Awakening to the Spirit World: The Shamanic Path of Direct Revelation - Sandra Ingerman MA, Hank Wesselman Ph.D. 2010
Reconnecting with Nature
The path of direct revelation walked by the modern visionary finds its origin, as well as much of its meaning, in the way of the traditional shaman, yet when we examine the traditional practice from our Western perspective, we find that it is much more than just a methodology or a set of rituals and ceremonies. When followed with humility, reverence and self-discipline, the shamanic path of direct revelation becomes a way of life.
We have revealed that the shaman is a man or woman who is able to see with “the strong eye” through the heart. Through this way of seeing they discover an inner visionary doorway through which they can journey into hidden worlds where they may enter into relationship with the spirits, gods, and ancestors who reside there.
Our discovery of this path often begins with a spontaneous, yet profound, awareness of our direct connection with Nature. Usually this happens in childhood, and yet it can occur and reoccur at any time of life. It is through this awareness that modern mystics may find themselves drawn into an intimate and compelling connection with the overarching web of life.
All shamans speak of this web or net that connects us to everything, everywhere, as well as to the spirits that live in all things. The idea that we are separate from other life forms is simply an illusion. This is the initial underlying mystical insight of direct revelation, and it provides us with a profound sense of oneness— of unity. Acknowledging this idea that we are all connected, says Sandra Ingerman, is important for our well-being:
The metaphor I use in my teachings is that we are like fingers of a hand that have dropped to the floor and who think they have a life of our own. For our health and for that of the planet, we must once again remember that we are part of a collective energy field, not separate from it.
Anthropologist Alberto Villoldo, who also stresses the importance of remaining connected to Nature in his work, has noticed this value system in many cultures, including the Andean culture:
It is important that we become conscious of how connected we truly are with Nature. Every breath we take, every gulp of water we swallow, everything we eat, comes from Nature. It is easy to forget this. I have endeavored to take my children out of the city and into the country (and with me to the Andes in Peru and Chile) so they can see that chicken does not come from a plastic-wrapped package in the supermarket and that there are edible greens all around us in the fields.
For the shaman, the quality of your relationship with Nature is of the utmost importance. In the Andes they call this ayni, which roughly translates as “right relationship,” or reciprocity. You make ayni to Mother Earth, and she returns your prayers with fertility and abundance. You make ayni to the Sun, and he returns gifts to you of warmth and sunlight. You make ayni to the mountains, and they give you strength and endurance. There is a saying that the shaman lives in perfect ayni. My teacher once said to me, “The universe reciprocates the shaman’s every action and mirrors his intent back to him as the shaman is a mirror to others.” The shaman lives in synchronicity with Nature, because the shamanic world mirrors the shaman’s will, intent, and actions.
We begin by making ayni out of primitive superstition: to please the gods. Later we make ayni out of habit, as part of a ceremony. These forms of ayni are performed out of fear or convention, not out of love. Eventually we make ayni because we must, because we feel it in our hearts. They say that only then is ayni perfect, but I believe that ayni is always perfect, that our world is always a true reflection of our intent, our love, and our actions. The condition of our world depends upon the condition of our consciousness and of our souls.
Shamanism is an animist tradition. Animists believe that everything has a spiritual aspect or soul and thus everything is alive and aware to some degree. The Middle World is the place where the shaman communicates with the spiritual aspect of the land, the trees, the plants, the rocks, and the animals that exist on the Earth. As we have mentioned, the Middle World is also filled with hidden folk who are caretakers of the Earth and who help the shaman maintain the balance with natural forces. You might wish to perform some journeys to trees, plants, rocks, and animals as described in the previous chapter, in order to speak to and learn from what José Stevens calls “the elementals with whom we share this Earth.”
