The Shaman

Atop Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

“Why are you here to see me?” I loved it. I felt like Luke meeting Yoda or Aragorn consulting Elrond. The fantasy of journeying to see the mystic in a cave was buzzing inside me. The bus and taxi weren’t the epic journey I’d hoped for, but I’d just leave that part out. There I was and the shaman was asking my purpose.

In broken Spanish I managed: “I want to know my soul.”
“Are you starting a new business, do you want good luck in love?”
“No, no I want to see God”
“Are you here for health, is a family member sick?”
“No, I want to know Reality, the big Truth, my soul”

I was grasping at straws as it became clear that the problem wasn’t my Spanish. After a donkey ride, snorting sugarcane moonshine and the shaman spitting perfume on me the fantasy fully crumbled.

Years earlier in Ghana I had attended my host family’s church. The two-hour sermon was about how becoming a Christian would help your health, job and marriage. I spent the two hours worming in the balcony wishing my host family were atheists.

I found this same experience throughout my travels in the third world: whenever I went in search of a spiritual escape I instead found a spirituality thoroughly embedded in the worldly.*

At first I judged these practices as missing the point. But, of course, I was the one missing the point. Their spirituality was addressing a different set of needs.

This leads me to believe that spirituality is a tool. A tool for connecting with whatever is unseen and unknown. This tool can look like meditation or prayer. This tool can also look like spitting perfume and throwing baby powder (apparently). Either way we are asking the unseen and unknown to meet our needs.

For my friends in Ghana and Peru health, job and relationships could all be shaken in an afternoon. So safety was their appeal to the unknown. Here in the US when our physical needs are met we are left to sort out our psychological needs.

These needs create an unfamiliar terrain without a map. Finding food is a direct path. Finding purpose is a bit more like bushwhacking. So, we get the maze of winding paths that range from evangelizing to following phish.

In all cases the adage holds: what I think about God says more about me than about God.

But we’re still left with the question of how to find that purpose. I used to think that spirituality provided meaning in and of itself. Instead I’m coming to believe that it is another tool to guide our movement through the hierarchy of needs.

Meaning and purpose come from the movement itself; from rising to and above the obstacles before us. In that movement we fully become ourselves and that actualization is the whole reason to see the shaman.

Maybe that perfume and baby powder worked after all.

*No doubt there are also third world countries where the spiritual practice is bent on escaping the world.