How to Undertake a Shamanic Journey
Shamanic journeying is a kind of meditation, combined with focused intention, to enter an expanded state of consciousness. In journeying, a Shamanic practitioner enters a kind of “trance state.” If you have ever had one of those moments of being lost in thought, like following the fading lines of a beach trail onto the shoreline of sand, you know how a trance state feels. Trance states are common in meditation, prayer, or intense life transitions—including birth, orgasm, and death. Trance states can be as light as a deeper feeling of awareness or as deep as the seemingly comatose bodies of deeply seasoned Shamans.
When we undertake a journey, part of our consciousness is able to detach itself from the body and explore realms that the physical body cannot perceive or move through. The object is not to escape reality, but to venture deeper into it. Many people who journey for the first time expect to have completely out of body experiences, but this is most often not the case. I often liken it to a branch of a river tree breaking off the main trunk to join a stream. The tree stays put, but an aspect of its being is free to travel. The tree still feels the gentle sway of the water over its roots, sustaining it crown, allowing it be what it is, a tree— it has simply chosen to send part of itself downstream.
Shamanic experiences are different for everyone. Some people liken it to the sensation of being in a dream. Some people have vivid imagery, tastes or smells, others simply have a feeling sense. Above all, try being curious. In his book The Way of the Shaman, Michael Harner likens Shamans to scientists. “Both shamans and scientists,” he asserts, “personally pursue research into the mysteries of the universe, and both believe that the underlying causal process of that universe are hidden form ordinary view.” As you work with connecting to expanded states of consciousness, you may have experiences that are odd, unexplainable, or peculiarly striking. Instead of casting off such experiences or images, save these perceptions as bits of evidence or data. You may not understand their importance now, but catalogue it for later evaluation. Surprise is an integral part of the shamanic experience. Consciousness often speaks in metaphor and we are continually learning how to be better readers.
Traditionally, most Shamans worked through the power of spirit guides. These guides can also be called transpersonal forces. Guides can take the face or image of many beings; plants, animals, stones, or even other people. Many traditional Shamans worked specifically with what we call “power animals.” A person’s power animal is a guide that represents the overarching spirit or soul energy of an animal group. Each being on earth has its own essence or being, and thus has its own power. Animal guides are often called “power animals” because they bring certain abilities and innate powers to their work in guiding you. In this way they are thought to actually impart their power to you for use in your healing work.
One of the first journeys many shamans undertake it to connect with their spirit guides. Many people say working with guides in the world of the unseen is essential. In my way of thinking, each and every one of us always moves with a guide. For, in a way, our own wider selves are our spirit guides. I think working with guides, however, can deepen and enrich your journeying experience in profound ways.
For your first journey try connecting into an animal who is ready to guide you at this time in your life.
Steps of the Journey (How to Journey)
1) Find a comfortable and quiet place where you can relax. Before I enter a journey I like to take some time to call in my guides, the four directions, ancestors, or any personal divinity that has meaning to me. This is a time to get clear on your intention. Let your wider consciousness know: You would like to meet an animal guide.
You are setting the stage for a safe and guided space of journeying. If it helps to relax, try some gentle yoga, dancing or deep breathing beforehand.
2) Most people like to journey in near darkness. I suggest turning out the lights and closing the blinds. Some people light a candle at the beginning of their journey, as symbolic gesture of keeping an aspect of their consciousness in the here and now.
3) Drumming can be profoundly helpful for journeying. Find a Shamanic drumming CD you like (or track on youtube) and use it to deepen your journey. When you are ready to begin, sit in a comfortable position or lie down (if you aren’t in danger of falling asleep!) and begin the drumming.
4) Many people like to envision an entryway for themselves. For meeting with a spirit guide traditional people usually went into what we call the “lower world,” deep into the earth. I like to envision traveling down through the roots of a tree, but you may prefer a staircase, a tunnel or a cave. These gateways can often be a signal to our conscious minds that we are transitioning in our consciousness and that it’s okay to let go.
5) Once you “step into” the journey itself just let yourself explore. Images, feelings, sounds or smells should come spontaneously. Shamanic journeying is not about conscious control, it’s about allowing yourself to have an experience beyond your rational mind. During your journey you will stay conscious in your body. You can expect to hear cars passing down the road or feel any itches or bodily sensations. Many people liken journeying to a powerful daydream. You remain conscious and aware, and yet another aspect of yourself can travel. If you feel any distractions in the here and now, forgive the intrusion and simply let yourself drift back to the journey.
It’s always okay to ask questions. So if an animal comes to you in your journey don’t feel shy in asking, “are you my guide?”
6) If you are listening to a soundtrack of drumming the end of your journey will be indicated by a series of rapid rhythmic beats, followed by several slow thrums. Now is the time to “come back.” I often like to retrace my steps, going back through the entryway I have chosen. If, at any time, you wish to end your journey early just retrace your path and head home. When I arrive back into my body I like to imagine my spirit sifting in from the top of my head and settling down firmly into my heart and all my limbs.
7) Take some moments before you move to deeply breathe and feel yourself completely in your body once more. Once you are ready, I highly encourage writing down an account of your journey. Consciousness most often speaks in metaphor and sometimes the deeper meanings will be made much clearer once you take time for reflection. If only a few sentences, jot down some impressions from your experience and close your journeying time with some gratitude for your guides and for the perfection of this particular journey.
Did you give the shamanic journey a try? I’d love to hear about your experience! Leave a comment below to share about your journey.