Waking up. the shamanic Path of Self Discovery & Spiritual Growth

Waking up is different now. I used to try to clear my head when I was waking up. I tried to orient myself to the day ahead and to the physical world around me. Now I do just the opposite. I try to hang onto that twilight state as long as possible and glean what I can from the dream world I haven’t quite left behind me. It is in this twilight state that I am often able to connect more fully with a form of wisdom that is not normally accessible in our world. This is now the guiding wisdom in my life and I am committed to following it as faithfully as possible. Following conventional wisdom only led me into despair so there is no turning back for me now.

Just over 7 years ago I began to emerge from a very deep depression that I had endured for 4 years of my life. The word depression doesn’t really convey the kind of experience you have when it takes you over. During that time it was a torment to be alive and in the end, after pursuing as many of the mainstream solutions as I could stand (most made things far worse for me), I was ready to do just about anything to relieve my suffering. I then discovered an unusual form of ‘energy healing’. I found it remarkable that energy could flow through me and move my body in a way that began to heal me without interference from my mind. I felt a change in me and had to know more about energy healing and where it originated. I bought a book on the subject and it became apparent that energy healing had its roots in shamanism.

I began to look for ways to learn more about shamanism and discovered an opportunity that was perfect for me. It was a workshop that was an introduction to this mysterious world of knowledge and I was somehow confident that it would make a big difference in my life despite the fact that I knew so little about it. It seems to me now looking back that it must have been at that point that my intuition had finally kicked in. Either that or I wisely began to follow it instead of ignoring it in favour of other people’s opinions of what was best for me or what I needed. Shamanism was a mystery to me but the word was familiar so I knew that I must have heard something about it before. Since then I recalled that years before while taking a 3rd year university course called Philosophy of Psychology, I had read material that included a story about a psychologist who went into an indigenous community with the intention of exposing the shaman as a charlatan. Instead the psychologist was won over by the experience. I hadn’t recalled this until recently so when I entered this workshop, I really had nothing to go on but my experience of energy healing and my conviction that this was where I needed to be.

I went into this experience with an openness that was fueled by my desire to heal. All of my previously held ideas and judgements about spirituality fell by the wayside like so many other preconceived notions that had been lost while I sank deeper into depression. I had been deconstructed in a way by depression and that would ultimately become an important aspect of my recovery. The workshop provided all participants with various methods used to connect with ‘spirits’ but the main one was to ‘journey’ into the spirit world. This was achieved by laying blindfolded and listening to what they called sonic drumming which was a monotonous drum beat intended to bring the participants into an altered state of consciousness. I had never been able to meditate so this experience was a frustrating one for me initially. I tried all of the techniques that were recommended and wasn’t able to experience what everyone else did in each session. Many people described entering a beautiful and magical place and interacting with spirits in various forms. Hearing these stories made me feel more frustrated than ever. Finally, when it came time to use these journeying sessions to perform a task for other participants, I simply had to tell our instructor that I was unable to do so. He agreed to journey on my behalf and perform this task for me. The task was to connect me with my ‘helping spirit’. Once this task was completed, with very little effort on my part, I was told what form the spirit took – an animal – and was given one more opportunity to ‘journey’. This time, I had visions while my eyes were closed, and they were relevant to the concerns I had in my life at that time. The visions were very short lived and later, I was tempted to believe that I had imagined it all. Writing this now, I remember a friend who had previously told me that she had visions. I remember thinking “why does she do this?” “for attention maybe?”. I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t consider for a moment that she really did have these visions. It was outside of my experience, so I dismissed it out of hand looking for other reasons why she might tell such a story. I’m now becoming well acquainted with the concept of a cosmic joke. There are often valuable lessons to be had in these cosmic jokes and if we can learn to fully appreciate this we can benefit from these ‘jokes’ immensely.

I didn’t really know what to make of the whole shamanic experience afterwards. All I wanted was to feel better and after the workshop was over, I did. I was able to visit my father in hospital where he had resided for 6 months in extended care after an accident that caused him a severe brain injury. I wasn’t able to do this before. In fact, I wasn’t able to do much of anything really so this was a huge step forward. It was just one step on a long road but at last I felt like progress was possible and that things could really change for me. I began to test out my ability to communicate with this ‘spirit’. I did so by asking questions of it before I went to sleep. I began to have visions sometimes that responded to these questions while I was in that twilight state just before sleep (and sometimes afterwards). I didn’t really consider the fact that I was about to enter an altered state of consciousness when going to sleep. I did this before sleep initially because it was sort of like a prayer and that was my only frame of reference to spirituality whatsoever. It was a surprise to me that I found myself involved in anything spiritual given my previous negative experiences associated with religion but I had been suffering so deeply that I was willing to do anything to relieve it.

