Treating Trauma with Compassion

“Settled bodies, settle other bodies,” Resmaa Menakeem of My Grandmother’s Hands reminds us. This is the antidote to what we are globally seeing too much of recently, where “hurt bodies, hurt other bodies.” It is just how we humans seem to function, we express who we are and what we hold within our bodies. We cannot just talk our way out of our pain or for that matter, our joy.

Some of the more commonly named, unconscious, and instinctive responses to the “too muchness” in any experience are the fight, flight, or freeze responses. These are automatic, no-choice, natural survival responses!

Fight responses are energy filled and can include anger, being mistrustful or hypervigilant, controlling of one’s surroundings, or being demanding. This energy tends to manifest as movements directed towards a perceived threat.

Flight responses can include becoming distracted, sleepy, addicted to substances or activities, difficulty making commitments, or thinking of dying. There’s energy in these responses, but the energy is directed towards running away from a perceived threat.

The Freeze responses have an absence of energy, and can include becoming confused, anxious, overwhelmed, stuck, chronically shy, or panicking.

Sometimes a behavior or somatic response can appear with mixed features of fight, flight, and freeze. Less well known are relational traumas and relational trauma responses: the submit and attach responses.

Somewhat similar to freeze, the Submit responses are when the body becomes depleted of energy, depressed, numb, and compliant. There could be feelings of hopelessness and shame. A person may take on caretaking or self-sacrificing positions in relationships.

Finally, there’s the set of responses called Attach responses, where the perceiver of threat learns to survive by connecting in a clinging or adoring way: needing to depend, fearing rejection, abandonment, aloneness, or feeling a need to depend on another. This is more clearly a relational response.

I’ve seen many of us express these reactions in the last year more than ever, as our most unusual pandemic circumstances have pushed us to our limits, prompting our trauma reactions and also our healing potentials.

I implore us to begin to be more curious and compassionate as we explore our own and others’ reactivity to the collective trauma triggers we are experiencing. We are affected very uniquely by what’s happening around us. Our bodies have developed brilliant ways to adapt to life’s challenges. They have carried us through many years so we could be functional and protected. Over time, these trauma responses that look like regular ways of being and behaving become problematic and inhibit health and happiness. We can choose to heal and develop different ways of experiencing and responding more consciously to life events that are potentially traumatic.

Society judges these adaptive responses depending on the situation. Some are viewed with fear or even respect, while others evoke disgust. This further ingrains painful patterns of behavior in all concerned. We can bring awareness to these adaptive responses and rise above the detrimental effects they have on our bodies and relationships. We can allow ourselves to feel gratitude for how these responses protect us, show up in our lives, and with support we can find ways to heal and undo patterns that no longer serve us.

I acknowledge some of the many trauma researchers and trainers in the field who have contributed to the knowledge I name above. They help people in recovering from traumas and getting on track with their wise and resilient selves: Walter B. Cannon, Shirley Turcotte, Bessel van der Kolk, Pat Ogden, Janina Fisher, Thomas Huebl, Richard C. Schwartz, Onno Van der Hart, and Peter Levine.

We will work together on eradicating traces of racial and other systemic evils that have become part of our ways of thinking, feeling, responding, and choosing. We will work within and together, facing that edge of discomfort, one pause, one breath, one event at a time.

*image by Pavel Neznanov

One baby step

The new Moon in Aries heralds an astrological New Year. 

Today a young loved one bid goodbye to a relationship she was committed to. To a man she still loves, losing the dream of what she desired and needed the relationship to be. 

Her friends gathered to offer continued support through loving words, poetry, songs, tears, and laughter. They reminded her of her strength and love; and blessed this beautiful soul’s journey as she began to gather herself and take her next steps.   

I take the opportunity to pause this day. 

What is not-so-happy in me, restless, or longing? 

What have I not paid attention to because it seems like I can’t afford to listen to my heart? Would it call for too much change? Would changing the landscape of my social life take me out of feeling comfortable by my very busy life?

What about you?

What kinds of experiences are you walking away from at this time in your life? What doesn’t serve you anymore? Perhaps it’s something you’ve been creating that you don’t want to do anymore. Perhaps it’s a pattern in your relationships, a lifestyle, a habit, or beliefs and narratives that you’ve been living out. 

What next steps forward are you wanting to take in your life? Are they still only in your heart? Have they found themselves on paper? Have you shared them with anyone, your pet, the bird or bunny that visits? Take this time to channel the power of words through either writing or saying out loud your next steps.

Who are the people that offer you loving support, hold a mirror so you can see yourself, and promise to be there with you in the marathon of your life? Who would you trust to nudge you towards listening to the beat of your own heart?

What kind of a ritual do you need to honor yourself and what you are inviting into your life? Who will witness you? Will you write words on paper, use your voice, or stomp? Will you burn or bury something, or send it down the river? Will you sing and dance and send your new creations in dream waves through the ether?

You have to lift one foot off the ground before you step forward. Just one baby step.

That’s all it takes to start. Listen to your pain, your restlessness, your longing. Then call in your support. The waiting, allowing, listening, responding, moving along, one baby step at a time, at just the pace you choose. And then one day the shell will crack open and your new creation will take flight.

** image by Devi Puspita Amartha Yahya


It’s March 13th, a spring-like New Moon morning. I’m enjoying the sunshine and the loveliness of the space I live in: the colors, familiar pictures on my walls that bring me joy, my plants and rocks, and the smell and sound of percolating coffee. And then, my attention is drawn into some familiar heaviness, with uncomfortable thoughts and images. An annoying pattern!

I understand why they surface, and yet, in this moment I know that returning to those memories is just a mental habit of sorts. So, I consciously invite other memories to overlay these ones. I think of my sisters. Both celebrate birthdays this week. One yesterday, one tomorrow!

I close my eyes, my awareness goes to my body as I remember. I remember the sensations, the emotions, the mood in my body: settled, light, little smile on face, safe, a chuckle, a spaciousness in my chest. I didn’t always feel that way with the rest of the world. So I notice that with them I felt an absence of the feelings of tension, worry, and self-consciousness.

No matter what period of my childhood I wander down, I see myself flanked on either side by my sisters, both older than me, each offering me their unique presence and sense of love. I feel that sense of safety in my body, even today, as I look through photo albums, and remember sitting at the dining table, taking the school bus, posing for photos, sleeping in our king-sized bed: me always in the middle, perhaps keeping them from killing each other! I was cared for, bullied, and advocated for by them. My body holds that sense of security. Through traumas each of us went through in early childhood, we had each other. I breathe that sense of feeling secure into every cell of my being. I need to rest in those memories today.

Who or what brought you a sense of safety or love or joy? What memories can you invite to override the unpleasant ones that intrude, especially if you’re not just avoiding tending to some painful spots inside?

Are they of people, of special trees or creeks? Are they inner worlds that you escaped into that saved you?

However simple, ordinary or brief, bring them on stage. Honor them! Thank them!

Can you choose to practice remembering them?

Let this be a whole-body practice. Feel the pleasant experience in your body, notice the sensations, the tiny inner movements, the mood state, perhaps images and sound memories. 

Share your experiences with family and friends. Get to know your people, the stories that have made them who they are today. You can remind each other of these stories, when you need to remember them the most. 

I want you to show up as YOU

You’ve put yourself out there and you’ve made a choice to keep doing that. Suddenly, you get blasted with an inner “who do you think you are” kind of shame attack. You freeze, then you thaw a bit and cringe, then you freeze again. You write some more. You notice it’s escapist and intellectual. It’s great material but it lacks soul. You do some Tapping, listening, and nurturing inside—and finally, you decide to JUST write.

Does anyone resonate with this? It’s been my recent experience as I begin to blog again.

This time, my strongest sense of support comes from reassuring myself that I’ve got my back, I know why I’m writing, and that’s all that counts. Then I name what’s happening and share it with a friend, “Hey, I’m having a shame attack.” Now it’s a “thing” that’s happening and we can recognize and talk about it.

Over the summer, I was invited to lead a group in morning ritual during a weekend on racial healing. I was aware of the racial mix of the group and my own sense of “immigrant outsider.” I started with quotes from African American and other minority social activists as I led the group. The woman who invited me there, pulled me aside after the first day, looked straight into my eyes and said, “I asked for you to be you, not teach us what others have said. I want you to show up as you.”

I was stunned. That fierce love clearly didn’t allow me to feel bad even for a moment. I really got in my whole body and embraced what I had not heard in many months or years—I was required to be me. It was not about the quotes or calling on the wisdom of others. She apparently could tell that I was trying to “get it right” or something. She had called me out in a profoundly loving way, and I received it deeply. The next day was an awesome experience for me and perhaps the group, as I did MY thing! Thank you, Reverend Ros!

I’m hoping that you will (if you don’t already) make time to listen inside to those impulses, those movements of your life energy.

Listen to those impulses that want to express themselves, be it speaking up in relationships, writing, or other art forms.

Sense into our readiness, the right timing, and the best form of expression.

Take care of ourselves as we are received and responded to.

I want to invite you to ask yourself:

What wants to happen in your life? What wants to be expressed?

What support do you need to make it easier for that to birth?

What do you need to put into place during the gestation or the birthing?

Will you love and support yourself through it all and after?

Feel free to respond and share your response with others around you!

~ Joya

P.S. If you have an idea that is precious to you, be mindful who you share it with, lest it be crushed before it’s hatched. Protection is part of nurturing!

** image by Hello I’m Nik

Heart of my Heart

You’re the most important person in my life, but I have often hurt or neglected you. I’m deeply sorry. I didn’t mean to. I truly cherish who you are and who you are becoming. I now promise to choose you first, to love and honor you always. I will take care of you, with food and fluids and comfortable clothes, with play and with quiet. I will listen to your needs and your heart’s desires and I will not silence you.

I now promise to choose you first, to love and honor you always. I will take care of you, with food and fluids and comfortable clothes, with play and with quiet. I will listen to your needs and your heart’s desires and I will not silence you.

I want you to be seen and heard for who you are. I’ll be attentive to the places where you are tender and protect you from harm’s way, especially from shame and fear. But if you get hurt, I’ll help you soothe and heal. When you’re tired, I’ll help you find rest.

Before anyone else, I want to be your best friend and partner in this life. I will not leave your care to anyone else, even though I’ll delight in you being loved by special friends and by everyone. Together, we’ll show up wholeheartedly, we’ll read and write and hike and travel with friends, we’ll share our love and joy with the world and watch magic happen.

Me-rriage is a term that Christopher Witecki, a psychic astrologer has coined, referring to one’s relationship to oneself.

What’s your relationship to yourself like?

What would your me-rriage vows look like?

Even if this seems too cheesy, weird or challenging, please give it a second thought…sense into its essence. What can you take away from it for yourself? 

What are you ready to commit to yourself today?

You can review and renew that commitment again and again, celebrating it each time.

** image is by photographer Andre Mouton.

Welcoming Change

Greetings friends!
This is the end of the first week of 2017. The last calendar year was intense for many of us. Lives were shaken up, structures challenged, relationships altered, and paths re-routed.
2016 was a year I faced a lot of the ‘stuff’ in my life that has kept me sometimes clueless and dis-empowered. That process was scary and sometimes tiring. I’m grateful for those who supported me lovingly and willingly through it all. Each person who crossed my path, I know, played their role in my journey. I watched myself go through feeling victimized, blaming, focusing on other’s issues, social problems and such, while all the time I was losing sight of myself.
Moving from there I learned to regularly take back my power, taking responsibility for my feelings, my reactivity, my needs and desires, my personality with its own unique needs and desires, living with care and affection for myself. This then would help to soften my heart and open up to accepting and loving others more and just having more fun.
I took the opportunity to practice many of life’s skills: letting go, challenging assumptions (mine and others’), sensing into pain (felt physically and emotionally) and determining what it was about and what it was guiding me toward. I also trained myself to soak up joyous of leisure moments of ease and regurgitating them at will, I chose to starve conditioned patterns of being and allow to me to open into the freshness of the unknown in each moment. How helpful to name these processes!
Then there was the daring to make connection with people or respond to invitations as well as courage to retreat. I got to watch my resistances and notice why they felt like closed fists in the air: judgments toward my resistances just strengthened them. I found I could watch them with wonder and see how they were trying to serve me and allow them to guide me. And so life and evolution continues…

Change is in the air. It’s on people’s lips and in their psyches, especially her in the US. This naturally evolutionary phenomenon is a constant reality, shifting cells in our body, seasons and our relationships. Change is a normal part of reality. Yet, we never seem to get used to it. Yet, it often brings juicy gifts. Preparing our bodies and minds for change helps us be more receptive to the big and oft unwelcome changes that life often brings.

I like to allow small discomforts to my day by choice. And it’s really not in the category of “should”. That kills the fun. They include making a call that I would rather not, or arriving a few minutes early to an appointment I have (I have a history of being late, and it is history!) to people watch. Sometimes I put things into neat orderliness around my home to allow myself to ease into the squirming that would ensue as I adapt to this changed environment. Enjoying my body in movement has also not been within my comfort zone. When I choose it, I allow myself to move from some unease to many delicious pleasures.

As the year settles in, let’s reflect and challenge ourselves to discard our lived labels and dismantle some elements of self-identity, the “I am” stuff. “I am generous or intelligent”, “I am a good partner”, “I am free”. Yes, this is a limiting self-statement ( as all self-statements are) as it makes us subtly fit ourselves into our idea of what it means to be free, rather than just allowing what’s emerging to take its own shape in our way of being. Then there’s the “I am no” stuff. I am not racist or rich or successful. Challenging ourselves to consciously open up to change can be a wonderful experience, but is not always easy. For some, permitting less change is change. It often starts with a desire and motive to move away from something or toward something.

I invite and encourage you to challenge yourself to practice of change in yourself, your life, your thinking, your schedule. All this in conscious choice and full awareness of your process.
Stay in touch with yourself and me. Feel free to share your reflections. A happy 2017 to all and may we meet change equipped with our own wisdom and compassion.



The Listening Group meetings (4th Tuesday of every month)start this month: Tuesday, January 24th (6.30-8.30 pm)
At Ease with Emotions: a workshop in Monroe, MI: Sunday, January 28th (1.00-4.00 pm)

Please do come. I hope to see many of you at these events.

Thankgiving in the US-2016

My dear friends,

I’ve been hibernating a long time. I emerge with this unusually long note!! Please be patient with me. Its Thanksgiving in the US, a time of celebrating harvest, feasting with friends and family, remembering our blessings with gratitude. Here in the US, we’re doing just that. We’re harvesting what we have sown. May we celebrate with gratitude, and there is a lot to celebrate, perhaps not always apparent.

These are turbulent times. These are times rich in potential. In our bodies, there is some similarity in the experience of nervousness and excitement. Often they come together: one to check that we are safe and one to propel us forward. They both guide us. I am being pushed into more of what I do for work and I now actively seek more opportunities too.

Like many of you I’ve experienced the whole gamut of emotions in the days before and after the elections rather intensely. Today, over and above all those emotions, is a knowing, a deep conviction that this is a natural and necessary phase of our evolutionary cycle, as a nation and as a planet. For many of us, it may resonate with our individual life cycle. We have had a part in what has brought us to this point and we are part of what will move us forward. We get to choose how we move forward.

In a pre-election talk, the priest of the Great Heartland Buddhist Temple of Toledo Rev. Jay Rinsen Weik, reminded us of a drop of Zen wisdom that summarizes what may be a core message for life today: No one can do it for us but we cannot do it alone.In similar vein, in the wake of the great Full Moon around the same time, Lakota Elder Tokala Two Elk reminded us in a Spirit Lodge teaching, that we did not come in to this world in a bus or an aircraft with a whole lot of other people. We came in alone. But we also were born into a human clan.

The day before US elections, National Catholic Review reported that Pope Francis urged social justice activists from around the world not to succumb to the politics of fear. “Because fear—as well as being a good deal for the merchants of arms and death—weakens and destabilizes us, destroys our psychological and spiritual defenses, numbs us to the suffering of others,” he said. “In the end,” he continued, “it makes us cruel.”

Let’s learn how to lean into our fears and doubts, while not giving our power over to them. Let’s take any wisdom these icky experiences offer and manage the emotions that come with them so we can step into our greatness. This is no time for smallness and pettiness and finger pointing. We’re all invited to look freshly at the structures that support our happiness and well being individually and as a community. We’re also being forced to dismantle the structures that do not serve us.

I was prompted to look up the word ‘apocalypse’ the other day. The Greek origins of the word are uncover, unveil, reveal. What has been disguised and under cover is out in the open in all its stench and in all its potential radiance. Deep rooted illusions of differences, selfishness, and the astonishing ignorance of rather intelligent beings is staring us in the face. Simultaneously, deep generosity, caring, and connectedness across all sections of many communities also stand seen by the world.

I believe I’m not alone in believing that we are witnessing the phasing out of an era that has done its time on earth. We’re ushering in a new era. What we, each and every one of us add to it in our own individual ways, will determine the nature of this ushering in. It’s time for us to all dive into our hearts, and allow ourselves to admit if we are afraid to love and be wrong and we’re afraid to be vulnerable, that we need help and safety to change our stories and not be shamed by anyone for who we are. How long do we want to keep our defenses up? It’s exhausting! We want to feel safe and trusted because we are white, because we are black, because we are Asian and Latino. We want people to accept us for being lesbian and gay and bisexual and transgender and queer. We want support in this country that we have sought refuge in, where we choose to toil and enjoy and share the fruits of our labors.

To my students: be diligent in your awareness of self and other, because other is truly an extension of yourself. Religious people have talked of this from time immemorial. You know it in your heart, your bodies, don’t you? Be aware of the tiny flinch you may feel in these times: is it from your conditioning as a white or black person, or one who has been sexually abused? Be with those parts of you and protect and allow them to heal. Mostly, allow your larger self, your sense of consciousness that you have been taught how to access respond to these times. You know how to do that! This is not a time for reaction, but a time for responding: with kindness and compassion, with righteous (not self-righteous) anger and with ferocity to protect all that is good and whole.

Please stay connected in your awareness to your bodies, in which you live and through which you experience and interact with the world, as well as heal. It is not, your bodies will show you, people who are to be attacked at this time. It’s the stuff that keeps people from people, and keeps us blind and deaf and heartless. Let’s attack those things with loving ferocity: all the isms and all that makes us hurt each other. They have no place in our bodies, our lives or our society.

No, this is not just a crisis in the USA. It is also a personal edge we’re facing, if we allow ourselves to. We could also continue to stay in denial. Not all of us need to participate in protests. Social activism takes many forms: our inner work as we challenge our own conditioning, as we stand up for our truths, as we engage with curiosity with ‘the other’. It is pausing to sense our intentions and possible effects of our words before we post on Facebook. It is learning how to create good soil, organize potlucks with friends, listen to the real fears of our ‘targeted’ neighbors. Let’s begin exactly where we are at. Let’s ask for help when we need it and urge each other on toward our “more”. Let’s live together in a more intentional manner.

Do feel free to respond. Let us know how you’re doing and what you’re doing for yourself and others. Inspire and encourage us all.


Start Here, Go Anywhere

20160122_130602 (2)Walking down Main street in Ypsilanti, my hometown (currently!), I pass by our Public Library and I see this: “Start Here. Go Anywhere”. This has been my mantra, my directive in my own journey through adulthood.

In Rumi’s poem “The Journey”, the translation reads “The great excursion starts from exactly where you are”.

There’s nowhere else to start! We start just where we are, in whatever state of success, joy or despair we find ourselves in. Most of us are accustomed to seeking goals, joys, satisfaction and completion outside ourselves. We try to explain our troubles away, blame others or look at our circumstances through our ‘victim’ lenses. We dart around our days with little awareness or desire to really live in our bodies, relate with ourselves, follow our hearts. And each time we do that, we lose an opportunity to move forward ourselves.

Symptoms show up when we get too estranged from ourselves. When they show up in and through our bodies, our emotions, our relationships, we may be forced to sit up and pay attention. And at that point, we can either attend to our symptoms or to ourselves.

When we make it a practice to focus on ourselves, we can truly go anywhere and co-create the life we choose with all that we have. And we usually have more than we think we do!

A huge challenge to focusing on our own lives, are the subtle messages we internalize about being selfish, self-centered or being irresponsible. I learned this early in life in Catholic school as I sang “Others, Lord, yes others, let this my motto be”. What I actually learned was that I shouldn’t love myself. Many other societal influences only nourished this belief, this subconscious decision I made. It has taken many years to choose to get to know and love myself and look at my challenges as opportunities to propel myself toward internal freedom and fulfillment.

Read Mary Oliver’s poem “The Journey”: link

Yes, those voices will call out to you; guilt, shame, obligation will trot by your heels for a while. And you will look ahead and walk on, and you will find companions along the way, and soon the aroma of freedom and aliveness will keep you hooked on your dreams and desires. And you will grow your capacity to love more freely and fully.

PAUSE: What is it that keeps me from focusing on myself, my tasks, my needs, my challenges, my desires?

Stay connected to yourself! Stay in touch with me too!

Valentine’s Day Begins with Me

For lovers in love, for broken hearts and those seeking love, Valentine’s day can be a anything between joyful, inconsequential or trying.

Has anyone noticed that merely being in a romantic relationship is not the recipe for happiness and fulfillment?

On this Valentine’s day I invite you to consider being first a Valentine for yourself, relating to yourself in a special way with tenderness and deep caring. Perhaps you’ve been a stranger to yourself or to parts of yourself. Perhaps you are starting a friendship or already have a deep connection.

Would you take a moment today to PAUSE and be silent?

-Tune in, allowing your breath to center you and draw your attention to yourself through your body

– Say a real sincere inwardly ‘Hello’. How are you in this moment? Take your time. See what arises.

-Check inside: am I happy? Is something bothering me? Am I truly okay just being me? Am I first in my life? Do I take enough for me so that I have enough to offer others?

Notice what arises. Just be with it.

Here’s a song to play and sing along to yourself this Valentines’ Day before you reach outward to wish anyone else a happy Valentine’s Day.

(It’s about 3 minutes long and kind of indicates the era I was raised in!)

A Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you, my readers!