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Shamanic Self-therapy (workshop)

shamanic

(This is a very different kind of text, and I had some initial hesitations about posting it because it’s simply a practical handout for one of my workshops, rather than the crafted, quasi-poetic essays I’ve usually written. But perhaps its practicality makes it that much more relevant – so I’m sharing it in the hope that the ideas, exercises and guided meditations described in it will find their resonance in the right hands, and hearts…)

The essence of shamanism is dreaming; all the different external rituals of shamanic traditions are secondary. Shamanic dreaming is a wake up call from our habitual sleepwalking, or what Charles Tart called our “consensus trance” … into a non-ordinary reality, in which thoughts communicate with each other like filaments of light, bodies morph and become animal, plant and mineral, and humans soar on the wings of eagles to pluck sacred symbols from the clouds. Australian aborigines describe this non-ordinary reality as dreamtime. In the Mohawk language, a shaman is called dreamer, or “ratetshents.” The original Siberian word “šamán” means one who is lifted up in ecstatic trance to receive the gift of gnosis. Gnosis has a double aim: attaining inner sovereignty by recognizing and integrating one’s subpersonalities and dark shadows, and a direct download of cosmic consciousness, or what in magical-esoteric traditions is called communion with one’s higher self.

In his writings about shamanic psychotherapy and psychomagic, Alexandro Jodorowky describes the dreamworld as tapping into the language of the unconscious – both the personal subconscious and a cosmic unconscious that is a collection of the dreams of all that has been and all that will be. This unconscious dreamworld is outside of linearity, reason, and time. In dream logic there is no beginning or end, and no cause and effect. The world of dreams is populated by fantastical beings and miraculous landscapes; it is the land of archetypes, mythical creatures and animal guides, where it’s possible to bend the laws of nature, cure illness by magical incantations and create new worlds by occult symbols and hand gestures. Entering a trance journey or “dreaming awake” is about traveling between worlds, between the ordinary and nonordinary, between lower, middle and upper-worlds. The hypnogogic trance taps into a theta brain wave frequency that is a gateway to unlocking the unconscious, and the seemingly magical things that happen during the journey have the power to dissolve neuroses, change beliefs and alter behavior. Or as Terrence McKenna was fond of saying (in the context of psychotropic substances like ayahuasca, although it applies equally well to self-induced trance), journeying to dreamworlds effectively crashes and re-builds our basic operating system. Psychotherapists who use hypnosis do something very similar – they tap into the dream language of the unconscious to transform core beliefs and perceptions and their corresponding ingrained behaviors. The difference is that in shamanic journeying we use our own power to heal, integrate our shadows and become more whole, rather than hand it over to an expert who does it for us.

This workshop fuses shamanic techniques for trance journeying with psychological approaches to working with subpersonalities. In the hermetic-kabbalistic tradition, the self is envisioned as a triad of the personal unconscious, the ego’s executive power of will, and the higher self which taps into divine, cosmic consciousness. The lower self or Nefesh is like a spontaneous, awe-inspired, magical child that is connected to nature and its rhythms. It can be thought of as a pool of water that is initially still and clear, but as we experience traumatic events, to defend against their pain, our personality becomes splintered into murky fragments and congealed energies that are thrown down into this pool and cause all kinds of unruly ripples and chaotic distortions. Once these distortions are cleared, the water of the pool becomes limpid and can mirror the Neshama or divine self. In Sanskrit, the word divine simply means to shine, to be in the flow, to be in harmony and joy, to be without inner conflict. The more the murky, distorted pool of the personal unconscious is cleared by doing inner dialogues with our subpersonalities, which unburdens their congealed pain, the more the playful, magical child and the intuitive voice of our higher guidance can emerge as dominant energies in our lives. The aim of this workshop is to teach techniques for clearing the murky pool in order to achieve the first aim of gnosis, inner sovereignty or self-mastery. It represents a preliminary work, and doesn’t engage with the second aim of gnosis – attaining communion with the higher self – because some groundwork of decontaminating the waters of the personal unconscious and attaining a relative balance from inner conflict is necessary before tapping into the guidance of the higher self.

> Working with subpersonalities or multiple, fragmented selves

Most of us believe that we’re a consistent self, singular personality or unique “I”. Different philosophical, esoteric and psychological traditions have diagnosed the many I’s, contradictory drives, fragmented parts, multiple selves, or subpersonalities that we each harbor. Theories of subpersonalities or multiple selves require seeing what we usually see as moods as complex persons, similar to boisterous, unruly children. This interpretation is not just a conceptual construct, it has material effects in our lives since it influences how we view ourselves and relate to the world. We don’t need to believe that there are literal energetic-entities inhabiting us to be able to engage in inner dialogue with fragmented parts of ourselves. For me, interpreting the different, often contradictory, aspects of my personality as similar to real persons, and, even more concretely, as misguided children – with their own unique beliefs, motivations, emotions, patterns of behaviors, and mechanical re-actions to external triggers – and having dialogues with them to figure out what they’re about has been a useful framework for understanding myself better and for achieving a sense of distance, balance, and heightened sense of compassion for my vulnerabilities and mistakes.