There are also other helping ancestral spirits with whom the shaman may work, especially those that serve as guardians of specific natural places and localities. You might discover that you need to ask permission from a spirit guardian before you can access its wisdom, which is what Hank Wesselman discovered when he returned to live in Hawai’i in 2007:
When my wife, Jill, and I moved back to Hawai’i’s Big Island, we discovered in our journeywork that each land division, or ahupua’a, that runs down from the mountain to the ocean has a spiritual caretaker or landlord. As we engaged in journeywork on different parts of the island, it was revealed to us that correct protocol involved inviting the guardian of that district to approach so that we could announce who we are and what our intentions were for being there.
It was about asking permission, and once that protocol was established, it brought our visionary fieldwork to a whole new level. Asking permission also brought us into alignment with the power and support of the spiritual guardians who live in the dreaming of the island and the ocean.
Whenever you move or travel to a new place and find it difficult to feel at home there, you might need to connect to the spirit of that place, teaches Sandra:
When I first moved to Santa Fe in the early 1980s I had a very hard time adjusting to living here. Everyone kept talking about “the magic of Santa Fe” yet I could not experience any magic here. Nothing I seemed to do to make life better worked, and I was going on a deep downward spiral.
Finally I decided to try to meet the spirit of Santa Fe in a journey. I journeyed and met a female spirit who shared with me a list of five changes I needed to make to improve the quality of my life here. Once I followed the spirit of Santa Fe’s directions, my life changed for the better. After this journey I could fully embrace and feel the magic of this land.
Since then, whenever I travel, I journey to meet the spirit of where I am teaching. I introduce myself and explain I am bringing a wonderful group of people to the land who want to improve their lives and be in service to the planet. I ask permission to enter the land along with my group.
I know I will be given permission. I have found that this is common courtesy and that the land always embraces my groups with love.
EXERCISE: TO MEET THE SPIRIT OF THE LAND
Try to journey to meet the spirit of where you live and also try this journey before you travel. From Sandra’s experience, you will then notice yourself moving into a place of deeper harmony with these places.
SPIRITUALITY OF PLACE
People around the world have always recognized that the place they live has a spirit. The spirit of this place was honored and called on in healing ceremonies and for celebrations. Once again, to live in harmony, the spirit of all things must be recognized on all levels.
According to Carol Proudfoot-Edgar, the “indigenous spirituality of place” includes every aspect of a landscape:
I have come to think of the indigenous spirituality of place when focusing on our relationship with Nature. “Place” refers to much more than the individual spirits; it includes the entire ecology of being and Beingness that occurs within some landscape of the world.
Every place or landscape can be considered as a web within the Great Web of Being and Becoming. Within this Great Web, each of these smaller webs has its own purpose, its own intention, and beings living within each web participate in the unfolding of a larger purpose. This is true whether the being is an elemental force, fauna, flora, or a seemingly invisible spirit.
I refer to the larger purpose as the “indigenous spirituality of place.” My task is to teach ways for participants to consciously engage with the spirituality of place and thus become partners in each place. We can help “place” fulfill its destiny and thus contribute to the health of the Great Web.
By practicing the indigenous spirituality of place, people sometimes become aware that what they are doing resonates with what people did in that same place for decades if not centuries. That’s because shamanism arises from place, and spiritual practices are profoundly influenced by what is allowed within the environment. For example, certain winter ceremonies will only occur where winter is a distinct season, and this is true of all seasonal ceremonies.
It is through such ceremonies that we are able to build a bridge between ancestors and place and ourselves.
EXERCISE: FOR CONNECTING WITH PLACE
Go to some place in Nature—preferably a locale you have not visited before, suggests Carol Proudfoot-Edgar. Do whatever activities assist you in entering a deep meditative or trance state; drumming, singing, or rattling with your eyes closed are some suggested ways. Once you have entered this altered state, ask the place to show you its spirit and some of the beings living in it.
Accept whatever you are shown and make a note of what you experience. If possible, return to the same place four different times in four different seasons. This allows you to have direct experience of how place responds to the greater weather patterns that sweep across the globe. After you have done this—whether once or four times—sing a song of thanks to the place, and if possible, sing this song into a stone or some mineral in the place. Minerals are wonderful holders of sound energy; by singing thanks to place into a stone, you leave notes of gratitude. By its nature, gratitude amplifies health.
