Thomas Hübl speaks to 150 practitioners from around the world in seminar in Israel..
Thomas Hübl, one of the pre-conference and keynote speakers at the North American Systemic Constellations Conference, speaks during the Pocket Project gathering in Israel, encouraging what can be done to understand and heal collective trauma.,
By Samvedam Randles, LMHC, Dipl. Psych.
Recently, Thomas Hübl, who has done significant healing work around Holocaust trauma in Europe and Israel, sent out an invitation to mental health professionals to explore what can be done to help us understand and heal collective trauma.
Last month, 150 practitioners answered that call and made the journey from all over the planet (39 countries) to his Pocket Project training in Israel. They brought their knowledge, skills and resources, as well as the traumas that have impacted, and are still impacting, their countries.
I was one of these practitioners. I’m now back home, and before daily routines claim all of my attention again I want to share a little of the amazing journey that I was immersed in. I feel a new level of peace within, and my understanding has been upgraded a few notches.
What causes collective trauma?
In The Body Keeps the Score, Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk explains trauma in simple language. He says that our ability to “stay present” gets hijacked by survival-related emotions and sensations when an incident overwhelms us in ways that we cannot cope with. When the event is more than we can process, we dissociate or go numb.
The traumatic charge then lands in our physical body, where it can be reawakened by something like a smell, sound or image that is associated with the traumatic event, sending us back to the traumatic experience.
What happens when trauma gets internalized on a larger scale? Collective trauma, sometimes called cultural trauma, occurs as a result of large-scale events like war, genocide, colonialism or terror attacks.
The violence and shock is so overwhelming that the entire culture goes numb, disassociates, or finds other ways to create distance from the truth of it. People may survive and move on with their lives, but the actual feelings associated with the event stay frozen, unintegrated, in the cultural body.
Unresolved past events affect our reality
Unconsciously this culture finds ways to see reality through the mirror that is fogged up by these unresolved past events and all that are born into this culture thereafter, simply assume that this fogged up mirror is called reality.
Most Family Constellations practitioners have experienced the expansion that occurs when a Family Constellations session suddenly shifts into a cultural constellation. A large issue like genocide, colonialism, persecution, or another form of violence, becomes so dominant in the field that it cannot be ignored.
It loudly demands to be seen, felt and integrated. How can this be accomplished? And who can hold, host, or open up to such intensity and bring healing to it?
Boston Marathon bombings
These questions arose in my own practice after the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. Our Constellation Learning Group met the following Saturday as usual, but nothing else happened in the usual manner that weekend. We all were in shock.
Bombs had gone off in our midst, and the manhunt for the bombing suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, had moved into our own neighborhood. Soldiers searched our houses as helicopters shone their lights into our skylights. Other soldiers with dogs and guns filled our normally quiet streets. We were all placed under lockdown.
I myself watched from the balcony as Tsarnaev was discovered in our neighbor’s boat, and arrested by what seemed an entire army of soldiers.
When our Constellation Group gathered that next Saturday, we learned that some in our circle had been at the finish line of the marathon. One person’s son was in the same class as Tsarnaev. Others present had friends who had been injured. Everyone in our group was shaken. The field seemed tense and numb.
Any separation between me (as facilitator) and our group members made little sense in this context. We sat in the reverberations of shock that flowed through our circle like a sound wave. Rather than facilitator and clients, we were one unit of people, holding space for this event.
For some, this particular wave of trauma touched a place inside that was connected to another time in their lives, when something else happened that had shocked them in a similar way.
After extensive sharing, we decided to spend this day to explore the event in a constellation and set up our first collective trauma constellation.
We all attuned to the bombing event and then each person in the room called out one representation that she or he felt was important to include in our explorations.
I noted the representations on index cards that were put in a hat and passed around. Each person drew a folded-up card and found their place in the field without knowing what they represented and we listened to the movements that were inherent in the field with what we each stood for.
We learned a lot that day, understanding different relationships and perspectives. And the ongoing need to be included and held with respect for all aspects of the event showed up clearly.
Honor, recognition and more...
The police needed to be honored by community, the perpetrators wanted recognition from the government and found the victims as if there was an elastic band that connected them with each other. The younger brother looked up to his older brother and followed him.
