A Modern Shaman’s Manual for Navigating Life

shaman ritual walking on fire barefoot

The main thing is to find out what you are here for. When you get clear on this, you will understand what your medicine is for the world. You will know your unique path, your way of being, your “angel mission” on Earth. You will be able to call down the song of your life that is yours and no one else’s. This is the most important thing. – Jeff Nixa, A Modern Shaman’s Manual for Navigating Life

After learning the Japanese culture and the concept of discovering one’s ikigai, we’re yet again venturing into another culture, another approach to discover our purpose in life. This time, that of the Native Americans — a shaman to be exact.

Have you encountered one? I did, in DOTA… 🙂 Back when I had no real sense of purpose in life and was only concerned about “owning” the game. Nonetheless, it gave me an idea of what a shaman is — some voodoo kind of person — or so I thought.

Thanks to Jeff Nixa for clearing out my perspectives! A true shaman, as we’ll learn from this book, is a healer; someone who walks “The Path of the Heart”; someone who responds to the calling of his soul to live out what Jeff calls the “angel mission” — our purpose in life.

In this book, Jeff guides us in finding out what our angel mission is through various shamanic practices to access our spiritual core such as meeting our power animals, consulting with spirit guides, journeying in the spirit world, slaying of inner dragons, clearing emotional wounding patterns, and finding our spirit song. Plus, there are accompanying guided audio journeys. This is deep soul-work!

We’ll also learn directly from Jeff’s personal shamanic journey, which anyone can relate to and will inspire anyone, myself included, to be a modern shaman — an artist of the soul.

Ready to work on your masterpiece?

Soul Loss

Our entire culture is suffering soul loss, evidenced by our disregard for our bodies, our inability to hold still, and abuse of the living Earth.

“Soul loss” – the term given by shamanic practitioners to the condition when a person is way off the path; a condition Jeff had when he realized he was off his path in spite of his fine educational background and solid religious upbringing. The information he needed to have a fully conscious life did not come from external sources — not from his parents, teachers, and religious leaders.

He soon discovered that the information he needed comes from his heart.

Jeff says there are two sources of information available to us for navigating the world:

    1. The mind – “the king” of conscious reality; the masculine aspect of our psyche; the thinking part; logical, rational, analytical
    2. The heart – “the queen” of unconscious reality; the feminine aspect of our psyche; the feeling part; intuitive, natural, mysterious

How do we live a purposeful and joyful life? We need a balance of the two, with the heart taking the lead. This is walking the Path of the Heart.

Jeff stresses that we have reached a turning point, a critical time in the life of our planet where our primary need is not more data or different technologies. Instead, we need different people — more heart-open people living from their spiritual center.


Navigational Guidance System

In order to get clear on your spiritual center, you need to be able to perceive the subtle communications from your heart on a moment-by-moment basis.

Feelings tones are the nonverbal language of the heart – and of spirit itself – experienced through your physical body. When honored (carefully explored and skillfully interpreted), they can help you navigate complex situations as reliably as a compass or GPS unit. Your heart knows the answer, and its navigational guidance system is locked on to your unique destiny and no one else’s.

Jeff compares our spiritual center, the Heart’s navigational guidance system to a traffic light. But instead of changing light colors, it communicates using feelings, which can be physically felt in the body.

  • Green light (go / yes) – a pleasant attraction or invitation
  • Red light (stop / no) – an unpleasant sense of repulsion or a feeling of disinterest
  • Yellow light (warning / not yet) – an unclear hesitancy

As we often emphasize, emotional awareness is key here. So Jeff provides an exercise to better illustrate how these feelings come up in our awareness. We draw our attention primarily to the chest (emotion center) and the belly (power center) areas.

First, we imagine being near to a person we really love to be with. Next, to a person we can’t stand to be with. Then we shift attention back to the person we love.

Can you feel the changes in sensation in your body? Perhaps some lightness or heaviness, and you feel like expanding on one and constricting on the other? These are ways the heart communicates to us — through feelings.

What happens when we ignore these feelings? Same answer when we ignore the traffic lights. Not so good!


The Core

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.

