And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.” Etty Hillesum
It was just about 2 weeks ago that I came out of a warm, supported cocoon of acceptance and compassion – the 6th weekend with the same 40+ people, over a period of 10 months, all on a path of healing and growth. All of us learning especially how to embrace those parts of ourselves and others – our “protectors” – that often show up as unlikable and even destructive.
Just after emerging from this space where I was able to just Be my most authentic self most of the time, I learned about the events that took place on August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, VA. A much different scenario than the one in which I had been immersed.
Even with all the training and practice to welcome and listen to “all parts,” as the Internal Family Systems modality that I was learning teaches, what I most wanted to do was reject, condemn, and criticize what I witnessed on the news and on social media.
There’s a back story to this…
About 5 weeks prior, I created, organized, and lead a Healing Circle with 11 others on a conscious journey of healing and growth, compassion and mercy. Over a month before these protesters gathered in Charlottesville, proclaiming white supremacy and neo-Nazi speech, slogans, and symbols, synchronicity guided me, leading me to focus on the Holocaust for the Healing Circle. I would like to take a little time to tell you about that.
“…there is only one way of preparing for the new age, by living it even now in our hearts…I would so like to help prepare the new age.” Etty Hillesum
Last year, I had this inspiration. If we have the power as individuals to heal and change our brains and very DNA by doing inner work, particularly connecting with the wounded child within (if you know my work, you know this is the healing approach that I have taken for many years), then why can’t we, as a collective, go into the traumatic places and events that have occurred nationally and globally, and heal those also. Maybe some energy and DNA can shift on the collective level? I called it the Grand Healing Experiment and about 12 people joined me. That first time, we looked very closely at the sit-in that took place in Jackson, MS in May 1963, which turned very violent, with no interference from law enforcement or other bystanders. The Circle was intense! And so moving for most people there, that I decided to do it again.
Almost a year later, on July 9, 2017, I invited my community into another one of these healing experiments. As I said, synchronicity guided me to the Holocaust as the traumatic event to focus upon. (That is a really good story – but I will save it for another time!). Etty Hillesum, a young woman ultimately killed in Auschwitz, served as our Teacher and Mystic, with writings such as “…remember that every atom of hate we add to this world makes it still more inhospitable.” and “Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it to others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.”
As I was preparing for the Circle, a deep and heavy gloom descended upon me. So much suffering. So much violence. So much de-humanization of others. How? Why? And what did I think I was doing by asking others to sit in the heaviness and disgust, the despair and terror, that is part and parcel of connecting with the experiences of those who lived this event in our world history??
And what about the swastik[a]?? I thought I remembered that it is actually an ancient symbol, hijacked by the Nazis to instill terror, to oppress, and to kill. It turns out this is true – it was stolen! An integral part of Hindu and Native American (among others) spirituality and symbolism, the swastik represents “well-being” and friendship. For some Native American tribes, it is a sun symbol. For the purposes of our Circle, it felt important to re-call and re-member that ancient and native meaning.
I found a dual waging within myself – on the one side wanting to rescue and reclaim the swastik, and on the other, afraid to speak up about it. What if that offended Jewish people? What if white supremacists or nationalists thought I was promoting neo-Nazism? When I went to print off the images for the Circle, I was worried that the check-out person at the CVS would see them and misunderstand me. I was so nervous to post the images on the social media invitation for fear it would scare off my community. (I believe I even did not actually post them!)
If inner child or this imaginal type healing work is new to you, there is a key element to it. It requires extending love and compassion toward the parts that we want to heal. ALL the parts. Even the ones we don’t like. The Enemy. When we are working individually, it is the enemy within (our Inner Critic, the parts that numb us out or lash out at others, etc.) that we direct our attention to.
So it only stands to reason that when we are healing the collective trauma, we also have to approach the one whom we see as the villain or the “bad guy.” Yes, you got it – with COMPASSION. With MERCY. Not to mention that this whole “love your enemy” business has been taught throughout the ages by some pretty well-known Holy people!! (Let’s see – Jesus, The Buddha, Quan Yin, Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Dalai Lama, and the list goes on…)
We know who the Enemy in the event of the Holocaust is. There are many, but Adolf Hitler has become the archetype that holds that particular Enemy energy. Also at that CVS counter I held a picture of young Hitler at 9 years old. I learned that his parents had 4 children who died before the age of 2 prior to his birth, and that his father regularly beat him. I learned that he was an aspiring artist, and dreamed of an art career before becoming a soldier in WWI. I learned that he was a regular human with pain and dreams, before he became the power-hungry and superiority-seeking man who inspired the hatred and genocide of the Holocaust.
