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Journeying with Generational Trauma

By Lisa Meuser.

2019 came to completion with clarity that some endings were coming. Historically speaking, it’s powerful when my system undeniably lands on an ending, often because the joy of a new beginning is already en route. The clarity ushers in more momentum for the new beginnings, which can be both exhilarating, and also messy. Exhilarating because, “YES! (and, Finally!)”, and messy because, hidden in that “Finally!” is some clutter due to how long it took me to achieve said clarity. Have you ever had the knowing that something was done or complete, but you delayed? It’s like keeping cream in the fridge way past its expiration date- it’s just not going to end well.

So, in comes 2020, and I’m in the midst of 3 “letting go’s.” Life is taking me forward, and a part of me has already moved on. But also, I was in the middle of some messes. Why had I delayed these endings anyway?  Why hadn’t I acted on this clarity sooner? It felt prudent to explore what was going on with my resistance to letting go. What was I afraid of? It was time to find out as my resistance was impacting my integrity and affecting others.

 

Who Would Have Known?

A lot of profound discoveries and releasing happened as I journeyed into these questions, revealing more and more clarity, but at some point, I kept feeling stuck – like I was going round and round, unable to fully move forward. I felt entangled, but it just didn’t make any logical sense. At one point, when I found myself triggered yet again, the word “displaced” came up. It felt random, and I couldn’t quite connect to the word, but I journeyed through the sense of pain and sorrow that I was experiencing, and things settled for me.

Days later, I found myself lost in thoughts again. I could feel a sense of fear, but when I looked right at it, none of it seemed real – but the word came back: displaced. I sat with the word, and it took me to remembrances of my young years, where I experienced a sense of being displaced in my own home due to various circumstances. Then my grandmother flashed into my attention, and I named how, coming to the US as a refugee of sorts, she must have felt very displaced. I saw the continued link to the word “displaced”, and knew it was pointing to some generational trauma, but it didn’t go super deep.

The next morning, I found myself once again having fears about these various endings. Again, the thoughts didn’t seem to be real, but at the same time I knew something was there. The word displaced came to me again, and this time it went right into my being. All of a sudden, a dam broke open, and I saw and felt what it must have been like for my grandmother to leave her own country because of her ethnicity. I saw generations of “her people”, being persecuted and killed for their beliefs and alignments. I saw the immense suffering she/they experienced by being who they were.

As I stayed connected to this download, I felt immense shame, confusion, pain and terror in my own body. There was a deep sense of not being safe, of being targeted, of being treated violently – all because of one’s innocent affiliation. The images were powerful. The felt sense was intense. My body was shaking, as if I was living out the images I was seeing. My very survival seemed in question. I felt like it was almost too much to be with. I reached out for support, and let my heart keep breaking open, wider and wider. Eventually breath found me, and my system shifted into the loving and life-giving flow of breath. Phew.

 

Confessing our Stories: “The heartbeat of racism is denial, the heartbeat of anti-racism is confession.”  Ibram X. Kendi

This kind of inward journeying, as uncomfortable as it may be, is an essential part of my life. I journey with those who have been horribly oppressed due to the infrastructure of our culture, in ways I will never directly experience or understand, and so I must explore my own oppression, as well as how I have oppressed others. The world is riddled with white, black and brown bodies bursting with somatic trauma, in all the nooks and crevices, with black and indigenous bodies continuing to pay the highest price, while those from south of the United States borders are being overtly tortured. These stories of oppression are sacred. Connecting with the stories and realities of oppression, and of oppressing, are vital to our existence.

It is a lot to feel. It’s a lot to acknowledge. It’s a lot to get honest about.

When we confess to the pain, suffering and legacies of our ancestors, and feel into the depth of that with loving support and compassion, we may discover our hearts opening to the suffering of /within our own lineage, and also to the suffering that others have experienced or that we’ve contributed to. What we often discover is that compassion yields more compassion; compassion for ourselves/others allows us to have compassion for others/ourselves. Through this process we may find that we are able to open our hearts to life more fully as we are no longer in denial.

 

Safety in Presence

The week of that ancestral download was a hard week for me. While processing through such deep territory brought relief from what I’d been struggling with in my personal life, it left me feeling exposed and vulnerable, without much surface area to land on. It took time, but eventually my system acclimatized to that, and left me feeling open to include life, and be held by it at the same time.

