In the universe, there are things that are known, and things that are unknown, and in between, there are doors. William Blake
No one tells you about the doors you can open that can’t be shut. The doors of perception, of consciousness.
Well, except for Blake and Huxley, and Therese of Avila… And probably most mystics who ever said anything or wrote anything down. Yeah, except for them.
I guess it’s a little like childbirth, it is one thing to read about it, quite another to actually experience it.
But I digress, back to the doors…
For some people these doors of perception remain tightly and purposely closed.
Perhaps only when facing their own mortality will they begin to allow a crack in their absolute certainty, and wonder – is this all there is? This world that I experience with my five senses? This body? Is there nothing else?
Others may believe in an existence beyond what they directly experience as reality, but choose to learn through intermediaries, from scripture, and the priests of their religion, what these other realms may be, and what wisdom there is to be gained from them.
There is nothing inherently wrong with choosing to keep one’s perception of human existence entirely in the physical dimension, except our spirit isn’t entirely contained in our body, so if we do limit our consciousness in this way, we are invariably being impacted by forces beyond our knowing.
It’s a little like thinking there’s a big old wall around your house, so that means nothing can get in. Except a tornado can, or lightning, or anything that can breach that wall, really.
It’s a little like driving the world’s most powerful, elite sports car, but never pushing it beyond 40 miles an hour.
Consciousness is a marvellous vehicle, but you have to learn how best to use it.
But then ignorance is bliss, right? Or so they say.
And for people who choose to follow an established belief system, they can undoubtedly gain wisdom through spiritual practice, but who is interpreting this wisdom? Who decides what practices they should engage in? Are these practices meaningful to them personally, in this day and age, in this culture and under these circumstances? Or is it a dogmatic, one-size-fits-all approach to spirituality?
Are modern interpretations of ancient texts enough on their own to enable spiritual growth? Even the great mystics and masters have always said “don’t follow me, find your own path to enlightenment.”
Now don’t get me wrong, there is great wisdom in spiritual texts, but surely it needs to be experienced, not passively absorbed.
There is much to be said, then, for direct revelation. Direct, personal experience of the spiritual realms. Especially when using consciousness expanding techniques that have been tried and tested over tens of thousands of years.
So why would we want to open these doors into other states of consciousness and venture into non-ordinary realms of reality?
Imagination is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow. William Blake
The answer can be somewhat hard to explain, but so far, this is my best analogy…
Let’s assume for a moment that there are many layers of reality, most of which are imperceptible in ordinary, five-sensory reality.
Physical, ordinary, five-sensory reality is what most people see, unless they are psychic or a mystic and then they may routinely see other subtler realities – or hear them, or feel them, or sense them.
Science, mainly quantum physics, tells us this is so. The ‘God’ particle, the intelligence inherent in what we used to think was empty space. The way ‘reality’ is a co-created perception with our own consciousness. All suggests there is no ‘one reality.’
The eye altering, alters all. William Blake
While the science may not yet prove the existence of other realms, it does suggest that there is much more out there to be experienced that we routinely do experience.
The human mind functions predominantly as a filter, it only processes the information it sees as imperative to survival. The rest it ignores.
There is evidence that the brain processes information according to pattern recognition and memory recall. That is, the mind sees what it already knows or believes to be true.
Like those tribes of Polynesia who couldn’t see Captain Cook’s tall ships as they arrived. It was just beyond their perception. Didn’t mean those boats didn’t exist. They were just beyond the tribes people’s comprehension of reality. So they were literally invisible to them. How much don’t we see because it is beyond our comprehension?
But we can train the mind to open, to comprehend, and to experience more.
All people can access these subtler realms of reality in a shamanic state of consciousness. It is not restricted to shamans. It’s just a matter of learning to ‘see’ with consciousness, and not the physical senses.
In another tall ship story, a shaman saw only the disturbance in the waves caused by Christopher Columbus’ tall ships. Knowing something must be there to cause the water to behave this way, he focused his awareness until he could see the ships. Once he described the ship to the other tribespeople, they could see it too.
