Shamanistic Attributes of Dream Yoga


This is the first chapter of Dream Yoga and Integral Deep Listening, a text that compares shamanism, yogic traditions, Taoism, Confucianism, Theravadin Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Wilber’s Integral AQAL, lucid dreaming,Freudian psychoanalysis, Jung, Gestalt therapy, and Voice Dialog to IDL.

Shamanic Attributes

Shamanic vision questing includes a family of cultural practices that focus on the initiated voluntarily entering altered states of consciousness in which they experience themselves, or their spirit(s), traveling to other realms at will, and interacting with other entities to serve their community. These primordial ancient traditions, date back to the dawn of mankind and are at least 20,00 to 30,000 years old, and are found everywhere hunter-gatherer societies have lived: North, Central, and South America, Africa, Australia, and Siberia.[1] Because dream yogas share with shamanism a common evolutionary heritage, a knowledge of shamanism is important for those who wish to wake up in any state of consciousness.

In what follows we will address traditional shamanism, based on the first-hand observations of late 19th century and early 20th century ethnographers and anthropologists, and compare that information to some expressions of contemporary shamanism, with particular interest in how all this relates to lucid dreaming, dream yogas, and IDL. Early, traditional forms of transcendence are not to be confused with contemporary New Age shamanism or the rekindling of traditional shamanic forms by contemporary Native Americans and others. As Wilber has shown, cultural contexts evolve, which is to say that the assumptions of the contexts within which contemporary shamanism is practiced are not, nor can they be, the same as the assumptions of the contexts of shamans in hunter-gatherer societies.[2] Another purpose is to show the cultural and psychological roots of the concrete and literal nature of dream, lucid dreaming, OOBE, mystical, and near death experiences, and how this is an unavoidable component of how life wakes up to itself within form. It is also important to identify core characteristics of perception of other states which, although reinterpreted, remain salient for students of dream yogas. We will then conclude the section by considering some of the linkages between shamanism, lucid dreaming, and near death experience in our contemporary culture.

Shamanism is both a pursuit of ecstasy in an induced trance state and a structured approach to helping others. Lucid dreaming may or may not involve the pursuit of ecstatic experiences, whether mystical, sexual, or death-defying. It may also be undertaken in order to confront fears and experience freedom, which is itself a form of ecstatic experience. Lucid dreaming can also be done with the intent of helping others. IDL, as a form of lucid living, pursues both the integration of mystical states into ongoing, stable stage development and the minimization of delusions that block clarity by filtering experience. In addition, it teaches a skill set intended to increase your ability to help others wake up.

While shamanism is traditionally found primarily in nomadic hunting and gathering societies, dream yogas are traditionally found in bronze age religions, principally of India, and currently both among those pursuing state awakenings within the context of a religion or spiritual path, or simply as a technology of life enrichment. The approach to waking up and life enrichment advocated by IDL is similar to traditions that stress karma margas, or paths to enlightenment, in that both emphasize awakening within secular daily life in preference to accessing ecstatic, other-worldly experiences.

Activities central to shamanism include journeying to other realities to learn, gain power, explore other worlds, communicate with spirits, animals, or other-worldly people, see the causes and cures of illness, and intercede with friendly and demonic forces. Activities central to dream yogas include learning to wake up in the dream state, that is, become aware that you are dreaming while dreaming, setting intentions for lucid dreaming, use of specific pre-sleep suggestion, meditation, mental discipline and concentration, instructions about what to do while in a dream in order to wake up, as well as what should be done once one awakens in a dream. Note that when waking is recognized to be a dreamlike state that learning to wake up within waking consciousness, that is to become aware that you are dreaming right now, is an important form of dream yoga, and the approach emphasized by IDL. Activities central to Integral Deep Listening dream yoga include becoming dream characters and the personifications of life issues in non-trance states, applying their recommendations, including becoming them at various times, such as when stressed or meditating; learning phenomenological suspension of belief and disbelief; non-reactivity, including staying out of drama; interviewing and becoming dream characters while dreaming. While dream yogas and lucid dreamers may or may not share the worldview of shamanism, IDL does not.

Shamans believe that they contact and enter a hidden reality, that there exists a three-tiered cosmology, that dreams are not symbolic, but rather genuine experiences in another reality, and that dream beings are real. Consequently, shamanism venerates dreams and dreaming because it represents contact with powerful forces that affect humans in important ways. As we shall see in subsequent chapters, traditional practitioners of dream yogas in India shared many of these assumptions. Modern practitioners may or may not take a literal stance toward dream experience. Some instead assume they are dealing with self-generated realities and with self-aspects. IDL defers to interviewed dream characters and personifications of life issues regarding their ontological status. They typically state they are partially self-creations and partially objective, or inversely, neither completely subjective nor completely objective and “other.” A central purpose of IDL is to see the causes and cures of delusion while amplifying the influence of alternative, relatively awake and non-deluded perspectives. It believes that reality expands as your self-definition expands; that dream, shamanic, and waking beings are best understood as holons, that dreaming is as real and delusional as waking, that dream characters and shamanic totems, spirits, and demons are emerging potentials that may be productively treated as wake-up calls; and that the basic attitude to maintain toward night time and waking dreams is respectful questioning. We will now consider some of the various elements of shamanism in more detail.

When did Shamanism Begin?

Shamanism is a natural feature of small tribal groups within nomadic hunting and gathering cultures. It is found in societies with little agriculture and almost no social classes or political organization. Life in these small groups is focused on physical survival. There is typically no writing and traditions are oral. Experience is concrete, immediate, and sensory. Thinking is primarily based on sensory experience, images, and emotions, not concepts. There is no philosophy, science, literature, or sophisticated division of labor in shamanic cultures. There are few status differentiations. This is a difficult mind space to understand because it contains much less of almost everything that we take for granted. It would be as if you could live your life in an adult body but in the mental simplicity of a three year old. It was not until the advent of agriculture around 10,000 BCE that shamanism was replaced by a number of social roles that subdivided its various functions. These included priests, sorcerers/witches, healers, and mediums. It therefore is highly unlikely that contemporary attempts to mimic shamanism do much more than imitate the healing and trance-channeling aspects of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. To experience the consciousness of shamanism is to unlearn almost everything you know. For example, consider the language you use that determines how you think. Your thinking includes innumerable words that describe concepts and discriminations that were totally unknown to hunter-gatherer societies. Do people “unlearn” those?

There is a normal psychological rebellion against this reality among contemporary shamans. They want to believe that they are following in the tradition of archaic shamans. They think that knowledge and awareness lies in the soul, which knows what to do, independent of culture, time, space, and identity. For the most part, they are not accessing the mind-set of traditional shamanism, because both they and the culture that they inhabit have evolved far beyond the mind set of hunter gatherers. These differences are amply illustrated in the typical accounts of genuine tribal shamanism recounted here, with many more available in the literature.

For similar reasons, Integral Deep Listening cannot claim to be derived from either shamanism or any of the classical religious traditions. While we can point to elements within it which are found in shamanism and make the case that there is really nothing new under the sun, its particular integration of old ideas into current contexts is a late 20th century and early 21st century phenomenon. On the one hand, it can neither claim novelty, nor can it claim direct transmission from some venerable source of spiritual truth. However, it does contain elements similar to some elements in shamanism, while its many differences from shamanism serve to clarify both shamanism and Integral Deep Listening.

Like shamanism, Integral Deep Listening works because it resonates with innate characteristics of humans. These include the ability of both hunter-gatherers and contemporary humans to pretend as children and role play as adults. Within that skill set is the implied ability to set aside habitual waking identity in favor of that of the role which the child or adult wants to inhabit. In addition, there is a shared interest in “bringing back” with that role awareness and practical information that can benefit oneself and others. Two more shared competencies are important to mention, the ability to ask questions and to listen. These are elements in Integral Deep Listening that a shaman would recognize. However, identifying similar elements is very different from concluding that Integral Deep Listening is a form of shamanism.

What is Shamanic Trance?

Shamans lay aside their normal waking consciousness and go somewhere else. We would say that they enter an altered state of consciousness. More specifically, they enter a purposely induced trance state in which waking consciousness is partially or completely laid aside. In addition to shamanic trance, there are many different types of trance experiences, including states of flow, sleep, prayer, devotional practices, falling in love, magic, hypnosis, mediumship, watching television, near death experiences, spiritual ecstasy, meditation, and mysticism. Light trance naturally plays a very important role in the lives of children for modeling and role assimilation, with some comparing childhood to a natural state of hypnosis that produces rapid enculturation and socialization. It has been noted by many that this is a normal and vital element in the development of a strong sense of self, which naturally identifies with certain roles and avoids accessing those that conflict with its own role definitions. Integral Deep Listening induces similar light trance states through role identification.

From this list it becomes obvious that trance differs in depth, state, and function. Trance has many benefits, including pain control, spontaneous healing, avoidance of intolerable suffering, access to realms of higher truth, beauty, and wisdom, and the possibility of bringing help “back” to others in one’s community. Drugs, from alcohol to psilocybin, induce trance states. As such, trance states can function as potent rescuers in the Drama triangle and can become highly addictive. It is therefore not difficult to see why trance states are powerfully attractive. They can disclose experiences that are convincingly more real than everyday life.

Dreaming is a normal trance state, in that waking consciousness is partially set aside and we normally and naturally enter a different perceptual context, one that is defined by the self-delusion that we are awake when we are asleep and unaware of that fact. Aside from your normal delusional waking state, dreaming is both the most natural and powerful of all trance states when its consistency and persistence are taken into account. Consequently, it can be thought of as the human experience most likely to provide templates or models for other planes and other states of reality. The evidence for this is wide-spread and fundamental. For example, belief in spirits, life after death, and demons make sense to any child who has had dreams of the deceased or of visiting non-physical realms, or have had nightmares with frightening monsters. You do not have to be rational to reach these conclusions; you only have to be alive and be human.[3]

Of course shamans do not view either waking as dreamlike or dreams as delusional. Life is real and dreams are even more real. One of the amazing awakenings for humanity arose in India when sages realized first, that dreaming was not a state of reality but a state of self-deception and then generalized from that that waking life was also a state of self-deception. This turned the ontology of shamanism on its head and is the fundamental shift in awareness that will forever separate the consciousness of dreamers, lucid dreamers, contemporary shamans, and explorers of altered states from traditional shamanism. There is no doubt that this realization is normally forgotten while dreaming or in trance, just as post-Copernican reality normally gives way to the sensory reality of the geocentrism. However, that does not change the fact that human consciousness has outgrown a fundamental delusion, cognitive distortion, and self-deception. To the extent that trance is regressive, it invites us to go back to sleep and to dream the ancient dream of concrete, naïve realism, in which perception is real, and therefore what is true is what you experience.

For similar reasons, the induction of trance is also a powerful and effective strategy in many therapies. The production of validating insight and catharsis through the reduction of mental and emotional resistances is a commonly used device for impressing clients with the power of the therapist and the validity of her methods. You are invited to keep this comparison in mind as you consider the relevance of shamanistic experience for contemporary framings of awakening, enlightenment, and healing.

Trance is induced by the disruption or the termination of some cognitive ability, like volition in hypnosis, or sensory awareness, as in sleep, or cognition, as in drunkenness, or by the insertion of some overwhelming emotional state, such as anger or catharsis. Your current waking trance state is induced by the disruption of life by the physical and cognitive filters that keep you grounded in sensory reality. While shamans lay aside their normal waking consciousness to enter trance, their experiences within the trance are generally perceived by their normal waking perspective that they carry into the shamanic journey, not that of the totem animal or spirit they are communicating with. This is true even when they talk to the spirit guide and it interprets the experience for them. They are the ones that make sense out of that interpretation, and what is perceived is dependent on the shaman’s waking level of development. If they do not question the concrete reality of their perception in waking life they do not do so and will not do so in a trance world. We see the same trend in ourselves. If we take for granted the reality of our everyday experience it is very difficult to question the reality of dream experience and wak up out of it. If a person does not question the reality of their waking experience and has a near death experience, are they likely to question the reality of the experience? Shamans either lay aside their waking consciousness to get into trance and then pick it up again once they have attained that state, as in dreaming, or they only lay aside certain aspects of waking consciousness, such as bodily awareness, while maintaining other aspects of waking consciousness, as some lucid dreamers and practitioners of Nidra yoga do. It seems that both of these theories may play a part in shamanic journeying.

In addition to the many advantages of trance, it also carries within it, as part of its intrinsic nature, some important limitations and disadvantages that are very difficult to avoid. As we have seen, trance can convince experiencers that something is real and true that is a delusion. We will see examples of this in accounts of shamanic journeying included below. In addition to assuming that perception is real instead of delusional, trance can function as a powerful rescuer of individuals and communities. Because of its effectiveness as a rescuer, in addition to its ecstatic characteristics, trance can easily become addictive. We all desire to be rescued, forgetting that rescuers, both animate and inanimate, inevitably become persecutors. Rescuers can not only surrender control to their addictions but can push other, non-rescuing, non-addictive behaviors and people out of their lives. We see this in groupthink, in which a prevailing perceptual cognitive disorder entrains an entire culture into a trance-like belief in nationalism, war, or other delusion. Those who do not submit to the collective trance risk scapegoating, exclusion, imprisonment, or death.

In addition to its addictive nature, trance can also generate a powerful longing to return to the state; this can so diminish everyday life by comparison that people no longer find meaning in living. Common examples are the detachment from life commonly felt by some near death experiencers for years after their experience, as well as “dark night of the soul” experiences of spiritual abandonment.

