The Heart of Life is an exploration into the depths of what it means to be alive, when the ‘cellophane packaging we wrap around life to keep it safe and sterile has been unwrapped and discarded’. It reveals how the ancient path of shamanism and indigenous wisdom can offer us solutions to the many problems facing the modern world, both global and collective. It offers a unique cosmology that explores how these problems, from potential global ecological catastrophe to the multitude of mental and physical illnesses afflicting individuals, are intrinsically linked and how they can be treated. How the soul sickness that is affecting the modern world may well be the initiation we are going through as a species. This is illustrated through the personal and professional experiences of contemporary shaman Jez Hughes, who cured himself successfully of convulsive fits and mental illnesses using shamanic methods and has since gone on to treat thousands of people in the same way.
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About the Author
Jez Hughes, founder of Second Sight Healing, is a British shaman who has worked full time as a healer for over a decade. He was initiated on the path through a 17-year struggle with mental illnesses and convulsive fits which he used shamanism to cure himself from. He now teaches and initiates people from the heart of the woods in the south of England. He also runs workshops across the UK and Europe. His work has featured on BBC radio, Channel 4 television and in national media. He is also an astrologer, published poet and has worked as an actor.
Read an Excerpt
The Heart of Life
Shamanic Initiation and Healing in the Modern World
By Jez Hughes
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2014 Jez Hughes
All rights reserved.
The Earth's Navel – Healing the Mother
If you were to ask an indigenous villager or community member where the centre of the world is, or its birthplace, they would invariably answer that it is that mountain over there, or that lake, or that rock, or that tree. They would also probably have a great number of stories that confirmed this to be true and cemented it in their mythology.
Reading such stories I could never understand such claims. If Lake Titicaca, on the border between Bolivia and Peru, really is the birthplace of creation, what of all the other places that claim to be the same? How many actual centres or 'navels' of the world could there really be? Surely a centre is a centre; there can only be one? More importantly, where was mine? It took me a while to realise that human beings have an innate need to be connected to the centre of the world; it is where we come from.
Somewhere, deep in our being, lies the memory of being in the womb, going through the most extraordinary transformational process, literally growing from a seed into the being that we are; this complex web of thoughts, limbs, emotions and spirits. That magical, alchemical process we have all been witness to and an active part of, which if we could remember would surely bring us closer to the mysteries of creation.
The birth of life – what greater feat is there in the universe? What greater initiation? And all the while this is happening, when we are being 'dreamt' into existence, or dreaming ourselves, we are in the centre of another person's being, our mother; connected to her through the umbilical cord at our navel. As soon as we are born, this cord is cut and we no longer truly exist at the centre of the world, we have been born into another.
Psychologists, beginning with Freud, have spoken of a desire to return to the womb being a primal urge within the human, particularly male, psyche. Indeed, many have associated the ecstatic spiritual or mystical experiences as being merely echoes of what we felt in the womb, especially those that describe oceanic feelings of oneness with all.
These people suspiciously view these experiences and sometimes the whole of spirituality itself as really the desire to regress psychologically back to the womb, to a state where we were floating in a watery kingdom, not separate or alone as we are here, and with all our needs and desires being met by our mother.
But what if an ongoing experience of being at the centre of existence, not separate from a greater life than our own, one that supports and feeds us in our every basic need for growth, was essential to our wellbeing as humans? What if that extraordinary experience of initiation, the very growth into being within the womb, was meant to be re-experienced here on earth albeit it in a different, more expansive, way – a way in which this connection was not to another human, i.e. our mothers (or partners or lovers and other surrogates), but rather to the earth itself?
If this was the case, then it would make sense, or more importantly be essential to basic primal needs of survival, to know where the navel of the earth was. It would also be essential to have a meaningful relationship with it, both physically through being able to travel there and celebrate its existence, and spiritually/metaphorically through story, myth and ceremony.
What if this need to orientate ourselves, to be able to grow out of our connection to the earth, was one of the essential parts of being human and alive on this planet? To explore this further, we can look at what perhaps happens when that connection isn't there; a situation we very much find ourselves in now in the modern world.
It isn't too hard to observe today the spiritual malaise that seems to infect modern life as we become more and more disconnected from nature. This is reflected in the physical environment that surrounds us. Consider the changes the earth appears to be going through as extreme weather patterns or events become the norm; the loss of so many creatures to extinction and the destruction of the world's forests; a pile of rubbish the size of Britain free floating in the Pacific Ocean; pollution on a level that we cannot even properly comprehend; the wiping out of so many of the indigenous peoples who do live close to and in harmony with nature; a nuclear plant in Japan that was brought down by an earthquake and is poisoning the water; poisons going into our food supply; polar ice-caps melting and endless predictions of catastrophic consequences alongside counter arguments that it's all being made up to keep us in fear.
Images and words relaying these phenomena are being constantly fed to us. All this I feel weighs heavy on our souls and has the cumulative effect of disorientating us and compounding our distrust for nature, for the story now appears to be, even among those who want to heal the environment by bringing attention to what is going wrong, that nature is going to either let us down and not be able to sustain us, or wipe us out as an act of restoring balance. Either way, it doesn't look too good for humans.
