RUIN AND BEAUTY

DEENA METZGER'S BLOG

WHY WE ARE REVIVING FIRE/WATER CIRCLES TO HEAL WAR – FOR ALL WAR TRAUMATIZED PEOPLE

REVIVING FIRE/WATER CIRCLES TO HEAL WAR – FOR ALL WAR TRAUMATIZED PEOPLE – TOPANGA CALIFORNIA

Increasing violence everywhere on the planet, increasing numbers of people who are victims of violence, whether they are civilians or combatants. Increasing violence in the home and in the streets. Increasing development of horrific weaponry that destroys people, souls and the earth. Increasing violence against wolves, elephants, whales, dolphins, rhinos, birds, trees, water, air, earth, against all the beings of the natural world. Increasing dissociation from the realities of our time, increasing lack of responsibility for our behavior and its effects on others and on the natural world —
— call us each to see what we can do to heal war and its aftermaths.

Members of the Topanga Daré community spent over a year and a half training to become people who could receive the stories of war so that those who have been wounded by war might transform into guardians of peace and guardians of the environment. Healing themselves, the earth, and the world at the same time. Our experiences listening to the war wounded have convinced us that those who know war can, in collaboration with others in community, transform culture so that a true and viable future will emerge for all beings.

Come, sit in the dark, wrapped in a blanket, under the night sky. Owl will come and the chorus of coyotes, those singers. Victim, perpetrator, witness, accuser, bystander, next to each other; the notion of enemy falls away. We are all suffering war. We all want to heal and we want each other to heal so that violence will fall away. Each one’s story breaks open the heart. Each one’s story, no exceptions.

Fire/Water Circles calls us to deep, compassionate, empathetic listening. Call us to community, council, story telling, dream telling, visioning, healing, renewed relationship to the natural world, ceremony and ritual. Our ancestors knew that sitting outside, in the dark, around a fire or by a body of water, unites the hearts of those in the circle and that meaning, peerage and communion, not otherwise available, become possible.

In June 2010, we held ceremony for a former African rebel general who now leads a peacebuilding team, of everyday gandhis that is devoted to bringing healing to child soldiers and ex-combatants, who seeks out former military commanders to examine their past, ask forgiveness, atone. He asked for community ritual and Daré activity so that he could begin to carry the ‘medicine’ of peacebuilding in true alliance with the spirits. He was transformed as he hoped he would be, and so were the members of the circle who received him. We could not ask him to put down his weapons without putting down our own in whatever forms we carry them. The days of circle and ceremony were and remain profoundly healing for all participants.

A mother attended the February 6th, 2011 Daré after saying good-bye to her son who has joined the Marines. She wept for the lies the military has been telling her son, the ways his sweet nature is being distorted and we wept together for his future. There is a photo on our Daré altar for a daughter of a Daré member who, after many tours, is in Iraq again. Each day, when I see her photo, I pray that she will do no harm and come to no harm. The two mothers looked into each other’s eyes from across the room. After the mother of the young marine finished speaking, we knew it was time to revive the Circles to Heal War.

The original Fire/Water Circle to Heal War came from a dream that I had had: “I met Navy Seals who were returning to Iraq though greatly wounded. They couldn’t talk to me or to Daré yet, but said they would be sustained by the knowledge that the community would be present to help them heal and make amends when they were discharged.”

Increasingly, we receive dreams about war and peacebuilding and we have been changed by these dreams. We invite the dreamers, anyone carrying such dreams, to join us as the dreams bring essential messages from the spirits.

Over the last years, many veterans, veteran’s families, victims of war have gathered at Daré. Too many of these veterans or members of their families or families of soldiers in active duty are of Native American origin. So many driven to the military because of horrific, unchanging, unending poverty. They often speak of carrying the double wound of fighting wars that they learn are illegitimate and so violate their warrior traditions, and fighting wars that desecrate the earth that Native American and Indigenous wisdom traditions are called to protect and preserve.

A Metis (Cherokee) woman who does shamanic healing work with veterans and military people said she is “unwinding the curse of the Trail of Tears.”

Iraq Veterans Against the War sent out the following notice today, February 11, 2011: “We are energized by the revolution in Egypt brought about by the peaceful mass movement of Egyptians from all walks of life. … we here at IVAW are drawing an important lesson that we hope Americans will take to heart — democratic regime change does not have to come with foreign invasion and overwhelming violence. However, 23,000 soldiers will be deploying to Afghanistan to replace the 101st Airborne Division returning home this month. Many of these replacement soldiers have served in previous deployments and are suffering from un-treated trauma such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Military Sexual Trauma, and Traumatic Brain Injury….”

