Not sure how many of my readers follow NASCAR. It’s usually not on my radar either, but this photo taken in early June at the beginning of a race at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama captures an extraordinary moment in American history that brings tears to my eyes every time I fully take in its significance. The car belongs to Bubba Wallace, the only full time Black driver on the stock car circuit. It is being guided to its position at the start of the race by every single driver in the race, and every single member of their support teams, all choosing to make a unified stand about love and inclusion.
A few weeks previous to the race, Bubba, with the support of all the other White drivers, asked NASCAR to ban the display of the Confederate flag at all races and, amazingly enough, NASCAR officials did just that. This is not going over well with many of the predominantly southern White male fans, and Sunday evening, it appeared that someone had left a noose in the garage of Bubbas racing team. The response, as shown above, was immediate, clear and unified. We (NASCAR) stand for love and inclusion and against hatred and division. (It was later clarified by the F.B.I. that it was a garage door pull fashioned as a noose and had been there for several months.)
The healing of collective trauma cannot truly begin without a deep acknowledgement of its reality. And it is the nature of trauma, at its root, to remain hidden, repressed and unseen. The symptoms and after effects may be recognized cognitively, but until we can begin to feel the visceral reality of the violence. Collectively, trauma healing requires a group acknowlegement, or witnessing the trauma and the a group ritual or action directed specifically toward healing the wound. The Nascar act of love, support and acknowledgement was so powerful for me because it was a real, embodied action of collective healing.
It is now early August. We have a long long way to go in healing. The deeply embedded trauma that White supremacy has inflicted upon the African American people, as well as the Native American people, has been accumulating for over five centuries. It continues in the present as the collective fears of a certain percentage of White people have added Hispanic and Muslim people to the crosshairs of the fear and anger. The fact that we have a president who amplifies these fears, and in an election year is doubling down on his ignorance, is both terrifying and heartbreaking. But is is the nature of unconsciousness to perpetuate patterns of behavior until they are brought to the conscious level for reflection, recognition and the awakening oof sufficient motivation to change.
George Floyd was murdered on May 25, 2020. For whatever reason, his death was the one that finally broke through the ignorance and denial of collective White America to the depth and intensity of the traumas Black Americans live with on a day to day basis. Certainly not all of White America is awakening, but a large enough percentage of people in power to begin a shift. Corporations follow the money, so I am suspicious of the underlying motives of some of their statements, but, none the less, we are seeing the beginning of a major, major shift in American society, and one that is ripploing around the planet.
It is my hope that this shift will be driven from the spiritual foundation of “Wholeness”, Inter-being, Love, and fierce Compassion. It is the only hope for long lasting and meaningful change, because there is also a much larger collective trauma that also needs to be acknowledged; the trauma inflicted onto Mother Earth by all humans. We need to expand time, envision 10 generations into the future, and ask ourselves; What are we offering those generations to come? We have been given one of the most prolific, fecund planets in the galaxy and are systematically destroying the very conditions that allow life to flourish. As my mentor Thomas Berry once stated, ‘modern humans have macrophase power and microphase intelligence.”
It is easy to fall into hopelessness and despair when confronting the magnitude of our challenges, unless we have a spiritual practice that can orient and balance us. Each of us has a ‘soul role’ to play. We have incarnated into this moment with a set of skills, a certain level of vitality, lessons to learn, and a place in the center of the living breathing energy field of Mother Earth, the Solar System and the Milky Way. A practice helps us refine our skills, maintain our vitality, study and learn from our lessons, and participate in the dance. We need to cultivate multiple resources to facilitate any type of healing and the beginning of collective healing is our own personal journey of healing.
Unconscious trauma presents a fragmented perspective on reality. Thomas Huebl describes this as though looking through broken glass. Thomas, in his own unique way, goes on to note that our brains then ‘photoshop’ the fragments away. It fills in the blank regions so we may ‘appear’ to have a coherent view and function in society. But the information coming in to us from the world is actually quite fragmented and thus our ability to respond to the world is limited. As Thomas says, our ‘response-ability’, our ability to respond to the moment, is compromised and this is true both individually and collectively.
Our memory and cognitive constellations tend to determine our perceptions and actions. If we are not in true resonance with the world moment to moment, our fall back will be to refer to our beliefs, concepts and memories and call these ‘reality’. These beliefs and concepts, more often that not, have been passed down by our parents, grandparents and teachers, and society as a whole. Because they, and we, were born into a world with pre-existing personal, ancestral and collective traumas, we usually do not see the trauma. It is ‘just the way things are, and always have been. White supremacy is the root of the collective trauma of our time.
It is the nature of modern culture that athletes and entertainers have the largest and loudest platform to speak to the general public. That also gives them a lot of power. ( Professional and college athletics currently generate upwards of eighty billion dollars of revenue every year!) The murder of George Floyd was the tipping point that woke up a sufficient number of White athletes and coaches so that they can begin to hear the stories their Black teammates are telling. On the collegiate side, money more than morals drives the bus, but none-the-less, the voices the Black Americans are finally being heard and acknowledged by White American and a social momentum of deep seated change has begun.
The burden of systemic racism and White supremacy, inflicted by the European cultures onto the Black and Native populations going back to the time of Columbus, is being recognized as an acute personal and cultural trauma that White people must acknowledge, feel and address through action. Hispanic and Muslim communities also have been recipients of White ignorance and rage. Jews have been recipients of ignorance and rage for centuries. How to navigate the fullness of the damage done to multiple ethnic groups, across multiple generations, remains to be seen. That NASCAR, the most White and most ‘southern’ of our national sports, chose to make a statement, is a sign of hope. However, symbolic gestures can only be the beginning if true healing and transformation of society is to take place. The energy of protests have to become transformed into policy and symbolism has to be transformed into tackling extremely challenging unconsciously entrenched habits of White supremacy. Bandages are of no use when radical cultural surgery is needed. This will not be easy, simple or quick.
The voices of those who have been victimized by the inherent White supremacy embedded in the fabric of American society are being finally heard. As part of my own personal healing I have been reading and re-reading Kevin Powell: (The Education of Kevin Powell) and (My Mother, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and the last stand of The Angry White Man): and Ta-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me), heart opening descriptions of how de-humanizing and traumatizing growing up an African American Male can be; how that burden often is then inflicted onto women and each other; and how painful the path of healing can be.
Also needing to be heard are the voices of those who have on the front lines of racism for decades and who can speak from well earned wisdom. Civil Rights icon John Lewis wrote this a few days before he died. Another wonderful example is Ruth King’s Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside Out. Also, Buddhist teacher Larry Ward, as expressed in this blog post on The Lotus Institute web site. Or this Op-ed from Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Boston Globe writers Renee Graham and Jenee Osterheldt are two more voices of Black women who keep me paying attention. Social change is challenging at any level and our current situation has layers and levels of trauma that will require years of diligent and relentless effort. Keep reading, keep listening. The more voices in the choir, the more powerful the music.
The collective cultural healing we desperately need can only happen when all ethnic groups can express and be respected for their unique perspectives, traditions and talents, while at the same time discovering in each other the essential common ground of wholeness and unity. Even in individuals, trauma cannot be healed individually. The healing of trauma requires an ‘other’, to listen to the stories, feel, embody and validate the experience and then link energetically with the speaker in wholeness. I hear your pain, I feel your pain, I take it into the depths of my cells, and join you in the communal healing of the heart.
Working with my pre-natal PTSD is very different from working with the challenges of my new hip joint. Working with the quirkiness of the hip doesn’t trigger any deep and hidden emotional trauma. No shortage of frustration, but that is quite different, very obvious and relatively easy to manage. The trauma of PTSD awakens terror and this needs to be handled with care and love.
The complex emotional charge of stored trauma and its effect on the body’s nervous system requires a much more nuanced approach. This is equally valid in the collective field as well as the individual’s energy field. With trauma, there is embedded in the field a powerful, non-verbal sense of chaos; of having no control of the situation, of being totally disconnected from the present moment. This is the nature of unresolved trauma. Because it has been repressed, and it takes a lot of energy to do so, it is like a pressure cooker slowly moving toward explosion.
The analogy to the looting and rioting is very relevant. As Kareem Abdul Jabbar mentioned above, when an intense collective trauma has been accumulating for generations, eruptions of violence cannot possibly be surprising. What is amazing is that there is not more outbreaks of violence. Much of the inner city and gang related violence stems from this collective generational trauma.
In an embodied approach to trauma therapy such as Somatic Experiencing, the mature adult/therapist helps the client discover their own pressure valve and guides them in learning how to safely and slowly discharge the pent up fear/anger/energy. This may take months or years to do safely. Doing this collectively is part of the new level of healing of our time. Spiritual teacher Thomas Huebl is one of the planet’s leading guides in this realm and I highly recommend listening to him or working with him.
Hearing the stories and opening our hearts to the intense suffering of others may help us dive into our own darker dimensions. There is a not so subtle hint in the ‘Apostles Creed’ the prayer I learned as a child growing up in the Catholic Church. Upon his death and before ‘ascending into heaven’, Jesus ‘descendit ad inferna‘, he descended into hell. To become ‘One with God’, aka Enlightened, aka realize ‘True Nature’, we must descend into the inferno, like Dante in the Divine Comedy, to truly see the depths of our trauma and begin the healing. Dante had guides, the Roman poet Virgil and Beatrice. We need guides. We need our angels. And we need to be very diligent in our practice of coming back to the Stillness where True Nature reveals Itself as our ultimate refuge and ultimate source of healing.
(PS: a personal note)
Apologies for the delay. It has been almost 4 months since my last post. The cancer treatments, Covid-19, Black Lives Matter and my ‘new hip’ have sucked the energy out of me and slowed me way down. Very little energy for anything but listening and healing. I’ve been trying to finish this post for two months now, so it is a bit choppy.But I did not want to wait any longer
But I am slowly re-emerging! I will be done with the cancer meds by mid September. (By all indications the cancer should be gone, but there are no guarantees.) I’m back to swimming every day, rebuilding strength, trying to write, considering some Zoom classes, and my son Sean and I are collaborating on a series of podcasts to discuss the evolutionary dimensions of our present moment. I’ll keep you posted on that.
Also much thanks to all who reached out to me for my surgery and birthday. George Floyd was murdered on May 25 and my surgery was May 26. I spent much of my 70th birthday June 1 oscillating between deep grief and deep joy. Great for my heart opening, but exhausting.
Stay safe, stay awake, keep loving, keep practicing…