Soul Retrieval

From: thea@nekelew.net

To: owen@nekelew.net

Subject: Soul Retrieval

Owen – I’m wondering if what I need is a soul retrieval. I have a feeling that there is something that massage, tarot and even my painting aren’t getting to. Ursula mentioned that you are experienced at shamanic journeying. Do you have time in the next week or so? Thanks, Thea

 

From: owen@nekelew.net

To: thea@nekelew.net

Subject: Re: Soul Retrieval

Sure. I miss doing that and something has been telling me I should be doing more. Would next Tuesday at 1 pm work for you? The house is usually quiet that time of day.

 

Sitka House where Owen lived was nestled into the valley at the base of the Mountain. Tall conifers the house was named for stood watch over the evergreen huckleberries bushes and salal. Once through an ornate wrought iron gate, Thea walked past a cheery kitchen garden that filled most of what used to be the front yard. It was still full of kale, chard, collard greens, onions and lots of herbs. She snagged a bit of parsley as she came through.

Coming closer, she could see clothes hanging from a line around the side of the house. Bicycles of various shapes and sizes were draped on the front porch, some hanging from the rafters but most leaning along the edge of it. A red canvas hanging chair swung invitingly. A half filled teacup beside a wicker loveseat showed evidence of recent use.

Once up the steps, she lifted the ornate doorknocker shaped like the Green Man just as Owen opened the door. “Welcome,” he said, “I saw you coming up the path. Did you have a nice walk over?”

“Lovely. I saw a doe nestled in the bushes just across the way. She sat calmly looking at me. So I saluted her and came on in.”

“Well, that’s a great omen,” Owen said smiling. “Deer is one of my Power Animals. They are such gentle creatures. She will be a good guide for us both on our Journey today.”

Once inside, Thea added her orange slip-on crocs to the neat shoe lineup at the door and followed Owen through the open communal living room and kitchen area. The house smelled of recently cooked onions and something else. Curry maybe. Cumin anyway. Everything was surprisingly tidy. A laptop was open on the kitchen table alongside a basket of cloth napkins with brightly colored animal shaped rings. The remains of a Scrabble game were spread on the low table in front of one of the couches, but books and magazines were neatly stacked and musical instruments were hung along one wall. Bright Mexican hangings (Oaxacan she guessed) and local topographic maps filled the other walls. Even the kitchen sink was bare of dishes and there was only one plate and a small pan in the dish drain.

“We’re lucky to have June as a sort of house mother,” Owen said, seeming to read Thea’s mind. “She keeps after us to pick up our projects. And woe betide anyone who leaves spaghetti sauce to grow green fuzzies in the fridge. We don’t have a cool box like Pia and Raven, but we splurged on an efficient fridge. Sometimes I feel a bit guilty about that but it is nice to have the freezer for my comfrey compresses and the nettle and chickweed pestos. It also means we can stock up on meat from the farmer’s market.”

Thea tried to imagine even thinking about not having a fridge, but didn’t say anything. The alternative, backwards-seeming technological bent of some of these people continued to startle her. She’d yet to try lighting her woodstove. Gadgets like her blender and popcorn popper were so handy. And she did love her sporty little Mazda having only a vague idea what gas mileage it got.

“Come on back to my room and let’s get started,” Owen said, leading the way down the hall.

The room they entered was more cluttered than the shared spaces. Bundles of drying herbs took up most of the closet nook, consigning his clothes to hooks on the wall or the dresser, she supposed, whose top was full of odd bits of bones and shells and beads. Not quite an altar but it probably served as such if the candle there was any indication. A clutter of assorted empty bottles, droppers and blank labels were piled under the long worktable (made from the closet doors she realized). The big window behind it had a tiny glimpse to the sea through the Sitkas. A few potted plants were clustered on one end of the wide sill, notably a large aloe and a spider plant. A hanging crystal cast rainbows merrily here and there. Books lay open on every surface, most of them herb identification books. She recognized the Pojar and Makinnon Northwest plant guide on the bed like the one that she had just bought at Ursula’s suggestion to help her do specific plants in her paintings. But she also espied some of her favorite novels tucked into the shelves – Starhawk’s Fifth Sacred Thing that had been so inspiring to her and several Barbara Kingsolvers. And there were Alberto Villoldo’s autobiographical books about his shamanic training, plus Elliot Cowan’s Plant Spirit Medicine. She’d heard that Owen had something akin to that plant connection.

