Signed in as:
Signed in as:
This “Viewing Guide” is the result of my watching The Wisdom of Trauma around 10 times; I’m so very grateful to SAND for their offering. I’ve discussed the film with friends, made presentations about it, written blog posts and other content, and done my own “personal work” as issues and trauma activation arise around viewing. I’m a trauma-informed spiritual director and have used the film in my professional relationship with spiritual directees (someone who seeks spiritual direction).
For those who are new to spiritual direction, I sometimes describe my role as “the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.” What I mean by that is that I am (I hope) a compassionate and skillful companion. I’m like a field guide: I know about the geography of the wilderness, I’ve gone out there a lot on my own, I’ve accompanied many, and I maintain my own personal practices.
BUT, the journey is still yours; I’m walking with you as a witness and offering what I have without attachment (meaning take what is useful and leave what is not). I am NOT a sage or guru; I resist those in my own life.
So, I offer this material without attachment as a “Viewing Guide on the side.” I certainly hope it is helpful. I intentionally created it as a webpage and not a PDF so that I can update it easily as I continue to have conversations with others and do my own work.
A Facebook Group and 10 Supported Savasanas for seasonal support.
Resources from the "Talks on Trauma, Series 1": lots of reflections and resources from the first series. They are releasing a second series with the October viewing period.
Resources from my first "Reflections on the Film & Discussion" (8 August 2021): there is a video of the presentation, an audio playlist, the slides from the presentation, and other resources.
Additional Resources: curated lists of podcasts, books, articles, people and places.
I’ve been studying trauma and working on my own for several decades. I found the film insightful, powerful, and helpful as “information” and in my own journey with trauma.
BUT, maybe you will and maybe you won’t. As I often encourage folk: have the experience you are actually having, not one that someone describes to you and certainly not one that is prescribed by others as “universal.” The film might change your life. It might bring a powerful insight. It might make you curious or furious. It might bore you. It might activate your trauma. It might do none of these things.
You don’t need my permission (or anyone else’s), but I hope you approach the film with a radical internal permission to feel what you feel as you watch it. Your response to the film is simply a response to a stimulus. Simply.
FYI: The film is about 90 minutes.
Consider how many times do you want and are you able to view the film in the open viewing period. Once? All at once? More than once? In sections with pauses?
Do you want to watch it alone or with others? Alone, and then with others? With others, then alone? Consider your emotional safety needs and how you manage and experience vulnerability. Do you want a shared and witnessed experience? A middle option is to watch it alone while a friend is also watching in their space; after watching separately, you can join up in person or via technology.
Can you schedule it such that you are not “squeezing it in?” Do you want to pre-schedule time with support people for after you view the film? For example, pre-plan a visit to your spiritual director, therapist, or good friend.
I’ve watched the film many times and with different approaches. The first time, I just watched the film and noticed my body. The second time, I took some notes. One of the times, I took copious notes with a journal and annotations. A friend and I both intend to watch all or at least certain parts without sound (the chalk drawing and the faces, for sure).
Again, it’s your journey. Claim your agency over the film (meaning, view it your way).
CREATE AND CONNECT WITH YOUR SPACE
Set the ambience that you want. Clear any clutter in the space, make a nest to hold you and support you. Do you need a journal, cup of tea, scented candle, snacks, tissues, or a blanket? Sometimes creating and connecting with our physical space can help clear internal space.
PREPARE TO BE PRESENT WITH THE FILM AND WITH YOUR SELF
Manage distractions; ask them to wait. Do you need to communicate to others that you are "unavailable" for the next few hours? What devices and gadgets need to be turned off? Are headphones helpful or not?
SET A SANKALPA (SACRED INTENTION)
One of the hardest questions to authentically answer is: what do you want? Pause for a moment and consider: what are you hoping for from the film? Connect with your desire; maybe it can be met, and maybe it cannot. Try to commit to staying present, at least for a few breaths, with whatever shows up as you watch the film. Remember to claim your agency: you can turn the film off or pause your experience whenever you want.
A MOMENT OF SAFE CONNECTION
Come into your body and into the moment; attend to your comfort and discomfort. Long, slow exhales generally help us to relax into the present moment. Snuggle and surrender into the furniture that is supporting you. Who are your resource people, in body or spirit? Invoke them, call to them. Millions of people around the world are likely watching the film this week; draw from the greater energy moving and shifting. We are not alone, you are not alone in this movement of health, growth, and restoration.
