Somatic IFS Newsletter, November '21
Somatic IFS and Collective Transformation
It’s Halloween/Day of the Dead/Dios de los Muertos/Samhain/All Souls Day as the veil between the living and the dead is lifted and we honor the souls of our ancestors. It has been a couple weeks since the annual IFS conference with its focus on collective transformation of our cultural legacies. This conference was epic in many ways. It was the first virtual conference, the largest IFS gathering ever, and there were more presenters who were BIPOC and members of other marginalized identity groups. I was deeply honored to be invited to lead the closing plenary, and I considered the contribution Somatic IFS can make to address and heal the fragmentation, the polarizations and fissures in the fabric of our society from our collective traumas.
As I explore this territory of collective transformation I have many questions. Can we draw from what we know about how traumas affect individuals to address collective traumas? How can we ensure that the liberation of Embodied Self energy is not just for individuals privileged enough to participate in these kinds of programs? Can our individual experience of Embodied Self energy, that we have found can be sent back to heal the burdens of our ancestors, ripple out to effect larger and larger systems? How can the practices we have inherited from our ancestors address trauma on an interpersonal, intergenerational, cultural and societal level?
My previous newsletter, (the first one, accessible on my website under “Blog”) touched on the pandemic that has, along with other threats to our health and lives, affected everyone on the planet to varying degrees. This pandemic is one example of collective trauma. Our bodies’ vulnerability is undeniable. Our hypervigilant nervous systems are buzzing or exhausted. We learn that individuals and communities already burdened by hardship are more vulnerable to the Covid virus as the global, racial, and community-wide health discrepancies have been starkly revealed. We have adapted in amazing and creative ways to the fear, uncertainty, and whip-lash effect of confusing and conflicting social media information. We have witnessed many heroic acts from individuals and communities. We recognize that our individual actions (masking, getting vaccinated, etc.) protect not only our own health but everyone’s, and our health depends on others’ actions.
The pandemic is only one of the many crises affecting us on every level from the subcellular to the planetary. We carry the burdens from current and past traumas due to wars, famine, genocide, torture, massacres, pandemics, or social ostracism and injustice to various identity groups. Disembodiment is one of the main symptoms of our collective trauma. Our Eurocentric culture of dualism and dominance of mind over body has burdened all of us individually and institutionally. A society that privileges white bodies, male bodies, thin, able bodies, straight, cis-gendered bodies and that devalues, exiles, harms and even kills trans bodies, female bodies, black and brown bodies is not a healthy society. What has been exiled isn’t gone but lies in wait in the body and in the collective body. What is exiled eventually bubbles up, like the recent wave of protests against racial injustice and white supremacist ideology, like the increase in inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
The practices of Somatic IFS address this individual and cultural burden of disembodiment. The practices inherited from our ancestors combined with the IFS Model uncover our birthright of Embodied Self. Accessing this state is key to healing collective trauma as well as individual trauma. Becoming embodied is a revolutionary act. Becoming more fully embodied is necessary to address the symptoms of our collective trauma that has affected oppressed and oppressor alike.
In building a structure, we begin with the foundation. In the IFS model, the first step is to consider the external system. We rely on a sufficiently safe and stable external situation to support our inner work. The foundational practice of Somatic IFS is Somatic Awareness. This beginning practice is associated with the element of earth. Given the vagaries of our external systems, to address collective traumas we can turn to the earth for the stability and support for our inward work.
Client and therapist alike bring awareness to the floor below to connect with the ever-present support and nourishment from the ground below. Awareness of our feet on the floor and our seats on the chair brings connection, offering the emotional and physiological co-regulation to support and facilitate our internal work. We deepen our awareness to include the fertile layer of soil that holds the bones of our ancestors as well as the accumulated detritus from the cycles of life and death that all of life depends on for nourishment. We can travel in our imaginations through the many layers of the earth to the very heart of the earth, the one point that unites us. We consider our relationship with the earth. We take in the felt experience of meeting the earth, the earth meeting us. Like trees, we can extend our roots downward and draw up energy from the generous earth. Connecting with the earth offers therapist and client a container larger than the therapeutic relationship to hold the traumas held in the internal bodymind system. Held in this wider Field of Self, we can begin to turn our attention inward.
The practice of Somatic Awareness functions, much like the earth, to embrace, support and inform the other practices. Awareness of the solidity of our bodies, our strength, our flesh and our bones, may, for some, provide the grounding to support inner work. Embodied Self can be accessed in every structure of our body. Bringing awareness to any place in our body increases the level of awareness in our body.
Turning inward, we may first encounter protector parts. These parts may have learned to fear body awareness. They may deny, disassociate, distract, minimize, distance, and isolate. We learn how and why these protectors do their jobs. Acknowledging and appreciating these protectors eventually allows for connecting with the more vulnerable parts frozen in time and in the neurophysiology that hold the pain, the shame, and the terror from the trauma.
Thomas Hübl has written and taught extensively about collective trauma and what is needed to heal it. He speaks of “Global Social Witnessing” as a process required for healing collective trauma.
"To assist in its repair, we must choose to acknowledge, to witness, and to thereby feel together, what has actually occurred, even the most horrific details we would rather close our eyes to. "
As painful as it is, we begin with naming it and noticing the wounds we carry in our bodies. We can’t think this stuff away, read it away, talk it away. We need to process it through our bodies. Collective trauma needs to be healed from the inside out. We begin to unblend from our parts and what has been hidden or frozen in our bodies emerges into awareness. We gently tune into our bodies and feel the original wounds—the bracing, holding, tension, numbness, cut offs. We go into the not knowing. We persist until we make friends with our exiled and objectified bodies. We begin to befriend our bodies as subject, as living, breathing soma. Sensations begin to emerge. Our breath becomes fuller, our hearts more open. Our cells begin to hum. We move in new ways. We discover our bodies as a source of wisdom and information. As we restore our Embodied Self energy we find the clarity and courage to join with others to address societal injustice. We intentionally transmit our inner coherent state of Embodied Self energy to bring larger systems into coherence.