Human awareness functions at many levels. Our purpose here is the definition of that awareness in shamanic terms, however, any definition must also reflect the current state of human knowledge based on the empirical ability of those without shamanic training, to reach at least some comprehension of terminology and application.
Normal definitions of awareness do not allow for the shamanic definition as any sort of generally accepted method. Practitioners of contemporary shamanism must, in the interests of clarity, define both their methods and the results of those methods. Managing to comprehend these terms requires one to release, at least temporarily, the stratified thinking of the past centuries in the development of the scientific method if only long enough to explore the possibilities of human awareness couched in much different terms. A journey is required; one that touches upon facets of human awareness not normally acknowledged, even denied by those who would reduce human beings to a quantifiable formulaic existence.
The normal expectation of awareness involves only the empirical data brought to use through the five senses: touch, smell, sight, hearing and taste. If we accept this definition of awareness as definitively covering all the information accessible to normal human beings, we are still left with a considerable body of human experience. Although skeptics attempt to dismiss this additional body of information as human imagination, paranoia, or some mental state dovetailing into general mental disease and illness, the vast majority of human beings seem inclined to lend a more sympathetic hearing to the possibility we are more than the sum of our five senses. Science can not seem to agree on even their own definitions when dealing with the empirical data studies have produced. Shamans look to the normal expectation of these data and definitions to use as tools, stepping off into a different definition of their own senses and by necessity the redefining of the world as described through a new hierarchy of the awareness brought by this redefinition.
As we move through these course materials the nature, manipulation and expansion of the five senses will be the primary objective in beginning to understand movement upon the shamanic path. The goal is not to disprove or prove any particular method, but to expand the tools each person has towards an end of understanding and handling their own awareness so they may find the answers that satisfy them. We must by necessity form some opinion at least about how the senses operate in conjunction with human cognition, translate from sensory input into rational frameworks of understanding and what may be lost or gained in the process.
The shamanic is not an illusory or passive way of being; it is instead a very active way of using all the senses within the corporeal body, and developing other senses which are not a part of the normal human paradigm. This process can be long or short, difficult or relatively easy; each person holds the keys to the understanding of their own awareness. The process and nature of human cognition has been covered extensively in philosophy, religion, and medical science. Yet, despite the myriad treatise, studies and theories, little has been settled as known fact. The shamanic is not a closed system, which seeks to offer yet another branded approach to human cognition and general awareness. Rather, the shamanic approaches the concept of human awareness as an open-ended system, seeking only to create enough points of agreement to allow communication between people seeking an understanding of their own nature and the nature of the world around them.
While many systems of study work on a theoretical basis, attempting to settle these questions through logic, shamanic practitioners seek an active method of handling awareness. The philosopher may describe in great detail his or her cognitive rationalization of what a tree is by observation; where a shaman simply becomes a tree by connecting directly to the tree's own awareness. Both methods are utile in facilitating and furthering human understanding on a variety of levels, but only one of them can be published in a book, the other must be experienced and becomes part of personal awareness. Some might consider this a modern version of 'tilting at windmills', but be that as it may, nothing can be gained if nothing is risked in the pursuit of understanding.
Learning to handle personal awareness is integral to the practice of all shamanism, all traditions; because of that, there is no expectation of any individual accomplishing complete mastery of all the skills and experience necessary for full practice in a few weeks. However, it is hoped that the concepts, discussions and practices presented will provide a foundation for the furtherance of each individual's quest for personal knowledge of their own awareness and of awareness in general.