Seeking the Shaman Within: An Interview with Beth Terrence

My first personal encounter with shamanic practices came in 2007, in an appropriate-to-our-times trio of CDs recorded by therapist and shamanic practitioner Sandra Ingerman. It was entitled, The Soul Retrieval Journey: Seeing in the Dark.IngermanSoulRetrieval

As Ingerman defined it, “Shamanism is the first spiritual practice of human kind,” dating back at least 30,000 years. Shamanic practices are cross-cultural, with variants used in Siberia, Australia, Africa, North and South America, and parts of Europe and Asia.

The word “shaman” comes from Tungus, a Siberian tribe (today called the Evenki), and it translate as “one who sees in the dark.” That phrase resonates as shamanic work often involves going into the depths of what we don’t see in our everyday, conscious lives and bringing ideas, revelations, and more nuanced views of old experiences into our consciousness so that we can grow our awareness of ourselves.

Fast-forward to 2011. I’d heard about “Beth” from the friend of a friend, but for whatever reason, it did not work out for us to meet. The friend did not say anything about Beth’s work, just that it sounded like Beth and I would have a lot in common.

When I finally met Beth early in 2012, I was glad I had. Beth Terrence, Annapolis-based shaman, facilitator and holistic practitioner, has become a good friend and has been an integral part of my spiritual growth in the last year. She runs Beth Terrence Holistic Health Resources & Wellness Programs.

Beth Terrence is a shaman, facilitator and holistic practitioner based in Annapolis, Md.

Beth Terrence is a shaman, facilitator and holistic practitioner based in Annapolis, Md.

By the time I met Beth, I’d done some shamanic work on my own and had taken a basic shamanic journeying class through the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, started by anthropologist Michael Harner, Sandra Ingerman’s teacher.

But I had never had a soul retrieval undertaken on my behalf. Terrence journeyed for me and recovered two parts, both of which have begun to play key roles in the spiritual work I do now.

Long-Standing Interest in Holistic Healing
Holistic practices are not new to Terrence. She was 11 when she came across a book on reflexology. She used the book to teach herself. As a teenager, she developed a meditation practice that continues to this day. Her own health issues with fibromyalgia led to yoga, chiropractic work, herbs, massage and acupuncture. When she got as far as she could on the physical level, she began to work with emotions and the spirit. Eventually, this led her to shamanic work.

“Most traditional and indigenous cultures have had someone who holds the spiritual foundation in the community,” she says. “People go to this person for healing. This person works with the individual and the collective.”

Shamanic practices are a natural fit for Terrence. In cultures where a shaman saw to the well being of the people, the shaman often had an initiatory experience as a child—they were somehow set apart from the tribe, whether because of illness or something else that distinguished them.

Terrence believes that her childhood and teenage years were her gateway to shamanic work. Her mother suffered from schizophrenia, InspiredVoicesand the experience of growing up was one of near-constant fear. (Terrence writes about this experience in “Lost and Found: The Birth of a Shaman,” in Inspired Voices: True Stories by Visionary Women, compiled by Andrea Hylen.)

Traditionally and even in many indigenous cultures today, shamans often work on the physical plane, using plants to help heal the physical body. But the work doesn’t rest only on the physical. Indeed, greater support for healing may come through helping the mind, emotions and spirit.

Helping Others to Access the Shaman Within
It is a gift when we can see ourselves as we truly are, but not many people are so well developed or disciplined that they can easily size up their internal conflicts and pinpoint the roots of their illnesses. And in a culture where distractions are woven into the fabric of daily life, it’s all the more difficult to take the time to focus on oneself and discover what lies in the unconscious and to bring it to consciousness and begin to work with it.

But that said, with a little help, we can learn how to work with ourselves.

“I believe we all have a shaman within,” says Terrence, who’s been working with shamanic practices for more than 10 years.

Beth Terrence deepened her connection to herself and to Earth through a vision quest.

Beth Terrence deepened her connection to herself and to Earth through a vision quest.

Shamans can help others access that “inner shaman,” which allows the person to regain his or her own spiritual integrity and wholeness.

A primary tool that shamans use is the shamanic journey, a way of connecting with unseen worlds in non-ordinary reality, that is, reality not bounded by time and space, where the journeyer can access information that can help herself or others.

All in an Afternoon’s Journey
The hallmark of a journey is a visit to lower, middle or upper worlds—or a combination of those. A person initiates a journey to the lower world usually by visualizing an opening in the earth. The opening may be a pool or lake, a tree or a waterfall, even the stairs that lead down to a subway tunnel. The lower world is the realm of power animals or totem animals, which are helping spirits, usually an aspect of ourselves that we need to activate—to bring from the unconscious to the conscious realm—depending on what the animal represents in general as well as to the journeyer specifically.

Middle world journeys take place on this plane and often are initiated by visualizing a walk out the front door.

An upper-world journey is initiated by visualizing an upward track, such as a tree or mountain or even an elevator going up. The upper world is where the spirits of  the ancestors reside along with teachers in human form. Angels or animals may also appear. All can be helping spirits.

Among the reasons for undertaking a journey are to get in touch with these helping spirits and guides. They can provide insights into your past, present or future. They may help inspire your creativity. Overall, they provide a safe connection to yourself to allow for wide-ranging exploration.

Physical and Spiritual Healing
One of the doorways Terrence passed through on her way to becoming a shaman was her own struggle with fibromyalgia at about age 19. “I didn’t find much support in conventional medicine, so I looked to other modes of healing,” she says. “In that process—diet/nutrition, yoga, meditation, body work, network chiropractic—at some point I came to a place where it was 70 percent resolved. I realized the primary aspect I needed to address was the emotions.”

That realization led to other areas, including Bach Flower Remedies, pioneered by Dr. Edward Bach, and PEER (Primary Energy Emotional Recovery).

Willow is one of Dr. Bach's remedy plants, meant to assist with moving emotions involving resentment and self-pity.

Willow is one of Dr. Bach’s remedy plants, meant to assist with moving emotions involving resentment and self-pity.

Working with those methods helped to resolve the symptoms of the fibromyalgia. But there was still more to do. “I still felt like something was missing, some piece—that I still carried a lot of pain and so I continued on my personal work as part of my journey.”

When she left New York City for Maryland in 2001, Terrence experienced a period of grief and intense loss, including the deaths of people close to her as well as divorce. But her mentor for energy healing, Bill Henegan, who helped her understand her calling, also worked with her through that time.

“I wouldn’t have made it through without him,” she says.

A year later, Terrence began to attend a sweat lodge/shamanic journey/ceremony group. Then a friend who felt severely depressed and had serious health issues felt drawn to have a soul retrieval and asked Terrence to come as a witness. That was Terrence’s first experience with individual shamanic work as a healing tool.

Soul retrieval is one of the main shamanic practices. It can be helpful for people who have suffered soul loss, a common occurrence for anyone living. Soul loss can result from basic experiences and extraordinary experiences, such as trauma, accidents, or even those times as a child when we felt no one was there for us or, for whatever reason, our needs were not met. Soul loss may also occur when we don’t have the ability to deal with what’s coming up, when we feel cut off or disconnected from ourselves—even if the disconnection is caused by something that happened in a different lifetime—and parts of ourselves have dissociated.

“Soul retrieval helps people to reconnect with parts of ourselves that are ready to come back,” says Terrence.

Shamanic practitioners and people themselves can use the journey process to recover these parts and reconnect with them. To do a soul retrieval, the shaman first creates a sacred space in which the client is supported in a “container” of love, one that protects him or her from interferences of the outside world.

Dark Night of the Soul
Through that period of grieving and further journey work, Terrence began to feel more connection with the spirit realm. She went to a workshop that combined shamanic journeying and work with stones and crystals as spirit medicine. The workshop leader told Terrence that her pull toward the spirits was so strong that she needed to choose between leaving this realm or staying here and moving through the pain and turmoil. It was then she decided to have a soul retrieval herself.

