It’s been a while since I updated the Betwixt series. For those of you who are new to it, on selected Thursdays I shed light on lesser discussed aspects of the modern shamanic path,
Last week, we discussed self-doubt and failure of imagine as culprits limiting the experience of shamanic journeying. This week, we continue in Part 2 of that dialogue, with:
Over-rationalization. One of the most valuable skills of the modern mind is the ability to rationalize observations, information, experience. In truth, there is great need for rationale in spirit travel, as it provides us the necessary anchor to know when we are pushing beyond our boundaries, to know when we’re venturing too far into our unknown and need to retreat. Reason, and to a degree ego, foster our sense of control, mitigates negotiation and compromise, and governs self-importance. Each of these attributes bring stability to ecstatic trance, though when over-developed cause it to stall.
Confronted with students who over-rationalize their journey experiences, questions that most frequently arise are, “Is it real?” “Am I making it up?” “What if I only see what I want to see?” These are all very logical and responsible inquiries that I encourage as healthy self-checks. Assessment of the journey experience allows us to derive meaning from our observations, as well as our feelings about them. The ability to hold our impressions in this way can shed greater light in how they facilitate meeting our intention for the journey.
However, when the scrutiny doesn’t stop at gentle prodding and progresses to over-rationalization of trance, the intended soul work can’t be completed. To those who become stunted in a loop of recursive logic, I pose these questions: “How do you determine what is real?” “Are you making this up compared to what?” “What do you want to see?”
Most of us, upon deep examination, have few criteria for what we determine is real; thus, we conclude how little value such a measure has, not just in ecstasy, but perhaps throughout life. Likewise, ascertaining that what we make up has as much value as something we don’t make up, or as what something someone else makes up, releases self-judgment regarding the observation. For those who don’t have clarity on their expectations of journeying, I have them think of something they want to occur in the trance. When I facilitate them to engage with the desired occurrence, without fail the interaction and dialogue is unexpected. It becomes the difference between plotting a course and being led.
The core of over-rationalizing ecstatic trance events lies in realizing that what we have often asserted as beliefs are most often assumptions. Journeying challenges assumptions we have made about how we perceive reality and ourselves in it. When soulful interaction holds meaning for us, it becomes intuition. When we feel that personal truth, it is real.
Unwanted outcome. As inebriating as the distance created by over-analyzing whether we created a journey experience is the shock of realizing we didn’t. Entering into the finer workings of ecstatic trance plays havoc with our habit of setting expectations. Whether we mean to or through no conscious effort of our own, when we attune to the mastery of soul travel, we bring with us certain expectations of the flight and its results. That said, sometimes we see things we aren’t prepared to see. Such revelations can blind-side so thoroughly that we are left questioning the role of journeying, if not shamanism, in our lives.
Most of us expect that trip to be smooth and captivating, validating in some way. While the journey experience is intensely riveting, on occasion it’s profound through sobering, if not staggering revelations. Harkening to our cultural lack of an animistic worldview, often fledgling journeys give a first glimpse into how that hunger has shaped our spiritual lives. An otherwise blissful experience of homecoming into the spiritual manifestation of ourselves, into acceptance and full realization of self, can be extremely stressful, certainly traumatic. As well, some students new to the practice embark on journeying and are met with known wounds that need deeper tending, or discover hurts they hadn’t sourced, prior. A joyful meeting with a deceased loved one can change perception of life in such a way that while the journey was lovely, how one returns to carry that experience forward can create an emotional dilemma. Others meet a facet of self demanding radical change in waking life, adamant expression in an unsupportive community. While each of these possibilities offers vast opportunity for healing and growth, they present intense spiritual crises that must be resolved to master shamanic journeying.
For these unwanted outcomes, grounding around the journey experience is required. Ideally, discussion about the ley of the soulscape and all that it may serve up is discussed prior to experiential exploration. As well, skills in mindfulness and emotional release are identified, honed. Support systems are mapped and engaged. With this mundane awareness, in the event of finding unwanted outcomes, a plan can be laid to foster and midwife those experiences and feelings to assimilate into wisdom.
For students who encounter unwanted outcomes in journey, I facilitate them back into trance right away. Such crises become initiations, that unaddressed create spiritual post-traumatic stress, or soul loss. The sooner they can be confronted and healed, the more solidly journey can be approached again.
Considering the challenges of shamanic journeying for modern seekers, while the mechanics of shamanic journeying can be learned in a weekend class, developing the compass for how to do so cannot. Mastery of ecstatic trance isn’t just about refining the ability to journey, but to know what to do with the spoils of spirit travel. My best advice to modern shamanic students is find a mentor who can give context, thus support the ongoing destination, as well as practice, practice, practice.
These are a few challenges we may encounter in ecstatic journeying. Available now for pre-order on Amazon and other stores, Teen Spirit Guide to Modern Shamanism covers several more concerns about shamanic journeying, and how to resolve them.
In the first phase of the Thursday Betwixt Series we’ve discussed diverse possibilities in allies available to support the modern shamanic path, and to a great degree that of animism. Moving into phase two, I’d like to talk about how we do what we do on those paths. As this topic is a bit in-depth, it will span two posts.