Trance is not easy to control. One might just go to sleep and remember nothing, or they might go into such a light trance that nothing of note occurs. There remains the slight possibility that one will have a nightmarish experience from which they never recover. Trance is not, in itself, integral. It does not integrate body, mind, and spirit; instead, it splits off part of the mind, often called the soul, so that it can journey, learn, help., or escape from physical harm, like childhood molestation. The challenge is to re-integrate that split off part of the mind and what it has experienced during the shamanic journey into daily social and cultural functioning. Many never do this, either living in a fantasy world, remaining numb to life, or experiencing an almost schizoid split between two planes of reality. Reintegrating trance awarenesses is as much a skill set as is trance induction itself, and is extraordinarily important. This is an important basic concept to keep in mind while considering all types of dream yogas. Ask not so much, “How deep or impressive was the trance, but how is the trance integrated in a practical, functional way into normal waking consciousness?” Not everyone in a hunter-gatherer tribe can be a shaman; generally one has to have a “calling” and proper aptitudes, including a willingness and ability to “die” in significant ways. Then, in addition, just because one can successfully enter trance, the benefit of that state for others in the tribe is dependent on the skill of the individual shaman.

Lucid dreaming is waking up within a trance state called dreaming. You then either choose to stay in a delusional world, in that you know that your lucid dream will largely change according to your preferences, or you can choose to stop being lucid or stop dreaming entirely. While there is the option of moving from there into dreamless clarity, most do not, because to do so implies sophisticated skill sets of silencing the automatic, ongoing emotional, image, and cognitive filters that generate identity. The sense of control over the dream world during lucid dreaming is as good a definition of real magic as any, in that you can manipulate your reality, as long as you maintain your presence in that trance state. Notice that the key element is not lucidity but remaining in the dream state, because you can manipulate your reality in normal dreams as well; you do not have to be lucid to do so. Clearly, there are important advantages to knowing you are dreaming, but the fact remains that non-lucid dreamers can also do “magic,” such as making threats magically disappear, shift from one place to another on command, and experience impossibilities, such as death and rebirth.

Integral Deep Listening typically induces light trance states. This is intentional; it takes steps to reduce the depth of trance, by keeping eyes open during interviewing, recording self-interviews at a keyboard, staying in verbal contact with an interviewer or physical contact with a computer, pen, or voice recorder. This is because Integral Deep Listening emphasizes conscious access to alternate perspectives, which may or may not be experienced as altered states, and are rarely experienced as trance. It does so because it wants to integrate broader, more inclusive state experiences into waking awareness, and prefers access to less dissociated and less intense perspectives that are more accessible and easier to replicate. This requires the maintenance of a continuity of waking awareness, with the result being that trance experiences are much, much more likely to become assimilated into an expanded definition of self.

We see a similar problem with dream recall because dreaming is a deep trance state. Although we may be sure we will remember our dreams, the physiology of integrating short-term memory changes between sleep and waking, and that biochemistry tends to erase our recall of dreams. Something similar is going on with other trance states. The trade off is this: you are more likely to have a powerful, other worldly, transformative trance experience if you go deeply into trance and lay down major components of your sense of self, as occurs for example, with near death experiences. This is because your consciousness dissociates from the normal physical and cognitive filters that exist to protect you by keeping you oriented to name, time, and place. The price you are likely to pay for profound trance is difficulty remembering or integrating the experience into your life. Also, the gulf between deep trance states and your everyday waking life may appear insurmountable. The alternative is to err toward the other extreme, by minimizing trance, and with it the intensity of transformative experience. The advantages include enhancing waking recall, integration, and ownership. This is the path that children normally use in their development and that Integral Deep Listening prefers. It believes that more easily induced, less intense experiences will, over time, generate more reliable advances in developmental stage, because the experiences are much more likely to be assimilated.

How is Shamanic Trance Induced?

Shamanic trance induction can be a very serious business. It may involve isolation, fatigue, hunger, self-harm, rhythmic sound, delirium, or ingestion of hallucinogens. Very sophisticated, individualized cultural rituals have been devised over the millennia, often using drums, ecstatic dancing, vision quests, deprivation, pain, starvation, and exposure to the elements. Extreme activities are all designed to generate extraordinary cognitive states that interrupt normal cognition and shut down processes that normally filter and interpret reality. These are generally thanatomimetic, or imitative of death, because “death” is required to enter the realm of the dead.

You have probably experienced how extreme waking events, such as viewing horror movies or accidents, are more likely to induce not only intense dreams but increase the likelihood that you will remember them. The challenge for lucid dream induction is to bring stimuli into the dream state that are strong enough to jar you awake out of dream trance without jarring you completely awake.

The “induction” Integral Deep Listening uses, if one can call it that, is the same that all children normally experience with games of “pretend.” This is such a normal and mild phenomena that most people do not think of it as induction, or even realize it is happening, and Integral Deep Listening does not typically view its procedure as involving an induction into an altered state of consciousness. Nevertheless, the taking on of roles involves degrees of trance. Acting of any sort requires a considerable amount of laying aside waking identity and inhabiting a role. When taken to an extreme, role playing can involve temporary or permanent dissociation, in which waking identity checks out entirely. There can be selective possession in trance states, as in mediumship. Uncontrolled, ongoing possession is a very rare occurrence; however, the natural development of your sense of self might be considered a relatively permanent case of arbitrary, culturally-induced possession. Lucid dreaming can emphasize learning and practicing skills and attitudes within the dream state to be carried back into waking awareness.

Integral Deep Listening has never seen either dissociation or possession induced by its interviewing protocols; the nature of the interviewing process itself makes those possibilities highly unlikely. The taking of alternate perspectives in Integral Deep Listening is designed to provide alternate worldviews, also called “perceptual cognitive distortions,” that are indeed accompanied by alternate thoughts, feelings, and intentions, which can be integrated into waking life. With a genuine identification with an alternative perspective, interviewers and other observers can often observe a noticeable shift in mood and consciousness that is palpable. Integral Deep Listening very intentionally sets out to alter perspectives, and therefore consciousness. To the extent that it succeeds in doing so, one could make a case that an effective induction has been used. 

Shamanistic Journeying

The journey is a major defining technique and experience of shamanism. Shamans first enter a trance state and then enter controlled out-of-body experiences in which they experience themselves roaming at will through this or other worlds and meeting, battling or befriending the spiritual inhabitants. This differs from lucid dreaming mainly in method of induction and purpose; some people approach lucid dreaming as a type of shamanistic journeying. However, it would be a mistake to reduce shamanistic journeying to either an unhealthy type of dissociation or to elevate it as a highly mystical experience of oneness, as is done when it is equated with near death experiences. The closest analogy may be to types of nature mysticism in which freedom and engagement are emphasized instead of simple oneness with energy, psychism, and the natural world. Differences between shamanism and lucid dreaming include awareness of the environment, concentration, control, sense of identity, arousal, affect, and imagery. To give something of a feeling of traditional shamanic journeying, here is a description from Siberia of a journey to the underworld of Erlik, the god of darkness:

The kams (shamans) of the Turkic tribes of the Altai have preserved with great strictness the ancient shamanistic ceremonial forms. Potanin gives a curious description of the performance of a young shaman, Enchu, who lived by the River Talda, about six versts from Anguday. Four stages, each marked by a different posture of the shaman, characterized his performance: in the first, he was sitting and facing the fire; second, standing, with his back to the fire; third, a sort of interlude, during which the shaman rested from his labour, supporting himself with his elbow on the drum, which he balanced on its rim, while he related what he had learned in his intercourse with the spirits; and fourth, a final shamanizing, with his back to the fire, and facing the place where the drum usually hangs. Enchu declared afterwards that he had no recollection of what happened while he was shamanizing with his back turned to the fire. While he was in that position he had been whirling about madly in circles on one spot, and without any considerable movement of his feet; crouching down on his haunches, and rising again to a standing posture, without interrupting the rotating movement. As he alternately bent and straightened his body from the hips, backwards and forwards and from side to side, with lively movements or jerks, the manyak (metal pendants) fastened to his coat danced and dangled furiously in all directions, describing shining circles in the air. At the same time the shaman kept beating his drum, holding it in various positions so that it gave out different sounds. From time to time Enchu held the drum high above his head in a horizontal position and beat upon it from below. The natives of Anguday explained to Potanin that when the shaman held the drum in that way, he was collecting spirits in it. At times he would talk and laugh with someone apparently near by, but invisible to others, showing in this manner that he was in the company of spirits. At one time Enchu fell to singing more, quietly and evenly, simultaneously imitating on his drum the hoof-beats of a horse. This was to indicate that the shaman, with his accompanying spirits, was departing to the underworld of Erlik, the god of darkness.[4]

Harner implies that in his experience, some 90% of people are able to undertake shamanic journeys.[5] What does this mean? That given proper suggestions, that 90% of people will go into trance and report journeys or meetings with spirit guides? While this is possible, imitating the consciousness of a shaman in journeying is much less likely. There is the implication that replicating shamanic forms, such as drumming, chanting, or even going into trance, replicates shamanic consciousness. If you define shamanism as duplicating shamanic forms, almost anyone can do it; if you define shamanism as a manifestation of a level of consciousness associated with nomad/hunter-gatherer societies, it is very unlikely that anyone, including contemporary native American practitioners of shamanism, do it.

Journeying, or shamanic traveling to another reality to learn, gain power, or diagnose and treat disease, is the one core function of shamanism that was not subsumed by one or another societal role when man turned to agriculture. Michael Harner thinks the absence of shamanism from agricultural and industrial-based cultures has been due to societal repression.[6] Walsh thinks another possibility is that the emergence of mystical states in the world’s religious traditions supplanted shamanic journeying. Walsh states, “it is unclear whether these factors alone (societal repression) could account for the disappearance of a practice, journeying, that was powerful enough to spread around much of the world, survive for perhaps tens of thousands of years, and form the basis for humankind’s most ancient and durable religious tradition.” Walsh believes a developmental perspective can provide part of the answer. “As humans develop, their thinking becomes less magical and concrete. Naive realism, mixed with the awe of unexplainable natural forces, is slowly replaced with conceptual knowledge and rational explanation. If shamanism is indeed a cultural framework associated with hunter-gatherer mentality, then the concrete assumptions that generate journeying, that dreams are real, that totem animals are spirit guides, and that experience is real, in whatever state it is found, may have given away to a solid preference for waking reality, as concreteness gave away to the distinction between objective and subjective experience.”[7]

Walsh is saying that the concreteness of naïve realism supports a shamanic worldview which in turn is the context in which shamanism naturally occurs. The implication is that as individuals and cultures outgrow the hunter-gatherer worldview that shamanism is supplanted by other forms that depend less on concreteness and naïve realism.

What is the relationship of IDL to journeying? When you explore a different world, as you do when you take a vacation to another country, or go into shamanic trance, the same experiencer, you, is having a new experience. What this does is broaden your waking perspective in some way. That is the consequence of the experience. Perhaps you decide there are things you can learn from this new country and its people, and so you broaden your perspective. Perhaps you decide there’s no place like home, that is, your new perspective confirms your previously held perspective. But notice that in either case, the intensity of the state-specific experience of being in a different country, far away from your routine reality, is typically quickly forgotten when you return home. In fact, the more unlike home your travels are, the less likely those experiences are to be integrated into your everyday reality once you return home. The gap between the two realities is just too broad. This is a reasonable theory of why there are so few accounts of near death experiences in the historical record. These experiences are so unlike normal reality that they are extraordinarily difficult to integrate, even if they are fundamentally life-changing regarding attitudes toward death and the purpose of life.

While people who do Integral Deep Listening interviewing have different and interesting experiences, this is not the purpose of Integral Deep Listening the way it may be for shamanism or for some lucid dreamers. For IDL, such experiences are a happy byproduct of a more fundamental purpose. Instead of focusing on having new experiences, such as exploring other worlds, Integral Deep Listening focuses on expanding one’s current perspective through the integration of light trance experiences hopefully not too dissimilar from waking reality. We can spend our lives exploring other worlds of states, countries, languages, science, music, feelings, and relationships, and not significantly expand our perspective. We may expand our perspective in the sense that we learn a lot about what we do not want to do and who we do not want to be. This can be very important, but growth by the process of elimination of wrong choices can result in an old age that still finds little meaning in life. Exploring perspectives that are directly related to how and where we are stuck, by interviewing the personifications of life issues, and perspectives that may reasonably be expected to relate to ongoing life concerns, as is assumed in the interviewing of dream characters, is designed not simply to collect experiences, but collect experiences that are calculated to do something very important: help you find and follow your inner compass.

Another fundamental difference between traditional and contemporary shamanic journeying and IDL interviewing is that the former takes these experiences very seriously. If you think about the attitude of the shaman in the previous account and look at the attitudes of shamans in accounts you read below, you will notice that they are all extraordinarily serious. They are dealing with life or death matters and struggles that require courage, skill, and knowledge. The attitude of IDL interviewing is purposefully very different. The assumption repeated within a number of questions in the interview is that this is imaginary, unreal, and not serious. There is a light whimsical, playful, childlike irrationality about the process which, on closer examination, is not irrational at all, but carefully thought out and calculated. This is what is known as “cosmic humor,” and reflects an appreciation of knowing that one is caught in webs of self-delusion and cannot escape.

It may be that role play is the psychological function within normal human development which is the strongest gift of shamanism to the continuing evolution of man, and journeying, in the form of role play, may be the strongest link of Integral Deep Listening to shamanism. It is not difficult to find significant parallels between shamanic journeying and role playing. They naturally occur at a parallel level of individual and social/cultural evolution, the childhood of humans and the childhood of humanity. Both are strongest when reality is assumed to be concrete and before strong distinctions between waking and dreaming, objective and subjective, have taken hold. Both involve a “journeying” into one or more different perspectives.

What is Shamanic Reality?

Shamans contact and enter a hidden reality. They assume the states they are contacting are objectively real places. Lucid dreamers who wonder if they are working in the shamanic tradition need to ask themselves, “When I dream and when I lucid dream, am I visiting objectively real places? If so, how do I know? What are the criteria that I use to determine whether something or someone in a dream or another state is objectively real or not? How can I know, beyond any doubt, that they are not self-creations, either partially, or completely?” “If I get validation that something is indeed real, like knowledge about someone unknown to others, how do I know that this is not part of a collective perceptual cognitive distortion, that is a dream that is so vast that I experience it as reality?” If you cannot answer these questions with certainty, then you are not in the shamanic tradition, because shamans have their answer and they are comfortable with it. They are visiting objectively real places and contacting objectively real entities.