Humans have great difficulty perceiving what they cannot conceive. Maanna Stephenson
Experience what, you might ask? What can you perceive in a shamanic state of consciousness?
Other realms, the transcendent worlds of spirit guides and power animals, the parts of our world we have filtered out; nature spirits, elemental spirits, the hidden folk, fairies, forest sprites… The stuff of folk tales. The interconnected web of life, infused with spirit, that surrounds us. That is us.
But why do we want to access these realms, you say? What purpose does it serve? I’m sorry, but did you miss the part about fairies…
I’m kidding. We can access these realms for information, divination, and healing, at levels beyond what our temporal, rational minds can usually access.
Man’s perceptions are not bounded by organs of perception, he perceives more than sense (tho’ ever so acute) can discover. William Blake
Okay so here’s my analogy.
Think Google maps – just stay with me here…
In Google maps, you can see your house, close-up in satellite street view, which is a valid perspective, in fact, it is very close to your own visual perspective when you look at your street.
Then you can expand the view, and the whole suburb opens up. It gives you a better overview. In fact you can see the entire world from that perspective, if you keep zooming out. An impossibility with the naked eye.
Accessing non-ordinary reality is a little like accessing a Google map. It gives you a far greater overview and insight than you could perceive with your naked senses.
Except in a shamanic state of consciousness, this ‘map’ is alive with helping spirits who can actually interact with you and help you perceive beyond your limited local view. And there’s not just one map but many…
The imagination is not a state: it is the human existence itself. William Blake
Most writers, artists and mystics will describe the state of inspiration as being somewhat otherworldly, as if the ideas came through them, rather than from them.
Everything that can be imagined has a reality in some plane of consciousness.
The worlds these creatives describe are often magical, mystical, yet sometimes dark and terrifying.
In New Age vernacular, the world beyond ordinary perceptions, is often described in rainbow colours, and feelings of oneness with the source of all love and light.
A shamanic journeyer knows this is spiritual denial. Yes, there are realms of crystal palaces where angels and light-wielding guides heal with rainbow light rays, in colours beyond anything you can imagine here in ordinary reality.
But anyone who has truly journeyed with spirit knows much of her worth will not involve these realms so much as negotiating with confused spirits and navigating realms that make most horror movies look like a picnic.
I have a deck of Angel Tarot cards by a very famous New Age practitioner and this deck proudly claims to have no ‘negative’ cards and not to use reversed cards. (in the tarot a reversed card usually indicates a block or challenge).
Now I subscribe to the theory that even the most painful and difficult life circumstances provide an opportunity for growth and evolution, but that doesn’t mean we should pretend that bad things don’t exist.
There seems to be a growing number of New Age thinkers who will tell you that you can manifest anything you want in this world, if you just focus on it, and if you can’t manifest it’s because you’re not focusing in the right way.
Anything ‘negative’ that appears to happen to you is a manifestation of your own fears and all you need to do is bring down copious amounts of white light, think happy thoughts, and voila! All gone. Like magic.
I have succumbed to this ‘magical thinking’ before – I mean who wouldn’t? it’s so seductive! – and I used an inordinate amount of energy trying to white-light everything that happened to me, and every one else, and it’s exhausting.
It also breeds a certain lack of empathy. If you follow this theory to it’s logical end, any suffering is self-inflicted, and the sufferer has the power to change it, if only they would.
And I know from personal experience that when you are suffering deeply, the least helpful and loving thing someone can do is suggest you need to think more positively. Pain and fear are our teachers too.
Now while there are grains of truth in utilising the power of our intentions in manifesting – as I have already said, we have all kinds of untapped power in our consciousness. I found myself becoming terrified of any ‘negativity’ as if it was contagious, a rampant viral force obliterating my chance at attracting abundance.
Carl Jung approached this natural avoidance of the ‘dark’ within us in his work on the shadow. The shadow is the parts of ourselves we deny and avoid. These consciously rejected qualities are forced into the unconscious.
Bringing the unconscious into consciousness and facing these qualities is the way to truly integrate them.
Denial and suppression actually creates an unhealthy power, where the very parts of ourselves we wish to avoid are ruling us from the unconscious.
All those years I avoided the dark, in the mistaken belief that focusing exclusively on the light would make me strong, I was denying the true source of my power.
Because that dark stuff really exists, it is here, and denying it doesn’t make it go away, it just feeds on our fear.
I know this because when I journeyed, in all naïveté and curiousity, to a realm of souls trapped in various forms of suffering, it terrified me so much my spiritual power began diffusing.
Very quickly I saw how my fear was both allowing my power to be diffused and drained – making me more vulnerable to the very things I was afraid of – as well as making these spirits more powerful.
Right then, I learned a very valuable lesson about powering up and utilising my spirit allies and setting very clear intentions about where I was journeying and why.
In the same way you wouldn’t wander alone and without purpose in a bad neighbourhood at night. You wouldn’t mess with these energies more that once, without making sure you were completely prepared the next time.
Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so we can fear less. Marie Curie
After settling myself, with my power animal beside me, I went back to this realm. I saw it from a new perspective. These were reflections of aspects in my unconscious that I was afraid of, that I suppressed. My projected shadow created the fear. There really wasn’t any need for fear, these spirits were suffering, they were trapped. I could help them or detach from them. But there was no need to fear.
So, after that experience, why would I want to do shamanic work, you ask?
I’m not sure it’s a matter of want. I’d feel a little pretentious at this early stage saying it was a calling, I mean I don’t even know if I’m any good at it yet.
But I have no doubt I have been led here. That much has been articulated clearly. When I try for specifics my spirit guides go a little quiet and look away. There is always a limit to how much we are able to know without the knowing driving us mad. Slowly, slowly is their motto.
I guess it’s those darn doors again. They are open, I’ve seen what’s there, so I figure I may as well learn how to manage it as best I can.
Shamans are not well paid, the hours suck and there’s no sick leave or pension plan. You work until you die.
One of my teachers says he never really sleeps, He is on call 24/7. At night as we dream, many of us travel to these realms, and the shaman knows to be aware.
In traditional cultures when a child was “called” to be a shaman – usually after a long illness where they experienced fevers and delirious states, or after displaying natural psychic abilities. Their parents would cry and mourn the loss, as the status of a shaman was not always a desirable one.
Who wants to live next door to someone who talks to spirits?
So it’s not so much a choice or a want, but a path you find yourself on, and once you’ve opened those doors…
I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man’s. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create. William Blake
So where am I going with all this?
Things have been a little quiet here on Seven Intentions. I haven’t written for a while. And as I sat to write of my experience of the last six weeks, I found it very hard to articulate it.
Three weeks ago, I returned from Bali where I was studying Core Shamanism with the Foundation for Shamanic Studies. Established by anthropologist Michael Harner, the course teaches practices and techniques from around the world, to modern shamans. I wrote about Michael in more detail in my last post.
This course appealed to me for several reasons. It promised to teach various shamanic healing techniques including soul retrieval, which was what had interested me in shamanism in the first place.
The weeks I spent in Bali were full immersion, in a place that feels mystical and magical, where the honouring of spirits and Gods is as much as part of daily life as eating and sleeping.
Waking each day to the sounds of the jungle, walking to a local yoga studio with a vista of rice terraces and temples, where even the yoga seemed more gentle and organic, where the teacher sang gently in Indonesian and ours souls drifted up on her notes.
Walking, swimming, eating fresh, organic food… And that’s before I even started my course in journeying to other worlds.
Living in Ubud is full noise, life and nature collide in a beauty that is raw and visceral, and cannot help but awaken the senses.
I think if I’m truly honest, one of the things that really interested me in this particular course, was a chance to be in a real life shamanic community.
You see, I have studied shamanism for nearly a year with Sandra Ingerman, and prior to that I did my Chakradance facilitator training. But these were all online communities. And while they have been fabulous, and I have loved the people I ‘met’ there, I think I had begun to feel increasingly isolated.
You see, I’m a librarian, I don’t work in a therapeutic community (even though working in a public library, sometimes it feels that way). I’m a weekend practitioner. I have a few friends who work in various forms of spiritual healing, but we are all pretty new to it.
