The heart is a key concept in shamanism, a specialized term that refers to one’s deep source of aliveness, spiritual center, soul, or core. The word core itself comes from the French word coeur, meaning “heart.” It is understood to mean our individual, localized expression of the Great Spirit, God, or Universal Consciousness. It is our individual wave moving upon the greater sea of spirit.
Indigenous people didn’t explain what the heart was because they didn’t have to; their cultures and beliefs were so immersed in heart-based living it was taken for granted, just as Americans don’t have to explain individualism or promote rationalism: it’s what we do. But we moderns do need a broader definition of heart and a set of tools to help us get clear on our Core Self.
Our Western conceptions of the heart are simplistic and incomplete. They reflect our overly rational assumption that the mind is fully logical and concerned only with reliable facts and information, whereas the heart is irrational and corrupted by unreliable emotions, poetic nonsense, or libidinal desires. But for indigenous societies, the heart was the locus of intelligence, of knowing and inner guidance, a dynamic multiplex of human consciousness.
We have forgotten how to access the heart’s abilities, and like a person suffering amnesia, we do not even perceive what we have lost. To get a sense of that, here is a brief look at the complex, multilevel spiritual cosmos that shamanic cultures access and interact with through the heart. The heart is the perceptual consciousness that lies at the intersection of all realms of perceiving and knowing.
The Core Principle of Shamanism: Connecting to the Heart of Everything That Is
A shaman’s preparatory rituals and drumming are simply tools to help the shaman attain a trance state and drop down into and remain in the consciousness of his or her own heart, which by its nature is in dynamic relationship with the larger, surrounding spirit world. This is the core principle of shamanism: when you connect deeply with your heart, you are connecting with a portal to the Heart of Everything That Is.
When shamanic healers talk about the heart, they are referring to a multidimensional realm of intelligence and experience far beyond our limited Western understanding of human consciousness, science, or psychology. They do not mean the cardiac muscle, an emotional or poetic impulse, an energy center or chakra, or the practice of electrophysiological heart entrainment as in HeartMath. They mean the sacred, conscious, guiding center in each one of us.
There is much to be said here regarding the current insights of neuroscience, Bohm theory, and quantum mind consciousness. For now, just know that the Heart Path takes you to the doorstep of a far more vast understanding of the physical world and nonphysical consciousness than we are accustomed to.
Most important, it is through the heart that the Creator Spirit actively sends invitations into our lives, beckoning us forward to our life purpose. The heart tracks us and signals us to let us know when we are on or off course for this purpose. As any sea navigator lost in fog knows, if you can locate just two or three objects and their compass bearings, then you can triangulate your own location precisely on a map—even on a vast ocean, in the wilderness, or in complete darkness.
This can save your life.
Walking The Heart Path: Saying Yes To The Heart’s Invitations
To walk the Heart Path means saying yes to the heart’s invitations and responding to them accordingly, just as a ship captain responds to a ship’s compass, a navigational buoy, or a lighthouse. Trusting that the information from these signals is accurate and unchanging, a captain can navigate his ship for hundreds of miles without being able to actually see anything beyond the next buoy or lighthouse beam. Yet one buoy at a time, the individual course corrections aggregate into an entire journey, and the ship can emerge safely out of darkness or fog at its destination.
Conversely, ignoring the invitations of the heart will result in negative consequences. The “Issuer of Invitations” will be forced to send those out in more urgent and unavoidable forms: physical illness, pain, emotional issues, and spiritual malaise. Rather than a spiritual emergence, the individual will find herself in a spiritual emergency—upset and wondering why God has forsaken her. Yet God is no further away than before; it is one’s own neglect that has forced the Issuer of Invitations to become the Issuer of Symptoms.
In my years as a hospital chaplain visiting thousands of individuals in various states of illness or injury, I often found myself thinking about auto repair. That is, like a car owner, you can be attentive and proactive about your body’s health by checking the oil and coolant, rotating the tires, and getting spark plugs and wiring replaced at proper intervals. Or you can ignore these key functions and keep driving until one day the engine “suddenly” overheats, the car refuses to start, or you blow a bad tire in some remote area. Much of the human physical suffering I witnessed (for example the amputation of the toes, feet, and legs of medically non-compliant diabetes patients) seemed avoidable and unnecessary.
I recall a hospital patient I met years ago as a chaplain, a hard-charging corporate executive whose nonstop work and travel had led to stress, poor self-care, and obesity and had landed him in the intensive care unit with a serious heart attack. When I walked into his room, I found him alone, sitting up in bed on full oxygen and IV drips, with a heart monitor bleeping away over his head. And he was working on two open laptop computers sitting on his over-bed table. “What am I supposed to do?” he said. “Cut back on my work?” His spiritual (and physical) heart seemed to be shouting the answer with an unqualified, hell yes! But he was unwilling to listen to it.
True accidents and random illness are not as frequent as we imagine.
Benefits of the Heart Path: Discovering Our Life Purpose
My experience of walking the Heart Path has felt both magical and natural at the same time. Being off the path (my time in law school) was like struggling to drive through sluggish downtown traffic and hitting one red light after another, stressed and worried that nothing seemed to be going right. Being on the path is like realizing all those traffic lights are synchronized: as long as you maintain the correct direction and speed, the lights “magically” turn green as you near them, allowing you to glide through the entire city without a single stop. All you have to do is find the right speed and stay in the flow!
That’s what walking the Heart Path feels like. The green lights are opportunities and openings in your life; the yellow and red lights are indications you are getting off the beam or needing to turn onto a side street with a whole new direction and its own set of sequenced lights. You start to trust and follow the leadings of the green lights and drop your prior destination agenda.
In walking the Heart Path, I’ve experienced the following personal and societal benefits:
1. A program for life transformation and change, complete with full navigational guidance, energy, and free support from an unlimited source.
2. More effective help with illness, anxiety, and depression. The methods of shamanism are fast, deep, purposeful, low cost, and free of harmful side effects.
3. A deeper relationship with nature linked to a nuanced awareness of the body and its own natural cycles and sensations.
4. A set of priorities and ecoethics for our time far deeper than our obsession with information, technology, and the narrow goals of industrial growth.
5. A spirituality that is ecological, not just anthropological, and concerned with the soul of all created things, not just humans and human institutions.
6. Restored interest and respect for the wisdom of indigenous societies.
7. A happier life: greater authenticity, purpose, personal power, and resilience.
8. A return of mystery and wildness to our rationalistic society that has sucked the mystery out of everything, including our religious practices.
9. A natural desire to serve others out of personal joy and abundance, rather than moral duty, social obligation, or fear of hell.
The Path of the Heart is a hero’s journey, an archetypal map for spiritual transformation. The heart is far more complex than conventional understanding assumes it to be. It is our sacred core of aliveness, and it stands at the crossroads of spirit, matter, and instinct, able to access and communicate with all three realms. The heart invites us forward to our life’s purpose and help us navigate along the way.
Ready for the nonordinary journey ahead? The Heart Path awaits us.
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