PO Box 10372
Learning by John Calvi
My education on healing from trauma is an incomplete, on-going work which I find continually fascinating and always best suited to wondering rather than collecting hard facts. There are so many parts to consider: life itself hurts; trouble must not only be survived, but learned about; the world seems to know no bounds in its beauty or its inhospitality.
When I began my seeking in this field, I was a teacher of young children. My talent as a teacher lay in my curiosity and my passion to create a safe space for the children who were having difficulty, most often with emotional hurt. In ten years I learned that different people need different approaches to receive help. The chaos of anger, shame, distrust, and expression of need is extremely individual and calls for the most careful and reverent observation. Reverent observation is a trait so absent that the only remedy may be training.
What constitutes safety for each person is also very individual—physical closeness, amount and style of guidance, requests for information, and limits of what can be offered have common and unique parts to each person.
Next I brought my seeking to women who had been sexually assaulted. I think they are, in all likelihood, the largest group of hurt people on the planet. This is where I began to understand that hurt is layered within the person, body and mind, depending on several changing factors. What was their understanding of their own personal power before the trauma? Was the trauma a single event, a series of events, or a situation of continual hurt? Did it happen in secret? What is their understanding of the nature of the trauma with regard to personal responsibility or current outcome. Most importantly, what is their understanding of their own goodness, not to be confused with self-esteem but rather the clear sense of one’s essence and capacity for goodness in the world, including, perhaps, divine connection.
While working with women I began my own healing work as someone who was raped and beaten as a young child. The deep spiritual work of going inward and outward simultaneously, to hear what there was to learn in the world and to hear what there was to learn within my own divine dialogue, became an important and regular practice.
As I expanded my seeking to the realms of people with life-threatening diseases (primarily AIDS), refugees who had been tortured, and ritual abuse survivors, the opportunity came to develop various ways to deliver calm to the distressed and retain my own inner balance. These have become the basis of workshops I have been teaching for the past 18 years on healing from trauma and spiritual disciplines for avoiding exhaustion.
I have found that developing, maintaining, and delivering calm as a regular work is a large and difficult task. There are so many other feelings that need expression—grief, anger, fear, love, joy, desire. Yet it’s calm that is going to create enough space to allow learning following trauma. Healing from trauma is essentially sacred learning, learning which one does in awe and uncertainty.
For people wanting to join this vigil to witness hurt and its healing, I encourage them to do their own inner work to become more conscious, deliberate, and honest, especially with regard to pain. There is much wisdom that can be transferred once the inner work is accepted and regularly attended to. If it’s the simple compassion of easy giving that you seek, I don’t think you will find satisfaction in witnessing the consequences and needs of people in trauma. But if you enjoy complexity, questions without answers, and know or can learn to see pain that cannot be touched, then I say welcome, bring all your tools, there is much good that needs doing.
We often think of peacemaking as political and social issues and healing as medical and mental health issues. Yet both are the lessening of pain and confusion. Needs that are met resemble justice whether in the body receiving nutrition or a minority group receiving equal rights. The laying down of weapons resembles pain relief whether it is a full night’s sleep without fear or the freedom to work in one’s fields to bring in the harvest rather than stay home to guard the house. While external details change and settings vary, every person who works to lessen confusion and diminish pain is working for peace and healing.
All these years later, I still feel like a beginner with more questions than answers. Some days there’s too much doubt and not enough strength in all its various forms. I want to be a better student. I want to have more faith and discipline. I am also grateful that I am on the spiritual adventure of my life.
John Calvi can be reached at: PO Box 301, Putney VT 05346; tel: 802 387-4789; e-mail: [email protected]