There are two psychological approaches that use similar techniques of working with inner dialogue to access and transform subpersonalities: Hal and Sidra Stone’s voice dialogue, which relies on a distinction between primary and disowned selves, and Richard Schwarz’s Internal Family System therapy (IFS), which uses the terminology of parts rather than multiple selves, and uses a distinction between protectors and exiles. I find voice dialogue more accurate in outlining the cluster of dominant personality traits that make up the ego, and IFS more useful in understanding that subpersonalities are not isolated fragments but form complex relationships with each other. Both approaches view subpersonalities as protective defenses that initially arose to guard us (as children) against pain associated with an original traumatic event.

1. Primary Selves

The primary selves – or what we usually think of as the ego – take shape as a cluster of fragmented, protective selves that have internalized different parental and social voices and have created unspoken rules for our behavior. These primary selves are like bodyguards that search for dangers and determine how to guard us against the negative effects of experiencing pain or of disclosing our vulnerabilities. As we grow into adults most primary selves continue to function as if we’re still children, which means they’re not only obsolete but often destructive, and they significantly limit our ability to freely choose and direct our lives. The aim is to become aware of this multiplicity of selves in order to live more freely and consciously. By having a dialogue with each one individually, we can directly experience how they operate in our daily lives – simply as witnesses, not as judges and juries – and increasingly free ourselves from unconscious automatisms.

The cluster of primary selves are highly individualized and idiosyncratic, but since we pick them up from typical child-parent relationships and social interactions they exhibit general patterns and it’s useful to first give them generic labels and then come up with more individual characteristics and even with names as the practice of inner dialogue develops more insight into their behaviors. Some common primary selves can include:

  • the controller: who sets up rules, imposes regular patterns, and tries to control all unpredictable elements of one’s environment by excessive planning, order and rigidity,
  • the inner critic: who hammers us with judgments of everything we do wrong and everything that is deficient in our personalities,
  • the pusher: who pushes and exhausts us into achieving more and better, and is famous for interminable to-do-lists
  • the perfectionist: a particularly rabid combination of the inner critic and pusher, for whom nothing is ever good enough and it’s always necessary to strive to do better,
  • the pleaser: who puts on a chronic smile and happy face and seeks above all to be likable and be considered nice by others, thereby suppressing our authentic voice,
  • the overly-responsible maternal type: who always takes care of others, and has an overdeveloped sense of duty and ethic of self-sacrifice,
  • and the rebel without a cause: who, due to experiencing excessive control, tries to break all rules and fight all authority, even when the rules of authority are not harmful or problematic.

Another dominant primary self that most of us harbor because it’s so common in our culture is the outer critic, external judge or chronic negator, which can manifest in two forms: (1) moralistic, righteous, and typically quiet persons who don’t lash out but harbor an inner resentment of others for committing injustices, and who feel like they’re constantly being wronged or fucked over or getting the short end of the stick, and (2) loud condemners who put others down in verbally aggressive ways in order to acquire a false sense of superiority over them. Both are examples of what Nietzsche called “ressentiment,” which stems from feeling a lack of real power in one’s life, and attempting to compensate for that lack by creating an imaginary sense of being morally or intellectually superior to other people. And both harbor a pleasure of negating simply for the sake of negating, as opposed to constructive criticism, which is usually cooperative, empathic and seeks to be helpful to others by offering suggestions rather than to put them down through condemnation.

These primary selves, each with its own distinct voice, form a kind of basic operating system that runs our lives and determines our values, preferences, identifications, beliefs and behaviors on autopilot – in other words, most of what we consider to be part of our freely chosen identity or self-constructed personality. The reason some protectors cluster into the primary selves that make up the ego-personality is because society usually condones their type of defenses as useful. The controller, pusher, perfectionist and pleaser mimic the parental and social voices that guided us in childhood, and their behavior is designed to make us fit in, conform, be productive, and be liked by others. So they’ve been constantly reinforced in our life and have become increasingly stronger over the years. But for every primary self that has come into being there are other (different and even opposite) selves that have been hidden away, buried, or disowned because their behavior has met with disapproval while we were growing up. They include childlike selves that have been suppressed – vulnerable and wounded children, as well as playful and magical children. Together these form a cluster of energies that’s usually referred to as the “inner child” in psychological literature. But there are also darker, socially unacceptable shadows, which often explode in bouts of rage, aggression, hatred, selfishness or uncontrollable addictions.

2. Exiles and inner children

The main role of the primary selves is to avoid the kind of emotional pain that is triggered when certain situations in our current life recall something we felt overwhelmed by in childhood. They are protectors and what they are protecting are exiles. Exiles are fragmentary, childlike selves born out of specific pains and fears – the fear of abandonment, loneliness, abuse, being rejected, not measuring up to external standards, not being able to trust anyone and seeing the world itself as a hostile, dangerous place – which can usually be traced back to some traumatic experience that happened when we were too young to be able to work through the emotions and process them properly. Whenever a current situation threatens to set loose the old pain we once felt, the protectors go into action to suppress the pain through defense mechanisms.

