The word shaman means "wounded healer". And while, on the surface, this is a metaphorical statement about how shamans are called to do spiritual work when finding healing during their own time of crisis, it's also a literal phenomenon. As in, physical, medical wounds. And while every shaman's wound is different, there is always a chakra connection to shifting energy, spiritual downloads, and the big work of life.
For my whole life, I have struggled with urinary tract infections. As a child, I couldn't put Mr. Bubble in the bathtub for a glorious, pink bubbly spa experience.
As an adult, I have been in the hospital upwards of three dozen times with UTI's or kidney stones (or both). And, as anyone with a chronic health condition can tell you, the interaction with doctors in these situations can be exhausting and demoralizing: the judgmental looks, giving the same advice you got as a child and have been using, actively, without improvement for decades (“have you tried taking cranberry supplements?”); misdiagnosing you with ailments ranging from cancer to psychosomatic hysteria; and then giving you antibiotics, pain medicine, and sending you home without a short- or long-term plan. And yes- I’ve seen specialists. Gotten second, third and fourth opinions, all of which can be summed up with a kind of collective shrug…and not a lot of tangible solutions.
I began to realize this particular physical wound of mine was connected to my psychic work when, one night at Northwestern Hospital, the doctor came in looking seriously confused. At one point, earlier in the evening, they took a CT scan and could see three "calcifications"- i.e. kidney stones- stuck in my ureter. There was talk about using sonogram technology to try to vibrate them out if they didn't come out on their own. Roughly an hour later, I was taken for another CT to see if and how much they had moved....and the stones were gone. They looked EVERYWHERE with their machines, in disbelief, and I was told, “This is impossible.” Note: it was not impossible. Because it happened. It was measurable, quantifiable, and there was a literal before and after picture to prove it out.
The doctor kept asking me if I had passed the stones, and I kept saying "no"- trust me, you remember passing a kidney stone. And I hadn't been out of the bed to use the restroom or anything. I was on morphine and desperately trying to sleep the pain off before another round of scans.
The doctor looked at me skeptically, like a mom suspecting their teenage kid of coming home high on “the weed”. He was also flummoxed by my bloodwork, saying, “We couldn’t get a good sample- they were contaminated.” I asked how, and he said several different draws showed different blood types, indicating that they got mixed up with other people’s samples or the lab technicians’ cells. You know- because you don’t change blood types. Kind of like how kidney stones don’t just disappear into thin air.
Except, this is exactly what has happened throughout my life with blood draws and samples, with experts always dismissing the results the product of lab contamination. This phenomenon crystallized in this moment, urging me to take a deeper look at what I had assumed was just a bunch of incompetence or bad luck.
After all, what makes more objective sense? That I would have literally the WORST consistent luck with blood draws, statistically, on the planet? Or that, when I was “sick”, something very interesting was happening in my blood that the medical community doesn’t necessarily to know what to look for or how to understand it?
“I am Rachel’s kidney stone”
The whole thing was bizarre enough that I started keeping notes and tracked the correlation of my medical issues with spiritual experiences or shifts. And, impossible as it may seem, a very clear picture started to emerge, so much so that I’ve refined a shamanic response to these ailments…that actually works (or at least works better than some antibiotics).
Every time I get a kidney stone, it’s a marker that something big is shifting in my spiritual and professional work, particularly around my freedom to live in a way that aligns with my soul’s purpose. As a sacral-chakra dominant practitioner, I’ve come to understand that I rely on my kidneys- the organs of ancestry, epigenetics, inherited trauma, mediumship, totem animals, and shamanism- to filter out and expel toxic energy that my body has transmuted into physical form. In this case, as kidney stones, or at the very least something that looks and behaves (and hurts) like a kidney stone.
It reminds me of the thread in the movie Fight Club, in which Edward Norton’s character finds a series of journals written in the first person from the perspective of various organs- check out this hilarious clip here. In these fictitious journals, the organ is speaking to the broader human, explaining their function and what they need in order to be of service. In a way, this is the experience of a shamanic illness: “Hello, Rachel, I am your kidney. I represent critical capabilities around personal agency, power, and your ability to be abundant in the world.”
Now, before you dismiss this as totally nuts, just know that it took me nearly 40 years to finally surrender to what the data and direct experience was showing me. And it’s a traditionally shamanic phenomenon, I’ve come to learn through reading and research.
In Siberia, old school shamans supposedly “suck” disease out of clients, internalizing the negative energy or disease into a material, physical format that they then vomit out, having transmuted, ingested, and then expelled the problem. I would, even at this stage of the kidney stone game, probably dismiss this as nuts or some leftover, misunderstood pagan tradition… were it not for this past week’s experience.
The storm came
I started to feel weird around Monday of last week, like I was in a murky haze. Which, of course, drove me insane as it interfered with my productivity addiction. I noticed an intense sensitivity to sound, light and smell, but assumed it was just hormonal. Then the piercing, “electric” pains up the right side of my body came- and they really knock the wind out of you. But I managed to dismiss the pains, too, as a product of brushing out my dog’s undercoat. For five days, I worked relentlessly to explain away the clear information my body was trying to communicate to me.
