Blog: Journey On It: Inner Guidance
By Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.
In traditional shamanic practice, the journey was taken by the shaman to understand and connect with the power of the Earth. The shaman became empowered through the process of this quest and used this power to aid the community through ceremony, healing, and divination. Shamans use a repetitive sound to alter consciousness and then focus their attention inward. The most common sounds used for the shamanic journey are drums and rattles.
The journey reveals an inner cosmography that is quite similar to the external cosmography the Earth demonstrates to us each day. In this cosmography, there is an upper world (the sky), middle world (the surface of the Earth), and lower world (the realms under the Earth). The quest of the journeyer takes place within these realms.
The journeyer discovers the nature of these worlds over time, but there is something remarkable to note about these worlds in the context of historic shamanic practice: In every culture where the journey has been practiced, which is the large majority of cultures that have existed on the planet, these worlds have been described quite similarly. In his book, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, Mircea Eliade relates the universality of the descriptions of this cosmography as it has emerged through the shamanic journey in different cultural contexts.
The most important distinction between these worlds, according to reports by shamanic journeyers from many different cultures, is that only compassionate beings are found in the upper and lower worlds. These same reports state that there are compassionate beings found in the middle world, but the majority of beings found in the middle world are not compassionate in nature. The bulk of traditional shamanic practice is focused on this latter issue and this is something we study in the Applied Shamanism program at the Sacred Stream.
I encourage people just beginning their shamanic journey practice to journey only in the upper and lower worlds, in order to establish a relationship with guidance in the forms of nature. This allows the new journeyer to develop trust in the process, and to feel free to establish trust in the guidance that emerges from the journey.
As the drumming or rattling begins, journeyers imagine themselves entering the upper world from a high place known to them, or entering the lower world from a place near water or particular holes or caverns that are familiar to them in the material world. As they enter into one of these worlds, they carry with them a question.
The first question in any journey practice is the request for guidance. This guidance can take any form, but in upper world and lower world journeys, guidance generally takes the form of nature. The journeyer may encounter a plant, an animal, a person, a star, or any other form of nature that has meaning to them. When the first encounter occurs, the journeyer always asks as the first question: “Are you a form of guidance here to assist me?”
In order to interpret the answer to this and all subsequent questions, the journeyer must be able to open all of their inner senses to receive the answer. As we open our inner senses, we become more attuned to our intuitive nature, and we develop this intuition as we work with the journey.
When the luminous world of the shamanic journey opens to us, and the forms of the Earth emerge from within this inner cosmography, we meet our inner guidance or guides. This guidance leads us into a process of learning that occurs within the context of the shamanic journey and reconnects us in the places where we have lost connection. We are met just where we need to be met. As we wean ourselves away from the external voice of others, we are nourished by our inner guidance and what it has to reveal to us.
Practice: During the week, practice listening to your own voice before you listen to the voice of others in making decisions or solving problems. Notice whether this is easy or difficult for you to do.