While shamanism may involve the veneration of natural forces such as fire, wind, thunder, the sun, wild animals, and the mystery of death, these are all experienced animistically, as forces of nature which are alive and have spirits. They are kratophanies, or manifestations of the power of the supernatural dimension. This would be the second question for dreamers and lucid dreamers to ask themselves: “Do I experience the objects and natural settings in my dreams as alive and possessing spirits?” If you don’t, then you do not share the world view of shamanism. Another question to ask is, “How important is winning to me in my lucid dreams? How important is it to be powerful?” The answer for the shamanistic perspective is clear and obvious: winning and power are everything in shamanic journeying, and only the strongest shaman can accomplish the hero’s journey. The emphasis of traditional shamanic journeying is not on mystical mergence, oneness, or knowing God. Such interests evolved within the context of later agrarian societies. When modern shamans seek such aims from shamanic journeying they are overlaying primal shamanism with classical ideas of mysticiam and contemporary conceptions of trance and its spiritual functions. This is another question to ask of your dream and lucid dream experiences. “What am I seeking?” If it is oneness or mystical mergence, you are not following the shamanistic tradition.

Here is an another example of the sensory, non-deistic, animistic, and concrete quality of traditional shamanism. You will notice that the major motivation of the shaman, as presented here, is impressing his audience: “On arriving at the yurta the shaman takes his seat on a bench, or on a chest which must contain no implement capable of inflicting a wound. Near him, but not in front, the occupants of the yurta group themselves. The shaman faces the door, and pretends to be unconscious of all sights and sounds. In his right band he holds a short staff which is inscribed on one side with mystic symbols; and in his left, two arrows with the points held upwards. To each point is affixed a small bell. His dress has nothing distinctive of a shaman; he usually wears the coat either of the inquirer or of the sick person. The performance begins with a song summoning the spirits. Then the shaman strikes the arrows with his staff, so that the bells chime in a regular rhythm, while all the spectators sit in awed silence. When the spirits appear, the shaman rises and commences to dance. The dance is followed by a series of complicated and difficult body-movements. While all this is going on the rhythmical chiming of the bells never ceases. His song consists of a sort of dialogue with the spirits, and is sung with changes of intonation denoting different degrees of excitement or enthusiasm. When his enthusiasm rises to a high pitch, those present join in the singing. After the shaman has learnt all he wishes from the spirits, the latter communicate the will of the god to the people. If he is to foretell the future, he employs his staff. He throws it on the ground, and if it falls with the side inscribed with mystical signs turned upward, this is a good omen; if the blank side shows, ill-fortune may be looked for.

To prove his trustworthiness to those present, the shaman uses the following means. He sits on a reindeer skin, and his hands and feet are bound, The room is completely darkened. Then, as if in answer to his call to the spirits, various noises are heard both within and without the yurta: the beating of a drum, the grunting of a bear, the hissing of a serpent, the squeak of a squirrel, and mysterious scratchings on the reindeer-skin where he sits. Then the shaman’s bonds are untied, he is set free, and every one is convinced that what they heard was the work of the spirits.

Integral Deep Listening suspends assumptions about the reality or subjectivity of interviewed perspectives during interviewing. We do not know if the places that are visited in dreams are real, fantasy, or both. The difference from the shaman is that we consider all three possibilities. For traditional shamans it is unlikely that it ever crosses their mind that their experiences could be self-creations. They are so real, objective, and beyond their normal experience that they couldn’t be.

For Integral Deep Listening, reality is not a “given.” It is instead dependent on interactions between experience and the perspective of the experiencer. If you are a bee, with multi-faceted eyes, “given” reality is unimaginably, extraordinarily different from that of humans. Realities are hidden when we do not become them. Consequently, while shamans visit alternative realities, the nature of those realities remain hidden because they perceive it though their concrete, prepersonal level of development that does not questions the assumptions on which their world view is based. This level of consciousness naively assumes all perceptions are real. When they become a totem bear or wolf, the same is true; the meaning of that experience is interpreted in the context of the shaman’s level of development, just as is true for the subject of an IDL interview.

There Exists a Three-Tiered Cosmology

The cosmologies of world religions are largely inherited from shamanism and have hardly changed. The good is above, the bad is below. Humans exist in a purgatory, torn between the two. In the following example, the shaman, called kam in Mongolia, departs to the underworld of Erlik, the god of darkness, with his accompanying spirits.

“The kam directs his way towards the south. He has to cross the Altai Mountains and the red sands of the Chinese deserts. Then he crosses a yellow steppe, such as no magpie can traverse. ‘Singing, we shall cross it.’ says the kam in his song. After the yellow steppe there is a ‘pale’ one, such as no crow can pass over, and the kam in his imaginary passage once more sings a song full of hopeful courage. Then comes the iron mountain of Tamir Shayha, which ‘leans against the sky.’ Now the kam exhorts his train to be all of one mind, that they may pass this barrier by the united force of their will. He describes the difficulty of surmounting the passes and, in doing so, breathes heavily. On the top he finds the bones of many kams who have fallen here and died through failure of power. Again he sings songs of hope, declares he will leap over the mountain, and suits the action to the word. At last he comes towards the opening which leads to the underworld. Here he finds a sea, bridged only by a hair. To show the difficulty of crossing this bridge, the kam totters, almost falls, and with difficulty recovers himself. In the depths of the sea he beholds the bodies of many sinful kams who have perished there, for only those who are blameless can cross this bridge. On the other side he meets sinners who are receiving punishment suited to their faults; e.g. an eavesdropper is pinned by his ear to a stake. On reaching the dwelling-place of Erlik, he is confronted by dogs, who will not let him pass, but at last, being appeased by gifts, they grow milder. Before the beginning of the shamanistic ceremony gifts have been prepared for this emergency. Having successfully passed these warders, the kam, as if approaching the Yarta of Erlik and coming into his presence, bows, brings his drum up to his forehead, and says, ‘Mergu! mergu!‘ Then he declares whence and why he comes. Suddenly he shouts; this is meant to indicate that Erlik is angry that a mortal should dare to enter his yurta. The frightened kam leaps backward towards the door, but gathers fresh courage and again approaches Erlik’s throne. After this performance has been gone through three times, Erlik speaks: ‘Winged creatures cannot fly hither, beings with bones cannot come: how have you, ill-smelling blackbeetle, made your way to my abode?’

Then the kam stoops and with his drum makes certain movements as if dipping up wine. He presents the wine to Erlik; and makes a shuddering movement like that of one who drinks strong wine, to indicate, that Erlik has drunk. When he perceives that Erlik’s humour is somewhat milder tinder [due to] the influence of his draught, he makes him offerings of gifts. The great spirit (Erlik) is moved by the offerings of the kam, and promises increase of cattle, declares which mare will foal, and even specifies what marking the young one will have. The kam returns in high spirits, not on his horse as he went, but on a goose–a change of steeds which he indicates by moving about the yurta on tiptoe, to represent flying.

Notice that the shamanic journey is to bring physical wealth to the people, that the shaman works at convincing others that his ordeal for them is arduous, and that he is more worthy than other kams, who have tried and failed. Notice also that this shaman does not go to the heavens to ask for help and knowledge, but down, to the realm of demons. The world is filled with dark forces which must be appeased and won if man is to prosper. It is the shaman’s job to accomplish this task for his community and he can only do so if he is smart, strong, and courageous.

This three-tiered cosmology still exists in most near death experience accounts, many descriptions of mystical experiences, and in the assumptions of a good many contemporary approaches to transpersonal awakening. Why? One theory is that it exists because it is true; people tap into a fundamental reality in trance states, and because it is universal and timeless, you will come to the same conclusion whomever you are in whatever time you access such states. We can call this the “naïve realism” theory of transpersonal reality. Another theory is that the three-tiered cosmology exists because in trance you normally and naturally regress to assumptions of naïve realism, just as you do when you dream. Coming to a different conclusion fights the overwhelming reality of the context of altered states. This theory implies that you are more awake when you are awake, because you are more objective, than you are in trance states, even mystical ones that blow the limits off time and space and fill you with unconditional love and oneness. Could that be possible? Another possibility is that the three-tiered reality is real, but only conditionally so. As long as you accept the conditions, unspoken assumptions, and perceptual cognitive distortions that create it, it’s real. What this theory implies is that the unconditional reality of mystical oneness is not so unconditional after all, because it is seen in the context of the perceptual cognitive distortions that you project onto it. This would be a very difficult theory for a mystic or a near death experiencer to swallow, and IDL does not claim that it is true, only that it is indeed one possible explanation.

Why look for alternatives in the first place? The naïve realistic model of a three-tiered cosmology defines reality as manicheistic, meaning reality is fundamentally dualistic, pitting the forces of light against those of darkness in a never-ending struggle. It implies the darkness and evilness of matter and a need to escape from it through various forms of asceticism. It is quite sensible to presume that a heartfelt belief in this cosmology is at the root of the development of meditation practices within Hinduism, the rise of the various yogic traditions, and a motivator for the entire thrust of Buddhism, which shares this cosmology with Gnosticism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Chinese folk traditions, Judaism, and of course Hinduism. What this three-tiered cosmology does is define life as an unavoidable struggle, both within yourself and in the external world, between good and evil, splitting reality into two unbridgeable halves and making integration, wholeness, and oneness impossible. Most people are not happy with this conclusion and therefore imagine a state that shamans were unlikely to consider, because it contradicted their worldview, which transcends dualism and where integration and wholeness is possible. The fact that most religious traditions have some version of the “two truths” doctrine, as we shall see in subsequent chapters, is a testament to the evolution of consciousness beyond shamanism and also to the unacceptability of the implications of the shamanic and trance-revealed three-tiered cosmology.

The consequences of such assumptions about reality are that we must appease the forces above us and both appease and fight those below us, which are continuously attempting to kill us. The upper world is in the role rescuer, the lower world of persecutor, and humans are existentially predestined to be victims, torn between the two. Within such a cosmology there is no escape from the Drama Triangle; within the Drama Triangle there is no inner peace. Integral Deep Listening recognizes that this cosmology is a manifestation of the Drama Triangle and, as such it offers no solution, because it is part of the problem. When one understands and begins to recognize the Drama Triangle in the three realms of relationships, thoughts, and dreams, the three-tiered cosmology becomes objectified. Instead of remaining subjectively enmeshed in endless drama, the possibility opens of recognizing that this perspective is a delusion and a dream that generates perpetual suffering.

The question then becomes, “Is it possible to adopt the shamanic world view, go into trance, and go on shamanic vision quests without being in the Drama Triangle?” Viable alternatives to the three-tiered cosmology do not come into view until a considerable degree of objectivity has been cultivated, more than exists in hunter-gatherer, agrarian, and indeed, most industrial and post-industrial cultures. In one form or another, most people in the world today still believe in the shamanistic three-tiered cosmology. One such alternative, reflective of a post late-personal level of cognitive line development, is Wilber’s holonic integral AQAL model. It describes core characteristics of experience in a way that shift the focus away from their ontological status. It does not ask, “Are these spirits the shaman is communicating with real or not?” “Are these places the shaman is visiting really heaven or hell?” Instead, the holonic model focuses on the relationship among four basic perspectives on experience that arise out of the way that humans perceive life. For a perspective to change from a state opening, such as shamanic ecstasy, to a stable, lasting developmental stage, all four conditions need to come into balance.

The holonic model notes that no interiors exist without exteriors and no exteriors exist without interiors. These are two sides of one experiential coin; each implies the other. Similarly, no individual thing exists that is not a part of something, just as there is no individual thing that is not made up of other things, and is therefore itself a collective. Together, these four distinctions create a conceptual construct of considerable usefulness. Interior individual perspectives create thoughts, feelings, percepts, levels of consciousness, and states of consciousness. Interior collective perspectives create values and interpretations, supplying meaning to the other three quadrants. Exterior individual perspectives are behaviors: what one does that is observable, whether one is a cell or a star system. Exterior collective perspectives are interactional, whether one is talking physiology, the interactions between the three tiers of the traditional cosmology, love, government, or astrology. Dreams are holons that contain all four of these perspectives, as are emerging potentials, dreamers, the three-tiered cosmology, NDE realities, shamans, shamanism, mystical experiences of oneness, and Integral Deep Listening.

Identity is made up of all four of these; none of them are intrinsically in drama and none of them are devoid of drama; as conditions of perception, they can be colored by as little or as much drama as the perceiver brings to them. However, they do not make the perceiver the center of experience. Instead, four different perspectives together become the center of experience. What this does is move consciousness from a psychological geocentrism to a conceptual polyperspectivalism and from an ontological focus to one that balances ontology and epistemology, just as Integral Deep Listening interviewing attempts to do. Together, a holonic world view and Integral Deep Listening interviewing reinforce each other while providing an objectivity necessary to disengage oneself from the suffering inherent in the three tiered cosmology of prepersonal and early personal development. The three tiered cosmology of typical prepersonal and personal levels of development is replaced by the multiperspectivalism that the holonic model and Integral Deep Listening provide.

Dreams are Real

Just like waking life, while you are dreaming, it is your reality. This is the assumption that the shamanistic worldview extends to trance experiences. It is not until agrarian culture in India that humans begin considering that dreams are delusions and that waking life is dreamlike in that it is also delusional. The shamanistic perspective assumes the waking, dream, and trance worlds are real. It is quite another matter to wake up and then conclude that the dream is either completely real or completely a subjective, self-created delusion. Either conclusion requires more objectivity than normally exists at early or mid-prepersonal levels of development. Yet neither of these conclusions is balanced. The first does not respect the significant contributions that the perceptual biases of the dreamer make to experience; the second does not sufficiently respect the interdependent nature of self and other.   Notice that this assumption, that dreams and trance states are real, continues to exist in the accounts of many near death experiencers, mediums, spiritualists, channelers, and modern day shamans. Many who lucid dream or have out of the body experiences arrive at the same conclusion. This is the extension of naive realism into trance states, just like archaic shamans. To outgrow naive realism is not to deny the reality of other dimensions, but it is to place them in contexts that consider that they may be objectively real, subjectively created, or both. This is why Integral Deep Listening suspends assumptions about the ontological status of dreams and dreamers and defers to multi-perspectivalism. Is it the relationship between subject and object, interiors and exteriors, individuals and collectives, that creates particular perspectives that are then called “reality?”

