This was initially an e-mail sent out to our e-mail friends. I have edited it slightly but there will be parts where it will be apparent that this was an e-mail.
Stepping Out of the Boat Named Ordinary Reality
In the article entitled “Was Jesus A Shaman?” I finished that article with .... “I think I just might go and attend a basic shaman workshop. I will keep you posted.”
Well... this article is my way of keeping you “posted.” We hosted a shamanic workshop November 8-9, 2008. Because I have not asked anyone involved in the workshop for their permission, I am not going to use names in this article other than my own, my wife, Kelly with whom I have discussed this article, my grandson, Joshua and Martha Lucier, from Northern Edge Algonquin, who led the shamanic workshop.
This was initially an e-mail sent out to our e-mail friends. I have edited it slightly but there will be parts where it will be apparent that this was an e-mail.
(If you want more information about Martha Lucier, visit her sites at:
Northern Edge Algonquin http://www.northernedgealgonquin.com/ or
Shamanism Canada http://www.shamanismcanada.com/index.html
It would be very easy to not write this article. There is no one forcing me to write it and I doubt very much that anyone is going to e-mail me or call me up and request an update on the shamanic workshop even though I said I would keep you posted in the “Was Jesus A Shaman?” article. I am certain I could simply let this pass without making any comment. However I have always tried to be up front and open on our spiritual journey, perhaps sometimes more than necessary, but I would rather be perceived as too open than too secretive.
When we pulled down everything from our web site and posted the new articles detailing our new spiritual journey, we knew that it would “cost us” in more ways than one (for example - numbers and finances) but there really was no choice. Those who hang with us, those who visit our web site or read our e-mails are entitled to know where we are coming from when it comes to our spiritual journey. So... if you are interested, here is a synopsis of my weekend at a shamanic workshop.
A Shaman Wearing Jeans - That Isn’t What I Expected
The shamanic workshop was to run Saturday and Sunday but Friday evening, my grandson, Josh, and I headed over to our building to meet Martha Lucier, leader of the workshop, in order to help her set up. Josh has played a lot of role playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons and World of Warcraft and in those games or at least similar ones, apparently there are shamans. When Josh met Martha, she certainly wasn’t what he expected. Shamans in his games apparently don’t wear blue jeans. Martha was dressed far too normal and she was far too down to earth to be a practitioner of shamanism in Joshua’s mind. Joshua was looking for the stereotypical shaman or probably even something beyond that. Martha basically was the “girl next door.” There simply wasn’t anything “weird” about her or her appearance.
When Saturday morning came, I found myself sitting in a circle with about 24 other people. If, for no other reason, it would be an interesting weekend because normally I am the one teaching or leading the gathering and this weekend I would simply be one of the participants and this subject was so far outside my comfort zone, I knew that I was definitely going to be challenged.
There is a poem by Christopher Logue that goes as follows:
Come to the edge, we might fall
Come to the edge, it’s too high
COME TO THE EDGE
And they came, and he pushed
AND THEY FLEW!
I wasn’t sure if I would fly this weekend or plummet to the ground but I was definitely getting pushed over the edge. (I wonder if Martha picked the name Northern Edge Algonquin based upon that poem.)
One of the key and common aspects with shamanism world-wide is the ability to journey into realms of “non-ordinary reality” which I think we could call spiritual realms without distorting the concept too much. For many shamans, there are 3 primary worlds, the Lower, Middle and Upper Worlds. That may sound strange to you and it certainly did to me when I first read about it but I realized that in the Bible Paul talks about visiting the 3rd heaven. In Jewish mysticism, as I understand it, there are 7 levels of heaven so the idea of different realms is really not that strange at all.
Beasts full of eyes with 6 wings, a lamb with 7 horns and eyes, locusts like horses with hair like women - talk about a non-ordinary reality!
As I pointed out in my article “Was Jesus A Shaman?” John certainly visited a non-ordinary reality which became the book of Revelation unless his or your ordinary reality includes beasts full of eyes with 6 wings who speak, a lamb with 7 horns and 7 eyes, speaking angels and locusts like horses with hair like women, to point out just a few of the non-ordinary aspects of the book of Revelation.
One of things we attempted to do was to create a sacred space in our minds, a kind of launch pad where we could go in our imagination and from there journey to these non-ordinary realities. It was recommended that this space be some place in nature where perhaps we felt something special. I was feeling very “nature challenged” so even that was a difficult assignment. I am very much a city boy and my experiences in nature are very few and far between. It is strange how the mind works but for quite awhile on Saturday the memory of our trips out east to Maine and New Hampshire in 2003, 04 and 05 absolutely eluded me. It wasn’t until we were well into the day that I actually was able to remember a couple of spots that we visited in Maine which became that space for me.
From this sacred spot we were to journey to these non-ordinary worlds. How we got to these worlds could be any number of different ways but a common way was to meet an animal who would become your mode of transportation. During these journeys and within these non-ordinary realities, one can meet up with different beings and animals who can act as personal spiritual guides and teachers and as well as vehicles of transport.
As weird as all that may sound, if I changed the words “spiritual guides” into angels, much of the “weirdness” would evaporate for many Christians. The Bible is certainly filled with angelic visitors who speak and guide and direct people. As to “animals” and more specifically, animals speaking, I have already mentioned beasts full of eyes with 6 wings who speak in Revelation so in some sense, the Bible itself contains stories similar to what we were attempting to do. In fact, the Bible has a donkey that speaks!. If we think about it, I wonder if there is a more mysterious, mystical and paranormal book than the Bible.
One interesting moment on Saturday occurred when a woman who is allergic to horses met a horse on her journey and though she first mentally rejected the idea that a horse could be her method of transportation to a non-ordinary reality, ultimately she found herself aboard that horse, galloping into another realm and totally loving the animal that she would have been allergic to in this ordinary reality.
Rather than get into other specifics about day one, here are some of the thoughts, observations etc. that went through my mind as I sat at home late Saturday night after day one was completed.
Bluntly, I struggled on Saturday. I didn't doubt for a moment the “reality” of shamanistic experiences and I really appreciated Martha's down to earth approach and her demeanor etc. (so I would definitely attend more of Martha’s workshops) but it is so far outside of and beyond my world, or my reality, that it really stretched me despite the fact that I had been reading up on shamanism for the past couple of months.
I am not afraid to admit that my comfort level was being stretched. A LOT! I wasn’t questioning if this was something that was good or bad, or holy/spiritual or “demonic” to use a buzz word from my past. I had “LEFT BEHIND” that discussion long ago (sorry I couldn’t resist the pun for those that get it). I simply felt like a kid being asked to do something that I wasn't certain I was capable of doing and therefore I was sure that I would fail and those who know my personality know that I try to stick to doing what I excel in. My personality is such that the enjoyment level of any activity is directly tied to the level of expertise I experience in said activity so I don’t like failing and as much as Martha constantly reassured us that in essence, we couldn’t fail, my “ego” wasn’t buying it, and it had no problem recalling events during the day that certainly seemed to confirm just how much I “sucked” at this shamanic stuff.
Those who really know my personality also know that in some sense I am a split personality when it comes to being an extrovert and an introvert. Personality tests prove this consistently. The extrovert in me has no problem speaking in front of large audiences and I feel totally comfortable in that setting (where I am in control) but in a social gathering like a house party, I would be happy to get into a corner with one or two good friends and spend the night talking to them. Mingling with those I don’t know very well and making small talk is almost as bad as visiting the dentist. And if you have been to a party where I have done that or if you are at one in the future, please don’t take it personally. It is a bit of a joke in our family but I often go to my own family functions and bring a book with me so even my own family is subjected to my introverted selfishness (though in my defence - I don’t think I end up reading the book very often).
To use an analogy, if this weekend were a party, I was being forced to get up in front of a crowd at a party and do something “terrible” like of which I suck at big time and therefore know that I am only going to embarrass myself. I couldn’t just sit there and take in information. Every time Martha shared some knowledge, she followed it up with some “exercise.” This workshop included a lot of “doing” and much of it included doing something with a partner! - clearly proving that things can get worse. Trust me when I tell you that I hated group projects in school. In the past, this was so far out of my comfort zone that I would have found a way to escape. If I was back in school, I am sure my mind could have created an actual fever to get me out of this (which is a very interesting idea in light of this entire weekend). Of course, there was no way to escape this time since I was the one who organized the workshop. So when I got home Saturday night I wasn't feeling all that great about the day and I wasn't very excited about going back on Sunday but I had no choice.
