Coming out of Shut Down
Coming out of Freeze
Thawing the Shutdown State
The body is soft. Pliant. I was in the garden the other day, transplanting cacti. What kept astonishing me was the sensual fleshiness of their bodies: the way they yielded as I gripped them between the spines, the slight compression under my fingertips as I was holding them while putting them back in the ground. There was a squishiness to them, the pulp of them straining just beneath the surface. You could squeeze them and they would yield, bounce back. The body is like this. It is pulsing just beneath the envelope of the skin. It is sheathed in a biological fabric of neuro-fascia. Soft, expanding and contracting. You can feel this aliveness in a child. The life humming just beneath the surface, flushing it with vitality, color, movement.
Except when it is frozen. Things that are frozen are dead to the touch. The Medusa story: frozen. Turned to stone, we say, but this is an ancestral story about being paralyzed by fear. Immobilized by terror. In freeze, the body turns to stone. Consider the succulence of the grape. That is us. Now freeze it. Understand too, in this image, the delicacy with which it will needed to be thawed to return to its prior state. This is the conundrum of freeze. Thaw it too fast and it will not bounce back.
The shutdown state, which we are anecdotally referring to as freeze, is the oldest and deepest of the threat responses. It is the threat response of last resort, that called upon by the body in cases of impending lifethreat. It gives us the grace of dissociation, so we don’t have to be in the body while it is eaten. I invite you to consider the degree to which freeze–dissociation–is the heart of modernity. Alienation = freeze.
I am of Jewish ancestry. I don’t think I’ve fully grappled with the implications of the Holocaust. For all of my childhood, and most of my adult life, I just turned away from my Jewishness. I wanted no part of it. Synagogue to me, as a child, felt like a funeral service. But of course–how else could a post-Holocaust spiritual service feel? When your people have been genocidally massacred–what is the appropriate emotional tone for ceremony? I didn’t know any of this, and no one told it to me in a way that allowed the personal and historical to intersect in meaningful ways. All I knew was that I felt dead there. I hated it.
Dissociation permits us to do remarkable things. It permits us to soldier on, continue with our forward momentum, leaving our hearts behind. It permits us to continue living our lives, complaining about the streaming speed of Netflix, getting ticked off when there is no organic broccoli, bitching that our kids didn’t get accepted into an honors class, while our house burns down around us. A child of three knows that if she takes a poop in the toilet and then drinks out of it, she is going to get sick. But somehow our global economy hasn’t figured that out. Yesterday the price of oil went negative for the first time in history, which is the first time it has ever been accurately priced, because it is in truth more valuable in the earth than extracted. Every time we start a gas car we shit in our mother’s mouth. This is dissociation from the living world.
I would propose to you that much of the socialization of whiteness is dissociative. The bind of whiteness in America is that we simultaneously know/ and cannot know what we, as white people, have done in order to have what we have. How come our black brothers and sisters have 8% of the assets we do? How come the indigenous people whose land this is have been forced onto reservations and own less a tiny fraction of the land they once occupied? The only way to be with this dual awareness is dissociation. To hold it fully in awareness would drive us crazy, and I assure you I know what I’m talking about. If you don’t believe me, watch the tension in the faces of white people. If you are white, I invite you to begin to notice the tightness in your face. Why is it so hard for us to allow strong emotions onto our faces? What are we holding back? Sociological whiteness is a mask. It is a dissociative matrix designed to conceal what is really happening behind the scenes. And whether you are white or not, the structuring lines of force of this sociological whiteness shape our social expectations for what it means to be speak articulately, what it means to act professionally, how we are to look, to dress, to act. To succeed in our culture is, for many of us, an acculturation into whiteness, to learn to code switch so that we display the parts of ourselves that conform to the desires and expectations of a white world. So please don’t think that dissociation is reserved for only for someone who has experienced severe trauma. All of us have experienced severe trauma. The birth of the modern is a trauma. Dissociation is the currency of the modern world, and if you are going to get healthy, you are going to need to enter into relationship with the parts of yourself that are shut down. Although necessary, it’s probably not going to feel very good. And the sides of yourself that you are going to see are sides that you have a pretty deep investment in being oblivious to. That said, these are also the things that are killing you. So if you want to be healthier, listen up.