What was it that allowed me to feel to the depths of such pain and suffering that day? I’d travelled into these territories before many times, but this felt deeper – both personal, and way beyond me.  As counter-intuitive as it might sound, it seems to me that it was safety in Presence that allowed me feel into such abysmal darkness. It has been my experience many times that the safer our systems are, the deeper we can feel into the existence of humanity – into Presence itself. While this may not be the gift we think we are waiting to receive, it is truly a gift to sit within Presence, and safely feel into the pain of our being and the pain of other beings. When we are able to do this, there is no where we cannot go, nothing we cannot feel, and nothing to hide from.

 

The Journey Continues 

I am constantly humbled by the process of embodied somatic inquiry, and the wisdom present in journeying this way. Nowhere to get to, nowhere to go, no hurry to figure out or fix – just an invitation to gently, lovingly and curiously look at what is coming up, however it presents itself in that moment.

“It is only through letting our heart break that we discover something unexpected: the heart cannot actually break, it can only break open. When we feel both our love for this world and the pain of this world – together, at the same time – the heart breaks out of its shell. To live with an open heart is to experience life full-strength.” John Welwood

Uniting with Presence allows a glimpse into the vast Intelligence of life/love, and the knowing that we are a part of that intelligence – not the center of it, but woven amidst. We can’t know peace when we are not at peace with the vastness of humanity, when we are stuck in fighting, in hiding, and in denial. It may not be not pleasant to journey into “not peace”, and yet once we learn it is safe to feel, even though there is pain, and discomfort, and fear, we learn that the heart has no limitation as to how far it can stretch; that there is no end to the depths of what it includes and nothing that it is not. Love is infinite.

 

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

Liar Liar! Our Dumpster’s on Fire

By Lisa Meuser.

Word is finally getting out – we’re starting to acknowledge that, for the most part, we’ve all been raised in a culture of dishonesty[1]. As a result, we, as individuals, born out of this dishonesty, often don’t have our own sense of integrity, own up to how our behaviors have impact, or talk about accountability. And we don’t often explore – and sometimes don’t even know how to talk about – how to be honest, have integrity, be accountable, and be responsible, especially without blaming or shaming ourselves, or others. Instead, we often deny and project inwards and/or outwards, to protect our hurting and often confused selves.

Let’s face it, it can be really scary to hurt and painful to be confused (or in dissonance). Pain, especially as a child, can feel like death – particularly when we don’t have loved ones to help us through it, and even more so when it is our “loved ones” who are causing the pain.

If we don’t have healthy support to be with our pain, we learn to adapt. We learn to do whatever it takes to be “fine.” We do that in lots of ways, and depending on our contexts or environments, we figure out ways to adapt or manage our surroundings (or ourselves) so that we feel safe, in control, and “fine.”


No Self

When I was a kid I was expected to be fine. I was punished for being angry, and shamed for crying. I had low levels of fear almost all the time, not knowing how to “be me” in a way that was safe. I learned how to feign[2] my way through life. Being dishonest with myself, and others, was the only way I could survive.

Feigning is a 4th fear response (when I’ve written about it before I’ve also sometimes referred to it as a strategy of not just feigning, but also to fawn, fake, fool, fuck… the list goes on, of ways humans engage so that we can feel safe in moments[3]). We’re all familiar with fight, flight, and freeze. Feign is often not recognized as a fear response because when one is in feign it can look so “normal.” This is an important adaptive skill that saved my life, but it also had a cost later in my life.

Pretending became a way of life for me, so much that “I” didn’t know I was pretending. I didn’t even know myself, because I didn’t actually have a self. I had gotten so good at adapting and feigning that I had no real me. I was safest in not even existing. As you can imagine, later I gravitated towards spiritual practices that helped me avoid myself.


Learning to Exist

I was talking with a client the other day about personality tests. We talked about how hard those tests were, because we didn’t have a self to answer from. We only knew how to answer from our imagined senses of self – based on others, based on past, and /or based on future, but without the ability to answer based on a self that lives in the now.

When we don’t have a sense of self, we don’t really know who we are, or how we are. What we do know is that we want to feel good – we want to be comfortable. Of course! Unfortunately, when we don’t really have a sense of self, we can’t be connected to a sense of comfort from within. More than that, we may not even know what our bodies like, or the simple things or practices that might bring us comfort. It’s important that we “get to know ourselves”!

