I have been thinking about this text that I came across last week: “Navigating Trauma in the Face of Contemporary Culture, Displacement, and Ecological Destruction” by Bonnie Bright.
This was a powerful text for me that tied together some of the ideas I have been exploring around how people with multi-sensory intelligence have been displaced in our societies, framing them within the notion of “the Age of Trauma” and explaining it using native cultures and the terrible losses they suffered over the last 5 centuries.
Bright argues that modern humans live in an era of trauma:
“Robert Stolorow, in “Empathic Civilization” in an Age of Trauma goes as far as to designate the contemporary era an “Age of Trauma” because, according to him, the “tranquilizing illusions of our everyday world seem in our time to be severely threatened from all sides” (para. 2). He refers to ongoing and increasing global issues like global warming, terrorism, and economic collapse, all of which raise issues of existential vulnerability and threaten to annihilate the core framework by which we make sense of our existence.”
This notion of era of trauma resonated very strongly with me for many reasons. First, it took me back to about 20 years ago when I went to an exposition of Germanic History in Berlin. I remember being shocked by the violence of this history. The expo only covered the last 500 years but they were marked by constant wars and conflicts, a history shared by all other European countries. Yes, an era of trauma. Walking through East Berlin after the wall went down felt very much like people were in some post-traumatic shock stupor. Our civilization will be remembered as one of the darkest, so many display of force, anger, violence and oppression recorded all over the world. Raping of women and children, cultures, the earth and its treasures. The last 5,000 years have been marked by groups imposing themselves on others and usually traumatizing the other groups.
According to Bonnie Bright:
“ In his book The Inner World of Trauma, Donald Kalsched uses the word trauma to mean any experience that causes unbearable psychic pain or anxiety. For an experience to be “unbearable” means that it overwhelms the usual defensive measures which protect us from perceiving horror and pain. The distinguishing feature of trauma of this magnitude is what Heinz Kohut called disintegration anxiety, an “unnameable dread associated with the threatened dissolution of a coherent self” (as cited in Kalsched, 1996, p. 1). This kind of anxiety portends the complete annihilation of the human personality. For the U’wa, the trauma created by the very concept of violating their living sacred land, the mother of them all for whom they are responsible, was “unbearable,” threatening to completely dissolve the way of life, the values, the worldview—indeed the very tribe itself.”
Here is that notion of disintegration again, but this time applied to the psychology of a group. But again, the point is that in order to evolve we must past through a disintegration phase:
“ Ultimately, trauma is a transition that moves us to a threshold, what Casey (Getting Back into Place) refers to as spatial areas of transition. This threshold places us at the portal to a new way of being, a new home, even if for the time being. It locates us in a place of potentiality. In some indigenous rites of passage, as the initiate goes by, the villagers open their doors to witness the initiate and to symbolize the opening of the way. We are all in this together. We all belong to the earth. Whether it be the U’wa who locate their authentic selves and the very soul of their tribe in the face of the ultimate impossible choice to enter a great wide chasm that hosts death, or the Borderlanders who hold space with their pain while the rest of the world begins to wake up, memory–and narrative of that memory– can create a sense of sacred space, a place where everything belongs and has meaning. The memory, the narrative, the witnessing all carry us to the open door, the edge of the very precipice where something new awaits, a homecoming to the place where the new skin made tender by trauma can be touched by the first rays of gentle sun that rise beyond the horizon of pure potentiality.”
This loss of identity does not limit itself to cultural groups but can, and often does, happen to gifted and/or sensory intelligent individuals who experience normal life as trauma, as is explained in the brilliant book and one of my first readings on gifteness: “The drama of the gifted child”, by Alice Miller which was given to me by a dear friend, many years ago. The Drama of the Gifted Child explains the loss of identity experienced by gifted children who try to become what their parents project upon them and in the process loosing their own sense of self. Miller explains how depression is often the result of suppressing emotions and how as adults we must learn to see through our own mechanisms of self-deception. Only then can we become self-aware once the unconscious and conscious mind coexist and inform each other, the alternative for the gifted child is the lived drama of never really being, knowing and loving oneself.
It is important to remember that highly sensitive and gifted children experience the world differently and while suppressing or repressing feelings and their abilities to sense may help navigate “normal” situations in life, for these children it is equivalent to removing water and food from their bodies, leaving them in states similar to that of the U’wa. But one added difficulty for gifted and highly sensitives children is that they are not born into a tribe that shares and embodies knowledge about their gifts. They are often alone, with no to little guidance on how to grow and develop a value system that celebrates their body and senses as sacred gifts from the earth.
Oddly, this is where new media can help. First and foremost these kids need communities of like minded individuals. Given that their gifts often isolates them within their family or school life, networks becomes a means for them to grow in relationship to others and potential reach their full potential and learn in ways that empower them and hopefully over time, develop their own unique value system and to find themselves by articulating their voices and hopefully connect to their spiritual selves. Spirituality is understood in accordance to John Heron’s definition: “as located in the interpersonal heart of the human condition where people co-operate to explore meaning, build relationship and manifest creativity through collaborative action inquiry into multi-modal integration and consummation.”
Michel Bauwens, in the article “The Next Buddha Will Be a Collective “, claims that contemporary society is evolving towards a dominance of distributed networks, with peer to peer based social relations, and that this will affect spiritual expression in fundamental ways.
Bauwens believes that peer to peer is the outgrowth of deep changes in ontology (ways of being), epistemology (ways of knowing) and axiology (value constellations). One key change is the desire of individuals to create and share, to produce something useful and meaningful for many:
“There is overwhelming evidence that the evolution of consciousness is marching on, moving from collective living, where the individual was totally embedded in the life patterns of the collective; through a gradual, often painful, process of individuation, with the emphasis on the will and sovereignty of the individual; to what is emerging in our time: a conscious return to collectivism where individuated, or self-actualised, individuals voluntarily – and temporarily – pool their consciousness in a search for the elusive collective intelligence which can help us to overcome the stupendous challenges now facing us as a species as a consequence of how our developmental trajectory has manifested on the physical plane thus far .. . So human evolution has something to do with human consciousness awakening first to itself, then to its own evolution and to a recognition and finally an embodied experience of the ways in which we are organically part of a larger whole. As we enter this new stage of individual/collective awakening, individuals are being increasingly called to practice the new life-form composed of groups of individuated individuals merging their collective intelligence.”
I can imagine a time when HS and gifted children of today forming incredible pools of knowledge and creating new fields of understanding and perception that they will express and communicate in virtual spaces. I hope that at such time we will have a much more holistic approach to what intelligence means. I am starting to understand intelligence very differently. It seems to me that intelligence is much more about mastery of our sensors to help us create new knowledge and ways of being and the more I frame it round notion of experience, different categories emerge. I hope that we collectively will eventually moved away from thinking high achieving or intellectual skills mean intelligence and focus on other areas such as creative, emotional, social and sensory intelligence.