The shaman communicates with the spirit world in a state of altered consciousness. This altered consciousness has been referred to as “non-ordinary” reality by Carlos Castaneda. While the shaman is in a state of non-ordinary reality, the realness is identical to that of ordinary reality. The methods may be used separately or in conjunction (i.e. a sweat lodge). A drum journey is an example of combining meditation with auditory aids.
The methods of achieving an altered consciousness are varied, with the shaman using the method(s) that are culturally accepted. These methods include:
1) Shifting of Awareness through meditation or will. The shaman shifts into the alternate reality of thought, form, and energy by moving their center of focus. The physical body of the shaman may or may not remain in the original location, but the mind and spirit of the shaman moves to a state of altered consciousness. This is commonly practiced by the Western world under the guise of “psychic abilities”. A shamanic journey to Upperworld and Underworld is an example of this shifting of awareness.
2) Physical or sensory deprivation. The shaman undergoes fasting, no sleep, and darkness. The focus of all of these is to remove the outward contemplation, turn thought inward toward another reality. The removal of the outward world provides a clear and open pathway to other realms of thought and energy. Dreaming is a very mild example of the transition achieved in these states.
3) The use of sacred plants. Culturally accepted mind/mood altering plants are used for sacred reasons, not recreational. Often, when there is a mental narrowness that impedes the achieving of non-ordinary reality, the sacred plants open the door and provide a entry. Future entry can then be achieved through other means. Incense or oils can be used as a substitute for those sacred plants that are illegal or unattainable to the common person.
4) Auditory aids to altered states. Drums, chanting, and music serve the purpose of bypassing the logical, language side of the self. It is known that the auditory aids activate all brain centers, opening states of consciousness suppressed in ordinary conditions. Drumming is a common tool for opening the shaman to journeying.
5) Spirit Allies. These represent a combination of logic and intuition as man reaches for symbols of a unified order of things. The spirit allies can be part of ourselves, and also part of that universe outside of our brain. Engaging spirit allies is like strapping on an auxiliary form of transportation. The shaman is aided in their travels by an energy that is perceived to be outside of themselves.