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Shamanic Seeing

Shamanic 'Seeing'


The following is an illuminating exchange I had with a practitioner who has been making his first explorations into seeing (the term ‘seeing’ can be used inclusively to also refer to the other senses such as hearing, scent, touch, and even taste), and being guided and taught by the living world around him. I include it nearly in its entirety because it is completely suggestive of the shift we make as we move from a contemporary western, to a more shamanic way of understanding, living, and working within the world around us.

While on this ‘leg’ of his journey into shamanism, this particular student was guided by a deep, instinctive feeling that he needed to take a solo trip to the wild and wonderful Red Rock State Park in Arizona, US. Such a solo journey is demanding, and forces an immediate confrontation with oneself, yet opens one up to the possibility of developing the shamanic ear and eye.

Student Practitioner: “I have always been an outdoors person and listened to what's going on around me, but trying to listen and see as a shaman brings me to a new level of awareness of possible meaning to sounds and textures around me."

My Reply:  Yes: this kind of ‘posture’ towards the world is precisely that of a shaman. It is taking this ‘leap’ into a shamanic way of seeing and hearing that allows what you are experiencing to show itself as meaningful to you. For us in the present age, this is making a rapprochement with the natural world.

Student Practitioner: “For example, I've been aware of birds calling out to communicate with other birds for different reasons, but have never considered that the message may be for me. - I've been more of a bystander, a voyeur in their environment."

My Reply:  Yes again. This observer posture is much of a broadly held and contemporary ‘gestalt’. This observational posture was eagerly embraced, especially with the start of the scientific era, with a hope of deeper understanding of the world. Certainly, it has shown us many things, and has helped debunk some of the cult religions that rely on belief in order to survive. However, this observer posture has to the same degree, distanced us from understanding. It has disenchanted the world, and removed the awareness of our integration with it.

To be an observer (the shaman is the original scientist!), and to be an integrated participant (a shamanic practitioner) is like being able to sit on both ends of a see-saw simultaneously, and by choice. The shaman is one who can sit on either end without losing balance, and traverse across to either end at will, comfortably.

Student Practitioner: “Several times while listening and trying to be open to teaching I got the definite feeling that there was a lesson offered but that I was unable to hear/see/feel the teaching.  Very frustrating, like before I bought my hearing aids when I could tell that someone was trying to communicate with me but I could not make sense out of the sounds."

My Reply:  The frustration, then, coaxes us back to where it is easier, which is probably much of what pulls you towards this kind of work! The comparison with a hearing aid is quite apt.

Student Practitioner: “…while sitting very still one evening and doing my best to stay open and welcoming to the spirits I suddenly became very hot. Since I was sitting in an unheated place and had been there for some time I don't believe this was a physiological reaction on the part of my body to the environment, but the experience of suddenly becoming quite hot is open to a lot of interpretations. Having spent my youth in cold climates I tend to think of warm as representing a safe environment, but I must admit that this is my interpretation and may not be a teaching. If it was a teaching I know not whom my teacher is."

My Reply:  The feeling of heat is completely consistent with shamanic work, and similar in this sense to Reiki. Practitioners are always reporting changes in temperature, most frequently to warm, and just as commonly, hot, while doing shamanic work. It does seem that at these times we are making a particularly strong connection with the spirits, which is why I believe that it is for instance, more frequently encountered while merging and doing work like extraction for which an exceedingly deep merge is necessary.

Student Practitioner: “While walking the soft rocky slope just below one of the bluffs at Red Rock State Park I slipped on a rock and abruptly sat down.  Unhurt but slightly dirty I definitely got the message: 'sit down, slow down, look at things from our perspective instead of rushing by.'"

My Reply:  Ha! So right, so well put. The messages from the natural world always include ourselves… to different degrees, and in different ways. Here, your inclusion was quite corporal! More frequently, the inclusion will be a kind of ‘slip stream’ between what we have been trying to call ‘psychological’ and what has been in the present era opposed as ‘physical’. It is precisely this ability to not separate categories of experience (and following this, discount the one or the other) that starts to let the practitioner open their shamanic eyes and ears.

Student Practitioner:  “A slightly different message came in three different lessons in the next two days:  while slowly driving my way up Emigrant Pass, I noticed a large flock of small black birds come out of nowhere (a canyon, I suspect) and swirl around a few hundred yards ahead of me, circling and then disappearing again in a different direction. They re-appeared from this direction moments later and did the same 'swirl and fly away', and then disappeared in the same spot as before. Rounding the curve in that same direction I came upon a small oasis, with palm trees, green shrubs, and other healthy trees of different types. I spent a while here, soaking up the quiet and peace of the oasis, and thinking of the pioneers with their heavy wagons who undoubtedly stopped at this very same place to rest their oxen and themselves."

My Reply:  Excellent. Now what we will be learning is how to tap these experiences, such as that of slipping and falling, and that of the black birds, for further information that they may be trying to point us towards. Some of this further discovery will be in the journeywork that we will be doing, however there is much that can be done right here. For instance, you could go into a shamanic state of consciousness and proceed from these signals to where they are leading, if these are in fact signals that are there for us to follow. One signal may lead to the next, and that to the next, etc, until the message is clear.

Student Practitioner: “The second instance was while approaching Scotty's Castle in Death Valley, I suddenly noticed a very handsome coyote standing still at the base of a palm tree. Probably the animal had moved just enough to attract my attention and then remained motionless as I tried my very best to reach out to him with my vision and hearing and heart. The coyote is a resident there, finding trash cans and tourists much easier than foraging in the desert, but today he was my teacher: along with the birds of earlier in the day he is telling me to 'see what I am looking at and embrace what I don't expect to see'."

My Reply:  Good listening. Good interaction. This is it.

Student Practitioner: “The third instance of this message came while visiting the ghost mining town of Rhyolite. While driving into the town I noticed a 'free museum' sign alongside the road and investigated, expecting a museum of mining equipment and artifacts from the abandoned town. What I found was some amazing artwork, a ghost bicycle rider, a life-sized impression of the last supper, a 'mother earth' statue, an Icarus atop a large pole, and an amazing art deco sofa made of scraps (tile, toys, broken glass, cooking pot lids, and so forth).  Again, the message of: 'see what I am looking at and embrace what I don't expect to see' came loud and clear through the artwork."

My Reply:  Interesting. There may have been more in terms of information to be found there as well, which is what we will be pursuing as we go along in (link follows) The Path, Level 1 training. As we are guided through the natural world, we are not differentiating ‘urban’ or ‘civilization’ from ‘indigenous’ or natural’. In this sense, there is nothing ‘artificial’, if by this we mean separate from the living world around us.

This is why one can be just as easily guided by a shamanic eye and ear through downtown San Francisco (or in this case by the tiny ghost town of Rhyolite) by billboards, buses and dusty ‘Free Museum’ signs, as in the ‘natural’ world of rocks, trees, birds and creeks.

Hence, the ‘noticing’ of the sign is not to be overlooked just as one would more easily know to not overlook Coyote!