Transforming & Holding Trauma

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Again, we want to take a moment to notice that you might have lost dear ones as a result of this pandemic. We want to pause and, even if we are not sitting in the same room as you are and even as this is a different moment in time, still, we want to stop everything we are doing and acknowledge what you, someone not known to us, might have lost. Family members. Friends. 

We also know that you might have lost work or a job, a sense of community, a sense of safety, plans for wedding dates and family reunions. 

We know that you might have been sick or that you might have taken care of many others who were sick. 

As you go through this timeline, you might be looking at things that are about your people, your family, or your own experience.  You might read things that, even if it is not about you or your people, triggers something that you have experienced in the past. After all, much of the information in this timeline is about how people’s humanity has been disregarded during moments of vulnerability. As you read this, imagine that you are approaching this timeline as an offering to the lives of those, known and unknown, whose lives are or have been harmed by the virus itself or the context around it.

This is a self-directed practice. You can move through this at your own pace. Remember, we said that this timeline is intended to support each of us to connect with the layered reality of how the response to COVID 19 is a continuation of the original wounds of this land. We are honoring your agency and saying that, in each of these moments, you, just like us, get to notice how you are connecting or not connecting to the lives and stories implied in this litany of facts. One of the ways you can notice if you are getting lost or moving away from connection, is to notice where you fall on the window of tolerance.  This timeline has a chance of triggering trauma, which is a form of disconnection. Our interest is in supporting you notice when this happens, to be curious about what comes up for you, and to then step away or do any number of things to help you come back.

This is an image we like which is very straight up and easy to work with. The window of tolerance is about how your body responds to information and how to recognize triggers and other impacts on your nervous system

The middle, the window of tolerance, is where you are engaging with the timeline in the present moment. You are able to move through the timeline and think about it, feel into it, and experience insight and shift, without leaving your body or your present sense. You might feel sad or angry, but these feelings do not overwhelm you.

Hyperarousal is what happens when you start to feel fast: you might feel anxious or angry but in a stuck won’t move way or overwhelmed or chaotic or like you want to stop looking but in a running away kind of way. You might notice that you are spacing out, that you are feeling hypervigilant like you are suddenly having thoughts about people or places where you don’t feel safe or understood. You might be obsessively thinking or having intrusive images and thoughts that keep cycling and repeating. Again, the feeling is up… maybe increased heart rate, sweaty palms, or emotional in an overwhelmed way. If you are feeling these things, then step away from the timeline. This is where you practice some things to support your nervous system to settle, like breathing or meditation practice. Or going for a walk outside and noticing what is around – or just getting up and moving around your home and taking a moment to notice what gives you pleasure in your home, in a physical way. You might call someone you trust and ask them to witness you as you talk about what you are experiencing, particularly if there are stories about what happened to you, your people or other people you love that are rising up. 

As hyperarousal is, for lack of better words, too much up, hypoarousal is too much down. You might notice feeling numb, disconnected, shut down. Maybe you feel depressed or unmotivated or like none of this matters. You might start to think the timeline is foolish and a waste of time or like nothing is ever going to change so what’s the point? You might feel like you have no energy. You might feel ashamed. You might feel frozen. You might have a hard time thinking but instead of being chaotic, it’s more like your thoughts are sludgy. Again, remember low, slow, hard to move, no feeling rather than too much feeling. Frozen rather than too much fire. And if you notice this happening, you do some of the same things as named above. Breathing, taking a walk, meditation. Anything that helps you come into the present. If you can, getting your body moving is a strong medicine for hypoarousal. Find someone to go for a walk with you for half an hour, an hour. With your hands, tap tap tap over all of your skin, tapping against your arms and legs, your face, your chest, your pelvis. See if you can feel inside the part of your body being tapped as well as the hand that is doing the tapping. Any movement practice will support that stuck energy to move.

And again, be aware of your own experience. Take that experience seriously,  Let it be an offering to yourself, your ancestors, your kin and those who have lost so much and so many.

There is another layer as we work through how trauma impacts your and our experience of this pandemic. The chart below was created by Kai Cheng Thom to build on The Window of Tolerance. This chart, The Window of Transformation, shows the middle space as the space where we are able to dream and vision the change we want to be. In the case of the COVID timeline, we are looking at the ways in which we transform how medicine, how collective care and safety, and how responding to urgency happens for our communities. 

Think of what is written here as a way to understand how each of us shows up in response to community moments and each other. While caring for yourself in going through the timeline (the window of tolerance), also take a moment to notice how you pivot towards being a part of collective transformation. It is important to notice that different ways of being will show up in different contexts. What do you recognize in the chart above? What about if you are bringing this material to a group, such as where you work? What happens between you as you look at this information and think about the scale of change? What reactions are in you? In your comrades in this work? Can you hold tenderness for yourself? For those around you who might be showing up with some of what is written above? 

Everything about the COVID timeline is about collective safety and wellness. It is about how we care for each other, including care for those who we will never meet. It is about how we build infrastructure that assumes, at its base, the dignity and sacredness of every life it encounters. Each one of you and all of your people. Each one of you and the people you have never met. Your ancestors and descendants. For that infrastructure to emerge, we want more of us more often to be within the window of transformation. We are real people in real time. The issue is not about becoming more-than-we-are, but instead, becoming aware of what is happening inside us as well as outside of us. 

How are you right this second? How is your aliveness? What do you feel ready for?

To return to the main curriculum page to explore the rest of the curriculum and sections, click here, or in the menu above.