Friday, March 09, 2012

Bonnie Bright - The Shamanic Perspective: Where Jungian Thought and Archetypal Shamanism Converge

I stumbled upon this article from Bonnie Bright recently and was quite intrigued by it. There have been several articles and books over the years linking shamanism and Jungian psychology. Sandra Ingerman is one of the best known therapists to use this model of "soul retrieval" in her work.

Ingerman is quoted in the article as saying that shamans know where the split off parts of self/soul go when they are lost, but that modern psychotherapy has no such map. But I disagree - in the various parts models of trauma and mental illness, we know that the parts are found in memories, drams, or even in somatic sensations.

The whole article is quite interesting, but I am only sharing a bit on the topic of soul loss and soul retrieval. Follow the title link to read the whole PDF of the article.

The Shamanic Perspective: Where Jungian Thought and Archetypal Shamanism Converge

By Bonnie Bright
Soul Loss
Studies in anthropology led Jung to adopt into psychology a concept prevalent in shamanic societies: that of soul loss. Typically recognized as a state of general malaise, soul loss provides another common thread between both Jungian psychology and shamanism. Soul loss is a fragmentary sequence in which parts of the whole wander away, flee, or get split off, lost, or disoriented resulting in a loss of vitality or life force (Ingerman, 1991). In a shamanic worldview, the dislocated parts are carried away to the underworld; in psychology, they are said to recede into the unconscious. With the critical absence of vital parts of our soul, we are left feeling weak, empty, depressed, deflated, or anxious, and commonly trend toward mental or physical illness. Jung cited the loss of connection between our ego and the Self as the fundamental cause of soul loss:
There are two reasons why man loses contact with the regulating center of his soul. One of them is that some single instinctive drive or emotional image can carry him into a one-sidedness that makes him lose his balance…his one-sidedness and consequent loss of balance are much dreaded by primitives, who call it “loss of soul.” (1964, pp. 228-9)
Hillman (1975) outlines five functions of soul: (1) it makes all meaning possible, (2) it turns events into experiences, (3) it involves a deepening of experience, (4) is communicated in love, and (5) has a special relation with death (p. xvi). For Hillman, as a result of these five characteristics, the soul represents the imaginative possibility of our nature, a possibility that is realized in reflective speculation, dream, image, and fantasy. If any one of these aspects of soul alone is lost, the repercussions are immense. As meaning dissolves and love and death become increasingly distant aspects of our experiential understanding, our lives are prone to becoming simply a series of events, which happen to us, one after another, and from which we are progressively more disconnected and detached.

Both shamanism and psychology seek to treat soul loss by retrieving and reintegrating vital essence that is missing. According to Eliade (1974), soul loss occurs for many reasons: one, as a protective measure, transpiring when we simply cannot sustain the distress caused by accidents, abuse, attack, or other sudden, devastating events. In this case, the soul flees in order to escape feeling fear, pain, or shock. On other occasions, pieces of our soul remain with other people after relationships end or they depart with souls who have died. Additionally, invasive energies can attach themselves to, or are directed at, a person. This is commonly perceived as witchcraft or sorcery from a shamanic view and as a complex, or constellated, spontaneously activated, unruly energy triggered by past conditioning from a Jungian standpoint (Storr, 1983).

Last, soul loss can occur from habitually refusing to listen to the guidance of the gods or spirits (Ryan, 2002). Indigenous cultures often relate illness, both of body and mind, to soul loss, believing the resulting illness, disease, depression, or malaise stemming from the loss of an essential part of the self can only be restored through shamanic intervention (Sarangerel, 2001).

In psychological terms, soul loss is dismemberment or dissociation: the loss of contact or connection with deeper, vital parts of ourselves associated with the Self. French psychologist Pierre Janet coined the term splitting to describe the defensive mechanism through which the human mind is able to distance itself from the effects of trauma by severing the connection to thoughts, feelings, and memories that are in excess of what it can process at that time (Smith, 2007). Kalsched (1996) states that dissociating is a normal psychological defense that allows us to bear pain that may otherwise be unbearable. Disengaging and dropping the part of ourselves that was most traumatized is the only way we can cope and move on. In each of these instances, we dissociate or dismiss the parts of ourselves that are vulnerable to the brunt of the trauma and banish them for either punishment or safekeeping. Ultimately, it is a default mode of sequestering and coping with unknown entities that threaten us.

Glendinning (2007) maintains that the ability to remove our consciousness around an area or topic that is too painful to bear serves an important function. According to her, dissociation is a brilliant method of self-preservation, a way to stave off or avoid threats, challenges, and difficulties we are unable to integrate. Dissociation is a kind of fencing off of our psyche, a splitting, just as when we first fenced off plots of earth in order to manage them more effectively and accommodate our ongoing survival (as cited in Glendinning, 2007, p.113). These fenced off areas, once established, seem to freeze in place, holding the contents in the original untouched form, as if freeze-drying them to preserve the host from contamination. In psychology, these are what Jung referred to as the complexes, which are often spontaneously broken open when certain triggering situations arise (Jung, 1964).

Indeed, it is this loss of connection to which June Singer (1994), Jungian analyst and author, also attributes the core of our soul loss. Singer says when soul loss occurs, the soul has “ceased to be the connecting ribbon of a road between the conscious individual and the vast unknown and unknowable” (p. 39). She, like Jung, believes it is a necessity for the soul to provide ongoing intercourse between the ego and the unconscious.
Soul Recovery
It is the task of the shaman to walk between worlds as an interpreter or mediator of the spirit realm—including the province Jung referred to as the collective unconscious. According to Mircea Eliade (1974), one of the most vital functions a shaman performs is that of soul retrieval wherein the shaman’s spirit leaves the body to seek out souls who have lost their way, journeying into other realms to locate and retrieve the lost soul and re-integrate it into the person’s physical body. Similarly, psychotherapists also seek to re-integrate disconnected pieces of the soul, or psyche, but, in this case, the major difference from a shamanic worldview is that patients are encouraged to go in search of their own split-off parts. The therapist will then help the patient interpret the significance of her interaction with the imaginal and to frame her experience in order to reintegrate the parts (Haule, 2009). From both perspectives, healing can be achieved through visions, dreams, and symbols, regardless of whether they are accessed first by the shaman or the patient (Roberts, 1999).

Ingerman (1991) points out that a significant difference between shamanism and psychotherapy is that in shamanism it is categorically apparent where the fragmented pieces of soul go when they leave. In traditional psychology, we understand there has been a splitting off resulting from trauma, but we don’t think to ask where those lost parts reside. Smith (2007) rightly suggests that a shaman might consider most of the disorders defined in the DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association, as symptoms with an underlying cause of soul loss, otherwise defined as loss of vitality or power. Regardless, healing, whether in shamanism or in Jungian psychology, results from gathering those parts and reintegrating them with the whole—just like bringing the lost bees home to the hive.

Collective Soul Loss
Modern times seem to find the increasingly global culture suffering from a spiritual crisis, a collective soul loss and a dismemberment of body, mind, and spirit (Allen and Sabini, 1997). Rampant dissociation characterized by inertia, loss of vitality, depression and disease pervades our everyday life. Daily we are exposed to new and ever more disturbing accounts and media stories of addiction, violence, rage, and intolerance. In order to prevent the discomfort and pain these events arouse, we must numb ourselves on an ongoing basis. Dissociation, a form of disregard, disrupts our connection to a universal, cosmic web in which we participate as equals with the greater whole of elements and life forms around us. It deepens the separation we have established between ourselves and what we see, and it intensifies our view that the outside world and everything in it is dead, justifying ever greater abuse and manipulation of the natural world, the earth, and each other (Bernstein, 2005).

Our collective culture mirrors an individual who is suffering deeply from soul loss, manifesting in symptoms such as falling into conflict with the self, fragmenting into splinters in the pursuit of goals, interests, and occupations; and losing touch with his “origins and traditions…even losing all memory of his former self” (Sabini, 2005, p.182). Disregard, numbing, or not wishing to see or feel the distress and negative effects that soul loss brings also moves us ever further away from deep connection with soul and into a society where meaning is hard to find, compelling us try anything to fill up the gaping sense of emptiness that results. Jung correctly diagnosed our compulsive, cultural tendency toward hyperactivity, saying, “we rush impetuously into novelty, driven by a mounting sense of insufficiency, dissatisfaction, and restlessness” (as cited in Sabini, 2005, p. 141). Rather than turning inward to find a sense of meaning, rather than encountering and engaging with soul to integrate the disparate pieces, we grasp at straws outside ourselves and further fragmentation ensues.

Jung also recognized that entire nations suffer from dissociation and soul loss, reminding us, "Modern man does not understand how much his 'rationalism' has put him at the mercy of the psychic 'underworld'…. His moral and spiritual tradition has disintegrated, and he is now paying for this break-up in world-wide disorientation and dissociation” (as cited in Allen & Sabini, 1997, p. 216). In fact, we are witnessing an ever-greater loss of soul at the planetary level as well. The anima mundi, the world soul, so rich and varied with her diverse multitude of cultures, languages, species, and habitats, is losing soul with increasing speed as each becomes endangered and then extinct. With every loss of heritage, home, or heart, pieces of soul drop away, leaving the world soul weak, listless, and disoriented, lacking needed vitality and energy to exist.

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