I awakened with an urge, a kind of longing to journey into the realm of what the shaman calls “non-ordinary reality” to seek connection to what felt like split off and rejected parts of my soul. Perhaps the feeling was the residual effects of some forgotten dream in which these split off parts had made themselves known to me. So, in the early morning hours, I journeyed to the Lower World to work with Huascar, who in the Inca tradition is the keeper and guide of the Lower world, to explore whether there were souls parts that were ready or wanted to return. Huascar opened a portal to a deeper level of the lower world where I was to descend. While I was contemplating the descent and yet before I descended, a medicine woman came and began to work on my feet. When I inquired as to what she was doing, she informed me that she was preparing my feet for the journey, girding my feet so that I could successfully journey to this lower level and walk there. I then descended. At this point, either I fell asleep or fell into a deep trance where I lost body awareness, because the next thing I know, I’m journey up out of this deep place and back into the middle world and into my body. However, I have the sense that I had contacted split off and rejected parts of myself, but I was not aware of anything specific.
Shamanism holds the belief that parts of our soul or essential life-energy can split off and become lost in “non-ordinary reality.” Soul loss can occur in many ways. But primarily, when we experience a trauma or a perceived threat, a part of our vital life-force may separate from us in order to survive the experience. Soul loss may spring from single situations that activate the threat response such as witnessing and experiencing domestic violence, sexual assault, physical abuse & neglect, witnessing or being a victim of violent crime, surgeries, accidents and bad injuries. There are also many activators of soul loss that are low intensity, but the frequency at which they occur creates a cumulative threat such as chaotic, aggressive, and punitive environments, inconsistent child rearing practices, or an unstable family system in which there are threats to a sense of security. In response to such threats, a part of the soul or life essence may split off and retreat into non-ordinary reality until such a time it is returned.
In indigenous cultures, the shaman traditionally travels into non-ordinary reality in search of split off parts and once finding them brings them back and restores them to the self-system. But these split off parts may return spontaneously in a dream or in the process of psychotherapy when the trauma or event that caused the soul loss is sufficiently worked through to such a place where the soul part feels that it is safe enough to return.
On the morning following the above journey, I journey to the upper world to meet with a tribe of Spirit Walkers with whom I work on a regular basis. As I am traveling there, I am summoned by Hermes, whom I have met on previous journeys, to travel to the lower world. I stop by the Spirit Walkers and thank them for accepting me into their tribe and journey on. Huascar shows up, and we go to the Lower World. I come to the place that opened to me in my journey yesterday, the portal opening to go into the deeper places. I jump into the water and swim down, down, deep into the earth, coming to a landscape. I meet Hermes there. I have this awareness that it is time to bring back soul parts that had split off during my life because of fear—fear of being embarrassed, fear of being wrong, fear of shaming and not doing it right. Hermes, Huascar and I walk through this place calling forth these soul parts. They come. I welcome them into my heart and third chakras. They feel like fresh air, breath coming in. Hermes tells me that he has been caring for these soul parts, waiting for the time when they were to return. Now is the time. I embrace them. Huascar tells me that it is time to return. I drum and return. I have the thought to paint this journey as a way to honor these soul parts and their return. Here is the painting.
In my painting process, I prepare to paint by meditating on my intention. In this case, my intention was to paint the split off soul parts. I then notice what color or colors I am drawn to and paint a background of an undefined and ambiguous scene. As the paint dries it leaves various shades of color and designs such as lines, circles, etc. I then stare into the background. As I stare into the background, these various shapes and shadings look like images which I then paint. For example, I may see what looks like an eye or a nose of a person or the ear or foot of an animal or the wing or beak of a bird. I then paint the images that I see emerging from this undefined space, letting them emerge in whatever ways they want to. As I interact with the images, painting them, amplifying them, dialoging with them, listening to their personal and archetypal meanings, I reveal unconscious forces at work in my own soul. Since the mind has a tendency “to structure ambiguous scenes into personally meaningful images that symbolize underlying motives and emotions” my paintings are a kind of witness that speaks to my life condition, a kind of shamanic journey for healing and insight.
After finishing this painting, I wonder why an alligator has shown up in my painting. So I journey to alligator and have a conversation.
S: Good morning, Alligator. I’m wondering what you are doing in my painting.
A: You put me there. Why did you put me in your painting?
S: Because I saw you there.
A: Well, eyes show you what you believe and what you want to see. So you must have wanted me in your painting, or you could have chosen to leave me out.
S: Yes. That is right. There are times I see things in my paintings that I do not put in the paintings.
A: What you focus on in your paintings moves your consciousness in a particular evolution and direction. It is the Spirit and its urge toward wholeness that influences what you put in your paintings. I am the all seeing eye of the creative forces of the primordial waters from which all things are created and out of which all things emerge. I am the force of new life that will emerge in you as a result of this soul retrieval.
At this point I suddenly see the primordial waters. I see the alligator and two eggs, one beautifully painted with a peacock design. The other egg is plain white. They are the eggs of the alligator. I watch them hatch.
For amplification on the meaning of Alligator I read from my favorite authors on the symbolic and spiritual meaning of Alligator. According to Derick Merriam, if Alligator has swam into my life, I need to look for an opportunity to ingest new knowledge and wisdom for this is the beginning of a new period of growth and regeneration, a time for bringing harmony into your life in ways that help you to survive and prosper.
According to Ina Woolcott in her article “Alligator Crocodile Power Animal Symbol of Primal Energies Survival”, The Alligator has inhabited earth for millions of years. They bare the unstoppable, untamable creative forces of All That Is, the force and fury of primal energies. They symbolize creation and destruction and are the keepers and protectors of all knowledge. In many a myth and legend alligators are known as the keepers of ancient wisdom. When one of these creatures enters your life, look for an opportunity to touch very primal energies. There will be an opportunity for new knowledge and wisdom.
The alligators eyes located high upon their heads, giving them the ability to stay pretty much hidden below water yet still see above it. Symbolically this suggests clairvoyant abilities. From these creatures we can learn how to be patient and appropriate timing, for the alligator knows when to hide below the water, when to peak above it, or take action and snap.
And according to Ted Andrews from his book, Animal-Speak: The Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small, the alligator represents the creative and destructive forces of creation, thus the “culmination of knowledge on one level and the seeking for newer knowledge on others.” Alligators are the “keepers and protectors of all knowledge . . . the primal mothers in whom all knowledge rests and waits to be born.” Alligators are the “guardians of mystical treasures and wisdoms.” Their appearances in life “indicate an opportunity to begin to unfold and develop some new wisdom—wisdom that could swallow you up if not used carefully.” Alligator also “hints at higher vision and clairvoyance.” According to Andrews, when alligator appears, opportunity for initiation and the accumulation and use of new knowledge and wisdom occur more rapidly, but it can be more dangerous if not balanced. Since an alligator digests its food very slowly, one must not go too fast too soon. You should digest what you have experienced and learned before moving on to the new. According to Andrews, “If an alligator has shown up, look for an opportunity to touch very primal energies. There is going to be an opportunity for strong birth and/or initiation that will open new knowledge and wisdom in some area of your life.”
These sources all support the idea that the alligator represents the potential for new life to emerge from this soul retrieval. Among the images of the rejected and split off parts appear six human faces. They represent parts of me that had split off and abandoned the vital life force of the self-system because of fear—fear of embarrassment, shame, being wrong or not knowing. Their slightly deformed faces mirror their diminished condition from being cut off from the essential spiritual energy of the soul. By painting them, interacting with them, embracing them back into the soul, I can nurture them and restore them back to my essential core self.
There appeared not only these human images, but also tulips. To me the tulip represents Spring and a time of birth and new life after the winter and a time of dormancy. Historically, the most common meaning for tulips is perfect or deep love. Because tulips are one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring, they can mean rebirth. Purple tulips symbolize royalty.
Some say that the tulip represents finding the divine beyond words, symbolizing spiritual peace and connection. Tulips pulsate to higher planes with the big picture of salvation and transcendence. Wherever you see a tulip, there is a portal to joy. So, among the rejected and split off parts I put alligator and tulips—all symbols for the emergence of love, rebirth, new life, new opportunities and new knowledge and wisdom.
Over the next several days after completing the painting, I continued to meditate on and work with these energies. During one such meditation, I hear from somewhere deep within me or perhaps “out there” the words: “The challenge and the goal is to be able to hold seeming opposing and contradicting parts or realities in harmony so that the opposites can unite in some transcended whole that contains the all.” I am reminded of Derick Merriam’s reference of alligator’s capacity to bring harmony into one’s life.
As I continued to stare into the painting I again notice the two oval shapes at the bottom of the painting. Previously I had contemplated whether to turn one of those shapes into another tulip, one lying on the ground, but decided not to. Now, since the appearance of two alligator eggs in the later journey, I think to paint them in as the alligator’s eggs as a way to honor that journey and my continuing work with alligator and these rejected and split off parts. However, I decide not to add the eggs to the painting. I finish my mediation and go on my regular morning walk. As I walk my regular and usual route, I come upon a large duck egg laying just to the left of my path. It is cracked with some of its innards seeping out. Immediately, I recall my wrestling earlier with whether to paint the alligator eggs into my painting. Since I had just come from wrestling whether to put the eggs in the painting or not, I take this as a synchronicity, a message from the Spirit or the unconscious that I needed to include the eggs and to ask myself why I had decided not to include them.
This gets to the core of what we choose to bring into our awareness and hold and what we choose not to allow in or to withhold. There seems to be a dance of holding and withholding in the creative dance of life. When I paint there is no way that I can put everything that I see in a background into a painting. I must choose what to put in a painting and what to withhold. What I choose to put into a painting shapes the painting and ultimately shapes my life because that is the part of me that I focus on, and typically what one focuses on increases in one’s life.
Now to the question of why I was hesitant to paint the eggs into the painting. Quite frankly, I didn’t want to “mess up” the painting. I was fearful that I’d mess the painting up somehow. This spoke directly to my fear of “not doing it right.” However, when the egg showed up on my walk, it was like “ok, I get the message. The eggs need to go into the painting no matter the outcome.” And as it turns out adding the eggs did finish the painting. They represent the new life that is breaking forth in me from my retrieval of the split off and rejected parts.