In the order of addressing down-regulation of threat states, we are going to talk about coming out of dorsal vagal states first, both because they are the hardest to come out of (because being present with these states– which are basically oxygen deprivation states– is extremely uncomfortable- i.e., breathing has often shut down, and because we’ve generally entered these states because there is life-threat, or perceived life-threat, which means that what they contain is often fragmented- our coherent sense of observer has gone offline, they are highly charged, and have non-linear timescales*). Also, when someone does come out of freeze, they cross the polyvagal threshold back into the state that just preceded it, which is generally an extreme state of fight or flight. (Remember, in the dissolution model, we generally get to freeze by going through the roof of fight or flight). So let’s first talk about freeze, knowing that as we come out of it, we are often next going to have to address coming out of fight and coming out of flight.
I want to preface this section also by saying that coming out of freeze states–identifying that they exist, and then learning how to resolve them–has been one of, if not the principal source of healing in my life. The Freeze states (the dorsal vagal states) are at the heart of trauma. Knowing what freeze is, and then beginning to learn how to work with it, has been absolutely critical to my healing. I will say also that, like much of this work for me, it hasn’t been an easy or elegant process. I didn’t discover the Polyvagal Theory until I was enrolled in a 3-year trauma training program, at the age of 35, and in which I ostensibly thought I was enrolled in order to help someone else (i.e., not myself.) Ha!
As I began to learn Polyvagal Theory, and about the freeze (or shutdown) states in particular, I began to be able to, and to need to re-organize my memories, and to understand reactions and behaviors of mine from childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood that had previously been very shameful to me, and for which I’d blamed myself. Why didn’t you DO something? I wondered this about myself, until I understood the neurophysiology of the dorsal vagal state. Part of the gift of understanding Polyvagal Theory is the awareness that the parts of the nervous system that make decisions under extreme threat are not our ordinary everyday sense of self, that they aren’t generally under conscious control, and that their purpose is simply to keep us alive. As long as we are still here, they’ve accomplished their objective. Our work then is to re-integrate the material that has been suspended in them, un-integrated, back into the fabric of a coherent sense of self, rather than trapped, out of time. Shutdown, and dorsal vagal states in general, without the buffering influence of the connection system, are also the doorway to much of what constitutes severe mental illness. When parts of ourselves and our stories get locked into these physiological platforms this manifests in a wide range of psycho-pathology. I want to issue a strong cautionary note here, because the focus of this work, and my scope of practice is restorative, that it is generally necessary to have skillful accompaniment by a trained trauma therapist to successfully resolve these kinds of states. My insights into working with them on my own, and with others, came after having had extensive accompaniment by highly trained trauma therapists in the body-based traditions, as well as having had support from a variety of indigenous healers in a variety of lineages. That said, I think it is very important that everyone understands what these states are, and how they operate, so that if you find yourself going through one, and don’t happen to have a trained trauma therapist or shaman nearby, you will have some comprehension about what is happening, some awareness that it can be remedied, and some sense of how you might begin to do so.
In an article entitled Vagal Pathways: Portals to Compassion, in The Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science (2017), Dr. Porges deploys a turn of phrase that stopped me in my tracks. He explains that dorsal vagal states allow us to become socially invisible by feigning death. Socially invisible. For social creatures, to be socially invisible is a form of dying. The phrase struck me because I felt this way growing up, and as an adolescent, and we have a teen suicide crisis in modern society because young people feel socially invisible. The dorsal vagal state is a physiological state. Porges proposes, in the article, that ‘physiological state is a fundamental part, not a correlate, of emotion and mood.’ Teens don’t feel depressed, hopeless, or invisible because they are feeling sad or dysphoric, they feel depressed, hopeless, and invisible because a neural platform has become activated that filters their experience of reality. Neural platforms filter our reality like glasses that we can’t take off. If we don’t realize that they have been evoked by a threat–and that we can shift out of them–we understand ourselves to be fundamentally broken, and we give up. No one wants to live in the dorsal state permanently.