A definitive technique of shamanism is ecstatic trance. It’s regarded as the pièce de résistance in modern shamanic education, often to its own detriment. For those unsure, journeying is the term most often used to describe the process of shamans engaging the spirit world. Referred to as ecstatic journeying or shamanic journeying, starwalking, skywalking, the process encompasses setting an intention, then traversing the layers of the spirit realm with one’s spirit guides for healing or insight retrieval. Often paced with drumming or other rhythmic induction, specific tempos induce a theta, or light dreaming, brain state.
Sometimes confused with pathworking and guided visualization, in which participants are guided in what to see and do, journeying involves a more organic approach. When learning to journey, a general framework is followed to access the ecstatic state, though what occurs once in the spirit realm is entirely unique. The particular framework is based in a specific cultural or philosophical approach (cosmology). Upon mastery of theta trance, the framework used can be as personal as what occurs in the journey, itself, if a framework is necessary at all.
For most eager shamanic students, journeying is vivid, lush. Deep emotions stir and challenge how we hold our changed psychology in waking reality. For many, those first flights out fulfill a deep longing to connect, or reconnect as it were, with the unseen, that other belief systems or practices don’t provide. In those early stages, journeying seems to provide answers to everything, and for that reason it can be addicting, even escapist if not done with care.
However, for some students of the mystical, accessing trance states poses particular challenges. Where the will may be strong to learn ecstatic practices, the mind sometimes prohibits allowing them. As westerners who are mostly not raised in an animistic life view, our decision to release the veil and immerse into seamless awareness can challenge our experience of form. How we respond to that challenge determines the value that we place on journeying.
Over the course of deepening my relationship to the practice of ecstatic trance, I’ve encountered several factors that confound modern soul travelers. As a teacher of ecstatic technique, I’ve observed that most modern studies teach how to journey, though omit what to do with what comes from it, how to process the life changes it inspires.
Generally speaking, for all shadow strata travelers, the three things most required for successful shamanic journey are intention, cosmology, and ritual. Without those is little sense of why journeying, how to stay with it, and what to do with the information gained upon return.
Below are four challenges we encounter in journeying. Sometimes only one of the following creates stumbles, though some students experience a combination:
Self-doubt. Many of us were not fostered to have faith in our own experiences, those of tactile five-sense origin, or ones of a more metaphoric, figurative significance. Culturally, we have been conditioned to distrust our imaginations as contributors of meaningful data; thus, some people struggle to accept trance experiences as relevant. They can’t get past questioning whether they saw or heard what they did. Unable to accept their own observations, the journey experience cannot unfold; thus, intentions for soul healing cannot be fulfilled. A complicating factor in self-doubt is that most often the students who experience it never expected to. With that realization, an element of shame becomes involved.
Resolution of self-doubt in journeying usually relies on altering factors in the perception of self in formed reality, so that relaxation into the trance experience and affirmation of it can occur. Common proclamations of self-doubt that I hear regarding journeying are, “Nothing happened,” or “I think I saw/heard/felt something, but I’m not sure.” Most often when I work back through the journey experience with students who express doubt as such, what I find isn’t that ‘nothing happened.’ Rather something did happen, but it was dismissed due to a lack of faith in personal perception.
To release self-doubt, I support students in accepting their every intuitive impression. I challenge them to accept every perception as fact, no matter how surreal or far-fetched. If the sky is suddenly purple with yellow polka dots, I encourage them to accept that for that moment, it was exactly as it appeared. If a second later, the same sky is cerulean blue with fluffy white clouds, honor it as such, and move on. No analysis required, just honor the observation and move on. Through encouraging them to realize that both perceptions are true and unrelated to each other, the need to compare or judge either perception is relinquished.
Intuition requires confidence. When the need to judge observation is released, journeying can be accepted as another way to experience awareness. In blessing all observations, the emphasis isn’t on accepting all data as fact, but on processing all perception as real. The empowerment of accepting all of our experiences as real opens pathways in journeying we would otherwise never find.
Failure of imagination. Often, limitations in journeying are the result of limited awareness. What we can’t conceive, can’t be. To draw on a contemporary energy medicine teaching, life force follows awareness. What we put our attention on leads us forward. It allows us to fulfill our intention for journeying. However, some people don’t have strong creative problem solving skills, a requirement for meeting ecstatic intentions successfully. They may be entirely confident in their observations, but they don’t know what to do with them, how to move them forward in a way that fulfills the intention. Sometimes called ‘negotiation’ by traditional shamans, unleashing boundless imagination not only ensures meeting obligations in the journey space, but solidifies the personal experience of it. Imagination is needed in journeying not just for navigation, but for interaction with the spirits of the worlds, themselves.
The common model followed as the journey map for most modern seekers is that of a triple cosmology including the Upper, Lower, and Middle worlds. There are countless other cosmologies. Those raised in shamanic cultures are likely to find their way around these worlds more easily than those just honoring a cosmology for the sake of learning to journey. For that reason, upon arrival in the spirit realms we quickly find a lack of sign posts to point us along, or the legend we discover is unlike what was expected. The road just ends. In some cases, a spirit animal, or totem, may not be as forthcoming with information we need. How, then, can the journey proceed?
