More Intense Layers of Trauma

Lately I’ve been witnessing a more intense layer of trauma in people I meet, and in groups that I convene. Not real time stuff — the meeting room hasn’t been on fire. But rather, buried trauma — the kind that is lingering beneath the surface of both the individual and collective psyche. The latter shows up as everything from shut down to strong reactions (fight, flight, freeze, appease). There are good people doing good direct work with trauma. Teresa Posakony is one of them. For several years now, she has been prompting the question and inquiry about trauma-informed care, education, and convening of groups.

Trauma continues to interest me, to be relevant. It seems that what is surfacing isn’t new, but there are either more invitations or provocations that are triggering what has been beneath the visible layers for some time. Personal traumas of violence or abuse. Historical traumas of colonization and inequity. Contemporary traumas of complexity and polarization. I don’t think of my work as dealing directly with trauma, though there was a time when my career aspirations were pointing more toward psychology and counseling. I do think of my work as creating healthy containers for authentic wonder, witnessing, and imagination on behalf of so much of what we humans care about in the world.

Where I am encountering some simple steps about what to do with trauma (I do believe there is some trauma in all of us, whether through direct experience, genetic memory, or associative proximity), are through two encouragements. One is developing a “self care plan.” I learned more of this through a participant at a recent gathering who was significantly traumatized yet masterfully skillful with her self care plan. She shared that it included steps like — breath, get outside, touch the ground, move her body, shake, listen to a select set of music. All good stuff, and personalized for her. “Informed,” as Teresa says. Doesn’t deny or further bury the trauma. Doesn’t default to hijacked debilitation (though, it’s trauma — this will happen sometimes).

In the language of The Circle Way, and from the components wheel that helps strengthen the container that is circle, my friend Amanda Fenton reminds me that a self care plan is very much about personal preparation. Whether is it being aware of ones own trauma, or being able to offer a helpful ground if others are experiencing a trauma. To be clear, my approach to The Circle Way is about tending fiercely and kindly to the quality of the center that we connect ourselves to. As it pertains to trauma (unless a specifically intended circle to speak to trauma), I encourage people to spoke there energy and attention into the resting place that is between all of us. That uniqueness of circle is a kind of self care.

Another friend from The Circle Way, reminded me recently of the importance of making friends with our own and other’s anxieties. She was reflecting on a book by Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff. Yes, making friends will always matter. It’s not about being perfect, or even knowing exactly what to do. But it is about being in relationship with our traumas, our anxieties, our chaos, and the learning that can uniquely come from them, right?

Best done with friends and good containers.

Own Your Container


In the last month I’ve been able to use Open Space Technology as a key part of working with groups in multi-day gatherings. One of the things that I consistently see, and love, in Open Space is that people open up in a different way. They get what they want and feel a kind of “aha” — even surprised shock, that it worked. A bit like realizing that the simple turning of the key (or pushing the power button) of a car actually does turn it on. I’ve seen the “aha” in participants ranging from the really onboard types all the way to some heavily skeptical types — there’s nothing quite like seeing skepticism cracked open to satisfied accomplishment.

One of my key insights in the last month has been about, what I would call, “owning you container.” Open Space is a container. Just like World Cafe is. And The Circle Way. Yes, there are nuances between them. But they are containers for people to do a particular kind of good within them.

With Open Space, I’ve noticed a myth that feels off to me. It is that there is no structure. “You can do whatever you want.” This is one of those statements that is kind of true, except when it is not. Yes, there is freedom intended and amplified in the process of creating an agenda / market place. Yes, there is freedom in self-organizing where to host and what to host. Yes, there is freedom in the law of two feet — go where you can learn and contribute. But all of these principles of freedom are intended to create, or add to, a sense of responsibility — the group taking responsibility for its learning.

If you own the deeper purpose or responsibility, then self-organized working groups are not anything at all wishy washy. And the “owning the container” part for anyone hosting, is to set structure within which an enormous amount of freedom can flow. It’s just like an Ultimate Frisbee game. Though the game is very fluid, and depends much on honor, there are still rules that create the container that is Ultimate. It’s not the structured plays of an american football game. But it is a container for a particular kind of game to occur that emphasizes working with the moment. To invite people to play Ultimate you must own the boundaries and rules that are Ultimate — or you’ve got something else entirely.

It was one of my friends, Toke Moeller, that I best remember talking with about the “gift of the river bank.” The river bank prevents flooding, creating boundaries for a body of water to flow, never being the exact same river in any two moments. So it is with Open Space and other participative process — flow within a container that is different than scripted steps within a presumption of certainty, often imposed by a few on behalf of many. By being clear in yourself about what is happening in Open Space, oh my, people are deeply satisfied by the gift of that container.