Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A Wonderfully Inspiring Read

I’ve known Itzhak Beery since early 2001, when I first attended the New York Shamanic Circle (“NYSC,” then actually called the “New York Drumming Circle”). I had gone there at the suggestion of Edy Nathan, a powerful healer in her own right, because she felt that shamanism would do me some good. It certainly did!  

I was an active member of the NYSC for a good twelve years before becoming what you might call a “lapsed shamanic student,” participating in the monthly circles only intermittently (at best), and rarely attending workshops and other special shamanic events as I had in the past. (I do keep up with my daily morning shamanic ritual, however, calling in the spirits from the seven directions, and offering thanks while seeking continued protection and assistance.)  

From my time at the NYSC, what I remember most about Itzhak, a founding member of the group, was his warmth and friendliness, and how he made me and others feel so at home from the very beginning, month after month, year after year. At some point, I learned that Itzhak was a shamanic practitioner, but I had no idea of the depth of his involvement until I read his inspiring book, “The Gift of Shamanism.” Nor had I ever heard Itzhak (or other members of the NYSC leadership) share his (or their) own shamanic journeys or mystical experiences. Till now.  

In his thoroughly enjoyable book, “The Gift of Shamanism,” Itzhak shares his awesome experiences as a shamanic healer, providing so many wonderful insights along the way. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in, or curiosity about, shamanism, as well as for those deeply immersed in this ancient spiritual practice.

In the introduction, Itzhak reveals that he has gone from skeptic to believer. This was news to me. Nor did I realize that Itzhak had been raised as a Jewish atheist. I’d never heard of Jewish atheists before!  

In the intro, Itzhak also writes that “[T]he shamanic experience is truly about learning to surrender to the magical and join in the workings of life’s mysterious forces.” This resonates with me completely, tho, as an editor, I’d change “surrender to” to “accept.” It’s a subjective matter. I don’t like the idea of surrendering, and I don't see a need to here.

Later in the introduction, we encounter a subchapter on “WHY A BOOK OF STORIES?” Itzhak answers his own question with, “I choose to write a book of stories that might connect with you emotionally and guide you indirectly into the shamanic way of ‘seeing’.” I agree wholeheartedly with this approach, an approach I followed in my 2007 book “Journey Into the Mystic (From the Streets of Brooklyn)” which (in the interests of full disclosure) Itzhak had so generously endorsed.  

In the first chapter on “How It All Started,” Itzhak begins with a story about a chance encounter at a local bookstore, which rings so true. The author mentions how his upbringing (as an atheistic Jew on a kibbutz ) was the “perfect introduction to the basic principles of shamanism: deep connection to nature, close encounters with death, boundaries of imagination, a sense of history, and the importance of community and storytelling.” The tie-ins are, in a word or two, highly synchronistic. His Albert Einstein quote falls right into place.

In Chapter 2, “Dreaming,” Itzhak begins with a John Lennon quote on how John believed in everything, “until it’s disproved.” I love Lennon, but can’t go along with his philosophy here. As a lawyer (okay I’m a lawyer, I confess), I understand that the burden of proof never rests on one to disprove a negative. It is the responsibility of the person offering the positive version (e.g. “Fairies exist”) to prove his or her point. All that aside, in this chapter, I found particularly interesting Itzhak’s account of a “scary dream that followed me on and off for more than eight years.” The details are intriguing.

Chapter 3 presents Itzhak’s work with past-life regression. I’ve been down this road myself. As the author notes, “Most indigenous societies hold a deep belief in reincarnation.” So do I. And the stories that the author relates support the premise that we have all lived past lives. Captivating!

“Soul retrieval” is the basis of Chapter 4. As Itzhak notes, “It’s hard to describe exactly what a soul is,” yet he achieves that objective. His stories and experiences regarding soul loss and soul retrieval are most illuminating.

Chapter 5 is about plant medicine to which I have never been drawn. Quite the contrary. The plant medicine promise reminds me of the Sixties’ rap which proffered that LSD was the gateway to Nirvana. Didn’t turn out that way, at least, not for me. More like a horror trip thru Hell. From the messages and lessons that Itzhak reports he came back with from his ayahuasca trips, well, frankly, I already knew all that. Granted, it’s one thing to know, and another to experience. And thanks to Itzhak for sharing his ayahuasca experiences which confirm to me that, I’d rather take a walk along the summer shore of Brighton Beach after a glass of wine on at Tatiana’s on the Boardwalk, then embark on a trek thru the Amazon jungle to ingest ayahuasca.

In Chapter 6, the focus is on shapeshifting, with which I am very familiar. Here, as elsewhere, Itzhak’s description of his experiences is very detailed and vivid, adding even more credulity to his accounts.

I very much enjoyed the chapter (7) on “Seeing,” with the mind’s eye. I have never heard the concept expressed more effectively than how Itzhak describes it. Impressive is the stat which Itzhak gives, indicating that “In my workshops…96 percent of the participants successfully see one or true elements about their partner.” I appreciate statistics like this—could have used more of them (e.g., for X number of success stories presented here, there were Y number of failures).  

Chapter 8 is about shamanic journeying, the hallmark of the NYSC. The chapter begins with a quote from Michael Harner, who spearheaded the interest in shamanism among Westerners. ‘All of nature has a hidden nonordinary reality,’ Harner states (via Itzhak). Yes, to be sure. Itzhak writes of journeying to other realities, and while this may sound far fetched to the uninitiated, Itzhak’s experiential stories demonstrate, individually and collectively, how effective and healing shamanic journeying can be.

Candle reading is the topic of Chapter 9. This is a process in which we have occasionally engaged at the NYSC. I like Itzhak’s intro, stating that “[A]round each person’s physical body there is an invisible energetic body or illuminated body, sometimes called the aura, which houses our memories, emotions, traumas, and the spirits of our ancestors and the living. ” The personalized stories are quite moving.

In Chapter 10, Itzhak embarks into psychonavigation, i.e., long distance viewing. Interesting in particular how Itzhak recalls one experience that “had a strong impact on me and that was quite terrifying.” It’s not all a ride down Easy Street, as Itzhak points out (and as I have learned, the hard way).

The experiences Itzhak shares in the chapters on holographic experiences, house clearing, healing ceremonies, Aztec seeing, and using shamanic vision in business, are—like all of the discussions in the book—easy to read, crystal clear, and highly inspiring. I especially appreciate how, throughout the book, Itzhak humbly admits that he continually experienced self-doubt, and would at times dismiss his visions as “a fluke.” Been there, felt that.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Itzhak’s illustrations, which are interspersed throughout the book. His artwork effectively captures shamanism in the act, something I’ve never witnessed before. 

“We Are All Shamans” is the title of the book’s epilogue, which begins, “Learning from my clients’ life stories and from my own childhood, I believe that as young children we come into the world highly open to the world of magic and mystery.” I couldn’t agree more. Itzhak continues with “a few suggestions to help you develop your intuitive skills,” including “Take notes of your life’s strange ‘coincidences,’ [aka, synchronicities] accidents, or flukes. Nothing happens without a reason…” I tend to agree, for the most part, but as Itzhak indicates in his book, sometimes it takes a while to figure out the reason.

In sum, Itzhak Beery’s “The Gift of Shamanism” is a book well worth reading for anyone at all interested in learning about the shamanic way. For those of us who’ve been at it for years, the book is an insightful excursion into, and meaningful validation of, that which we have experienced.

“I love this book,” says premier shamanic teacher/author/anthropologist Hank Wesselman, on the acknowledgements page.

“Ditto!” say I, here.