Healing Personal and Collective Trauma

ZWDAO4UIT35D2HN4FYCX3JPSDUNASCAR drivers Kyle Busch, left, and Corey LaJoie, right, join other drivers and crews as they push the car of Bubba Wallace to the front of the field prior to the start of the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at the Talladega Superspeedway.John Bazemore/Associated Press

 

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…

 

 

 

Centering Down

“Centering Down” is a Quaker expression referring to the act of becoming quiet, still, and silent, so as to be open to receive inspiration from the Divine. In the Quaker tradition, there is no priest, rabbi or minister because the belief is that we all have the spark of Divinity within ourselves and do not need a religious intermediary. In Quaker meetings of worship, members sit in silence, holding presence, and any member, if so inspired, may rise and speak. Kate and I were married at the Haverford Friends Meeting outside Philadelphia, and it was quite fun when the guests, after sitting in silence, most unfamiliar with Quaker traditions, finally realized they could stand and speak. There was a lot of heartfelt and playfully competitive back and forth between our west coast and east coast friends. The whole experience was a real time example of the two spiritual instincts merging in a flow of love and joy.

Centering Down is also the title of a book written by Dona Holleman in 1981. As a teenager, realized she wanted to study yoga, and her mother, a student of Krishnamurti, 419cxI1o-lL._SX481_BO1,204,203,200_suggested she ask K for advice. She went to Switzerland, told Krishnamurti her desire, and he tells her; ” there is a yoga teacher from India living here and teaching me. I’ll introduce you.” Thus Dona became one of B.K.S. Iyengar’s first European students.

I met Dona in 1981, just as Centering Down came out, and immediately became inspired and impressed with her approach to yoga. She was super dedicated, with a precisely organized practice schedule, morning and afternoon sessions, timed with two different watches. Her poses were gorgeous and effortless, her teaching clear and precise.

And she also had a spiritual side that was very different from any dona-iyengar-227x300of the other Iyengar teachers of the time. She quoted Yaqui shaman Don Juan from Carlos Castaneda’s writings. And she talked about the Quaker tradition of centering down into silence, and embodying this in the hara. In my yang youthful enthusiasm, I missed the part about silence. This morning, in wanting to develop the heart and hara theme from the previous post, I opened “Centering Down” and came across this quote:

“Soon we realize that we have to start ‘practicing silence’ instead of waiting for chance moments in our daily life. We must find a space and set a regular time to practice the art of sitting in silence, to allow ourselves to forget everything and approach our center within.” This comes at the end of the book, after many detailed instructions on alignment and practice in the various types of asana. Dona then continues with instructions in step by step somatic meditation, releasing layers of tension until, with grace, the Ground of Being reveals itself as unbounded ultimate mystery. It is a wonderful book, still available on Amazon.com.

Dona’s embodiment of the hara was profound and clear as her quick assimilation of Iyengar’s teaching shows, and in ‘Centering Down’ she offers the following observations on the this key area, and yoga. (My comments follow in italics)

DH: The sacrum is the holy bone: the lower abdomen (between navel and pubic, and bone) should be in contact with the sacrum. Where they meet within the pelvic bowl is Svadisthana Chakra (self-energizing earth center), or Hara. This is the center of gravity.

AK: The lower abdomen includes the points CV 2 through CV-7 on the Conception Vessel. Jeffrey Yuen says that we tend to feel more at home in one of these six points. Explore how you feel in this area, using your fingers to bring more sensitivity.

DH: Hara is the rock on which we build the temple of the body. Those who are centered in the chest have too much ego and those centered in the head have too much intellect. The chest and head must rest on and be stabilized in the center of gravity.

AK: Hara is the rhythm section of the body, the bass and drums of our inner and outer dancing. The African term “Get Down”, which has taken on many meanings in pop culture, usually involving dance or sex, originally referred to “a dance, posture or movement, involving the act of bending at the waist and knees, bringing the body low to the ground in moments of ecstasy or intensity. This was an expression of profound spirituality and connectedness to the earth”.

DH: In Tadasana and all other postures, the only parts which should uphold the body are Hara and the spine ‘growing’ out of the pelvis. The energy of the rest of the body, especially the energy of the head, shoulders, chest and diaphragm, should be withdrawn and transferred to these two parts. The skeletal body should be completely firm and straight, the pelvis and spine should never sag, but the muscular body should be empty. Hara is the earth center: from here the coccyx and legs “grow” downward as roots while the spine ‘grows’ upward, each vertebrae rising away from the one below.

AK: This was written 40 years ago when our sensitivity to the subtle fluid body was less articulated, especially in the yoga world. From the stability of the Hara, the spine awakens and learns to rise up from the release of not only the yang skeletal muscles, but the awakened qi of the organs, connective tissues and blood vessels connected to the spine.

DH: The body is a self-healing organism. Yoga serves to remove unconscious tensions, stiffness and blocks in the flow of energy (Qi), all obstacles to self healing.

DH: Yoga is to silence the body, mind and heart. A silent body is a body that has natural dignity.

Practice: The Structure Supporting the Hara

We now spiral back from the interior of the torso of the previous blog and rediscover the intelligence of the bones, especially the pelvis, legs, sacrum and coccyx. The key to awaken this area structurally is ‘double action’, where we simultaneously create two opposing actions to open joint spaces. The first will be the double action opening the hip joints.

Opening the Hip Joints

Human hip joints, like most mammals, primarily flex and extend, as this is where we find the speed and power to move. In most positions, including standing, the pelvis flexes and extends over the stable femur heads. However, there are positions where we can flex and extend the femur heads over the stable pelvis. We want to learn to flex and extend simultaneously to create a dynamic stillness the creates space in the hip joints. This double action has been helping me keep my dysfunctional hip from totally collapsing.

Bony-Surfaces-of-the-Hip-Joint-Head-of-Femur-and-Acetabulum.The easiest way to feel this action in the hips is to imagine-create-feel two opposing circular movements, one of the femur head, the other the acetabulum. This is the primary action in tadasana, the foundation pose for all other asanas.

In a simple standing forward bend like uttanasana, begin in tadasana by stabilizing the feet through K-1 and the heels. Then, as if sitting into a chair, move the femur heads backwards and downwards in a circular manner. Feel this all the way into the heels and recognize the is the same circular direction as GV-1 to CV-1, or ‘tucking’, up the front – down the back to the heels. To complete tadasana, remain extending upright with the pelvis lifting up off the femurs, but create the opposite action around the acetabulum, CV-1 to GV-1. This will create a nice release at the bottom of the groins that you will feel down to K-1, without tilting the pelvis forward.

To come into uttanasana, maintain the femur action, create the opposite at the acetabula, but now let the pelvis rotate, coming around the corner and down. As the pelvis begins to move, maintain the opposite femur action. (Always double action, especially in movement.) Feel this down the front into K-1, in the circular action of CV-1 to GV-1 or ‘untucking’, and up the back, lengthening the hamstrings up to the sitting bones. Keep the knees firm without hyper-extending. Continue both circles as you remain in uttanasana and then drop into stillness as the two energies balance in sthira sukham.

To come back to tadasana, reverse both circular actions; heads of femurs down the front/up the back; sitting bones down the back/up the front. As long as you have the double action, you can reverse femurs and acetabula actions to see if one or the other is more helpful. Of course, while moving, the movement determines the pairing. Apply this action at the beginning of your sitting practice to root the hips. Integrate with the double action larger microcosmic orbit and drop into stillness. This action is crucial in every pose.

Opening the Sacroilliac Joints

figure_1-14B-550x596I couldn’t access this file for the blog, but check out this amazing video clip to see what is being described. This lateral view (Courtesy Joseph E. Muscolino. Manual Therapy for the Low Back and Pelvis – A Clinical Orthopedic Approach (2015)), shows the movement known as counternutation of the sacrum.

To open the sacro-illiac joints, we create another double action. First is an slight/subtle anterior tilt of the illium, following the circular action of; down the front-up the back/CV-1 to GV-1/ untucking/ pelvic flexion. The we add the circular action of the sacrum, as shown above; down the back-up the front/ GV-1 to CV-1/ tucking. This is best accomplished at the bottom of the sacrum where it joins the coccxy. This is the GV-1 to CV-1 that seems to be missing in many people. Balance the two actions in every pose.

Integrating

Notice you can link sacrum and femurs with the pelvis suspended between the two. Femurs and sacrum ‘tuck’; pelvis ‘untucks’. Or the reverse. Which feels better for you. Try this in sitting. Feel how it activates the hara. Link it to the micro-cosmic orbit as well. Feel grounded and centered, ‘centering down’. Drop into stillness and allow Being to Be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More on the Lesser Sac/Omental Bursa

omental bursaMany more somatic delights to explore!

This more detailed view above is from Frank Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy, plate 331, if you have your own copy, showing a cross section through T-12. Netter always does his cross sections as if looking from below, so you have to flip your brain to reverse right and left, but the many internal spaces are well illustrated.

sac_lesser_recessThis illustration shows yet another perspective, tracking the lesser sac downward, with a great view of the epiploic foramen just below the gall bladder. The pancreas sits just behind, (where the words lesser sac are). Remember that this is not a large volume space, but rather distinct differentiated layers of fascia that ideally are lubricated with fluid to allow the organs to slide around. Think of the plastic supermarket bags for your veggies, before you get them open. Fat can accumulate here, as well as excess fluid in pathological conditions.

The T-12 section in general is one of the more complex and crucial regions of the body. Mechanically, the T-12 vertebrae has lumbar facets (primarily allowing flexion-extension) at L-1 and thoracic facets (primarily allowing rotation) at T-11 which allows it to act as a universal joint; (or not, if it is stuck like mine!) Structurally, we go from Psoas-257x300ribs/thoracic vertebrae to no ribs/lumbar vertebrae. The quadratus lumborum, the deepest abdominal muscle,  runs from the 12th ribs to the top of the pelvis. The psoas (major and minor) has its top attachment diaphragm_lumbar_attachments1314562001703-thumb400at T-12 and connects to the diaphragm through the median arcuate ligament, linking breathing and movement of the legs and pelvis.

The Practice

Begin by dropping into stillness/presence as your ground and let it settle in to your field. We keep coming back when we realize we have lost this. This is step one in somatic meditation, starting in presence, returning to presence when we notice we have wandered away. In presence let your attention/imagination move to the lesser sac/omental bursa and then let go into a state of yin attention. In yang attention, we want to act; to do something, to grab onto something. Somatic meditation is practicing non-doing attention, known as ‘Wu Wei‘ in Taoist practice. Let the subtlest layers of your body be the teacher.

Also, because we have so many choices, if any of the the other areas shown in the diagrams speak to you, imagine/find/feel them in your practice in the same way, Wu Wei.  Stay in Awareness/presence even as the subtle energies and insights emerge. It will be easy to become seduced and try to take over the process. Let the yang energy bring and sustain your attention to specific regions in the subtle field, but resist the urge to ‘do’ something.

Remember, in this region of the body we are half way between heart and hara. Here are some other explorations from my current practice. Some are more fruitful then others, but that may be a very personal thing. Find the ones that feed you and stay with them. From presence, you can drop into this any time of the day, not just ‘on the mat’.

Where the epeploic foramen links the lesser sac with the greater sac, directly in front of the inferior vena cava.

Where the falciform ligament of the liver separates the greater sac.

If you look closely at the top diagram, you can find the bottom of the pleural sac and the costo-diaphragmatic recess. Begin your exploration there.

Where the aorta emerges from being behind the diaphragm at the crura or crossing tendons, right in the center of the body.

Any of the stomach – spleen- kidney ligaments.

From the lesser omentum.

The spinal muscles directly posterior to the kidneys, allowing them to soften and melt.

From the psoas – diaphragm linking at the median arcuate ligament.

Please send questions from your practice, if and when they arise, and I can try to answer them in the coming blog posts.  ([email protected])