Interview by Evelyn Einhaeuser
What makes an experience a traumatic one?
Trauma occurs when there is an injury where blood doesn’t flow. What is being conveyed in the idea where blood doesn’t flow is that the injury is transcendent of the body and blood, which is the lifeline of our being in the physical world. The injury may be a physical and/or emotional one. The imprint left by the injury on the psyche (soul) will need healing. If healing does not occur the injury/trauma will remind the person through symptoms that there is a need to heal the original injury.
What are the differences in the understanding of the concept of trauma in Western psychology and Native American healing?
It is proper to pay homage to my root teacher as much of the insight in my answers to this interview are an amalgamation of his teachings with many years of my clinical experience.
My introduction to him was not planned and I resisted meeting him after he had sent word that he wanted to see me. Eventually a meeting was arranged and I was taken to him. He was paralyzed and could not move. During my first meeting with him the first thing he said to me was: ‘Don’t think that way there are other realities’ in response to my thoughts about his condition.
His second questions was: ‘Have you ever seen the colors?’ and at this point my anxiety about being in his presence was overwhelming. When I responded ‘No sir I have never seen the colors’ (because I had no idea what he was talking about and was trying to diagnose him with a thought disorder) he followed up with the following: ‘Do you want me to show them to you?’ At this point I said ‘no’ and I almost lost consciousness. He asked to see him again and after a time I became comfortable in his presence. This continued for three years and during that time he spoke in a way that was not rational and his manner of communicating with me took on the feel of zen koans.
A couple of days before the solistice I went to see him. He was sitting on his front porch wearing a new shirt and a new head band. During this visit he spoke to me in a rational manner and connected his teaching in a manner that was understandable and made sense. On the day of the solistice he had his altar prepared for prayer. During this prayer he expelled himself into the spirit world which means the death of the physical body. I realized at this point that I had been in the presence of a holy man. Lately I have realized that during our last visit he gave me the ‘rosetta stone’ that helped me weave the teachings he had been giving me without my knowing it. Also, I have realized that it was during the first visit that he gave me the spiritual transmission and that is the reason my ego wanted to lose consciousness. I was not prepared for the full transmission, yet he gave this gift to me (more depth on my teacher in my book: ‘Buddha in Reface’).
In Western models, trauma is understood as a physical and or psychological injury. After working with patients who had been traumatized I realized that this understanding fell short because symptoms associated with trauma persisted even after therapies had been given for emotional and physical problems.
At this time I realized that there is a third component to trauma…a spiritual one. My understanding through the teaching of my root teacher allowed me to gain insight into this area. When the perpetrator of trauma gets the intent to cause harm, the intent in his or her heart mind has the energy of their spiritual intent to cause harm.
Because of this spiritual component, the act of trauma/violence by the perpetrator becomes an act of sorcery. In acting in this manner the perpetrator projects a part of their heart/mind intent into the victim. At this point the victim introjects a part of the perpetrator into their psyche. If gone undealt with as is the case with most western therapies the projected spirit of the perpetrator develops a life of its own in the unconscious of the victim. At this point the deeper self of the victim realizes that the spirit of the perpetrator needs to be dealt with. The victim’s ego interpretation of dealing with the energy introjected at the time of the trauma is to get rid of it and this usually involves a killing of the energy.
The introverted person will then attempt to kill the perpetrator through self destructive behaviors such as addictions, depression, suicide and other ways of trying to deal with the energy.
The extroverted person will project the energy of the perpetrator outward and will attempt to kill the perpetrator through acts of violence to those who are close to him/her or domestic violence.
Neither of these strategies work because the root spiritual problem persists in the energy of the perpetrator that has become a part of the personality of the victim. Treating the core issue involves spiritual therapy through the integration of dreams and ceremony that directly work to heal the spirit of the perpetrator that is inflicting the symptoms on the patients’ present life.
What are the distinct differences in the treatment of trauma in both healing modalities and where are similarities?
Distinct difference is what I mention in the previous answer. That is that Western approaches only focus on the physical/psychological and not on the spiritual aspect of trauma. Also, in Native thought the trauma has a collective component in that we are not separate. Therefore, when someone is traumatized we are all hurt. At the time of trauma the earth herself also experiences trauma because we are the earth and not separate from it. This collective earth component of trauma calls for a greater type of healing that involves not only the patient but the patient and their life-world needs to be part of the healing.
In traditional context, does suffering also have a deeper meaning, in the sense that it might be part of a spiritual or life process? Can you give an example?
