The challenges of receiving direct spiritual guidance in the modern world
Why we struggle to communicate with Spirit
In the famous 1956 movie The Ten Commandments, Moses (played by Charlton Heston) asks Joshua if he sees a strange fire on the mountainside. Joshua replies that yes, he sees a burning bush. Moses responds, "it is a bush on fire, but does not burn."
So Moses climbs the mountain to behold the mysterious sight. Emanating from the fiery bush, he hears the booming, resonant voice of God. God tells Moses to lead the Israelites out of bondage.
Call this scene dramatic, call it cheesy. I call it tragic. Why? because it propagates a damaging message. From our earliest days, we’re taught that the only events that are real are physical events out there in the world. This scene takes that message a step further by suggesting that even divine revelation is a physical event. When Moses received his vision, others saw it in the same place. When God spoke to Moses, His voice had a particular tone and location.
Cultural influences such as this movie, the education we receive, the messages we hear from authority figures – all of these combine to force a wedge between us and the divine. Prayer becomes a one-way entreaty. We lose the ability to hear Spirit directly. We have forgotten how to communicate.
The nature of Shamanic Journeying
For many years now I have received guidance from Helping Spirits through a practice known as shamanic Journeying. The process looks nothing like the scene with Moses and the burning bush.
According to various shamanic traditions, each of us have Spirit Helpers who can provide guidance, support, and spiritual connection throughout our lives, if only we can learn to open up to them and hear them. These Helpers can take the form of animals, humans, or other presences in nature such as trees and mountains.
In a shamanic Journey, you might see your Helper in your mind’s eye. Your Helper might then provide an experience for you that helps you to transform the way you are seeing or dealing with a particular challenge in your life.
Sometimes during Journeys, words appear in your mind. They don’t have tone or location, but you know they are from your Helper. At other times, your Helper might transmit a message without words. You sense what your Helper is communicating, and then you do your best to find words that capture the essence of the message.
So shamanic Journeying is a quiet, inner experience. It requires that you patiently focus all of your attention and ‘listen’ carefully in order to receive authentic guidance.
It is not easy to trust guidance received in this way. In my early Journeys (and sometimes still), my rational mind constantly interrupted with such thoughts: “This isn’t real, you’re making this up!” or, “What’s happening to you? You’re going off the deep end!”
At the time, I thought my mind was overly critical because I had majored in Neuroscience and Philosophy of Science – I had been especially well-conditioned in what our culture counts as reality. It didn’t occur to me that my mind was reflecting a deeper cultural challenge.
But now that I’m supporting others to take their first steps with shamanic Journeying, I repeatedly hear similar objections from them. The problem runs deep in our culture.
Don’t let our culture get in your way
It’s fascinating to me how the Bible actually tells the story of Moses and the burning bush:
3 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.
Now this reminds me of my experience with shamanic Journeying. There is no one else that saw the burning bush. It is not clear that there is actually a physical bush on fire, or whether it is a vision Moses is receiving. This experience could have been a quiet, inner experience of the mind. If it indeed was an inner experience of the divine, Moses would not have questioned it in the same way that we do. He lived thousands of years before the so-called Enlightenment.
Direct spiritual guidance is available to everyone. The modern world – the same world that created nuclear bombs, holocausts, and climate change – has taught us to disparage it and block it out. It would be tragic if we allowed this conditioning to prevent us from accessing precious and sacred support that helps us to live lives of service, meaning and joy.