Skeptics Always Welcome! Author Victoria Loustalot Interviews Me for “Future Perfect”
Victoria Loustalot is a fabulous writer (as in The New York Metropolitan Museum and Yale University have both acquired her work for their collections) who contacted me a while back. She was doing research with mystics, healers, psychics and the like. Her goal was to write about astrologers, psychics and shamans and their enduring popularity from a skeptics perspective..was any of it real or could it be proved..or was it all falsehood. I agreed to be interviewed and the final product (her book “Future Perfect” is coming out from Little A (An imprint of Amazon) on December 1st- it’s memoir— a juicy, fun and extremely well written and personal romp (with lots of great humor) of a skeptic investigating the mystical vocations. Here’s our complete interview in case you are curious!
P.S. I always welcome skeptics to my classes! Shamanism is not something to be “believed” but the spirits are meant to be encountered first hand. What do you believe when you have an opportunity to encounter? That is what’s most important.
Victoria: Okay. All right, cool. So, I guess I’m curious, for you… Obviously, you were a practicing
physician for a long time. But what strikes me about that is that being a physician is
healing people, it’s taking care of people, and so I think that sometimes there’s an initial
notion of, “Oh, wow, this feels like such a dramatic shift in course, in life.” But there’s
actually some commonality among what you were doing in your prior life and what
you’re doing now. And I wonder if you’ve sort of thought about that, or what common
threads…if they do feel more related to you than disparate?
Sarah: Well, the thing is, is that yeah, you would think that, but what I was doing was surgical pathology…and pathologists really don’t do direct patient care.
Victoria: Oh, okay.
Sarah: So, it was a real shift, for me, in terms of that. And looking back, when I was in medical school, I really refused the call to my own hero’s journey. And I talk about that in the book. Because when I was doing direct patient care, some of the stuff that was
happening was so upsetting to me. And my perception was that we were…being in medicine, we were kind of…in the training, the part that was missing was the part where you’re connecting with kind of the soul of the person, and really attending to that also.
Not just the physical aspect of their disease, but the… For example, I had this patient who was young, like 29, three kids, recently divorced. So, rough situation to begin with, right?
Sarah: And then, she was on a protocol for a bone marrow transplant for metastatic breast cancer. Which, months later, they pulled the protocol across the country because it was killing more people that it was actually helping. And so, it was a really brutal protocol. Anyway, she, one morning, we went to visit her, and her platelets, which are the component of your blood that helps your blood to clot, were extremely low, to the point where death could be…she was at risk for dying. And there was not much we
could do, we kept giving her more platelets. And I remember just sitting at her bedside, and my resident, who was wonderful, saying, “We’re working on your platelets and we’re going to give you some more and we’re really hoping that’s going to boost them,” and I remember just thinking, “Oh my god. Is anybody talking to her about what’s going on? That she might not be here? Is anybody…?” And I felt like I didn’t know how to have that conversation.
Sarah: And then I just went into kind of a crisis in my own head, like, if I can’t help people in a way that I can feel like, not like you have to be the chaplain, but it seemed that we were missing the boat, and that’s when I decided… Then I took a rotation in Pathology and it was a wonderful crew of people, super fun, and super smart. And I was like, “I’ll just do this because then I can just sidestep this whole uncomfortable process that I don’t know what the hell to do with.” Then, years later, in my forties, early forties, it started, that kind of feeling started to haunt me again. Because I was sitting, again, in a breast cancer care conference, and my role was to share the diagnosis, share the details of the person’s tumor and all the things that impact how they are going to treat the patient. And there were social workers, and surgeons, and oncologists, etcetera, in the room, and I remember just
thinking… as they presented a woman who had been abused, or her husband wasn’t supportive, or she had nobody to drive her to chemo. And I remember thinking to myself, “My gosh, what if we had intervened ten years ago and gotten this woman a wonderful community? Would that have impacted it? Would, maybe, we not be sitting here talking about it?” I started being curious about what makes people well.
Victoria: Yeah. Yeah, that’s really well put.
Sarah: And, of course, the oncologists didn’t really want to talk about that stuff. The social workers would bring those issues up, and the doctor was like, “Uh, yeah, talk about that some other time because we only have an hour to get through all these patients.” And, practically speaking, being pragmatic, we’ve got to decide their radiation course, all that. Of course, we had to do that, but I remember thinking, “But wait a minute, I think this might be really important.” And yet, we’re not spending time on it.
Victoria: Hmm. That’s interesting. And it’s interesting too that…and again, this is, obviously, you
can tell me if I’m totally wrong, but I do think of the medical profession, in theory, as
you are helping people, you are healing people. And I can’t help but think that your
initial attraction to the field, even if it didn’t end up being that way, is not so different
from your attraction or what has drawn you to the work that you do now.
