Sunday, December 1, 2019

Interview with Michael Drake

The Barcelona-based magazine La Senda del Corazón (The Path of the Heart) interviewed me in September 2019. The interview was conducted by writer, composer and musician Josep Mateo. You can read part of the interview below and the entire interview online at La Senda del Corazón.

Josep: Hi Michael it's a pleasure to interview you for La Senda del Corazón. When did you discover shamanism? How did it change your life?

Michael: I discovered shamanism in 1988 when a friend of mine recommended that I read The Way of the Shaman by Michael Harner. Founder of The Foundation for Shamanic Studies, Harner is widely acknowledged as the world's foremost authority on experiential and practical shamanism. This informative guide to core shamanic practice set me on a new course in life. From this guide, I learned to hone my skills of shamanic journeying. I have always had a vivid imagination, so journeying comes easily for me. I close my eyes as if to sleep, and my inner world awakens.

For six months, I journeyed virtually every day. My trance experiences were healing and empowering. They often triggered the release of suppressed emotions, producing feelings of peace and well-being. The process restores emotional health through expression and integration of emotions.

Once I learned to journey, my shamanic training began. I sought out and met my spirit helpers and guardian spirit, the bear. I communed with the archetypal realms of the collective soul. The spirit world became my classroom and the spirits became my teachers. This was a period of rapid inner growth for me. I was changing from the inside out. A shift in consciousness heightened my awareness and redefined my core values.

I was also tested. We are always tested by the spirits from time to time to see if we have a clear and open heart. You must show the spirit world that you have passion and heart. You must be willing to take risks. It never really ends. You must prove yourself again and again. A meaningful path must have heart. You must surrender the ego. You must give up the need for control.

Over the years, I learned to just go with the flow. The how and why of my circumstances became less important to me than the lessons that I was learning along the way. As time passed, I began to see how my life experiences honed me into the artist I am today. 

Josep: What main elements do you think should be given back to our society to unlock our true human potential?

Michael: We are entering an epic time of change in humanity's evolutionary journey into higher consciousness. I believe that core shamanic beliefs can help us navigate the shift from an old paradigm into a new one. Shamanism represents a universal conceptual framework found among indigenous tribal humans. It includes the belief that the natural world has two aspects: ordinary everyday awareness, formed by our habitual behaviors, patterns of belief, social norms, and cultural conditioning, and a second non-ordinary awareness accessed through altered states, or ecstatic trance, induced by shamanic practices such as repetitive drumming. The act of entering an ecstatic trance state is called the soul flight or shamanic journey, and it allows the journeyer to view life and life's problems from a detached, spiritual perspective, not easily achieved in a state of ordinary consciousness.

The essence of shamanism is the experience of direct revelation from within. Shamanism is about remembering, exploring and developing the true self. Shamanism places emphasis on the individual, of breaking free and discovering one's own uniqueness in order to bring something new back to the community. Shamanic practice heightens the ability of perception and enables you to see into the deeper realms of the self. Once connected with your inner self, you can find help, healing, and a continual source of guidance. To practice shamanism is to reconnect with your deepest core values and your highest vision of who you are and why you are here.

Shamanism is a way of living in harmony with nature, rather than an adherence to a religious doctrine. By practicing this way of being, we awaken our soul calling and our connection to nature. Shamanism is ultimately about consciousness, about learning through attunement to nature. It provides a myriad of responses to the spiritual quest of self-discovery. It emphasizes establishing a personal relationship with the powers of creation. It is a way that embeds us in the living web of life, yielding greater awareness and perspective. Shamanic practice is easily integrated into contemporary life and provides a means of navigating the turbulent times in which we live. 

Read the entire interview at La Senda del Corazón.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Book Review: "Black Elk, Lakota Visionary"

Black Elk was one of the most influential Native American leaders of the twentieth century. His influence flows from the enduring power and wisdom of his spiritual teachings, his lifetime of work with the problems of his people, and the catalytic effect of the book Black Elk Speaks on the revival of traditional religion and culture. Even though many books have been written about the iconic Lakota holy man, Harry Oldmeadow's 2018 book, Black Elk, Lakota Visionary: The Oglala Holy Man and Sioux Tradition, is significant in that it corrects the historical record through drawing upon recently discovered sources and places Black Elk within a universal context that extends across the world's religions. This engaging account by Oldmeadow explores the remarkable life of Black Elk, his visions, his relationship with Catholicism, and his commitment to revive traditional religion and culture. Oldmeadow clarifies from the beginning that this book is not intended to be "a full-dress biography, nor a history, nor a systematic account of Lakota religious life." The 256 page book consists of seven chapters and of three appendices that contain excerpts from letters that help further clarify Black Elk's life and mission.

Black Elk was born in 1863 on the Little Powder River, in what is now Wyoming. Like his father before him, Black Elk became a warrior, as well as a holy man of the Oglala Lakota tribe. Black Elk's early years were spent living the old nomadic life, and he was present at Custer's Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. In the 1880s, Black Elk toured with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show before returning to the Pine Ridge Reservation established for the Oglala in South Dakota. On his return to Pine Ridge in 1889, he became a leader of the Ghost Dance. When the government responded with troops, Black Elk called for armed resistance, and he was present at the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. After being wounded in an attempt to retaliate after Wounded Knee, Black Elk was convinced to surrender by another Sioux chief, Red Cloud. He remained living on the Pine Ridge Reservation and later converted to Catholicism.

Black Elk's conversion to Catholicism in 1904, then in his 40s, was surrounded by great controversy and often misunderstood. The publication of John G. Neihardt's Black Elk Speaks in 1932 put Black Elk in an awkward position in relation to the Catholic Church. His reputation on the Pine Ridge reservation was built as a Catholic catechist, not as a Native spiritual leader. The Jesuit priests at Holy Rosary Mission were shocked and dismayed at the suggestion that one of their most respected catechists still harbored beliefs in the old pagan religion. The monotheistic position that people are supposed to belong to one religion, or at least to one religion at a time in devoted allegiance to a singular belief system, has contributed significantly to the controversy around Black Elk's beliefs. Black Elk, like most Lakota converts to Christianity, was quite capable of moving between two or more religious systems on a situational basis, drawing from each and all those prayers, songs, rituals, myths, and beliefs that satisfied the needs of the particular time. For Black Elk, Christianity and traditional Lakota spirituality were part of one vision, one Spirit.

Although the Lakota elder was embarrassed in front of the priests, he never denied the sincerity of his belief in the way of the sacred pipe. Near the end of his life, Black Elk told his daughter Lucy and other family members, "The only thing I really believe is the pipe religion." Joseph Epes Brown--author of The Sacred Pipe (1953), a fascinating narrative on Black Elk and his remarkable visions--recounts that, "Black Elk says he is sorry that his present action towards reviving Lakota spiritual traditions shall anger the priests, but that their anger is proof of their ignorance; and in any case Wakan Tanka [Great Spirit or Great Mystery] is happy; for he knows that it is His Will that Black Elk does this work."

Though many books have been written about Black Elk, none have arguably explored the entirety of the Lakota holy man's life and the centrality of his universal vision as this book by Harry Oldmeadow. This biography will assist with correcting the historical record and will no doubt spark more interest in the life and legacy of Black Elk. This book depicts how the spiritual legacy of Black Elk is instrumental in representing the ancestral traditions in the pre-reservation era, their destruction, and subsequently a powerful revival that continues today. The old-time Lakota always believed that it was the warriors who would save them. What Black Elk taught his people was to depend instead on something harder to take away than guns--the trust that prayers in their own language, delivered in their own way, would reach the supreme being they addressed as Wakan Tanka.