Community is such a large concept. Often we hear people talk about the lack of community; the lack of communal support he or she feels. Looking at society I can see this lack of support as families have pared down to the “nuclear family,” losing the beauty of multiple generations and extended family under one roof or at least within close proximity. Neighbors no longer knowing each other’s names. There is a great tragic loss in this lack of community. Honestly I see this loss of community as a trauma in itself – isolating us more and more, having us burrow further into our own pain and not being able to look out at others and notice theirs. Not being able to reach out for support, love and healing.
Peter Levine writes about how healing trauma must always happen in community, with at least one other person present to bear witness to the traumatized person. The reasoning for this is simple: trauma happens when we are alone. This is not to say there are not other people physically present, or there is not another person or persons actually creating the trauma event in our presence. It is to say that we are alone – the only witness to ourselves in the trauma. Our bodies absorb the trauma and we tend to isolate after – either by choice as a survival mechanism or because we are manipulated to by an abuser. Trauma equals isolation. In order to come out of the trauma, to come out of the isolation we need a safe community.
This community can be one person. It could be a hundred people. It could be a therapist or counselor. It could be a spouse or partner or close friend or other family member. It could be a teacher, a mentor. It could be a stranger. It could be anyone. However that other person or persons, the one who is to bear witness to our trauma, needs to be firmly grounded or else he or she will do us no good. James Finely describes bearing witness to a traumatized person as keeping one foot firmly grounded outside the circle the trauma, and the other foot firmly yet gently steps inside the circle. The traumatized person needs the other to be grounded, this is possibly the only way the traumatized person can find her or his own grounding, perhaps the only way he or she can get back into her or his own body. The traumatized person also needs to feel the other person within her or his trauma, to feel truly heard and seen and understood.
We need community. However we need that community to be grounded. Knowing the extent of trauma in our world, finding these people who are firmly grounded can be a challenging task. So what do we do?
We seek. We look for those who have gifts to offer to help us in our own grounding process. To help us get back into our own body. To help us heal. Then we pass these gifts on. The beauty of these gifts, of learning how to become mindful, how to ground and stabilize our body, mind and soul, is that we can pass the gifts on AND keep them forever. It is the non-dual beauty of healing – realizing life isn’t about either or, rather it is about and. It is raining and cold and I can be warm and cozy. It is dark and I can see light. I can be angry at you and love you with all my soul.
We can heal ourselves and heal within community. As we shift, as the trauma releases from our body we will be able to see more and more community available. In the beginning though we have to be vulnerable and risk further hurt. Not further trauma, but potential pain. And in being vulnerable and open, we can see the pain in others and perhaps give them some community to heal.
Bearing witness to our own pain. Becoming and remaining grounded. Healing ourselves. Being healed by our community. Healing our community. Finding strength and grounding. Offering strength and grounding. Offering and receiving in the same breath.
I’m thankful for my ever-expanding community. Many of the people in my community are strangers. Strangers who probably don’t know how much they have impacted me, how much their existence has helped me heal. Others are close friends, my husband, my daughter. And a wide range of friendships and acquaintances in-between. Each person giving light to my darkness, whether he or she knows it or not. And hopefully, prayerfully, I give a little light to their darkness too.