I spent a long time working for an environmental campaigning organisation when I was younger and the burn-out rate among those who worked there was huge. There was also I noticed a lack of care that people took of themselves, the problem was always 'out there' and like great warriors they would put themselves to war with those that were causing the damage. Unfortunately the destruction that is being wrought on our environment is felt in our own souls, especially the Body Soul part, and when we're at war with the destruction we can also be at war with our own selves.
To explore this further I'd like to describe a healing I did once for a woman who was in the late stages of cancer. She had suffered a lot of loss in her life including a very difficult relationship with her mother. The feeling of distrust and rejection she felt around her mother was very big; it became clear that it needed healing as the spirits guided me to open a channel of communication particularly around forgiveness with her mother's spirit. She was now in the Otherworld, having died previously. This woman had campaigned tirelessly for environmental rights and had achieved extraordinary things in her life; she was a real inspiration to so many people.
I remember someone, who was also on a similar path, talking after the healing about how he feared she had gone past the point of no return, after facing so much pain in her life, around recent discoveries they had made about the real state of the environment. How desperate the situation was and that in many ways it had taken away her hope.
I remember feeling an overwhelming sadness in that moment, similar to what I had felt in the ceremony and healing. The grief I felt wasn't about death or the illness, in many ways the grief was the illness. It was about disconnection, a disconnection from a mother's love that is there to support and hold us when we are feeling lost and small and unable to cope with so many problems, our own or the worlds.
It is this unconditional mother's love that is so essential to our wellbeing as humans, it literally keeps us alive. We may not have had the blessing of that from our own birth mother; many people haven't and this usually isn't anything deliberate on the mother's behalf. They may have not felt that deep security in themselves that would have enabled them to give unconditionally, for we can only give what we feel inside ourselves. Or we may have experienced that love, but at some point when we become fully human and adult we have to leave that security behind; we have to separate from our human mother's love.
This is what initiation is about. In indigenous tribes it was often carried out in a big way around adolescence, to ritualise this separation. At times this would be dramatised in spectacular ways as the group of initiators would come and literally tear the young people away from their mothers who would be kicking and screaming. The more they protested, the more the young people would know they were loved. This was all done in a semi-theatrical way as the mothers knew their children would be safe and would return, but they had to act as though they were losing them forever, because in a way they were. When they returned they would be no longer children, but adults in their own right.
However, the important thing here is the initiates were not just separated from their mothers and left alone in the world. This is the perception in our Western individualistic consciousness; that we are somehow alone in the world to battle it out and survive. We will explore the nature of this perception later, but it is a perception that keeps us clinging on to parental or familial ties for too long into adulthood.
In contrast, in indigenous cultures, the love and security that was provided by the mother was replaced by teaching the young people to connect with the earth as their true Mother. All the ceremonies and rituals would ultimately be about emphasising this relationship, so the young people knew that whatever they did in life, wherever they went, they would have this relationship with the Mother to fall back on when they needed it. They would be safe.
They would also be taught the responsibility they had towards the Mother as a being that needed constant feeding back and respecting. This also involved learning about how to respect her limits that provided danger in the environment. However, ultimately the earth, the Mother, was seen as a nurturing, loving force. We have lost that, we are disconnected at our navels from that vital support system.
Many people who take on the world's problems do so in a way that assumes a responsibility for them. This is understandable as they look around and often think that no one else is taking this stuff seriously or even acknowledging it: 'No one is taking responsibility for what is happening, so it's up to me then. I need to get the message out there.' For anything to change we need people to be doing this. It's essential that we are to wake up to some of these realities of how our destructive actions are affecting the planet we reside on. Many people are being catalysts for this.
However, when I go into the energy bodies of many of those who are involved in such activities, the darkness and conflicts of the world are often held in there and alongside this darkness are usually feelings of helplessness and heavy emotions such as grief or rage. It is these emotions that are frequently holding the conflicts in place.
Thus, the battle 'out there' is reflected internally. Often, the important thing is that it hasn't been resolved inside. This means that finding resolution or solutions in the outer world becomes extremely difficult, as the outer world will always reflect what is inside. This isn't to say outer action isn't important, as it is vital if we are to change things. To enhance it though, we can also bring ourselves into inner harmony.
This is one of the tenets of shamanism; nothing happens in the world of everyday reality before it has been 'dreamt' first, i.e. before it has existed in the invisible world of spirit. Spirit comes first, and then it manifests in the physical world. What is alive in our internal energy bodies will be what we then attract in the outer world. It is our imaginations that give birth to the world of form. We will explore this in much more depth in the final section of the book. Indigenous people know this simple truth very well. As John Perkins notes in The World as You Dream It, they often look at us in the West or the modern world and say that we have forgotten that all life is a dream and therefore we are creating a nightmare.
I have always had this tendency to let the world's problems weigh heavy on my soul; most healers or people attracted to this path do. An example of this was back in early 2000, at the beginning of my shamanic journey, when I found myself in the desert in Mexico having gone through quite an intensive spiritual exploration with a group of people. Everyone was very tired, including our teacher, and talk got around to the state of the world. This was a time when the Mayan prophecies around 2012 were reaching popularity and as we were in Mexico and had visited many Mayan sites, they seemed especially relevant.
