I had ambitions to set out and find, like an odyssey, going home somewhere. I set out to find this home I’d left a while back and couldn’t remember exactly where it was, but I was on my way there and encountering what I encountered on the way was how I envisioned it all. I was born very far from where I’m supposed to be, and so I’m on my way home. -- Bob Dylan, No Direction Home
Years ago I had an experience that foreshadowed my call to shamanism and illustrates what walking the Heart Path feels like. I was standing in an Indiana state park campground filling a water jug. As I stood to carry the water back to my waiting family, I heard a faint sound in the air. Boom-boom, boom-boom, boom-boom. It sounded like the beat of a Native American powwow drum.
I looked around. What was that, I thought? I saw tents and campers, children on bicycles, and people walking their dogs. But no Native American drummers. I began to carry the water jug back to our campsite.
I heard it again. Boom-boom, boom-boom, boom-boom. The dull thumping was far off, more like a low pulse from Earth than an audible sound. I cocked my head to lock in on the direction. Again, only silence. Was I actually hearing this? I set down the jug and listened with full attention. I heard children shouting, dogs barking, music from a radio. No one else seemed to notice the sound. I reached down for the jug but heard the drum beat again. It was real and drifting out of the woods on my right. I left the water jug and began walking toward the drumbeat.
I Had To Find It
I started up a gravel path that led through the campground toward the sound, but the path soon ended at the edge of a woods. A narrow dirt trail continued into the forest, however, so I took that. Once I was inside, the forest trees muffled all of the campground sounds, and I stood long minutes in silence, straining to hear, turning slowly in a circle, my animal senses on full alert.
Then the drum pulse returned. It was sharper now and directly ahead of me. I followed the dirt path until it veered away from the sound, and then I left the path and continued forward, plunging on through deep brush. A chipmunk dashed out of my way. I was getting closer to the drumming but farther from camp. I ducked low under a toppled tree, and then picked my way through a low boggy area. I had no idea where I was now. You could get lost out here. This is crazy, I told myself. Raspberry thorns scraped my arms and spider webs swept into my face, but I stumbled ahead like a thirsty person honing in on the sound of water.
Eventually I emerged from the woods into a large clearing. People sat in a circle around a large Indian powwow drum lying on its side, drumming. Ha! There was a drum in the park! Each person was striking the drum together with long beater sticks and singing together in a low chant, “Hey ya ha. Hey ha ya aa. Hey ha ya. Hey ya ha eh ya.”
I walked over and the group welcomed me and invited me to stay and watch. As they drummed, each beat seemed to pulse from deep in Earth and move outward like a great sonar wave into the trees and up into the sky. I looked around at this area I had never known before, even though I had been to the park dozens of times, hiking, camping, and exploring the established trails.
At some point I remembered that my family was waiting for me back at the campsite. I left the drummers and returned through the woods with a big smile on my face. My crazy march through the woods had paid off, and I had discovered a new group of like-minded friends and a lovely part of the park I could return to.
A Difficult but Essential Journey
Learning to sense and track with the heart is a process exactly like what happened to me in that story: hearing or smelling something enticing on the breeze that you cannot see but you know is there and luring you toward it. The invitations come from spirit, through your heart, and are calibrated to bring you home to yourself and your full aliveness on Earth. They are from the same source as the guidance that leads a V formation of Canada geese to Mexico and back, or draws a salmon to return from the depths of the Pacific upriver to a remote creek that was its home.
Following the Heart Path is not complicated. A child can do it. But the resistance from inside your mind and from the world around you creates a lot of static in the signal and can be very difficult to navigate through. These challenges arise at every stage.
The first is being able to simply hear the calling of your heart among all the other noise in your life and trust that its longings are important. Then you must “put down your jug,” listen carefully, and discern a course of action. After that, you need to actually do something, to move and follow the invitations of your heart. (“Being on the Heart Path is not walking the Heart Path,” a teacher told me.) This will often seem foolish to your rational mind and to other people, so you must continually protect your progress against sabotage from within and without.
Walking The Heart Path
These four steps of hearing, honoring, acting, and protecting are the core requirements of walking the Heart Path.
When you do follow the heart, you will light up with energy you had long forgotten. Unexpected helpers will come into your life, including people of similar interests and passions. Opportunities will open before you that you could not have anticipated or caused to happen all by yourself. You will begin to experience the effortlessness of flow-state living, as if you had acquired wings of lightness and mobility.
As long as you are “on the beam” of living your life’s purpose you will have great power, a quiet but purposeful determination that comes from the great powwow drum beating in your heart.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Bear & Company, an imprint of Inner Traditions Inc.
The Lost Art of Heart Navigation: A Modern Shaman’s Field Manual
by Jeff D. Nixa J.D. M.Div.
Offering case studies and troubleshooting help for common pitfalls and obstacles on the heart-centered path, this shamanic manual provides hands-on practices and ceremonies--including access to 4 guided audio journeys narrated by the author--as well as wisdom from the author’s own journey and the powerful teachers he has worked with. Allowing you to understand the precise contours of your authentic self and your visionary heart, this book offers a map to a vibrant new life aligned with your soul and deepest calling.
About the Author
Jeff Nixa, J.D., M.Div., is a shamanic practitioner, teacher, and writer. In 2010 he founded Great Plains Shamanic Programs, an array of counseling, healing, and education services, including one-on-one fire talks, seminars, university classes, outdoor retreats, and wilderness trips. Visit his website at https://greatplainsguide.net