Joe elder1We are all on a journey of spiritual awakening and the only thing that holds us back from living a powerful, spiritual life is fear! Therefore, healing fear is the ministry and goal of the true Shamanic Pathway. Some believe the shaman’s role is to offer general healing using various rituals, sacred herbs or magical powers. Yes, sacred tools are important, but there is a deeper wisdom that comes once the shaman has aligned fully with the heart and soul of the seeker.

If, for example, a seeker has deep fear around “outsiders” or "evil spirits" the Shaman doesn’t try to reason with him. Instead they lovingly accept, without judgement, that person's belief, and seek ways to heal the underlying problem.

This does not mean the shaman will agree with the person. It means that the shaman knows that the person is caught up in fear and it is the fear that must be healed. As this is healed all strange and unreasonable fears will automatically dissolve. The shaman assists the inner healing needed to help the seeker open to light of his/her soul, which will eventually reveal that their fears are unfounded.

The shaman has no "attachment" and accepts his/her role to simply shine a light on the healing pathway.

This knowing and total acceptance is the foundation of all deeper wisdom. It is also why the Shaman embraces so many tools and modalities in order to offer healing to others.

Many years ago, I trained with a Blackfoot Elder/Holyman in the deep south of Alberta in Canada. (See the main photo above) Like all Blackfoot people my teacher had a special Medicine Lodge (large tipi) painted with his totem spirits. When he would offer healing to the Blackfoot people of his tribe he would enter wearing a huge bear-skin, shaking a rattle, shuffling his feet and offering the Bear Chant. The bear-skin was embroidered with elaborate beadwork, and little mummified birds, wrapped in tiny beaded buckskin jackets, dangled from the edges of the bear skin. It was utterly fascinating.

My job was to keep the smoke (smudge bowls) going and waft the smoke towards the seekers and towards my teacher as he offering a ritual healing to each person assembled there. Sometimes he would embrace the seeker, offer prayers, shake his rattle over the person’s body and give them herbs to drink/consume. At other times he would simply pat them on the shoulder. Yet every person would leave the lodge feeling better and confident. I also saw many amazing healings. Yet, when I asked for healing for an eye problem I had a very different experience. The old man told me to go into the lodge and wait for him. I was a little anxious, expecting the full bear-skin regalia, but he entered the lodge wearing his usual cowboy shirt and jeans. He smiled at me and said, “aw, you don’t need that. You just need this.” He held up a small wild crocus that grew in profusion on the plains. He had pulled them up by the bulb and crushed them into a paste. He then applied it to my forehead (not my physical eyes!) and said a blessing. He had realized my “eye” problem was in fact my third eye opening and interfering with my “eyes.”

You will not be surprised to know, that of course my eyes improved, and that the crocus is in fact related to the crocus that makes up spikenard, a sacred oil of the far east that comes from the Himalayas. I realized, for myself, that I obviously had a lot of fear around “seeing” and my teacher had offered me a “blessing” to help me overcome my inner fear. I certainly felt very blessed and so filled with gratitude for my weird and quite unique journey with this teacher and all my teachers. (I have written about this in detail in my Shaman’s Door series!)

But where do these fears come from? Most of them are quite unconscious. Others seem to arise spontaneously and often without any memory of trauma. Many say they are “karma” or from previous lifetimes, but that is not the Native American traditional way of seeing things. They believe that most of these unconscious patterns are family or even tribally connected. This is one of the reasons that the highest prayer or blessing is “to all my relations.” Yes, this includes all the animals, and all humans, and Mother Earth herself, but it is also focused on our/your blood family and the patterns that run through families.

When I first connected with people on the Indian reservations, they wanted to know about my family. Luckily, we have lots of great Scottish stories to share, such as the one about Robert the Bruce and the spider; and my Mother’s favourite story of how the dastardly Cameron Clan betrayed the clans, and so much more. My teachers wanted to know these stories to understand the patterns of energy that ran through me, from those ancient Scottish people, and so much more, because they knew that one of my spiritual duties (or dharma if you prefer) is to heal these patterns. 

This is why the true shaman knows that much as they offer people healing, their inner duty or greatest challenge is to heal their family lineage.

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Our families offer us the hardest challenges, yet when we meet these challenges they bring enormous gifts of love and inner power. It is easy to work with friends, colleagues and “others”, because we always have an “out” and can thus remain more detached. The shaman who can meet the challenge of offering compassion, healing and kindness to family members who treat you with disrespect, cruelty or indifference. Or refuse to look at their “issues” and blame you, or most frequently, cut you out of their lives because all kinds of bogus reasons, are the greatest and most powerful challenge in the life of the true awakening master.

And yet....When these kinds of experience occurs in your family, recognise that you are now strong enough to take on the deepest challenge of all... healing the family patterns.

