Right now I long for a human hand in mine, guiding me. I want to hear a human voice chiding me, encouraging me: I want the comfort of someone who can listen to me as I stumble falteringly through this process and will say calmly, “yes of course, this is the way it works.” How is it that I feel so confident of what I am advised by Spirit and so rewarded by my progress, and yet ache so for the simple comfort of a friend who can share this path with me?
How many times will I think I understand, only to learn that once more I’ve only scratched the surface, and the real answers lie still deeper within?
In the end, every deep dive is a journey into self and spirit, and there we must go alone. For me, this deep dive is into the heart of myself, mediated through my shamanic practice.
In Shamanic practice, recapitulation means a concise but detailed review of one’s life, or of segments of one’s life, with a view towards reclaiming the power attached to past memories and events. To that fairly standard definition, my spirits added that I was required to use this time to release all remaining patterns and both give and experience full forgiveness for missteps and mistakes. Sometimes things we hold others accountable for turn out to be caused by our own fears: failure to love fully, failure to understand, failure to allow others the same grace we demand as our own right. Atonement was, originally, a process of ‘wholing:’ at-one-ment, becoming at one with the universe.
This is not about wallowing in the past, reactivating old grudges and the illusion of victimhood. This is about truly and deeply understanding your own full role in everything that has happened and releasing old ties. During recapitulation we do not assume that because we were “young and innocent” our own harmful behaviors had no meaning or weight. From the view of the other, they may have had enormous weight. Nor does it mean that because we were young, we had no role in our victimization.
No, I don’t mean that a beaten baby is responsible for what occurred. But most human interactions are far more shaded, more subtle than that, and sometimes our own ignorance/fears do play a role.
This is dangerous territory… we may have participated without ever rising to the level that our society calls guilt. Finding that we played a roll doesn’t mean that the other’s behavior was justified, but it does mean that we have learning available to help us. Please don’t misunderstand me. This doesn’t mean you ‘deserved’ what happened, or that you were at fault. It only means that somehow your behavior intermeshed with that of the other, and that combination allowed the situation to go to a very bad place. It also doesn’t take the offender off of the hook: their behavior is their choice, and they own it. But it does restore to us a role of agency; of understanding and reclaiming our own power. It’s when we finally and fully understand and release our ties, our patterns, that they lose the power to ensnare us: only then can we be confident and free.
Shamanic perspective includes a recognition of our actions in past lives. This is not a tit-for-tat view of karmic obligation, but a focus on learning; sometimes learning is best received by personally experiencing injustices similar to those we’ve perpetuated, but the goal isn’t punishment. At any time it is possible to break the cycle of retribution by learning the lessons, integrating them, and moving on. This is a profound process that can bring healing to both sides of a painful event. It can also reverberate in all directions along the time line, bringing healing to both our ancestors and descendants.
Recapitulation is not about placing blame, but about understanding: understanding means coming as close as is possible to recognizing what happened from the perspective of everyone involved. When you truly see through another’s eyes, when you see through their pain and misunderstandings, you come to understanding from a very different space than we usually access. Intellectual understanding is not enough. Intellectual understanding may give you the strength to resist the pattern, but it doesn’t erase it. The attraction to the pattern still exists. This is why we tend to feel like we are sucked into same-old/same old patterns, experiencing the same damaged relationship dynamics over and over again. When you understand at a very deep level, the attraction falls away and there is simply no pull calling us to squander energy on a similar situation. We see it for what it is, not for what we wish it was, and the magic falls away.
In my research, all of the references to shamanic recapitulation that I’ve found focus on reclamation of used energy. Memories have life, have texture, have substance. That substantial feel is energy – the energy spent by everyone that was part of the event. During recapitulation one literally sucks the energy out, returning the not-mine energy to the universe, while reclaiming the personal energy. Afterwards (and it may take several passes to complete the process) the memory is curiously thin, insubstantial. It feels almost like a story from someone else’s life.
Many people resist dissolving the energetic part of their memories: they feel like part of their foundation is lost in the process. That accepts the energetic loss as valid while giving the memory priority. This resistance is a misunderstanding of the process: the memories that form us have already formed us, that doesn’t change. What changes is our penchant for being sucked into the same dramas again in endless repetition.
To reclaim an undefended, free heart, it is crucial to glean through the past and apply all of the learning available, so that the heart doesn’t repeat past mistakes. It is strengthened by the energy retrieval and is prepared to face the world afresh.
Releasing ties (often called cords) doesn’t mean that you won’t continue to love and remember someone. It does mean that you cut all mutual obligations, and you reclaim the parts of yourself that you may have forfeited in the relationship. If the person remains in your life and is loved, new cords will form as appropriate. Cutting old cords, however, keeps the relationship current and keeps us from acting out of old, no longer appropriate emotions. An example of cords that need cutting would be seen when a parent refuses to allow their child to grow up and take on an adult role, but continues to hover and want to ‘fix’ things. It may sound like love, but by preventing the child from learning they are depriving them of their right and need to grow. Of course, there are also cords that should be cut with people we no longer want in our lives.
Cutting cords is a crucial part of recapitulation, but a small part. The more intense and grueling part is the blow-by-blow remembering of all of the ways I succeeded in past relationships, and where I personally failed. What is difficult is to agree to let go, to agree that these comfortable patterns will no longer drive my actions.
For my faults I offer up love and compassion for myself: I ask for forgiveness from the other’s soul, and I ask for blessings from Spirit to ease the path of those to whom I’ve presented hardship and pain. This is heart work: deep, poignant, draining and necessary. Oddly, at the same time that it is draining, the recapture of the energy empowers me further. It’s a paradox I can’t explain.
The gift, of course, is that to the extent that I succeed, the ache is eased and the instinctive ‘need’ to shield my heart is removed – I am again operating as Spirit intended in the World. My heart and soul are free to learn and love again.
Most of us shut down from time to time. Most of us find our burdens too heavy and recoil behind barriers. The gift is to reset the clock and free oneself to begin to again live fully with an undefended heart.