Sarah: For sure. And yeah, I come from a long line of healers, like I’m the fourth generation in
my family to be a physician. My grandma was a psychiatric nurse, so, yeah, it’s
definitely… I think that was the call, definitely. I wanted to work with people, but then,
yeah, kind of refused that call, if you will.
Victoria: Right. Right, right. How does…? Well, I guess, what do you…? And again, I’ve read some
of what you’ve written and the things you’ve said, and your site, of course, but how do
you define your work or describe yourself? What are the words that you use when you
Sarah: For shamanic healing in particular? Or…
Victoria: Just, I guess, how you would… If you’re at a cocktail party and someone asks you that
dreaded question of, “What do you do for a living?” or just, “What do you do?” [Laughs]
Sarah: Yeah. I help people. Everything I create, all the work that I do is aimed at helping people rediscover their feel-good and follow it, or help them just to feel better, really helping people to feel good. When I say follow their feel-good, that’s the command, the website title. What I’m getting at there is that when we… Whatever makes us feel calm, and peaceful, and good inside is our truth, and we need to follow it. I think a lot of us have been…and follow its hints, and its clues, and its yearnings. To do that, sometimes we have to get very quiet inside to hear those voices, although sometimes they’re so obvious that we know already what that is. In our society, we’ve been so trained to do things that make sense, to follow paths that have already been blazed by others, to do what is expected of us or do what society expects of us. Often, that…I would say 100% of the time…that’s probably not going to work.
Victoria: Obviously, nature and animals come up a lot in your work. This idea of our connection to other species, and to the soil, and the ground, and the sky, and the sun, and the moon, and water seems to be a large part of your message. Is that something that…? Have those always been important elements of your life, going back to childhood, or something that you’ve always felt attuned to, and then that’s grown over time?
Sarah: As I kid, I spent a ton of time outside and a lot of time by myself in the little streams around our neighborhood. I was lucky to grow up in a town where in the neighborhood, there were rivers that ran down into Lake Superior. I would go and hang out there. That was my happy place. Through high school and college, I spent time running outdoors. I think that was probably my only real super connection with nature at that point. Then as I got into medical school, and residency, and then having a family, I got farther and farther away from all that. You’re spending 60 hours a week inside of a hermetically sealed building in air conditioning and that kind of stuff, or spending the day in darkness all the time…or not natural light, I should say. I would go to work in the dark and come home in the dark much of the year because of the way the light is in Minnesota in this
What happened to me was I realized…I didn’t realize it until I took a sabbatical from medicine…how much disconnection had occurred to me. I got coached about age 40… Around 40 is when I started getting coached. Then 42, I think… I don’t even know.
Anyway, 40s took a sabbatical. On that sabbatical, I realized, “Oh, my gosh,” how much I had been missing that natural world. I just started taking walks in my neighborhood, which then progressed into taking walks more in a little bit wilder place. That’s really when that more powerful reconnection started to happen. Looking back, I guess it was always there, but it’s almost like it went dormant or I just didn’t have room in my life for any of that. I was in survival mode or just in a different phase in my life.
Victoria: Sure. Well, also, it’s interesting that you talk about not accepting this call initially and choosing a different path for a period of time. There had been this other path, this work as a physician. You chose a specific strand of it that did take you really far away from nature and animals. You made it very difficult for yourself to be put in the path of a lot
of natural light and outdoor time. It’s almost like psychologically that was another…I don’t know…another choice of stepping away, being afraid of what you would discover.
Sarah: For sure.
Victoria: Not to make it specific about you, obviously, who I don’t know, but just the power of the
human mind, I think, to create circumstances when we want something, or when we
don’t want something, or when we’re afraid.
Sarah: I remember thinking, “Okay, I can’t choose this field of taking care of patients in general, not just because of that one patient.” There were other examples, too. I spent time with some rural physicians. I just realized how much it took over your life, this calling of medicine. I just thought, “I want to have a family. I want to be there for my kids.” I just thought it was a more practical decision to choose something that would have the potential to be a 9:00 to 5:00 job. I think, obviously, it was all perfect. It all went down exactly how it was, because that life, and living, all those things has prepared me for what I’m doing now and has also offered me the gift of credibility in the eyes of, maybe, people who might be even more skeptical of such kinds of healing, shamanic healing. They might think like, “This is for crackpots and Looney Tunes people. Well, wait a minute. This lady, she practiced medicine for 20 years. She, obviously, is a normal person in the sense that she’s got a family, and she hasn’t gone off the rails in any other visible way. She’s saying this stuff might help me. Maybe.” I think that’s one neat thing that’s happened. That’s obviously been my destiny and my path.
Victoria: That actually sets up nicely for another question that I had for you, which is: how you reconcile or make sense of your… Obviously, you are a proponent or believe in Western medicine and science. How do those beliefs sit side-by-side with your beliefs around shamanism, and animal totems, and forest bathing, and transcendent experiences or
however you would describe it?
