Sometimes on the weekends I meet up with a group of people (usually who are on average roughly 20 to 30 years older than me) and we lie around on the floor, on yoga mats, under blankets and in sleeping bags with scarves tied round our eyes to block out the daylight and we drift off… No, I’m not talking about some weird adult day-time sleepover, I’m talking about Shamanic Journeying. And shamanic journeying is some POWERFUL stuff, and I’ve decided, could be likened to driving a car towards enlightenment. When you are driving a car, you are in the driver’s seat. You climb in, put your seat-belt on, and decide upon your destination. You turn on the engine and off you go! You will pass through landscapes, things will call out to you and grab your attention, and if you drive with a relaxed determination, you will get to meet who you intend to meet, and arrive at the place you intend to get to. Sure, the car needs petrol, and there are established roads you travel along, but you do the driving, you pick the soundtrack for your journey, you decide which route to take, and the directions you want to follow: it’s all you.
To give you a bit of a clearer picture of my spiritual adult sleepovers that aren’t really sleepovers: when we’re lying around on our mats and under our blankets there will be a shamanic practitioner beating a drum at a very fast rate, they might also maybe shaking a rattle or singing quietly and intuitively… most importantly they will be holding a safe, supportive and authentic space for us so that we can journey well. The specific repetitive tempo of this drumming serves to lure us into a trance state. It works. Big time. No hallucinogens needed here just the sound of a drum beat— you can even create the experience yourself at home by listening to a recording of a drum being played at this tempo on youtube, just cover your eyes with a blindfold of some sort, lie down on the floor in a darkened room, surrender your expectations and be open to whatever wants to arise, and away we go!
When we enter into the trance state we tend to journey with an intention— this could be: ‘I journey to the lowerworld to find my Power Animal’; or ‘I journey to the upperworld to meet my Spirit Guide’. These are allies who we will encounter on our journeys and they will help us along on our path, perhaps by bringing us a message, or showing us what it is that we need to bring awareness to/change at this time to enable us to heal, and evolve. These power animals and spirit guides tend to appear and then stick with us for future journeys; we travel with the same animals again and again; they become like wise friends to us; they have a lot to teach us.
Access to these worlds is gained by entering through an ‘access mundi’; an entry point that helps us to make the shift from every-day reality to the time-out-of-time, space-out-of-space realms of the shamanic world. We do this simply by relaxing, surrendering, and using the power of our imagination. As the drumming starts, we encourage ourselves to be open and receptive, we drop into our hearts and out of our heads, and we switch from seeing with our eyes, to seeing with the intuitive inner-eye, whose guidance is all-seeing, all-knowing and invaluable. If we were journeying to the lowerworld we would visualise going into a cave we are familiar with, or through the base of a hollow tree— something that we can strongly visualise in our mind’s eye— and when we go through that portal we allow ourselves to be transported from there (often down a tunnel of some sort) until we receive faint, or sometimes very strong impressions that reveal to us the setting where our journey is going to take place. Let your intuition guide you.
I sometimes imagine going through Smoo Cave at the very top of the West Coast in Scotland, or I climb underneath the roots of an uprooted Scot’s Pine that is near to where I live, and where I sometimes go to have little naps…. Then we begin the journey. If we allow ourselves to be in the heart, to not think about it, and just surrender to it, the impressions that wish to arise will arise, and we will be guided on a journey of sights— and maybe even smells, sounds and sensations. Again, let your intuition guide you— do not impose from without, allow from within. After a period of time we are guided back out of the trance state by the shamanic practitioner who changes the tempo of the drum beat, which brings us back into our bodies, holding onto whatever images and messages we have brought back with us, which we can then share with the group.
I have been taken to tropical rainforests with shamans and indigenous people; I have been taken into the lap of the Divine Mother; I have been taken out into the farthest reaches of the cosmos, the world just a tiny blue-green speck below us; I have been taken to places I know well; I have been taken to places I have never and may never visit in this lifetime; I have travelled many times on horseback (one of my main power animals); through forests; across the desert; alone; with people known or unknown to me; with a host of different guides and animals. I have heard the sound of entrancing music being played on a pipe; I have felt myself to be completely immersed in water. And these are just a few representative images. POWERFUL stuff indeed.
And we see what we need to see. We are shown what we need to be shown
To give you an idea: on a recent shamanic escapade when I was journeying to the lowerworld I entered through my cave and emerged upon some great big plains: I was running with wolves. I was part of the pack and we were running fast, wild and free.
