by Nick Brink
I have been concerned by the narrowness of ecstatic trance audience. It seems that most people are caught up in the rational world and do not relate to what we are doing in using ecstatic trance and visiting the world of the spirits. I would like to offer some bridges from the world of rationality to the beauty and power of the world beyond, the world of spirits. The bridge I first suggest is to recognize that our nighttime dreams are of this spirit world, something that we all experience. The dream world is normal and can be powerful in gaining deeper understanding of our lives and the world around us if we open ourselves to them. I have offered ecstatic trance workshops at five of the last few conferences of the International Association for the Study of Dreams and have found that the hundred plus participates in these groups quick resonate with the ecstatic trance experiences. There is a clear connection between dreaming and ecstatic trance. They both take us into the same world of the spirits.
I feel a great urgency to promote the use of ecstatic trance as an important avenue for saving our Earth from global climate change and corporate greed. Thomas Berry has said that what is missing in the ecological movement is “dreaming, waking visions and regaining our shamanic personality.” He believes that this is necessary in order to experience a sense of oneness with the Earth as was felt by our ancient ancestors who did not place themselves superior to all other life on Earth. I totally agree, and our work with the ecstatic postures is a direct avenue to that goal as I describe in my most recent book: “Trance Journeys of the Hunter-Gatherers: Ecstatic Practices to Reconnect with the Great Mother and Heal the Earth.”
Spirits and the Nature of Consciousness
The blessing I have to offer the readers is, May the spirits of the Earth become alive to you as they were to your ancestors. With this blessing you may ask: What are these spirits? The spirits were and are ever-present, alive and meaningful to those people who lived and continue to live the life of hunting and gathering in both ancient and current times.
Considering the writing of Jean Gebser, we are currently moving into a fifth era of consciousness, the era of time-free transparency, the New Age. The first era was the era of the hunter and gatherer that began around 160,000 years ago, of a people who lived in a dream-state of consciousness. Sometime early within these 160,000 years the human consciousness mutated into what Gebser calls the magical age of consciousness, an age when people found ways to cope with life and the environment through the magic found in being one with the Earth. This was the “time when our ancestors moved with the animals and sang with the wild symphony of the natural world — the swoop of a hawk, the roar of a waterfall, the whisper of evening breezes, the kiss of moonlight. We lived in the world, responded to its felt and subtle messages, understood its deeper meanings. We not only communed with nature, we were in open communication with all its great variety of sounds and rhythms. In short, we understood and spoke the language of nature.” (Christian de Quincy)
During these first two eras the spirits were very much alive, first within their dream-state of life and then when they experienced oneness of all life and all that is of the Earth. Humans did not see themselves as superior to other life. They saw other life as being their ancestors and, as such, they were part of and continually learned from this life. They called upon the spirits of their ancestors to show them how to live, often calling upon their earliest ancestors of different life forms, the animals they lived with and knew well.
Then came what Gebser called the mythic era, the era when answers to the questions of life were provided through mythic stories. This era began around 10,000 years ago, the beginning of when history was beginning to be recorded, the beginning of the era of agriculture and domestication of animals. These stories that explained the phenomena of life and the Earth came from the dreams and trance experiences of these people of the time. As these dreams and experiences were shared, dreamed and experienced by others of the time, they developed to a level of coherency of the creation and other mythic stories that we listen to even today. During these eras spirits were very much alive, valued and meaningful to the people of the time, spirits that came from their dreams and other trance states of consciousness.
Then came the fourth era of consciousness, the rational era, an era that considered anything not perceived through the five senses, the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch, as superstitious and untrue. Experiences of dreams and other altered states of consciousness were given a thumbs-down and rejected. We lost the magical power provided us through communing with the spirits. With this loss we have found ourselves believing that we are superior to all other life of Earth. We believe that we have dominion over the Earth and can use it to our greedy profit without consideration for the rest of life on Earth. This loss has brought us to the edge of destroying our own species and much of the Earth. We sometimes talk of a sixth sense, a sense of intuition, intuition that is brought to us by the spirits, but that too is being ignored. Gebser believes that this rational era began approximately 2500 years ago and peaked at about the time of Leonardo da Vinci but is now waning as we begin a journey of mutation into the era of time-free transparency.
Geber wrote his book, The Ever-present Origin, in 1949 and since then it has become increasingly clear that this journey into the new age of time-free transparency is happening. As classical physics crumbles in the face of modern physics, a state of the science that even Einstein called spooky, we recognize that things do not happen in the mechanical and linear ways of classical physics. New discoveries are rapidly developing. One such scientific development is the theory of non-local coherence, that when an atomic particle is split something that happens to one part of a split particle that exists in one particular location and time the same thing instantaneously happens to the other portion of the particle that now exists at some other distant location. Also, another new theory is that when an atomic particle splits, the split particle sometimes goes backwards in time. This adds to and expands the meaning of the relativity of time. Such discoveries of which there have been many are indeed spooky and open the door to a new era of consciousness, the era of time-free transparency, the new age. In this new age these beliefs and ideas are becoming more and more reputable. Other writers including Sheldrake, Laszlo, and Braden, propose an energy field called by such names as the morphic field, the akashic field or the divine matrix, a field that can be considered similar to the gravitational field or the electromagnetic field. Since living cells are composed of atoms and molecules with their individual electromagnetic fields, how can we discount Sheldrake’s belief that the cells and organisms composed of these atoms and molecules have their own field, a field that he has named the morphic field. When I first began exploring ecstatic trance I learn that Felicitas Goodman, in her last years, was taking a real interest in the writings of Sheldrake. Laszlo believes that this field that he calls the Akashic field contains all information of everything that has happened since the beginning of time, information that is available to us through a sixth sense, through dreams and other altered states of consciousness. Laszlo proposes that the sensory receptor for this in-formation field is the cytoskeletal structure of our brain that is composed of 1018 microtubules, the structure that gives our brain its shape. Just as seeing something takes paying attention to that something, and hearing something also takes paying attention, playing attention to what is coming to us through this cytoskeletal structure can best be perceived by paying attention while in an altered state of consciousness. The altered state of consciousness suppresses what we consciously perceive through the other five senses, thus clearing our mind to attend to what comes to us through the cytoskeletal structure. It is through these mechanisms that we can perceive and commune with the spirits of our past lives, our ancestors and of the Earth.
