by Shubha Bala, associate producer
I thought that this New York Times article about an adman who took up shaman healing on the side might be a wonderful opportunity for a blog post exploring some unanswered questions: Who exactly is a shaman? What does shaman healing entail?
However, a bit of research confirmed the obvious. Shamanism is broad, with a wide range of beliefs and practices. A shaman is someone who practices many things, including communication with the spirit world. But they exist in different forms all over the world from Siberia to Ecuador to Japan. So it seemed the best approach to get into this diverse tradition would be to interview a shaman about his or her particular beliefs and practices.
I hesitated to contact Itzhak Beery, the man profiled in the aforementioned report, because the media so often reaches out to these “mainstream” voices: the urban Westerner who has found spirituality outside of their upbringing. Although these experiences are important, I wonder if I should be looking instead for a different voice — someone brought up in the indigenous shaman tradition. I pose this question to you: What are some innovative ways in which we can enter into the world of shaman healing?
A shaman from West Sumatra, Indonesia. (photo: deepchi1/Flickr)Comments
Christopher Calderhead, guest contributor
I live in a rented New York City apartment. The only outdoor space I have access to, besides the sidewalk, is the paved alley alongside my building. And, like many of my neighbors, I use this shared outdoor space for all sorts of activities that don’t fit in a small apartment. As I write, a teen-aged neighbor is practicing his Junior ROTC drill in the alley, and I can hear the thud and clank of his rifle stock as he learns to twirl it in tempo.
It is not an unpleasant place to live. But there is nothing green — no soil, no grass, no plants of any kind — except the street trees I can see from my front window.
This year when my friend Tamara invited me to share her backyard garden, I was delighted. She and her husband Karl have always been incredibly generous with their space. They love nothing more than hosting dinner for 25 on improvised tables and street-find chairs.
The garden is large by city standards. The vegetable patch is 8 feet wide and almost 25 feet deep, and there’s a patch of grass, to boot.
This year, we laid out the vegetable patch together. Neat, orderly rows were prepared for tomatoes, string beans, carrots, beets, and radishes, and every kind of leafy green we could think of. There’s also an herb patch with oregano, chives, rosemary, sage, and lavender. I lobbied for nasturtiums to fill the planters on the paved part of the yard.
And last Saturday, Tamara, Karl, and I were joined by another neighbor, Heather, and we did our first planting. The herbs and seeds for root vegetables went into the ground, as well as a selection of greens. We’re probably over-ambitious, and all of us are amateur gardeners, but it was good to be outdoors on a sunny afternoon bickering over mulch and debating the merits of the soil. The elderly Greek couple next door chatted with us over the chain-link fence while they tended their own patch, with its fig trees and grape arbor.
"Spiritual" is not a word I use very much these days. It’s too nebulous, and encourages sentimentality. But I am interested in the actions that bring us back into balance, that make us whole human beings. And planting the garden with friends does that in two ways.
The most important way for me is how it brings us into a deeper sense of community and friendship. The garden is something we will share — the work of setting out the plants and tending them, as well as the pleasures that will come in a few weeks as we begin to eat the fruits of our labors. And it’s been made possible by two people who are intent on living a shared life with their friends, an antidote to the competitive and atomized culture of this difficult city we live in.
And the second: it restores balance to my life. To be able to touch the soil. To walk barefoot outdoors. To look at the weather not just as the planet’s plot to make me lose my umbrella but as a living system that will nourish — and threaten — the small plants we’ve put in the ground.
Living a city life is compartmentalized and far from natural cycles. Having a garden redresses that balance.
Christopher Calderhead is an artist and writer living in Astoria, Queens. He is the editor of Letter Arts Review and teaches at Bronx Community College and the Pratt Institute.Comments
Colleen Scheck, Producer
The Brooklyn Public Library is currently featuring "Diversity of Devotion" — a photo documentary project depicting 27 religions practiced within the five boroughs of New York City. Stephanie Keith, whose photos we featured in a narrated slideshow for our program "Living Vodou", is one of the 36 contributing photographers.
The project “…was conceived as a response to global religious tensions which intensified in the wake of 9/11. Professional and amateur photographers from around the world volunteered to explore New York City’s richly variegated spiritual life and discover how diversity in belief and practice enriches our own individual experience… Our project aims to remind us all how fortunate we are to live in a city where myriad beliefs coexist in peace and tolerance; we can connect to others and share comfort, sadness, hope and joy as we walk our unique spiritual paths.”
Here’s a few examples of photos from the Brooklyn exhibit:
Chinese Yeshiva Student (photo: Jenny Jozwiak)
Woman Singing Praise (photo: Melanie Einzig)
Imam Bayran at Masjid Taqwa (photo: Omar Mullick)
Spiritual Healing (photo:Tammy Meadows)