A Shaman's Path in the 21st CenturySubmitted by scatter on Tue, 04/10/2007 - 1:08am
Breathing New Pathways Into My Head and Heart
Sometime around the beginning of February, when the days were dark and edge of spring seemed a long way off, I paid a visit to Sky. Sky is a woman in her mid-50’s who has spent many years of her life immersed in spiritual practice and the healing arts. She lived as a Buddhist monk for seven years – Zen and Tibetan, trained as a body centered, somatic therapist and studied Peruvian shamanic practices. She’s also had a really crazy, interesting life, and is a very good listener and storyteller. Last season I had seen her regularly as kind of a shamanic therapist/life coach for a couple months until I stopped having the money to pay her and started feeling uncomfortable with what felt like an awkward financial relationship. I always end up feeling like that with therapists. But she was the first healer person I ever worked with who had the ability to give me practical frameworks for thinking about the complex things I struggle with that the mainstream psych world only knows to call “psychosis.” By acknowledging that I had “inner voices” that not only talk to me but talk amongst each other, Sky allowed a huge and incredibly helpful awareness shift to take place in my consciousness. I’ve always had a lot of respect for the power of my dreams, but never had the tools to delve into my subconscious and pull helpful pieces out and try to make sense of them. Sky introduced me to a whole new fascinating vocabulary full of things like “tracking and journeying through dimensions”, “traveling between worlds safely” and the performing of “soul retrievals.” I’m always been skeptical by nature, especially about stuff that rubs me as self-serving New Age, culturally-appropriative hippy bullshit, but everything I was learning from Sky was actually very practical healing techniques and dealing with fundamental issues of trauma and safety and spiritual groundedness. And it was also really fascinating.
Anyway, this past February I showed up at her house disheveled and exhausted. I’d gotten lost on the way to her house even though I’d been there a dozen times before. My head was just somewhere else. I was in the sad process of breaking up with my girlfriend, I’d been traveling and my sleeping schedule was totally off, my house was cold and empty, I didn’t feel at home in the city or the country. I felt extremely rootless and had no structure to my days, living off of savings after taking a month off from Icarus work. So much of what gives my life meaning is my ability to be helpful to other people, but I was having a hard enough time taking care of myself. I felt really desperate.
I was also smoking way too much weed for my fragile freaky bipolar chemistry. I have a complex love/hate relationship with marijuana that goes back a bunch of years, and I always end up with singed wings if I get too close to the flames and don’t treat the plant with the respect it deserves. But the flipside of my pot smoking was that I was writing some of the best stories of my life, working on the structure of my dream book, the book that’s been burning inside of me for years and is now screaming to get out. Smoking weed opens up these parts of my brain I only know how to access when I’m stoned – whole other sets of memories and perspectives. It’s become a pretty essential part of my creative process in recent years. And I come to feel so comfortable in it; it becomes hard to cope without it once I’m in the rhythm. But it’s like I’m a whole different person who’s not as reliable or trustable but has crazy superpowers. It’s like bottled mania for me – so tempting when it’s around. So I was stoned and spacey but really tapped into what for me is an important frequency – the hallucination station, the out-there brilliant edge space -- spending hours every day in a trance-like state, time traveling with my eyes closed and transcribing everything I found swimming around my head into little scribbled parables and clues that connected together into my own psych meta-map of consciousness. But that shit can only last so long and I was coming unraveled and knew it more than anyone.
That night Sky sat me down and taught me a basic grounding exercise – envisioning a cord going from my body down into the center of the earth. Simple breath work. We talked quietly in her room filled with books and shrines with sage and stones and feathers and photographs of her family and teachers. She made me an offer that immediately shook me out of my foggy headspace. First of all, she said, she could teach me how to do all the things I was doing with weed without smoking. And with real control, she said. First you need to be grounded or I’m not going to teach you anything about really flying. So she offered that I become one of her students. That she teach me what she knows about being a shaman from the ones who have taught her, so that I could teach others and pass on the knowledge. In exchange I could work with her and build her a garden, help her create her spiritual community center in Red Hook. That night was a big turning point for me.
So I went off and finished my winter travels and when I returned a few weeks later we started working together. And we’ve been working together regularly for a little while. She gives me meditation exercises. I study the work of her teacher, Alberto Villoldo, on my own, and for the first time in my life I’m immersed in a spiritual practice. And It feels incredible and I’m so grateful for it. I’m also still really skeptical of New Age wooiness, and sometimes it feels like I’m teetering dangerously on the edge of it, but I’m opening myself up to possibilities I never allowed myself to imagine. And I feel like I’m on an incredible journey with a bus full of different voices that all have different takes on the matter. I’m learning a whole new vocabulary and spiritual anatomy and powers of walking through different dimensions. I actually sit with myself now and meditate and I’m just scratching the surface of realizing the incredible power of focusing my mind and going internal. I have no desire to smoke weed these days at all – I’m going to places in my head that are so out there I feel like I have to have all my senses with me. Which is amazing.
