Life After Healing
By Cat Saunders
An Interview with Sandra Ingerman
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 formswith more
passion for lifemight 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 shamefulthe 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
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
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 experienceto 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 peoplewhether 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
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
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 vulnerablewithout worrying about the reactionthen we can move into
our birthright. I'm really clear about this: It is our birthright to express
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 counselor and consultant, death doula, 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.