Sarah: Well, I think we need it all. You know what I mean? I think that it’s not… I think it’s a mistake to think that one thing is the answer to everything. There was an interest that was highlighted recently for me. I was on a retreat in Peru with some dear friends. Both of them are naturopaths and fairly opposed to antibiotics in general. I’m neutral on antibiotics. I really don’t want to use them if I can avoid it. I’d rather take care of myself, get good sleep, eat good food, try to really do everything I can. I’m not afraid to use them. Coming from my background, obviously, that makes sense.
There was a person who got ill on our retreat and had a UTI, a urinary tract infection, that then started to progress. She started having shaking chills and back pain. I had brought some antibiotics along, and I offered to this
other person. The mother of the adult woman who was illwas like, “Oh, my god,” when I told her what the name of the drug was. She’s like, “That’s the most toxic antibiotic on the market- its basically poison.” This wasn’t one of the naturopaths; it was somebody else on the trip. “That’s the most toxic poison you could put in your body.” I said, “Well, it might be.
But on the other hand, your daughter could end up in an ER and we would have to drive to Cuzco, and this could be much worse.” The person who needed the medicine ended up deciding to take it. Three hours later, she
was feeling 90% better.
It was just really pointing out the fact that we can do so much with spiritual healing. There’s so much there to be tapped into, but there is also much power in the beautiful things that we have learned for allopathic medicine, too. I think
that we have to work… Anything that can help a person, any agent or a person is important. I think we have to work to get there. I think if…
Victoria: Go ahead.
Sarah: I was going to say along with that is that when I got into Shamanism and really kind of went on this path. I started to look back at past experiences in my practice. There was an oncologist who called one day to review a case that I had completed. .So, I wanted to go over the case. It was a cancer, stage 3B, which put that person in a category of 50% 5 year survical. She happened to ba a friend we both knew (who had given us both permission to discuss her case). I asked him what he was going to tell her (the patient) and he said, and He’s, like, “Well, I’m going to see her tomorrow, and I’m just going to tell her that she’s going to be
fine.” I didn’t say anything but that stunned me. What the heck?
So, years later, I took him out to breakfast to ask him about that patient and what he told her. I was like, “Do you pray? Do you get an intuitive sense? What is that makes you say (with confidence) to a patient with a 50% survival on paper that she’s going to be fine? He said it was really looking at the whole situation, her physical appearance, her sex…there were many things he took into consideration that predicted a good outcome. I was so glad that this is what he said too because my friend was alive and kicking 5 years later and I believe that she had 100% confidence in her physician.
And I just think our power of our words to heal orto harm are just so tremendous. I was really curious. I guess secretly, I wanted him tosay, “Well, I just get this powerful feeling in a knowing voice that whispers to me.” But he didn’t say any of that.” He’s like, “I just listen to the patient tells me.” So, I think that the best healers, no matter where they’re working…. whether they’re a
reiki person, or an acupuncturist, or a doctor, or a neurosurgeon, or a therapist, they’re listening. And I mean I think they’re sensing, and that’s really at its essence what shamanism. My work involves a lot of that.
Victoria: It is fascinating to me how no matter who I’m talking to — if it’s an acupuncturist, or if it’s a medium, or someone who reads tarot, or someone who calls themselves an intuitive, or a life coach, or whatever it is — how much listening comes up, just that verb, that action, of how important that is. Whether it’s listening to their client and the person that they’re working with or listening to the natural world, or the spirits, or the guides. That is probably the one thing has come up more than anything else, and I’m just really struck by that and how little we do of it in our day to day life.
Sarah: Absolutely. The first time that I ever say a shaman working, I was in South Africa with a friend, and we had an opportunity to meet with the Sangoma, which is kind of their traditional form of shaman there. And at that time, I had no belief in any of this. I mean, I had just started to dabble in animal totems and was surprised how much power was in that work for me. But I was like, “I don’t really understand any of this.” So, we went and crawled into a little hut with these three Shangan women, and they threw bones for us. And we kind of told them what we were worried about in our lives. And then after they did the reading, we kind of crawled out of the hut, and they started to play these drums. There were like 60 people had come from the area. Or maybe 50
people. It was just a big crowd of people. And then they crawled out of the huts and danced and kind of merged with their… They were like dancing spirits, basically. And I remember just sitting there with tears streaming down my face going, “I don’t know
what this is, or what is going on here, but all I know is how incredible to go with a problem to somebody and to have them listen to you like that, and then to have them dance like that, and all these people to show up just to witness.” I couldn’t even imagine. Even if nothing was happening in the spirit world, and that really wasn’t real, this was real. This experience of really circling the wagons around somebody and showing them how much attention and how much you care. To me, that… I’ll just cry if I think about it because it’s just amazing, you know? And we didn’t even have an issue, we were just curious. We were like, “Well, I’m wondering, is leaving my job in medicine, will that be okay?” [Laughs] I wasn’t in a terrible crisis, really. Anyway, yeah, that sacred listening is something. I think is so much at risk in our current medicine, sadly, in the allopathic world. Because
when I go with my kids to go see the doctor, they’re all wonderful caregivers, but it’s like they are glued to the computer filling in data because of the electronic medical records. I just think, “Wow. We’ve lost a chance here to hear the one thing that somebody’s
trying to tell us.”
