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A Trauma-informed Perspective on the Middle East




Nine years ago, I sat at a peace summit and witnessed an Israeli military nurse, age 22, crying and hugging her peer … from Palestine.


The two of them had just spent a week sitting in talking circles led by facilitators. Before every circle, the facilitators reminded participants to:


1. “Only speak when your heart is pounding, and you feel moved to speak from feeling.”


2. “Share something you feel, not something you know.”


3. “Don’t respond to someone else’s feeling… just let them experience it for themselves.”


One week of being encouraged to share from the heart instead of the mind, and these two young adults from the Middle East, who’d grown up believing that they must be enemies, who had witnessed the consequence of war with their own eyes, found a reflection of themselves in each other.


Today, I live in a Guatemalan town comprised partly of Jewish business owners, with Israeli visitors making up the majority of the tourist population. I, and my Jewish partner, live on Lake Atitlán, where we’re learning about regenerative agriculture and collaborating with our indigenous Mayan neighbors to live symbiotically with nature.


Just over a week ago, the indigenous people took to the streets to protest the Guatemalan government’s alleged attempts to disqualify the president-elect, Bernardo Arevalo, an anti-corruption candidate who recently won in a democratic landslide.


The locals are protesting to uphold democracy – a cause I fully support, regardless of how uncomfortable things become here.


Their demonstrations have shutdown most transportation across the country, left the banks short on cash, and stirred nerves among tourists - many of whom helicoptered out to the capital city to find flights back home - where they expected that their own infrastructures would be more functional. But during that transition, violence erupted in the Middle East, and I’ll never know if those Israeli visitors made it back home … or if they didn’t … The barren streets here are a grim reminder of that each day, and I haven’t been able to sleep.

The Middle East holds sacred space in my soul – especially since I spent significant time in both Palestine and Israel while working as a freelance journalist back in 2019.


I remember being in Palestine’s West Bank and walking along the West Bank Barrier, vocally sobbing as I pressed my hands into the wall and felt cold push back. I felt the energy imprint of history sinking my heart all the way down into my stomach, anguished by the stories reaching for me from inside the paint on the concrete … images depicting experiences lived by Palestinian artists whose families had been forcefully displaced and even murdered. Little did I know at the time, but fate would allow me to meet some of those families.




I’ll tell you later – a bit more about my experiences in Palestine’s West Bank and in Jerusalem and at the Dead Sea, but for now, we must zoom-in on the layers of meaning beneath the surface of world events.


We need to go deeper … into the collective human psyche.


Let’s have ourselves an experience here, for I know that these feelings flowing from my fingertips right now will soon be feelings inside of thousands of people inhabiting the 14+ countries that my newsletter reaches.


These FEELINGS are a thread that weaves us together, across oceans, across ideologies, across skin color, and across whatever flag you’ve been waving over this last week of utter suffering on our planet…


A thread that, if you allow yourself to be touched by, could inspire your next steps, could give you clarity on what you’re meant to do on this volatile planet, why you showed up in this pivotal time in human history, as part of a species facing extinction.


And as we are each interwoven by this thread … some of you Mayan, some of you Native American, some of you African, some Jewish, some Muslim, some Greek, Turkish, Syrian, Korean, Vietnamese, some descendants of settlers and colonists, some fighters, some lovers - but all of us – ALL OF US - carrying the traumatic imprints of a hurting human race.


For two years of my life, I interviewed war veterans about their military experiences and the psychological aftermath of combat. I sat with a different veteran each week, and while each had their own textured experience to share, there was a constant beneath the stories:


An imprint of trauma so deep that it would be passed on in their DNA, to be relived in the psyches and bodies of their children’s children – unless resolved.


But something else stood out to me too - especially when I interviewed the veterans of Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Many shared that the news we were getting back home in the U.S. was different from the reality they were living abroad.


In one case, a veteran, Nathan Smith, remembered sitting in Iraq while simultaneously watching the American media report that Obama had pulled the last of the troops out of Iraq (past tense). Meanwhile, Smith had not received any orders to leave. Not even close. But the Americans back home celebrated as if it were true.