You can also try Proudfoot-Edgar’s ritual for honoring the spirit of the land where you live. Find a place and time when you can acknowledge the spirit of your locality, and request in the process that your life will become more harmonious. Every day when you leave your house you can simply leave a small offering outside in your surroundings—a shell, a bead, a pebble—or you may simply say words of thanks.
You might say something like: I give thanks to the spirit of this place, this house, this land, for all that I receive. I give thanks to the spirit of the earth, the air, the water, and the sun for the life you give me so I may thrive. I give thanks to my ancestors for my life.
Through building relationships with the natural world and connecting to place, shamans may also be given omens as messages from Nature—communications that help us choose auspicious times to undertake activities such as hunting for food or planting our gardens. Shamans usually respond to such omens with ceremonies to celebrate and honor the ancient spirits of Nature.
These observations reveal that it is the shaman’s role to mediate between the community and the forces of Nature. In this sense, a shaman is the harmonizer between humankind and the natural world.
Many of us today sense a deep need to reconnect with Nature and its cycles and rhythms. Living as we do in a technological urbanized society, many of us experience the natural world only through television or the golf course. Yet there is within each of us a deep aspect of our soul that knows that we are part of Nature, and in response, increasing numbers of us yearn to see the stars once again, to hear the calls of migrating birds, and to feel the wind on our skin. We yearn to flow once more with the river of life, and it is precisely this that the shaman’s practice of direct revelation and the spirituality of place enables us to do.
WORKING WITH THE DIRECTIONS
Part of working with the spirit of the land and the spirit of Nature is honoring the directions. Most shamans honor the east, north, west, and south, the earth below, and the sky above as they begin any ceremony. Each direction has a different meaning in different shamanic cultures. For example, shamans usually begin by honoring the east, the direction where the sun comes up. In indigenous cultures it has never been assumed that the sun will rise every day. For this reason, indigenous people welcome the sun each day and give thanks for the life the sun will bring. In that sense ceremonies begin by honoring the direction of east.
Some shamanic traditions honor the north for the power of wisdom and the south for the power of protection. And the west is honored as the place of the setting sun. In other traditions different qualities of life are assigned to the directions. There is no cross-cultural agreement to the qualities that each direction represents.
The earth is honored for its abundant life and the sky for the sun, the stars, the moon, the planets, and the spirits that live in the earth and sky that shamans call on for assistance.
Sandra teaches the importance of finding personal significance in what each direction brings.
When we honor the directions in our work, it is important to do this with heart and meaning. If you copy another teacher’s or tradition’s way of working, your work will not be as potent as when you understand for yourself why you are honoring a direction and how to do this.
On the audio with this book the first track includes five minutes where I use whistling and rattling to give people time to honor the directions and the helping spirits by giving thanks for the help you will receive in your journeys.
EXERCISE: LEARNING ABOUT THE DIRECTIONS
Pick a track on the audio and journey with the intention of learning about the directions of east, north, south, west, the earth below, and the sky above. You can ask a helping spirit that you work with to teach you the qualities of each direction.
Then when you do your journeywork or when performing a ceremony (as we will teach you to do in chapter 5) you can add honoring the directions to your preparation work. When you understand for yourself the qualities associated with each direction then you will be able to bring heart into your work rather than memorizing what someone else does without understanding the meaning of how they work.
We are all affected by the change in seasons and by the cycles of the moon. As indigenous peoples know, the earth has a heartbeat and we are one with it.
As we have become dependent on modern technology, we have become hypnotized by the glitter of our new gadgets, and in response we have separated ourselves from Nature’s rhythms. We have alarm clocks to tell us when we should wake up instead of relying on the cycles of the sun and our dreaming to tell us when it is time to rise. The homes we live in isolate us and keep us from living in accordance with the change of seasons. Many of us no longer watch Nature’s signs so that we know when the seasons are changing. We rely on calendars to do the work for us. Our cycles of activity and rest do not always flow with Nature’s cycles.