Dream Beings are Real

When you assume that your dream experiences are real, as the shamanic mentality does, you cannot escape from demonic, persecuting, irrationality. Every night you may be haunted by dream demons that may do anything to you. How can you protect yourself? Charms, prayers, and sacrifices are efforts to appease such forces of chaos. Within this worldview, such actions are not superstitious but practical necessities. To question their purpose or power is to threaten your community. Shamans intercede for you when they visit these realms, to protect you and bring you abundance.

For Integral Deep Listening, as we have said, both dreams and waking beings are neither real nor unreal; instead, they embody perspectives representing all four quadrants of the human holon. Their thoughts and feelings create their internal individual reality; their values and interpretations generate their internal collective reality; their behaviors create their external individual reality, and their interactions with others and their environment generate their external collective reality. It is reductionistic to assume that these perspectives are either entirely objective, on the one hand, or self-created and subjective, on the other. Consequently, Integral Deep Listening refers to these perspectives and the “individuals” that personify them not as realities but as potentials. Such potentials manifesting in dreams as dream characters are not as stable and solid as waking identity, but they are real enough at the time they are dreamt. They can be more real in some dreams, shamanic states, mystical and near death experiences. Because they embody perspectives that both include, yet transcend waking identity, they are emerging potentials. How real is an emerging potential? It is real as it is allowed to be, and isn’t that largely determined by your willingness to surrender your perspective and embody the perspective of the other? How subjective is an emerging potential? Isn’t that determined by how much responsibility you take for both what it does and what it is?

Dreams and Dreaming are to be Venerated

Because dreams and dreaming are for shamans doorways to higher and lower spirit realms, they are to be venerated. The forces that give life and death and control the destiny of man are encountered there. You can see this veneration of dreams living on in some religious traditions, such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Chinese popular religion and approaches to dream yoga. Dreams are full of signs that will tell you if someone is your soul mate or whether you will meet with good fortune or bad. These cultures look to dreams for knowledge about the future and for causes of life events. This is again associated with prepersonal stages of development because this respect and awe is not based on reason but on the power of uncontrollable, external forces. They are sacred in the sense of kratophanies: something that has the power to kill you or protect you from disease or enemies, not in the sense of being loving or a manifestation of truth, goodness, or beauty.

Because dreams and dreaming provide reliable, natural access to healing, balancing, and transformative perspectives, Integral Deep Listening views them as an unparalleled source of objectivity for waking identity and the human condition. While other states, such as shamanistic trance, add important perspectives to support human development, it is doubtful that any have ever or ever will play as important a role as dreaming. This is because of the consistency of the presence of dreaming, of its ongoing relevance to here and now human conditions, and the ongoing interactional dialogue through automatic incubation that occurs between waking and dreaming.

What is Shamanistic Spirit Communication?

Shamanic journeys involve communication with the spirits of animals, objects, the dead, and gods. Here are some ethnographic descriptions from the early 1900’s: “His familiar spirit or spirits, possessing him [as] their medium, descend at a séance to cure the sick, avert evil, foretell the future or answer enquiries. By auto suggestion the shaman falls or pretends to fall into a trance and is possessed by spirits who speak through his mouth. All these are features of the Malay séance, which resembles very closely that of the Mongol shaman even in details of ritual: the beating of a tambourine, wild singing, the rustle and voices of invisible spirits, the expulsion or sucking out of the spirit of disease, the medium on return to consciousness oblivious of what has passed, the offerings made to spirits.”[8] The reality of these communications is unquestioned because, to the hunter-gatherer consciousness, there are no other explanations for what they experience. It is not as if they had alternative possibilities, such as self-creation, drug-induced psychosis, telepathy, or the implanting of hallucinations in their minds by a spirit, and chose the explanation, “communicating with spirits” because it most accurately described what they did. “Communicating with spirits” is the explanation because it concretely matches actual experience, rather like a belief in geocentrism concretely matches the actual experience of the sun rising and setting.

“At a humbler séance held in Perak there was only one musician, the shaman’s wife, a “wild-looking Moenad.” Her husband held a bunch of leaves in either hand. The musician beat a one-sided drum and screamed out interminable chants. Her husband began to nod drowsily, sniffed at his leaves, waved them over his head, struck them together, and became possessed of the shaman’s usual familiar, a tiger-spirit, as shown by growls and sniffing and crawling under a mat. Between the incantations he accepted a cigarette and talked to the patient’s family, using, however, an aboriginal Sakai dialect. Possessed again of the tiger-spirit he executed weird dances and sprinkled the sufferer with rice-paste. Finally his tiger-spirit identified as the cause of the patient’s illness a dumb vampire (Langsuyar), to be expelled neither by invocations nor the sprinkling of rice paste.

Another magician accompanied by a male tambourine-player then took his place. He held convulsively a single sheaf of grass and became possessed by four spirits in succession but to no purpose. Finally both magicians waved all evil spirits away from the patient on to a miniature revolving model of a mosque, and set it, filled with the flesh of a fowl and other delicacies, adrift upon the river.”

‘Sometimes the spirits are very mischievous. In the movable tents of the Reindeer people an invisible hand will sometimes turn everything upside down, and throw different objects about, such as snow, pieces of ice… ‘I must mention’, says Bogoras, ‘that the audience is strictly forbidden to make any attempts whatever to touch the “spirits”. These latter highly resent any intrusion of this kind, and retaliate either on the shaman, whom they may kill on the spot, or on the trespassing listener, who runs the risk of having his head broken, or even a knife thrust through his ribs in the dark. I received warnings of this kind at almost every shamanistic performance.’

“After the preliminary intercourse with the ‘spirits’, the shaman, still in the dark, gives advice and utters prophecies. For example, at one ceremony, where Bogoras was present, the shaman Galmuurgin prophesied to his host that many wild reindeer would be at his gate the following autumn. ‘One buck’, he said, ‘will stop on the right side of the entrance, and pluck at the grass, attracted by a certain doe of dark-grey hair. This attraction must be strengthened with a special incantation. The reindeer-buck, while standing there, must be killed with the bow, and the arrow to be used must have a flat rhomboid point. This will secure the successful killing of all the other wild reindeer.’”[9]

The Integral Deep Listening formulation, “embodying a perspective,” was not available to traditional shamans. The concept of “interviewing” did not exist, nor did the concept of perspectives. People, objects, animals, and spirits exist in the reality of shamans, not perspectives. You talk or communicate with spirits, you don’t “interview” them. These differences are not trivial. An interview is a highly structured type of communication. It implies a degree of clarity of intent and method not implied by “communication.” “Perspectives” are very different from spirits. Spirits are disembodied entities while perspectives are points of view that can be held by individuals, groups of individuals, entire cultures and even imaginary objects, like dream teacups. When you interview a perspective you are not implying that you are communicating with a real being that holds that perspective. All you require is a something that embodies that perspective, a place-holder form. It does not have to be given any ontological status of beingness or non-being. This is a radically different way of looking at experience from the shamanic perspective.

What are Some of the Purposes of Shamanic Journeying?


Shamans do not travel only to explore other worlds. Some of their traveling is done with the intention of learning personally or to access socially valuable information. Such traveling is thereby directed by an intention to access new knowledge that is important to waking identity or its community. Here is an example of the approach of one shaman:

‘Mighty bull of the earth . . . Horse of the steppes!’

‘I, the mighty bull . . . bellow!’

‘I, the horse of the steppes . . . neigh!’

‘I, the man set above all other beings!’

‘I, the man most gifted of all!’

‘I, the man created by the master all-powerful!

‘Horse of the steppes, appear! teach me!’

‘Enchanted bull of the earth, appear! speak to me!’

‘Powerful master, command me!’

‘All of you, who will go with me, give heed with your ears! Those whom I command not. follow me not!’

‘Approach not nearer than is permitted! Look intently! Give heed ! Have a care!’

‘Look heedfully! Do this, all of you. all together . . . all, however many you may be!’

‘Thou of the left side, O lady with thy staff, if anything be done amiss, if I take not the right way, I entreat you – correct me! Command! . . .’

‘My errors and my path show to me! O mother of mine! Wing thy free flight! Pave my wide roadway!’

‘Souls of the sun, mothers of the sun, living in the south, in the nine wooded hills, ye who shall be jealous . . . I adjure you all . . . let them stay . . . let your three shadows stand high!’

‘In the East, on your mountain, lord, grandsire of mine. great of power and thick of neck-be thou with me!’

‘And thou, grey-bearded wizard (fire), I ask thee: with all my dreams, ‘with all comply! To all my desires consent . . . Heed all! Fulfil all! . . . All heed . . . All fulfil!’

The closest equivalent of “traveling” or “journeying” for Integral Deep Listening is interview-directed role identification. While it also is directed by an intention to access new knowledge that is important, generally to the student, by answering questions and explaining the source, nature, and solutions to life issues, it is also over time increasingly directed by the priorities of one’s inner compass, as personified by the priorities of interviewed emerging potentials. Learning becomes increasingly directed by the intention of your inner compass rather than by your waking identity, as the realization grows that who you think you are is one limited perspective that lacks the width and breadth necessary to best answer questions or explain life.


Notice all the references to power in the above statement, and the assumption of roles of authority and supplication. Some of this power shamans experience is psychic. “…a French missionary claimed that he witnessed clairvoyance in a New Caledonian shaman. In the course of a great joyous feast he suddenly plunged himself into despair, announcing that he saw one of his illustrious relatives in Arama (a town several miles away) agonizing. A canoe was speedily sent to Arama, a three hour trip from there. The chief had just died.”

“The psychiatrist Stanjslav Grof reports that a well known Huichoi Indian shaman, Don Jose, was brought to the Esalen Institute in Northern California during a long, severe drought when water supplies were strictly rationed. Don Jose therefore volunteered to perform a rain making ceremony. As dawn broke the next day. the bemused participants found themselves dancing in the rain.” The anthropologist Bogoras observed a Chuckchee who: “Made one of his ‘spirits” shout, talk, and whisper directly into my ear, and the illusion was so perfect that involuntarily I put my hand to my ear to catch the ‘spirit.’ After that he made the ‘spirit’ enter the ground under me and talk right in between my legs, etc. All the time he is conversing with the ‘separate voices’ the shaman beats his drum without interruption to prove that his force and attention are otherwise occupied. I tried to make a phonographic record of the ‘separate voices’ of the ‘spirits’. . .when the light was put out, the ‘spirits’ after some ‘bashful’ hesitation entered in compliance with commands of the shaman, and even began to talk into the funnel of the graphophone. The records show a very marked difference between the voice of the shaman himself, which sounds from afar, and the voices of the ‘spirits,’ who seemed to be talking directly into the funnel.”[10]

“Shamans claim to perceive things unseen by ordinary people. lndeed, the development of “spirit vision” is central to shamanic training, and essential for diagnostic and healing work.” “Upune, the wife of a dead Chukchee shaman, possessed wonderful shamanistic power; she herself declared that she had only a small part of her husband’s ability. In a shamanistic performance ‘she took a large round pebble of the size of a man’s fist, set it upon the drum, and, blowing upon it from all sides, began to mumble and snort in the same kele-like manner. She called our attention by signs-being in the possession of the kele (spirit), she had lost the faculty of human speech-and then began to wring the pebble with both hands. Then a continuous row of very small pebbles began to fall from her hands. This lasted for fully five minutes, till quite a heap of small pebbles had collected below, on the skin. The larger pebble, however, remained smooth and intact.”

“At the request of Bogoras the female shaman repeated this feat with the same success, and all the upper part of the body being naked, it was easy to observe her movements.” The practice of stabbing oneself through the abdomen with a knife is universal in shamanistic performances; Kamchadal and Eskimo, Chukchee and Yukaghir, even the Neo-Siberian shamans of northern Asia, are familiar with this trick.” It would be difficult to describe all the tricks performed by the shamans: some of the commonest are the swallowing of burning coals, setting oneself free from a cord by which one is bound…[11]

“Who is gaining power in shamanic trances?” The answer, generally, is the same for most waking, trance, dream, and lucid dreaming: not your inner compass, but rather your waking identity. While there are many ways that it is necessary and important for waking identity to gain power, those justifications diminish and become increasingly selective after the late prepersonal stage of development. Some people stabilize at late prepersonal, spending their lives acquiring personal power, whether as status, health, money, possessions, or self-validating relationships. This not only blocks personal growth; because of the power of these people, it blocks social and cultural development. This is the problem with capitalism and the cult of status seen in the glorification of famous athletes, actors, and politicians. Culture ends up venerating and imitating late prepersonal figures. The result is personal and societal fixation. Shamans often travel to gain power, and that is sometimes demonstrated by psychic abilities, as it is here. Is that an indicator of prepersonal level of development? How can we tell?

If you manage to outgrow the insecurity and narcissism that are at the root of the quest for power, you will find yourself increasingly disinterested in acquiring power and increasingly interested in waking up. Waking up is essentially about outgrowing yourself. Whoever you think you are, you still think you are someone. As your consciousness expands will you not increasingly find that this is a delusion that filters out perspectives and information that you need to wake up? This is not about becoming nobody, but about outgrowing your attachment to, or identification with, the belief and idea that you are somebody. The more that you become various emerging potentials the more you grow into the realization that identities are merely place holders for the perspectives that they embody. The person, individuality, and personality are important in that they embody certain perspectives that transcend and include selves.