Reminds us of something from The Alchemist:
“Soul of the Universe” = “Heart of Everything That Is”

In shamanism, the heart refers to one’s deep source of aliveness, spiritual center, soul, or core.

Did you know? The word core comes from the French word coeur, meaning “heart.” It is understood as our individual, localized expression of the Great Spirit, God, or Universal Consciousness.

There are three realms of the heart:

    1. A higher upper world of shared universal consciousness – the higher self or aspect of the Creator active in us
    2. A middle world realm of physical, waking consciousness – the material world; our individual self-concept, ego personality, and social role identity
    3. A lower world realm of individual subconscious – earthly instincts and sexual drives; fears and aggressions; attractions and repulsions

What’s more important, Jeff points out, is to know that it’s through the heart that the Creator Spirit actively sends invitations into our lives, calling us forward to our life purpose. And it’s the heart, via its navigational guidance system, that tracks us and signals us to let us know when we are on or off course for this purpose.


Shamanism 101

Shamanism is a modern name for the oldest spiritual healing traditions on the planet. These Earth-honoring practices were all concerned with the health and restoration of the soul…

Regardless of the particular culture, all shamanic traditions hold that healing, vital health, and personal power require good relationships with one’s own soul, the world of nature, and the spirit world.

The word shaman translates as “one who knows” or “one who sees.” A shaman is an ordinary person but has extraordinary abilities to connect with the spirit world. Jeff likens a shaman to a reference librarian or a database administrator who has access to information needed for healing and spiritual guidance.

A shaman’s toolbox, Jeff explains further in the book, is grouped into three major categories:

  1. Heart-Opening Tools, such as:
    • Answering Core Questions – questions customized personally to get to know who you really are
    • Creating a mandala vision – much like dream vision boarding, although more symbolic
    • Dreamwork – interpreting dreams
    • Power animal retrieval – to acquire spirit helper or animal guide
    • Journaling vision quest – intensive journaling process to clarify your vision by looking at your uniqueness, interests, and calling
  2. Mind-Management Tools, such as:
    • The Four Agreements (Yep! They’re integrated into shamanic practices)
    • Smoky Mirror – to observe the inner judge and transform its energy to one that empowers us
    • Recapitulation – for rooting out old trauma-based belief patterns
    • Shamanic Journeys – for seeking information and guidance in the spirit world

shamanic journeying

3. Mindfulness Tools, such as:

    • Ritual ceremonies – burning sage, drumming or rattling
    • Simple breathing meditations
    • Body-focusing exercises
    • Outdoor moving meditation – walking meditation

For All My Relatives

In heart-centered living, you give freely out of the new abundance you are experiencing rather than because of social duty or a fear of divine punishment. Valuing your own core opens the awareness that others have a unique path as well; you stop expecting other people to think, feel, and live as you do.

There’s a Lakota (indigenous tribe) prayer that includes the words: mitokouye oyasin, meaning “all my relatives,” which recognizes our interconnectedness. When speaking of relatives, they include all of the animals, plants, and created things on Earth.

We are all children of Mother Earth, or as they call it, “Pachamama.” Our relationship is characterized by (a) kinship – brotherhood and sisterhood of equal standing, (b) spirit – every living thing is a sentient being with a soul or inner spirit, and (c) wisdom – we learn from nature and how it works.

As Paulo Coelho narrates in The Alchemist, it is us, our individual souls that nurture the soul of the world.

Who we are, what we become, and what we do affect everything because we are connected in spirit. This is the basis of shamanic healing.


Jeff says that following the heart, living a life according to your heart’s desires will naturally draw you into concern for other people.

When we heal ourselves, we also heal the world.

Web of Life

Notice this: they are all resting on the ground, and you are sitting up and apart from them observing from a distance, from your higher self. You are like a spider looking down over her web.

Jeff refers to the obstacles that we may be facing in living out our vision in life (represented by stones in the exercise). He asks us to imagine ourselves like a spider when dealing with them.

Here are three things he wants us to remember:

  • These things just got stuck in our web, but it’s still our web. We are the spider.
  • These things are not us. Let’s not identify ourselves with any of the stuff that got tangled in our web. They are small parts compared to the greater web of our whole life.
  • As the weaver of our own web, we always have choices. We can choose what issues to address and what to ignore. We can recreate a new web altogether if we want to.


