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A Modern-Day Shaman Shares Her Wisdom

by Nick Polizzi: A few days ago, I had the honor of speaking with Sandra Ingerman who has made a profound impact on the world of shamanic healing over the past 30 years….

Her name is Sandra Ingerman and her wisdom stems from ancient healing traditions deep in Siberia, the land where the word “shaman” originates. The presence she holds and the truth she speaks are a testament to the inner and outer frontiers she has ventured beyond.

I’ve wanted to meet Sandra for years, and to be totally honest, I was a little nervous going into this interview. But as soon as we said hello, the cosmic dance began…

In the video below, you’ll see the magic that transpires when I ask this powerful medicine woman how we modern humans can bring the shamanic way of existence back into our daily lives. Her words are a moving tapestry of ageless insights, easy-to-do rituals and a powerful personal story that will leave you feeling empowered and limitless.

Nick Polizzi: Hi, folks. This is Nick Polizzi from The Sacred Science. And I’m here today with a very special guest, Sandra Ingerman. If you’re immersed in the world of Shamanism you most likely already know who Sandra is. Her work has been an inspiration to many of us for decades. A few dear friends of mine have studied with her and the powerful books she has written have changed countless lives, including my own. Sandra is a world-renowned teacher of Shamanism, who has been awakening her students for more than 30 years. She is a best-selling author, who is recognized for bridging ancient cross-cultural healing methods into our modern life, addressing the pressing needs of our times. How are you, Sandra?

Sandra Ingerman: I am doing great. Thanks for inviting me.

NP: It’s so good to be here with you.

SI: Yeah.

NP: It’s been a long time.  I’ve been following your work probably longer than even following mine, because, when I was living out in Colorado a few women that I knew were students of yours and they always, would just tell me these stories of awakening, and connection, and just feeling like they were rooted more firmly in the Earth after they went and visited you.

SI: Oh, that’s great.

NP: So it’s interesting to me, I feel like a lot of people, when they think about Shamanism, Shamanic practitioners, they envision indigenous folks wearing the traditional grab that look like what we might have thought of as being like spiritual healers that National Geographic would have shown us back in the 1980’s. So here we are, we’re in the outback of Africa and here are these people. But you’re someone who’s so respected as being, a pioneer in this world of Shamanic healing here in the States. And I think it would be exciting to kind of hear how you got to this place as an American.

SI: Yeah, absolutely. Well first of all, I was always a spiritual little kid, you know? It was just something I was born with, my destiny.  I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. So we’re talking real American. But, I’d go outside and the trees and the colors, I just really couldn’t believe it. And then when I was seven years old I was hit by lightening, which I don’t remember where I went while I was hit. I just remember my mother and my brother were actually in the room with me. It was a stray lightening bolt, that actually came into our house and threw me against the wall. And I said, “Mommy, I died. Mommy, I died.” And later on I learned that that was a classic Shamanic initiation experience. But I didn’t know that and I didn’t know where I went.

And I did grow up in the 60’s and I did the whole 60’s thing. And did a lot of mind-expansive plant medicines. And I knew that there was something more than what I was experiencing where I lived. Just going to work, and coming home, and drinking beer, and watching TV, and going to bed. And people fighting and crying. I lived in an immigrant neighborhood and everybody was screaming all the time, that’s all you could hear coming out of the windows. And I knew there was something more to that. And then I moved to the Height-Ashbury in San Francisco, but nobody told me that Height-Ashbury had actually been buried. That news hadn’t hit Brooklyn yet.

And then I had another near-death experience where I drowned in Mexico. And that was one of those big near-death experiences going down the tunnel, following out into the light. And then had another near-death experience when I drove my car off a cliff up in Oregon. And I always had a feeling, because I had this expanded spiritual state of awareness due to my time in the 60’s, but also my near-death experiences where I experienced the light, oneness, source, God, whatever you want to call it. And that unconditional love and that unconditional peace. And I knew what the opportunities were for people and for myself, but I had no path.  I just had the spiritual insights, but I didn’t know what to do with them.