It is so easy to take it personally. It is easy to say “the heck with them, how dare they, etc” and just walk away and having nothing to do with them. And certainly if there is abuse of any kind, you must walk away from that. However, even if you are not in the same room as your family members, even if they have passed over into the spirit realms, the patterns remain, and those patterns will resurface in your life until they are healed, honoured, and blessed.

If we are to live the shaman life, we have to recognise that we are always on duty to the world, and to those around us, therefore the shaman's duty is to remain connected, open, heart-based and understanding when emotions run high. This is particularly challenging during the holidays when we gather with our families to bless and celebrate our family connection. We may find ourselves in a large room of family members who may have been a source of personal suffering for many years. This often includes childhood traumas and in many cases they are totally unaware of any pain you may be carrying from their actions during your childhood or early adolescence. They may even tease you about these wounds, or negate them with humour. This can and often does hurt, no matter how much work you have done on healing those wounds.

So often we fall into anger, bitterness and accusations and create our own little drama by storming out of the room. Or we may try to awaken or educate these same loved ones by pointing out how much they hurt us, but now we are spiritual, we have forgiven them for these horrendous “sins.”

This “holier than thou” approach rarely works, because it is based on them being “wrong” and you being “right!” Instead of reacting, the shaman remains awake in the moment. If you do, you will soon learn how much healing has been achieved (or not!) When we sit down to dinner with those loved ones we find that Uncle, Mother or Father begin to make a few snide remarks about the crystal you are wearing or when you going to get a real job. Your shamanic job is not to react but to sit quietly and feel into yourself. Is that wounded child awakening within you? Are you suddenly defending yourself? Or are you grinning and bearing it, with a fixed smile as tears well up in your eyes and a lump swells in your throat?

If you can stay conscious and self-loving at this moment, breathing deeply, and simply acknowledging where you are at, you will see that you have been just given a wonderful and amazing gift. This is the gift of self knowing and with that you can embrace any inner work you need to do.

It often said that it is easy to be a holy-man while you live in isolation in an ashram or on top of a beautiful mountain. It is a whole other experience remaining holy, centred and loving whilst in the midst of your family! However, once again I must state that abusive experiences should not be tolerated. The key that has helped me is to stay present and loving but try not to offer them any advice or insights (unless they ask me directly!) Staying awake helps you become the “sacred witness.”

Sacred Witness:

This terminology is used in all spiritual pathways. It simply means that we step back, internally, and quietly observe ourselves. Perhaps the heart beats faster, the hands sweat, the body shudders; yet you know that this is not real. It is a reaction to something you once believed you deserved. It is your history and it is coming up to be released, healed, forgiven and blessed.

We all have emotional hooks and when triggered they will pull us back into old dynamics. Unhealed, these dynamics cause us to fall back to sleep and forget who we really are. A hook can be an old memory but often simply family patterns of behaviour. We may not see them in our own family but find them easy to see in other families. If you can identify your personal hooks, you can also consciously choose to stay off those topics, but if someone else brings them up, you can consciously choose not to be hooked. Take a deep breath, go for a walk, or do whatever it takes to stay off the hook. And do not hook anyone else, because whether you acknowledge it or not, you too have your little methods of controlling your family. You know exactly how to make your Dad angry and you know what topics set off Auntie. We all know their buttons and how to press them. We have used these methods, when we were spiritually asleep, to stay safe and in control. We have used them to gain a sense of power or a distorted balance. The awakened ones no longer need to get reactions out of others. What would happen if you just let those you love and care about off the hook?

The fact is that most of us leave childhood with unfulfilled emotional needs and many of us continue to look to our parents or siblings for the fulfilment of those needs long after childhood. When you look to any family member for approval, appreciation or acknowledgement, you set yourself, and them, up for disappointment. In order to stay awake, it is vital that you stop expecting others to meet your emotional needs and instead turn to the source of all, Great Spirit. Only with this connection will you feel at peace, supported and loved.

If you are an adult and you are still seeking your dad’s approval, for example, you are likely entangled in a dynamic that keeps you both asleep. To become conscious of this dynamic would release your dad from needing to give or display approval. You invariably find, strangely enough, that when you release this pattern you actually receive his approval because it happens the very minute you no longer “need” it!  When you negatively react to a family member because you believe he or she “hasn’t changed” you immediately go back to spiritual sleep. You cannot adversely react to another without lowering your personal vibration. You actually “join” the level of the one which you judge. Usually we react because we recognize something in someone else that we resist in ourselves. By identifying the real issue in us, we access an opportunity for self-healing.


Every time we have hidden expectations of others, we create conflict in the relationship. When it comes to our primary family, these expectations are usually childhood based and even though we are no longer children, these expectations often remain and unconsciously run our lives, by negatively affecting our behaviour. Releasing expectations is like unlocking the prison door -- releasing us from our own imprisonment.


Responsibility can be used as a tool of manipulation and control within families. The word simply means the ability to respond but the key is knowing what response to offer. Your response, especially when breaking old patterns, is your gift. You can support, feed and encourage old dysfunctional patterns or you can support healing.