And what we found quite astounding was that almost 75 percent of us actually pulled the very card out of the hat that held our word that we had called into the circle as an important ingredient in this constellation.
Some of us walked out that day with more wholeness in our bodies. Others stayed with the shock wave…maybe with the volume a little turned down.
I realized how little we really knew about how to be with large-scale cultural traumas. When such shocks occur, how can we strengthen our capacity to stay open and welcome whatever feelings arise? How can we bear to stay present with trauma at that level? Even host it within us?
From that day on, we practiced hosting a current event within us on each Family and Systemic Constellations workshop by attuning to an event and meditating with that attunement for some time.
Thomas Hübl and collective trauma integration
Thomas Hübl had already entered my life as a teacher in 2015. So when the call came to work with him on collective trauma integration, I was on board.
For the last five days, he guided our group in sitting with the themes of collective trauma that emerged in our midst. We dipped into places where cultural trauma overlaps with our own lives, making space to feel, witness and integrate the emotions and physical sensations that emerged as we held each trauma in a space of collective awareness.
We cried with the girls in Africa whose sexual organs are being mutilated to this day. Stories of rape pulsated through the room, touching anybody who carried that vibration within them. We explored our ancestral lines and exposed what truth we found, be they painful shadows or radiant love. 0ur large group room quite literally heated up with expressions of sorrow, anger, shame and fear.
After we had spent a day on holding the energy of being hurt, victimized and shamed, the coin began to turn to its other side as the first man in our circle began to speak of putting on his uniform and giving up some of his own integrity in order to be part of the army.
And the heat turned right back on as we sat with the perspective of the perpetrators expressed most clearly by a Vietnam veteran in our midst who felt “irredeemable” and was so angry that everybody turned their backs on him and his comrades. Nobody wants to hold that shadow or feel responsible for unleashing it.
So once again, we began to explore where this collective shadow overlaps into our personal consciousness and to what degree we are able to host it and stay present in our internal world.
And the understanding grows that our cultural shadows need us to awaken to a kind of global witnessing that is capable to be with what needs acknowledging and holding.
We need to metabolize these residual energies in much the same way as we do in family constellations, culturing compassion and a large heart felt container that allows unresolved energies to resurface, be felt and integrated.
If we cannot integrate the unresolved burdens of the past, they tend to find a way to repeat themselves, to emerge again in similar patterns or in a reversal of polarities, meaning that maybe this time the victim of past events becomes the perpetrator in the next generation.
What became abundantly clear was that witnessing and “presencing” collective trauma (e.g., being present with the intensity, not disassociating into numbness) is not an easy task until we have cleared and healed our own personal triggers. To host the external cultural architecture we need a solid internal architecture and so the inner and outer processes seem to travel hand in hand.
As within, so without.
As above, so below.
The shadows in our nations
Thomas gave us concepts, principles and insights that opened our horizons as we began to explore the particular shadows in each of our nations as they were reflected in particular believes, things that are considered “given” or subjects that are completely avoided.
Just like families, cultures make silent agreements about how to relate to the shadows that live beneath the surface of daily routines. There are “shadow pillars” within our cultures, holding that density of unfinished business left in the wake of collective trauma events. You might call it “cultural karma.” These pillars of shadow material translate into beliefs, actions, or what we consider reality.
Here in the United States, we have shadows of slavery, indigenous slaughter and the unsettledness of people leaving their homes and families behind, immigration to bring into present time.
These pockets of density downgrade the immune system of the collective, and limit our intelligence. Caught in the dense shadow material of unhealed cultural trauma, we loose alignment with the what I call the Greater Whole. The naturally healing impulse of life is less able to flow within and through us.
Here is one of the statements of the week in Jerusalem that has stayed present with me:
Tomorrow is only the future if it brings in the new! An upgrade to what is!
More often tomorrow seems a repetition of yesterday. And that is not the future.
I am grateful to be part of this training circle and have the opportunity to listen to the past and the future with so many colleagues as I practice my collective witnessing powers and bring this concept into my constellation practice.
May we move towards a much needed global upgrade of consciousness that allows us to live in greater harmony with one another and this beautiful planet!
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