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Class/Book Notes – Levels of Awareness, Trances and Journeying, Part 1

Take the training wheels off
Written by Joseph Carrabis

We put ourselves in the Circle. Enter from the Eastern Door. Circle the fire once, always clockwise. When leaving, always circle once, clockwise, then leave by the Western Door.

Some people have been taught that they must enter a trance to go on a journey.

Trance is one of those words that sometimes conjures up more than it means. Are we talking a hypnogogic trance? A hypnotic trance? Hallucinogenic trance? Psychedelic trance? Drug or entheogen induced trance?

Or do we mean an invitation to journey via drum, song or dance?

Trance and Trance States
Have you ever been so involved in a book or movie or music that you lose track of what’s going on around you? Sometimes I get so involved in what I’m doing that Susan has to flick the lights on and off to get my attention, literally to break my focus and concentration.

Did you know that such moments of focused concentration are trance states? Specifically, unintentional self-induced hypnotic trance states and there are many kinds of such trance states. Any time one of our sensory systems overloads, intentional or otherwise, the brain causes us to go into a trance state until the overload goes away. The reason we get caught up in a movie, tv show, music, book, whatever, is because our brain tells all the other sensory systems “Everybody rest, we need to give our eyes/ears/… all our resources right now. We’ll bring you back when we’re done.”

The most recent and perhaps dangerous demonstration of self-induced hypnotic trance states are people who walk into traffic, walls, pools and each other because they’re focused on their mobiles so intently nothing else enters awareness. The most severe form may be DWD, Driving While Distracted.

So right there you realize that unintentional trances can be dangerous. For that matter, sometimes intentional trances can be dangerous.

You don’t have to go into a trance to journey.

What you need to remember is that you don’t need to go into a “trance” to go journeying. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

I tend to think of trance states for journeying purposes as three distinct kinds and not all of them are “trance” states:

  • Training, initial studying
  • Working
  • Questing, Intentional or Functional

The first kind, training/initial studying, is like having training wheels on your bike; they’re an aide to get you started.

But(!!!) nobody’s going to have training wheels on their bike when they’re doing the Tour de France, and that’s a significant element. These initial training trance states are best achieved (in my opinion) with things your body is already use to – drumming, dancing, breathing, singing, meditation, movement of any kind (yoga, whirling, traditional martial arts, running, walking, … will get you into a trance state if done properly). Once you learn the basics of journeying (and I’ll admit it took me a while to get to this point) you don’t need to go into a trance to journey.

It’s also important, using the Tour de France metaphor, to recognize that anything “not you” – stimulants, drugs, enhancers, … – that you use will eventually rob you of anything you achieve. Worse than that, you’ll lack confidence in your own, natural ability. Hallucinogens, entheogens, narcotics, stimulants, et cetera, are all training wheels with the added disadvantage that they’re training wheels most people can never take off their bikes. Once you start using them, chances are you won’t be able to do any work unless you do use them, in which case you’re not doing shamanic work as I was taught to do it.

And that gets us into the second kind of journeying, Working, and this is where we transfer from “trance” to “Levels of Awareness“.

That’s for the next post in this series. See you then.

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Joseph Carrabis

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  • Joseph – a question for you. In line with your movie example, would it be accurate to describe a shamanic trance as the end result of turning off our thought so that we can focus our selves/awareness elsewhere? I imagine thoughts like a trying to do something with distracting music playing nearby – at first you need to turn the speaker off to concentrate, but with time and practice you can learn to focus where you need to and ignore the music. Is that accurate?

    • Hmm…I would reckon it more to focusing our thought. Most people’s thinking is (forgive the imagery) like an incandescent light bulb. There can be lots of light and it’s not directed anywhere specific. A laser is light focused to some specific purpose.
      I mention in Part 2 of this series that Working Journeying is more a Levels of Awareness process than a trance process. One level of awareness may be doing A while another level of awareness is focusing on B but there’s not a shutting off of A or B.
      I appreciate the suggestion of turning off thought to focus and there’s a flaw in that logic; focusing takes conscious and nonconsicous effort. It is quite thought intensive. It’s not “turning off thought” so much as “ignoring certain thoughts”.
      Hope that helps.