By Kathe Schaaf and Kay Lindahl
We have heard this all before – a woman stepping forward to tell her story of being sexually assaulted and a powerful man denying the allegations as other men question the integrity of the survivor. At a time when America seems to be wrestling with so many of its own inner demons and with its ugly history of unresolved trauma – this is a complex story for both men and women. The relentlessness with which these kinds of stories keep coming at us is exhausting — and yet it is a precious gift because we are being forced to look at something we have all colluded unconsciously to keep hidden.
Yes, there is a silver lining in this dark cloud of secrets being revealed.
We have talked to men who are awakening to the truth that the world of white male privilege is indeed a world where women are too often subjugated, dominated and treated like sexual objects. We have talked to young women who are shocked to discover the truth that indeed our culture has a long way to go before they can expect gender equity and shared leadership, that the work of feminism is indeed not a relic of the past. We have talked to wise elder women who know the truth that this subjugation of the feminine goes back so far it seems like forever, that the trauma of this subjugation has been encoded into our DNA, that this trauma has the potential to burden and maim future generations.
“Brown is my Spirit color right now.” One of our amazing young leaders spoke these words recently in circle. At this time when we are daily bombarded by reminders of our on-going trauma, Nicole Manieri spoke of the importance of ‘metabolizing trauma’ *. This is vital work, because the unresolved trauma we are carrying around individually and collectively is continuously becoming our culture. She told us she is dreaming about and studying mushrooms right now because of their persistent work of metabolizing and transforming ‘what is dead into the rich life at the forest floor’.
We know that women have something sacred to offer now to help create solid ground upon which we can stand. Women can help to metabolize the trauma that is our history and we can help build islands of healing and sanity. It begins by doing our own inner work to discover and release the trauma of our own ancestral lineage, cultural history and personal experience. Only then can we move on to creating safe spaces where others can tell their stories and speak their truths. In such safe spaces, we value deep listening and circle practices so all the stories can be spoken, witnessed and heard … and we can take the first steps toward reconciliation.
America is a deeply divided country right now as Issues of race and gender are being brought into sharp focus, and the divide seems to be growing deeper and wider with each news cycle. We have begun to see our basic systems and institutions destabilized by our diverging beliefs about what is true and what is good. John Shea in Stories of God writes, “When order crumbles, mystery rises.” Brian McLaren shares a similar wisdom in his book The Great Spiritual Migration when he describes a cycle of spiritual growth that begins with simple certainty, moves into complexity and doubt and then through being perplexed to eventually land in a blessed state of uncertainty.
Sounds like we are exactly where we are supposed to be as we enter this season of autumn. Nature has much to teach us about the importance of decay and decomposition in the miracle of rebirth.
* Nicole recommends the work of Resmaa Menakem – My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies