The Urban Shaman® is honored to sponsor this submitted article by Felicity Alaska. It has been edited.
The first surrender: the mind.
Am I going to do this?
Yes, I am. I want this.
For my own reasons, whatever they may be, I want this. I’m scared, but I consent to this.
The facilitator sets the stage, creates the space, asks that shoulders come back, marking, forward again. The process is deliberate.
Flesh pulls, tugs- discomfort, and again.
The question rises: am I going to do this?Yes… I am. I want this.The first moment- the setting of the needle against skin. “Breathe”, they tell you… “Breathe.” Fear, anxiety, stress. A very LARGE needle is about to pass through my body. “Breathe… at the height of three, we go.”
The third surrender: self.
“Dance”, they say. Take the hooks into yourself. They belong to you. Breathe, dance, stretch- the more you become one, the better you will feel. And I have seen it. A butterfly on wings of beauty, dancing. They became a part of her. You stretch, move, take them in, savor the experience. Feel the tightening against the skin and move to mitigate it. This is your journey, and yours alone. We are simply here to support and bear witness to one another.
Surrender four: trust.
Rigging and tension. You’ve seen the rigging plate, complete with straps, waiting for you.Again, the question, “Am I ready for this?”Yes… you are.Safe and secure in the love around you, to the plate at the facilitator’s direction. This person is your guide. They will not let you fall, they will not fail you. They will be with you every step of the way, because that is what they do. Facilitate, hold space, guide, banish fears.You’ve got this.. you do.
Every facilitator does it differently. There is no one true way. Some ask you to lean into it, and they will lift you- a total guide. Some may hand you the rope and instruct you to lift yourself- this is your journey.
If you have a facilitator who says lift yourself, here are my thoughts:
You’ve been handed your rope. All has been explained. You are on your own. But not. Everyone is with you, holding space, encouraging you on.So you have this rope, a direct line to your senses. You can push as hard as you want, or not. Every body, every sensory system, is different. Perhaps it is not your day to fly. Perhaps you pull and pull and learn something from that journey. Perhaps you dance in beauty and light, experience a complete fulfillment of your heart. That is very okay too. Because here, in this space, we accept one another totally.But if you have your rope, and you're responsible to lift yourself, you'll fight yourself even more in the process. Taking your time, giving what you are ready for, your journey, your walk, the empowerment that offers, is very different from the trust you give to the one who lifts you. It is an amazing feeling to lift yourself, but know that, for absolute flight, your journey is not yet over.The seventh surrender: control.
Technicals come into play here. The rigging, of which you are only partially aware of now, is still holding part of your weight as you lift yourself. But to be weightless you’ve got to surrender your rope. You’ve walked the path- the hooks, the meditation, the breathing, the lifting, you’re in the air, but now to surrender your rope - your safety line?! To completely let go of the control we think we have over our lives, to trust another soul after already doing so much to set ourselves free- are you fucking kidding me?No.. I am not. Give me your rope. You’ve done so well. Look at you, swinging and content. Trust me. Trust your body. Take just a little bit more, I promise you will not regret it. Let me hold this for you. I can carry it until you want it back. I am your guide and your support. I will not fail you. Let go.. let it all go… and be free.If you go this route- surrendering the rope- the hardest thing you will ever let go of. We cherish our safety lines. But to let them go is to be truly free.There are a few more bits to the experience- the ministrations as you come down, as the shackles are released, as the hooks are removed and any air massaged out. But that is what they are, ministrations.
You’ve walked one hell of a journey. One that has been an honor and a privilege to be present for and to hold space for. I grow as you do, whatever my role in this moment we've shared together. You are an incredible soul and I’ve watched you along a journey, to what end I cannot know, but I am grateful. Grateful that I could be there.
A last note about the moments after:
You’ve just opened holes in your body. You’ve created holes in your heart and in your soul, and filled them too. When the hooks come out, you are open, more so than you may ever have been in your life. Things will come in and things will come out. Embrace them.
You are growing and evolving, and some of those responses may surprise you, some may rock you to your core. But as always, you are never alone. There are many with you on your path, on your journey, and we stand by you, always. In love and light….
This… this is suspension… to me.
Our goal here at The Urban Shaman® is to encourage healthy discussion to further our contemporary definition of shamanism and enhance our local practice. We do not intend to instigate or promote argument or divisiveness. Rather, we believe we can achieve unity and clarity within the wholeness of the full shamanic expression. We would like to provide a safe space for everyone to explore shamanism with mutual respect, and to promote the concept of the shamanic archetype, while dispelling the myths and biases of the stereotype. These exploratory questions are intended to encourage this process and open up the discussion.
- Modern flesh suspension is similar in external practice to the Sun Dance, which is a practice of the many plains native North American tribes, including the Sioux. How do you think modern flesh suspension troupes might differ from Sun Dancers, and how might they be similar?
- What aspects of Felicity's experience can you relate with, or did her testimony offer any personal insights, or strong reactions?
- In Felicity's experiences and her orientation to the practice of body suspension, she uses the ritual for connecting and healing. But is there potential for flesh suspension to also be harmful, or for the processing of the experience to bring up traumas or other difficult emotions- and how might that be mitigated? Are facilitators responsible for that?
- Do you think flesh suspension can cause a shamanic initiation? How?
- Do you think facilitators of flesh suspension, or what Felicity calls "guides" express aspects of the shamanic archetype? In what ways? And if no, why not?
- How can this type of ritual foster and strengthen tribe? And what can we learn from this?
- There are many ethical considerations in any modern ritual, and especially rituals involving the body. What are some of the ethical considerations to flesh suspension?
- Has reading Felicity's account changed your perspective on this practice? In what ways?