insight

Zhiwa Woodbury

This is What Recovery Looks Like: The Healing Potential of Trauma.

Respiritualising our planet is the next step to healing collective trauma. An ecopsychologist shares thoughts from the world's first ever Collective Trauma & Healing Summit.

Psychology
We live in a death-phobic, grief-phobic, and trauma-phobic culture - nobody likes to talk about these life-shaping, universal experiences. 

Could it be this very lack of fluency in life’s most profound languages that is inhibiting humanity’s response to the existential threat of the climate crisis? After all, the responses to collective trauma mimics what we know to be our most common responses to individual trauma: fright/freeze; flight/escape; and, fight/argue.

This collective resistance is now starting to thaw - if not actually break down - out of clear necessity. People are finding that safe spaces for confronting our losses and our feelings about what we are losing have the effect of unleashing the ‘shadow side' of these experiences - life, joy, and healing - in ways that empower us to participate in growing social movements like Extinction Rebellion, Indigenous Rising, and the Sunrise Movement. 

The world is awakening.
What people tend not to appreciate about trauma, death and grieving is that each carries a unique gift when they are arrive at our door.
Together with more than 50,000 people from 176 countries, I recently had the good fortune to help break new ground as part of the first-ever global ‘Collective Trauma & Healing Summit.' Organised by Thomas Hübl, founder of the nonprofit Pocket Project. This 9-day on-line summit included hour-long conversations amongst 25 innovators in the field of trauma research and recovery, each topic designed in its own way to elevate our awareness and understanding of collective trauma and its vast, mostly latent, healing potential.

The climate crisis was a unifying topic of concern among the summit’s participants. The idea that ‘climate trauma' may be triggering all of our residual cultural and generational traumas was one of the catalysts for this summit, according to co-host Terry Patten, author of A New Republic of the Heart. Patten addressed this topic with myself and with Nobel prize-winning climate scientist Karen O’Brien, a writer and editor of some of the more recent IPCC Reports who expresses a remarkably balanced perspective on the crisis.

According to O’Brien, “the trauma dimension of really healing that trauma can release a lot of the energy that we need to face head-on the challenges that are facing us now and that will face us in the future,” so long as our hearts “break open and not break down.” 
We ‘honour’ a kind of social taboo against public expressions of trauma, even labelling it ‘politeness.'
What people tend not to appreciate about trauma, death and grieving is that each carries a unique gift when they are arrive at our door. Inviting them into our home, into our hearts, is rewarded with a profound appreciation for both the beauty and fragility of what Woman Stands Shining (Kate McCabe) called the sacred Hoop of Life.

Given our reflexive cultural phobia around trauma, the level of participation in this inaugural summit was remarkable. We're accustomed to addressing our traumas in the safety of intimate relationship. Outside those safe zones, we ‘honour’ a kind of social taboo against public expressions of trauma, even labelling it ‘politeness.'

But it isn’t really kind, not when these same traumas are warping our ability to interact. Hübl points out that it is the very nature of trauma to remain hidden. Conventionally agreed-upon ‘absencing’ of our trauma is what gives them power over us. Conversely, their towering presence, or faux absence, shrinks like a shadow in the light of focused awareness. 
When we allow our heart to break open in response to grievous loss, a kind of healing balm naturally emerges from the wound itself.
Dr. Monica Sharma, author of the book Radical Transformational Leadership, observed during the closing panel that this global summit had served to break the silence of our shared traumas - generational, cultural and biospheric traumas - in much the same way that the #MeToo movement has broken the silence of misogyny around the world. By participating in such social movements, we each become a ‘fractal' of light in a global kaleidoscope of healing energy, according to Sharma. 

Some might view breaking the silence around collective trauma as the opening of a wound. Indeed ‘trauma' literally means ‘wound.' But with all trauma, the ‘cure’ is to be found close to the wound. A closed heart, which is our psyche contracting around our core wounded self, only produces the scar tissue of patterned behaviours. When we allow our heart to break open in response to grievous loss, by contrast, a kind of healing balm naturally emerges from the wound itself, allowing us to break out of the prison of our unresolved trauma. 

As the closing panelists agreed, merely invoking our collective trauma, along with honouring its presence, is already producing a socially significant, profound shift in our collective Psyche - like when the light of day first enters a formerly sealed cave. There was a felt sense amongst participants from around the globe that this simple, honest process of respectfully acknowledging our collective trauma is in itself having the effect of initiating us into a healing circle. 
Trauma is like the dragon in that cave that holds in its claws the jewel of our staggering potential as human beings.
Broken systems want to rediscover their wholeness. Healing has the effect of pointing us in that direction. When we can hold that space of awareness collectively, with empathy, in small groups or large, it naturally triggers a kind of alchemical process that heals the collective. This healing potential is inherent in the trauma itself. 

Trauma is like the dragon in that cave that holds in its claws the jewel of our staggering potential as human beings. Collective awareness, it turns out, is a transformational force of nature with which we can slay that dragon. As William Ury, a Harvard negotiator, reported from the front lines of the world’s most intractable conflicts: 

I believe that humanity has this capacity to heal itself, and our jobs as as healers, or as global social witnesses, is to serve as activators of… the global immune system of humanity.
As Hübl puts it, “we are swimming in the soup of a collectively traumatised humanity.”
Hübl’s mission of healing our collective trauma took shape in the fiery cauldron of addressing the most significant collective trauma of the 20th Century. German by birth, he now lives in Israel, and has honed his craft by bringing Germans and Jews together in spiritual retreat to address the crushing, residual collective trauma of the Holocaust. Having built up a following of more than 100,000 people who’ve experienced his gift for integrating collective spiritual coherence, Hübl is now beginning to scale this healing modality up to a new, unprecedented level. in direct response to the global scale and grievous impact of our collective moral and spiritual crisis.  

As Hübl puts it, “we are swimming in the soup of a collectively traumatised humanity.” This trauma acts like sand in the gears of social transformation, he says. We know that we must somehow quickly transform our social structures if we are to survive the 21st Century Holocaust - the biospheric trauma that is currently driving species to extinction. 

It is as if, in this age of interconnectivity, we suddenly find ourselves inhabiting a traumasphere - an atmosphere of pervasive and interpenetrating traumas that is inhibiting our natural abilities to respond to clear and present dangers.
We must also come to acknowledge the personhood of Gaia, in much the same spirit with which we have begun to acknowledge the rights of nature.
And so the Pocket Project seeks to engage our global village in a healing circle - or if you prefer, a fractal pattern of what integral philosopher Ken Wilber calls ‘holons’ - to break the destructive patterns of our collective trauma. And it appears, judging by the enthusiastic response to this inaugural effort, that a critical mass of elders in this global village is now, finally, ready to welcome this offer of spiritual leadership in the service of life. 

As Dr. Scilla Elworthy commented:

We are capable of affecting very large systems because we are connected with very large symptoms

As encouraging, inspiring and profoundly salutary as I found this (r)evolutionary experiment in collective healing to be, I am compelled to offer one constructive critique as we carry it forward. 

In raising my awareness to a new level from where I was at the beginning of the symposium, I grew increasingly aware of an empty chair, if you will, amongst the many diverse chairs for individual, generational, and collective traumas, which included Indigenous chairs, chairs for the economically oppressed, and even a chair for the global collective of humanity. 

Someone seemingly remained a silent bystander in each of these enlightening conversations.

In the same way that Monica Sharma spoke about breaking the silence of misogyny with the MeToo Movement - by creating the space for awareness that allows for women’s voices to be respectfully witnessed and heard - we must now break the silence on human domination of nature by creating the space for collective awareness that allows the voice of Earth as Living Organism to be heard. 

The more that we experience ourselves as an integral part of Earth, as an integral part of the planet, that in itself gives us the resources, both individually and collectively, to integrate and to transform the challenges that we face. - Summit host Robin Alfred

Call her by her name: Gaia
We are awakening to the threat from Gaia’s fever running so high that her organs are now starting to shut down. 
It is no longer enough to simply acknowledge, as science now does across all disciplines, that Gaia is alive. We must also come to acknowledge the personhood of Gaia, in much the same spirit with which we have begun to acknowledge the rights of nature - but at an even higher order. Arguably, the highest order. 

One way to think about this is that we are all part of Gaia’s biome - because we are! Just like the bacteria in our guts are all part of our individual biome. 

The difference is not just one of scale, however. Unlike the bacteria in our gut, we humans actually have the choice of being cells that are fuelling Gaia’s fever, or being more like the sleeper cells in her auto-immune defence system.

We are awakening to the threat from Gaia’s fever running so high that her organs are now starting to shut down. If our child’s temperature rose the same amount we have increased Gaia’s temperature, we would rush them to the hospital without hesitation. 
Gaia is calling us into proper relationship with Her, with all our relations, and with and amongst ourselves. That is our true home.
Of course, Gaia is not just another ‘person,' is she? She is our life source, our mother. And she is not just our mother, but the Mother of All. The fertile, dark mother of ‘all our relations,' as the indigenous wisdom of Turtle Island teaches us. 

It is not possible to hold this personal view of Gaia as living organism and life source in our heart while continuing to be complicit in the biospheric trauma we are inflicting on her body, on ourselves, and on her children - all our relations. It becomes unconscionable when it becomes personal for us.

Because it is Her trauma, it is deeply felt by each of us who comes into conscious relationship with Her. We become Gaia’s Protectors. And because it is our collective trauma as well, it is triggering all of our unresolved collective traumas — not in order to exterminate us, but because that is Her way of calling us home. 

Gaia is calling us into proper relationship with Her, with all our relations, and with and amongst ourselves. That is our true home.

Let us heed her call. It is the only way we will ever feel at home again on this planet.
F887f4cde617bb6260a484cd5427c166
Words by Zhiwa Woodbury
Zhiwa Woodbury is an ecopsychologist and author of the forthcoming book, Climate Sense: Changing the Way We Think & Feel About Our Climate in Crisis. He blogs at EcopsychologyNow!