For example, the primary self of the controller might exhibit extremely rigid, compulsive and orderly behavior because it is protecting an exile that had several traumatic experiences which left it believing that it can’t trust anyone and that the world is dangerous and unpredictable. When a current situation mirrors the unpredictability of the past traumatic event, it starts to activate the pain and fear of the mistrustful exile, which makes the controller immediately go into overdrive to rigidly plan and control the situation in order to try to eliminate all unpredictability and prevent the exile from experiencing a similar pain again. Other exaggerated behaviors of primary selves can include the inner critic which criticizes us so that it won’t hurt as much when other people do it, or the stoic who withdraws behind a flat, non-emotional shield and refuses to open up to people for fear of being rejected. For IFS, the key to working alchemically to transform both types of subpersonalities would be to first develop a trustful relationship with a primary self and then to engage in a sustained dialogue with the exile until it is able to reprocess the traumatic memory and release or unburden its old pain and fears. Once the exile has been unburdened, it is no longer in need of extreme protection, and the protector or primary self can start to give up some of the excesses of its defensive role or even transform its function into something entirely different. In a sense, neither of these subpersonalities (the one belonging to the surface of the ego, or the other that is latent in the deeper unconscious) are rejected or banished, they are reparented or re-educated so that their beliefs and behaviors can be brought out of the past where they are stuck or frozen, and relate to the present in a way that is more free and empowering.

All of this internal dialogue work engages with the inner child. It is important to see this not as a single child, either a real entity that inhabits our psyche, or a memory of ourselves from the past that we can activate in the present. The inner child is a cluster of contradictory energies and behaviors that were formed in our childhood but are still very much present in our lives now, often in unconscious ways that are outside our daily awareness. This includes the energies of the playful and magical child, which connect to freedom, creativity, awe and an enchanted perception of the world, but also more subterranean and painful energies that have been disowned and pushed deeper into the unconscious recesses of the psyche and only erupt to the surface in explosive, extreme circumstances – for example: the mistrustful child, the temper tantrum toddler, or the withdrawn, apathetic loner who is afraid to be touched or hugged. We can think of exiles as the wounded parts of the inner child. Although it is important to tap into the energy of the playful/magical inner child – because it’s a powerful life-energy we all possessed before our conditioning began to push it underground behind the mask of the socially acceptable personality – the more important work is that of dialoguing with the exiles and getting them to unburden or release their pains and fears. Once the exiles are unburdened, the role of the protector tends to shift automatically because its tactics of protection are no longer needed, at least not in such extreme forms. So the inner dialogues with exiles can often occasion the most dramatic and visible shifts in one’s personality.

3. Shadows

Around the age of 2, as we plunged into language and developed a sense of identity, the world became carved up into right and wrong, good and evil. Through this demarcation of experience, many parents, especially emotionally inhibited ones, have inadvertently taught their children to repress feelings. A little boy who fell and cried might have been told “Men don’t cry.” A little girl who yelled “I hate you” at her brother might have been admonished, “It’s terrible to feel that way, you don’t really feel it.” Repeated suppression of these emotional charges leads children to disown their feelings, by ceasing to experience them both physically and psychologically. Carl Jung used the term “shadow” to describe the energy patterns and parts of the personality that we have disowned or repressed because we internalized parental messages that they were bad or shameful. Robert Bly popularized this idea in A Little Book on the Human Shadow, which describes how we are born into a “360-degree personality,” but gradually learn to censor the full range of our expression by putting the unacceptable parts into a bag that we painfully drag behind us. When they’re shoved into the bag of unconsciousness, shadows don’t disappear; by going underground, they secretly control us. When stress or feelings of overwhelm build up, shadows tend to explode in emotional excesses, at the worst possible moments.

It’s important to note that Jung also talked about golden shadows, like creativity, imagination, and playfulness – which can also be disparaged and driven underground as we grow up if our parents favored more rational, pragmatic behavior. But this has the effect of making shadows a vague synonym for whatever is unconscious, which renders it too broad to be useful. To fit the concept of the shadow into a context of working with subpersonalities, it’s useful to draw some more precise distinctions. The primary selves that make up our ego are the behaviors that were praised by parents and reinforced by society because they match dominant cultural values, so they developed into the dominant sides of our personalities. The inner critic, judge, pusher, perfectionist, controller and pleaser arose as defense mechanisms, as adaptive behaviors that got approval and served to protect us from experiencing pain. The exiles, or wounded inner children, can be seen as congealed forms of pain and fear that have split off from the rest of our personality – when experiences of the pain of rejection, abandonment or abuse froze into a kind of time capsule – and which we are protected from re-experiencing in the present by the primary selves (not quite successfully, since exiles do break out into awareness from time to time). There are also other congealed forms of experience that have split off from the rest of the dominant personality – anti-social traits and behaviors that were deemed inappropriate and repressed, like selfish displays of greediness, anger or extreme rage, hitting or lashing out against others, rebelling and being insubordinate, wanting to be lazy and refusing to do anything, lying, or openly displaying sexual behavior. It is these that are best understood as shadows, as the “dark sides” of the personality. They are not suppressed because they threaten to flood us with pain, but because they are judged to be socially unacceptable and contradict the sense of identity or idealized self-image that we have created. They’re at the opposite end of the spectrum from the socially productive, conformist behavior of the primary selves.

Because shadows are disowned, unnacceptable parts we don’t want to recognize in ourselves, they manifest indirectly, by being projected onto others. And when we spot them in others, we go into a kind of righteous fury and indignation, condemning and being appalled by their behavior. Shadow projections carry a high emotional charge – the behavior of others gets under our skin and triggers all kinds of extreme allergic reactions. This is not to say that when we notice that someone else is manipulative, selfish, belligerent or arrogant we are completely hallucinating it, or that it’s entirely arbitrary who we project it on. The other’s behavior “hooks” us because it matches what we’ve repressed in ourselves. The thing about projections is not that they’re false, but that they’re exaggerated, righteous (in a “they are evil I am good” sense) and mechanical; there is no freedom to choose when we’re caught in an extreme emotional over-reaction. Projections are the most obvious indirect manifestation of our shadows. Other behaviors in which we can spot our shadows include: when we’re criticized by others and get extremely defensive (because it echoes an internal self-criticism we already carry, otherwise it wouldn’t bother us); or when we’re doing atypical things by “accident” that are sabotaging our conscious intentions (those “I don’t know what came over me” moments); or when we repeat the same, painful, reactive patterns in relationships with completely different people.

Shadows are our blind spots and do not manifest directly. We cannot not see them when meditating or practicing simple awareness of the here and now. Because of this many eastern spiritual traditions, from Buddhism to non-dual Advaita, completely ignore the phenomena of shadows. And many “gurus” continue to carry their shadows into their enlightenment, which is why there are so many scandals about how they sexually prey on young disciples, or attack others as if their own teaching is the only correct model, or condemn everyone else for being self-centered and controlling while failing to see those qualities in themselves. Something other than simple awareness is needed to draw out the hidden aspect of shadows. When noticing an extreme reaction of anger or revulsion to someone else’s behavior, we can go on endlessly “witnessing” what our thoughts and emotions are. But this doesn’t capture the real dynamic that is taking place behind the scene – the fact that the story isn’t really about what we feel towards the other, but about what we’re suppressing in ourselves, about the disowned aspects of our own story. Instead of witnessing what is already present in our awareness, the point is to bring the latent, hidden, unconscious content to the light of awareness in the first place.

One of the more well-known shadow work techniques is Ken Wilber’s 3-2-1 process, which involves three steps: spotting the shadow, dialoguing with the shadow and re-owning the shadow. Spotting the shadow means noticing it as it manifests in projections and other forms of over-reaction. Dialoguing refers to an inner dialogue in the imagination, not an actual dialogue with the person who is triggering us. We can withdraw from the actual, heated situation and imagine dialoguing with the person who is irritating us and let it all out, without censorship, in a way that we wouldn’t if we were actually speaking to them. For example: “You’re an arrogant asshole and you’re bossy and controlling! You always think you know what’s best for everyone else and it really pisses me off!” In dialoguing with the shadow, we start to notice what it is that specifically bothers us. In the above example, it’s arrogance (extreme over-confidence) and control (feeling superior and wanting to command the behavior of others). The aim of dialoguing with the shadow is to ask precise enough questions to figure out the source of the emotional over-reaction, what the repressed feelings and underlying motivations are, what its roots are in past experiences, what the effects of suppressing that particular behavior or emotion has on our life, and what positive desire the shadow might be expressing.

Seeing things in terms of opposites is a limiting concept – it’s more accurate to see both primary selves and shadows as expressing a kind of core energy that exists along a fluid continuum. Sometimes it swings to one extreme, sometimes to the other. And if we uncover the underlying desire behind both primary selves and shadows, it’s possible to strike a balance, to re-harness the so-called “negative” energy into a positive manifestation. For example, laziness is at one extreme end of a continuum of movement and rest. The primary self of the pusher is on the other extreme, driving us to exhaustion by constantly striving to do more and become better. But there’s a purposefulness in resting, in being still and doing nothing. The point is to harness it so that instead of manifesting as mindlessly watching TV, it can find a more life enhancing expression, like sitting silently in a park and appreciating the surroundings or practicing mindfulness. But even heightened and aware forms of doing nothing can’t become 100 percent of life; striking a balance is necessary. In a similar way, arrogance can be seen as an extreme, over-developed form of self-confidence that becomes condescending and superior to others. It’s on the other end of the pendulum swing from an utter lack of self-confidence that might manifest as self-deprecation or self-loathing. Someone who is triggered into disgust and anger when meeting arrogant people may be suppressing the energy of self-confidence or self-assurance in themselves. And a small, homeopathic dose of that arrogance, if it’s harnessed as a genuine belief in and appreciation of oneself, may help to get out of a self-deprecating rut. There is a positive desire behind most emotions and behaviors that are considered negative. Anger may lash out unfairly against others, but it is essentially about the need to create boundaries that protect us from invasion and feeling violated. Transmuting shadows means uncovering the positive desire behind their negative type of energy, seeing how their current manifestation limits our life and how it could potentially be turned into something life-enhancing. It means cooperating with the shadow tendencies in ourselves rather than trying to banish them. When we resist shadows, we don’t escape them – they continue to influence our lives through uncontrolled reactions and self-sabotaging behaviors. By engaging in shadow work we can acquire a deeper knowledge of ourselves and also learn how to communicate more authentically with others (by avoiding to project our stuff on them, and by becoming more compassionate to their vulnerabilities and weaknesses since we can recognize that we also share them). Integrating shadows is a way of healing the fragmentation in our psychic life and becoming more whole. But the process shouldn’t be idealized as some meditative high of tapping into overflowing bliss. Shadow work means being honest to our real experience and being open to discovering things about ourselves that may be painful to see.