Power of Shamanic Now

Unlike our minds, which can be careening around time and space like a kite in a gusty wind, our physical bodies can only exist in the here and now of the present moment. Anchoring our attention in the body is a reliable and stabilizing point of reference for the mind, like connecting a kite string to a stake pounded into the ground.

Shamans also recognize the power of now, being present in this only moment. So Jeff reinforces this power through the following shamanic practices that anchor our attention in our body:

  • Get outside. Walk outside. Draw and hold your attention to something in nature: a tree, a bird chirping, the clouds, a weed, or anything.
  • Drum or rattle. The mind is attracted to intense energy. This is why shamans drum or rattle, to snag the thinking mind so the heart can vision without the interference of thoughts. (I used to drum with a practice pad and a metronome to improve my drumming skills. And though it wasn’t intended for shamanic practice, it had something to that effect on me.)
  • Smudge. A smudge is a purifying ritual using the smoke from smoldering dried herbs such as sage or cedar. Incense works too.

shamanic ritual
Job Number One

Our number-one responsibility is to come fully alive as the unique person God created us to be and to live our unique angel mission on the planet. The power to love, heal, forgive, endure, and transform the world does not come from keeping yourself small and uncontroversial. It comes from a mind aligned to the power of the Great Spirit in you, a power that is endless and radiates in all directions. The influence of a vital person vitalizes others. This is how we serve.

“Power” in shamanic context is the power of knowing who you are inside your own heart with deep certainty. It’s living your life, and no one else’s.

This is not to confuse with the ego’s concept of power, which is power over another, as in domination, discrimination, or abuse.

Shamanic power is the radiant energy and influence that flows from being naturally yourself without fear. And you use this power to bring out your unique gifts in service to the world.



Living a heart-centered life and declining the seduction of pre-existing social roles dictated by convention, prestige, or peer approval is a radical act of social disobedience. Finding your way usually means creating your way – cutting your own path through the uncut wilderness.

This is the toll we must pay the gatekeeper of joy, to become a psychologically individuated and spiritually mature person and to be a true shapeshifter of your life, an artist of the soul. Although it is hard, it is not impossible.

Jeff says that the Great Spirit doesn’t care whatever role we take. In my case, for example, I can be an engineer, an entrepreneur, a writer, a poet, or a professional karaoke singer. I can be whatever I want. What the Great Spirit cares about is whether I’m manifesting Frederickness, the fullest expression of my soul in those roles and in everything I do.

Instead of roles, Jeff suggests we relate ourselves to metaphors: “a lover of God,” or “a messenger of heaven,” or “a laughter and hope to the desperate and hopeless.” All of these can manifest in countless ways in our lives.

And the path toward the manifestation of that life is unique for each and every one, so we must strive to carve our own path.


The Medicine

The return is the rising, the ascent back to the ordinary world with new vision and clarity about your power and place in the world. Here is where our narrow focus on your personal life becomes exactly the opposite: a gift for the whole community. It is where the mythic hero returns with a boon for his village, where your individual treasure becomes medicine for the people.

Your medicine will not merely be some social role or activity per se but a new way of being in the world.

The return — the final stage of the hero’s journey, your journey. But it’s not the end. Rather, it’s only the beginning of a new way of living in the same world.

The medicine we refer to is not our conventional understanding of it. It is a special gift you have acquired through all the soul-work on the Path of the Heart: your insights, healing, liberated power, and purpose.

The medicine is “the cure” to the very thing you have been struggling with all these years. Because this thing, your struggle, turns out to be an unmet need in the larger world.

shamanic healing

To me, The Path to Awesomeness is the culmination of my hero’s journey. Mine is only but a piece of a larger puzzle. Jeff’s shamanic journey is another piece.

Yours is another, a valuable one. And your medicine is needed in this world.

Pour your heart out!

The Lost Art of Heart Navigation: A Modern Shaman’s Field Manual


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. He lives in South Bend, Indiana. Visit him at greatplainsguide.net

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments