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Some Stories

The sick woman’s eyes roll back into her head–but they stay open. White eye-balls stare blankly at the mud ceiling. She begins to convulse, shaking erratically like a puppet tied to the shaman’s drumming. It was only four minutes into the healing ceremony and I was already questioning my ability to make decisions. Decisions like inserting myself into a remote Nepali hill-village full of exorcisms. Decisions like hiring a freshly recovered heroin addict off the streets as my interpreter.

In truth there really was no pressing reason for me to be there. In Nepal. In a tiny hill-village called Tutung, 8 hours east of Kathmandu. It was a village where many still had yet to see a westerner in person.  Their gift was me: an awkward 24 year old photographer who wanted to witness something.  A change in scenery from good-natured banalities and shopping cart conversations.  I arrived with innocent, New-Age questions too, of course.  Questions like does the power of belief actually heal a person physically? Is there something to this soul-body connection…the one that western culture has painted with magic markers, assuming it’s only naivety?

These are the predominant questions that interest me while I sat in front of the shaman’s mud hut, ready to watch the first ceremony of the week. But once the drumming begins I suddenly forget what I’m looking for.  All I can take in is the shock of what I was seeing:

The sick woman’s body slumps backward unnaturally, falling into her husband’s arms, as her own flail and grasp at the invisible. The woman’s once timid demeanour has been replaced instantaneously with a psychotic, half-conscious seizure: her limp body moves like it’s held by strings attached to every stroke of the instrument. Although her eyes are vacant and white, her shrieks are full and ear-piercing. But then suddenly she stops and lies limp in her husband arms.

 

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In her momentary stillness, she is placed to sit under a structure of leaves and mantra designs. But then the shaman’s drumming becomes urgent, so her body matches its stride. She bursts unnaturally from a weak, seated position onto her feet. Her feet are glued together but jumping drastically and uncontrollably to the sound. They trample the structure. Once weak and unable to stand, the woman is now suddenly moving in unnaturally powerful, consistent leaps.  High enough that she almost reaches the ceiling. Her eyes suddenly open: they look wild and terrified. The eyes of someone who is not in control of her own body.  At least, of someone who believes she isn’t.

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The sick woman is not the only one who looks horrified: I’m sitting right in the front of the hut patio watching this ‘healing’ take place and my eyes are the size of baseballs. I turn to my interpreter, Dinesh, with a giant question mark creased into my clueless, western face. He’s smoking, as usual, and staring absent-mindedly at the scene. Finally registering my stare, he ashes his cigarette and says nonchalantly, “Yes. The bad spirit is with her now.”

The woman is practically frothing at the mouth as her body moves erratically to the mantras. I look around at the small audience of family and villagers gathered for the ceremony– no one is uncomfortable. They watch in understanding and familiarity. Some even reminiscent of restless teenagers sitting politely through a family gathering.

Just another sunday exorcism of a possessed neighbour: casual.

I couldn’t have imagined that I would ever witness a scene like the one I just described.  Or that I’d eat off of dishes recently washed with buffalo feces, have my own resulting stomach illness be healed by the shaman in a dimly lit hut, and scale mountain sides in the dark with 2 eleven-year-old boys carrying stacks of hay on fire. But that’s only part of this story. Equally as unimaginable was my decision to hire Dinesh, a local Nepali guide, to act as my translator for the week. Unbeknownst to me, Dinesh was recently recovering from an 8 year heroin addiction, and as I would realize, also suffered from a sort of emotional psychosis. The week I spent alone with him in a remote hill village began as entertaining and mildly irritating–he’d make play love songs to me and say weird comments about marriage– but it ended with his descent into an eerie insanity, triggered, it appeared, by my awkward rejection. So before I continue with more tales of Shamanism, this is where this story should begin: Dinesh.

