Press Room
Sacred Reciprocity
Monday June 15th, 2015
Evelyn Rysdyk

A shaman knows that everything is alive and has a spirit. It is easy to understand that animals, birds, plants and trees are living, but to the shaman so are the rivers, mountains, oceans, stones, hills and everything else in our environment. In a shaman’s eyes, nothing can be separate from the living fabric of the spirit world.

The tribe’s village, the hunter’s bow and sacred objects have spirits, too. Human-made things can become inspirited as they are created. Through use and care, they become stronger. Indeed, we can enliven any object through our interactions. We intuitively understand this since we often encourage our car to start on a cold morning or when it is having trouble running. We behave as we do because in our heart, we have come to recognize it as a living being. Sighing with gratitude when we enter our home in the evening is similar to a child surrendering to the embrace of a loving grandparent. We feel enfolded and safe. Through our love and caring, we have transformed things into beings.

Groups and organizations have a spirits, too. Whether it is a family group, tribe, church, school or other organization, these entities nourish their members and are in turn energized and renewed by their members’ participation. When we feel buoyed by “team spirit,” we are literally getting support from the spiritual entity of that group. When we feel energized by a visit to the local nature center we are receiving nurturance not only from the natural world but also from the organization that sustains it. When we feel that we have grown and changed in a class, we have drawn energy from the organization that ran the program. When we have enjoyed a few quiet hours in a library or local bookstore we have been fed by the time and energy that the staff and organization put into the space.

In a tribal society, the shaman’s role is to act as a facilitator between the human realm and that of the other spirits that inhabit the environment. Through interaction with these spirits, shamans understand that the intrinsic interdependencies among them all sustain life. In addition, shamans know that we are so interconnected that we are in a constant dance of mutual impact upon one another.  

The many spirit beings in the shaman’s environment are also potential sources of power, as a shaman’s ability to heal is based upon the power-filled relationships forged with the spirits.  Since shamanic abilities are dependent upon these affiliations, shamans understand the fundamental necessity for keeping these alliances healthy and strong.

As a result, an attitude of harmonious give-and-take becomes the guiding principle in exchanges within all of the shaman’s associations. The shaman-healers of the high Andes refer to this idea of mutual, respectful interaction—which must be always monitored and lovingly attended to—as ayni, which is translated as “sacred reciprocity.” By referring to this mutually beneficial interchange as sacred, they underline a kind of holiness to being in right relationship. In other words, when we interact in this manner, we are somehow more in alignment with the fundamental framework of existence. 

In other words, when we operate with love and caring in our lives, we refresh the spirits around us. In turn, these spirits are able to return the favor with their vibrancy. We step into a cycle of nourishment that is reciprocal and sacred.

You don’t have to be a shaman to draw strength from alliances with other spirits. Our friends and loved ones nourish us. Our pet’s presence can encourage us when we are feeling down. The rushing river calms our soul. These spirits provide us with nourishment as palpable as food and water. If any of them were to suddenly go way, we would grieve and feel a pain in our heart. Our own spirits would sustain a loss through their absence. 

Shamans understand that any spirit may be wounded, weakened or diminished. When this occurs, that which is enlivened by that spirit begins to weaken. It is obvious that if we do not feed our child, dog or plant, they will eventually die. This holds true for every entity around us. If we take more spiritual, emotional or physical nourishment from something than we act to replenish, the spirit of the organism cannot be sustained.  

Organizations and groups have spirits and so are like living organisms. As such, they can also be diminished when we take nourishment without returning the favor. It is important to begin thinking about your school, your local library, your favorite bookstore, your treasured sacred space or other places that “feed you” are actually spirits themselves that need your care and nourishment. So how do we reenter the way of being that allows us to work with all these spirits who surround us? The answer is learning how to be in reverent participatory relationship with them. The word reverent implies feeling and expressing a profound respect or veneration as well as a willingness to show consideration or appreciation. Participatory means that we take an active part in the relationship.

It is easy to take people, things and organizations for granted. They’re simply there and we take what we need. However, as we become more conscious, we begin to recognize that this kind of behavior is naively childlike. Like the shaman, we start looking for ways to put energy back into the wheel so that the spirits we depend upon are also sustained.

When we open our eyes to the idea that everything that we enjoy in life requires our energy to survive, we search for ways to actively do our part in creating a healthy and balanced world. In this way, our actions become extensions of our spiritual intentions.  In real terms, that means buying goods from a local businesses, giving time and or money to the organizations that you believe in, volunteering at your church, helping to spruce up your favorite beach, supporting the work of your favorite educational venues by attending their programs and continuing to look for ways to support everything that sustains your quality of life.  

As we step into more conscious, mutually beneficial and reverent ways of interacting, we begin transforming the dominant culture’s paradigm of irresponsible exploitation.  For those of us that choose to be conscious creators of a better future and who want to enjoy the benefits of being continually nurtured ourselves, we exercise the power to feed and love those entities that sustain our world. We turn away from the nihilistic, exploitative nature of our larger culture and instead focus our energies on what we need more of in our world. If we want to reshape our current human culture into one that’s more ecologically sound, we can start by making reverent participatory relationship our guiding principle—with nature, her creatures, our favorite places, organizations and with each other. 

© 2015 Evelyn Rysdyk


Nationally recognized shaman teacher/healer, speaker, and author of Spirit Walking a Course in Shamanic Power, A Spirit Walker’s Guide to Shamanic Tools, Modern Shamanic Living: New Explorations of an Ancient Path, and contributor to Spirited Medicine: Shamanism in Contemporary Healthcare; Evelyn Rysdyk delights in supporting people to remember their sacred place in All That Is. Whether through face-to-face contact with individual shamanic healing patients, workshop groups and conference participants, or through the printed word–Evelyn uses her loving humor and passion to open people’s hearts and inspire them to live more joyful, fulfilling and purposeful lives. In joint practice with Allie Knowlton as Spirit Passages, their website is



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Evelyn Rysdyk
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