And then I was really gifted, I got my BA in marine biology. And then I realized I really missed working with people and I went to the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. And I got my masters in counseling psychology. And while I was going to school there I was working there too, and I was told that a guy was coming out from the east coast and was gonna teach a workshop on something called Shamanism. I didn’t know what it was. And they said I could get two easy units if I signed up for the workshop. I was working 60 hours a week to put myself through school, so two easy units sounded good. And it was Michael Harner, well-known anthropologist. And he was teaching a weekend workshop on how to do what’s called Shamanic journeying. And I had my first journey, and I met up with what’s called a helping compassionate spirit. And he just started answering every question I’ve had in life. And just downloaded an amazing amount of information for me. It was like I found my path, I found a way to work.

I did continue and I got my masters in counseling psychology. I became a licensed therapist and started working with clients. But what I started to notice was those clients who were willing to learn the practice of Shamanism were moving through their issues so quickly. And the clients where we were doing traditional psychotherapy, we were just spinning around in circles and not moving forward. And so at some point I just let all my clients know that I wasn’t doing traditional psychotherapy anymore, and they could stay with me or I could refer them out. And that kind of started some of my Shamanic career. I don’t know how many people know what Shamanism is, and so I can give a very brief introduction.

NP: Please.

SI: The practice of Shamanism is actually the oldest practice known to humankind. We know from the archeological evidence that it dates back over 100,000 years. And I know that a lot of your work has been in Peru and South America. My interest in Shamanism has more been from the central Asian traditions, the Siberian Shamans, the Mongolian Shamans. And the word Shaman itself comes from the Tungus Tribe in Siberia. And it means one who sees in the dark, or healer. And in the practice of Shamanism there are so many synchronicities of the same practices all over the world. And so you know that there was some form of communication going on, tens of thousands of years ago to have very similar practices.

But a Shaman is a man or woman who goes into an altered state of consciousness, either through using percussion, which is how I teach and how I work, or using plant spirit medicine, which many cultures use. And in that altered state of consciousness a veil between this tangible, material world opens up into a beautiful reality called non-ordinary reality, The Unseen Worlds, The Hidden Worlds, The Dream Time by the Australian Aboriginal elders, The Other World by the Celtic Shamans. So there are many different terms. And because Shamanism dates back over 100,000 years there’s a lot of misunderstanding. People think that Shamanism is more, in America, a Native American term. But actually, people practice Shamanism pretty much everywhere around the world. And so everybody listening to this right now, I’m sure, I’m positive, has an ancestor who practiced Shamanism.

And so Shamans go into this altered state of consciousness and go into the unseen worlds, where there’s a wealth of what we call helping, compassionate spirits. Power Animals, guardian spirits, the spirits of trees and elves, and ascended masters, and angels, and mythic figures are all waiting. They have this different perspective on life. They’re sitting in the bleachers watching as we humans are playing the game of life. And they’re going, “No, look to your left, look to you’re right. Move in this direction.” And so they have great compassion for us and they’re trying to lead us into a place of higher evolution and personal health.

The role of the Shaman was to perform healing ceremonies for people who were emotionally or physically ill by bringing back lost power, or bringing back soul essence that got lost through trauma, or taking out a spiritual blockage from the body, or removing what’s called a possessing spirit. But what’s really important to me, and what’s been important for me to share in our modern day world, is not just the classic practice of Shamanic journeying, of getting the help from our helping spirits, and being able to heal ourselves, and being able to heal others on the planet. But Shamanism is a way of life. It’s where Shamans wake up and they greet the sun every day because it was not believed in indigenous cultures that the sun might come up every day. And so when the sun came up you wanted to welcome it and thank it. Honoring Earth, air, water, and the sun for all that it gives us so that we can thrive in life. Honoring nature, and talking to the trees, and the plants, and the animals, and transmuting the energy behind our thoughts.

So as human beings we came here to experience extreme bliss to anger, and depression, and despair. That’s all part of the human experience, what we came here to experience. But in Shamanism thoughts are things. And so what we send out, the energies that we send out in the world end up impacting ourselves and all of life. And so learning how to say, “I am angry about what’s happening in the world right now, but I only want to feed myself and the planet with love and light.” So learning how to transform the energy behind our thoughts.

Words are seen as magic and have power in Shamanism because of the vibration that they have, so that we manifest energy into form by the words that we use. And also our day dreams. In South American Shamanism it’s talked about that we’re dreaming the wrong dream, because everything here is a dream. And so with our day dreams we’re either dreaming chaos and the nightmare that we’re seeing in the world right now, or we’re dreaming beauty, peace, and harmony, and good health, and abundance, and equality. So really watching what we’re day dreaming about, that’s part of Shamanism, we’re really here to be dreamers.

