What This Pandemic Has to Do With Our Collective Trauma
And how we can use it to release and connect deeper to the core of our humanity
It’s been three weeks of quarantine in Spain. A lot of time for reflection. I, like I’m sure a lot of us, have gone through a rollercoaster ride of emotions: from the initial disbelief and denial to shock, some fear and hopefully finally some level of acceptance.
Mainly, I’ve been painting a piece I’ve been wanting to for a long time and just haven’t had the time. It’s a piece about the connection to our core, that part of us that knows who we are and where we belong.
In Chinese Medicine, they refer to it as the dan tian, located three finger’s width down from the navel. In my work I refer to it is as ‘embodiment’.
When you are connected to it, you feel you know who you are, what you want, where you are going and above all where you belong.
It’s a felt sense, something that is physically tangible more than an idea or theory. The feeling of simply: I AM. Your own inner presence.
However, for many of us, we know about it because of the absence of experiencing it on a daily basis. Instead, we are much more familiar with confusion, doubt, mood swings, constant change of mind, feelings of aloneness, or not knowing ourselves, overcare, manipulation and rigidity.
Trauma disconnects us from our core
To me, all of the above are a sign of trauma, or more simply put, the effect of what trauma does to us: it disconnects us from who we really are, our core.
(Every now and again we DO get a glimpse of being fully connected to our core and we feel amazing: powerful, connected, open, grounded and ready to take on the world. The way the woman in this painting does.)
If we take a look at how we have been operating collectively as a human species, we see exactly that. Humanity has been running, and it has been running fast. Disconnected from our roots, we try to succeed in life, never stopping enough to check in with whether our foundations are intact and our goals are aligned.
In trauma, there are two main responses: hyperarousal or collapse. When the hyperarousal is not sustainable anymore, we collapse. All our frantic activity is based on the first, also called the survival mode and ‘fight or flight’.
Too much stress, anxiety, burnouts, and aggression are all symptoms that eventually lead to the collapse stage, also called ‘freeze’: we numb ourselves with Netflix, food, social media, or we simply get sick and depressed.
Meanwhile, the quality of our experience suffers. We long for more simplicity, more spaciousness, for our hearts to simply be able to rest, so we can again appreciate life for what it is.
But even in our pursuit of simplicity, we make it complicated for ourselves. Instead of just stopping and allowing our system to come back to balance it is as if we were hooked to an undefiable Perpetuum Mobile of consumption, where we have to first read and learn about stopping, rather than stopping itself.
We are caught in the vicious cycle of trauma.
Then comes the Corona Virus and all of a sudden we are forced to stop.
Let me explain how all that relates to each other.
In my work, I help people release trauma through their breath. Through deep connected breathing, the person activates their fight and flight response and gives their body a chance to discharge the excess energy. (read more here)
What I often observe is that before the discharge can happen, the person first enters into a freeze response. (We all carry ‘frozen’ energy inside of us, an accumulation of undigested tense emotional responses that keeps us from feeling our core.)
That’s where the transformation can happen. If the person is resourced enough and can detach from the terrifying experience of being frozen, they can allow the energy inside their bodies to move and eventually open, bringing in a whole new way of feeling.
Ever had frozen toes from ice skating for too long? It’s a bit like that. When you come into the warm room the energy starts rushing back into your foot and it feels very uncomfortable. However, you know that you have to allow it, otherwise they will amputate your foot.
What we are not aware of is how frozen we actually feel all over, because we have been in this state for so long that we believe it’s normal. (Except for that niggling feeling scratching at our subconscious every day that we want more from life.)
Back to Corona.
As we are forced to stop, away from our mill of distractions and consumption, we are made to be with ourselves and to feel.
And naturally, we don’t like it. As with our frozen toes, it’s an uncomfortable and often painful process. And without understanding what is happening to us, we may not take this opportunity to release deeply held tensions and feelings, but rather keep distracting ourselves with movies, online interactions and even checking the death rate in one’s own country every few hours.
All of which will keep us in either freeze or fear of survival.
The golden opportunity
But as we are riding the waves of this pandemic and our enforced quarantine, the waves of digital anxiety and all the uncertainty that comes with it, as no one knows what actually is going on, we get more and more tired running away from what we are actually feeling.
We get to really fully slow down. And that may feel very uncomfortable at first. But in this moment of slowing down, there is a golden opportunity of becoming aware of what’s been hiding just under the surface of our frantic activity.
Feelings of terror and unimaginable grief may surface. Feelings of powerlessness and desperation. Feelings of existential angst and deep aloneness.
And as all shadows reveal the light, feelings of longing for connection, feelings of deep gratitude and generosity, of deep love and care for each other and the planet emerge alongside it also.
It’s all there in this collective sighing out of relief: The dark and the light. The fear and the way back to our core values as a human race.
We are all coming down to the same point of conclusion: we are done with running, we are done with fighting. We are tired to pretend it’s ok when it’s not. And it hasn’t been ok for a long time.
“Covid-19 is like a rehab intervention that breaks the addictive hold of normality. To interrupt a habit is to make it visible; it is to turn it from a compulsion to a choice. When the crisis subsides, we might have occasion to ask whether we want to return to normal, or whether there might be something we’ve seen during this break in the routines that we want to bring into the future.” Charles Eisenstein
Our body is an animal. It has its own intelligence and communicates in feelings. And regardless of how smart or educated we may be, we can never be separate from or above it. It’s through our bodies that we are truly all one. Understanding how it responds to threat is crucial to helping us navigate not just these precarious times but life itself.
It’s what has been so deeply ignored in our collective agreements of society. Because we all experienced ‘the disconnect’ in some way, we had grown to regard it as normal and we created a life based on those foundations of fear and separation, which is trauma.
Now we are literally made to stop and grow up into the understanding that we are both light and dark. Mind and body. That we cannot suppress one for the benefit of the other. Without death, there is no life. To feel connected to our core is to stand up and to face it all: the beauty and the pain. There is clarity in the mind, as there is confusion. There is pleasure in the body as there is pain.
Our problem has been in making one right over the other, without understanding the nature of things. We’ve been in conflict with ourselves and life. So let’s formulate a new agreement:
“We shall not succumb to fear, to the illusion of separation, to blaming each other and the need to attack and defend. Instead, we shall each take responsibility for our own feelings, understanding our Nervous System and working towards releasing our individual trauma.”
And in so doing we liberate ourselves and others into the common ground of our humanity, life itself.