It was a gorgeous sunny afternoon and I lay on a massage table on the deck at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, listening to the Pacific Ocean break against the cliffs below us. Cocooned in blankets, I drifted in a dream state as my massage therapist kneaded away months of stress and tension from my tired body. Then something amazing and entirely unexpected happened. I heard the soft crooning of a voice in my ear, singing what seemed to be an ancient lullaby. I didn’t recognize the tune or the words. But I knew it was old and just for me, as if a distant ancestor was singing into me from a far away place. As the wordless melody poured through my consciousness, I felt healed in a way no body work alone could have achieved. It was as if I was being held by the spirits, rocked in an ocean of love and compassion. When I opened my eyes, I realized that the song was coming from my massage therapist. Having finished the body work, and moved by some unknown muse, she had simply leaned in to croon this healing song gently into my ear. It was my first experience of song doctoring.
Years later, when I did advanced training with the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, I was officially introduced to the practice of song doctoring and taught how to journey for a healing song. These days, the more I practice the many forms of shamanic healing, (power animal retrieval, extraction healing, soul retrieval, divination, etc.) the more I rely on this sweet and remarkable process of song doctoring. It has become part of almost every healing session I do.
Songs come in different ways and for different purposes. We all know the power of a special song in our lives to move us, to call forth our soul or lift our spirit. When I was a child I had a toy record player and a collection of cheap plastic records–mostly red for some reason. I spent many long afternoons playing them over and over again, singing and dancing around the room. Marching tunes were particular favorites and provided background music for hours of martial exercise as I strutted about my bedroom waving flags and such. The fact that I grew up in a pacifist Quaker family didn’t dissuade me from a 6 year old’s passion for military brass bands.
Later, my soul songs were more complex and romantic. I had a long passionate dance that went to Ravel’s Bolero, which I “knew” was all about prancing horses and a magical parade of animals, wizards, and other storybook characters. This particular dance always ended with me whirling around and collapsing in an exhausted heap on the floor at the end. I LOVED Ravel’s Bolero well into adulthood.
Of course it’s easy to look back now and see the shamanic nature of these experiences. Traditional cultures all over the world use song and dance to move into trance states and connect with spirits for healing and power. As children, if we are lucky, we live very close to our wild nature and our soul’s natural song. It comes out in the free way we dance, sing, and whirl about. But in modern culture, as we grow into adulthood we tend to lose this connection, becoming ever more domesticated and out of touch with our wild nature until we no longer remember the song our soul came in with, the one we first sang, the one that can return us to our heart’s path.
That’s why song doctoring can bring about such powerful healing. We can find songs for ourselves through the process of drumming and dancing, feeling what rises up in us and giving voice to the sounds the heart wants to make. Or, as a practitioner of shamanic healing, we journey and ask one of the helping spirits we work with to send us a song for our client. When I do this the song that comes through is always uniquely suited, tuned if you will, to the client I’m working for. There is something that moves me deeply about the process of hearing the song come to me from the spirit world, and then giving voice to it–sometimes singing it around the client so they experience it like a shower of sound, and sometimes singing it right into their heart. I can often see them light up a bit, almost as if they’re remembering a long lost heart song that can be followed like a trail of crumbs to the source of their original wild nature. This is a powerful and healing thing.
All those years ago, before I even knew about shamanic practice, the spirits sent me a healing in the form of a massage therapist who heard my soul song and sang it into my heart. I didn’t even know her name. But the song doctoring I now do in my healing practice is dedicated to her with a deep bow of gratitude.
Narrye Caldwell is a shamanic healer, martial artist, and Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine with a private practice in Santa Cruz, Ca. She teaches through the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, the Academy of Martial and Internal Arts, and Five Branches University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Her next basic workshop in core shamanism is Nov. 21-22 in Soquel Ca. For information about this workshop click HERE.