Magical mystery tour

A therapist reconsiders his profession after a few lessons in healing from a remarkable shaman healer in Africa’s Kalahari desert

Editors | December 2004 issue

We were as far away from anything resembling civilization as you can get and still be on this planet. Along with psychology professor Jon Carlson and globetrotting shaman researcher Brad Keeney, I’d flown to Johannesburg, and then on to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. From there, we chartered a plane to fly us into the Kalahari Desert, the world’s most remote place outside of the polar icecaps. For the two hours we bounced around inside the little plane, buffeted by winds and thermal currents rising from the ground in 110-degree heat, we didn’t spot a single sign of human habitation.

Upon landing, I stumbled out into the blinding glare and staggered toward the bushes to empty the contents of my stomach. It was a good thing, too, since it was another hour’s grueling drive over the sand before we arrived at the Bushman village. This was a community of a few hundred people who still practice traditional healing rituals. They dance in ceremonies strikingly reminiscent of scenes from the rock art found in ancient caves. This is why we’d traveled so long, and so far—to learn more about their healing rituals, which seemed all but ignored by the rest of the world.

Once settled underneath the shade of a baobab tree, which would become our home for the next week, we greeted our Bushman hosts. The oldest men and women approached first, welcoming us in the distinctive clicking sounds of their !Kung language. They were pleased to have us in their village, the translator said. They looked forward to the dance that would be held in our honor the next evening.

Cgunta, one of several shamans in the village, was a man of indeterminate age, looking somewhere around 80. But considering the life expectancy for Bushmen is about half that age, he might have been far younger than that. He explained to me the source of his power, which is channeled into him through “arrows” or “thorns” directly from the Big God, who looks after all the ancestors.

What I’d already learned from my friend Brad Keeney, a former psychology professor who brought Jon and I along on this expedition, was that Bushman shamans, as well as most healers around the world, do pretty much the opposite of what I do as a therapist. I see my role in life as that of an explainer, trying to make sense of the mysteries that plague my therapy clients and my students back in southern California.

But a growing need to expand my sense of work, and perhaps life itself, prompted me to join Keeney on his latest journey into the Kalahari. Over the past 15 years, he has been documenting the work of Bushman shamans, and those of indigenous peoples throughout North and South America, Asia, the Caribbean, and Australia. Jon and I have become Keeney’s biographer of sorts, writing about the applications of ancient healing practices to contemporary psychotherapy in articles and the book American Shaman (Brunner-Routledge).

I should mention that although I have an interest in crosscultural healing methods, I’m a total nonbeliever in anything that involves formal religion. I’m even more suspicious of New Age “cures” and ceremonies that have transported indigenous methods to our world. Anything having to do with drumming, dancing, praying, chanting, eating plants, and the like might be comforting to some, or certainly entertaining, but is decidedly not my style. My role in our team was to be the skeptic, the one who’d look critically at what was going on and then attempt to make sense of it.

Cgunta, the oldest and most accomplished shaman of the Bushman village, moved a little closer to me, as if he were taking my scent. He seemed to find me as strange and interesting as I found him. I know that Keeney had been coming to this village several times a year, so he’d long ago been accepted as a Bushman; in fact, they called him the “Big Doctor,” because he could dance and shake long past the point at which everyone else collapsed into exhaustion.

The Bushmen believe that when someone is in trouble, whether through an illness, an emotional difficulty, or a curse, the community needs to come together and dance. Once the drums start beating, villagers start chanting and shamans begin to move rhythmically around the fire. The dancing turns more and more wild, resembling something between uncontrolled wiggling and a seizure. The Bushmen believe that all this shaking transfers healing energy from the ancestors through the shaman to the afflicted person.

“You’re a shaman?” Cgunta asked me, continuing our conversation.

I hesitated a moment, then nodded with a grin. I looked around, reminding myself of where I was. I could see huge termite mounds surrounding our camp. A few yards away Brad Keeney was laughing with a circle of village’s female shamans.

“And what is it that you do with your people?” Cgunta asked politely through our translator.

“Well, people come to see me in my office. I mean the place where I work. We sit down together and we talk about what’s bothering them.” I was feeling rather pleased with how simply I’d managed to explain what a therapist does.

“There’s a fire where you work?”

“No. Actually no fire.” I thought about telling him about the time that someone in my waiting room had dropped a smoldering cigarette butt in the wastebasket and almost started a fire, but I thought that something might get lost in the translation.

“The whole village is there?”

“Ah,” I hesitated, struggling to find the right way to explain this in terms that he’d understand. “You see, in my culture, in my village, someone comes to me alone, or sometimes with his or her family. That’s when we talk about things and try to figure out what’s going on, and what we might do to make things better.”

“You talk about problems with these people?” Cgunta said, very puzzled.

“Why yes, of course. People tell me what’s bothering them. Then we try to figure out what it means in their lives.”

Cgunta looked at me and put a hand over his mouth, as if he was trying hard not to laugh impolitely in front of his visitor. “And tell me,” he said, “have you ever helped anyone doing this?”

This broke me up. I started laughing and I couldn’t stop. With a simple question, this “primitive witchdoctor” had challenged the the basic assumptions of psychotherapy. I assume I’ve helped people, but have I really?

Cgunta seemed sincerely baffled by the idea that seeking to understand the meaning of one’s behavior served any useful purpose. “What, then, happens to the mystery?” he asked, shaking his head.

I’ve always been the sort of therapist who likes to explain things. It’s not just that I’m good at it, but it makes me feel that the world is logically ordered and that clients’ problems can be understood, and even resolved. Even my journey to visit the Bushmen was an attempt to clear up a mystery that perplexed me: how was it possible that healers like Cgunta and Keeney could truly help people by directing them to do the exact opposite of everything that I’d been doing? Instead of calming people down when they were upset, these shamans advocate increased arousal through dance. Rather than helping people seek understanding in their lives, they were actually encouraging people to embrace greater mystery.

Here was a colleague (in a loincloth yet!) who clearly believed the most important thing in life was the mystery that surrounds us. Rather than trying to clear up uncertainty and ambiguity, he wished to increase our awe and wonder. He seemed to believe that life’s problems were far too complex and multidimensional for us to ever comprehend. And besides, even if such understanding were possible, what good would that do?

The next evening Jon Carlson and I were sitting at the edge of a fire, huddled together for warmth. We could see a dozen other fires marking the boundaries of the settlement, designed to keep predators away. Keeney was dancing in the middle of the Bushaman shamans, bent over in what looked like rather painful convulsions. The other shamans were pressing spiritual “arrows” into his belly, transmitting all the healing power of their ancestors into him. He was dancing on the tips of his toes and moving closer and closer to the fire, and for a brief moment he was standing in the flames, a white ghost in the smoke.

It was pitch-black, and we could hear howls in the distance that could have been anything from lions or cheetahs to werewolves. We’d been told there were snakes everywhere—black mambas, green snakes, snakes so poisonous and deadly you didn’t even have time to think to yourself that you were a goner. And as if that wasn’t enough to strike fear into our hearts, the people in front of us seemed to be in an advanced state of hysteria.

“No way I’m getting in that dance,” I told Carlson.

“Me either,” he agreed. We high-fived to seal the deal.

So imagine my surprise when I was lifted out of my seat and carried, literally kicking and screaming, into the middle of the dance. I don’t know how to dance in my own culture, much less in outer Namibia, but Keeney was holding me in a tight embrace, shaking like mad. He apparently thought it was time to bring the agnostic observer from outside the circle deep into the mystery itself.

“I don’t believe in this crap,” I remember thinking to myself as Keeney dragged me closer to the fire. Everyone present was staring at me—the older people, the children. I looked over my shoulder and saw that Carlson had climbed on top of the truck to be out of range. He grinned and gave me a thumbs up sign. I started dancing. When Keeney grabbed me again, I must admit I was shaking too, just a little. The Bushman shamans were pressing the “arrows” into my belly, which seemed to kick-start the energy within me. I closed my eyes as tightly as I could, utterly terrified by the crazy scene in front of me—drums pounding, villagers chanting, half-naked women howling and digging their fingers into my chest. I felt Keeney holding me tightly so I wouldn’t collapse. My legs were vibrating, seemingly unable to hold my weight.

Bending backward, I risked a peek at the sky and saw stars everywhere, as clear as I could ever imagine. I felt the searing heat of the fire as I edged toward the center. It was then I saw a shooting star sail across the sky. And that’s the last thing I remember. I woke up some undetermined time later in the dark, where someone had dragged my unconscious body.

“What the hell happened to you out there?” Carlson asked when I awoke from the dance.

All I could do was shrug.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t come up with some sort of explanation for what had occurred. As I said, I’m quite good at that sort of thing. I could comment on the contagious effects of community ritual, the stimulation of such a novel environment, and the power of music and rhythm to produce altered states. I could admit that I wanted to please Keeney and my Bushman hosts, and therefore behaved consistently with their expectations. But what I’d already learned from Cgunta was that this wasn’t about making sense of things, but about not making sense of things.

During the following week, Carlson and I sat with Keeney under our baobab tree, recording his impressions of what could be learned from these people. We studiously avoided trying to explain the phenomena, concentrating instead on describing and exploring ways that ancient “wisdom traditions” could be applied to our own work. We became a curiosity to the village. Since most Bushmen work just a few hours a day gathering food, they entertained themselves by watching us speaking intently into our little recording machines.

When it came time to leave, Cgunta and the rest of the village came to say good-bye. The old healer had no teeth, so I offered him some hot tea and biscuits to dunk in it. We sat together on one of the gnarly roots of the old baobab tree. I looked up nervously because, the week before, a deadly green snake had fallen out of the branches just overhead.

While we enjoyed the cool shade, Cgunta spoke to me at length with great intensity; but without a translator present all I could do was look at him and smile. Perhaps he was telling me a story or critiquing my dance skills.

“More tea?” I said to Cgunta, gesturing towards his now empty mug. He nodded with a grin and held out his hand. I refilled his mug, adding plenty of milk and sugar. Then, suddenly, I found myself getting down on my knees thanking him for his generosity for bestowing me with a Bushman name, his own. Later in the truck rumbled in the tracks across the sand, I tried to freeze-frame the image of the old healer sitting contentedly in the shade.

Since I’ve returned from the Kalahari, I’m less and less impressed with explanations in my work. I’m trying to explore more and explain less. This has been true not only in my teaching and therapy, but also in my personal life.

A few months after returning from Africa, I was contacted by Emil, a grief-stricken man in his eighties who’d nursed his wife through the last years of her life. He began, not by talking about the sadness he felt after his loss, but by describing a disturbing, new pattern of behavior that he wanted me to help him figure out. Soon after his wife’s death, he said, he’d started becoming involved with what he called a new “girlfriend,” a dominatrix he hired to tie him up and inflict various forms of pain to his body, especially his genitals. He found this tremendously arousing, but it also provoked considerable shame and guilt. He asked me to explain what this meant, since, until this point in his life, he’d always seemed, to himself and others, the epitome of a gentleman. This shift was an inexplicable mystery to him, and that was what bothered him most of all.

There’s certainly no shortage of hypotheses I could have offered Emil. I’m certain that had we delved into his past, explored his relationship with his wife, and looked at the context of his life, this mysterious need for masochistic stimulation would not only have become clear, but also a logical consequence of some unsatisfied desire. But under the sway of my recent Kalahari tutors, I resisted my usual inclination to offer a comforting explanation.

Instead, I said to Emil that I thought it admirable that a man of his age still had such an active sex life, whatever form it took. And then I said to him, quite simply, that I thought the explanation didn’t seem important; some things should remain a mystery. This comment wasn’t part of some strategic plan or a conscious attempt to work outside the usual parameters of my therapeutic style; I just flat out didn’t know what else to say.

One week later, I received a brief note from Emil telling me that, for some reason, he no longer felt the impulse to see his dominatrix. He was relieved about this change—at least that’s what he told me in the note. But I didn’t know how to feel about it myself. In a previous life, I’d have tried to deconstruct and analyze the dynamics of this therapeutic interaction. I would have deeply probed the same question I was asked after regaining consciousness in the Kalahari: “So, what the hell happened?”

But I just shrugged, and then heard Cgunta whispering in my ear, reminding me that my job wasn’t to explain things to people, but rather to help them explore the mysteries of their lives, to dance, shake, and wake up the spirits within.

Excerpted from Psychotherapy Networker (July/August 2004), an adventurous, well-written magazine exploring the practice of psychology from many angles. It is valuable and enlightening for lay readers as well as professionals. Subscriptions: Psychotherapy Networker, PO Box 5190, Brentwood, TN 37024-5190, USA, custserv@sunbeltfs.com, http://www.psychotherapynetworker.org/.

Jeffrey Kottler is professor and chair of the counseling program at California State University, Fullerton and the author of 55 books. His recent book (co-authored with Jon Carlson and Brad Keeney) American Shaman: An Odyssey of Global Healing Traditions (Brunner-Routledge; ISBN 0-415-94822-3) explores Brad Keeney’s work.

For additional information on Brad Keeney’s work, see his brand new book Bushman Shaman: Awakening the Spirit through Ecstatic Dance (Inner Traditions, ISDN 0892816988) and his Profiles in Healing book series, which chronicles shamanic healing traditions in American Indian reservations, Japan, the Amazon, black Methodist churches of St.Vincent, the Zulu nation, and the Bushman people of the Kalahari. See www.ringingrocks.org. Keeney is distinguished scholar of Cultural Studies at the Ringing Rocks Foundation.

Solution News Source

Magical mystery tour

A therapist reconsiders his profession after a few lessons in healing from a remarkable shaman healer in Africa’s Kalahari desert

Editors | December 2004 issue

We were as far away from anything resembling civilization as you can get and still be on this planet. Along with psychology professor Jon Carlson and globetrotting shaman researcher Brad Keeney, I’d flown to Johannesburg, and then on to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. From there, we chartered a plane to fly us into the Kalahari Desert, the world’s most remote place outside of the polar icecaps. For the two hours we bounced around inside the little plane, buffeted by winds and thermal currents rising from the ground in 110-degree heat, we didn’t spot a single sign of human habitation.

Upon landing, I stumbled out into the blinding glare and staggered toward the bushes to empty the contents of my stomach. It was a good thing, too, since it was another hour’s grueling drive over the sand before we arrived at the Bushman village. This was a community of a few hundred people who still practice traditional healing rituals. They dance in ceremonies strikingly reminiscent of scenes from the rock art found in ancient caves. This is why we’d traveled so long, and so far—to learn more about their healing rituals, which seemed all but ignored by the rest of the world.

Once settled underneath the shade of a baobab tree, which would become our home for the next week, we greeted our Bushman hosts. The oldest men and women approached first, welcoming us in the distinctive clicking sounds of their !Kung language. They were pleased to have us in their village, the translator said. They looked forward to the dance that would be held in our honor the next evening.

Cgunta, one of several shamans in the village, was a man of indeterminate age, looking somewhere around 80. But considering the life expectancy for Bushmen is about half that age, he might have been far younger than that. He explained to me the source of his power, which is channeled into him through “arrows” or “thorns” directly from the Big God, who looks after all the ancestors.

What I’d already learned from my friend Brad Keeney, a former psychology professor who brought Jon and I along on this expedition, was that Bushman shamans, as well as most healers around the world, do pretty much the opposite of what I do as a therapist. I see my role in life as that of an explainer, trying to make sense of the mysteries that plague my therapy clients and my students back in southern California.

But a growing need to expand my sense of work, and perhaps life itself, prompted me to join Keeney on his latest journey into the Kalahari. Over the past 15 years, he has been documenting the work of Bushman shamans, and those of indigenous peoples throughout North and South America, Asia, the Caribbean, and Australia. Jon and I have become Keeney’s biographer of sorts, writing about the applications of ancient healing practices to contemporary psychotherapy in articles and the book American Shaman (Brunner-Routledge).

I should mention that although I have an interest in crosscultural healing methods, I’m a total nonbeliever in anything that involves formal religion. I’m even more suspicious of New Age “cures” and ceremonies that have transported indigenous methods to our world. Anything having to do with drumming, dancing, praying, chanting, eating plants, and the like might be comforting to some, or certainly entertaining, but is decidedly not my style. My role in our team was to be the skeptic, the one who’d look critically at what was going on and then attempt to make sense of it.

Cgunta, the oldest and most accomplished shaman of the Bushman village, moved a little closer to me, as if he were taking my scent. He seemed to find me as strange and interesting as I found him. I know that Keeney had been coming to this village several times a year, so he’d long ago been accepted as a Bushman; in fact, they called him the “Big Doctor,” because he could dance and shake long past the point at which everyone else collapsed into exhaustion.

The Bushmen believe that when someone is in trouble, whether through an illness, an emotional difficulty, or a curse, the community needs to come together and dance. Once the drums start beating, villagers start chanting and shamans begin to move rhythmically around the fire. The dancing turns more and more wild, resembling something between uncontrolled wiggling and a seizure. The Bushmen believe that all this shaking transfers healing energy from the ancestors through the shaman to the afflicted person.

“You’re a shaman?” Cgunta asked me, continuing our conversation.

I hesitated a moment, then nodded with a grin. I looked around, reminding myself of where I was. I could see huge termite mounds surrounding our camp. A few yards away Brad Keeney was laughing with a circle of village’s female shamans.

“And what is it that you do with your people?” Cgunta asked politely through our translator.

“Well, people come to see me in my office. I mean the place where I work. We sit down together and we talk about what’s bothering them.” I was feeling rather pleased with how simply I’d managed to explain what a therapist does.

“There’s a fire where you work?”

“No. Actually no fire.” I thought about telling him about the time that someone in my waiting room had dropped a smoldering cigarette butt in the wastebasket and almost started a fire, but I thought that something might get lost in the translation.

“The whole village is there?”

“Ah,” I hesitated, struggling to find the right way to explain this in terms that he’d understand. “You see, in my culture, in my village, someone comes to me alone, or sometimes with his or her family. That’s when we talk about things and try to figure out what’s going on, and what we might do to make things better.”

“You talk about problems with these people?” Cgunta said, very puzzled.

“Why yes, of course. People tell me what’s bothering them. Then we try to figure out what it means in their lives.”

Cgunta looked at me and put a hand over his mouth, as if he was trying hard not to laugh impolitely in front of his visitor. “And tell me,” he said, “have you ever helped anyone doing this?”

This broke me up. I started laughing and I couldn’t stop. With a simple question, this “primitive witchdoctor” had challenged the the basic assumptions of psychotherapy. I assume I’ve helped people, but have I really?

Cgunta seemed sincerely baffled by the idea that seeking to understand the meaning of one’s behavior served any useful purpose. “What, then, happens to the mystery?” he asked, shaking his head.

I’ve always been the sort of therapist who likes to explain things. It’s not just that I’m good at it, but it makes me feel that the world is logically ordered and that clients’ problems can be understood, and even resolved. Even my journey to visit the Bushmen was an attempt to clear up a mystery that perplexed me: how was it possible that healers like Cgunta and Keeney could truly help people by directing them to do the exact opposite of everything that I’d been doing? Instead of calming people down when they were upset, these shamans advocate increased arousal through dance. Rather than helping people seek understanding in their lives, they were actually encouraging people to embrace greater mystery.

