ow 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:
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:
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.
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.
The shamanic journey in perspective:
There are five conditions that will help you become a successful journeyer. They are:
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