20 March 2013
The Hard Path and its workshops
Aim: the aim of the Hard Path practices and workshops
What can we achieve? What is the purpose?
The aim of the Hard Path practices and workshops is to re-establish the bond with oneself, one’s own being. Picture that as finding one’s own lost soul. The Hard Path practices open people towards their own spiritual life, towards others, the nature and landscape, maybe even towards the spiritual beings that accompany us. The practices break mental vicious circles we all get stuck in, allow us to see our lives, fate and other people from a new, different point of view. They serve as a profound regeneration of the organism, mind and soul.
Anekumena: a land free of people and their economy, wild nature. In Slavic tradition it was usually understood as the forest and associated with the nether world, inhabited by ghosts, deities and ancestral spirits. Places like that are getting more difficult to find, and are nearly gone nowadays, so each place close to the anekumena ideal – as natural as possible, not crowded or distorted by human influence, are extremely valuable. The Hard Path workshops succeed only in areas like that.
Practice mentioned by Carlos Castaneda, practiced and developed by Victor Sanchez. It’s about spending some time, usually at least one night in a previously dug hole in the ground, tightly covered and lightproof. This practice is based on deep → monotonisation, because the body lies motionless, it’s totally dark, the sounds are muffled, or different to what the ears are used to. The border between the waking and dreaming state is blurred, it’s easy to enter a vision state. Burying, as a ritual (→ Ritual Art) is a way of meeting the power of the Great Mother Earth.
Circle: the circle, sitting in the circle, talking in the circle
This simple activity of gathering in the circle has a profound symbolic meaning. The circle means that all are equal, there’s no division between a ‘sergeant’ giving orders, and ‘recruits’, as you can see in workshops without the circle. The circle is a model of the universe, a cosmos in order. The middle of the circle is the centre of the world, we imagine that the axis joining heaven and earth goes through that place. The circle is always oriented according to the four corners of the world, so it’s a reference to all quadripartite time rhythms of the nature, such as the four seasons or four times of day. We invite bodiless, or ‘alternative bodied’ beings to the circle, we use the → talking stick during conversations.
Colon cleansing or Shanka Prakshalana
→ Yoga inspired practice of drinking a large amount of salty water, which causes defecation and cleansing the bowels with the water flowing through them. It has both a physiological and mind cleansing effect. A typical example of a → liminal practice.
Drum. Meditation with drums
The drum, and its sound as a transporting medium which allows people to enter meditation and vision states was (probably) discovered for Westerners by Michael Harner, who was inspired by the Indians and Syberian shamans. Listening, or rather opening oneself towards and focusing on the rhythmical sound of the drum, allows us to reach the state of deep relaxation and states similar to waking dreams. Visions often appear once you concentrate on the sound of the drum. The visions can also be induced by the guide telling a story with a purpose to guide visions. Using the drum to reach the vision resources of the brain can be done in many ways, serving many purposes. Listening to the drum in a medative way is called a ‘drum journey’ and is a typical example of → monotonisation.
Positions of the body that facilitate, direct and sometimes even force the vision states. They were discovered and systematically researched by Felicitas Goodman and her student Belinda Gore, based on archaic sculptures and illustrations. They are a part of our workshops. .
Extremisation happens when we enter states which are difficult to endure, when we reach our limits, for example – extreme heat in a → sweat lodge, extremely loud noises during → holotropic breathing session or a gong bath, subjecting the bowels to unusual activity during the → colon cleansing. The value of extremisation lays in the way the mind switches to ‘autopilot’ allowing us to step beyond our habitual limits.
Ritual firewalking is a traditional practice in many countries – India, the Pacific islands, or in case of Slavic countries it’s practiced by the Bulgarian nestinari. Firewalking was discovered and turned into a modern practice for Westerners by Tolly Burkan in the 70s, first propagated by the NLP circles, later absorbed by the New Age movement. My way of practicing is about making several steps on a path made of burning embers from a bonfire. It is done at night, in silence after a meditative preparation.