Diagnosing and Treating

Shamans don’t travel only to explore other worlds or to learn. We have seen that they also may travel to be of service to others. This is both noble and valuable. It is a major justification for the resurgence of modernized shamanic journeying since the last quarter of the twentieth century. South American shamans, for example, may journey to the realm of the Yakurunas, a particular kind of water spirit, that can help shamans in healing, but are also known to abduct people: Suddenly he commenced to beat the drum softly and to sing in a plaintive voice; then the beating of the drum grow stronger and stronger; and his song, in which could be heard sounds imitating the howling of the wolf, the groaning of the cargoose, and the voices of other animals, his guardian spirits, appeared to come, sometimes from the corner nearest to my seat, then from the opposite end, then again from the middle of the house, and then it seemed to proceed from the ceiling. He was a ventriloquist. Shamans versed in this art are believed to possess particular power. His drum also seemed to sound, now over my head, now at my feet, now behind, now in front of me. I could see nothing; but it seemed to me that the shaman was moving around, noiselessly stepping upon the platform with his fur shoes, then retiring to some distance, then coming nearer, lightly jumping, and then squatting down on his heels.”

“All of a sudden the sound of the drum and the singing ceased. When the women had relighted their lamps, he was lying, completely exhausted, on a white reindeer skin on which he had been sitting before the shamanistic performance. The concluding words of the shaman, which he pronounced in a recitative, were uttered as though spoken by the spirit whom he had summoned lip, and who declared that the “disease” had left the village, and would not return.”_

“During this ceremony the shaman suddenly asked Jochelson for his knife, saying, ‘The spirits say that I should cut myself with a knife. You will not be afraid?’ Jochelson gave him, not without some scruples, his traveling knife, which was sharp and looked like a dagger. The light in the tent was put out; but the dim light of the Arctic spring night (it was in April), which penetrated the canvas of the tent, was sufficient to allow me to follow the movements of the shaman. He took the knife, beat the drum, and sang, telling the spirits that he was ready to carry out their wishes. After a little while he put away the drum, and, emitting a rattling sound from his throat, he thrust the knife into his breast up to the hilt. I noticed, however, that after having cut his jacket, he turned the knife downwards. He drew out the knife with the same rattling in his throat, and resumed beating the drum.

Then he said to Jochelson that he would have a good journey, and, returning the knife to him, showed through the hole in his coat the blood on his body. ‘Of course, these spots had been made before’, says Jochelson. However, this cannot be looked upon as mere deception. Things visible and imaginary are confounded to such an extent in primitive consciousness that the shaman himself may have thought that there was, invisible to others, a real gash in his body, as had been demanded by the spirits. The common Koryak, however, are sure that the shaman actually cuts himself, and that the wound heals up immediately.[12]

Shamans do not view illnesses as symptoms. They may see them as the effects of evil spirits. Treatments are designed to eliminate physical pain. The following diagnostic information is from Cherokee shamanism: “…in general the name given to the disease by the shaman expresses only his opinion as to the occult cause of the trouble. Thus they have definite names for rheumatism, toothache, boils, and a few other ailments of like positive character, but beyond this their description of symptoms generally resolves itself into a statement that the patient has bad dreams, looks black around the eyes, or feels tired, while the disease is. assigned such names as “when they dream of snakes,” “when they dream of fish,” “when ghosts trouble them,” “when something is making something else eat them,” or “when the food is changed,” i.e., when a witch causes it to sprout and grow in the body of the patient or transforms it into a lizard, frog, or sharpened stick.”[13]

Shamans may view disease as possession or punishment rather than as in many cases preventable conditions that are the consequence of ignorance. Consequently, part of treatment is often propitiation of spirits:

“In the ensuing prayers the shaman addresses his ämägyat and other protective ‘spirits’; be talks with the kaliany, (spirits) asks them questions, and gives answers in their names. Sometimes the shaman must pray and beat the drum a long time before the spirits come; often their appearance is so sudden and so impetuous that the shaman is overcome and falls down. It is a good sign if he falls on his face, and a bad sign if he falls on his back.

‘When the ämägyat comes down to a shaman, he arises and begins to leap and dance, at first on the skin, and then, his movements becoming more rapid, he glides into the middle of the room. Wood is quickly piled on the fire, and the light spreads through the yurta, which is now full of noise and movement. The shaman dances, sings, and beats the drum uninterruptedly, jumps about furiously, turning his face to the south, then to the west, then to the east. Those who hold him by the leather thongs sometimes have great difficulty in controlling his movements. In the south Yakut district, however, the shaman dances unfettered. Indeed, he often gives up his drum so as to be able to dance more unrestrainedly.

‘The head of the shaman is bowed, his eyes are half-closed his hair is tumbled and in wild disorder lies on his sweating face, his mouth is twisted strangely, saliva streams down his chin, often he foams at the mouth.

‘He moves round the room, advancing and retreating, beating the drum, which resounds no less wildly than the roaring of the shaman himself; he shakes his jingling coat, and seems to become more and more maniacal, intoxicated with the noise and movement.

‘His fury ebbs and rises like a wave; sometimes it leaves him for a while, and then, holding his drum high above his head, solemnly and calmly he chants a prayer and summons the “spirit.”

‘At last he knows all he desires; he is acquainted with the cause of the misfortune or disease with which be has been striving; he is sure of the help of the beings whose aid he needs. Circling about in his dance, singing and playing, be approaches the patient.

‘With new objurgations be drives away the cause of the illness by frightening it, or by sucking it out with his mouth from the painful place: then, returning to the middle of the room, he drives it away by spitting and blowing. Then he learns what sacrifice is to be made to the “powerful spirits,” for this harsh treatment of the spirit’s servant, who was sent to the patient.

‘Then the shaman, shading his eyes from the light with his hands, looks attentively into each corner of the room; and if he notices anything suspicious, he again beats the drum, dances, wakes terrifying gestures, and entreats the ” spirits.”

‘At length all is made clean, the suspicious “cloud” is no more to be seen, which signifies that the cause of the trouble has been driven out; the sacrifice is accepted, the prayers have been heard-the ceremony is over.

‘The shaman still retains for some time after this the gift of prophecy; he foretells various happenings, answers the questions of the curious, or relates what he saw on his journey away from the earth.

‘Finally he is carried with his mare’s skin back to his place of honor on the billiryk‘.

“The sacrifice offered to the ‘spirits’ varies according to the importance of the occasion. Sometimes the disease is transferred to the cattle, and the stricken cattle are then sacrificed, that is, ascend to the sky. It is this journey to the sky, together with the spirits and the sacrificed animal, which the dance symbolizes. In the old days (according to the native accounts) there were, in fact, shamans who really did ascend into the sky while the spectators saw how ‘on the clouds there floated the sacrificed animal, after it sped the drum of the shaman, and this was followed by the shaman himself in his wizard’s coat’.[14]

Integral Deep Listening does not assume any of this, nor does it assume that illnesses are not the punishment of possessing evil spirits for which propitiation is required. It may be. Such assumptions are suspended in favor of interviewing one or more emerging potentials that have some degree of investment in the condition. For instance, in the above account the yurta, drum, spirit, suspicious cloud, cattle, or the mare’s skin could be interviewed. All of that would, with the exception of interviewing the spirit(s), would likely be nonsensical to shamans. Of course, what you get from such an interview will both reflect and confirm your own level of development. If you are a hunter-gatherer shaman doing the interviewing you will get a reflection of your own level of development and a confirmation of your worldview. If you are an IDL practitioner, the same will hold true. However, in both cases, the interviewed perspective will transcend, as well as include, that of the interviewer, thereby opening a window to a broader worldview. It is in this sense that IDL endorses the interviewing that shamans do, as basically the same therapeutic and transformational procedure that it uses. This is why criminals and children can benefit from IDL interviewing.

Shamans do not view themselves as a barrier to healing. On the contrary, they are healers within their communities. When they journey to heal, they do so in and from the perspective of their waking identity as healers. Because journeying to diagnose and treat is done by the level of development of the self-sense of the shaman, what is learned is framed in the cultural assumptions of waking identity. This is a very important point, because both shamans and gullible consumers of shamanism seem to assume that the perspective of a shaman in trance somehow automatically becomes that of infallible, all-seeing, all-knowing spirit. Read these accounts and decide for yourself: Is it?

For shamans, it is the trance and vision quest that makes diagnosis and treatment possible, because there is movement into an all seeing, all powerful, all healing state; the assumption is that their waking identity is adequate to the task of appropriately perceiving and transmitting the needed information. Is it? While this assumption of waking perspective may be inevitable, it can be minimized when we recognize that it filters and therefore may block, what needs to be seen and known. The understanding that waking identity is a culturally determined delusion and dream required a degree of objectivity that is not normally developed until the late personal stage of development or thereafter. Therefore, shamans within hunter-gatherer contexts typically lack the objectivity to see that their waking identity inevitably filters and distorts healing information. How much more helpful would that information be if that filtering and distortion could be reduced?

Alas, this seems only to happen as a result of the hard work of evolution of the self sense through the various prepersonal, personal, and transpersonal levels. Just because we access, say in an NDE, a non-filtered reality, it does not follow that we do not filter that reality in terms of our level of development. If we want a less filtered reality we have to thin our sense of self. Trance clearly does not do that, because accounts of trance experiences are invariably conditioned by the level of development of the shaman or subject. Therefore, isn’t the only option to thin one’s identification with the self through the hard work of outgrowing it?

When a student of Integral Deep Listening becomes a perspective that transcends and includes that of their waking identity they access an objectivity from which they are more likely to respond to the needs of others. This is because they are less enmeshed in drama and are also less likely to become enmeshed in it, because they are more objective, because their perspective is broader. In addition, they are actively cultivating antidotes to drama by strengthening their identification with the six core qualities. This, however, in no way implies a perspective of transpersonal clarity. There are no claims that any of these interviewed perspectives are “right,” “true,” or are to be taken at face value. It is simply one more perspective to consider as you collect information about some issue. Here is one more impressive account of shamanic healing:

“In an account of yet another séance in Selangor, where to cure an ailment, the magician became possessed by the tiger-spirit, it is said that the ceremony usually took place on three nights and that the same odd number of persons should be present each time. For the reception of the spirit an artificial bouquet of flowers, doves and centipedes, all made of palm-leaf, was prepared. After an invocation the magician bathed himself in incense, suffered spasmodic convulsions, spoke a spirit language, became possessed, sat with shrouded head, lit tapers on the edges of three jars of water, and rubbed the patient with a bezoar stone. Then donning a white coat and head-cloth, he fumigated a dagger, dropped silver coins into the three jars, and gazed to see their position under the three tapers, declaring that it indicated the gravity of the patient’s illness. Scattering handfuls of charmed rice round the jars, he put into them improvised bouquets of areca palm blossom, and plunged his dagger into each bouquet to dispel lurking spirits of evil. Another sheaf of palm-blossom he anointed with oil and used for stroking the patient from head to heel. Next he was possessed by the tiger-spirit, scratched, growled and licked the naked body of the patient. He drew blood from his own arm, with the point of his dagger and fenced with his invisible spirit foe. Once more he stroked the patient with the sheaf of blossom and with his hands. Again he stabbed the bouquets, stroked the patient, and after lying still for an interval recovered consciousness.”[15]

What is Shamanic Ecstasy?

Shamanic ecstasy involves being taken out of one’s normal sense of self and entering into a sense of intensified or heightened feeling. The emphasis here is not on what one sees in an altered state but in the intensity of the feelings that it induces. These may include an intense sense of freedom, expansiveness, joy, or power. On some occasions equally intense but oppositional feelings may be induced: an intense sense of confinement, constriction, suffering, and helplessness. Shamanic ecstasy is generally not bliss, although it may be. To repeat what has been said before, the basic problem with altered states of consciousness is that they are by definition altered, that is different, from waking identity. Consequently, they typically vanish, and another has to be induced. Dreams, drugs, alcohol, hypnosis, near death experiences, mystical experiences, and psychic experience all fit this description.

When emphasis is placed on the intensity of feeling that is experienced in some state, it is wise to remember that intense feelings are themselves an altered state of consciousness. For example, have you ever tried to talk to a very angry, sad, or scared person? What was the result? Unless you succeed in moving them out of that state, it serves as a powerful filter for whatever you say, with the result being that if you then ask them to repeat back to you what you have said, that either little is remembered or what is recalled is often fundamentally different from what you in fact said. It is also important to remember that intense feeling states are most closely related to early and mid-prepersonal levels of development, in which feelings and preferences define identity and reality. Magical, miraculous events, including healings, are indeed possible within the context of such realities. However, that is because life attempts to use whatever context is available to manifest. We know that healing and psychism are not in themselves signs of transpersonal stages of development, although they are often assumed to be so.

While expansions of consciousness are often not only reported but observed during Integral Deep Listening interviews, these openings are not as intense as shamanic trance, nor are they intended to be. The process is designed to marry emotion and reason, body and mind, in a higher-order integration that Wilber refers to as “centaur,” in an allusion to the half-horse, half-man creature from Greek mythology. Integral Deep Listening encourages the exploration of alternate states to break out of and expand your sense of self. It does not encourage major ablations of your everyday waking awareness, as occurs with trance, with one major exception: dreams. This is because, while trance can easily generate addictive forms of self-rescuing escapism, it is difficult to do so with dreaming, because of its evolutionary status as an integrated state of consciousness. Even when trance states are not addictive, radically different states of consciousness, such as shamanic ecstasy, are not easily integrated into waking consciousness. They remain radically other.