Even in mild form, its fundamental felt sense is ‘get me the F*ck out of here.’ As I was writing this section, I had the good fortune to get shifted into a dorsal vagal state, which is something that doesn’t happen to me very often. It was a mild shift in this direction–I have experienced magnitudes worse–but even so, and even with what I know, my instinctual desire was just wanting it to go away, or me to go away, or time to move forward. I thought of the phrase ‘to be beside oneself,’ and realized what an apt description it was, because all I wanted to do was to be let out, to be able to step away from myself, from the visceral experience, which is the essential quality of this state. No wonder then that children who find themselves in this state simply want to get out, by whatever means necessary. (Teen suicide crisis.) And yet, the dorsal states are part of the repertoire of the human, and most of us will experience them at some point, if you haven’t already. So bring your courage, and your willingness to tolerate discomfort, and let’s learn something together.
WHAT IS THE DORSAL VAGAL STATE?
Let’s first talk about the evolutionary importance of the dorsal vagal state. Remember, this is the most ancient threat response strategy, connected to death-feigning. The strategy is mediated by sub-diaphragmatic vagal pathways in the gut, which are largely un-myelinated, and which plunge the metabolic rate (heart-rate and breathing drop dramatically) and drop the body into an extreme energy conservation state. In reptiles this is not particularly dangerous, as their hearts and brains don’t have extraordinarily high oxygen demands, whereas ours do. In a way, the extreme dorsal vagal states are a kind of grace, preparing us to be eaten–once the body believes it can’t fight or flee–the grace of the dorsal vagal states is that they release endogenous opiates (painkillers) and help us leave the body so that when the tiger eats us this is less painful. If you are reading this, though, you didn’t get eaten, and also, probably, there is a part of your body that doesn’t fully know that. This is what it means to have un-integrated dorsal states. This is what drives Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (it's not a disorder, as Dr. Peter Levine PhD explains. It is an injury.).
With freeze states, we talk about and acknowledge this continuum of dissociation. If the body is going to be eaten, we don’t want to be in it. There is, with dorsal vagal states, often a loss of observer, and a dissociative movement out of the body. Get me out of here! Survivors of physical and sexual abuse often talk about feeling as if they were watching themselves from above. This is not metaphorical. So, at some level, conceptually, part of our job is to help get the parts of consciousness that stepped out of the body back in. The challenge is that this dissociation is cued by certain arousal thresholds, and the delicate dance is analogous to dismantling a bomb. We have to find a way to get back close enough to the very thing that threatens to take us out of our body, and we have to gradually dis-assemble its mechanisms. These aspects of consciousness that fragment, dissociate, step out, also can’t be forced back in. They have be allowed back in, and decide for themselves that they want to come back. Often, as soon as they do, what grips us is a rage or terror: what was just beneath the physiological phase shift into freeze. So coming back into the body, we are often seized by the rage or terror that ejected us, and then we get to work with that. Sound like fun?
HOW DO WE WORK WITH THIS?
Trauma therapeutic approaches that deal successfully with freeze states share a concept of titration–of working with the smallest discernable dose of arousal, because getting close to these states, they tend to accelerate and take over extra-ordinarily rapidly. Part of the medicine then is learning to work with just the tiniest bit of arousal, the tiniest bit of memory of an event, just a little fragment, a little piece, and basically re-equilibrating this moment. Therapies often move forward and back from the moments that preceded an event to the time afterwards when a person feels safe (or at least becomes aware that they’ve made it through.) As they move through memory, they are continually led back from states of high arousal to grounding. (The stress response just happens, the relaxation and connection needs to be brought online.) This is a non-linear process. In literature, trauma narratives are characterized by their refusal to operate in linear time. Trauma disrupts the ordinary sequentiality of time. It’s resolution also refuses to obey linear time.
SHOCK TRAUMA VERSUS DEVELOPMENTAL TRAUMA
A distinction needs to be made here between shock trauma (e.g., a car accident that places one is such a state) and developmental trauma (e.g., repeated abuse that happens again and again) because the mechanisms and psychological import of dealing with these situations is varied. In the first case, for shock trauma, approaches like Somatic Experiencing are often extremely effective, whereas in the second, deeper and more comprehensive attachment-oriented therapeutic modalities that incorporate polyvagal awareness are indicated (see our film on Healthy Relationships with Dr. David Mars PhD). A corollary distinction needs to be made between traumas where our biology was needing something to happen that didn’t–to be loved, to be held, to be validated, to be seen, to be heard–which we often conceptualize as traumas of neglect, and traumas where something happened that shouldn’t have–boundary violation, witnessing violence, etc. With respect to the nervous system, these operate differently.
