Shamanism in My Life
This article was written for a class I was taking at John F. Kennedy University on Shamanism. The article discusses shamanism as it applied to my life and how the class affected my views on the topic.
Shamanism has become something that I am interested in over the last eight years because of its close relationship to plant use, and the use of those plants to produce altered states. I first got into shamanism because of the South American tradition in the use of Ayahuasca. Ayahuasca and its chemical ties to dimethyltryptamine (DMT) were interesting to me because of some articles written by Dr. Strassman and others who linked DMT to the production of melatonin in the pineal gland. In the articles, they discussed the chemical processes that take place in the brain and how those processes could result in the production of natural DMT causing us to hallucinate or to dream. At the time I was interested in this because of my recent history of having a number of Out of Body Experiences and cases of sleep paralysis. What I didn’t realize at the time is that studying shamanism would lead me down a road to see dreaming as a shamanistic practice on its own.
When I was young, I would often have intense and deep dreams. I would hear people speaking to me in my sleep and would see anything in between apocalyptic type scenes displaying massive creatures destroying pyramids, to zombies ravaging the planet as I stood helplessly in their destruction. I would look into the hidden meaning of the dreams, trying to understand what they were trying to tell me. I was very religious at the time and had heard stories in the Bible about God speaking to people in their dreams, and wondered if I was one of those people. I also found questions in my dreams. I was able at times to control my dreams by becoming aware that I was dreaming. This new power that I realized I had in my mind seemed to contradict some aspects of what I understood fact when it came to understanding reality. I thought about the connection between dreams and how we perceived the world around us. It made me question a lot of things, including some religious beliefs.
In 2006 I was taking a nap during the day, and I heard what I perceived as my friend come into my room and jump on my back. He was always a joking friend, so this wasn’t something that seemed out of the ordinary for him, but it still upset me. I asked him in the most polite terms to “get off my back,” but he didn’t move. I then told him that if he didn’t get off my back, I would hit him. He still did not move. Not only that, but he started to breathe in my ear heavily which just made me more upset. After a few moments, I swung at him to hit him, and when I moved I noticed that not only was there no one in my room with me, that it was silent. I was so distraught from the experience that I walked around my room looking for my hiding friend but knew deep inside that I would not find him. A few nights later I had a similar experience where I was paralyzed in my bed, and a figure dressed in black walked over to my bed and started to suffocate me. A few nights later the same event took place.
After this happened a few times, I started to realize that I needed to get help. The only safe place I could find help without someone thinking I was either crazy or possessed by demons was online. Online some people told me that I needed to find the power within myself and overcome this being or it would just continue. They also suggested that after I was able to overcome it, that I could have an Out of Body Experience (OBE). I didn’t care about the OBE, but I did care about getting a good nights rest as this was disrupting my ability to work well at my job and stay focused during the day. After some trial and error, I ended up overcoming this dark figure by eating it. After I had devoured the being, I was rewarded with my first OBE. I walked down my stairway in my house and found myself located in a beautifully made hotel lobby where people were eating what seemed to be dinner. I was astounded by the realism of the experience and how the people reacted to me as I walked through their dining area in my pajamas.
After that experience, I never again saw the shadow creature, but since then I have seen other beings and people who have come to visit me in my sleep as well as continued to have OBEs. These experiences motivated me to study psychology in college and reach out to sleep experts who could answer my questions. Additionally, I became interested in the chemical processes that took place in my mind during sleep which resulted in me getting involved in DMT and ultimately shamanism.
