Don’t ask me how (because that would lead to a different story) but: I was with a shaman last summer, in the slovakian’s mountains, to undertake my first shamanic journey.
– There are three worlds, he said: the under-world, the upper-world and the world we live in. Those worlds exist in every mythology or religion, whether they are called hell, paradise, etc.
– Hmm, hmm, I said.
– Each world has his own characteristics… but I won’t go into details, just keep in mind that the upper-world is more like a “spiritual connected place” and the under-world a place where spirits deal with more… “down-to-earth” things. Ok ?
– Ok, I said.
– Ok! (he confirmed) Now what you want to do, for this first trip in the under-world is to find your “power animal”…
I already knew about that part. “Power Animal” ! It sounded so cool ! I wasn’t sure about the trip but I definitely wanted to find my Power Animal. Surely it would be a lion or a tiger, a roaring magnificent beast I could identify myself with…
– Remember, the shaman went on, your power animal isn’t an image of yourself… It’s more like a guide one should asked advice to…
– Ok, I answered, my thoughts fully focused on the size of my lion. I hope it’d be big and shiny. A tiger would do but wolves really suck I think, given they are far too common… What about a bear? Hmm, let me think…
– …so this is how it works. Ok? Just try to focus.
Meanwhile, the shaman had went on and I hadn’t listened a word.
– Now remember, he added, it’s best to start at a place you are familiar with, like somewhere you feel comfortable, somewhere connected with your childhood. Ok, you can lie down, I’m going to play the drum.
I waited for some more indication that never came.
– But, I shyly asked, are we not using any kind of herbs… or substances…?
The shaman dropped his shoulders to each side of his chest, slowly elongating his neck, nose to the wind, eyes to the sky as he seemed to entered some deep consideration.
– Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, he interminably buzzed, I would rather not. It can help but it is less natural. And you would need some additional ritual. You know, all those plants, or drugs, such as tobacco for example: they were used in very particular occasions and along with particular rituals by the native Americans. Only when the Occident commercialized it did it become a meaningless daily product and therefore noxious substance…
I actually already had been taught that during my visit in spring 2014 to the Navajo reservation, in New Mexico, where I had smoked the pipe with a Navajo medicine-man (but again, this is a different story).
– So no, he pursued, you’ll go by the drum. Just free your mind, just let go and see where the journey takes you…
I would have asked him one billion more questions if it wasn’t for the other fifteen people who I had came along with and who all seemed ready to go. So I laid down on the shower towel I had spread over the grass and shut my mouth and my eyes on a stupendous blue sky… the drum started to beat.
Hey ! You’re still here ? I can’t see anyone now… We are in my head and it’s all black in here. Black as an anus (my funniest friends would say) although anuses have a tendency to go pink, but of course, that has nothing to do with my shamanic journey. These are just what we call parasite thoughts. I’m having millions at the moment. From the no man’s land of my mind you can see ideas popping-up, words or images, sometimes memories of a smell… Here, look in this rectangular screen flying over us : it’s a random slovakian tv show I saw on TV at the hostel, two days ago. Oh wait, we are in my parents house now, and my mother is spreading food all over her face (nothing special, this is just the way she eats). Ok. Now we are driving a car in a swamp that turns into a cinema poster shrinking and extending into a black and white strawberry fields loaded with clouds that you can walk on and… WAIT ! Stop. That’s not what it’s about. I have to focus.
The shaman said to start at a place I was comfortable with and from where I could go underground… I know ! Let’s go to the twisted tree!! Look: in one second it’s popping up ! And here we are. That tree you see, with this weird arch-shape that makes him look like he his taking roots twice is where I used to play during summer times, in my childhood. It was the meeting point of the children of the neighborhood. The tree was providing us with everything we needed: a clear meeting spot (as mentioned before); a goal (would a football game occur); branches to climb on and, the most important: a big bite of magic and mystery ! Why was it twisted ? As an adult I’d answered “because of the wind”, but as a child this rational explanation, the only one there is, didn’t sound convincing enough: there had to be something magic about it.
