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The Body Keeps the Score & is the Key to Healing.

I just bought a ticket to hear Dr Bessel Van der Kolk speak in March. He wrote The Body Keeps the Score ten years ago and is one of the world’s leading trauma experts. His research and practise have been important to my understanding of the way the body stores trauma and foundational to the way I have sought my own healing and work with clients.

Trauma is stored in the body and the body holds the answers for healing. Embodied practices are powerful for bringing us home to ourselves.

But what struck me as I’ve reflected on the years I’ve followed his and others’ leadership in this field, is that I’ve also, in parallel, been learning from Indigenous cultures that apply the same knowing, and the same principles for healing, intuitively.

Spending most of my career in the International Aid & Development space before I became a counsellor, I had the privilege of experiencing cultural expressions of grief, healing, joy and celebration across Asia, Africa and the Pacific. And in ways we are increasingly disconnected from in Western society. They’ve moved and changed me.

I’ve witnessed commemorations of life cycle events, been part of storytelling in wide open spaces on woven mats, and the remembering of people and practices, songs and language that need to be preserved for culture to continue. High energy, generations-old movement brings together elders, kids and youth.

Contemplative practices are embodied; prayer, singing, shouting to the skies with lament and dancing; in costumes with pods and shells and body paint marking moments and tradition.

I’ve watched groups connect with the earth and the way it speaks of what is coming and what they’ve learnt from natural disasters and extreme weather events. Of rebuilding after losing everything. They heal together, collectively in community.

I’ve watched animals slaughtered for Sunday lunch in the village, root crop stations next to the leafy greens station surrounding the hot rocks where it will all be cooked. Everyone has a role.

They eat together and go slowly. Heat often prevents moving quickly anyway. It matters that people’s families are known, asked after, “how are your children, your parents? Please give them our regards.”

Even when oppressed and marginalised, struck down by yet another natural or economic shock, the communities I worked with come together. They heal collectively, they process trauma and big emotions in tactile, communal ways, they allow them to resolve and work through their bodies. And life is lived outside, in sync with the volatility of nature. They aren’t surprised when tragedy strikes, dealing with it is part of their cultural norm. Part of the fabric of who they are.

Of course, this is my experience of working with these communities and it’s simplified. I don’t want to diminish very real struggles or romanticise injustice, inequality and the impact of colonialism in any way. But I know for sure while we in the West are just waking up to the way we carry trauma in our bodies, Indigenous cultures have always known this and intuitively known they need to integrate it in embodied ways and, that they need to do it together.

We are the most adrift when we are disconnected and cut off from our people and place. We are not meant to heal alone.

We can heal powerfully when we connect with people who help us carry some of the load and reflect back to us that we belong. When we find practices and rituals that have meaning for us. These signal safety to our bodies, they ground us.

The body keeps the score but is also the key to healing. We can find trust within ourselves and even with one other person if you don’t have a trusted community. Reach out and connect. You may find a community is built in time.

And if you’d like to talk any of this through in counselling you can find me here. Or book a free 15minute intro chat through my website. I love supporting people as they come home to themselves.

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