Suffering always has a deeper meaning. Many times the meaning is not obvious especially when we are in the middle of the suffering and defensive mind states that form a reaction to the suffering. The person in the middle of the suffering mainly wants the suffering to stop. Once the person realizes that there are larger existential/karmic aspects of suffering the person can then begin to gain meaning and bring awareness to their consciousness.
An example of suffering is the person who is in the middle of a depressive episode or as I would call this, ‘the spirit of sadness is visiting’ for some reason. By making contact with the spirit of sadness the person can then gain a relationship with the sadness and look deeper into what sadness may be wanting the person to notice in their greater spiritual/soul aspect of their life.
“The medicine is already within the pain and suffering. You just have to look deeply and quietly. Then you realize it has been there the whole time”. How do you understand this Native American saying?
Everything in the universe is either in balance/harmony or is moving towards harmony. No one thing exists without its complementary reflection. When suffering arises, it does not arise without the complementary harmonic balance of movement towards greater consciousness and awareness. I usually tell the people I work with that a long time ago, our ancestors did the prayers and ceremonies to help heal us from the trauma that has been ongoing for many generations. We need to turn towards the healing that they enacted through their ceremonies and prayers and allow them to arise as the twin of suffering.
How important do you think is ritual for healing and what elements are you incorporating into your therapeutic context that help people?
Ritual and ceremonial form is critical to the healing of soul wounds. Conventional therapies focus on ego understanding and insight into the trauma. Although this is a good approach it leaves the spiritual aspect without attention. Ritual allows for us to transcend ego in the moment and allow the opening of soul’s door into greater understanding and connection to the Great Mystery. Without the connection through ceremony we merely walk in our ego understanding of reality which most of the time is delusional and lacking in bringing balance and harmony to spirit/soul aspects of who we are.
How many generations are considered for healing in the traditional context, especially when we look at trauma that is passed on from one generation to the next?
My understanding is that we deal with at least 7 generations of healing and trauma. This must be understood in spirit/dreamtime cosmology. The 7 generations are not just moving forward. We also are healing 7 generations of ancestors who may not have had the chance to heal themselves at the time that the trauma was occurring.
In your experience, if we look at historical trauma, does the healing of one person also have an effect on the community or need the community also always be healed along with the individual?
As mentioned before, there is no separation between the individual and the collective. I tell the people I work with that when they heal themselves they are also healing a part of the collective. This collective includes the earth as part of the whole that makes up who we are.
Can you explain how the healing of places can affect communal and individual healing?
The bodies that we occupy are earth. Every cell/molecule that makes up our physical being is from the earth. Our consciousness is earth consciousness. When our consciousness goes through a specific awareness whether that be suffering or healing, the earth understands and suffers or heals with us. In the communities that I work in I encourage the people to go to the places where trauma occurred and to offer healing for the earth at these places. As the earth heals then we heal because all that we eat and drink comes from the earth. If we eat and drink from an earth that is suffering from trauma, which has its roots in anger and hatred…as the Buddha said, ‘it can be no other way’ ie cause and effect is in operation. If our bodies take in hatred, violence and greed then our bodies will reflect the symptoms of these destructive energies in the sicknesses that we incur.
Some traditional cultures can actually access the ancestry for healing. Is such a possibility also accessible for the traditional people that you know and if so, how did it support their healing processes?
Accessing ancestral energies in the healing process is most important. The healing process is supported because the person may feel a connection that they never have felt before. Part of the colonial brainwashing that we suffer from is that we exist separately. This feeling of separation allows the person to continue in dysfunctional non wholesome living. When the person realizes that they are healing ancestors and unborn future generations, this gives the moment a peculiar power that was not there when the person felt separate from ancestors and their life world.
In order to get out some of the pain that people feel inside themselves, they become violent or angry or abusive themselves. I feel counter anger is very wide spread for all victims of trauma. How can anger or hatred in the context of trauma be released in positive ways or healed?
The idea of releasing or getting rid of anger is part of the Western idea that by releasing the energy the person will feel better and their life will be healthier. My approach is that it is not possible to get rid of energy and physics also teaches that we cannot create or destroy matter or energy. In traditional Native thought it is unthinkable to get rid of the anger, sickness, addiction and so on. What I ask patients to do is to make a conscious relationship with the anger. This requires that the patient introduce themselves to the anger and give it a gift. The gift in the Native American tradition usually is in the form of natural tobacco. Intent is more important than the actual form of the physical gift. The gift is a ceremonial form that allows our ego life to transcend and make relationship with spiritual entities. In Tibetan Buddhism it is also customary to give gifts to the Deities in the form of grain, butter lamps and such. Natural law dictates that the energy of anger must respond by introducing itself. Once the relationship has become conscious the person can ask anger what it is trying to teach them in this life time. Therefore, the anger becomes an ally that can help the person move into higher consciousness and not something to rid themselves of…especially since it is not possible to get rid of this energy.
