5.7 Personal Journeys and Engagement with People

An additional aspect that might also help the desired mental shift is related to the soundscapes’ ‘liveliness’. BCMI-2 creates this liveliness by using ever-changing brainwaves, randomised audio selections and other processes that we can set to be unpredictable, e.g. to random level lengths. In essence, every soundscape generated is slightly different. While meditating, we can use this liveliness as the subject of our focus, similar to how we use open, non-reactive curiosity when observing our inner or outer environments with receptive meditation techniques. This in-determined nature of the soundscapes, I believe, can help increase immersion in a Cagian sense:

Then the answers, instead of coming from my likes and dislikes, come from chance operations, and that has the effect of opening me to possibilities that I hadn’t considered. Chance-determined answers will open my mind to the world around. (Montague, 1985)

For me, the most effective way to meditate with the shamanic soundscapes (whether generated in real time with the BCMI-2 system or played back from a recording) is to gradually shift from a more narrowly focused to a more receptively concentrated state of mind. To achieve the more narrowly focused state, I first ‘zoom in’ and try to focus strictly on a specific aspect of the soundscape. For instance, this aspect can be the gradually changing rhythmic patterns or – when trying to go even further – the micro-sounds that emerge in these patterns. This first step, I believe, is similar to how practitioners of Transcendental Meditation focus on a mantra:

The mantra, then, is not an object of concentration-absorption, but rather an anchor to keep attention from being captured by the objects that pass through the mind. (Washburn, 1978)

Once whatever I have been focusing on has provided a stable anchor for my awareness to latch on to, I gradually allow parts of this focused awareness to become more receptive. One by one, I use these freed-up parts to start paying open, gentle and non-reactive attention to other aspects of the meditation experience. For instance, these aspects can be the continuous noise in the soundscape, my heartbeat and breathing or — if not using headphones — the noise of radiators, the traffic, and my neighbour building something in his garden. Once my awareness is both stabilised and wide open to absorb information without actively analysing it, the flashes of abstract visual imagery entering my mind become gradually longer and longer until eventually, with a breakthrough, merged into a continuous SSC experience. Based on my experience and the outcomes of this project, I believe my shamanic soundscapes have — with and without the BCMI-2 system — strong potential to induce and maintain the SSC, especially if listeners have previous experience with meditation using visualisation techniques.

Engaging with people in this project was challenging in a variety of ways. Engaging with participants in the NFT sessions was relatively easy, as I had only one person to attend to and a technical setup that I had tested several times using my brainwaves in the same room. The sessions were pleasant experiences. I meditated beforehand and stayed as mindful as possible during the sessions, which helped me engage with the participants calmly and purposefully.

However, working in the performance setting was different. Despite rehearsing and meditating several times before the event, the highly technical setup and over 60 audience members destabilised my confidence in my abilities for a short time at the start. While I gradually regained most of my confidence during the first part of the event (the presentation), my stress completely disappeared within seconds when my eyes closed, my fingers touched the drum, and BCMI-2 began generating the soundscape. In retrospect, assuming that the people around me were meditating also helped — I felt supported.

Working with people in the listening study was challenging in both the design and the dissemination stages. The difficulty was caused by not truly understanding the nuances that separate traditional and core shamanism and, therefore, not understanding the occasional disagreement between these two groups. Not having a traditional shamanic lineage (I have not been initiated into any shamanic tradition) nor having taken part in core shamanic workshops often made me feel like an outsider when asking for guidance. I communicated with associates of these groups primarily through Facebook groups, personal texts and voice messages via Facebook Messenger and occasionally via emails. Although admins of these groups and heads of shamanic organisations were always respectful, helpful and supportive of my work, they were also critical of it. The main issue both sides had with the study was that participants who do not know the shamanic universes might enter an ASC while listening to the soundscape, and there, they would confuse helpful spirits with harmful ones. I still do not clearly understand the seemingly autonomous entities I have encountered in my shamanic journeys, so I appreciate and respect these concerns. These entities could be interpreted as agents independent of my psyche’s core (the ego), as, for instance, explained by traditional and core shamanism (Harner, 2013), while from an analytical psychology-based perspective, I could explain them using Jungian archetypes or shadows (Jung, 1960). To understand what these entities are, I plan to study literature on the overlap between these two perspectives (Groesbeck, 1989; Noel, 1998; Charet, 1999) and design a method for meaning-making based on how (Boyle, 2007) used the works of transpersonal theorists Ken Wilbert and Stanislav Grof and psychologist Carl Jung. I will support the design of this method by investigating research by Rock and Krippner (2011) on the ontology, epistemology and necessary conditions of shamanic journeying and the issue of realism in these journeys.and the issue of realism in these journeys.