Tag: troubleshooting shamanic journeying

Thursday Betwixt – Modern Challenges in Shamanic Journeying (Part 2)

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.

Soul Intent ArtsConfronted 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.

Teen Spirit Guide to Modern Shamanism by S. Kelley HarrellFor 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.

Thursday Betwixt – Modern Challenges in Shamanic Journeying (Part 1)

S. Kelley Harrell - Soul Intent ArtsIn 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.

And yes, I teach classes on all of the above if you want to learn more.

Below are four challenges we encounter most often 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?

Teen Spirit Guide to Modern Shamanism by S. Kelley HarrellWhen 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. 

Read Part Two of Modern Challenges of Shamanic Journeying.