> Integration and developing an aware self or ego

The way we usually relate to these fragments or subpersonalities – primary selves, exiles and shadows – is that we’re either completely immersed and ruled by them without any sense of separation, and hence we’re swayed into automatic and reactive behavior, or, when we do become aware of them it’s from a point of extreme separation and we adopt a judgmental, negative view, condemning them as parts of ourselves that we hate and wish we could get rid of. Both of these perspectives are unhelpful for attaining a more balanced awareness of the complexities of our psyche, and for achieving a greater sense of freedom and ability to direct our lives. The key to having insightful dialogues with subpersonalities is to be in the non-immersed and simultaneously compassionate perspective of the aware ego or wise self, which means being open and curious to understand these parts and figure out what makes them tick, rather than being critical, judgmental, resentful or impatient. It also means to see them not as evil enemies that must be banished (as the “ego” is sometimes portrayed in spiritual literature), but as lost children who have good intentions but misguided actions. It’s helpful to remember that the beliefs and behavior patterns of subpersonalities were developed as defenses against pain, usually occasioned by some traumatic childhood event, and meant to prevent repeating similar painful situations. Most of these defensive and protective triggers came into being while we were children, when we lacked a mature ability to reason from cause to effect (the logical processes of thought start to develop around the age of 8) and also to cope with painful emotions. Most subpersonalities that were formed in childhood exhibit flawed ways of understanding the world based on the resources that were available at the time, so they operate in our adult lives in what seem like weird, excessive and exaggerated ways that don’t correspond to the actual situations.

By dialoguing with the multiplicity of selves we can learn separate from them – not by rejecting them or trying to kill them off, but by listening, acknowledging and giving them space and attention – and thus to become more aware of their rules, demands and fears. Once we can recognize and separate from them, we need no longer be overly influenced by their default beliefs and behaviors and can stand between them and exercise some conscious choice about which of them we want to favor. In voice dialogue, this is considered a two step process of first developing a simple form of awareness that doesn’t intervene but simply observes, and then gradually allowing an aware ego to come into being, which oversees, intervenes and makes conscious choices about which of the multiple selves to downplay or amplify. But since this goes beyond detached, impartial awareness and includes elements of empathy and developing heart resonance, I like to think of the aware self or ego in more personalized terms as stepping into the perspective of a kind, wise kindergarten teacher, who is able to manage and negotiate between all the shy, angry, playful and crazy children in the house, without allowing the ones who are having tantrums to run the show, while also encouraging the shy ones to come out of the closet and show off their gifts.

> EXERCISES

1. Breathwork (clearing energy blockages/hyperventilation for light trance)

There are two approaches to breathwork: (1) controlling breathing in order to observe where there are blockages (abdomen, chest, throat) that prevent the energy from flowing freely – for which the main aim is to clear energetic blockages so that life energy can flow freely and restore a sense of health and well being; and (2) using breath control, especially breath retention and hyperventilation, to induce states of altered consciousness. In the eastern, yogic tradition, pranayama exercises have been used for both purposes, though its main aim is to allow the body to take in more prana, which is understood not just as air but as the life force that circulates in the universe. But pranayama also creates feelings of lightheadedness, as energy is released, and has been used to induce meditative trance states to tap into higher forms of consciousness. In the western tradition, Wilhelm Reich is most well known for breathwork and bodywork that are used to release energetic blockages from the body so that life-energy (orgone) can start to flow freely and induce feelings of well-being and joy. Although the focus is on working with the body, the release of energetic blockages also resolves past emotional and psychological pain or “stuckness.” Stanislav Grof’s holotropic breathwork is mainly used to induce trance states; but the trance is a means to an end, and the real aim is to clear emotional and psychological blockages, and also to tap into the flow state of oceanic consciousness.

This exercise is an adaptation of Reich’s breathwork technique – specifically his use of the pelvic breath – but with a faster pace that induces hyperventilation. It clears energetic blockages, which gives off a feeling of tingling or vibration as these are released, and, as a byproduct, it also induces a light, dizzy, trance state. Although it can be used on single instances to facilitate going into trance journeying, this is not the main purpose of breathwork. I would recommended doing this exercise as a daily practice that will gradually release congealed blobs of trapped energy from the body and restore a healthier flow of prana or life-force.

