Can A Productivity Shaman Help Me Get S*** Done?

Illustration by Seung Chun
Have you found yourself grasping for something, anything, to help you get through lockdown? It’s not just you. The pandemic has sent us all into a metaphysical tailspin. Crystal sales have shot up and we’re turning to astrology – such is the lure of a guiding force as we try to slow the morph from fully functioning humans to work-from-home, soup-for-brains blobs. 
We’re searching for an aid, any aid, to help us through this. So when I heard about the 'get shit done shaman' I thought, Hey, maybe this is it.
Our brains have dealt with a lot since last March. The psychological stress of the pandemic has been immense. Many of us have been in fight-or-flight mode for months, it’s taken a toll on our mental health and left us exhausted. One survey in the US found that 39% of workers have felt less productive during lockdown and many studies, including this one, have shown that anxiety and increased stress negatively affect your working memory, making it harder to complete tasks. 
Being unable to concentrate is affecting a lot of people, not least professional writers. Believe me when I tell you that I’ve had this document open on my laptop for four days, the cursor blinking at me like the beating heart of my procrastination. The deadline inched closer and closer and, still, I would occasionally click into the tab, sigh, then go and watch three episodes of The West Wing
For me, procrastination hits different in lockdown. No longer something I do for an hour, it has become consuming. The work gets done, of course – it just requires a few hours (or in my case, days) of not getting done first. The lockdown burnout is real. 

Thirty-nine percent of workers have felt less productive during lockdown.

I’ve tried a lot of things to pep me up during lockdown: skincare, takeaways, poring over my horoscope, yoga, meditation and skipping (harder than you remember). I even pinned my hopes on a leg-waggling machine to literally shake me back into action. So it was no huge surprise to my friends when I said, "Sorry, can’t make Zoom this week, I’m seeing a shaman." 
I’m not alone, it turns out. This past year has been good to Makhosi Nejeser, a shaman who specialises in personal development and "energetic alignment". She is, according to her bio, "the spiritual ascension master that will get your ass in gear". Her regular clients include celebrities and CEOs searching for meaning and direction, having reached the top of their game. "This entire situation has everyone just reevaluating what they’re doing in their life, reprioritising, realising that life is really short," she told me before our session began. "Those thoughts and feelings have skyrocketed this past year." 
Makhosi was born in America and is mixed race. She trained for three years to become a shaman. "I travelled back and forth between the US and west Africa for my initiation into ancient Egyptian spirituality through the Dogon Mystery Schools of High Priest Naba Lamoussa Morodenibig," she explains. "In the following year, my ancestors led me, through dreams and synchronicities, to complete a series of seven more initiations, tests and trials in South Africa, which culminated in me becoming a fully initiated sangoma (Zulu shaman) under Makhosi Singh, the spiritual daughter of Gogo Phakathi."
I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure exactly what a shaman is, going into this. I thought vaguely of Hollywood stereotypes, of dancing around fires and of ayahuasca retreats. I knew one person who’d seen a shaman before; she told me she spent an hour crying as he muttered words over her body, believing this to have been a transformative spiritual experience. I was worried about cultural appropriation and aware that what I was entering into is a religious doctrine for many people, though it’s a kind of spirituality that is worlds away from my Roman Catholic upbringing. When I texted my dad to ask for my grandma’s maiden name because "my shaman needs to know", I could see him typing, typing, typing, typing before he gave up and simply replied with the info.
I don’t know how to describe the effect Makhosi has on people other than to say that she exudes an incredible aura and I say this with no irony. With her hair tied up, she’s stylish but sensibly so, quick to smile and a very keen listener. She made me feel as though we were equals, like she was someone I could go for a drink with – not the vibe I usually get from spiritual leaders. 
Over Zoom from the US, Makhosi lights some frankincense as we begin and tells me that it helps if I can have my feet touching the floor in my basement flat in London, before we delve into my human design. She’s prepared charts and notes. It’s more than a bit overwhelming to realise she’s about to tell me who I am despite the fact we just met, via video chat, 20 minutes ago. I suddenly feel very awkward, aware that she can potentially see things about me that I can’t. I’m not sure how to arrange my face, aware that every bite of my lip, every reposition of my legs could read as scepticism or discomfort. 