Some people came over to my house not long ago for the first time. One of them said, “Your house is so comfortable! Soft blankets and pillows and warm scents and colors!”  Yes, as I became connected with my Being, I discovered that I could resource comfort in healthy, non-destructive ways.  Once upon a time, I didn’t know myself well enough to support myself in such simple, loving ways. Instead, I relied upon dysfunctional adaptation and feigning, chasing the desire to feel comfortable in unhealthy ways. This often involved trying to get comfort from others (usually individuals who were also unhealthy), and by engaging in certain behaviors that were destructive, often with those same people. Double whammy!  Getting honest that (1) I am a human being who has needs (comfort), and (2) there are ways to safely resource comfort, has literally changed my life.


Pretending to Death 

I went home to see my family not long ago. In the course of a conversation, my mom let me know that things “are fine!” at home.  I was taken aback – our metrics for “fine” are clearly very different, and also, sometimes we can’t see what we can’t see. When we’re in a situation where we don’t feel like we have any control, we will very easily neutralize dysfunction and toxicity, by adapting and/or pretending, even to ourselves, in the process. While it is understandable that we adapt so that we can feel (the delusion) of safety, it can also be unhealthy, and even dangerous.

I know the reality of this. I was in an abusive relationship – and I knew I needed to get out, but it.was.so.hard.  Many of us have been in these situations in different ways – in dysfunctional relationships with people, organizations, places, behaviors, and things. We know X is “bad” for us, or that something “isn’t quite right here,” but we can’t stop/get out.

At that time in my life, a healthcare provider was uncertain what to do. She was seeing my health suffering and my nervous system in shambles, but she couldn’t make sense of it. “Are you having fun with him?”, she asked. She didn’t know that that wasn’t the right question to ask. Sure I was having fun. There was lots of sex, some drugs, and great rock and roll. In other words, lots of feel good hormones were flowing. I wasn’t having fun because I was in a relationship with *him*. I was having fun because I was an expert at adapting to dysfunction and pretending even to myself, and those feel good hormones made it so much easier.

Being in an abusive relationship distorts everything inside one’s psyche. The healthy sense of self that I had developed could not hold up under the cleverness of his sociopathy. He was the straw that broke my conditioning’s back, so to speak, and for that I will always be grateful. But recovering from that relationship was hard – the darkest nights of my soul.

Being forced out of my world of feigning was terrifying. I wanted to die every day of my life, but to most of the world I said I was fine. My life raft was my best friend – I could admit to her that I was not fine at all. And then a short while later, I felt safe enough to mention it to a somatic practitioner, who helped me to safely feel into how “not fine” I really was. Those first steps led me into a long period of recovery – where I learned that I had developed a deeply unhealthy relationship with Love, and to manage the pain of that, I had lost my Self. It took time to feel safe enough to no longer pretend to myself.  It took time to develop a true sense of Being.

At the core of the healing (and waking up) journey is honesty. It’s not so easy, however, when we’re in a culture of dishonesty, and when we’ve not been taught or given good role models of people who live lives from integrity, accountability, and honesty. It can take a while to feel safe to be honest. It can take a while to FEEL at all. It is important to get support from loving beings while we learn to have a self, a self who needs love and comfort. In addition to the blog posts linked earlier, here are some other blog posts, here, here, and here, which may provide some more information and support. If you would like some gentle meditation/rest audios, you will find them free here and some here that can be downloaded.  And, in the footnote are two more pieces not written by me.


The Burning Dumpster 

It was a client who sent me the image that goes with this blog post. I laughed for quite a while after looking at the image, as it is sometimes the case that she can be feeling quite “on fire” but when asked, says “I’m fine.” She knows that for most of my life I also hid behind “fine”. It’s so common, isn’t it?    To feel one way, but to say we feel another way.  We are on a journey, we humans.

Just now, playing around with the words, I came to a turnaround of sorts…. After years of pretending I was fine when I wasn’t, after years of being afraid of the feelings involved, afraid of not feeling anything less than fine… after all these years, maybe it’s fine to be not fine. Maybe it’s fine to be a mess. Maybe it’s even fine to be on fire (not literally, of course).

And, maybe it was also fine to be not fine, but to say I was. Once upon a time, that was a very useful strategy. Sometimes it still is.

I appreciate how we are all on our unique journeys – not being dumpsters, but being human beings – and that here, we’re learning how to name our experiences, feel our experiences, and journey with our experiences – as ever changing as they are.

So, how are you?

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

[1] Stolen lands, stolen and then enslaved people, corrupt capitalism… just to name the overt biggies.

