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You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today, my guest is Thomas Hübl. Thomas Hübl is an Austrian-born contemporary spiritual teacher, and the founder of the Academy of Inner Science. His work integrates the essence of the great traditions of wisdom with scientific knowledge, and also his own personal mystical experience. Thomas Hübl has devoted his life to the task of exploring awareness, and also supporting others in their quest for greater awareness. With Sounds True, Thomas Hübl has written a new book, it’s called Healing Collective Trauma: A Process for Integrating Our Intergenerational and Cultural Wounds.
Born in Austria, Thomas himself—as he was teaching in Germany, Austria, and then also in Israel—through his meditation retreats, discovered something that he called a “trauma eruption” that would occur in the meditation space. Instead of resisting it, he explored it and developed an entire body of work in a process that he calls the Collective Trauma Integration Process. We’ll learn more about that, and why Healing Collective Trauma is the work of our time, a time when so much ancestral trauma, multigenerational trauma, cultural trauma is in our midst. Thomas invites us to turn right towards it, join together, heal, and integrate the pain of the past to create a different future. Here’s my conversation with Thomas Hübl:
Thomas, for more than a decade now, you’ve been bringing people together to do collective trauma healing work, sometimes in very large groups of people, as large as almost a thousand people. Can you share a bit, and by way of background for our listeners, how you came to do this large group collective healing work?
Thomas Hübl: Yes, Tami. Thank you, first of all, for this conversation. And yes, I came out of a four-year meditation retreat or almost five years, and then I started to teach and then I traveled around, but a lot of my work developed very quickly in the German-speaking area, like Germany, Austria, Switzerland. And so, in my workshop pretty quickly, we had quite big workshops, and then, after one or two years of teaching, it started—and it happened again and again, that we had this kind of what I call now collective trauma eruptions. And of course, that’s given the German history and the Second World War and the Holocaust, I mean, it’s expectable, but I didn’t expect it in that kind of intensity. It’s like you sit with 80 or 100 people in a room and suddenly, 50 people start to cry and see horrible images and like, have memories come up of the Second World War and the Holocaust that were not even only there as personal, their personal memory. And so that happened the first time and then it happened a second time and it was just different people, but the same process.
And so after a few times, I got, “OK, something shows itself to me that I need to study, I need to learn. And I need to learn how to facilitate those processes,” which I did over time. I mean, we did so many now in the last, whatever, 15 years or 18 years. And then as you said, after some time, we started to do bigger events, but what I learned is that there is a dimension of trauma, because trauma is often a very personal thing. Something happened in my childhood, something happened to my attachment relations, something happened, like there was a shocking experience or an accident or something.
But then I understood, “No, no, wait a moment, what I see here is a systemic issue and this is something that has been here thousands of years, and it’s a cumulative process. And if it’s not being integrated, like any personal trauma, it’s going to repeat itself.” And then, once someone is in a room where such a process happens, it’s very specific. It’s kind of, there’s something unique about those processes. And it showed me like how the collective unconscious is being regulated by all of us together. And so, there’s a kind of a collective denial. And then I felt, “Wow, there is also a possibility here that we actually are being called collectively to be part of the healing of collective trauma.”
So, I mean, that’s—I don’t want to make the answer too long, so that’s a bit of a fast-forward movement, but it happened kind of randomly at the beginning and then I studied it, and then I started to learn how to work with it. And today, I think it taught me a lot about the dimension of collective trauma and systemic trauma around the world and—
TS: Well, there’s a lot to talk about here, Thomas, but just here at the beginning, I’m curious, as you know, I’ve interviewed a lot of different spiritual teachers. How come I haven’t heard from other meditation teachers, teachers who are leading people in deep spiritual work, they’re not talking about this eruption of collective trauma in the room? What was happening in the teaching space that you were holding that gave permission to this phenomenon, or did you just name something that you do think it’s going on in other teaching circles, but people aren’t naming it or they’re somehow suppressing it in some way?
