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There's Nothing 'Magical' About Societal Healing

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Nothing seems spontaneous when it comes to the necessary evolutionary work of releasing social pathologies or historically embedded wounds. Sorry, I know wonders and miracles abound when people change their attitudes and deep-seated beliefs about themselves and their bodies.

I know that affirmations, gratefulness and forgiveness can bring swift benefits and that sometimes it seems as if we achieve dramatic and miraculous support for our best intentions. But social healing, on the other hand, is slow.

Now, If something is slow it usually has a bad rap in certain quarters, but not everything has to be lickety split. Take the slow food movement: it is much healthier than its zealous counterpart, the fast food empire. These days we also have the slow money movement, whose design is to bring health and renewal to communities: instead of investing in Wall Street's schemes to get you rich quickly at all costs, you can slow down and invest in communities where what you gain will be a lot more than any fast rate of return.

Healing, even at the individual level, is more often an unfolding process rather than a hallelujah moment of, "I am healed." Healing is often discovery: fresh insights begin to emerge, new realizations surface, a new perspective reframes the picture we have created for ourselves, new feelings gestate on harmonizing breaths or become a new foundation that settles into the firm bedrock of a new life.

When we see how deeply the wounds of slavery, violence, racism, profound gender inequity, religious intolerance and other inherited traumas and pathologies affect us, we recognize that shifting the field of collective human experience is no easy matter. We have begun to understand how protracted a wounding genocide is, how it stretches across generations and how there is a certain reinforcement of the scarring and wounding in socio-political dynamics and in dominant social narratives. We are beginning to see that post traumatic stress disorders are much more extensive than normally reported when soldiers return from brutal war assignments and that their unresolved wounds are carried deep into the social body.

Yet, we know that our collective wounds can be addressed and that societies can make progress in healing the most virulent wounds of the past. Social healing tools involve learning about the role and practice of deep dialogue; learning from the basic insights of mind/body health and healing; drawing from contemporary insights into the nature of consciousness and human capacities; testing new approaches to collective trauma recovery; practicing modalities of listening, including compassionate and integral listening; promoting forgiveness and atonement; learning about different cultural approaches to restorative justice; exploring the process of truth-telling and mutual acknowledgment; and exploring the interface of personal narrative and historical narrative where subjective experience is honored. None of these approaches is particularly fast-track.

I have seen former combatants share meals and offer reconciliation to each other after long years of warring, and I have seen victims of genocide engage in healing the roots of animosity and hatred with perpetrators of genocidal violence. This is work of unimaginable significance for humanity and requires abilities to access reservoirs of courage and compassion. It is work on the long road of healing. The miracle is that it is able to encompass any horror of the past and resolve it in a way that it is no longer sent into the hearts of future generations.

And maybe, just maybe, a day will come when a wave upon wave of reconciliation, forgiveness and restorative justice will enter, unhampered, into the hearts of coming generations with such power that they wash away all the really heavy toxins of hatred. And not unlike the monkey who learned to wash the mud off her yams, whose innovative behavior entered the field of awareness for other monkeys to copy, maybe reconciling love in enough humans will tilt the whole human enterprise away from a contagiously wounded past.

Until then, one healing step at a time. As Angeles Arrien reminds us, "healing does not occur in the fast lane."

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