[2] Other blog posts where I’ve written about Feign/fawn http://integrativehealingnow.com/blog/our-connective-dance-of-fear-hopes-and-dreams/   http://integrativehealingnow.com/blog/reconnecting-bodies-journey-allowance/

[3] Feign as strategies of “fuck” and “fool.”  One of the reasons feign can be known as a “fuck” is because having sex can become a way we try to manufacture safety. Fooling others is another- for example, manipulating people through charismatic modes of being is often found in spiritual teacher and/or narcissistic personality types who get safety by cleverly having power over others.

 

Our Stories Are Sacred

By Lisa Meuser.  

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”  Rumi

I gently breathe in this quote. It has taken me a long time to know Rumi’s words. Most of my life I hid and denied my wounds, concealing them not only from others but also from myself. I repeatedly and systematically attempted to suppress, re-write, and/or rebuff the stories of my life experiences. This started when I was young.  I made excuses for and reframed others’ unhealthy and abusive behaviors. I learned to keep secrets to keep the peace.  Over time, I innocently abandoned myself as I learned to pretend that “all was well.”

I know I’m not alone in this. The majority of people express that they’ve had a great childhood. And yet, after a few questions, it is clear that what they are choosing to remember is coming from an act of self-preservation: it can be difficult to face the reality of our lived stories when we’ve denied them our whole lives.  We often prefer the story of “all was well”, even when it means we have to splinter ourselves to maintain that story.

While many of us always had a roof over our heads, food to eat, and clothing to wear, our more basic and fundamental needs such as emotional guidance and heart connection may not have been tended to. From the outside, I had an ideal childhood. And yet no one in my family was emotionally available or willing to really hear my stories, and after a while I disconnected from my experiences, from my stories, and made myself invisible as a way to cope. Maybe you too were a caretaker of others’ stories, as it was too hard to be with your own?

As I grew older I was bombarded with various social, political and spiritual messages that encouraged me to further forget about the past, and focus on the positive. Common phrases used in our culture include: “don’t dwell on the past”, “let bygones be bygones”, “look to the bright side”, and “be here now.”  Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that those phrases don’t have some wisdom sprinkled through them. But when we hold onto those mottos so fiercely that we aren’t allowed to be with our experiences, we violate ourselves. Over, and over, and over.

Would it be an act of loving kindness to tell a young toddler who has scraped their knee to “get over it”, or “just focus on the present!”, or look to the bright side of the experience? No. A kind heart would console, support, love, and guide a toddler through their pain, through their accident, all the way to the “other side”- however that may look.  A loving approach would ideally allow for the child to retell the story as many times as necessary, until it felt complete for them. We’d empathize. We’d listen. We’d help tend to the wound. We’d support them until they were ready to return to the playground. And they likely would. We’ve probably all seen that when a child is held and heard, they quickly resume playing, their needs having been met.

And yet what we often do with ourselves is pretend our scraped knees aren’t scraped (or that our hearts aren’t breaking). We often pretend that everything is just fine, and then to add insult to injury we judge ourselves when our hearts continue to be broken – which we then take as proof that “we’re broken.”

In my direct experience, it is never that we are truly broken[1]. I have never met a client who is broken. Rather, it is the way that we’ve learned to connect ourselves that is broken (and we can see how this is a cultural imprint, as culture does not connect with the wellbeing of mind/body/spirit, and instead often does the opposite).

Of course the way we’ve learned to connect with ourselves is broken! Most of us didn’t live in households that provided the level of emotional care, nurturance and guidance that we needed, so we never learned directly, or indirectly what true love and care was.

Even though we’re adults now, the need for a kind and loving response, the space to tell our story, and our needs to be heard and supported, haven’t gone away. They may have gone underground, or been buried, but our biological need for connection and love remain.

Shame kept my stories hidden, from myself and from others, and I see this with almost all my clients.  What I also see is immense freedom when people feel safe enough to honestly connect to their stories – to their actual lived experiences instead of the pretend life they held onto in their minds. This freedom multiplies when they feel safe to share their stories out loud in a safe container.

Repression is oppressive, and oppression is traumatizing. Telling our stories has the opposite effect. Telling our stories, first to ourselves, and then to another, has a liberating influence that leaves one feeling a sense of real empowerment – maybe for the first time in our lives.

Naming our stories to ourselves is deep work. It takes time, because it’s counter-intuitive based on all the strategies we’ve learned to keep silent. Naming and then believing our own stories takes courage. It takes time to develop the safety to be in our truth, after giving it away for so long.  For me, being heard by someone I trusted was an immensely important part of that. I was so used to doubting myself, that I needed a trusted guide to support me as the stories met the light of day, outside of the realms of my mind.