I ended up taking Ayahuasca in the hopes to find the connection between DMT and dreaming. What I found out is that entheogens may be related to dreaming, but they are vastly different experiences. I also found out from reading other peoples experiences that I was a lot more sensitive to the sacrament than other people and could see visions very easily which was uncommon. Many of the things that I saw were vastly different than what I saw in my dreams. I experienced past lives, discussions with different parts of my body, and saw aliens and spirit guides that instructed me in lessons about life and my psyche. I took Ayahuasca a number of times and ended up learning a great deal from the plants that I never thought was possible. I also read more about the plants and the shaman culture of South America. I started a podcast in hopes to interview the authors of books on the subject and ended up speaking with some great people who helped me to form a larger view of dreams and teaching plants. One individual was a practicing shaman from South America who traveled the world providing ceremonies. This person became my mentor in ways, and I could ask them questions about the experiences I was having and get feedback. One of the greatest things that this shaman taught me is that regardless of who I was, the plants would teach me what I needed to learn when I was ready. I applied this lesson to my dreams as well.
Additional to learning psychology I was also learning a great deal about Buddhism and meditation practices. I was taking a Buddhist class from a professor that became a good friend of mine, and his lessons were priceless in my development of understanding my place in the world. I told him about my most recent experiences with plants and my dreams which often involved some type of visitation from a fear-inducing being. He asked me to just sit with the beings, and try to understand that they wanted, rather than trying to attack them or scare them away, which seemed to be my go-to method of overcoming them. I decided to take his advice and sit with them. What I learned is that they had been different aspects of myself and I was able to physically merge into them. This seemed to change my waking life as well, as the depression that plagued me most of my life started to go away slowly, and my religious fears of death and hell started to disappear as well.
Ultimately I ended my religious affiliation with Christianity as I took more responsibility for my actions in life, and the understanding that the Bible was not providing me practical answers to the afterlife or reality. I also did not agree with it being the one true religion. I started to see that many of my experiences were just as real and relevant as those individuals who were written about in the Bible. That if I had lived thousands of years ago, my dreams and my visions would be discussed as being of God, and him choosing me as a profit. I also noticed the confusion in these visions and the absurdities that some of these experiences included. It made me know deep down inside that these experiences cannot be trusted for their face value. Communicating with shamans, I also found that they agreed that visions are often tricky to understand and often the spirits try to play tricks on us to have us think one thing while testing us in another way. Regardless of what the visions were saying, I knew that religion was not something I could trust.
In 2013 I got hurt while serving in the military. I had finished school and was currently serving on a Navy ship out at sea. After fighting with the medical department to get my fixed, years passed by and my injury became worse. It got bad enough that the military decided that I could either live with the pain and continue to work as I was ignoring my injury altogether, or I could get out. At this point, I didn’t want to get out, but I also felt that I didn’t know if I could deal with the pain in the situation I was in. The answer of what to do came in a dream.
In the dream, I was involved in horrible acts that questioned my motives in life and ultimately ended in the sacrifice of my life. I awoke from that dream, and I knew that I needed to make the choice that saved my life and soul. I gave up my 14 years of service, the status and rank that I had worked hard for, and my way of life because of that dream.
When I got out of the military things were not okay. I had a lot of work to do. I had my own business and started to work on that, and it slowly grew but most of all I needed to get back to my roots as a person. I began to focus on my dream work again, to get in touch with myself. I discussed my motivations in life to concentrate on dreamwork and studying sleep with a good friend of mine who was an instructor at John F. Kennedy University, and he suggested that I take some classes.
The Shamanic Traditions class has provided me the time and space I needed to realize that my dream work has been a shamanic practice this whole time. I never really looked at it in this way due to the idea that something external must be taken to experience the divine. This, of course, is not true as I have learned in this class as well as from other shamans. For some reason, it took me to be in this class to finally see that. The things that shamans take or do merely bring out those aspects of us that are already there. When I started to look at dream work as a shamanistic practice, it made it much more relevant to my life, as well as more serious. I began to treat it as a spiritual practice rather than a system to explore the consciousness, and because of that, it has transformed my world.
