A precept of many forms of medicine and therapy that predate our own maintains that prospective healers - shamans, medicine men - must suffer through and transcend their own wounds before they can exercise their new-found healing powers.
Their ability to diagnose and combat illness in others is derived from their intimate encounter with the reality of illness, and its true underlying sources, within themselves.
Because of this, spiritual and/or physical trauma would often serve as a precursor to someone adopting the shaman's vocation. Oftentimes there would be two such internal crises: one occurring in childhood and another in adolescence. The wound obliges would-be healers to connect with the unseen world in order to regain spiritual equilibrium.
Again there is the sense of something missing from the known paradigm within which the healer exists, the need to seek for a broader conception of reality and definition of Self.
This period of suffering and searching constituted a form of initiation, a process through which shamans and medicine men broadened their perceptions to encompass a deeper and wider view of reality, of the full depths of both sorrow and joy in human life.
Any journey involves things unknown and unseen. None of us would step outside the ‘safe arms’ of the status quo unless we felt that something was lacking there; that there was something more expansive and fulfilling still to be found.
This search invariably involves pain, privation and other forms of suffering. But these emotional straits are oftentimes what prompts the potential healer to grow and expand in his or her view of the nature of things.
Fear, for example, can be used as a springboard into new life. Feeling fear and moving forward in spite of it can change our very conception of ourselves.
Existential Unease that Spurs the Artist's Quest
Artistic pursuits, spiritual seeking, psychological explorations... these sorts of endeavors are usually born out of a state of existential unrest. It's instinctive: The presence of pain makes one immediately search for possible ways to soothe and/or end it.
It brings things back to the age-old question of suffering, of being wounded. Is it necessary for art, for self-awareness, for 'enlightenment'?
It's not so much a matter of suffering being inherently connected with growth and consciousness raising, per se, but rather that we human beings just need some kind of motivation in our lives.
The wound, then, can serve as the impetus for seeking answers to hitherto-unasked questions; for finding an artistic response to the problems of existence when none of the world's tried-and-tested roads will serve; for learning to listen to your own inner voice when the words of others fail to soothe or clarify one's underlying unease.
I'm generalizing a little for the sake of illustration, but basically, people who feel satisfied in their lives, happy, like the world provides for their needs and holds its own meaning, aren't typically going to feel called to pursue the deeper questions of life.
The First Physicians
Shamans and medicine men often served as the healers within a tribal context. They could be considered the first physicians. Their particular therapies often addressed the spiritual and emotional condition of their patients rather than the physical body, but this did not mean that physical healing did not occur.
Indeed, mind-spirit-body was usually perceived as one whole and complementary system. The condition of the body was thus seen as a reflection of inner reality. The arbitrary separation that is such a fixture of Western medicine didn't apply within these ancient therapeutic models.
In the third installment of The Edge of the Known trilogy, Humanity's Way Forward, narrator Brandon Chane and his bandmates receive a write-up in an alternative magazine that likens their music to the healing arts of shamans from antiquity.
The members of this band have been surprisingly candid about their own difficult pasts in their various interviews; and it’s not hard to see, amidst the accounts of drug addiction, isolation, physical and emotional abuse, etc., the arc of ‘trauma followed by artistic release and a return to wholeness’ that is so prominent in the archetypal story of the shaman. It’s particularly evident in the struggles of guitarist/singer Brandon Chane.
The echoes of those scars can clearly be heard in Edge of the Known’s music. But one can also discern, quite distinctly, that other inexplicable thing that is within all of us, the undying flame that transcends our wounds and sufferings, that connects us to one another despite all that we’ve struggled and suffered through. If this isn’t shamanic art then I don’t know what is.