Begin by shaking your limbs to discharge excess energy, and bending over to anchor hands to the ground as a way of grounding and tapping into a feeling of solidness and stability. Then lie down on the floor with knees bent and feet flat, and arms to your sides, palms down. On the inhale (gently through the nose) push your ass into the ground, and on the exhale (hard through the nose) rotate your hips and pelvis slightly upward. The movement is generated from your hips and not by the power of your thighs and legs. Do not bring your ass and lower back completely off the floor. It’s a gentle rocking, and not a harsh, jerky up and down movement. Begin by doing it at a comfortable pace, and when you have the hang of it as a smooth, continuous movement, you can increase it to a fast pace and do it for as long as it is comfortable (1-2 minutes). Then take a break, alternating with deep, slow abdominal breathing. Repeat the fast pelvic breath movement for 3 cycles, resting and returning to slow abdominal breathing in between. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to increase it to 6, 9 or 12 cycles. This breathing exercise induces hyperventilation, so it’s normal to experience some lightheadedness, dizziness and tingling sensations, especially in the hands and feet, as energy circulates and is released. Enjoy the high while it lasts, and be careful to get up slowly if you’re feeling lightheaded (you can faint and injure yourself if you get up too quickly). You can also go from this exercise directly into the drumming trance journey or the inner dialogue meditation.

2. Drumming trance journey to visualize encounter with child-self

Different techniques have been used in shamanic traditions to reach a hypnogogic trance state – drumming, ecstatic dance, fasting and sleep deprivation, and psychotropic plants. The common element is being able to tap into the dreamlike trance, or what Terrance McKenna has called the Gaian mind or, following James Joyce, “the mama matrix most mysterious.” Drumming is one of the fastest and most effortless techniques for reaching a theta brain wave, and for this reason it’s the most used by neo-shamanic practitioners who have introduced shamanic techniques to the Western contemporary world (including Michael Harner, Sandra Ingermann and Robert Moss). You can also use binaural beats to enter more easily into a theta brainwave.

Personally, this is my least favorite technique as my strongest sixth sense is clairaudience and most of my journeys involve hearing messages and engaging in dialogues with subpersonalities or higher guides, and the drumming sounds interfere with hearing this dialogue. But it is the technique I’d recommend as the most simple introduction to journeying. You can set an intention to meet your child-like, magical, playful self, and focus simply on the visual encounter with yourself at different ages (infant, toddler, 6-7 year old) and on the emotional resonance of how the encounter feels, without engaging in any dialogue. People often set intentions to meet animal guides (or the animal spirit they’ve repressed and want to re-integrate) on their drumming trance journeys, but I think this is more difficult to work with at an early stage, if you don’t know the meaning of the animal symbolism – which is always somewhat personal to your own system of associations, so you can’t simply look it up on google.

3. Guided inner dialogue journey (to connect to lower self /inner children):
(link for guided countdown meditation: http://picosong.com/myJ8/)

This self-hypnotic induction aims to get into a trance state that is activated when the brain slows down and goes into a theta brainwave. Beta is your normal active state of consciousness, alpha is a very relaxed state that is usually activated in meditation, and delta is dreamless sleep. Theta is in between alpha and delta, and it’s the brainwave state you’re in while you’re dreaming. One signal that you’re in this brainwave is a visual sense of flickering which happens because your eyeballs are moving like they do in REM sleep. Another is a tingling sensation at the top of your head, in the crown area, but you can be in a hypnogogic state without experiencing either. Theta is the brainwave state in which the boundary to the subconscious (dreams, long forgotten memories, exiled subpersonalities, archetypal symbols, etc) is most fluid. Most self-hypnosis inductions try to create a feeling of deep relaxation and a sense of heaviness and warmth, coupled with some kind of descending countdown. What follows is a personalized self-hypnotic induction that I came up with intuitively, after experimenting with different techniques. It’s good to create your own variations, but only if you’ve become somewhat proficient first. So I’d suggest sticking to this simple script for a few weeks, before attempting to change details.

With eyes closed, roll your eyes backward in your head three times, and then focus on relaxing the muscles in your face, starting with the forehead, passing down into the cheeks and jaw, and then feeling the sensation of relaxation spread down your neck and arms and hands, down your spine, back of the legs and exiting out your toes. You can either play the Mp3 with the guided countdown in the link above, or memorize the following repetitive script so that you can say it to yourself. I like to say it silently, but if you find you have a tendency for your mind to wander and not stay focused, it will be more effective to say it out loud:

1, 2, 3, My feet are getting heavy
1, 2, 3, My hands are getting heavy
1, 2, 3, My head is getting heavy
1, 2, 3, I am going into a deep trance sleep. Nothing can disturb me. Each and every time I suggest trance sleep to myself I will go deep, deep, deep, between wakefulness and sleep.

1, 2, 3, My feet are getting heavier
1, 2, 3, My hands are getting heavier
1, 2, 3, My head is getting heavier
1, 2, 3, I am going into a deep trance sleep. Nothing can disturb me. Each and every time I suggest trance sleep to myself I will go deep, deep, deep, between wakefulness and sleep.

1, 2, 3, My feet are heavy
1, 2, 3, My hands are heavy
1, 2, 3, My head is heavy
1, 2, 3, I am going into a deep trance sleep. Each and every time I suggest trance sleep to myself I will go deep, deep, deep, between wakefulness and sleep. I am going deep, deep, deep…

I am at the top of the stairs going down into my unconscious. It is safe for me to go down. (See yourself stepping, and feel the physical sensation in your feet, then begin counting down). 19, 18, 17 … 4, 3, 2, 1. I am at the bottom of the stairs.

