“You do not have a soul.
You are a soul.
You have a body.”
~ C.S. Lewis
At the very core of you is the essence of who you are: your eternal soul. This is the seed around which all that you are is formed, the coherence that constitutes you in this lifetime. Your soul is the part of you that is in constant contact with Divine energies, the part of you that carries your purpose in this life, the core of you that is reflected in all other areas of your life.
Your soul is the most vital part of you; it sustains your life, and all you do in it, it is the Truth of who you are. And one vital quality of the soul is its ability to move parts of itself from this reality in which we live into the Spiritual realms that we call Non-ordinary Reality. We take advantage of the soul’s ability to cross the boundaries of our realities each time we undertake a shamanic journey. The soul is also where we can act effectively to invite healing into our lives. And, our soul does something remarkable for us when we experience trauma or emotional suffering in our lives. In order to help us survive the experience of loss, shock or trauma, a piece of our soul can separate from itself, encapsulate the energy of that painful experience, and remove it from our bodies and minds, so that we can pick up and go on with our lives.
Though this is a remarkable benefit, and it is an effective survival strategy, we do pay a price for this. As the soul part flees, it takes with it some of our essence, perhaps some gift or power that is ours as well. Shamans throughout time have believed that this loss of soul essence, power and gifts is at the root of many illnesses. And, modern shamans have observed that many of our modern ills have at the heart of them this loss of soul essence. And so, in order to help cure illness, shamans journey into the realms of non-ordinary reality, the spiritual realms, to call back and return soul parts to their clients, in order to invite their healing. As soul parts return, they bring back with them our power, sometimes our gifts, always our essence.
Sandra Ingerman, whose seminal work “Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self” has done so much to restore soul retrieval as a modern shamanic practice, cites the following symptoms of soul loss:
“There are many common symptoms of soul loss. Some of the more common ones would be dissociation where a person does not feel fully in his or her body and alive and fully engaged in life. Other symptoms include chronic depression, suicidal tendencies, post traumatic stress syndrome, immune deficiency problems, and grief that just does not heal. Addictions are also a sign of soul loss as we seek external sources to fill up the empty spaces inside of us whether through substances, food, relationships, work, or buying material objects.
“Anytime someone says I have never been the same since a certain event and they don’t mean this in a good way soul loss has probably occurred.”
Other indications of soul loss include patterns that manifest over and over in your life; you realize you are “stuck” on an issue or concern, even though you’ve worked on it for years; you feel that an unknown “something” is missing from your life; you are unable to connect to your own joy; you sense that you are not whole; or, you hear an inner voice that tells you that you are ready to call for the return of soul parts that you’ve lost over time.
Other symptoms, physical, emotional and psychological, can arise from soul loss as well.
Our modern way of life seems to be ideal for the occurrence of soul loss, and so many of us suffer from it. In older shamanic cultures, which were usually tribal or lived in a village, life afforded time for humans to evaluate their lives for balance and vitality. Our very broad-ranging, busy lives afford little time for self-reflection, and there is little space for us to be concerned about our own or others’ well-being. We are expected, no matter our experience, to pick ourselves up and get moving when we suffer a trauma or shock in this life. And so, many of us are living unaware of our loss of soul, having little time to evaluate our experience on a soul level. In ancient, shamanic cultures, soul loss from accident, war, illness, loss or other trauma was addressed soon after it occurred. In our culture, we will often live decades after suffering trauma and loss, struggling to survive as less than our full selves.
Additionally, our culture is a traumatic culture. Trauma is not just suffering or witnessing violence, illness and loss. Trauma is also incurred on subtle levels from the daily events in our lives, events that we don’t view as particularly notable: the harsh power struggles in our families of origin; the loss of innocence and self-love we experience as we move from the family into schools and society; the soul-stealing that happens too often in modern romantic relationships and friendships; the loss of self-value we sometimes trade away in our frantic economic marketplace.
For most of us, soul loss occurs during childhood, when we are vulnerable to so much that is troubling or terrifying. In our innocence and inexperience, we perceive many events to be life-threatening, terrifying beyond endurance, and so our souls are more easily subject to loss. And, because the purpose of this loss is to allow us to survive, we eventually resume our young lives, a little less substantial for having survived the experience. These losses from our youth become obscured from memory, and we learn to simply live our lives with less than our full power.
I frequently meet clients who tell me they have lived wonderful lives, with idyllic childhoods, and so they couldn’t possibly be suffering from soul loss. I like to emphasize that when we are children, we don’t have a full awareness of what is or is not a life threatening situation. I ask you to imagine that you are 5, attending a family gathering at Grandma’s house. During a game of hide-and-seek, you decide to hide in Grandma’s closet; it’s a great hiding place, because it is “off-limits,” so no one will ever look for you there. Your practical jokester cousin, Ricky, notices you are in Grandma’s closet, and decides to play a trick on you. He leans against the closet door so you can’t escape, and shares with you the “fact” that there is a very hungry monster in that closet, who is at this very moment preparing to eat you. It’s dark in that closet; and you then swear you can hear that monster opening its yawning maw to swallow you whole. And you cannot escape; death is imminent. Though the adult you are now knows none of this is true, the child you were then experienced a different truth, and suffered the trauma of almost losing her life. That is the kind of pain that soul loss mitigates.
Now let’s look at the process of soul retrieval.