Mindfulness Methods: The Shamanic Journey
This post is part of our Mindfulness Methods series, a collection of blogs dedicated to exploring different techniques we use to enhance our float experiences. Let me emphasize that there’s no wrong way to float, but sometimes we need a little help to get the most out of our time in the tank.
A Recent Journey
Here’s a snippet from something I wrote in my float journal a couple weeks ago:
"Once I arrived back to the tree, [my friend] approached. She looked up at me with a furrowed brow, as if she was deeply concerned about something. I reached into my chest and pulled out my heart, which was glowing. I showed her the part that belonged to her. That seemed to cause her body to glow as well, dimly at first, but then brighter and brighter until she was absolutely radiant… She looked at me with a big smile... and I was able to move on."
I know what you’re probably thinking: “What the heck is Justin talking about?!” I promise I’ll get into that. But first, there’s more to this story:
That same evening after that float, I saw a message from the very friend I’d had that interaction with by the tree. The tone of her message was emotional. Because I'd just received a reminder of the effect love and compassion can have on others (and on her specifically), I immediately knew how to handle her message. We were easily able to calm her worries.
Pretty cool, huh?
What’s Going On?
I’m going to be honest. There’s no real consensus on what the mental state is where we can have experiences like that. Different philosophies will tell you different things. In traditional shamanism, it’s known as a shamanic journey to the lower world. Some might call it a lucid dream, though you're definitely awake for it. I’ve also heard it described as "having a conversation with your unconscious." My favorite description, though, is “visiting your inner secret garden.” Isn't that beautiful? Whatever you call it, and however you wish to understand it, it’s a powerful method. One that has been a consistent source of direction and understanding for me and countless others.
So, while I can’t tell you what exactly is happening, I can share with you the explanation that makes the most sense to me. If nothing else, it’s a starting point from which you can expand depending on your own beliefs and understanding. And it all has to do with the brain…
Our brain is so much more powerful than just what we experience with our conscious minds. Like, insanely more powerful. Consider this: every second that you’re awake, your conscious mind can process about 40 bits of information. Your subconscious, on the other hand, can process upwards of 20 million bits of information. Every. Second.
Your brain is teeming with information you’re not aware of. That information gets filtered through all of your years of experience and pattern recognition to determine what is the most pertinent in this moment, and that’s what we end up perceiving consciously. We’re often told that the answers we seek are already inside us, and that’s quite possibly true in most cases. We simply have to learn how to access all that untapped wisdom.
While the shamanic journey is but one way to access our hidden vaults of wisdom, it’s definitely the most fun. It involves putting your conscious and your subconscious in a state where the two can interface. The conscious mind is where language and directive thought occur, while the subconscious communicates in images and feelings. So, when the two merge, it feels like you're in a video game where the character you’re playing is your conscious mind, and the world through which you’re adventuring is your subconscious. Every aspect of the experience is coming from you, so everything that happens can give you deeper insight into what’s going on in your mind and in your life.
Let me give you another excerpt from my journal. This one is about a float that happened after I had a friend commit suicide:
"As I was sitting under the tree, [my friend’s] mom approached me. While I couldn’t understand her words, it was clear that she was telling me things I needed to share with [my friend’s] family in the real world. I knew intuitively what those things were..."
I remember being upset by how my friend was represented at his funeral. The man they described was not the man I knew. This float helped me see that it was important that I shared a side of him with his family that they didn't know as well, or perhaps had forgotten. This led to a very healing experience for all of us, and definitely helped my grieving process.
“Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again.”
If you're interested in exploring deeper parts of yourself through a shamanic journey, here are the steps I use that work for me:
- Begin by relaxing in your float. Relaxation is always the first step!
- Eventually, you’ll begin to feel your mind soften and your awareness drift away from your body. This is the point at which you can begin your visualization. It can take some practice to recognize when this happens.
- Visualize a place you’re familiar with - I often use my childhood home - and imagine using it as a starting place. Then imagine heading from that place toward a nearby passageway into the earth. This could be something like a hole in the ground or a tree root. I’ve even used a manhole before. Don’t force anything. If you’re trying to imagine your cabin in the mountains but your Aunt’s lake house keeps clearly popping into your mind, go with what’s clearest.
- Now that you’ve begun to journey, continue to descend deeper into the passageway (you'll often find a tunnel below the surface) until you come across a door. Clear your mind of expectations as you open it to reveal your own secret garden. If you've relaxed enough to allow your subconscious to bubble to the surface, it will be represented by what you see.
- Familiarize yourself with your new surroundings. A guide will often be there to greet you. Guides do not speak (language doesn’t exist in the subconscious), but they may gesture or permit feelings in order for you to understand them. The meaning of your experiences will often be obvious, but some might require a bit more pondering post-journey. I often write about my experiences in my journal to help me remember them and continue to tease out deeper lessons.
- Once you’re done with your experience, which will usually be intuitive, proceed back to the door through which you entered. Head back to your starting point (your Aunt’s lake house or wherever). Upon arrival, bring awareness back to your body and connect with your surroundings. Welcome back!
Do not worry if your first few attempts feel blurry or forced. It takes practice, but you will eventually be able to interact with your garden and the characters in it, and have it all respond to you in a way that does not feel controlled. That’s when you know you’re contacting those deeper wells of knowledge and you will find your most profound lessons.
This Mindfulness Method is recommended for advanced floaters. It helps to already be able to consistently access deep levels of relaxation. If you want to know more about the topic or could use a bit of assistance, we’re lucky to have an amazing Shaman locally who both practices and teaches the shamanic journey. I encourage you to reach out to Dannielle at shamanictwist.com with any interest. She’s much more qualified to help you with your specific questions than I am.
Or schedule a float! We're happy to give you some face-to-face time.
Or check out our Library if you'd like to research more on your own.