By Insa Verbeck
I’ve always wondered how the words SHAME and SHAMAN sound so terribly similar. My name is Insa. I am an academic and a shaman. I read the news, I read scientific papers, and I read Tarot. I observe my Instagram feed as passionately as I observe the cyclic rhythm of the planets. I am equally interested in the recent academic discourse, the latest fashion trend, and the current flow of my breath.
I am a thinker, and I am a feeler. A mover and a believer, too.
In other words: I’m human.
In my work I try to reconnect what has been mistakenly disconnected in the modern quest for categorization and hierarchization. As many others, I seek to converge the spheres of mind, body, heart, and soul. This post is about the toll I pay as I cross the borders of these diligently separated realms. It’s SHAME. A feeling that has become a loyal companion over the last couple of years. Sometimes I feel it in a very acute way. Sometimes it’s more like a baseline. But it rarely ever leaves me.
From University to Universe and Back
There is a primal scene that I go through again and again. A little play in three acts that begins and ends with shame. It happens whenever I introduce myself in the academic context. Over the years I’ve tried countless “Intro’s” to summarize my sinuous path and explain my expertise and interest in a poignant way. Today, I simply tell the story of my academic career in Berlin that was disrupted by an existential crisis; how I moved to a remote valley in the Alps where I lived for six years, working as gardener, then as a meditation and a yoga teacher; and how I became a shaman and eventually returned to academia to work as a lecturer at universities in Germany and Switzerland.
As I describe my journey, I can see my counterpart’s face change from interested to confused to eventually freeze into what I call the “OMG-face” when I say the word “shaman.” There’s shame. A distinct mix of fascination, overload, and irritation that manifests itself in a supposedly cheerful: “How wonderful, my partner does yoga too!” or a slightly aggressive: “Ok. And what exactly are you doing here again?!” Usually, the initial conversation is over very quickly.
And usually, there is a second conversation. There are questions that come up much later, after business, at the end of the seminar, and off the records. We change from small talk to deep talk. No more frown now. Instead, I’m asked tentative questions about energetic shifts, karma, or the stars. About things they’ve tried or have heard of. We talk about grief, failure, and disease; worries, fate, and family; about the cause for existential experiences, the possibilities of healing, and the desire for fundamental change.
Usually, this conversation ends abruptly, too. Sometimes with a sudden joke, sometimes with an embarrassed laughter: “Oh my god, what am I even talking about? Don’t tell my colleagues I asked you this!” Shame is back. I see it in their face. And I feel it, too.
The Threat of Exclusion
I was only able to apprehend my permanent and painful malaise when I read Brené Brown’s book Dare to Lead. Through her, I understood that shame is the feeling of “never being good enough” that is accompanied by an acute and heavy fear of being expelled from the community.
One reason for this feeling, of course, lies in the age-long and systemic marginalization of the practices which we call “occult” (Latin: “hidden”). The ascription is interesting because in themselves, most of these practices are not so mysterious. Rather, they simply make visible what is hidden, unconscious, or subliminal. What is in fact hidden and gloomy are the refugia where they’ve outlasted their exclusion from the legitimate makers of knowledge and their accredited educational institutions. As they resurface today, they seem to carry a slight odor of their abode and bear signs of the systemic distortion they’ve endured. So much of what I see today is romanticized, dramatized, or trivialized. In other words: tremendously hard to take seriously, and—at least for me—very difficult to identify with.
In a way, I am what I am despite myself. Despite my doubts and prejudices. Despite my upbringing, my formation, and my shame. After I realized that I have specific sensitivity to what we call “energies,” it took me years to commit to my talent, and I could only do so when I finally found a training place that looked school-like enough for me to enroll. I wanted white walls, neon lamps, schedules, and certificates. I wanted to feel safe, and I wanted to feel legitimate.
The awful truth is that as long as we stick with the prevalent scientific standards our emotional, intuitive, or energetic intelligence and the “occult” practices that serve as their vessel will never be good enough. These precious resources remain—at least to some extent—unpredictable, unreproducible, individual, erratic, and surprising. Therefore, committing to them makes us feel vulnerable and has us fear the excommunication from academia or other professional environments. With dramatic effects.
Not just a feeling…
According to Brown, shame is not just an unwelcome feeling or a personal issue. It’s a cultural condition with severe consequences: Shame is the ultimate showstopper, the thing that gets in the way of integral growth and true innovation—both individually and collectively.
If we want to progress on what Nicholas Janni calls the “path of restoration,” or the reintegration of previously exiled aspects of our nature, we must eventually deal with our shame. Again, Brown is a wonderful resource here. She offers hands-on recipes to build cultures that are resilient in the face of shame. In almost all of the suggestions offered, communication is key. She explains how shame is growing and thickening into silence. To dissolve it we must courageously address it.
This post, dear reader, is my invitation.
Shame. Let’s not just feel it. Let’s talk about it and get shameless.
Insa Verbeck is a university lecturer, a healer, and a writer. Her path led her from the vibrant city of Berlin to a remote valley in the Swiss alps where she lived for six years and reintegrated previously exiled aspects of her nature: physical, emotional, and transpersonal. This personal experience turned into a profession. Today she initiates people into the realm of their emotional, somatic, and intuitive intelligence, offering synergies between the Witts of an Academic, the Trust of a Gardener, the Strength of a Yogi, and the Heart of a Shaman.
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Photo credit: © Insa Verbeck & Franziska Krois, 2023.