“I don’t think this has much to do with me.”
I heard this from a number of people at the Celebrate Life Festival, a dynamic annual European consciousness event that was held for the first time in the U.S. this summer.
Racial division, white supremacy, and white privilege were words that we invited into our midst. They dropped into a sea of discomfort that quietly built, even though many of us could not identify with these words…
“It’s not me!”
And yet it is.
This dis-ease, this not-rightness, affects us all profoundly. It shapes our economy, the way we move in our lives, and how we perceive the world.
The hard part is that so much of it seems invisible. As such, it stays unconscious and gets repeatedly acted out wherever we go.
“When millions of people have been affected by a trauma, it triggers a tribal survival mechanism. That survival mechanism functions like a frozen lake into which the next generations are born.
Subsequent generations do not know life without that frozen layer. That is why it is so hard to see it. It is outside the range of our nervous system, and our nervous system is the basis for our perception. When I cannot see it, feel it or hear it, then it does not exist.
Yet none of us are exempt from its effects.”
Having been born into post-WWII Germany, I am a living example of growing up in a collective cultural structure that created distance from the painful events of the past.
In my youth, nobody ever spoke of the war or what happened there. It seemed that the entire culture had decided to build a wall of silence “to protect the children”.
By now, I understand that what happened during WWII was too unbearable to speak about, and that this muteness—this internal, collective demand to not look back—became a way to survive and move life forward.
In its midst, I truly believed that I personally had nothing to do with that recent history. I was not even born when it happened! How could it be part of me?
Yet it is. It lives in my blood, in my bones, and in the strange intensity of emotions that sometimes takes a hold of me without making any sense.
Through Constellation work and my participation in the Pocket Project, I understand that some of that emotion belongs to those who traversed these extraordinarily difficult times. As part of my healing work in later years, I visited the streets of war-torn Germany many times.
I stood with my grandmother as her house was bombed out and she took her one child (my father), determined to keep him safe and away from the war. Though her sister’s Jewish husband was killed, the rest of my family, as protestants, was spared that horrific fate. Yet my grandmother took a big risk by keeping my father away from all Hitler youth programs. And when, in the final stages of the war, all 16-year-olds were drafted into the Nazi army, she hid him in the forest for two weeks, defying the government mandate.
My grandmother gifted me some of her determination and strength. It has served me well in life. She also left me with that raw survival fear of “Will I make it? Will my child make it?”
It rises in a visceral way in my body at times, even though there truly is no terrible, credible threat. This is my “frozen lake” of trauma.
Because I now recognize where it comes from, whenever I feel this, I become still inside, and greet my grandmother. I stay as present with this fear as I am able, knowing that once I can fully embrace it, it will fulfill its purpose and discharge.
Now I honor the ones who walked before me, for they made it through those terrible times. Without their persistence, I would not have been born onto this beautiful planet.
Many of us today live well compared to our ancestors. But every family, culture, and tribe carries its own frozen lake of trauma beneath the surface. It manifests as a visceral feeling that arises seemingly out of proportion to the context, or in painful relationship patterns, self-destructive behavior, and much more.
The good news is that we can integrate inherited trauma by bringing consciousness and love to whatever experiences are still suppressed beneath the surface.
“If collective trauma is not digested, it creates many symptoms including what we experience as personal suffering, individual health issues, psychological difficulties and cultural challenges.
Collective trauma is a significant reason why our hospitals are full, our social structures are under so much pressure, and we express so much inhumanity in our societies.”
If fully living truly means “loving what is,” we need to include that unfinished business, whichever unfelt emotions or unconscious behaviors may be pulsing through our bodies as part of the package of what we inherited from those who brought us to this moment, to this life.
And that work, both psychological as well as spiritual, is best done with the help of others, as alone we can barely see the log in our own eyes. It has always been there. We can help each other see it. We can work for and with one another to experience what the world might be like without that familiar “log vision.”
This is why we gather in our circles of Constellations, meditations and triad work at the Inner Arts Institute.
We keep focusing on “log removal,” with a vision for a free life lived truly well.
Join us October 26-27 for “Restoring the Global Immune System” with Thomas Huebl and a day of Collective Trauma Constellation integration with Pocket Project graduates.
Or take a smaller bite of this work at our next Family Constellation Workshop, a powerful interactive experience that promotes the integration of family and collective trauma, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018.