the wall
When I was studying high ceremonial magick many years ago, one of the books I read was The Middle Pillar Ritual by Israel Regardie. For anyone who is interested in ritual magical practices, Dr. Regardie’s writings are essential reading. In the book I mentioned, he talks about the need to really know the self before engaging in any kind of energetic work.
When I first read this excellent book, I questioned why he would seem to suggest that some kind of psychoanalysis was required before working with any kind of magical system. He believed that analytical psychology and magic are really two halves of one system. Nearly thirty years later, I have found this to be true. This is doubly applicable if one is going to be working with substances that alter reality and produce visions.
Another reason to work on yourself first is that you don’t want to be spewing your own shadow stuff onto your clients. If you are doing any kind of work that involves energetic transfer, such as hands-on healing, you absolutely don’t want to be mixing your crap with theirs. You need to face your shadow side many times over and learn how to harness it before you even try to help anyone else with theirs.
As you work on yourself, preferably with a knowledgeable teacher, you will inevitably have self-doubts.
“I think I’m making this up.”
“Um, I’m not sure I’m getting anything.”
“Well I did get something, but it doesn’t make sense to me.”
Sound familiar? We all go through this phase, but you can’t doubt yourself if you’re going to be an effective spiritual guide. The most important thing is to cultivate a strong relationship with your spirit helpers and then have complete confidence in what they bring through to you.
There are ways of learning to foment this trust, and they all take time. It’s essential to have faith in this divine connection because we are not the ones who do the work: we are simply conduits for Spirit. If your conduit is full of psychic debris, then the truth cannot come through.
Being a teacher or a guide is not something that you do in your off-hours. In most cases, depending on what you want to do, it’s a lifetime commitment. Are you so busy with work and family life that you can only squeeze in an hour or two of spirituality each week? That’s fine; you have to be honest about your commitments. You may need to wait until you have more time free to dedicate to your chosen path.
True spiritual development doesn’t come overnight: it takes years, even lifetimes. If you want to become someone who leads medicine ceremonies, for example, know that it’s much more than just sitting behind an altar and handing out a cup of liquid and singing particular songs.
In my lineage, the apprenticeship lasts about four or five years. Why so long? In addition to learning the various healing methods, a lot of the process is working on yourself. Yep, there’s that thing again. And boy, does your stuff come up to be worked on! It’s not pretty at all! But you have to deal with this mucky stuff so you don’t send it out into a room full of people with whom you’re energetically connected. Can you make the commitment to spend days, weeks, months, and years with your teachers in order to develop your path?
Let’s be honest; good training isn’t cheap. There seems to be this misconception that teachers or healers must give their spiritual gifts away for free or else some higher power will come down and take them away. This is a load of nonsense, and nowadays is usually spouted by people who are looking to get something for nothing.
Every spiritual teacher, guru, master, you name it, has to clothe and feed themselves and their families, keep a roof over their heads and deal with life’s expenses, so this almost always means cash. During my jungle apprenticeships, I have financed expeditions, paid for travelling expenses — not just for myself, but also for my teachers and any helpers, bought gifts for tribal leaders, and so on. Not everyone is seeking such a difficult path as mine, but I think you get the idea.
This is where you do your research. Is the person you want to learn from really experienced in their path? Ask them what their training was like. A true master has literally gone through the deepest underworlds and learned how to come back into the light. Don’t insult them by complaining that they are too expensive. They can take years off your training and produce astounding results. That old adage applies here of you get what you pay for.
How much are you willing to give for life-changing work?
What do you want to do? Can you see yourself in any particular position? During one of my early training periods, a teacher asked me these questions.
“I want to be a healer!” I declared enthusiastically, expecting some kind of smile and head nod of approval.
“Yes, but what kind of healer? There are many types and paths. You have to have some idea of where you want to go before you can start on your journey.”
That really flummoxed me. It never occurred to me that there were different types of healers. I had thought that one simply became this magical person and the path would just sort itself out. Sure, that path will fork and turn over the years, but you have to have a starting point.
You might consider your spiritual journey to be like any other kind of travel. Sure, you can get in your car and just have fun driving around. But if you have a particular destination in mind, you’ll want to make sure your vehicle is in good condition, the tank is full of fuel, and you have some kind of map to follow so you don’t waste a lot of precious time driving around lost.
Handling the difficult stuff
Being a spiritual guide is not always pretty. While genuine shamanic techniques can offer great healing, I have found it useful to continue my education in order to help work with the challenges that inevitably arise. The more tools you have in your toolkit, the more you’ll have to offer.
Being a spiritual guide is not just about calling in angels and higher vibrations. You may be working with someone who carries deep wounds or other things, and you must know how to handle what arises.
Here are three examples taken from my own experiences:
- Let’s say you are running a medicine ceremony and someone starts audibly making some kind of whiny animal sound that becomes a nasty demonic growl. What do you do? You’d better have very clear second sight and a strong connection with your spirit guides because simply telling them to sit up straight and breathe deeply isn’t going to cut it in this case. This is serious business.
- Or maybe you are sitting with someone who really wants to develop their psychic abilities but keeps hitting some kind of block. What will you do if the veil lifts and they suddenly recall a horrible traumatic event from their past that they’d kept buried for years? Do you know how to diffuse a panic attack?
- What if your client has an undiagnosed mental illness? Will you be able to recognize the difference between psychosis and psychic experiences?
The bottom line here is that if you want to open doors into other dimensions, you had better know how to walk safely in those worlds, and how to close the door firmly when you’re done.
I wish you all the best as you embark upon your wonderful journey.