or: Why I don’t journey like the Harner model and why I don’t care!
by David Sherwood
There is a full moon drumming group in Eastern Ontario that was born from the EarthSea lineage. I have been participating since it began in 2003 and yet I still do not go on spontaneous shamanic journey experiences as described in the “Harner model”. This is my story.
Over the period I have been full moon drumming, which are monthly experiences, my principal daily spiritual practice has been a form of “present moment awareness” technique known as the Gurdjieff method.
Once the basic training was completed, such that it became possible to be aware that I exist while I am existing, many times a day, for uninterrupted periods lasting several minutes at a time, it then became possible to choose that state, to use it as a tool so to speak.
For example, I can set myself the goal of staying in the moment while bringing firewood from the barn to the house. This would include things like being able to notice the heft and texture of the wood, feel my body lifting and walking, take in the colour of the sky and the pattern of the clouds, notice my emotional reaction to the experience AND situate this activity in some larger life context like my Green Man desire to live by natural rhythms, remember gratitude to the farmer who built the barn, thank the trees we cull for wood.
It’s not easy, but when I can stay with that for the entire duration of even one complete box load, out and back, it is really cool !!! I feel very alive.
(When I don’t make the conscious attempt to be in this mode, typically I miss the moment. I start thinking about my job, or how boring it is to carry wood, or what clever thing I wish I would have said in a recent conversation. And even if there is a beauty of the moment that naturally draws my attention, I will not remember the bigger picture of how this activity fits into my life choices and heart’s desires.)
As an example, when eating a meal alone and feeling sorry for myself because my wife Lucie Brunet died and our meals together used to be so enjoyable … suddenly the remembering habit kicks in and … oh yeah, I wanted to remember this (unrequested) opportunity to discover who I am when alone, and I would like to develop the self care to cook proper meals instead of opening the proverbial can of beans. After the remembering moment, I try to stay with that intention — and get back to tasting the food! (Because of course while in “poor me” mode I was not really noticing the food much.)
My experience in the Drum Circle
Such “present moment awareness” practices can have a shadow side. One can become overly aware of the Self and mistake that for self-importance, rather than remembering how comically insignificant we are in a big universe. Whereas, it’s just that this one wee tiny blip in the cosmos, which my parents named David, has become more actively aware of itself.
So I really, really have come to value the drum circle as my main monthly opportunity for MERGE experiences. Words like: group energy, unity, feeling connected to Mother Earth, letting the drums do the talking, being meditative, letting go of the self, relaxing boundaries, opening to guidance inside a safe circle…
The “present moment awareness” training has had the unintended consequence, at least until now, that during our drummings I don’t go on a shamanic journey as described in the Michael Harner model. I don’t feel the presence of power animals, no spirit guide tells me a message, I don’t get vivid visual images.
And I don’t mind. Oh, I used to mind. I would feel inferior by implicit comparison to those who do get these phenomena or that form of guidance. It took me a while to accept that “it is what it is”, that something is happening even if I don’t notice it at the time, and that my story is my story — which is no more or less valid than each drummer’s story. (The wise teachers tell us that, but we tend not to believe it at first.)
What I tend to do with what I know how to do
So I tend to go for the Hollow Bone scenario at drummings. I empty out and do not “think” of anything. My training allows me to remembrance an Intention without having to work at it. If I dance or chant, it is because I feel guided to that in the moment. It is not a decision, there is no analysis or filter, it just takes place. The drum beat speed is also not of “my” doing.
[On good days, you understand! Some moons I don’t manage to get into the zone.]
Sometimes, I become aware of something coming through me. On one occasion, the moon was particularly strong and it drew me to the window nearest it, where I positioned my drum at 90 degrees to the moon rays, so they were coming right through the drum. The energy provoked my arm into a very hard loud beat.
At another drumming, I was in a pretty good Hollow Bone zone. At one point I felt some energy ‘wanted in’ and my body started doing knee bends and my throat started grunting. Then, boom, there was a release point, it had come in, and my body stopped. In fact the whole group energy slowed and the drumming soon stopped. So … were we catching the same energy wave? I don’t know and I don’t care to interpret. What happened, happened.
“I’m Better When I Move”
(quote from the generational movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid)
In classic Harner model workshops, participants learn to journey lying on their backs, with a scarf or cloth covering their eyes. In my first attempts at this, it didn’t work very well. Then one time, a teacher who knows I am a dancer suggested I try to journey standing up, and that it would be ok to sway or move, no need to feel self-conscious since the other participants had bandanas over their eyes. Voilà – I had my first meaningful journey experience.
And on Traveller’s Joy pilgrimages, I journey well, I think because there tends to be more movement there, and the circle of pilgrims often drums while standing, and we are allowed or even encouraged to wandering off a short distance, to find a space that feels right for us. And of course, in a pilgrimage there develops a very strong and spacious Safe Circle that can accommodate that.
Another reason I don’t care if I don’t get classic journey experiences, is that other good things are happening. The easiest to explain is Intuition. I used to feel I had none. But over this same period of life, intuitions started coming to me. I don’t mean vague intuitions; I don’t know what to do with those. Rather, I mean useful intuitions that help me “recognize” the best course of action with respect to life directions and decisions. I mean an intuition process I can learn to trust because I get to verify whether following the intuition led to a “fitting” outcome.
These intuitions are a kind of felt or innate wisdom about what I should do, that just becomes apparent. It is not exactly coming from any specific practice and it is definitely not based on an analytical framework or what we call “thinking”. Perhaps what I love best is that it is ‘free’. It arrives like a gift, which is much less work than analysing everything from multiple angles, as I used to do!
The emergence of intuition was a very gradual process, increasing in strength and frequency. It was definitely boosted by peak experiences like the Shamanic Convergences in Nova Scotia, or Traveller’s Joy pilgrimages, or my wife Lucie Brunet’s emotionally sad — yet spiritually uplifting — exit process from this life.
“This is my story. Ho.”