On Collective Trauma & Community Healing

lady-liberty-cryingThis is not just a case of “our side lost.” We are in shock. There is a sense of unreality. Numbness. Disorientation. My friend in his 60’s said it reminded him of when Nixon got elected—but then he paused and said, “No, actually it reminds me more of when Kennedy or King were killed.”
 
It reminds me of 911.
 
I grew up under Apartheid, so in myriad ways, Trump’s upset victory reminds me of living under racist police state, at odds with my White supremacist peers.
 
Last night’s yoga class was somber, intense, surreal. We were all in a type of trauma response, or at the very least, in shock. The winning side will just say we are a bunch of cry babies, and now we know how they felt when Obama got in, but this is actually very different.
 
This is the unthinkable happening with regard to human decency, sane discourse and our sense both of reality coherence, and hope for the future.
 
On a psychological level, I see a child who has just found out that our single Mommy indeed has decided to marry the mean, unpredictable, sociopathic, alcoholic, violent and misogynist child abuser who yells racist epithets at our friends and says inappropriately sexual things to our sister. Archie Bunker on steroids. Rodney Dangerfield’s character in Natural Born Killers. Ted Bundy with the nuclear codes.
 
It is devastating precisely because we never thought it could really happen, and because, in our democracy, it never should have.
 
George W. Bush being elected was depressing, but it wasn’t even close to this, even with the Supreme Court shenanigans.
 
Bush at least represented a familiar Conservative archetype, even though he seemed as intelligent as Mad Magazine’s iconic Alfred E. Newman. This is the world, our world, reality itself, being turned inside-out and not making any sense.
 
This is the hated class bully who never does his homework winning valedictorian. This is the incoherent street-corner ravings of a homeless person who needs psychiatric care winning the Pulitzer Prize.
 
So we are in shock. Scared. Confused. Angry, but with a foggy layer of numb dissociation and disconnected unreality. It actually feels and looks like a trauma response.
 
Trauma disrupts our sense of coherence, of life making sense, feeling safe, and knowing that our competency to meet everyday experience is reliable. It impacts our self-worth, dignity, and belief that human beings are decent and kind and that we can maneuver in our lives with a sense of shared empathy and expectations that for the most part human interactions and the dynamics of our world are fairly predictable and sane.
 
Trauma provokes defenses and maladaptations like denial, dissociation, rationalization, hyper-vigilance and the reactive overwhelm described by terms like PTSD.
 
I think that’s where we are at right now on the left coast, and anywhere in the country where the pockets of not only liberal, but also conservative folks, are educated, well-informed, and earnest in their consideration of how the world works—more than that, I think aspects of this dread, shock and numbness are transcending our national experience, and being felt by many around the world.
 
For us, in this liberal, environmentalist, neo-hippie, cross-cultural, spiritual-but-not-religious demographic it kinda feels like we’re drowning. We need each other more than ever. We need community, empathy, practice, and emotional honesty more than ever.
 
Not what my first yoga teacher used to call the “whipped cream on dogshit” superficial spirituality that pumps up faux positivity and pretends we have absolute magical control to manifest reality…
 
But the psychologically sound and honest realness now of being together in our grief, rage, fear and overwhelm, and reclaiming our tenuous grasp on embodied awareness, emotional intelligence, courage and resilience, and reaffirming what still does make sense about our lives, our resources, and our relationships.
 
We will survive this together. This is what all the previous years of practice is good for: we need those tools, those neural pathways, those capacities for presence, compassion, and nervous system regulating breath (collectively at least) more than ever.
 
Individually, a collective moment like this can often bring up deep layers of personal biographical experience. Psychologically, the notes of this ugly song resonate deep down with ways we have felt in the past that were intolerable.
 
A fellow South African showed up at yoga last night. Afterward she said “Thanks, I needed that..” I looked into her eyes and said,”Yes, I have been having shades of Botha…” She said, “Oh yes,” and nodded her head.
 
P.W. Botha was the hated Apartheid-era leader of South Africa for 11 years, from the time I was 8 until 19.
 
What a gift to be able to acknowledge that association together.
 
What an opportunity we have right now in our communities, families and circles of friends to acknowledge the shared feelings, the past experiences, the future fears, and the need to have sacred space to process, to vent, to grieve, to shake and dance, and yell and collapse into each-other’s arms to be reconnected to our capacities for compassion, resilience and determination to meet the world as it is and seek to be the change we want to see.
 
In terms of our practices and the relationship between our inner lives and the world around us, shit just got super real.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *