Blog 1. Expectations and reflections at the beginning of the program.

The biggest question on my mind as I drove down to Monterey on Sunday afternoon from the Bay Area was what the balance of theory to practice would be in this program. I feared too much theory, because I find that practice and simulation build confidence in me – I see myself actually doing something – whereas reading too much about it without doing anything physically tends to sap my confidence – could I actually do this in real life? Me? Actually?

It was interesting to hear Pushpa say on Sunday that her concern is making sure there’s enoughtheory. I do want to know the basis and justification for what we’re doing, but I do want some opportunities to see what I’m made of. As someone with chronically low confidence, I greatly benefit from seeing myself in action and realizing that yes, I can do this. Unfortunately, I seem to need to see the proof of my own competence again and again.

Why am I here? The short answer is that I’m here because of a class last semester with Pushpa called storytelling for change. In this class, I happened to read one article from the optional reading list that Pushpa provided, and this article was about “chosen trauma,” which is trauma that is passed down through generations, and contrary to what its name implies, is not intentionally acquired. I realized that something along those lines had happened to me.

For this class, we were also required to write a personal story about our area of passion and where it came from in our lives in response to some prompts. In writing my story in response to the prompts, I at first wrote about my passion for working with immigrants and refugees and looked to my college education for the roots of my interest in other cultures and language to explain my passion. Pushpa asked me to dig deeper. I looked deeper, and I saw my family’s trauma history. Suddenly, everything made sense: my interest in refugees but also the fact that I always read the articles about prisons and imprisoned people in the New York Times; the fact that I thought about foster children and “at-risk” youth with a sort of longing and curiosity to get involved, but not the confidence to do so; my summer interpreting at an organization in Baltimore called Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma. The common thread, I realized, was trauma – trauma was frequently a part of the life experiences of each of these groups. And suddenly I saw my own life as a string of explorations with healing modalities – yoga teacher training, meditation retreats, craniosacral therapy, somatic experiencing, boxing training, etc., etc., to deal with an understand the difficulties I experienced.

But I’m also a very lonely person. I think that’s why I never really wanted to become a therapist, even though I often considered it, and still do. I just don’t want to sit in my own private office by myself and see people one at a time. That would only increase the sense of isolation. I want to be in community, with community. I want to feel like I belong somewhere. That’s why I want to do my work, trauma healing, in communities. That’s where peacebuilding comes in. Of course, I doubt I have enough experience and training to actually help anyone else resolve their trauma at this point. But at least I can get involved with organizations that do what I am interested in and see where it leads me.

The standard narrative for someone in my position would be how much I have to offer and how much I want to help. But that’s not a narrative I can write. Two weekends ago I went to a weekend program called Risk of the Self. It’s part of a community and program that works with white people to explore white conditioning and structural violence in the US. One thing we noticed over this weekend was how many of us had learned, as children, to suppress our feelings of having needs. We learned to not express our needs and to instead try to meet them by ourselves, or to push them aside, out of fear of being “needy,” disliked, pushed away, or disappointed by others not understanding us or being unwilling to help. That program helped clarify for me that I need to be honest about what I’m seeking and why I’m seeking it. I am seeking connection, belonging, and to be part of something bigger than myself. Perhaps I will travel the world and discover that I’m actually running away from some part of myself, or that everything I am seeking, I already possess. But until that happens, I have to keep seeking.