"...Joy is probably the most difficult emotion to feel. It's hard to feel joy because we are so keenly aware that it's fleeing. When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, we lose the courage to be joyful. Joy is a daring emotion! We are going to let ourselves stop in a moment that won't last forever, that can be taken away. we fell almost that 'you are a schmuck if you let yourself feel too deeply because the bad stuff is going to happen.'...'If I let myself feel this joy, pain will be all that much harder. If I let myself just really sink into the joy of my child, something is going to happen to him or her, and i will be devastated.' It comes back to the idea that it's easter to live disappointed than feel disappointed. And yet we are starving for joy. I have never met anyone who doesn't want more joy in their life."-Brené Brown.A few months ago, I had a unique experience that came to be rather serendipitously. We have a massage therapist that comes into work, and I was in for a chair massage. She seemed..... different. Happier. More centered. I asked what the secret was, by way of joking around it.
"Did you get laid or something? You seem more relaxed."
She laughed and said "I did the most amazing thing. I went to see a Siberian Shaman for a soul retrieval ceremony."
"A what?", I asked.
She started telling me about the experience, and when I got back to my desk, I did a little digging on my own. (From "Shamanic Soul Retrieval" website)
Emotional or physical trauma can cause a piece of our soul essence to break off, or fragment, in order to continue living — this is referred to as soul loss. Psychology calls this dissociation and it is considered a survival response. It happens for our protection by allowing the trauma to be experienced indirectly, or even to be forgotten.
"Soul retrieval is the definitive healing modality in spirit medicine because it affords a reunion of dissociated soul part(s) with the person’s life essence, thereby allowing individuals to have more of themselves available to live their lives in the present moment." - Hank Wesselman, Ph.D. & Jill Kuykendall, RPT, Spirit Medicine (2004)It intrigued me. I've been so lonely these past few years, it made me think, maybe I was just missing part of my soul that was wandering around out there, hiding from the day-to-day, hiding from the things I've blocked out. So I made a phone call.
Grandmother Nadya (the Shaman) had exactly one appointment left before she returned to Siberia. It was on a night where my hubby had "guy plans" already. I called my sitter, and she was available that night, too. I figured 'what's the worst that can happen?' and I booked my soul retrieval time, as well as my sitter.
On my way to the appointment, I texted my best friend. "I'm going to see a siberian shaman for a soul retrieval ceremony. If I come out of this as a zombie, you are honor-bound to track her ass down in Siberia and get my soul back." She replied that she was up to the task, and wished me luck.
I was excited, I arrived early and was chatting with Jan, the facilitator and translator for Grandmother Nadya. Grandmother speaks only a few words of English, the drum ceremony would be sung in Ulchi, the native language of the village of Bulava in Southeastern Siberia. Jan told me how it would work - Grandmother would come down in about 30 minutes, she would ask a few question by way of translation, and then she would sing and drum her journey to find my travelling soul. Jan would be taking notes during the ceremony, and would translate the journey after it was over.
She told me not to be alarmed if Grandmother Nadya sounded harsh or angry, sometimes the spirits of the earth needed a stern talking-to. She also told me that near the end, Grandmother would put on a heavy belt of bells, to help her return from the spirit realm, and that she might come close to me and work on my body a bit. She asked me to sit comfortably, with my palms up and open, and both feet on the floor.
She told me that when it was time to go, Grandmother Nadya would take off the bells, and leave - with no words or farewells. That the ceremony was draining for her, and that she would need to go to her own rituals to recover and protect her spirit, and that I should not take it personally.
Once we'd covered the basics, Jan asked me about my life. I started telling her about my son. How smart he is, how loving, how he is my blessing and my greatest work. It was still early for the ceremony, but I heard shuffling on the stairs. A short older woman shuffled in, wearing house slippers, and she looked at Jan and asked a question in Ulchi.
Jan smiled, and replied. Then she told me "She asked what we were talking about. She said your joy filled the house and called her - that she couldn't stay away. I told her you are talking about your son."
|Chortling cue ball, at 6 months|
I showed Grandmother Nadya and Jan a picture of my boy. Her response, translated "His soul is a bright light that fills your heart."
It is true, my boy has an infectious laugh, and a smile that lights up his eyes. He has never met a stranger, and the best part of my day is when he comes running, to throw himself in my arms, calling "MAMA! MAMA!" I feel like my heart is a pot of water on a stove top, at that point where you never know exactly when the boil will start to ripple up from the bottom, bursting bubbles of joy on the surface. When I think about him, when I talk about him, when his little hand is nestled up in mine, that's when I'm the most alive, when I'm the most capable of feeling joy.
Grandmother Nadya put on a leather headband, that had strips that covered her face, we started talking about me, how I feel, both in my body and in my mind. She would ask questions, Jan would translate, and then I would answer and Jan would translate the answer. After a few minutes of this back and forth, Grandmother grabbed her head and let loose a stream of exasperated, pained Ulchi. I waited for the translation.
Jan told me "Your worry is buzzing at her mind - like a hive of angry bees. She says you worry too much, you think too much. Where did your joy go?"
From a basic cultural standpoint, the drum ceremony was fascinating. She sang, she played the drum, periodically she would get up from her chair and do a little booty shaking while singing and playing the drum. The room was dark, lit only be a couple candles, and the smell of sage burning was strong. From body language and tone of voice, it sounded like questions, imploring, and sometimes scolding was going on.
Grandmother put her heavy belt on, and came to dance beside me, still singing, still playing the drum. She took her drum stick (which was really a hunk of wood, not shaped like a drum stick we would see played in a band) and she swept it down my arms - like she was brushing something nasty off of me.
"Unnnnnhhhhghhghghhhhh", she grunted.
She kept sweeping and grunting - brushing off my arms, my legs, the front of my body. Her singing was intense, the movement was deliberate. It felt like cold water was being trickled inside my skin as she worked on me.
Then, I shit you not, she took her drum stick and rapped me upside the head. Twice.
She took off the belt, looked at me, and said the only words she said in English the whole night. "Don't worry. TRUST." And she left.
As Jan told me about the journey that Grandmother had sung, it became clear to me that while I may be lonely, I am not alone. She sang to the spirits of the water, to the spirits of the earth, to the spirits of the mountain. She sang to my mother, who is taking care of the souls of the babies I've lost, she sang to my friend who took his own life, but who is still walking with my traveling soul. She said my soul is not lost - not gone. It's just been afraid. She sang to the light of my son, and asked his love and brightness to be a beacon to bring me back to wholeness. She told the dark spirits, the negativity, the worry, that they are not welcome. She brushed them off where they clung to my body. And then she gave me a couple licks to the head to hammer it all home, to shake the cobwebs loose, to reiterate the point.
I've never been a 'glass half empty' type, and as someone that battles chronic depression, I take my joy where I can find it. It's part of why I fight the medication-solution that western medicine wants to throw my way. I would rather find a way to deal with the lows than to never feel the highs, to never feel the joy. Telling me not to worry is like asking me not to breathe. I honestly don't know how to let it go. I'm working with a therapist who is trying to help me be brave enough to provide a safe haven for the wandering parts of my soul to come home. I revel in the joy my son brings (while muttering under my breath about the frustrations of raising a toddler), and I let his infectious laughter be my guide.
"Don't worry. TRUST."