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How the Shamanic Journey Transformed My Meditation Practice

Many of my earliest childhood recollections happen in nature. Sitting at the banks of a creek in rapt silence, marveling at the tenacity of crocuses blooming in late winter, and singing, drumming, and dancing surrounded by forests and fields. In my relationship to the earth, I discovered knowledge, enchantment, and magic. Truly, nature was my first dharma trainer. While I didn’t have the language for this at the time, my fingers can now hint the shamanic undercurrent current in these earliest experiences of the sacred.

It is that this undercurrent that has develop into a transformative a part of my dharma observe and my life. And, it seems I’m not alone on this. Whether by books like Zenju Earthlyn Manuel’s The Shamanic Bones of Zen, the rising recognition of wilderness meditation retreats, and even the progress of psychedelic-assisted therapies, we at the moment are waking as much as a lot of the shamanic foundations of meditation, dharma, and therapeutic. 

It was solely after a few years of Buddhist observe that I discovered myself reconnecting with the highly effective experiences of my childhood and coaching as a shamanic counselor. I now use shamanic journey work and different practices for non secular inquiry, private progress, and therapeutic. While at occasions this sort of observe contrasted with my Theravada Buddhist background, it has additionally introduced me again to the magic and marvel of a few of my most significant meditation retreats, and given me new instruments to strengthen my very own observe and assist others in theirs. 

At the coronary heart of issues, Buddhism and shamanism each share some important traits: they search to discover consciousness and to carry forth a sort of liberation, stability, or therapeutic. The phrase “shaman” even has etymological ties to the non secular seekers of the Buddha’s day. Stemming from the time period “saman,” which means “one who knows,” in the Tungusic language household of Eastern Siberia, this root phrase is strikingly just like the Pali “samana” and the Sanskrit “sramana”—a contemplative, wandering ascetic or monastic, very like the Buddha himself. The idea of shamanism is just not particular to at least one tradition or lineage, however reasonably refers to earth-based non secular practices that may be present in the historical past of practically each indigenous tradition, from Tibet to Ireland to Senegal, and past. Wherever people have related in a sacred method with the earth, it seems that some type of shamanic observe has sprung forth.

One of the commonest practices discovered throughout quite a few cultures is the shamanic journey, a meditative kind usually accessed by a strategy of visualization, accompanied by repetitive, rhythmic drumming, with the drum’s beat serving as an auditory driver that entrains the practitioner right into a trancelike state. The practitioner enters into this altered state of consciousness and connects with a information—a supply of interior knowledge that may take the type of a lightweight, a deity like Kuan Yin, an animal, a facet of the earth itself, or one thing else fully—for the goal of therapeutic and non secular inquiry. Through this connection, an individual might have visionary experiences and are available away with insights that would not be accessed by our on a regular basis, pondering thoughts. In truth, current findings from the University of Michigan’s Center for Consciousness Science point out that shamanic journey work can result in experiences of unity, ego dissolution, and insightfulness at ranges just like or higher than a variety of psychedelics.

In this observe, knowledge and therapeutic are revealed by imagery, messages from a information, and the intuitive sense of the particular person embarking on the journey. I’ve labored with purchasers who skilled collapse or hurt of their sangha to achieve, by the journey, a way of closure the place none was realistically doable in bizarre life. In the altered state of the journey, they obtained knowledge and assist from their guides, spoke their thoughts to a trainer they had been now not involved with, and reclaimed their very own energy and a newfound sense of peace. In different conditions, these I work with have been pointed towards deeper truths: a younger lady battling trauma was provided the security and mirroring from her information that she by no means obtained as a toddler and was capable of glimpse her inherent worthiness. A person grappling with a profoundly painful interior critic was capable of see the essential voice as empty of self and able to be launched.

I’ve seen this sort of journey assist purchasers in deeply understanding the interior workings of their very own struggling, constructing a deeper sense of belief in themselves and their observe, and bringing peace to locations the place confusion, craving, or aversion beforehand ran rampant. It is an extremely highly effective contemplative and therapeutic kind, and I like to share it with longtime meditators because of this.

But lengthy earlier than I got here to the shamanic journey, I fell in love with the dharma. In my early days of dharma observe, I voraciously attended as many silent retreats as I might. I discovered in the silence a profound pleasure and a way of reconnection to the states of awe and thriller I skilled as a younger youngster. In my first retreats, long-forgotten recollections rushed again: bringing sweets and different choices to a close-by stream and leaving them for the unseen beings I imagined lived there, closing my eyes and sitting alone in my bed room as a 6-year-old, watching ideas seem like bubbles from the backside of a deep lake. Retreat observe introduced me again to these formative experiences of the sacred.

As fashionable practitioners of an historical mystic custom, how can we make area for its inherent magic in the twenty first century?

Over the years, I listened as elder lecturers shared their experiences in India with iconic figures like Dipa Ma, who was identified to have exact recall of previous lives, amongst many different miraculous talents. Dipa Ma turned a beacon for me—not simply as a mystic, but in addition as a girl practitioner and a householder. But whereas my lecturers’ voices had been crammed with awe, their tales typically left me feeling as if that chance of highly effective, mystic expertise was relegated to a different period. Where was the area for encounters with the sacred inside our hectic, technology-driven lives? 

While communities round me rode the cresting waves of secular mindfulness, this query lingered. Beginning round 2010, as smartphone meditation apps gained prominence and lots of Western convert Buddhist communities embraced the scientific research of mindfulness, I started to come across a dharma that was more and more touched by the influences of capitalism; productiveness tradition; the erasure of earth-based, Asian, and indigenous practices; and a patriarchal distrust of the numinous. This fashionable dharma was in an accessible, secular language that even non secular skeptics might belief, and analysis had proven again and again that these historical practices had been efficient and evidence-based. But I questioned, how a lot of the mystic, intuitive facet of observe had been we sacrificing in alternate for scientific gravitas?

Throughout this time, I additionally encountered a number of lecturers who might embrace and lead from this place of mysticism. One trainer, in a tone that appeared half reverent and half mischievous, smiled and exclaimed, “The Buddha was a shaman!” throughout her dharma speak on a two-month retreat. Even with out shamanic coaching, one thing in these phrases rang with reality for me, and I held them shut.

As I started to come across the shamanic journey, this trainer’s phrases resonated much more, and it felt clear that the mystic facet of my observe had discovered a welcoming residence. Quickly, I noticed that journey work and meditation complemented one another superbly. Through the journey, I might extra simply entry a lot of the transcendent experiences and insights that occurred for me in durations of intensive silent retreat, and collectively, shamanic and Buddhist practices provided new avenues to discover my understanding of the dharma.

This shifted my relationship to observe. Instead of “just noting,” as so many lecturers would encourage throughout extra visceral or visionary experiences in meditation, I discovered that I might name on my journey observe for assist on the cushion, take heed to my very own intuitive figuring out, and be open to the expertise itself as a trainer in a deeper method. With this method, observe turned extra vibrant, extra artistic, and extra related to the pure world. The path started to have a higher sense of wholeness as a result of no elements of myself or my expertise had been ignored. 

Today, after I information others in shamanic journey work, we regularly discover these territories of exclusion. What has been ignored in our observe that longs to be built-in and included? What messages has our tradition given us about spirituality, and the way does that affect our expertise of the sacred? Can we belief intuitive consciousness, or are we gripped with doubt and skepticism? All of that is a part of our observe and a part of the path. 

Like most shamanic practitioners, the Buddha frolicked in nature in a deep meditative state, connecting with seen and unseen features of actuality, and bringing again knowledge that would ease struggling. While occasions have modified, and we is probably not wandering ascetics or samanas anymore, this continues to be our job. As fashionable practitioners of an historical mystic custom, how can we make area for its inherent magic in the twenty first century?

Perhaps it first begins with opening our minds and imaginations to new potentialities. So many Buddhist tales are shared by the extra animistic or shamanic lenses of the Buddha’s time however as we speak are seen solely as metaphors. The devas seem at the delivery of the Buddha, a bunch of monastics carry metta observe to a haunted forest, or the earth herself rises up on the eve of the Buddha’s awakening. In the shamanic context, these encounters is perhaps seen as visionary messages emanating from a unprecedented subject of knowledge and compassion, however in our fashionable tradition they simply shrink right down to a fiction. 

Of course, these tales are extremely helpful as easy allegories, however I’m wondering, has our historical past of mystic expertise was fantasy as a result of our fashionable creativeness can not include the chance of one thing extra magical, extra wild? Is it doable for us to reclaim mysticism as a significant basis of our path? What would the historic Buddha advise—the one who sat at the foot of the Bodhi tree in a profoundly altered state of consciousness? I think about he would possibly smile gently and say, “Ehipassiko”—come see for your self. 


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