When you’ve reached the bottom, visualize a mirror-door that becomes like liquid plasma, with rippling circles, when you touch it, and then see yourself going through it by putting your left leg through it first and emerging on the other side. It’s important that your access isn’t blocked, so if you feel hesitant about going through the mirror, or see some figures in front of it, or get stuck in it, thank your or primary selves, or whatever is causing the resistance, and formally request permission to step through the threshold and meet your exile in order to help it. After stepping through the mirror-door, see yourself emerging on the other side in a natural setting that feels good to you, like a forest landscape or a beach. The only intention you’ll set for the meditation is to either meet one of the primary selves or to go further to dialogue with the exile it is protecting. Leave the sequence open to unfolding spontaneously, and treat it like a kind of trance journey with unexpected surprises rather than a script you’ve written out in advance. If your intent is to dialogue with an exile, try to find out what kind of pain it feels and what memories are associated with that pain. Work slowly to get to know the emotions and memories of the exile, and don’t try to rush by asking it to reprocess the memory or to unburden its pain right away – rushing makes the process ineffective because the feeling of impatience takes you out of the perspective of the aware, wise self. Aim for understanding and building a trusting connection rather than for achieving an immediate transformation.

Below is a generic description, in steps, of a what a complete inner dialogue with a protector and an exile might look like. Many inner dialogues will be just fragments of this.

1. Getting to know a protector or primary self: recalling a memory when it was recently activated and trying to sense the feeling concretely in your body (what kind of sensation it is, does it have a color, smell) or even to get a clear image of what this self looks like. If you feel flooded by overwhelming emotions you have become identified with the primary self, so try to create a sense of distance by seeing yourself step back from it. When engaging in dialogue, aim to discover what the protector’s beliefs, its main protective function, and what its underlying positive intentions are, or how it is trying to protect either an exile, or you as the more comprehensive personality, from the pain an exile carries.
2. Getting permission to dialogue with an exile: ask the protector or primary self to let you meet the exile it is protecting so that you can understand why the exile is in pain and how to help it. This request a kind of formality, just to make sure you don’t have anything that is subconsciously blocking the process. If this “permission” does not flow smoothly, you might need to engage in a deeper dialogue with the primary self and reassure it that your intention is cooperative and helpful, and that there is nothing to fear since you will be able to contain the pain of the exile.
3. Getting to know an exile: try to sense the energy of the exile in your body (by localizing it, feeling its sensations), or even to get a clear image of what it looks like, or an auditory sense of its voice. If you feel flooded by painful emotions, see an image of the exile at a greater distance from you or ask it to contain its feelings so that you can remain present as the aware self and help it. Ask the exile what it feels, what it is that makes it feel scared or hurt. Let the exile know that you want to hear its story and that you feel warm and compassionate towards it – and notice how it is responding to you.
4. Witnessing the childhood origins of the pain: ask the exile to show you an image or a memory (or series of memories) of when it learned to feel scared or hurt. Ask how the event made it feel more concretely, and reassure the exile that you understand how bad it felt.
5. Reparenting or re-educating: ask the exile what it needs from you in order to heal or to reprocess what happened. This might be your stepping in to intervene, for example, the adult you stepping in and telling a parent to stop the behavior and explain how it makes the child feel. Or it might mean removing the exile from that situation and bringing it in some place in your life or into an imaginary, comforting landscape. Or it can involve seeing a scene in which the parent is older and is no longer the same uncaring or mistrustful person you knew in your childhood, or a scene in which the parent transforms and also becomes a child (and so is no longer threatening) and the two children can play together and have a greater sense of interacting or understanding each other. Sometimes the reprocessing can be an actual rewriting of the memory with a different outcome, and even if your conscious self knows this is not true, seeing the memory play out differently changes the feelings and beliefs associated with it.
6. Unburdening: ask the exile to put a name on the burden (the feeling or belief) it is carrying and if it is willing to give up that burden. The burden can be something general like shame, or loneliness, or rejection, or something very concrete like being shamed when wetting the bed or some school incident like being made to stand in the corner. Ask the exile how it carries the burden in or on its body, if the burden has a shape and a color, and how it wants to release the burden. Releasing it to the 4 elements usually works well – washing it by water, letting it be swept away or carried upwards by the wind, burying it in the earth, or burning it in a fire. Once the burden is gone, ask what positive qualities or emotions the exile now feels.
7. Integration: make sure the protector or primary self knows that the exile has been transformed. Ask the primary self if it realizes that its role of protection is no longer necessary, and invite it to choose a new role in your psyche. If the protector insists to cling to its role, ask it if it can relax its function now that it knows it has an ally in you (as the aware self or ego) and reassure it that you will take over some tasks so that it is no longer so overwhelmed.

4. Analytic shadow work

Use the following 7 columned chart as a guideline to analyze the character traits and behaviors in others that provoke extreme emotional over-reactions in you. The point of the exercise is to discover your suppressed shadow self.

