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Shamanism is a discipline. It's something you do for life. It is said that you never become a shaman; you're always learning to be a shaman.

—Sandra Ingerman

Life After Healing
An Interview with Sandra Ingerman

By Cat Saunders

     Sandra Ingerman, author of Soul Retrieval and Medicine for the Earth, is a world-renowned practitioner of shamanic soul retrieval. She is also the author of a book called Welcome Home: Following Your Soul's Journey Home. In the following interview, I spoke with Sandra about Welcome Home, which is about shifting attention from the wounding of the past toward creating a more passionate present and future.

     Cat: In Welcome Home, you tell a powerful story about a woman with AIDS, for whom you did a soul retrieval. Your power animal said, "The cause of her disease is apathy, and the cure is passion." Would you elaborate?

     Sandra: I did that journey years ago, and I still get chills every time I think about it. Since AIDS was that woman's third encounter with life-threatening illness, my animal said that her lesson was to learn about what happens if another life form has more passion for life than she does. It took over her body.

     This gave me a whole different way of looking at illness. On our planet right now, there are so many different physical illnesses. For example, viruses are mutating so fast that we cannot possibly keep up with them.

     Sometimes it seems that the life force of certain illnesses is greater than a particular individual's own life force. This is not about blame or judgment. It's just the truth. Other life forces may have more passion for life than we do, so that they can sometimes take over our bodies.

     In general, I notice that a lot of people in our culture have lost their passion for life. We're so caught up in survival, we're so caught up in our social conditioning, that we no longer ask ourselves, "What would feel good to do right now?" I can't call our culture a passionate culture, so it makes perfect sense to me that other life forms—with more passion for life—might start to fill that void in us.

     In terms of emotional health, our way of dealing with people's psychological issues right now is to give people antidepressants. To me, this shows that we're not working to discover the cause of the depression. We are only trying to keep people functional.

     I think we need to look for the roots of the depression. What's happening in our culture that so many people have to be put on antidepressants? Why aren't we looking at this as a cultural problem? Instead of drugging people, why aren't' we helping people to reconnect with their passion? Why aren't we asking, "What would bring our life force back again?"

     Cat: On the other side of life, I love your statement, "Death is not a failure. Death is one way we heal."

     People in this culture are so afraid of death. Some people even speak of death as if it is somehow shameful—the mark of an unevolved person. It seems that shamanism's respect for death can be helpful in healing these kinds of fearful or judgmental perspectives of death. In considering this, would you address the issue of walking the razor's edge between working toward healing without trying to control the outcome?

     Sandra: In all ancient cultures, death was seen as a rite of passage. Death is a transition. Many of us are in transition right now. Our whole culture is in transition right now. There is a lot of judgment around the idea that we must hold onto life no matter what. In a workshop I was teaching recently, a participant said that his father has the "John Wayne attitude" toward life: "I'm going to go down fighting."

     For years, I've been teaching in my workshops that this is a time of transformation. You either transform and live, or you transform and die. Either way, though, you are going to transform.

     For many people, the tools simply aren't available for them to be able to make the transition, or a major leap in consciousness, and still stay alive. For these people, the next step in their transition is to die as a rite of passage. For these people, death is the next step in their healing. They make their evolutionary leap in that way.

     The funny thing is, my own lesson in regard to all this has been to realize that even those people who transform and live are still going to die!

     Cat: Minor detail! One of the themes of Welcome Home is about creating a healthy present and future. The term "health" is tricky, because people who have illnesses can feel stigmatized if they are working with challenging physical or emotional processes.

      Bernie Siegel has a wonderful definition of a healthy person, which bypasses any guilt or blame in regard to illness. To paraphrase him, he said that if you spend an hour with a person and come away feeling better, that person you were with could be called a healthy person. How would you describe health?

      Sandra: I think that for me, health also has to do with choosing to take personal responsibility. I don't mean choosing to take personal responsibility for having the illness. Some people say that we "create" our illnesses. I don't think that's a healthy perspective at all!

      I think health is defined by how people look at their options. Given the situation at hand, what would I like to do next? What are my choices? To me, this kind of attitude shows a person who is looking at things in a healthy way. This is very different from the perspective of people who think they are victims of society, their environment, or other people.

      Cat: Most people agree that it's not healthy to feel guilty or to lay blame, not just in terms of illness, but in general. However, people sometimes do feel guilty or lay blame. I'm wondering, what do you do for yourself when you experience guilt or blame, and how do you help others with these things?

      Sandra: We oftentimes write about what we most need to learn! Guilt is my cross to bear. It's a tricky one. Basically, I think that guilt and blame are mental experiences. They come from mind-chatter, which is based on conditioning.

