I don’t mean using voices and language the way that human beings do. Naturally, they talk tree. A language of the forest that relies upon a network of interconnected roots spanning the species boundary.
Read more on trees and communication at the Ascent.me blog: http://ascent.me/of-course-trees-talk-by-matt-toussaint/
When I was a kid, I would name the trees in my backyard. They all had distinct personalities and dynamic qualities including the ability to talk. I would spend inordinate amounts of time collecting their branches and sticks, talking with them about my life and theirs. My imagination was fascinated with their solid presence coupled with a mysterious aliveness that defied their seemingly fixed nature. They knew something and I wanted to know what that was.
Over two decades later, I find myself in the Amazon jungle and I’m still talking to trees. And they still have personalities and qualities and they do indeed talk back. Some are funny, some more reserved and laid back, others more serious, and they are all loving and willing teachers. I’m grateful to them for providing a sweeping range of extraordinary experiences on this journey. They’ve become among the most stable and reliable relationships in my life. My Maestro always mentions how important the trees are; our ayahuasca would not be the same without them.
Even now as I write this, I can feel them, like perpetual seeds bursting at the seam of each moment, reaching for a willing recipient of their roots and a source of light shining upon them – an attentive awareness – with which to aid in their expansion, and our bonded growth.
I now walk into the forest and feel enmeshed in a web of plant-ness, an ongoing conversation that never once left any of us out. We’ve only the task of listening.
Photo: Offering mapacho smoke to Remo Caspi.
A few days back from our San Pedro and Yoga Retreat, the density of Iquitos contrasts with the open-aired, expansiveness of the mountain-hugged Sacred Valley. What strikes me this time after another dance with Huachuma is how artfully it slips into your consciousness and rearranges your interior furniture, for the most part without you knowing. One of my teachers has described this process in a similar way, and now it’s dawning on me what he meant.
After landing back home I find myself in a very different place, with new space in my mind. The usual fare of feeling more tranquil, with a forward-leaning and hopeful gaze for what’s next, as well as the characteristic groundedness the Andean cactus never fails to leave in its gentle wake; all of this is present – yet there is something else. An opening, like an old but familiar doorway that is quietly, imperceptibly swinging on its hinges to reveal that not only is there an outside, but that outside is endless…
I won’t further attempt to describe the feeling; I’m drawing the short straw when it comes to the proper words here. Make no mistake that this is a feeling medicine. The intellectualizations of energy and consciousness and transformation and spirit that have compiled over the years now seep into the realm of feeling, without flare or drama and seemingly without effort. It just flows. And in the feeling there is depth and meaning.
I recall a few of the participants from the San Pedro tour exclaiming things like: “I don’t know what just happened, but I know something did and it’s working.” Or, “It’s amazing to me how much purging is going on here.” As well as, “It’s work but it’s so peaceful!”
San Pedro is not without its growing pains. Though the creaks and cracks that it prods within you are also not without the right balm, at the right time. Good medicine.
Sitting here in Iquitos, as the sun sets, noticing the shifting shades around me, the world settles into place as this moment beckons the next.
I like to fly.
Ungrounded, this mercurial mind will hip, hop, skip and otherwise free associate itself into near oblivion before finding something solid to tether to. Daily, I confront the seemingly daunting task of supplying Mercury with something beyond a whim to do – meaningful, guided action that is focused to some end. This often results in several multi-vocal conversations with myself before the pen scribes; before the body obliges or I decide it’s time to eat. It shouldn’t be a surprise then that one of the continuously playing records in my life-lesson rotation is about the need to ground.
After over a decade, I don’t quite have it down. Still, I’ve had some intensely spiritual experiences while performing mundane tasks like push-ups. I’m serious. The act of physical exercise – really, any kind of physical movement can be utilized – is a most effective means for grounding. Often just 20-30 minutes after a workout, my state of consciousness is so vastly different, I can’t even remember what the problem or resistance to starting the workout was in the first place.
Besides physical exercise, there are several other techniques that are commonly recommended for grounding. Walking outside barefoot on raw earth is a staple practice. The idea here is that the physical body to earth-body contact creates a circuit of energy that stabilizes you.
