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An Interview with Isa Gucciard, Ph.D. on Soul Retrieval
Excerpted from Revolution of the Spirit; Integrating Sacred Practices into Modern Medicine by Gerri Ravyn Stanfield.
I was introduced to Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D. through a mutual student and friend who told me "You two are up to the same things." Through our email correspondence, I came to agree, the Foundation of the Sacred Stream is a place where spiritual seekers and healers can find education and inspiration from a variety of spiritual traditions. I spoke with Isa Gucciardi in September of 2012 regarding her work in the study and practice of soul retrieval.
GRS: Where do you personally see a hunger for the sacred the most?
Isa: People will always look for alternatives when they have exhausted other pathways of understanding. I notice people will often turn to a spiritual path when they are suffering or see others suffering. This often widens their inquiry around spirit. When religious or healing institutions that are charged with providing care fail, it is also common for people to have a crisis of faith and see what else is out there.
GRS: How did the concept of soul retrieval come to be a vital part of your life/work? Why is it of value to you?
Isa: Like other healers, I had a great deal of personal experience that I had difficulty understanding. I could not find the answers to what I was dealing with in conventional therapeutic models or in traditional forms of religion. This sent me on a quest. At a very young age, I became interested in alternative ways of looking at the world. My personal history included living in many cultures so I already had a broad way of inquiry. In pursuit of my quest for answers, I came across the concept of soul loss. When I heard the words, my ears perked up. I knew immediately, that was what I was suffering from. There had been no words before this that pointed to this experience at the core of my being.
After studying a lot of shamanic traditions academically, I began studying with Michael Harner and Sandra Ingerman. Sandra's book, Soul Retrieval, and her workshops had already clearly defined the concept of soul retrieval in the west. I worked with Michael as a medium for several years and became exposed to the kind of healing that was possible when working on the spirit level. I had also worked as a ground for a famous medium on the east coast and witnessed lots of spirit level healing through her work.
As it turns out, soul retrieval is a practice common to many shamanic traditions. I have found it helpful to study all the ways soul parts get separated from the mind body complex of a person, place, or society. This has been a study I have been engaged in for almost 20 years through practicing and teaching Depth Hypnosis, which incorporates shamanic practice into its processes and practicing and teaching Applied Shamanism through the Foundation of the Sacred Stream. Applied Shamanism goes further than traditional shamanic practice in involving the client in all its processes – and the process of retrieving soul parts is no different. In Applied Shamanism, the client is assisted to be active in integrating soul parts returned by the shamanic practitioner and is not just a passive bystander to the practitioner's efforts. Depth Hypnosis goes even further in involving the client in his or her own process of soul retrieval and power retrieval. Depth Hypnosis adopts the traditional methods of soul retrieval where the shamanic practitioner is doing most of the work and actually assists the client in becoming their own "shaman." This work is done by adapting the power retrieval process into a form of guided meditation – and by adapting the soul retrieval process into a hypnotherapeutic regression therapy process. When clients are more involved in their own healing, they do not have to dependent on the practitioner for understanding. This is much more empowering than processes where the practitioner does all the "heavy lifting."
Soul loss is also happening on a larger scale on the entire planet. Soul loss is not limited to individual human experience. It is also quite evident that societies experience this. Examples of collective soul loss and its effects can be found by studying the experience of cultures, such as Native American cultures that have experienced genocide, or cultures in Africa where the demoralization generated by colonialism has created a cultural, political and spiritual vacuum.
The Earth herself is in a state of soul loss due to the war that has been waged against her by unbridled industrialization. Even so, I have great faith in her regenerative capacity. There is much we can do as shamanic practitioners to heal, safeguard and restore the Earth and the beings that dwell there. Working on a spirit level makes many things possible. So much that happens in spiritual reality affects material reality. It is important to remember this even though the effect of spiritual healing like soul retrieval may not always be immediately evident on a material level.
GRS: Why is soul retrieval important to our collective health?