Here was a colleague (in a loincloth yet!) who clearly believed the most important thing in life was the mystery that surrounds us. Rather than trying to clear up uncertainty and ambiguity, he wished to increase our awe and wonder. He seemed to believe that life’s problems were far too complex and multidimensional for us to ever comprehend. And besides, even if such understanding were possible, what good would that do?

The next evening Jon Carlson and I were sitting at the edge of a fire, huddled together for warmth. We could see a dozen other fires marking the boundaries of the settlement, designed to keep predators away. Keeney was dancing in the middle of the Bushaman shamans, bent over in what looked like rather painful convulsions. The other shamans were pressing spiritual “arrows” into his belly, transmitting all the healing power of their ancestors into him. He was dancing on the tips of his toes and moving closer and closer to the fire, and for a brief moment he was standing in the flames, a white ghost in the smoke.

It was pitch-black, and we could hear howls in the distance that could have been anything from lions or cheetahs to werewolves. We’d been told there were snakes everywhere—black mambas, green snakes, snakes so poisonous and deadly you didn’t even have time to think to yourself that you were a goner. And as if that wasn’t enough to strike fear into our hearts, the people in front of us seemed to be in an advanced state of hysteria.

“No way I’m getting in that dance,” I told Carlson.

“Me either,” he agreed. We high-fived to seal the deal.

So imagine my surprise when I was lifted out of my seat and carried, literally kicking and screaming, into the middle of the dance. I don’t know how to dance in my own culture, much less in outer Namibia, but Keeney was holding me in a tight embrace, shaking like mad. He apparently thought it was time to bring the agnostic observer from outside the circle deep into the mystery itself.

“I don’t believe in this crap,” I remember thinking to myself as Keeney dragged me closer to the fire. Everyone present was staring at me—the older people, the children. I looked over my shoulder and saw that Carlson had climbed on top of the truck to be out of range. He grinned and gave me a thumbs up sign. I started dancing. When Keeney grabbed me again, I must admit I was shaking too, just a little. The Bushman shamans were pressing the “arrows” into my belly, which seemed to kick-start the energy within me. I closed my eyes as tightly as I could, utterly terrified by the crazy scene in front of me—drums pounding, villagers chanting, half-naked women howling and digging their fingers into my chest. I felt Keeney holding me tightly so I wouldn’t collapse. My legs were vibrating, seemingly unable to hold my weight.

Bending backward, I risked a peek at the sky and saw stars everywhere, as clear as I could ever imagine. I felt the searing heat of the fire as I edged toward the center. It was then I saw a shooting star sail across the sky. And that’s the last thing I remember. I woke up some undetermined time later in the dark, where someone had dragged my unconscious body.

“What the hell happened to you out there?” Carlson asked when I awoke from the dance.

All I could do was shrug.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t come up with some sort of explanation for what had occurred. As I said, I’m quite good at that sort of thing. I could comment on the contagious effects of community ritual, the stimulation of such a novel environment, and the power of music and rhythm to produce altered states. I could admit that I wanted to please Keeney and my Bushman hosts, and therefore behaved consistently with their expectations. But what I’d already learned from Cgunta was that this wasn’t about making sense of things, but about not making sense of things.

During the following week, Carlson and I sat with Keeney under our baobab tree, recording his impressions of what could be learned from these people. We studiously avoided trying to explain the phenomena, concentrating instead on describing and exploring ways that ancient “wisdom traditions” could be applied to our own work. We became a curiosity to the village. Since most Bushmen work just a few hours a day gathering food, they entertained themselves by watching us speaking intently into our little recording machines.

When it came time to leave, Cgunta and the rest of the village came to say good-bye. The old healer had no teeth, so I offered him some hot tea and biscuits to dunk in it. We sat together on one of the gnarly roots of the old baobab tree. I looked up nervously because, the week before, a deadly green snake had fallen out of the branches just overhead.

