Embodying Energy in an Object
for Therapeutic Purposes

An excerpt from Shamanism and Spirituality in Therapeutic Practice: An Introduction

by Christa Mackinnon

Christa MacKinnon; Kinetics MagazineA form of embodiment I really want to suggest here to every therapist and coach is that of creating or crafting an object-or any other piece of art- to form a container for energy, or connect with a certain energy, or to bridge the worlds, which in my experience enhances the therapeutic work we do. In all shamanic work, creating objects or paintings that hold the energy that needs holding, or to utilize crafted objects to form a bridge between the worlds, is seen as vital. An object or piece of art is more than a symbol; it is seen as a container of energy, the very spirit and intent of whatever the object or painting is about. Let’s say we create a ceremony. The sweat lodge that is constructed, the altar that is created, the sand painting that is crafted or the labyrinth that is formed are not ‘symbolic’. They are seen as holding the very energy of the spirit of the ceremony, creating a bridge between the worlds, a bridge the spirit can use. When I arrived in Ecuador, for example, the shamans had created three sacred hoops that held the energy of the mountains they worked with, and on the first evening they utilized the hoops for a ‘welcome’ ceremony. An example which most readers might be familiar with is the mandala sand paintings of Buddhist monks. If you ever watched one being created you will know that the focus, intent and the prayers that are mumbled whilst the sand painting is created are what matters, not the actual outcome. In fact the monks destroy most sand paintings the moment they are finished. It is not about the piece, it’s about the intent, the focus, the energy and the sacred.

Let’s say a client needs to let go of something. In shamanic work we would certainly craft an object that symbolizes what needs to be let go, for example anxiety, anger, procrastination, guilt, blame, shame, and then burn it. But not only would it symbolize what needs to be ‘let go’, it would contain to a certain extent the energy of it because it would be created with intent, with complete focus and with ‘the help of spirit’, who would be called in and utilized. The same applies if a client wants to increase a certain aspect/quality of his or her personality such as, for example, confidence or focus or self-discipline or strength or creativity. We would advise the client to craft something that represents the desired aspect, keep it and work with it. Whenever the client journeys and discovers something, or brings back a part of him or herself, or finds the root cause of a hurt, or receives advice from a guide, we encourage bridging this into concrete reality by creating a tangible piece of art with focus, intent and the help of spirit. Needless to say that such work also facilitates integration.

We can also ask clients to find an object somewhere, holding the intent in mind, whilst searching for it. If you decide to use objects for clients in the sense that you ask them to find objects that represent something for them, it is advised that you let the client bring the object with them to the next session. Cleanse it-symbolically or with smudge-and ask your client to hold the object for a while, putting the intent into the object. The best way to do this is aloud, while closing the eyes and stating the intent ‘This necklace will remind me that…’ or ‘This beautiful stone will help me too…’ Advise the client to repeat this a few times at home and then treat the object in the way outlined above. It will, over time, become quite powerful, as it will be connected in the client’s mind with the positive intent.

If you already work with writing, advising clients to write or to journal, I would strongly recommend incorporating crafting or painting as well, as the areas of the brain involved in writing are different from the parts that are involved in creating a piece of visual art. Language involves ‘thinking’ to a certain degree, which is valuable as it processes things cognitively, but we get a more ‘holistic’ integration if we also involve those parts that get activated within a creative visual process.

I personally prefer clients to craft an object, rather than searching for one. When we bridge something into concrete material reality through crafting an object or painting a picture or, if somebody is inclined that way, through composing a piece of music or a song, we will give it focus, time and energy it deserves. Crafting objects in shamanic work is a very focused affair. The intent is repeatedly stated and preferably held throughout. ‘I want to let go of the anxiety because I know now that I had reasons to be anxious as a child but, as I am a grown up now, I have many resources’ or ‘I deserve to have more joy in my life and will therefore from now on allow myself to see the positive and beautiful that I have created in my life.’ Needless to say that the resulting objects that have such underlying intents will often be quite beautiful. Besides holding the intent whilst crafting, the client is encouraged to go into a creative trance whilst working on the object. Sometimes gentle music and/or a mystical story accompanies the crafting, it’s done within the shamanic group or individual session. The third component of this kind of bridging is the help of spirit guides and spirit in general. The help of spirit is called in beforehand, and every once in a while during the creative process one should again call in the help of spirit, of forces beyond the mind. If all of the above is observed during the process of creating, the object, in shamanic terms, carries power in energetic form: it carries the intent, it expresses the client’s own energy in form, and it carries spirit.

As a counselor or therapist who works within stricter time limitations, you might want to consider giving this as homework between sessions. I have seen the most astonishing creations by clients who would have told me that they are not artistically inclined.

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Christa Mackinnon, MSc (Psych), DFC, PGDHyp, DITEC, FBSCH, FBAMH, RSM, read Psychology and Sociology at Berlin University and then worked as a lecturer and researcher at the university. She subsequently trained as a Family Counsellor, specialising in trauma, PTSD and related issues and later, after moving to the UK, as a Clinical Hypnotherapist. Christa's lifelong fascination with the functioning of the human mind and altered states of consciousness has led her to explore spiritual and shamanic approaches to mental healing in different parts of the world. She has lived and studied in Ashrams in Asia, apprenticed to Yachak Shamans under Don Esteban Tamayo in Ecuador, and trained with John Perkins and Sandra Ingerman in the USA and Annie Spencer in the UK.

Christa is a Fellow of the British Society of Clinical Hypnosis, a founder member of the Society of Medical Hypnosis and a member of the General Hypnotherapy Register and the Royal Society of Medicine.

Over many years, Christa has worked as a therapist, specialising in trauma, child abuse, PTSD and related mental/emotional issues. She has also provided training and consultancy on these issues for different organisations and professionals, ranging from the police and probation services to mental health services, counsellors and therapists, around the world. She has also acted on occasion as an expert witness for the CPS in cases involving either clinical hypnosis or child abuse. In parallel with Christa's work as a trauma specialist, she was for 12 years the South West course director and a senior lecturer for the London College of Clinical Hypnosis, working in partnership with Thames Valley University.

Christa now lives in Devon and her focus has slightly shifted. She concentrates mainly on writing, running CPD courses for Hypnotherapists and personal development workshops, combining indigenous and spiritual approaches with Western-style therapy. She still provide special study units on the subjects of trauma and PTSD, as well as Clinical Hypnosis, in her capacity as an Honorary Fellow at Peninsula Medical School, Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, and consult and train occasionally for other organisations. www.christamackinnon.com