This blog entry is in response to a question from Jihad.
Several years ago we gave a conference at Concordia University. We were invited to speak about the Medicine Wheel and how shifting perspective can help in self-discovery and healing. At the end of the lecture one of the students approached us and asked if either GP or I could teach him how to fall into a trance. When we asked him why it was so important to him he answered: “Because I lost someone who was dear to me and I believe that it’s possible to get in touch with her through trance work.” I remember staring at him for a moment searching to see if he really believed in what he was saying. And he did!
Trance work is like walking between worlds. You are neither sleeping or awake, but you are still somehow experiencing some kind of reality. Many First Nation traditionalists or Medicine People understand trance work as a particular type of dreaming. The first time I found myself in a trance was when I was 9 years old. I had been praying in the chapel at our school. Astonishingly, five hours went by without my knowledge and during this time I remember speaking to someone. I remember music, sand and the sound of waves on the shore. I was sitting on a boat which was flipped up side down on a beach. Just before returning to ordinary consciousness I recall the voice of a young man telling me that “he would always be my very best friend.”
It was around 3:30pm when I went to the chapel. I was alone. I planned to sit and say a short prayer before returning home after school. I loved this chapel. It was beautiful with sun coming through the stain glass and just enough seating to accommodate 200 people. It was small with walls painted in light, baby blue. When I finally came out of the trance it was dark and two sisters sat near me on the bench, watching over me.
Where did they come from?
The sisters later told me that as I prayed they heard me mention I was cold and two of the shutters on the windows fell and closed. Then, I murmured it was dark and the candles magically flickered on. It was explained to me that what I experienced was a divine communion with God. When my father asked me what I thought happened, I replied: “I think I just fell asleep and had a dream.” There was no doubt I experienced a profound shift in consciousness.
Later in life I learnt to induce a trance through prayer, hypnosis, meditation, drumming and dreaming techniques. During the few times I had surgery and had to be under anaesthesia, I found that it resembled an altered state of consciousness. It felt like I dove deep into an altered reality and came back with impressive and memorable pieces of distant memories. Until this day I remember each message I received during these trances and they continue to be frozen in time as important today as they were yesterday.
The reason why a trance is a type of dream or even a kind of coma is because it allows the body to recuperate. The mind and body rests while it is in a trance or a dream. When we teach our students to reach a trance state we show them how to be completely involved in a repetitive activity. After a few minutes of concentrating on a chore and allowing the brain to disconnect any individual will touch a trance state. I’ve seen lots of young people fall into trances just by listening to music or by concentrating of a visual stimuli absent-mindedly. In my case the repetitive beat of a drum will trigger a trance.
Like I explained to the student who asked for information on inducing trances: “It is probably best to invite a friend to assist you in trance work if you’re attempting to connect to a deceased loved one or to get answers from Spirit.” The fact is it’s very difficult to control or guide a trance when the part of the brain that handles control is basically sleeping or disconnected during the experience. A third party can hence, take the role of guide and direct the journey into this other reality. This person can also take notes of everything that occurs allowing you to have some idea of what went on if the memory is lacking in details. I’ve come to a point where I can actually speak out loud while I’m in a trance and even answer questions. Yet it took me over a decade to develop this skill.
In Shamanism trances help initiates to speak to their spirit guides; inner fragments (totems, moons and ancestors); and access different levels of dreaming.