So these are my first writings about the whole process. I’m looking forward to documenting more of this journey. These days I meditate and keep my journal next to me and write afterwards as if I’m transcribing my dreams.
Journal entry 3am 4/5/7
Learning new pathways in my mind and the universe from just sitting and breathing.
Amazing what I can do if I just let myself breath and open up and let myself visualize and talk to the voices that are always there anyway.
It’s so much better than any movie on the silver screen.
It’s like lucid dreaming but I’m so much more in control of when it starts and stops.
Once I get going I feel like I’m just dipping my foot into different pools, opening up different doors, checking out the scenes, exploring the first sets of boundaries.
I went through the usual routine tonight – check my posture sitting on the floor, legs crossed, index fingers pointed down against my spine, some deep breaths transitioning into fire breath--rapid in and out through my nose (hope my housemates don’t hear me! don’t think about it!) blow it out, three inhale breaths – hold the air in my lungs, slowly and controlled squeeze my perineum muscle over and over again and envision gold liquid rising up from the center of the earth and all the way up through my root chakra to my hara to my solar plexus to my heart chakra. slowly exhale when i can’t take it anymore. more fire breath, hands above my head index fingers pointing up, squeezing the silver light of the stars down through the crown of my head – through my third eye – future throat chakra meeting and mixing with the gold in my heart – more fire breath – more gold coming up through the earth. i’m starting to feel more centered, rooted in the ground, hands on my knees breathing in between. I imagine my chakras as whirling funnels of multicolored light, spinning with my breath. Keep breathing. I’m smiling with my eyes closed – I can feel it, the gold and silver mixing in my heart. I feel the energy like a little tornado spinning right down my center. Keep breathing. Hands clasped above head, fire breath, squeeze that p muscle, bring in the light of the stars, try to focus on my third eye. This is the final sequence – already? woah, I got lost in there. Breath. Breath. You are light. You are luminous. Feel your light body expanding. I’m talking to myself. Wait a minute – it’s you! Uh-huh. We’re here waiting for you.
I let myself wander in the symbolic landscape – images flow past my closed eyes. My guides are shapeshifters – Friar Tuck, goofy looking cartoon bear holding a staff from the old Disney movie Robin Hood. Ha! And then Harrison Ford as Han Solo from Star Wars gives me a knowing wink. Whatever, kid. Breath. Let it flow. We’re here watching out for you. We’re always here. I smile.
I raise my hands up to where Sky says the Wiracocha is – the 8th chakra above my head – bringing my arms down on either side of me “like a peacock opening its feathers.” Breath. I scan for holes in the field just like she says to do. Usually I don’t see anything but this time I actually see something at 10 o’clock above to my left, like a black smudge. Am I making this up? Whatever, just play along. Pretend it’s a dream. I try to fix it like Sky instructed me to do but instead it’s just like I’m smearing it with greasy hands – I smash it with my fist and the field shatters like shatterproof glass – deep breath – i shatter the whole thing with my mind and it reappears fully intact without the black smudge. Smile, Breath. Just keep breathing. Whatever.
I feel for my bands of power and breath into them for awhile.
I raise my arms back up – bring some of the energy from my 8th chakra into my crown and third eye. I tap my forehead where my third eye is supposed to be. It feels good so I do it some more. Tap Tap Tap Tap Tap. I run my fingers from my third eye to the back of my head – a bunch of times – concentrating on making that connection between third eye and cerebral cortex. Alberto Villoldo says we can rewire our vision and learn to use the place our brain creates images to create images from our third eye and our heart. It’s a skill we develop like any other. I tap my forehead some more. I try to see out of it...nothing. I envision my forehead opening up like two gates swinging open. I see fire like the whole top half of my face is burning off and melting away. “Are you scared?” a voice says. “Of myself? No.” I reply. But I feel like I’m getting ungrounded. I bring myself back down – imagine roots growing down to the center of the earth. Green roots sprouting all over my legs and sinking into the earth. I breath. It feels good. Solid. I can feel the top half of my body swirling around but I’m totally safe and grounded. Breath. I am out there, this is amazing.
Suddenly I have an image of the acupuncture meridians running through my body. I remember something I was reading in the Villoldo’s book about how when your hands are in prayer position all of your meridians are lined up. So I put my hands in front of me, pointed slightly forward like my tai-chi teacher used to do at the beginning of class. I breath for awhile, feeling the energy coursing through me. I’m having a dialog about opening my eyes with my “guides”. I want to do it but I’m not ready, feels like it will be too intense. I want to calm down. I keep breathing. Eventually I open my eyes and my hands are in front of me and they look so perfect, so symmetrical, so familiar and yet they could almost be the hands of a stranger.
Maybe I’m just making this all up in my head. I don’t think it really matters. It’s so obviously just the beginning of a really interesting, intense chapter.