Meeting Other-Worldly People, Animals, or Spirits

It should be obvious by now that shamanistic experience is literal and concrete. Whether a shaman is in a dream or a trance, what happens to him is real, that is, on the same level of reality as waking, although often on a higher (good) or lower (bad) plane than waking reality. Integral Deep Listening relativizes the reality of dream, trance, and waking experience. To say that a vision quest is as real as waking is to say that it is as delusional and dreamlike as waking. This is something the shamanic worldview does not do. The assumption is that waking is real and that “spiritual” realms accessed through trance are even more real. Because all forms are seen to be dreamlike by IDL, what becomes “more real” are the perspectives that dream characters personify rather than the dream characters or personifications of life issues themselves. Interviewed perspectives are more real in the sense that they reflect truths that are worthy of respect, because they are valid, based on the assumptions made by a particular perspective, and because their perspective includes, yet transcends that of waking awareness. This is because the perspective adds its own point of view to that of waking awareness, yet has access to the same contents of consciousness that waking awareness does.


Interceding with Friendly and Demonic Forces


Shamanism emphasizes the development of confidence and the facing of fear: “…Some degree of emotional transformation, especially the reduction of fear, is an essential component of its training. For example, Australian aboriginal shamans were warned of the terrifying visions they would confront during their training and that they must not yield to fear.” “You see your camp burning and blood waters rising, and thunder and rain, and earth rocking, the hills moving, the waters whirling, and the trees which stand swaying about. Do not be frightened….If you hear and see these things without fear you will never be frightened of anything.”[16]

When the kelet (spirit) come to the shaman, he acts in a different way, according to whether he has or has not a ventriloquistic gift. If the shaman is only ‘single-bodied’, the kelet will sing and beat the drum through his body, the sound only of the shaman’s voice being changed. When he is a ventriloquist, the kelet appear as separate voices’.[17]

Bogoras says that shamans could, with credit to themselves, carry on a contest with the best practitioners of similar arts in civilized countries. The voices are successful imitations of different sounds: human, superhuman, animal, even of tempests and winds, or of an echo, and come from all sides of the room; from without, from above, and from underground. The whole of Nature may sometimes be represented in the small inner room of the Chukchee. Then the spirit either begins to talk or departs with a sound like the buzzing of a fly. While it stays, it beats the drum violently, speaking in its own language, if it happens to be any animal except the wolf, fox, and raven, which can speak in the language of men; but there is a peculiar timbre in their voices.

Usually it is not only one spirit which appears, and this part of the performance might be called a dialogue. Sometimes the shaman does not himself understand the language he is using, and an interpreter is necessary. There are cases when spirit-language, comprising a mixture of Koryak, Yakut, and Yukaghir, has to be translated into Russian for the Russianized shamans and natives, especially those of the Kolyma district.

Jochelson tells of a Tungus shaman nicknamed Mashka, whose ‘spirits’, being of Koryak origin, spoke through him in that language: ‘I asked him several times to dictate to me what his spirits were saying, and he would invaribly reply that he did not remember, that he forgot everything after the seance was over, and that, besides, he did not understand the language of his spirits. At first I thought that be was deceiving me; but I had several opportunities of convincing myself that he really did not understand any Koryak. Evidently he had learned by heart Koryak incantations which he could pronounce only in a state of excitement.,.” [18]

Integral Deep Listening does not assume that forces are either friendly or demonic or that students require intercession by interviewing or by an interviewed emerging potential. However, it is possible that one will recommend intercession, and if it does, the value of that recommendation needs to be considered just as is any other recommendation.      

Walsh speculates that “shamans may have been the first to develop a systematic psychological technology that allowed them to regularly access and explore subtle states.”[19] A subtle state is one in which mergence with a personification of the sacred or divine is a major characteristic. Based on the paucity of reports of unity with beings in accounts of traditional shamanism, it is more likely that the state they access is not unified, but a combination of magic, animalistic imitations, ventriloquism, glossolalia, and psychic. From the accounts contained herein, it would appear that the highest state attained would be a form of nature mysticism, in which there is fusion with the natural world and its powers. As stated above, the ability to repeatedly access a state does not imply any particular level of development. Anyone at any level of development can access any particular state, and there is every reason to believe that shamanism operates at low to mid-prepersonal levels of development. That is, the center of gravity of the self line, the line that integrates the state experiences of all lines at each level traversed, is low to mid-prepersonal. This does not mean that some lines might not be far higher, or that they cannot or do not access transpersonal states. It only means that the average level of development is low to mid-prepersonal, which in itself indicates that the worldview, or predominant perceptual cognitive distortion in effect, is that of concrete and literal realism.

Shamanism, Near Death Experiences, and Lucid Dreaming

Psychologist J.T. Green believes dreams, lucid dreams, spontaneous NDEs, out-of-body experiences may have been the inspiration for consciously induced shamanic journeys. “Yet around the world people who have never even heard of shamanism may be surprised to find themselves having journey like experiences. These may erupt spontaneously and entirely unsought as out-of-body experiences, lucid dreams, or near-death experiences. Such experiences have presumably occurred throughout human history. As such they may have provided the inspiration for consciously induced journeys, first in shamanism, then in other religious traditions, and most recently in psychotherapy.”[20]

Green notes that “one of the primary destinations of shamans is the realm of the dead. Although shamanic initiations take many different forms, and not all are associated with a close brush with death, the literature is replete with examples of shamans who began their vocation following an NDE. Green thinks that “NDEs may be able to claim status as the most thoroughly researched spiritual, mystical, transpersonal experience ever by modern Western scientists.”[21] The great scholar on comparative religions and authority on shamanism, Mircea Eliade, said, ‘It is as a further result of his ability to travel in the supernatural worlds and to see the superhuman beings (gods, demons, spirits of the dead, etc.) that the shaman has been able to contribute decisively to the knowledge of death. In all probability many features of ‘funerary geography,’ as well as some themes of the mythology of death, are the result of ecstatic experiences of shamans. The lands that the shaman sees and the personages that he meets during his ecstatic journeys in the beyond are minutely described by the shaman himself, during or after his trance. The unknown and terrifying world of death assumes form, is organized in accordance with particular patterns; finally, it displays a structure and, in course of time, becomes familiar and acceptable. In turn, the supernatural inhabitants of the world of death become visible; they show a form, display a personality, even a biography. Little by little, the world of the dead becomes knowable, and death itself is evaluated primarily as a rite of passage to a spiritual mode of being. In the last analysis, the accounts of the shamans’ ecstatic journeys contribute to “spiritualizing” the world of the dead, at the same time that they enrich it with wondrous forms and figures.’[22]

Green has suggested that the development of lucid dreaming may be another technique of replicating components similar to those known to occur during NDEs.[23] By coming close to death, the NDEer has inadvertently and involuntarily been initiated into a shamanic journey. According to this view, then, the NDEers are modern shamans, and the NDE itself may be understood to be a classic form of shamanic initiation. In summary, the NDE is, in its form and dynamics, essentially a shamanic experience–whether the NDEer realizes it or not.[24] By taking this shamanistic perspective, we can appreciate that the plane of experience NDEers enter into during their near-death crisis is the same one that shamans learn to access freely during the course of their training. Therefore, strictly speaking, this realm is not one that awaits us only after death. It exists now and is in principle available in life to anyone who has learned the “access code.” (Ring, 1990, p. 209)

This is interesting, because it implies that both NDEs and OOBEs are essentially shamanic experiences. Would most NDErs agree? Would most lucid dreamers agree? What does it mean to say that these experiences are essentially shamanic? Do NDErs and lucid dreamers really want to equate their experiences with shamanism? Is this not an implicit confusion of either traditional shamanism with contemporary forms, which are manifestations of much higher developmental levels, or else a form of reductionism that unintentionally equates NDEs, OOBEs, lucid dreaming, and dream yogas with hunter-gatherer early to mid-prepersonal levels of development? Would shamans agree with Ring that an NDE is a time-honored form of shamanic initiation? A number of researchers think so.[25] Notice that this line of thinking takes both NDEs and shamanic journeying, at face value, that is, as reports of other dimensions and geniuine, verifiable realities to which both have traveled in the “realm of the dead.” Do NDErs, OOBErs, lucid dreamers, and dream yogins want to make a stand for literal, concrete, naïve realism?

“Students and practitioners of shamanism would be quick to point out that having an NDE does not, by itself, grant someone status as a shaman, a point Ring acknowledges in a footnote. While the NDEer has entered the same realm as the shaman, her or she did so only once, and does not always have the ability to repeat the experience. In contrast, the shaman has become, in Mircea Eliade’s words, a “master of ecstasy” (1964, p. 4), one who is adept at consciously moving between the planes of existence at will and for a specific purpose.”[26]

Green, echoing Ring, thinks that, “By coming close to death, the NDEer has inadvertently and involuntarily been initiated into a shamanic journey. According to this view, then, the NDEers are modern shamans, and the NDE itself may be understood to be a classic form of shamanic initiation. In summary, the NDE is, in its form and dynamics, essentially a shamanic experience–whether the NDEer realizes it or not.[27]

The shaman enters into an altered state of consciousness, thus using his mind to “gain access, to pass through the door into another reality that exists independently of that mind.”[28]

The assumption here is that the “nonordinary” reality of shamans and NDErs is real – an ontological assumption that most shamans and NDErs would probably make, as would most dreamers of non-lucid dreams. While it is possible that shamanism is a consequence of NDEs and OOBEs, Occam’s Razor asks us to give weight to the explanation that is provides the simplest explanation for what evidence is available. In this regard, we find that normal dreaming, a state accessed by all humans at early and mid-prepersonal levels of development, as traditional shamans presumably were, as well as all other states, exemplifies almost all of the characteristics observed in shamanism: trance, good and evil spirits, experiences in a concrete alternative reality, magical abilities, communication of advice, cures, and warnings. Therefore, while we can find in shamanism elements that are similar to OOBEs and NDEs and can be explained by appeals to such experiences, these are not the simplest and therefore not the most likely explanation for shamanism among hunter-gatherer cultures.

Dreams also play a major part in shamanic activities. The shaman believes that there are two different types of dreams: ordinary dreams and nonordinary dreams which are also known as “big dreams.” Harner describes a “big dream” as a “dream that is so vivid that it is like being awake, an unusually powerful dream.”[29] Lucid dreams are also “nonordinary dreams” that NDE and shamanic researchers often do not name but seem implied by the presence of recalled OOBEs. Some researchers have noted the similarity between the two.[30]

Green makes an impassioned plea for shamanistic training as the answer for those who have had NDEs and wish to repeat the experience: “Shamanism is, then, basically an applied therapeutic methodology. It is, however, a methodology based on a different, expanded view of reality and dependent upon the practitioner’s ability to enter into this altered state of consciousness and successfully execute a particular task. And one thing is clear: people who have had deep NDEs are excellent candidates for further training in shamanism. While many people who seek out shamanic training undergo difficult, even dangerous initiations, in the case of the NDEer, the worst has already happened! The NDEer has died, been to the other side and returned. And they often return expressing a deep desire to enter into the helping professions. What better way to express this than by building on their experience and training to become a shaman, training now is available in the Western world.”[31]

This is a fascinating conclusion. Is shamanism an “expanded” state of consciousness or is it a regressive stage of consciousness? The answer is that it is both, but this paradox cannot be reconciled without knowledge of Ken Wilber’s pre-trans fallacy.[32] It helps us understand that we can have expanded states of consciousness within any and all stages of consciousness, with the implication being that even if we could, regression to more limited forms of consciousness is in some ways impossible and in other ways non-supportive of enlightenment. Contemporary Western shamanism is a reconceptualization of traditional shamanism. While advocates think that they are being true to the historical roots of shamanism, it seems highly unlikely that the cultural context of hunter and gatherer societies, in which shamanism is embedded as an outgrowth and expression, can be duplicated simply by pursuing its outer forms: drumming, deprivation, physical exertion, living like or among peoples with a shamanic history, or going into trance. The reason why is that personal and cultural development cannot be undone, even if you want to do so. You cannot regress to when you were four without deconstructing your identity; that means the positives as well as the negatives. We can be fairly certain about that. For example, you either do sensory deprivation with the clarity of an advanced meditator and access higher states in a stable way or you deconstruct identity and move toward psychosis.[33] The more basic question is, “Why would you want to do so?”

The most likely explanation for contemporary shamanism is that it is attempting to maximize the benefits of traditional shamanic trance within a contemporary context for the benefit of NDErs, lucid dreamers, and students of dream yoga. Doing this without falling victim to the elevationist aspect of Wilber’s pre-trans fallacy is the challenge. This involves mistaking prepersonal state openings for transpersonal ones. We can be sure that traditional shamanism involves prepersonal access to transpersonal states because neither the cultures in which shamanism is embedded or the individuals involved have histories or traditions that indicate a lack of valuing and cultivation of reason in ways that we take for granted, such as the ability to separate reality from our projections onto it and the differentiation between illusion, delusion, and reality.

There is no doubt that we can learn to access trance states similar to those accessed by shamans if we so desire. “(Harner) reports that over 90% of his students have some success with shamanic techniques even after brief exposure. Many people report their journey experiences to be very real in nature and easily distinguishable from fantasy or imagination.”[34]

It is also quite possible to reconceptualize disease, NDEs, OOBEs, and lucid dreaming in shamanic terms. Green follows Ingerman in believing that many people suffer from “soul loss,” a condition that, from the shamanic perspective, psychotherapy cannot be effective (since) the aspect of personality we are addressing is not present.[35] Among the assumptions here are that there is a soul, that it is not present, and that it is an absent aspect of personality.

“In retrieving a soul, the shaman’s task is to enter into nonordinary reality and first locate the soul. Once the soul has been located, the shaman must then convince it to return to ordinary reality and reintegrate with the individual involved.” This is reminiscent of exorcists attempting to persuade possessing demons to leave, or, if they will not, to command them to leave or in one way or another force them to leave. “Ingerman discussed the case of a man named David who came to her for a shamanic healing. He was in a very poor physical condition at the time, with Epstein-Barr virus as well as a number of other infections. He mentioned that just prior to becoming sick, his girlfriend, whose name was Suzanne, had committed suicide. This alerted Ingerman to the possibility that this might have been a case of not just soul loss, but soul stealing.” Souls can not only be lost according to the shamanistic world view; they can be stolen.

