PRACTICAL SHAMANISM

By Nanci Shanderá, Ph.D.  ©1996

What is a Shaman?

Shamans are found in all cultures--there are urban shamans in Los Angeles, for instance, and not necessarily those who come only from Native American culture.  There is a new, so-called "neo-shamanic" movement--people from other than Native American culture who are gathering information and experience and practicing a shamanic way of life.  They drawing from their own backgrounds and cultures--northern European, Celtic, Asiatic, Hispanic, Aboriginal, Eskimo, Lapp, etc. 

Mircea Eliade says that a shaman is a "healed madman."  Many people have been classified as "crazy," or rejected by society or family because we have exhibited out-of-the-ordinary experiences, outrageous behaviors, and thinking or beliefs.  There's a sense of abandonment, certainly.  Those of us from dysfunctional families--and I don't know anyone who isn't from one in one way or another--certainly can relate to this.  That kind of background is unsupportive of our particular sensitivities, but, as painful as it is, it may be a shamanic initiation into eventual empowerment.  Shamanic initiation is a process of dismemberment, having beliefs torn apart, and then being put back together again, but in a different configuration.  The film, Never Cry Wolf depicts this clearly and well.  Those of us who are in the process of healing our madness--or what society would call our madness--that process of shamanic initiation is the road to health and sanity.  And sanity, shamanically speaking, is absolutely not what society describes as such.  Society says it is adhering to the rules and not shaking the tree and making waves.  Shamanic health is very, very different.  As we develop our power and become healthy, we view challenge as an ally, rather than life-threatening--it is part of the initiation.  When we complete that challenge we understand its purpose and we can then heal people who are wrestling with the same challenge.  It's very clear in shamanic tradition that whatever it is that you deal with, you get to share with others later. 

Additionally, part of the rejection and being an outcast is created within our soul self for us to be able to stand apart so we can watch and observe and collect information about what's really going on.  Shamans have the ability to see things that others can't see because they are in the middle of a limited or rigid belief system.  Whereas, the lonely shaman, standing to the side, can observe and then go back, if invited into the group, and share what was observed as well as the resolution.  

It is important to keep in mind while moving through a trauma, the shamanic attitude is that the physical, emotional or etheric body goes through such an opening process that it is possible for us to see a different reality.  When we're in pain, it's very hard to remember this in mind.  Nevertheless, you can be writing down your dreams and experiences, even if you are experiencing confusion or pain.  You can go back later, put all the experiences together and see the value.  Crises offer opportunities for us to move more directly into shamanic initiation and transformation.

 

Not everyone may want to do this in terms of enhancing your profession as a healer--shamanism is applicable to all aspects of living.  Your ability to heal others after shamanic initiation may be used in your workplace, no matter what your profession, or in your personal life.  Your presence or energy will be healing and people will seek you out.

It's important here to differentiate between people who are mentally and emotionally unbalanced.  There's a thin line between recognizable or pathological insanity and shamanic states of consciousness.  The difference is that a shaman is in control at all times, although s/he may, during ritual, for instance, act totally mad.  However, s/he is always in control, even then.  Someone who is pathological or schizophrenic is not.  When I speak of shamanic madness, I'm talking about controlled madness--the kind that empowers, the kind that brings us to health and does not separate us into pieces but brings us together into wholeness.

Stanley Krippner says that a shaman is "a technician of the sacred."  In other words, the shaman collects enough tools to be able to induct people into altered states of consciousness, an experience of the divine or a sacred experience of the numinous--the holy within. 

A shaman is a creator-director of ritual.  Ritual begins with intentionality.  There is nothing in life that exludes intention.  Every situation we experience relates to our original intention.  If we get ourselves into a mess or into an experience of great joy, it all has to do with intention-setting.  Whatever it is that we intend consciously or subconsciously, that's what we experience.  Ritual is the framework for intention and a shaman assists others in identifying clearly what the intention should be and then inducts them into ceremony to manifest that intention.  Manifestation occurs only as a result of this.  Becoming a shaman or powerful person means that we consciously set our intentions with responsibility.  Being a shaman is letting go of victimization through setting intention.

A shaman is a death midwife.  S/he helps souls cross over to the next experience, and finds lost souls on the other side as well as in this reality.  Your soul is your connection to the divine, it is guidance--and when you lose it, you know you've lost it.  Days that you feel out of it, off balance or unfocused, part of your soul has left your body.  If a psychic were watching you at that time, s/he would see the degree that your soul was out of your body, perhaps caught by a thread, or half in and half out.  You can tell whether your soul is in or out of your body by looking in the mirror at your eyes--if they look dead or dull, the soul is probably not totally present.  You can nurture your soul, you can relate to it, by talking to it and trying to convince it back.  Your soul may tell you, however, that your body is not healthy enough for it to reside within it.  It cannot communicate to you while your body is polluted by eating junk food every day.  When you begin to relate to your soul, it will teach you things and you can choose to create a sacred temple within your body in which your soul can then reside.  When you're physically ill, looking in the mirror is a good thing to do because when we're ill, our souls are not all the way in the body.  And if you look in your eyes at this time, you'll have a reference point for what it looks like. 

A shaman heals by changing perceptions.  What that means is if you go to a shaman for a healing, the shaman will take you into a non-ordinary state of reality, where perceptions are very different.  All of us here have had many experiences, whether we knew it or not, of non-ordinary realities.  And during that kind of expanded state, we can change things because the perceptions allow for greater perceptions of choice.  What we tend to do during experiences of the non-ordinary, is classify them as strange or weird and we shut ourselves off from them.  We're afraid of ostracism, of the dark, of fear itself, etc.--and that cuts us off from the possibility of learning and changing during expanded perception.

A shaman is a teacher and a dream interpreter because s/he can go into the dream state very easily to experience it with the person and help to interpret the dream.  A shaman holds higher energies by balancing the higher with the lower, the dark with the light, the positive with the negative, the feminine with the masculine, and ordinary and non-ordinary realities.  A shaman is an explorer within these realities for the purpose of bringing back information for the purpose of healing the shaman, an individual, the society in which they live, or the planet.  The purpose of inducing non-ordinary states is not for personal gain, but rather for personal growth. 

A shaman is an initiator into the higher realms--and higher does not mean better--just different.  So when a shaman initiates people into those realms, it means a broadening of perspectives, rather than a narrow upward movement.  During an initiatory experience, a shaman often takes a person to the brink of madness, insanity, deviance, but knows that arena so well that s/he can modulate and guide the person's experience.  The shaman keeps the person on the path although the person may believe she or he has totally lost it.  The purpose of totally losing it is just that--to lose the ego's hold over experience, to loosen the state-bound consciousness--that limited, boxed-in perception of what life is all about and which imprisons us within it.  The experience may feel like being knocked off a cliff into insanity--and certainly in some shamanic traditions, this is done with sacred substances, sacred plants, but this is not always necessary.  It depends on the culture, the shaman's training, the person who is working with the shaman, and the appropriateness.  In some circumstances, ritual alone, without substances, and with strong enough intention, becomes just as profound as the greatest of psychotropic experiences.  It all depends on the shaman's ability to induct people into these states.

A shaman guides one into and through the spirit world, perhaps in a of depossession where the person feels possessed or not together.  So the shaman goes into the spirit world to find out whether there is an entity or a belief system within the person that is causing an energy-power drain.  The shaman also trains people to strengthen themselves in order to handle negative influences.  Once one finds power within and learns how to strengthen all of the bodies--physical, mental, emotional, etheric, and celestial--then one is protected.  White light alone is not going to do it.  I encourage you not to believe that just by saying once a day that you surround yourself with white light and "all is whole, perfect and complete" you're going to be protected from outer and inner influences.  This doesn't work because there is no balance between the dark forces as well as the light.  I'm not talking about a relationship with misused dark forces--I'm talking about a healthy relationship with dark forces.  For instance, there is a difference between a clear, black piece of obsidian and a mud clod.  The obsidian is like the pure dark force--the mud clod is not.  People who misuse the dark, people who do satanic worship, etc., tend to misuse that force, generally trying to acquire power over others.  That is not spiritually legal--trying to have power over someone else or manipulating someone--to get that man or that job--and I'm not talking about praying for manifestation, I'm talking about misusing that sense of power we get when we begin this kind of practice.  Once you begin feeling the power, you have to work even harder to maintain your integrity, otherwise the misuse will always come back against you.  The "muddy dark" doesn't mean fears, necessarily, because fear is what catalyzes us into growth.  The fears that are created from your own muddy darkness are the ones that are repetitive fears--ones that happen over and over and over again.  If you're not clearing them, not resolving them, you're creating muddy darkness.  Whereas if you go to the Grand Canyon and start to slip off the side, that fear is a very clear fear--it's survival and it is helping you as an ally.  The healthy respect for that kind of fear helps us gain power, so the idea is not to eliminate all fear--it's to heal and resolve that fear that keeps coming up, playing like a broken record.  And it's to honor and respect as an ally the clear kind of dark force within us--it's that lower chakra material, particularly the first chakra that involves primality, survival, roots to the earth, and the rhythms of nature.

I moved into shamanic work because of the dark.  Several years ago, I had a relationship with a man who Lynn Andrews would describe as a "Red Dog."  (In her books, Medicine Woman,  Flight of the Seventh Moon,  Jaguar Woman, and Crystal Woman, she tells of men who are adversaries and who, by being such, are her teachers about darkness and power.)  The man I was involved with had black hair, loved the color black, drove a black car and whose last name was Black.  He was fascinated by me because at that time, I was flying around promoting only the light.  We were mutually attracted because we held the dark-light polarity for one another.  The relationship ended, I was devastated, and I moved into seven months of severe depression.  I couldn't work, I couldn't function as a mother, and had to camp out on a friend's dining room floor.  I would close the drapes, sit in a beanbag chair and stare at the wall.  I spent all of that time in the dark, frightened, and reading only one book, St. John of the Cross' Dark Night of the Soul.  At the time, I didn't know it, but what I was going through was the shamanic initiation of tearing and dismembering of my old beliefs and ideas.  At the end of that period, a friend encouraged me to do an anger release to enable me to come out of the depression.  What that exercise did for me was to lead me spontaneously into a ritual which freed me and lead me into a wonderful new job, and into balancing my emotions and my life in the world.  What I later discovered was that the ritual I did--and thought I had made up--was an almost exact replication of an ancient one which was done in the women's temples for women who were grieving or in depression.  This intrigued me and served as the catalyst for several years of research about the basis of that which I had experienced.  I discovered that I could move into my fears instead of denying them, and thereby empower myself, and that by using only the light, I had been creating tremendous imbalance.  I learned what projection was in terms of seeing the disowned parts of my darkness in another person and thereby being attracted to him instead of dealing directly with it within myself.  I also discovered that others, thoughout history, have done the same--and in many cultures, this is the basis of shamanism.  Shamanism holds resolution of the balance of dark and light forces.  We all know the symbol for the Tao, where there is a little light in the dark area and a little dark in the light area.  That's the proper use of light and dark.  It's not an overemphasis on either--it's a balance.  Read the Tao Te King, which teaches this balance through observing nature, which is what shamanism is all about.  Each time we go on a shamanic journey or do ritual, we incorporate natural forces to do so.

Shamans are multitalented--they are musicians, artists, dancers, poets, storytellers.  It's important to nurture and express creatively because it helps to balance dark and light, masculine and feminine, heaven and earth, intuition and logic.  Painting, dancing, singing, chanting--anything that's creative--involves the creative life force and the expression of that life force as a balance.  Every time we create something of beauty or that expresses who we are, it's an act of power.  Every time we go to a symphony or to a gallery, we experience directly those acts of power.  Actors who rivet the audience with their charismatic performances are presenting their acts of power. 

Because of their deep respect for and connection with nature, shamans can alter the forces of nature--weather, for instance, can be changed by shamans so the society will have abundant crops, etc. 

It's also important to keep in mind that shamanism is not a religion.  Shamans do not believe in one divine force.  Shamanism is a way of living in which everything in the universe is a part of the whole, therefore there is nothing that is greater than the other.  Everything that is is a part of creation and everything that is is the creator at the same time.

How Shamanism Differs from Other Systems

I've selected a few other traditions merely to give you a broader perspective of what shamanism is.  Traditions like yoga, for instance, that teach transcendence through control of the physical body in order to transcend various aspects and eventually to transcend in the ultimate way--samadhi, nirvana, etc.  Shamanism differs from that--and I'm not implying that shamanism is right and yoga is wrong--they're different, that's all.  Shamanism teaches the integration of everything and it teaches from an animistic standpoint that the connection of body to earth is essential for living and wholeness and health.  Transcendence is not the ultimate goal of shamanism.  When a shaman journeys into the upperworld, for instance, the purpose is not to transcend, but merely to get information and then to bring it back down again.  I generally encourage people who are working with the chakra system to work downwards toward the earth, rather than what is usually taught in terms of moving upward.  This downward connection brings in balance--while we're in physical bodies, we need the earth to keep us from being top-heavy.

