Transformation has long been a recurring theme in my life. I feel like we are all always transforming, always evolving, growing, changing in some way or another. Some of us do this with awareness and intention, others with complete obliviousness. Still, change is constant. However, sometimes change gets upgraded to CHANGE. There are moments in some lives that herald intensely profound, fundamental, life-shifting transformation. In Shamanic traditions, these profound shifts are often called dismemberments.
This is just as it sounds: It is a total dismembering of the Self and Soul in which we tear apart the life and self-image we’ve spent a lifetime building to create space for the re-creation of a new life that more closely aligns with our soul’s true purpose. It is sometimes light, easy, and enjoyable. But, for many, it can be a heavy and confusing string of gut-wrenching challenges that can drag on indefinitely. This puts me in mind of the Blondie lyrics: "She's so dull ... come on, rip her to shreds!"
According to Tim at Alchemists Journal, “there are likely many degrees to which we experience a dismemberment reflected in our daily lives. I’m sure it is often not even noticeable, just a graceful shift in course. Sometimes, however, much greater transformation seems to be required, one in which every aspect of our lives is offered up for possible demolition.” Either way, the outcome is a shiny new life of purpose and contribution and, presumably, bliss. Tim continues: “That’s … the reason we ultimately surrender to it: Our soul is already awakened to the potential we are in the process of fulfilling. As we are laid bare, reduced to the most fundamental aspects of ourselves, our soul’s calling can be much more easily heard.”
According to Nancy Sherwood of Traveller’s Joy, “dismantling anything takes time, and the ego does not like this loss. But the Spirit can be strong, and can transform apparent death into rebirth.” I liken this experience to the Tower card in the tarot. It’s about totally leveling the foundational structures we’ve built for ourselves. Everything we know to be true is challenged, questioned, scrutinized, and either validated, or deemed no longer relevant and discarded to make space for something better suited for the current environment. Many people view the Tower card with fear and disappointment when it appears in a spread. But I have always revered it as a great harbinger of Hope. It’s an opportunity for refinement which, if taken, can lead to beautiful new experiences and greater ease on life’s journey. Keeping this attitude during a period of dismemberment can be decidedly helpful.
Sherwood also makes an interesting point here:
“Space is defined as a feminine aspect in Buddhism, and form a masculine one. The dance between the two is what takes place here on earth, where form has been given such a major role that it is dismembering the earth itself.”
I understand her to be observing the imbalance created in our ‘civilized’ modern lives. Where once we had much more balance between the feminine and masculine aspects of energy in our world, we now offer much more weight and power to the masculine - form over space, action over reception, external over internal, and, accordingly, extrospection over introspection. Under this paradigm we are not only faced with the challenges inherent in a lack of natural balance, but our resources for how to process information and experience on an interpersonal level is diminished.
From a macrocosmic perspective, there seems to be some dismemberment work taking place in the world of late. The #metoo movement, #blacklivesmatter, natural disasters, and upheavals in the political arenas are clear evidence of this.
On a personal, microcosmic level, I have been experiencing a very profound dismemberment adventure. Upon my relocation to Austin, I joined a Shamanic women’s group in an effort to meet people, and reconnect with the spiritual community in the city and the spiritual community within myself. Our group meets regularly for Shamanic Journeying as well as Goddess Culture exploration and celebration of the Divine Feminine. It’s been very powerful and healing for me to be a part of this circle of women exploring our relationships to Spirit. The journey work we do is very similar to the Internal Family Systems work I was doing just before I left Durham. I’ve missed doing that IFS work, and am grateful to be exploring this kind of self-guided, but guide-supported internal work again.
