Richard Mollica on Trauma, Healing, and the Sacredness of Life

I often reflect on the woundedness of the world.  It has been the blessing of my adult life to come into contact with my own woundedness and thereby create space for healing and wholeness.  By that same token, I have become more receptive to the suffering around me.  Trauma is often spoken of on a grand scale, in the context of things like PTSD or domestic violence, but it exists in small ways around us and within us all the time.

Years ago, when I first encountered The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, I took issue with the first truth that suffering is a fact of life.  I found the assertion dark and pessimistic.  Now I understand it to be full of hope and freedom.  There is a subtlety to the human experience that is fraught with the discomfort of being.  It is by coming into contact with that discomfort and being with it, that the experience of life emerges in its fullness.  In the dim reaches of that space I have found empathy, compassion and much deeper acceptance for myself and others.

My guest today is Dr. Richard Mollica, a pioneer in the field of trauma and healing.  Richard speaks of empathy as a naturally occurring and collective phenomenon inherent in the neurobiology of the human organism:  “When you go down into the deepest, biological sub straight of the mirror neurons, you find your universal relationship with your ancestors, with living organisms, with plants and animals.  You’ve entered into a new zone of spirituality, a kind of new spirituality that comes out of healing.”

Dr. Mollica is the Director of the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma (HPRT) of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School and a faculty member in the Counseling Psychology and Global Mental Health program at William James College.  In 1981, Dr. Mollica co-founded the Indochinese Psychiatry Clinic (IPC). Over the past two decades HPRT and IPC have pioneered the mental health care of survivors of mass violence and torture. HPRT/IPC’s clinical model has been replicated throughout the world.  He and his team have cared for over 10,000 survivors of extreme violence worldwide. Through his research, clinical work and trainings he is recognized as a leader in the treatment and rehabilitation of traumatized people and their communities. 

I met Richard through our work with the Global Mental Health Certificate Program (Sutra runs the online component).  Each year they bring together professionals working in the field of trauma and recovery worldwide to learn and share best practices.  He has received numerous awards for his work and has published two books, Healing Invisible Wounds: Paths to Hope and Recovery in a Violent World and A Manifesto: Healing a Violent World.

Richard is one of a kind and our conversation is wide ranging.  Please enjoy.

Paul K Chappell – On Teaching Peace

I am consumed by the question of being.  What does it mean to be?  How do we be with ourselves, fully and honestly?  How do we be with others – and what is the potential of that inter-being?  Is the capacity to truly be with another a skill set that some are naturally endowed with and others not?

The human condition is infinitely varied and complex in its expression.  In my own experience, evolving my way of being has been an intentional and subtle process that has taken time and humility.  What I’ve observed in this work is that deep listening and empathy are learned skills.  Their apprehension is not necessarily a clear cut path, but rather a continuous process of self reflection and practice.

My guest today is Paul K Chappell.  Paul makes a powerful point that while listening and empathy are natural human capacities, so is, for example, language.  We don’t assume that because children already know language, there is no reason to teach it.  Even though it is a natural ability we teach language through school and college.  Yet empathy, listening, and related attributes of peaceful being are not taught – we have to figure them out for ourselves.

Paul is an international peace educator who serves as the Peace Literacy Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.  He is a West Point graduate who served in the Iraq War, leaving active duty as a captain.  Today, he lectures across the United States and internationally, teaching peace leadership and literacy.  He is the author of the seven-book Road to Peace series about ending war, waging peace, the art of living, and shared humanity.

Paul opened my eyes to some unique perspectives in this conversation.  Having been a student of war, he emphasizes that we cannot cultivate a peaceful society if we are not serious students of peace.  And he demonstrates how, ironically, it is the very qualities of empathy and love that serve as potent battlefield motivators.

Paul’s work in peace literacy spans 20 years and he has a unique gift for analogy and explanation.  Please enjoy.

Jerry Streets – On Universal Love in Practice

I find there can be a wide divide between theory and practice.  Using words like love, empathy, and understanding is one thing, but actually putting them into practice can be challenging.  Jerry Streets recently introduced me to a book by Howard Thurman called Jesus and the Disinherited.  One of the most interesting thought exercises in the book is the exploration of Jesus as a person living in the context of his social situation and how that likely influenced his teachings and behavior.  The book emphasizes a difference between the teachings and the institution around them concluding with an exploration of the practical application of universal love.