The main problem was the primary focus of Saturday, which is the key part of shamanism. I struggled with the journeying. That is somewhat like saying I took lessons learning to fly a plane and I was okay as long as I didn’t have to actually fly it. I was convinced that my so-called journeying wasn’t really a visit to non-ordinary reality. It was really just me forcing my brain to concoct some fictional story in my head so I would have something to share and not be too embarrassed and even if the others somehow thought otherwise, inside I “knew” that I really hadn’t entered any non-ordinary reality. I think my left brain decided to work overtime to counteract what was going on. It was definitely a struggle to convince myself that some “hawk” could take me to the upper and lower worlds of non-ordinary reality and who is going to believe me (especially since I don’t think I believe myself) that I have a “talking white elk” as a spiritual guide. That is pure concoction! (Maybe a little bit of insanity as well.)
(Part of me is laughing as I reread this section - I can’t believe that I am actually going to admit on the internet that I talked to a “white elk.” Let’s see, we lost three-quarters of our e-mail list when we posted the articles outlining our new spiritual journey. How many do we lose with this one?)
So Sunday arrives and I head over to the building, moving about as fast as a man heading to the gallows. And guess what, it was more of the same. To some degree, after finishing day two, I still think I “suck" at this shaman stuff. In fact, I am pretty sure I do, and I am still not convinced that I am not concocting a lot of this stuff in my head but despite all that, Sunday somehow removed a lot of the personal negativity that really had little to do with shamanism and a lot to do with my own feelings and thoughts that have created a very big blockage within me. As we did some new "exercises" I was still feeling uncomfortable and I was still feeling like a failure and still thinking this is nothing more than me making stuff up, but there were some "moments" in the workshop that indeed seemed to be beyond ordinary reality.
There were moments where powerful emotions came to the surface among those attending and where some kind of healing may have taken place. For obvious reasons, those moments will stay within the confines of the weekend.
However, I can share something involving Kelly, my wife. Her experience with regard to her own journeying or journeying on behalf of anyone else was very much as I have described mine. Bluntly, she would tell you that she “sucked” at it as well but interestingly enough, she also is certain that she knows what it will be like when it truly occurs for her, which is probably more than I can say. One of things that is common in shamanism is the use of drumming as an aid to journeying and Martha had several drums for us to use. For Kelly, however, the drumming during the weekend may have been more of a hindrance than a help. Over the past few months and mainly through the teachings of Eckhart Tolle and Wayne Dyer, Kelly has really discovered her need for stillness and so it may be that she needs stillness and quiet in order to journey. Martha pointed out several times that there is no “right and wrong” when it comes to all of this. We each need to find what works for us. It may drums, stillness, silence, singing, chanting or something else that helps us journey. Kelly’s experience that I will share with you involved someone else journeying on her behalf.
At one point we were all paired up with a partner (you can guess how much I enjoyed that though in some ways I think it is easier to do that than it is to journey for yourself). The object was to go on this journey and retrieve a "lost power animal" for your partner. In essence, the power animal would represent some aspect or aspects of spirit that the other person needed to recover. To demonstrate for us, Martha journeyed on behalf of a participant and returned with baby snowy owls or better the “energy or spirit” of the baby snowy owls. The interpretation was that the owls represented among other things, a spirit of innocence that was being returned to the participant.
So now that you get the basic concept of what was happening, here is the rest of the story. The woman who was journeying on behalf of Kelly had quite a journey. Without getting into too much detail, this woman met a huge lion and she was able to talk with this lion. No matter what you think of all this, talking with an awesome and huge lion is definitely not ordinary. It was such an amazing experience that this other woman was actually shaking and crying, not from fear or anything negative but from the profound awesomeness of the experience. I think the woman actually had trouble describing the awesomeness and magnificence of this lion. When she “brought back the spirit of this magnificent lion,” and shared her experience with Kelly, she was vehemently and passionately exhorting Kelly to hang on to this "energy/spirit" that the Lion represented. That journey had definitely impacted the person journeying and I think many who listened as she shared her journey with the group. You will have to trust me when I say that this other woman is about as down to earth as you can be and none of this would be “normal” for her.