While we enjoyed the cool shade, Cgunta spoke to me at length with great intensity; but without a translator present all I could do was look at him and smile. Perhaps he was telling me a story or critiquing my dance skills.

“More tea?” I said to Cgunta, gesturing towards his now empty mug. He nodded with a grin and held out his hand. I refilled his mug, adding plenty of milk and sugar. Then, suddenly, I found myself getting down on my knees thanking him for his generosity for bestowing me with a Bushman name, his own. Later in the truck rumbled in the tracks across the sand, I tried to freeze-frame the image of the old healer sitting contentedly in the shade.

Since I’ve returned from the Kalahari, I’m less and less impressed with explanations in my work. I’m trying to explore more and explain less. This has been true not only in my teaching and therapy, but also in my personal life.

A few months after returning from Africa, I was contacted by Emil, a grief-stricken man in his eighties who’d nursed his wife through the last years of her life. He began, not by talking about the sadness he felt after his loss, but by describing a disturbing, new pattern of behavior that he wanted me to help him figure out. Soon after his wife’s death, he said, he’d started becoming involved with what he called a new “girlfriend,” a dominatrix he hired to tie him up and inflict various forms of pain to his body, especially his genitals. He found this tremendously arousing, but it also provoked considerable shame and guilt. He asked me to explain what this meant, since, until this point in his life, he’d always seemed, to himself and others, the epitome of a gentleman. This shift was an inexplicable mystery to him, and that was what bothered him most of all.

There’s certainly no shortage of hypotheses I could have offered Emil. I’m certain that had we delved into his past, explored his relationship with his wife, and looked at the context of his life, this mysterious need for masochistic stimulation would not only have become clear, but also a logical consequence of some unsatisfied desire. But under the sway of my recent Kalahari tutors, I resisted my usual inclination to offer a comforting explanation.

Instead, I said to Emil that I thought it admirable that a man of his age still had such an active sex life, whatever form it took. And then I said to him, quite simply, that I thought the explanation didn’t seem important; some things should remain a mystery. This comment wasn’t part of some strategic plan or a conscious attempt to work outside the usual parameters of my therapeutic style; I just flat out didn’t know what else to say.

One week later, I received a brief note from Emil telling me that, for some reason, he no longer felt the impulse to see his dominatrix. He was relieved about this change—at least that’s what he told me in the note. But I didn’t know how to feel about it myself. In a previous life, I’d have tried to deconstruct and analyze the dynamics of this therapeutic interaction. I would have deeply probed the same question I was asked after regaining consciousness in the Kalahari: “So, what the hell happened?”

But I just shrugged, and then heard Cgunta whispering in my ear, reminding me that my job wasn’t to explain things to people, but rather to help them explore the mysteries of their lives, to dance, shake, and wake up the spirits within.

Excerpted from Psychotherapy Networker (July/August 2004), an adventurous, well-written magazine exploring the practice of psychology from many angles. It is valuable and enlightening for lay readers as well as professionals. Subscriptions: Psychotherapy Networker, PO Box 5190, Brentwood, TN 37024-5190, USA, custserv@sunbeltfs.com, http://www.psychotherapynetworker.org/.

Jeffrey Kottler is professor and chair of the counseling program at California State University, Fullerton and the author of 55 books. His recent book (co-authored with Jon Carlson and Brad Keeney) American Shaman: An Odyssey of Global Healing Traditions (Brunner-Routledge; ISBN 0-415-94822-3) explores Brad Keeney’s work.

For additional information on Brad Keeney’s work, see his brand new book Bushman Shaman: Awakening the Spirit through Ecstatic Dance (Inner Traditions, ISDN 0892816988) and his Profiles in Healing book series, which chronicles shamanic healing traditions in American Indian reservations, Japan, the Amazon, black Methodist churches of St.Vincent, the Zulu nation, and the Bushman people of the Kalahari. See www.ringingrocks.org. Keeney is distinguished scholar of Cultural Studies at the Ringing Rocks Foundation.

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