Inspired and assisted by the EarthSea community, David Sherwood helped found and mentor a full moon shamanic drumming group that has met continuously for more than 100 moon cycles. 

He has also trained intensively in the work of Gurdjieff. 

He also attends church, used to do tai chi, and still does yoga. 

He has been both a farmer and a city planner. 

He speaks French fluently and has lived in Islamic and Catholic cultures. 

Currently, he earns his living as a creative meeting facilitator, helping groups and organizations reach a higher or deeper level of meaning.

David is on the cusp of becoming a spiritual mentor or teacher, but is having trouble deciding how to package all the things he knows! 

In the meantime, he mentors various people, teaches an annual workshop and writes occasional articles.

You are welcome to contact David Sherwood at:

(613) 674-2042
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Shamanism and Gurdjieff
by David Sherwood, May 2012

Previously published in the Spiritual Guidance e-newsletter edited by Rev. Robert Meagher of Ottawa, June 2012 edition,

This is a personal story about finding myself deeply involved in two seemingly different spiritual paths, and wondering why or how they fit.  My first encounters with Shamanistic practices began at about age 45.  I don’t practice the full range of shamanistic techniques by any means, but have taken occasional workshops and participate in a regular full moon drumming group.  Then, at age 55, I added a weekly Gurdjieff class plus its daily exercises. 

They have pretty much nothing in common, as far as the actual practices or rituals go.  They can even seem to conflict, eg- the desire to go ‘out there’ on a shamanic journey, and the goal of staying ‘aware’ of self and bodily surroundings as per the Gurdjieff teachings.

Shamanistic Practices
I used to think an interest in shamanism was a late addition to my life, but recently I “reframed” it as part of a deep conversation with nature that actually has been a constant:

  • As a little boy I spent hours and hours on end playing in ditches, running through the fields and building tree forts in the woods, just immersed in nature.
  • As a young man, along with some others in the days of “back to the land”, we compulsively purchased a dairy farm, though I/they had no farming experience.
  • Except while at university, I have had a garden and compost pile all my life.
  • At age 45, we built a house, and we aligned it with the four cardinal directions, using mountain views, a church steeple and a stately old elm tree as visual anchors. 

Then began the exploration of shamanism, which taught me ceremony as a way of connecting to nature and the spirit world. This has been a long and slow road. I gardened mechanically and conventionally for a long, long time.  I still have trouble remembering to sing to my trees. 

The Gurdjieff fascination is just nutzo.  It has a hold of me, I can’t not do it, and it is such an unusual form of practice that it’s hard to even explain to most people.  In brief, the goal is present moment Awareness of self (body, emotions, thoughts).

Ideally, the noticing would be all day long, but realistically it is many, many glimpses per day of ‘knowing that I exist’ as opposed to being caught up in what I am doing.  Gradually, the witness function lasts longer and takes in surroundings, influences, subtle energy shifts.  Intuition develops.  Negative internal cycles get shorter.  Eventually, there emerges an improved ability to marshall my vital energies behind worthy activities, to be aligned — and know that I am aligned.

The shamanistic methods I engage in seem to be directed outward: connecting to things outside me, like the four elements (earth, air, fire, water) or the four directions on the medicine wheel, or to invisible elements in the spirit world.  The Gurdjieff seems a very self-centred practice: what am I up to, right now? 

So sometimes, I wonder… Why I am so attracted to both of these?  Do they fit together?  With only so much time in my week, should I focus only on one?  Which is more quintessentially me?

MY EUREKA MOMENT, with thanks to Rudolph Steiner

Recently, I picked up Stella Natura, the Steiner calendar for planting and harvesting by the cycles of the moon and the zodiac.  In it, there was an article called The Unknown World of the Etheric, by Manfred Klett.  As I understand it, the article says that Steiner said (especially in his book, Esoteric Science, an Outline) that …

  • The earth, the energy and makeup of the earth, all living beings on and in the earth, are influenced at a subtle level by the cosmos or the etheric, which includes an intelligence, an intention, a guidance. [Which we could choose to call God/source/creator.]  In other words, this is not a random accident; and it is an ongoing influence rather than a one-shot big-bang original impulse.
  • There are also more immediate, dense, direct influences on life, from the earth, moon and sun, such as the pull of gravity, the seasons and the daily dark/light cycle.  These are part of the “aliveness” of our earth home.
  • That to fulfil our biologic and cosmic human purpose on earth, we need to tune to all this, take guidance from it, respect it, and in that sense revere it.  We should ‘help it along’, assist it to be healthy and flourish. [One could say: be stewards, be of service, cooperate with the divine plan, co-create… clearly this is NOT the same as ‘manipulate it to the benefit of our species alone and in so doing destroy other species’]

BUT HOW DO WE DO THAT???   How to tune in, get the message, learn the lessons?

The article says there are two main paths of inquiry or two typical practices, A or B, both good.

(A)  Searching through nature. Experience nature deeply, understand the inter-relationships of life and how it expresses through plants/ soil/ animals, live according to the natural rhythms and the seasons, know we are one element of the web of life … learn from nature by using its expression as a metaphor, observe it, listen to it, feel it … in order to take guidance from it, and intelligently contribute to it … and discern the subtle cosmic or etheric influences embedded in it. [one could say, the direction of impulse is from ground to sky]

or B)  Spiritual search.  Self-development, meditation, awareness. Acting as much as possible from our higher self. Actively seeking to connect to the higher consciousness … in order to know it, take guidance from it, and intelligently contribute to it … to discern the subtle cosmic or etheric messages and influences. Which, as an incarnate being, will include the earthy influences, our place in life on earth and our contribution to it.  [one could say, direction is sky to ground]

So there!  The insight is that I was burdened by a false dilemma.  Instead of seeing A or B as a dichotomy, it turns out A and B is fine.  They are complementary and I happen to be drawn to both.  While superficially different, either will develop the ability to observe, to listen, to tune in, then to act judiciously.  But tune into what, exactly?  I am not a specialist on definitions, so you can call it God/source/creator or cosmic/etheric or Gaia/Mother Earth, all are worthy of attention. Food for thought: if you have two or more practices… can you sit back and see a larger pattern that can include all of them?