By Loi Eberle, M.A., CPC, Published in Northern Jouneys, Spring 2015
Award winning poet Maya Angelou wrote, the caged bird “doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” Don’t we all have a song, be it vocal, visual, or one’s craft, that when expressed, allows us to be more fully present?
Philosopher, Ken Wilbur, thinks this need is universal: “We live in a universe of creative emergence.” He writes in A Brief History of Everything: “The Kosmos hangs together, unified by a Single process. It is a uni-verse, one song.” He explains, “When the Pythagoreans first introduced the term ‘Kosmos,’ its original meaning was the patterned nature or process of all domains of existence, from matter to mind to God, not merely the physical universe, which is usually what both ‘cosmos’ and ‘universe’ mean today. That one song, you call Spirit-in-action, or God in the making.”
Wilbur explains holons are generated as part of the process of creative emergence. Wilbur’s extensive research has led him to conclude that reality is composed of whole/parts, or “holons,” each holon being simultaneously a whole, and a part of a greater whole. This understanding is also reflected in the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence, the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal One.”
Wilbur concludes: “Spirit manifests always and simultaneously in all four quadrants of the Kosmos…the more you contact the Higher Self, the more you worry about the world, as a component of your very Self, the Self of each and all.” As we develop insights we manifest the realization that “each and every holon is a manifestation of the Divine.” Wilbur encourages us to deepen our realizations about the “Objective State of Affairs” in the world, so a new form of society can evolve that integrates consciousness, culture and nature, also integrating art, morals, science, personal values, collective wisdom, and technical knowhow.
This desire to integrate a larger vision of consciousness, culture and nature is also expressed by internationally respected leadership authority Stephen R. Covey, who sold over fifteen million copies of his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Fifteen years later he wrote The 8th Habit, from Effectiveness to Greatness, deciding, “We must move beyond effectiveness… The crucial challenge of our world today is this: to find our voice and inspire others to find theirs.” He describes The 8th Habit as the “answer to the soul’s yearning for greatness, the organization’s imperative for significance and superior results, and humanity’s search for its voice.” Covey encourages us to look beyond ourselves because, “Organizations, both private and public, learn that they are only sustainable when they serve human needs.” He emphasizes “service above self,” and claims: “This is the true DNA of success… It is not about what’s in it for me, but about what can I contribute.” He further emphasizes, “Even if you live in horrible circumstances, it is in those circumstances that you will find your call to choose your own response. It is then that “life calls out to us” to serve those around us whose needs we become aware of. It is in so doing that we find our true ‘voice’ in life.” Covey quotes an anonymous poem that suggests we meet our greater needs best by attending to the needs of others:
“I sought my God and God I could not find.
I sought my soul, and my soul eluded me,
I sought my brother to serve him in his need,
and I found all three – my God, my soul and thee.”
When looking beyond our individual needs, we might quickly notice the needs of our youth: our future leaders and ultimately our caretakers. We hear about so many problems with their education, so many disagreements about how it can be remedied. One teacher, Ryan Howe, searched for and ultimately found a group of a dozen teachers who somehow had developed a track record of taking kids that everyone else had given up on and turning them around. [“The Tribal Classroom: Applying Attachment Theory in Schools,” Psychotherapy Networker]
Howe explains: “It slowly dawned on me that there was a common element in all these cases: they’d all found a way to re-establish the social–emotional context of the tribe… they’d discovered how to establish an environment for connection, belongingness, and a group identity. After all, the social brain evolved in tribes, and what these gifted teachers were doing was leveraging the kids’ basic social instincts to stimulate neuroplastic processes in students who otherwise weren’t able to learn in the traditional educational system. I was especially interested in the connection between the attachment circuitry in the brain and activating the neuroplasticity necessary for learning, especially with kids who were otherwise turned off to learning.” He cited research showing tribal classrooms simulate an environment of collaboration, mutual support, and secure attachment, which turns the brain back on, and suggested this was happening in the classrooms of the teachers whose success he had studied. “What I observed in those classrooms was that they were full of students who ranged from gifted to autistic, and that the kids at one end of the skill spectrum were able to learn from those at the other end. What was important was that the gifted kids needed to feel sufficiently challenged and the lower-functioning students needed to feel connected enough so that they were part of the group as well. It’s important for everyone to feel as if they contribute and belong.”
And then, what about the vastly growing percentage of our national population, our elders? Internet newsletter www.Medpagetoday.com reports The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute on Aging Alzheimer’s Disease (NIAAD) Research Summit 2013 findings that “Alzheimer’s disease is a multifaceted disease, and there is much more that clinicians can do…than they do currently, over the course of the disease to work to change its course.” Recent books, films and anecdotal evidence document how playing music and singing songs with elders in memory care helps them retrieve words and memories that have been missing in their conversations. Let’s search deeper to find ways we can help our parents retrieve their cherished songs!!
Maya Angelou reminds us the caged bird sings because it has a song. Some people search for their song, wondering if they have one. Perhaps others ask whether there’s any point in singing; would anything really be of service? Robert Genn [now deceased] and his daughter, Sara Genn, see their deeper service as expressing their song though their art. They write in their “Twice Weekly” newsletter [firstname.lastname@example.org]: “The saving of lives, for an artist, is surely a daily act. Artists are resuscitators of dreams, rescuers of the abandoned, lodgers of the unwanted, and keepers of faith. In our lifesaving, we are saved. In polishing the souls of others, the artist polishes her own with her resurrections. She can’t help herself – giving life is the ultimate creative act.” They quote W. B. Yeats:
“Land of Heart’s Desire,
Where beauty has no ebb,
Decay no flood,
But joy is wisdom,
And time’s an endless song.”
Perhaps engaging in this endless song can re-invigorate one’s life. Trauma psychologist Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., starkly reports: “Trauma … is arguably the greatest threat to our national well-being. Since 2001 far more Americans have died at the hands of their partners or other family members than in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan… Poverty, unemployment, inferior schools, social isolation, widespread availability of guns, and substandard housing all are breeding grounds for trauma. Trauma breeds further trauma; hurt people hurt other people.” Van der Kolk is founder and Medical Director of the Trauma Center in Brookline, MA, Director of the National Complex Trauma Treatment Network, and professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine. In his book, The Body Keeps the Score, he reports that his most profound experiences with healing from collective trauma were based on what he calls “the central guiding principle of Ubuntu, a Xhosa word that denotes sharing what you have, as in My humanity is inextricably bound up in yours. Ubuntu recognizes that true healing is impossible without recognition of our common humanity and our common destiny.”
According to Van der Kolk, it is important for traumatized children to be helped to move out of fight-or-flight states, helping them to reorganize their perception of danger, and teaching them to manage their relationships. “Where traumatized children are concerned, the last things we should be cutting from school schedules are the activities that can do precisely that: chorus, physical education, recess, and anything else that involves movement, play and other forms of joyful engagement.”
As a result of his work Van der Kolk believes that “Schools can play a significant role in instilling the resilience necessary to deal with the traumas of neighborhoods or families.” He recognizes that the critical challenge in classroom settings is fostering reciprocity: “truly hearing and being heard; really seeing and being seen by other people.” Once again we’re back to singing our song. Healing from trauma involves some variation of finding one’s song, whether singing in a chorus of shared experience, shouting out in a group of veterans, or acting it out in a play.
Van der Kolk has done extensive work with Peter A. Levine, PhD., the developer of Somatic Experiencing. Levine holds doctorates in both medical biophysics and psychology and is stress consultant for NASA. Levine’s recent book is entitled In An Unspoken Voice, How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness. Dr. Gabor Mate writes this in his foreword for Levine’s book: “Peter Levine recognized decades ago that trauma does not reside in the external event that induces physical or emotional pain, nor even in the pain itself, but in our becoming stuck in our primitive responses to painful events. Trauma is caused when we are unable to release blocked energies, to fully move though the physical/emotional reactions to hurtful experience. Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witness…Trauma is a fact of life…however it does not have to be a life sentence.”
The same physiological systems that govern the traumatic state, Levine says, also mediate core feelings of goodness and belonging. There’s “an intrinsic and wedded relationship between spirituality and trauma… humans are spiritual creatures.” In Levine’s opinion, “Both effective trauma healing and authentic spirituality are part of an embodied developmental process and discipline that draw humans toward greater presence and put us in touch with the numinous experiences that are often attributed to a god, soul or spirit.” The term ‘numinous experience,’ popularized by German theologian Rudolf Otto in The Idea of the Holy, 1923, refers to the tendency to invoke fear and trembling, as well as to attract, fascinate and compel. It can also have a personal quality, when a person feels to be in communion with a wholly Other, the supernatural, the sacred, the holy and/or the transcendent.
Stepping outside of our inner turmoil and finding ways to express our various kinds of songs together have the potential to put us in touch with numinous experiences that can heal trauma. This can in turn elevate our art, morals and science, affecting our personal values, collective wisdom, and technical expertise. It can lead us to a way we can step together towards an integration of consciousness, culture and nature.