I don't know if you're still "on" here, but I was just reading this whole thread and I was charmed by your need to learn and learn fast, as in... yesterday!
You remind me of myself. I find as well that you are extremely articulate, and you are clearly a seeker, someone who is very deliberately trying to forge her own destiny rather than passively letting it overtake you.
I've been journeying since 2001, and I thought I'd tell you about that.
I was raised by two lapsed Catholics. My parents were Catholic, but they studied medicine, became doctors, and travelled to the Third World where they saw so much suffering that they stopped believing in God. When I was born they refused to have me baptized. They always said that they wanted me to be free to choose my own spiritual path, or not, as I wished. At the same time, my father was an unhappy man, and he could turn violent against those closest to him, so I was raised in a pretty disturbing family setting. The result of this was that I became obsessed with spirituality as a teenager. I read everything I could lay my hands on about Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism. I then became fascinated with Zen Buddhism and ended up with a rather impressive library of Zen books. I finally studied Zen Buddhism formally with a Zen monk in my 30s. I didn't come to Shamanism until I was in my early 40s, so you are *way* ahead of me here...
I read a lot about Shamanism before I practiced it. I was curious but shy about the practice, and there were so many warnings: you needed protection, you needed to be wary of destructive forces, your initiation into Shamanism would break you to pieces. I guess I felt a little intimidated. This was clearly powerful stuff.
The first time I tried to journey, I went quite far, and when I think back on it now, I think it's because I had a very specific question that I needed answered. A friend of mine had everything (training, personality, talent) to go far in life, yet he was headed nowhere. He was unhappy, and since he wasn't the most verbal of persons, and couldn't explain to me why he was so "blocked" and unhappy, I found myself going on a journey to figure out what was wrong.
I didn't deliberately set out to journey. Here's the ridiculous truth... I was sitting in my eye-doctor's waiting room, and he was very late that day, so there were still many people ahead of me. The waiting room was horrible--the colours of the chairs were horrible, the paint on the wall was a horrible mustard yellow. I closed my eyes against it all, I guess, and I found myself deliberately journeying at first, with my question in hand, so to speak, and then "it" took over, and I was no longer entirely in control.
I was immediately met by an animal-guide, and I asked her (female animal) if she could answer my question. She took me from the water's edge into the forest and then into a cave, and that's when I *saw* the answer. It came to me symbolically, poetically, as a metaphor rather than as a straight answer. Remember that Shamans are poets *and* interpreters--they can see things symbolically and then they need to interpret these symbols for the community they serve. In that case the symbol was powerful enough that I felt I really had something to work on. Unfortunately, at that point, the cave filled up with smoke and I had to "exit" my journey very rapidly, having had only enough time to thank my guide.
When I opened my eyes and found myself back in the doctor's waiting room, I was so freaked out by what I'd seen that I just got up and left. I told the doctor's secretary that I'd call her soon and make another appointment. I couldn't handle it.
Later, over many months, I came to see that my "vision" had been 100% accurate (and the reason I don't post details here is that this concerns somebody else's life). I also spoke to a woman I knew who had more experience than me in these matters, and she taught me that *you* are in control of the journey. When the cave in my journey filled up with smoke, I could have found the tools to make it stop. To her, journeying is a bit like guided dreaming. You can change the "reality" of what you see. I don't know that I believe that, personally. I'd rather be taken through whatever comes my way than influence the outcome of a vision. When I try to do the latter, I'm not sure whether I'm seeing the "truth" of a given situation or whether it's wishful thinking instead. So I've disregarded her advice, although I'm not sure which method is the best, hers or mine.
What happened later, though, was that I fell apart, physically. Everything went wrong. I had so many aches and pains and injuries that I was out of commission for weeks and in and out of physiotherapy and various doctors' offices. I've often wondered since whether this was the "initiatory falling apart" of the journeyor that I'd read about in my books.
I've been journeying ever since, but no journey is as strong as the one that attempts to answer a very specific question. Those produce the most vivid images and symbols, the truest answers. Since then I've seen animal guides switch three times (from she-wolf to bear to horse). Every time, these guides were precisely the ones I needed. For example, when I tried to find answers for an acquaintance recently, a horse came to me for the first time. I didn't know this acquaintance intimately--I didn't know any details of his life. After the journey, I asked him if he had any connection with horses, and he said that the town in France where he was born was a horse-show and competition town, and that his first job at the age of 17 was as an apprentice horse trainer. Aha... I hadn't known that, but there you go... Horse came to me, not I to he. I've also been guided by human-shaped forces and guides.
I try not to overdo it. I journey ONLY when there's a need for it. My experience has always been that I can't do it all the time, and that journeying isn't a distraction, like watching a movie when I don't feel like doing something else. I journey to find answers for others mostly, because--in my case--journeying for myself, to find answers to my own personal questions doesn't work. But I think that this is entirely personal, and I know that some Shamanic groups disagree with me on this and say that you need to "heal" yourself first before you heal others. Thing is, I went through 6 years of Jungian psychotherapy, so I think I'm pretty familiar with myself by now :o . And I don't think of Shamanism and journeying as "healing," but rather as a process that gives me the tools to better understand others, and help them better understand themselves. Generally, then, I get much sharper answers when I'm doing this for someone else.
I'm not sure what lessons you can derive from this, Kaniie, because although it is rooted in very precise rituals and there are dangers, Shamanism is an essentially personal practice in the sense that no one else can take the journey for you. Every Shaman must test the grounds for him- or herself. There are guidelines, but your practice will be your own and--although it may have a great deal in common with that of others--there will always be details of it that belong only to you.
I'd say relax, but focus at the same time. Focus on a question, an issue. If focusing on yourself doesn't work, try focusing on someone else's issues and see what that produces. But be careful and be safe. Surround yourself with helpful guides. If anything in your journey feels very scary or dangerous, retreat. Thank your guide and come back to this world. Always come back to this world--don't fall asleep and get stuck down there. Don't do too much of it at once. Give yourself breaks of days or even weeks in between attempts, because this is powerful stuff. And keep us posted.