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Drum Journeying

Left-brain bias…

In a world that lays its accolades at the feet of the analytical left-hemisphere dominant perspective, ignoring the right almost entirely, we are rewarding what could at best be called an imbalance, and more accurately perhaps, an expression of collective mental illness. For in doing so, we have lost touch with a profound and, as Einstein says, sacred gift of what it means to be human.

The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.


The right, and what is also described as the feminine, hemisphere of the brain, is responsible for accessing information primarily at a subconscious level: the invisible sea of intelligence that we bathe in daily that describes the ubiquitous frequencies of consciousness within all phenomena. The left cerebral allows us to see only the surface of things. Until the right side is awakened, ‘seeing’ with the inner vision is not possible.[1]


Healing the imbalance

Rhythmic drumming induces altered states of consciousness and heightened awareness through a powerful process called entrainment in which the brain waves are synchronized to the rhythm of the drumbeat. This is a process available to us to restore harmony between the hemispheres so that we may rebuild what is known as the ‘Rainbow Bridge’ and open the doorway to the intuitive mind.[2] Drumming stimulates an holistic alpha brain wave cycle and attunes the physical and spiritual aspects of our being, linking us to the greater web of consciousness of which we are a part.[3]


Obstacles to the process

One of the biggest challenges for women who are new to this practice is believing that what they receive during a drum journey is anything other than ‘imagination’ and ‘make-believe’. It’s just not ‘real’ nor ‘evidence-based’ is it? But could that be our left-brain speaking? The one that we are trying to bring back into line as our faithful servant? My catch-cry for those in our circles has been, ‘suspend disbelief and allow for the possibility that whatever is received on your journey will have personal significance for you’. For as my teacher, Jane Hardwicke Collings would say in response to the make-believe claim, ‘But then why did you make it up?’. We must remember to tread gently with ourselves and others in this process because most of us are starting from a heavily biased left-brain perspective such that the leap across the great divide to the other hemisphere will require trust. It’s a process of dropping in deeper to experience the reality that our journey always has relevance. It’s also important to move beyond the patriarchy’s model of competition and comparison, and remember that shamans never challenge the validity of someone else’s experiences.[4]

Another obstacle can be the way in which we best receive information. Usually, we have a dominant learning style. Not all of us are visually oriented, some prefer auditory or olfactory cues for example. I personally am kinesthetic and best receive information through touch and doing. If I am in a forest on a drum journey for example, I will often touch the bark of the tree and feel that sensation as a way of connecting more deeply with that inner landscape.  

A third challenge can be going too deep. Perhaps this could be partly due to the drumming technique if the beat is not fast enough and is inducing theta (e.g. hypnosis) rather than alpha brain waves (e.g. meditation and the primary frequency produced by the earth’s electromagnetic field). Theta brain waves take us very deep and while they can be employed by a skillful practitioner to change the depth of the trace and take the group deeper at points within a journey, it is easier for us to bring back information from an alpha-wave drumbeat. It may also be simply a matter of practice. Just like a muscle that is not used will atrophy, so too must this skill be practiced to reawaken latent abilities to trance and access the transcendent state of awareness. Patience and persistence are key allies in this process.

Remember, drum journeying is a spiritual practice. It requires us to set our intention to stay present and to call ourselves back when we drift off. When I find the visual getting foggy or I’m drifting, I take a conscious breath and come back to the last anchor point in my journey. Perhaps it was a visual, a texture, auditory, olfactory etc. I also may ask a question or restate my intention for the journey if there was a particular focus.


Reframing ‘normal’

I often describe drum journeying to women new to this practice who join our circle as an altered state of consciousness in which we can access information not available to us in normative or mundane consciousness. However, on listening to the deeply insightful Dr Zach Bush speaking about the seeming unrelated topic of biodiversity and the root cause of disease, it suddenly struck me how drum journeying actually takes us back to our natural state that we’ve lost contact with. What we commonly call normative or mundane consciousness is actually a disconnected state that is the root expression of disconnection and dis-ease. This is a powerful reframe to consider.


Co-Creating our reality

It is understood by shamanic practitioners that drum journeying is a process of consciously engaging in a co-creation of our reality. In Chinese Medicine there is a saying, ‘chi follows yi’. This means that energy follows intention and that ultimately what we attend to and how we direct our intention results in very real outcomes in the tangible world.

The Australian anthropologist A.P. Elkin spoke of the shamanic vision as:

no mere hallucination. It is a mental formation visualised and externalized, which may even exist for a time independent of its creator…[5]


Closing contemplations ...

There is a phenomenon that we all know of that we see in honeybees, schools of fish, and flocks of birds. This phenomenon is called murmuration in the latter and describes the sound of a low murmur flocks make from thousands of wingbeats and soft flight calls. They have no leader but are coordinated in their movements at incredible speeds such that they appear to be acting as a single organism. This is a demonstration of unity consciousness where the boundaries between self and other blur. Where just like the mycelium of fungi interacting with the roots of trees within a forest, there is an embodied experience of the interconnection between self and other, and we can access and act from that vastness of intelligence beyond our own.

In the Amazonian Arts we work with polarity pairs of Warrioresses, seeing from the perspective of each and finding the central balance point. We complete the journey with the 13th archetype of Medicine Woman, where we transcend the polarity and practice being a living example of such unity consciousness. Medicine Woman brings the medicine of the Rainbow Bridge, and in the words of the Dhayani Ywahoo:  

We are the Rainbow, each of us. When we (the Cherokee) speak of rebuilding the Rainbow Bridge, it is to bring again into harmony the left and right hemispheres of the brain, to renew the flow of our intuitive mind.[6]

This is what the practice of drum journeying offers us: an attunement to the rhythms and cycles both within and without. As we step towards greater balance within, we begin to re-member an embodied experience of interconnection with the world around us. In such a state we can initiate conscious change and be the face of the fierce feminine rising up and reclaiming sacred and wholesome relationship with our larger than human family on this beautiful mama earth.

by Akhalita Makoto

Vision Mother of the Amazonian Arts


[1] Drake, M. The Shamanic Drum: A Guide to Sacred Drumming. Talking Drum Publications; Goldendale WA Australia, p.23.

[2] Ibid. p.23.

[3] Ibid. p.78

[4] Ibid. p.41.

[5] Elkin, A.P. 1977. Aboriginal Men of High Degree. Second Edition. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

[6]Ywahoo, D. 1987. Voices of Our Ancestors: Cherokee Teachings from the Wisdom Fire. Shambhala; Boston.

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