by Laura Lee, August 2012
That inner visual screen that our dreams, imagination, and memory plays on, is the same inner screen that is activated with the Cuyamungue Method. Part of the delight of discovery, in the first spirit journeys taken this way, is to realize how naturally and easily this new found ability comes. To journey in the Alternate Reality, upon this same inner screen, is to use parts of yourself that you already know. It’s flexing a muscle already in use, but in a new way. In a group setting, hearing the journeys of others after the posture, with the same or similar themes and elements showing up again and again, underscores that your vision is gift from something beyond yourself. This is readily evident not only in the deep dive that we take in workshops spanning several days and several sessions in the Kiva, but also in the experiences of those who came for a single afternoon “Open House/Open Kiva” event that we held at CI this summer.
These events seemed the best way to respond to the many queries we were getting from the people Paul and I were meeting all summer long in Santa Fe about the work we were doing at the Institute. It’s that old adage, about how you can tell someone what its like to eat an orange, yet they’ll never really understand until they eat the orange themself. So we scheduled a few events for the curious to come out to the Institute for a tour of the grounds, a brief and condensed introductory lecture (just enough to feel safe and know what to do) followed by their first experience in the kiva, journaling and sharing, and lunch and discussion afterwards.
I have to say that every time Paul and I teach this work, we get excited about it all over again. It’s a moving experience for us to watch novices find their way so easily and naturally into a deep and profound experience. It’s a verification of Felicitas’ observation — that our physiology already knows how to make this shift, and wants to do this.
So its a testament to the power of the induction process, the clues that Felicitas put together that has become the Cuyamungue Method, that prompts this physiological shift that opens the doors of perception for the spirit journey to unfold. My own first journey was done on my own, after an interview with Felicitas, using written instructions that she sent me in follow up. The experience I had rocked me to the core, and Paul and I signed ourselves up for the first available workshop. There, our experiences and understanding deepened and expanded. But when I hear people conjecture that its at the Institute’s kiva, in a group setting, that this work is at its most accessible and powerful, I reply that the real location of the power is inside, its that meeting point between you and the spirits; that, looking back, I have to say that I’ve had my most deeply moving and profound experiences alone, on my own. That may simply be due to the law of averages, as most of the journeys I’ve taken over many years of this work, have been taken alone, on my own.
What emerges from the sharing of experiences is a key advantage of journeying in a group. Let me illustrate by highlighting the common elements that emerged from the journeys of our most recent Open House/Open Kiva event. I’ll preface that by emphasizing that whenever Paul and I teach, we demonstrate the posture without revealing much else besides the category of that posture (healing, divination, etc) — just as Felicitas taught us. This is especially important for novices, as you’ll see.
For this Open House event, we gave our participants, all new to this work, a condensed introductory lecture so they would know what they were about to do, and to feel safe doing it. I demonstrated the posture, a standing one, without showing the image of its originating artwork. Paul led the ceremony and rattled. As the rattling ended, they all slowly sat down and picked up their journals, some writing pages and pages. It is rewarding to see how much flows from that inner screen, and how much it has to share with us when that door is opened. I took notes as we went around the kiva, one by one, revealing our journeys. Here are excerpts (identified by initials only)
R: “I let go, saw colors, an iridescent purple. Then eyes, and I thought, it’s a bird’s eye, up close. why am I seeing the eye of a bird? Then the beak, the feathers and wings. Birds soaring. Large yellow eyes and beak.”
M: “I saw birds too! Beautiful bird. Then heat consumed my hands. Felt water dripping. Bird over head, large, huge wingspan, swirling. I felt the wind from the wings. And near the end, a horse in a field, watching. Beautiful, and so visual.”
S: “Strong heat, and a shift of perception, to where space and matter meet, that expansiveness. I was boiling inside, sweating! I saw mountains, the distant horizon where sky meets earth, all this expansiveness.”
C: “Heat in my legs, moving up, light and airy. Saw tumbleweeds blowing. Saw a horse drinking water through my hand, taking in energy with mouth, drinking it into my body. Aware of a twirling, tapping energy on my shoulder. Lots of heat.”
MJ: “I was sweating an ocean. Intense pain in my heart, then it moved to the back of my shoulders. I felt nauseous and had to sit down. I was up and down three times trying to hold the posture. At one point I felt my hand disappear, and fill with energy. I had some fear over the pain in the back of my shoulders, it was so intense.”
We are always careful not to judge or comment on any experience, simply to nod. I shared my experience last: “I instantly saw birds flying, and felt the uplift, taking me high up in an empty sky. I felt the wind supporting me, I was surprised at how firm and steady it was, how supportive. No flapping, I was just soaring. The wind beneath me became an ecstatic presence. Intense heat through my face and torso; I was dripping beneath my shirt. I was supported by an Eternal presence and time stood still. I was imbibing, drinking in this palpable sense of well-being and love; the support of the sky was the Mother’s embrace. To fly was to be enveloped in it, to soar in her blessings. I was hot, hot like my furnace was cranked up on high, but it was soothing heat. I felt lifted up, up out of the quagmire.”
