Spiritual Practice: Shamanic Mind

Zen mind, original mind, compassionate mind, loving mind, awake mind, Soul mind…. these are descriptions of full-bodied states of awareness that become the goal of a spiritual practice or intentional living.  These are states of pervasive and open-minded perception that practitioners seek to experience and groom.  The goal is to encounter the world with open-eyed wakefulness.  It’s not realistic to expect to be in such a state all the time and in every circumstance.  We come into flow with other aspects of our skills and circumstance that require concentration. We sometimes lose ourselves in the details of a day.  The ideal would be to return to mindful states without fanfare or will-grinding effort.  The ideal would be to see mindful states as both a backdrop to everyday activity and the natural home of the mind.   The ideal would be to make these states the ongoing goal of our consciousness.

I’d like to add another angle that may broaden the view: shamanic mind.  Like original mind or compassion mind, it is a state of mind that can be groomed for daily expression – the backdrop of an ongoing practice.

Because this notion may seem a bit counter-doctrine, or even ill-advised, allow me to provide a brief history of the evolution of shamanic practice in our modern society.

Most modern practitioners begin, at some point, with a variation of the shamanic journey.  Michael Harner was very clear in his training – you begin with a question, precede to the journey itself, return on callback, and reenter consensus reality.  Harner felt that it was important to intentionally experience each individual journey with practiced method and discreet boundaries from everyday life.  He wanted everyone to be aware that: “This work isn’t for everyone.” He did not want to contribute to the difficulties of those who cannot successfully navigate consensus reality – people with mental health issues.  He did not wish to encourage those who would excuse themselves from everyday life through escapism into drug-like realms.  That is a responsible ethic for a teacher with a wide audience of unknown beginners.

Harner also taught that part of the discipline of shamanism is, at necessary times, to exist and see in both worlds simultaneously.  If you are performing an extraction or dancing your power in a crowded space, you need to see both the shamanic realm and consensus reality.  This type of experience was what started me on the path toward shamanic mind.  Spirits taught me a practice they labeled “shamanic walk.” The walk entails crossing a subtle boundary while on a walk in the woods (or even in my neighborhood), during which events take on shamanic meaning.  For example, you might see an animal superimposed onto the exterior landscape through active imagination.  You might experience an omen that either answers an intentional question or speaks to you like a living dream or personal symbol.  Or, you might find yourself in conversation with an otherworld teacher or Oversoul.  You might feel power enter into your body like in a dance or song.  You might feel someone in need from a distance.

I began to understand that the shamanic shift did not require a ritual circle or drum beat.  Wind, water, your own footfalls, and the thin veils in spirited places all contributed to the quality of shamanic mind.  One’s intention still guided how that state could communicate just as it does in the classic journey method.

Now, shamanism is not my only path.  I practice mindfulness and Soul conversation as well.  I practice “eyes behind the head” as well as gazing at a single object (such as a flame or crystal).  I’m finding that depth of mindfulness is not so different from shamanic mind.  For example, “the sun my heart” is a mindfulness practice taught by Thich Nhat Hanh.  It is not so different from shamanic merging with divine light.  Genuine compassion is not so different from empathy with Nature.  Feeling the wind in your breath is not a different from calling and merging with spirit helpers.

For the mature and well-integrated practitioner, shamanic mind is a desirable state.  Like mindfulness, it does not require ritual circumstance – an altar, chanting, dancing, or change of clothing.  It requires connection with Presence, an internal perception that has its own cast on your mind and body.  You don’t fall into deep trance.  It’s like having additional council at the roundtable and allies working silently for your own ongoing efforts, which will gravitate naturally to best possible outcome.  You may feel more focused in preparation for a task, or more relaxed after completion of a task. You’ll either feel the spirit world in your body, or sense the imaginal in local proximity.

Shamanic mind, mindfulness with spirit helpers, is like walking wing and whiskers into the world.  Like all spiritual practice, it is an ideal that is accomplished better on some days than others, something to muse over in the company of resonant connections.

Image from Facebook page: Woman’s Page, artist Matteo Arfanotti

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6 Responses to Spiritual Practice: Shamanic Mind

  1. Excellent little essay save for one detail. In the penultimate paragraph “body” and “mind” were separated by the word “and.” I doubt if a sound connection with Presence can be achieved if the two are considered somehow separated. (Cross-posted on FB.)

  2. Jim says:

    Yes, when you mention it I realize that integration is often denoted as body/mind. As I was writing this I was feeling a trickle down affect, the cast of Spirit onto my mind and body as the initiation of connection. The feeling in this angle is that body/mind starts with Spirit. Perhaps, for example, in yoga, the entry point to body/mind could be initiation through the physical asanas. In shamanic mind, the entry point would be connection with Spirit or spirit helpers.

  3. Lynda says:

    Yes! “Shamanic mind” is how I like to live 🙂 But I still practice shamanic journeying as well – it gives me an extra layer of clarity, of being able to totally delve into Spirit. Thanks for your post Jim.

    • Jim says:

      I agree. Sometimes I want to be completely focused on non-ordinary reality. I also think a regular practice makes shamanic mind more accessible.

  4. Patricia Wetterman says:

    I find Hit a bit disturbing when the article mentioned that he didn’t want, ” He wanted everyone to be aware that: “This work isn’t for everyone.” He did not want to contribute to the difficulties of those who cannot successfully navigate consensus reality – people with mental health issues. He did not wish to encourage those who would excuse themselves from everyday life through escapism into drug-like realms.” Is the writer referring that Harner thinks that humans with mental health issues cannot be shamans? Or that they shouldn’t be involved with shamanism? I find my clients with mental health issues the very people that can use shaman work to help clear up their mental health issues and get off the drugs that the big parma companies and most mental health workers seem to rely on…..Ummmm

  5. Jim says:

    The reason for citing Harner’s communicated ideas on shamanism was: “Because this notion may seem a bit counter-doctrine, or even ill-advised, allow me to provide a brief history of the evolution of shamanic practice in our modern society.” The notion of keeping consensus reality separate from shamanic mind may have begun with Harner in his early days of teaching. I’d heard second hand accounts that Harner felt that people with mental health issues disrupted group dynamics. Harner didn’t teach one on one or in small groups. I can’t speak for Harner beyond his apparent concern for introducing shamanism to our culture with a minimum of societal backlash, thus his stance on encouraging students to keep shamanic experience separate from consensus reality. In a workshop I attended, Harner told one participant who was taking an extended period of time returning from the shamanic journey that “You need to consider whether this work is for you.”

    I’ve worked with schizophrenic clients whose main objective was to gain a foothold in the everyday world. The phrase “mental health issues” is broad, the depth and variety of issues way beyond the scope of this little post. If you’ve had success working with folks with mental health issues, I say: good work.

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