By Susan Goodman Josephson, PhD
It was May 2011 and I had just retired. My job as philosophy professor had given me a sense of mission and importance and adulthood. An identity. Without it, I felt old and useless. I was preparing to lead another Vajrayana (Shamanistic) Buddhist retreat in Binghamton New York. I prepared talks and scheduled meditation, mantra practice, and posture trance sessions. I would teach the path of Bliss and making paradise here/now by promoting harmony and loving-kindness. I would also lead three posture trances, the jaguar trance, an Olmec shape-shifting trance, the Ancient Egyptian Horus trance, in which people turn into hawks and fly in their power, and a Healing Bear trance.
The Healing Bear posture is the most widely known of all the postures. It is recorded on artifacts from many different cultures and from as far back as 6000 BCE. I usually only get a mild trance when I rattle, seeing fragments from other people’s trances, but this time it was different. As I rattled, I saw a bear running around and scratching at a tree. Then the bear was in her cave and taking care of her cubs. She was grooming her cubs and licking them and then she licked me. I could feel her tongue on my face, like a dog lick, wet and raspy. Then I saw the bear grazing bushes, eating berries. She was walking away from me. I thought how sweet it all is, the fierce bear is such a gentle mother.
The bear turned towards me again. She walked over to me, rose up on her hind legs and put her big front paws on my shoulders. She was huge. She put her big face into my little face and I saw her shiny black nose and mouth up close. I thought she was being affectionate. She cocked her head to one side, opened her mouth wide and I saw her big sharp teeth. Then my head disappeared into her mouth and I felt blood pouring out of my neck! She had bitten off my head! I was shocked. I had no head! Then I noticed that I was still rattling. How could that be? I was rattling without a head!
Rattling without a head I realized was Mother Bear’s healing for me. As a philosophy professor I was an authority figure. My life had meaning. I had places to go and things to do. Retired, I had no life. I was just an old woman, once a butterfly, now retired I was a wrinkled worm. It was depressing. I was having difficulty adjusting. But when the bear bit off my head and I could still rattle, I realized that I did not need a head, an identity, to rattle. There was nothing I needed to prove and no ego identity I needed to preserve. I did not need my career or official identity as philosophy professor to continue my life. I was better off without my head. At that thought, I grew a bear’s head. With my ego identity gone, my will and intelligence were purified and there was nothing separating me from Mother Bear. I was empty. The trance participants could lean into me and gain strength from Mother Bear. I no longer rattled as me. It was Mother Bear who rattled.
I thought that was the end of the healing but driving home with my husband after the retreat the Bear energies awakened in the trance were still with me. As we drove on a small back road, we passed a sign saying this way to the “peace pavilion.” We were curious and turned down the small dirt and gravel road into the forest. There was a beautiful Buddhist Pagoda, the Grafton Peace Pagoda. We followed the Pagoda’s walkway around the structure past all the sacred images. Among the friezes on the sides of the Pagoda were images of the Buddha, a deer, an eagle, a turtle, and a bear. The bear was Medicine Bear, the healing bear we visited in trance. It was a beautiful and holy experience. The Buddhists who put up the pagoda were the Nipponzan Myohoji order of Japanese Buddhism. They promote peace and non-violence throughout the world, healing materialism and violence by chanting the holy mantra Na-mu-myo-ho-ren-ge-kyo. They believe reciting the holy mantra eradicates negative karma and helps spiritual awakening.
This pagoda was a further expression of Medicine Bear for me. It displayed a mix of Buddhist and Native American symbolism similar to what I had been presenting at the retreat. At this pagoda North American animal spirits were joined with Japanese Buddhism in a prayer for peace, harmony, and world unity. We heal through cross-cultural awakening to the spiritual. I was not retired and useless. I was still useful as a shaman sharing in the spirit of this Pagoda by uniting shamanistic Buddhism with posture trances from all over the globe. I saw that we heal the world by uniting across people and cultures as this pagoda does and as my Shamanic retreats did and as posture trances do.
This woke me up to the importance of bringing posture trances to people. Shaman have many ways of opening the door to other realities, but ordinary people do not. They yearn for it but don’t know how to get there on their own. But even people who are not temperamentally shaman could enter an alternate reality without using chemicals with posture trances. It is quick and easy. We grow a new spirituality with posture trance when we take postures from different cultures and times. We open ancient doors from cultures that are mostly gone and walk the ways of many different peoples. By guiding non-shaman in these activities, we reawaken the sacred in the world, and show people the Greater Reality.
This was a greater healing for me. Before retirement I kept my shamanism to myself. Except for a few close friends, I did not tell my colleagues about my divining practices or spiritual advising or Vajrayana Buddhist practices or my visions or even that I was Felicitas Goodman’s daughter and led posture trances. I hid that part of myself because I knew that such things were not considered respectable for a philosophy professor. The Bear showed me that I did not need my head, my professional respectability, to rattle. I was retired as a philosopher. Without my head, I could come out to the world and myself as shaman. It was time for me to take up my mother’s mission and help plant her buffalo seeds, the posture trances, in the new age.
I needed to pass on what I had learned in my many years doing posture trances, so I produced a book, Calling Spirits with Posture Trance , from my diaries, telling about my experiences as shaman and what I learned about the spirit world. This is bear healing. The Bear bit off my head and I came to understand that I am better off without it because without it I can better help heal the world.