What a Mountain Head Injury can Teach Us about Healing, all kinds of Healing.
Since the Alabama pilgrimage in May, I’ve struggled to write. At this time in our country, our world, the scope I’m moved to write about extends far beyond tips for the common cold. In order to make broader sense of this time in our country for myself, I’ve returned to the mountains for metaphor and guidance.
Gravity is an interesting force, particularly when combined with something pleasing to the eye (thimble berries), strong forward momentum of a brisk hiking pace and the weight of a robust body with backpack. In a fraction of a finger snap this August, these forces combined to land me face down on the trail. Blood dripping from my head, I stood, gingerly and said quietly to myself, “You okay? I think you’re okay. You okay?” I was coming down from three glorious, solo days in the Buckhorn Wilderness. Rest assured, I am well. And, here are some learnings from the fall, from the recovery, that I believe apply to many kinds of healing. I’ll trust you to engage this material in as personal or global terms as suits you.
- Ground through your feet. This applies when we are attending to physical injury, managing the stress of school and work, raising children, grieving a loss, healing and integrating long term emotional trauma (childhood harm, a lifetime of proximity to addiction, navigating systematic oppression). The earth is beneath us. We gain weight, lose weight, the earth doesn’t care. She’ll catch us, steadfast. With a long exhale, we can find strength by connecting to the earth, even when the tectonic plates of our lives and world are in chaos. This River Rock practice can support us in grounding and settling the nervous system, and discerning next steps from steady footing.
- Stop the Bleeding. In first aid terms, we do this before anything else. In our bodies, we often have to address acute symptoms, before we can really explore the root of the problem. On the mountain, after standing and feeling my feet on the ground, I had to mop my head until the bleeding stopped before I could tape myself back together and walk. Many in our country are ‘bleeding‘ and worse. Considering your sphere of influence, and your own capacity, where might you stop the bleeding? One clear expression of this is current efforts to transform police accountability in WA. This powerful 9 minute testimony is a response to the police shooting of 28 year old Atatiana Jefferson. Throughout Washington State, 32 people have been killed by police this year; many unarmed, some in mental health crisis. ‘Stop the bleeding‘ = policies and culture resulting in our law enforcement equally protecting and valuing all bodies.
- We need support from others. Having cleaned things out and patched myself together as best I could, I began the 4-5 mile hike out. I encountered a couple hiking in, about 20 minutes down trail. They were willing to apply some butterfly bandages that I couldn’t do myself. We are designed to journey and support each other: in our communities, in our injuries, in our collaborative endeavors for racial and social justice, acquiring food to eat, repairing streets, and building houses. We cannot do it alone. Even though dominant culture in this country would have us believe otherwise. Even though I adore solo mountain time, I, too, need support. If you are feeling fatigued or dispirited in your own efforts, reach out to others who may inspire and support you and your resiliency.
- Focused attention serves our survival. The journey down, I was in full fight~flight~freeze, and I was flying. Didn’t realize it. I was just in it. Peripheral vision was narrowed. There was only trail and care on the trail. Heart was pumping hard into my extremities as I barreled down at a brisk, albeit attentive, pace. In my day to day life, as a Master’s educated white woman in Seattle, I can move with ease and privilege pretty much all the time. Due to systematic forces of oppression in our country and world, many people have to invest massive energy just navigating the trail. I observe my own thought, speech and actions in this light continually musing how am I hogging the trail? How am I hindering others? How can I not take up all the space or offer support to those working so much harder than me just to survive. Consider how your behavior, conscious or unconscious, may be hindering or impacting other people, their survival. Their ability to thrive.
- Sometimes, others can offer a different perspective on our wounds and circumstances. After reaching the trailhead, I had another 90 minutes of driving before I landed at the nearest open Urgent Care in Poulsbo. Christine, the receptionist, kindly welcomed me. As we chatted I gazed around the full waiting room and asked if it would be a long wait. She looked at me with an eyebrow raised, looked at my forehead, contained a scoff of a laugh, “Oh no! We’ll be taking you right back.” Guess I was a bit of a hot mess. Sometimes we’re so INSIDE our own reality, we need others to hold up a mirror. It’s not always fun, sometimes profoundly painful even alarming. Sometimes soothing. This could be to reflect blind spots of how our behavior causes harm. This could be a counter-balance to our own self-criticism. This could be creativity and insight we can’t see.
- We heal best when the wound is fully cleaned from the inside out. The butterfly bandages were well done, I was told; very effectively holding in several chunks of gravel from the trail. Farrah and Tracy flushed out the wound with great care and stitched me up. Scouring mountain gravel out of a wound is relatively straight forward compared to compounded trauma and the complexities of our country’s festering wounds. Seeing clearly is imperative. That includes our own positioning (class, race, status), our woundedness, the historic violence and oppression imposed on many throughout our country’s history in the past and still in the present. Recall #3 and consider the support you need right now along your journey.
- Things are connected. Sometimes, unwinding trauma takes a long time. The wounds on the forehead, cheek and chin healed within days. The impressive shiner I showed up with in clinic faded in less than a week. The knees and the back of the shoulder, I tried to roll, a little slower in coming along. Interestingly, I’m still working the trauma out of my body which has shown up, of all places, in my left hip when doing sitting meditation. Two different providers indicated my R hip was compressed in the fall due to the force of my pack jamming into my face and shoulder. And so there’s still work to do. Even one part of the body trying to misguidedly ‘help’ out another. What is the parallel for healing in this country when our deepest origins are grounded in genocide and slavery, and the ripples over hundreds of years? There is no one answer. I do know many people actively engaged on many levels in healing, internal and collective. Please reach out if this writing inspires question about your own needs (ranging from psychotherapy referral to anti-racism books, workshop and activist recommendations. And of course, my care is always available).
“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced,”
I have woven these words with the same humility I engage my own daily, sustained efforts of anti-racism and conscious living. Every single one of us can make a difference, in the interactions of our daily lives, and with our voices and actions together. And we can’t do this, this era, this healing of inter-generational trauma, alone.
Perhaps the single most honest and raw expression of the Alabama journey is the footer photograph, taken without me knowing by dear friend Florence Caplow, who joined me on the first pilgrimage in Montgomery. Deep witnessing is an infinitely powerful action. Anyone who has had a beloved or friend sit beside you as you reveled, grieved or raged knows this. Witnessing changes us. It stimulates us. It inspires us. In moving ourselves and our country toward integrated healing, witnessing is one of many actions needed. If we cannot look deeply and scour the gravel out of our wounds, how can the tissues repair and forge strength and vitality? Maybe it’s okay these words have been so slow in coming as we now approach a day variously known as the All Souls Day, All Saints Day, Day of the Dead, Halloween. End of this week marks a time when many traditions and cultures honor relationship to those no longer alive. May these words midwife reflection about our relationship to the past, inquiry and conscious choices today for how we will each direct and nurture this precious life, and the lives of our entire human family going forward.
with abiding, tender care,
Dedicating this writing to Chap in Montgomery, his model of steadfastness, his beloved and powerful wife Mama Bea, his daughter Michelle Browder’s creativity, Chap’s ministry of compassion in the world, his daughter Tracey’s gracious kindness and generosity, and Sister Alphabet, for her laugh, her fierce love, and candor.