The key, at least for me, is to bring it back to myself and ask questions such as “why am I so upset?” or “I am here to be helpful, how do I do that?” So often we know exactly what to do with a “stranger” or a friend, but families have a whole set of unique dynamics. Families may apply gentle, and often not so gentle, pressure to make you step up and “save” another family member from the difficulty they face. A prime example is addiction. The gift our addicted family-member offers us, is to lovingly and gently support their spirit whilst denying or blocking the addiction. If you have a family member with addictions they are reflecting a family pattern of woundedness. They are carrying it from the unconscious to the conscious and it is uncomfortable, to say the least. This is a huge challenge and not one that can be easily overcome. However, it is a journey and it begins with acceptance of the gift being offered.


Because we want what is best for those we love, we often mistake judgment for caring. But judgment is not caring. No matter how much you love someone, you really don’t know what is best for them. You also cannot expect others to learn from your mistakes, so don’t impose your self-judgment onto them. Judgment is the quickest way to separate us and create friction. Keep your advice to yourself, and trust that the same source that woke you up will awaken within those you love.

Power Struggle

Most families have some form a power struggle operating, usually unconsciously. If you are still struggling for power within your family, this indicates where you are still asleep. The good news is, once you give up the power struggle the game collapses. You overcome the power struggle by owning your power and not giving it to anyone or trying to get it from anyone.

Live in the Present

You cannot be awake and living in the past at the same time. If you find yourself dealing with past issues in your family, it is only because these past issues are not resolved personally for you. When past issues come up in your life, it is your opportunity to wake up and heal.

Practice Appreciation

It can be so easy to focus on the things that annoy us about each other, but there are just as many things to appreciate. When your intention is appreciation of those you love, your attention is automatically directed to all the positive things to appreciate in the family and the world. Change your focus. As you watch Uncle go through his list of complaints about the world find something to admire in him. Praise your Auntie’s cake even if you have eaten it a thousand times before. Focus on the good things you inherited from them, even if it is only a good set of strong teeth! Appreciation is our inner guide.

Acceptance - Allowance:

When we force ourselves to accept others, there is always an element of non-acceptance that we fight against. Instead allow others to be as they are. By allowing others to be who they are without trying to change them, resistance dissolves and the energy between the two of you clears – bringing you both to a higher level of connection. As you do this, all judgement disappears as well.

Like so many, I had a difficult relationship with my parents until I realized they would never change and that they did not need to. Now all that is left is my appreciation and gratitude. You don’t need to make a speech at the dinner table, just do it. Change your attitude and you will suddenly find that, once the tension has gone, that healing sweeps in to take its place. This is the secret magic wand. The wand sweeps through the whole family and washes away all the tension. I realized I had failed to recognize that my judgment of them was keeping them asleep in my consciousness. The only one who had to wake up was me.

Letting Go

When all else fails, simply let go. Let go of all your opinions, fears, judgments, baggage and everything else that weighs you down. By letting go of everything, you are left with being present now. When you are present now, you are awake, and then it doesn’t matter what anyone does or says. It is all harmoniously perfect.


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A Quiet Invitation.. 

It is human tendency to meet people “where they are.” If someone is displaying anger we quickly match their energy, even if we disapprove of it we often fall into the trap. As they shout, we usually shout back asking them to calm down! We match them. But when you make a conscious choice to remain in alignment with your heart you remain in power. When others show up in lower states, try not to meet them by reacting, judging or even trying to change them by “cheering them up!” Not because this is bad, but because this is judgement! Instead remain where you are and invite them up to join you by sending love and maintaining your vision of their higher self. It doesn’t always work, but do not feel defeated. Instead recognise that at least you didn’t join them and remained awake, aware and connected. 

When you consistently, and daily stay in integrity with who you really are, eventually you will reach an energetic threshold, where most of the people in your world match your high vibration. This is the shamanic manifestation of living in the awakened state. This is, I believe, our greatest gift to the world. This is the ultimate “life purpose” that supersedes all others. Yes, you may be here to be a painter or a healer, but if you fail in this regard, you become a lesser healer and a lesser painter. This is the daily practice of mastery and who knows, maybe one day I will get it right too!

I hope this article offers you some practical insights into healing your family and those who are close to you. As I stated before, this does not ever mean you should accept abuse; you must love and respect yourself first. If your family is simply too abuse to be around, do the healing work from a distance knowing it will help at some level. As the family pattern is challenged and broken, the whole structure will morph into healing.

I hope this offers you insights and some potential pathways, however, recognise that you can never leave your family energetically, no matter how hard you try.

Please read the second part in this series...where I offer insights into my family patterns as an illustration that I hope brings some clarity!


This information is part of my book on Shamanic Healing, which is part of a One Day Intensive Workshop where I teach you the basic and advanced Shamanic traditions of healing and well-being. For further information, dates and places, please contact me: