My journey has been one of walking between the worlds. I have long felt an inner calling to reconcile the opposites and find a new, sustainable way of walking on the planet. For me, this has meant learning to bridge the gap between mainstream religious thought and deep mysticism. It has also been a process of appreciating the contributions of western academic understanding, while also honoring my own lived experience. This has been a lifelong undertaking.
I was a sensitive child, born into a family that valued academics. I grew up in a college town, and many of my friend’s parents were college professors. My mom was a teacher and the value of education was instilled at a very young age. My love for school and learning has been with me throughout my life.
At the same time, I have always had experiences with beings (spirits and star people) that others around me may not see or believe in. Like many children, once I realized that talking about these experiences was not met with understanding, I began to push them into the shadow. Occasionally in my private moments, I could acknowledge their presence. Most of the time, however, I put up blinders and increasingly shut them out. Spending time in nature or with my pets became the only outlets for the more mystical aspects of my consciousness.
Fortunately, my dad’s interactions with the family dogs normalized what I knew about animals. He talked to them as if they understood him, and treated them with love and respect. An awareness of the intelligence, consciousness, and intrinsic value of the animal kingdom was taken for granted by my dad, and his actions provided a life-affirming role model for me. Love of animals and nature was my first experience of the shamanic world. I read stories about animals and shamans. I rode horses on my grandfather’s ranch, often galloping across the South Dakota prairie on Blackie, an old cow-horse who responded to my body’s signals, without need for saddle or bridle. When social consciousness became too difficult to deal with, I sought refuge in the woods near our home. When my Lutheran pastor once stated that animals didn’t have souls, the idea was so ludicrous that I began to question much of what mainstream religion had to teach. Eventually I walked away from both religion and spirituality.
As a young adult, I began working as an engineer for a defense contractor. I had become quite mechanistic in my worldview, cut off from my spiritual connection. In retrospect, although I was alive, I surely wasn’t living. A few years into my engineering career, I became pregnant with my first child. This was my first big shamanic initiation, leading me back to my bigger self. The experience of becoming a parent reopened the door to my sensitive side, and Great Mystery flooded back into my awareness. I responded in two ways. My socialized, academic self decided to go back to the church of my youth, albeit in a more palatable form. I joined a local, progressive Lutheran church and became involved in a number of church groups. Simultaneously, I began to explore my spirituality through yoga, tai chi, chi kung, Reiki, and other energy modalities.
I began to look for a way to bring these two sides of myself back together into wholeness. One of the pastors at my church was a closet shaman. She wove teachings of animal wisdom and mystery into her sermons in a way that truly spoke to me. She talked about the layers of meaning in the Lord’s Prayer that could be uncovered when one went back to the original Aramaic, the inclusive language that Jesus spoke. Her teachings gave me hope.
I decided to take this spiritual journey to the next level, and for me that meant academia. I enrolled in a liberal Catholic university and earned an MA in Theology and Spirituality. I loved the mysticism of the Catholic tradition. All of a sudden I was reading about saints who had had visions and experiences similar to mine. My practicum was in a Spiritual Direction program, and we discussed at length the fine line between mental breakdown and spiritual awakening. I loved the feeling that the dichotomy between my mind and my spirit was coming together. I was so excited to bring my newfound understanding back to my Lutheran church. I fully expected to be welcomed with open arms. However, the church was in transition.
By the time I finished my training, two of my favorite pastors were no longer leading services. The openness they embodied and their call to expand beyond our limited understanding, was nowhere to be seen. Instead, I was treated to a rude awakening when I met with the newly hired senior pastor to discuss offering spiritual direction in what he now considered “his” church. My ideas of inclusiveness and mysticism were met with harsh words and insulting putdowns. I left the meeting and knew that this church no longer was my spiritual home.
I spent the following years searching for community. I visited churches. I signed up for esoteric groups and shamanic trainings. I talked to friends and scoured the Internet. I became a certified hypnotherapist and offered individual sessions and classes in self-hypnosis and past life regression. I found I enjoyed working with altered states, and wanted to find more ways to help people use them. I began to study various forms of breathwork, and that’s when I came across Venus Rising.
My first SHIP workshop was incredible. I was able to revisit some childhood trauma that traditional psychotherapy, as well as all the energy techniques I’d tried, had not been able to release. I spent the entire workshop in a kind of shock, but knew that I was safe and finally getting support in a way I never had before. My initial reason for taking SHIP was to learn a new modality to use with clients. I had no idea how profoundly healing it would be for me.
I completed the first round of SHIP and was well into my apprenticeship when I had a second huge shamanic initiation. I ended up hospitalized, intubated, and in a medically induced coma for what eventually turned out to be failure of my mitral valve, requiring open heart surgery. I literally experienced a broken heart. During this heart initiation, I was taken to the stars, met with my guides, and signed a new soul contract. At one point, I was given the choice to cross over or go back to my current life. It was so beautiful in this place that at first I didn’t want to return. But then, I saw an image of my family and knew that my children still needed a mother. Much like my first initiation, love brought me back from near death.
After I returned, my life was entirely different. I had the same husband, children, house, dogs, and cats. But I knew on a deep, visceral level that everything had changed. I now knew without a doubt that we never die. Life continues on. Love is the most important thing.
As I slowly regained my strength, I returned to Venus Rising to continue my training. By now, I realized that I had found my tribe. Star Wolf started talking about authorizing me to teach SHIP back home in Minnesota. I was overwhelmed at first, wondering how I could possibly facilitate such powerful work. But, I knew that I was receiving excellent training from Star Wolf, Brad, and Ruby. Each facilitator was so different, yet each provided excellent support and insight from their own perspective.
Eventually I founded the first Venus Rising congregation, Shaman’s Hearth Spiritual Community of Venus Rising, in 2010. Since then, I have facilitated SHIP groups and Shamanic Breathwork in many formats. I have found my spiritual home and opened the doors to other seekers who are also looking for community. It is a joy to support people and create a safe space for them to release their own past trauma and drama. It gives me great hope to witness people as they rediscover their own spiritual connection and soul purpose. I have tremendous gratitude for my teachers and the guides who have supported me in this journey.
Of course, there is always more to learn. After receiving a DMin in Shamanic Psychospiritual Studies from Venus Rising University, I decided to go back to school to earn a degree in Counseling and Psychotherapy. Going back to college at this stage in life has been an interesting experience. I enjoy learning about some of the theories and research that support what we in the shamanic world have known for a long time. Compared with other modalities, I’m amazed at the depth of transformation that Shamanic Breathwork elicits. I know that the world is hurting and that it is necessary to continue to bring people together through love and respect.
As I continue to integrate the wisdom inherent in both academia and mysticism, I especially resonate with Alfred Adler’s concept of gemeinshaftgefuhl. This can be translated to mean social interest, or community feeling. Adler found that those who have high levels of social interest, or a sense of community, experience more positive mental health that those with lower social interest. In the shamanic world, this is often expressed in the Lakota phrase Aho Mitakue Oyasin or all my relations, acknowledging the connection between all beings. Linda Tucker, the Lion Queen of Timbavati, uses the phrase “love and respect for all beings”. Linda has created an incredible preserve where wild animals can live in that atmosphere of love and respect, with incredible results.
On a recent trip to Tucker’s Global White Lion Protection Trust in South Africa, I was able to connect with wild animals in a more personal way than I’d ever experienced before. Riding in the back of an open truck, our group encountered and communed with the incredible White Lions that live there. We also received messages from many of the other animals that make the GWLPT home. I received messages from a waterbuck, a pair of jackals, and many other creatures. Several of us were profoundly touched by our communication with Helga the hyena.
Helga lives in Kruger National Park and had made her way to the GWLPT while we were visiting. One morning she stopped in front of our vehicle as we were making our twice-daily visit to the lions. We were all mesmerized by her exquisite beauty. She connected to us deeply with her beautiful dark eyes, radiating love. She let us know that she was with us, and reminded us to call in protection on our travels. This reminder to call in protection came back to us later that day, when faced with a potentially devastating situation.
We were traveling down the highway in the back of an open truck when the left rear tire suddenly came off of the vehicle. Immediately before this happened, several of us remembered to call in protection. The driver expertly guided the truck to the side of the road, avoiding the slope that would surely have caused our vehicle to roll over with disastrous results. What could have been a tragic event ended up as a minor inconvenience.
While the very human, academic, scientific part of myself was irritated by what it perceived as poor vehicle maintenance, the shamanic part of myself recognized the gift in Helga’s loving message. We all felt gratitude toward Helga and spirit for assisting us and our driver from the shamanic realms, allowing us to remain unharmed, in spite of the potentially deadly situation. Like much of life, this was a vivid experience of both/and, not either/or.
As I continue to be a walker between the worlds, I appreciate that there is a bridge between academia and lived experience. I know that if you dig deep enough, religion can become a doorway to mysticism. Both are just different ways of looking at our reality as human beings walking on this earth. Just as we are physical beings, living in a body made of earth, air, fire, and water, we are also mystical beings, infused with spirit. My purpose at this time is to celebrate both aspects of my humanity, and support others in doing the same.