Lessons from Lockdown with South African Shaman John Lockley

Why the coronavirus pandemic is one of the greatest teachings of our time.

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“This virus reminds us every day that life is short and we need to take stock about how we are choosing to live.”
John Lockley

John Lockley is a traditional shaman and one of the first modern white sangomas in South Africa’s Xhosa tribe. Sangomas are soul doctors, or metaphysicians, who help people connect to their immortality and the spirit world through a measured combination of chanting, bone divination and plant medicine. He was trained and initiated by his Xhosa teacher, MaMngwevu, who hails from the same tribe as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.

John Lockley
John Lockley shows how the Covid-19 pandemic is teaching us to be part of nature again. Image: Courtesy of John Lockley

“Why is this happening?” Lockley asks of the Covid-19 crisis. “For me, this pandemic is one of the greatest teachings of our time, as we are part of nature and this virus is teaching us that in order to harmonise, we must become a part of nature again by befriending our fears, befriending our shadows and befriending death.”

He cites fond memories of his ancestors in Ireland (Lockley’s mother is Irish), many of whom were farmers highly attuned to the world around them.

“Our ancestors can teach us a lot,” he says. “Maybe we should think about what they would do if they were with us now. They would pray, they would spend time outdoors calling on nature, they would have faith and courage too—all these things natural disasters teach us and if we we don't pay heed, we succumb to panic and fear.”

In Lockley’s view the greatest shadow of the pandemic, rarely spoken about, is the fear of death. “Our ancestors were very aware of death. Now that we’re so technologically advanced in the Western world, we’ve become divorced from it. But this virus reminds us every day that life is short and we need to take stock about how we are choosing to live.

“Rather than seeing it as ‘the enemy’, we need to see this virus as a red light from nature, warning us of the urgent need to re-harmonise with her. Our cyber reality, glued to smartphones and screens, is divorcing us from nature, as we have learnt to expect instant gratification in everything, from relationships to work to how we live our daily lives.

“Coronavirus is teaching us to slow down, so we can realise what is important in our lives,” he says, insisting this is neither good nor bad. “Now is not the time to point the finger of blame, it’s the time to come together and support one another, as our ancestors would.”

John Lockley with Sangomas in South Africa's Xhosa tribe
John Lockley with Sangomas in South Africa's Xhosa tribe. Image: Courtesy of John Lockley

Spending months each year with the township people living at the edge of South Africa’s mainstream culture is where this healer has learnt his most profound life lessons. “They’ve taught me how to let nature touch me, how to be more resilient and that’s what I’ve been doing recently.”

“Don't be afraid,” Lockley advises. “Many of your ancestors have gone through a lot worse than the coronavirus. They survived, they prospered, they became more poetic, and their souls were nourished with wisdom and song. We’ve entered a time of new life with new songs. Nature is teaching us to adapt to change and this is my wish for us all.”

John Lockley’s tips for living your best life during lockdown

Practice heartbeat meditation: This simple meditation connects us with the little drummer inside all of us. Close your eyes. Placing one hand on your heart, breathe deeply into the heart pulse and slowly let go into the spaces between each heartbeat. Do this for a few minutes every day and feel how your rhythm improves.

Put down your phone and let nature touch you. Stand barefoot on the Earth as your ancestors did. Look up at sun and breathe in the life-affirming rays and welcome them—regardless of the weather.

Listen to the birds and let them teach you how to live.

Breathe in, breathe out, laugh and don't take it all too seriously. We’re all children of nature and right now, she is teaching us a lot.

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