When Bill Henegan passed away in 2005, Terrence encountered some “divine timing” in her connection with shaman Ross Bishop through the Energy Therapy Network, an online list of providers and events that relate to alternative healing—the same way she had met Henegan.

Terrence apprenticed with Bishop, who had studied shamanic practices with indigenous people, but also incorporated inner-child work with journeying.

Inner children may be described as those parts of ourselves that have gotten—to borrow poet Robert Bly’s phrase—stuffed “into the bag.” The children are, well, children. They are spontaneous and joyful. But to some adult for whom a child’s actions may cause embarrassment, those parts of the children get shoved away, out of sight. But they do not disappear. They become what Carl Jung dubbed the shadow. The question is, of course, how best to reintegrate those pieces of ourselves?

Using Bishop’s techniques, which are found in his book Healing the Shadow, “there’s an opportunity for [people] to, in a sense, self-facilitate their own soul return.”HealingtheShadow_Cover_RossBishop

A practitioner can help initiate the process of returning lost soul parts as well as to help someone move more easily through areas of resistance—areas that may be difficult and uncomfortable for someone to work with on her own.

Terrence has seen how much journeying can help people who are burdened especially by old patterns and habits. One instance of this was in her work with people who have addictions. She was able to introduce the journey process to people who didn’t know about it and didn’t have “too much faith or belief they would have some sort of experience.” They were able to have a visual or auditory experience that helped them to learn about their own intuition and how they themselves experience that intuition energetically, says Terrence.

They learned to solve problems creatively, using imagery that came to them through their inner guidance. Most importantly, they achieved a “natural state change” rather than using a substance. Creating a natural altered state of consciousness is one of the many benefits of shamanic journeywork and opens possibilities for those dealing with addictions. Through journeys, they can experience the sense of connection they had been longing for—a sense of connection for which they had used substances as substitutes. Journeys gave them a way to cultivate connection with—and within—themselves as well as with others and the world.

More Connection, More Joy
That’s how shamanic work goes—whether someone is reconnecting with lost soul parts or simply seeking guidance. The more people connect and reconnect, the more they are able to live fully, with more joy, and the more they are able to be in the present; they become integrated. That can help people to live better with fellow humans and with Earth itself.

It’s always been important for two-leggeds to connect with Earth by actually walking on the land or swimming Earth’s waters. But unless you make the time to do so, it’s difficult today. Yet, as Terrence says, “In any moment, we can go into that space in nature (through the shamanic journey). In our day and age and in our culture, fostering a sense of connection with Earth and the natural world is a major part of shamanic work.”

Even if shamans do not work directly with plants, today’s shamanic practices still derive from Spirit, Earth and humankind, likely making them the oldest co-created practices.

“Often, through ceremony and ritual, we honor and connect with Earth—that’s an aspect of all ceremony,” says Terrence.Beth_VisionSite2

In shamanic work, “there’s a strong respect and honoring of Mother Earth as a caretaker and the feeling that all beings are equal and one,” says Terrence. “The interconnectedness of all things is accepted as a foundational belief or philosophy.”

“Becoming integrated is part of becoming whole and balanced,” says Terrence. “Lack of integration adds to chaos. Integration can provide a sense of peace, balance and wholeness…as more people become integrated, that can create more balance in the world.”

Meeting People Where They Are
In an indigenous culture with an active shaman, people would not be without their soul parts for very long. The return of the parts would often be accompanied by celebration or a joyous welcome from family, Terrence adds.

Given all the chaos present in modern, Western culture, it’s often difficult for lost soul parts to become integrated. “If we lived in a natural place and we lived more slowly, it might be easier for the parts to integrate,” says Terrence.

How Terrence works and at what pace depends on where the client is. Through a process of dialogue, exploration and inner guidance, she feels into what method would best benefit a client at that time.

“Ideally, my goal is to initiate a process of transformation for my clients so that they can then continue to work on their own process of growth and change,” says Terrence. “The work is customized. It may take several visits or ongoing work to address various issues or layers. This ultimately creates a foundation so that the client becomes their own agent of change,”—their own shaman.

