Shaving for work when you’re… shaman Zowie Jannink.
What is it about bald chins that people find so compelling? Is the shape? The colour? The texture? Or something else? And while we’re not going to try to answer that in this article –we’ll probably swing back around to it in the future– there’s something about a bald chin that says something to the world.
Doctors, soldiers, firemen, priests, for much of the last century a cleanly shaved face was part of the uniform. It spoke volumes about what you did and who you were, and letting that chin fall into disrepair in the form of stubble, was an indication that you were falling from the path. And this more straight laced view of how adorned a chin was the norm.
But, as you’ll know if you’ve read any of our posts in tour Shaving for work series, we’re not interested in the norm. That shit’s borning. Instead we want to bring your shaving from the fringe, so to speak. Hairy tales and shaving stories that will make your hair stand on end. (Incidentally hair standing on end makes it easier to shave. So for a closer cut shave while watching a thriller, or use a Foaming Shave Gel, whichever suits your lifestyle –or sense of adventure– better.)
And the norm for this series has been writing about professions where shaving often gives you a competitive advantage. But this article is a bit different. Today we’re speaking to: medicine man, spiritual healer, shaman –although he’d much prefer you’d call him Zowie– about shaving for work when you’re guiding spiritual journeys.
So tell me a bit about yourself? You haven’t always been a spiritual worker?
My background is in design. I studied design, and started out designing for the web, for big brands, designing experiences on the internet. This was while I was studying, and at some stage I got tired of conceptualising, and wanted to do something for real. So together with some friends we decided to squat a brothel, called La Bolleur. It was somewhere we could experiment. So we started a bar, a restaurant and experimented with getting people into action, getting people to move. Guiding them through different environments and atmospheres.
This was my first school learning to work with people, and it was clear that that was what I wanted to do.
Did you get into spirituality after design school?
After graduating I started working as a freelance designer. Designing brand activations. Projects on a big scale. The industry was booming at the time and we would design shops and shows, and parties for these brands.
I had a really beautiful time, the budgets were crazy and it allowed me to think of crazy ways to make these brands cool and fun. But at some point it wasn’t working for me anymore. I was going from one project to the next, and burning myself out, for who?
What did you do to make a change?
A good friend of mine at the office pushed me in the direction of self investigation. When I was young I’d been a competitive basketball player. But in the design years I wasn’t doing a lot of sports. And I got this urge to reconnect with my body.
Over my life I’ve tried out many different types of massages. And around this time I received a massage that was amazing and I just thought “Wow! I want to learn this.”
So I asked the guy giving me the massage where he’d learned it. He told me about his teacher who lived in France. I tracked her down and she sent me to her teacher in Nepal. He wasn’t there, but I tracked him down to India where I asked him to teach me. And I stayed in India for 3 months just doing massage.
It sounds like an interesting time.
It was a really interesting time, it felt like a spiritual circus. There were gurus everywhere, and people were running from one to the next.
It was around this time that plant medicine came across my path. The same friend at the office was going to do a private ceremony, and I asked him if I could join. I thought it was interesting, but I’d never done anything like that before so I was quite scared to go.
What was that experience like?
The ceremony wasn’t really a ceremony. I got a glass, and drank and then music played from the speakers and that was it. I had a beautiful experience and afterwards I felt I had seen what plant medicine had to offer.
Later that year a friend told me about a shaman coming from Ecuador, and asked if I wanted to join. And I said “Not really.” I wasn’t interested, I’d already done it. And what even is a shaman?
Then she asked me again a week before this ceremony I got asked and I decided to go.
That ceremony was different from the previous one?
In that ceremony I got to experience what plant medicine was really about. What the shaman was doing and not doing. That changed my view on it, and how it could be a useful tool, when done well.
I hadn’t been looking in that direction, but I started doing ceremonies more regularly. Then 2 years after that I got an invitation to learn. I didn’t know what learning meant, but I wanted to find out. That was eight years ago now.
What made you decide to take that path?
I had a great job travelling the world, making a lot of money. I could do what I wanted, buy what I wanted. But it wasn’t how I wanted to live, or wanted to be.
So then the invitation came, and I slowly started moving out of the consumer world. Until I was only investigating what life is about, who I am and how I can contribute. It’s brought me to different places, people and experiences. Learning is an ongoing process, something that spirals and I really enjoy it.
What was the learning process like?
My teacher was traveling in Europe for 3 months, then 3 months in Ecuador and on and on. I would travel with him around Europe and follow him when he went back to Ecuador. I’m still learning from him.
The last three years I’ve mainly been doing my own work. But for the previous five years I was working with him, but also went to learn from tribes in Peru, and studied a lot of different plant medicine traditions, including with tribes in Brazil.
What does a typical ceremony look like?
Traditionally only medicine men or women drank the plant medicine. More recently the group ceremony has been invented. That’s the way it’s being done here in the western world, but also in the jungle. There’s a lot of transformation going on.
When the medicine is drunk in a tribe everyone knows each other. But in a western group ceremony, you don’t always know the other people. So you need to get to know your new tribe members, to make yourself comfortable to share yourself fully in all aspects. This can be done in many different ways and is a big part of the work.
Then the next important part is for the people to be clear about their intention, their reason for taking part, and sharing that intention, speaking it out loud to the group. Then we can drink, and I will help guide people’s experiences.
How do you help guide the experience?
I guide the ceremony with chants and songs. Because I’m not from a specific tribe I will sing songs from different traditions. Most of the songs are pointing to the same things: plants, animals and the elements. The interpretation of how we see the world and how we see the plant medicine dimension are being sung in these songs.
Some songs will raise the energy of the medicine, and some songs will make the energy more stable. The different chants help the participants to surf the waves of the medicine. My role is to kind of tune the experience for the participants.
Why do you need to shave as part of your work? Was it something you did when you were a designer?
When I was a designer I used to shave, but not often. With ceremonies I want to go in as clean as possible. To prepare myself I want to be fresh which, for me, is part of the ritual. It’s important to be clean for these ceremonies, but shaving is not necessarily required by tradition. Cleanliness is though, and I want to be as clean and sharp as possible.
Most Indians don’t have any bodily hair so they only shave their faces and I do the same for these ceremonies. It’s a way to show respect. Being alive is a gift. And I want to present myself as a proud human being. It feels good.
What’s your ritual before ceremonies?
I always have a shower, and shave in the shower. And after shaving in a really hot, hot shower, I have a super cold shower for quite a long time. Then I sit for a bit, and allow myself to get quiet.
Being alone for a bit is important, to have time for myself to prepare. When you do this work you need to be ready anywhere, at any time, at any moment so I prepare for anything to happen.
This helps you get ready for the ceremonies?
Going into a ceremony is a place of unknown. And I’m going to a place where I can meet anything. Every ceremony is exciting.
It’s almost like getting onto stage or before playing a sport. You don’t know what you will meet there. My ritual is a reminder of what’s to come. So I would say it prepares me, and it feels like things have already started.
The build up to the ceremony is the most exciting time. During the ceremony I just get into a flow and do the things I need to do.
How do you describe yourself?
I have a lot of respect for the people who do this work. As soon as people call me medicine man, or something in this direction I accept this into my life.
I’m still Zowie.
Someone said once in a ceremony. Finally I get to meet a real shaman. But it’s still not something I would call myself. I can only do what I do.
There you have it folks. Whether you’re going into an office to push paper or helping people commune with the deepest darkest parts of themselves and transition to joy, presenting the cleanest sharpest version of yourself is important. It shows the world, physical and spiritual, that you’re someone who takes care of yourself.
Want to get your face smooth enough to face anything the physical or spiritual world can throw at you? Try our really flexible razor.
Shave or don’t, it’s up to you, but remember:
“Being alive is a gift.”
Find out more about Zowie on his website zowie.nl
And for more in the Shaving for work… series check out: