Conversation Cultural Memory

Trauma and Regeneration

Soul Shivers launched at the Stoa in February and March of 2021. We held a series of four dialogues framed around earth regeneration, breaking the conversations down into four critical themes which were ancestry, trauma, connection to place, and peace.  You can view the series here. And the first dialogue in Kosmos, here.

Soul Shivers captures seldom heard stories from women around the world working on earth regeneration in different ways. Our dialogues are intimate, translocally interconnected, and impactful. In a special collaboration with Kosmos, we are offering edited transcripts of these conversations.

Luea Ritter:

Welcome everyone. Today we dive into the field of personal, intergenerational, and collective trauma. Before we begin our dialogue, we’d like to read a short poem.

Freya Yost:

The poem is called Every Morning by Mary Oliver.

I read the papers,
I unfold them and examine them in the sunlight.
The way the red mortars, in photographs,
arc down into the neighborhoods
like stars, the way death
combs everything into gray rubble before
the camera moves on. What
dark part of my soul
shivers: you don’t want to know more
about this. And then: you don’t know anything
unless you do. How the sleepers
wake and run to the cellars,
how the children scream, their tongues
trying to swim away–
how the morning itself appears
like a slow white rose
while the figures climb over the bubbled thresholds,
move among the smashed cars, the streets
where the clanging ambulances won’t
stop all day–death and death, messy death–
death is history, death is habit–
how sometimes the camera pauses while a family
counts itself, and all of them are alive,
their mouths dry caves of wordlessness
in the smudged moons of their faces,
a craziness we have so far no name for–
all this I read in the papers,
in the sunlight,
I read with my cold, sharp eyes.

Luea Ritter:

Thank you, Freya. I mentioned intergenerational trauma, meaning from within our family lineages and handed down, informing future generations, and then there is also the collective trauma of tribes, communities, whole cultures, and societies. We strongly believe that no matter where we are on this planet, and no matter what tribe or culture we belong to, we are all informed by trauma dynamics.

Even if we have not experienced big traumas in our lifetime, such as war or famine, we all are descendants of people who have. Not to compare them with each other, of course, but just to acknowledge this. We live in cultures and societies that are built on trauma-informed structures.

Peter Levine defines trauma as something that happens to us faster than we can process it. So in a way we become traumatized when our ability to respond to a perceived threat is in some ways overwhelmed. Everyone reacts differently to trauma, even in shared traumatic events. One person may be fine while the other one gets trapped in a cycle of anxiety. It’s very important to know when we approach healing that it’s actually something to work through in our bodies.

Knowing that trauma is a physiological reaction, we can approach regeneration as something that is the collaboration between the energetic, social, and ecological layers of life. We could say that regeneration is needed as a response to how we have lived with century-old trauma-informed dynamics and systems. Humanity itself has to create the preconditions for working through the trauma layers and unfreeze the stuck energy that is in our systems and societies.

Now I would love to open with a question. How have you as an individual, and you with your community or your peers, danced with these trauma-informed dynamics and what is the first story that comes up when you hear that word?

Alexandra Gavilano:

The first image that comes to mind is soil. How intensely managed soil is traumatized and it needs to recuperate. A lot of people say we’re destroying our planet. We’re not destroying the planet because the planet will be here long after us. We are really destroying the environment that is good for our species and many others. I feel we need to expand the trauma dimensions to the more than human.

Amber Tamm:

Growing up I didn’t understand that some of the things I was enduring were traumatic and that they were informed by a collective trauma. I really had no clue. But I easily realized that trauma is a superpower once I went through something very massive, as in my father murdering my mom, and then I was able to see how years of this can lead to more of it.

Going through my own personal trauma brought me back to soil and honoring, like Alexandra just said, the trauma of the soil, but through people first. I think I had to really recognize what land I was on, how my ancestors were brought here, what the land is holding people-wise, bones-wise, fertilizer-wise, trauma-wise, and then getting to a Mama Earth perspective. I have always felt like trauma is some weird sort of sight. It helps you understand others. It helps you understand interconnectedness as a whole.

Jane Ruka:

Because I’m older than you, I always hesitate to speak first. From my vantage, intergenerational trauma is very close, and it can come in the form of anything that disturbs your community, and that intergenerational trauma could come from another nation, superimposing themselves onto you or taking you from your community and replanting you somewhere else as a totally different self-image that you had or your ancestors had for you.

I think it’s the destruction that the original trauma intergenerationally is condoned in some manner by the communities who can’t retaliate to it, and if they do, huge consequences are exerted on ancestral people, and Amber represents that end line. Alexandra to some extent as well. Naomi is walking through it at this present time in Kenya. Luea and Freya, just because I don’t mention you, you are included in this for your ancestral traumas because we all know the history of Europe, and it has consequences from the original trauma down to personally my generation of grandchildren.

You do not ever revert back to where you were and your ancestors were originally. You must regenerate yourself in the place where you are. If that involves changing your country or community, then you are honor-bound to do that for your next generations. Your next generation of children, whoever is in your lineage of blood, will see that you’ve done it. Being an example is very important. People need to see that you can achieve, and intergenerational trauma includes trauma to the surroundings land.

Every being and sentient creature has a right to be there and then suddenly you’re all devastated and nobody has a right except the people coming to utilize all the areas that they can in order to increase financial gain. You need to first regain your own balance, and then you must look at your surroundings.

The whole picture of regeneration is so important, but it begins with you and your understanding. I’m not saying that we can dismiss our intergenerational traumas. I’m saying that we need to view them in all honesty as to how you can improve them existing where you are.

I am a very loud activist. I oppose everything that I know from my long travel through life as not appropriate to the people growing up that belong to my ewe, my people. We all have personal traumas and some of them are more devastating. You cannot get more trauma than being the child of a mother whose father has caused her life to end, and I do send out my heartfelt grief of your situation that you have so bravely come out of, Amber.

I send to you my best wishes, dear, for your ceasing the generational trauma so that your children don’t receive what you’re living through. God bless you in the form of blessing of my culture. I send that to you, Amber, so that your children do not get traumatized. Give them the life of hope, my dear.

Freya Yost:

I’ve come to feel that one of the most powerful forms of ‘activism’ happens at a family scale. I’ve also had certain experiences in nature that are hard to name but that over time I have come to understand as bringing me closer to my wholeness or higher self. These experiences imply to me that one of the great traumas is our separation from the land. It feels right, therefore, that regeneration involves entering back into a relationship with each other, with the land. As I began to think along those lines, I noticed myself becoming more sensitive to the world. As I opened up to the possibility of more relationships around me, I became increasingly receptive to the immeasurable beauty that was accessible to me at any moment. On the other hand, I couldn’t read the newspaper anymore without falling into depression. How do you experience this tension, that increased connection with life leads to more beauty but also more pain?

Amber Tamm:

This is something I am still figuring out. For so long I just was going every day. And now I’m recognizing that I should have slowed down a long time ago. I should have been looking into these crevices within myself, but instead I was like, “I need to save money for my siblings, and I need to focus on my career,” and it’s only now that I realize that I chose a career over myself. I chose regenerative agriculture over regenerative Amber. If you don’t choose yourself you can’t be helpful. One thing me and my partner say to each other is we can’t fight a food apartheid and be malnourished people.

Luea Ritter:

I’m curious to hear what are the community resources we draw upon when these dynamics show up?

Jane Ruka:

I hear you all saying you go to nature, you go to the trees, you go to the soil when these tensions and pressures are upon you. Our belief system is that we are related to everything that has life. They are elder brothers and sisters, grandmothers and grandfathers. Some of them are centuries old, our trees. Now, in those centuries, there are methods of surviving, but because we’ve lived 60, 70, 52 years, we totally are unaware, most of us, that we have seniority growing in our own gardens.

In order to access those beautiful brothers and sisters, ancient as they are, all we have to do is let them know we are traumatized. Go to them. Tell them your anxieties. If you have a bird flying through into your property and you are heart-bound with trauma, it’s a life force that’s learned through its generational genealogy how to survive. It’s your best friend at the time.

Everything belongs to me that belongs to nature. It’s my given right as the youngest child on this planet to ask for help from them. I don’t just sit and do silent help. I tell them my traumas. I cry to them, and the moment I’ve cried for my heartfelt trauma, I know that I’m relieved because they’ve picked it up. All those root systems are going to hear my cry to my elders.

It’s not going to be very long before your relief is felt because your elder brothers and sisters are taking it, and remember, when it’s their turn to have trauma, you stand up and be the biggest and loudest activists for their protection, not because they require it, but because your heartfelt knowledge tells you they save humans and what are some parts of the humanity destroying them for?

Go out and tell nature, “This is my saddest trauma. I need you to help me,” and they respond because they have senses just as we do. I give you that coded law from my culture is speaking and gifting of words, and I hope it helps you because you already all touch it. Multiply us by the thousands of people who get relief. We’ve got a force that can defend our brothers and sisters because they defend us if we talk to them. Speaking in your mind is all right, but verbalizing it means the ones in the distance catch it on the wind, and they can hear it.

So, it’s not just the few that you’re talking to as you’re walking. It’s to the brothers and sisters that have been caught by the god of the winds. Tāwhirimātea is the god of winds and takes your sorrow and gives it to the brothers and sisters who are older than us. So, thank you.

Amber Tamm, USA  

Every farmer has an origin story of how their journey to the land began. For some it builds over time and others it happens in a day. For Amber, it was a single moment when her father murdered her mother. At the age of 18, she lost both parents and along with them she lost her housing, income, food and healing. Little did she know farming would provide her with all of these things. For months Amber mourned, devastated in silence. And then there came a day when she felt called to get outside, into nature. “As I laid my mother’s body into the earth, the earth literally became my mother.”

Jane Ruka, New Zealand 

Jane Mihingarangi Ruka is the Chairwoman of the Waitaha Executive Grandmothers Council. The Grandmothers represent the Nation of Waitaha in Aotearoa New Zealand. Jane is the Kaiwhakahaere of the Waitaha Claim Wai 1940 lodged with the Waitangi Tribunal in New Zealand. Jane and the Grandmothers practice care for the environment, peace, and promote the wisdom of women.

Alexandra Gavilano, Switzerland  

Alexandra Gavilano is a Swiss-Peruvian environmental scientist and activist for social transformation and planet protection. Her passion is to reflect, observe and learn from inner/individual and inner/collective processes and manifestations of those in the outside world to envision a way towards the new era of humanity and all beings on our planet earth.

Luea Ritter, Switzerland/Greece 

Luea is a process steward, action researcher, coach and systemic constellation facilitator. Her work internationally and across diverse sectors, weaves transformative change processes, trauma and healing work, leadership, and earth-based wisdom traditions. 

Through a diverse medley of fields she has developed a high sensitivity for context-based cultural and social dynamics. She is co-founder and creative steward of Collective Transitions, an action-learning and research organization dedicated to building shared capacity for fostering and maintaining transformational shifts, as well as co-founder and steering team member of the Nile Journeys, a platform for transboundary dialogue and regenerative collaboration in the Nile Basin. 

She is part of collaboration helvetica, an initiative that catalyses systemic change towards the societal transformation of Switzerland by cultivating a cross-sectoral innovation ecosystem, running different capacity-building programs and open knowledge sharing. In her cutting-edge research-to-innovation PhD Process for Holistic Development with the Geneva-based TRANS4M Center for Integral Development, she focuses on social fields and the building and maintaining of coherence.

Freya Yost, Italy  

Freya is an artist and sustainability strategist based in Italy. She studied Art History at the American University of Rome (B.A., 2010) and Library and Information Science at Pratt Institute (M.S., 2015). She is also trained as a botanical artist. 

Freya helped create and served as COO of Common Earth, the regenerative development partner of the Commonwealth of Nations for four years through her work with Cloudburst Foundation. She was influential in organizing and facilitating several high-level convenings at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London between 2017 and 2019. 

In addition, she has at institutions around the world including the United Nations, New York Public Library, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Civitella Ranieri Foundation, and A Growing Culture. Freya’s work has been featured in Vogue and she has authored articles in peer-review journals such as Weave, IK: Other Ways of Knowing, and IFLA.

Amber Tamm:

This is incredibly important because with Black History Month in America right now, the media is filled with depictions of the civil rights era or these dark horror genre movies about black Americans today, but they’re back in slavery. America will applaud a seer like Harriet Tubman for her ability to utilize nature to get to freedom, and when I hear that, it makes me almost sob because I’m envisioning a bunch of my ancestors venturing through nature but doing their best to be quiet, to blend in, climbing a tree for the sake of safety, doing bird sounds for the sake of communicating.

The reality is for me and my community that we’ve never went into nature for joy and we never went into nature comfortable. We never went into nature with conversation. Nature was a portal to freedom, and that’s all it ever was. So by time you got from the American South to the American North, yes, you had experienced nature, but it was for safety. It was to literally wade in the water, but the water wasn’t your friend because you enjoyed it. It was your friend because it got you to freedom.

So, I do think a big part for those of us who are black American is to revitalize the relationship with nature through conversation beyond it being a safe haven, but through conversation solely.

Ola (from the audience):

Thank you to you guys for everything you shared. I’m making connections between experiences in my life and the experiences that I’ve seen in other people’s lives around me. I live in Nigeria, and the trauma is so bad that we can’t have effective communication without shouting at each other. That is how we tend to communicate, and looking back at my own experience with my own mom and how she passed trauma onto me. I had to do a lot of work on myself without understanding the concept of trauma. Forgiving her for not knowing and still seeing how she is still reeling in that trauma and not being able to help.

It bothers me seeing how it’s also transferring to my own sisters, and I’m looking at it from a perspective of how long Nigeria is going to be Nigeria if we continue to operate this way. When Jane said that you should be willing to change your environment so that the next generation can have a better experience, I have noticed that my friends who live abroad still have traces of this trauma in them even though they changed their environment. So, I’m trying to make connections to where the regeneration would come from. Is it going to be from within, like from self or a shared understanding of what trauma is? This conversation really hits home for me, and I was really close to tears. So, thank you guys.

Jane Ruka:

I really am heartfelt for all these sins of colonization. We are still in our colonization in my country. By moving out of your environment, you first must, as you have done, recognize your trauma, personal or community trauma, by changing environments. I’m talking about your mental environment, your physical environment, and your running-away environment.

For those who can stand still, trauma is persistent, and the possibility that you are standing still means that you think you are strong enough to change your personal, mental environment and stand upright, still protesting about what has traumatized you. If you are still standing in that trauma, then you must be prepared to give your life for it in circumstances that everybody else would run away from, and I wish you well on finding your balance.

If whatever activity you choose to take needs your action, the trauma has presented itself to you. You have taken it into your heart and body and your mind, your surroundings. It belongs to you. Then your mind responds. Your waitaha responds. Your waitaha is your mana. Your mana is your spirit and your essential being and traumatized people respond only how their essential being or mana is able to cope with it. If running away keeps you alive and you’re able to develop into a stronger person, then that’s what you need to do. Nobody can tell you how you can respond. Your essential being knows what’s good for it and what isn’t good for it, and if it requires you to run away, then you must do that because you’re no good standing up in front of the trauma if you already know that you need to move from it.

If you’re one of these people who can stand there and decide, no, I’m not going to go anywhere, then that’s your decision to deal with your life trauma in that place and neither has any consequence to anybody else but to you, and your mana needs to accept that. Your essential being is a mana, and if you accept that, then that’s your learning from that particular trauma. We’re switching from community trauma down to personal trauma, and you’re the only person who knows how to deal with that. I wish you well, Ola.

Amber Tamm:

When I think of my journey, I was the perfect student and the perfect black girl from the hood. I was a great example of an African American doing what’s right, and that was really because whatever an adult was telling me to do I was doing.

I was on the right track, and I think once my trauma came and knocked me onto a different track, I had autonomy. I didn’t have grandparents or parents. That autonomy is abundance, but it can feel like such a burden. I feel like I need someone to tell me what to do, but the reality is that people will tell you, but it won’t fit. So, for me, I did run away. I went to Hawaii.

I think that leaving enabled me to just focus on me, but coming back, I had focused on me enough to then focus on the community. That process of self observation is super healthy, and I want to “normalize” that, but I think the other side, and this is something I’ve said to black community several times is, I love my people enough to leave them sometimes.

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