[Heart Vision Shamanic Journeys]

Soul Retrieval and Soul-Centered Counseling

Article by Edie Stone, MA, LPC
Certified Shamanic Journey Guide since 1995

What is "soul" anyway?
I don't answer this question for clients. Instead, I help them explore the meaning of soul for themselves.

At first, it is easier to understand what the lack of soul is like. In Boulder, a good example is the difference between eating at a corporate fast-food franchise (we can call it McTacos) and Daddy Bruce's Bar-B-Que.

The corporate food is uniform, packaged, a commodity; the space is generic and non-local (the same in Topeka, Boulder, and LA); the image is branded, identifiable; the experience is predictable, perhaps comfortable, but from the soul's viewpoint, it is boring, even stultifying.

Eating at Daddy Bruce's is an experience -- the food is cooked by a man who loves his work and cares for his customers; the taste is pungent and varied ("sauce hot or milld" is an important question!); the funky building is unique inside and out; the faded press clippings reveal a legacy of faith and generosity; and there is an old piano. A piano? If you ask why there is a piano, you'll be given a home-grown lesson on how to play in any key.

McTacos does not nourish the soul. Daddy Bruce's ... well, they don't call it soul food for nothing. When you eat there, all your senses are engaged, and, if you give yourself permission to feel, your heart will be nourished along with your body.

What is soul-loss?
A sense of emptiness, depletion, alienation, a sense of "not being there," or lack of purpose are general qualities of soul-loss.

Other specific symptoms of soul loss can include depression, lack of energy, and numbness. Some people who are spaced-out, not in their bodies, or dissociate are suffering from soul-loss, often caused by trauma or abuse. Traffic accidents, surgery, sudden loss, or any shock or trauma to the body or mind can cause a part of the soul to separate and cause the person to feel that they are not "all there."

Chronic illness can be either a cause or a result of soul-loss. Survivors of abuse often have physical symptoms such as autoimmune or hormonal disorders, as well as dissociation and other psychological difficulties.

Alcoholism or other addictive behaviors can indicate a state of soul loss. Some alcoholics drink to numb their sensitivity. Codependency and toxic shame can also signal a lost or stolen soul part.

The patterns of splitting off, spacing out, numbing, or shutting down feelings and parts of the self originally had a positive function. These patterns or psychological defenses helped people survive situations that otherwise would have unbearable.

I help clients to befriend these patterns, and to recognize that often they were the soul's best option when they were young or vulnerable. But now, these patterns no longer serve the clients' highest purpose, and it is time to release, heal, and transform them. It is time to welcome those soul parts back home.

Cultural soul-loss
Even people who are fortunate enough not to have suffered major loss, abuse, or trauma still may have symptoms of soul loss. Sometimes the soul is hiding or has thinned out rather than being totally cut off or lost.

Our culture is increasingly driven by materialistic values. We spend time consuming media experiences rather than creating our own music and stories. We work longer hours to make ends meet. These and similar patterns in our society contribute to a generic and widespread loss of soul. Many people experience a lack of vital essence, energy, creativity, or sense of larger purpose in their lives.

Trauma that was suffered by ancestors can also contribute to a cultural level of soul loss. Atrocities such as the Holocaust, slavery, and the conquest of Native peoples still reverberate in individuals, families, and society as a whole. Immigration has often led to a sense of rootlessness and loss of tradition. Rediscovering family history or revaluing ones ethnic history and identity can be important steps in reclaiming power and soul.

Soul work and soul-centered counseling
Everyone can benefit from soul work, as very few people in our culture are fully embodied and deeply in touch with all of their feelings and life force. Soul work involves more than just a soul retrieval journey -- soul work may include spending more time with friends and family, being in nature, finding time for creative expression. Soul work may also include doing therapy with a soul-centered counselor, in order to explore dreams, and to identify and release patterns which no longer serve the whole self. Finding a path of service also helps nourish the soul, whether it be to help individuals, communities, or the Earth.

What is soul retrieval?
A. Traditional shamanic techniques

In traditional cultures, the shaman (medicine person, curandero/curandera) will often do a ceremony to diagnose and cure the cause of an illness or loss of energy when treatment with herbs and other remedies are insufficient. Shamanic healing has many culture-specific aspects, but a common feature is that the shaman is capable of entering an altered state of consciousness to gain knowledge or healing energy from the spirit world, and to return with it to this world to aid the patient.

The shaman journeys to discover if the person's soul has strayed away, been lost, or stolen. The shaman then needs to negotiate, coax, steal, or fight to regain the soul, and then brings it back to the patient.