In reality the tree has disappeared: they removed it during the past years. The people who did that have no idea what they actually did “remove”. The trunk surely barked as it fell down, some guttural endlessly deep claim meaning more than they’d ever suspect, and millions of invisible butterflies surely flew away from the hole it left behind… I guess. I wasn’t there, and as an adult it actually took me a while to realize that the one thing I felt was missing in the landscape of the park was actually our beloved twisted tree.
But it’s ok, don’t worry: in my head where you’re sitting now, the twisted tree stands (or should I say it benches?) just as good as it ever did. Let’s go under the arch of its trunk and see if we can go down, somewhere through the grass, to the Underworld… Bingo ! Look: it’s opening! A tiny hole at the surface of the grass. Let’s go down !
The hole is tiny as I said, but I fit in perfectly and the roots coming out of the wall make it handy for me to go down… I get a bit of fresh soil on my hairs and on my clothes but that won’t kill… Hey ! What now ? Look at the wall: they’re turning into a perfect brick construction ! Somehow it reminds me of a roman aqueduct… you know, like the one I have in my home town by the highway, or the one you can see in the comic “Asterix”… I don’t remember in what album though… maybe the movie? Did you see the Asterix movies ? I didn’t really like the third one or the first one, but I loved the second one, obvi… PARASITE THOUGHTS !!!! Quick !!! Let’s go back to my journey… where was I ? Ok, falling down a rabbit hole like Alice, with furnitures floating all around me… No, no, no: this is the Disney cartoon! I need MY journey… Right here: the white bricked underground aqueduct, that’s right ! And now, thanks to the shining quartz-ed bricks that carpet the ground I can tell I am arrived to… somewhere… underground.
GET OUT OF MY HEAD
Now you can get out of my head for me to narrate you the end of the story. That will gain us some time since you won’t have to endure the coming and going of those parasite thoughts that kept bothering me all my journey long, but less and less as I was going further.
After landing on that white bricked grounded I found myself in a corridor, with the walls made out of white bricks (and earth for the upper part). Where the corridor was leading to couldn’t be seen. It was all peach black but I had no other option than walking down, and as I did, the walls revealed themselves as being part of an aqueduct or a bridge, yes, a bridge that would curve itself in the air as I was walking on it, moving as a gigantic skeleton-snake would do… a skeleton-snake actually being what the bridge turned into. I was out of the corridor for good by now. The skeleton-snake bridge had extended itself over a lava river that guarded the entrance of a vast cavern… So vast that it looked as a whole world… the Under-world !
The place looked totally empty but you could sense a presence, an immense vital force was living there in the darkness if it wasn’t the darkness itself.
I kept walking down the bridge and realized a dark blue line was marking the horizon far far away, allowing me to distinguish the Under-world land from the sky.
Good ! But what now ? Where the sealion was my power animal?
I had visualized our encounter dozen of times before starting the journey. Whether it would be a lion, a tiger, a panther, a wolf or a beaver it always happened the same way and I expected it to occur “for real” now that I was there but it didn’t. Of course, the memory of what I had imagined before starting the trip came up, but it was a parasite thought, not “reality”.
As nothing was happening and my Under-world was empty, I decided to walk toward the dark blue line of the horizon, away from the bridge… One step, and another… another and… all of a sudden, bubbling from the ground, a perfectly rounded hill mushroomed in front of me, breaking the line of the horizon… Waouw ! And that wasn’t over: six more popped up simultaneously right after, forming an half circle around the first one!
There really were some cool special effects in the Under-world… now if I could as well find my powe… wait. There is something at the top of the first hill. It wasn’t there a second before, was it ? Oh my Blog! It’s four-legged !!! It is an animal!!! It is…
…A LAMA ?!?!?!?!
