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Seeing in the Dark

Seeing in the Dark


The following account includes a letter from a practitioner who is pretty much answering his own questions, but the nature of his questions and his own thoughts about them made me stop and realize that this letter should be passed forward to everyone. It is especially illuminating regarding the radical differences there are between ordinary and non-ordinary ways of perceiving.

Moreover, this practitioner adroitly points to some of the deep, underlying shifts we must make when undertaking the huge leap into shamanism. How do we know what we know? When can we believe what we see? How, for that matter, does any practitioner see, hear, and otherwise experience what lies beyond ordinary perception?

This practitioner had been visiting his upper world teacher. Here is what he has to say:

“I can honestly say that I don't know what my teacher looks like. I think that is the lesson in of itself, to stop relying on ordinary senses to perceive non-ordinary reality. I'm sure that I've seen my teacher and the lessons have been coming, there have been many revelations about the past unexplained things. However, the lessons came to me more in the form of just suddenly ‘knowing’ or a gut feeling rather than spoken word and the teacher's features have been hazy. It's a little hard to explain. When I am in the journey I'm sure it's happening. Yet I cannot focus on the detail.”

“Not everything has to be seen to be believed. There have been many things that I cannot say that I saw yet I know were there. And there have been many feelings that come without explanation but prove to be valid after the events have unfolded. An example of the former would be shadows moving past in the corner of my eye. You're so sure they were there you fully expect to turn around and see someone standing behind you, watching you and yet there is nobody. Or a feeling of impending events that seems so random yet the next day the doorbell rings and your hunch has been fulfilled.“

“Or a wave of negative or positive energy that sweeps across a group of people. I've heard whispers of people who weren't there yet were very friendly. In a similar fashion, I never saw my teacher yet I know they were there and the lessons were very real. In my journeys seeing was believing. I use a blindfold yet keep my eyes open in hopes that I will see the visions with my sight. And sometimes that happens but the times when it did not occur does not mean that it was not successful. All of the journeys have been affecting me whether I realized it or not. I've also got the feeling that my lessons are just beginning.”

This is a wonderful account of many matters that we start to think through when we approach shamanic studies. For instance, the use of a blindfold is simply to reduce the opportunity for even the slightest light to stimulate our retina and cause our mind to veer back towards ordinary reality. Journey work is strictly with eyes closed, since we are not attempting to view ordinary reality.

The ‘haziness’ he describes in terms of non-ordinary visual perception is quite familiar to practitioners, especially at the beginning. Different practitioners are all different on this. Usually, a practitioner has one or another mode of non-ordinary perception that are clearer than others. His non-ordinary image ‘haziness’ may, or may not, become clearer with time and familiarity with journeying. Very often, it does become clearer. Regardless, there is always a 'familiarity curve' in this perception so things tend to become sharper as we find our footing.

I particularly applaud his thought that this vagueness might be a lesson in itself. Our spirit teachers are renowned for throwing ‘in our face’ exactly the lessons we need to learn, and typically, in their order of importance. Clearly (no pun intended!) he has received an important lesson. By digesting this lesson and taking it to heart, he might find things changing, in both his ordinary and non-ordinary life! The gut feeling, he speaks of, that something is real and right, is a very familiar validation with practitioners, and actually becomes a leading prompt in their decisions during their work. I always encourage listening to these prompts extremely closely as they become a large part of how we move ahead. 

Also, one of the primary ways of receiving information is exactly as he describes: a 'knowing', and this often precedes other perceptions we become familiar with when navigating non-ordinary reality. It may easily be stronger than non-ordinary hearing or vision in our shamanic perception's development. It is something that is likely to be a significant part of his way of working, whether or not he ends up developing more of the non-ordinary audio or visual forms of reception.

I am very glad this practitioner brought these questions and experiences forward. These are questions that occur to many students, and they are quite justified. This student will have plenty of opportunities to further explore relationships with his spirit teacher (or teachers), and develop these important relationships over the years ahead.

There is always the matter of having our previous ways of seeing, hearing and knowing sway our non-ordinary perceptions. Our previous ordinary reality experience of perception is deeply entrenched, and lends a subtle, even if unconscious, expectancy that this perception ‘works’ in non-ordinary reality as well. However, shamanic practice learns to perceive without ordinary reality to stimulate it.

He speaks of ‘whispers’ in ordinary reality ears and the ‘shadows in the corner’ of ordinary reality eyes. Whether he was aware of it or not, he was already tapping into his non-ordinary perception, and these are like bits of non-ordinary frosting on the cake. Experiences such as these can lend a huge encouragement for exploring the non-ordinary world.

However, most shamanic journeywork involves a blindfold over closed eyes, while a drum or rattle beats in the ears. This way, both ordinary sight and its sounds are obscured, and without the intrusion of ordinary reality, we can focus on the non-ordinary.

The mind of the shaman is the screen upon which non-ordinary reality appears. The shaman is capable of his or her work precisely because they become the bridge between the worlds. In other words, it is upon the 'screen' of the practitioner's mind that non-ordinary reality has the opportunity to be accessed. It is the shaman, who with training, has the opportunity to be able to 'see in the dark', as shamans have often been described, which means to see where ordinary reality casts no light.