A collection of activities directed at the body, inducing high energy mental states, usually visionary or trance. The Hard Path uses the natural transporting disposition of the body and the senses. This text contains examples of those practices. Apart from the things we do on the Hard Path, it’s equally important NOT TO DO certain things. We don’t indoctrinate the participants, don’t force them to believe in something that doesn’t exist, don’t turn them into ‘apprentices’ or ‘followers’ nor promise any fictional benefits, such as a supposed ‘enlightenment’, ‘salvation’, ‘healing’ etc.
The combination of deep breathing (hyperventilation, too much oxygen), deep relaxation and sound stimulation (loud and rhythmical music) first used by Stanislav Grof as a way to access the deep layers of the mind, usually inaccessible for conscious mind and deep ‘cellular’ memory of the body.
Liminal states and practices
Term based on the Latin word limen - threshold; introduced in anthropology by Arnold van Gennep in 1909 and developed by Victor Turner. A liminal state is when the participant, or participants are ‘on the threshold’, suspended outside the roles or statuses, they are both ‘nobody’ and ‘everything’. The liminal state in the rites of passage is marked by nakedness, body paint, special costumes or rags, masks, as well as by unusual, ‘abnormal’ behaviour and use of speech, suspending the sex differences, taking on the status of a child, a foetus, an animal, a madman, a dead person or a ghost in a symbolic way. The liminal state is about stepping outside the normal, human world, it has a lot in common with → anekumena. The Hard Path workshops are in fact liminal practices.
The second mode of the Hard Path activities, next to → extremisation. Monotonisation is about filling a certain sense channel with monotonous, repetitive, rhythmical content, which causes that sense to cease sending outside content to the mind and allows it to open towards subtle, inner messages, allows the person to access the inner space of the mind. Listening to the drum as well as singing is a monotonisation of the hearing channel. Trance walking and dancing monotonises the moving, kinaesthetic channel. Similarly, the darkness during the lying in the ground practice is a monotonisation of the sight. Monotonisation is close to sensory deprivation. The term was introduced by Holger Kalweit in his book Die Welt der Schamanen.
The Hard Path has a lot in common with neopaganism, as in drawing inspiration from local, pre-christian traditions, Slavic ones in case of Poland. The ideas are strikingly similar, especially that ancient Slavs considered → anekumena (the land free of people, wild nature, usually a forest, but also water: rivers, lakes, springs) to be the dwelling place of ghosts, deities and ancestral spirits. Liminal rituals of the Slavic-pagan tradition, such as Kupala Night are an inspiration for the Hard Path.
Used to monotonise the hearing channel. It’s a very useful tool to enhance the meditation experience and can be used as an ‘antenna’ to receive subtle sensations. It’s best to bring your own rattle to the workshops.
Visionary and ecstatic mind states demand ritual, it is the ’natural environment’ for those states. The Hard Path practices are naturally framed by rituals, but unlike religions or folk traditions, where the rituals come from tradition, the Hard Path rituals are ‘made’, created, so they become art – Ritual Art. The term was introduced by Jerzy Grotowski in reference to Martial Arts. In case of the Hard Path, we can say that everything which does not strictly belong to it, so is not based on → extremisation and → monotonisation, belongs to Ritual Arts. On the other hand, the ritual is often the vehicle that carries in the typical extremalisation and monotonisation practices, as is the case with → Sweat Lodge or → trance dances.
A person who is in touch with the spirits and serves as a middle man between them and people, using their help mostly for divination and healing, socially acclaimed because of the skills. Typical shamans appeared among the people of Siberia and Central Asia, and also among the Sami and Eskimo people. Medicine-people of the North America and curanderos from the South America (those roles are no longer limited to Indians only, the knowledge was passed on to non-Indians), tribal psychics and healers of Australia, Africa, South Asia and (presumably) ancient Celts, Germans and Slavs had or still have similar features. The elements of shamanic training and practice are an inspiration for the Hard Path.
The practices and beliefs based around the figure of → shaman. Typical shamanism existed among the people of Siberia, Central Asia, and the Sami and Eskimo people. Nowadays it’s mostly lost or beings reconstructed. Sometimes, the definition of shamanism also embraces neoshamanism, that is the attempts to establish something similar to shamanism by white city dwellers. Michael Harner called this project Core Shamanism, that it ‘shamanism stripped to the bare core’, that is devoid of all the ethnographic and cultural frame. Core Shamanism is close to the Hard Path, they share several practices.