The whole point of working with a shaman, Makhosi tells me, is to find a way to alignment; to reach a point where everything in your life is working in service to the reason you're alive in the first place.

Our call has the formality that Zoom imposes on all interactions. It also feels a bit like therapy, although I’m not expected to do much of the talking. Makhosi has spent time both dissecting the birth details I provided before the session and, she tells me, accessing the spiritual realm to divine more about me and my purpose. She’s careful, she says, "not to be too woo-woo about it". The more she talks, the more I recognise about myself – not the surface-level stuff but things I’ve been vaguely, semi-subconsciously aware of and which, now she points them out, seem so obvious. 
The whole point of working with a shaman, Makhosi tells me, is to find a way to alignment; to reach a point where everything in your life is working in service to the reason you’re alive in the first place. She teaches me how to listen to my gut, something I’m constantly not doing, not realising what my gut is telling me until it’s too late and I’ve done the other thing. It’s as simple as noticing my own reactions when she asks me two simple questions: "Do you like peppermint tea?" My shoulders twitch, I sit up a little straighter and say yes. "Do you like liquorice tea?" I shrink back, barely able to hide my disgust. She laughs and says: "See, now you know what to look for." 
As the session goes on, I notice myself feeling happier, more excitable. The awkwardness I felt at the start of the session dissolves as I eagerly sit bolt upright and go: "That is so me!" She’s just told me I’m someone who needs to slob about for several hours before spending five hours in a flurry of work, that I need to listen to myself and I’ll know when the work can get done. At one point something weird happens to Makhosi’s screen: a slow, white overlay comes over it as she drifts into a woozy soft focus. I feel light-headed. I try to blink some sense back into me and wonder if this is actual magic. Of course, it was probably smoke from the incense and hunger because it was dinnertime but, at the height of the moment, I thought I was experiencing something out of the realm of normality. 
I thought Makhosi would flick a switch in me that stopped me leaving things to the last minute, to stop me prioritising naps over getting things done. Instead she gave me permission to work when the work felt like it was happening and not to frustrate myself by forcing it. Finally!
As children, we are conditioned into thinking there are 'right' and 'wrong' ways to do things. So it was reassuring and motivating just to hear someone say: "That’s just not how it is for everyone, and you’re one of those people." Every so often, Makhosi would be talking and she’d stop, pause and look into the air above her. Sometimes she was figuring out how to word a complex idea in a way that would make sense to me but sometimes it was as though she was listening to something I couldn’t hear, watching something I couldn’t see. It didn’t feel like theatrics, although the sceptic in me couldn’t help but be on hyper alert.  
By the end of our hourlong session, I was giddy. "I feel like you’ve made me feel more energised simply by talking to me!" I gabbled, grinning wildly. "Ah, that’s my energy," she said knowingly. "You asked at the beginning how I do what I do; my own energetic alignment actually influences and pulls people into energetic alignment themselves. It’s happening just by the two of us connecting energetically and you benefiting from essentially being in my aura." Makhosi trained for five years to reach this level and describes the training as incredibly hard work, physically, mentally and spiritually. But if you can make people feel almost high simply by talking to them, then what a gift to hone. 
I can’t explain exactly what Makhosi did. I don’t know exactly how she discovered all the things she discovered about me, beyond knowing that it’s a combination of human design and a kind of sixth sense, an intuition for things beyond the everyday. Like most things I’ve tried, I’m not concerned with whether or not the process sounds too fantastical to believe because the outcome made me feel better and gave me a new perspective on myself. I don’t have to change myself to fit the way the world works; I can change my own little piece of the world to work the way that I do. It’s the opposite of everything I was brought up with. 
So yes, instead of writing this piece in good time, I napped. I watched hours of TV. I sat on TikTok for an hour, trying a filter that made my dark hair blonde, and I went to bed knowing that I hadn’t finished this piece, trusting that I’d get up early and find the words when I needed to. And I did. If it takes a shaman to reveal to you something that, once you know it, is completely obvious to you, then that’s fine. I feel like I have been given a path to figuring out some kind of purpose for myself, something the last year has robbed me of.

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