Think of the flow of a river. If you are wading against its current, this may create a very stressful journey marked by ever-increasing effort. This is what we see in the world today. As we separate ourselves from the cycles of Nature, we move against the river of life, and this may cause a wide variety of emotional and physical illnesses.
One way to align with Nature is to observe how you feel with the change of seasons and cycles of the moon. Today people rely on books to tell us how we should feel during these changes, but the truth is that we are all unique individuals who react differently. According to Sandra, for example, we all have different times of power in relation to the seasons:
I have written in some of my previous books that I am happiest and in my full power during fall and winter. I tend to want to hibernate like a bear during summer. Summer is not a time for me to be social. I was surprised by the hundreds of letters I received from readers saying they felt the same way. We can’t put everyone in a box and say that winter is a time to go within, for not everyone feels that way.
We also cannot proclaim that everyone should feel a particular way at the new moon and full moon. We know the moon affects the ocean’s tides, and the human body is mostly water, so we can say that we are affected by the moon’s phases in a most dynamic way. As Hank has discovered, the moon has a deep and profound effect on everything on Earth:
In Hawai’i, a revered kahuna elder once told me that the moon is the foundation for the Earth. He didn’t explain; he just left me to ponder this. Another time, when I observed that at the physical level we are mostly water, he informed me that the spirit of the ocean is called Kanaloa, a name that means “the great peace” or alternately, “unconquerable.” And he said to me on that day, “There is only one thing in the universe that is unconquerable, and that is Aloha—love.”
Kanaloa, called Tangaroa in the southern ocean, is also regarded as the great progenitor and sustainer of life. This transpersonal force or spirit is dual-natured, both male and female. And as the spirit of the salt water, Kanaloa is the essence within everything everywhere. Both Kanaloa and Hina, the spirit of the moon, were highly revered as household gods by some traditional Hawaiian families and were often invoked for healing.
That same Hawaiian elder once took me to a cinder crater far up on the side of the great mountain, Mauna Kea. There was a simple shrine dedicated to Hina, the moon goddess, on the crater’s floor, and there I received an extraordinary healing by praying to that spirit and listening to what she said.
Sandra notes that the phases of the moon, like the seasons, can affect people in a variety of ways:
I used to live with a friend who was very sensitive to the change in phases of the moon. During the full moon he would get depressed and lose his energy. And then at the new moon he felt regenerated and refreshed. I am the opposite. I thrive during the full moon and I am less energetic during the new moon.
When we rely on others to tell us how to feel at different seasons and phases of the moon, we further separate ourselves from our connection with the cycles of Nature. Again, simply observe how you feel at different times. It is understood that you cannot call in sick every time the moon is at a phase where you do not feel energetic. But you can start to organize your life in a way that allows you to rest more during the seasons and the phases of the moon that require you to go inward. You can choose to take more time for yourself when you need it and schedule social times with the cycles that support you in being out in the world.
One way to harmonize with Nature, suggests Sandra, is to gear your journeys toward looking at your own cycles:
Journey to a helping spirit to help you look at how you can harmonize with the cycles of nature. When I journeyed to the moon, the moon showed me how I flow with her cycles, and she gave me wonderful advice about changes I could make in scheduling my life in order to create harmony with her different phases.
A “merging journey” is another wonderful option. To do such a journey you simply hold the intention that you want to merge or become one with the earth where you live. In this way you learn about earth by becoming earth. Merging with the earth where you live at the change of each season can reveal a great deal about the effects the seasons have on you.
In returning from a merging journey, remember to disconnect from the earth quality with which you are merged.
MERGING WITH THE ELEMENTS
As we start to honor and respect the earth, air, water, and sun for the life they give us, the elements will enter into relationship with us and reflect back to us a state of balance. Right now pollutants are dumped into that which gives us life, and we no longer honor these incredible elements for their life-giving energies. We receive so much beauty and nurturance from earth. We depend on water for our life. We are bonded with air from the very first breath we take, and air is the last element we say goodbye to at the end of our lives as we release our last breath. The sun is a great teacher of unconditional giving as it continues to give the energy we need to thrive. There would be no life without our connection with these wonderful beings that nurture and sustain us unconditionally.
