Humans learned early in their evolution that they can commodify everything,brand it, add a price tag, and compete in the marketplace. From name brand tissues to coffee pods, inventors become entrepreneurs, identifying a market and creating products to benefit that market, hopefully drawing income. The laws of supply and demand have kept us well stocked as well as inspired invent greater goods, but are all of our products literally for the greater good? When what we commercialize is not a product but an idea, a belief, or energy e that cannot orshould not be harnessed we may be usurping the powers of the Spirit. Can we claim the ethers as our own and bottle them without violating the ethical laws of the Universe?
Those of us who walk the path of the healer need to stop along the way and ask ourselves, "Are we in service or in business?" And what is the difference? Are the two concepts necessarily incongruent? The question is not meant to disrespect the concept of fair exchange. On the contrary, we understand that people do not value a service in which they have made no investment. As a matter of fact, some self help workshop leaders have deliberately substituted the word investment for “cost” or “fee.” Perhaps we feel that distinction absolves us of guilt for accepting financial reward for something that freely belongs to the Spirit, to the Universe.
In indigenous cultures,, seekers bring a sacred gift to shaman to express gratitude for spiritual services, whether healing or divination. In our society, we gift practitioners with the most valuable cultural currency: money. We pay doctors, dentists, nurses, educators, psychologists, practitioners, physical therapists, and massage therapists, those with expertise specifically devoted to others' wellness. The same would then apply to spiritual healers. A pertinent lesson is emphasized in the narrative of Dr. Mikao Usui, the originator of the Reiki System of Natural Healing. After his enlightenment, Dr. Usui gathered clients and patients among the homeless and downtrodden to gift them with Reiki but noticed that after a short period of time, most of them had returned to their old ways, discarding the lessons he taught. His theory that people do not value services in which they are not invested resulted in the Reiki tradition that a client must present an offering to the practitioner. Human beings value services most when they have made a personal contribution. (With animals, this principle does not apply because animals operate on the plane ruled by sheer unconditional love.) Of course the practitioner and client must agree on the means of exchange as it does not have to be monetary. There can be an exchange of service, a cup of tea, a hug (yes, those are valuable!).
But when does our practice exceed the boundaries of fair exchange and become exploitative marketing of the spirit? At what point do we hijack Divine gifts, brand them, and “sell” them, and what consequences await those who do? This is a fine and somewhat dangerous border to toe. One way to strike appropriate balance is to consider the origins of customs, traditions, practices, and sacred objects – the thousands of years these concepts, beliefs, or practices that existed before a shrewd contemporary person branded the practice and slapped a hefty price tag on it. This is what we call cultural appropriation.
Susan Scarfidi, author of Who Owns Culture?: Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law, defines this as "Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else's culture without permission" (Jezebel.com). We see this usurping of traditional culture in New Age entrepreneurship, the banner under which people “sell” gateways to angels, manufactured sacred objects such as medicine shields and dream catchers. We see this when a traditional Reiki or other healing circle, usually is supported by “suggested love offering ” of $5 or less, is advertised at a veterinarian’s office with the practitioner, often a newly minted “healer,” requiring a session “price of $30 per animal.” This corrupts a healing circle into a profitable “event” for the marketeer.
People who authentically practice spiritual arts are often led into that pathway as part of their own a healing journey after profound trauma; this is the way of shamans from every tradition, as Joseph Campbell explains, “from Siberia to Tierra del Fuego.” Deep suffering, psychological breakdown, and near death experience lift the veil that separates the physical from the etheric world, empowering the patient with a new way of seeing and knowing, awakening the divine within. The victim or patient leaves the old self and assumes a new role as healer and seer whose mission becomes bringing others to Light. Fair exchange, then, is synonymous with gratitude. Those who violate the principle of fair exchange will find a more complicated karmic lesson to learn at some point in this life or another. Until then, those of us seeking the wisdom of intuitives, healers, and shamans should trust our higher instincts and ask to be led to those who practice with integrity and Divine intention.
Rev. Lisa Shaw is an animal communicator, Reiki Master, spiritual counselor, writer, and professor who lives in Florida with a feathered and furry family. She has trained as a Hospice chaplain and hypnotherapist. Her e-book, Illumination: Life Lessons from Our Animal Companions, is available on Amazon.com