Isa: Of course, the collective is made of each individual. When individuals engage in soul retrieval on their own, it does affect the collective even if the individual is not aware of the collective. But when individuals participate in change with the collective in mind, miraculous things can happen. On the other hand, when you have many individuals who are experiencing soul loss or power loss on an individual level, the collective cannot help but demonstrate the experience of soul or power loss at the collective level.
Right now in the west and across the world, we have societal structures that are dependent on the perpetuation of power loss on the individual level. This is because most societal structures are set up so that they require the individual to give their personal power to the societal structure to maintain it. Sometimes the societal structures even demand soul parts of the individuals. This creates soul loss and power loss in each individual. This state of soul loss and power loss binds the individuals to the collective as they look to societal structures to remedy the sense of loss they experience. But it is a vicious cycle. The societal structures themselves only exist on the power and soul they have taken from the individuals, so they really have nothing to offer the individual. Indeed, as the individual looks to the society's structures for support, the society takes the opportunity to just take more power from them.
This is a terrible state of affairs that can only be remedied by returning each individual to a state of wholeness through power retrieval and soul retrieval. When all individuals in a society are whole, the collective will be whole and integrated.
GRS: What are the side effects of a world where people don't understand or value soul retrieval?
Isa: The side effect is an entire world experiencing soul loss. That is what we are living in right now, on a planetary, societal, familial, individual and environmental level. We can't even recognize what it is or what it arises from, which makes it very difficult to heal. People don't understand the consequences of pulling power from "easy" negative power sources like hatred and greed to remedy the state of soul loss they find themselves in. Pulling power from negative sources actually causes and exacerbates soul loss. We really do need to understand the enormous downside of negativity from this point of view. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is not kidding when he says that the cultivation of compassion is the salvation of the planet.
GRS: What do you see as the major barriers to including these practices in the world we live in?
Isa: The biggest barrier is that the current scientific imperialism existing in modern thought precludes the concept of spirit and the unseen. We are addicted to the scientific method to measure ridiculous things, such as the hair growth of a mouse under certain conditions. I cannot deny that good things can come with scientific method but it can also be used as a sledgehammer. It is shortsighted to believe that if something is not replicable, it is not valid. The world of spirit will never fit those parameters. And the experience of spirit is valid, as any visionary will tell you. Many people can't understand or imagine the world of spirit because of the limitations of the scientific worldview they have been taught to adopt.
When illness is caused by the rending of the fabric of the spirit, it can't be healed by a model that does not recognize the existence of spirit. This is a great tragedy. It is actually unscientific to preclude a whole area of experience out of hand. Including the world of spirit would allow people to have access to the power of soul retrieval to heal illnesses that are not originating on a physical level at all.
GRS: What do you think would change in the world if soul retrieval became integrated in our culture or available within our systems of medicine? For instance, what would be altered if medical practitioners included the referral for soul retrieval as an option in their recommendations for the treatment of illness?
Isa: From a shamanic perspective, all illness is caused by soul loss, power loss, and energetic interference. Modern medicine is only dealing with imbalance when it appears on a physical and mental level. Shamanic practice recognizes that illness which at the spirit level will move to the emotional level if it is not addressed. If it is not addressed at the emotional level, it moves to the mental level. If it is not addressed at the emotional level, it moves to the physical level – where it is generally harder to ignore. Modern western medicine practitioners are picking up a problem long into its evolution when they only treat physical symptoms. Many events have already led to that physical symptom. Because shamanic practice is always focused on healing the spirit, it addresses the symptom at its point of origin no matter where on the spectrum it is manifesting.
In Huna, there is the concept of Ho'oponopono, which means making the situation right. When shamanic practitioners are called to perform healing on a physical level, they ask that the person receiving the healing enter a process of intense inquiry into the unseen aspects of their relationships with other people through the processes of Ho'oponopono. This is because it is understood that the unseen plays a role in the development of disease. For instance, if a person has unresolved anger in a relationship with a family member, this can contribute to the manifestation of physical disease from a shamanic point of view. The processes of Ho'oponopono seek to address and resolve the anger in order to weaken the effect the anger has on the physical disease. Physical healing does not even begin until these corrections are addressed. I think that Western doctors could actually benefit from this method, especially for those who are not responding positively to other forms of treatment.