During the past two journeying sessions I have had experiences of my physical body being completely dissolved into ash and crystal glitter dust, respectively. Neither experiences were frightening for me. In fact, they were liberating and beautiful. I felt safe and loved and protected the entire time. When I shared my experiences with the group, one of my mentors told me about dismemberment journeys within the Shamanic school of thought. This was the first time I had heard this particular phrase; though, of course, the idea of death and rebirth are shared by many of the world’s religions, myths, and cultures, and was very familiar to me. Having this new lens through which to view my experience has been very enlightening. I already was aware of the fact that I am in the midst of a long and drawn out transformation of some kind, but I, in my Ego-driven mind, assumed it was because I was actively making choices to create change. And, while, to a certain degree, this true, it’s also hubristic.
When I look back over the past couple years, noticing the plans I’ve had and the way those plans were (or were not) made manifest, it is clear to me that I am not the primary driver here. Every day I become more aware of new opportunities to come more fully into what I can only describe as my True Self. And while it’s very hopeful and exciting, I also notice myself dipping into my bag of tried and true modes of avoidance. These behaviors that I’ve picked up along the way to distract me from the discomfort of deep and powerful Change always show up when my Ego is feeling challenged for control of my life. I am grateful for the awareness of it. And I am hopeful for the strength to dismember those disruptive patterns, too. I know my Soul is fierce and strong. I also know she has the courage and fortitude to be soft if I can only let her. (It’s this that seems to be most challenging for me.) So, these visions in which I am being reduced to nothing but tiny bits of earth, and rebuilt as a more complete, updated version of myself provide me with invaluable encouragement that I am on the right path and I am equipped to succeed through this part of my journey. I have a spiritual community available and willing to act as my support system. I have a physical community available and willing to act as my support system. And I can do this.
Should you find yourself in the midst of a dismemberment journey, whether gentle or brutal, you may find the following tools to be helpful. Either way, I wish you love and strength and softness on your path!
TOOLS FOR NAVIGATING POWERFUL LIFE TRANSFORMATIONS:
Seek out a professional guide. This could be a Shamanic Healer, a mental health professional, a certified counselor, a religious teacher/advisor, or a group experienced with navigating big life changes. Having this kind of trained guidance can not only provide comfort and structure to your transition, but it can make the experience much safer, too.
Find some personal person support. Tell a friend or family member what you are doing, and enlist their help when things are feeling challenging or during those times when you need to establish new routines and new ways of integrating with others.
Practice some form of meditative strategy. This can be Shamanic Journeying, or any other kind of meditative practice that resonates for you. Since these kind of life-altering transformational shifts are often initiated by the Soul, it is helpful to have a vehicle in which you can regularly converse with your Soul in its own language. Any ‘meta’ practice will do as long as you feel a connection to the spirit realm, or soul level, when you practice it.
Document your experiences with Spirit. I really enjoy journaling post-journey to document my experience. I gain added insights when I go back and read, and re-read, those entries. Some people like to paint, compose music, or choreograph dance. The possibilities are endless. Choose a form of documentation that feels powerful to you and that allows you to express your experience in a way that gives you access to it again and again.
Pay Attention! Start to notice your life more fully. Be aware of new opportunities opening up for you. Notice people, relationships, experiences coming into or leaving your life. Be mindful about any learned habitual responses to the discomfort you may be experiencing. And even search for signs of discomfort that you might be trying to bury in shadow. This is a time of Change, and watching it all unfold with focused awareness can make for an incredibly rich and informative experience.
Get out of the way. It can be tempting to try to control everything that’s happening during these times of intense transition. And it’s perfectly fine to be an active participant in your life. But there’s a fine line between active participant and steamroller. If you find your attempts at directing energy in a particular way are being thwarted at every turn, then maybe recognize that there may be a better direction for that energy. Get out of the way and let Spirit guide you toward what that new direction is.
Keep calm and carry on. It may sound trite, but, really, the best thing you can do during this time, in my humble opinion, is to relax into it. Try to keep a positive outlook, remembering that your Soul is guiding you to greater heights. You are never asked to do anything more than what you are capable of doing. And it really is going to be fine. Sometimes when we stop struggling, we realize it was the struggle, not the situation, that was making things so unpleasant. So, shift your gaze to the positive. Become your own Pollyanna. And enjoy the ride.