This is why we know it is crucial that as we heal from our wounds, we find safe spaces and safe people who listen to and believe in our stories – to our sacred, lived experiences. This produces a beautiful fertile ground “for the Light to come in.”

Find safe spaces. Find safe people. Your stories are the hallowed ground of your being.  When you find a safe person or group to share in, consider honoring your stories by connecting with what you need as your story is shared.[2] Our sacredness doesn’t need to be fixed, and yet a fixing paradigm is very common in our culture.  You may want to let your listener know that you don’t want your story to be treated as something to be fixed or changed, and instead received, as if your listener is being given a gift – because they are.

When stories are free to live in the light of day, something unanticipated often happens. As we release what we had been resisting all our lives, as we allow the stories to live and breathe, the stories themselves start to disintegrate. But this time it is from Love, not from denial.  This will happen on its own, although it’s often counterintuitive. I’ve found that the process can be supported and then integrated  through the guidance of an embodied somatic therapist, facilitator or guide.

I have experienced – directly and in my relationships with my clients – the immense freedom that comes when stories and wounds are allowed, named, spoken, expressed, and felt.  It is something far beyond what the linear mind understands, and births a sense of empowerment that is known from  being. Neuropathways shift, one’s sense of safety in the world changes, and relationships with life are transformed. Possibilities we couldn’t even imagine reveal themselves.[3]

It has taken my whole life to fully understand that that wounds and their corresponding stories are truly sacred. These days I experience wounds, and the stories of wounds, as sacred, grace filled, and also as the way Home.  I will be leading a deepening course this spring that will provide safety to explore our sacred stories. Please contact me to learn more.

I leave you with a poem I wrote after being given a prompt “If we could write a tomorrow which is wider than wounds we have worn”. Much love to you, as you share your sacred stories, on your way Home.

 

Stories Return Us Home

If I could write a tomorrow,
it would be wider than but include the wounds we have worn…
it would include my wounds,
it would announce my wounds,
it would put my wounds on display so that others too
could include, announce and
display their wounds,
as we move into tomorrow.

If I could write of a tomorrow,
it would have less denial, less hiding, less pretending…
By naming and sharing our wounds,
we would weave something so bountifully amazing,
taking us wider than the wounds we have ever worn.

If I could write a tomorrow,
I would use my wounds
and all that I have learned,
to springboard into creating a world where
community and connection is paramount,
from birth to death,
woven into the very ways we value the
ways we spend our days
and deeper into the way we view
our very selves.

If I could write a tomorrow,
humans would not be commodities
or things.
Worth would not be earned but known.
Sharing would be common place and
love would be given,
not bought or sold in the guise of
consumerism and exploitive capitalism.

This may be my soap box, but it doesn’t feel like an
impossible dream.
When I
slow down
and
take a look
towards pain and suffering.

I look at it in the eye,
feel pain burrow into the
caverns of my heart.
As I do
something widens
and deepens.
Something called Love

takes it all,
filling me with a sweetness of now that
exists at the very same time as
sorrow, sometimes in the very same place.
Reminding me another way is
indeed possible.

I write of another way…
where we know and
live knowing that,
in our shared plight of
being human,
there is Love.
The joy, mystery, pain, and
beauty of
being human.

I write of
lessons
being learned from the
wounds of yesterday.
Creating an amazing
tomorrow to be a part of.
I commit

to staying with
these wounds, honoring these wounds,
taking responsibility for these wounds,
and the wounds that my foremothers and forefathers
were born from,
have created,
which birthed me
and which I have birthed.

I write of a now,
inviting all to share
unique dreams and unique pains.
To share without needing to fix or problem solve
but to celebrate.
A recognition that each
story is sacred and powerful
in its very essence,
as we return Home.

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

 

[1] And yet, I honor the phrase “broken hearted”.  The sense of the heart being broken references the wound of which Rumi writes, and is, in my experience, our ticket home in the telling of our stories.

[2] You might, for example, ask your listener;  “please just listen,” or “please validate what you’ve heard,” or “please say you believe me,” or “please hug me when I’m done.”

[3] “Every time you tell your story and someone else who cares bears witness to it, you turn off the body’s stress responses, flipping off toxic stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine and flipping on relaxation responses that release healing hormones like oxytocindopamine, nitric oxide, and endorphins. When we tell our stories and others bear witness, the notion that we are disconnected beings suffering alone dissolves under the weight of evidence that this whole concept is merely an illusion.” – Lissa Rankin