The YouTube Shaman

Soorena Sedighi's online quest to enlighten us all

Article by Jenelise Sutton

Viewer Discretion Advised. This video contains profane language (#F-Word) and subject matter that may make you uncomfortable (#Truth).

This is the opening message of small-time Youtuber SoorenaTV’s video, “I Feel Like a F#cking Loser.” The video reveals a dispirited side of the vlogger that is not typically present in his channel. Soorena Sedighi, a twenty-something resident of Toronto, is best known to his 4,000 subscribers for his motivational life advice, playful humor, and psychedelic substance reviews.

I began watching SoorenaTV in high school after searching “shrooms experience” on YouTube. His video “Tripping on Shrooms!” was one of the top results, boasting over 600,000 views—markedly more than his usual 200 or so hits. After discovering that video, I began regularly watching SoorenaTV’s uplifting vlogs for help with handling anxiety, finding a direction in my personal life, and improving my mood on bad days. Recently however, the young husband/father’s channel has taken a new direction, going so far as to change his self-description from the ambiguous “Dude Who is Going Around” to the enigmatic “Shaman-in-Training.”    

Before learning that Sedighi views himself as a shaman, I thought shamans were merely manipulative figures behind dark, psychological alteration. My knowledge of this spiritual profession was limited to what I learned during a trip to Crestone last year. While camping in the religious mecca of Colorado, random locals repeatedly warned me of the shamanic “energy vampires” in nearby caves, who would gleefully overdose me on drugs. In retrospect, their words were likely just an attempt to keep college kids out of their sacred town. But at the time the legends were spooky enough that my friends and I left Crestone a night early. 

So when I first noticed Sedighi’s new self-proclaimed identity, I wondered about his motivations. Despite being rather unknown on YouTube, he puts a lot of thought into the SoorenaTV brand. Over the past three years he has made t-shirts with his logo, created an animated opening sequence for his videos, and established accounts on most social media platforms. In upcoming episodes he has plans to end videos with the catchphrase “Take care of yourself and have fun with your life.” All of these trademarks together paint Sedighi as an endearing, trustworthy fellow. This impression puts him on the edge of what I naively consider shamans to be–charming but manipulative characters who sometimes have less-than-benign intentions. Overly invested in this obscure YouTuber, I scheduled a Skype call with the man behind SoreenaTV, an opportunity for which he usually charges $10 an hour.  

Our conversation (or as he would say, our chance for our “brains to brainwash each other”) started off a bit awkwardly. My computer screen only showed Sedighi’s skype icon: a close-up photo of his right eye. When it became clear he wouldn’t be putting his video camera on, I asked him what sparked his newfound interest in Shamanism.  

“I started to look for a term that reasonably describes what I’m trying to do...which is to take people from one way of perceiving their world and take them to another way of seeing the world. And the closest title I’ve come to that is ‘shaman,’” Sedighi explained to me in the same earnest, animated voice he uses on SoorenaTV. This answer didn’t fully satisfy my curiosity, however. My research on shamanism suggested that shamans are born with spiritual capabilities and that there are signs in early life that one is shamanistic. Common trends in shamans’ lives include prolonged personal suffering, including certain “shamanic illnesses” prior to fulfilling their calling, such as seizures, chronic fatigue syndrome, autoimmune disorders, and fibromyalgia. Sedighi’s foray into shamanism seemed much more self-determined than those I had read about.         

“I would say I’ve experienced quite a bit of relationship-based suffering, and when I looked into [shamanism], I wanted to solve my own personal suffering, and just feel better in my own life…The suffering was like the starting point, because at first you actually have no idea that there is any path out of suffering, you just believe that at some point there is going to be a reduction of suffering,” Sedighi explained. This interpretation of shamanism echoes SoorenaTV’s mantras of self-help and introspection. SoorenaTV began after its creator was inspired by his “own shaman,” his older brother, Babak, and has since led Sedighi to his wife (a former SoorenaTV viewer), his child, and now on to develop this unique shamanism. His channel began as a forum to examine ways to perceive and think for a healthier mind and Soorena is comfortable tying that mission to shamanic practice. “In any place where you take something that comes from a higher degree of balance, in my mind that’s a form of shamanism.” 

His videos and blog posts often suggest ways that viewers can adjust their thought patterns in order to remain positive. Also, the focus on psychedelic drugs and psychological evaluation in shamanism parallels many of Sedighi’s older videos, like the shroom video I first encountered. Interestingly, SoorenaTV’s YouTube uploads were trip-free for a while, purportedly out of fear that he would become known only for his psychedelic content. “I’ve been a jackass in the sense that I’ve been ignoring every single viewer’s recommendation to me for shroom and psychedelic videos,” he told me. Luckily for those fans however, Sedighi’s channel will be turning back to the psychedelic realm soon. 

“I really believe in the power of psychedelics and the super powerful tools that they are. I have some family stuff to take care of first, but then mid-2018 and onward, there’s going to be a heavy focus from my channel just on psychedelics, which I think is a bit more mainstream.” As psychedelics can act as a pathway to understanding the self, Sedighi believes that videos about drugs can act as a pathway to a larger clientele and audience. He explained that this revamped series on psychedelics will hopefully not only attract future “trippees” to his shamanic practice, but will also bring about a team to collaborate with on his greatest project yet, what he calls, “the Uber of Shamanism.” The proposal is an app that matches psychedelic “trip-takers” to “trip-setters,” to create safer, higher-quality psychedelic experiences. Sedighi describes the idea as a way of normalizing “the use of psychedelics in conjunction with a shaman…And the way to do that is to help [connect] people who actually want to act as shamans with people who want to have shamans. My wife went to Amsterdam and [could easily google and locate] ‘trip-setters.’ Why isn’t there already like a worldwide business that offers that?” 

Currently, the Uber of Shamanism sits in “pre-production.” Although shamanism has helped Sedighi overcome many personal struggles, he doesn’t deny that he still has flaws and limitations. “In order to create something, at first you need to become the person who can create it. I need to become a more emotionally stable person myself. I occasionally have these rage-fits because I’m upset with my life, and that’s not someone who is capable of leading teams in the way that I want to be capable of.” In conjunction with the slips of self-deprecation in recent SoorenaTV videos, our conversation illuminated the extent that Sedighi needs—and uses—his own guidance for his personal ventures to ever succeed. When he laments that he still lives in his parents’ basement or that his department store cashier job feels trivial, it’s his own advice that restores his spiritual balance.

 Like a sea squirt, an animal that eats its own tail for sustenance, Sedighi’s actions as a shaman serve himself the most. Sedighi knows this, however, and that recognition serves as perhaps the greatest testament to the benefits of his shamanism. “[Shamanism] is a way of helping yourself first and foremost, and as an extension of helping yourself, you are helping your greater self—which is other people.” While it would be easy to laugh him off as a romantic, somewhat ridiculous visionary, I see a lot of merit in what Sedighi is trying to do. In a culture where self-care and mindfulness are gaining popularity, Sedighi suggests spiritual movements like shamanism could be the most universally beneficial of all. On that note, reader, take care of yourself, have fun with your life, and keep your arms open to your neighborhood shaman.

 

Part of the Ego issue