And so because my masters in counseling psychology, and because I was a psychotherapist, my interest in Shamanism is how do we bring the practice of Shamanic journeying, using Shamanism as a way of life, and performing ceremonies, to change our personal lives and to help with the current challenges of the planet. Because in indigenous cultures Shamans worked in very culture-specific ways of the needs of the people. And life has changed. We’re not living in an indigenous culture, not most of us who are listening anyway. And so how do we bring these ancient practices into our life to make our lives better and the planet a better place to live? And there are teachings that go back thousands of years that teach us how to do that, just a few that I have already mentioned. And so “what is Shamanism?” is a big question.

NP: Yeah I find when people ask me that, sometimes you can stumble on it, because it’s such a massive topic. It’s so simple that it’s complex, you know? It’s so old and it’s so rooted in everything that to try to describe it in a sentence is really, really, really hard.

SI: Yeah.

NP: Thank you for painting it in such a beautiful way. I think that something that is inherent in what you just said that is exciting. I mean, there’s so many things I want to jump on here. I want to talk about … I would talk about the spiritual component and the actual spirit, the spirits that you meet during journey, but I feel like what you just spoke about is profound in that it takes the idea of Shamanism away from being a thing that you need to be in a faraway ceremony in some exotic location with some generational master, to being this very simple “no, it really isn’t that way.” In fact, potentially your whole life can become a ceremony if you just start learning some of the basics on how to be, the way of being. How to actually, truly be in this world.

So I would love to ask you, for people who are listening right now, whether or not they are experienced with Shamanism in different ceremonies of the world or not, what do you do?  As a human being living in this world, I’m living right outside of New York City right now. We spend the other part of the year in California near a major city. I’m not saying I’m the spiritual being in a world full of Zombies, because I think everybody’s a spiritual being at different levels of wanting to be awake. I think that there’s plenty of people that are really looking. They have that itch, they know there’s something more that they’re not quite connected to. Like you were saying, when you were in Brooklyn, you knew there was something more. It’s part of the itch that probably got me to do what I’m doing now, too.

What do you do as that person who doesn’t have access? A lot of people don’t have access or the financial resources to go fly to Peru, or to fly to Siberia, or wherever these ceremonies are being practiced. So what do you do as a human being living in the modern world who just wants some more connection?

SI: Well, there are actually pretty easy ways today to do this. You know, I’m not talking to you to push my books,

NP: Haha, please do!

SI: But I’ve written books on how to journey.  The thing about Shamanism, there is a complex issue before I go on – to actually call yourself a Shaman or to be a Shaman. To call yourself a Shaman is seen as bad luck in indigenous cultures because its your community that calls you a Shaman. It’s a destiny, it’s a call, it’s not, “I think I’m gonna be a Shaman.” And I get a lot of those letters. “I think it looks like a good idea for me to be a Shaman.” And actually it isn’t, because the initiations you go through don’t stop and they’re not pleasant. Because a Shaman is a wounded healer, and it’s all about being able to have that heart that’s always open and always being in compassion. And so the spirits do not make life easy for a Shaman.

It’s not the romantic path that a lot of Westerners think that it is. But everybody in the west can practice Shamanism. And there’s a difference between being a Shaman, which is a calling, and you will know if you’re called, there isn’t really a mystery or a wondering about it. There’s no confusion. But everybody can practice Shamanism, everybody can learn how to meet up with a helping, compassionate spirit. And so that’s what my books are geared towards.  Not a person who is looking to set up a healing practice and start to work on people, but how do we bring these ancient practices into our daily life to be able to ask our compassionate spirits.

“I’m having a terrible time with my boss. My boss is not getting me and I feel there’s a misunderstanding.” And not asking what’s wrong with my boss, that would be unethical from a Shamanic point of view. But how do I change my behavior at work so that I’m more successful and I have better communication skills with my boss and my staff. I’m just giving a very practical example of how people today can use Shamanism in their life.

“I haven’t been feeling well, what’s out of balance in my life that it looks like I can bring balance in?” So these are the kinds of things the helping, compassionate spirits can help us with. How do I manifest my greatest dreams to be able to experience the goodness that life has to offer? How do I release through ceremony? How do I do a fire ceremony where I write on a piece of paper that I don’t feel worthy, and I bring that bowl and the fire to the spirits, and say, “Take this from me.”

That’s very simple…You don’t have to travel to another country to learn how to move into a sacred space where you do some meditation, or singing, or dancing, or drumming, or rattling, and putting some music on and letting go of your egoic thoughts, and your concerns, and your burdens of the day. And where you step into the world of spirit from a place of heart, and you say to the spirits, “Please help me. Please take this from me, I’m gonna blow my problem into a rock and bury it into the Earth. Please take this pain and turn it into fertilizer for the Earth so that new plants can grow in the spring from what I just released.”

These are really simple things that we can start to bring into our life to bring the sacred into our life. And to wake up and start to think about what am I grateful for. Instead of “this is gonna be a really bad day. I know what I’m getting ready to face.” Instead of starting your day like that, which creates a foundation, starting your day with, “I really enjoyed seeing that flower in the park yesterday.” Something really simple. And when you start your day like that it changes your life. And the thing about Shamanism is that the principles are so simple, because they come from a pretechnological culture.

So learning how to give thanks, and to go to a park and sit by a tree, and to just open yourself up. And when you sit by the tree see if the tree communicates to you by giving you a symbol or a feeling.  Feel it in your bones the tree just tried to connect with you. Or you hear a message from the tree,  opening up your senses. Or you take a walk in a park in New York City, or San Francisco, or any large city that you are in, and you say, “I need to make a choice between these two relationships, or these two job offers, or whatever. And I’m asking for an omen.” And when you think about one a rainbow shows itself in the sky. When you think about another something else shows itself. The sun, the clouds go over the sun. That’s Shamanism.

And when you start to bring these very simple practices into your daily life all of a sudden you realize that there’s more than just the tangible world, and collecting more material objects, or getting a new device, or whatever. All of a sudden a veil opens up where you realize that you live in a bigger universe than you were originally thinking. And that there’s magic. There’s challenges, that’s nature. There’s life and death in nature, we see it constantly. There’s change in nature, we see that constantly. And so part of living a Shamanic life is also learning how to ride the waves of turbulence, like we’re in right now in our culture. And not to go down with the collective.

A Shaman would say to you right now, “Start to dream a good dream for all of life. See, hear, feel, taste, smell. Step into the world that you want to be living in and look out from that world and operate as if that world has been manifested into existence now. Be a dreamer.” And a Shaman would also say that, “The turbulent waves that we’re going through right now are bringing us somewhere. They’re helping us to sculpt away our ego and to allow our spirit and our light to shine through. Because who we are beyond our skin, our body, and our mind, is we’re spiritual light. And we actually have the same power as the spirits, it’s just that we chose a body and we chose a role to play out this time around.

But part of the practice of Shamanism, too, is remembering the truth of who you are, which is spiritual light, and to shine that light. And so in the times that we’re in right now, the fabric of reality is dissolving intentionally, because it’s not working, it’s not supporting life. And so the turbulent times that we’re in are helping to sculpt us into the spiritual beings that we can be and evolve with the Earth changes. There is a reward at the end, there is illumination at the end of the dismemberment that we’re all experiencing right now. It’s all part of the practice of Shamanism.

NP: Thank you, thank you for that. My head is swimming with questions for you. I feel like there’s so much, so many tools woven into what you just said. There’s so many little takeaways, whether it’s the physical things like infusing a rock with something that’s no longer serving you, or the fire exercise where you write something on a piece of paper and you offer it up to the spirits. But all the way through to just the essence of what you’re saying as being.  It’s not only shadow work, but it’s just sort of this idea that challenge helps us. What’s the Rumi quote, “The wound is where the light enters you.” So it’s the idea that the struggle and the suffering is really a catalyst for our own spiritual transformation. It’s a way of us trimming the fat and getting more pure and in alignment with who we actually are and who we want to leave this world as.

I just want to ask you one more question and it’s about spirits. There’s a lot that we’re talking about here. Spirit, spirit guides, however people might want to think of them, these other beings that are there waiting for us, as we cross the veil that separates this reality from the other, the mystery, The Invisible World.