Sitting with trees is another way to draw down the dreaminess. Trees are emblematic grounders – roots buried, out of eyesight, stable, strong, straight, yet with their crowns open and receptive to the universe of light. In this, they truly are the masters; so much so that it is often just as effective to imagine yourself with roots, like a tree, extending from the soles of your feet into the earth. You can also summon the image of your spine as an energetic cord that continues beyond its terminus to tap directly into the ground beneath you – like a human taproot. Both methods can produce startlingly effective experiences of rootedness.
Other practices include working with stones: holding stones particularly suited to grounding in your hands, or lying down on bedrock while forging a unity between you and the planet. Almost any grounding ritual can work, as long as it gets the job done. What makes these practices effective is that they bridge the energetic connection between you and the earth across physical, mental, and imaginary landscapes. You are grounding your totality.
I’ve employed each of the above methods with enough success that my experiential reality must concede with, at the very least, the truth of their efficacy. They work. I do feel more balanced in my being afterwards. Whether it’s guiding someone else through an imaginary grounding ritual or an intentional exercise routine aimed at bringing down my energy, the results are uniform. I sink into my body, stabilize, find more clarity and generally feel more optimistic.
Up until recently, I considered grounding a basic element of practice, something that I would do regularly as support to other kinds of intentions or ceremonial work. It was never solely what I was doing, always ancillary. It was during one of these rituals that I glimpsed something else beyond the ground.
Employing visualization, breath focus and holding intention, I settle into my body. I see and feel the energetic cords that are projecting beyond my tailbone move fluidly but forcefully into the earth. As I often do, I imagine the taproot until it reaches the very center – that dense, metallic, electromagnetic core so important for keeping our planet suspended in space.
The usual process, once energetically tapped to the earth, is to bring the focal point back up and into the body, and continue with the remainder of the ritual while maintaining this rooted state. This time, however, I hear a voice tell me to keep going, to keep projecting that taproot beyond the earth’s center. I’ve come to recognize the quality of these internal promptings, and there was substance to the urging. I comply.
The cords burrow until they emerge on the other side of the globe. And as soon as they do, rather than break ground as roots, they explode upwards and out in all directions, forming a crisscrossing energetic net that instantaneously surrounds the earth, like an aura. The psychic zoom shifts perspective, and I see the earth from outer space, embraced by the shimmering blanket.
And it dawns on me – earth is suspended in the cosmos. When we ground, we are grounding to something that is flying, anchoring our bodies to an ultra-mysterious, cosmic entity that we call home. We are grounding to a massive, round chunk of matter that is floating, mid-air, held together and suspended by a series of not-very-well understood physical forces – not the least of which is the simple fact that nobody really knows where the universe came from to begin with!
This is what we are grounding to? A series of unknowns? Tethering our physicality to something that, at the very core and to the extent that we are capable of comprehending, is a great mystery?! Beyond the veneer of physicality, the concept doesn’t even have solid ground to walk on. The very ground that life is supposed to be built upon isn’t solid at all – it’s little understood.
This didn’t make sense. Grounding to me was about coming down to earth. It was about getting more human and less space-cadet; finding some modicum of harmony, acceptance, and useful engagement with the fleshy self. It is supposed to take you from the realm of “any which way but here” and plunk you solidly into a version of your existence that says: Hey, I’m here, I’m more balanced and focused, I’ve got some direction in my life and I’m being a human animal without my head in the clouds.
But, here, in this moment, as I connect more and more with the Earth, what I see and feel in its very ground is mysterious…
The perspective shifts again. I now see the earth, smaller, along with its neighbors, our solar system in full view. At the center is the grand conductor, the symphonious sun unmoving in its splendor, inspiring all the planets to dance as they do.
As I examine the relationships between these familiar yet shrouded cosmic bodies, it occurs to me that the earth is grounded – tethered – to the sun. Its stability is in an intimate weave with the sun itself…
Of course! This rudimentary spiritual tack called grounding is related to one of the most fundamental forces (yet little understood) of our physical universe: gravity.
Gravity is the grounding force. It is gravity – or what we call gravity – that is responsible for the formation of matter in the first place. It pulls things together. It also keeps things together. It helps to create patterns, stability and form. It enables vastly complex yet utterly and perfectly executed relationships between things of all shapes, sizes and dimensions to be created. In the story of the universe, gravity is the glue. It pulls on the fabric of space-time, creating funnel-like compulsions that are unavoidable. It is the macro-maestro of cosmic creation.