It felt like a bamboo strike behind the neck (a bamboo or a chair, up to you, whatever hurts… and yes, bamboo can be very painful). Honestly it was a terrible deception. During days I had already pictured myself bragging about having a lion, a tiger or (in the worst case) a wolf as power animal… and I ended up with a lama?!? No way! I mean… have you ever seen a lama ? It’s really like a horse-sized sheep with a rabbit head, how can this even enter the power animals category ?! WTF !!! And what is a lama known for, hmm? Spitting !! Ridiculous… If really this was my power animal shamanism sucked for good! Whatever: I’ll say I found a wolf like everybody else…
While moaning and whining about the lama I was paying more attention to it. Physically, I was at the foot of the hill but I could easily zoom on the lama with my mind.
The lama was all black but it somehow would clearly distinguish himself from the background. It wasn’t like a real lama but more like a cartoon version of a lama, a stylized one alternating angles and curves. The most striking feature of it was his look. The perfect black of his pupils occupied the perfect rounded white of his eyes… Such a cold look. So severe. So powerful. The lama had an incredible presence and charisma, although he looked quite tiny in this endless subterranean cavern… One thing was sure, he was looking at me from above and he hadn’t a friendly look.
I didn’t feel too concerned by his look though. The presence of this lama in my Under-world felt like an insult to me and I was on the edge of giving up that damn shamanic journey… I mean come on ?! What’s the point if I end up being insulted that way !
A strong parasite thought was taking me back to the twisted tree, forcing me to walk all the way again and again to see if something else than a lama could occur… But, sadly, there was somehow only one true version of the shamanic journey that would impose itself against all the tricks of my will and imagination: the lama was here to stay.
What to do now ?
This is the moment I remembered something the Shaman had mentioned about some possible encounter with “a guardian” during the journey, who shouldn’t be mistaken with the power animal… if such thing happened, the Shaman recommended we ask the animal for its role/identity.
I instantly flew to the Lama to clarify the situation.
The Lama still had his severe look but he was now beating the ground at the same pace than some far-away drum rhythm with its back-right foot, hoof, or whatever the right word is to designate lama’s feet, I don’t care anyway, I don’t like them!!!
– Are you my power animal ?! I asked with an undisguised disgust.
The lama stared at me. With the sole power of his freezing look, he was able to make me feel like shit. He didn’t scare me though. I could sense no perversity in his character, just a massively huge disapprobation arrowing against me.
I asked him again since he didn’t bother answering:
– Are you my power animal ?
He took his time but finally admitted:
WHAT-A-RELEASE !! My heart sprung against my chest, brimming with joy, hope and felicity, or in other words: cool!!! But what was this lama doing there, then ? Was he a guardian ?
– Are you a guardian ? I asked
His answer was troublesome:
– No, he said.
That wasn’t logic anymore (I mean: contrarily to chatting with a cartoon-lama in a black underworld). What was he if he wasn’t a guardian? My power animal?
– Yes. He said.
– But I didn’t ask you for sealion-sake!!!
The idea had just been passing through my mind!! This couldn’t count!! I had to do something: my will and imagination took over the journey and copied past the “no” answer he had given before to the “yes” one he just gave… That shamanic journey was really getting messy layer-wise but no way I would end up with the lama…
I zoomed away from him, fought some parasite thoughts, did the whole journey again on fast forward mode, urged by the feeling that, at any moment, the “yes” answer he gave me in last could come back on the top layer of my mind and push the journey forward… I had to find another starting point!
This is when I gave a double look at the beating leg of the Lama. I hadn’t thought it was important before: given lamas have a rabbit face it didn’t surprise me he was acting like Thumper (Panpan in french), the rabbit from Bambi, specially because of the drumming in the background… but the lama wasn’t actually beating the ground, no, he was beating a horse down to the ground: trampling his head, thus preventing him to erect from the hill… weird.
Somehow in your weirdest dreams there are some strange things happening that you know to be normal and some that, for sure, are not. This one wasn’t.
I scanned the hill, watching through to figure out what the horse looked like. It was a black stallion, all black apart from his snow-white hoofs and the mark on its forehead.