When I came to after this journey I was elated. This had a deep meaning for me – It showed me just how far I had come on my healing journey.
The wolf has been a strong power animal for me since I first started getting into this stuff— for me it stands for my masculine side and when I first started to see the wolf he was rabid and attacking anything in sight! All animals represent certain inner aspects and issues that might be present in us. If we find ourselves connecting to an animal there are many resources to help us read up on any animals we encounter (here are a couple of books and website or two) equally, if not more important, are the associations that this animal brings up for us personally. Archetypally, the wolf is very representative of the ‘addict’ for example, something which resonated strongly with me at the time— I had long been battling addictions to: alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, sex, work, sugar, exercise…. you name it. The very first time I saw the wolf I was truly shocked as I had NEVER had any animal visualisations before in my life. It was in fact not during a shamanic journey at all, but during a healing treatment I had in a hospital (of all places) and yet, as this Bowen technique practitioner started pressing different points on my prone body I had a flash image of the face of a wolf in my mind’s eye. At first I shook it off, thinking I was somehow just making it up, but seconds later it came again, unmistakable, and this time much more powerfully (you can read more fully about it here if you want to). I could not ignore it. I was right in my face. I hesitantly accepted the journey— almost immediately it expanded to a scene where I saw this wolf having a stand-off against a big bear on an icy mountain top, ready to attack.
It was petrifying. I found myself paralysed in fear and sobbed into the treatment couch as I shared in a few words what I’d seen with my therapist at his request (by the way this was a very progressive hospital, in case you’re wondering). He did not comment but continued to work on me over the next hour or so, giving space to the images as they formed, and privacy to me as they unfolded, ushering me through this journey where I might receive the wisdom that might help me.
A Shaman. This is what shaman’s do. I have been lucky enough to have been guided through processes like this by several since that first unexpected encounter. A Shaman helped me break-open my heart so that I could heal it and learn to love. A Shaman helped me learn how I needed to break-free of the limitations of my ancestral lineage and live a full life to honour them and do what they were never able to do themselves. A Shaman brought me back from a terrifying near death experience.
POWERFUL stuff I tell you. (But I’m not going to go into all my secrets here, you’ll have to read my books one day…)
For now, let’s get back to following the visualisation. The wolf was about to attack the bear. But then a second image formed— the landscape had thawed, it was summer, and beautiful, and a waterfall cascaded down the mountain. Ahhhhhh, so peaceful.
Then came a close-up of the bear’s face— friendly and curious. She was perfectly content picking berries. She didn’t want to fight at all; she just wanted to left alone to potter about. I relaxed completely. I have since discovered that the bear, for me, represents my feminine side.
So basically my masculine side was completely over-powering my feminine side, and she was dying. If I wasn’t careful my masculine side was going to kill my feminine side. I was VERY sick and I was at this hospital trying everything they could think of to try and figure out what was ailing me. I learned from this encounter that my addicted masculine was OUT OF CONTROL and I had to do something about. All the poor bear wanted to do was to chill out and pick berries!
So what did I do? I swapped my fast-paced, stimulation filled city lifestyle for a snail’s pace natural lifestyle in the country. I severed the addictions, dozed lots and nurtured my feminine side in every way I could possibly think of, pretty much going into hibernation for a good year or two. I even pottered about having a lovely peaceful time picking berries: it worked. And once I’d fully healed the bear, I got to work on healing the wolf. And how did I know I was healed? Well, in the shamanic journey I introduced with the wolves running on the plain I was no longer an isolated, mangy, wounded wolf, who would attack anything in sight, I was now a strong and resilient wolf, and I would only ever kill when absolutely necessary to feed my wolf family. In fact, the visualisation ended with my being in the wolves’ sleeping den and the wolf babies were clambering about and being licked and cuddled by mummy and daddy wolf. It was so peaceful and loving. And as for the bear, just a week later I had another shamanic journey where I was taken by her to her den where she was also nursing her beautiful little cubs and I just lay about with them then in this love-filled bliss den (we stopped to pick some berries on the way of course). So my masculine is happy, my feminine is happy… they’re healthy, strong, connected, and pro-creating— man alive, it’s been one hell of a journey to get here! These shamanic images have been absolutely instrumental to my healing journey and I am eternally grateful for their wisdom.
