Numb, restless, lethargic, empty, angry, exhausted, confused, dispirited, drained, depressed, hopeless, aimless, purposeless …
These are only a tiny selection of the total possible feelings we carry when we disconnect from our Souls – that vital spark of life within us.
But how do we reach this point of total disconnection from life; this existential malaise?
There are many answers, but essentially:
there’s a thin veil between our conscious self and our Souls that over time thickens until we forget that a ‘deeper’ part of us ever existed to begin with. In experiencing this, we forget about the treasures, gifts, and personal purpose that awaits us.
To escape this dark night of the Soul, we will resort to nearly any tactic to avoid the pain we feel.
We’ll change ourselves to be more acceptable, betray our values for comfort, hurt others before they hurt us, and numb ourselves through various addictions – and these are only a few ways we try to face the reality of our Soul Loss.
Why do many of us carry around heavy clouds with us all day? Why can’t we pinpoint the source of our suffering? Why is there a vague backdrop of pain in our lives that is so persistent, yet so subtle?
The answer is that the persistent emptiness, dissatisfaction, and loneliness we carry around is a sign of Soul Loss. And in this article, I’m going to show you how to feel better using a practice known as Soul Retrieval.
Table of contents
What is Soul Loss?
Whenever we suffer 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 grow weaker. This process is called “Soul Loss.”
Soul Loss is also known, in psychological terms, as dissociation. It’s what happens when we become disconnected from the very Core of ourselves, the source of our vitality, our Soul.
Soul Loss, contrary to popular belief, does not mean literally losing your Soul. Instead, it refers to the experience of losing touch with your Soul.
Your Soul is always there in the backdrop of your life, but it’s not always accessible due to the psychological traumas, abuses, and blockages that have taken root within you.
So how do we regain connection with our Souls, our Inner Light?
The answer is that we do this through the process of Soul Retrieval (also known as Ensoulment).
What is Soul Retrieval (Ensoulment)?
Soul Retrieval is a shamanic term that refers to reintegrating lost Soul parts back into a person to create healing.
These days, however, Soul Retrieval can be understood as the practice of reintegrating dissociated and repressed parts of the psyche (a Greek word that also means Soul) back into everyday consciousness for greater Wholeness.
This practice of reintegration I like to call Ensoulment.
Ensoulment, in the spiritual sense of the word, is what happens when we develop an intimate relationship with the Soul within us. We become initiated into the mysteries of our innermost being, learning to listen to and trust our Core Nature rather than numb or deny its existence.
There are numerous perceptions of Soul Retrieval, but the one I subscribe to is that of making the unconscious conscious.
When a certain part of us is unconscious it can wreak havoc in our lives and starve us of our fundamental vitality. We wind up feeling confused, lost, anxious, depressed and overwhelmed by such shadowy parts of us.
By bringing such unconscious parts of us into conscious awareness, by practicing Soul Retrieval, we are removing the blockages that obscure our Souls. We, therefore, create more inner peace and harmony – defining qualities of Ensoulment.
Soul Loss, Soul Retrieval, and Shamanism
When I was a young boy my Abuela (grandmother), would do something 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.
The difference between the shamanic perspective of Soul Loss and the modern perspective of Soul Loss is that in the shamanic worldview, the Soul can be fragmented, even travel to other dimensions and get lost. However, in the modern perspective, the Soul (or Self) remains whole and intact, but it is our psyche (our mind) that fragments and needs to be healed in order to regain access to the Soul.
Whichever angle you prefer, the reality is that 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, rape, 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.
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 splitting of the psyche is often the cause of many Core Wounds that affect us later in life 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, gambling, eating
- A near-death or an out-of-body altered states of consciousness experience (such as an ego death)
- Being forced to act against your morals or values
- An experience of intense rejection or abandonment
- Witnessing the unexpected death of someone
- A sudden and shocking accident
- Entering a relationship without strong personal boundaries (resulting in an unhealthy relationship and losing your personal power)
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” or “freeze” this “unacceptable” part of themselves until they no longer accept this emotion as belonging to them.