“I’ve been meaning to explore Villoldo’s books,” said Thea, “May I borrow them?”

“Of course. They are a terrific read. Pia and I have just been talking about his descriptions of conscious death processes. Sometimes I wonder if we really just came into this world to learn how to die properly so we can choose our next lives with more awareness.”

As Owen talked he spread out two yoga mats side by side, covering them with several of the short orange wool blankets that Thea recognized as being from Peru.

“Have you traveled in the Andes?” she asked.

“Yes, it was an important turning point in my opening to shamanism,” he replied. “I took the vision medicine Ayahausca in the Amazon headwaters area and Wachuma (what others call San Pedro) near Machu Picchu.”

“Wow! I’ve always wanted to go there. But I won’t be doing any traveling any time soon.“

“If you are meant to you will. It just sort of calls you.”

“I know how that works.” Thea smiled ruefully. “That’s how I came down here to live at the beach, but I need to get to know this place before I go gallivanting off again.“

“It’s a different sort of Journey we’re doing today. Do you have a specific question you want to explore in the Spirit World?”

“No, I just have the feeling there is something important missing in my inquiries. I’ve uncovered a lot through my paintings. I’m in the middle of a series that is hinting at some interesting things about the Mountain. But I feel like I’m just scratching the surface in them. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that I’m only seeing the first, most obvious layers in my interpretation of the paintings. Every time I look at them I learn more about them – and myself – but I need a new hit to carry me to the next level.”

“Okay, that’s enough to go on. I want you to lie down here on the left side and I’ll lie beside you on the right. Is that pillow a good size for you to be comfortable? Here’s something to lay over you.” He handed her a bright rainbow-colored Mexican cotton blanket. “Is one enough?”

Once Owen had Thea settled he lay down himself. But not before putting a little piece of lapis and a flicker feather under his small faded red velvet pillow. “They help me Journey,” he explained. “Sorry about the tape recorded drum beat. We need it to trance properly. I learned to do this with someone else drumming but I just don’t have enough hands to do it myself and am too cheap to pay someone to be here for that part. Sometimes I can do it in my head but more when I’m totally on my own. I’m also going to use another recorder so you’ll have a tape of the proceedings.”

“Do I need to do anything myself?” asked Thea.

“Nope. Just breathe deeply keeping your mind as clear as possible.”

“More easily said than done,” thought Thea lying there a little stiffly. The floor was hard and the covering scratchy…. She hadn’t wanted to say anything but the pillow was rather small, though soft enough really. She could have used something under her knees…. She was acutely aware of Owen lying there on his back, his body touching hers all along their lengths. He smelled like cumin with a whiff of rosemary, surprisingly feminine culinary odors for such a bear of a man. The beat was more monotonous than she expected and soon her nervous noticing dissipated and her breath evened out. She wished he would say something….

Owen took a deep breath and allowed himself to be lulled by the familiar drumbeat. He could feel Thea breathing softly at his side, their bodies touching at shoulder and hip, a subtle scent of coconut wafting over him. She must use it as a cream. A fitting smell somehow with her exotic coffee au lait skin.

Soon, however, information from his five bodily senses faded, even the bird song outside, and he was deep in that internal landscape of his Journeying Tree, that beloved huge Sitka up in his family’s forest land, its presence particularly fresh after his recent sojourn there. Over the years he had developed a quick mental passageway through an imaginary door into the tree and down its roots to a stairway that lead deep into Mother Earth…. At the bottom of the stairs there was a heavy wooden gate which when opened brought him out onto a landscape totally different from the green world where he had started…. Aaahhh…. The  Underworld…. He’d made it here yet another time. Always there was a question in his mind about whether he could find this place again…. For him it was dry and sandy, the vegetation sparse and differently unfamiliar every time he visited there…. He was not actually there…. or rather had no physical sense of his body being there. It was a place in his head that connected to the Spirit World.

And yet…. his “body” floated lightly and today, noticing this, he felt himself land more firmly and his feet begin to crunch on the path. Path? There wasn’t usually a path…. As he took this in he saw a little brown girl huddled weeping in the middle of a grassy patch…. Yellow dandelions blazed around her and she clutched a bundle of them in one clammy fist….

“Little girl…. little girl….” He tried gently to get her attention without startling her. The crying subsided but she did not look up. She seemed to be about seven years old – that age when the material world becomes all too real, and one is no longer encouraged to believe in Santa or fairies, even in the most imaginative households.

“Little girl, why are you crying?” This time he patted her gently on her back. She lifted her head and showed him her swollen brown eyes and tearstained face, not yet ready to trust him with words. Her blue dress with delicate smocking was stained from the grasses.

Suddenly a twitch in the very physical arm next to him, reminded him that he was here on a particular mission and he began to communicate what he was seeing to Thea. It was always tricky to describe the scene to his client without losing contact with the little one, in this case undoubtedly Thea herself at a young age. A lost part of herself that had been thrown off in defense of some trauma. It might have been what a grown-up would recognize as traumatic such as abuse of some sort, or it might reflect a seemingly minor slight or mischance that nevertheless loomed large in this child’s personal landscape. The loss of this soul part had created a wound or a scar in Thea and it was time to reclaim her so that Thea could move forward with a new sense of wholeness and wellbeing.

“I am asking the little girl why she is crying…. I’m telling her that you have come to meet her and want her to go home with you. That you now live at the beach which she would like very much.”

Thea had to strain to hear Owen’s voice, now gone surprisingly soft compared to his usual deep bass. He sounded very far away. It made sense that he would see a little brown girl. She knew exactly what that little girl looked like….

Owen quieted tuning in to the steady drumbeat taking him inward again.… At the mention of the beach the child brightened a little. Then her face fell again. “But I can’t go to the beach,” she said. “I have to take care of my sisters and brothers. I have to be sure Mama is okay and that Gran is taken care of. Mama doesn’t have time to do all the things she needs to. I have to help her.”

“Sounds like you’ve needed to be pretty responsible,” said Owen. “But now you can be with the grown up Thea who will take care of everything for you and you can just be a little girl playing at the beach.”

She looked doubtful.

“Would you like to have a spirit friend with you to be sure that grown-up Thea keeps her promise to you?”

“There is now a large snake wrapped comfortably around the little girl,” Owen relayed to the grown-up Thea. “Not tightly but in a protective sort of circle…. I asked her if Snake was her new friend and she says, as if about a familiar and much loved guardian, ‘No. Snakey is always here. I’d like someone new to help me at the beach.’ As soon as she says this, a large cougar appears and the little girl greets it with a hug. It bowls her over and they tumble together happily on the ground…. They’re having a lovely time…. Now I’m asking her if she is ready to come to the beach with you and she says that yes, she is ready…. But first she wants to know if you will play with her. She says she is afraid that being all grown up you will be too serious all the time like her Mama is. I told her that I think you will play but that she might have to remind you how and that the two of you will have to work this out together…. She says as long as you are willing to try and if she can bring Snakey and Cougar, she’s ready to come home with you…. “

Thea was baffled by both animals Owen was describing. She shivered uncomfortably at the idea of a snake, unable to think of any who could have been familiar to her during her childhood except maybe some scary ones from the reptile house at the zoo. Ugh…. Not even one in a book. And connecting with an imaginary cougar….? She didn’t want to sound unwelcoming, however, so she murmured what she hoped was an acquiescent sort of noise.

“Now I’m checking to see if there are any other soul parts to connect with…. No, that seems to be it for today.”

Owen reached out and turned off the tape recorders. There had been something else that he saw but he got a strong message that it wasn’t time to mention yet. The journey back up the stairs inside his Tree had been a quick one and he had reentered the material world with only a slight moment of disorientation. He leaned over and cupping his hands on Thea’s chest, blew three times infusing her with the beings of Little Girl Thea and her companions.

“Now they are part of you,” Owen told Thea, as she too rubbed her eyes and sat up. “But you still have to get to know the child self you left behind. I have a handout from my teacher that tells some of the ways to process this. I want you to commit to following the steps outlined in it. Your little lost soul self is skittish and easily lost if you don’t talk to her and build a connection. And as she requested, you must play with her.”

“How on earth am I going to do that?” Thea asked uneasily. “I barely know how to play!”

“Obviously,” said Owen. “And I’m not likely to be much help on that score. But the little lost part of you is requesting play. That’s what you left behind and what you must recover. She’ll help you and so will Cougar. Snake probably has another gift for you that you will discover by paying attention.”

“I’m actually afraid of snakes.”

“Most people are in our culture. That’s why they show up so often symbolically. I’ve seen them a lot in your paintings.”

“I never understand quite what they mean though I know they are about power somehow…. And I do keep making drastic changes in my life which I think of as shedding skins.”

Both standing now, Thea helped Owen fold up the blankets. “Don’t forget the books you wanted to borrow.”

“Thanks so much, Owen.” Thea got out her checkbook but Owen gestured her to put it back in her bag.

“I would love a painting of yours. Would that be an okay trade?”

“Certainly. Do you know which one you want?”

“If I come by in a week or so you can let me know how you’re doing and I can choose a painting then.”

Thea’s Green Egg Painting

Ova

“Tell me about this one,” Ursula said, pointing to a painting in Thea’s cozy living room where they’d been having tea. Thea rotated her paintings often and this was one she’d never seen before..

“Ummm. That one is still something of a mystery,” said Thea, hands on her hips. She stared at it for a few breaths. “It was a breakthrough painting.”

“Is it new?” asked Ursula.

“No. I did it in a fit last year when it was pointed out to me that I was busy telling myself the story of each painting like I already knew what everything symbolized. Or thought I did,” she added ruefully. “What was the point of all this exploratory painting if I had a pat answer for all my own questions, even if they only turned up as I painted.”

“What made you take the leap in the first place away from your accustomed style?”

“That was an earlier stage. I often tell people it was because I was bored, but I’m realizing that’s not quite right. I knew there was something more I craved than that standard kind of beauty. Beauty was part of it, sure. But I wanted to know more about myself, rather than the outward landscape of the world. I needed to jump off the proverbial cliff. Be The Fool. The tarot deck I had just bought made me realize that there was a whole level of my psyche I hadn’t been able…. willing?…. to explore.”

“I know how that feels,” said Ursula. “That realization was what made me leave my church. Charley and I took up meditation with a teacher for a while, but then I felt like even meditating in an organized way was keeping me in too much of a box. Charley still gets a lot out of it. I started doing ritual when Stella came to town and wanted to start a women’s spirituality group. Everything evolved from there. But how did you make the leap?”

“I think for some people it’s important to switch creative realms entirely. Garden instead of paint. Write. Sculpt. Learn bodywork. For me it seemed to be enough to switch mediums. Using acrylics and oils loosened me up, made me forget all the rules I’d internalized…. most of the time.” She smiled, remembering the occasions she had been called out on that one. “I took a Process Painting class where the instructor would say, ‘Why not use a startling color that makes you uncomfortable?’ or ‘Which is more important? A piece of paper or your life?’ That one really got me cause I realized that what the end product looked like actually had become all-important. That, and…. What. People. Thought. Of. Me.”  She emphasized each word realizing as she spoke how very important that had been to her. Still was, if she was honest with herself.

“In another class we painted with a question for three hours and then spent three hours discussing the work. Not as capital ‘A’ Art. I had plenty of that in school and it doesn’t interest me any more. Rather we talked about the paintings from the point of view of the psyche. The teacher was sort of a Jungian with art therapy training. She also was pretty darn psychic. This painting came out of a question she fired at me one day…. a challenge really. She told me to do a painting I didn’t understand. Boy, did I squirm with that one.”

“And this is the painting?”

“Yep. I did it with my left hand to try letting go of my thinking self. Sometimes it seems like I need to just cut off my head. There’s a painting of that too.”

“Is that a woman’s torso?” asked Ursula.

“I’ve always thought so. See how her legs sort of sprawl there? I think that’s a paintbrush dangling near where her knees would be. I’ve done a lot of figures since that have a paintbrush.”

Bear & I Birthing Each Other“Yes, like the Bear one upstairs,” Ursula always noticed things with her beloved Bear on them. “Looks like you at least left out the head in this painting. I certainly don’t see one.” They both laughed at Ursula’s observation.

“Yes, like the Bear one in your studio upstairs.” Ursula always noticed anything involving her beloved Bear. “Looks like you at least left out the head in this painting. I certainly don’t see one.” They both laughed at Ursula’s observation.

“After it was done I cried and cried whenever I looked at it so I knew it was important.”

“Does it still make you cry?”

“Not really. Now I feel frustrated cause I still don’t get what that swirl is.” Thea hoped she didn’t sound like she was whining. This was an on-going question for her and the reason she had put the painting back up.

“Isn’t it on her belly?”

“Sort of. But it could also be her boobs or her…. cunt.” She spoke the forbidden word hesitantly. “I don’t get what it’s telling me. I’m still waiting for one of those ‘brief glimpses of the blindingly obvious.’”

“Shall we draw a tarot card about it?” asked Ursula.

“What a great idea.” Thea reached towards the shelf behind the couch for the brown decorated bag that held the round MotherPeace cards. She handed them to Ursula who sat down on the floor and spread them out to mix them up. “My old friends.”

The golden swirls on the floor were beautiful and enticing. Thea’s hand hovered above them and then dove for a card. She hooted as she laid it face up in front of them.

“Daughter of Discs. I consider this the vision quest card. Duh – tell me something I don’t know.”

“Good call – it’s exactly the situation you are in. Discovering yourself, pulling yourself away from your normal world. In this card it’s a desert scene but our coastal temperate rainforest is every bit as challenging for you. Like in the card, you’ve drawn a proverbial circle of stones around yourself for your questing and you’re holding up your staff to the light. Perhaps even attracting celestial help of some sort….”

“My pipe in hand. You know I smoke pot sometimes to be in ceremony and to deepen the paintings.”

“I’m doing that more these days than I used to. Take another card.”

This time Thea drew the Priestess of Wands. A strong looking naked black woman, dreads flying, had her hand on a lioness whose head nestled into her lap. A rainbow arced between the sun and a pot of gold tucked in the rocks.

“Bravo, she’s got all her tools and allies,” said Ursula.

“I don’t know what that odd instrument is in her hand but I’m declaring it a paint brush,” said Thea. “Is that a lizard next to her or a salamander?”

“Hard to say, but if we’re talking about our ecosystem it’s more likely to be the bog-loving salamander or a newt. I’d keep an eye out for them and a feline ally. Maybe it’s Gato here or maybe something bigger. The flowering plant is witch hazel. Take one more. It would be cool to get a definitive answer.”

“Ha! It’s the pregnant belly one.

“Joke’s on us. Should have known we’d get a card describing the situation rather than a foretelling.”

“One can always hope.”

“This 7 of Discs tells us again that something is ‘aborning.’ Again like the Bear painting upstairs. You are on a quest, you’ve got your tools, but it’s still gestating. Like those fat juicy melons around her. You know, all these women are naked. Like your paintings. Brown too. I’m getting from this and from your paintings that your body is your teacher – perhaps there is something inside there. Can you go on a cosmic treasure hunt to find out what is being birthed?”

“That’s exactly what my painting journey is. A cosmic treasure hunt. The gestating of a seed…. I just wish I knew what that seed was.”

“Maybe that’s what your painting up there is about…. See that green in the roundness of the belly?”

“A seed! You’re right. A green seed…. or an egg which is a kind of seed….” Thea felt that lovely buzz of a revelation resonating deep in her core.

“There are folks here who could help you with the search for details. Owen does Soul Retrievals. That’s a shamanic process where he ‘journeys’” Ursula raised her fingers to indicate quotes, “to find parts of yourself that were lost in your childhood. He doesn’t do sessions often but I think he’s really good and should be doing more. Could do more. I don’t want to ‘should’ all over him.” Ursula smiled. “Also June‘s sand tray counseling process. Her office has a delightful room full of miniature figures – everything from trees to monsters to princesses to crystals. You use them to make scenes in a small sandbox and then talk about what is showing up there – not unlike your painting process. You can interact with it as part of the quest – bury the wicked stepmother, select an animal to befriend you, light a candle for a prayer. The possibilities are endless. I never tire of it and always learn something new, whether on my own, with Charley as marriage counseling, or even in a group.”

“I’ve heard of both of these processes. Sounds like good next steps since I don’t have a painting group. Though sometimes I think maybe I should start one…. or teach a class….”

“There’s work to be done in company and work to be done alone. That Priestess of Wands card tells me you’ll know. Have fun.”