So here we are on earth, not quite grounded to the physicality of the earth but to the force that is created by nature of its physicality. It is through the ephemeral, essential power – gravitas – of the sun that grounds the earth; and the sun, too, is suspended in a space of near-nothingness via the gravitational forces that hold the galaxy together (likely a black hole, yet another vastly unknown phenomenon with obscenely high gravity). And so must galaxies be organized in a similar fashion, bonding with nearby neighbors in systems of galactic orchestration that can only tip the scale in one direction: its terminus, to the finest and furthest edge of the universe.
In some way, then, the universe is grounded to itself.
As I view this imaginary canvas of interrelationships, grand and small, the words of my teacher – as they so often do when I am seeing or learning something new – echo... “Earth is an astral realm…”
I finally start to understand what he means…
When we ground, we are grounding into something cosmic. We are grounding into the very nature and essence of what it means to be a human being – all of it, in its entirety.
We ground as beings of the cosmos composed of universal light, matter and energy. We take the entirety of our experiential landscape and say: Yes, this is who I am. I am grounded in my being. I am a being of outer space. I come from a planet. That planet is suspended in a soup of mysterious forces. These are the same mysterious forces that give rise to my life.
When I ground, I am grounding into this cosmic being. I am planting my un-earthly roots in the soil of stars. I am balanced while soaring. I appear to be unmoving, but I am hurtling through space as part of something beyond total comprehension.
I ground not only into this planet but into my truth. My energetic roots extend and burrow and plant themselves unwavering into the purpose of my being here. I ground myself into my human, animal nature. This is not something different than the nature of my cosmic or divine or universal self. I am a being of earth, earth is a being of the sun, the sun is born in a galaxy, and this galaxy a super-galaxy, and so we are from the universe.
The esoteric lesson of grounding is a claiming of our entirety, literally, as who we are on earth, and as on earth in the universe. The energetic roots that so often fall short of claiming wholeness are seeking more than the soil, but the soil from which the soul of our existence has been wrought.
Beyond the ground we see that we are born from and usher ourselves into mystery each day. We are dropping our anchors into a seeming-solidness, our roots claiming an elusive notion of density that ultimately depends on things unknown. This is not a paradox. If we were to ground into a notion that doesn’t include the ephemeral, untouchable element of our existence, we would be attempting something unattainable, dropping anchor in a bottomless ocean. If we plunge, roots first, into the mystery, we coincidentally find a deeper level of balance and stability beyond the ground: the ground of being.
This is a dance. It takes two to transform. The shaman and participant come together and in that convergence a new spirit is created. It is a single energy, a single flowing spirit that moves in the direction of the intention for the healing session or ceremony.
When your dance partner is trying to perform the tango while you are dancing the samba, neither partner can continue as a duo. There is a disconnection, a disharmony between what each of you is doing and what you think the other person is doing. There has to be a common thread that weaves this dance together. That thread is intention. Intention unifies the movement. It helps to focus and set the boundaries. It helps you know what steps your partner is taking, and what steps you need to take in order to allow them to guide you on the journey.
The shaman’s job is to create the space or the container for this to happen. They first open and then hold the space, guiding the movement by way of intention and supported through their invocations. They maintain a spiritual connection that allows them to channel new energies into the space while cleansing and releasing energies or spirits that are ready to be purged.
At the same time, as the participant, it is your job to remain open to the energies that the shaman is calling; to receive them. The more relaxed and calm in mind and body, gently focused, and free of resistance you are, the more receptive you can become. Receptivity to the process is a cornerstone of shamanic work and helps facilitate its efficacy. It is loosening the body and freeing the mind so that you can move in the space – follow the lead dancer – effectively.
In the same way that shamanism is co-participatory between shaman and participant; it is also co-participatory between the shaman and the spirits. Just as you are being guided to relax and receive, the shaman is doing the same thing. They are guiding themselves into a state of consciousness where they can receive the spirits and be guided on how to conduct the ceremony. Without the spirits, none of this would be possible. The shaman has to surrender to receptivity in the same way that you do. This is the role of mediator between worlds that is often discussed in traditional shamanistic studies. The shaman acts as the gateway between worlds: yours and the spirits. Through this connection, an all-directional triangle of energy is created. It looks and flows like this:
The shaman connects with and receives the spirits. The spirits lead the shaman, who in turn leads the ceremony, the movement of which in turn leads you. You connect with and become receptive to the shaman, and your connection with them turns into receptivity and connection to the spirits. In this way, each element of the dance is connected and interacting as one.
Anytime there is disconnect or resistance at any part of the flow, the process is hindered. This is a spiritual art that requires total participation: from you, shaman, and spirits. It is not a "show up and be healed" experience. The spirits will offer to help you, and they will only be able to do so in the amount that you let them. The shaman acts as a gatekeeper to the spirits he or she has trained to work with. Surrender and receptivity are active principles. They require your engagement.
And in doing so, in the receptivity and openness to the journey, the dance moves with fluidity and elegance. The experience is not so difficult. The shifts become palpable. Your perception heightens and becomes more refined. The understanding of what is happening is expressed with more lucidity. There is a feeling of movement. The work is being done.
This dance, this spiritual art is an invitation to empower yourself. It is an opening of space for you to take an active role in your transformation. It is a practice of empowerment, a dance of trance - formation. And in this dance, we dance together.
Mongolia has a rich shamanic history. Under Russian influence throughout the 20th century, shamanism became illegal and was forced underground. Despite the external pressure to eradicate the practice, shamans continued their craft until Mongolia gained its independence in 1990. Since then, there has been a revival of shamanic activity throughout the country. People are finding that these ancient rituals and practices, still intact from the ancestral past, are effective tools for navigating the multidimensional landscape of their contemporary world. They navigate politics, economic disparity and hardship. They investigate and uncover forgotten histories, reawakening their ancestral connections. This allows them to find meaning -- to literally re-member themselves, their people, the spirits of the land. This speaks to a key component of shamanic practice: the ability to create a world filled with meaning, depth and connection. This helps to fill gaps that remain in a scattered cultural, spiritual and social arena, one that actively sought the dissolution of shamanism and by extension, a way of life.
For Mongolian anthropologist Manduhai Buyandelger, this was not only a story close to home but a story to tell. In her account Tragic Spirits, she traces the evolution and implications of this newfound growth and interest in Mongolian shamanism.
I've always, always had a vision of integrative, comprehensive healthcare that includes not only lots of options, but options that address all dimensions of experience. Bringing shamans and other kinds of folk healers into the hospital setting is, at least to me, a no-brainer. There is room for all perspectives. Seemingly contradictory philosophies about health and healing can coincide. If it's truly about health and healing, then the opposition between modalities and perspectives shouldn't really matter; it's not about being right and castigating everything else. Health and healing should be about effective, safe and comprehensive care.
And in a Merced, CA hospital, this is exactly their way of approaching healthcare. The hospital has acknowledged the importance of cultural medicine and practices, and they now have a hospital-wide program that incorporates shamanic healing rituals alongside Western medicine. Largely initiated by the Hmong population in the region, patients, practitioners and hospital staff are all in accordance with the positive beneftis the program delivers. In the Ecuadorean mountain town of Riobamba, a similar program has been implemented, with similar successes. This kind of cultural incorporation, as well as working to bridge the philosophical gap between Western physical medicine and shamanic spiritual medicine, is an approach that could well enhance the overall efficacy of medical care everywhere. Read both articles here:
Have you ever wondered why in modern Christmas tradition we do the things we do? What is the origin of the Christmas tree, with the star on top, decorations about, and all the brightly wrapped presents beneath? Or the idea behind Santa Claus who jets around the globe in a magic sleigh with flying reindeer – defying both time and space – to deliver the world’s children a bounty of Christmas gifts? And since when did Santa and the birth of Jesus have anything to do with each other? Where do these stories come from – and better yet: what are we actually celebrating on Christmas morning?
There are answers to these questions. And the history is not so farfetched or even that hidden. You just have to know where to look. And the first place we look is the North Pole; seriously – in ancient Siberia, near the top of the world. The story of Santa and his likely origins begins where he supposedly lives: the frigid North.
In this wintry-wonderland, if you go searching for Santa, you may not find him or his Elvin factory – but you will find groups of indigenous people native to what we know as Siberia. Among these cultures are the northern Tungusic people, known as the Evenki. The Evenki were predominantly hunter-gatherers as well as reindeer herders. Their survival depended largely upon the health and vitality of their domesticated reindeer. The reindeer provided the Evenki and other northern tribes with everything from clothing, housing material, wares and tools from the bones and antlers, transportation (yes, they ride reindeer!), milk, as well as cultural and religious inspiration.
The Evenki were also a shamanic culture. The word “shaman” actually has its roots in the Tungus word saman which means “one who knows or knows the spirits.” Many of the classic shamanic characteristics that would later be reflected in cultures all over the world were originally documented by Russian and European explorers while observing the Tungus and related people’s religious life. This includes the three-world system, the shamanic journey or soul flight, the use of altered states of consciousness, animistic belief in spirit, and so forth.
A significant aspect of the shamanism practiced in this part of the world during that time was linked to Amanita muscaria, also known as the Fly Agaric mushroom. This mushroom is more widely accepted in the modern world as the Alice in Wonderland mushroom. It was held very sacred by these ancient people, and was used by the shaman and others for ceremonial and spiritual purposes. Amanitas – as you can tell by the pictures – range from brightly red and white to golden orange and yellow. They only grow beneath certain types of evergreen trees. They form a symbiotic relationship with the roots of the tree, the exchange of which allows them to grow. One of the reported ancient beliefs was that the mushroom was actually the fruit of the tree. Due to the lack of seed, it is also commonly held that Fly Agaric was divine – a kind of virginally birthed sacred plant.
Although intensely psychoactive, Amanitas are also toxic. One way to reduce the toxicity and increase the psychoactive potency was to simply dry them. When out collecting the mushrooms, people would pick a bunch of them under the evergreen trees and lay them out along the branches while continuing to pick the mushrooms beneath other trees. The result was something that looked very reminiscent of a modern Christmas tree: evergreen trees whose branches are dotted with bright red, roundish “decorations” – in this case the sacred mushrooms. At the end of the session, the shaman or harvester would go around to each of their mushroom stashes and put them all in one large sack… a large sack?!! Remind you of anything?! Not only this, as the story of the tradition goes, the shaman would then, carrying this large sack, visit the homes of his or her people and deliver the mushrooms to them. They would then continue the drying process by hanging them in a sock, near the fire!
Another way to reduce the toxicity of the sacred mushrooms is through human filtration. Once passed through the body, the toxic elements are apparently filtered by the liver and the resultant urine that comes out contains the still intact psychoactive elements. So they drank the filtered urine. But that’s only half the story. Somewhere in the mythic origins of this practice is the reindeer. Because the reindeer also love these mushrooms. They dig through the snow to eat them, and they also drink their own urine afterwards. So perhaps, long ago, one of the first shamans witnessed the reindeer’s love affair with this peculiar mushroom – as well as its propensity for eating its own freshly yellowed-snow – and saw how peculiarly it behaved as the romance heated up. The curiosity (indeed a hallmark characteristic of a shaman) couldn’t be contained, and the shaman did what he had to do: he first ate some of the yellow snow himself… and without a doubt realized the profound wisdom and magic not only in the mushroom, but in the reindeer. And so this romance, too, began…
However it may have happened in antiquity, the connection between the reindeer, the mushroom and the shamanism is apparent. A very common vision that one has while under the influence of Fly Agaric is precisely that: flying. Massive distortions of time and space occur, affecting scale in dramatic ways. Not only do you observe yourself flying, but also other things… like reindeer. It is not that difficult to connect the dots here. Shamanic people are deeply invested in their environment. They learn the magical and mystical properties of the natural world, and often assign a great deal of importance and sacredness to the bearers of that magic. For some of these ancient Siberian people, this power was charioted by the reindeer and the sacred mushroom. That the reindeer should have the ability to fly is evident not only in the vision, or their clearly altered state once intoxicated, but also in the wisdom they offered to the shamans by eating the mushroom in the first place, and for guiding them to do so just the same.
It wasn’t only the reindeer who could fly, but the shamans also took flight. As mentioned, the shamanic journey or soul flight is a keystone in shamanic practice and especially so in ancient Siberian culture. In order to interact with the spirits, the shaman had to be able to leave this world and enter theirs. This was accomplished by projecting his or her spirit from the physical and into the immaterial. They either needed the power to do this on their own, or use a spirit helper to take them. It is very common for shamans to develop relationships with birds, naturally, as they have the power to fly. But here, in the North Pole, what better animal to use than the magical, flying reindeer?
Sometimes, the greatest tragedies bring the greatest benefit. Our greatest strengths paradoxically sourced from the same root as our greatest weaknesses. The death of something old and worn, like a garment from a dying life, is necessary to usher in something new as it is reborn into another form that takes the shape of who we are now. Meta-physical composting. This is true for individual selves, as it is for communities, families, interpersonal relationships, nations and the entire world. Such is the path of transformation -- the evolution of the self, identity, spirit, and meaning.
