This is going to sound strange, maybe crazy, but I’ve got to say it: I think we all need to stop relying on guided visualizations.
I know for many spiritual teachers guided visualizations are a mainstay of their practice, a technique that can serve many different purposes, and very well. Here’s the thing though, we all need to up our game. The way things are going in the world, visualizing is not only not enough, it may be limiting our us in some key ways. Why? Because guided visualization keeps us in the rational box of the imagination. Guided visualization exercises do not honor an essential ability of each of our souls, to journey and make direct contact with all of the spirits we share life with.
One of the most common problems that comes up for people when they first learn to journey in a shamanic workshop is the concern that its all in their imagination. This quickly disappears when practicing in a group setting. While journeying on behalf of each other, participants invariably wind up receiving information and healing power that cannot be explained by their individual mental activity. How can it be one’s imagination if it includes information beyond one’s knowing, how can it be imagination if it effects healing that is so powerful?
But for those lacking the affirmation of a positive group experience, shamanic journeying is often seen as some kind of guided or semi-guided visualization.
“I journeyed but I’m not sure if it was real.”
“Oh it was probably not a real journey, just an ‘imaginal’ journey.”
“Imaginal” eh? We keep inventing new cages for our souls.
In communities where soul doctoring has not been wiped away by religious or political oppression, the spirit is assumed to have a very real presence in one’s daily life. It is also understood that a soul may come and go, in dreams, ecstatic experiences or in other intentional activity. Its easy to understand how in those communities that the idea of journeying as a discipline is understood as just a basic human faculty. Even those who are not healers might still journey for various reasons, either individually or in group ceremony. We unfortunately seem to be weirdly acculturated to think that journeying is not for us. We are well trained to perpetuate spirit-limiting ideas that were originally used oppressively to squash some of our own souls extraordinary qualities. When our ancestors various spiritual traditions were outlawed or assimilated into a religious context, soul-traveling was outlawed and shunned. Each of us lives with the impact of that today.
“Argue for your limitations and they’re sure to be yours.” – Richard Bach.
Those of us Westerners entering into shamanic training are typically already starting with a kind of a deficit. We did not grow up in a world animated by spirit, as many indigenous peoples still do. We did not grow up with any awareness of daily spiritual self-care. Most of us grew up in cities, away from the powerful presence of nature, which can sway and carry us on spontaneous journeys. Many of us grew up seeing nature as without soul, indeed some of us were raised seeing ourselves without souls. Language, way of life, much of what we do in the West actually DRIVES us away from the palpable presence of our own souls. Learning to trust your soul, feeling its presence, is actually a kind of heroic challenge for some of us. We have a lot to overcome in welcoming our spirits into our daily lives. Trusting our souls to journey is a great beginning.
Guided visualization can be like taking a fish from one tank and putting it in another, when really our fishes belong in the streams, rivers and oceans of life.
I often tell people I’m teaching to journey that in the West we have a tiny box called “imagination”. We shove all kinds of activities of the soul into it, most of them add up to diminishing the souls power, initiative and perspective. So long as a journey lives within this same box, it will restrain each persons spirits ability to meet the world on its own terms. When we guide a person to a place we may or may not experience as being real, we are attempting to narrate something each soul is better capable of experiencing and understanding on its own.
Lets expand our vocabulary.
I prefer to use words like “conjuring”, to describe a very purposeful imagining that may or may not have an obvious impact on the world. I prefer to use words that encourage my own soul to unfurl its wings and take flight. I prefer to teach journeying, rather than visualization. I think the world needs more journeyers, more people willing to reach out and meet it.
The shaman’s journey is a journey of the soul into the spirit world. It affirms in a very practical way that the soul is real and in a way tangible, and that the world itself is of spirit. That world as experienced by our spirits does not conform to normal spatial rules as our ordinary experience of the physical world (going “out” into the spirit world can also include going into your own inner world), yet it is a very real place to the shaman, occupied not just by the machinations of her or his “mind” (whatever that is) but by the souls of others and the greater presence of spirit. For the shaman, the soul is not a metaphor and the journey is not “imaginal”.
Not banishing anything.
I’m sure there are and will continue to be valuable uses for guided visualizations, but they happen best within the context of a spiritually alive world we are all capable of directly experiencing for ourselves. When we use conventions that can fit into a rational, dispirited perspective we are limiting the power of our own souls and continuing to limit our experience of the very real spiritual power of the world. We are telling our own spirits they are not real, they lack power to relate to the soul of the world. Aren’t our souls disempowered enough by our modern way of life without conditioning ourselves to believe the experiences of our souls are really just some kind of mental projection?
Lets not keep our souls in the boxes of visualizations and imaginations. Those practices allow us to marginalize and localize our own souls, to act as if this is all some sort of chemical activity in our bodies. Let us acknowledge our souls as conjurers, manifesters and journeyers. Lets entice them to take flight, to make new relationships with the extraordinary spirits available to us all. The world needs the presence of our spirits more than ever, the world needs us to participate under our own authority.
In this way, journeying becomes an offering to life itself. It signals the world you’re ready to show up with your full presence, to journey to meet the spirits and receive the gifts they have to offer.
I think its the souls way of saying YES to life!