The Hiring of Dinesh + The Journey

Dinesh was a tour-guide who spent his days surrounded by death. I met him when I was alone, touring Pashupatinath temple one evening (an active public cremation site) ; he was good-looking and his english was shy of perfect. Around 27-years old, we joked around and got along well so I considered him a new friend. He was interesting and spiritual, but would occasionally stare at me intensely and say things like, “Kete, this iis feeling very warm… very… special ”, in the middle of a conversation. I’d been told Nepali men get overly emotional (to our western standards) , so I tried my best to not feel severely awkward in these moments, and just laugh them off. Meaning, no, I didn’t realize that he was internally planning our marriage.

The evening before my trip to live with the Shaman, I learned that my organization fell through on connecting me with a professional interpreter. I was stuck: I wanted to interview the shaman through the course of the week. Out of options, I called Dinesh. I figured I might have to side-step a few awkward comments here and there, but ultimately it could be fun to have a friend along to interpret. I knew it was a bit of a risky move. Dinesh was essentially a stranger…and I was bringing him to a remote hill village with no outside means of communication. The village didn’t even have a toilet, let alone any sort of police or health system. But Dinesh seemed similar to my friends back home–just a little bit more intense. I chalked it up to culture and decided to trust. Besides, if anything did happen to go sour, my mom had practically forced an aggressive shank knife on me before my departure.  Not that I had any intention of using it.Nepal_KateMada_Photography

On the six-hour bus ride with Dinesh, I gained religion. I want to say it was because I had a spiritually profound experience, but it was more like the bus journey terrified me to the point that I was praying to anyone who would listen. Jesus, Shiva, Buddha, Allah, Moses (…can you pray to Moses?), we were all well-acquainted by the time my bus journey ended. And no, it wasn’t Dinesh that terrified me, although under different circumstances, I might have been afraid of his cheesy little comments. He was riding in the seat behind me and would pop over with a little head waggle every 10 minutes and say something along the lines of “thees iis love music they are playing, you know thees? mmmhmm mmm da hmm”, or “Thees iis so romantic, Kete, my heart iis beating very fast”. I was barely paying attention to him because my heart was beating fast for a different reason: the local bus brakes were faulty, and we were scaling cliff sides with sharp narrow turns. At certain points we would encounter another bus coming in the other direction and have to back up down the narrow hill and around the corner to let it pass. “Back up….Down a hill? This Hill?? Sharp Corner…. Cliff face? Shitty… Brakes. Why??” That was the extent of my conversation and literal thought process. “Don’t worry Kete” said Dinesh happily, “I am with you. If we fall into valley, we will be together forever”.

I was ecstatic when the bus finally dropped us off, even though ahead of us there was a 4 hour hike straight up a mountain side. But then it sunk in that I was hiking with a giant backpack of everything I’d brought to Nepal plus my camera gear, and it was over 30 degrees outside. And Dinesh? I had hired Dinesh to also help me with some of the load. But, twenty minutes in, his smoker’s cough was consuming him and his poorly chosen white silk shirt was drenched in sweat. Instead of persevering, he hired two 12-year-old village girls we met along the way to carry his bag, as well as some of my camera equipment that he was carrying for me. I was irritated with him, mostly because well, you just don’t hire 12-year-old girls to carry your shit. Especially if you were hired to carry it in the first place. This left me as the only one in our group carrying a heavy load the majority of the trek up. What saved me were the views: as we climbed higher, the surroundings just got more and more incredible. Finally we came into view of Tutung: a beautiful twenty-hut village set in the green mountainside. Looking down into the valley from Tutung was stunning.

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The Shaman’s House & Family

The Shaman’s house was made of mud, and most likely dried buffalo feces (they use it more than you’d think). There was one room with a tiny fire stove in the corner. In the other corner was a steep ladder that brought you up to the sleeping area: a deck with a roof that circled the upper hut. But it was what surrounded the Shaman’s house that was breathtaking. All around were layers of green cultivation that cascade down the hillsides in rows of harvest. It gives the mountain side a kind of surreal effect, like the imprints from an ocean tide have sculpted the hills. Scattered amongst every shade of green are tiny houses, and even smaller specs of colour: villagers working in the fields, carrying firewood and rice harvest in giant baskets slung from their heads as they scale the steep pathways. No matter where you walked in the village, the view was epic. Every morning I woke up to the most striking mountain-valley scene from the shaman’s patio, where I slept for a week.

