Perception and Awareness
Perception is a funny thing. A very funny thing. Following the path of shamanism I have studied perception, and have come to appreciate, the role, perception plays in moving from point A to point B. My teachers have taught me to handle perceptual awareness, with a subtle grace, which was not an easy awareness of acquire, I assure you. If you have read some of my blog, you know my relationship with my spirits can be cantankerous at times. I often ignored advice given to me, or sometimes, even failed to FULLY observe my surroundings. My perceptual system was not acquired overnight. I doubt it is an easy process for anyone. Well, okay maybe for some of you. I am sure someone reading this is saying ‘oh yeah that was totally me. I woke up one morning (or after a sunny nap) and POOF total awareness of the ALL.’ Lucky you.
Those marked for, or who choose, to pursue a shamanic path, come to grips with an ever changing perceptual awareness and yet remain balanced in this world. Learning to handle perception is one of the major steps in learning the way of the shaman.
The first question we have to ask, of course, is “What is this thing called perception?” Defining perception seems easy on the surface; we perceive the world through our physical senses and therefore “assemble” a reality within which we can function. POOF right?? Our five senses give us a fairly concrete understanding of the world. We can all agree in the physical up is up and down is down. Some of us can jump. Some of us cannot, but we can all fall. Agreed? Good. We can all agree the pain of meeting mass’,( ie car and human hitting each other) generally determines the level of pain one experiences.
For some of us, and I suspect most of you reading this, have even agreed to leave room in our reality for the supernatural, the odd, the unusual and perhaps, just perhaps, a little frightening. In my reality a pendulum swinging very fast in my hand whilst performing an energetic house clearing, generally means lots of energy. Obvious to some, not to all. Perception is rarely, if ever, viewed as a physical sense in itself. One which can be controlled and manipulated to expand our world view; in fact, it makes other realities available to us. Our ability to perceive is the true sixth sense and the one which unifies all the others. Is awareness without perception possible? No. Is perception without awareness possible? Again, no.
Our perception locks us in a virtual prison for most of our lives. Stay with me here. Depending, as most people do, on the five senses, taste, sight, sound, tactile and smell ~ we all assemble a world, which is familiar, and above all, has rules everyone can depend on, to work. As I said before… up is up and down is down. The five senses reality, in person I often refer to this as the ‘dial a day’ reality (I have no idea why), is not an easy place to live. Goodness knows, the news tells us so.
But by locking ourselves in a perceptual prison, we largely ignore the ELSEWHERE. Unless, of course, it intrudes itself upon our working perceptions of reality. (Such as smelling a hint of that perfume Oma always wore). Even then we make excuses, debunking our experiences, and pass those events off as merely aberrant ones, produced by forces we can explain, and keep within our perceptual framework. We are still left, however, with the question of exactly what is perceptual awareness.
The five human senses are taking in a different aspect of your environment nonstop. Your brain reassembles, some, not all, of your environmental perceptions, and awareness. Your perceptual system, is trained to perceive what is important for you to know, at any given moment. Your eyes tell you there is a red light, you, hopefully, appropriately stop. Your ears, at the same time perceiving the sounds of your interior vehicle, and the exterior environment. Do you remember what you were listening to when you slammed on your brakes to avoid a collision? Perhaps not. Perception operates at every level of your awareness, and at the same time, creating the very awareness within which you live. What you perceive is based solely on you. We adapt and change our perceptual awareness in each situation we are in. Our ears work much better when there is something we crave to hear, than something we don’t. Adaptation is a key element to any human reality.
But seriously, what does any of this have to do with shamanism?? I know right. Sometimes I get on tangents. Whew. However, there is a bit more to go…
We only adapt our awareness when we have reason to focus. Focus drives our perception and awareness in this reality. We consciously, and unconsciously, choose a systematic series of actions, and reactions, created over a period of time, a framework, upon which we peg the daily reality of living. Our daily reality of living can be broken down into even smaller realities, our reality changes, based on what our reason/focus for changing it is.
Shamans change realities often, through trance, eye contact, conscious breath work; a myriad of systematic series of actions and reactions necessary for us to perceive the ELSEWHERE, with our perceptual system. Our active awareness. Conscious awareness is a learnt behaviour. 95% of what the brain perceives is generally unconscious.
Practicing shamanism has given me the tools to be conscious, more than, 5% of the time. It has been shown to me over and over again, we perceive what we believe. And every once and awhile we get a GOD SHOT. An amazing experience ‘designed’, perhaps, to move the boundaries of our reality. Sometimes just a little bit, and at other times, far more than just a little bit.
Someone once said to me that “reason is the bullying guard at the gates of perception”. ‘Finely put’ I said. Then I replied “reason appeared to be the nag that follows you around during your supernatural experience claiming “oh no you did not see that” or “it must have been a coincidence” Nag, guard, really, what is the difference? The question is then: How do we get around not destroying the guard? We do need that aspect of ourselves, to function in our dial a day reality. It can be as simple as occupying our “bullying guard” with other activities. I always refer to is as ‘candy for the conscious mind” In other words, trapping your own attention. Think of it as giving your guard a toy to play with, and while totally occupied with the new toy, another aspect of your perceptions and awareness catch a glimpse of the unknown. That conscious bully gets bored easily, so at first you may only be able to look past quickly, but in that brief glimpse there lies an eternity of possibilities. Eventually, with practice, the CB will become less concerned with where you go and what you perceive. The CB will no longer, in it’s/your, own perception, see it as a threat. You will pass by into a new and undiscovered country.
Discussion of just how to trap your attention would have to be keyed to the individual since we all structure our perception differently. We can only speak in generalities here. Some people use drumming, some use other forms of music, some use physical activities. All of these are valid, but the make up of your particular perceptional biases; makes it a highly individual endeavor. The only thing to keep in mind, or be conscious of, is that once your perception grows and changes you must still drag these new “visions” back past your guard of reason. This filtering back through the temporal window of reason/focus creates our biggest problem. How do we know what our brain is telling us is, in fact, what we have really witnessed?
Countless is the number of times I have heard people say, but is this real? Reality is based on perception, And perception is a funny thing. Very funny indeed. For some individuals the pushing of the aforementioned structure, can be a daunting task. For some people, perceiving with all of the senses is one of the keys to perceiving an alternate reality. Not discounting what is experienced as ‘only’ this or ‘only’ that. Expansion of the boundaries of your perceptual reality is a conscious choice. Perceptual awareness can only expand with experience. For me, I can’t speak for you.
Many circles and thousands of shamanic journeys recounted to me, has been my teaching ground for much of what I share with you. For many the first shift in perception, in my circles was through a boring nonrythmic beat of a drum. The sound of the drum lulls the CB. Many participants the first, and perhaps even more times, were generally confused when re-entering into our agreed upon reality – the dial a day. What do you do with a spiritual journey experience to a place, possibly never seen before? How do you integrate your experience?. Interesting. Each person has their personal experience, some participants are confused, while others have completely been blocked by the CB, and do not remember what happened. Some are at peace and at home, with what they experience.
Practice and dedication to uncovering and discovering a changing perception of reality, takes conscious effort. As our world view grows, the nature of what we are perceiving, becomes, or seems to become, clearer to us.
Well that is a short version of my thoughts on perceptual awareness. I am going to explore this further in our work together at Elk Island in September 2013.

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