“As Ingerman entered into the shamanic trance using sustained drumming: ‘I repeat my intention to focus myself. As I walk, I come to a tree where I see David tied by a rope around the trunk. He looks very forlorn and spiritually beaten. His head hangs down, and his soul shows no vitality. I don’t like what I see, and I feel sensations of deep anger in my solar plexus. I yell out in nonordinary reality for my power animal to come and help me. No sooner do I call than he appears. He is just in time! Suddenly a woman jumps out from behind the tree where she is hiding and lunges at me with her imposing nails aimed at my face. My power animal steps in front of me, creating a force field around us that she can’t break through. She repeatedly lunges at the field in anger but keeps being thrown backward into the leaves. Finally, when she is exhausted, we carefully let the field down and walk close to her. She bursts into tears and begins sobbing. She is Suzanne.”

“Ingerman asked the woman whether she knew that she is dead, and she answered yes. Ingerman told Suzanne that she could help her move to a more comfortable place, but in order to do so, she will have to release David’s soul. She refused. Ingerman then turned to her power animal for help and was told to keep the conversation going:

“David is dying back in ordinary reality, because you are keeping his soul captive.” “That’s good,” she replies. “I want him to die, so he can keep me company here. I want him to stay with me forever.”

“(Ingerman produces a crystal with) sparkling light, which starts to whirl around and through (Suzanne). She obviously is soaking it up. ‘I can take you to a place where the light shines all the time and will take care of you.’ She asks, ‘How do I get there?’ ‘Give me back David’s soul, and I’ll take you there.’ Suzanne looks at the crystal and then at David and then at me. Seconds go by that seem like hours, and finally she agrees to release David. I untie David from the tree. He slides to the ground, lying still; his breathing is shallow. I leave him there in the care of my power animal. I put my arm around Suzanne’s and we float upward. We continue to move up and out of this place and travel through space, surrounded by planets and stars. Suddenly we come to a skin membrane, which we break through. Our pace quickens as we continue to rise, going through layer upon layer of clouds. In the distance there is a blinding light. I know I can go no further. ‘Suzanne, go to the light.’ At this point I push her up, watching her disappear into the all-encompassing golden rays. When Ingerman did so with David, he reported feeling an immediate rush, his eyes brightened, and his physical condition gradually improved. Ingerman reported that he continues to enjoy good health to this day.”[36]

This gives us some idea as to the types of contemporary adaptations of shamanism that are going on today in Western culture. It also is an excellent example of how logical and believable almost anyone and anything is once one accepts the premises of its world view.

“Often shamanic healings require the extraction of some foreign object or element from the body. Shamanic practitioner Larry Peters has written about an extraction he performed while in the small country of Tuva, where he was traveling as part of an expedition for Michael Harner’s Foundation for Shamanic Studies.[37] One evening the expedition members, who were all shamanic practitioners, were invited to a gathering. When they arrived, they were quickly ushered on to a stage where a man with a serious heart condition had been brought. The man was so ill that he had come directly from his hospital bed to be seen by the visiting shamans. As the group stood in a circle around the man, Peters describes his experience:

“. . . our group began drumming quickly, each singing our own spirit song softly. After possibly ten to fifteen minutes of intense drumming, Gajandra (his teacher) appeared to me in a vision. He came out of the sky as a thunderbolt that struck my heart. I found it difficult to breathe. My body began to shake, first my belly, then the rest of my body. The rattle in my hand moved with nervous energy. I wanted to shout ‘Stop!’ But I was overwhelmed and couldn’t stop. My whole body was shaking. Gajandra had penetrated into my being, into my body. In the vision, I heard Gajandra say, ‘Get up, get up, get up.’

Tears flowed from my eyes, as I saw in the vision a golden nugget emanating light, first in the sky above. Then I was standing outside myself, observing myself, and the golden light was now encircling my head, now in my heart, now surrounding my body. I heard bells ringing on my feet, and I saw myself dancing. I was witnessing a person who looked like me. Was that me dancing? Then I looked down on the circle of drummers, and I watched myself dancing for a long time, circling the patient and the drummers.[38]

This is an excellent description of the ecstatic nature of the shamanic experience. Ten to 15 minutes into the drumming and singing, Peters has left his body and is witnessing the scene from above. When he returned to his body, he found himself transformed:

“I’m not exactly sure how I returned to my body, but I became aware I was kneeling next to the patient, clawing at black poisonous spiders and other insects I saw crawling in his veins. I saw large wasps with huge stingers in his heart. I growled and hissed as I jumped at the insects. I thought to myself, ‘I’m behaving like a tiger.’ Suddenly I was an orange, black, and white tiger with large saber fangs–the tiger Gajandra had taught me to be, the tiger that bites and sucks flesh at healing ceremonies. I bit and sucked out the insects. I felt their sharpness inside my mouth, then spit them out. There were so many I thought I’d never get them all. I sucked the man’s back. I bit and sucked his sides and rolled his body over. Saliva covered my face as I growled and bared my teeth. Picking up his shirt, I went straight for his heart.”

“At the time, I didn’t know how long I had worked on the man. As I shape-shifted back into ordinary reality and fell back into my seat in the circle of drummers, I was exhausted. Sweat was pouring from me. I felt dazed and unbalanced. I remember feeling out of time, and I kept holding onto my colleagues for reassurance. The patient was visibly shaken. His hands and body continued to tremor as he was hurriedly escorted back to the hospital ambulance that brought him.”

Although Peters was deeply concerned, he later learned that the man’s condition had improved dramatically! In fact, when he visited with the man and his family a week later:

He was vibrant, smiling and joking and embracing his wife. As his family served us dinner, he said he felt no pain. He sat tall. It was as if he were another person. He talked about going back to work. He had developed a passion for life, disclosing that he had changed his diet, and I noticed that he didn’t drink while the others toasted each of us. His coloring and countenance had completely changed.”[39]

An example of shamanism, dreaming, and dream intercession for healing

“Another dramatic healing comes from Robert Moss, the Australian creator of Active dreaming, a synthesis of dreamwork and shamanism.[40] Moss, reported having had a number of NDEs between the ages of two and eleven while suffering recurrent bouts of double pneumonia. He describes the experience of a woman named Wanda who was a natural healer and who had worked with him for several years. Over a period of 20 years Wanda had a recurring dream during which she was told that she would die in her 40’s. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 43. The cancer was thought to be spreading quickly and she underwent a modified radical mastectomy and chemotherapy. During and following the chemotherapy, she was having a very difficult time. Moss journeyed on her behalf:

One night in a hypnogogic dream state, I journeyed to check on her. I found her in a night setting, near a cave that was also a temple. A circle of women were performing a ritual nearby, but Wanda was not part of it. She was frozen, paralyzed in terror of some shadowy, snakelike forms that menaced her on all sides. I grabbed two of the “snakes” and wound them into the form of a caduceus. Instantly, the healing staff came brilliantly alight in my hand. It radiated intense golden light. I touched Wanda with it. She promptly vanished.

Wanda later told Moss that she had also had a dream that night, a dream in which he had “flooded her with light.” Following the dream she also felt buoyant and released from the malaise of the past weeks. Apparently, this dream energized Wanda and prepared her for a dream that she had on the night before her 44th birthday, a dream that Moss writes “quite literally, gave her a new lease on life.”[41]

Wanda dreamt: ‘I am climbing to the top of a mountain where an awesome presence is waiting for me. I know that this powerful being sent the messenger who told me I had to leave Earth. It moves like waves of light. It conveys its wishes and emotions by thought. I am terrified, but I never back away. The entity reminds me that I agreed before I came to this planet that I would leave at forty-three. I acknowledge this is true. I am shown a contract with my signature on it.

I argue that this contract should not be executed. I tell the entity that I didn’t want to come here when I made the contract. But now I have people that I love and people I believe I can help to heal, because of my own experiences. I tell him, “You must know this, because you allowed me to discover my illness through dreams before my time was spent.’ There is a time lapse. It seems like an eternity. Then I am presented with a new contract. I am given more time to help others.[42]

Awakening from this dream, Wanda found herself trembling and crying with joy. Later, she told Moss that the dream was unlike any she had ever had before because she was both awake and asleep at the same time.”

Green presented these cases in 1998. He states, “my own belief is that shamanism will need to pass the test of scientific scrutiny before it achieves wider acceptance in our society. Fortunately, this may be easier than it might appear… In order to employ shamanic techniques ethically, we need prove only that the treatment was effective in alleviating the presenting problem, that it was other than placebo and that it is safe. The underlying theory about why shamanic techniques are effective can remain theoretical indefinitely.”

Green accepts the theory of contemporary shamans, one that is compatible with traditional shamanism, “..the same theory that underlies NDEs, that some individuals are able to enter into a spiritual realm, journey to different locations, interact with spiritual beings who exist in those locals, and bring back information that is helpful in alleviating human suffering… if shamanic techniques can be shown to be effective, they should be employed along with biological and psychological treatments. In fact, to withhold or refuse to utilize a therapeutic modality, simply because one holds a worldview which is inconsistent with the theory it is based on, is not only unscientific, it is clearly unethical, the ethical principle being the best interest of the patient.” “…every successful shamanic intervention provides direct, objective support for the theory which the field of near-death studies rests upon. Because of this, the best thing that could happen for the field of near-death studies would be to have a number of shamanic practitioners . . . As shamanism gains wider acceptance, what was theory will slowly become accepted scientific fact, at which point the shift in paradigms will have come full circle… It is not less scientific, or less logical, to suggest or entertain the hypothesis that physical reality is not the only reality and that even a minor alteration in consciousness can put someone in contact with a different reality. And, given the overwhelming evidence in support of the ecstatic experiences, this hypothesis fits the known facts.”[43]

At the time of this writing it is early 2015. That is seventeen years later. What is the status of shamanic healing? It is safe to say that not much has changed; shamanic healing has not taken the world by storm, nor has it taken root within the NDE community in any significant way. Why not? There are a number of possibilities. Perhaps the iron grip of the scientific community has prevented psychologists like Green from teaching shamanism to NDErs, or NDErs from learning it. However, this does not seem to be the case; both groups appear free to offer and learn these techniques if they want. If that is not the reason, is it because of some deep cultural bias against shamanism? This also seems unlikely, since NDErs have already had a shamanic-type experience and many people are experimenting with shamanic trances and nonordinary realities in lucid dreaming. What seems to be most likely is that these experiences are profound in the same way that other prepersonal experiences of healing are profound: intense, emotional, dramatic, and evidential, but extremely difficult to either replicate or to make occur above chance or placebo. This does not mean that they do not occur, only that they occur at the same rate that random occurrences do. Things can still be real even though they never rise above anecdotal levels of validation. This is the definition of pre-rational realities. They are real, within their domain; outside their domain, the province of reason and the transpersonal, which assumes the rational, they do not work, because they do not pass the truth tests of those realms.[44]

The further implication is that for shamanism to work, like any prepersonal belief system, you first need to accept its cosmology and view of reality, which is essentially pre-rational. For rational people, this is like asking them to regress to a place where they no longer make distinctions between truth and falsity, reality and delusion. Lucid dreamers generally attempt to maintain such distinctions within the dream state and most NDErs believe that they do. In both cases, however, there is a tendency to be unaware of the perceptual cognitive distortions that are intrinsic to the state in which they are embedded.

To no longer make distinctions between truth and falsity, reality and delusion, under the assumption that what you see is real, is not the same as phenomenological suspension of disbelief, as is done in IDL. Shamans, NDErs, have a very clear and defined world view: trance is useful and good, there are spirits, there are guides, there are souls, and there is soul loss, theft, and retrieval. To have a successful shamanic experience one needs to be willing to go into trance and imitate their own death in some way; they need to then have the expectation that they will enter another reality with their soul and communicate with the souls of other beings, some good, some evil, some healing, some destructive. All of this creates a story of reality, with rules, and change becomes possible within the context of that story with its particular rules.

These issues are not irrelevant, because dream yogas are rooted in shamanic traditions and some practitioners of lucid dreaming approach the practice either consciously or otherwise sharing some or all the assumptions of that worldview. By now there is plenty of literature in the lucid dreaming community to show where that leads. Does shamanism imply, require, or cultivate high levels of spiritual development? Is there a correlation between the ability to lucid dream and transpersonal developmental attainment? Is there any correlation between shamanism, lucid dreaming, and enlightenment? Is there a correlation between experiences of enlightenment, such as union with nature, love, the causal, formless source of creativity, or the non-dual, and any particular stage of development? Is it true that state openings are available to just about anyone at just about any level of development?

What we do know is that these state openings will be interpreted by people based on their belief system and the context provided by their particular level of development. The problem then is that the shamanistic world paradigm is prepersonal; it generates healings and possibilities within the context of a prepersonal worldview. For those who aspire to personal or transpersonal levels of development, the question becomes, “How does one access and sustain non-prepersonal levels of development – not just higher states – within the context of a prepersonal worldview?”


While it no more possible to recreate the hunter-gatherer mindset by duplicating their shamanic practices and customs than it is to recreate the consciousness of a baby by wearing diapers and crawling, it is definitely possible to dress the new wine of contemporary consciousness in the old skins of ancient traditions. In a salute to egalitarianism and pluralism, many seekers undertake an Edenic regression back to the Garden. They yearn for the simplicity of earlier times, the closeness to nature, and the life of the “noble savage,” who actually wasn’t savage at all, but in their eyes more advanced than contemporary man.

It is difficult to grow up when we are regressing or preferring to fixate at an earlier stage of development. Learning from earlier stages of personal and societal development is valuable, and internalizing the inspiration of both children and hunter-gatherers is helpful; this is what history and even imitation are for. However, these processes are best undertaken in order to support not withdrawal, avoidance, and regression, but growing up and waking up.

