by Laura Lee (copyright by Laura Lee, excerpt of soon to be released book.)
The practice of Ecstatic Trance Ritual Body Postures consists of several steps of ritual. This practice and the resulting transcendent state of ecstatic trance is available to everyone with a healthy nervous system. We all have the same inherent capacity to interact with the world of spirits, without the need for the singularly dedicated path followed by priests, shamans, and other religious specialists around the world.
As formulated by Dr. Felicitas Goodman, the general, essential steps of ritual followed by many spiritual practices are:
- Establish sacred space
- Expect a good experience
- Prepare oneself
- Quiet the mind
- Activate the nervous system to transcend
- Focus and shape the ritual
- Return to this Reality
- Establish sacred space, by gathering ritual tools, and treating the space as sacred
- Expect an uplifting experience, trust the process
- Prepare oneself and the sacred space, with smudging oneself, the perimeter of the sacred space, and all in the group
- Call the Spirits, with an offering of reciprocity (exchange of gifts) held to the Directions
- Quiet the mind through centering oneself, and taking 50 deep, slow breaths, which also fuels the body with oxygen
- Activate the nervous system, through “sonic driving” with the steady monotone beat of 200-210 bpm
- Focus and shape the trance, by holding a ritual posture
- Return to our Ordinary Reality, with the cessation of the sonic driving, slowly, then journal your experience
- With a group trance, deepen the experience by each sharing the trance experience
ESTABLISHING SACRED SPACE
Sacred space is set up with intention, as a safe container for the experience of transcendence. It has well-defined boundaries, closed to intrusion and interruptions. while opening to the Alternate Reality. While churches and temples are traditional spaces set up for the community’s spiritual rituals, practices and prayers, we can set up our own sacred space within our homes, in conference rooms, in a secluded outdoor area, and as Goodman pointed out, even the laboratory. We have also added a public museum exhibit to that list. We can use a dedicated room, or roll out a mat to designate our sacred space. We make a space sacred by clearing it of clutter, and placing sacred, meaningful items, and a few natural items in honor of the Earth: a lit candle, flowers, feathers, shells, crystals, rocks, a bowl of water. At center stage, we place our ritual tools — rattles, drums, smudge pot, smudging herbs, incense, and offering, journal and pens — either in the center, or on an altar. We can activate the boundaries of the space by walking the perimeter, holding a candle, or smudging, drumming or rattling.
EXPECT AN UPLIFTING EXPERIENCE, TRUST THE PROCESS
As the ritual leader, you set the tone and hold the space. You have centered yourself, and checked that you have have all that you need at hand to conduct the ritual. In addition to your ritual tools, this includes a timer, batteries in a sound player if using, lighter for the smudge and candles, an offering, journal and pens, including extra pens and paper your members may need, and a box of tissues, and bottles of water should that need arise. You have centered yourself, and signaled your members to enter the sacred space you have prepared. The sanctity is maintained by each member removing their shoes, quieting the mind, turning inward, and leaving behind the small talk. This is also the time to ensure all members understand the steps of the ritual, and feel comfortable and safe with what may unfold. You set the stage, and the setting, for a beautiful and optimal experience for all, internally and externally, with each member entering into, and returning from the trance feeling better about self, community, and the world at large.
This step uses the ritual tools, to gesturally cleanse ourselves and our group members in preparation to opening the portal and enter the trance. In a small, fireproof bowl, with handles if the container will get hot, we light fragrant dried leaves such as sage, cedar and eucalyptus, sticks or small briquettes of incense, or small bits of fragrant resins like copal. In halls where smoke is not allowed or may set off an alarm, we can use a small vial of aromatic essential oils, to waft a scent in the room. We can also smudge with energy, by rubbing our hands together, raising them to the heavens to bring down a little cosmic energy. We gesturally cleanse, drawing the smoke or fragrance over head and torso, front and perhaps back, to clear our own and members’ energy field of the mental and emotional cobwebs. Smoke is said to live in both worlds, our everyday reality, and as it dissipates, it moves into the spirit world.
QUIETING THE MIND WITH BREATH WORK
Many meditative practices quiet the mind. This is our step to quiet the mind, but as a transition between our ordinary and non-ordinary realities, before fully shifting gears into the highly active ecstatic trance state. That uses a different ‘mental muscle’ so we take this time to shift out of a primary focus using our intellect, our reasoning logical mind, our doubting mind. Mental chatter, too, can slow down this shift. Time-honored breathing techniques are effective tools for shifting awareness. Our breathing technique is very simple, meant to also fuel the body with the extra oxygen needed for the energetic, visionary journey ahead, while also leading us gently into a monotone, regular rhythm in anticipation of the faster, regular monotone beat of the rattle. We time this for five minutes on the clock. We may also count 50 slow, deep breaths, pausing for a long second at the top of the inhale, as well at the exhale. For our turn inward, the body and mind relaxes, as we focus on our breath, on the count, with our sense of presence in the moment deepening.