I remember experiencing something similar when I was serving in the Peace Corps in South Africa. Media reports seemed mal-aligned with the lived experiences of the locals. For this reason, self-proclaimed philanthropists and industrial agriculture companies are often applauded for “helping feed the world,” when what they’re really doing is causing more drought, destroying bio-diversity, and massively altering the climate (it’s science … and we can talk about that later).


But nothing illuminated for me the massive manipulation of public perception as much as staying in the West Bank in 2019, where, before traveling to Jerusalem to spend time with friends, I broke bread with Palestinians who lived along the West Bank Barrier. They quickly became family to me – a kind of thing that couldn’t have happened if I believed everything the media and what my friends on the other side of the wall were telling me.


Amid that breaking of bread, I listened to stories of young adults who, at age 5 watched their loved ones being murdered right in front of them, and yet somehow grew up to create a life of normalcy. Can you imagine being five-years-old and having to process an experience like that?


Amid that breaking of bread, I heard other stories too … of tortured souls who were never able to overcome the atrocities of the violent geographic displacement of their families. Young men who felt marginalized, forgotten, and like there was no one in the world to protect them, no media to share their voice, no international audience who was willing to see them for what they were: unfortunate and once innocent kids who’d been dealt a traumatic hand in life in a way that most must turn away from when they see it on television.


These young people felt they had no choice but to seek protection from groups that had the supplies to keep them safe – supplies that are not nearly as technological and far less sophisticated than what the American military uses to perpetuate its very expensive foreign conflicts - including the Israeli Military Occupation of Palestine, which is a constant violation of Palestinian human rights and an act of terrorism.


One thing I learned during my time in both Israel and Palestine, is that the common folk on either side of the wall have far more in common with each other than any of us reading this right now have in common with our own governments (governments who are often the perpetrators and causes of trauma).


Unfortunately, we common folk all LOSE WHEN WE CHOOSE SIDES.





If you’re interested in learning more about what I experienced in the Middle East, the links to those stories will be shared below…


But before you go there, there’s an important point I want to get across. The point that I see the masses missing, especially those of you who are waving your flags on social media.


I don't think that flag IS REPRESENTATIVE of YOUR actual value system. Because what tends to happen when we wave a flag is...


Closing ourselves off to those innocent humans on the other side of the wall, those who lived a different history than your media described to you, those who speak a different language than your media tells you to empathize with. And who, right now, are also being kidnapped, murdered, and pushed out of their homes.


In fact, this very moment, there are 5-year-olds all over the world, some from the very countries receiving this newsletter, who are witnessing atrocity that they may never overcome in their lifetimes.


A traumatic imprint so deep that it will be passed on in their DNA, to be relived in the psyches and bodies their children’s children – unless resolved.


So our Isreali flags, our walls, and our "I stand with..." statements our drive the knife of Palestinian marginalization and forgottenness and voicelessness even deeper into the COLLECTIVE heart of humanity.


This continues to traumatize communities that have been stripped from their voice. Communities like Native Americans, whose own DNA runs through my blood. Communities abroad, whom I’ve personally met and fallen in love with that are forced to watch themselves being inaccurately portrayed by every major media outlet across the world… and told not to speak another word of it on social media or there will be real hell to pay.


Could you imagine … being uprooted from your home, watching your family murdered in front of you, and then the rest of the world waving their flags saying that they stand with the nation that abused you?

OUCH! THAT FUCKING HURTS.


There’s got to be a better way to stand for our CORE VALUES than to choose sides!


And as our species faces its probable extinction because of our dualistic way of viewing life, I think we owe it to ourselves and to each other to step back and consider a fresh, often silenced, and very unpopular perspective.


I know this will be a stretch from the way we’ve been programmed to perceive conflict … that one side is right and the other is wrong. I know that some people will want to yell at me and tell me how wrong I am already… in fact, I’m sure there are some of you who, while reading this are starting to feel your own blood boiling, your blood pressure rising, and your anger is stirring… and in your mind right now, I am becoming the symbol of everything that is wrong in the world, and some part of you really wants to scream that out loud and tell me all about it.