After reading chapter 2 of Mircea Eliade book, Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy I noticed a commonality that I had not seen before in shamanic traditions. This concept of being taken some place in which seemed to be an OBE state and transformed by the dissection of the body. I had not had this experience before and began to communicate to my higher self my willingness to do this and started to noticed I was being challenged again in my dreams. Again it was this concept of facing the fear of death, the fear of loss of control that I was unable to overcome right away. After some work in this area, I was able to accept this gift finally and was transformed. In the dream, I lay there as a tall man with tattoos covering his body, dissected me from head to toe using a large knife. The experience wasn’t painful, yet I could feel a sense of danger and uncertainty that was taking place. I still had to trust that this experience would end well. In the end, I awoke without any damage done and a sense of gratitude for the initiation.
My family history has always been an interest to me as well. My dad who is the only one from our family who has some knowledge of his past has told us that we were related to a tribe of Native Americans out of Iowa. He showed me pictures of my Great Great Grandmother who was dressed in Native American clothes. This excited me later and gave me the passion to find out my family history. As I researched, I had found that it was very hard to link my family history to Native Americans because of the culture at the time that they were documented. Unfortunately, I was unable to find anything but have recently submitted my DNA to be tested in hopes that this may provide anything at all. I had even called a number of the tribes and viewed their scrolls but were unable to find any link.
Regardless of my family history, my mother has always centered around healing others and helping others. She worked as a respiratory therapist for years and eventually got her degree in counseling and has ever since played a therapist role in her jobs. I also have seemed to have the desire to help others even though my career in the military has limited how I could do that. Since I have been out of the military, my passions have been more centered around that area though I am still not sure how exactly I will do that. It could be related to helping people with their sleep, or dreams, etc.
Additional to my shamanic initiation dream I have been focusing more and more on my practice. And more than ever before I have had the opportunity to have OBEs. I have seen things that are literally out of this world, traveled to the land of the dead, and discussed philosophies and knowledge with people there. I am still not sure what all this means to me, but it seems that its necessary in some shape or form. It also has brought up the question for me which I find to be significant, the matter of why I am doing this.
If my goal is to gain knowledge and to understand the experience, then I think I am running to a dead end. I don’t see any end to the knowledge or questions to what the experience is as I dig deeper into this alternate reality called OBEs. I find that the only thing that is worth the reason to be diving down into this work is to use that knowledge to help others who suffer from anxiety about death, or who suffer from a loss in their lives or maybe need psychological healing due to turmoil in their lives. I fully believe that OBEs and the experiences that they have provided me have given me a perspective of reality that not many have. This along with my essential scientific background in psychology, as well as my life experience through military service, has provided me with a groundedness that is important when dealing with these topics. I still feel however that I often one foot in and one foot out of sanity and insanity at times.
When reading the book The Beauty of The Primitive I have slowly noticed that I have a disconnection between the land and myself. You could call this a literal ungroundedness in my life. It is possible that due to my continually moving around for the last 14 years in the military has caused this, as well as my extended extensions of time on the ocean. I have always had a desire to be more connected to the earth, and that could be based on my family history. My family has always been connected to the ground in some shape or form. They are hunters, or they are outdoors in nature a good portion of their lives. I oddly am not. This book and the class has made me realize this is something that I need to work on if I am ever going to connect with who I am as a person.
Though my history with shamanism has been pretty vast, I never really considered what I was doing in life as shamanic in any of the traditional sense. I still don’t consider myself to be a shaman. However, I would guess others would see me like that. I see myself as barely scratching the surface and having no real understanding of what I am doing. This class though has given me some tools and as well as the empowerment that I needed to treat my dream practice as a shamanistic practice and to learn with respect and patience. I believe that my lifelong journey to understanding the dream world can surely lead to me being able to help others learn more life.
Lee Adams is a Ph.D. candidate in Jungian Psychology and Archetypal Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute and host of Cosmic Echo, a lucid dreaming podcast, and creator of taileaters.com, an online community of lucid dreamers and psychonauts. Lee has been actively researching, practicing, and teaching lucid dreaming for over twenty years.
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