When students feel constricted in their imaginations, I direct them to call in their five-year-old superhero personas. Many adults are uncomfortable reaching back into the limitless imaginations of their youth, seeing that untamed logic as archaic, erratic, invaluable. The truth is, that wild mind can solve anything, because it knows no bounds. This primal youth knows how to ask for directions from a bird. It understands that when the road dead-ends, it’s okay to weave between the grasses. It rests comfortably jumping off a cliff to soar higher.
When we can realize that every facet of the spirit world is alive and responsive, we begin crafting our unique dialogue. Yes, the ability to intuitively read and navigate the events and symbols of the spirit realm meets our needs for the journey, though it also sets the stage for how future journeys unfold. Ecstatic trance is a dialogue that builds with every adventure. Forming this fluid relationship with the mechanism of journeying is the core of the ecstatic practice. This merging of the imagination with the spirit world teaches us how to decipher personal signals. It enables us to form relationships with guides, scapes, elements, forces, absolutely everything in the journey space. These relationships are what shape the shaman.
Next week, Part 2 will further discuss challenges in journeying, and ways to overcome them.
These are a few challenges we may encounter in ecstatic journeying. Available now for pre-order on Amazon and other stores, Teen Spirit Guide to Modern Shamanism covers several more concerns about shamanic journeying, and how to resolve them.
“We don’t heal in isolation, but in community.” S. Kelley Harrell, Gift of the Dreamtime – Reader’s Companion
In the Thursday Betwixt series, we’ve talked about the various guides that can be gleaned along our path–both spirit beings and mundane–and the significance of each. We’ve somewhat talked around why community is important, though I’d like to take that deeper.
Whether undertaking to learn journeying, to fit for the role of shaman, or experience soul healing through any range of modalities, the number one contributing factor to pitfalls along that path that I see time and again is lack of community. I work with people for whom a class in journeying has cracked them down the middle without proper understanding of how to carry that changed perspective into regular life. I mentor people who want to serve as shamans, though function as the only animistic person in their familiar. I have sessions with clients who leave elated, only to crash a few days or weeks later.
Each of these examples presents some form of initiatory crisis. After experiencing some sense of awe, distress became greater. I could cite multiple reasons that the ecstasy ebbed. Could be lack of engaging personal spiritual discipline on a daily basis, or maybe poor or lacking mindfulness skills. Perhaps healing wasn’t brought to its fullest potential, or deeper needs for healing were hidden. Fear may be dominant. There may be a lack of tools for how to deepen and ground spiritual emergence. I see each of these omissions often; however, the one downfall I see in almost every case of distress after ecstasy is a lack of community. People, in general, don’t reach out for support.
Often clients don’t want to feel pressured to schedule a followup session, which is understandable. Students don’t want to circle the same material. However, leaving the burden of communicating their spiritual needs on them doesn’t work, particularly if they can’t recognize it for what it is. They are so high at the time of the initial shift, they don’t see the point of having to return, to revisit hallowed ground. Yet without a workable plan in place to support and sustain their initiation, they start to feel distress. They don’t set a followup because they feel the first shift must not have really worked, because they are ashamed that they couldn’t hold onto their healing, or they become afraid of how their mundane needs to change to support their soul. Often guilt is a motivating factor in a client not returning to his/her teacher or practitioner.
On a more practical level, many people are socially or geographically isolated from others who share their spiritual path. They don’t have people near them to connect with, or they’re afraid to out themselves as a follower of a divergent belief system, or as someone uses alternative healing methods. Likewise, people fear not being able to afford community, whether that’s an inability to pay for followup sessions/classes , give donations toward a drumming circle, or shoulder the responsibility of the interpersonal exchange that community requires.
What is community? What purpose does it serve? How does it influence healing? The teacher or practitioner is part of the community and should be openly appealed to as such. Any spiritual leader who offers classes or sessions in soul healing should be available for what comes after. That said, this single role doesn’t form the whole of a community. It informs the drive to actively participate in one. The group that supports us needs to be people with whom we can speak openly, to whom we can listen steadfastly, and with whom we feel a close sense of belonging.
What is sometimes called the shamanic narrative, or healing story, is the tradition of healing through community. The idea that through sharing our story, we recognize commonalities, inspire, and evoke healing, creates the basis from which others gain the power to identify, share, and heal through their own stories. In this way a single story heals a village.
That’s the spiritual and neurological magick. The grounded function of community stems from something far more basic: the needs to be heard and to listen. Sometimes all we need is a witness. Other times we need input, tools, another modality, accountability, structure, empathy. We don’t find these resources alone. Certainly, we may consult spirit guides and totems, though most people who are experiencing distress at a personal level also have problems making functional use of altered states. If we can’t talk about our experiences, our experiences can’t mature into a workable lifestyle that sustains healing and the completion of the initiation.
Consider what groups you participate in. Do they support your truth? Do they even know your truth? Do you avoid groups? How might community affect your healing? How might sharing your healing story affect someone else?
Kelley, I survived domestic violence, leaving a marriage 4 years ago (the divorce was 3 years ago). The marriage lasted 14 years. I’m so much happier now, like night and day, but feel stuck in several areas of my life. It feels like the former marriage hangs over me like a gray cloud. What’s going on? Negative thought patterns? Evil spirits? How can I break free of this? Thanks, P.
Thanks for your note, P. Wow, your ex was a piece of work! When I ask to see the source of the cloud you feel, I’m shown a manifestation of your former spouse. In the distance I see a younger manifestation of you, though I can’t get to you because your ex stands between us. The spouse’s manifestation is a feminine elemental covered in writhing green vines, and the field around her swirls with daggers and blades that slice anything that nears her. She’s cloudy and dark, and her skin is sallow. Her teeth are elongated and sharp, and she lunges at me. My sense is that this manifestation is a component of your spouse that is stuck in your field, though it is more than that. The hold your ex has maintained since your departure has become its own life force–this seething green elemental.
I ask her simply if this is her life’s destiny, to torment you, even after parting. She stops gnashing at me and stares blankly. I ask her again if this is what she wants to do with her consciousness forever, and she drops to the ground, sobbing. She tells me that it isn’t what she wants, though her life force says otherwise. I suspect she is telling me what I want to hear, and after a few seconds she attacks me again.
I hold up my hand and tell her this kind of interaction is not an option. She can go up for healing willingly, or my guides and hers can take her there. Either way, this stops here. For a few more seconds nothing changes, and I place my hand in her etheric field. When I do I see blood and a gaping wound at her root chakra, and overall she’s generally hurt. She becomes a twenty-something woman then, who is exhausted and in a lot of pain. At this point she goes up for healing to the soulbody workers, and she moves on to her destiny. My guides clean up the scene where she had camped for so long, which also ripples healing out to others she harmed along her path. Finally I am able to reach the manifestation of you that is there.
You, likewise, are war torn and hurt, also very eager for healing. When I bring you up, you replenish quickly, and this manifestation of you is released. As well, the area in which you were held is healed, and my feeling is this clearing of your former spouse from your field is what has been needed. She is now free to address her pain and reasons for being abusive in a way that doesn’t harm you or anyone else. Likewise, you are in a place where you can choose more freely how to move forward without her influence.
This feeling of a cloud over you has been one long, draining spiritual emergency, PTSD of the soul. With it now cleared, take care to shore up your protection for a few weeks. Often after releasing energy that has weighed us down for years, when free of it we are vulnerable. Any sore sports, memories, feelings that come up from your time with her, bless them as merely passengers moving through on the way to their destinies. You can just hold the door and let them go. New irritations and sensitivities that arise over the next few days are just your etheric field remapping, raw nerves finding new pathways. Try not to get too into the feelings of things, and let them pass through as well, just observing, feeling.
You are wise to realize what a good place you are in now, P. I hope that you can stand more clearly and firmly in that strength as you shift more into yourself. If I can help you further, I’m happy to.
A component of shamanism that makes it different from other esoteric paths is servitude to a community. How one defines community can be as unique as the shamanist, herself. When I began my Masters work in 2010, learning what community I serve was a key focus. From my admissions essay through my thesis, I aligned my work with creating the Tribe of the Modern Mystic. I don’t know how it dawned on me, as I’d spent 12 years creating and sustaining The Saferoom Project, a peer support nonprofit for adult survivors of child sexual assault. I’d also devoted 12 years to deepening my shamanic path, personally and in working with others. I fully expected my formation of community to comprise some facet of assault survivors, though no matter how much I devoted to that work, I was pulled to mentoring intuitives in spiritual emergency. No matter how I put out the intention for working with survivors to be my community, the clients and students who darkened my doorway were budding seers and healers, every day people reeling from some experience of the wyrd that left them wholly changed and oppressively alone in their transition.
The first time I heard the phrase “spiritual emergency” was from my therapist in 1994. It had just been added as a diagnosis in the DSM-IV the year before. The day we met she told me that she could help me with symptoms of dis-ease in my life–depression, low self-confidence, PTSD, though she said flat out that she felt my distress was of a spiritual nature. She explained spiritual crisis as an awakening, in which the soul or consciousness is expanding more rapidly than the emotions or psyche can process. I can’t express what a unicorn she was, in the mental health care profession back then, able to make that statement with certainty. I spent just under 3 years working with her, experiencing great improvement of my symptoms, though the day we terminated, wholly affirmed that I was still experiencing spiritual crisis. Within two weeks of that last session I committed to deeper teaching on my shamanic path, had a soul retrieval, and felt relief from crisis for the first time in my life.
