Dr. Isa Gucciardi is the Founding Director and Primary Teacher of Sacred Stream, a school for consciousness studies in Berkeley, California. In this special interview for MysticMag, Dr. Gucciardi presents to us her spiritual journey, the importance of learning shamanism, soul retrieval and much more.
You have worked with masters from different religions, and you have been a Buddhist practitioner for over 40 years. Please tell us about your journey and experiences that brought you to the present moment.
I think it is safe to say that spirituality saved my life. I encountered Buddhism as a very young child, when I lived in Hawaii. I was in a Christian missionary school. It was the only school around, so we had a mix of many different types of people. Many of my friends’ families practiced Buddhism, Shintoism, and other forms of spirituality. Additionally, it was impossible not to encounter the spirits of nature: the plants, the sea, the wind. I spent a lot of time alone in nature and felt a strong affinity with the songs and dances about the sea and the wind in the hula school where I was enrolled.
I became enchanted by Buddhism because my Japanese American friends would invite me to their temple on the weekends. It was a whole other world that I didn’t know, and it felt amazing: those rooms with tatami mats, huge golden statues of Buddha. The sound of the gongs during the services were transportive to me. I felt the unseen power of practice and it gave me another way of knowing and thinking.
Despite the terrible history of missionaries in Hawaii, the Christianity being taught in my school was non-aggressive. There were stories of Jesus, who was portrayed as a nice man. He wanted to heal people and to take care of the sheep. All the miracle stories were a big focus of the teachings, and I was very drawn to them. I developed a personal relationship with Jesus, but it was outside of the liturgy of the church.
My parents were not interested in any kind of spirituality. So, I found my own way. Now, as a spiritual teacher, I see that one of the most powerful paths to spirit can be one that is discovered following something ineffable, unseen. This happens to be the way many people who come to the Sacred Stream find their way to greater spiritual understanding.
Can you explain the Foundation of the Sacred Stream to our audience? What workshops do you offer?
It’s called the Foundation of the Sacred Stream, and it’s a school for consciousness studies in Berkeley, California. The center is in a beautiful old building, a former Lutheran church.
Our program is broad. I’ve been developing the spiritual counseling model that is the core of the education, which is called Depth Hypnosis for many years. It is a method of helping people deal with many types of imbalances such as anxiety, addiction, and depression. It provides a way of working with the power of Shamanic and Buddhist practice in the modern time. Energy medicine is at the heart of both practices, and there are also classes in energy medicine.
I teach classes in Depth Hypnosis, Applied Buddhist Psychology, Applied Shamanism and in Integrated Energy Medicine. We offer certificates in Applied Shamanic Practice and Depth Hypnosis. We also have a Plant Medicine Insight Integration Certificate program and a Certificate in the Facilitation of Coming to Peace, which is a conflict-resolution model that I developed. It is based on my book, Coming to Peace.
Students can choose to follow any of the full certificate programs, or they can simply take one class at a time.
Do you believe people are more open to alternative methods for treating serious illnesses now?
Absolutely. I’ve been working in this field for about 30 years, and studying in it for many more years, and I’ve seen significant changes. Initially, as a hypnotherapist, I faced opposition from other practitioners when applying shamanic techniques in the clinical setting. As an herbalist and shamanic practitioner, I couldn’t openly discuss using herbal medicine without risking scrutiny. However, the world has caught up with alternative approaches. We were doing somatic work before it was widely known. We were working with the principles of plant medicine before people were as aware of plant medicine’s potential as they are now. Scientific research is validating the efficacy of alternative methods.
What can anyone learn about Shamanism that could be beneficial?
Shamanic practice has many aspects. There are various forms depending on the culture. As a teacher with experience in different cultural settings and degrees in cultural and linguistic anthropology, I believe it’s possible to access the wisdom of the earth, which is what shamanism is based on, through many different cultural pathways and outside of them. In Depth Hypnosis, we emphasize understanding cultural conditioning, but we also understand the benefits of transcending it to attain greater understanding.
Today, with the breakdown of cultural traditions and the pollution of many traditions by consumerism, materialism, and colonialism, cultural norms are not always supportive for everyone. The shamanic practice I have developed is called Applied Shamanism. It takes aspects of shamanic practice common to many cultures and applies them to a modern context. It addresses the spiritual malaise of modern people, who have become disconnected from themselves and the earth. Applied Shamanism provides people a path back to wholeness. It does this by incorporating several forms of shamanic healing practices into the therapeutic process, which form the basis of Applied Shamanic Counseling. These forms of healing include power retrieval, soul retrieval, energetic interference removal, and soul part exchange.
For instance, power retrieval is a healing process that heals the symptoms of power loss. These symptoms can include depression, grief, sadness, loss of focus, and anxiety. Power loss generally occurs due to exposure to negativity over time. Power retrieval helps people access to power and helps individuals become stronger and heal themselves.
In shamanic practice, the practitioner journeys outside of time to connect with helping spirits, guides, or teachers. They ask for a form of power to help the person in need and transfer it into their energy system. While traditional shamanism stops there, Applied Shamanism goes further to address the modern need for personal empowerment.
In Applied Shamanism, after retrieving the power, a hypnotherapy process guides the person to connect with that power, learn its nature, and establish an ongoing practice to mitigate the effects of power loss. Applied Shamanism enables people to face the challenges and calamities of modern life by empowering them on their own terms.
What about soul retrieval?
Soul retrieval is another healing process also found in many different shamanic contexts and in Depth Hypnosis. Soul retrieval is necessary when someone has experienced trauma, which may cause soul loss. Examples of experiences which can create soul loss include, but are not limited to, being beaten up, being bullied, losing a loved one, or having your home taken from you. If you’ve ever seen anyone in shock after a car accident, they may have been in a state of soul loss. From a shamanic perspective, they may be in shock because part of themselves, or a soul part, has left in an effort to get away from the trauma. And often when they come out of shock, that part has come back. But that part may not come back. In that case, it may stay in the trauma and create the symptoms of soul loss.
Symptoms of soul loss can include post-traumatic stress, nightmares, difficulty sleeping, and difficulty focusing. I’ve studied soul retrieval type processes with shamans in Nepal, and in the southwest part of the United States that have this concept. Soul retrieval is widely recognized as an important form of healing, but it can be done slightly differently in different cultural settings.
In Applied Shamanism as in other forms of shamanic practice, the practitioner journeys outside of time to connect with their helping spirits and asks for the soul part that is needed for the person to heal. The practitioner then brings back the soul part to the person. By bringing back the lost soul part and healing it, these symptoms may subside. Shamanic practices play a crucial role in healing the spirit, especially since modern Western medicine often lacks effective treatments for spiritual dislocation.
The programs of study at the Foundation of the Sacred Stream can help people heal, restabilize, understand their gifts, and work towards self-development on their own terms. The work in all of the programs at the Sacred Stream is designed to meet people wherever they are in their spiritual development and provide them with assistance, healing and training.