Most of the talk around the prophecies was emphasising some kind of cataclysmic change, something along the lines of half, if not more, of the population being wiped out and the other half getting instantly enlightened, but having to leave the earth to exist on some other plane. I just felt an overwhelming sense of sadness and helplessness at all this talk. I liked the earth and didn't want to leave even if enlightenment was on offer and I certainly didn't want to be wiped out!
To try to resolve these feelings I took myself off deep into the desert to be alone. Except I wasn't alone out there in the wilderness, I was far less alone than I felt inside the camp. There's something truly magical when you can get so deep into nature that everywhere you look (and in the desert you see for what seems like forever) there is no sign of human life or human impact on the environment.
Out there, in that vast wilderness, feeling small and vulnerable, I just broke down with all my frustrations and grief over the destructive path that seemed to be set forth for the world. This was compounded by all the environmental work I had done and the fear for our future this had engendered.
However, as I expressed to the earth all the pain and sadness that was in my heart, I was suddenly struck with just how beautiful and vast the world really was. There was something in the threat (real or perceived) of losing the world that paradoxically connected me once more to it. It was my grief that took me into it, as grief often can.
I realised in that moment that there was still so much of nature untouched, like this desert, and through a connection with that vast landscape my heart burst open as I could feel the invisible power of it surge through me. I was just a tiny part of the world, yet the power of the whole of nature was also within me. I knew then that this power could heal itself, there was easily enough of it to transform our environments and remedy the damage caused by humans. We just have to know that power within ourselves first and not be scared of it.
I then had a vision that I wanted to be part of this healing, not in a grandiose way of saving the planet as I had always dreamed of, but rather in helping people to experience and be healed by the power of the nature that I could feel flowing me. It was this vision that led me to do the work I do today.
If we are able to heal ourselves and our connection with the earth, then we can heal the earth. Or, more accurately, become a part of its healing. In that way we don't have to take responsibility for the problems of the earth, because the problems really live inside us. We're not the bosses of nature, nature is our boss. Or, rather it is our Mother and if we can surrender and really learn to trust our Mother, all can be well because everything will then follow its own natural course.
Indigenous cultures understand this subtle and inter-dependant interaction between the outer environment and inner world of humans very well.
As John Perkins also notes, many cultures would practice 'singing up the sun' in the morning and this process continues today, especially after all-night ceremonies. In this simple action of singing a sacred song to help the sun rise, they would then become part of and immersed within the creation process of the world. They would celebrate and be reminded of the awesome power of the earth, the extraordinary miracle that is a new day.
I have done this many times. I have stayed up all night facing all the mysteries and strange fears that the unknown of the night can bring, touching the raw essence of my primal nature, then calling to the sun as it rises in the morning, feeling its warmth and life-giving properties, and feeling as if I was witnessing and present at the very dawn of creation. Everything is renewed in those moments. I feel reborn and the world feels reborn with me.
Some ancient cultures believed that if they didn't continue to be active in this process of welcoming the sun with their song and renewing the world, then the world would die. I used to consider this idea a lot without being able to understand it, as my rational mind would argue that we've stopped being part of such a process of 'singing up the sun' millennia ago and yet the world is surviving fine.
Excerpted from The Heart of Life by Jez Hughes. Copyright © 2014 Jez Hughes. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part I: The Body Soul,
Chapter One: The Earth's Navel – Healing the Mother,
Chapter Two: Acknowledging and Healing the Wound of Separation,
Chapter Three: Reconnecting to our Wild Instinctual Natures,
Chapter Four: The 'Shadow' in Illness,
Chapter Five: The Prevailing Myth – Healing the Father,
Chapter Six: The Will for Life Becomes a Desire for Death,
Chapter Seven: The Power of Ritual and Ceremony,
Chapter Eight: Learning from the Plants,
Chapter Nine: Integrating the Body Soul,
Part II: The Ancestral Soul,
Chapter Ten: Ancestral Honouring,
Chapter Eleven: Ancestral Healing – Releasing Ghosts,
Chapter Twelve: The Ancestral Wounding of Nations and Peoples,
Chapter Thirteen: An Ancient, Archetypal, Ancestral Myth,
Chapter Fourteen: Healing Ceremonies for the Ancestors,
Chapter Fifteen: Spiritual Confidence through Ancestral Connections,
Chapter Sixteen: Avoiding Fantasy and Healing the 'Scapegoat',
Chapter Seventeen: Integrating the Ancestral Soul,
Part III: The Dreaming Soul,
Chapter Eighteen: Life is but a Dream,
Chapter Nineteen: Personal Stories that Make Up our Dreaming,
Chapter Twenty: Cycles of Sickness and Healing with the Wheel of Life,
Chapter Twenty-One: The Heroic Quest,
Chapter Twenty-Two: My Own Quest,
Chapter Twenty-Three: Returning Home and Integrating the Journey,
Chapter Twenty-Four: Soul Loss, Soul Retrieval,
Conclusion: Integrating the Three Souls of Our Being,