It is time to re-open the Daré door and our hearts to those traumatized by war. We are open to hearing the stories that must be told, the stories that are too difficult to carry alone, the stories at the core of the PTSD so many are carrying. We wish to do what we can to help heal these traumas and to be effective in changing the circumstances that create more and more trauma and violence at home as well as in combat. The planet cannot survive more wars- we know this – and we offer ourselves to meet this crisis. We want to collaborate to change consciousness and heal war.

Let us gather to meet this crises together. Please join us as we renew our efforts on behalf of peace.

If you are a veteran, a soldier, a member of a military family, the relative of a soldier, an individual or a friend or relative of someone who has been injured or traumatized by war, please come. If you are a member of Daré, please come to hear and receive the stories and to do your own work of giving up war.

For more information, please write deenametzger@deenametzger.com or dwild4deena@ca.rr.com.

***

As I posted this on Face Book, I began re-reading Judith Herman M.D.’s Trauma and Recovery, Basic Books, 1992.

After reading and contemplating the quotes that follow, it becomes clear why we are being called to meet in circle. Every unhealed victim of violence, every war-traumatized person, unwittingly contributes to the perpetration, intensification and recurrence of violence and war. Every person healing from trauma is a potential peacemaker.

***
Here are a few quotations to contemplate from her ”Afterword: The Dialectic of Trauma Continues”.

“The study of psychological trauma is an inherently political enterprise because it calls attention or the experience of oppressed people.”

“Only an ongoing connection with a global political movement for human rights can ultimately sustain our ability to speak about unspeakable things.”

“In the five years since the book’s publication, (1992) new victims of violence have numbered in the millions.”

“The massive communal atrocities committed during the course of wars in Europe, Asia and Africa …”

“Within the US, a number of large-scale community studies have demonstrated that, even in peacetime, exposure to violence is both more commonplace and more damaging than anyone would like to believe.”

“It has become clear that traumatic exposure can produce lasting alterations in the endocrine, autononomic and central nervous systems.”

“…dissociation lies at the heart of the traumatic stress disorders. Studies of disasters, terrorist attacks, and combat have demonstrated that people who enter a dissociative state at the time of the traumatic event are those most likely to develop long-lasting PTSD. … Though dissociation offers a means of mental escape at the moment when nor other escape is possible, it may be that this respite from terror is purchased at far too high a price.”

“The next generation of researchers [of dissociation in traumatic stress disorders] may lack the passionate intellectual and social commitment that inspired many of the most creative earlier investigations. Early investigators often felt strong personal bonds and political solidarity with trauma survivors, regarding them less as objects of dispassionate curiosity than as collaborators in a shared cause. This kind of closeness and mutuality may be difficult to sustain in a scientific culture…. Yet without it, the possibility of authentic understanding is inevitably lost.”

“The collaborative working relationship with the trauma survivor also remains the cornerstone of treatment of PTSD. The principle of restoring human connection and agency remains central to the recovery process and no technical therapeutic advance is likely to replace it.”

“Insight into the recovery process may also be gained by drawing upon the wisdom of the majority of trauma survivors worldwide, who never get formal treatment of any kind. …most survivors must invent their own methods, drawing on their individual strengths and the supportive relationships naturally available to them in their own communities.”

“…safety requires putting an immediate stop to the violence, containment if not disarmament of the aggressors and provisions for the basic survival needs of the victims. All of the classic political conflicts between victims, perpetrators, and bystanders have been reenacted in these most recent peacemaking and peacekeeping efforts. Once again, victims have been outraged by the apparent indifference and passivity of bystanders.”

“In the aftermath of systematic political violence, entire communities can display symptoms of PTSD, trapped in alternating cycles of numbing and intrusion, silence and reenactment. Recovery requires remembrance and mourning. …restoring a sense of social community requires a public forum where victims can speak their truth and their suffering can be formally acknowledged.

“Like traumatized individuals, traumatized countries need to remember, grieve and atone for their wrongs in order to avoid reliving them.”

“Perpetrators [of massive political crimes] will do anything in their power to preserve the principle of impunity. They demand amnesty, a political form of amnesia.”

“In South Africa the officially established Truth and Reconciliation Commission has offered perpetrators a limited time period in which amnesty will be granted in return for public confession. Implicit in this bargain is the belief that if full justice cannot be achieved, public acknowledgement of the truth is more important than punishment of the perpetrators.”

“… newly established democracies have had to contend with a past record of abuses that were endemic to the entire political system. … without some form of public acknowledgement and restitution, all social relationships remain contaminated by the corrupt dynamics of denial and secrecy. Our own society {USA] faces a similar dilemma with respect to the legacy of slavery.”

“The problem of coming to terms with endemic abuses of power also pertains to crimes of sexual and domestic violence.”

“…creating a protected space where survivors can speak their truth is an act of liberation.”

***

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16 responses to “WHY WE ARE REVIVING FIRE/WATER CIRCLES TO HEAL WAR – FOR ALL WAR TRAUMATIZED PEOPLE

  1. Laura February 12, 2011 at 5:36 am

    thank you for this potent offering. reminder. urgent inspiration. I am reading it on my first morning in Haiti since w were evacuated during the demonstrations in late November. Supplied and encouraged by your words, I put my foot down on doing the trainings as we had before. So this time we are going into the camps, streets and orphanages to meet people where they have bravely chosen to work with children having so little.. and recognizing the importance of having children tell their stories. thank you. thank you. I long to sit in this circle and listen with all of you. I long to take the training and learn more about this act of reception and transformation.. love, Laura

  2. Deena Metzger February 12, 2011 at 8:30 am

    Laura, I am so moved and grateful that you read this in Haiti where you are working with story and healing in the aftermath of the earthquake, rains. Some of those reading this, may also know that Ishmael Beath, the extraordinary young man who testified and wrote about the circumstances of a child soldier, “A Long Way Home: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier” is your son and so you know, intimately, what it takes to heal from war and become a peacemaker. I am / we are with you – as you are with us — we are beginning, yet again, the essential healing that can release us from the grips of war. I awakened this morning knowing that healing is intimate and war is increasingly detached – drones operated by men in Texas killing people in Pakistan. And so, this morning, this intimate contact as we each – so many of us – in different parts of the world, set out on behalf of restoring beauty and hope

  3. Laura February 12, 2011 at 8:47 am

    Oh Deena, whenever you write and respond I am so held. I do feel that you are here. We had a pre premeeting and I felt so informed by what you wrote. There is so much ache here. the intimacy of healing is so vital. I am keeping a diary and will share as much as I can for anyone who would like to read it. I made a wordpress blog. I have to find it today and actually open it up. my love to you. this message of the intimacy of healing and the disconnection of war is essential. deep bows to you .. with love, laura

  4. Deena Metzger February 12, 2011 at 9:03 am

    I took the liberty of posting your first response on FB as well. We are in this together. And I am sure you will bring some of the Haitian stories into the world too. D

  5. One of Deena's students February 12, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    Though I’ve never been to war, I am a survivor of a level of chronic violence than many shy away from and cannot bear witness to. I’ve used my experiences to understand the deep effects of trauma and violence in people’s lives. First of all, thank you for posting these quotes and for reading Herman–I’ve found as a survivor of complex trauma and as a psychologist who’s studied (this was heavy in my own dissertation material) and worked with people who’ve been traumatized, this is probably the best and most understanding and compassionate resource out there. It does not blame, but explains, and I think it’s essential for those who work with survivors, including those who’ve known war, to really know all this.

    Second, though, an understanding I’ve come to, not so much from the psychological path, but from the spiritual path, really, really is that the difference between survivor/victim and perpetrator is often in name only. The behavior is not OK, but those who act violently usually do so because what they’ve known is violence. The level of rage those of us who’ve known chronic violence is extraordinary, and we all carry it; we’re all capable of acting on it.

    How does one heal something so deep? How can those who’ve known either or both sides of violence not only heal themselves but the bigger problem of war, abuse, etc. in the world in a sustainable way. Once, when praying about the violence we as a species have perpetrated on the earth—that time in the form of the Gulf disaster—you were told to not just bear witness, but to be with the one that is hurting. I wonder if the answer is love. Including loving the perpetrators…..they’re acting out of pain, too. In war, could it be possible for the powers-that-be to love the “other” powers-that-be?

    “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace”. . .

  6. Deena Metzger February 12, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    Loving the perpetrators in these historic times, seems to mean loving ourselves as well. And what if that love also diminishes violence?
    Would that mean seeing each person’s – and government’s? – and armies’? – activity as a result of trauma that person/soldier/ government had themselves experienced? Saying No, absolutely no, to the violence anyone, including oneself, is enacting while also feeling compassion for the history that leads to such violence. I know someone whose life changed profoundly when she saw that her very violent father had been a stowaway at age 15 or 16 – landing in a foreign country where he didn’t know anyone or the language. This didn’t make the wounds from where he kicked her any less painful, but it did help her soul heal from the wounds and then she became another person. A very compassionate person without an enemy father.
    Can we see that the one committing violence is also suffering?
    My hope is that sitting together and speaking out stories to each other and listening deeply will create a well of strength that will bring peace — not by the by – but because we find ways to enact a peacemaking culture together. I believe this and i see no alternative.

  7. Sharon Simone February 12, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    In 1989, I filed a civil suit with one of my sisters against our father, a former FBI agent and child abuse expert. It was not a decision made lightly. Several key needed insights found their way to my conscience before I made the final decision to sue my father. One came via a friend who said, that I must read a particular article in the April 3, 1989 edition of the New Yorker. A month ago I subscribed to the online edition of the New Yorker specifically so I could retrieve that article: A Reporter at Large ~ The Great Exception, Part I. Liberty. I had been thinking about the various exigencies present that ended in this difficult choice to sue a parent and why THIS remedy for a childhood filled with physical, sexual and emotional abuse felt necessary.

    The subject of this article was the question of what to do with former torturers in countries that were moving from dictatorships to fledgling democracies. A group of academics, clerics, attorneys and activists from Uganda, Chile, South Africa, Guatemala, Haiti, Brazil, and Argentina met as part of the Aspen Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to open-minded inquiry into serious issues facing groups, nations, etc. They took up the question of what to do with former torturers of oppressive regimes that had been toppled or forced to surrender. The major problem facing these fledgling democracies was that the populace would be forced to live alongside their torturers, individuals and groups who had committed atrocities and who were demanding amnesty for their crimes. Two imperatives came to the fore over and over in all the countries: a demand for justice and truth. Here is one of the statements that spoke directly to my own wrestling with the abuse of my father wrought on my mother (domestic violence) and we
    seven children:

    “If anything, the desire for truth is often more urgently felt by the victims of torture than the desire for justice. People don’t necessarily insist that former torturers go to jail–there has been enough jail–but they do want to see the truth established. Fragile, tentative democracies time and again wrestle over this issue of truth. It’s a mysteriosly powerful, almost magical notion, because often everybody knows the truth–everyone knows who the torturers were and what they did, the torturers know that everyone knows that they know. Why, then, this need to risk everything in order to render that knowledge explicit.”

    In the case of our family and the decades of violence we experienced and that I saw wrecking havoc on my own six children and a granddaughter (owing to the fact that I had buried the trauma or believed I had escaped unscathed until my forties) I knew that the path out had something to do with my telling the truth about what happened to myself and to my father, and to my whole family. I experienced a deep desire for the truth to be told. Part of that desire stemmed from having three of my adolescent children actively suicidal and waking up to the fact that there had to be a connection between how I had been treated and what was visiting my children (drug addiction alcoholism, battering relationships). The need for the truth I believe had everything to do with saving my children. It was a first step.

    The second statement from the New Yorker article that was the final understanding I needed to proceed with the civil suit. The participants from the various countries gathered were puzzling over what it appeared to be so critical that the knowledge of the torture be made explicit. A professor of philosophy and law from New York University found his way to this answer: “It’s the differences between knowledge and acknowledgment. It is what happens and can only happen to knowledge when it becomes officially sanctioned, when it is made part of the PUBLIC COGNITIVE SCENE.” Another of the participants responded: “Yes, and that transformation is sacramental.”

    My sister and I ultimately won the civil suit and for nine years the rupture of our family was cataclysmic with sisters divided against brothers and more.

    However, that was not the end of the story. We reconciled with our father three years before he died. My children met their grandfather and made room for him around our Thanksgiving table and he came, without shame, and was loved. There is so much more, but for now, this is what I wanted to write in response to what Deena invited and called us to this morning in her letter. I believe in healing. Hope has a longer half-life than violence.

  8. Deena Metzger February 13, 2011 at 8:24 am

    You are describing the processes that Judith Herman articulates and what I studied for some time when reading about torture, particularly through Lawrence Wechsler’s book A Miracle, A Universe: Settling Accounts with Torturers. I wonder if he was one of the participants in the Aspen Institute inquiry.
    There is essential information in the lacunae between your penultimate and final paragraph. How do we get from “…sisters divided against brothers and more.” to “We reconciled with our father…”? Forgiveness, or reconciliation, not only for the sake of the parties involved, but for the sake of the society as a whole. Fire/water Circles to Heal War, call us to heal the times – as the individuals heal. Knowing you and your sisters and your granddaughter, I know that this is part of your commitment and an aftermath of your healing.
    And for your father’s part, it might have helped him had he been able to study Phil Cousinau’s new book “Beyond Forgiveness: Reflections on Atonement.”

