Shamanism defines health as being in balance with the sacred, and lack of health as violation of the will of the sacred. Psychology characterizes the sacred as an experience of something that evokes rapture, awe, exaltation or ecstasy; something that is even dreadful in its intensity and power. As opposed to the profane or ordinary, the sacred is often perceived in modern culture as something alien or other; while indigenous and earth-based cultures make no distinction between the sacred and the profane. In urban life, at least, the sacred is not something we experience in our busy everyday routines; unless we somehow slow ourselves to witness a sunset or feel into a sudden sense of longing or love.
Only then, in the spaciousness of attention, are we aware we have generally tuned out the sense of something powerful and unknown. Something sacred often invokes a feeling of mystery beyond the power of words to describe. The term numinous is a connotation for the sacred, describing it as something which provides an experience or alteration of consciousness independent of human will; arousing, affecting, bedazzling or blinding one to other realities. Both sacred and numinous are words connected to the idea of soul; the creative, sacred life force that imbues all things with energy and meaning.
The soul is not just an element, region or dimension; but rather a perspective of deepening, noticing, penetrating and insight. The soul can extended beyond humanity to the world at large, to forms and objects around us, whether natural or man-made. Each thing has a spark of soul at its core. Psychology is deeply tied to soul; so much that we can refer to psychologists as doctors of the soul. Similarly, the province of the shaman [as technician of the sacred] is disorders of the soul. We can call shamans masters of ecstasy, they are great specialists in the human soul; they see it, know its form and its destiny.
Modern culture has repressed the contents of the unconscious and summarily forgotten it entirely; disregarding the magic and mystery there. Conversely, shamans rely on the power that issues from the sacred to conduct their healing activities. Yet, the enormity of the split between urban lifestyles and the vast depth of the psyche looms over modern humans. Modern humans do not understand yet that, the discovery of the unconscious means an enormous spiritual task; which must be accomplished if they wish to preserve their civilization. The only way to address the deep loss of connection to soul, they experience as a species, is to reestablish their connection to the sacred.
In the physical or material world, the sacred manifests through wild nature as an infinite source of life and creativity; waxing and waning in eternal cycles of death and rebirth. Shamans read nature, regarding and interpreting the elements and events that communicate through soul at all times and places. Modern humans’ increasing analytic thinking and desire for progress through the manipulation of the natural world is devastating to their well-being. Their lives are dominated by reason, who is their greatest and most tragic illusion. By the aid of reason, they assure themselves, they have conquered nature.
As humans, of all cultures, our connection to nature is ancient and undeniable. At the most profound levels of the unconscious, everything becomes less and less differentiated until our ego no longer exists as a separate entity. The deeper layers of the psyche lose their individual uniqueness as they retreat farther and farther into the darkness. Here they become increasingly collective until they are universalized, merging with the body’s instinctual and biological functions; and eventually with nature itself. Hence, at bottom the psyche is simply world.
Since psyche and matter are contained in one and the same world, and moreover are in continuous contact with one another and ultimately rest on unnameable transcendental factors, psyche and matter are two different aspects of one and the same thing. Whatever the external landscape, the internal psychic landscape mirrors it; inhabits it, gives birth to it but also dies into it. The degree to which we are able to perceive the sacredness of what is manifesting around us in nature is the degree to which we are able to believe in the divine aspect of what we commonly know as our own human nature.