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Shamanism and the different kinds of minds

Why would you want to use an ancient set of practices, like shamanism, that arise from cultures so different from your own? Well, for one thing, because it works----for certain people, those who have the right kind of mind and imagination.

I often encounter people who say they want to "get involved" with shamanism. Yet as soon as they start to talk, it is clear that they really don't.

Shamanism doesn't fit the way their mind works, so they want to change it into something else, to something that suits them and the way they think, or perhaps simply to something they are more familiar and comfortable with. But then it isn't shamanism---whether or not them may feel that their own new system works for them to some degree.

The obvious question is why would they want to get involved with something that doesn't suit them. Why try to invent something and call it shamanism, when it isn't? I believe it is a mater of how a person's mind works naturally.

If you are reading this, you are probably familiar with the concept of visual learners (who learn best by watching or reading), auditory learners (who learn best by listening), and kinesthetic learners (who learn best by physically doing what they are learning). And so it is with magical systems.

For example, Tibetan lamas, experts in the complex magic of Tibetan Buddhism, understand well that different people learn and perceive differently. So they teach many forms of meditation, including several forms of Vajrayana tantra to fit different kinds of minds. One's lama, or guru, is supposed to select the form that will work best for you and teach you that.

Tibetan Buddhist and Bon meditation ranges from the spectacularly complex visualizations of tantric mantra meditation to the zen-like empty mind of dzogs chen.

One of the interesting things about the pre-Buddhist Tibetan religion, Bon, is that it includes shamanic practices as well as dzogs chen. In other words it offers a range of practices to suit the way different minds work.

Over time, Bon has incorporated so many Tibetan Buddhist practices and ideas that it is now considered almost a branch of Tibetan Buddhism. And the distinctive character of Tibetan Buddhism, the glories of Tibetan Buddhism's most sophisticated form, Vajrayana, are derived from Bon.

The point of this story is that magicoreligious systems vary from the austere and abstract zen to the multimedia imagery overload of Vajrayana (Diamond Way) Buddhist ceremonies and meditation. And different ways work best for different people.

If you are not a visualizer, Tibetan tantric meditation will not work for you. On the other hand, if your mind is full of constantly changing images, and your imagination works overtime, you will probably have a very hard time with Zen.

Shamanic work is at the extreme end of complex image manipulation and imagination. Instead of a quiet, empty mind, the shaman's consciousness is full of sounds, sights, and patterns, sometimes even physical effects.

Not all shamans are visualizers, but all deal with very complex imagery (visual, auditory and/or kinesthetic) in their journeys. Imagination is key to the imagery manipulation that is journeying to the spirit world and successfully dealing with the spirits there.

Please understand that real shamanic journeys are not meditation. It has been proven with medical testing of advanced mediators and indigenous shamans that meditation occurs at the alpha brainwave level (light trance), while shamanic journeys by real shamans take place at the theta brainwave level (deep trance).

Not everyone can learn to do shamanic work, because not everyone can go into such a deep trance at will and then call up and interact successfully with spirits as visual, auditory (sound) and kinesthetic (feelings of touch and movement) images.

Most people can learn to go into trance. It is a matter of focusing the mind and letting go. But not everyone is able to let go of preconceived notions and deal with spiritual reality by essentially manipulating images---and believing in them.

Shamanism is not for minimalists. For them, there are other kinds of magic.

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