What happens to this anger? It is suppressed. It is frozen. And it’s for this reason that Soul Loss plays a huge role in creating our Shadow Selves.
Soul Loss Treatment (Two Approaches)
Often psychotherapy is unknowingly used to try and treat Soul Loss. But while the psychotherapeutic approach can sometimes work, often it reaches a stalemate. Why?
The answer is that psychotherapy often misjudges the experience as purely a childhood, self-esteem, or another psychological issue – rather than a soul-centered problem.
If one is sent to a psychiatrist, the diagnosis is often even grimmer: the conclusion is often that something is “broken” in your brain, and you will be prescribed a diagnostic label and medication for the rest of your life.
Unless the psychotherapist or psychiatrist works in a holistic way (as Depth and Transpersonal therapists often do), they aren’t working with the whole person and are missing the point.
The second approach to Soul Loss treatment is more shamanic.
The shaman 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.
So then, which approach should you choose? My answer is to seek out both, but be highly cautious and discerning. If at any point your gut tells you to leave or cease treatment, find someone new! Try your best to find a holistic and highly trained professional who is adept in both the field of spirituality and psychology.
Why Does the Soul Fragment?
After reading about Soul Loss, it’s easy to think of it 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 psyche is wise and knows its limits.
Your mind knows what it can and can’t handle, so it fragments and dissociates (or scatters) as a survival mechanism to protect itself from feeling the fullness of pain.
In other words, Soul Loss initially happens to protect you rather than to hurt you. It’s a natural protective mechanism.
Think of animals in the wild like deer, squirrels, or polar bears. They use the ‘freeze’ response to play dead and preserve their lives (because predators can’t detect still prey).
The same thing occurs with Soul Loss: it’s a way for the mind to avoid the overwhelming suffering associated with trauma. Just as in animals, freezing (or losing touch with the openness of the Soul), is a natural analgesic.
However, at some point, we must shake off this freeze response – if we don’t, trauma follows. Soul Loss deepens.
In other words, when we neglect to reconnect with our Soul and the various fragmented parts of our psyche, we are left with a chronic feeling of unwholeness.
Eventually, the result may be battling ongoing issues such as anxiety, depression, immune deficiency problems, suicidal tendencies, various mental illnesses, and grief that refuses to fade.
To piece back together ourselves, we need to actively ‘retrieve’ the Soul.
However, the retrieval of these lost 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.
Soul Loss, Soul Retrieval, and the Spiritual Awakening Journey
Soul Loss is an integral part of the spiritual awakening journey.
It is the catalyst that sparks the longing to go in search of something meaningful, something that transcends our small and isolated egos.
Soul Loss is also the trigger that often leads to the Dark Night of the Soul (and spiritual emergency) – a time of spiritual desolation where we feel painfully disconnected from any source of joy, hope, or higher purpose.
As a central part of the spiritual journey, Soul Loss (while dreadfully painful) is actually a gift hidden in disguise. For once we become aware of it, we begin to undergo a spiritual alchemy of longing, searching, seeking, transforming, and eventually finding our true Home.
Soul Retrieval, therefore, is a crucial element of every spiritual journey. Without seeking to become more ensouled, we remain in a state of dissociated numbness. We remain in an unhealthy place of isolation from the world – never quite fully being in it or using its creative obstacles to grow.
When we do accept Soul Retrieval as a natural and necessary part of our evolution, we grow. We transform. We deepen. We awaken the kundalini life force energy within.
Read more: What is Kundalini Awakening? (19 Intense Symptoms) »
What Happens After Soul Retrieval?
As shamanic teacher and therapist Sandra Ingerman once commented about Soul Retrieval, “What I have found after a Soul Retrieval is that one cannot ‘numb out’ anymore.”