Shamanism differs from psychotherapy because it is more holistic.  Any individual psychotherapy has its own goal--which may be, again, transcendence or focusing on one area.  For the most part, unless it's a transformational type of therapy, it's working with only one aspect.  Most therapies do not include and emphasize the sacred.  Shamanism always brings in the sacred through ritual, journeying and the way of life it teaches.

Shamanism differs from mediumship or trancing because one who is a medium generally are passive in that they allow the spirits to come to them, whereas a shaman goes out and finds the spirits.  S/he creates the atmosphere for the spirits to come in and then calls and romances the spirits to actively participate.   A shaman is in active relationship with them.  It's a yin-yang type of relationship.

Shamanism differs from the ministry or priesthood in any tradition in that shamans deal with non-ordinary realities.  One might think that the clergyperson uses this, but generally they are praying from ordinary reality and do not go into altered states.  They stay within fairly narrow states of awareness.

A shaman differs from ordinary people because they have the gift of vision--they can see the beginning as well as the ending.

Shamanic Inititation

There are three basic types--I emphasize that this is general information and is certainly not all-inclusive.  Inititation is a disruption of your ordinary consciousness.  There's a great book on this by Leadbeader called Ancient Mystery Rites that goes into this in detail.  Initiation takes one out of the ordinary and catapaults her or him into non-ordinary reality.  So it's a disruption, a schism, and during that process of falling from the cliff that the shaman has pushed the initiate from, that's the initiation process.  From that point on, it's up to the initiate to either learn to fly or find footholds to climb back up or to go down the river. 

The first type is when someone goes to a shaman and asks to be initiated.  There is no guarantee that the seeker will become a shaman.  The second type is a spontaneous awakening.  If you've read Bucke's book, Cosmic Consciousness, he talks about this in terms of light experiences and suddenly something happening that changes your whole life.  If you've seen Never Cry Wolf, it depicts major awakenings that the hero goes through.  He doesn't necessarily goes out and ask to be initiated, but he follows the shaman, so it's a sort of passive asking and receiving.  The third kind of shamanic initiation is either under the tutelage of a master shaman or by oneself, moving out into a sort of sensory deprivation arena like a vision quest.  Vision quest is when you go out into the wilderness with only a blanket and a sacred object such as a pipe for three days and three nights.  During this time, you cry for a vision of what your life is about.  Because of the self-induced stress on the body and psyche, you may have a vision, during which, you are instructed about your purpose in life.

I encourage you to look at various life experiences you've had that may possibly have been spontaneous initiations as crisis or trauma in which you've come out better than when you went in--surgeries, relationship problems or breakups, deaths, etc.  If you do this, and become aware of how many you've experienced, you are prepared for the next one and can move into it consciously.  This holds the opportunity move into change with less pain and certainly to come out empowered.  During initiation, there are three basic stages.  Read Joseph Campbell's works, particulary Hero With A Thousand Faces on stages of initation. 

The first stage is that of separation or severance.  The crisis creates your separation from something, a person through death, breakup or arguement, a belief system--this is subtle, we generally don't catch this one, but it leaves our belief so shaken that we can't go back to it.  The second stage after separation is the leap into the abyss--dealing with the unknown.  It throws you into the void, that place where you think you've lost your mind or life.  This is where the healing begins, as well as the acquisition of power.  The last stage is the integration or rebirth.  It is the integration of everything you learned while in the void--whether consciously or unconsciously.  The problem with this stage is that you really have to apply it and it's not easy.  Rebirth does not hold the guarantee of comfort or pleasant times from that time on.  It may seem defeating to go through a major trauma, learn much and then come out and look at the world and see it pretty much the same.  It still has wars, disease and other problems.  During the process of acquiring power, you begin to accept your responsbility in relation to the world, your problems and challenges and you begin to learn how to use your power to resolve things.  In essence, you grow up in terms of knowing that this is the way that life is.  Life throws challenges out to everyone.  The only thing we can really learn from transformation is how to deal with these challenges, not to avoid them, but to really go straight into them.  In terms of dealing with the dark, and with fears, that's the toughest part, yet the most crucial.  Becoming whole requires that we recognize the fear and then walk right into it.  The first thing that generally comes up when anyone looks at that is that what is required is to go jump off a building if the fear is of heights.  That is not it.  It is looking at the fear of heights and moving into the fear, not necessarily the manifestation of that fear.  All of us have these strange quirks within us, like wanting to strangle or murder someone who annoys us.  But when we address that desire seriously, we get scared of the thought that we're not "nice" and could be capable of murder.  When I say move into your fear, it doesn't mean go ahead and kill that person, it means to move into why that person pushes your buttons, what you're afraid of when in that situation.  You move into the body responses when around that person and how you feel emotionally.  It's important to use a journal to write this process out--there is something about taking emotional material through your arm and hand into the pen and onto the paper that creates a balance of left and right brain.  You're working with both your intuitive and emotional, flowing side as well as your linear side in the process of writing.

Once more, I emphasize that after enlightenment, one does not lead a storybook life.  Life goes on.  But what is different is that you acquire the capability of bringing light into darkness.  I'm not implying that darkness is bad, but because we avoid the dark, therefore we're off balance.  When we go through initiation, we create our own light from within, and we then know how to integrate this light in the darkness.  When we do shamanic journeying, it's best to do it in a dark room or with eye covering because in the darkness is where answers and visions appear.  What we're doing in the dark is finding the light in it and then creating with both light and dark.  We use the dark as substance.  Chanting is a good way of doing this too.  By doing this, our voices explore all the different shades of darkness within sound.  The eventual outcome of this is a harmonic between dark and light.  Maybe some of you have heard the Tibetan monks do overtoning, in which one person chants and it sounds like two or three people.  It's a combination of light sounds with dark sounds.  There are people in the Ozarks and Appalachians who do this too.

When a shaman deals with this, s/he uses drums and rattles.  You can experiment with these to see which works best for you--drums tend to stimulate the lower chakras and rattles the upper--rattles also tend to shake up the energy so they're good for release work.  When a shaman uses sound, s/he is entraining the initiate through the use of sound.

Shamanic Tools

Basic tools used by shamans are the following: medicine objects, which are things that have meaning to the shaman regarding her experiences with power--these objects remind the shaman of the relationship to power--within that object lies the memory of a powerful experience.  All of us have medicine objects whether we know it or not--those things that have meaning to us.  Medicine objects may be crystals, things found in nature like shells or rocks or plants--even parts of dead animals.  They're very individual, very personal. 

Other tools include dreamwork, also what I call waterwork--in Christian tradition it's called baptism--but waterwork is aligning oneself with that element.  You can do this in the shower with a candle instead of electric light, perhaps using some nice oil before, saying prayers out loud as you shower, allowing all the stuff you don't want in your life to go down the drain.  You can take ritual baths, using epsom salts to draw out that which you don't want, candles and incense to bring in the fire and the light.  You can burn various woods such as cedar shavings or chips to send your prayers heavenward on the smoke.  You can do giveaways as a sacrifice--which means to do a sacred act--and in Native American tradition is taking someone of value to you and giving it to someone else in a sacred ritual. 

During ceremony, various tools include whistles and whistling, drumming, rattling, dancing, chanting to draw in the spirits.  What drumming does, or anything that has repetitive sound, is that it activates all of your brain--it involves all of the neurotransmitter processes in the brain and it focuses one's attention through the rhythmic nature of the sound.  Because of the effect on the biochemistry in the brain, healing can take place because of the property of narrowing focus--in other words, dispelling all extraneous material so the focus can intensify.  Drumming stimulates natural seratonin, which assists in this healing process.  Also people are using drumming with depressed persons with good results.  Michael Harner has some journeying tapes that are very good--Drumming for the Shamanic Journey and two others.  Drumming and rattling keeps you moving so you don't get stuck in ego-based reality.

Shamanic tools also include journeying, which we'll be doing later; and healing--shamans either put something lacking in or pull something destructive out.  Prayer is another tool, which is done during the daytime to bring something desired in and during the evening to release whatever is not needed.  Also prayer is the best way I know to set powerful intention--it helps to discover what our intention is.  The worst kind of praying is the prayer of petition, where we are begging for something--it doesn't work--or at least doesn't work to you ultimate advantage--because it disempowers rather than empowers.  In prayer, you're conversing with your soul, the elements, the spirits, and whatever you sense as a greater intelligence.  Ritual differs from prayer in that it includes sacred objects and preparation ahead of time.  Prayer is simpler and is intended to manifest or release or to answer questions.  The way that I use prayer is to call in the powerful spirits that have meaning to me, then to make my intention clear--what it is that I want, then to recognize the powers within me, to give thanks and then to complete the prayer.  And example might be something like: "Great Spirit, Great Mother, all my guides and angels, I ask for (more spiritual awareness, radiant physical or emotional health, realization of my role in the world, etc.) in the name of heaven, earth, the masculine, the feminine, and the sacred marriage of them all within my heart...I give thanks, (Amen, Ho, etc.).  What I discovered is that bringing my physical body into play during prayer by touching the forehead (heaven), the lower abdomen (earth), the right shoulder (masculine), the left shoulder (feminine), and the heart (the sacred marriage) created a more profound and real experience during prayer.  