A series of Hatha Yoga asanas performed in a dynamic way. It can be added to the Hard Path practices in an unmodified way, because it’s based on → monotonisation of the body. ("Surya Namaskara" )
It has a lot in common with the Hard Path, apart from the military associations that exist in survival skills. We can depict the difference by saying that survival skills are usually practiced in heavy boots, and the Hard Path practices are (usually) done barefoot. Similarly, the difference between the Hard Path and magic is than magic is usually performed in cellars, while the Hard Path is practiced in the open. The difference between yoga ant the Hard Path is that yoga is done on an even floor, and not on the rough ground.
Sweat Lodge, or Slavonic łaźnia
Indian-like sweat lodge is a kind of bath. The word for „bath” - Polish łaźnia, and similarly in related Slavonic languages (Czech lázně, Ukrainian or Byelorussian лазня) stems from the word łazić which means crawling or walking on all fours. It’s a clear and undisputable proof that the original Slavic baths were shacks meant to be entered on all fours, much like the Prairie Indian sweat lodges. The second Slavic name for a bath – bania, is a word from Greek which took on the second, striking meaning of a ‘dome’ or ‘something round and convex’, or ‘a pumpkin’ or ‘a pumpkin shaped vessel’. This proves that the original Slavic baths were in a shape of a dome and most likely were identical with the sweat lodges of the Native Americans. The tradition of building and guiding sweat-lodge kind of bath has disappeared here, but is being rebuilt thanks to the Native American inspiration.
The bath ‘building’ is a model of the universe, shows the connection between the upper world (sky), the middle world (earth) and the lower world (underground). It’s shape, the sphere divided in three parts represents the whole space drawn into one ‘pill’. The quadruple rhythm of the activities performed inside represents the time and its cycles. It’s a perfect model of the universe, with all its creative energies. By representing the core, the nucleus and the beginning of the world, it allows us to move back to the creative beginnings, to the source and has a similar effect on our lives. Being in the bath symbolises the incubation of embryos within the hot, creative bosom of Mother Earth. Emerging from the bath is like a second birth – to a new life. The bath has more symbolic meanings.
Apart from that, exposing the body to heat is one of the typical Hard Path practices – moving the mind through working with the body. Using heat is extremalisation. Entering the bath is the ‘axis’ of the workshops and has a → liminal nature.
When the gathered sit in the circle, the one who is holding the talking stick has the right to speak. The practice is inspired by the Native American tradition and became popular in the New Age groups. If you start feeling guilty that using the talking stick is a violation of the Native American spiritual goods, remember that the Slavs also had a similar public speaking device – a natural hooked branch called kluka.
In the beginning probably each dance had a trance nature, and was invented as a trance inducing practice. Folk dances, such as Polish oberek, or the Serbian kolo. We practiced trance dances on the Hard Path workshops.
Or: trance walking. While walking we concentrate on the activity of making steps and moving the body, observing and feeling the body from within, but we don’t scan the surroundings with the eyes. On the contrary, the sight is suspended, the eyes look forward towards the horizon. This activity turns of the inner monologue, allows to enter meditative or vision states. It’s one of the examples of → monotonisation.
There are many similarities between the Hard Path and yoga (hatha yoga). Some of the practices are similar, as well as the general attitude towards working with the mind and body. Some of the Hard Path practices come directly from yoga → colon cleansing. In fact, hatha-yoga BELONGS to the Hard Path, if we understand the Hard Path as a way of influencing the mind through the body.
The main difference is that hatha yoga is usually practiced in ‘decent’ conditions, under a roof, in a clean, warm room with smooth floor, while the Hard Path practices take place in ‘rough’ conditions – in open space, on uneven, dirty ground, being exposed to changing weather, by using the terrain and not getting disconnected from it.
Translated by Kasia Zielińska
Korekta przez: Lisiako Lisiako (2014-07-29)