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At the Root: The Shaman's Journey Trance

Throughout time, shamanic practitioners are known for their ability to enter an altered state of consciousness, called a “journey trance”, and visit other worlds. These initiated, trained and chosen spiritual leaders practice as mediators between community members, the spirit realms and the natural world. Understanding the mechanisms for how energy moves, how illness operates, and how healing is bestowed are all the domain of the shamanic practitioner. 

A lot falls under the umbrella of the shaman. Many get caught up in web of all the different directions one can go in the study of shamanism. It is important to come back to the foundation from time to time and realize that in the root of the practice springs forth much of what shamanism has to offer.

The journey trance is that root. The attention and respect a practitioner gives to this method and concept is the foundation for all the dazzling and beautiful stories, healings, and teachings of shamanism.

Let us now travel to that root and explore the fundamentals of how the shaman's experience of the cosmos informs his/her spiritual growth.

We live in what shamanic practitioners call “ordinary reality”. From this vantage point we see a polarized universe. So much of what we experience, explain and judge comes in terms of pairs of extremes: black and white, good and bad, higher and lower.

We understand space as a defined area that contains objects. We trust when our five senses tell us we can only inhabit one space at a time. Here in ordinary reality, we also see time as linear. Our past is behind us and our future is ahead. We cannot travel back in time, but we do fantasize about it. We also philosophize about the circular and parallel natures of time, but in ordinary reality we struggle to actually experience and truly embody these metaphysical concepts.

Suffice it to say, that our ordinary world understanding says we are limited by time and space and we must choose one side over another because we can’t be in two places at once. This is the crux of why we struggle to deal with complexity in others and ourselves.

Shamanic practitioners are able to break free from these limitations during journey trances because the other worlds they are visiting, also called “non-ordinary reality,” “invisible worlds”, and “the dreamtime”, are unbound by the physical laws of our senses.

The shaman traveling in non-ordinary is working outside of time and space. Everything happens at once and in many places. Paradox is a common and accepted experience. There is no need to choose sides or hold a given perspective. In fact, the need to have an opinion hinders, rather than helps, the shamanic journey process. This reality is known to be “non-polarized” or “unified”.

We know that it can be hard sometimes to embrace an opposing viewpoint to ours. It is challenging to release expectations, our past experience, and what we know, especially when our viewpoint seems irreconcilable with another. This is paradox and complexity at its finest and a fantastic opportunity for learning.

Through the experience of non-ordinary reality and the shamanic journey trance, we come to learn that all is truth on some level, in some place, at some time, and that all individual and personal truths can exist at once. We also have the opportunity to experience universal truths that unite us all.

This helps us move further towards the state of non-attachment that Buddha taught about. Whether you are a Buddhist or not, you have likely encountered the benefits of releasing triggers. Allowing someone to have their truth without it being an affront to our own personal truth is a path many of us are on. 

I often discuss the field of shamanism as a container for anyone's cultural or spiritual beliefs. I work with clients of many faiths, some who believe in God and others who do not. But, rather than just an innate space where people can come to connect with the spirit world and their own inner guidance, shamanism is also a facilitator. It facilitates immense spiritual growth.

We so often think of spiritual growth as an upward trajectory. In today’s spiritual community, many term their path as one of going higher. We do things for the highest good and prize higher frequencies, but true spiritual evolution occurs in all directions and dimensions, both inward and outward.

In the shamanic landscape, we have an opportunity to experience, first hand, this multi-dimensional reality and grow in many directions at once. This can happen whether you are on the journey yourself or you have a shamanic practitioner performing the journey for you.

In shamanism, the healing techniques and end goals can become the focus, even the obsession. However, the phrase "enjoy the journey" has never been so apt. It is important to not skip over the great wisdom and experience that the basic, fundamental technique of shamanism, the shamanic journey trance, can bring. 


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Stacey Couch, creative mystic and Certified Shamanic Practitioner, is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She empowers people with the ability to explore life's big questions by calling on nature, story and synchronicity as a source for guidance and healing.


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