I stared at him for a long while trying to vision it from different angle and waiting for him to do something else than just galloping… The “yes” answer of the lama was sounding stronger and stronger now and that stallion was my only alternative to the other miserable scenario… A stallion wasn’t a lion but it was powerful, it would do! Everything but a lama!
“Yes… yes… YES…”
The image of the lama was fighting with the one of the stallion. All my will and imagination were trying to have the stallion prevail but an irresistible force was drawing me back, each time, to that hideous lama… and suddenly, I realized: the stallion didn’t have eyes.
It didn’t have eyes. Therefore it didn’t have a soul. It was just a symbol that I was unable to explain yet… but a symbol, a shade from the Under-world, it was not a spirit: the lama was.
But I would not have a lama as a power animal, never!
The drum was still drumming. I had plenty of time, I could start the journey properly all over again: I teleported myself back under the twisted tree, went down the hole, walked down the corridor which turns into a skeleton bridge and… as the bridge elevated itself over the fire-river I noticed, on the side of it: there was a path strolling to the river! I got off the bridge and took the path to reach the river. It was hot. I didn’t feel it but I knew it. The lava was flowing slowly from right to left with some elegant red and yellowish patterns on its surface. I couldn’t see where the river was coming from, neither where it was going because of the walls of the aqueduct-bridge-corridor but didn’t wonder about that, something more exciting was happening: a part of the fire stream wasn’t flowing down anymore, it was flying, slowly, at the same low speed than the rest of the river down there but in the air… and as the lava was elegantly unfolding its fire colors into the black sky of the cavern I realized its patterns very much resembled those of a jaguar… A JAGUAR !!! The instant that name crossed my mind, it was there: a jaguar, fangs out, staring at me with this mean pugnacious look we all know about. A JAGUAR !!! AWESOME !!! Definitely better than a wolf, and even more exotic than a tiger or a lion! Weird to notice that jaguars came from the same continent than lama,s I didn’t know I was under such south-american influence… or was it a side-effect of the drum?
The jaguar didn’t have any body, it was just a head fixed at the top of the flying fire-stream. It started flying away and I decided to get closer by walking over the bridge again… the Fire-jaguar-river looped around the bridge several time, leaving inoffensive but beautiful circles of fire on my way…
As happy as I was to meet a jaguar, (a fire one, in addition) something was puzzling me though, regarding this one: it didn’t have a body, just a head, with a single expression and a flat face. The more I detailed it, the more it became obvious the jaguar wasn’t real. It was a mask of a jaguar, a fake jaguar… And as I reached the other side of the bridge, the mask disappeared and the fire-stream flew faster to the top of the hill, where the lama had summoned it. What had been a burning jaguar fur merged with the lama wool.
The jaguar was gone for good now. So was the stallion and, alone at the top of the hill, only the lama remained, with his constant severe look, straight and unmoved, as a master of the world.
At this point, it felt like the lama had decided I had doubted for too long. The hills had grown bigger and the lama presence too. Each drumming would zoom me to his eyes before bringing me back to the feet of the hill… I felt like a toy in his consciousness (while it should have been the opposite, if I may!).
I felt the lama owned the hills and the sky, the dark blue line of the horizon and me… He was a terrible, a terrific figure of authority growing with limitless power… He would teleport now, on the top of each hills, and down, and up again… Was he multiplying or just moving soooo fast ? Impossible to say…
I had surrendered to him anyway, surrendered about finding explanation or trying to get something else than what he would get for me. I knew I could surrender without danger: that lama wasn’t mean, but it felt like he was really, really grumpy at me… or disappointed about me. The feeling had been reciprocal so far but I was now too puzzled to think anymore.
– I am your power animal, he finally said after I had felt on my knees with despair, but I wouldn’t let you know before: you were too arrogant to accept it. The jaguar you saw was a symbol of your arrogance. Only now it’s gone you can hear what I have to tell you. The stallion, was my will to go toward you: I had to tramp it down until you are ready.