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I liked the Shaman and his family immediately. The shaman was a quirky, energetic old man: when he wasn’t found bouncing around with a drum during a healing ceremony, or working the crops, he was sitting in a special spot in his hut, smoking his magnificent pipe. This pipe came with him everywhere. He’d be climbing down the steep mountainside, a basket of wood on his back, but that pipe would always be along for the ride.

 

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The shaman captivated my interest, but his wife, the ‘Aama’, stole my heart and admiration. The Aama had these eyes that always glinted with humour; I didn’t have to speak her language to understand that she was hilarious and strong. At one point she mocked an obnoxious sick woman, imitating her behind a doorway so only I could see. We laughed, she gave me a smirk, lit a cigarette then went back to work stacking buffalo shit. I was charmed, and consistently sought ways to earn her approval.

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There were also two older daughters and two grandsons living at the house. All four of them have these eyes that grip and twist something inside of you. At first, I didn’t know how to feel about it. They were the kind of eyes that are cast as gypsies and witches in movies; they always had a reflection in them, even when there was no light source to reflect. You could see them in the dark. You might easily be frightened by the way their eyes gleamed, but I made the decision not to be. This was the right decision because I fell asleep to the two boys staring at me every night. They would whisper in high-pitched, broken english: “Hellllooo, Gooood Morn-iiiiing. Good.Night….Aunty. Aunty. Helloo” from their bed directly across from mine. With their dark shiny eyes it could have been creepy, it really could have. Especially with the constant discussion of bad spirits, possessions and death circulating the hut. But since I had decided to love them, everything worked out for the best: they became my saviors one night.

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We had walked 45 minutes down the steep pathways carved into the cliff side to watch a shaman ceremony one day. I was so captivated that I stayed until dark, not thinking about the walk home. I had my camera equipment in a limp bag with no protection: the walk back was so steep that if I fell, my camera would have been toast, and my  leg probably broken. No one had any lights and the shaman was staying until morning. So the boys found a solution: they lit two giant stacks of hay on fire and carried them up the mountain side as they burned. Every few minutes they would accidentally set the surrounding hillside on fire, so we would have to stop and stomp it out. But at least one of them was always grasping my hand, helping me up steep steps, while their other hand held a cloud of fire to light my path. They were in bare feet and they were laughing the whole time, their young expressions flickering in the fire-light: happy and completely alive. Dinesh offered no assistance. When we finally got to the top to start the flat walk home, the boys put out the fire. Dinesh then pulled out his phone and turned on his flashlight app. I stared at him, dumbfounded, while he walked ahead, not sharing his lit path.

Being Healed by a Shaman… and Dinesh

By the second night in Tutung, my stomach had turned on me; I learned the literal reality of the term ‘puking your guts out’. The family was convinced that it was because I couldn’t properly digest an orange. I didn’t have the heart, or the energy to tell them that their water was literally poisoning me. I’ve noticed that people are sensitive to that. The drinking water came from a local stream that also functioned as a bathroom and a garbage dump for the community: I could have boiled it for a full day and it still wouldn’t have been purified. But I had been accepting tea without adding water purification tablets, essentially forgetting that tea…comes from water.