(1) Column 1: What are you judging or condemning in others – list of their traits:
Example: I’m annoyed by flaky people who are late or cancel plans. They break promises, can’t commit, lack self-discipline, are untrustworthy, irresponsible, unstable, and let others down.
(2) Column 2: How people you’re condemning probably see you – list of your traits:
Example: Flaky people might see me as rigid, constricting, controlling, intolerant, excessively demanding, having too high expectations, anxious, stressed, hard to be with.
(3) Column 3: Worst case scenario of column 1 – most exaggerated condemnations:
Example: My judgment against flakes taken to extreme is they have no clue who they are, they can’t be true to themselves, they don’t give a fuck about anyone else, they’re selfish and self-absorbed, they’re immoral and lack a personal ethics, they’re worthless.
(4) Column 4: Worst case scenario of column 2 – exaggerated view of your flaws:
Example: Flakes might see me in the worst light as neurotic, obsessive-compulsive, lacking compassion, having no feelings or empathy for others, alienating people, making others feel bad about themselves, judging, punishing, superior, condescending.
(5) Column 5: How you’ve also displayed the same behavior you condemn in others:
Example: I’ve canceled plans by faking illnesses. I’ve broken promises and commitments in extreme ways by quitting a PhD, leaving a relationship by moving to another country.
(6) Column 6: How a tiny dose of what you condemn in others would improve your life:
Example: In taking a bit of irresponsibility and flakiness, I might become less rigid, less bound to pre-made plans and obligations, more flexible, more spontaneous, more tolerant of others when they break plans, more compassionate. Other people might feel more relaxed around me.
(7) Column 7: Based on traits in column 6, what are the qualities of your suppressed self:
Example: Behind my condemnation of “irresponsible, flaky” people, I see that what I’ve suppressed is my own “spontaneous, free, playful, not-taking-myself-so-seriously” self.

The purpose of the chart is to help you understand how a certain shadow has been created, through an analytic exercise or a process of deduction and inference. (To access the energy of this shadow more deeply and more directly, you can use the second technique below of engaging in an inner dialogue with the shadow while you’re in a trance state.) What the chart is meant to reveal is that at some point in your past you became so frightened of what is in column 3, either because you were chastised for it or because someone in your life displayed this kind of behavior – in the above example, being judged as irresponsible, immoral, selfish, self-absorbed and not giving a fuck about others, hence … worthless – that you tried to completely suppress any behavior that resembled column 1 (breaking promises) and swung completely to the other side of the pendulum, in this example, by creating a hyper-responsible primary self. Doing the chart has helped me to see how developing a hyper-responsible and controlling primary self meant that my spontaneity, desire for freedom, ability to follow my inclinations and intuitions, and feelings of being from obligations, carefree and playful … also got pushed into the shadow bag I carry on my back. Often people can fall completely out of balance because they swing so much on the one side of the pendulum that they refuse to acknowledge anything that goes in the other direction. That is the purpose of the alchemical reversal in column 7 – to be able to glimpse the positive desire behind what’s being suppressed into our shadow, and understand how taking a tiny dose of it (of precisely those “evils” that we condemn in others) could actually improve our lives by bringing us into balance.

5. Heart resonance meditation to connect to shadow

This is a meditation focused on sending your awareness down from your head into your heart, with the intention of meeting your shadow – it’s so simple, that I didn’t see a need to create a guided version using my own voice. Most people are able to enter a light trance easily by imagining their awareness sliding down their body, which functions as a kind of countdown. But you can also practice the pelvic breathwork or relaxation technique with the countdown from 20-1 immediately before, or you can use the sounds of binaural beats on headphones as a background, if you find these take you there more easily.

If you have difficulty imagining the interior of your body, you might want to look at some anatomy diagrams to make the images more concrete. Begin by visualizing your awareness (as a small ball of light, if it helps) resting inside your head, between your eyebrows, and then imagine it slowly moving down into your nose (feeling the nose cavity from the inside, while focusing on the sensations of breathing air into the nose), then trickling down into your mouth (feeling the softness and warmth of the mouth cavity, focusing on the sensations in your tongue), then swallowing and sending your awareness down into your throat (feeling its softness, and experiencing the air passing around the soft fleshy part as you breathe), then sending it further down into your chest cavity (feeling the hardness of the bones of the sternum in contrast to the throat), and finally sending it leftwards into a dark tunnel and then entering the chamber of the heart. Visualize the heart as a kind of cave or inner chamber that is not made of rock but of something warm, soft and fleshy (almost like the texture of liver, if you’ve ever touched it). Take some time to simply breathe into the heart, feel the chamber expand and contract, and feel the heartbeat resonate in it, reaching a kind of rhythmic flow or sense of ease of breathing into the heart before beginning the rest of the visualization. Then see yourself materialize as your actual body inside the heart chamber and also your shadow in the concrete image of the person who is triggering or annoying you. You can simply meet the person face to face and look into their eyes, or you can engage in a dialogue, or you can imagine a kind of integration by embracing or actually blending with them. It’s possible that the encounter will lead to a transmutation of the shadow you carry in yourself into a different type of energy (and even to a symbolic re-baptism in which the energy receives a different name). However, don’t approach the encounter with a desire for changing anything, but simply with an open curiosity of discovering and understanding something about yourself and about your relationship with the other person, who is a mirror or a projection of your own shadow.


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