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Healing Collective Trauma

A personal experience healing German-Jewish relations in the shadow of the Holocaust

For Yom HaShoah/Holocaust Remembrance Day, a personal experience of the Holocaust:

a personal experience?? 

After all, I was born in 1986 and the Holocaust ended in 1945, didn't it?


What do I mean?

Most of us are used to thinking of time in a linear way, hence "timeline" where the past stretches back in time and the future forward. But there are other understandings of time - indeed, as is known, there is no Jewish word for history, only for memory - the past as it lives in the present. Another understanding of remembrance is re-membering, putting back together, or integrating what has become fragmented.

The past 4+ years I've been engaged with the Pocket Project and the teachings and facilitation of contemporary mystic Thomas Huebl and the exploration of healing collective trauma. I appreciate the way Thomas explains time, understanding what we call 'past' as that which has not yet been integrated and 'future' as our higher potential. Unintegrated past will repeat itself, as if what you see in the rearview mirror flips around and becomes the road you're driving down...'1944,' Thomas explains, is an energetic frequency and the ripple effect and impact can be discerned in people and cultural fields still today. Just as if you have an upsetting conversation or an accident and though the event seems to have finished, it lives on in you until there is full resolution, deactivation, and integration, so too and all the more so with such massive collective events. The Holocaust is still very much impacting us. Sitting in a room in Israel with 120+ people from 39 countries in 2018, when asked how many of us feel personally impacted by the Holocaust, some 80% of people raised their hands. It lives in our genes epigenetically (FKBP5) and affects us in many ways, largely implicit, for instance how safe one feels in the world.

In the collective trauma integration work, we look at how we can develop the competencies and coherence on both individual and group levels that can allow that residual traumatic material to be processed and integrated, freeing up energy for life, creativity, and restoration of aligned relationality, for instance between Germans and Jews. When there is coherence in the group field (as Thomas explains so lucidly in his book (see below), the unintegrated 'past' will show up in the present, perhaps as images, memories, feelings, sensations, and an energetic wave. [Usually these are unconsciously repressed or absent an adequate container, they just cause distortions which can become so common that they crystallize as culture and show up as seemingly 'normal' ways of living and interacting (notice for instance any experience of scarcity/not enoughness - around food, time, space, attention, care, belonging...or notice in so many ways how we communicate, the incongruence between body, emotion, mind, and words, the disconnection from, cultural disregard for or compartmentalization of Spirit...amongst many others)]

So here's how my personal experience unfolded in that group and how the voice of the collective came through me. We were exploring something in triads and I found myself sitting with an American Jewish woman and a German woman. We were taking turns sharing and reflecting on whatever the exploration was and the German woman shared that prior to our workshop, she had been on a tour in the West Bank and witnessed what was happening at a checkpoint. She shared how seeing that she recognized (as I recall it) 'that was what we did to you'. I noticed quite a strong reaction inside myself hearing that. While I take serious issue with the way Palestinians are treated at checkpoints, it was a serious distortion in my mind to equate checkpoints with the genocidal and unilateral holocaust of the Jews by Nazi Germany. I watched as a powerful voice arose in my consciousness saying "You killed us!"

I had a very clear and strong impulse that this voice needed to be heard but didn't sense that that was the space where it could be received, nor that I could simply go to lunch break and leave it unattended. Fortunately, I found two members of the team of assistants supporting the workshop training (people with a great degree of skillfulness and personal capacity) who sat with me to continue the process...both German men.

In this kind of process work, we don't sit and analyze or reflect in a disconnected way, we attune to what is presenting and, especially, what is the intelligence that is also showing up, the organic and emergent resources that can integrate the trauma. Both Thomas and Steven Hoskinson have taught me well to recognize the intelligence of how living systems respond. As Steve says "Trauma is unintegrated resource." You'll see shortly why this is so important. Our job then is to support the conditions of coherence and the precision of relation that allow life to unfold, to heal and integrate and not just repeat what is old. As Thomas says "Precision is love."

So we sat down and I shared what had just happened in the triad and then the voice that arose "You killed us". The field was then open, each of us there as an individual and also as a channel for the collective field we each come from. As they stayed present, the next voice arose in me, a pure innocence saying "Why did you hurt us?"

Each man responded differently and unhurriedly, allowing the weight and rawness of what I shared its appropriate regard.

One, meeting the innocence with an earnestness, internal clarity, and openness of presence, simply acknowledged the truth, "yes we did that," and the depth of that violation and betrayal of safety and 'right relation,' by saying that there is no reason, nothing which could justify it. This was already a modicum of healing, an acknowledgment from the line of the perpetrators that there was no good reason, no justification, while staying open and present to the hurt and wound that was unfolding before him, allowing himself to be touched and for us to be in touch as human beings.

The second man took the question of 'Why' quite seriously and reflected the following (as I recall it). He said that he sees us Jews as having a mission of bringing God into the world. He noted also that when he sees Jews acting out of line with that it angers him and also that there can be jealousy (as I understand it, wanting also to be a part of that sacred work [NB I think all people can be a part of that]). Then he and we brought a very patient and precise attention to what happened- he noted the great vulnerability for him and connected to the anger that comes and takes him out of the vulnerability as it was too much to stay in. Anger comes as a defensive/self-protective mechanism (but in a socialization of right/wrong thinking, easily creates an 'enemy image' and conviction of the enemy's badness and deserving of punishment/violence). We held a potent space the 3 of us as he tracked what was unfolding and he connected too to that Nazi German energy and the rising up from the vulnerability of the belly into a violent energy of "I could kill you". (There was no physical danger in the moment, the strength and coherence of the individual and group container was allowing the arising of this energy without being identified with and controlled by it). Here's where the attention to the organic intelligence comes in. We knew that this was a self-protective energy, so instead of focusing on the story/belief, we held space for him to notice on the energetic and somatic level the resource that came with it, the sense of strength and protection. Bringing attention to this as such potentiated it and allowed his system to integrate it more, shifting gradually out of the defensive response to perceived threat and its violent posture back down into a fuller and more heart-centered self-connection and back into relation. (In Polyvagal terms, shifting from the sympathetic arousal of Fight to the ventral vagal social engagement nervous system) Again, without rushing this process, he gradually found his way back into the heart and, very organically and in an emergent, spontaneous and uncontrived way, then shared "I want you to live." I could feel how that transmission (not simply the words), shifted something in my energy, in my safety and ability as a Jew to have a space..."And to live well". And then he continued back down in his integration and added "and I respect you," eliciting a whole other energetic liberation and unfolding in/through me, like finally my field and being could come out of hiding and really take and fill space unabashedly.

We sat the three of us with the sense that we were coming toward completion of that arc. I had the sense that the voice and energy I had spoken had been received and that the process had been a significant restoration. As Thomas cautions, we were not overly quick to rush into a new relation, taking time for the process to complete and integrate and allowing the new relationality to emerge from that.

This was, for me, an important remembering of a piece of the Holocaust and of the possibility of deep healing and restoration through very precise honoring of Life and relational process. I want to point out how crucial it is that this couldn't have happened through vilifying my German companion - making him bad, wrong, evil, or inhuman- for his feelings and process. That would have alienated him further from his love and tenderness. If we can continue to hold that perspective AND develop the competencies to integrate violent tendencies, and hearken to the voices that beckon for re-membrance, then I believe we can do the healing that's so deeply necessary and create a world that chooses Life.

"Healing occurs only when we look at the other face-to-face.” (Zohar)

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