Shamanism, wtf? A Technology of the Mind

Yes, it involves the drumming, dancing and rattling that you imagine. And yes, to an outsider it could seem quite silly. Why on earth would someone do all that? Is it part of some primitive, escapist fantasy?

As a matter of fact, these are time-tested techniques to alter consciousness. Our ancestors didn’t have modern technology, but they developed something different: a technology of the mind. These techniques still work because the physiology of our minds is unchanged, even if our lives are very different.

Modern shamanic practitioners use these methods to experience deeper levels of consciousness. But if you’re like me, the old me, that doesn’t really explain anything. When I began studying shamanism, I didn’t really know what a soul was, or how to use it. Everyone talks and jokes about it, but couldn’t really explain it. That’s really sad, but it’s a situation that is easily remedied.

Try this exercise, from a meditation technique of Thich Naht Hahn, the famous Vietnamese Buddhist monk. It’ll only take a couple of minutes:

  • Close your eyes, and think of your favorite food. Maybe a slice of pizza, perhaps an ice cream cone.
  • Visualize it in detail; the bubbly toasted cheese, or chunks of strawberry or chocolate.
  • Now imagine all the love in the universe going to that object. Maybe you see it blobs of golden light, or rays of white light, all heading to that slice or scoop.

Do you have a slight grin on your face? A feeling of calm, or flickering warmth? That’s it, that’s your soul.

It’s more than a passing mood, it is a part of you drawn out to experience that feeling. It has a range of expression from sublime to, well, something like rock and roll, and much more. Once activated, it will stay present for awhile, giving you some time to explore its capabilities. With practice, you can maintain its presence for longer.

If you didn’t experience anything like that, don’t worry about it. It’s possible you’re trying to hard, or you’ve been working too much or are upset. One reason this can be difficult is that our intellect and will power are so strong they overpower our subtle creative and spiritual aspects. Make no mistake, we need a keen intellect and strong will power to survive, but are we truly alive if we only use half of our minds? What is the point of surviving if we’ve lost the whole?

Does shamanism seem reasonable to you now? I hope not; there is nothing reasonable about it! There are experiences to be had that will challenge your old definitions of ‘self’ and ‘reality.’ All mystic teachings lead to these lands; if shamanism doesn’t speak to you, I’m sure you can find another that does.

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