This is one of the many benefits of Soul Retrieval: we become more present, centered, and we regain our aliveness. Life ceases to be a dull, monotonous, depressing experience. Instead, life is a gift, a mysterious adventure, something to be savored and embraced.
We become ensouled.
Once we’ve recovered these lost pieces of ourselves, becoming more ensouled, we can experience many other benefits such as:
- 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 vast 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 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 and psychoanalysis have methods for integrating split-off or lost parts of the self. In fact, for the Western mind, a transpersonal psychotherapist is often the best person to seek out when dealing with Soul Loss.
The Soul Retrieval Journey – 5 Methods
To retrieve a lost inner part as a shaman typically involves entering into a trance state with the client.
This altered state of consciousness helps them to journey into one of the three spirit worlds (typically the underworld) where they are accompanied by spirit helpers with the intent to retrieve a certain part of the Soul. They narrate the whole journey to the client or visualize it through active imagination.
In these Soul Retrieval journeys, shamans often encounter strong, often harsh energies that manifest themselves through the archetypal images of monsters, reptiles, dragons, and other dangerous beasts.
These ferocious figures are the guardians of the Soul, or in psychotherapy, they are known as defense mechanisms of the psyche. The shaman must overcome these with the help of their spirit helpers, in order to persuade the Soul part to come back.
Once they have retrieved the Soul part, they reintegrate it together with the client. This is usually done energetically (by blowing the energy into the body), through ceremony, or by chanting.
To retrieve a lost inner part as a psychotherapist or healer, numerous methods are applied such as inner child work, gestalt therapy, archetypal work (such as in internal family systems therapy), visualization, sound healing, and art therapy.
Although Soul Retrieval is best done with the guidance of an experienced healer or trained professional, it is possible to facilitate this process, in part, yourself.
Here are some Soul Retrieval and Ensoulment practices you can try by yourself:
1. Meditation and visualization journeys
Using the power of the imagination, you can create more inner wholeness and call back lost parts of yourself.
Did you know that the mind cannot distinguish imagination from reality? (1) We can take advantage of this psychological loophole and practice Soul Retrieval simply by taking ourselves on a guided adventure.
To practice Soul Retrieval, you might like to either find a pre-recorded journey (such as on YouTube) or create one yourself.
Here are the basic ingredients for creating your own meditation/visualization Soul Retrieval journey:
- Imagine yourself walking through a spring-like field into a dark cave.
- The deeper you go into the cave, the deeper you find yourself descending into yourself.
- Along the way, you see a light in the distance. You keep walking, and the light keeps getting bigger.
- Sometimes, during your cave walk, you find objects. These objects represent different parts of yourself. For example, you might find a box of matches that represents your rage, a broken doll that represents your inner child, and a paintbrush that represents your lost inner artist.
- Collect all of these items in the bag you have with you. Don’t worry, the bag can hold everything, no matter how big or small, that you find. (Also, it’s not necessary to know precisely what each object represents. You can think about this afterward).
- Eventually, you reach the light which consumes the whole tunnel – this white light is your Soul.
- Take the objects in your bag and throw them, one by one, into the light. Each of these objects/parts of you will be immediately reintegrated once they dissolve within the light.
- Once you have let go of the last object, breathe deeply, and feel yourself being revitalized by this newfound increased wholeness and inner harmony.
- Next, when you’re ready, step into the light, breathe deeply, and allow it to radiate through your entire body, binding with your cells, your DNA, permeating through all parts of your being.
- Then, open your eyes. Return to the room. Take a few minutes to reflect on what you’ve experienced. I encourage you to journal about what you’ve undergone.
2. Work with your inner archetypes
Archetypes are certain types of energy that you carry within you and they all ‘work together’ to form your character – and they’re a potent form of soul communication.
Common archetypes include: the mother, the mentor, the bully, the lover, the warrior, the rescuer, the victim, the wounded child, and so on.