I really got struck by those words. They were so full of sense to me…
– Forget about lions and tigers, he added, thus proving he was literally able to read my mind, I am a Lama because you need humility. That what is missing in your life, and that causes the danger you are exposing yourself to.
I’m not sure if the lama repeated it but his words went echoing forever in my mind…
– Don’t worry, you will do great things with a lama too. Predators wouldn’t help you: but a lama grows wool to keep you warm and it can carry more burden than a feline would ever do. Lamas are social animals as well so you’ll never be alone… and regarding power: I have more than you can dream of.
At this point, the lama had silently grown another black hill just under me and some fluffy white clouds were floating all around us.
– Jump on my back, he said with a sweet tone. And not only had his tone changed but his whole appearance as well: he wasn’t a cartoon anymore but more like a real lama now.
I jumped on his back, holding to his wool. The lama jumped on a cloud, and another, and another… His rabbit ears pulled back with speed as he took us racing on a marshmallow cloud-field! The wind was whizzing in my ears, my face scrubbed by a shower of fresh air as we jumped faster and faster from cumulus to cumulus…
This lasted a long and fun time before we ended up on top of mountain.
– I can teleport to every mountain top of the world, he said, before demonstrating it to me: in few second we went from the Everest to the Fujiyama and the Kilimanjaro. That was a fantastic experience that ended when we heard a far away but distinctive sound…
The Shaman had explained that, before ending his drumming, and therefore our journey, he would make a special sound so that we know it’s time to go.
I loved my lama by now. So much. I felt like a real idiot for rejecting him in the first place… humility, what a wonderful advise! Totally true also that I would need his full help to stick to it.
The lama and I chatted for a while as he was walked me back toward the cavern entrance to the cavern. As I felt closer and closer to him, I remember cutting his word at some point, because the whole thing felt now to real to be true.
– Wait, I said, this is non-sense, you are talking with me now but it is me who actually put your words in your mouth because we are both in my imagination!
The lama didn’t even try to deny it.
– Maybe, he said, but since you can’t predict what I am going to tell you next, why not listening to it?
Touché. I found nothing to answer.
The Shaman had said we could invite our power animal to come along with us to the normal world. I definitely wanted to and offered my lama. He easily accepted (we were super buddies by now) but as we started climbing back to the twisted tree he pushed me out with his head: the hole was shrinking and the lama couldn’t go through anymore… I don’t feel he really had this intention anyway: he told me not to worry about that. He had some business to deal with in the Under-world and from there he could also be up there with me anyway.
Therefore I didn’t worried. I thanked him a lot for everything and asked for his name as the hole closed. The lama gave me his name and disappeared with the hole itself.
The drum stopped.
I opened my eyes.
I was in the middle of the slovakian “mountains”, surrounded by half a dozen of hills. On top of it I could clearly see the figure of a black lama irradiating with positive energy, confidence, protection, power and love. I was not exactly “seeing” the lama, not like an hallucination, but a strong layer of imagination, affixed on reality, would make him appear here and there.
It felt good.
The journey had started as a simple meditation, something like “day dreaming”. All along, specially at the beginning, it felt like I was in control, pushing myself to imagine what was happening to me. But at some point it also felt like I lost control, like if the story running in my mind was led by something foreign… Parasite thoughts had disappeared, and now the journey was over, it did really feel like a true adventure: with a beginning, a middle and a end, the parasite thoughts having disappeared for good (I don’t remember them and those I wrote about here were just given as example).
So ? What about shamanism and spirits ? Do spirits exist and what influence do they have on our life ? It’s for you to decide ! ;)
On that matter I invite you to watch the EXCELLENT intervention of Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the best seller “Eat, Pray, Love” et the T.E.D.
In a soon to be published article I’ll share with you the perspectives shamanism has opened to me though, and we’ll talk about “perspectives” and “change of perspectives”, in general.