Experiences that push the boundaries become a dream oft forgotten. What do we do with this vision, with the dream once awakened? Is it well kept and hidden, safeguarded from the pangs of another dream called reality? Do we shout it out for all to hear? Are these words empty if not felled on deaf ears? Do we wait in poise like a wild cat stalking its prey, so patient and determined, lulled by yet another dream, a dream of a dream come true...
Last week I attended a vision fast guide training at the School of Lost Borders in Northern California, near Death Valley. The program included a 4-day and night fast in a chosen spot amidst the sun and rock -- no food, no shelter, no people. Just you, your pack, a few gallons of water, the landscape... and your intent.
People come to this ceremony for many reasons. To mark a significant change in their life. To release or let go of something. To heal and grow. To face fear. To receive vision. To transcend and transform. Yet in paring down the essence of why, every reason or purpose for coming to this ceremony is revealed as born of a common spirit, a common impulse that moves you in your depths.
Something is out there, and I am going to find it.
This impulse is in response to a growing need unfulfilled by the rhythm of a mundane modernity. It just isn't enough. There is something else, something more. A question unanswered. A sense of need, even desperation clawing at the deepest recesses of your longing. And it's not in vain or in passing; no, it grows and grows until it turns into a roaring that comes to define your life.
For some people, they just want to know. To know what it is. To know what it is they really want, and what they are willing to give to find out.
And so they come. The people come. It may not be a deluge but it is a flow. The rivers run, the rains come. Even in the midst of crag and dry and drought, the rains come.
For some it's their whole lives in question, and this is what they take to the fast: What am I doing? Who am I? Or it's simple, more refined: Do I take this new job? Do I need to relocate? It's often a transition from one phase to the next, a marking of passage: Adolescent to adulthood. Adulthood into elderhood. A quest marking marriage or parenthood. A quest for physical or emotional healing. It's in response to a spiritual desire or crisis. Asking the "big" ones: What is the meaning of life? What is the point of all this? And what is my place in this world?
Regardless of what it is, the common element binding each purpose together is the initial desire to perform the vision quest ceremony in order to mark or change something -- to become whole with something and fulfill that task, whatever it may be. Beyond this, it is only the courage and strength required to go forward, to undertake the journey.
Last month I attended the Pasadena Body Mind Spirit Expo to present and talk about shamanism. This was the first event of this type for me, and overall it was definitely a successful learning experience. I met several really interesting people and both days were filled with engaging conversation. While presenting, I was asked to interview with Dr. Carol Francis--a cutting edge psychologist who is on a mission to share with others opportunities to improve consciousness and live successful lives. The interview is a series of 10 practitioners in attendance at the expo, each sharing what they do. My segment begins around 71:00. Have a listen and enjoy!
Shamanism can sound arcane, exotic, distant, "other" -- and in the minds of many Western people, this is precisely how and where shamanism exists: somewhere "out there". It is liminal, on the edge of normalcy. The shaman is someone who dances and chants strange sounds to a rhythm only they can hear, a dancer in their own dimension; a crazy, eccentric person out of touch with "reality", moving to the beat of a long lost superstition.
For many people in modern society, who are so used to the comfort and security offered by technological advancement and amenity, the idea of practicing shamanism simply doesn't fit into the typical modern lifestyle. So what relevance does a so-called ancient, primitive practice have in the urban, modern world?
To really understand the relevance of shamanism in today's world, we have to first understand what exactly shamanism is. One of the first things to understand is that the pop culture portrayal of shamanism is not accurate. It is based largely in fantasy and gross generalizations that are passed along through various means -- texts, media, hearsay, beliefs, academia, etc. The propagation of this kind of thinking reinforces and creates common misconceptions and mysteries that continue to characterize what people know about shamanism. Yet, fundamental to knowing what shamanism is, is understanding that the only way to accomplish this is through your own participation and experience; the nature of shamanism is entirely experiential.
Shamanism is defined herein as an exploration of consciousness. Consciousness is defined as a state of being. Every thing that is manifest, including yourself, everything in your world, your thoughts, the universe, the past and the future -- all of these things are understood as states of being, or expressions of consciousness. The physical space is an expression of consciousness. The computer or device that you are reading this on is another example of consciousness -- which is simply something that is. This is what is meant by a state of being -- it exists, it is experienced. This ultimately leads to the understanding that consciousness is an expressed state of life, which is understood as synonymous with experience.
Thus, shamanism is a means of exploring the entirety of life and experience.
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.