We all possess a colorful array of archetypes that possess both good and bad qualities.
All archetypes, even the seemingly negative ones (such as the addict and the prostitute) have gifts to share with us. We need to embrace all of them to discover more wholeness; to remove the blockages that obscure our Souls.
There are many ways to uncover the buried archetypes within ourselves – as well as balance the ones we already possess. Some methods include pathworking with different archetypes (through visualization), journaling and dialoguing with your archetypes, and noticing how they manifest within your behavior.
Read our archetypes guide for more in-depth guidance. »
3. Entering altered states of consciousness
Entering altered states is a powerful way to reconnect with your Soul and practice Soul Retrieval as it bypasses the defense mechanisms of the fragmented ego.
However, I must warn you to go slowly and be cautious with this practice. It’s totally possible to overwhelm yourself, so take care and be responsible.
There are numerous ways to enter trance states, which Luna explores more in-depth in her article: How to Induce a Trance State For Deep Psychospiritual Work. They include:
- Mantra and prayer
- Primal rhythms, beats, and sounds
- Incense and essential oil
- Physical and emotional catharsis
- Plant medicine (e.g., Peyote, Ayahuasca, and legal psychedelics)
Some of these practices can even induce mystical experiences.
I recommend trying out one of these consciousness-altering practices at a time for short periods (no more than 15 minutes). You can slowly increase your practice through time and experience.
(Also, if you suffer from any form of psychosis, please consult your therapist or social worker first.)
Most importantly, when entering an altered state of consciousness, you must have a clear objective. Remember that the purpose of it is to practice Soul Retrieval and be sure to orient your whole experience around that central purpose – that way, you’ll actually benefit without getting lost in the high of a strange state of being.
That’s it! Be gentle, go slow, record your progress, and see what happens. Remember that there’s always additional guidance out there if you need more support.
4. Self-love and cultivating compassion
Yes, self-love may sound like a strange thing to include here, but reconnecting with your heart is a powerful form of Soul Retrieval.
The heart is said to be the home, or the gateway, to the Soul. When we give and receive love, experience joy, and witness something beautiful that evocates breathtaking awe within us, we are tapping into a Soul-centered experience.
To practice self-love and cultivate self-compassion you will need to learn how to befriend yourself. The best place to start is through some simple self-care and then move into more directed self-love practices.
See our article on How to Love Yourself for more guidance.
5. Inner child work and shadow work
Why have I put inner child work and shadow work into the same point? The answer is that they are both intrinsically connected because the inner child is often buried within our shadow, and thus forms a part of our shadow self.
Your shadow self is the part of you that is locked away deep inside of you. It’s that dark side that scares, embarrasses, or angers you – but it’s not always as unnerving as it sounds.
Our shadow side is quite simply our inner ‘basement’ that contains all of the traits – positive and negative – that we had to suppress, deny, and disown for one reason or another.
One person may have buried away their artistic sensitivity, their rage, and their pain from the death of a childhood friend. Another person may have buried away their strength, their ambition, and their tendency to get really jealous of other people.
Everyone’s shadow side is different. But one thing almost all of us have in common is a suppressed inner child – that childlike self within that was once open, trusting, and curious.
To practice Soul Retrieval, doing both inner child work and shadow work is essential. You may need to get the help of a trained counselor or therapist for this deep dive as it may bring up some heavy issues. But it’s a profoundly worthy path that generates deep-seated changes.
I only recommend doing inner child work and shadow work after developing some basic self-care and self-love (otherwise this work could backfire and re-traumatize you).
Soul Retrieval is only successful if the person who has experienced healing 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 be a continuing part of your journey. On the other hand, Soul Retrieval might be the first step you take in order to rediscover your wholeness.
Regardless of where you are on the path, I hope this article has helped you to better understand this powerful practice and avenue of healing.
If you would like some further reading, I highly recommend seeing our article on Soul Work for more illuminating guidance.