Oh Beloved, please take good care, respect and support your tenderness and vulnerability. Again, it is possible that the film will not have any impact on you at all. You might have a response that is well within your ability to self-regulate and self-sooth. And, maybe, the film will open something in you or to you that is overwhelming. A friend use to quote her father to me: "hard to tell, not know'n."
My suggestion is to be open to the possibilities. And be just a little cautious. As I often say to directees: "not every opportunity for growth need be taken."
I rather spontaneously decided to write this Viewing Guide and only had my notes as a source. I'll watch the film early in this viewing period and fact-check myself a little more closely.
I've attempted to note a time stamp on quotations (I'll check them more closely on my next viewing). They are listed as hour:minute:second.
“Our earliest experiences begin in the womb to form the template of who we believe we are, about how we see other people, and our place in the world.” —Dr. Gabor Maté
The film opens with the quote above, the beautiful face of a baby, and montage of children and adults looking into the camera. Some stare piercingly, others glance away. There are sighs and smiles. A few giggle and some eyes are moist and tearful. I was very moved by it at the beginning and the close. Seeing their humanity helped me to look at my own.
So, try to gently look at your face. Use any reflection you find; a mirror, a phone, a body of water outdoors, etc. What do you feel when you look? Where do you have sensation in your body? What stories are held in your face? Try to “simply” notice with contemplative curiosity and compassion. Greet what comes, but stay within your Window of Tolerance. Try not to judge your judgement, if it comes.
“Trauma is not the bad things that happened to you, but what happens inside you as a result of what happened to you.” —Dr. Gabor Maté
This is a major theme of the film; for many, it represents a significant revision of their thoughts about trauma, theirs and others. This reframing moves away from the judgmental question “what is wrong with you/me” and instead affirms that EVERY behavior and choice we make serves a need at the time — usually a safety need or a need of attachment.
As you watch the film, notice the different ways this theme is raised. It is raised by Fritzi in her work with Compassionate Prisons, Gabor raises it repeatedly in his conversation with people, and Romie offers powerful insights from her work with those who are homeless.
Gabor suggests there is a wisdom in our responses to trauma, no matter how maladaptive or destructive our choices and behaviors might have been (or still are). We know this by the fact that we survived.
With this and every exercise, please try to stay inside your Window of Tolerance (see my page for support). When we push ourselves too hard, we become dysregulated; change, growth, and restoration do not happen when we are dysregulated.
Sometimes it is easier to look at others, first. So, what is a behavior you judge in others? Try to be a witness, not a judge, to your judgement. Slowly, slowly, can you open your heart and mind to just consider, to wonder a little: how might this behavior be a reaction to pain and suffering? No need to rush; I’m certainly not suggesting you try to “forgive” them. This is a thought exercise for now; the goal is to observe your thoughts with contemplative curiosity.
It might be easier or harder to do the same looking at your own behavior: what is a behavior you judge in yourself? Be careful with the language of shame: “what’s wrong with me?” Be gentle with disgust or embarrassment. Again, the goal of the exercise is to increase your mindfulness about how you see your choices.
A few affirmations:
I sometimes find it helpful to put my hand on my heart and say these or similar words:
Trauma-Informed: to see underneath the traumatized persona the healthy individual who has never seen expression…to help the person to expand to include, not exclude, the parts…help a person expand so that there is space for all those emotions. —Dr. Gabor Maté (alt.)
For me, this is the essence of a trauma-informed perspective: you have an unalienable, indestructible authentic Self. The core of you is sacred, even when concealed. That sacred core always longs to be called forth.
Grounding in this perspective, we can resource ourselves and others to do the work of recovery and restoration of our awareness of our essential goodness. Basic understanding of attachment theory can help us see patterns in our relationships. A bit of knowledge about neuroscience can go a long way, especially Polyvagal Theory (the science of safety, connection, and social engagement) and neuroplasticity (how the brain can be rewired through experience-based positivity). Attuning to the somatic (body) sensations that precede feelings and thoughts and attending our body and breath can help us inhabit who we are. Befriending our parts and welcoming them into the totality of us brings a sense of wholeness.
This is long-term, slow, micro-progress work.
A poem-meditation (less than 6 minutes):
Here is a poem-meditation I did at the end of an online event on trauma.
When we start treating our own selves with compassion, it heals not only our own Self, but others and communities. —Fritzi Horstman (alt.)