ACTIVATING THE NERVOUS SYSTEM WITH SONIC DRIVING
Sonic driving has a long and universal history. Drums and rattles and flutes are our oldest musical instruments, and we put our hands and feet and voice to even earlier use with clapping, stomping and chanting, with complex and simple rhythms. We use a steady even rhythm of 200-210 beats per minute, with large and small skin drums and gourd rattles, that are consistent with the rhythms of the annual, ritual corn and animal dances of Santa Fe’s Pueblos, our neighbors at the Cuyamungue Institute. This is an embodied spiritual practice, with the shift into ecstatic trance based in part upon the body-brain-mind reading the cues delivered by the ritual, an effect so deeply embedded is us it speaks to the long eons of use. This sound, this beat, seems to help subdue the rational, linear mind, to awaken and allow the other modes of thinking to take center stage. Given the precision of activating the brain and nervous system, we can enter the trance state on cue, with the start and finish of the rattling or drumming. It’s important to return safely and completely from the altered state, and the cue for the body’s natural transition back to the waking state of our ordinary reality is the cessation of the rattle. This capacity of our intentional journeys into Alternate Reality and back, is a safety mechanism. Those with psychotic disorders cannot choose when the shift in consciousness occur, nor where the shift will take them.
FOCUSING THE TRANCE WITH RITUAL POSTURES
Ritual Postures are another means to focus and safely guide our trance state into ecstasy. Simply stimulating the body and nervous system does not guide us necessarily into an ecstatic state. In her early research, Dr. Goodman found that given all these steps to the ritual, her volunteers did indeed experience shifts in consciousness, but none had what might be called a spiritual experience or an ecstatic trance. Ritual aligns the body-brain-mind like a key in a lock, opening the doors to perception. It does so in part through our set of “Spirit Senses”, as the ecstatic trance state temporarily overtakes our sensory organs, so that we may see, hear, smell, and feel waves of energy as we navigate the Alternate Reality. We also shift into the emotions of flourishing: compassion, joy, creativity, unconditional love, acceptance. We may also receive messages, insights, and downloads of direct knowing. Ritual body postures, as decoded from select ancient artifacts, are ritual instructions handed down to us from our ancestors worldwide, memorialized in their art, instructing us to hold a stance in a very specific way, during a ritual of calling the spirits to throw open the door between the realms.
Dr. Goodman wrote, “ritual is the means of communication for the spirits, as important as speech is to us.” We know that a ritual is effective, and performed correctly, when something happens, and our experiences are like read-out dials. What is it that happens experientially in this aroused ecstatic state? We have free-will, and never loose control. Our participation in the ritual is a signal that we are willingly entering into this state, and in trusting the process, we can surrender to it more fully. We can never overdose, as the body itself is in charge of this shift, allowing as much energetic, emotional shift as is possible, and optimal for us in that moment. We are never taken further than we can go, while maintaining conscious awareness. We don’t lose consciousness, we expand our conscious awareness, guided by the spirits whose realm we visit. We receive the gift of the visionary spirit journey they bestow, as we engage with them in the Alternate Reality.
As the 15 minutes of the sonic driving with rattle or drum comes to and end, we gently break the posture and sit or lie down, giving ourselves time to begin the return trip. We do so in silence, taking our time to allow our physiology to shift gears and bring us back. We often experience some form of resolution, some emotional shift, as our trance journey ends with a flourish right before the rattle ends. We might also feel so blissfully contented and comfortable that we want to stay in that state a while longer. Those 15 minutes can feel like no time at all, like five minutes, 15 minutes, or an eternity. As the journey swirls in our mind, it lingers long enough to write it down, our journals and pens handy. We stir as little as possible, so not to disturb the vision that can be as fleeting as a dream. As we put the ineffable to words, drawing and sketching what we saw, noting the minute and often curious details of our experience, we further embody its meaning and power, our understanding grows and we now engage the intellect once again, right brain to left brain. We can further our return to our everyday reality with a sip of water, moving about, and sharing our experiences with the group.
We hare our experiences with no interpretation, and no comment from one another until the end. With each member, insights and inter-connections become apparent, and we find further insight into our own experience. For especially powerful experiences, we may be inspired to continue to unfold its meaning in art. To dance it, give it voice with a musical instrument, poetry, a painting or collage. Art is one way to gift back to the spirits and to the community. We can invite the group to quietly move from sharing to art tables, finding that this creative part of our being has much to share beyond words.
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