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Finding spirituality through shamanism

Published: Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 16:01


The anthropology program offers a course on sprituality and shamanistic rituals. Bonnie Glass-Coffin shows images from a presentation. Delayne Locke photo


In this fast-paced world, many seek deeper peace through spirituality, meditation and religious devotion. For some, a course on shamanism offered by the anthropology department can expand spiritual knowledge. Bonnie Glass-Coffin, an anthropology professor, teaches such courses, including cultural anthropology, spirit and health, and shamanism. 

Glass-Coffin said a survey was taken by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) in 2004 in which freshmen from public and private institutions were asked if they were religious or spiritual and if they considered this aspect to be a significant part of their lives. 

Four out of five students and faculty described themselves as either spiritual or religious. 

"Somehow it's not OK to accept spirituality," Glass-Coffin said. "It's a historical artifact. Most students want more discussion on spirituality." 

She said the concept of liberal tought is about engaging in a plurality of ideas, which is another reason she teaches the course in a participatory way. 

"When you're doing a class about world religion, you have the sacred books of those traditions," she said. "Shamanism is a tribally based orientation of experience between the spiritual and the divine. There are no books," she said, adding that the models used are from the natural world. 

"A shaman is a man or a woman, who is a healer and teacher who carries deep cultural knowledge and passes that on and helps his or her community by deeply engaging in the unseen world — the world of spirit," Glass-Coffin said.

She was exposed to the realm of shamanism when she did a high school exchange program in Peru. 

Glass-Coffin said the shamanism course is an experiment, but she is passionate in allowing students to experience spirituality in the classroom. She said the reason she does this is to challenge the paradigm used in higher education to discussions that involve students' hearts as well as their minds. 

Glass-Coffin said she read an article from a book written by Mary Polin titled "Finding Calcutta: Confronting the Secular Imperative," that describes the great risk in academia of sharing personal and spiritual phenomena. According to Poplin, secularism in academia has become a hegemonic master narrative, in other words an overpowering rhetoric that limits free flow of spiritually based ideas. 

"There is an interest in exploring — giving students the opportunity to engage their hearts as well as their minds — that is not being met by some of their classes," Glass-Coffin said. 

She invites any faculty and professional instructors interested in these issues to form a learning community where they will begin exploring the ethical considerations for having spiritual conversations. 

The north Peruvian and central Andean based curriculum for the course follows the teachings of healer and teacher Oscar Miro-Quesada, who founded the Heart of the Healer foundation.

Glass-Coffin quoted Miro-Quesada, saying, "The most arduous, and the most important journey one will ever take is the 17-inch journey from head to heart." 

Recently, Glass-Coffin was a keynote speaker for the Women and Gender lecture series on women and spirituality. 

She said spirituality is "an awakening to the spirit within, an acceptance of all life's challenges, the paradox of surrender and action: choosing not to be a victim, an active engagement with everyday experience, empathy and compassion for others, leaving footprints fully living the gift." 

In her presentation, Glass-Coffin shared the idea of Anyi as a spiritual law as well as a law of nature: "It is at the heart of the principle that underlies the establishment of trust and mutual connection," she said. "When we operate in the field of Ayni, we touch a frequency that allows for the possibility of deep connection and nourishment, as well as the possibility for synchronicity and miracles." 

Anyi is a healing practice in the shamanic belief. 

According to the site Native American Shamanism, the practice is a system for psychic, emotional and spiritual healing and for exploration, discovery and knowledge gathering about non-material worlds and states of mind. 

Yali Szulanski, co-founder of Sacred Warrior, a boxing, training and healing philosophy, said that shamanism found her. 

"As I grow, I readily learn to accept and embrace the connection to the spiritual world," she said. 

Szulanski said her journey to shamanism began when she was 5 years old and she had recurring dreams in which spirits came to warn her of the void that would be left in her life from her father's later disappearance. 

"It was, at such a young age, a frightening and disturbing idea and set of images to be living each night," Szulanski said. "But I began to understand the messages as things in my life shifted, and other such recurring communications came to fruition." Szulanski said she has had communications with spirits around births and deaths in her family, as well as shifting events on a global scale. 

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