When braided together, single strands of hair become stronger. When gold, silver, and copper fuse 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 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.
Merging spiritual beliefs and rituals is sometimes 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 a richer, more nourishing practice? What if, for example, we incorporated some shamanic traditions with our yoga practice? How might that enrich our lives?
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.
Practicing multiple spiritual paths means that we must concurrently hold multiple perspectives and worldviews.
As we dive deeper and commit more fully to our chosen path, we run the chance of being blinded by pride and self-righteousness. 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 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 in 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 two or three? It’s hard to ignore overlapping verdicts. The same happens with examining multiple spiritual perspectives.
For example, the concept of energy leaks (where a past trauma or current situation either in the body, mind, heart, or all three, steadily drains us of vital energy and compromises our health and happiness), appears in both yogic and many shamanic traditions. The whole idea of a subtle energy body appears across traditions, just worded differently. 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, and practices from traditions that originated on different sides of the globe lends them credibility. There’s power in the cumulative effect of these teachings. 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 in his book The Wayfinders, “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.”
When we dive into new cultural knowledge through blending traditions like yoga and shamanism we change our relationship to the 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.
Mara Raye Munro is the Founder of Yoga for Creativity, author of Leaving Pompeii and Yoga for Creativity (forthcoming), and a contributing writer to the Wanderlust book. An explorer of inner and outer landscapes, her passion is to dig for buried treasures that are the rituals and knowledge of ancient cultures to share them with the modern world. She works with groups and individual artists to help them find holistic personal health and creative abundance through their yoga practice. Follow her journey on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.