In my personal experience, I find universal love to be a practice of seeing the interconnectedness of all things.  Somewhere in that process there is an acknowledgment and respect for the common source of all phenomena.  What to do with that respect for the “beingness” of another could be the subject of a much longer write up, but the cliff notes would allude to compassion and inner freedom.  Compassion because I see that the other person is a product of a long chain of universal conditions that have brought them to this point.  And inner freedom because true compassion is much more constructive than anger.  In a sense, the energy of that compassion is the transformed product of the original anger.

In my last conversation, Jerry and I unpack the philosophy and practice of universal love.  Frederick “Jerry” Streets is an adjunct Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Yale Divinity School, and a visiting professor in the Department of Social Work and Latino Community Practice at the University of Saint Joseph. He previously served as the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Professor in Pastoral Counseling at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University. From 1992-2007, he served as the Chaplain of Yale University and Senior Pastor of the University Church, in which role he established a model of multi-faith campus ministry. From 1975-2007, he served as Senior Pastor of the Mount Aery Baptist Church in Bridgeport, CT, in which role he led the congregation through significant growth, oversaw the building of a new church edifice, and developed social services and outreach ministries.

We cover a lot of ground ranging from practical love to modern societal issues such as racism and empathic failure.  Jerry shares a moving story of his own experience with and response to discrimination in his life that puts Thurman’s theology into practice.

Gaea Logan – On Courageous Conversation

I often have a hard time concentrating in a cluttered environment. Somehow the disorganization of my space reflects itself in the state of my mind.  The dynamic flows both ways.  The very act of organizing my space tends to focus the mind.

In some ways this quality of symbiosis is reflected in interpersonal interaction.  Two or more people absorb and reflect each other’s state of being.  Deep listening is both an outward function towards the speaker and an inward function observing self as reflection of other.  In my own practice, I have been learning to navigate this fine line with attentiveness and a curiosity towards the very subjective nature of my experience.  My next conversation continues to unfold the vast depths of this domain.

This week I explore group process and deep listening with Gaea Logan.  Her integrative trauma work sits at the intersection of neurobiology, contemporary psychoanalytic psychology, somatic awareness and Buddhist meditation practice. For over 35 years, she has worked as a clinical consultant on the frontlines of trauma bringing group trauma training to wounded communities in both international and domestic settings. Her model, Contemplative Based Trauma and Resiliency Training, has been adapted for implementation in the UN Peace-Keeping Missions throughout the Middle East and in refugee settlements in Africa.  She is founder and executive director of the International Center for Mental Health and Human Rights. She is also the creator of one of our most popular courses on Sutra, the Portable Calm, a mindfulness awareness program for professionals working with trauma.

Our dialogue explores group experience as a three fold process occurring inter-psychically, inter-personally, and as a whole.  Gaea speaks about courage in conversation and the group as sacred space. She shares a simple exercise that she uses to teach listening and we briefly touch upon why listening offers a path towards healing and wholeness.

Gaea offers a lifetime of practical insight into contemplative and compassionate listening and it was a true joy exploring this subject with her. Please enjoy our conversation.

Tom Atlee – On Listening and Diversity

A close friend of mine once shared that humility is a self protecting virtue – the idea that it is hard to assert the grandeur of one’s own humility.  I often observe my own arrogance – thinking that I know better, not being inclusive, or simply not paying attention.  In my experience, humility has been an acquired skill, practiced and all but natural.  It is also a prerequisite for true listening.  It’s hard to listen to another if you think you already know what they’re going to say.

I was reminded of the importance of humility in my last conversation with Tom Atlee.  We spoke at length about his definition of co-intelligence – a term he coined – and the value of deep listening and diversity in that function.  In preparing for this write up, I caught myself tuning out for the first ten minutes of listening to the recording – because “I had already read about it.”  When I went back and listened again, I realized how much I missed.  Humility is a never ending practice.  Unfortunately, we rarely have an opportunity to replay our interactions.

Tom Atlee is vice president and research director of the Co-Intelligence Institute, a nonprofit organization he founded in 1996.  His early co-intelligence research in the late 1980s focused on the relationship between group dynamics and collective intelligence. Beginning in the mid-1990s through the mid-2000s, his focus shifted to developing society’s capacity to function as a wise democracy.  He is the author of numerous books and recently published the Wise Democracy Pattern Language resource online.

Tom offers his unique understanding of human intelligence and wise co-existence.  He shares his experience of “listening aikido” – taking the energy of a person’s response, particularly if it’s negative, and directing it towards constructive expression – as well as some simple ways to practice reflective listening.  

Tom’s perspective stems from a life time of peace activism and thought exploration and he is truly one of the great minds in this domain.  Please enjoy.

