By Kathryn Hayward, MD
Throughout the world today, many people are feeling that events beyond our control are unfolding in a disorienting way. We feel personally affected by the increasing polarization in our societies and in our politics which threaten a significant change to our way of life, to the rights we have come to take for granted, to our sense of security and well-being.
What we may not realize is that this combination of factors can actually cause trauma, which is defined as an injury caused by an extrinsic agent, something outside of ourselves that we feel we cannot control.
If we don’t address the underlying trauma, it can affect our sense of well-being and our physical health.
Trauma comes from direct contact with a frightening event such as an accident, crime, abuse or terrorist act (acute trauma), from prolonged experiences that crush our connection to power and hope (chronic trauma), and from occurrences that are physically distant, relayed to us through the media or by word of mouth (remote trauma).
Trauma of all kinds can cause lasting effects on health, with wide-ranging symptoms.
Symptoms of trauma involve our attempts to control the feelings associated with the trauma.
We can learn about ourselves from observing animals: a traumatized animal may become big and loud, like a dog protecting its territory, or it may collapse, try to hide or play dead, like an opossum.
Some people seek professional health services for their physical or emotional symptoms, but to get at the underlying cause of those symptoms, it is essential to recognize the underlying trauma that is at the root. Then we can take steps to heal.
We heal through taking action: engaging our minds, bodies, spirits and communities.
A traumatic experience, whether acute, chronic or remote, shocks us unexpectedly, and sudden fear overwhelms us. Like a deer caught in headlights, we cannot move. If we stay frozen, the oncoming vehicle smashes us. If we snap out of the paralysis, we can take action and leap out of the way.
A deer will “shake off” a traumatic experience, literally. After a close call, the bodies of animals shake profusely. Then they move on with their day.
We humans do not naturally shake off traumas; we hold the trauma in our bodies and, like a continuous video loop, it influences and affects all that we do.
Therapies to clear trauma draw on the observations that animals “shake off” close calls. These therapies, which I refer to as “Mind/Body/Spirit Disciplines”, utilize vibration, touch and mindful body movement to enhance energy flow through the body’s energy centers and pathways.
The proximity to a frightening event can affect the level of trauma that we experience.
After the 1986 space shuttle Challenger explosion, Dr. Lenore Terr, a child psychiatrist and Clinical Professor at UCSF, studied three groups of children: (1) those in Christa McAuliffe’s son’s third grade class who went to Cape Canaveral to watch the shuttle liftoff; (2) those on the East Coast of the US who watched it on live TV; and (3) those on the West Coast who heard about it.
In a 1999 American Journal of Psychiatry article, Dr. Terr and her team concluded that, while (not surprisingly) the first group of children had the most severe symptoms, the immediacy of watching the explosion on TV contributed greatly to length and severity of symptoms in the second group of children, while the third group, who heard about the accident after it happened, had very little evidence of lasting trauma.
Since the advent of television, we have been increasingly exposed to events in even the world’s most remote areas, live or shortly after the fact. We feel affected by decisions and events at a distance and outside our control.
This prolonged experience has resulted in trauma for millions upon millions of people on our planet. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that we are living in a time of global trauma.
One of the lessons I have learned from trauma studies and my medical practice is that clearing trauma requires that people take action. If not, the trauma continues to haunt the individual.
In my experience, the most effective ways of healing trauma involve what are known as “Mind/Body/Spirit Disciplines”. The therapies offered by these disciplines talk directly to the body.
What does talk directly mean? Such therapies can be thought of as connecting with the body’s nervous system and energy pathways (meridians) and centers (chakras). These energy systems were first described in Asia thousands of years ago, and therapies enhancing the energy movement within them have ancient roots. Some that have become more well known in the West include Jin Shin Jyutsu, acupuncture, meditation, yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong.
These, and many other therapies, effectively move the energy of old and more recent trauma, allowing for releasing and clearing. Once we release and clear the trauma, we are no longer dominated by it.
And when people engage in the therapies as a group, the experience is even more powerful.
International Integrators offers Living Whole immersion retreats that are five-day community experiences in a natural sanctuary designed to help you explore who you really are, where you’re getting stuck, and how to care for yourself. We explore a range of Mind/Body/Spirit Disciplines that are effective in clearing trauma. We help you develop your own self-care practice, including through:
- Jin Shin Jyutsu
- Postural Alignment Therapy
- Yoga and Yoga Dance
- Hikes in nature
- Healthful eating
- Sound Baths
Clearing energy through these self-care practices allows energy to flow more freely. When that happens, we grow a stronger sense of compassion for ourselves, for our traumas, for the mistakes we have made in the past. We become stronger, and live our lives with more power. The fear that made us feel paralyzed and powerless lessens, and we can move forward with purpose and action.
The stronger our compassion for ourselves, the stronger and more powerful we feel, the more we can look upon ourselves and others with kindness, compassion and forgiveness and the more prepared we are to take positive action to shape the world around us.
Community and coming together generates powerful healing. On Saturday, January 21, there was a global movement to come together. Women, men and children all over the Earth gathered for the Women’s March. Beginning in Australia and New Zealand, spreading across Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas and Antarctica, people on every continent took action.
People arrived at the marches as strangers and departed with new connections, hopes, resolve and plans for action.
They congregated in rain, sub-zero temperatures, and under the hot sun.
As each gathering began with sunrise, other gatherings wound down with sunset. Like the crowd’s “wave” in a sports stadium, there was palpable global movement.
Many who gathered know that real change comes from taking action, creating sparks that kindle ideas.
Real change often comes from the ground up, not the top down.
We are powerful. We have power to clear our traumas. We have power to improve our health and to have healthy relationships.
We have power over our lives, in our communities and in how we shape the world.
We each will choose what we are going to do with our power. As individuals and as a community, fortified with wisdom, courage, compassion and forgiveness, we have the power to take action and ignite change.
The first step in igniting that power comes from the work we do within ourselves to heal trauma.
Immerse for five days in the gorgeous sierra northwest of Madrid, focusing on you: your health, your food, and your body’s movement and energy. You will connect with others and enhance your community of individuals who understand that helping others starts with helping ourselves.