     One of the keys to healing guilt and blame is to try to move out of a mental state and into a body state. What seems helpful is to keep returning our focus to the truth of the experience—to refocus on the learning that came from a particular experience, rather than on who was right or wrong.

     This is hard work, because it involves breaking down years of conditioned habits generated by a culture that trains us to feel guilty. Healing guilt and shame is not an overnight thing. It takes constant practice to be able to stay in a body state and focus on the truth of the experience, instead of slipping into a judgmental mental state. It's about reeducation. That takes time.

     Cat: In Welcome Home, you speak about how people sometimes hide behind Spirit to express their needs. How do you help people feel safer to stand on their own in expressing their needs?

     Sandra: I wouldn't say there's a formula, so I do it on an individual basis. The trick is in being sure that I don't invalidate people by asking them to take more responsibility in expressing their needs.

     When I listen to people—whether it's in a workshop, with a friend, or with a client, I get very centered and ask for guidance about how to say this in a good way. For me, it comes down to asking people to tell the truth.

     When people say things like, "Spirit said for me to tell you," or "Spirit said for me to do this or that," I like to introduce them to the idea that Spirit talks about choices and options. The spirits don't give orders. That's not the nature of spiritual guidance.

     When people say they are being given orders from Spirit, I might say something like, "I'm wondering what's happening for you. Is there something that you need to say personally?" Then I might offer more information about how Spirit usually gives information in terms of choices and options.

     Another way to think about this is to realize that we live in a culture where everything is based on hierarchy, but Spirit isn't hierarchical. This may be an unusual perspective for some people, but I think that true spiritual practices are not based on hierarchy.

     True spiritual practices teach us about getting back in touch with the flow of life. Spirit teaches us about how to use our energy, but this is never in terms of being "better than" or having "power over" anyone or anything, as in a hierarchical system.

     Cat: Do you have any practical tips for helping people learn how to discern the voice of Spirit as opposed to their own voice?

     Sandra: I think that the most important thing is practice. People in our culture seem to want spiritual enlightenment very quickly. We're not always willing to go through the discipline. All spiritual practices are disciplines.

     Shamanism is a discipline. It's something you do for life. It is said that you never become a shaman; you're always learning to become a shaman.

     People need to have patience. We must be willing to do the discipline and do the practice. Then, over time, you can start to notice the quality of the information you receive when you are in a very deep place of talking with Spirit. Over time, you can also watch the results of using this information.

     Last of all, it's important to notice whether or not there is any judgment attached to the information you receive, because from a spiritual standpoint, there is no judgment. Things just are.

     If you hear controlling words, words that are orders, or words that have a lot of judgment attached to them, then go back and check your information again. It is always good to check the information that you receive.

     Be sure that your ego isn't crossing a line over into your spiritual experience. Check to be sure you're in a deep enough space. Again, I think this kind of discernment can only come from practice.

     Cat: You make a lovely statement in Welcome Home when you say: "In expressing your soul, you must allow yourself to be vulnerable." Would you way more about that?

     Sandra: I think that whenever you're creating anything, you're expressing your soul. The creative process involves putting yourself out to the world and shining your own light. This is a very vulnerable thing!

     For me, writing Welcome Home was a much more vulnerable process than writing Soul Retrieval. Soul Retrieval was about a method. You either agree with the method and feel called to it, or you don't. In writing Welcome Home, on the other hand, I was more deeply involved with expressing what I felt in my own soul. That means somebody could say, "I don't like what your soul just said."

     This was a much more vulnerable position in that I opened myself to expressing what is important to me. Of course, I have no control over what the public's reaction might be, but my soul's calling is to express itself.

     In this culture, we grew up being judged and graded. We were graded for our art, our writing, our singing, our music. What we learned is that every time you express your soul, or express yourself, there will be a grade. Somebody will judge you. I think this has discouraged people in this culture from expressing themselves freely, because we don't want to be graded.

     However, if we can break through this fear and access our willingness to be vulnerable—without worrying about the reaction—then we can move into our birthright. I'm really clear about this: It is our birthright to express our souls.

    Sandra Ingerman, M.A., C.S.C., is a world-renown shamanic practitioner and the author of many books, including Soul Retrieval, Welcome Home, and Medicine for the Earth.

    For more information about Sandra and her work, or to obtain a referral for a practitioner of shamanic soul retrieval, please click here.

Cat Saunders, Ph.D., is a longtime counselor, consultant, and nonsectarian minister in private practice in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Dr. Cat's Helping Handbook (available at Amazon.com). Click here to contact Cat or learn more about her work by returning to the home page. To schedule in-person or telephone consultations, please email Cat or call her 24-hour confidential voice mail at (206) 329-0125.