There are interviews and interactions with and without Gabor woven throughout the the film. Many of the people give painful witness to the consequences and struggles of multigenerational trauma, which is trauma that is passed to us by our parents and caregivers from one generation to the next. Fritzi helps several men in prison name and claim their histories of abuse and abandonment. Stephanie and James tell their stories that led to homelessness in the first 10 minutes of the film. Alison’s journey with alcoholism comes about 20 minutes in. Juthaporn’s story is told in sections, starting at around 30 minutes. There are many other voices.
Multigenerational trauma is a layered challenge. It often includes a sense of betrayal by the ones we should have been able to trust the most, the ones charged with our care. There can be rage; there is generally a sticky coating of shame. Profound self-doubt, dissociation from our body and feelings, and intrusive thoughts of hopelessness make the work of restoration and post-traumatic growth a difficult journey. But it can be a journey we make; and it is a journey best made with compassionate companions.
A Few Support Suggestions:
If we want to be well, we have to do our work on our multigenerational trauma. It will likely need to include understanding the generational layers of the trauma that was passed to us: grandparents passed it to parents/caregivers, then it is passed to us. Eventually, we will have to forgive them—for our sake, not necessarily for theirs. We forgive so that we are well. Forgiveness is perhaps the most powerful spiritual medicine we have in the spiritual practices medicine cabinet.
HOWEVER, anyone who tells you summarily, “well, you just need to forgive and move on” (or any words similar) has empathically failed you. Forgiveness cannot be forced or rushed; we cannot be guilted or shamed into it.
I believe that an early step of forgiveness, maybe the first step, is to restore a sense of safety and connection within our own self. The stories of multigenerational trauma are often quite frightful; safety and befriending our own self will be required.
Here’s a practice I have found helpful in my personal and professional work. It starts with a short video from NICABM and Peter Levine (6:30 minutes); my favorite posture is the first one. (The video is also embedded on my "Window of Tolerance page," which might have additional helpful information.
While holding myself, I often layer the sensation with a “simple” three-part mantra: I am safe. I am loved. I am wise.
When I am in a safe space, affirming my safety grounds me. Calling someone to mind, even a pet, who loves me connects me with warmth and compassion. Naming my wisdom is a method of claiming my inner resources; I have skillsets and I have survived, I can trust myself.
This practice is useful in many situations and it helps prepare the soil for working with multigenerational trauma.
“Trauma fundamentally means a disconnection from self. Why do we get disconnected? Because it is too painful to be ourselves.”
—Dr. Gabor Maté (00:06:45)
Attachment, very simply, is the emotional connection we have with another person. Connection always has a prerequisite of safety. A mantra I often say to those I work with: safety first, connection second; no safety, no connection.
Attachment theory and therapists often focus on the early attachment patterns in our infancy and childhood. One of the ways this is presented in the film is through the “ACE score” (Adverse Childhood Experiences). Again, very simply, there is a high degree of correlation between negative experiences as a child and relational and health challenges as an adult.
The film powerfully reminds us that attachment needs in our infancy are “non-negotiable:” a baby that is not held will not thrive, and can die, even if other basic needs are met. Infants and children need safe adults to co-regulate with them in order to learn to self-regulate. (This means the adult stays calm and connected even in the presence of emotional overload and melt downs from the child.)
The film also makes the strong connection between multigenerational trauma and attachment: if your caregivers did not receive safe and stable attachment bonds in their childhood, they will likely be disconnected from their own internal attachment needs and will not be able to meet your attachment needs.
Listen for attachment stories in the various voices in the film. Pay careful attention to how attachment wounds create disturbances and dissociations in our authenticity and set the stage for addictions. Both of these topics are addressed below.
Attachment disturbances and wounds from childhood often make it difficult to maintain relationships as an adult, even casual friendships often can be stressful. This is generally referred to as “abandonment issues” (a phrase I rarely use).
Attachment disturbances frequently retune our nervous system and our “relational system” to the “hypers:” hyper-vigilant, hyper-aroused, hyper-alert, hyper-sensitive, etc. Essentially this means that we are generally on edge and afraid that we will be abandoned, betrayed, or mistreated. To use a slightly altered phrase from Tara Brach, these feelings are “real, but (maybe) not true.”