When people are in strongly dorsal vagal states, traditional mindfulness practices are contra-indicated, although it is important to note that many meditators are drawn to mindfulness because it provides them a way of being present with dorsal vagal states. Dr. David Treleavan’s work on trauma-sensitive mindfulness in his book of the same name is particularly indicated here. If you are reading this and realize that you are dealing with dorsal vagal states on a regular basis, which would be indicated by experiences on the continuum of dissociation from feeling spacey, to having lots of experiences that seem surreal, not being sure if you are dreaming, feeling out of your body, feeling out of it, or even having gaps in memory, blanking out–it is first probably helpful to know that this is connected to a physiological state.
Secondly, this is something that it will be very difficult to work with alone. In talking about key principles, shedding light on the process can be useful so that you can be kinder to yourself, and potentially help yourself better, but true healing from traumatic events that evoke freeze physiology will require assistance. If you realize that this is happening alot for you, please speak with a somatically-oriented trauma therapist, so that they can help support you. Although your experience likely has many psychological dimensions, this is largely a physiological (Autonomic Nervous System) issue. For issues related to shock trauma, Somatic Experiencing (the lifework of Dr. Peter Levine, PhD) is an excellent healing modality to investigate. For trauma that is more developmental in nature a more integrated psycho-biological approach, such as that found in Sensori-motor psychotherapy (Dr. Pat Ogden, PhD), is often indicated. There are also modalities that are closer to bodywork, including those such as Polyvagal Touch, developed by Dr. Jeff Rockwell, trained in osteopathy, chiropractic, and traditional Chinese medicine. Osteopathy, significantly, has an origin story the official version of which omits its debt to indigenous bone-setters. Many of these modalities trace back to indigenous origins. What all share in common is an ability to track, read, and support the resolution of Autonomic dys-regulation.
Dorsal vagal states are states of overwhelm. Something has happened, and our body hasn’t caught up, hasn’t fully comprehended or integrated or made sense of this. This is true at the level of thought, but it is more deeply true at the level of physiology, where dorsal vagal states represent a discontinuity of experience. Something is therefore missing, and needs to be brought back together. Indicators that we are moving in the direction of this state can include:
-feeling spaced out, or outside of youself, or not ‘really there’
-having difficulty understanding the sequence of events
-abrupt discontinuities of mood, emotion, etc.
If you find yourself in a state like this, the state itself need accompaniment without demand. If you are accompanying someone in a dorsal vagal state, do it in a manner like parallel play. Be nearby, but without making relational demands. Try to give the person time just to be. (Working with someone in a freeze state is like watching paint dry. It has a time of it’s own, and looking in from the outside can seem like nothing is happening at all. As a witness, don’t try to make something happen. It’s not about you.)
Know that when you are in this state your ability to process information is much diminished. Having people ask you a bunch of questions is often further overwhelming. Having them ask you what you are feeling, or where you are feeling it in your body can be confusing, and you may not know. Directing attention inward can increase dissociation unless you do it skillfully.
THE BREATH IS SUPPRESSED IN DORSAL VAGAL STATES
You may notice that you are not breathing. As strange as it sounds, accepting this can be one of the most helpful things to support healing. If I realize I’m not breathing, and this freaks me out, and I start to make a story up about it, I can panic, or force myself to breathe, neither of which is actually helpful. If instead I can realize, oh, I’m not breathing…this is that dorsal vagal thing (diving mammals actually do this)…and instead I can just notice I’m not breathing and be present with (and even curious about this) you may discover that what arises when you start to move through that is actually the organizing impulse to breathe, which is often the start of re-organization and coming back together. If you wait for this–this wanting of the body to breathe, and track that, it can be extremely helpful and re-integrating.)
In personal self-disclosure, I once had an experience like this where my breath held itself (I don’t say I held my breath, because my ordinary sense of self wasn’t driving) for probably four minutes, far far longer than I could have done on my own, or intentionally). Again, this isn’t something that we are recommending you try on your own, just that if it happens, know that it isn’t an indicator that something is particularly wrong- it’s just the way the state works.)
