"Nonphysical guidance is a partnership which challenges you to come to terms with the full width and breadth and depth of authentic power and responsible choice. It is not that you give permission to be mindlessly manipulated. It is that you give permission to be shown the fullest of your power and guided to its use."
The imagination gets a bad rap in Western culture. When some bloke pulls out out an idea that makes no rational sense to our materialistic paradigm, some fanciful creative notion that doesn't conform to our reasonable sensibilities, what do we say? We tell him he’s living in a dream world. You have a great imagination is an expression that is often delivered in a sarcastic film of condescension, meant not as a compliment but to imply that you are childishly employing your whimsical imagination to no reasonable benefit. The imagination, in many parts, is a juvenile waste of time.
Yet some wiser people than most of us have long recognized the richness of both the imagination and our dreaming mind. More and more, as science, myth, and ancient technologies of ecstasy converge in the studies of consciousness, we see how our thoughts are energy, and this energy, being transformational, can influence our lives through focused attention in profound ways.
My sense of it is that the rate at which we are, as a species, waking up and rejecting the old paradigms that have kept us inert and listless for so long is speeding up. The old systems don't work, and many people have recognized that they have been crumbling for some time now. Some of us still need to shed so much in order to wake up, though—including the fallacious idea that there are no energetic realities that exist outside of our conscious, waking life, and that our dreams and fancies, as strong and persistent as they may be, are irrelevant to our being.
Anthropologist Dr. Michael Harner, author of the seminal work The Way of the Shaman, discovered through his research that there exists a practice common to all shamans and cultures throughout our species’ history, irrespective of culture or geography; this practice is known as the shamanic journey. The idea behind shamanic journeying is that there is a bridge between our rational, waking day-to-day consciousness (what Harner calls ordinary reality) and another realm (called non-ordinary reality) where the spirit is liberated from our profane reality and the ratiocinative laws which accompany it. In these realms, the heart holds the ultimate wisdom, and feelings are greater guides than thoughts. Typically, the bridge most often used to achieve this altered state is a drum or a rattle, played at an optimal number of beats per minute to achieve the effect of sonic driver.
A shaman who is quite adept at the inward, or shamanic, journey, can travel as far as she so chooses, and can gather information from this other realm which she can then bring back to ordinary reality. The knowledge collected generally presents itself as data coming from spirit guides or teachers, customarily in the form of animal totems.
In his study of the dreamtime mysticism and liberation of shamanism in Australia, the venerable Dr. E. Nandisvara Nayake There writes that “along the way to these higher states of consciousness, [the shamans] possess the capacity to travel through the sky in an altered state, and to visit any place they wish. [Their] travel in the dreamtime appears to be identical with the siddhi or psychic power of aerial flight described in ancient yoga treatises like Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras...a detailed knowledge of their practices is unfortunately precluded by their extreme reticence to speak of such things.”
The “places” in which shamans encounter spirit guides are usually described as three realms: the sky, or higher world; the earth, or middle world; and the lower world. There is no shortage of myth that envelops the existence of these cosmic zones, mythic elements which cross multiple geographic and cultural boundaries. These worlds are all joined and through training and practice, an adept learns to access them all.
The key element for those interested in consciousness studies and exploration—that would be anybody interested in inner peace—is summarized nicely by Harner: “All people in general have shamanic abilities, whether they are conscious of them or not.” This is exciting, but also potentially dangerous. For example, angry thoughts and resentments might seem to be more or less innocuous, especially if one keeps them to oneself. However, our innate shamanic abilities (meaning we have an impact in non-ordinary reality whether we recognize it or not) mean that this emotional energy in ordinary reality can do significant spiritual damage to ourselves and others.
Conversely, we also have the power (whether or not we are conscious of it) to heal ourselves and to help heal others. Part of my own exploration of the spiritual relationship I hold with the universe is through shamanic journeying. To accomplish this work with any success, I need to let go of the cerebral domination of my life and understanding, and embrace the type of imagination I held as a daydreaming boy; I need to release my rational, discriminating mind so I can move open-heartedly into a new space. For example, during recent shamanic yoga training in Peru, I awoke before dawn on the day we were scheduled to participate in our first plant medicine ceremony involving the cactus known as San Pedro. I had a knot of nervousness and trepidation the size of a grapefruit in my gut, and it was directly related to my anxiety around taking part, as I had already established that there was a lot of fear around the prospect of taking any consciousness-expanding substances, given that I am a recovered alcoholic and addict and have been clean & sober for over a decade.