Our task in the Circle was to offer Compassion to those who carried out the hatred and violence. To go back in time – within our imaginations and with the energetic support of the group – in one of the many situations of that period, approaching an enemy – a Nazi soldier, Hitler, or some other threatening person – with a desire to see them and listen to them. Not to agree. Not to condone. Not to make excuses for. But to acknowledge that person as just that – a person, a human – with a story and a past, with hopes and dreams, with a need to be acknowledged and seen and heard.
The 11 of us in attendance opened our hearts with great courage and caring. The women and one man, blew me away in their capacity and willingness to connect with, engage with, listen to, and care about, in the realm of the imagination, people whom many of us have learned to view as evil and monstrous. Our meditation ended with a spontaneously created memorial of sorts, that brought beauty and grace into a space where there had been such darkness and separation.
It took me a day or two after learning about Charlottesville to put two and two together. Here we are again with the swastika. With the slogans from Nazi Germany. With denunciation and denigration of Jews and Blacks. With a load of people claiming white superiority. Now. Today. All very much alive in 2017. I had no idea that the synchronicity that lead me to choose the Holocaust and the perpetrators of it as what to focus Healing and Compassionate energy towards would come into play in such a collective way.
Despite the experience of the Healing Circle, the teachings of Etty Hillesum, Jesus, Guadalupe, and the Internal Family Systems practices I had just spent a year honing, I still wanted to react with disgust, with anger, and even with some of my own hatred. This is natural and necessary. But I also know, as Etty so wisely wrote in the midst of her own persecution as a Jew in Nazi Germany, “every atom of hate we add to this world makes it still more inhospitable.”
It matters not to me if any person is described as a “good person” or a “bad person.” Those words as descriptors mean very little when you believe, as I do, that all of creation, including all of humanity, comes into Being with a drop of the Divine waiting to turn into a fountain of Love. We all have varying degrees of inner excavation to do to access this Center, and it often appears that for some, it is off-limits entirely. But I believe it’s there. If we just need to put a judgment on it – which I don’t think is very helpful – we could say that we are all good AND bad. So fighting over who we want to call “good” and who we want to call “bad” is not going to get us anywhere.
In the write-up for an Against White Supremacy gathering, the organizers specified that there were to be no humiliating language on signs…except directed at white supremacists. That is not cool! That is an atom of hate that will only make this world still more inhospitable. These are examples of dualistic thinking that our consciousness is trying to grow us out of, so that we can move beyond it.
So here again I am confronted with my own fears – what I’m sure has contributed to the time it has taken me to share this with you. Will people think that I am “for” the white nationalists and supremacists if I believe it’s harmful to humiliate them? Will anyone feel judged or disrespected if I call us all out on being “good” and “bad”? Will people believe that I support Trump’s totally ignorant and inadequate responses to the Charlottesville event? This is the destructive part of me that I must learn to have compassion for – hiding in order to not offend; quieting myself in order to not disturb.
The way I know to show up in the world in the midst of these difficult and painful events is to invite people to look deep within themselves and practice acknowledging, engaging with, listening to, and caring for the inner Enemy, often called doing Shadow Work. I doubt your shadow looks anything remotely like Adolf Hitler or Donald Trump, or any of the torch-bearing white nationalists. But maybe it looks a little like my hiding enemy part, or my judgmental enemy part , or my critical enemy part.
It is in making friends with these inner enemies that we can have “more and more peace, and reflect it toward others,” meeting hatred with love, and aggression with nonviolence, and restlessness with peace, and pain with compassion. I would love to share with you how you can enter into this life-giving and necessary spiritual work. You can sign up for my OpenHearted sharing at http://www.eye4heart.com. Or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Let us join with Etty Hillesum in “preparing for the new age, by living it even now in our hearts…I would so like to help prepare the new age.”
with gratitude – Alisa
Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life. 1996. Foreword by Eva Hoffman.