I didn’t want to walk back through that. To explore my capabilities in helping others assimilate spiritual crisis into soulful awakening required me to re-examine my rootless beginnings as an intuitive. It would force me to recall decades of knowing I was different in a way that defied vocabulary, the endless frustration and depression around feeling called to something that had no boundaries or guidelines, the loneliness of a solitary path, and the fear of many inexplicable phenomena that were part of my norm. I didn’t want to walk back through any of those things or the feelings they stirred. Yet in greeting the stories of others, mine re-emerged as a strong shamanic narrative, encouraging others to stay the course and affirming that they weren’t alone. Along with reviewing my history of spiritual emergency came unexpected emotional snarls tangling my abusive childhood once again with my spiritual path, even if only that both were occurring at the same time, that despite trauma from those different sources, the pain felt the same.
[learn_more state=”open”] An isolated hour with someone who utterly understands you can’t sustain next to weeks, months of inundation from others who don’t, and likely can’t. [/learn_more] I also began to see patterns of those struggling into awakened life coping with mental illness, separation from lifelong beliefs about self, religion, and cosmology, and a resounding lack of support from loved ones during this intensely jarring time. Their therapists didn’t understand, and neither their clergy, community, or other caregivers. I found myself at the center of a gathering of people who badly needed support in an area that, like it or not, I was providing. Yet, in those tenuous relationships, I realized they needed more, just as I needed more. They needed to hear it from someone besides me, more frequently than their routine trip to the local shaman, from a voice that could be engaged as needed, from others who understand what they were going through. An isolated hour with someone who utterly understands you can’t sustain next to weeks, months of inundation from others who don’t, and likely can’t. Most of them never spoke of the supernatural events in their lives to anyone but me. They entrusted me with their most precious secrets. How in the world would I create community when we had all been so ostracized in our personal lives that we couldn’t even speak our truths unless we thought only the Divine was listening?
In indigenous cultures, this dialogue would likely never happen. Not that they don’t experience spiritual emergency. They do–it’s called initiation. It’s called enlightenment, because they understand that enlightenment isn’t a sudden, dazzling solution to all of your problems. It cracks you open from the inside and requires you to rewire, start over, and do nothing the same. Shamanic cultures wouldn’t have this dialogue because they are born into their communities. They come into the world with the support system to witness, honor, bless, and grow their wild, intuitive selves from day 1. Such is not so clear in the west.
I’ve been on my healing path since I was six years old. From the age of seventeen I began my shamanic path. At twenty-seven I began working with others as a facilitator of healing. I realize now, as with all spiritual truths, the shaman doesn’t find the community, the community finds the shaman.
If you feel a need for such support not only of your experience, but in the development of your mystical life, learn more about the Tribe of the Modern Mystic. My life’s work, my heartsong, and my compassion welcome you.
I’ve been sitting with this article on the shaping of shamanism as a dangerous industry in South America, particularly with the use of entheogens as induction into ecstatic trance. I don’t condemn or condone the use of substances in trance work, though everyone I know who uses them never does so alone, always with a trusted master of such approaches to the spirit realm. The use of such chemicals is the focus of the article, though I’m not convinced it should be. I think something more compelling is at work.
That said, I’ve written several blogs and articles on the pattern of believing enlightenment hides in some far off land, and that trend concerns me deeply. Again, whatever works for you. Whatever gets you there. It is with all caution in mind that I say, the trade of spiritual tourism isn’t limited to tribal nations or economically oppressed countries. A thriving business of spiritual healing exists right here in the US, with potential wonders and dangers of its own. Recall 2009’s James Arthur Ray sweatlodge fiasco. The truth is, we’ve never had to travel far and wide to find charlatans, anymore than we’ve had to in order to find enlightenment.
Culturally, we are perched on the border of very interesting territory. We see old regimes falling, organized religions crumbling. Many seekers readily identify a hunger to connect with deeper meaning in life, a need to caretake self at every level available. Yet, even though many are leaving those old systems, we still carry with us old engrained truths. Foremost is the belief that we cannot, should not, find enlightenment for ourselves, that we must defer to a schooled master of esoteric truths, who will instruct us along the journey to find our own. Punishment for seeking enlightenment through ourselves is deeply engrained. As well, so many are deeply hurt or turned off by the established institutions that we run to anything that doesn’t resemble them for help. We don’t believe that enlightenment lives in our backyard–literally in the faces that look like ours, the Nature that graces our every day, the circumstances of our own creation.
These seem like small concerns, though they actually manifest as widespread cultural spiritual emergency, leaving people vulnerable to all manner of healers, energy workers, shamans, and exotic adventures that promise great release. Coming from historic frameworks that taught us no spiritual autonomy, the senses to intuit what is in our best interest are often undeveloped. Particularly for those in pain, every healing modality sounds promising, every practitioner is a saviour. Given that, I think it’s important for spiritual renegades to feel supported in finding the path and soul healing approaches that are right for them. In fact, I think the following considerations are good guidelines for anyone taking their spiritual path, direction, and healing into their own hands:
Though many of us have been on alternate spiritual paths and/or held the role of soul wellbeing facilitator for decades, this road still looks wild and daunting to those who are newly seeking support and direction. I encourage other spiritual healing practitioners to become involved in an active effort to educate clients and the general public about your work, why you do it, how you do it. Education will be the thing that not only informs our culture of its shamanic legacy and potential, it will also be the force that heals us all.
Hi Kelley my name is Lucy. When I was around 14 I went to church on a regular basis. One night after saying a prayer I got in bed and I started feeling a weird sort of electricity running up my legs, then suddenly I couldn’t move, scream, or think. A really disturbing voice next to my ear whispered bunch of random numbers. At church they’d said demons sometimes attack and told me to pray, “In God’s name I repel you.” Since I couldn’t scream or talk I said it in my mind until this thing finally let go of me. It was horrible. I was terrified at being paralyzed, though the voice scared me.
I’m 24 now and I can’t get over that event, or all that happened after. I still sleep with a light on, and when alone I feel someone is watching me. I cannot walk alone in the dark because I feel I’m gonna see something I even have panic attacks. I really need help I don’t want to be afraid anymore.Thanks for your note, Lucy. My feeling about what you went through and how it has affected you is one that is common for many intuitives: spiritual emergency. A spiritual emergency or crisis occurs when we have an experience outside our belief system, or when we experience spiritual growth in a way that we can’t emotionally process. In short, it is PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) of the soul. On an unconscious level, a switch gets flipped, that compounded by fear, doesn’t just unflip on demand. The result of this heightened state of consciousness is that you feel is if you never left the moment the voice spoke to you. Part of you feels like you are still there, creating a state in which everything feels frightening and predatorial. Some symptoms of spiritual emergency range from irrational fear, changes in personality, feeling attacked by atmospheric forces, depression, hypervigilance.
Often a trauma induces this reaction, though it can also occur after intense wonderful brushes with the supernatural. Some refer to such an experience as the classic “shamanic death” or “initiatory shamanic wound.” Regardless of the nature of the catalyzing event, when you have a spiritual experience that alters your ability to enjoy your life, you have experienced and are in spiritual crisis. Having established that, the question then becomes, “What do you do about it?”
You are a very sensitive person, who demonstrates an ability to connect with the unseen. Whether that is something you want to pursue under your control is for you to decide. What is important at present is that you find a way to reclaim your power and release the pattern of PTSD from this experience.
When I look at the moment that you heard the voice, I see that you experienced soul loss. This is a naturally occurring result of trauma, in which an aspect of the soul leaves and can’t return. A soul retrieval with a shaman can bring the soul part back, or help it return to All Things. What is peculiar about this particular moment is that your fear doesn’t center around the voice, or even the experience. The ongoing PTSD is about your fear that if you return this fourteen-year-old soul part, that it will happen again. The thing is, this soul part is highly intuitive, and she has information for you about how to use this ability, control it, set boundaries for it. In fact, by not returning her–thus your personal power–a self-fulfilled prophecy is being sustained. Without the wisdom of this soul part, the experience of the voice–the fear–is repeating, constantly. By bringing back this soul part, it can finally stop, you can set some limits on how you engage your intuition, and you can feel in control of your life again.
I recommend that you find someone who can stop the spiritual emergency with a soul retrieval. There are other approaches; this is the one I am most familiar with. I can help you with that remotely, or I can possibly recommend someone near you, to help you do it, in-person. However you move forward, I understand that you are asking for help. This means that you are ready. In order to move beyond that experience at fourteen and feel whole in your life now, you will have to face the fear. In doing so, you won’t have it anymore. You will finally step out of that frightening moment, and have your life back. The anxiety and the hpyervigilance will end.
My best to you, Lucy.
Gift of the Dreamtime – Awakening to the Divinity of Trauma. Revised second edition now available, with a foreward by shaman, Christina Pratt.
Along with it, look for Gift of the Dreamtime Reader’s Companion
Recently released is Real Wyrd – A Modern Shaman’s Roots in the Middle World, my collection of true paranormal experiences as a lifelong intuitive.
Recently the wonderful Michele Rosenthal interviewed me on the re-release of Gift of the Dreamtime. If you’re not familiar with her work, check out her radio show, blog, and book Before the World Intruded.
My friend, colleague and survivor-sister, Kelley Harrell, has a new book out entitled GIFT OF THE DREAMTIME (GOTD). It’s a terrific read and a very compelling look into one way that we can access healing potential.
I asked Kelley to answer some questions about the book so I could share it with you….
Gift of the Dreamtime is about my experience of spiritual emergency, from childhood through young adulthood, until I sought the help of a shaman to release it. “Spiritual emergency” is a state in which consciousness is expanding at a rate or in a way that is not readily emotionally processed. It is a state of PTSD on a soul level.
At the time, I was just seeking healing for myself. I had held an animistic life perspective, connected with my spirit guides, and embraced shamanism as a way to heal myself, but I hadn’t planned to work as a shaman with others. The book describes how I moved through various levels of awareness of myself, to embrace facilitating healing for others.
2. What inspired you to write this story?
I always knew that I would write about my experiences as a survivor of childhood incest, though every time I sat down to write, it just never felt right. Approaching it in a dry, autobiographical way somehow flattened the experience. I didn’t know how to approach it in a way that wasn’t clichéd or sentimental.
In the spring of 2001 I had a dream, which occurs around Chapter Ten in the book, and that dream jarred my vision of how to write about my experience: from the inside. I realized I wasn’t to write about the experience of my life in the mundane, but in how I experienced the Dreamtime, or spirit worlds.
At that point in the industry, books on shamanism were very academic and anthropological. They described what I call “rearview shamanism,” as something only ancient or indigenous cultures did, not a practice actively growing in modern lives. As well, self-help books followed the same formula: memoir-interpretation-introspective questions for the reader. I didn’t want to write either of those styles, because they weren’t the way shamanism worked for me. I didn’t want to describe my experience to the reader, I wanted to offer an experiential invitation to the reader. Animism is the belief that all things have a soul. I didn’t want to write my life story; I wanted to write the story of my soul.
3. GOTD is your personal journey. How did writing it influence and/or affect your path?
Through the book I’ve gotten to meet people all over the world. As I never planned to work as a shaman, I also never planned to keep writing autobiographical works. Many of my clients met me through the book. After it came out, many opportunities opened to me to publish and sustain the momentum of writing my soul’s story. Primarily, I started my blog, Intentional Insights, which answers reader’s questions on shamanism, paranormal experiences, and modern spiritual paths. Gift of the Dreamtime has given me many opportunities, that I didn’t have before.
4. What do you think is most important to believe as one seeks to heal from trauma?
We have to remember our true selves, the part of us that no matter what happens, happened or will ever happen, is untouched and empowered. That’s a very charged, difficult to hold concept for someone who is experiencing PTSD, particularly when victimization is involved. Yet, there it is. Reconnecting with that core self is everything.
5. What do you think it’s most important to do in order to find your strongest inner guide?
The most important thing to do to connect with your authentic self is to remind yourself to do so. We forget that it’s there, or we think of it once then assume all’s well. This is where mindfulness and spiritual practice meet. This is the “practice” part of spirituality. We are responsible for reminding ourselves of our divinity, and through the power of our minds, we will start to remember. The reminding becomes easier, then does everything else. When we realize our connection to our true selves, hearing its voice behind everything we do becomes easier.
6. What do you hope readers will learn from GOTD?
I hope they will learn that they can rise from their ashes and be powerful. Our culture teaches us to be wounded, and talks about thriving in the wound. We have to move beyond the wound. We have to commit to finding our truths, even if that means letting go of beliefs or thoughts that don’t serve us. I hope that my book imparts insights for how to look beyond what we perceive ourselves to be and find something even greater.
To read an excerpt from GIFT OF THE DREAMTIME, click here.
Kelley Harrell is a neoshaman and author in North Carolina. She has been on a shamanic path since 1988, and since 2000 has served her local community and an international client base. Her book, Gift of the Dreamtime: Awakening to the Divinity of Trauma, chronicles her pivotal step into the role of modern shaman. To support her shamanic work, she draws on energy work, hypnotherapy, and flower essences. A modern Druid, Kelley is an ordained interfaith minister. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, and is currently pursuing a Masters of Divinity. Kelley writes for several publications, including the Global Goddess Oracle and The Huffington Post, and has been published in many journals and anthologies. Her shamanic practice is Soul Intent Arts, and a major focus of her work is helping modern intuitives assimilate spiritual emergency through private sessions and mentorship in The Tribe of the Modern Mystic Mystery School. Click here to read more about Gift of the Dreamtime.
Originally published at Your Life After Trauma.
Hi Kelley. Some of my Reiki friends get upset because I use Shamanic techniques during my Reiki practice. These same friends, however, will use “psychic surgery” techniques including the psychic extension of their fingers to reach into a client’s etheric/physical body to dislodge or remove energy blocks. My question is: isn’t this “psychic extension of digits” essentially the same as shape-shifting? If so, that is a shamanic practice. If not, I can see little difference between the two, other than degree of transformation of the energetic/physical body. Thanks, R.
Just for today –
I will not worry.
I will not be angry.
I will do my work honestly.
I will give thanks for my many blessings.
I will be kind to my neighbors
and all living things.
The Reiki Principle, Dr. Mikao Usui
Thanks for your inquiry, Roger. Before going into the specifics of your dilemna, I’d like to tell readers a bit about Reiki, as it may not be familiar to them. I describe Reiki as a Japanese form of hands-near energy healing. I’m a Reiki Master and have worked with two different forms of Reiki for many years, one form of which is the original Usui practice, and another called Ascension Reiki (ask me why two approaches in another inquiry). The word ‘Reiki’ translates roughly to “spirit healing.”
There are many takes on the history of Reiki, leaving it steeped in a bit of conflict. As best I can tell from the divergent perspectives on the modality’s origins, it began in the early 1900s, when Japanese ascetic Mikao Usui had a vision that led him to powerful healing. Not an uncommon story in the halls of enlightenment, Usui’s experience spawned a great following that continues to captivate those interested in energy healing.
Heavily influenced by Shintoism, the religion predominant in Japan prior to Chinese influence, Usui honored the spirits behind symbols, believing that incorporating them with other components of etheric healing allowed the practitioner to embody a Universal life force capable of healing. Usui formalized his ecstatic experiences into a system of energy healing called Usui Reiki Ryoho, originally comprised of three levels of study.
Usui’s practice moved into western culture in the mid-1900s, where it took off like wild fire. Today it is likely the most-taught “New Age” healing practice. At best, we in the west practice hybridized Reiki, though that statement attracts all sorts of speculation. There is much argument around what Usuis’s true teachings were. That it is a spiritual practice and energy healing modality taken out of its native space, elements, and teaching, shaped in the form that best adapts to our culture–is what we know, and adapt it has. There are as many forms of Reiki as you care to look into. Given that, Reiki is culturally appropriated, a fact that goes without mention amongst many modern energy medicine circles.
To answer your question, my understanding of Reiki is that it is an alignment with the true self–in other words with All Things–in such a way that there is no ego involvement. There doesn’t have to be. Working at that level of awareness there is no intellectual process driving what is done during healing. The job of the Reiki Master is to be out of the way and merely allow the life force to move through. In that light, that means no elements are brought in from any healing practice, belief system, or viewpoint, because Reiki happens well above the level of those things. I think this unconscious (?) need to bring other modalities into Reiki is why other forms of it were created. Is it that we can’t stay out of the way of Source? Must we project ourselves into/onto it? Or do we need to custom fit healing methods to what best suits our elements, our space, our teaching?
It is not my experience that you can lift a single technique out of a culture, bring it into another, and expect it to behave the same way. This has been a concern around the appropriation of tribal healing practices for centuries. This consideration generates questions like is it respectful to the originating practice to append your beliefs/symbols/deities/methods to it? Is it respectful to the culture from which it came not to honor it at all in your application of the modality? How do you honor the originating culture if you occlude it with your ego? Are you doing the same “kind” of healing if you change the foundation of the technique?
These are personal questions that require deep contemplation before you undertake working with clients, IMO, and are components that I teach in my Reiki classes. To me Reiki is a spirit ally, much as a totem or fetish is. It is a tool that allows us to connect with the Divine in a way that we can consciously process–symbols, movements, chants, often all at once–what might otherwise be too foreign to hold. Reiki engages both hemispheres of the brain; thus, brings us fully present in our power. It allows us to be part of the process without having to worry about the process. I do not tell my allies what to do. In fact, I do what they tell me, and Reiki tells me to step aside. Can it tell each of us different things? That is the question, though given Usui’s original teachings, we’d never even ask that.
There are striking distinctions between Reiki and shamanism that should be noted. Part of the role of a shaman is to be active in the process. Reiki in its true application is only passive. The Reiki Master embodies the life force, and that is the only role. A classic quote is attributed to Usui, though I’ve never read that he actually spoke it: “We do not master Reiki. Reiki masters us.” To me, that is what this quote means. We surrender.
Shamans have many roles, depending on what is needed, and those roles call on active knowledge of plants, animals, elements, symbols, so that we can engage our knowledge with our soul work. In shamanism, we engage the physical layer with the etheric. We spend years distinguishing between being active or passive in our work, as needed. In short, we know the difference and we fall back on the best tool for the job.
Despite difference, these approaches to healing are very compatible. In terms of actual healing and benefit, I find that a combination of modalities is required, each in its own time. Reiki is often best-suited to people who are early in their healing process–those recovering, gaining strength, not ready for the full marathon. In the presence or absence of Rekik, at some point in the healing process, though, we must all become active participants. At that point Reiki gracefully steps aside for more involved techniques.
That said, I don’t mix modalities; rather, I do them in separate sessions. I am in the camp that the whole point of Reiki is that I am not part of the process. For me, Reiki is THE go-to tool that I don’t have to consciously direct. I don’t drive it or tell it where to go, what to do, or how to do it. In reality, this passive healing is a very Eastern (feminine) approach to accessing All Things, which flies in the face of the typical western push to be the active (masculine) principle in everything we do (which I hasten to add, “forcing” healing is common in modern shamanism, though ancient and indigenous cultures honor more of a balance–again, another article). Perhaps this is the real reason that mutations of Reiki permeate western culture? As well, perhaps Usui shaped Reiki as a more passive system in an effort to promote healing without threat of spiritual emergency.
In short, I’m not in favor of psychic surgery or the use of shamanic techniques in Reiki sessions, especially if a client doesn’t understand the distinction, or hasn’t expressed a more active approach to energy healing. There are plenty of energy healing modalities that do allow us to engage, use our intuition, be an active part of the process. I reserve Reiki as a gift that is just sweetly here to use, without my or anyone else’s interference.
When we decide to go down any healing path as someone who will work with others, we have to consider the origins of the techniques we are learning, how honoring the originating culture factors into our work every time we use that technique, and how we can find integrity in upholding that heritage without undermining our own innate truths. Moreover, we have to consider when we’re doing none of the above.
Learn more about Reiki and energy healing from the following resources:
Gift of the Dreamtime – Awakening to the Divinity of Trauma, revised second edition now available, with a foreward by modern shaman, Christina Pratt.