However, what we see these days is that everyone wants to take a pill because they don't want to have to take responsibility for their experience. The Western system is set up for the doctor to take responsibility for patient's experience. If things go wrong, it is the doctor who did not heal the person adequately. Doctors think they like this system because it creates more power for them, and patients think they like it because they are not required to take responsibility. If the treatment doesn't work, they simply search for a better doctor. If people were sent into a soul retrieval process, it is possible that they would heal more deeply and fully because they would be required to look more fully at their experience. In Depth Hypnosis, we understand that the symptom is the teacher and we ask it what it has to say. In western, medicine, practitioners and patients are out to kill the symptom, not to listen to it.
GRS: What is your offering to these interesting times in terms of your work?
Isa: My offering is certainly not what I expected it was going to be. My quest in the beginning of my healing journey was to understand my own issues. Because I had a lot of issues, I had a long quest. In an effort to heal myself of imbalance that was untouched by traditional, western methods I had to look deeply within myself and beyond the world of the rational. As I healed myself, I gathered many tools. When I decided to work with those tools with others, I realized I had developed a good foundation for the work that channeled through me as I continued in my quest to understand imbalance in others. Over the course of 10 years, the body of work that we teach at the Foundation of the Sacred Stream came to me in study, meditation, journeying and straight-ahead channeling sessions. The centerpiece of this work is Depth Hypnosis, which combines shamanism, Buddhism, transpersonal psychology, energy medicine and hypnotherapy. Depth Hypnosis uses hypnosis to alter a waking state of consciousness. This model uses the constructs of shamanism, such as soul retrieval and power retrieval and incorporates Buddhist understandings regarding the nature of suffering. We guide clients to their own sources of soul loss. The clients discover what this is for themselves. This is very different from traditions where the shaman does all the work. We don't use drums or plants to alter consciousness. We use hypnosis. In an altered state, the client follows the presenting symptoms to find the source of imbalance driving the symptoms. More often than not, the source of the symptom is a form of soul loss. The client is guided to bring the soul part back and help reintegrate it into their larger experience through soul retrieval processes that are adapted into the hypnotherapeutic process.
In my first year of practice, I had a longer waiting list of clients than I could possibly treat and so I began to teach what I knew to others in an effort to help everyone who was asking for help. As I sought to convey everything I could, I realized my students needed more training in each of the components that make up Depth Hypnosis. I started with teaching Depth Hypnosis, and then added Applied Shamanism, Integrated Energy Medicine and Buddhist Psychology. Then I developed a program of Transpersonal Studies to help people begin to perceive the events of their lives as moments on path of spiritual inquiry and discovery. In the Destination Studies program, students come to different places on the Earth where different wisdom traditions originated as the peoples who lived there listened to what the Earth was saying in each place. Through the shamanic journey, we are able to access those teachings in a fresh way and touch not only the wisdom held in each place, but honor and respect those who accessed them first.
The work of the Foundation of the Sacred Stream is an enormous body of work. There are many portals for people who have different reasons and priorities in seeking to understand the larger context of our life on Earth. We have been charged with a jewel to protect, deepen, understand and share. As this body of work was coming through, we realized we needed a physical place to hold this work. After many years of searching, we had the good fortune to be able to purchase a former Lutheran church in Berkeley, CA. This beautiful place has grounded and deepened the work as it has provided an ideal place to teach. We are also able to host other teachings from other traditions, such as Geshe Pema Dorjee and Tenzin Wangyal. The Sacred Stream Center has been an incubator for other teachers and artists who are developing their own work in world. Through all of our activities, we are engaged in the creative and dynamic process of cultivating and encouraging the processes of consciousness.
GRS: What does the world/what do humans need most right now in order to return to healthy culture?
Isa: The main thing humans need to do is take responsibility for themselves. People have gone to sleep, in order to pretend they don't have to deal with things that they have to deal with. They would rather take a pill or numb out than understand why they are hurting. What is needed right now is education. I am dedicated to education. I firmly believe that if people understand the full consequences of their actions, they would make different choices. If they could have resources and tools to develop themselves, I believe that they would do so.