A Lifelong Search for a Good Path
"Ask yourself one question. It is the question that only a very old man asks: Does this path have a heart? One path makes for a joyful journey. The other path will make you curse your life." - Carlos Casteneda, The Teachings of Don Juan
Thirty-five years ago I was sitting in a first-year law school classroom in Portland, Oregon with an uneasy feeling in my gut. The feeling said, "I don't want to be a lawyer after all." But this feeling was immediately shoved aside by a scolding voice in my head, "Are you crazy? You quit a good job to attend graduate school, moved across the country and endured entrance exams for nothing?" So I suppressed the inner voice and completed the first year of study. That whole year I was haunted by anxiety, depression and stomach problems- sure signs from my body and soul that I had wandered off the path for my life.
By the end of the academic year I knew I had to make a change, so I left school and moved to New York City to pursue what I really wanted to do: writing, art, photography... anything creative. I waited tables on Broadway, drove a taxi at night all over Manhattan and began writing. I felt alive, and the anxiety and physical pains immediately diminished. But city life was harsh, expensive and lonely and I still did not have clarity on my unique gifts or purpose. Lacking support, close friends and a clear vision for my heart I returned to law school, opting for a secure life over an inspired one... (See Rest of the Story at bottom of this page.)
"Meeting with Jeff for the fire talk was like talking to an old friend. The conversation flowed freely and I felt open and uninhibited throughout the session. I left feeling like a weight had lifted off my shoulders, and was able to see a much brighter world."
–Gina, college freshman
- Masters of Divinity, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, IN (1999)
- Juris Doctor. Lewis & Clark Law School, Portland, OR (1986)
- Bachelor of Arts, Political Science/International Relations. Carleton College, Northfield, MN (1982)
- Sandra Ingerman (photo), 2-year Shamanic Teacher Training program (2014-16)
- Crows Nest Center for Shamanic Studies, C. Michael Smith, Ph.D. (2009- 2015)
- 9th International Amazon Shamanism Conference: Iquitos, Peru (2013)
- Foundation for Shamanic Studies/ Michael Harner (courses 2013 - 15 )
- Board Certification, Clinical Pastoral Education, U.S. Catholic Conference (1989)x
"There is an ease in Jeff's way of being. His sense of humor and gifts at myth-making are extraordinary. Everyone seems to feel good just being around Jeff. That’s his presence and radiance shining through, and he has the knowledge and experience to guide you on an earth-honoring path of the heart."
- C. Mikkal Smith PhD., Crows Nest Centers for Shamanic Studies,
Author of Jung and Shamanism in Dialogue.
Teaching Experience and Collaborative Work
- Sage-ing International, instructor for workshops and seminars promoting elder wisdom and spiritual leadership.
- University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN. Instructor, Environmental Psychology seminars. Guest instructor, Hilldebrand Center for Compassionate Care in Medicine.
- Indiana University, S. Bend, IN. Guest lecturer, Education Dept./Teacher Training Institute. M.A. of Arts in Liberal Studies Program.
- Saint Mary's College, South Bend, IN. Guest lecturer: Philosophy Dept. and Center for Women's Intercultural Leadership.
- Crows Nest Center for Shamanic Studies, USA. Professional Associate. Sacred Breathwork facilitator, leader of Vision Quest & Wounded Healer School (2014-15).
- Michiana Institute of Gerontology. Wisdom Shamans on Aging & Dying.
- Yoga Teacher Training program, guest teacher, The Power of Presence.
- Center for Spiritual Growth, South Bend. The Way of the Shaman; Jesus the Shaman, other programs.
- Memorial Hospital, South Bend, Brainworks' Wisdom Series.
- Unity Gardens Growing Summit @ Indiana University South Bend. The Path of the Shaman: Ancient Spiritual Ecology fo Modern Health. Ecospirituality: An Earth-Honoring Path for Our Time.
"The work we do with Jeff is hard to put into words. He never fails to amaze and inspire me...with his deep humility and by being the most authentic person I know. He has a gentle loving spirit that makes it easy to drop our defenses and do the work of heart centered therapy." -Katrina, financial life coach and tax advisor
Outdoor Experience & Training
- Leader of Wilderness Vision Quest, Terlingua, TX and Manitou Island, MI.
- Director of Manitou Island Vision Quest, Crow's Nest USA (July 2015)
- Wilderness Advanced First Aid certified (NOLS/WMI, WMA, 2015 to present)
- Map & Compass navigation, REI (2014)
- Assistant Guide, Renewal in the Wilderness Tours, (2010-12)
- Vision Quest (4)- Manitou Island wilderness, MI (2009-present)
- Sea kayaking/coursework on the great lakes Huron, Michigan and Superior.
- Wilderness canoe camping, Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Minnesota/Canada
- Wilderness Backpacking, Isle Royale and Yellowstone National Parks
- Solo bicycle touring/ camping, Oregon Coastal range
- Cross country ski wilderness camping, Minnesota and Wisconsin
- Solo backpacking throughout Europe, Turkey and Israel
- Motorcycle camping throughout the Western U.S. and Canada.
