In my previous post “The Shamanic Journey – An Overview” I briefly discussed journey work and the some intentions behind taking one.
In this post I’d like to go a bit deeper.
All though I’ve been practicing and guiding people on shamanic journeys for years now, I haven’t found a more concise explanation of how to take a shamanic journey.
I will caution that if you have never done this before to have someone one with, preferably someone experienced in journey work and shamanism.
I’m in to process of releasing a unique version of journey work and the first part should be available by 8-2010.
How To Take a Shamanic Journey
Richard Whitley (author of “The Corporate Shaman”)
For most shamans, the shamanic journey is the primary method used to access the other worlds where the spirit helpers are found. While the specific process for journeying may vary from one shaman to another, the steps outlined below represent those that are practiced by a great many and are very effective.
You do not have to have any special skills or attributes to conduct a journey. This process is not reserved for a select few “tapped in” individuals. While some may find journeying challenging, most will be able to master this relatively simple process if not on the first try, then in one or two attempts thereafter. I remember well my first effort. While a friend drummed the monotonous beat that supports the journey by facilitating a change of one’s state of consciousness, I reviewed once again the steps outlined in Michael Harner‘s classic book, The Way of the Shaman. I donned my blindfold and successfully entered the lower world for what would be the first of thousands of times.
By journeying to the lower world, as Jason Hand did for Mark, you will be able to find your own power animal and in so doing enrich and empower your life. When found and used, this wonderful animal totem will be your guide and advisor for as long as you wish it to be.
I have found that there are many benefits to journeying. For most people three stand out. First is that a 10 minute shamanic journey reinvigorates you. You come back refreshed and rested. It is really an easy and most enjoyable form of deep relaxation. I like to call it “meditating for type A’s” because rather than trying to clear your mind of all thoughts as instructed by the meditation teachers, the shamanic journey is so filled with amazing activities you become a participant in the process and, in so doing, let go the pressures and concerns of your normal day-to-day reality. It is as absorbing as a good movie or engaging book.
The second benefit is that your totem animal will fill you with power. Think of this as being filled with a positive energy that gives you strength to withstand the rigors and stresses of daily life and prevents what shamans call intrusions from finding a way into your being. Intrusions are things like disease, depression, chronic bad luck and the like. Before a challenging meeting with one’s boss, for example, or during a white-knuckle flight on an airplane, you can ask for your power animal to give you strength and protection.
The third benefit is that your power animal will offer guidance regarding problems or dilemmas which you may be facing. This is called divination and means “divining” the answers to important questions. Before I make a speech, for example, I always journey to one of my power animals to learn how I can best serve the audience. And when my son returned from several years working in Chile and was looking for a job, in spite of an excellent job market and a terrific resume, he had trouble finding a position. After journeying to his power animal he was advised to “just be in your nature.” Matthew immediately realized what the advice meant. In his interviews he was trying to be the perfect job candidate…to be what they were looking for. As soon as he let that go and showed up as Matthew he got the offer he was looking for.
Although I have never heard of any negative consequence to any individual who has journeyed, if you are uncomfortable with the process, you have several options. 1. Overcome your discomfort. If you don’t like the idea of searching for a power animal, ask to find a spirit helper. Or ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen to me if I’m successful?” The answer is usually, “Nothing.” Ask, “Are there any deep seeded beliefs which make this uncomfortable for me?” Of this, Noelle Poncelet, a clinical psychologist who teaches the shamanic ways in Belgium, France and the Russian Republics says, some of us carry “beliefs that we are not allowed to journey or practice shamanism for reasons [offered] by specific groups, be it family, religious or society. Too much freedom? Too much power? Sacrilegious? Power animals are too instinctual, too dangerous, and too base to be spirit helpers. Not my style? Something else? Reexamine that belief. If it still fits your values, then you will know that shamanic journeying is not for you. If not, you will finally be ready to proceed.” 2. Ask one of us to teach and guide you. 3. Attend one of the Circle of the Healing Drum workshops which are regularly scheduled.
Before the Journey
In order to take such a journey you will need several things:
- an open mind
- a clear intention
- a drumming or rattling tape. I prefer the multiple drumming tape but any one will work just fine – see our resources page on how and here to get CD’s and supplies.
- a blindfold
- a quiet place to do the work, and
- a mental picture of an entrance to the earth you have seen at some time in your life.
Find a quiet and comfortable location where you will not be interrupted. Avoid distractions like telephones ringing, children yelling, and television blaring. When you become proficient at journeying you will be able to do so in your office while sitting at your desk. If, while you are journeying and a noise or distraction does occur, rather than letting it derail you, simply use it to go deeper into your journey.
Two vital aspects of a successful effort are your starting point and your intention. Your starting point will be an entrance to the earth that is known to you from your own life’s experience. A swimming hole, a well, a cave, a tunnel, a hole in the center of an old stump, an uncovered manhole. I always use a cave I explored in the Philippines. It is very important to have a clear image of this place. You do not have to have entered it (like the well) but the picture in your mind must be vivid. I find that many people have difficulty when they are learning to journey because they don’t have a good departure point.