THINGS YOU CAN DO TO SUPPORT YOURSELF IN DORSAL VAGAL STATES
As strange as this may sound, sometimes one of the best things to do is not to do anything. Since dorsal vagal states are generally overwhelm states, sometimes the best way out of them is to stop trying to control, organize, manage, or do anything. Often we mobilize as a reaction, because being still just feels weird and uncomfortable. Place yourself somewhere that you know you are safe. Curl up in a ball. Watch a fire in the fireplace, or waves rolling in. Allow attention to warble along the boundary between inner and outer. If you feel stuck in your body, if your guts feel solid, unmoving, see if you can bring your attention to the felt sense at the edge of the stuck place.
I’m going to describe a process for me of working with a mild dorsal vagal state, not to suggest that it is universal, but simply so you have one point of reference for this state, how it might show up, and how you might work with it. Just prior to writing this (last night) I had to make a call to inquire about getting Life Insurance (a heavy topic to begin with, and also a privilege to be able to afford it.) I made the call to the company, spoke with a representative, was told I needed to complete a health interview, and went about my day. I have a medical history that includes some things that were quite traumatic, a near-death experience, and a period of psychiatric hospitalization, all of which are going to show up on my medical record. Part of the reason I didn’t have Life Insurance was that it used to be so expensive, because of these incidents. As you can imagine, I was feeling vulnerable sharing this information, and also knew that I needed to in order to obtain the insurance, the lack of which was making my wife nervous during COVID-19. At the most basic level, a dorsal vagal state is likely to arise when we feel unsafe (vulnerable) and we can’t fight or flee. In this situation, I was feeling vulnerable, and aware that I needed to do this. I imagine anyone who has faced a medical procedure, or applied for some form of assistance, or been evaluated in any way by some outside party who has control over whether to offer or withhold assistance can relate to the vulnerability here. I missed the call from the company, and when I picked up the message, the person who left it said something like. “HI THERE! I am calling for Miss KRAM (narratorial note: I’m not a Miss) on behalf of XYZ Life Insurance COMPANY! We need to move FORWARD with the next step in COMPLETING an INTERVIEW with you over the phone so PLEASE call us back TODAY at 888-624-7792.” The voice was a young woman, obviously white, who sounded like a Junior Varsity Cheerleader. OH MY GOD we are going to have SO MUCH FUN in your INTERVIEW! By the time I got through listening to the message my palms were sweating. I had spent time thinking about how I would share my personal history with the health professional I was speaking to, but the idea of telling this person anything deeply personal about me was extremely distressing. My immediate reaction: F*ck no. My sense of obligation: I have to do this. (This over-ride is often what takes us dorsal.) I felt my visceral state shift. Forcing myself to be brave, and get it over with, I called her back, and they put me on hold. In those moments, knowing what was coming, and that I was going to make myself talk to her, I found myself shifting dorsal vagal. After about 10 minutes of being on hold they told me the wait time was likely to be six hours, and that their automated system would call me back. I got off the phone.
One of the things we keep in mind with trauma is that it is in the nervous system, not the event. What may be traumatizing for me might impact you only slightly, and vice versa. Something might be traumatic for someone for reasons we can’t begin to comprehend–e.g., it smelled like lilacs when the trauma happened, so every time those flowers bloom, it re-triggers. I fell asleep, and woke up in the middle of night. It felt like a bowling ball had been sewn into my guts. I got up and came downstairs to meditate. Sitting there, I realized my system was dorsal vagal.
If I meditate as I ordinarily do (and there’s a temptation to do this, because part of the state is immobilization, and meditation is generally immobilized) I will sink deeper into it. So I have to actively orient my attention in a different way. What I’ve personally found most useful is to bring my attention to the edge of discomfort in my belly. There is a highly active, dynamic visceral distress here. What I do is simply attend to the edge of it. What begins to happen for me is that emotional states begin to surface. First there was grief. I found myself getting sad, and I allowed my face to register this, to feel grief. I have to remind myself to allow it to come through my face, to take off the mask. Then this shifted to shame. I tried to allow myself to feel this too. A bit later I found myself feeling offended. F*ck that B*tch! I could feel this on my face, an expression of disdain. I find it significant that there are all of these layers packed in here together. As I began to feel through these layers, to unpack them, to let them come into awareness, and to feel them, things began to shift. My stomach gurgled, I found myself burping (often a strong indicator of coming out of dorsal vagal states). I started to have impulses towards self-comfort. I want to notice reflexively that the last strong emotion I had, of being offended, which preceeded me thinking, F*ck that B*tch was a prelude to coming back into anger, the state that had preceeded me going into shutdown. My initial reaction to the phone call WAS anger. But I had to over-ride that, at cost to myself.