Do you believe that these spirits are actual spirits that have their own consciousness that have been, maybe at one point, inhabited living bodies? Because I think people hear the word spirits they think about things like ghosts. Is it more of a metaphor that helps our human brains that sort of cling to these, because they need some kind of a frame of reference? To put something on an energetic being or just a source of energy that might be hard to describe using words?

SI: Yeah. Well, for me, I’ll talk about for me and what I teach. What I teach is that, number one, the spirits are the intermediaries between us and source. Because source is just oneness. It doesn’t recognize us as egos, it just is a brilliant light. And so the spirits are intermediaries. But they’re also formless, they’re dead, they’re deceased, they don’t have a form. They no longer have a body. But what they’re willing to do for us is they’re willing to take a form for us that speaks to us on some way as a human being.

And sometimes we don’t even understand it. Like some people get a mouse as a power animal, and in Eskimo traditions mouse was seen as one of the most powerful power animals that you could have. Mouse has a lot of different teachings to teach us about how to navigate through life. And for some it’s an eagle. For me, the goddess Isis manifested. But she’s formless. For some people it’s Jesus, or Mary, or Buddha, Kuan Yin. And so the spirits take a form not necessarily because we want them in that form. The spirits might take a form that we’re afraid of, like a snake. But they come through and they teach us very, very individual lessons. And they help to show us where to put our next step.

What I’m trying to teach right now in Shamanism is that we’re also formless beings and we’re also beings of light. And I feel that we’ve put a little bit too much form on the spirits, because our personality needs it. And we’re taking away some of the power of what they can bring through as these formless frequencies and energy. And we take away the power of what we can do to serve the planet because we get so stuck in our ego and personality.

And so I’ve been teaching people more and more how to contact their own spiritual light, radiate that like a star does in the night sky, or like the sun does every day. And that healing, that light brings the frequency that uplifts the whole collective. And when we join that with the formless energy of the spirits, and we get away from our habitual need for methods and techniques, but work with our formless energy, and the formless energy of the spirits, and the energy of light and love, there’s nothing we can’t do. There’s nothing we can’t change, there’s nothing we can’t transform. And so I think that’s the evolution of consciousness today on the planet in the 21st century.   Learning how to work more from a place of unity, and more from a place of feeling empowered by our own spirit, and working with the formless energies from the unseen realms. Does that help?

NP: It totally helps. But my brain is just racing. I’ve got so much to think about now after we get off this call. I think that people who are watching are probably feeling the same amount of richness. There’s so much to process. But thank you for putting words on phenomena that are very hard sometimes to describe and to understand, unless you’re experiencing them –  unless you’re in the middle of them – in which case most of of us still can’t usually describe them.

SI: Yeah, and I also wrote free articles that are on my website and there are YouTube videos. And I really do make it very easy to explain and understand for people to absorb the basic principles of what Shamanism is about and what the positive of that practice can bring into our lives right now.

NP: So if people want to go deeper with you what’s the best way to do that?

SI: Well, the first step would be to go to my website, I write a free monthly column, I haven’t missed a month since 2000, where I keep people inspired. And so just reading that and some of the articles will help. I have taught a bunch of online courses that are still available to sign up for. So if you can’t travel to a workshop there are online courses that take you step-by-step through Shamanic journeying and how to perform a ceremony. And then one of my latest books, “Walking In Light,” has everything that we just talked about, all in one sweet, little book that you can go through slowly and start to learn how to bring the sacred into every moment of your life.

NP: Walking In Light, that’s what it’s called?

SI: Yes. Yeah, Walking In Light: The Everyday Empowerment of a Shamanic Life.

NP: Oh my gosh. I have not read that one. I can’t wait to read that. People who are watching right now on Facebook Live might not get the links right away. But people who are watching this on our blog will get all these links underneath the video. Sandra, thank you so much for joining us today. It was really an honor.

SI: Yeah, it’s an honor for me, too, Nick. And I’m always happy to come back on, lead your group and some experiences that help the group go deeper into the work, too. So we’ll stay in touch with each other.

NP: Really? Oh, my gosh. That’s amazing. I would be honored. Oh, my gosh. That makes me very excited. Thank you. Yeah, we’ll take you up on that, for sure.

SI: Yeah, and thank you for all the brilliant work that you’re doing.

NP: Yeah, well, you helped lay the foundation. So really appreciate it.

SI: Yeah, thanks. Many blessings to you and to everybody listening.

NP: Likewise.

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