When braided together, single strands of hair become stronger. When gold, silver and copper are fused they form a powerful alloy called electrum, far stronger than each metal on its own. What about fusing spiritual traditions? Could Yoga and Kabbalah or Hopi shamanism and Druidism be blended together? If so, what might result?
Integrating spiritual paths is known as syncretism, and it's nothing new, in fact, it's quite old. Some syncretic traditions have been the result of intentional knowledge sharing, like the twisted hairs council of elders who united the spiritual knowledge of their Hopi, Mayan and Cherokee traditions in pre-colonial times to collect and share their most powerful healing rituals. Sometimes syncretism is an act of preservation, like Haitian Voodoo, a result of blending Catholic and indigenous rituals that was a fierce act of preserving spiritual tradition in the face of cultural annihilation at the hands of French colonizers.
From a narrow perspective, creative fusions of spiritual beliefs and rituals are viewed as diluting or compromising one or both traditions. But what if the weaving together of mythology, faith, religion, spiritual wisdom, ceremony and ritual created an evermore rich and nourishing practice? What do the traditions of Yoga and Shamanism have to offer each other, and us?
Multiple Paths Tame The Ego
We all know someone who is truly convinced of the superiority of their chosen style of yoga; the person who becomes sober or vegan and then judges those who do not follow the same path: we might have even been that person ourselves. It's an easy, ego-driven mistake to make, projecting our personal choices onto others.
As we dive deeper and commit more fully to our chosen path, we run the chance of being blinded by pride and self-righteousness; that even the most humble yogi can easily slip into this state of being 'spiritually myopic'. We can build a wall between what we perceive as 'right' and 'wrong' and all of a sudden, we lose compassion because we believe our our way of being compassionate is the right way.
Practicing multiple spiritual paths means that we must concurrently hold multiple perspectives and worldviews. This helps us evolve our opinions and judgments of self and other. It deepens our ability for critical inquiry, testing where we choose to place our faith, and challenges the comfort zone of rigid 'truths' by placing us is the groundlessness of universal truth that expresses itself in many many forms.
Universal Truths Bring Power
Walking multiple paths is like getting a second opinion at the doctor. One doctor's diagnosis could be wrong, but 2 or three? You're much closer to fact than opinion. The same happens with examining multiple spiritual perspectives.
For example, the concept of energy leaks (were a past trauma or current situation either in the body, mind, heart or all three steadily drains us of vital energy compromising our health, happiness, hope and harmony), appears in both yogic and many shamanic traditions. The whole idea of a subtle energy body appears across traditions, just in different wording. There are similar rituals to increase prana, or energy in the body (breathing techniques are used in both yoga and shamanism), and there are fascinating overlaps between concepts of how to heal our leaks (like spending time in nature, for example).
Uncovering common themes, concepts, practices and results from traditions that could have originated on different sides of the globe lends credibility to this information. This is now knowledge, rather than opinion, and knowledge brings with it power and in this case, the power to heal.
Remembering How to Live In Balance
When we open our minds and hearts to a new spiritual path that calls to us, we are opening ourselves not only to deeper healing and personal power, but also to a new way of thinking, seeing and relating to the world. Ancient shamanic traditions insist that we look closer at our relationship not only to ourselves, but to everything around us. There's a reason why plants, animals the weather and landscape formations are intrinsic to most rituals and ceremonies: they speak to this interconnection that is critical to our survival.
This is as important today in our fight to survive global warming and pollution as it was thousands of years ago when we fought for food, water and shelter. Today we face the reality of having lost this fundamental knowledge of how to live in balance and harmony on this earth and face the challenge of adapting our worldview so we can survive individually and as a species.
World-famous anthropologist and National Geographic explorer-in-residence Wade Davis writes, "all these [traditions] teach us that there are other options, other possibilities, other ways of thinking and interacting with the earth... [that is why] the intellectual and spiritual web of life that envelops the planet is every bit as important to the well being of the planet as is the biological web of life we know as the biosphere." (The Wayfinders, p.2)
When we dive into new cultural knowledge through blending traditions like yoga and shamanism we change our relationship to our 'self', and then to the world around us by opening our minds to new ways of seeing and being in the world. Because of this, we walk our paths not only for our own healing and power, but for the greater good of all beings.