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Righting the Rocking Chair

A few evenings ago I was cozied up in the living room in a rocking chair, talking with Rob while he played with our 1-year-old son Alder. Suddenly I felt myself toppling over backwards as the rocking chair somehow lost its equilibrium, even though I hadn’t been rocking. I felt shocked and frightened as I fell. When I quickly picked myself up, I saw Alder looking at me with an expression that must have mirrored my own moment of surprise and worry, as he began the kind of panting cry that tells us he’s scared. I comforted him and he soon got back up to play, or at least that’s what I thought. Instead, Rob and I watched him toddle over to his beloved rocking horse, which was next to the rocking chair, and push it over on its side. He then started trying to pick it back up, looking to us for help, and we obliged. After repeating his knocking over and righting of the horse, he then moved over to the rocking chair and tried to tip it over backwards as he’d seen happen when I was sitting in it. So we helped him tip it over, and then right it again. He wanted to go through this process another 4 or 5 times. By the end he appeared totally calm again and went on his merry way to other play.

Watching him process this experience has gotten me thinking about how we integrate trauma, and how this applies to the work of Movimiento. Granted, watching your mom fall over slowly in a rocking chair is relatively low on the trauma scale, but the feelings of fear, shock, and worry are visceral all the same. What can we learn from a baby’s natural impulse to recreate the circumstances that just scared him, exploring how things might go differently, asking for help, watching a different result take place, re-patterning our neural pathways right then and there?

Often we find ourselves repeating traumatic events years later, usually unconsciously. We choose mates (or work situations, or friendships) who call us into all our old response patterns, even though we think we’ve fallen for someone decidedly different. Likely our subconscious selves are wielding great intelligence, helping us into opportunities to heal, to push the rocking chair over and then right it again. But in those scary moments of “Oh no, I’ve been here before, oh no, I’ve felt this way before, please get me out of here!” we are of course tempted to run. This is not a bad thing: running and all our other old response patterns are what helped us, what kept us physically and psychologically safe, so we owe these coping strategies a deep bow of gratitude and respect. Nevertheless, as adults we find ourselves in situations where we get to find new pathways, re-story our past, plant seeds for a much differently experienced present.

There are many wonderful therapeutic modalities now for processing and integrating trauma: wilderness therapy, somatic experiencing, equine therapy, mindfulness, prenatal/perinatal techniques, EMDR, sand tray and expressive arts therapy, and many more. Thankfully, if we know where to look and listen, we also still have cultural hints of the real ceremony and ritual practices our ancestral communities knew how to hold when a person needed trauma healing. Song, prayer, communication with land and animals and spirit, making things with our hands—these are some of the threads we can follow.

How does all this live within the Movimiento work? The young people we work with have all experienced significant trauma, whether it be from living in a violent neighborhood, seeing friends or family members killed, growing up in refugee camps before immigrating to the US, experiencing drug and alcohol addiction in their families, or experiencing hundreds of micro-aggressions (“small” instances of racism, elitism, etc.) that over time build up into full fledged trauma.

Movimiento becomes a healthy “family” within which young people can voice what they’re feeling, share their life stories, and test their limits, knowing they will be given opportunities to take risks, be nurtured, and explore the world and themselves. Over time, they heal their traumas through being in nature, being seen, telling their biographies, connecting with new people in other places who have experienced similar difficulties, practicing yoga, growing and eating vibrant food, and feeling loved.

Rob and I are working on a plan to purchase land and create a land-based learning center where our youth can stay for residencies and programs. I’ll elaborate on this vision sometime soon in another blog post, but for now suffice to picture a place with a flourishing farm, horses and sheep and other animals, tree houses, yurts, a pond, creek, wild nooks, community gatherings, ceremonies, traditional crafts, our private practice therapy office, and cultural events.

Alder Rocking Horse