Paul Morris – On the Tension of Being

Increasingly I find that tension and discomfort is implicit in the human experience. Whether I am hungry or overfed, hot or cold, insecure or overworked, self conscious or angry, the range of conditions under which I am explicitly comfortable and content is very narrow. It is only natural that I reach for ways to avoid this discomfort and yet, in so doing, I avoid some essential part of my being.

This condition is highlighted between people. I have struggled with self consciousness my entire life. At some point, this kind of insecurity becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. The irony is that the tension itself is the catalyst for connection – it is the common thread that I and the other share. In avoiding it, I avoid the one thing that we surely have in common – the discomfort of being human. As I bring awareness and presence to the tension, my experience opens to deeper levels of connection and relatedness. I often find this process to be extremely uncomfortable – something that I have to practice over and over.

In today’s conversation my guest and I explore this tension in real time as it comes up between us. What emerges is a deeply honest examination of the inherent tension of being.

Paul Morris is the Bay Area Director of Pathwise, a leadership development program that emphasizes self awareness and deeper understanding of human nature through a year long small group driven learning experience. Having served as strategic advisor to the Pathwise founders since 2007, Paul joined full time in 2011 to oversee the advising process of the Pathwise community as a whole.

Paul is no stranger to anxiety and, even after years of teaching, finds the experience of walking into a classroom physically distressing. Paul shares his approach to dealing with this discomfort in a way that creates spaces for vulnerability and openness. We explore the source of this anxiety and how it offers opportunity for empathy and deep relatedness.

Please enjoy.

Rasanath Das – On the Enneagram

I often contemplate what it means to take full responsibility for myself. Sincerely taking responsibility requires awareness and this quality of awareness – true, unbiased insight – can be elusive. A few years ago I was telling a friend about my experiences with anger. In one of those rare “aha moments” when everything just clicks, he helped me see that much of my anger stemmed from avoidance of shame. Without this painful insight, I had lacked the awareness to truly take responsibility for my actions. It was my very anger that prevented me from seeing the truth.

One of the tools that has helped me navigate the tricky landscape of self has been the enneagram. This body of work is a form of personality assessment tool that revolves around understanding different types of ego structures and how they operate. Originally popularized by G. I. Gurdjieff, its origins go back millennia. The enneagram was introduced to me by an organization called Upbuild and today I share my interview with one of its principles, Rasanath Das – who also happens to be the friend in question above.

Rasanath started his professional career in strategy consulting at Deloitte in 2000 and later worked as an investment banker for Bank of America. He then spent four years in a New York City monastery during which time he co-founded Upbuild to focus on cultivating mindfulness and personal development. Rasanath is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, has been featured as a speaker for TEDx and SXSW, and has been profiled in The New York Times, CNN, and PBS.

Rasanath combines the timeless wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita with the incisive insight of the enneagram to offer a unique approach towards understanding self and other. We cover the underlying mechanics of his work as well as some of the ways in which Rasanath creates safe space and actually teaches this deeply interpersonal material.

Please enjoy.

David Passiak – On Co-Creating the Future

Recently I have been reintroduced to the concept of subconscious archetypes. Archetypes are a type of pattern language that assign meaning to common recurring patterns in the human psyche. In Jungian psychology, these are used to garner deeper insight into a person’s unique mental situation. However, co-creative innovation often relies on processing similar subconscious data in a collective context.

A few weeks ago I interviewed David Passiak and, although we didn’t specifically talk about archetypes, it was the unique way in which he described co-creation that highlighted this connection:

When you’re co-creating you’re drawing out these things that are deep or hidden in your subconscious. There’s a way in which you’re coming together and you’re trying to pull out these bits and pieces inside of you or inside the other people you’re co-creating with and trying to create something that’s new and fresh and at the same time you’re trying to create something that you feel should exist in the world.

This reference to the subconscious aspect of co-creation reminded me that a big part of generative interaction is collectively refining this abstract data into meaningful outcomes that deliver value. I invite you to share your own reflections on the co-creative application of archetypal analysis with me here.

David Passiak is a keynote speaker, innovator, futurist, and author of three books – Empower – How to Co-Create the Future, Disruption Revolution, and Red Bull to Buddha. He is also the co-founder of blockchain marketing agency, Blox 7. My conversation with David covers his unique journey from religion scholar who did Ph.D. studies at Princeton on “Great Awakenings” to his current work which focuses on building movements, co-creation, crowd-based innovation, and emerging business models.

We delve deeply into David’s co-creative workshop process and unpack a specific exercise he runs people through. I found the guided meditation and visualization practice to be particularly interesting. David’s experience in this domain is extensive and he offers a wealth of insight into the near and long term future of co-creation and humanity.

Please check out his latest book, available as a free donation based download, here.