According to Sandra, one way to reconnect with Nature is to merge with an element when we journey:
EXERCISE: MERGING WITH AN ELEMENT
The best way to learn about the elements is to do a merging journey to an aspect of an element. In this way we learn about the elements by becoming an element. Here are just some examples that will inspire you to find an aspect of an element with which you would like to merge.
For earth, you can merge with the desert or a forest floor. For water, you can merge with the ocean, a river, a teardrop, the morning dew, or a cleansing rain. For air, you can merge with a strong wind or a gentle breeze. And for fire, you can merge with the flame of a candle, a raging forest fire, or the sun.
Another interesting journey is to merge with your internal fire. I find that people who suffer from anxiety need to learn how to manage their inner fire, while people who are depressed need to learn how to stoke their inner fire.
I have been doing merging journeys for years. Each time I merge with an element I keep learning more about myself and the world around me. As I learn about my own nature, I reawaken to the fact that I am also earth, air, water, and fire, and I learn about the connection of the elements to each other. We really cannot separate them out—they live together and support the life of one another as part of one organism. As you merge with the elements, notice how they are always in movement. This gives us information on how we can restore our own health and well-being by keeping our energy moving.
You can also do what I call a “gratitude walk” in Nature. As you walk outside—whether it is in a city, or a forest, a beach— you give thanks to the elements for all that they give you. What we bless blesses us in return. As you learn to honor and respect the elements, they will reflect that same respect back to you. This is the principle of reciprocity.
As you walk in beauty and honor the elements, you may also find Nature responding back to you through signs or omens. As you feel gratitude for your life and all you are given from Nature, you might find a butterfly landing on your hand. As you walk in an honoring way, a gentle breeze might caress you. As you pass a beautiful tree and acknowledge it, you might see the branches move in a way that lets you know your heartfelt thoughts were heard. Or as you are giving gratitude to Nature, the sun might come out when before the sky was filled with clouds.
As you find ways to reconnect with Nature and its elements you will find that the life of Nature responds in a way that reminds you of the magic of life, a truly wonderful gift.
We all embody one of the elements in one way or another, notes Hank, so merging with the elements can be particularly revealing:
Within the indigenous cultures of West Africa where I lived for many years in the 1960s as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, it is widely understood that we as individuals are born embodying one of the elements as part of our life essence. This is most important because your essence also contains your genius. Since no one can be just one element without the presence of the others, we also carry the others as support elements.
The tribal peoples believe that the element we embody is predestined, perhaps even reincarnational. All elements exist to some degree in each person, but one tends to be predominant. This brings up the issue of what it is to be a gatekeeper, a shamanic healer who is able to use his or her body and mind to form a bridge between this world and the sacred realms, which allows the healing gifts from the spirit world to flow into ours. In his book The Healing Wisdom of Africa, Malidoma Somé reveals that gatekeepers have a primary affinity with one element; their genius, their essential character, embodies the gift conveyed by that element. By virtue of the fact that every person carries a certain gift, we are all then given a special relationship with the element from which that gift originates. In this sense, everyone can become a gatekeeper.1
Among the peoples of West Africa, the carriers of these gifts, or gatekeepers, are known to be servants to the particular gate from which the gifts originate. This allows them to convey the resources and qualities of that element to their community. Although every person embodies one element in primary focus, all elements must be present in each person in order for him or her to blossom fully.
In this regard, you might make a journey to connect with an elemental spirit. How will you invite fire, for example, to appear to you in your journey? Once it does, you may either merge with it, as Sandra suggests, or you may just allow a respectful relationship with it to come into being.
Ask this elemental spirit what qualities and abilities it conveys. What does it mean to be a gatekeeper of fire, for example, and what gifts are conveyed by this gateway? If you feel uneasy about fire, you may perceive or imagine it as “light.”
Do the same for all the other elements as well—water, earth, stone, air, even the spiritual mosaic of Nature herself. In this way we discover what our primary element may be, as well as the qualities and gifts conveyed by that element.
