"It has always been the role of the shaman to go into an altered state of consciousness and track down where the soul fled to in the alternate realities and return it to the body of the client." -- Sandra Ingerman
"'Beside himself.' Why do we describe a distraught person as being 'beside himself'? Because the ancients believed that soul and body could part, and that under great emotional stress the soul would actually leave the body. When this happened a person was 'beside himself.' '"
-- Dictionary of Word Origins
It is true that the concepts of soul loss and soul retrieval are not new. An aspect of the infinite soul fleeing under duress is a state everyone has at some point experienced, regardless of terminology or ideology applied. In the realm of shamanic work, it has been considered the most profound ritual in restoring the soul, life force or what we call personal power. There are many ways to do a soul retrieval, but it consists of locating the missing soul part, returning it to the earthly consciousness and integrating that returned awareness into daily life.
When I began working with others 13 years ago, the phrase "soul retrieval" wasn't widely known. The concept of "shamanism," itself, conjured images of a shrouded dark figure in the woods wearing bones and chanting unintelligibly. For me to reveal that I saw myself as a modern shaman who worked with others in that capacity was a curious thing. The majority of people had some understanding of what soul work meant, however incomplete, but few knew about soul retrieval. In that climate, when someone came to me and said, "I think I need a soul retrieval," I paid close attention. Nine times out of 10 they were exactly correct. Whether they had an understanding of what criteria identified soul loss, their state of being reflected it. It was a very safe assumption that if someone could articulate such an obscure and refined insight, there was an equally compelling need.
I find now that with a greater acceptance and understanding of holistic and energy medicine, there is an awareness of the need for spiritual healing. Many people still have a very fixed if not archaic image of shamans, though they have a better understanding of what we do. By default, more people know what soul retrieval is and often readily request it. I still pay very close attention to what drives a person to specifically express the need for soul retrieval, though I hold it more lightly than I used to.
What I've seen happening with this influx of desire for spiritual healing is that people have come to assimilate "soul retrieval" as "The Quick Fix." They have heard that it's the quintessential shamanic mojo of healing spiritual wounds, and that it can have profound, life-altering effects. What they don't realize is the range of behavioral, psychological, emotional and often physical shifting that must occur for that healed balance of life force to stay connected with the earthly consciousness and continue to promote well-being.
For those who are ready to make those changes, soul retrieval can bring relatively rapid release and healing. However, most people still don't understand that spiritual healing is not instead of other modalities of healing. Rather, spiritual healing requires and inspires healing on all levels. If the other layers of the self aren't addressed, no spiritual healing approach can bring lasting results. With soul loss, in the absence of those needed soul aspects we develop coping mechanisms to deal with feeling the lack of power. We may lose our ability to be decisive, or we may overeat to compensate for feeling empty. These kinds of coping devices are just like any other in that we have to conscientiously work to release. They don't magically go away. We still have to address them along with soul retrieval and integration. We have to practice mindfulness. We may have to change our routine, our relationships or perhaps how we see ourselves. We have to be prepared to make whatever shift -- small or great -- is required of us to remain vitally empowered.
Like soul retrieval, this holistic approach to well-being isn't new, either. It's not New Age or western ingenuity. In fact, I can assure you that there are shamans, however they call themselves, deep in the woods across the world who probably do wear bones and speak strange languages, and every one of them knows we must participate in healing ourselves. If we aren't willing to do the grounded work to keep open the balanced rapport between our souls and our earthly consciousnesses, we can't expect the parts of our souls that need healing to stick around.