Then, the storm came. I spent almost all of the day in the bathroom, in pain, trying to self-reiki and wait to give birth to my little calcium-based friend. It was pretty miserable. But, within a few hours, the visions started, and I could feel myself start to smile like a crazy person. Why smile? Well, when you realize what’s happening to you is actually a gift to you- and this pain is just a side effect of a major, positive shift- it puts the whole ordeal into context.
So I got really quiet and let myself trip out. To call them “visions” is a bit of an insult: these were major spiritual downloads. Images accompanied by an immediate nuanced understanding, in my case resulting in what felt like wholesale psychic surgery. I won’t get into the nitty gritty details here- as this particular shamanic experience was deeply personal- but I will tell you that I came away from the situation feeling like I got about 20 years of intensive psychotherapy and energy work.
The overall theme? A metaphysical baptism. A shedding of anything that has come before. A cell-deep reframing of experiences, personal shortcomings, and a very optimistic view of the future. As painful as a kidney stone is, when it’s framed in this context the experienced shaman goes, “Yeah, life. Let’s do this shit.”
And away we go.
Solar Eclipse in Scorpio
And I don’t think it was an accident that this mishigas came in the build-up to Saturday’s Solar Eclipse in Scorpio, the sign that governs the sacral chakra, issues with women and ancestral and past life trauma. Not to mention the recent emergence of my new TOTEM animal, the snake, which is all about healing, shedding and magical transmutation. Eclipses are considered celestial watershed moments, giving us the opportunity to release what no longer serves us and welcome in the big, bold new and awesome stuff to come in the next six months.
The alignment of all of these factors, in the broader context of major renovations to TOTEM’s services, products and structure, is just too weird to dismiss as a coincidence.
And the proof is in the pudding. I feel different today. Better, sharper, and clearer than before the kidney stone. Perhaps more so than at any other point in my life. And this is the miracle of shamanism: it can shift things that extensive medical and psychological intervention can’t quite touch. It gets to the meat of the matter, and when the change happens, it’s permanent.
So how does it work?
I get a lot of questions about the mechanism behind these shamanic shifts, and the honest answer is that, while I have my own theories, I do not actually KNOW how it works. There are theories around how our meditative techniques access a part of the subconscious mind. Another suggests that, with regular shamanic practice, we can develop new or deeper neural pathways in our mind, opening up previously unrealized potential. Yet others believe this is really a supernatural phenomenon, connecting the human body (and energy body) directly with the divine.
But, to be frank, while this discussion is interesting…it’s also not really the point of the exercise.
The bottom line is, it works. And that’s enough for a shaman.
Accessing the narrative thread
Whether you’re in the midst of a shamanic illness or are just going through something with your physical or energy body, I always recommend treating it like the ACT or SAT tests. Simply put, the first answer you think is right generally is, and second guessing yourself is a great way to get a terrible score on a standardized test.
So, sit with the sensation. Ask it questions, and wait quietly and patiently for the answers to bubble up. Journal. Write things down, even if they don’t make sense in the moment. Are there smells? Tastes? Words or images? What is the light like? What messages are coming through? Go with your gut. Use the test to take the test. And so on.
It’s critical that you abandon any sense of being self-conscious. When you access other parts of your brain and energy body, it automatically feels like you’re “making stuff up”. Observe this concern without indulging it. Keep journaling. Keep exploring and playing with this experience. And you’ll come out of it with some of the most valuable information- written into your very self- that you’ve ever had to reference and leverage moving forward.
Death magic and the gift of suffering
And while a kidney stone may seem harrowing, it’s really not. It’s acutely painful for a short period of time, but it’s not life threatening. It doesn’t get worse or compound on itself with the years. It doesn’t cause other health issues or blossom into bigger problems. It appears and it leaves, and then it’s over. Not everyone is so lucky to get something so easy to navigate.
Case in point: Carolyn Chlebowski, a friend and collaborator and practitioner, who has actually faced down Death and won. Carolyn worked with me on a new Substack article in our Recrowning the Goddess series here: https://totemrach.substack.com/p/crowning-the-goddess-3
She is living the shamanic illness, and I think the perspective she has gained through really terrifying, painful experiences can help reframe the small stuff we get nerved up about in our lives. Like, is the fact that Starbucks is out of Chai Latte mix really the end of the world? No, no it’s not. And we all need a reminder of that from time to time.
Spiritual Transformation Coaching- sold out
Our TOTEM Spiritual Transformation Coaching program has filled up before we could even get the offering up on the website! Thank you all for your interest and support, and if you were interested but didn’t get around to signing up for this round, please shoot me an email so that I can circle back close to the next run of the program. I’m so excited to work with these wonderful people in a tailored, in-depth way, and I’m really glad I got my “upgrade” just ahead of kicking off in the New Year;)
Write a review, save the world
Not really, but if you've purchased our TOTEM Tarot Deck and write a review on Amazon, please shoot it to me via email and I'll enter you to win one of three FREE TOTEM Energy Work Sessions- a $260 value- to be scheduled in the new year at your convenience. Just email me HERE and I'll keep you all posted on the raffle, which I'm considering doing LIVE on Instagram ala the State Lottery. You know. Really put some razzle dazzle on it;)
And, if nothing else, tune into what came through this past week and yesterday, the day of the Solar Eclipse. Is your body trying to talk to you? Your dreams? Other aspects of your life? You'll have a great six month window of opportunity to make some crucial renovations to yourself and your life, so take advantage of it!