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“Kete, you must lay on the bed with your legs apart”, said Dinesh in the main room of the dimly lit hut. I said something along the lines of, “Uhh.. excuse me?” Dinesh continued, “That iis what the shaman is says to do. He iis saying lay on the bed and make so your legs are not a touching and he will heal you.” It still sounded wrong. But I looked at the whole family staring at me with encouragement and genuine expressions of concern on their faces in the candle light. I laid down. The shaman and his wife lifted up my shirt to expose my stomach, and started pushing on it with their hands. Then the looming shadow of the shaman took out a switch-blade knife from his pocket. He began to wave it around in circles above me and chanted a fast paced mantra. It sounded like he was having a conversation in gibberish with himself. That is, essentially, what mantras are: no one but the shaman can understand the words. The whole family crowded around me, and Dinesh stood at the foot of the bed just staring. Suddenly the Shaman started to make aggressive stabbing motions with the knife at my stomach while yelling at it. He waved his finger at my stomach like he was scolding a child. My stomach forgot to hurt for a few minutes because I was so distracted. After the brief healing, the shaman pushed me into a sitting position, punched my back a few times and then blew on my face.

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I sat up and didn’t exactly feel like a bad spirit had just left me; but I didn’t feel any worse. At that point, the kids climbed the ladder to bed and the Shaman went outside for a smoke. I was trying to digest what had just happened, when I hear Dinesh say, “Kete, I can also heal.” I turned and he promptly shoved his tongue into my mouth. He got in about 1 second of slobbering on my face before I registered what was happening and I yelled “CHAINA!” really loud at him. Think ESL girl yelling “NOT HAVE!” and that’s essentially how it translates. I scurried up the ladder in my little harem pants while Dinesh was laughing at me. I glared at him and said, “seriously, not okay”, but I was laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation. I went to bed and got to sleep quickly, uninterrupted by sickness.

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I woke up the next day feeling completely fine–and I wasn’t sick for the rest of the week, even though I continued to politely drink the tea that was kindly forced on me. Could it have been the shaman’s healing tactics? It’s funny. I think myself a spiritualist, but the entire week with the shaman I found myself face to face with a surprising mental block: my own western rationalism. As much as I had wanted to believe, I realized that at my very core, beneath all those layers of mystic interest and love for hemp, I didn’t. Not fully. Not half. I wanted to believe. I definitely had an appreciation and a love for the beauty of it all—the idea that everything has a spirit that we can communicate with. I wanted that to be my belief. But I realized that fundamentally I was an outsider to it, looking in the window with interest, maybe cracking open the door a little bit, but unable to push past the self-created, cultural lock. In any case, it wasn’t the ‘unfaltering power of my own belief’ in the shaman’s skills that cured me, so that can be ruled out. And it wasn’t Dinesh’s sloppy mouth either. Perhaps it was a bad spirit that left me during the Shaman’s ritual. Or, perhaps it was the half of a pepto bismol tablet I found in my bag before bed. I wish I could paint this more soulfully for you, I really do.

 The Shaman’s Story

One night while the shaman smoked his pipe by the fire, he told me some of his story. Dinesh hadn’t lost his mind completely at this point so he was able to translate some of it for me. How accurate the descriptions were, I will never know. The shaman would talk for 5 minutes and then pause. Dinesh would be staring at the floor.

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“Uh..Dinesh?”.

He would look up, “Yes, Kete?”.

“Can you …translate?”

“Oh. Yes”

(silence)

“…Dinesh?”

“Yes?”

Each translation was somewhat of a struggle to pry out of him. But what I could gather sounded like something out of a spiritual adventure movie. Here is a summary:

The shaman was seven when a strange man came through his village. He was selling fabrics, and carried a sac full of shamanic tools. The seven year old shaman was captivated and felt a connection to the man. In turn, the man told him that if he came with him to live in the next village, he would teach him. The shaman accepted and instead of going to school like the other kids, spent his youth apprenticing the older healer.

He spent the first few years learning about different herbe remedies and memorizing a few specific mantras. It was at nine that he entered his first trance, and felt a spirit enter his body. He was gathering wood in the nearby brush, he said, when the spirit pulled him to the ground. He dropped his wood, sat down, and entered the limbo where the spirits and our own world collide. When he came to, hours later, he felt different: he described it as ‘having a god in every finger’. He suddenly knew several new mantras. With practice, the shaman said, he eventually figured out how to control when he entered this world; usually with the use of tantric drumming and specific mantras.

