Soul Loss, Soul Retrieval
The last two months have been marked by several significant anniversaries: my first Birthing From Within workshop (Austin, March, 20 years ago), the day Virginia proposed the transition of BFW ownership (April 15, four years ago), and the first BFW II facilitator training (February, one year ago). With each one, I watched my thinking, feelings, and energy shift. So, I looked up anniversary reactions.
Anniversary reaction is a term that refers to how individuals and communities react to anniversaries, whether associated with happy or heart-breaking events. An anniversary that marks a crushing loss, a life-threatening event, or betrayal directs attention to unresolved painful memories arousing a range of conflicting emotions. With the body-mind connection, physical symptoms must follow, including insomnia, hyper-alertness, suppressed appetite, and the exacerbation of chronic health problems.
Then I began thinking about soul loss. For millennia indigenous peoples have referred to feelings of profound loss and detachment following an intense shock to the mind and body as “soul loss.” With soul loss, part of our soul (or collective soul) is blocked or goes into hiding. When that happens, we lose our sense of wholeness or connectedness, and begin to feel angst, anxious, empty, lethargic, depressed, and the absence of libido and joy; sometimes it’s just hard to breath or to let go and cry. The loss is all bottled up, the heart longs for connection but is guarded against more pain. There is an aching for what is missing: purpose, direction, belonging—knowing one’s place in the order of things.
As each anniversary approached and passed, I felt a whorl of conflicting emotions amidst the desire for closure and peace of mind. On the one hand, increasingly numb, ambivalent, and not having a clear sense of purpose or future. On the other hand, trying to imagine a purpose, I became a nervous workaholic, out of touch with nature, and barely painting anymore. For years I bore physical symptoms by distancing myself from them (“I am not my body”); but this spring, I experienced a new anxiety mixed with faux indifference about every symptom related to blood cancer. Prolonged illness can also cause soul loss. I had all the markers of soul loss.
A few weeks ago, I asked my soulful friend, Brennan, how to retrieve the lost piece of my soul. He smiled and said,
“You have to make your mind and body hospitable to soul
so thatpiece wants to come back.”
Like a keisaku, Brennan’swords of wisdom sent a wake-up snap through me.“How do I do that?,” I asked.
He spoke slowly and said kindly, “Start by setting an intention to be extra kind to yourself, be good to yourself. Make space for all the feelings and memories that are coming up, make space around each feeling and allow each to move in you, and effortlessly out of you. In this way you make room for the part of soul that left to find its place, to come “home.”
Every day since, I’ve felt Brennan’s words reverberating in me, “Make your mind and body hospitable to soul so thatpiece wants to come back.” Holding his words in my heart reminds me to make space for allthe feelings and memories that come up, and to actually feel my emotions moving in me and out of me. As a result of this practice,it recently occurred to me that it’s no wonder that, during my nine-year ordeal (with what Virginia and I used to call “Kidney Camp” followed by blood cancer), part of my soul left this “inhospitable body.” I coped with being in constant pain by mastering not feeling—not feeling my physical body, not feeling my emotional body, not acknowledging the isolation of chronic illness.
Being open and hospitable to my feelings, making space for feeling is hard for me to do, much harder to do than I expected; much further from me than I realized. I have long confused thinkingabout how I felt or naming a feeling with actually feeling it. Feeling is wordless. Over and over, I stop my verbose mind from saying, even to myself, how good a warm shower feels, or how angry I am feeling(followed by a justification story). In the silence, feeling the subtle sensations of water as it touches my elbow, fingers, or feet—calls me back to my body. Dropping the story about why I am angry, I sit with Anger, and feel the vibration of anger rise and fall, like a symphony of notes, until it plays out—without any intention to change it or transcend it. Just noticing the vibration, letting it move in me, and effortlessly move out of me. I am discovering that embracing feelings means embracing life itself.
Finally, after years of guarding, denying, discounting, hiding feelings, and a whole lot of telling myself to “get on with it,” I’m cracking a little here and there, and weeping—not only for not feeling the past, but that right here and now I am still trying not to feel, not to show what I feel. When I’m ambivalent, when I don’t know how to feel or what to feel—it means my mind is censoring, trying to choose or express the right feeling, instead of noticing and accepting the feeling (which is not necessarily “mine”) that is naturally moving in me and through me and out of me. The tears help soften my ego, they wet the pages in my Rule Book blurring all the old Rules about being strong, not trusting others, not whining or asking for help, not showing how I feel because ...
Last week I picked up my paintbrushes again, and made this small acrylic painting of me calling my Soul back (5”x 7”). The background represents layers of chaos, memories, forms arising out of the formless and being folded back into the Void.
Ananke, goddess of Necessity, is returning a drifting, disconnected splinter of my soul into my receptive hands; She represents fate and is depicted as a formless serpentine form encircling the cosmos from the beginning of time. Necessity reminds me that even the solitary misery of soul loss—and retrieval in its own time--are Necessary for the soul, and cannot be otherwise. The black spots on my body mark places and stories that still feel empty, longing, unforgiven; as though when a missing soul fragment returns, it fills in one of the little black holes like a missing piece in a puzzle. I am emerging from the cosmic black hole, inspired by the black hole photos in the news (mid-April); half-in and half-out of that disconnected place I call my Hermitage, so completely alone in sometimes blessed solitude, the long night of the soul that Light cannot penetrate or radiate from, nor creativity be generated. The black and white snakes show up in my paintings now and then. I first saw these painted on a Threshold to Mother Goddess womb-cave in Peru.
Everyone at one time or another has experienced the loss of feeling, soul loss. In a birth community or birth in our culture, many are feeling something is missing, soul loss. Perhaps it is futile to blame and attempt to change what is happening “out there,” perhaps what is happening around us and to us is part of Love’s Invitation to slow down, to become quiet, and feel again.