On returning home, the isolation became so profound to be a full-blown existential crisis. I felt lost. I felt like I didn’t fit anywhere. I felt like I didn’t even fit in my own life.
Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom. Soren Kierkegaard
My day job is becoming less meaningful to me; at the same time it’s squeezing me more and more financially. There’s a sense that it will be time to move on soon, and this is the period of letting go.
Despite my financial squeeze, I feel compelled to teach Chakradance in places where people ask me to, which at the moment happens to be Northern NSW and Ubud.
On the one hand, this seems almost impossible financially and yet my guides are telling me to invest in myself. “Back yourself” were their exact words.
Yet again I find myself wishing for a group of people I could talk to about this. Not everyone is open to a conversation that begins “So my power animal says…”
Now I’m sure compared to other more immediate crises, this all sounds very self-indulgent. The thing is I’m not used to riding out this stuff without a community.
For fifteen years, I had an identity and a community. I was a recovering alcoholic and I had my people, we were all in recovery, in 12 step programs, we spoke the same language, we used the same solutions for problems, and we ‘got’ each other. I had a hundred numbers in my phone that could call day or night and get ‘identification,’ that sense that I was heard and understood.
Over the last two years, however my language, my world view began to change. I began to experience things that ‘my people’ didn’t always understand.
In Jungian terms, I had reached a point in my process of individuation where I had to integrate. My unconscious rose up, I was forced to face all the things I had repressed in myself, and I experienced a deep and lengthy depression.
This process necessarily involved letting go of my persona – my public self – and my established place in community, to allow a holistic self to emerge from within. Acceptance and validation from outside became less important than finding meaning from within.
But I knew these were precious and magical gifts. The option to put down my gifts and walk away, in order to remain fully immersed in my tribe, just seemed like too high a price for belonging. Actually it was an impossibility.
So I followed my gifts, they led me to Chakradance and Druidry and Shamanism. It’s been an exquisite journey; equal parts of joy and despair at times, but an increasingly lonely one. I found myself going within rather than trying to explain to others what I was experiencing.
And for those three weeks in Bali, I had people I could talk openly with about other realms and spirit guides and I feel the absence of that.
So I realized this is a need for community. Maybe I need to create my own, I thought. Power animal nods, she doesn’t say a lot, except ‘slow down,’ ‘rest,’ ‘focus,’ and ‘be patient,’ but she lets me know when I’m on the right track.
My friend did a tarot reading for me, what came up was the need to not have rigid expectations of this community, to let it evolve. This community will not fulfill all my needs, and it won’t be about conformity. Once we have begun individuating the self, conformity is not an option. Yet surely we can still find like-minded people to relate with.
I think there is maturity in realizing that other people cannot fulfill all my needs. I have these various communities and they all fulfill certain needs, but at some point we all have to face the dark nights of the soul alone. There are some places we cannot take our human companions.
Living a spiritual life may not be easy. It demands total authenticity. It brings you to dance to a unique song that only you can hear fully, and sometimes you dance alone because no others can hear the music. Debra Moffitt
So without setting such lofty expectations on it, I thought why not create a circle of journeyers, so we all can talk through and support each other in our experiences.
So in answer to my question, after enlightenment, now what? Now the true work begins. The doors are open; I can shift between realms and access the wisdom and healing there. What do I intend to do with that?
Despite bucket loads of fear and self-doubt, I intend to use these gifts to guide others. It’s what I love and apparently, it’s what I do well.
The path to the true self requires a deep connection with spirit, and shamanic journeying has given me that in a more profound and direct way than I have ever experienced before. I no longer have to wait for ‘divine guidance,’ I can journey in consciousness and ask for it. Yes, the answer may be be ‘wait’ but it’s still an answer, a direct answer from spirit to me. How cool is that?
The sense of being in a circle is right, when I teach Chakradance, when I’m in sacred space, I feel truly happy. My spirit soars and sings and my power is up, I can feel my spirit allies with me. It’s hard to describe, but when it’s right, it’s so right.
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern. William Blake
Main image Odin Journeying by Joan Baxter