As I write this, a privileged affluent hetero-sexual white man, sharing with you the tiny inconvenience of having gone dorsal vagal because I had to over-ride my anger in order to get life insurance, I want to just take a step back and say, with self-compassion, that compared to what many people–women, people of color, indigenous folks–are dealing with on a daily basis, this incident is less than trivial. It is trifling, in the scheme of things. This doesn’t make it less real, as my experience, but its important to say this because it helps put it in perspective. At no point in this call was I in physical danger, even remotely. This was uncomfortable, but not even dangerous. I didn’t like how I felt, but no one was threatening me, no one was arresting me, no one was contemplating firing me, no one was contemplating raping me, no one was contemplating kicking my ass, or taking away my land or my children. None of these things. And even so, even with how small this thing was, it effected me pretty deeply.
Let us consider, with empathy, the cost of having to suppress our natural and valid responses because they make someone with power uncomfortable. This is what oppression is. Oppression is: You don’t get to have your appropriate response because it makes me uncomfortable. You don’t get to be angry as a woman (she’s a bitch), or a black woman (she’s an angry black woman), or a black man (black men are not permitted to be angry at all in this culture.) Black men have ‘problems with authority’. They have Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Intermittent Explosive Disorder. Did you know that was a thing? It’s actually in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, version 5. Although, significantly, Post-Enslavement Appropriate Rage and Distrust of Crazy White People Syndrome isn’t in there. Black men don’t get to be angry. We’ve created diagnostic categories to structure this denial of access to appropriate response. White men get to be angry. We get to be whatever we want, and we’ve conveniently structured medicine and mental health to give us this space, and pathologize others when they take up their space. For centuries, women were hysterical. For centuries the appropriate emotional responses of women to male oppression were categorized as hysteria so that they could be dismissed. Medicine and Psychiatry and Whiteness and Patriarchy colluded to solidify their own power. White Supremacy is the structuring of differential access to our full human range of response. It is saying that the more that you are white, or conform to whiteness, the more space you are allocated. These responses that we deem inappropriate, don’t understand, or make us feel uncomfortable get medically excluded. To be direct: this is evil.
Part of my own racist socialization is a systematic exclusion of certain groups and categories from my circle of compassion, and an almost unconscious recalibration of what is permissible to happen to others who are ‘different’ than me. I was in a training with our mentor Lee Mun Wah a number of years ago, and he began talking about his son being falsely incarcerated. I found myself sitting there, listening, wondering about whether or not I’d remembered to pack a banana in my bag, until suddenly I was struck by a thought: Gabriel, what’s wrong with you? I suddenly found myself wondering why I wasn’t crying. What had happened in me, that I could hear him talking about his son being imprisoned, and it didn’t impact me emotionally? What part of me was disconnecting? I had to perform an intentional movement of imagining it was my daughter in order to engender the appropriate emotional response. As soon as I imagined this happening to my daughter, I found myself filling with anguish and indignation. I also found my body preparing for action. I knew that I would have been at the police station, I knew there would have been lawyers there, and I knew it would have been a hot mess. Newspapers would get called, television crews. Business would get handled. And then I found myself both astonished and ashamed. Why had that mobilization of resources not happened for his son? I experienced a similar moment last summer during filming An Unfinished Conversation about Race when the topic of the immigration detention camps came up. Someone said during the filming that it was important to acknowledge that we’d instituted a concentration camp on the Southern border of the US. Listening, even as a Jew, this didn’t fully land for me at the time. Our colleague Tiara Maldonaldo wept as she talked about children being put in cages. I sat there, not impassive, but not able to fully enter into the gravity of this observation. Many months later, watching the edited film segment where she says this, after it had come back from our editor, I found myself doing the same thing I’d done with Mun Wah. I tried to imagine what would happen if they tried to take my child with me, and put her in a cage. At first, I found myself with an almost child-like incomprehension. Why would they do that to my sweet and beautiful child? And then, when I imagined them doing it anyway, the full force of my fatherhood welled up in me. A jaguar can jump more than twenty feet from a crouch. It came up like this, the energy. I had to stop the film. I walked outside, shaking. I began to run. I tell you with flat-faced conviction that if someone tried to put my daughter in a cage…I estimate that it would take me 6 minutes to get the Governor of California on the phone. It would take me two phone calls. I could get a billionaire on the phone in one call. A celebrity in one call. Border patrol wouldn’t dare put my daughter in a cage. Every officer in that office would lose their job. (Or perhaps, as a white man, I have an inflated sense of my own importance.) But I assure you it would not be a quiet surrender. What’s wrong with me that that level of outrage doesn’t arise when they put sweet José’s 4-year old Aricelli in a cage? What is wrong with us?
PLEASE NOTE: The role of the Restorative Practices model is to neither specifically endorse or validate therapeutic or restorative practices per se. Rather, we will seek to describe the particular situations in which a modality may be useful, and leave it to the discernment of the participant to decide whether or not that modality is potentially useful to them. Further, we acknowledge that the effectiveness of the modality is generally inextricably linked to the skill of the practitioner, so that while something may be the correct modality in theory, an individual practitioner may or may not have the specific skills required to provide you effective support. We encourage you to actively educate yourself about modalities, in particular those that do not have a clinical licensure model or regulatory oversight body. Some modalities have had peer-review research done on them, and have a validated evidence base. Other modalities, often those that are ancestral, or haven’t been monetized, do not, not because they are not effective, but because in a capitalist economy, someone has to pay for the research, which generally takes years, must conform to strict protocols, and is expensive. We further note that many of the research studies that purport to be evidence-based have been researched on a particular and often narrow band of social location, e.g., mostly white college students, or middle-income adult patients in a private-pay medical system, and do not generally disclose the sociological particulars of who the evidence base is. The growth of the field of integrative medicine has witnessed a profusion of research in non-allopathic approaches, including Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese medicine, and many others, providing an evidence base for bodies of medical and healing knowledge with 5000 year histories. These modalities worked just fine before the research: now practitioners can bill insurance for them. Without heading too deeply into the territory of policy and politics, the lack of a category in the DSM for Developmental Trauma Disorder, which some of the brightest lights in trauma research have been advocating for well beyond a decade, evidences an established medical system incentivized to prejudice certain treatment protocols over others. Until the academy is less self-interested, and more awake to issues of equity, and the underlying inequitable distribution of safety (which is actually a public health issue) that permits some vulnerable communities by virtue of their race, gender, and or economic status to be exposed to threats that would be unacceptable in other wealthier communities, we will continue to present to you an array of both validated and ancestral practices, ‘evidence-based’ and ‘folk’ so that you can find ways to take responsibility for your wellness in alignment with your values, culture, and economic means. We believe that access to connection is, like access to clean water, a fundamental human right, not a privilege.
*a huge amount of information (sensory, emotional, etc. packed into a tiny increment of time). When people report on accidents, for example, they talk about this strange way that time slowed down, etc.
Related Practices:This is related to all things Polvyagal. See the Polvagal Theory film. If you'd like a brief introduction to the theory, visit our Brief Illustrated Guide to Polyvagal Theory. For a comprehensive exploration of the theory with its developer, see The Future of Medicine and Mental Health, with Dr. Stephen Porges, PhD. See Polyvagal Mapping. With regard to healing traumas and down-shifting other distress states, see Healing Trauma, Healing Neglect, Coming out of Fight, Coming out of Flight.
Who taught us this?
We've been studying this for a long time with a range of mentors and advisors, including Dr. Stephen Porges, Deb Dana LCSW, Dr. Peter Levine, Steven Hoskinson, Anthony 'Twig' Wheeler, Dr. Jeff Rockwell DC MA DOMP and others.
Teach me how
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Who taught us this?
We learned this from many people, and it has become one of the signature elements of our work, which looks to understand the neurophysiological drivers of mental momentum in the body. This unites strands of indigenous awareness with the Polyvagal Theory, marrying ancient ancestral awareness practices with the cutting-edge of neurophysiology
Teach me how
Check here for classes.
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