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from the Introduction

In this form of shamanistic healing, the healer is the main object of my attention since the healer must be “made new” in order to accomplish the work of voyaging. This book seeks to help healers have a new paradigm with which to look at themselves and the world, one that both includes and goes beyond the psychological framework. In this new perspective, we are also interested in healing the paradigm maker, the inherent storyteller, which is to say, our ego itself and how it functions within our emotional and psychic environment.

We have come to a time and place in the world where our narrative-making machinery itself must be healed, because— unhealed—it is not a reliable guide for what reality is and is not. It is buffeted by fashion, the political moment, nostalgia for an imagined golden age and rebellion against the current one. Unhealed, it can be a destructive force. But gathered up in insight and tenderness, it is a force for wholeness—another part of our true nature.


We could say that in order to see reality clearly, and with that clarity, begin to have conversations with the sky and earth, we must heal the healer on a profound and thorough level. We must understand why and how our narrative-making egos work the way they do, and—understanding their hurts—heal them so that they might heal others without passing along unspoken suffering and obstacles to living a truthful and healed life. 

The nondual approach, as I outline it here, is the best possible approach I have found to this problem. But, unlike traditional nondual approaches, we do not seek to exile the ego as illusory, useless, or an eternal inhibiting obstacle. Instead, with an abiding belief in nonviolence, we try to heal it so that its true function can be free to operate for the good of all. We include the ego, as well as our imperfections, in our work, mixed with the kindness we need to see this journey through. This is a path of flesh and bones, the hard and the soft. A human path. This is the foundation of the journey, the beginning and end as well.

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Enlightenment seems to be difficult to find mainly because it goes unnoticed by the soul conditioned to ignore the obvious essentials in life. The essentials are these: That the sun rises and sets; that we are born and breathe and live and die; that when we are wounded the world grows smaller and when we are healed we are healed by love. When we are healed by love the world grows larger and there is room for every thing where previously there seemed to be none.

Enlightenment seems to be difficult to find mainly because it goes unnoticed by the soul conditioned to ignore the obvious essentials in life. The essentials are these: That the sun rises and sets; that we are born and breathe and live and die; that when we are wounded the world grows smaller and when we are healed we are healed by love. When we are healed by love the world grows larger and there is room for every thing where previously there seemed to be none.


We are also thwarted because we make more of spiritual attainment than we should. Someplace inside of us, we believe enlightenment will set us free from our suffering. Sometimes we have come across misleading or incomplete spiritual tales and writings that underscore this romantic notion. But what awakening actually does is to open a door to our suffering, while simultaneously redeeming it in a new idea of what freedom actually is. We also sometimes believe it will give us new powers and insights: things or thoughts or feelings we have never had before. But what it actually does is make the full spectrum of our birthright—all the things we have always had but either did not believe in, see as important, or even have access to—available to us. We remain essentially the same, but different. The only surprise in awakening is that it was there all along. When we see that, things begin to unroll. We begin to believe that we can feel deeply and wonderfully; we begin to understand the fact that the world is imperfect and perfect at the same time and that when we hold the imperfect world close to our imperfect heart—the world and ourselves being the same thing—laughter and tears are brought together as well. We and the world are made to be a single thing. Finally, we are free. But this freedom is not a freedom from, but rather a freedom with.

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In 1996 I created the first brochure that described a school I had decided to found called A Society of Souls. After it was printed, I sent copies to people I knew, and I sent one to a rabbi I had read an article about, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, may everyone who remembers him be blessed by that memory. I knew practically nothing about Reb Zalman, but a voice spoke to me and said "Send it to him." So I did.

A few weeks later I got a call: "Jason, this is Reb Zalman. I got your brochure. When I got it I said to myself Oy! Jason Shulman, a Kabbalist! But then I read what you had written in the brochure and I knew that the bubbehs and zaydes spoke to you." The grandmothers and grandfathers. Yes, they have always spoken to me but I didn't dare admit that until Reb Zalman offered me the opportunity to confess my connections aloud. So great was his kindness.


A second Reb Zalman story: Several years later I called Reb Zalman from my
home in New Jersey and said, "I want to discuss something with you. Can I come out and have lunch?" Zalman lived in Boulder, Colorado. He said, "Can't we do it on the phone?" "No," I said. So I flew out to Colorado expecting to have a few hours of his time. We ended up spending two days together talking. After one part of the conversation, where I was concentrating on my connection to what I thought was Absolute Reality in my Advaitic studies, he said to me "I'm interested in the God of this planet. The God of this time."

It took me many years to understand that utterance in my bones and, most importantly, in my heart. My life had to get smaller first, until it was the proper-sized.

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For 2,500 years, Gautama Buddha’s Four Noble Truths have stood as the Buddhist map to the causes of suffering and its release into enlightenment. In this book, Jason Shulman reinterprets these Truths for our era, revealing the powerful ally suffering can be in our search for freedom.

Books Excerpts
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