"Jeff Nixa is a deep and humble giant. I’m grateful for his profound, yet light touch on facilitation, and honored to call him friend and colleague. He sees, teaches, serves so much and with humility and balance. I don’t think I’d have found a better way to be of service, volunteering on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, if not for him. Pilamaya." - BJ, Boulder, CO
A Balanced Life
Jeff takes the body, mind and spirit connection very seriously, for the purpose of being a more balanced and effective healer. He has been a barefoot runner, sea kayaker and year-round bicycle commuter who began running at age 40 and competed in running, bicycle, and triathlon races for years. He is currently completing a novel, practices daily zazen and walking meditation, and enjoys his fire talk counseling and teaching work with individuals and groups.
Jeff is the author of The Lost Heart of Heart Navigation: A Modern Shaman's Field Manual. He was a guest commentator on local public radio station WVPE for 3 years, and featured on National Public Radio's This I Believe series (http://thisibelieve.org/essay). He is founder and past president of the Bike Michiana Coalition regional advocacy group (www.bikemichiana.org). Jeff lives on three country acres and a beautiful creek near Cassopolis in southwest Michigan with his wife Regina and his mixed-breed herding dog, Indie.
“Jeff has such a contagious positive outlook and passion for life that you can’t help leaving fully refreshed.”
-Beth, MD (a massage therapy client)
...The Rest of the Story (continued from top)
When I returned to law school after my creative escape to New York City, so did the physical and emotional problems. I tried to ignore these and by sheer effort began to climb the academic ladder. I was invited and joined the editorial staff of the school's law review, won the annual mock trial competition for my entire class, and at age 23 began arguing real criminal cases in front of juries for the Portland, Oregon District Attorney's office. By graduation I was interviewing with Oregon Supreme Court justices for clerkships. It seemed I was on the golden road to success as a lawyer. Yet I was mentally exhausted and spiritually empty- soul lost. Despite all my academic and courtroom success I was still hounded by that same insistent voice in my heart that whispered, "Not this."
Right in the midst of all this confusion I met a beautiful, vibrant and self-assured woman named Regina who introduced me to the field of spiritual care. In her low-paying but meaningful work in a Catholic parish I saw a person living an intentional, simple lifestyle who was financially "poor" yet obviously happy and fulfilled doing what she loved. As opposed to my own life, which was becoming more complex, stressful and empty working very hard at something I did not love.
That summer I passed the Oregon State bar exam, but the choice was obvious. I knew I had to follow my heart, and in 1986 I walked away from the legal profession.
Sometimes people tell me they admire my courage in making that change years ago, but at the time it didn't feel very courageous. Instead I felt utterly alone. Leaving the law profession and all those relationships was like a death, of the socially packaged self and lawyer-role I had so carefully cultivated. And the move appeared completely foolish to my family, friends and law colleagues. I had no alternative job prospects or career plans, and seven years of college and graduate school loans coming due. It felt like the most insecure, and socially/financially/psychologically vulnerable time of my entire life.
Yet the moment I made the decision to leave law I experienced a deep sense of release, physical energy and new adventure. This began an intense, rich period of spiritual exploration, creativity and reeducation in my life. Those days were very difficult emotionally (losing the friendships I had in law school) and financially (how much peanut butter can one man eat!), but they were not impossible. Time after time synchronistic encounters, opportunities and unexpected "helpers" appeared to reassure and nudge me toward my new path in spiritual care and counseling. One damn day a time. Fortunately I'd found a lovely partner and Regina and I were married two years later.
I have made two major additional career changes since then, each navigated via my heart and each a timely course-correction drawing me closer to my core self and purpose on the planet. This website, my blog Urban-Shamanism.org, and my Great Plains Guide Co. programs are the most recent chapters in this journey.
I'm sure that my life will continue to evolve, change, and surprise me. But I no longer worry about these changes, transitions, and course-corrections. I understand it is all part of the process; of the sacred groundlessness of being itself. Once you come to terms with that (the situation experienced by every living thing), then life changes from an endless series of difficulties, grasping and striving to meet the psychological needs of others... into an adventure with no fixed outcome and much more joy.
I believe it is better to live a love-based, power-filled life aligned with one's spiritual core than a weakened, fear-based life of submission to inner anxieties, social conformity, and financial security. This is a radical statement in our conventional American lifestyle and consumer way of life. But if you're interested you too can discover your own unique, love-based life of joy and service to others. And one way is through the individual and group programs I offer through Great Plains Guide Co.
Click Fire Talks to begin your own journey of the Heart today.
See you soon.
"As we find ourselves at the crossroads of a global ecological crisis, we need more urban shamanic practitioners, for which Jeff is a model. He has the knowledge and experience to guide you on an earth-honoring path of the heart."
-C. Mikkal Smith Ph.D, Crows Nest Centers for Shamanic Studies