Tag Archives: trauma

Healing the Brokenness

Tuesday of last week was one of my favorite days of the year: Global Oneness Day. Every year, October 24th is a day dedicated to celebrating the underlying reality of Oneness. Humanity’s Team, the non-profit that started Global Oneness Day, hosts an all-day online summit where they gather thought leaders in various panels to talk about not only waking up to our interconnectedness, but also ways to more fully live and embody this truth. As we embody Oneness, we can more effectively come together to implement the solutions needed to avoid global calamity and create a world of health, well-being, and flourishing for all.

This year’s panels were all fabulous, but one stood out to me because it connected so many dots between the healing work I do with individuals and the healing work of societies and the world. One woman in particular impacted me the most, Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, who was on the “Restoring Real Community” panel. She is from South Africa, and the panel was discussing the concept of uBuntu, which can best be defined with this statement: “I Am Because You Are.” The concept became globally recognized after Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu explained in 2008 that uBuntu means that a person cannot not exist in isolation, and that this is the essence of being human.

This is a beautiful concept. Unfortunately, uBuntu often remains just a concept and not fully lived or embodied for people who have been traumatized. Dr. Ramphele spoke of this in relation to transgenerational trauma, but what she shares here applies to any kind of trauma:

When people have been traumatized in a transgenerational sense, their brain function alters, and it requires healing. That healing is not [only] about psychiatry or taking drugs. It’s about reconnecting the brokenness. Without that reconnection, human beings find it extremely difficult to have empathy, which is at the heart of uBuntu: “I Am Because You Are.” You don’t only know uBuntu — you feel it. And if there is brokenness, you lose your capacity to feel itHumiliation is the most traumatic bearer of pain. If we don’t heal that humiliation, then we have people in society who may speak the language of uBuntu, but they don’t feel. So there is a big gap between what people say they are and what they actually demonstrate.

uBuntu compels us to forgive — not because we feel sorry for the wrong-doer, but because without forgiveness, the brokenness will remain. To the extent that the person who humiliated me continues in that practice, that person is further damaged. I need to sit down with the person and hold hands — physically or spiritually — and say, “I forgive you, because you and I need to reconnect.”

That is why we do the work of healing trauma. She says it so beautifully and so poignantly that there is almost nothing more to say. Trauma, whether transgenerational or not, dramatically affects our capacity to be in healthy relationship. It affects our ability to feel connected both to ourselves and to others. To say we are interconnected is all well and good, but if we cannot feel it at an embodied level, the concept alone is almost completely useless. Needless to say, societies are built upon relationships. The health of a society is built upon the health of the relationships between the members of that society. Trauma happens in relationship, and it must be healed in relationship.

Dr. Ramphele speaks of forgiveness as the means of healing trauma. I have found in my own journey that forgiveness is key, but it is not all that is required. Healing the brokenness also requires a certain kind of grounded, compassionate support from others, a willingness on our part to trust and accept that support, and the slow work of building our capacity to be fully present with our experiences in the here and now. Compassionate presence is what allows for integration and healing of the brokenness caused by trauma.

I am grateful for people like Dr. Ramphele who are so eloquently and beautifully sharing the message of what it takes to embody Oneness rather than simply know it as an intellectual concept. We must heal the brokenness inside and in our relationships to truly live uBuntu.

My prayer is that we all have the courage to turn toward the parts of ourselves that have been hurt and embrace them with loving presence, so that we may know, embody, and feel the truth of our deep and unbreakable connection. We can do it if we do it together.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Lately, I’ve taken a tumble down the rabbit hole of trauma and trauma therapy. To say I’ve been humbled is a bit of an understatement. It has been an eye-opening process to see myself in the words and the stories I’ve been reading. I mostly don’t remember my childhood. The impact of trauma in my life has been pervasive and far reaching. Honestly, though, I would have denied it only a few years ago. I would have said I’ve never experienced trauma. I would have said that the amnesia, and the depression, and the rage, and the way my body shuts down have nothing to do with trauma. I would have said, “I’m lucky,” and I am, but that doesn’t mean I’ve never experienced trauma. In fact, now I would venture to say almost all of us have.

Just yesterday a new meme started going around Facebook: “Me too.” People were putting it on their walls to signify they have been sexually harassed or assaulted in the wake of the revelations about Harvey Weinstein. If we asked the same question about trauma, I’m guessing pretty much anyone who is honest would say, “Me too.”

I’m going to write a lot more about trauma in the coming months. But for now, I will say this: We can heal. I’ve been healing even being in some level of denial and ignorance about how trauma has impacted me. Our bodies, hearts, and minds want to heal. Our whole being wants to come back into harmony and equilibrium. As I practice presence — whether through meditation, heart-centered practices, feeling energy and creative forces, or tracking my body sensations — the energy held in my system around trauma inevitably arises. I don’t have to make it happen. I don’t have to dredge up painful memories. That energy is patiently waiting for the right opportunity — the right conditions — to begin the process of healing. It wants to be met in a new way. It wants to be digested, to resolve, and to let go.

I’ve come to trust this process. I’ve come to see that trauma begins to digest in the arms of compassionate presence. With trauma, our bodies and minds live in the past, though we don’t often realize it. But we can learn to trust the present moment. We can learn to trust our bodies, even when we feel like they have betrayed us in the most horrific ways. We can even learn to trust other people. We can heal together.

Me too.

Turning Towards

A healthy human being is characterized by a wider and wider capacity to experience [with presence] emotion and blends of emotion.” ~Dr. Keith Witt, Integral Psychologist

This assertion from Dr. Witt may sound simple, but I believe it to be extremely profound in its implications. In fact, I think it is key to understanding truly transformational healing and how it occurs. Dr. Witt and Jeff Salzman discuss this topic in Jeff’s Daily Evolver podcast episode entitled, “Transforming Trauma Into Power.” (I highly recommend listening to it in its entirety.)

What does it mean to have a wider and wider capacity to experience and be present with emotion? What is so challenging about it? And why is this capacity so essential for transformational healing?

Having the capacity to be present with our emotions means we have cultivated the ability to turn towards our unwanted feelings, pain, and other undesired material, as opposed to turning away through denial, distraction, or dissociation. One of the reasons this is so difficult is it goes against our most basic survival and instinctual drives, such as our ability to dissociate when experiencing a traumatic event. If we have used a response such as dissociation in the past and it worked to get us through a traumatic situation, our system will remember this success and use dissociation over and over again whenever it perceives danger (real or not). And this response will happen automatically and often unconsciously. That is, most of us are not even aware when we are dissociating.

Another reason it is difficult for us to turn towards our pain is we are often taught that certain emotions are bad and others are good. When we judge our emotions (and therefore ourselves) in this way, we tend to suppress those emotions which we have labeled as wrong. We do this in a variety of ways. We might dissociate (as already discussed above), go into denial, or use distraction (food, TV, drugs, alcohol, shopping, etc.). We might also shame ourselves in an attempt to control our feelings.

Why is it important to build the capacity to turn towards our pain? When we suppress our emotions or are otherwise unable to be present with our painful experiences, symptoms will eventually arise such as anxiety, panic attacks, depression, psychosis, physical & immune system ailments, and in cases of extreme trauma, PTSD symptoms. The way to truly heal is to turn toward our pain and be present with the associated emotions and sensations. If we are able to meet our pain with compassionate understanding and radical acceptance, the energy of the held trauma naturally begins to metabolize, integrate, and heal.

One way to be present with our painful experiences is through what is called resourcing. This is a way of holding a resourced or healthy, powerful feeling in the body simultaneously with a challenging feeling in the body. Holding the two together in this way allows for integration and healing. Dr. Witt describes a simple practice in the podcast (at around the 36-minute mark) which you can try today that utilizes this principle.

I love what Jeff Salzman said when he describes this process for himself: “Whenever I find myself in a depression or anxiety or an anger vortex, I say, ‘This is good news! Here I have this ball of energy, and I have the opportunity to actually turn towards it and move into it.'” It is that willingness and that capacity to “turn towards” that results in growth and healing. It’s not just that you metabolize the experience and now it’s no longer a “block” or no longer causing symptoms. It’s that you actually heal with a big “H,” meaning you grow and you evolve. And that, I believe, is an important part of what life is all about.

Blessings,
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