The most important tool in shamanism is the belief in non-ordinary realities.  The more you practice journeying, study your dreams, and observe the magic all around you, the more those things become realities to the eventual goal of integration.

Journeying Within Shamanic Worlds

I'd like to hand out this chart to show you, based on my experience, what may be found in the various worlds in which a shaman travels--the upperworld, the middleworld, and the lowerworld.

SHAMANIC WORLDS

Upperworld

(Mystical/spiritual/inspirational)

5 & higher: Ineffable, light, nothing recognizable in terms of color of light, absolute, no ego/personality, difficult for ego to relate

4: Egoless, no individuality as if all egos have been dissolved and then combined together

3: Nothingness

2: Education/learning, purpose to learn that we create our own experience

1: Rest and recuperation/healing center

Middle World

Astral, purgatory, place of poltergeists, ghosts, hauntings, etc.  Souls reside here who have not been assisted in dying--they are confused, disoriented

Lower World

Psychological/elemental/natural/organic/sensate

1: Repository for psychological tools to be collected on way down

2: Transportation center after tools have been collected for work in lower levels

3 & lower: Inspiration/teaching/experiential; healing to bring back up

The overlay drawing represents the cosmic tree, world tree, or axis mundi--the center of the world where all creation begins.  And it is on and within this tree that the shaman travels from world to world.  The roots go into the lower world, the trunk is in the middle world, and the branches and leaves in the upperworld.  I always take beginning students into the lowerworld because it teaches groundedness, which is essential for wholeness.  We're already too top-heavy and heady in this society, particularly in spiritual groups that emphasize the heavenly aspects to the exclusion of the earthly ones.  Also, the middleworld is not just a non-ordinary place, it also includes ordinary experience, the astral, the physical, etc.   A shaman is a master at recognizing those worlds, traveling between them, and guiding people in them.

This chart may assist you when you do the journeying process--a sort of roadmap.  It is important to find a way into the lowerworld through a hole in the earth and then to make sure you come back through the same entrance.  This way, you will not tend to be disoriented upon your return.

The first step in journeying is to create a quiet environment where you will not be disturbed for 30-60 minutes--the journey may only take 20 minutes, but you will need time to integrate the experience and write it down.  Then either use a drumming tape, have a friend drum for you, or you can even do it yourself, but I don't recommend this for beginners because it may be distracting. 

Close your eyes, imagine an entrance into the earth, and begin to descend, bringing all of your senses into play--smell, touch, sight, hearing, taste, intuition.  This helps you develop a belief in the reality of such experience plus it assists in the healing or manifestation process.

An important thing to keep in mind while journeying is that whatever fears might be experienced, they are part of the journey.  So when they occur, the task is to see if they can be walked into and through.  This is where the assistance of an ally, such as a power animal, comes into play. 

When you have completed your descent, imagine a large opening, grotto, or room within the earth.  Sit down and become receptive.  Watch for animals and particularly any one which appears to you repeatedly.  It is your power animal.  Michael Harner recommends not allowing any animal who bears fangs, claws or other signs of danger, to be your power animal.  I believe this is sound advice for beginners.  It is also a good experience in exercising one's power in the process of telling a ferocious beast to go sit in a corner and not bother you.  When an animal has chosen you by appearing several times--and keep in mind that this animal may not be one which your conscious mind may have chosen--allow it to become your teacher.  Ask it to show you the answer to a question in your life and be willing to go where it takes you and to do what it bids you to do.  A power animal is our connection to our earthy, animal natures as well as to our power.  Researchers have found that people who easily use animals images in their lives are ones who have greater self images.

Spend as much time as you need in following your animal and learning what it has to teach you.  When you are complete with the journey, come back up the same way you entered the earth--and not too quickly, else dizziness may occur.  Come back into your ordinary awareness and spend some quiet time processing and writing your experience.

An important thing to keep in mind is that whatever is experienced during the journey--even what we think is nothing--is a teaching.  We are taught to discount anything that doesn't have palpable value, so it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking we did the journey wrong or we failed, when in truth, we got exactly what we needed to learn.  Shamanism leads us to health in the very fact that it leads us out of ordinary thinking.  It challenges us to become much more than we have ever imagined.