Accessing These Spirits
The spirits come from beyond our five senses, from beyond what we experience through our senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, the senses that give our rational consciousness its limits. Most everyone experiences some of these spirits on a daily basis, through what we experience in our dreams while we sleep. There are those who would say that dreams are random and meaningless firing of the neurons in our brains, but from my work with dreams, that belief is the farthest from the truth. As a psychologist I have often said that dreams come from and represent what is in our unconscious mind and they can lead us to experience life in a much fuller way. I am a member and have been on the board of the International Association for the Study of Dreams and at our annual conventions much time is spent on examining ways to find greater meaning in our dreams. What we experience in our dreams is from beyond our five senses and I would consider it of the spirit world. We may dream of someone we know, yet in the dream that person is different from the person we know through our five senses. How we see that person has something important to say to us. We may dream of some animal but that animal may take on human characteristics, or we may dream of a river or walking down a path, the spirit of the river or the path, a spirit that likely is telling us something about our experience of the course of life.
Generally I have thought of the content of a dream as coming from our unconscious mind. The dream content points out to us some life conflict or the solution to some life conflict. But more recently I have begun to recognize that the dream sometimes comes from some place beyond us, beyond even our unconscious mind, from what I call the universal mind but what others have called the akashic field, the morphic field, the divine matrix or the collective unconscious. Robert Waggoner in his book on lucid dreaming tells the story that while within a lucid dream he has asked the question of the dream, “What is behind the dream or where does the dream come from?” What he has received as an answer in the dream experience is seeing a blue light, blue light that I see coming from the divine matrix or universal mind.
Dreaming is one altered state of consciousness, but there are other altered states. Hypnotic and ecstatic trance are two other altered states that bring us into communion with the spirits. Whereas a dream generally happens spontaneously at night, though it may be triggered by something that happened during the day or some thought we carry with us as we fall asleep, the altered states of consciousness of hypnosis and ecstatic trance occur in response to some ritual of induction that can give some direction to the trance experience, i.e. by asking questions while in trance or by taking a particular posture that nonverbally provides some direction to the experience. The experiences that come from these two forms of trance are more readily recalled upon coming out of the trance state, but since the language of the experience is metaphoric, finding meaning in these trance experiences, as with dreams, may take some time, and a number of techniques are available to help interpret the meaning in these experiences.
These forms of trance are similar in that they bring us in communion with the spirits, but they are different in their energy and rituals for induction. The energy of the hypnotic trance is slow, quiet and of letting go of thoughts. The energy of ecstatic trance is stronger, more directed and intentional. The hypnotic trance is induced by slow speech to match a person rate of breathing, while ecstatic trance is induced with rapid stimulation to the nervous system, the stimulation of rapid beating of a drum or rapid shaking of a rattle at around 210 beats per minute. While in hypnotic trance the heart rate slows down and the body responds with relaxation, i.e. the response of the parasympathetic nervous system. In ecstatic trance, it is the sympathetic nervous system takes over with a rapid heartbeat and the flow of adrenalin. With the rapid heartbeat yet with the rest of the body slowing down, the ecstatic trance is sometimes recognized as a near-death experience. Carlos Castaneda has written about two way of gaining access to the other world, i.e. dreaming and stalking. I believe that dreaming is like hypnotic trance, of letting go, of relaxing and waiting to see what happens, while stalking is directed, directed with intention. Castaneda likens stalking as they way of a warrior.
Another altered state of consciousness that bring us in communion with the spirits is when we go into deep thought, into a state of reverie, an experience like when we are lost in reading a book or watching a movie, or when we are immersed of our own imagination. This is a common everyday trance experience that can be equally valuable in communing with and learning from the spirits.
I need to mention three other altered states of consciousness that I have experienced that do not seem to bring me into communion with the spirits. First is transcendental meditation where the goal of the experience is to go into an alpha state of no thought or a blank mind. The other two are Zen meditation and tai chi where I am in the moment, in focusing on my abdomen rising and falling as I breath or focusing on the flow of motion of my body in tai chi. I believe that in these two states I am primarily sensing what is happening through my kinesthetic sense, and I am not going beyond into the extrasensory world.
Whether with dreaming, hypnotic trance or ecstatic trance, by paying attention to these altered states of consciousness, valuing these states and appreciating the spirits that these states bring us, the spirits will again begin to come alive and begin to show themselves spontaneously as they did for our ancient ancestors, even when we have not gone intentionally into an altered state of consciousness.
I will in the near future write of the different kinds of spirits including past life spirits, spirits of our ancestors, spirits of the Earth, fairies, and angels and what the spirits have to offer us.