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In 2005 I traveled to Andes to attend a gathering of medicine people who practiced soul retrieval. It was a forum organized by my teacher, Jose Luis Herrera, who personally knew each of the presenters.

As one presenter said, “this is not an intellectual matter. All of us have different views, so accommodate us in heart”. 

Soul retrieval can also be understood as awakening and integrating the ‘shadow’ parts of ourselves – both the positive and negative aspects of ourselves that are inaccessible to our normal waking selves. Chinese shamanic practices include a context for soul retrieval as well. 

According to Don Adolpho, ‘whenever there is soul loss, the medicine person must find where in nature, the mother, to a mountain or enchanted place it has returned…. Pachamama, as a big vessel, can contain that which leaves people’s body.

He says that a person who experiences soul loss, has constant headache and flu symptoms. The Bioenergetic force is known as Kawsay. The Anima has left with soul loss, and Kawsay leaves the  body with the Anima. Traditional ways to incur soul loss are sudden trauma, accidents, hail, lightning. The local villagers are superstitious, and thus more susceptible to soul loss, he said.

In westerners, Don Claudio noticed progressive states of cumulative soul loss which are common and a tremendous source of disempowerment. Strong resources are worn out with abusive relationships, for example.

When soul loss occurs, the Anima goes to Pachamama’s belly where pure unconditional love resides. It responds to love, so the medicine person must track it and call it back with the utmost love, care, presence and devotion. When the Anima feels an affinity with this love, it feels it is save to return.

if there are unresolved obstacles that led in part to its leaving originally, then it is not able to  return fully.

 One particularly interesting story was the experience of Quero elder and shaman, Pampamesayoq Don Claudio.  He had begun a pilgrimage to a sacred mountain, seeking to evolve, to make the leap to the next level of shamanic mastery, to become an Altoqmesayoq. Tradition says that this is not done. One is born an Altoqmesayoq, or struck by lightning, or otherwise chosen for this path.  Nevertheless, within himself, he felt called after many years as a Pampamesayoq to expand his awareness.  What occurred was astounding.  He had a life-changing, mind-altering experience with the mountain, which frightened him and shook him up inside. When he returned, however, his colleagues said, ‘ ah but this is a good thing, because if the mountain takes a part of you, then when it gives that part back, it will be instilled with the power of the mountain.’

In this tradition the mountains are considered to be the gateway to the heavens, the residence of the wise men, or the Andean version of the ascended masters. This reframing of an otherwise harrowing experience for don Claudio awakened me to a new level of understanding: what we call soul loss is one of the many ways we learn about life. When we are in situations we don’t understand, a part of us leaves and goes into that experience to experience it completely, and if things go along smoothly and we do not forget our intention, it comes back to us and we ‘know’ that aspect of the world in a deeper way than we could if we simply understood it intellectually. The essence of this process is similar to the basic Taoist perspective of health:  our ultimate goal is to evolve into more aware humans, in the image of the universe, and the ultimate goal of all or our process, even pathological processes are to further us along the path to that goal. What appear to be pathological processes are the natural processes of our bodies and souls attempting to attain homeostasis or to evolve which have gone awry.