Beneath most headaches is a heartache.
It’s a natural protective mechanism of ours to think our way around wounds instead of feeling our way through them. In this day and age, we just want an escape.
What can we do to stop feeling the pain we’re feeling? How can we change ourselves to be more acceptable? How can we numb ourselves to outside forces beyond our control?
No one wants to feel pain. But most of us carry around heavy clouds with us all day. We can’t quite pinpoint what the source of our suffering is – we just know that it hurts. This pain forms the vague backdrop of our lives and is so persistent, yet subtle, that it becomes the new “norm” for us.
Whenever we suffer a physical or emotional trauma, it is said that a part of our soul flees the body in order to survive the experience. With every cut and wound, our essence and vitality grows weaker. This process is called “Soul Loss” which I’ve previously written about.
Now, I want to explore with you how to recover these soul fragments. This process is known as “Soul Retrieval.”
What Is Soul Retrieval?
When I was a young boy my Abuela (grandmother), would do something very strange. Every time I fell or hurt myself, she would quickly grab me by the head and whisper into my ear a prayer. This prayer was to call my Soul back.
I was always puzzled by her sudden prayers until she explained to me why she did them. In shamanic cultures, Soul Loss is understood to be a spiritual illness. In other words, when a part of our soul fragments, all kinds of emotional, physical and mental diseases occur from the diminishment of our life force energy. It is therefore seen as vital for parts of the soul to return back to wholeness again.
To some extent, we all experience a level of Soul Loss in our lives. Many people don’t feel whole. Ask yourself this question, “When was the last time I felt absolutely whole and complete?” If you’re like most people, that time may have been back in childhood. Perhaps you can’t even remember a time when you ever felt whole.
Because of the mass phenomenon of Soul Loss, issues such as addiction, chronic sickness, diseases, abusive relationships, crime, shopaholism and workaholism run rife in our society. All of these issues stem from Soul Loss.
9 Causes of Soul Loss
In shamanism Soul Loss describes the fragmentation of the soul. And interestingly, Soul Loss shares similarities with what contemporary psychology calls “dissociation”: the splitting of the psyche in response to traumatic, shocking or difficult experiences. This is often the cause of many Core Wounds that affect us later as adults.
So what causes Soul Loss? Here are some common examples:
- Any form of abuse, e.g. sexual, emotional, physical or mental.
- An event of prolonged grief, pain and fear that made you feel helpless or impotent.
- Deep-seated addictions e.g. substance dependency.
- A near-death or out-of-body experience.
- Being forced to act against your morals.
- An experience of intense rejection or abandonment.
- Witnessing the unexpected death of someone.
- A sudden and shocking accident.
- Entering a relationship without strong boundaries of Self (resulting in an unhealthy relationship and losing your personal power).
Soul Loss and dissociation are devices that the brain uses to survive potentially destructive traumatic events. In other words, Soul Loss happens to protect you initially, rather than to hurt you. This is a natural protective mechanism. However, every wound must be healed, otherwise it festers. When we neglect to heal these “blocked off” parts of ourselves and give them air, we are left with a chronic feeling of unwholeness. Eventually, we can suffer from chronic issues such as anxiety, depression, physical and mental illnesses as a result.
A simple example of Soul Loss can be found in cultures that frown upon expressing emotions like “anger.” A child, for instance, will quickly learn that expressing anger results in punishment or withdrawal of love by their parents. As a result, this child will eventually learn to “split off” this “unacceptable” part of themselves until they no longer accept this emotion as belonging to them. What happens to this anger? It is suppressed. For this reason, Soul Loss plays a huge role in creating our Shadow Selves.
Often psychotherapy is used to try and treat Soul Loss. But while the psychotherapeutic approach can sometimes work, often it reaches a stalemate. Why? Because psychotherapy perceives this “missing part” as being lost somewhere in the individual, rather than preserved in the realms of the collective unconscious. Here, the psychotherapist isn’t working with the whole person.
The shaman, on the other hand, assumes that Soul Loss is a spiritual illness and that the dissociated parts can leave the body and wander into other realms (non-ordinary reality), as a result of shock or trauma. These realms are often inaccessible and are guarded by heavy defenses that make it difficult (or impossible) for the affected person to go through on their own, without the guidance of a Shaman.
Over time, the Soul Loss resulting from not integrating these traumatic experiences can become obstacles in our personal development. This Soul Loss can result in distressing, debilitating and incapacitating defense mechanisms that manifest as anxieties, depression, addictions and compulsions as well as chronic fatigue.
Why Does the Soul Fragment?
In this light, it’s easy to think of Soul loss as something bad that has happened to us. However, here it’s important to realize that Soul Loss is in fact, a gift.
In the same way that you become unconscious when you’re experiencing immense amounts of physical pain, your soul is wise and knows its limits. Your soul knows what it can and can’t handle, so it leaves your body as a survival mechanism to protect itself from feeling the fullness of pain.
This splitting of the soul only becomes an obstacle when the pieces aren’t actively retrieved. This is what leads to chronic depression, suicidal tendencies, post traumatic stress syndrome, addictions, immune deficiency problems, and grief that refuses to heal.
However, the retrieval of these soul pieces is not the end of the work. We must then learn how to integrate them back into our lives in order to recover the vital power, potential and energy they possess.
Without these lost soul parts, we don’t feel whole. Instead, we feel weak, depressed, anxious, or empty. We feel as if something is missing, and we will fill that emptiness with anything we can.
However, once we’ve recovered these lost pieces, we can experience the following benefits:
- Feeling more grounded in our body and more “solid”
- Feeling energized, awake, and more alive
- Greater presence in the world
- More awareness of our choices, behaviors and decisions
- Lightness and joy
- Awareness of huge amounts of energy you didn’t know you had
- Mental clarity and a new sense of hope
- Physical wellbeing and less sickness
- A sense of purpose and renewed direction
- Deeper sleep
- Overcoming addictive dependencies (drugs, food, work)
- A new-found wholeness and sense of belonging
In order to to undergo Soul Retrieval, you must have an experienced guide. Shamans are not the only healers that can perform Soul Retrieval. Other healing practices such as hypnosis, witchcraft and psychoanalysis all have methods for integrating split-off or lost parts of the self.
The Soul Retrieval Journey
To retrieve a soul as a shaman, we typically enter trance states with the client. This altered state of consciousness helps us to journey into one of the three spirit worlds (typically the underworld) where we are accompanied by spirit helpers with the intent to retrieve a certain part of the soul. We narrate the whole journey to the client or visualize it through active imagination.
In these Soul Retrieval journeys, we encounter strong, often harsh energies that manifest themselves through the archetypal images of monsters, reptiles, dragons, and other dangerous beasts. These are the guardians of the Soul, or in psychotherapy they are known as defense mechanisms of the psyche. We must overcome these with the help of our spirit helpers, in order to persuade the soul part to come back.
Once we have retrieved the soul part, we reintegrate it together with the client. This is usually done energetically (by blowing the energy into the body), through ceremony, or through cognitive tools (such as inner child work or Gestalt therapy).
Soul Retrieval is only successful if the person who is healed consciously decides to use this newfound energy to cultivate healthy choices that support their wholeness. This is a two-way dance!
If you’ve done a lot of inner work, Soul Retrieval might come right at the end of your journey. On the other hand, Soul Retrieval might be the first step you take in order to rediscover your wholeness.
I hope this article has helped you to better understand this powerful practice. If you would like to know anything else, comment below.