Religion tends to gives an individual a set of prescriptions about how he should live his life. But according to Mark Seelig, this is not sufficient for giving one’s life a true meaning. He has spent both his entire personal and professional lives trying to find his purpose on the planet, eventually finding shamanic ceremonies, which have lent a sense of ultimate meaning and validation to his existence.
I don’t have a religion per se, but I definitely consider myself a religious person. We have to be really careful with this word, religion, because for the majority of people the term religion is always associated with some form of institution. We should make a distinction between religious and religiousness – while religion is always associated with some kind of dogma and structure, religiousness, or spirituality, is the core nature of the human soul. And that is what I believe in: my religion is of getting in touch with my soul and of feeling this communion with some greater force that is there as a creative principle in the universe.
Spiritual practices have been gaining in popularity in the recent years. The reason for this is that people, young people especially, are getting bored with the traditions and customs of the institutionalized religions – Christianity, Islam or Judaism, to name a few. Since institutionalized religions have taken it upon themselves to deny people a personal chance to experience that feeling of communion with something bigger than themselves, they are starting to search for alternative ways to make sense of their life. Institutionalized religions have suppressed the individual in the sense that they don’t let him get in touch with the divine and with his inner self on his own. They have taken that feeling away from the individual, and transferred it only to the specific few – the priests and the ministers. And without that experience, an individual is unable to grasp the meaning of his life, his purpose on this world and therefore, he cannot develop a connection with his own soul, which, I believe, is the most important experience one can have. It is the most crucial thing in his efforts to live a contented life and without these kinds of experiences, humanity is at loss.
You don’t need to look hard to realize that; just take a look at the modern Western society. The system in which we live, supported by institutionalized religions, is turning against the individual. People do have the finances, the means to live a comfortable life, high status and possessions – but in spite of all that, there is still a lot of meaninglessness in their lives. They are at loss as to what life is about, and they try to search for ways to give meaning to their lives. I think a lot of them don’t even know what it is they are searching for, but they do realize that something is missing.
People should realize that institutionalized religions are not only endangering the individual, but to mankind as a whole. They are responsible for destroying native wisdom, wiping out communities and exterminating entire populations. That is just a historical fact. People have committed horrific crimes in the name of their holy god, and that, to me, is just plain crazy. Institutionalized religions have only hurt the individual, the society and the world.
Spirituality, on the other hand, focuses on the individual first and foremost. It gives him means to get in touch with his deeper self, with his true self, and the means to connect his soul with something greater than himself – with the divine itself. And that’s what institutionalized religions are afraid of. That individual, freed from the restrictions that have been placed upon him, will be capable of thinking by himself and making his own decisions. That is when they lose the power they hold over him and an individual is finally able to liberate himself.
The word “spirituality” sums up all kinds of experiences that get an individual in touch with his inner self. A teacher of mine once said that spirituality is like climbing the same mountain from different sides – the path may look a lot different from each side and the challenges an individual goes through may vary, but the end goal is the same no matter from which way you are trying to reach it. All of these different forms of spirituality intend to provide an individual with the means to get in touch with his soul and to comprehend his own place within the cosmos. They lend a sense of validation to your existence. And that, ultimately, is what the whole experiment of humanity is about.
I believe one of the most enlightening and intense forms of spirituality comes through shamanic ceremonies. I came across the substances that place you in shamanic states of consciousness very early in my life, when I was still a teenager. At the time, I didn’t know enough about what I was doing to be able to reach the state of complete awareness that is a shamanic state of mind. I used the substances, but I didn’t use them to their full potential. It was only much later, when I started to study shamanic ceremonies in depth, that I realized the possibilities those substances can offer me. It was only then that I was able to get in touch with my soul, and I got in touch with the divine – whether you want to call it god, goddesses, the spirit, maybe Wakataka, as the Native Americans do. It doesn’t matter what label you wish to attach to it. The point is that it is there, it exists, and shamanic medicine offers you a possibility to feel its presence and to commune with it. There is no higher sense of the self as in this state: where you are able to appraise your soul within the greater cosmos of the divine.
I have been practicing shamanic ceremonies for over thirty years now, as a participant and as The Guide. Still, I wouldn’t dare to describe myself as a shaman. The word “shaman” is believed to originally mean “The One Who Knows Everything”, and there are very few people in the world that are justified to wear that title. I respect the work of traditional shamans far too much to diminish them by calling myself a shaman. I wouldn’t even say I’m a neo-shaman, meaning a western shaman who has gained the greater deal of his knowledge over the internet and through extensive reading. Those shamans don’t practice a specific version of shamanism, but rather they combine techniques from different kinds of shamanism in order to create a particular mixture of different techniques that suits their needs and their knowledge best. Indeed, that is an explanation that would describe my work perfectly, but still, I am humbled by this title of neo-shaman, and I do not think I deserve it yet – if I ever will.
I am simply a facilitator, a guide in the shamanic ceremony, nothing more than that. I do not have the power to bring out the healing potential in people I practice the shamanic rituals with; I can only encourage them to search for a healing dimension within themselves. I can maybe direct the people, but cannot force them into the right way. Shamanic ceremonies are always about the individual’s self, and the biggest part of the work is always up to them. To take full advantage of the non-ordinary state of mind, they have to fully commit themselves to the experience.
An experience like this is certainly overwhelming. It can be challenging, even terrifying, and can easily be too much of the unknown to appreciate it fully, especially for a first-timer. I do practice them with people I didn’t know before, too, but they all have to meet certain criteria in order to participate in the ritual. They absolutely have to be mentally stable, they have to have at least some previous experiences with psychedelics and lastly, they have to be in satisfactory physical shape. Before we reach non-ordinary states of consciousness together, I need to be sure that each member of the group is capable of controlling the non-ordinary state of mind the shamanic medicine puts you in. If they aren’t, the ceremony would be unbeneficial for everybody involved. But they shouldn’t quit then; they can try different forms of spirituality beforehand, so that they can prepare their minds and their bodies for reaching the shamanic state of mind through the ceremony.
The beautiful thing is that nowadays, more and more people are learning about spirituality. They are finding out about ways to get in touch with the divine by themselves, and institutionalized religions are therefore slowly losing the power they hold over society. I have no doubt in my mind that the time will come, when spirituality will prevail over the institutionalized forms of religion. It was how the world worked for most of our existence, and we will find a way to get back on the right track again. Once humanity will not be afraid to find the meaning of their existence in spiritual experiences, we’ll be able to comprehend our life purpose. Only then, the mankind will truly become free.