Has our society forgotten how to somatically process trauma? This essay from Justin Levy, LAc highlights similarities and differences in western and shamanic perspectives on healing.
There’s a lot of discussion lately in healing circles about the importance of having trauma-centered or trauma-focused care. This outlook says that the traumas we experience (especially in childhood) create deeply lasting impressions and impact the way we interact with ourselves and the world. This type of care comes with treatment addressing our “core wounds”.
While I agree with much of this, I approach it from a somewhat different perspective that actually alters the whole dynamic. I don’t believe that trauma is at our “center”. I don’t believe it should be the focus and I don’t believe we have wounds at our core. Though I do believe we must be trauma informed if we are going to be good caregivers.
My worldview posits that at our core or center is spirit. The disagreement about the nature and even the existence of spirit forms much of the disagreement between Western materialist approaches to healing and shamanic/spiritual approaches.
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Spirit is not a substance that can be measured in a lab or tested in a double blind placebo controlled study. For the Western materialists that means it’s not real. For them, truths are things that can be measured objectively. The presence of spirit that is at the core of spiritual and mystical traditions is a purely subjective experience. The conflict between subjectivism (with its emphasis on personal relationship with the thing being studied) and objectivism (with an emphasis on maintaining neutrality with the object being studied) is an interesting one with a lot of nuance. This is one of the core issues at play between the Western materialist and the shamanic/spiritual approaches.
In the shamanic and spiritual worlds, the concept of personal relationship with spirit is reflected in the idea that all things are conscious to some degree and all things are in communication with everything else. There is an integrated whole-ness or holism at play. Diseases and disorders are seen as an imbalance in one’s spirit that arises from the illusion of separateness. In some way the patient has blocked themselves from spirit and the disease or disorder is simply the outward manifestation of that disharmony. In this context, the disease is a manifestation from spirit that is trying to draw our attention to it so that it can be embodied and integrated.
Our society has mostly forgotten how to somatically process trauma, and because of that forgetting we have no other option but to try to dissociate from it. When we try to escape trauma, we build a somatic wall around it and then pass that repressed trauma onto our children. The scientists have already “discovered” this ancient truth— they call it epigenetics. We then unconsciously play out our repressed traumas in the wider world. Again, the playing out of our repressed traumas is seen in the shamanic world as simply an outward expression of our spirit trying to draw our attention inward.
What the spirit-centered model says is that there is a wholeness at our core. When we integrate the walled-off wounded parts we do not fix anything because nothing is broken. We are simply re-establishing the communication between walled off parts of ourselves. The integration of those parts also allows us to enter into a deeper level of communion with the plant, animal and spirit worlds. The wounded parts of ourselves are actually the gateways to deeper levels of spiritual connection.
At the core of my healing work at Spirit House is that all of us can experience ecstatic union with spirit that comes when we integrate the wounded parts of ourselves. This is at the center of the spirit-centered model of healing.
Interestingly, the imprints of this ecstatic union do show up on the clinical trials that the researchers love. Anecdotal evidence from psychedelic research shows people having a sense of euphoria, connection and compassion months or years after even one dose. The researchers don’t call it spirit, they call it rewiring brain chemistry or releasing endorphins.
Although this essay is a critique of the Western materialist model and promotion of a shamanic/spiritual one, my goal is actually to deepen the dialogue between our two camps. I believe navigating the current explosion of interest in psychedelics requires us to listen to each other, challenge each other and be willing to be challenged so that we can integrate on a societal level.