Victoria: Yeah. Boy, that gives me chills. Because what you’re also talking about is that sense of community, right? In showing up for other people, and that support, and how isolated we are. And when I say ‘we’, I mean just so many people who are here in the states and other places. And that’s just a foreign concept, and that is heartbreaking.
Sarah: It is. It is. Yeah. And getting back to that nature concept, I think what the animals… A couple things that helped or why I found the animals to be so powerful is that, first of all, it gets you to pay attention to something in your life. Because we’ve just got so much going on, and it can be a little overwhelming to maybe start meditating or find some other way to go inside. It just sets up a way for you to pay attention to one thing and kind of a fun thing. Animals are something that is kind of delightful to most people.
Sarah: So, you can start with anything, but I think the animals are fun and often the messages we get from them are kind of absurd and sometimes silly, and sometimes that’s the one thing that we are missing in our lives. A lot of my clients, and I think a lot of people were sort of addicted to the intellect and our logical brains, making lists and narrowing down our choices, being pragmatic and practical. We’re missing some of the magical shortcuts and miraculous things that can happen as we follow that other thread, which is sort of our right brain, intuition or you might say, Spirit that is calling us to do something entirely different. That’s where you can come up to, uh oh, what if I do that, that makes no sense. People are going to laugh at me, or what if I fail, or whatever.
Victoria: It sort of sounds like what you are talking about is using animals as another means of finding that community or that support, that when we feel we are not going to get it from other human beings, starting with animals, if that makes sense.
Sarah: Yes. That’s a great way to think about it. Because when you are feeling really alone and not knowing where to turn…yeah, when you start to notice just little simple things. I remember when I was on my sabbatical it was like, I want to write. I want to talk about this or write about this. Starting to maybe write again which is another long buried dream. I was so overwhelmed with how am I going to do this and how can I write a book about this. This is just so overwhelming, and that day I just noticed this little ant crawling across the sidewalk with a tiny grain of something in its pinchers. As I sat with that, it was like okay, well ants built these magnificent, relative to their size, these incredible things that are just massive, but they don’t do it alone. They don’t do it in one day. They are doing it in one tiny manageable grain at a time. What would that look like for me today. I was like I’m going to open a document that says, Book of Beasties and save it. That was kind of the beginning of just listening to those subtle messages. Sometimes they make so little sense, but they usually…whatever the message it, it will usually help you do whatever it is you have to do, or make you feel more peaceful and more calm, or stronger. There is a lot of different ways.
I always invite people to forge a relationship with a primary Spirit Animal or what I call core beastie. Again, just inviting people to play because I think these can be mythical creatures, dragons, anything. Any creature. The imagination is not considered a false thing in Shamanism, the way it is in our culture. In our culture, imagination is for little kids, maybe storybooks and things like that. There is this implication that it is not real, just because it hasn’t been experienced yet. But really, the greatest creations all come from our imagination and that’s why Shamanism, we spend a lot of time working with our imagination because it’s the way the doors fly open and we can go and do other things that haven’t yet been created. Getting back to the Spirit Animal, to forge this relationship you will never feel alone again. That being, and this is great because when you’ve maybe lost trust in all humans,
the Spirit Animals have this unending love and compassion. They love you in a way that humans, as great as they are, could never love you. Because they love you despite all of your foibles, despite all of the mistakes you’ve made, despite the way you’ve behaved
yourself. That is one thing that really helped me, especially when I was leaving medicine, which was a really scary endeavor because I was worried I was making a big mistake. Many people warned me this could be a really bad thing like, “Why would you leave this financial security? What if you get disabled? How are you going to pay for your kids’ college?” on and on about it. “Who would leave this great job, where you’ve got great hours, and tons of vacation, and getting paid well?” and all that.
Victoria: How do you encourage your clients? How does someone find their core beastie?