If that’s you… then GOOD. I’m glad that this writing has brought you fully alive within your emotional body. That’s the part of ourselves that we all need to contact right now. The place that we all need to do the deep work. So please, allow yourself to pause for a moment and notice where in your body do you feel that anger and grief. Breathe… and just notice where that is for you …





And now we’re back. Thousands of us across 14+ nations, held together by this common thread of feeling and emotions … and now it’s time to weave us a new human story … So let’s get on with it …


When trauma is unresolved, the psyche and body do something called “re-enactment.” Dr. Peter Levine, a world leading trauma expert knows all about this, and he talks about it in his book, Waking the Tiger (which should be required reading for every human).


This re-enactment takes place because deep within the nervous system of the traumatized individual is this imprint, this FEELING of an imminent threat that is not going away.


And because we are natural beings with an animal nervous system, our bodies need to “complete the escape,” we NEED to experience a feeling of having completed the escape or having won the fight.


It is a biologic, psychologic, and physiologic necessity. (It’s science … but we can talk about that later).


When we don’t get an opportunity to discharge that instinctive survival energy in a safe container, it becomes stuck – literally stuck inside of our bodies and traps our brain in a constant state of threat perception. This is trauma. And we stay trapped in a state of impending doom until we heal it.


When we do not get the opportunity to discharge the trauma in safe and healthy ways, we unconsciously seek out other ways to do it. This happens through TRAUMA RE-ENACTMENT.


Such as trying to avenge our violent past, forcefully displacing humans perceived as threats, building walls to keep them out, organizing terrorist attacks, or using sophisticated technology and American bought weapons to oppress an entire group of people while funding the media to tell a different story.


As someone who has personally witnessed violence as a child, and who’s endured the lifelong journey of healing from complex-PTSD, I can attest that healing this wound requires us to recognize WHEN WE ARE RE-ENACTING TRAUMA – (whether it’s our own trauma or the inherited imprint of our ancestors).


We’ve got to find SAFE places to unleash our stuck survival instincts – to discharge the imprints of trauma from our psyche and our bodies. This is how the brain’s constant perception of threat is healed. As a holistic therapist and trauma specialist, I’ve watched my clients heal this way time and again.


But finding that safe space to heal is almost impossible for anyone living in the Middle East right now. On EITHER side of the wall. But there is a place that we can all go … that just might save us.





When we climb inside the depths of our own anger and despair … into the painful inner world beneath our judgments and flag waving … deep into the hatred, powerlessness, and voicelessness, and we find this aggressive part of ourselves that wants to rip the paint off the walls, pounce on anything that threatens our freedom, jump across the border, march in numbers in the streets, and scream from the top of San Pedró Volcano …


ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! WE’RE NOT TAKING IT ANYMORE!!!!!!!!!!


And as I allow that vocalized instinct to rise from my solar plexus, through my heart, and exit my throat, the wild howls of my inner animal set free the contractions within my soul …


And I see the face of the ones who hurt me … their emotions reaching towards me from the astral realm, grabbing me by the hair of my head… they push my face into a mirror … and I see myself glaring back at me.


It is then… when we’ve allowed ourselves to go beneath the histories and stories and headlines … into the grip of our despair … that we find the truth of our own humanity … that we’re all animals searching for a home, longing to feel safe in this world…


And that we all have the power to help create that safe space, but we must create it FROM OUR HEARTS – NOT FROM OUR TRAUMAS.


Lucky for us, epigenetics research has shown that we can change the EXPRESSION of our genes through lifestyle choices and environmental decisions. (It’s science!)


That means you don't have to pass on your trauma... if you occupy a different type of consciousness.


May we create space within the collective human psyche - where we can see our reflections in each other's eyes and know what it means to feel safe.


All love,


Amanda



 

Click on the titles of the articles below to hear more about my experiences in the Middle East:






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