The old healer died when the shaman was in his early-thirties. He replaced him officially as the spirit doctor for the area. But it was at 48 that the Shaman had his most profound experience: he was kidnapped. There were tales, he said, of a powerful mountain shaman living in a nearby forest with his wife, a witch who ate humans. They lived together, out of sight in the thick of the forest, and ‘played with the spirits’. Together apparently they could influence the seasons. The shaman told me that he was kidnapped late one night by this man. He woke up to a massive figure standing over his bed, and he couldnt move. The man threw him over his back and carried him deep into the forest. They reached a small clearing and the man told him to hide under a cloak so he his wife couldn’t see him. The forest shaman started a mantra and then removed the cloak: they were suddenly in a white space with ten doors. Behind every door, the forest shaman told him, lived a goddess. The shaman told me he didn’t know how long he was in the room for before he heard the frightening sound of a baby screaming. He also started to scream, and became unconscious. He told me that people from his village heard his screams and found him unconscious on the edge of the forest. It took him a day to wake up, and when he did, he said, he knew 80 new mantras.

The shaman turned to his pipe, taking a break from his stories. He stood up and left the smoky room for a minute. When he returned, he had a large sac on his back, and was casually holding a bow and arrow. “He wants to show you his tools”, said Dinesh.

The Shaman’s Tools & Ceremonies

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[Not his tools, but his medicine.  Have pain? Eat a dead frog. Have a cold? Cook a chicken claw in a soup]

The shaman dumped out his sack of tools and I watched everything from yak fur to porcupine quills spill out on the floor. He held each tool up individually to discuss it with me. The common theme was“connects with the gods and kills bad spirits” [insert a variety of deity names that I can’t even begin to spell]. Although drawing from many nature based spirits and even buddha, the main god he discussed, like most hindus, was lord shiva. The tools are just channels for the energy, he explained, the real healing power comes from the mantras which connect to the gods. But my biggest regret from the trip so far, is that I didn’t photograph each of his tools individually. Here is a run down of some of his main items of interest:

 The Bone Whistle: A whistle made from the wrist bone of a 7 year old girl who was killed by a tiger two villages over. He would blow this whistle to begin a ceremony- opening up the gateway to the spirit world.

 Lamu: Giant quills from a porcupine that he would essentially use for acupuncture healing… or to create a make-shift porcupine out of mud to help battle a demon.

 Arrow: Carved from a special stone that is formed from lightening. Used to protect himself by being over-taken by a bad spirit during the ceremony.

The Trident: His favorite item that he uses to call the most powerful gods to aid.

The Dagger: Traps a bad spirit inside, then is burried into the ground to return it there

 Shell: A giant shell that he flips like a coin. If it lands face down, it means the person will be healed; if it lands facing up, it means that they will die from the illness. Every person that he has predicted will die, he said, has died.

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But there is more than just the tools involved in a ceremony. Before the healing takes place, the stage must be set. As an offering to the gods, it has to be as aesthetically pleasing as possible. The shaman draws up sacred designs using colours, rice and flowers. His tools are placed in a circle around him and fire and smoke are used to set the mood: the whole display is beautiful. Once that is done, he blows the bone whistle to start the ceremony, then begins the beating of his drum. The initial drumming can go on for 20 minutes to 3 hours, depending on how long it takes him to reach a state of trance and make a connection.

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Once that happens, he is able to see what must be done to heal the sick person. It usually requires animal sacrifice. At that point, either a chicken or a goat is picked up by an assistant and waved in circles around the sick person’s head. After circling the person a few times to the drum beat, the animal will be decapitated. It’s blood will drip onto the porcupine quills; which, are often used later to prod the sick patient. The rest of a healing ceremony is a theatrical dance of what the patient requires. The woman whose photo I showed at the top of this post needed drastic, demon fighting tools: the dagger was used and buried deep in the ground to reflect the burial of her demons, and the trident was pressed to her face and back.

It’s not pills and it’s not science, but many of the patients that came to see the shaman left happy and convinced of their health. And he had many patients. I’d wake up each morning to a new set of people on the front patio; carrying a sacrificial goat as a token of gratitude, or waiting to be healed.

The Problem with Dinesh

When we arrived at Tutung, Dinesh wasn’t insane. But he was kind of annoying. It was clear that he had mistaken my hiring him as the beginning of our cheesy romantic comedy. He would sit and watch me, clutching his pink phone and blasting every uncomfortable love song from 2004. It would have been funny, if he wasn’t serious. I’d be peeling potatoes and the aerosmith lyrics “I could stay awake, just to hear you breeeeaaathing” would be played on repeat while he stared at me intensely. This would be followed by a Maroon 5 song, “This love has taken control of me”, a GooGoo Dolls song from some Hilary Duff movie and then, my personal favorite, a song that repeated the words “Just you and me. Alone. Me and you. Forever.” He was literally playing a starry-eyed, 13-year-old girl’s homage to her crush, and it was no joke. Every time I looked in his direction I was met with a blatant and unashamed stare. I heard Rihanna’s song “California King Bed” over 60 times.

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This was the first two days: cheesy little love comments and embarrassing music. Mostly harmless. Aside from the standard “Your hair iis like angel” or occasional perverted comments, he would say things like “Good Morning Kete. Last night I was having the most wonderful dream that I was with a new family in Canada. Very especial.” Again, he wasn’t joking. Although it made me uncomfortable, I felt kind of bad for him. I would just laugh it off and try and make light of the situation. We were from different cultures; I figured what was considered ‘creepy’ to me, perhaps didn’t carry the same connotation. Cultural exchange, right?  Besides, I needed an interpreter. But the end of the first day was when I found out about his recovering drug addiction. We were talking about living with parents and swapping stories. It was light-hearted, but then Dinesh mentioned something along the lines of his father handcuffing him to a bedpost so he couldn’t leave the house… the story unfolded about Dinesh’s 8 year battle with heroin and getting caught up in the ‘grunge’ scene. It raised a few alarm bells in my head, no doubt—but I honestly wasn’t overly concerned about anything going wrong.  He seemed like a sensitive guy working through some problems.  Though, I didn’t realize just how sensitive.

I still don’t know if his addiction and his ‘descent into madness’ at Tutung were related, or if he was just naturally inclined to be manic. At the very least, the guy was struggling with some severe emotional issues. After he tried to kiss me, I had a talk with him the following evening. I kindly, but sternly explained to him that I wasn’t interested and this was meant to be a professional situation. He seemed to take it fine, and I was feeling relieved. But the next day things started to get really weird.  He sat in the corner of the house with a blanket over his head, not speaking. All day.

The following day he was speaking again, but in soft, whimpering tones. He declined food, and explained that he was fasting to make the gods happy, so he could get a wife. “I just want something especial. Someone especial…I really want a wife.” He chain-smoked and only interpreted for me occasionally, in moping, one word descriptions. During a shaman ceremony, he watched, rarely blinking, and silently cried. I would have suggested it was time for him to leave Tutung, but I was honestly concerned that if I did he would have done something drastic like hurt himself. He was a mess. But the two days following that were the worst. He wasn’t sad anymore, but his eyes were insane looking. He would walk around with a distant, dazed expression and a weird half-smile on his face. I would ask him how he was doing and he would stare off blankly and lost while saying something along the lines of, “I am fine. Always fine. How areh you, Kete?” in a very formal and vacant tone. He would sit alone, eyes wide and looking around, while he blew on his fingers repeatedly. Then he started randomly laughing to himself—out of nowhere. He would be staring straight ahead and just laughing, manically.  I had no way to speak to the family about the situation and offer an apology or explanation.  I tried acting it out or using small words I had learned, but Dinesh was rarely a feet feet away from my side.

