by Ayan Ajanaku —
Whether it be war, famine, slavery or genocide, the history of human peoples throughout the world is not without its fair share of violence and trauma.
Whether you or your forefathers have been on the receiving or giving end of that trauma, or whether you believe those past events have affected your life in a direct way doesn’t really matter. It is affecting your life either directly or indirectly now and will continue to fester, if the collective trauma is left untreated.
There is good news though. If one understands as Lord Byron once said that, “Adversity is the path to truth,” pain or discomfort presents an awesome opportunity, if one decides to confront it.
What is collective pain anyway?
When pain is inflicted upon us our typical response is to become resentful. But when the same type of pain is inflicted upon thousands if not millions of people for the same reasons (such as the case with genocide, slavery and racism), the pain body becomes an insidious and treacherous complement to your individual identity.
Now your resentment has strength in numbers because many other people have co-signed on its legitimacy.
This anger is passed down from generation to generation and becomes a burdensome and sorrowful legacy that unwittingly kills you softly whilst never actually directly affecting the “enemy.” Because suffering is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.
You can administer pain to another, but you can never administer suffering. It’s a choice.
But resentment is natural!
It may feel natural because resentment is a knee jerk reaction for most when they’ve been wronged, but it’s not natural, it’s simply a habit. We still have a choice though, what we do with that surge of pain is 100 percent in our control. We can carry it and nurture it, or we can keep it in its place and use it as a catalyst for empowerment.
Each person must individually decide to use their pain as a source of empowerment and not a source of suffering.
5 steps to confronting your role in collective trauma:
- If you’re angry or sad, acknowledge that. And then acknowledge that you can and must choose to stop suffering simply because it isn’t productive. You don’t need a reason to be pleasant. Happiness is a choice, not a pursuit.
- When collective pain triggers occur, limit your exposure to social media and even with friends until you are centered. It’s not possible to retreat to a Himalayan cave every time you want to be at peace. But first one must create space to learn how to achieve stillness. Create the space you need with fewer external distractions until you can learn how to balance yourself internally.
- “I am not the body; I am not even the mind” is a very simple meditation chant you can use to help achieve some balance. Upon inhalation, chant to yourself: “I am not the body,” and upon exhalation chant, “I am not even the mind” for five minutes while seated comfortably with your eyes closed, and a mild focus above and between your eyes. This meditation will help you release your identification with your thoughts and achieve the balance you need to tackle the next step.
- If you’re confused and embarrassed about how you can confront your role in the unrest you see around you, that’s good! Just don’t sweep your ignorance under the rug as someone else’s problem. Pain in general usually results when you unconsciously identify with the notion that someone else is inherently better or worse than you. So ask yourself some personal questions. What do you identify with and how do these identities influence your decisions? Confront your ignorance when it comes to the answers and continue to ask yourself uncomfortable questions. Answers will follow naturally for those who continually seek.
- You’ve probably heard the saying, “You change the world by changing yourself.” Everything we create is just a manifestation of who we are. So while acknowledging the truth about the unconscious identities you’ve established, decide what actionable steps you can take to transform yourself so that you can contribute to collective healing as opposed to being part of the collective trauma.
We as humans generally swing between periods of inflicting devastation upon ourselves and others to rebuilding and stagnancy, often with two steps forward and one step back.
Now is the time to use consciousness as a tool to truly take “One giant leap for mankind.”
(Former Memphian and blogger Ayan Ajanaku lives in Seville, Spain, where she teaches English online.)