(Part II of the thoughts about trauma)
When responding to trauma, whether individual or collective, it is a bad idea to live in the basement of the brain. We need to move up into the emotional layers of the cortex and intellectual layers of the neo-cortex and work with the full arsenal of an integrated mind, heart, body to meet the demands of life in all times and life in our particular time, when the stakes feels higher, the clock ticks louder, the interconnectedness is more tangible. On some level, we are all hunkered down together in the basement shelter while the sirens of climate change are screaming, the bombs of the despots’ last stand are dropping and on top of it all, while crammed together, we need to try to stay six feet apart and wear masks that cover both our smiles and frowns and makes our breathing more shallow and prevents us from singing together.
In speaking about fight, flight and freeze as ineffective, counter-evolutionary, unproductive and deeply harmful strategies, I also recognize all three in myself. On the fight side, my deep anger at those in power who hurt others to protect their own unearned privilege and power, my equal anger at those who support, excuse or cheer them on, my anger at those ancestors who refused their inner work and passed the mess down to us.
On the flight side, there are times when I simply can’t talk about the news and I let my friends know, times when I can’t bear to hear of the next disaster, times when I retreat into the escape of the next TV series. Sometimes I might even drink a whole beer instead of my usual half!
And on the freeze side, there are certainly times when I feel numbed and immobilized by the overwhelming immensity of it all and just shut down altogether. I recognize that all of these strategies in small doses serve their purpose and no one should feel shamed for resorting to them. We’re all doing what we can to get through.
But this I also know. We can’t stay locked down in them for more than short doses. We need to rise up, stick our head out and begin to move forward to a genuine healing, both personal and collective. We need to look each of these traumas in the face, feel the full weight of the pain and the grief, forgive our ancestors and begin to digest that heavy stone in our stomach. We would do well to melt the ice of our frozen selves and keep life flowing, dedicate ourselves to creating in each thought and act a kinder, more beautiful and more sustainable life for our children and grandchildren.
How do we do this? No formula or 10-step program, but many hints and guidelines and encouragements. Here’s a few:
Read: “A book is an axe for the frozen sea within us.” -Kafka
Go beyond the reading of newspapers into the deeper layers of poetry, history, literature. Read—or re-read— Mary Pipher’s The Shelter of Each Other.
Lean Toward Kindness: Look at what you need to forgive in yourself. Forgive yourself.
Look at what you need to forgive in others. Forgive others. Forgiveness helps the milk of human kindness to flow.
Stay together: Consider Gary Snyder’s advice in his poem “For the Children.”
“… In the next century
or the one beyond that,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.
To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:
Learn the flowers
Cry. Laugh. Trauma is frozen grief. Crying and laughing get it flowing again.
Make music: Music can be a digestive aide for undigested trauma. The enzymes of artfully crafted and beautifully expressed sounds help break down the solid stone of grief sitting in our stomachs. Watch this video and see if it makes you cry as it did me. See how the organizer and participants aimed their hard work and talent toward a kind gesture to the community. See how everyone was listening as if their lives depended upon it, how it moved the elders, engaged the children, brought everyone together collectively to fulfill its title: Ode to Joy.
This is what it looks like when we offer and accept the shelter of each other.