"Shamanism teaches us that everything that exists is alive and has a spirit, and that we are joined with the earth and all of life via our spiritual interconnectedness. Just as quantum physics describes a field of energy that connects all of life, shamans also speak of a web of life that connects everything. In modern culture, many of us feel a deep longing to experience our unity with this web of life and to heal our sense of isolation. When we travel to non-ordinary reality in our shamanic journeys, we learn how to communicate with the spirits of the trees, plants animals, insects, birds, fish, reptiles, and rocks, as well as the spirit elements of earth, air, fire and water. We directly experience the web of life."
In the darkness of pre-dawn with this lead fear in my belly, I couldn’t meditate. I decided to take an internal journey to look for help. I played a drumming track from Sandra Ingerman through my headphones to facilitate the journey and closed my eyes. My intention was to call on one of my spirit guides, Bear, for protection and guidance.
I observed phosphenes for a while. Nothing specific seemed to materialize for some time, so I went directly to my inner journey sanctuary, a sort of half-way place I can conjure immediately. Without going into too much detail, it is a protected place with a flat stone bed next to a waterfall, a lagoon, and what is alternately forest or jungle. I took a shower in the waterfall, symbolically cleansing my spirit to prepare for the journey ahead.
Bear materialized, for the first time manifested as Panda. He stared at me as he quietly ate bamboo at the edge of the forest. I was about to approach Panda when Heron appeared out of the sky and landed in the lagoon next to the waterfall. She is an old and powerful totem for me, having appeared physically, in ordinary reality, lighting several feet from me and staring directly at me at one of the lowest points in my life. It wasn’t crystal clear to me why she showed up now, and she is quite aloof when it comes to communication, but I sensed it was to assure me that I was on the right track.
I then asked Panda if he was my spirit guide, and he nodded. This was more of a formality, as I understood already that he was. I understood implicitly that I was meant to climb on his back, so I did, and we went into the jungle. We ambled some distance and then stopped at a small clearing; I got down from his back and we drank matcha together, which Panda prepared (later, during ceremony, I noticed that the San Pedro was the exact shade of green as the tea from my internal journey).
After I took the tea from Panda and drank, I noticed I was surrounded by friendly spirits. They had been present all along but I noticed them only then. There were scores of spirit bodies, including Jesus, Buddha, my friend Dylan, perhaps even Ghandi was there. Quite a crowd manifesting from my unconscious. Grizzly stopped by briefly just to show me he was there, too; he was massive, and busy with encircling our location in the jungle. His role was clearly protection, and while he accepted a fish from me, he was intensely preoccupied with his duty. It should be noted that at this point in my journey, this image of protection that I was afforded filled with a warm blush of gratitude, I was also immeasurably grateful for the presence of all the other beneficent beings, including Raymond Carver, who actually fist-bumped me.
We left that spot and Panda and I found a cave, and entered into an entrada there, down a tunnel, illuminating our way intuitively E.T.-style with green light from our hearts, and fell into another Jungle which was earthier, more moist, and had remarkably different light. There was a clearing where we landed and a bright red Toucan was perched in a tree above me. I asked Toucan what I was there to learn, and he said love and spirit. He then gave me one of his feathers.
At that point the drumming track indicated that it was time to return to ordinary reality, and I did so in the customary manner. We came back the same way we entered and as I lay back down on my rock I gifted Panda some bamboo.
After this journey, I was refreshed and rested. My anxiety was slight compared to the heaviness I had woken up with, and the sense of gratitude and peace I had experienced in my journey was still with me. I resolved to go ahead with the San Pedro ceremony; up until that point I had not been fully decided. What is key here is that the experiences I had in non-ordinary reality created a significant energetic shift for me in ordinary reality. This is how and why one does not need “scientific proof” or a rational explanation for how shamanic journeying works. True explorers of consciousness use their own minds and bodies as their laboratories, discerning truth and knowledge not through books or words or thoughts, but through direct experience.