Many people think of trauma as affecting only the physical and emotional dimension. In the context of Native wisdom, what happens to the spirit of the person and how can that aspect be addressed in traditional healing?
As mentioned before, the act of violence is a spiritual intrusion. In traditional healing the spirit of the perpetrator also needs to heal. Natural law dictates that there has to be balance and harmony achieved in some form. This calls for a high level of spiritual development and the patient can gradually work towards the healing of the perpetrator. As the person is evolving care must be taken to allow the person to express anger in a manner that is not going to inflict further spiritual damage to the person. This aspect of healing can be done through the giving of offerings to the intrusive energies/spirits in an attempt to calm them and befriend them. Work with dreams is critical in this aspect of the healing process.
For example, someone who is dealing with trauma from a perpetrator recognizes that the energy is spiritual and has caused them a lot of suffering. The person then realizes that in order to bring the healing to completion there needs to be a healing of the actual energy. This is a critical point because in Western diagnosis it is easy to confuse the perpetrator with the energy or entity that has taken over the being of the perpetrator. This requires much insight and development of compassion for all beings including the ones who are malignant and cause suffering. Work with patients in this area is done by following the guidance of the patients’ dreams. This must be done in accordance to what the unconscious process of the patient allows and care must be taken not to hurry the process. Even if the patient wants to go further and the healer realizes they are not ready, (by understanding the message that the dreams are bringing) the healer must contain the healing encounter/ceremony in order to protect the patient. (This is dealt with in more depth in my book: ‘healing the soul wound’).
What do dreams infer about the spirit?
My understanding is that dreams do not happen in us as is thought of in Western psychology. Instead, we happen in the dream as the dream continues to dream us. This understanding infers that dreams are part of the sacred aspect of all that is and dreams themselves are spiritual entities that we need to enter into relationship with as mentioned earlier in my discussion with the spirit of anger. Relationship to the dreamtime also requires gifts from both the physical and spiritual aspect of who we are.
What is the 7th direction therapy and how do you work with it?
7th direction is a teaching that brings into awareness where we are at any given moment in space-time. There are 6 cardinal directions (north, south, east, west, sky, earth) that we live in every moment. At the place where the 6 cardinal points intersect, that is the 7 sacred direction. The 7 sacred direction is at the center of our heart. By realizing that they already are at the center, it gives the person hope that it is possible to restore the sacred in beauty.
A key Native American teaching is that there are grandparents at each of the directions. When we make and offering of smoke (cedar, sweet grass, sage, etc.) the grandparents immediately take our prayer and thought directly to the Great Mystery. It is the act of offering the prayer that brings the balance to the person who is wanting to be centered (more on this in my paper: ‘Jung, Mandala and Medicine Wheel’).
A main task of therapy is to bring balance in the personality as far as typology as described by Jung. If the person is too far off balance by being too much of a thinking type it is essential that feeling be part of the healing. The same idea applies to being to out of balance as a feeling, sensation or intuitive type (This is dealt with in more depth in my book ‘healing the soul wound’ and the paper ‘Jung, Mandala and Medicine Wheel’).
What would be a positive way of Western psychology and traditional healing to work together in the context of trauma?
The main purpose that I write about the work I do is to bring and integration of Western and Traditional Tribal healing. My approach is to let practitioners from both camps realize that all healing emerges from natural law. Natural law is the mother of all forms and therefore all healing methods emerge from the same earth mother and need to be honored as such. Once we realize that there is no separation in the root of healing we can then move towards working together in a wholistic approach that will allow the patient to heal and not just focus on curing the symptoms.
What would be positive ways of healing the soul wound of Native Americans in the USA?
Healing the Native soul wound is something I have been involved in for many years. Realizing that it is a spiritual wound is the most critical step in beginning to heal the soul wound. As long as we persist in treating symptoms the soul remains wounded and unattended. The soul then gives us more symptoms in the attempt to get our attention to the greater issue that needs healing…the soul needs to be restored to sacredness through the realization that our true identity is the soul and ego is only an entry point into the world of soul.