There are two basic types of neo-shamanism. The first is quite obvious because it imitates the peyote and visionquest ceremonies of American Indians and other hunter-gatherers. The second type is not typically associated with shamanism for various reasons. With the rise of bronze age agrarian cultures and states shamanism morphed into cultural seers like the prophets of the Old Testament and the Oracle at Delphi. These traditions are perpetuated today in spiritualistic churches and by mediums, such as those investigated by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who either talk to the deceased or allow them to take over their bodies and vocal cords, by channelers like JZ Knight of “Ascended Masters” such as “Ramtha,” the “White Brotherhood,” (Guy Ballard and Geraldine Innocente), “space brothers,” (Ruth Norman), dolphins from the Pleiades (Joan Ocean, Melinie LaFont), and trance “reporters,” such as Betty White, Edgar Cayce, and Jane Roberts. One can even include people like Neale Donald Walsh, author of “Conversations of God,” who denies being a channel, yet writes the words of God in first person, communicating an inspired authoritativeness that is associated with Walsh. While the first, more traditional variety of neo-shamanism seeks spirituality within the context of an imagined hunter-gatherer worldview, the second is oblivious to its connection to shamanism and often to the practices and worldview of hunter-gatherers. Channelers, mediums, readers, and pronouncers of divine Truth may not know what shamanism is and find that they have nothing in common with it. Nevertheless, their practices are more closely associated with shamanism than any other religious or spiritual tradition.

There are several reasons for this. First, while their trance, psychic, inspirational, and “mystical” states may be self-induced and lack most or all of the rituals normally associated with shamanism, these phenomena occur mostly, just as with shamanism, within a trance or altered state of consciousness. Secondly, the expressed worldview is typically similar. There is a soul that separates from the body and journeys into the realm of the dead, heaven, or hell. There is a dualism between good and evil, pure and impure, spirit and secular, God and man. The job of the medium, channeler, or psychic is to access sources of good for the community, neutralize negative influences, interpret messages and information from “the other side,” intercede for others, or restore healthy communication and relationships between the realms. Like shamans, these people are self-appointed “messengers of God” or “spirit communicators,” and their followers accept and believe these roles, just like the hunter-gatherer community.

I, along with many others, have years of my life investigating such magical realms and possibilities. At best, they can awaken human potentials that are vital for personal and cultural development. At worse, they disempower us by making our growth and happiness dependent on someone and something outside of ourselves. At some stages of development, mostly pre-rational and rational, they help us wake up and grow up by broadening our worldview.

At some point, if we are fortunate, we wake up and ask, “What does all this have to do with finding and following my inner compass?” “What does this have to do with listening to and following my own emerging potentials?” The perspective of IDL is not “either shamanism/or dream yoga,” but only that an integral dream yoga needs to be given priority, because it has the ability to make such guidance congruent with one’s inner compass, where the same cannot be said about the opposite. Consulting a spiritual medium or channeler will generally not align you any closer to their inner compass because you are consulting a source that is outside of yourself and therefore less likely to know you and reflect your innate priorities than an internal source. Even the purest and most well-meaning of channelers and mediums filter what they see and hear through their own world view. This is a form of contamination that you may or may not recognize, understand, and compensate for. Therefore, IDL says, “By all means, consult such sources. Respect and honor them, as you would any external source of objectivity and authority. Do not mistake it for your inner compass. Access your inner compass to evaluate the value of what mediums, channelers, therapists, and authorities of all kinds tell you.”


Based on a review of anthropological accounts from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when traditional shamanism still existed indigenously in a number of regions of the world, Integral Deep Listening concludes that it is imperative that investigators make a sharp distinction between shamanism as it was traditionally practiced by hunter-gatherer tribes and as it is practiced today by either indigenous peoples or by Westerners who learn and teach shamanism. The first is heavily magical and reflects values, such as sustenance and vulnerability to natural forces, that are reflective of pre-rational, early to mid-prepersonal levels of development. The second is heavily mystical, with the literature debating whether shamans reached subtle or causal levels, having concluded that they certainly practiced on the gross level of nature mysticism. An objective reading of original source material cited in this article presents very little evidence of nature mysticism as a state and none as an attained developmental level. As this is a prior developmental stage to higher levels of mystical development, it becomes much more unlikely that any successive stage of mystical development is evident in traditional shamanism. This does not mean that gross, subtle, causal, or non-dual states could not or were not accessed by traditional shamans, but it does strongly imply that if they were, they were interpreted in terms of early to mid-prepersonal developmental consciousness.

IDL supports the integration of features of shamanism into current life, but not its worldview. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with drumming, trance, or journeying, either to learn or to heal. However, there is something wrong with naively assuming that these dimensions are real, that there are higher and lower realms, and that there are good and evil spirits. The problem is that this worldview locks you into dualisms of good/bad, real and unreal, which life itself does not make. Such assumptions will cause you to perceive things while dreaming, lucid dreaming, OOBE, or having an NDE, and to draw conclusions about them, that validate your assumptions rather than wake you up out of your current perceptual cognitive distortions. As always, IDL falls back on the perspective of phenomenalistic respectful questioning. Question what you experience in an altered state, and then question the veracity of what you are told.

As indicated above, Integral Deep Listening shares with shamanism a grounding in the pretend-play that is natural and authentic in childhood between the ages of two and a half to seven, a respect for dreams and dreaming, an appreciation of trance induction, and of accessing alternative points of view. However, traditional shamanism approaches these different elements from a subjective, unconscious, naïve, and concrete grounding within them. It does not provide an objective perspective on the world or on life because shamanic experiences are objective reality. In contrast, Integral Deep Listening approaches each of these elements from a perspective that recognizes the shamanic worldview, adds to it the assumptions of rational personal stages of development, and then attempts to objectify those as well. The result is a very different understanding of pretend, dreaming, trance, and the ontological status of the alternative points of view that are accessed.

In terms of core values and processes, shamanism scores very high in confidence/awakening and even compassion/aliveness. There is no doubt that shamans are brave and self-assured, or that they deliver important, meaningful services to their communities that both they themselves and their tribe view as valuable. There is also no doubt that both miracles and psychic experiences occur in shamanism, in addition to the fraud, pretend, and obvious psychological manipulations. Confidence/awakening and compassion/aliveness are the values and processes emphasized naturally by the dawn of humanity, because they are essential to individual and group survival. Less emphasized are the values and processes of wisdom/balance, acceptance/detachment, inner peace/freedom, and witnessing/clarity. These are associated with higher levels of development. Consequently, traditional shamanism does not represent all six of the core values/processes in a balanced way, which means that these values and processes cannot co-create each other in a way that fuels evolution. Instead, a traditional shaman’s worldview stays stuck in an early prepersonal orientation.

Contemporary shamans are different. They are much more developed in the other four of the six core qualities and processes because they are the beneficiaries of agrarian, industrial, and post-industrial holonic development in consciousness, values, behavior, and institutions. Consequently, they are able to use shamanic themes in the service of development in ways that traditional shamans did not.

In terms of holonic development, regarding the interior individual quadrant, traditional shamanic consciousness is largely magical. The interior collective quadrant, the realm of values and interpretation, is archaic and magical. The exterior individual quadrant is driven largely by emotionally-driven physical survival needs: food, shelter, safety, and sex. The exterior collective quadrant of traditional shamanism involves survival clans and foraging ethnic tribes. To assume that a spiritual expression that is consistently reflective of early developmental stages is somehow also reflective of nature, subtle, causal, and non-dual states, let alone those stages of development, is in itself magical thinking, typical of late personal level of development, which glorifies pluralism and egalitarianism and insists on treating everyone equally, except for those who point out the obvious hierarchical nature of human development, both on individual and societal levels. At that point egalitarianism tends to break down, and a clear preference for heterarchy over hierarchy rears its ugly head.[45]

Integral Deep Listening attempts to honor both the involutionary and evolutionary styles of life, beginning with the cycle of every breath and extending out into the contributions of humanity in all ages, at all stages. To point out developmental differences in a child does not make children less human, creative, unique, or valuable, and to point out developmental differences in the childhood of humanity does not make those humans less human, creative, unique, or valuable. To respect and learn from children for who and what they are, we must recognize and strive to move beyond our own projections. Integral Deep Listening attempts to do so through interviewing emerging potentials, and it invites the reader to conduct their own interviews with elements within traditional shamanistic narratives and draw their own conclusions.

[1][1] Eliade, M. (1964). Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

[2] See Wilber, K. Integral Spirituality. Boston: Shambala, 2000.

[3] The state of awareness of non-humans regarding such things remains inconclusive.

[4] Chapter XI, The Shaman in Action, Shamanism in Siberia, by M.A. Czaplicka, [1914]

[5] Harner, M. (1980). The Way of the Shaman. Harper: San Francisco.

[6] Harner, M. (1988). (Ed). Doore, G. Shaman’s Path: Healing, Personal Growth and Empowerment. Shambhala: Boston & London.

[7] Walsh, R. (1990). The Spirit of Shamanism. Tarcher: Los Angeles, CA.

[8] Chapter VII The Malay Shaman’s Séance, Shamanism in Siberia, by M.A. Czaplicka, (1914)

[9] Czaplicka, M.A., (1914)

[10] Bogoras, W.; Rasmussen, K.,Spirits and Shamans in Siberia and among the Inuit

[11] Chapter XI The Shaman in Action, Shamanism in Siberia, by M.A. Czaplicka, [1914]

[12] Chapter XI The Shaman in Action, Shamanism in Siberia, by M.A. Czaplicka, [1914]

[13] Mooney, J., The Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees, 1891.

[14] Chapter XI, The Shaman in Action, Shamanism in Siberia, by M.A. Czaplicka, [1914]

[15] Chapter VII The Malay Shaman’s Séance, Shamanism in Siberia, by M.A. Czaplicka, [1914]

[16] Walsh, R. Shamanic Experiences: A developmental analysis. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 41. 31-52, 2001.

[17] Chapter XI, The Shaman in Action, Shamanism in Siberia, by M.A. Czaplicka, [1914]

[18] Bogoras, W.; Rasmussen, K.,Spirits and Shamans in Siberia and among the Inuit

[19] Walsh, R. Shamanic Experiences: A developmental analysis. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 41. 31-52, 2001.

[20] Walsh, R. (1990). The Spirit of Shamanism. Tarcher: Los Angeles, CA. p. 148

[21] Green, T. Near-Death Experiences, Shamanism, and the Scientific Method, Journal of Near Death Studies” vol.16 #3 Spring 1998.

[22] Eliade, M. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1964. pp. 509-10, quoted in Green, T. Near-Death Experiences, Shamanism, and the Scientific Method, Journal of Near Death Studies” vol.16 #3 Spring 1998.

[23] Green, J. (1995). Lucid Dreams as One Method of Replicating Components of a Near-Death Experience in a Laboratory Setting. Journal of Near-Death Studies.14 (1).

[24] Ring, K. (1990). Shamanic Initiation, Imaginal Worlds, and Light after Death. In Doore, G. (Ed.). What Survives. P. 208.

[25] Halifax, J. (1990). The Shaman’s Initiation. Revision: The Journal of Consciousness and Change. Fall. Vol. 13, No. 2. ; Ingerman, S. (1991). Soul Retrieval. HarperCollins: San Francisco. ; Peters, L. (1990). Mystical Experiences in Tamang Shamanism. Revision: The Journal of Consciousness and Change. 13:2, 71.

[26] Green, T., (1998).

[27] Green, T., (1998) ; Ring, K. (1990). Shamanic Initiation, Imaginal Worlds, and Light after Death. In Doore, G. (Ed.). What Survives. P. 208.

[28] Harner, M. (1988). (Ed). Doore, G. Shaman’s Path: Healing, Personal Growth and Empowerment. Shambhala: Boston & London, p. 4.

[29] Harner, M. (1980). The Way of the Shaman. Harper: San Francisco, p. 127).

[30] For example, LaBerge, S. and Levitan, S., Other Worlds: Out of body experiences and lucid dreams. Nightlight, 3(2-3), 1991, Copyright, The Lucidity Institute.

[31] Green, T. (1998).

[32] I have discussed Wilber’s pre-trans fallacy in the context of its relevance for IDL here.

[33] See, for example, Klein, N., The Shock Doctrine, New York : Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt , 2007, for the horribly amazing account of the sensory deprivation and drug-induced regressive deconstruction of the psyche by a president of the Canadian, American, and World Psychiatric Associations, Ewen Cameron, in experiments funded by the CIA at McGill University in Canada, and which served as both a theoretical foundation for and a professional validation of, state-authorized torture.

[34] Green, T. (1998).

[35] Ingerman, S. (1991). Soul Retrieval. HarperCollins: San Francisco ; Ingerman, S. (1994) Welcome Home. HarperCollins: San Francisco.

[36] Ingerman, 1991, p. 105, cited in Green, 1998.

[37] Peters, L. (1993). In the Land of Eagles: Experiences on the Shamanic Path in Tuva. Shaman’s Drum: Journal of Experiential Shamanism. No. 33., cited in Green, 1998.

[38] Peters, L. (1993), p. 46.

[39] Peters, L. (1993). In the Land of Eagles: Experiences on the Shamanic Path in Tuva. Shaman’s Drum: Journal of Experiential Shamanism. No. 33., cited in Green, 1998.

[40] Moss, R, (1996). Conscious dreaming: A spiritual path for everyday life. Crown Trade Paperbacks. New York.

[41] Moss, R. Newsletter of the ASD Conference, University of Leiden, the Netherlands, 1994, p.22

[42] Moss, R. (1994). An Active Approach to Death, Dying, and Healing Dreams. Shaman’s Drum: A Journal of Experiential Shamanism. No. 34, Spring. P.22.

[43] Green, J.T., (1998).

[44] For information on truth tests for different levels of development, see Wilber, K. The Eye of Spirit, Boston: Shambala, 2001., as well as the chapter on epistemology, below.

[45] This has been called, “the ranking fallacy,” a form of performative logical fallacy identified by Ken Wilber and discussed in the chapter on formal cognitive distortions in Waking Up by this author.

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