Shamanism is the most ancient and most enduring spiritual tradition
known to humanity. It predates and constitutes the foundation of all
known religions, psychologies, and philosophies. Shamanic practitioners
focus on voluntarily entering trance states, usually induced by drumming,
in order to access and direct transpersonal powers for healing and manifesting
what is needed to benefit the community. Drumming offers a relatively
easy means of controlled transcendence. It is a simple and effortless
way to still the incessant chatter of the mind, thereby inducing an
altered state of consciousness. Shamanic drumming carries awareness
into the archetypal realm of the collective unconscious, the infinite
creative matrix of all that we are and have ever been. It is an inward
spiritual journey of ecstasy in which one interacts with the inner world,
thereby influencing the outer world. The potential is unlimited, yet
the fundamentals of shamanic drumming are relatively simple:
1. First select a location where you will not be interrupted. It must
be a quiet space, at least for the duration of the exercise. It is best
to dim the lights and sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor.
2. Next, you should smudge the space and yourself with the smoke of
an herb. Smudging cleanses the mind and environment in preparation for
spiritual or inner work. Sage, cedar, or sweetgrass are traditionally
used, but any dried herb is acceptable. Light the herbs in a fire-resistant
receptacle, then blow out the flames. Smudge yourself by drawing the
smoke first over your heart, then over the top of your head, purifying
body, mind, and spirit. Next, smudge your drum by passing it through
the smoke. Conclude the smudging by thanking the plant whose body made
the cleansing possible.
3. The next step is to calm and focus your mind by performing a simple
concentration exercise. Close your eyes and focus on the breath as it
enters the nose and fills your lungs, then gently exhale any tension
you might feel. Continue breathing with a series of even inhalations
and exhalations until you are calm and relaxed.
4. Once you are fully relaxed, it is important to form your intent
- what you desire or expect to accomplish. Intent is a kind of decision
making that directs the focus of our attention. It is through our attention
that we influence and direct the aspects of our experience and the world
Those aspects of our experience that are most enduring are the effect
of habitual expectations and beliefs. What we pay attention to becomes
what we know as ourselves and our world, for energy flows where attention
As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, explains in Flow: The Psychology of
Optimal Experience, "We create ourselves by how we invest this energy.
Memories, thoughts, and feelings are all shaped by how we use it. And
it is an energy under our control; hence, attention is our most important
tool in the task of improving the quality of experience."1
The greater the clarity and focus, the greater the effect.
Sustained, focused attention on a specific intention, while in a state
of inner silence, allows your intent to penetrate the archetypal matrix
of unlimited potential and harness that infinite energy. Such attention
channels the energy of the universe into manifesting the physical equivalent
of the focus. Your intent could be focused on anything. It may be for
help or healing for yourself, someone else, or the planet. You may wish
to manifest something or to influence events in the material world.
You could ask for the power to manifest your full potential, talents,
and purpose, or simply ask for whatever guidance or knowledge you need
at this time. Be mindful, however, of the motives underlying your intent.
Intentions motivated by malice, greed, envy, and the like are seldom
fruitful and will only block your spiritual growth.
To clarify what it is you truly need, it is helpful to word your intent
in a concise and clear-cut manner. You must be specific about what you
desire, for you will receive exactly what you ask for. Vocally repeating
a descriptive word or phrase will help sustain your focus as well as
provide a clear pattern which the power of the universe can express
into manifestation. It is important to affirm your intent with belief
and expectation. You must eliminate all doubt and then trust the creative
power of your intent. The keynote of intent is that all you will ever
need exists as potential and is waiting to manifest.
5. Having formed your intent, the next step is to begin drumming. A
steady, unvarying pattern of three to four beats per second is the most
effective. A rapid, heavy cadence creates the sensation of inner movement,
which if you allow it, will carry you along. It is projective in nature
and carries your intent, prayers, and awareness into the celestial archetypal
realm. As you drum, vocally repeat the word or phrase that represents
your intent. Sustain your focus for ten minutes or until you sense intuitively
that your intent has penetrated the matrix of infinite potential.
6. Once you have introduced your intention, begin drumming the soft
lub-dub, lub-dub of a heartbeat rhythm. Sustain a steady heartbeat pattern
of three to four beats per second for at least ten minutes. This nurturing
pulse has a calming and centering effect. It is magnetic and receptive
in nature, drawing awareness, archetypal knowledge, and transpersonal
powers down into the material world. It empowers and gives form to the
pattern of your intent.
As you drum, clear your mind of everything, give up the need for control.
Paradoxically, focused intent must be followed by complete surrender
and detachment to be effective. You must relinquish completely both
the specifics of your goal and how that goal is to be achieved. The
unknowable powers of the universe will create what is needed, often
in a most unpredictable way. You must be confident that the outcome,
while out of your own hands, is in the process of being changed or created.
This requires an attitude of surrender and trust.
Close your eyes and focus your attention upon the beat of the drum,
keeping your mind open to insights. Simply observe the thoughts and
ideas as they flow in and out of awareness. Insight and guidance regarding
your original intent may come through visions, symbols, or images. It
may simply be an intuitive/knowing awareness. If you are in need of
healing or are healing someone else, then merely let the drum do the
healing. The drum will access and direct unlimited energy based solely
on your original intent.
7. Lastly, drum once again a rapid, heavy cadence. Sustain a steady,
unvarying pattern of three to four beats per second for one to five
minutes. As you drum, give thanks for the needs met. The drum will propel
your gratitude into the archetypal realm. Give thanks also for the needs
you are asking to be manifested. Giving thanks before needs are met
is a way of making space to receive them. Expressing gratitude for something
before it actually appears in your life develops trust and confidence
in your ability to create. The creative power of your intent is limited
only by what you believe is possible.
1. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
New York: Harper & Row, 1990.
Michael Drake is a writer and ceremonial drummer of Cherokee descent.
He has studied with master drummers from both the Native American and
Mongolian shamanic traditions. He is the author of The Shamanic
Drum: A Guide to Sacred Drumming and I Chinq: The Tao of Drumming.
You may contact Michael at PO Box 1298, Goldendale, WA 98620.