USING THE ELEMENTS TO RECEIVE GUIDANCE
Sandra teaches that working with the elements in Nature is a great way to help us listen to the deep calling of our soul. Nature can move us into a trance state where our rational mind quiets down and we can listen to the deep guidance rising from within.
Sitting by running water such as a river, stream, or waterfall can help you be transported away from the ordinary, allowing your inner wisdom to rise up. Watching the waves in the ocean creates a state of opening so you can listen to the messages of your soul.
Finding a place on the Earth where you can look out into the distance can take you away from daily thoughts and allow inner guidance to be heard.
Sitting in the breezes or winds of summer—just listening— allowing your ordinary thoughts to fly away and be replaced by your inner voice can provide guidance for you right now.
Building a campfire in a campground and gazing into the fire is an old way of moving into a deep trance where your own spirit can fill you with the guidance needed to create your next steps in life. Watching the flame of a candle can do the same.
Among some of the Australian Aboriginal peoples, there is a state of being known as dadirri, which translates into English as “deep listening.”2
Hank notes that through deep listening, we are able to connect to the spiritual mosaic of Nature from which we are inseparable, an essence that is within us all:
Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann, an Australian Aboriginal elder, defines dadirri as a special quality that allows each of us to make contact with a deep spring that lies within us. Connecting with that spring requires that we achieve a state of quiet, still awareness, or dadirri. It is similar to what we Westerners call “contemplation.” Shamanic practitioners know it well.
Miriam Rose proclaims that this contemplative focus permeates the Aboriginals’ entire way of life, their whole being—that dadirri continually renews them on a day-today basis, bringing them peace, creating harmony where there is disharmony, producing balance where there is imbalance, and restoring health where there is illness.
There are no great hidden truths here, no “secret knowledge” hidden away for centuries, waiting for a bunch of New Age charismatics with PowerPoint presentations to rediscover them, excavate them, and write a book about them, proclaiming them as the solution to all our problems, personal and collective. Instead, this Aboriginal woman’s message conveys a simple and unmistakable truth—that the practice of dadirri can make us feel whole again. She shares that the Aboriginals cannot live good and useful lives unless they practice dadirri and that they learned how to do this from their ancestors.
As a Westerner who has spent considerable time living and working in the indigenous world, I can appreciate this traditional woman’s words. During my years spent among the tribal peoples of Africa, for example, I learned that those still living in their traditional lifeways are not threatened by silence. Rather, they are completely at home in it. Their ways have taught them how to be still and how to listen to the silence. Accordingly, they do not try to hurry things. They allow themselves to follow their natural courses—like the seasons—and they wait. Following the natural courses of existence removes worry from their life. They never worry. They know that in the practice of dadirri—the deep listening and quiet stillness of the soul—that all ways will be made clear to them in time.
The Aboriginals are not goal-oriented in the same way that we Westerners are programmed to be from childhood, nor do they attempt “to push the river,” which they know with absolute certainty is an exercise in futility. In Miriam Rose’s words: “We are like the tree standing in the middle of a bushfire sweeping through the timber. The leaves are scorched and the tough bark is scarred and burnt, but inside the tree the sap is still flowing, and under the ground the roots are still strong. Like the tree, we have endured the flames and yet we still have the power to be reborn.”
Miriam continues: “We know that our white brothers and sisters carry their own particular burdens. We carry burdens as well. Yet I believe that if they let us come to them, if they would open their minds and hearts to us and hear what we have to say, we might lighten their burdens. There is a struggle for all of us, but we, unlike them, have not lost our spirit of dadirri. I believe that the spirit of dadirri will help you Westerners blossom and grow, not just within yourselves, but within your nation as well. There are deep springs within each of us and within these springs there is a sound—the sound of the deep calling to the deep. The time for rebirth is now. If our culture (and your culture) is alive and well, as well as strong and respected, it will grow. In such a case, our culture will not die (nor will yours) and our spirits will not be lost. We will continue, together, as this was always meant to be.”3