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I took him for a walk to the village store (a shack that sold cigarettes and cookies) and sat down with him at the look-out point. I tried asking him how he was doing and if he needed help. He wouldn’t respond. We stared out at the view and suddenly he started cackling again. “Dinesh…what are you laughing at?” I asked him. “It’s just my dark soul…it’s coming out,” he responded (actually). At this point I looked at him and told him point blank that he was being fucking scary. “Take yourself for a walk and clear your head okay” I suggested, adamantly. “I don’t need to. I want to stay close to you.” he replied. “Okay, well then do it for me, I need some space.” He stood up and walked two meters away, stopped and pulled out a cigarette. He stood there and stared at me. “Uhh..whatcha’ doin?” I asked. “Giving you espace.” he said.

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A young Nepali staff from the volunteer organization I was with came to Tutung on the last day to accompany me on the journey home. On the hike down the mountain, Dinesh once again couldn’t carry a pack and pawned it off on one of the daughters. This time the 5 hour bus ride through the mountain side cliffs wasn’t what was scaring me, it was Dinesh sitting behind me. ‘California King Bed’ by Rihanna was playing on repeat and he was crying and smiling at the same time. But the smile turned into words, and soon Dinesh was having full blown conversations with himself out-loud in Nepali. Muttering, laughing and sometimes yelling. I turned, hoping he was on the phone, “Dinesh, who are you talking to?” He turned to look at me and his pupils were huge. He grinned. “I am talking with my espirit.”

 Reflections

While I was living with the shaman, I was asked many times to name my religion.  Saying ‘none’ was met with a response like, “So what do you believe in the religion none? ”  Having no religion or set of spiritual beliefs was an impossible answer; it wasn’t understood.  Spirituality was intricately woven into their daily fabrics. It cooked the food they ate and coloured in the outlines of their vision. Every day was a preverbal dance with gods and natural spirits: a interplay between worship, thankfulness and sacrifice to keep them happy, so they would return the sentiment. For them these daily interactions are what made sense and beauty of the world, and I found myself envious of that.  I thought initially that perhaps this level of spirituality was something I needed in my own life.

But through my experience there I also recognized a different side to this extreme spiritual coin: perhaps this is also why, if the shaman told someone that he or she would die (a decision from the gods) they ended up dying. What we would, of course, label a ‘placebo’ effect. Perhaps this is why Dinesh reacted so dramatically to my rejection. To them, it wasn’t simply a surface occurrence–bells and drums, words like “not interested”–it was a message coming from the spiritual undercurrent of the world. The impact so profound on a person’s own psyche or spirit that it can shatter them. If the gods decide who lives, who dies and ultimately who is happy, would it not seem a betrayal if you had lived your life in earnest to appease them? I guess that same beautiful faith which gives a life meaning and heals a person can also be the fateful knife that slashes at your own agency, crippling the perceived power of your own decisions and reactions.  And therein lies my problem with it.  I truly believe a balance in beliefs is necessary— my personal perspective is that we should believe both that we have the power to change the world, ourselves and a situation but also understand that there is an inner connectivity and and greater consciousness occurring beyond the surfaces we’ve cultivated.  In tandem, a balanced belief in the methods of science, our proven power, paired with the humble understanding that something like a soul may never be rationalized, but felt–which is enough to speak to it’s existance. Holistic healing, for example where neither scientific realm or the spiritual realm take precedence but meet in the middle for all encompassing health.  Not a novel idea, but this experience really opened my eyes to this truth, at least for me.  Without our outlines and agency we’re lost, but without finding something to colour in the outlines we’ve created we’re not complete.  We have to value both.

 

 

 

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Featured Story: Living with a Shaman

I lived with a Shaman in a remote village in the Hills of Nepal. Oh, and my interpreter lost his mind.

Shaman——Spirit Doctor. Someone who can enter the spirit world to heal people and protect communities. They enter altered states of consciousness and trance to fight bad spirits, and call aid from the gods.

Jankhri——-The name for a Nepali Shaman

Dinesh——-A young, mentally unsettled Nepali man suffering from a casual 8 year heroin addiction and a crippling desire for a Canadian wife. The person I accidentally hired to live with me as my interpreter for the week

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