  9. mickey morgan February 28, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    Deena,
    Very virtuous work . . . I rejoice in what you are doing. Please read War and the Soul: Healing Our Nation’s Veterans from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by Edward Tick (Dec 30, 2005). Contact my sister Bonnie Morgan on Web Trail in Topanga (blueskynet@verizon.net); we have a 20-yr-old nephew in Afghanistan infantry; my son just did 5 years in the Marines, fortunately as a network administrator.
    peace, joy, light,
    mickey morgan

  10. mickey morgan February 28, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    p.s. He is now in his first year at Georgetown Univ. studying war crimes, genocide, abolition of the death penalty, and will be going to Guantanamo for a summer internship with Attorney David Nemes

  11. Deena Metzger February 28, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    Dear Mickey:

    Ed Tick is a very good friend and has been here many times. My husband, Michael Ortiz Hill, traveled back to Vietnam with Ed. He was also at one of the first Fire/Water Circles to Heal War. Please contact your sister and ask her to join our mailing list by going on my website http://www.deenametzger.com so she can receive notices about our work. The next Fire Circle will be march 16th. Bless you and your family – may they be safe and do no harm. Deena

  12. Deena Metzger February 28, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    May all the veterans have the fortune and develop the consciousness of your son. It is our belief here that those who really know war can be the true peacemakers. It seems your son’s life supports this belief.

  13. Ani Rose March 8, 2011 at 7:51 am

    Oh thank you. I just re-sent the information to everyone I know, re-posted at facebook and more. Herman’s book has LONG been THE sacred text on surviving trauma of all kinds and I am always surprised how many have not even heard of it, or her work.
    I’m an artist, with background in psych/counseling, an ordained minister of ALL-denominations, a mom, and a survivor of severe trauma from birth. I KNOW the connections survivors of all forms of war HAVE, and need to be sharing more. I just yesterday sent out a proposal for a local support group – inviting veterans and survivors of abuse. I live in a HUGE military space (colorado springs, colorado) and there is very little here in terms of this kind of healing work. We, who have done the surviving, have within us our own best medecine, and sharing this with others is the greatest possible gift to give. Perhaps starting with soem education and support, we can move into the healing circles as you are doing, Deena. Thank you. What you do whwere you are, touches us all.

  14. Deena Metzger March 8, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Dear Ani Rose: Last year, we called together a circle, entitled Healing Community at Every Crossroad. We wanted to gather medical people and medicine people, elders and youngers with the idea of being on call for the community. I was aware as we met, that we have to learn to offer medicine TOGETHER – and that a community meeting spontaneously, as needed. when there is a need can be the best medicine for each individual, the community and the future. To have a physician, for example, a grandmother and a police officer ( all off duty but within their wisdom and knowledge) meeting an incident of violence, for example, and perhaps calling in one of the local and competent teenagers to offer her/his wisdom too could make a great difference in our communities. How can we work this out with compassion and empathy? is, for me, always a useful question. Survivors of abuse and veterans of war – all war traumatized people together, healing each other and the world and earth – – a good idea — I encourage you. Why not come to Daré one day?

  15. Ani Rose March 18, 2011 at 10:25 am

    thank you for the encouragement and more. I would love to come to Dare …. I’ll look more into this.

    Yes, the idea of bringing wisdom from all sides, all forms of experience, just makes the most sense. Our society, lives, are so deeply full of separations, and isolation, so many systemic things, and mind-sets perpetuating isolation and separateness — that which is the mostly deeply UNtrue.
    Consciously creating moments of greater and greater diverse one-ness seems really important. No survivor is ONLY her or his experience of trauma. Alot of “treatment” is one-sided, and then you “graduate” to the real world. (?) The focus is on what was ill, and perpetuates separation in one’s own life and with others. If we could seek the medecine of ALL people who have the capactiy to HEAL in common… because we do… then all are mor rich, and all move forward in some together manner, integrating and binding and accepting what is in common FIRST (rather than the opposite.)

    The above link for the Dare community is no longer working. I suppose I can find it elsewhere here? I’ll look.

    PS I am “reading” FERAL. I LOVE the development of seeing….what COULD it be like to live in truth… I do in fact dream (with expectation) for the more simple and primal daily living. I will BE THERE when it happens… like living a lucid dream….. :) Thank you for writing that book.

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