May 192017

Should those in shamanic/spiritual and health practices charge for their service to the community?

This is a question I see and hear discussed frequently. More often than not, discussed in clashes of living realities, idealism, and spectacularly selfish lacks of understandings, often masquerading as spiritualism. A different, and far more appropriate question is warranted:

Should those in the shamanic and health practices NEED to charge for their services?

Of course, this question challenges the recipient of a service to be objectively responsible for ensuring fair compensation for a service supplied in good faith. If a therapist or practitioner gives a full service, then don’t they deserve full compensation for that full service?

This is far less comfortable, as a question, than to conveniently perceive those of service as able to just give freely of their time and expertise to those other self-deserving souls who are ‘also on the path’; the practitioner’s rent and expenses are somehow taken care of in the ethers. On ‘the path’ doesn’t mean living as a taker or parasite with a more spiritual set of soundbites; it means taking ultimate personal responsibility and accountability for each and every action. And those that are expected to give of their expertise and time freely?, they have to eat and pay rent as well, and compensation for that twenty minutes of work had better include consideration of the half day spent earthing out and resolving the residual stuff of that work, or else, again, it is simply selfish thinking and/or parasitic taking.

In many traditional communities, shaman don’t levy a fee for their services. The kicker is, they don’t have to. That last bit is key, and worth repeating; they don’t have to.  Reciprocity and fairness is the lubricant that allows many non-monetary societies to function, especially within the shamanic and health fields.

Those within these communities understand that it’s the results that have value, and that what they would and could have paid for those results – before they were helped – is the value now due as fair compensation. Wealthier ‘clients’ make sure that compensation comes in practical form; money, given with a nod, and accepted quietly, never counted. More often than not as an ongoing payment for ongoing results, or for a job that was too big to be paid for in a single sum. That’s how it works, when the system is honoured and understood.

I remember one medicine man who often had four or six of the village elderly at his open table. Although he virtually never cooked, there was always plenty of food to go around; often with take home packets for those, or some other folks, in need. Not everyone could afford to pay for his services in money, but a second cake might be baked every Sunday, or extra fish stew was made every Tuesday. Those he had helped returned what his work was worth to them by the results, and within their means. It’s worth noting that in this specific example, this was also a form of village charity for the elderly without families, or with families that could not – or did not – feed them well. This honour system recognises that fair compensation for a poor person may be $10 (2 week’s disposable income), and for another who is better off, $500 is fair for the same service (also 2 week’s disposable income).

Where is this going? Fast forward to our modern and developed world of capitalistic greed. If there is not a pre-arranged fee attached, payment, if it happens at all, is likely to be stingy. Volunteer payment schemes in most things are not respected, unless pushed continually, and in most professional settings, they simply do not work. There is a pervading mentality that as soon as relief is found, the bargaining begins, or it is accepted, quite literally, without thanks.

For illustration: I travelled for an hour from home to a complex where some shamanic work was requested and required. The horses kept there were injuring themselves, and each other. I left to head home after a half a day of work, with another hour’s travel back, effectively consuming my whole day. Despite the animals becoming, and staying calm, and the other issues subsiding right away, literally not one word of thanks or feedback was ever offered, nor even compensation for the costs of travel. I had to find out the efficacy of the work via a staff member. This example is not the exception, but the rule; especially dealing with first world raised people.

In another example, my business partner and I live in Cusco, and we receive many requests a month to meet up with someone and discuss our work, their vacation, and generally share our knowledge and time. To the visitor, this is a once-off social thing, but to us, it is a couple of times a week investment in people who will be gone in a week or two at the most. Most of the time, there is not even a cup of coffee in it for us (an exception for me was a lovely young lady from Scandinavia, who insisted on buying breakfast when we met in 2014; and yes, it is that rare). The interesting thing is when we ask to set a fee in advance in compensation for our time to meet a stranger (to us) and share our years of experience and learning, we are met with indignation.

This same principle applies very much to those in the health field, which also includes me. I recently did a house call as a favour for the friend of a couple of mutual friends. A headache and strong pain was significantly affecting this person. My orthodox vocation is clinical myotherapy, and in fifteen minutes, she was back to functioning well, and asking me to address a small list of other issues, “while I was there”. Now I was there as a favour to mutual friends, and when asked if I wanted anything, I said that thanks is fine. I was then handed the equivalent of USD$6.15 (as Ayni, full reciprocity) when my standard consultation rate was, and is still USD$120. This was offered as a fair exchange for me employing more than thirty years of skill and experience to solve this person’s pain. Again, this example is less the exception, and more the rule; and again, especially dealing with first world raised people who are driven by the media inspired terror of not having enough [of anything].

If a therapist offers a treatment as a favour, please take it in gratitude, and figure out how to do something nice for them, in similar thoughtfulness and consideration, at a later time or date. The worst, most soul-destroying thing you can do to someone in this scenario is to devalue their efforts by offering a low-ball payment. If one seeks out the help of a friend who is also a therapist, asking them to use their long and painfully acquired skills to help, the decent thing is to insist that they get fairly compensated; including in consideration that the work was done outside of work hours and settings in many cases (on the practitioner’s time off).

As a pain specialist, I was constantly sought out by people in social situations, but those I call friends only ever asked respectfully if they could get in to see me (in clinic) as soon as possible. I’d ask what was wrong, and if appropriate, and I had the energy, I’d see them there and then. They would not even ask, but would leave – at the very least – my normal fee on the counter or on the table without a word. There was often a bottle of wine with the next visit as well, recognising the fact I worked on them during my own time off.

People often self-deceive that they have gotten a ‘free’ or ‘cheap’ massage, (treatment, facial, pedicure etc.) from a friend. The reality is that no, they haven’t. They have only paid in part, or not at all, for a service supplied in full from a person they call a friend. It’s taking advantage, and it’s that simple. It’s like drinking a case of a friend’s wine, and thinking gifting back a single bottle balances it out, and expecting grandiose thanks for the token. There is a moral obligation to pay in fairness for services received, and especially for services sought.

This is the issue; it’s only a moral obligation, and not a legal one. In the first world in particular, without a contract enforcing obligations, most people have a really tough time finding the will to volunteer after the fact what they would have otherwise been happy to pay, had a fee for the results seen been discussed up front. I see the work of many skilled people devalued by the cheapness and ingratitude of others to the point that many talented practitioners simply give up. I did. My treatments (I still see people occasionally) are generally five to fifteen minutes in actual duration, BUT they achieve more that they used to when I spent an hour and a half or two hours with a patient, early in my specialist career. It’s the end results that one must value and pay for, not the clock time in consultation taken to achieve them.

When someone thinks they are paying for a professional’s service, they are oversimplifying greatly. They are paying compensation to that professional for diligently applying skills acquired over years of study, thousands of dollars and many weekends a year in workshops and seminars, plus the hundreds of hours of unpaid writing of notes, letters and paperwork that ultimately only serves the processes of the patient’s bureaucracy. The list goes on, but it extends far, far further than the five or fifteen minutes that is seen at the treatment end.

In shamanic work, I have seen many people receive massive results that have changed their lives in very material and positive ways. With only three monetary exceptions in the last ten years (yes, three in ten years!), I have been offered mostly thanks in compensation; in two cases, some form of inappropriate jewellery, and even some quite stale mapachos (jungle cigarettes) a couple of times. Tobacco is an appropriate payment when tobacco is the de facto currency in an area. I know what a packet of mapachos cost down at the markets as well, and unless one can convince my landlord to accept a few Soles ($2) worth of mapachos as $120 of rent, I really have no use for them.

Should I, like many others in similar situations, charge for my shamanic or myotherapy work? My answer is, I shouldn’t have to. Unfortunately, as soon as the pain is gone, so is the motivation to pay. Many people can’t honestly value getting out of bed without pain, instead of rising in agony, as soon as the agony is a memory.

In part of my business, I cook a sacred plant sacrament of Huachuma (Wachuma, San Pedro). I sell the sacrament I prepare, mainly to other Huachumeros, for their use in their own ceremonies. I’m told with judgemental tones of indignation by new age transients to the area that, ‘if I were “in alignment”, my medicine would be free to all.’ Now this is a straight maths challenge; considering each dose I sell represents around two to two and a half hours of real applied effort, and there are real outgoings and expenses in raw materials and preparation, how much would you, the reader, feels accurately reflects the value of a dose? Include over thirty years of shamanic and chemistry and applied health experience to make the sacrament the exceptional quality it is. How much are you willing to sell two and a half hours of your life, expertise, effort and love for?

I sell a base compensation for my time and effort, shared out over the product of that time, the unit of which is a dose of the Huachuma sacrament. When someone tells me I should be giving away the medicine, my first thought is that my landlord is unlikely to be accepting the positive spiritual points in lieu of cash. My cactus supplier certainly wants hard currency, or there is no more cactus.

I can’t charge for the songs I’ve sung, the chants I’ve said, the prayers I’ve offered, and the intentions I’ve affirmed with every function during the total cooking process, starting with physically cleansing and energetically blessing the cactus pieces before they even enter the preparation area. The only thing I can charge for in this process is something I’ve given to the process that I can not get back, my time, and my expenses, including living and paying rent during the two weeks of the cooking and preparation process.

When I have sold or gifted my sacrament to those still living traditionally here, I almost always get a second payment in gift. This second gift is in thanks and recognition of what results were delivered. The first compensated my time and represented the base payment. Thankfully, many of those in traditional communities still understand and honour the obligations and energy of genuine reciprocity.

Should a spiritual practitioner or health practitioner charge for their service?

They shouldn’t have to.

Those receiving real results should be honest enough, decent enough, and have integrity and gratitude enough to make sure they have paid what a treatment or service was actually worth to them, not the lowest bargain price they can get away with. It’s about the results, and anyone who has lowballed a treatment or service offered on a donation basis, or for a low base price, but has received results worth far more, has taken services offered in good faith without [full] payment. Bargains are things done in markets, and what we are talking about here is simple taking without the intent to compensate. If that stings some readers, good! That is personal responsibility kicking in, demanding to recognise an imbalance requiring correcting.

Especially within the spiritual and new age movements, far too much taking occurs, ultimately driving people away from offering. Many who vocally lament my leaving practice are the same ones who were often looking for discounts, and are some of the very reasons I left practice. It’s about doing what is fair and right, not what can be gotten away with. A spiritual practitioner or health practitioner shouldn’t have to charge for their service. Those they help should have the integrity and honesty to compensate fairly, without being asked, or having a payment demanded or levied.

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