Industry Talks: Zori Tomova on shamanism, holding space (online), and the human longing to connect

Today we are talking to Zori Tomova. After working in IT for many years and priding herself as a very productive person, she woke up one day and felt something was off. Realizing she no longer wanted to continue living in the constant hustle and grind, she took a journey to self-discovery with the mission to redefine herself, her life, and her path.

Today we are talking to Zori Tomova. After working in IT for many years and priding herself as a very productive person, she woke up one day and felt something was off. Realizing she no longer wanted to continue living in the constant hustle and grind, she took a journey to self-discovery with the mission to redefine herself, her life, and her path.

This journey took her to magical places like Bali, Peru, and Guatemala; introduced her to many fellow seekers with missions alike; and turned her career into something completely different. Now she creates with enormous newfound passion and spends her days coaching people, holding space in numerous community-driven gatherings, and connecting with nature, others, and self.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and the work that you do.

I like to think of myself as a human being that is passionate about connection. I explore the meaning of connection, the meaning of being present… with one another, with nature, with ourselves, and the forms connection can take. And so far there have been different ways in which this passion for connection has been expressing.

One of them is in my work as a Purpose Alignment Coach where I support people to discover their purpose, or if they already know what that is, to really arrange their lives so that they can live according to that knowing. Secondly, I am a shamanic guide — I support people who are interested in shamanism to work with the realms of non-ordinary reality, of altered states of consciousness. I love doing that as well.

Last but not least, comes Connection Playground which is a community project where we explore various ways of connecting with self, others, and nature in playful ways and in shared online spaces. Although it did start off as an offline project initially. We have intimate gatherings that are co-created and emerge out of our community on a weekly basis. The same people who participate are the people who also take turns to hold space for different things. We’ve been doing this for a year or so, and it has been growing internationally. It’s an initiative I am very passionate about.

Zori Tomova

2. We’re curious to know more about the shamanic aspect of your work. How did you first discover shamanism?

Shamanism is a word that can bring a lot of different meanings and associations for different people. For me, it responds to our human longing to connect to something greater than what we are used to calling ourselves.

For a long time, religion has been a way in which people have been satisfying this longing. And now spirituality is re-emerging as an alternative where there’s less emphasis on hierarchy or the requirement to do things in a specific way. For me, that greater thing that I have been connecting to is nature.

And the spiritual path that I have somehow resonated with the most, in terms of this connection between human and nature, both within and outside, is shamanism. Although that is a general term that encapsulates many different approaches in different cultures.

About 10 years ago, I was reading a book by Carlos Castaneda. His “Journey to Ixtlan”. I just felt very amazed and connected to the things that I was reading there. The book got me asking myself, “what is reality?” or “who are we?” — those kinds of questions you would normally consider as the questions of spirituality, you know. [laughs] Reading that book felt like a great opening to me. And I didn’t really have anyone around me who was interested in such topics at that time.

A few years later, I stumbled across another book. It was “Cave and Cosmos” by Michael Harner. And that one gave me a specific practice that I could reach for and use on a regular basis — the drum journey method. It is a way of entering this state where you are half awake, half asleep, and encountering your inner nature, your inner wilderness, basically. Working with what is normally called the “dream reality” — all of these symbols, images, and feelings that we usually encounter while sleeping, but during this practice, we can access them from a state of wakefulness.

My first experience with drum journeying sort of blew my mind, and I started learning and experimenting little by little. People around me became curious and were then asking me about the practice, so I started offering them some information. I began holding some gatherings where we could explore it together. Not with the premise that I am some kind of shaman and I am teaching them, but more as a space where we all get to connect to that part of our psyche, also known as the shaman archetype (a term that originates in the work of Carl Jung).

In many cultures, the word “shaman” actually means “the one who knows”. And so, I was co-creating this space with others, where we could explore together “the one who knows” within each of us. Over time, it deepened. I began exploring ritual, ceremony, and other ways in which we can connect with nature, both within and outside.

It led me to places like Peru, and now Guatemala where I am currently based. Here I’ve been working with plant medicine and exploring the different flavors that this shamanic culture can have in different locations. I wouldn’t call myself a shaman, but I have been following my own resonance and just enjoying this mysterious universe in which we live… in this specific way.

3. Do you prefer hosting and facilitating events online or offline? How is one different from the other in your personal and professional experience?

In my experience, the online space has opened up a lot of opportunities. My life in the past 3–4 years has involved a lot of traveling and moving around. And as I was doing that, I also noticed that the places where I would stay for 6 months or 8 months, in those spiritual communities, there was always this dynamic where people are constantly coming and going. In Bali, in Peru, also here in Guatemala. I was one of those who were coming and going myself! And so it’s quite difficult to be building an offline community in such circumstances.

When the pandemic started, I was like, “Oh! So now I can do what I wanted online! Seems like we’re all going to be sitting at home for some time.” This actually allowed me to connect all these people with which we had bumped into one another somewhere on the road, but we couldn’t be together physically, because everyone is somewhere around the globe. It’s been a curse and a blessing this pandemic for me.

And, of course, the offline experience has its own beauty. A deeper connection. There are certain things that you can’t do online… But I love the freedom that the online space gives us!

a Connection Playground offline event

4. When it’s possible, would you like to host in-person events again?

I love doing that, and it’s already been happening. I was hosting some Authentic Relating circles here in Guatemala because it is allowed. I was doing that for a while, but I also realized that right now is the time for me to focus a bit more on the online component.

In order to properly hold space offline, I first need to invest more time into building a network here. And I found that this is too difficult for me right now as I am constantly catering to what is happening online. In the future when I am settled down somewhere for a longer period of time, I would love to create community and have the online and the offline complement one another. Our kind of work, and the mission we carry — to support the unfolding of human consciousness by exploring connection with self, others, and nature — can be useful in any physical location and can be done in so many different ways.

And, at the same time, having this online space can allow us to share knowledge about the things we are doing in between location-based communities.

Zori and a lama in Peru

5. What are some ways in which you succeed to establish deep and meaningful connections and exchanges while hosting your Connection Playground gatherings through a screen?

We focus on it, on the essence of what we set out to do On experiencing connection and playfulness. We don’t really focus on having a wider reach or a bigger audience, per se. As people experience connection and play, by coming to our gatherings, they are inspired to share with others. So everything that has grown so far in our community has happened in an organic way.

And this intent is not just for the participants, it is an intent also for each of us who holds the space. When I come to hold a certain space, I don’t stand aside, as it often happens with facilitators who sort of step back and allow for others to discuss, while they are occupied with making sure that the discussion stays on track.

In our work, the way we like to approach it, is that as a space holder I show up authentically and participate in the process that I am facilitating. In my experience, this is a way of modeling vulnerability, and openness, and trust that enables deeper connection for everyone involved.

6. What are some of your daily practices?

Two come up immediately. I have a 2-hour walk every day. That’s a non-negotiable for me, I’ve been doing it for 16–17 years now. My body really loves walking.

Another non-negotiable for me ever since I arrived in Guatemala is going for a daily swim in the lake. This is also a part of my shamanic practice because I’ve made an agreement with the lake that I am going to show up every day. And that agreement also includes listening to messages that it has to share with me. So I am just watching what are some qualities that the lake has on that day and take them as a message, as something for me to explore on that day… Maybe there’s something about the waves or its color.

Yesterday the sun was coming down during my swim and on one side the lake had one color, while on the other side it was a completely different one. Also while swimming, I was looking in the direction of the sun, and there were these little drops on my eyelashes, and it’s like rainbows were forming. [laughs] So the message is about celebrating life in all its colors and that’s what I took with me into my day.

Zori and lake Atitlan in Guatemala

7. What role does meditation play in your life?

It’s kind of interesting because it was one of the practices that probably reached me the earliest and it took me quite a long time to truly get what is the value that this is bringing me and how do I do it properly. I went to a Vipassana meditation retreat which really opened up things for me. It was 10 days in which we were just focusing on meditation and learning a specific practice for that, eating vegan, and not talking to anyone.

I appreciated that experience, but to be honest, the best way to meditate for me so far is through a practice that’s called Authentic Relating. For some reason, it is much easier for me to maintain this observer meditative awareness in this practice, while connecting with other people. And although sometimes I just sit and relax and meditate, I wouldn’t say it’s so consistent.

Authentic Relating is one of the practices I picked up in Bali, it was these weekly circles that I was participating in, and I just loved the way in which people were connecting in those spaces. In Authentic Relating, we come into meditation together, and we share what we are noticing. We share what we are noticing as thoughts, as emotions, as sensations in our bodies as we sit.

8. What is an important, yet unexpected lesson you’ve learned during the past year?

I think it would have to do with my journey with plant medicine. For a long time, although I was interested in shamanism, I wasn’t actually working with any plant medicine. It was a year and a half ago when this whole interest in me came up. As I was on this journey of redefining my life and finding a new path, I had secluded myself. I had separated myself from everyone and everything that I knew, and there was this moment of realization that it was time to go back… to belonging with other humans.

I got interested in “we” — what does “we” mean and how does “we” work. When I started getting interested in this “we”, it also opened me up to share my consciousness with another being, and that is the plant.

I guess the important thing I realized is my openness to sharing my reality with other beings and learning from their wisdom. It’s been an incredible healing for me, and I believe that because of this journey, I’ve managed to create this community the way I did. I have been learning to stop fighting the natural flow, and create in alignment with nature.

You can find Zori Tomova here: Facebook, her website & Youtube.

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