Learn more about Beth Terrence by visiting

On Saturday, July 27, from 1 to 4 PM, in Annapolis, I’ll have the privilege and honor of co-leading a workshop with . Beth and I will offer a variety of tools for heart-centered living as well as heart-supportive plant medicines. Cost of the workshop is $50. Space is limited, so if you’re interested, register by going to

Lungs and Large Intestine Time

The autumnal equinox today marks the peak of fall, though it doesn’t seem that way when the weather hereabouts bounces between humid and crisp. Seasonally, it’s a good time for processing grief. One of the main hurdles our culture presents to health-giving living is that it’s always telling us to “stuff” this or that emotion—anger, sadness, frustration—the dark emotions.

But when we do not process these emotions, the energy lodges within, where, depending upon the mountain of variables present, it may begin to create dis-ease.

I will focus specifically on grief here. What happens when we do not grieve? How can we create time and space for its expression?

The Metal Phase in Chinese Medicine
In Chinese medicine, autumn is considered the time of the lungs and large intestine. The associated element is metal and the associated emotion, grief. For optimal functioning, think of the shiny quality of metal with respect to these organs. The large intestine should be smooth and the lungs “shiny” to allow for the free-flow of qi, or vital life force, throughout the body.

Despite all the oddities of weather and climate this year, right now I feel attuned to the seasons, in terms of where Chinese phases suggest we should be—in the time of grief. Likewise, in North America, many tribes recognize the medicine wheel, through which we can understand various cycles—annual, individual, collective and so forth. This time of year is represented by the direction of the West and, depending on the tribe, its color may be black. It’s a period of endings, reflection, and soul searching.

Of course, grief can come any time of the year, with or without any trigger.

What’s most important, whenever grief comes, is to acknowledge it, accept it, allow it to flow.

Why do we grieve?

Because we feel a sense of loss. This loss could be a lost object, a lost love, a lost job and the lost identity that comes with any of these things. If we decide to “stuff” our grief, we may end up experiencing an emotional overlay of anger, frustration, even apathy.

We Americans live in a culture that doesn’t respect loss. We are all about the gains, even though we would not know the sweetness of the gains without knowing the pain of losses.

The band America could not have sung it better than in one of their later songs, “Paradise”:

Caught between the fire and the ice
No need to think twice
It’s where I want to be.

Like a weather vane
Following the wind, the sun and rain
The ecstasy and pain and all that comes between….

As mentioned, our cultural mores tell us to “stuff it” when it comes to grief. Those who show or share their grief are too often perceived as wimpy, when, in fact, those who can are the more courageous among us. It takes courage to attempt to understand the source of losses, of pain, and then to focus on how to integrate losses.

Grief as Mental Illness?
In fact, the American Psychiatric Association in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-V is considering giving grief that lasts too long a name—“prolonged grief disorder”—and classifying it as a mental illness (which would then be treatable by pharmaceuticals and go into people’s permanent medical records). Rather than encourage people to experience grief, it would seem the classification might encourage them to suppress grief, and that could create illness.

If the cause of most grief is loss, the root of loss is perceived separation from all that is, especially the love in “all that is.” We probably have no better training ground for dealing with losses than here on Earth. Friends and loved ones die and we may feel a sense of abandonment. A project goes awry and we may come down hard on ourselves for “failing” (trying substituting “learning” for “failing” for at least a month and see how that feels).

In my spiritual belief system, the primary loss is the apparent separation from Creator. I say apparent, because the work we do here is meant for us to understand that there is no separation, other than that which we ourselves create.

But we experience the feeling of separation, and therefore loss, from birth onward. We aren’t exactly as our parents wish us to be. They cannot love us unconditionally, no matter the guidance in all the self-help books, mostly because they do not love themselves unconditionally. The process continues as we age, with friends, teachers, coworkers, supervisors, neighbors, etc.

We Choose How to Deal with Grief
What’s important to keep in mind is that we always have a choice as to how we deal with our feelings of loss.

As shaman Ross Bishop notes in the second edition of his Healing the Shadow, “You cannot release your pain unless you have both accepted what happened and grieved the loss.”

Further, Bishop says, “The greatest obstacle to forgiveness is grief. We must deal with the feelings of anger and loss about what happened.”

Bishop, who links shamanic journey work and inner-children work, places this sort of grief in the context of parent-child relations: “Their withholding love hurts us, but because children blame themselves for parental failings, the anger gets turned inward and then it becomes corrosive. Bringing all these old feelings to the surface is messy and unpleasant. We would much rather leave things the way they were because after all, we are getting by.”

But leaving the messiness messy does us and those around us a disservice by preventing us from becoming fully human. As Bishop notes, “In a culture that values success and achievement, we believe we have more important things to do than cry over something that happened 30 years ago. Grieving is courageous because while we are in the middle of it, it seems as if it will never end. Most of all, grieving takes courage because we have no idea what comes after grief.”

The process of grieving may initially reinforce our attachments to people and places and events with whom we have shared connections. By reinforcing them, grief deepens our relationship to them and, as we come to appreciate and honor the connections and ourselves, we are able to let go while at the same time come out of the experience more whole.

Creating a Safe Space for Grief
How do we create a safe space in which to grieve, especially in a culture that encourages us to look away and move on?

Most people are busy and may feel grateful for busyness to distract them from the process of grieving—may even add activities to their to-do lists in order to avoid grieving. Doing so does not necessarily serve their better interests, though.

For those who are busy, taking even five or 10 minutes in the morning or evening to light a candle and remember the times they spent with the person (or place or event) they are grieving can be helpful.

Another tool could be a grief circle, in which a small group of committed people uses a talking stick to give each person (the stick holder) a chance to express herself or himself, if they desire. No one speaks except the person with the stick, and this gives the speaker the chance to be heard and the listeners the chance to listen without judgment and without thinking ahead to what they’ll say. In fact, participants may find they have much in common and through that, may process their grief more fully.

A very special way of processing grief may be to attend a sweat lodge, if one is available. The first sweat lodge I attended happened to be one at which I spent crying the first two of three days. Grief around my father’s family seemed to come out of nowhere. And the space—the belly of Mother Earth represented by the lodge—was ideal for grieving, because everyone was able to feel and express whatever they needed without feeling judged. Just be sure to know the people offering the lodge as well as their commitment to your safety.

Given the fact that the heat of the Grandfather stones and the water poured over them actually helps the lungs and that much is removed via the skin, I could not have been in a better place to release some long-held ancestral grief than lodge.

Plant Helpers
An organ of elimination, the lungs are the “seat of grief” in Chinese medicine which is why it’s important to support them during the grieving process. This is where certain plant medicines can help.

Entire books could be written about herbs and the respiratory system. For general respiratory support, I like the combo of herbs my teacher, Kathleen Maier, uses: Equal parts mullein, rosemary and sage leaves as well as hyssop (Hyssopus) leaves and flowers. I make this as an infusion and steep covered for no more than 10 minutes to capture the volatile oils, which are part of the medicine.

Any one of these plants by itself could provide assistance: The mullein leaf provides some mucilage along with pain relief. The rosemary warms and stimulates and helps to clear stagnant build-up of debris. Sage, taken hot, stimulates secretions and sweating and can be helpful for sore throat. (Taken cold or lukewarm, it offers other virtues.) And hyssop assists with cough, irritated throat, and reducing dryness in the bronchi.

That’s a super-short list of plants that help humans with respiratory difficulties. Determining what to take for a respiratory condition is much like trying to name all of the colors of orange in autumn: one may help a specific sort of cough whereas another works on the lower respiratory.

As an herbalist, I do not diagnose, treat, prevent or cure illnesses, but I’m always open to questions about how plants may help people to maintain their health.

I hope you will take some time during today’s equinox or this autumn to process some of your grief.

Shaman and author Ross Bishop will be in our area later in October. For more information go here.