Traditional shamans have other roles and healing techniques as well as soul retrieval. Another common diagnosis is attack, intrusion or attachment by another person or spirit. In this case, the shaman will do a cleansing or extraction to remove the negative energy or intrusion.

Another traditional shamanic role is serving as a psychopomp or soul guide. The shaman accompanies a recently deceased soul to the otherworld, helping it to navigate through the confusion or dangerous passages of the after-death state. This not only benefits the departed one, but benefits the community by not having ghosts linger in this world.

Traditional shamans often also do divination, work weather magic, and journey to find or communicate with game animals. The great resource is Mircea Eliade's Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (1951, 1964).

B. Modern shamanic techniques

Michael Harner, author of the Way of the Shaman (1980), pioneered techniques to teach shamanic journeying to those of us living in the modern world. His associate, Sandra Ingerman, has further developed and taught techniques of soul retrieval. Her books, Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self (1991), and Welcome Home: Following Your Soul's Journey Home (1993) are excellent resources.

In the neo-shamanic method developed by Harner and Ingerman, called core shamanism, the shamanic practitioner lies down on the floor next to a client, and journeys on behalf of the client to find the lost soul parts. The shamanic practitioner brings the soul part or parts back, and then breathes them into the heart and the top of the client's head. Most journeys in this style are done to a rapid, steady drum beat.

Core shamanism techniques work well for many people, and many clients report significant changes in their lives. You can read Ingerman's books for beautiful examples.

However, core shamanism, although well-known, is not the only method available to help people reconnect with soul fragments.

I use a more client-centered form of journeying which supports and empowers clients in finding and integrating their own soul parts. I have found that this greatly enhances clients' integration of the soul parts into their lives.

C. Heart Vision shamanic journeys

Rather than journeying for clients, I gently guide clients into a natural altered state of consciousness with the Heart Vision shamanic process. Clients then form a relationship with their own Spirit Guides and reconnect with their missing soul parts.

Before leading any client on a journey, I help them set a clear intention. This is particularly important for a major journey such as a soul retrieval. The process of setting intention is powerful in itself, and sets in motion changes in the psyche and often in the outer world as well.

At the beginning of a Heart Vision journey, I help clients ground and relax, release their breath, and feel gratitude for their connection to Earth and Sky. I offer a prayer activating the protection of sacred space, and calling in Spirit Guides that love and honor the client. In this relaxed state of spiritual awareness, clients discover a flow of images, sensations, shifts of energy, or other subtle experiences.

I occasionally use a light drum beat to help a client get started, but for the most part, clients find their own rhythm and pacing.

Clients can speak during their journey, and receive emotional support as well as guidance in navigating their way through shamanic territory. Emotional support, and respectful guidance help clients to deepen and sustain their journey experience. This is especially important in power recovery and soul retrieval journeys.

The most important aspect of any journey, especially soul retrieval, is integration. The intention for a soul retrieval should include the intention to embody and integrate the soul parts that are brought back. During the journey, emotional release, shifts in body awareness, and commitment to ongoing communication with the soul parts all help the integration process. Sealing the reconnection energetically or with sound is also important -- I use a Tibetan singing bowl for this purpose.

But integration does not end with the journey. In any form of soul retrieval, clients will need to learn how to create a safe home for that part of themselves which was split off. This may include learning to play with art, music, or dance to express the child within. It often includes learning to set boundaries. Clients have an opportunity to shift old habits and patterns that no longer serve them. Sandra Ingerman also gives many good suggestions for integration in Welcome Home.

I usually recommend that clients do a power recovery journey before they do a soul retrieval. The power recovery makes it much easier to integrate and maintain the soul parts within a stronger sense of self.

Integration is key to the soul's growth. The integration process is unique to each individual. Working with a soul-centered psychotherapist can make the integration process easier and more complete. A therapist is particularly important if the cause of soul loss was trauma.

Cultural soul-retrieval
Reconnecting to the Earth in a loving and respectful way is also a part of soul growth, for individuals and for us as a culture. A fundamental shamanic teaching is the principle of "sacred reciprocity." We receive our bodies, our food, our lives from the Earth, who is our mother in so many ways. When we reconnect with the Earth, our individual souls are nourished. When we reconnect to the Earth in groups and communities, the soul of our culture begins to heal. From a shamanic viewpoint, it is our responsibility to return our awareness, gratitude, energy, and intelligent intention to the needs of the Earth in this era of environmental crisis. The shamanic path is a path of healing and service, to individuals, to communities, and to the planet.
Article ©2007 by Edie Stone
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