Updated: Apr 13, 2020
Old teachings say "the first people had questions and they were free; the second people got answers and they became enslaved". In this post we discover transformative power of contemplation and questioning
In 2018 the Harvard Business Review published an article called “The Surprising Power of Questions”. It stated that “questioning is a uniquely powerful tool for unlocking value… it spurs learning and the exchange of ideas, it fuels innovation and performance improvement, it builds rapport and trust amongst team members”. The same article was saying that asking questions naturally improves emotional intelligence.
Is there more to it? What if asking the right questions and giving them our complete presence can inform, guide and even transform us? Studies show, that asking questions affect the level of amity between communicators. What happens when the question is directed inward towards one’s higher self? Does it transform the relationship between self and the higher aspects of us? Is there any shamanic approach to this?
There is. The science behind certain shamanic techniques of questioning is similar to that of shamanic journeying. It seems that during shamanic questioning, like journeying, brain waves undergo a transition from beta (learning, awake) to alpha (physical and mental relaxation) and finally to theta frequencies (deep meditation, trance state). With the first question, brain waves move from beta to alpha frequencies. The second question anchors us in the alpha and brings us to the threshold of theta states. With the last question we enter the trance state and stay afloat in deep contemplation. [For more information on brainwaves check: (a) "What is the function of the various brainwaves?" by Scientific American, published in 1997; (b) "A Deep Dive Into Brainwaves: Brainwave Frequencies Explained" by MUSE]
Where to begin? I will guide you through the process of shamanic questioning with one example. For that, I am using a tree pictured below. I worked with this real tree on the grounds of the Earth Spirit Centre in Somerset. As I work through the example, I encourage you to stay with the picture and enrich my journey with your own. (#brainwaves #questioning #shamanism #consciousness #earthspiritcentre #paveltimashkov #theseconddream #shamanicmeditation)
Step 1: Facts and observations
During the first stage I only look and observe. I collect facts about what I see. Scientifically, my brain starts in the beta wave frequency, which is the learning and decision making awake state. During this first step of questioning I begin to detach myself from the thinking capacity of the mind. I do not explain things. I relax into what I see to only witness and notice. With this detachment I set my mind into the alpha state of relaxation.
“Question everything”, Albert Einstein
Let's begin. I am standing by this tree and looking at two wounds left from earlier trimming. I am asking for the teachings and raising my first questions. What has happened? What do I see?
I observe and collect the facts. I register anything that my mind can or cannot name. There are two limb stubs, with branches removed a few years ago by a skilful hand. The person who did it knew how to cut tree limbs to cause as little harm as possible. I can see the wounds managed to partially close themselves as a shield against infection and disease. The cuts used to face more or less the same direction of the North-West when cut. Now, as the tree expanded with years, the smaller cut faces the North, the bigger one points to the West. This West-facing cut is dryer and less prone to decay, even though it is bigger and didn't manage to protect itself as good as the smaller one. The North-facing cut shielded itself with a thicker growth. It seems more vulnerable to water collection and decay. There is more life around it though, the moss. The intricate patterns on the cuts, however similar, are very different. The limbs were of different age when removed.
Step 2: Story for me
I have looked at the facts and made some observations. Now, I move to the second stage. I ask the facts to inform me. Is there a story for me? What are all these facts trying to tell me? With these questions of the second stage I submerge deeper into a contemplative state. On the level of physics my brainwaves gradually shift from alpha to theta frequencies.
I can see how the two cuts started from the same place, on the same day. The day the limbs were cut. I see them as two brothers of the same parent, coming from the same roots, feeding on the same soil, living in the same environment. They faced the same weathers, while one of them having more experience then the other and saw more as was older. I can see the day the branches were removed. While already being of one root, there was even a deeper oneness created now.
I can see while starting at the same point and facing almost similar direction of the North-West, they started to move apart. Time gave them that chance. Tree grew bigger. According to the tradition I have been trained,in the North-West tells me of interconnectedness of things and I look deeper into it (seek your own guidance on it). I see how everything was and is. While connected through the roots, the trunk, the story, - they moved further apart, connected. Little changes in the directions they face, brought subtle differences to the rain and winds they met, to the amount of sun received, to the plenitude of protection of the tree crown. They experienced the same and different insects and other life forms trotting across and around them.
The smaller cut is facing the North now. It tells me a story. I can see that the Northern and younger cut put a good armour around itself still leaving the heart fully opened. That shape of armour allows for water to collect and allows for both decay and life. The risk of exposure to water gives the Northern cut a more adventurous existence. There is life around it. There is also a risk of decay, which gives existence for some life forms... (the story you see yourself will be different from mine, the teachings will be just for you or, in some cases, for the others).
The bigger Western cut is much drier. It looks stronger and better adapted to the environment. The bigger opening is more exposed to the rain. At the same time, this openness allows the wind to quickly dry the moisture. Bigger moss and lichen stay far away from the perimeter of this bigger cut. The inner circle provides home for smaller lichens. The cut is more to itself, with only little touch by these lichens. Bigger surface reveals the intricate pattern of the inside. It is a maze, a puzzle, a mystery.
You noticed, that each direction holds some meaning for me that I developed over time with the support of my teachers (mostly Chris Luttichau), my contemplations, visions and quests. I would suggest you to search for your own meanings, however let them stay alive, let them have qualities of questions rather than answers. It is important to note, that is it not a problem solving or analytical task; analytical capacities of the mind are hardly engaged in here if at all, it is more like dreaming, seeing, meditation.
Step 3: Insight and transformation
“Is the soul solid, like iron? Or is it tender and breakable, like the wings of a moth in the beak of the owl?”, Mary Oliver
With the last question you are searching for the "meaning". At this point you are deep in contemplation. All this time you have your eyes opened. You gaze and do not stare. At this point you raise your closing question. What does it point me to? What does it mean?
What I see for myself in here is that the smallest things that we encounter on our life journey make us all unique and special. I can not possibly "know" someone, as I would not be able to live through all the experiences and dreams of that person, through all her or his soul incarnations, through all moments of joy and pain. I can not judge or make myself right. I can listen. I can search to find and see the same roots. I can love and accept. Differently from all others. I can learn that we are all unique and there has never been or ever be another manifestation of my-self.
I work with questions often, both for myself and others. It is a major tool in my shamanic toolbox. For the answers to come we need to give questions space and energy. In the example above, as I was going deeper into my trance state while in Somerset, there was something unfolding within me. Restructuring. My cells reorganised themselves for my future journey. (I was there with the tree for approximately 30 minutes)
Each time I do this work, I take a little step towards knowing the unknown. Little transformation through questioning.
When do I ask these questions? I ask them when I feel the need. Often, that happens after I notice something unusual and I think it must be a sign. For example, yesterday, my neighbour locked himself out three times. Each time he called my door and asked me to climb over a fence into his garden to unlock his door for him. I have hardly seen my neighbour before, and now this unusual encounter! This is a situation when I need to look into it!
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If you want to explore this work further, try it yourself. I can give you a few ideas to help you.
Find something in nature that draws your attention, e.g. an animal track, and ask the three questions
Look into one of your recent dreams using the three questions
When you come to a situation where you have to say "strange", ask the three questions to see if there is a message for you