What is also often true is that those with attachment challenges abandon, flee, escape, and avoid relationships; they create an emotional cutoff or they “cancel” friendships. Sometimes this is helpful and useful; sometimes it is our pattern of safety-seeking that creates the behavior.
I offer two options for practice. First, reconnect with a person that you have “drifted” from, a person who really is safe and a relationship that really does nourish you. The pandemic has disrupted many of our relating patterns — claim what you cherish. By taking the initiative, instead of waiting for them to do so, you not only disrupt the attachment challenge, but also claim some agency: you can take the action you want.
A second option, perhaps a little more challenging, is to select a relationship that needs some tending. Maybe there was a small misunderstanding, a disappointment, a few cross words. Decide on an appropriate pathway of reconnection. Sometimes ignoring the conflict and moving on is fine. Sometimes a simple acknowledgment and apology is needed. Certainly there are times significant repair work and attending the relationship is necessary. Try to reconnect with a relationship that is a little strained or damaged — be sure to stretch, but not overreach. Again, this practice does a little work on attachment and is an act of agency.
“What happens if in order to survive or to adjust to your environment, you have to suppress your gut feelings, you have to suppress your authenticity?” —Dr. Gabor Maté
Authenticity is attachment to ourselves. It’s connecting with and claiming who we are.
And here is a painful truth: we often sacrifice our authenticity for an external attachment. We “go along, to get along.”
Of course, part of maturing is learning to negotiate our needs, wants, and desires with others and not always insisting on our own way. But that’s not what the film is naming. The film explores what happens when we create distance from our feelings, wants and needs, when we disconnect from our sensations, or dissociate from our bodies.
And here is a liberating truth: the sacrifice of our authenticity was for our safety and survival. We may not have been able to see it then, it might still be difficult to discern it now, but it is true. As Gabor says in the film: “everything you judge about yourself served a purpose at the time” (around 26 minutes in).
One of the ways the filmmakers demonstrate the point that we often sacrifice authenticity for attachment in our childhood is through several chalk drawings of children in dysregulated emotional states, namely anger. How was your anger and other difficult emotions met by the caregivers in your early childhood? Many adults disconnect and distance from children at the exact moment they need safety, connection, and comfort. Children learn very quickly to exile the feelings and other parts of themselves that the adults do not connect with and affirm. Unconsciously, at stake could be food, clothing, and shelter, even if never said aloud; affirmation is certainly at risk.
Gabor Maté says in the film, “when you disconnect from yourself, you no longer have yourself. You’ve lost yourself”(00:15:30). This is how many of our addictions arrive to fill this space.
While not specifically addressed in the film, subtle and direct messages about heteronormativity, gender identity, gender norms, and other forms of normative tyranny often cause a sacrifice of authenticity for external attachment. To make it a personal statement: there are many ways that I have and do sacrifice attaching with my Self in order to “win” the approval of someone else. It’s a risky enterprise.
Try to recall a time or watch carefully for it in the future when you say “no” to yourself in order to avoid criticism, to escape the gaze of others, or to please someone else. For example: you love an outfit, but won’t wear it because it is “too” something. Do you try to “tame a gesture” to fit in? Ever feel the need to “keep your opinion to yourself?”
Choose you. Wear it. Do it. Say it.
Try the practice on an emotional level. Are there feelings that you are exiling or silencing in order to stay in a relationship with someone? A lot of sacrifice is made in the name of “being nice.” Another example: we are often told to “bury our grief with the dead.” Have you ever had to pretend to be happy or risk the loss of a relationship?
Claim you. All of you. Bring the exiled feelings home.
“The pain is the root cause of people trying to feel comfortable in this world …using street drugs is a method…it is a behavior to support something that is uncomfortable.” —Romie Nottage
“addiction is not a bad choice. Addiction is a solution to a problem…in order to heal the addiction, you have to heal the trauma…you have to see the wound that is driving that (behavior).” —Dr. Gabor Maté
ADDITIONAL CONTENT COMING SOON.
I misbehave when I crave to push the venom in my veins.
I lose all control of my inner soul and my demons hold the reins.
I deceive whoever believes, I twist their open trust.
With nefarious precision and tunnel vision, I purse the venom with lust.
With the desire so strong, I forget all bonds hurting the ones I adore.
And even though they love me, they move on from me to let me fight my war.
Uncontrollable, I’m inconsolable, slowly I’m dying inside.
A glutton of such, I’ve used too much, now there’s no life in my eyes.
CONTENT COMING SOON.
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