Sarah: Well, sometimes for people, it’s as easy as just asking them if there’s a wild animal that they feel is really important to them, and it’s… I always encourage people… It’s really typically a wild animal. You could start, maybe… If you’re only comfortable thinking of your dog, you might want to just look at the wolf. Or if you’re a cat person, and you’re just absolutely terrified of
thinking of any wild animal, consider studying the different kinds of wild cats there are. Sometimes people know. When you start to ask them, they’re like, “At my house, I have multiple eagle sculptures and a carpet with an eagle on it.” Sometimes just looking
around your house, you might get a clue of what’s going on with you. Then sometimes people, you can… Another way to find out is you can ask for a dream to show you, a night dream. If you pray to somebody, or you could ask for that to happen,
or just set your intention that you discover who it is. Another method that I really like to use is shamanic journeying, which is, basically, the classic way to alter your consciousness. Being a shaman or working shamanically is essentially to alter your
consciousness so that you can direct revelation or direct communion with the divine. Listening to a particular beat of drumming, then, with some quite simple instruction, you can go seeking in the spirit world…And that sounds maybe crazy and wild…go
seeking a spirit animal for yourself.
On my website, I have a journey that you can download, where I drum for you and talk you through that process. I get emails from people. Not infrequently, they’re like, “Well, I just decided to try that little shamanic journey. Well, I couldn’t
believe it when this animal that I did not expect showed up. Then it made so much sense. I was crying, and I was so happy. We were doing these things. I couldn’t believe it.” Of course, for some people, it might take more than one or two times. They may
have to try it a few times, because sometimes it’s hard to let go of being in this reality, just to relax ourselves and know that we can trust ourselves to go see what we can find.Those kinds of relationships are just invaluable in helping us to maintain our own
personal power and also just to encourage us to be who we are.
Sometimes we’ve been trying to behave in a certain way, because we think that’s what the society wants for us, or that’s what our mother wants us to do, or that’s what our partner wants us to be. The spirits will show you in a usually often humorous and funny way that that’s just silly. The best way to be is the way that you are, who you are.
Victoria: I love that. How did you first tap into…? Do you consider yourself a shaman?
Sarah: I don’t call myself that; I call myself a shamanic practitioner. That’s out of deference to all my teachers and all the incredible medicine men and women all over the world who know a lot more than me. But I do consider myself a practitioner of it. We say in shamanism that there’s no board certification. There’s no Pope who anoints you, “Hey, you’re a shaman,” or whatever. Really, that’s done by your community. If you do work, and it’s effective or it’s helpful, then they get to decide whether you’re certified or whether you’re legitimate. Out of humility—and not false humility, but just humility—and also just all the people that I’ve learned from, I know I have a lot more to learn. I love to do the work I do and share what I have to share.
Victoria: What was your practice of study as you tapped into your interest in shamanism?
Sarah: Well, the first thing that happened is I stumbled into Ted Andrews’ book, Animal Speak…He has the classic New age book on about animal totems. That’s where I started. Then I started getting messages and thinking, “Wow, this is funnily, strangely more powerful. I can’t believe it, but I’m really curious.” Then I started really wondering, “Well, who is my core beast?” I had a
list of 10 animals long, and I could not figure it out. Typical, I was trying to solve the problem with my mind, which wasn’t working. Then I stumbled into a recording by Sandra Ingerman, who’s a shamanic practitioner in the US, who writes extensively on this topic, on shamanism. I ended up just doing a shamanic journey using a recording, because she drums and talks you through.
I met a black bear, a mother bear, on that journey. It just felt really powerful. It felt really good. Even though when I came back from the journey, I was like, “Did I just make that up, or is this…?” I decided that I felt so good after that that I was going to keep
going back to her. I just was like, “I don’t know what the hell is going on and what I’m doing here on this sabbatical.” I knew I didn’t really want to go back to work, but I was here and not sure what to do. I just kept going back to her, to this bear. She just kept rubbing my back. She’d be like, “It’s all going to be okay. Where you’re going is not that far away. If you just enjoy the journey, it’s going to be okay.” She would take me on this… We’d sit on this mountain and look down at this… It was almost like the ocean, but it also looked like Lake Superior from one of the cliffs where I go hiking. She’s like, “Where you’re going is down there. All you have to do is enjoy it.” Then we would roll down the hillside laughing and crying like kids. You know what I mean?
She’d tell me other things like, “Seek out honey.” She would show me in the spirit world… We’d go to this old tree stump. Then
she’d dig out all this honey and share it with me. Then she’d almost say, “Paint it all overyour body,” almost like sweeten yourself was the message.
Some of it was confusing, but I just tried to do the best job I could in following what she was saying. In shamanism, it’s important you get all these messages, but then you’ve got to take them back to the reality, to the world that you live in, and apply them somehow. She just gave me ideas. Then eventually, after probably three or four months of journeying like that by myself, I eventually decided, “Wow. I have a lot more questions about what all this is. I know it’s helping me, but what is this?”
I went to a class in Minneapolis from the Foundation for Shamanic Studies. I studied with Timothy Cope….He’d be wonderful to interview, too. He’s fantastic. I could give you his contact information… I took the weekend class there, and there I learned a lot more about the general view in shamanism. I learned also how… We paired up, and we did shamanic work for each other. We journeyed and asked our spirit animals for help for the other person. I realized how incredibly powerful that was, how fun it was to do that work for another person. Then it just kept expanding from there. Then I just kept journeying more. Then I started sharing it with some of my coaching clients that I already had. “You know, if you have something that you’re struggling with, or whatever, hey, if you want, I could go on a journey and ask for help for you, if that’s something that’s interesting to you.” A few people took me up on that. What I learned from that was the spirits give strange instructions. Really some weird stuff happened, but ultimately, some really good stuff happened. I could see this mystery. A lot of these things are beyond words and hard to comprehend, but I remember just being blown away at the weird synchronicities and the help that people
got. What they were asking for, they were helped somehow. Whatever the struggle was, it was resolved, let’s just say. I was like, “Wow.” Eventually over time, I was just like, “I’m committing my life to this, because I see how much it helps. It’s just so delightful, and I love it.”
Victoria: That’s really cool. When you talk about these journeys and experiences you’ve had with the black bear and others, are those examples of the transcendent experiences that you…? Is that what you mean by that, or are there other…? Or do transcendent experiences mean something else?
Sarah: Well, for sure, I’ve had many transcendent experiences during journeying to meet with my spirit animals. Absolutely. Some of them feel more ordinary. I don’t want to say ordinary, but they could feel more routine. There’s a variety of different experiences. I always tell people… Sometimes people have a mind-blowing experience with their spirit animal, maybe the first time they go for a journey. Then the second time they return back, maybe it feels more not as extraordinary. That’s when I’ll say to them that old adage of chop wood, carry water. Once you have one incredible experience, we can’t demand that every day. We have to be willing to keep doing our practice and just see what happens. How fortunate to have had that experience once, because many people may never have such an experience. I would say I often have transcendent experiences when I’m out in nature or listening to music, sometimes a combination thereof. I have some music that I really like, and I’ll listen to that as I’m hiking in the woods. Sometimes in that experience, it feels like I am part of the natural world, or it’s very… I would call it ecstatic. I’ve had that, too, with dancing or meditation. It’s just really that incredible presence, where you feel like you’re part of the universe, and the universe is part of you, and there is no conflict.
Victoria: What’s the difference between the spirits, and communicating with the divine, and
what someone else may call God?
Sarah: I think from my experience that spirit animals, for example, or spirit teachers are a facet of God or the universe. It’s being shown to us in that particular format, because that particular format with that “avatar”, or that being, the way it presents itself,
the way it behaves, is the perfect medicine for us. God knows that, and that’s why it’s shown to us in that way. Then I think of a direct communion with God, “God” God, capital G, the whole enchilada, the direct, the… I don’t even know. There are so few
words for this. That experience, I think, is what people describe when they have a near-death experience. I have an experience that I describe in the book, where we were put through a particular initiation in some of my shamanic training. That was just such an overwhelming powerful feeling of love, but it really didn’t have necessarily a body or an embodiment the way that spirit animals do. I have Alice the elephant, who has this particular way she looks, and feels, and smells. I can just think of her, and I know all those textures, and that way, who she is. With that one opportunity or with that one moment when I felt that I was sitting in the lap of God, if you will. I don’t even know how you explain that, but I attempted to in the book…
Victoria: That’s a beautiful idea, just that, the idea of sitting in the lap of God.
Sarah: The only images that came to mind for me, the instant image that came to mind for me was the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, where you see the fingers touching. When I’that ceiling in in real life, I remember thinking, “I don’t really get that, but that’s beautiful.” It’s just beautiful on its own. That’s what it felt like, those fingers. It was almost like that finger of God touching out and touching my finger. I could just feel that, but it felt so vast and so massive. I probably had one other experience, where I felt like I touched into God. It was funny, because it reminded me… You hear these quotes in the bible where they say, “Be afraid,” or, “Be very afraid.” Maybe you can think of a better one, but when they talk about the fear of God. I’ve never understood that, because I was like, “God is benevolent. Why would you fear it?” I had an experience in a ceremony where I was shown, again, an aspect of the divine that was just so brilliant. It was like seeing… It made me laugh at how much I’ve tried to control my experience or tried to manipulate things in life. It was spinning numbers and impossible mathematical equations, things I couldn’t even really understand. I remember just thinking, “Oh.” It just made me want to get down on my knees and just
bow my head down like, “I have no idea. Show me what I’m supposed to do.” At that time, I was like, “Show me how to pray. Teach me how to pray. I don’t even know.” Oh, my goodness. It was so humbling.
That’s a really different experience from going to visit my spirit animal Alice, who’s just very gentle and loving, gives me salty goading. She’s always like, “Come on. Do that thing that you’re a little scared to do. You’re going to be fine. It’s going to be blessed. It’s going to be okay.” I feel fortunate to have had those experiences. They’ve been great teachings and helped me, those few experiences where it felt like the capital G God or the universe, whatever you want to call that great force, which is everywhere all the time.
Victoria: It’s so interesting that you bring up that notion which is repeated throughout the bible, the concept of be afraid. It seems to me like it’s be in awe of this power; be
overwhelmed by this.
Sarah: I am so glad you mentioned that. I went to Peru this summer. One of the things that I was working on was getting rid of my fear, just getting rid of any excess fear, which is a whole area. I will probably never get rid of all of it, but it was like, “Let’s get rid of some of it.” We did a medicine ceremony with a shaman there with San Pedro, which is a plant medicine. San Pedro is Saint Peter; it’s thought to open the gates of heaven so you can have a connection and get messages from the divine. It’s a way of altering your consciousness, again, to connect with the divine and learn more to help ourselves, to help our communities. At the end of the day, I had some amazing teachings. At the end of the day, I was sitting and staring at this incredible mountain. Through the medicine, the mountain was showing me these faces of warriors, queens, serpents, and dragons. This mountain was just ‘becoming ‘everything. It was just amazing. I was like, “Wow.” The medicine basically said to me, “Hey, Sarah, instead of
being afraid…because you can imagine sitting in front of a mountain that’s morphing into all of these things. It’s a little like, “Wow.” It’s overwhelming….
The medicine: “Instead of being afraid, why don’t you just be in awe?” That made me laugh. I was just like, “Yeah. In life,
why don’t we just be in awe?” It’s that, get down on your knees and just be like, “I have no idea what this great mystery is, but show me how to be, what to do, how to work with this, with what I’ve got,” which is very small, but it’s a small part of that vastness; you we have a role to play. That’s such a great switch from being afraid…instead you could just be in awe.
Victoria: Yeah. It’s so simple, it’s easy to remember. There’s so many things that I read about when I feel…or concepts that I come across when I’m sort of calm and in a sort of peaceful place, where I think, “Oh, that makes so much sense. And I just should
remember that the next time that I’m frustrated or irritated.” And of course, you never do. But I think I could maybe hold onto the idea of, just be in awe; that seems almost small enough that I could at least, at least after a first tirade, I could remember it and
there won’t be a second or third tirade. [Laughs]
Sarah: Somebody said we are the great forgetters, I think that’s so true. That’s why we’re here,
is to continue to try to remember and not fall asleep at the wheel. [Laughs]
Victoria: The great forgetters, I really like that. I have just a couple more questions. One of them is, you’ve mentioned a few times about the training that you did around shamanism, or to become a practitioner, so to speak. And I’m just curious what that
training looked like.
Sarah: The foundation for shamanic studies — which I highly recommend, it’s a wonderful, ethically orientated program — essentially, at its heart, they’re simply encouraging you to build your relationship with your helping spirits, and helping you to expand your map of this virtual reality. Because, for example, when you go into shamanism, there are three worlds: this world that you and I are sitting in right now, which has a non-ordinary aspect to it, too, that you can tap into, but it’s not a place you usually go looking for spirit animals or helpful spirits because it’s sort of a mixed bag here.
And there’s the lower world and the upper world. And the lower world and the upper world that are above and below, that’s where you can go looking for helping spirits. And if you start to go and work in those realms, you’ll start to realize that there’s lots of
different places you can go, and different places where different spirits dwell that can help you with different problems. So, what the foundation training helps you to expand those maps of those realities, and helps you to just build and deepen that relationship
with your spirit, which, also, by doing that, we learn how to maintain our personal power and how to work with the spirits so that we can help other people. In shamanism, we say when you walk full of power — and that’s not creepy power over other people, it’s the peaceful power that comes from being who you are and being full of the power of your own soul and full of the power of the spirit — that we tend to be able to do what we came here to do, and we tend not to attract too many experiences
that detract us from that work. So, it’s not to say that our lives are perfect or effortless [Laughs], but they’ll be easier and we can do things with less fear. They give you a lot of exercises, they put you through a lot of different things. You spend time in nature and learn how to communicate directly with the spirits of nature. You learn how to protect yourself and to work in such a way that you don’t take on anything that would be deleterious to yourself. So, there’s a lot that goes on.
Victoria: I think that’s an interesting point of remembering that you are putting yourself out there in a way that, you know, this is very…I imagine, could be draining, exhausting work, and you are inviting your clients or people who are working through something to come into an intimate space with you. And I think that we forget that that does… And this is true for all types of healers and counselors. And it doesn’t matter sort of what your structure it takes for you or how you do this work but learning how to protect yourself. And I’ve even wondered about that in terms of social work school and friends of mine who have studied in that type of work or teachers, that they don’t get a lot of training about protecting themselves.
Victoria: Which is…
Sarah: Yeah. And if you’re empathic and you’re going open to people, then…which is a beautiful thing to be able to connect and be able to sense the pain in another person. The problem is, if you jump into that pain or you connect and take that on, then also
what happens is you’re really no longer able to help that person.