This is also the way of the shaman. It is a way of transformation, from one state of being to another; from one way of engaging and knowing the world to the expression of something entirely new. This path brings healing, clarity, knowledge, capacity, growth and transformation -- but it can be a road wrought with difficult passages. It is essential to remember the basics, the foundation of our spiritual and personal paths.
And as we do, and apply what we know from the ground up, with each new realization that comes, and with each new intention that's planted in the soil of personal transformation, we grow. We change. We evolve. This is shamanic evolution. It is the action paired with shamanic intent that leads to manifestation. With each ceremony, each medicine experience, and every movement along the path, there is movement and change in the spirit -- in your spirit, and the spirits all around you. If engaged, it is inevitable: there will be change, there will be newness, and there will be growth and development.
But you have to do it. This is a path of action. It is the engagement of the intention that creates the movement, not the desire for the change to happen. The desire for change can be formed into a pattern that actually works against the ultimate resolution of your intention. Part of the challenge that is faced when trying to transform ourselves and our lives is that wanting to change these things is an integral aspect of the same cycle that actually works against fostering the desired changes. It's tricky, a Catch-22. It would seem like wanting to change something is a necessary first step in order to initiate that change. But when that desire is coupled to the continuation of a cycle that does not include taking the necessary actions, it gets worn into a pattern of not doing, and thus no manifestation and no change. You find yourself right back where you started: having the same kinds of challenges or problems, constructing the rationale about the problems in your mind, wanting to change those problems, telling yourself you are going to do it, and then not doing what it takes to make it happen but continuing to have the thoughts and desires about it.
This is because the action of change is independent of the desire. The desire is only satisfactory in the dimensions of the mind. And because the desires and thoughts are experienced entirely in the mind, they satisfy the mind just enough in order to keep the cycle going. They are essential to the cycle that perpetuates not transformation, but continuation of sameness and stagnation. Thinking about doing something or wanting to do something isn't a requirement to actually get up and do it. Consider it. Do you need to think about walking in order to walk? Do you have to think about eating in order to eat? How many times have you done something that you didn't really want to? For instance, physical exercise: How often do we think in our minds that we really don’t want to exercise, and then do it anyway? Or how many times do we create the plan to change something about ourselves or our lives and then never do it -- like for New Year's resolutions?
The action is independent of the desire. The desire can't ever manifest into something. It will always and only be a desire. So it's really simple. Shamanism, or any kind of transformative experience or path, is dependent on your actions and what you are doing. And so despite the mayhem and chaos found in the mind, and regardless of all the fear that keeps you from moving, here it is: the doing is the doing is the doing IS the change.
Trance can be defined as a specific state of consciousness. (Read more about defining shamanism and states of consciousness here.) So this means that you are always in a specific state of consciousness, which means that you are already in a trance state. Thus, whether or not you have the ability to be in trance is not in question. Difference trance states are the norm in terms of human experience, and everybody experiences multiple trance states throughout a single day. What is challenging about trance in the context of shamanic practice is learning how to intentionally move from one trance state to another for specific purposes. Often, this specific purpose is to practice some kind of ceremony or ritual.
Guiding oneself from one state of consciousness to another can take time to learn. Shamanic traditions throughout the world often include various techniques for establishing deeper trance states. Some of these practices include inducing sacred substances, fasting, solitude, isolation for long periods of time, sensory deprivation, ecstatic dancing, and so on. As a modern person practicing shamanism, a challenge that we face is finding ways to incorporate trance into urban lifestyle, often with less time and less-than-optimum spaces for deep trance practice. For instance, long periods of isolation and sensory deprivation are not practices that are supported by modern lifestyles.
Even so, there are absolutely ways that shamanism can be practiced and integrated into daily living. Here some suggestions that can help enhance the ability to deepen your trance experience. These are based on experimentation, keeping both traditional trance practice and modern lifestyle in mind.
Consider the many varieties of dance and movement that are involved in shamanic and other ceremonial practice. Getting your body involved by dancing and moving rhythmically is a time-tested trance inducer. Any kind of repetitive movement ranging from tapping the floor, rocking back and forth, bobbing your head, or even something like pacing or walking around in circles can help deepen trance. Consider changing the tempo, beat, intensity, and duration of your movement to discover what works best for your state of mind and body. Try something slow and monotonous, or wild and exhilarating. Be creative and free.
Establishing regularity and structure in your ceremonial practice is grounding and can be especially productive if you naturally resist or have trouble with regular schedules. Creating rituals that support you can include having a set time and place to perform ceremony and induce trance. This is not meant to be onerous, but to help you build a structure that supports your growth. Regularity when inducing any kind of trance state - i.e. trances linked to exercise or meditation - is incredibly powerful and encourages enhanced ability and strength over time. This is exercise for your mind and spirit.
Change it Up
On the other end of this spectrum, too much monotony can breed a lack of focus and harbors the potential for discouraging practice. The impulse here is to do something different - or do everything different. Change the set and setting. Find new music to listen to. Incorporate different rituals. The creativity is up to you. But if you find that your ceremonial practice is becoming mechanical and you aren't satisfied with the results, then it may be time to revisit the drawing board and create a new space and protocol. Some of the other suggestions in this post are good starting points for finding new ways to practice.
This one is a lifeline for me. And it can be as simple as going out on a balcony, sitting in your backyard, walking through a nearby park, or as extreme as taking a backpack into the forest overnight with the intent to do nothing but practice ceremony for 12 hours straight. The nature spirits have a way of taking your mind off whatever it is focused on and guiding you to focus on something else - if only the nature spirits themselves. Shamanic traditions around the world are rooted in nature-based practices. This is an unlimited resource for creating ceremony - and the first step is to get outside and start exploring.
Connect to Your Voice
Your voice is an incredibly powerful spirit. Many spiritual practices incorporate medicine songs, different kinds of chanting and vocalizations as a way of enhancing, guiding, and changing experience. Being vocal during your ceremony has a way of propelling you from one state of consciousness to another. And it doesn't necessarily matter what you vocalize - from simple sounds to elaborate invocations - but the intent driving your vocalizations will affect the space differently. You can try simple repetition, include alterations in rhythm and volume, or rise into an ecstatic crescendo, all geared towards shifting you into a new state of trance.
Try playing an instrument as part of your ceremony. Drumming and rattling work great as recorded tracks, but they can be even more effective when played live. Like vocalizing or singing, playing music has an uncanny ability to alter your consciousness. If you don't have a drum or rattle, any instrument will do, as will tapping a beat on a bucket, the floor, a pot or pan, or whatever you got. This can also help train your focus as well as keep you moving.
This is a new discovery for me. I noticed that while lying in bed and drifting off to sleep, my visionary space opens dramatically. Guides manifest, shamanic vision becomes crystal clear, and thoughts are less inhibitive and distracting. Perfect for trance. Now I will purposefully perform ceremony at night when under normal circumstances I would have just gone to bed. It takes practice to keep from dozing off - and it's no problem if you do - but it is worth all the effort to remain lucid. This half-asleep, half-awake state can produce radical shifts in perspective, perception, and shamanic ability...
Under the Moon
It's amazing how much one simple change in the definition of space - the darkness of night rather than the light of day - can shift your consciousness. Some shamanic traditions will only perform certain rituals and ceremonies at night and hold the belief that spirits are more accessible once the sun goes down. While spirits are always present and accessible,performing ceremony at night (especially outside in unfamiliar places) can have a profound impact on your state of consciousness. Experiencing the night is a trance state of its own - harness it!
This is another mainstay in trance practice. Working with breath alone is sometimes all you need to establish deep trance states. Meditation is a kind of trance that focuses on and utilizes breath. So is exercise. As well as sleep. In all of these states of consciousness, there is a correlated pattern of breathing. By purposefully focusing on and changing breathing patterns, the state of consciousness attached to your breath can shift. And the creativity found in different ways to alter your breathing is unbounded and gives you the freedom to explore your breath as a vehicle to changing your experience.
Implementing and establishing a solid trance practice can also help move you beyond doubts. It is common for doubt to creep into the space when attempting to shift your consciousness. All kinds of creeping thoughts emerge. This is a key point in the practice. In becoming proficient at deepening trance, you will continue to move into spaces free of doubt, while simultaneously propelling your consciousness to new states that strengthen and nourish the growth of your shamanism - and this, the growth in your life and in yourself.
Matt Toussaint has immersed himself in shamanic practice and exploration for the past 10 years. He currently resides in Peru where he serves as an apprentice shaman and facilitator at a plant medicine retreat center. Read more.