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Shamanic Healing

© Catherine Ripplinger Fenwick

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1990, I had a tumour the size of a large egg. Seven of eleven lymph nodes tested positive for cancer. A modified radical mastectomy and six rounds of chemo therapy were recommended.

While I gratefully received this traditional medical treatment, I felt there was more I could do to help myself. I talked to anyone who would listen, asked questions, searched, and read everything I could get my hands on. Purely technical treatments seemed so inadequate. Where did mind and spirit fit into the picture?

I explored many complementary healing practices and actively participated in many; such as, healthy diet, vitamins, meditation and visualization, prayer, psychotherapy, humour and positive attitude. I was doing a lot, but something was still missing.

The healing work I was doing didn't feel "wholistic," I was treating body, mind and spirit as though they were separate pieces. Most theories, except for Carl Jung's work on the collective unconscious, left out the spirit aspects or isolated the soul as something which lies beyond. Then, about two years after surgery and chemo, my sister sent me an article about shamanic healing and soul retrieval.

Shamanic practice is based on the belief that body, mind and spirit are inextricably linked. Any action or reaction on one part effects all the parts, not only for individuals, but for everyone and everything. Shamanism is about finding ways to live in harmony with all life forms.

This immediately appealed to me. I was about to travel to Alberta in search of a shamanic practitioner when I discovered there was a small group of practitioners here in Saskatchewan. In a workshop titled, Ancient Way of Knowing: The Shamanic Journey, I learned about shamans and the shamanic work that continues today.

Shamanism is the earliest known practice of healing mind, body and spirit. Evidence of these methods exist worldwide and have been dated to 20,000 years ago. Illness is seen as spiritual in origin and healing requires intervention on a spiritual level.

This work teaches us how to help ourselves, and others, to live in health, happiness and harmony with nature. It goes beyond the body-mind connection work of Cousins, Simonton, Seigel and others. Shamanism encompasses the belief that everything that is, is alive. People are alive, but so is the earth and the universe. Key features include remembering self, maintaining one's personal power, and living peacefully with all of creation.

Many people in the modern world live disassociated from natural balance in the universe. In order to survive when things are unbalanced or a trauma occurs, we cut ourselves off emotionally and spiritually in order to help the body survive. In psychology this is called dissociation. Shamanism refers to this as soul loss. Symptoms of the trauma may heal, but the soul parts may not return.

To be fully alive in body, mind and spirit, we need to have all functions in all three areas working together. We can't do this when some of the parts are missing. For example, my mind would not work to full capacity if I had even small parts of my brain missing. Spirit or soul is not fully there if parts of it leave in order to protect us from injury. Often we adapt and carry on, not noticing the missing parts most of the time, until we become ill.

This work in no way contradicted what I had learned in my studies and work as a therapist. In fact it made perfect sense. We need all our parts if we are to be fully awake. Often therapy doesn't progress because something is missing. Therapists and clients tend to focus on the emptiness or the hole or the dissociation that follows trauma. In soul retrieval we focus on filling the emptiness. The part of our self, the soul part, that left us is brought back. Now we can really deal with what happened, finish the issue and move on.

During my own experience with soul retrieval, my shamanic practitioner was able to find and retrieve three soul parts which had left at various stages in my life and had not returned. The descriptions she gave me fit with memories I had of those times. A fourth soul part returned spontaneously, about three months later, during an early morning meditation.

At first I was sceptical, but I continued the work, adopted an attitude of discovery, and watched as my healing progressed. It took several months for it to sink in and for my body, mind and soul to reintegrate. The process continues. I still experience loss, grief and trauma, but I now have a method for keeping body and soul connected.

My life has changed in many ways since the cancer diagnosis. Shamanic practice has given me a deeper understanding of the interconnection of all things and brought my life back into balance. I am more energetic, the sky looks bluer, trees are greener, snow is whiter and there is a healthier glow about life in general. I am much more attentive and respectful of all of life, including Mother Earth. I feel healthier, happier and more peaceful.

I am grateful for the deeper understanding of the interconnection of all, how harm done to one part harms the whole, and when we work toward healing one part we participate in healing the whole.


Self discovered in life's purity
Spring water
Mountain air
Star filled sky
Shared hugs
Babies giggles
Children's laughter

Release attachment
To material world
Wander in the landscape Of ego free mind * from Telling My Sister's Story, poetry by Catherine Fenwick, 1996

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