Amongst many books that inspired me was Serge King’s Urban Shaman. For me it bought together what at first might seem to be two juxtaposed concepts, that of shamanism and urban living (which I also equated with an element of westernised contemporary living). It was over 12 years ago that I first read the book and a lot has happened since then. What excited me was that it provided a sense of a bridge between traditional teachings and esoteric knowledge and the modern world. It showed a way that the two things could coexist and, more than that, be of real pragmatic value and have relevance now. Also in the mix was the link to the Hawaiian traditions, particularly the notion of Aloha, which for some reason unknown to me at the time seemed to strongly resonate and beckon.
As someone with an empirical and evidence-based background, firmly embedded in modern city living (ok I live on an island but the similarities with the Hawaiian islands start to run a bit thin after that!) the lure of such a path was not something that was immediately obvious. However, I was gripped, and this was one of the influences which paved the way for me establishing Urban Huna in the UK.
Shamanism: Concepts and Labels
I have predominately trained in the adventurer tradition of Huna. For convenience when describing this a near equivalent term ‘shamanism’ is sometimes used. Shamanism is actually a term specific to the Tungus people of North Asia but is often been generalised to refer to particular ways of thinking and acting. These practices include: healing; communicating with people, animals, objects, and spirits; ritual; working with symbols; and journeying into inner worlds. Such practices can appear to many to be magical and possibly at odds with much of mainstream modern western living.
In ancient times the shaman could be considered as a ‘fringe dweller’ operating outside of conventional norms. This included an ability to see things differently and take new perspectives on situations and relationships. A shaman was also considered to be a ‘walker between worlds’ with the ability to provide a bridge between the seen and the unseen. In modern times we may also consider that this can refer to someone who is able to provide a bridge between traditional knowledge and modern ways – an individual who can draw on ancient wisdom and patterns and develop new applications and evolve to suit contemporary circumstances.
Despite there being a growing movement of modern shamanism encompassing a variety of traditions, for some, the term ‘shaman’ may have certain connotations which may make such practices seem less relevant to modern life. Of course, this is just a label for particular philosophies and practices and perhaps the use of alternative terms, such as, ‘wise woman’ or ‘cunning man’ would be more compelling to some people.
The approach to Huna I work in is the kupua or adventurer tradition. An extended term ‘kalakupua’ emphasises the ‘magic’ of the adventurer approach. Underpinning this is Aloha, relating to love and connection and provides an inherent ethic. Regardless of terminology, it involves a philosophy, mindset and practices which entail treating life as an adventure and being a healer of relationships in the widest sense. This results in bringing magic into your own life and the life of others.
The Relevance to Modern Urban Living
So why might these qualities and practices be relevant to modern living? I believe we have drives towards connecting with others and our environment and seeking deep meaning. In some ways there may be a paradox that while we live in the most technologically connected time ever, for some people, there is a sense that we are more alienated than ever. Alongside this, for some, there is a certain sense of sacredness that is missing in peoples’ lives and a disconnect from a deeper meaning of life which can be obscured in the day to day ‘busyness’ of modern living. Modern society certainly produces contradictions and extremes, such as: the huge divide between rich and poor; massive amounts of data and yet questionable amounts of trustworthy information; and technology that can be used to harm and to heal.
Despite these types of issues in modern life, I don’t buy into a dichotomy of modern being considered as negative and ancient being considered as positive; of urban and man-made being somehow bad and rural and natural being good. Each city has it’s own energy field as does each forest. It is possible to communicate with man-made objects as it is with trees and plants. Indeed stretching the definition, one might consider that what we have evolved into as modern urban dwellers could be considered perfectly ‘natural’ as it is the natural manifestation of much of mankind at this present time.
The Kupua Approach
Kupua approaches can work quickly which is especially useful to keep up with the fast pace of modern life. The methods require action and first hand embodied experience and have a high practical value. One notion in Huna is ‘pono’ which refers to ‘effectiveness is the measure of truth’. Certain philosophies and techniques survive and thrive because they are proven to work in practice. In modern times. as in ancient times. effectiveness is a vital criterion for survival. The approach consists of a wide range of high utility techniques which are flexible to adapt to a range of situations encountered in modern life. Moreover, in the adventurer tradition, there is no need for complex tools and paraphernalia, we all have the essential tools of body and mind with which to work. To this end, what I term the ‘Huna adventurer’s kit bag’ contains a huge amount of items yet takes little effort to carry, if you really want to take the journey and bring it with you.
Over time more people are living in cities. It is estimated that now over half of the world’s population live in urban environments and that trend looks set to increase. In Urban Shaman Serge King writes:
Although shamanism is usually associated with primitive or wilderness settings, its application in urban environments is both natural and needed. First of all, a shaman is a healer, regardless of culture or environment. Secondly, there are more people living in urban areas today than in nonurban areas (suburbs and towns are considered urban), and it is these people who need the most healing.
Consider the population density of Big Island, Hawaii which is approximately 45 people per square mile by some estimates. Compare this with Birmingham the city in which I live in the UK, with an estimated population density of approximately 10,620 people per square mile and this may provide some sense of perspective.
Densely populated urban environments provide great opportunity for healing of relationships. Of course, healing in this sense is not confined here to formal therapeutic or counselling type approaches. Everything is in relationship to everything else and anything that is done to improve these relationships, on whatever scale, increases effectiveness and makes a difference.
So whether you consider yourself a full blown adventurer, a shaman, a cunning man, a wise woman or simply a clued up, curious, modern person who wants to improve their own effectiveness and help others in the process, the concepts and practices that comprise ‘Urban Shamanism’ are there to explore. In the boardroom, in business, in the underground railway, in cafes and bars, wherever, I believe we all have the opportunity to be effective and make the world a better place, city by city by city, spreading Aloha as we go.
Pete Dalton ©2018
This article first appeared on Aloha International.