There is a lot written about the experience of trance - some of it quite excellent. However, I thought I would take a shot at it this morning.
First off - the idea of "altered state" is difficult to clearly delineate, since the boundaries of our "ordinary" state of consciousness are so unclear as it is. That said, most of us car recognize an altered state once we are in it. In, my own experience, there is often a dream like quality, and my body seems to move more fluidly and feel heavier. However, some of the most effective states can feel very similar to the ordinary state.
When I talk about shamanic states of consciousness (hereafter SSC), I am focusing on those states which allow me to function as a shaman. This includes the ability to simply perceive and express from a soul level of awareness. This is the base level of SSC for me. It allows me to sense what is going on with myself and a client in a non-rational, non-intellectual manner that cuts through the thinking mind and directly addresses the deeper parts, which is where my work is. This state is a very present, focussed awareness, which doesn't feel too different from ordinary consciousness. And yet it is the one most useful to the work I do, since it allows me to interact clearly with the client at various levels - communicating in a way that they can understand and staying aware of their body language, tone of voice and facial expression as well as any surges of energy or emotion arising from their soul.
I move into this state using something I call Medicine Body. This is a simple and effective technique (described in more depth in my workshops and my book) that extends my conscious awareness into my aura. This allows me a much deeper and holistic perspective of what is going on with the client. It feels as if the client is floating inside me and I can sense the flow of their energies very clearly. This also engages my intuitive sense and I find that I am aware of what lies beneath the words the client may be using to describe their problem. Knowing this, I can speak to that deeper level, engaging it in the healing process more immediately.
There are other SSC that range much more deeply, and which make it more challenging for me to remain connected with, and able to communicate effectively, with the client. It takes more energy to maintain the sense of being in two places at once. This is particularly true when journeying with a client. In shamanic body I may be in a different world all together and communicating there directly to the part of them that is present there as well, but in order to have the client be able to take in the work, I need to also be speaking in my physical body to their physical body.
Moving beyond the work with a client in an office setting, I want to speak briefly of work in other settings. For instance, performing a sweat lodge ceremony entails moving through many layers of consciousness and back again, while creating space that allows for the participants in the sweat to move through these payers with me. It begins around the fire with the opening of the space that is at once emerging from the center of the fire and from the stone pit in the lodge. This is a treatment of space that is essential to much of shamanic practice - the paradoxical sense of One Center. Entering the Lodge brings another deepening and it sometimes takes a teaching story or prayer/chant to ground that before continuing. Each round of stones is a deepening as well, until it becomes clear that it is time to return, and then the journey back needs to be crafted in a gentle way as well, allowing for a safe and comfortable return by all the participants.
Over the years, I have been gifted with many teachings to make the movement into SSC and back again. But I am also always finding places and states that are new to me; providing new lessons and new teachings. Every day I go into my office, knowing that I will learn something new. It may not always be comfortable or easy, but it is this constant growth and learning that keep this work fresh and alive for me and those with whom I work. Many thanks to all of them and to my many teachers - in both human and spirit form.