I encounter this question and comment very regularly. One of the first things I say is have patience and compassion for yourself. We are immersed in a world which places increasingly high value on NOW. Shamanic journeys can be very challenging. It can be very hard to quiet the endless procession of thoughts, grocery lists & fears. Anytime we enter into a realm we are unfamiliar with we are likely to encounter resistance in one form or another.
When minds can’t find things, they engage with the random. A desert ant that can’t find its nest starts hunting randomly. When we get stuck on a problem we can’t solve, our minds throw back to a scenario which may be similar. If we are stuck in analysis, it is very hard to continue with the experience. If your mind is on a nonstop hamster wheel it will be more challenging for you to quiet the mind.
It is not always necessary to stop the mental chatter. Shamanic journey has the extra challenge or bonus, depending on how you view it, of being in two worlds at the same time. You do have the ability to ease into relationship with the constant chatter mind & tune the chatter out. In shamanic journeying, you have to learn to tune out what is going on in the room you are journeying in, and tune into the world of the journey. Sometimes, while you are tuning out what is happening “back in the room,” you can also tune out your mental chatter.
I have used this analogy before, but I will use it again, create a comfy chair right at the entrance to your spirit world. Sit your critical and/or chatter voice in the chair and let it know you will pick it up and after the journey. Just as a child might sit in a corner with toys to play, while the adults visit. I have had really positive feedback with that through the years. It might work for you.
One of the benefits of the shamanic journey work is that it engages both the right and left hemisphere. The right is in mystical sight mode and the left is recording and analyzing. This can be, and often is, a huge stumbling block for the new experiencer and can trip up a skilled experiencer.
We have been searching for meaning, likely since we created the first bead, signifying, symbolically we are “separate from”. Our Ancestors have been pondering these exploration of soul and self for thousands of years. Evidence has been left through art, altars, sculptures as well as burial mounds, to name a few. Darkness, in a journey, is one signal you are trying to understand a problem/ new experience by confronting your psyche’s version of reality. The sensations, knowing’s & insights appear random but are rife with meaningful interpretations. My experience with journey work has reorganized my natural biases by being forced to consider alternative views and interpretations of reality, leading to new insights.
Our Shaman ancestors apprenticed, some their entire lives, some a few years… they knew, and I tell you now, dipping out of consciousness into the personal subconscious and further slipping into the Collective Unconscious takes practice.
The word “perception” when describing something internal or external is generally connected to the visual receptors only. Perception is much deeper than visual input. Our perception is only as perceptive as we are in determining what is my (insert baggage here) and how does that, or can that, influence how I interpret what I have experienced. Try to perceive with all your senses. The more intensive the perception is, the more present you are. Even in the dark there are no limitations on how you travel. Can you access your physical self during a journey? Do you feel temperature changes, or sensations in the body such as denseness, heaviness, lightness, tingling or an anxiety response? The way down will end at some point. That being said I have dug my way in total darkness trying to get into the lower world during journeys. What I should have done is given myself permission to go back to my anchor spot and look for a new opening. I have experienced obstacles blocking my way. I now use my skills at perceiving without light to detect them and move around them. At times it may feel like the wind or air is pushing back against me. At other times I encounter webs or an entanglement of what feel like roots in my way; I use tools which I have on me at all times. Have you considered taking tools with you, or having them present when you enter into sacred space?
Sometimes we seem to leave logic at the first sound of the drum beat. Some of the tips from other beginners:
If in darkness reach out and turn on the light switch; use a flashlight, use a good old fashioned torch, if you do hands on healing, turn your hands on and light up the space. There are different ways to attempt to catch a glimpse of your spirit world.
If you have tried some of the logical approaches to lighting the darkness, perhaps there truly is a door blocking your view. If your view is blocked, you cannot see anything. Perhaps reaching down and finding a door handle will work, or perhaps you reach up and take the blindfold off your own eyes. It can take more than one approach to bring light to the darkness.
Journeys enables us to make clear a part of our mind that is often hidden, and often even more challenging to interpret. When we are experiencing challenges with journeys, keep in mind you are attempting to make clear the often confusing mystical like symbols which lurk quietly just below your present understanding of reality. Your mind is the place where meaning evolves. As your skills increase through time you will have a better means of understanding your journeys, insights and “a ha” moments.
“I get stuck” is another frustrating obstacle to journey work. In logical brain, the first impulse would be to look down, to find the reason why the feet won’t move. In some of my guided meditations I ask the participants to look down and see what they are walking on. I also ask them to pay attention to any other sounds, or smells. I ask them how the air feels on the skin. All of these questions are equally important to ask when you are experiencing difficulty with journeys, and even if you have been at it for a very long time. What is available to your senses, if your primary way of processing the world around you is removed.
Life is experienced through as many filters as there are humans to perceive them. One technique you and a friend, or your drumming circle should you be lucky to be a part of one, to try is journeying together, to the exact same target, in the exact same room and listen to the differences of each person reporting back. Everyone sees and reacts differently to the environment they are in. Each of us has to process our experience through our personal filters. At times expectations or doubts are so huge that all other movements are inhibited, literally standing in your own way. Skepticism, although very healthy, can be a joy sucker. We cannot always easily escape our cultural, social and educational biases. It is not always as simple as “look this is real, just get over yourself and everything will become clearer”. The psyche can be elusive to engage. Perhaps you are a human who predominantly perceives your world by hearing things or sensing things. I encourage you not to give up just because you don’t see anything.
Have you ever experienced “… and then I end up here, but I don’t have a clue how I got there”? There are often are leaps between scenes. This is common especially when in light trance, and is completely normal and is often more confusing then problematic. As I spent more time in the Spirit World I jumped unconsciously between scenes less and less. It can and does still happen, however now I just see it as Spirit hurrying me along. J Our minds often wander, don’t chastise yourself for that, just take a breath, come back into the room, tune into the drum, and start again at the last place you remember being.In the beginning, the vision often is a little unclear.
The first journeys may well feel like they were just imagined. That is perfectly normal and expected. Nobody is born a master. Journey work takes practice. Learning how to interpret what you saw takes practice. You can ask different people to interpret your journey for you, and perhaps they can give you some crucial insights, but no one can truly interpret your experience because no one was there with you. I have accidentally stumbled on meanings of journeys by randomly reading something related. Or when I am writing my journey out, accessing the left brain to put words and interpretations to the symbols and visions I have had.
At the beginning of your exploration of any spiritual path, answers are being sought. We perceive as we have been taught. At first we perceive in the most basic of ways – a mother may mean the individuals mother, later upon reflection there may be a relationship between the mother in your journey and the archetypal mother in the collective unconscious. Perception is not just visual, but encompasses perceiving from different senses and different angles.
Everyone is unique, and in turn makes sense of the Spirit World in their own unique way. Through time we either add to, or create our own personal mythology. I have drawn maps of my spirit world, as a means of creating and understanding the geography of where I generally traveled. There are places I journey to where my sight is not useful. I don’t draw maps anymore, but I do often turn in 360% in my anchor spot, as that landscape has gone through many shifts and changes through the years. It is a direction reflection of how my views and perceptions have also shifted. The landscape of the spirit world is never the exact same twice, for me. However, there are certain symbols (things) which I use as a means to scan the world around me. Symbols and locations such as the world tree, the entrance to the land of the dead, the river separating twilight and the dead, the cave of lost children as examples of permanent locations in the spirit world. The places we travel to, are not uninhabited. The spirit world runs independent of you. This place is definitely is not made of sunshine wishes and candy cane kisses, but the origin of many myths and beings who populate them.