It took me quite a while to realize that there may have been a purpose to the suffering after all. I know that I wouldn’t have pursued any of this if I hadn’t been so desperate to relieve my suffering. I have little doubt now that I was meant to have these experiences but unfortunately a little goes a long way. While working on my doubt I continue to have extraordinary experiences. I often call them “incredible” and then I think on the meaning of that word. Things we find overwhelmingly positive we often refer to as ‘incredible’ and things we find to be negative, we often refer to as ‘reality’. Our language itself seems to be skewed in favor of legitimizing the negative over the positive. Up until now, I was mostly focused on getting better and that’s all that mattered. It’s still really all that matters but when conveying this experience to others, the issue of credibility does come up although it’s rarely addressed head on. I think it will be an interesting experience to explore what we consider to be credible and how we measure credibility. My way of exploring is through discovering the meaning. Others explore scientifically. There are many ways to explore and I believe that we all have our own ways and means and this is a reflection of how beautifully unique we all are. Given the experiences I’ve had, I believe that our uniqueness has value and that there is great potential for harmony among all of these unique avenues of inquiry and exploration.

The questions I put to this spiritual presence initially were all related to physical and emotional issues that I was suffering from at the time. I often got answers in the form of words or images. Sometimes I wouldn’t get words or images but would soon stumble across a remedy or opportunity of one sort or another and eventually I realized that this was in fact the answer or response to my question. One of those answers was Iboga. It is an entheogen, or plant medicine as they are often called. Sometimes they are also called visionary or teacher plants. All good names I think. Iboga is in fact a tree and it’s the bark of this tree that is ingested in the shamanic ceremony. When you ingest it, your state of consciousness is altered and you are able to ask questions of the spirit that inhabits the plant or in this case, tree. When experiencing Iboga you often have visions that make you an observer of your own life experience. These visions are often designed to allow the observers to see certain behaviours that do not serve them. I had these kinds of visions and they had an enduring impact on me. If I was in my regular state of mind at the time of having them, it would have been a painful experience (the images were not flattering) but I wasn’t and the normal reaction was suspended long enough to allow me to see and fully realize the truth of these images. It’s not an easy thing but very powerful. There are many other experiences to be had with Iboga and there is the potential to answer a vast range of questions not only about oneself but about the world, the universe and everything as they say.

Every experience with Iboga is unique to the individual who ingests it. Everyone who participates in an Iboga ceremony is encouraged to make a list of questions to ask. One of the most important questions that I had for Iboga was “What is my purpose?”. It was such an important question for me that I think I would have done all of it just to answer this one question. The response came in the form of two microphones that landed in front of me. The first was a round, universal microphone and the second was an oblong one. I was so astonished that I didn’t respond right away. It took me a while to digest this. Thankfully, I had some time to consider all of it before my next Iboga experience. During my next experience I decided to ask “How do I use my voice to serve my purpose?”. The answer came with the same microphones. The first universal one landed in front of me accompanied by the word “Speak”. The second microphone landed as well accompanied by the word “Sing”.

It has taken me a while to officially speak as I had to make some huge life changes when I returned home from my Iboga experience. Since then, I have continued on my journey to discover more about these healing plants and about myself and the world around me. The journey so far has taken me to Costa Rica (initially to do Iboga), to Mexico to experience Peyote and then to Peru to experience Ayahuasca. It was confirmed in Peru that I am to use my voice to speak about these experiences and the dialogue that I had with Ayahuasca has not ended. It continues daily and although there are shifting identities of the spiritual presence I’m in contact with (sometimes Ayahuasca, other times Iboga and my ‘higher self’ among others), there has been a presence with me ever since that experience in Peru. During one of my ceremonies I was told “we will stay with you..” and it seems that “they” were true to their words.

It took me some time to adjust to the inner voice of this presence. My inner voice had not always been so wise and kind and loving. Initially, I was in a state of disbelief but I realized that disbelieving your own experience is far more psychologically unhealthy than trying to understand it. I had a lot of help with understanding it as this voice has guided me faithfully through all of my initial questioning and fears. I had always been a very questioning person. What I found most disarming about my initial foray into shamanic training. At the very beginning, I was told that it didn’t matter what I believed initially and this was true. It was the experience itself that was the important thing at the time. Ultimately, my beliefs began to change as a result of my experiences. Now I realize that it’s the deeper beliefs about myself that matter more than religious or spiritual beliefs. Spirituality has been a means to help me examine these personal beliefs and to change them for the better which has changed so many other things in my life in a positive and powerful way.

I continue to be guided in just about every aspect of my life and most days are full of lessons, instructions and unexpected twists and turns. This experience was initially so overwhelming that for the longest time, I wasn’t able to write but I made some recordings of many of the essential lessons I received and worked on the more important task of applying them in my life. The various healing tools that I used, such as plant medicines, are not for everyone. We are all unique in our needs and in terms of what is appropriate for each of us at each stage of our lives. One thing that is universal is the ability to tap into our inner source of wisdom or intuition to discover what we need as individuals. There are many ways to achieve this and I encourage everyone to find their own effective method of self-discovery. It is an extraordinary opportunity for healing and growth that is unique to each individual. You are the common denominator in every experience you have in this life and learning more about yourself can only help to change things for the better. As it turns out, it is, in fact, all about you.