It is at this point that Paul asks me to show the image of the artwork from which the posture comes, and to give its history. The Tsimshian Shamaness — the Institute’s name for this posture — is derived from a carved wooden statue from the Tsimshian culture, whose home turf in Alaska and British Columbia is the site of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in the world, according to Wikipedia. The telling piece is the raven atop the headdress. Few of the artworks give such a direct clue to the journeys that awaits.
And in hearing the same set of imagery over and over again, with no previous clues, no prompting, each participant comes to trust the legitimacy of their own vision, and the process that delivered it. There’s the ecstatic sense of discovery, of elation and endorphins, and this other sense of something emerging, speaking through the collective imagery, to say that their own experience was not a projection, not simply a product of their imagination; it was something larger than themselves.
This particular posture gives us a clue — birds, flying, clouds, the sky world, a bird’s eye view of distant horizons. (In another group with this posture, one person saw “…vehicles flying in the sky. Spiral dynamics in fluid energy…”) I find it interesting that here two people saw a horse. Mythically, with Pegasus, the horse with wings, horse is linked with birds. In my own visions, straddling a spirit horse and soaring along is akin to straddling a dragon or giant bird ….. or being the bird, and seeing, through its eyes, distant landscapes flitting by. Its all a wondrous ride.
Also intriguing is how, in yet another group using this posture, a range of horizons emerged: “The rattles became egg shells, and dissolved into particles in a tremendous rush. I saw bright white light, and I went from Earth to the Universe, and saw how small we really are. I was at the center of it all, and it was all in the brain, but it was a whole universe. I was the microcosm and the macrocosm all at the same time” This was from a scientist/inventor.
While often in a group experience, similar animals or symbols or themes can emerge, this is not always the case. What you do experience is the gift of the spirits, or your soul, and only you can determine the meaning.
Heat was the other commonality to these experiences, as it is for many of the postures — a sign that the body has made that powerful and profound physiological shift. While the heat felt is never painful in nature, it can be surprising just how hot it can feel. One participant said they had to open their eyes to ensure their feet were not actually on fire.
And I can say from personal experience that what pain may arise, while excruciating at the time, is a good pain. I liken it to Shiatsu, that kind of perfectly placed, drop-you-to-your-knees kinda pain that, if you can hold it, will, all of a sudden seem to push itself on and out, with a whoosh of release. Felicitas forewarned us at the beginning of each workshop (as Paul and I do today) that holding the posture, through the pain, is to let the energy body work through the blockage. I remember a few, thankfully brief episodes of intense pain in my beginning days. I think I held the posture mostly because I did not dare disappoint Felicitas, and was rewarded with a shift, release, subsidence of pain, and back to the endorphic high. Paul and I don’t experience pain very often now, eighteen years later, so I want to assure any one new to this that bliss is the order of the day! At the very least, we come away with a general sense of well-being, even if not much else seems to happen. There are rare occasions when you feel you just don’t “launch” but who knows what blocks are being cleared, what healing or fine tuning is taking place, on levels beyond our recognition. I just trust the process, and that it knows more than I do.
MJ, as you recall from the earlier accounts, experienced a lot of pain during her first spirit journey. But, she said, it was so powerful, with the tremendous heat, and swaying and shaking, that she knew some important healing was happening at a deep level. She was very thankful that Paul and I had talked about the possibility of pain arising, and not to fear or judge it, but to hold it as best you can, to let it do its clearing work and then release.
After the session in the Kiva, I had lunch set out for our participants. As we had asked them to come on an empty stomach (lest digestion interfere with that necessary shift to the spirit journey; the body can do one or the other, not both simultaneously) and as the spirit journeying, with all its heat and activation and, as we know from Dr. Guttman’s lab experiments, increased voltage of the brain activity, burns up some serious calories, people are hungry afterwards. Over lunch, as people were sharing their excitement, wonderment, and euphoria over their experiences, MJ asked the very prudent question, “so, what does it all mean, that we can go and journey in this realm? what does it mean for our lives?”
It was a bit later that she got a personal answer to this question. S shared the observation that the pain, in the back of her shoulders, was just where wings would be trying to sprout. Perhaps they were pushing up and through some armoring, like a seed pushing up to bask in the sun. An “Aha!” moment then washed over MJ’s face. She revealed that after much pondering of her life circumstances, she had just made major changes, so that she might soar.
Here’s how this work has impacted my life: I feel particularly at home in the sky world, as so many of my dreams — at least those I wake up with — are flying dreams, and have been since childhood. And I feel at home with this practice. Whatever the parts of my soul that converse on that inner screen, fluently speaks the language of images and symbols. This is our first, primary, universal language, one we know in our soul, and in that, we are all truly bi-lingual. In this spirit journeying, of being consciously participating in this sort of “waking dream”, to witness the “dreamer dreaming me” I an dialogue with whatever that larger presence is, that knows my soul. I used to appreciate myths on an intellectual level, as an engaging and enchanting story. Now, I feel I am living it from the inside out, as, engaged and “enchanted”, I can step across the threshold from this realm to that mystical realm, from micro to macrocosm, and back again. I read myth now as the spirit journey logs of those who have gone this way before us.