And what about the upperworld, quickly? When we journey to the upperworld we go up through the clouds and into the sky. Some people go up on a rainbow— I climb up that same Scot’s Pine tree and find I can fly at the top and off I go into the stratosphere. The first time I did this, it was with the intention of meeting my Spirit Guide. I was greeted at the top of the tree by a beautiful hippy woman in her 60s. Youthful and sprightly, long grey hair and wise eyes (exactly how I hope to look in a few decades, and pretty close to my lovely local shamanic practitioner in fact!) she gave me a simple strapped ethnic patterned dress and long necklace to put on, like hers, and commanded that I ‘DANCE!’ and the two of us danced like maniacs to the sound of the beating drum up there in the clouds. It was completely exhilarating.
I came to in tears as I realised that I was finally at the point of recovery in my illness that it was time to start DANCING again. I started the very next day and have been dancing around the living room like a mad thing (often starkers) ever since whenever the mood takes me. It brings me joy like nothing else. (Just this morning I put on some upbeat world music and danced in my pants outside under the trees on this deck that my friend has made from old tyres and pallets… I’m house-sitting for her up on the West Coast of Scotland right now, it’s idyllic… I’m writing this in the caravan she has perched outside the front door – I started writing this in July fyi).
We see what we need to see. We are shown what we need to be shown.
Whatever we see will somehow be connected to what is going on for us, whether it’s an issue in the present we need to see more clearly, or if it’s an old wound that needs healing, even an ancestral wound, or a wound from our past lives. We may have to unpick the images and decode the messages and work out exactly what is being channelled to us— use the resources, look up what the animals you are encountering archetypally represent and lay it over your life— what could this be communicating to you? Find some illuminating guidance? Thought so. And let’s share this stuff with one another— those of us who have found our reconnection to Source in this way can help others to re-find their connection by being open and generous with our experiences. Sure- we need to protect our processes as we work through them as to discuss our intimate processes with others when we are still vulnerable and not quite ready can affect the effectiveness of our distillation of our truth- unless perhaps it is with very trusted friends, a therapist, or guide or some sort who can witness. But when we get through it, when we’re out the other side, by sharing what we encountered, we inspire others to go on their own journey, this is an act of service.
And if Shamanism teaches us one thing above all else it is that EVERYTHING is connected— it’s not just the animals that you encounter on a shamanic journey that are trying to communicate to you. What about the unusual animal encounters we sometimes have in our day to day lives? Crows nesting in your chimney? Look it up! Lady bird infestation? Look it up! I had an amazing one a few months ago— I was sitting eating my dinner in the farmhouse I was living in in Oxfordshire and I saw something dart across the room out of the corner of my eye. Mouse! I thought, but it wasn’t moving like a mouse. I looked closer— a toad, hopping across the kitchen floor, in December!
I scooped him up and took him outside, thinking that although I’d never encountered this in Scotland, this must just be par for the course in Oxfordshire: when I told the farmer he’d never seen the like of it before in his life! At the time I was pouring all my energy into trying to clean up a very run-down, dirty and cluttered old farmhouse down the road we were to move into. I looked up the shamanic meaning of frog/toad and guess what I found: that it is representative of water, and specifically with cleansing, clearing out old negative and toxic energies and making way for the new – there is even a thing called ‘frog medicine’ which is applied to people who are particularly good at cleaning up the energy of spaces, on the physical and spiritual levels. I was rocking the frog medicine at that point, that’s for sure!
Often I’m just going about my business and I get a FLASH of an animal in my head – recently for example – octopus, or brightly coloured parrot – and I am sure to look it up – often simply by googling ‘<insert animal here> shamanic meaning’ – ALWAYS relevant to whatever is going on for me at that time and indicative or what I need to be aware of.
One last story, this one is also simply too good not to share— A couple of summers ago I attended a workshop sitting in the forest at a lovely conscious festival where we discussed how animals communicate with us. The workshop leader shared how once when she was gardening and turning over a patch of soil some mice were trying to get her attention, running around and around her legs as she knelt on the earth, desperately trying to alert her to the fact that she was almost about to unwittingly remove, and potentially harm, a nest full of mouse babies! During this beautifully gentle and authentic workshop I encountered others who suffered with addictions and were seeing visualisations of a wolf which once again validated my wolf experiences for me. We pulled cards at the end and I got butterfly. I was moved to tears as I shared my deep connection to this animal with the group as throughout my entire illness I held strongly to the totem animal of the butterfly as this journey for me has been for me like a transformation from caterpillar to butterfly, spending as much time as necessary healing in the chrysalis, until I was ready to fly – and being at a beautiful conscious festival, camping, attending workshops and leading my very first Kundalini Yoga workshop and re-picking up my playful movement in nature workshops helped me to realise that I really had begun to flap my butterfly wings! But that’s not even what I wanted to tell you! The amazing and hilarious thing that sticks with me most from this workshop was when we closed the session— we were sitting in a circle in this beautiful clearing in the woods, holding hands. The workshop leader spoke stating our respect and gratitude for our animal brethren and sisterhood, honouring all they have to teach us, and the little dog that one of the participants had with them nudged at our hands until he JOINED IN THE CIRCLE ON HIS HIND LEGS, holding two human hands on either side with his paws! HA HA! We all didn’t know whether to laugh, or cry, it felt like this complete understanding, and shared awareness— four-leggeds and two-leggeds joining together as one! It was just incredible!
Shamanism is such a wonderful path to enlightenment as it is so rooted in the natural world, it reveals the secrets of the universe to us, but it keeps us grounded and connected to all living things. On the deepest level, the insights we receive through shamanic work come to show us that we ARE the animals and they are us, we ARE the world and the world IS us. We are ONE. There is no separation.
What we do to another we do unto ourselves. What we do to the planet we do unto ourselves.
There is a beautiful shamanic song I like to sing when walking through nature which goes simply: ‘I am the trees; I am the birds; I am the water and the earth, I am the fire and the wind; I am, I am.’ This knowledge of ‘all that is’ will be revealed to us if we just slow down, be still and allow ourselves to open the hearts-space and receive it— both with our inner-eye when we journey, and with our outer eyes as we traverse this beautiful planet we call home. We can use the messages we receive to help us heal ourselves, and others, and our Mother Earth.
We have a LOT of healing to do.
Enlightenment brings peace, and clarity, awareness and grace. But it brings reality, and Truth, which is often hard to stomach. Our Earth has suffered as we have neglected and abused her to the point that unless we wake up on a GRAND scale, it may be too late for many of the creatures living on Earth’s shores, including us. We have to try to re-dress the balance. The world is about one thing BALANCE – and in order for harmony to be reached humans, plants and animals need to live in perfect balance, respecting all life, knowing that there is no separation between any life on our planet. She will save herself, she will do whatever she needs to do to overhaul when the point of imbalance is simply too far to redress in its current state. So the question is: what about humanity? I know that the only way to regain balance is for humanity to learn to fully respect all other lifeforms, (including ALL of humanity) and the planet we call home in the process, no more one-upmanship, we have caused enough imbalance as it is by forgetting who we are. Who are we? This is another thing that enlightenment brings: we are eternal beings of cosmic light and consciousness inhabiting physical form, we are of the stars as much as we are of the earth and there is no death- death is only one part of a never-ending cycle of birth – death – infinity – rebirth. There is no end. There is absolutely nothing to be afraid of. We are consciousness, not matter. But this material planet is breathtakingly BEAUTIFUL. In her natural state of growth and abundance there is nowhere like Earth. Can we cut the crap, wake up and sashay down the path to enlightenment and all dedicate our lives to serving her already? Remember we’re cosmic energy temporarily inhabiting material form. No matter what happens, it’s all going to be ok, ok?
So get in that car, set the destination on the sat nav: enlightenment, and off you go— choose the roads you drive down. Decide where and when you want to stop, go off the map. Have your own personal experience that has not been guided by any specific teachings (like on the train); the only teacher here is Mother Nature, in all her glory, and beyond that cosmic consciousness. Also, importantly you have not used any substances to get you there (see ‘plane’ for these kinds of journeys!) Nope, it’s just a drum beat, like the music you choose to put on in the car, and you’re off! Use the roadmap- the resources, but be sure to make your own connections and have your own insights as to what this trip means for you. There may be a map- in the sense of the meanings that lie behind the animals, but the map is not the territory. Hit the road!
Who knew you could have such an awesome time lying down with your eyes closed, that is apart from sleeping?! (Dreams are a whole other ballgame…)
Look out for the next installment of ‘Five Different Pathways to Enlightment Part III: Dreamwork and Psychotherapy – ‘Boat’.’ where I delve into the crazy journey of this path down through the unconscious and back up again.