Once you have your entrance, determine what you want from your journey. Intention is one of the most important and powerful tools used by the shaman. So before each journey, state a single intention for that experience. For your first effort your intention might be: “to experience a journey to the lower world to explore.” When you have done that, on another journey you might ask to find a power animal. And when you have met your power animal, on yet another journey you might ask it, “what advice would you have for me about a current opportunity or dilemma you are facing. It is best to have only one intention per journey.
If you are going to find a power animal, check your ego at the entrance. When you embark on this journey be prepared to fully accept and embrace whatever the spirits offer. I remember well my first effort to retrieve an animal totem. I have always loved cats and was certain I was going down to get a nice big, powerful, sleek, awesome hunter. I was mired in my own ego. Imagine my shock when I saw a cow, then a close-up of a cow’s eye, then a herd, and finally a little calf. I remember saying to myself, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” Well, the spirits always give you exactly what you need. Whether you like it or not, your power animal is always perfect for you. As for me, I had that masculine macho thing handled and didn’t need a big cat. A cow is about nurturing. It is a provider of sustenance and clothing…a decidedly feminine energy. And that was perfect for me at that time. As fair warning on this issue, know three things:
- I have never had anyone yet successfully predict what his/her power animal would be.
- In addition to retrieving eagles, lions and deer for others, I have also brought back ants, eels, squirrels, snakes, monkeys, and spiders.
- It is not appropriate to reject a power animal and ask for another one. Trust that what you received is perfect for you. Just spend time with it and you will come to this realization yourself.
In order to learn about your power animal, its history, legend in myth, and meaning, I recommend a book called Animal-Speak: The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small by Ted Andrews. Again, check out our Resources page.
Have the drumming tape cued and ready to play.
You are ready to start your journey now but before you do, a couple of words of advice. First, the irony of a successful journey is that you let go of your need to control…you adopt the attitude of a curious child and release yourself into the entrance. But at the same time, you are in complete control because any time you want to end the journey, all you have to do is open your eyes. In a strange way you can have your need-to-control cake and eat it too. You let go of your need to control and at the same time are in complete control.
Release any expectations you may have about what a journey may be like. Since each person’s experience is different and you have not ever done a journey, how would you know what to expect in the first place? Too often people reject what they are legitimately experiencing because it doesn’t fit their picture of what should be happening. The key is to trust that what is happening is exactly what is meant to occur that particular time.
Also, although it is not likely, if, during your journey, you see anything that you don’t like just go around it, retrace your steps back to your entrance or simply open your eyes.
- Lie down and relax. The floor is probably better than your bed because you are less likely to fall asleep. Take at least three deep breaths, hold each at the end of your inhale for a few seconds and then exhale until there is absolutely no breath left. Make each inhale-exhale cycle longer and deeper than the previous one.
- Put on your blindfold. (It will also help if the room is darkened).
- State your intention. Do this in a relaxed manner. You are signaling to yourself and the spirit helpers what you want. Think of it as a respectful request rather than a goal to be pursued and achieved.
- Start the drumming either start the tape or signal your drummer to begin.
- Visualize your entrance to the earth and restate your intention several times.
- Enter the entrance. When you feel ready go into the entrance, you can go head first, feet first or any way you like. Again, it doesn’t matter if you have actually been in it in your life or not. Also the entrance does not have to be bigger than you. For example I have entered through a small opening in a tree which would never accommodate me in real life.
- Enjoy the journey. Be prepared to experience the journey with any of your senses. For some it will be visual. Others will hear things. Others might smell or feel what is happening. Whatever sensory channel opens to you is the one to use for that particular journey. If you see something you don’t like, go around it or simply return by retracing your steps or opening your eyes. If you are journeying to find a power animal, look for an animal that shows itself to you four times. When that happens it is saying, “I am your power animal and am ready to return with you.” It doesn’t have to be the exact animal that shows itself four times. For example when Jason found Wolf, he saw a real wolf but also saw a wolf emblazoned on a patch. If you are not certain you can ask it if it is your power animal. But if you see it in four clear and different forms, you do not need any more proof. Trust that it is your power animal.
- Return from your journey. It is a good idea to have a specified amount of time for each journey. Eight to 10 minutes is what I usually recommend to begin with and up to fifteen minutes thereafter. Some drumming tapes are set to signal the “recall” for various times of duration. If someone is drumming for you, the recall is four sets of seven beats each (at a slightly slower interval than your journey drumming), followed by 30 seconds of very rapid drumming, followed by another four sets of seven beats. If you are journeying alone you can set a watch alarm or a timer for the prescribed time. If you do this make sure the alarm is not so loud as to jar you out of your journey. When the recall sounds it is time to return. To achieve this simply do your journey in reverse. There is no need to rush and it is not critical that you retrace your steps precisely. The reason for retracing your steps is to “groove” the journey so in subsequent trips you will be able to arrive and return from the lower world with greater ease and efficiency.
- Reflect on your journey. When you have returned relax for a moment. Don’t try to get up right away. Notice how you feel. Reflect on what experiences you had and what you learned.
After the Journey
When the journey is complete you might want to thank the spirits for supporting you in this effort and record it in a journal.
- Except for a power animal and, for more advanced journeying, a soul part, never bring anything back from the lower world with you.
- Power animals and teachers (often in human form) will frequently communicate metaphorically. That is, they may behave in a certain way and it is your job to interpret the behavior. For example, I recently journeyed for an audience before a speech and my power animal first stretched his arms very wide and then did a little jig. To me that meant stretch or challenge them and play with them a bit. I did this and the feedback from the group was very good. It is your job and no one else’s to get comfortable with this translating of behaviors. The first action of your power animal or teacher is always the most significant message. On some occasions your spirit helper might speak to you directly, particularly if your learn best through hearing.
- Inevitably a newcomer will be in the middle of a journey and wonder, “Am I making this up?” The experience of those who journey regularly is that very rarely is this so. And since there is no way to answer that question, why not decide that you are not creating it. If you say, “Yes, I am making it up”, you end the experience. If you say, “No”, you deepen it.
- Be light and have fun with your journeying. It is an enjoyable experience so enjoy it.
- A journey is different than a dream. Dream interpretation is not what a journey is about.
- Many people (not all) experience going through a tunnel at the beginning of a journey. If you feel yourself slowing down or not progressing, simply push on. If this doesn’t work, you can return to your place of departure and then start again. Sometimes it takes several journeys to negotiate the tunnel. Because everything is part of your journey, use being in the tunnel for extended time as a teaching. What is the message to you? What can you learn from it?
- Be an observer during your journey, not a judge. Leave your critical mind when you start the journey and just enjoy the proceedings. And if you drift, gently bring yourself back to the voyage you have undertaken.
- Allow the experience to unfold rather than rushing it or trying to force it. Michael Harner says that you are in charge of you on a train which is taking you to your chosen destination, but you are not in charge of the scenery or the inhabitants.
- As strange as this may sound, take care of your power animal. It likes to visit our world as much as we enjoy a journey to its world. Study it, read about it, dance or move like it. Several times a week invite it to join you in some activity. And most importantly, use it to empower you and give you advice. That is why it showed up and you honor it when you allow it to achieve its purpose by helping you. You can journey to it and ask it what it needs from you for its well-being. If you choose not to use it, over time it will leave and, no doubt, seek someone who will use it well. This is simply a natural consequence of it not being honored or used.
- “Do I tell other people what my power animal is?” Shamans differ on answering this question. Some will never divulge theirs while others will. The response I have gotten is that if it is in the service of healing work or with those close to me like my family, I can divulge my power animal(s). If it is frivolous (like at a cocktail party saying “I’m a lion, what are you?”) it is inappropriate. The best thing to do is to journey to your power animal and find the answer directly.
- “Can you have more than one power animal?” Yes. I have seven and each is a specialist in a different aspect of shamanic work. The number of power animals you have has no relation to your effectiveness or ranking as a shamanic practitioner. In this case more has nothing to do with better.
The shamanic journey in perspective:
There are five conditions that will help you become a successful journeyer. They are:
- Let go of your need to control: My experience is that this is difficult for most people to do in life, yet alone in preparation for a meditative process like journeying. If you are trying to orchestrate your own journey you will be paying too much attention to the details and not be able to get into the flow required to really experience the lower world.
- Detach from outcomes: This is also challenging for many of us. There is no way we can predict the outcome of a particular journey, yet so often we try. While we may have a mental image of what will happen the experience never matches our picture. Release the image and enjoy the experience.
- Trust the spirit helpers: A big help in letting go of your need to control and detaching from outcomes is to trust the spirit helpers. They will always orchestrate the perfect result for you. Whether you have an amazing experience in Technicolor, get held up in the tunnel, or don’t experience any part of the journey at all, it is perfect for you at that time. As hard as it can be sometimes, trust that the spirits are giving you what you most need at that particular time.
- Lighten up and enjoy the experience: My experience is that when you take all this too seriously, the spirit helpers will find a way to lighten things up. They are notorious tricksters and will always help you find the humor of your own seriousness.
- Leave your ego at the entrance: As mentioned earlier in my cow story, when you think you are the center of the action, you are likely to miss the very important signals being given to you by the spirit helpers.
Let’s see, let go of controls, detach from outcomes, trust, lighten up and get out of your ego. This represents a life’s journey for many of us. And what do you imagine would happen if we could create organizations that could engender these traits. Wouldn’t going to work be so much more pleasurable? The beauty of the process is that by learning how to journey and practicing what I have learned routinely I am continually training and conditioning myself to abandon the dysfunctional mind chatter and approach life with both trust and lightness. The discipline of the shamanic journey has enabled me to be much more present in the company of another and a much more objective and capable observer of my own life. I hope you will benefit as well.
Summary: The 9 Steps
- Lie down and relax
- Blindfold on
- State intention
- Start drumming
- Visualize racing and restate intention
- Enter the entrance
After you have journeyed, please come back and share your experience in the comments below.
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