In the Himalayas, there are explorers of the realm between sleeping and waking known as tertöns who can unearth spiritual treasures buried long ago. The sage Padmasambhava is said to have hidden a body of advanced teachings known as “The Perfection of Wisdom” that the world was not yet ready for. He concealed these texts in the ocean depths, guarded by fierce sea serpents known as nagas. Six hundred years later, they were discovered by Nagarjuna, whose name means “the one who has power over the nagas.” The sea serpents that Nagarjuna encountered and mastered are similar to the terrifying monsters that the shaman must face in order to discover the deepest buried treasures.
Nagarjuna’s name offers us a clue as to how we can do this. How do we master these demons and defeat these monsters that can be so terrifying? Many of us have spent years in therapy and counseling to help us find a way to bring peace to our inner struggles. We know that battling our inner demons only makes them stronger, like the hundred-headed hydra that Hercules faced: every time Hercules chopped one head off with his axe, two more would grow.
The shaman understands that no axes are needed, for “nagas” are shadows that dissolve in the presence of the Primordial Light. Remaining in this light, the luminous warrior observes how the shadows gradually dispel. This is because none of these demons are true, even though they seem totally real. They are only reflections of the demons within us that are turning our job or our relationship or our health into a hell.
Since the advent of psychology, we no longer refer to “demons” but to the unconscious beliefs that orchestrate our reality. The Laika does not spend years wrestling with these limiting beliefs. Instead she transforms the three daydreams of security, permanence, and love that is unconditional, and discovers the treasures of the Primordial Light.
I learned the practice of journeying through time from Alejandro Kahuanchi, a Huachipaeri shaman from the lush highland jungle near the city of Cusco, and a brilliant tracker. His last name came from the Quechua word meaning “seer.” I was in my late 20s when I found him.
Kahuanchi showed me how to hide a spiritual treasure to discover on my deathbed many years from now. This medicine would help me cut through the fear and chaos that occurs when the storm of death approaches and would bring me the courage to leave my body behind and return to the world of Spirit consciously, with grace and dignity.
“But you must be careful not to witness the moment of your death,” he insisted. “It is for God to decide the details. You cannot choose the moment of your passing. But you can choose to meet it with courage, to surrender to your death like one does to a lover and take your awareness with you into the beyond.”
It was an irresistible offer, and I followed his instructions and buried a time capsule to discover in the last days of my life. Someday, I will see if it worked.
There are dangers lurking in the tides of time. It can be turbulent enough when you drift along in it during the course of everyday life. But when you rush into the future or the past in a shamanic journey, it is hard to tell what is real. Here fantasy and illusion are intertwined. What is true and what is magic, trickery, or deception?
When we dream during the night, wherever we find ourselves—in a train, or speaking with our deceased father—seems absolutely real and as tangible as our waking reality. Yet when we wake up the details fade from memory in an instant. How do shamans know if their spirit journeys through space-time are true?
You have to train to retain clarity during a journey and to prevent yourself from becoming terrified by the ghosts of the past that inhabit these realms or seduced by temptations in the future. Communication with the formless beings can be tricky—many are hungry ghosts (who take on the disguise of a familiar person or loved one, only to mislead you or “feed” on your life force) masquerading as spiritual masters.
At first, this may seem like a daunting prospect, but in time—with practice—you become familiar with the territory of the hidden world and learn how to ignore those aspects that are mere distractions along the path.