Stepping away from specific events that occurred during the two days, permit me to share with you some more thoughts on the weekend as a whole.
I spoke with a friend Monday morning. He was away and couldn’t attend the workshop. We talked quite a bit and he said something that I think was very relevant. He said that he probably would have struggled at the workshop because he has this "block" that keeps him so left brained that he really doesn’t feel that he can get his right brain engaged (my paraphrase). My friend has some artistic talent but he suggested that this blockage hampered his artistic abilities many years ago and perhaps it was a reason that he didn’t develop more artistically or do better in the artistic world. He simply couldn't get past the blockage of this left brained ordinary reality. Whatever he painted or drew HAD to be "REALISTIC" according to the ordinary physical world and he simply couldn't get out of the way enough to let his imagination and creativity (all right brained stuff) take over. Please understand that this isn’t about one form of art being better than another or one side of the brain being better than the other but it is all about using both sides of our brain. It is about two becoming one and in this case it is the left and right sides of our brain and all that they both represent.
A Rabbit Trail - Jill Bolte Taylor
If this left brain, right brain stuff seems weird or if perhaps you are interested in it, I strongly suggest that you google “Jill Bolte Taylor.” You can find a 20 minute video on TED video or on YouTube in which Jill discusses left and right brain function drawing from her own experience of having a stroke. From her own web site here is a description of Jill.
“Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is a Harvard-trained and published neuroanatomist who experienced a severe hemorrhage in the left hemisphere of her brain in 1996. On the afternoon of this rare form of stroke (AVM), she could not walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life. It took eight years for Dr. Jill to completely recover all of her functions and thinking ability.”
You can also read about Jill’s experience in her book called My Stroke of Insight. I won’t say anything more but I strongly recommend you watch the video.
Getting back to my friend... I understood very much what he was saying. I frequently sense some kind of mental shackle that keeps me in the ordinary reality that I am so accustomed to and won’t let me escape from my comfort zone. Jesus came to set the captives free and I know that for many Christians they think that meant that they could be free from a place of eternal torment. I will boldly say that the concept of God punishing people forever isn’t at all what Jesus was talking about. I will suggest to you that the freedom Jesus spoke of lies within us and it is the freedom from the ego, the “self,” the carnal mind and the lusts or desires of the flesh that Paul describes. Included in that is the bondage that comes from the inability to function from the right side of our brain which is where we contact spirit. Part of the “fall of humanity” (totally within God’s plan by the way) involved the inability to experience both sides of our brain and today the left side has become much more dominant, especially in places like North America.(And dare I say it, in men more than women.)
What I realized on Sunday was that I had to come to a place of "intent" where I had to make a decision that no matter what, I was going to do this and participate fully even if it “killed me” and trust me, there were moments when it seemed like it might. Even if it meant in one exercise I would look like an idiot doing something as “goofy” as acting out my journey in front of my partner, so be it. Trust me, it was no Oscar performance but yes, I actually acted out flying on the back of a hawk to an upper world and talking to a white elk etc. and I did it in front of my “partner” - and if you know me, you know that is not something I would choose to do - unless the other choice was to have a root canal - actually I have had a root canal and I just might choose the root canal. (Understand that this is no reflection on any of my partners during the weekend. Perhaps they had some bad karma to deal with and so they ended up with me as a partner. Oh well, as Eckhart Tolle says, whatever you are experiencing now is just exactly what you need so I refuse to feel guilty if you ended up with me at any time during the weekend.)
Anyway I set my intention so that no matter what, I was going to step outside the prison bars that my left brain constantly tries to create and keep me behind. Even if it sounded nuts to admit that I was talking to a white elk and he was talking to me, so be it, I was going to do it.
My friend can draw and paint and who knows what else. I can do neither unless one counts painting the walls and ceilings in our home with whatever color Kelly chooses. If I have any artistic talent, it would have to be my writing, little that it may be. And yet, like my friend who struggles with drawing or painting anything that isn’t “realistic” or outside the realm of the “ordinary,” I marvel at those who write wonderful and amazing non-ordinary reality based books, books we often call “fiction.” I lived in those books as a child (I went on every adventure with Sherlock Holmes for example) and I still enjoy them immensely. But I wonder if I could ever write something like that - you know the great American, oops - make that the great Canadian novel. Instead I find myself writing left brained analytical based books and articles while wishing I could write something like The Celestine Prophecy (highly recommended). Oh well...
The more I thought about the weekend the more I realized that trying to experience shamanism isn’t really much different than 12 guys in a boat named "ORDINARY REALITY" and one of them suddenly decided to take the chance to step out into a non-ordinary reality where people can walk on water. Sink or swim, real or not, Peter would never know unless he got out of that "ORDINARY REALITY" boat. I am sure the other eleven guys would have said it was impossible and maybe in the ordinary reality of Peter's thinking, he would be telling himself the same thing but if Peter stuck to ordinary reality, he would never have stepped out of the "ORDINARY REALITY" boat onto the water. A man cannot walk on water in "ORDINARY REALITY." And despite the fact that Peter started to sink after a few steps according to the story, he is the only guy out of the twelve who actually had the experience of walking on water. The other eleven could only talk about it.
Would I be terribly wrong to suggest that when it comes to spiritual experiences, most of us are more like the eleven than Peter? And though many religious organizations and their leaders may not like it, more and more people are getting tired of only talking about it and they want to start having their own spiritual experiences but to do so will require all of us to get out of the boat with the name "ORDINARY REALITY." Sometimes that "ORDINARY REALITY" is the religious group that we have been involved in, perhaps for years and years. Sometimes it is stepping beyond the statement of faith or the doctrinal statement that has been our guide or more likely our chain/anchor. As nice as anchors may be at times they can also hinder us a great deal if we are trying to move on and we leave them dragging behind us. Virtually every time you will step out of the "ORDINARY REALITY" boat, it means that you step out of the mindset that only those special, chosen, ordained pastors, evangelists, apostles and prophets etc. get to have the spiritual experiences while us common folk get to observe them but experience very little ourselves. I have heard those religious leaders talk about angels showing up and speaking with them. I have heard them describe lightning and thunder occurring on mountain tops. I have heard them talk about eagles and lions and other animals appearing in dreams and visions. Well, guess what, just maybe I flew on the back of a hawk and talked to a white elk and a magnificent lion is a spiritual guide for my wife. If you don’t believe that then I would recommend that you go and talk to her lion or go and talk to my white elk.
I am so tired of so-called religious gurus telling me about their religious experiences, which by the way I can’t verify anymore than they can verify my journeys this weekend while I simply buy a ticket (often called a tithe) to be a spectator watching them perform.
Whether the story of Peter is historically true or it is pure allegory, either way the message hit me this weekend. I will never find out if there is a non-ordinary reality until I am at least willing to consider the possibility that there is such a place and until I am willing do things that take me beyond the boundaries that define my very "ORDINARY REALITY." I need to get out of the boat named "ORDINARY REALITY." I am tired of so-called religious gurus telling me about their spiritual experiences which by the way, I can’t verify any more than they can verify my journeys this weekend while I simply buy a ticket (often called a tithe) to be a spectator watching them "perform."
So after 2 days, I will tell you that one level, I think I suck at this shaman stuff and whether I experienced non-ordinary reality to even the tiniest degree, well my brain is still debating that possibility but as of Sunday, I have developed an intent and belief that just maybe I can "walk on water” or “fly on the back of a hawk” and so I think I am going to continue on and persevere with some of this shamanic stuff... at least that is what I think my "white elk" told me I should do. I wonder if I can get some good deals on Travelocity or Orbitz or some other travel site since I am planning to take some journeys to the worlds of NON-ORDINARY REALITY in the future.
Blessings, shalom, namaste