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Exceptional Human Experiences and Finding Soul: Upon Reading Sandra Ingerman
Rhea A. White
Exceptional Human Experiences and Finding Soul:
Upon Reading Sandra Ingerman
Based on an interview with Sandra Ingerman by Cat Saunders in Body, Mind & Spirit (1994, 13, 36-43), this flyer reviews Ingerman’s knowledge of soul loss and retrieval based on her shamanic studies and experiences and her psychotherapy practice. The relevance of soul loss and retrieval to exceptional human experience is pointed out, providing the rationale as to why EEs/EHEs must be worked on so that they can catalyze the transformation of our identities and worldviews. This flyer was published in 1998.
In the course of writing an abstract of an interview with Sandra Ingerman by Cat Saunders in Body, Mind, Spirit (February 1994), the shamanic concept of soul retrieval and its connection to exceptional human experiences was brought home to me. Dr. Saunders is a psychotherapist and Ingerman has a background in psychotherapy, but she now practices shamanic therapy. Ingerman is a colleague of Michael Harner at the Foundation for Shamanic Studies (FSS) in Norwalk, CT. Harner is an anthropologist whose work more than any other has made shamanism a familiar word in the U.S. Through the FSS, which has a training school for the study and practice of shamanism, the experience of shamanism is becoming a reality as well. Ingerman is the Educational Director of the International Faculty of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies.
From the moment I started reading this article exceptional human experience leapt from the page. Even reading the interview itself was a moving EHE for me as conducting the interview was for Saunders, who had participated in FSS’s professional training for shamanic counseling taught by Harner and Ingerman. Sometimes another person can be an exceptional human experience and it appears that Ingerman was for Saunders, and both of them were for me. Saunders was "touched by Ingerman’s patient and calming presence, her deep compassion for all beings, her beliefs, and her profound respect for shamanism and the planet" (p. 37). These qualities themselves are indicative of a person who has double vision?that is, for them the Experiential Paradigm is as real as the Western worldview that is based on sensory perception plus disembodied rationality. Saunders wanted to take a soul retrieval from Ingerman, if a workshop were scheduled in the Seattle area, but one never materialized. Saunders ended up getting much more when she conducted the interview.
When Ingerman’s first book, Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self, was published in 1991 by HarperSanFrancisco, Saunders offered to interview her and did so when Ingerman’s book tour reached Seattle. In addition to the interview, Ingerman gave her a soul retrieval. Saunders says her life was changed completely as a result, which is the earmark of an EHE.
As the interview unfolds, Ingerman, in response to Saunders’ evocative questions, explains the basic philosophy of soul loss and retrieval in a very lucid way. Until I read this interview, I thought of shamanism as a masterly way of self-integration, out there at the very edges of human being, yet propelled from a central core. I could only compare them to those contemplatives, Eastern and Western, who reach areas of human being that most people cannot even imagine. But shamanism seemed special because of the role played by the body in shamanism. The saints, East and West, tend to leave their bodies behind, sometimes even literally, as in levitation, bilocation, materialization, and dematerialization. Shamans, in my limited knowledge of them, seem rather to embody the Earth and perhaps beyond. To use a dualistic conception of that which is a unity, they not only have the capacity to reintegrate their souls, they can reintegrate their physical bodies as well.
Perhaps because of their backgrounds in psychotherapy, Ingerman and Saunders from the very beginning made me see the direct relevance of soul loss and retrieval to EHEs. In fact, in working on my own exceptional experiences and urging others to work on theirs in effect I have been dealing with soul loss and retrieval without knowing it. The key word is dissociation. Ingerman explains that when an event or situation (or, I would add, an exceptional experience) is traumatic for the person, soul loss will probably happen so that the experiencer can regain a sense of equilibrium. In fact, Ingerman thinks that in the event of acute trauma (such as an automobile accident, surgery, abuse), soul loss, that is, dissociation, is bound to occur. I would add that dissociation is likely to occur in response to a mind-blowing exceptional experience, such as alien abduction, seeing the apparition of someone you thought was alive who turns out to have been dead at the time, dreaming in detail of a crash that indeed happens a few days later; or finding oneself outside one’s body looking down on one’s self. The only way you can pick up the pieces and go on as before after such an experience is to deny it, deride it, or repress it.
But the price of doing so is loss of soul. You have not honored your experience or the self that underwent the experience. It becomes necessary to work on the experience and on yourself in order not only to retrieve the parts of yourself that became dissociated, or "numbed out," to use Ingerman’s apt phrase, but to work on the experience and yourself.
In addition, the exceptional experience is often an opportunity to develop associations to a new and previously unguessed aspect of self. By exploring the associations of the experience, they will carry you, like waves, to the new shore, which is the symbol for the Experiential Paradigm. You may have to wash up on this shore many times resulting from many EEs before you realize it is the same reality that the world’s religions, poets, artists, athletes, teachers, lovers, mediums, psychics, healers, and shamans have been teaching about since the first spoken and written words.
In the West we have become dissociated from this "saving knowledge," cut off from this sparkling shore that is part of our very being. Exceptional human experiences are potential life-changing opportunities, if the experiencer responds by doing the necessary soul work. Otherwise, experiencers are in danger of "numbing out" yet again, and, sooner or later, will be in need of soul retrieval work.
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