At some point during adulthood, we might sense that we have gone astray, become separated from an essential part of our vitality, our soul, and may even feel that we are leading a life we hadn’t intended to. Soul Retrieval Therapy, which derives its name from the practice of soul retrieval in the ancient healing art of Shamanism, seeks to restore our connection to our vitality that neglect, trauma, painful experience, or acculturation has interceded upon. When I talk about the soul, I mean the aspect of our nature that is unconditioned by experience and so is open-hearted, wise, and spacious. We have all likely contacted that nature in ourselves and have experienced a contented peace in which we appreciate our lives, and our place in the web of life, with nonattached tenderness. That nature also expresses in our everyday lives as love, kindness, empathy, humor, insight, forgiveness, nurturing, generosity, patience, discipline. A key aspect of the Soul Retrieval process is bringing those qualities into relationship with the parts of ourselves that we have closed off or ignored because they carry experiences that feel dangerous.
So where do we start? We might first simply acknowledge that we are hurting, and we might get curious about the nature of our hurting. Does it express as sadness, anger, fear, confusion, shame? Are we aware of its origins? When did we first start to feel it? We might also get curious about how our hurting shows up in our lives, in our relationships, in our career paths, in how we feel about ourselves and our place in the world. When we first became aware of our hurting, we instinctively responded with adaptive strategies to defend ourselves, to protect from further harm, and those strategies likely persist in some form today. We might defend ourselves by assuming a cold aloofness that prevents others from getting too close. We might defend ourselves with outrageous behavior that brings us attention but leaves us lonely. We might defend ourselves by isolating ourselves or spreading ourselves thin or doing drugs or procrastinating. Although these strategies help us feel protected, they also keep us small, contracted in fear around a limited way of being that exiles us from the vitality of our soul.
Returning to soulful living will take some courage, for it calls us to expand into the fullness of our experience, which includes our hurting. We are embarking on a hero’s journey, in which we align ourselves with our vast and powerful nature in order to risk encountering our hurting in a venture to rescue a lost part of ourselves. That lost part is full of the sweetness of our humanity—innocent, basically good, pure of intention, deserving of safety, affection, and love—and he longs for deeper engagement, for a relationship with the whole of our being in which he gets seen, heard, and felt. The first leg of our journey, then, is to locate that part in ourselves—exiled, lonely, and yearning to be known—and start to open our hearts to him. What experiences did he endure? And what has he been carrying alone that he’d now like to share? His anger, his hurt, his shame, his confusion, the joy he’s been dying to express, his unlived potential? (See Getting Known for covert ways he’s already sharing his experience.)
He is also likely carrying self-blame for the trauma or painful experiences he has suffered. When faced with disorienting and illogical events in our lives, we often find some sense of control by holding ourselves responsible. Rather than acknowledging that the world or our caretaking environment is unreliable and dangerous, we find safety in the explanation that our presumed deficiency is responsible for the harm we have incurred or are incurring. Of course, we would never adopt that explanation consciously, after measured deliberation, but we adopt it instinctively and then tacitly generalize it into a belief, which becomes our default. Each time we experience a slight, a setback, a shock, a devastation, we might default to the sense that we are getting punished for being in some way deficient: not enough, unlovable, unworthy, emanating an energy that draws bad luck into our lives. These are lies that only deepen our suffering.
The mistaken belief that we are deficient is likely our first soul loss, and our hero is tasked with dismantling it patiently and persistently. Whenever life disappoints us, our conditioned reflex to self-blame will test us, calling us to catch ourselves in the lie of our deficiency and arrest the momentum of self-aggression. Our hero, who has begun his rescue by opening his heart to himself, now empowers his mission by sharing the clarity of his understanding. Can he use that clarity to wake himself from the trance of his low self-worth? Can he lift his head and find himself in a vast network of cause and effect that maps the forces that have acted on him and the measures he’s taken to adapt? Can he then broaden the scope of his exploration to include biological, cultural, racial, sexual, and familial forces that helped shape how he feels about himself in dramatic and nuanced ways and how he participates in relationship? And in his clear-seeing, in his appreciation for the patterns that have repeated unexamined from one generation to the next, through a multitude of social realities, can he experience wonder, humility, and insight and use them to relieve himself of his self-aggression?
As we learn to appreciate the web of forces that have shaped us, we come to see the ways we have acted in alignment with our souls: the kindness we demonstrated, the resiliency we maintained, the couraged we showed in standing steadfastly in our integrity. We also come to see the ways we fell out of alignment with our souls: when we fearfully denied ourselves the open road, when we limited our expression because we felt deficient, when we were met with abuse, violence, or misfortune. In taking such an inventory, in encountering the painful events of our lives, we are likely to experience grief, torrents of it: over the care we longed for but didn’t get, over the random incident that left us mistrusting and reclusive, over the vicious attack that trapped us in our rage, over our soaring potential that got thwarted, over a slew of emotions produced by our hurting that now lie in wait like landmines. On the threshold of a conscious encounter with our grief, we might bolster our courage by observing that we have already been grieving, unconsciously, in ways that have only made us feel more defeated and desperate: when we took a chance on another emotionally abusive partner, when we silenced our voice to make others feel comfortable, when we self-sabotaged so that we didn’t have to risk failure or success. Those enactments and others like them are expressions of grief that our lost, hurting parts use to get seen, heard, and felt.
Conscious grieving, then, may be nothing more than letting ourselves feel what our hurting self has long been wanting to share. Only now, with clarity and precision, we can experience his grief, our grief, directed in ways that complete an expression that has long been frozen, looping gainlessly in self-aggressive patterns. Allowing the expression of our hurting self calls our hero to make room for him, open ourselves to his wild and painful energies, which, out of an instinct for self-preservation, he has long kept at bay. It calls our hero to align with a third aspect of soul—spaciousness—that often arises out of the other two soul qualities mentioned earlier: open-heartedness and clarity. When we are open-hearted, we are unobstructed by our fears of harm or our desires for outcomes, and can enter into a freedom that allows us to welcome into the vast space of our hearts whatever needs to express. And when we are possessed of clarity, we see our fears and desires clearly, understand that they are not who we are integrally, and we can either decide to let them go or let them express without dreading losing ourselves in them. We are like the vast blue sky letting violent storms rage through us, wise in our understanding that their expressions will in no way threaten the integrity of our true nature, if anything, will return us to it.
And we might go one step further: understand that allowing the expressions of our hurting self is a sacred act of healing, in which surrendering to the unfolding of our awakening energies honors our life in its awesome array of colors. Such honoring marks a vital shift in how we live our lives: no longer adversarial to our experience, we see in our challenges opportunities to deepen our attunement with our soul: its wisdom, its compassion, its capacity to accommodate our unfolding. Such honoring also marks a vital shift in how we see ourselves: as loving beings endowed with the capacity to find beauty, meaning, and growth in the wondrous and wild flowering of our lives. When we can approach our lives and ourselves that way, we are indeed in the flowing vitality of our souls.
In the end, Soul Retrieval Therapy is about reclaiming our power, for in diminishing the control our fears, sense of deficiency, and unconscious grief have over us, we free ourselves to live from the love, wisdom, and vastness of our souls. In that space, our authentic life blossoms.
If you're interested in the Soul Retrieval process elaborated above, please click here and make an appointment with me.
May we respond to the calling of our souls!