Sarah: It’s kind of like one of my mentors, Martha Beck talked about. You want to be standing on the edge of the pool while the other person might be drowning that sorrow or that fear or that whatever it is, but you don’t want to jump in there. But you want to see what’s there, but you want to be able to stand firmly on the poolside and be able to reach out a hand to them and invite them into another place.
Victoria: Yeah. Yeah. That’s a good way of describing. Yeah.
Sarah: And the spirit animals can really help with that because they… That’s really one of their rules is to act as guardian and protector. And I also like to think of them almost like a spiritual bouncer. And I invite people to play with that. It sounds so crazy, but if you have a particular animal you’re drawn to, you’re walking down. Maybe you’re in New York, and you turn a corner and you’re like, “Uh-oh. There’s nobody around here, except there could be guys coming towards me.” Just call that, the spirit of that wild animal, to be with you and protect you and see what happens. It’s really kind of interesting.
Victoria: Yeah. That’s really interesting. What do you say to people that you meet that are highly
skeptical or uncertain or it’s just a completely foreign concept to them?
Victoria: Yeah. How do you approach that? Or maybe it doesn’t matter? Everybody’s kind of
doing their own thing.
Sarah: If they’re coming to a healing ceremony, then they’re coming to meet, asking for help. I always say it’s okay to be skeptical. You don’t have to be a believer in this work for it to work, but you do need to be open to receiving the healing. So, you need to be able to sort of set that part of yourself aside for…at least for an hour or two while we work. But then you feel free to invite that skeptic back and let him and her pick apart whatever happened and see if you think what happened, if anything did happen or it didn’t. And that’s up to you. That’s the thing about shamanism. It’s not like I state to believe, “Don’t you believe there are spirit animals? Believe me. Trust me. They exist.” Because it’s not that. It’s, “Here’s an opportunity for you to go see yourself what do you think.” And so, I always try to just present it that way. So, when people come to classes, for example, hoping to
find their spirit animal , I always just say, “Hey. Skeptics welcomed. In fact, good idea. Bring your skepticism. But for the hour while we do this journey, ask your skeptic to take a backseat for a little while so that you can have the opportunity to let go for a little while.” And then once you’ve been journeyed and you’ve written about them in your journal, invite the skeptic back and let yourself think, “What happened to me? What do I think about that? How do I feel after this
Victoria: Yeah. Absolutely.
Sarah: Skeptics welcomed.
Victoria: So, one thing I’ve been a little confused by just in general… And, actually, it was part ofthe thing that sort of started me down this journey of wanting to tackle this project is it very quickly gets very muddled for me when you read an article about or you’re talking to someone and they say, “Well, I’m an intuitive nutritional dietician who’s certified and registered, but I also read tarot, and I also believe in crystals or…” It seems like sometimes when I talked to people, they’re pulling from a lot of different things, and so, to me, it’s like I end up with this sort of tangled ball of yarn, of like, I don’t… It’s like, how does it all interconnect? And maybe it’s like we do in anything in life, you pull from different things, and that’s okay, but it struck me when you mentioned, earlier in our conversation, about Mercury in retrograde. And that’s something that I feel like…and I don’t totally understand it, but I hear that a lot, and I hear it from a lot of different people who have very different practices. And so, I was just curious for your take on
Yes, some do like a patchwork quilt of all these different ways? I don’t know what the answer is for people, but one thing I do know is one of my most respected and beloved teachers, I remember her saying, she said somebody was talking about Reiki shamanism or some combination where people are blending things, she said, “I don’t know what that is.” It was really, kind of a strong message to be pure in what you’re doing. And the other issue, I guess, would be… And so, I don’t know whether that’s right or wrong; that tends to be where I lean. But I’m open and I would never tell anybody what to do. I think that’s between everybody and what they’re feeling like doing.
But one thing I think that is true is that, ethically, for example, when somebody comes to me for shamanic healing, or comes to a person for, let’s say, shamanic healing or something like that, I feel like it would be unethical of me after a healing, for example,
to say, “And hey, I sell these vitamin supplements and I think this would be really good for you.” For me, that feels like that would not be right. So, for example, I have flower essences that I make, but if I decide to offer that to somebody after a shamanic healing, I just give it to them. So, I think there’s all kinds of quandaries, and everybody has to investigate that for themselves, what feels right. I’m not saying that’s wrong for somebody else to do, I’m just saying that we have to be careful when we enter into
these sacred things with people that they might feel pressure to… Yeah. That’s where it gets a little muddled for me. But, for me, there’s plenty to explore in shamanism, so I
feel like that’s where I’m at right now.
Victoria: Yeah. Yeah, you’ve got enough. [Laughs]
Sarah: Yeah. [Laughs] For sure.
Victoria:This has just been so delightful to get a little insight to your
process and your thoughts, so I thank you. It’s really been a privilege.