TH: Right. And I think the second. I think it’s—I don’t know, if they’re suppressing it, it’s suppressed naturally through all of us, like slavery and racism in the US or the Native American genocide. There are very strong, powerful forces that are suppressed. and the suppression has often a good reason. It saves us or something, it protects a part of us. So it’s an intelligent function, but if you don’t pay attention to it, it becomes toxic and then it has recurrent effects that are happening all the time in our society.
And like, I think what gave permission to it is that we early on, we had a mix of different practices. So, there are some contemplative practices, there are some studies of mystical principles, of subtle competencies, to be dialed in into the subtle field of information. And then we did a lot of relational work, and I think the relational work created a sort of coherence and since we do a lot of attuned relational work, like to bring contemplation and meditation into our daily relations, it created a sense of safety.
So that’s how I look at it today. That’s what I’ve learned. It wasn’t fully clear from the beginning, but that’s what I understood over time. And so, when we create a certain level of coherence in a room, and we feel safe enough as a “we” space, as a community, as a group, and there is enough collective trauma content, which is in many places around the world the case, then when the nervous system actually wants to detox a certain amount of that pressure, because it’s a pressure in the subconscious. It’s there, but it’s, it’s stuck. So, when we create those spaces, it actually finds a space to come to the surface. It’s part of the self-healing mechanism.
And I believe that trauma and collective trauma is a modern way to say separation, so the basic underlying composition of separation, I believe, is trauma, trauma. The basic trauma symptom is that I feel separate, because I feel numb, I feel dissociated, I feel removed, I feel disengaged, I feel hyper-activated. So, it feels like suddenly, I become a separate particle in my experience, and I’m not anymore part of an interdependent world. And that’s why I think diving deeper into the nature of separation is deeply connected to come in touch with the deep traumatization of humanity, basically, because it has been going on for such a long time that we had massive woundings in our cultures. Yes, so that’s maybe a reason.
TS: OK. And you mentioned doing relational work such that a level of coherence is created in the room. What do you mean by coherence? How do you know when a room is starting to bubble up with coherence?
TH: So, there’s first my inner coherence; this means that in my nervous system and my own body, there is a certain amount of data flow that is flowing through. We call it—like another word for coherence would be being in the flow and in a flow state is coherence, so that my mind, my emotions, my body, my inner and outer relational experience, presence, my spiritual connection. There are different building blocks of coherence, but that’s coherence. In the trauma work, we call this resourcing, like we look at what other inner coherence fields that are the resources that have the power to meet the fragmentation or the inner fracture or dissociation and pain. So, the coherence is the resource to deal with the fragmentation. If the fragmentation is stronger than the internal resource, then the system will constantly fragment.
So, the experience of somebody like this is that, “I don’t have the power and I’m constantly in my trauma trigger, basically, in my life.” If a therapist comes from the outside, that’s an outside resourcing, to provide what the inside cannot provide. And when we are in groups, it’s the same. So, we are all bringing a certain amount of inner coherence—like, you carry coherence, I carry coherence, and there are 100 other people, and then we add that coherence in order to create a coherent field.
And what I saw is when we do the right practices, which means that when I look at you, Tami, right now, or I listen to you, then you already happen in my brain and I happen in your brain. So, we are represented in each other, so it’s already very intimate. And so, the intimacy is, and we can do many things to reduce it, but the basic intimacy of life is happening all the time. We are all the time deeply interrelated and—or like Thich Nhat Hanh calls it the interbeing, but the [inaudible] is happening in me and so, I’m deeply interrelated. And we do a lot of exercises to make this a conscious process and that we feel each other. And then there is another beautiful finding of Stephen Porges that spoke about or speaks about the Polyvagal Theory and a part of our nervous system that is deeply engaged and relational.
So, we use some of those elements to create relational presence. And system sensing—like, so Otto Scharmer talks a lot about system sensing. So, there are various elements that build coherence. And so when we do that in a group space, it becomes like our healing resource and then the system is kind of connected enough to allow deeper content to come up that is way too threatening for an individual to allow, or it pushes its way onto the surface of life, but then it usually doesn’t take, then it’s usually destructive. That’s usually when people go into deep mental imbalances or when people run into schools and shoot around. So, when there is this volcano coming up through people that are very fragile in their inner structure, then that’s another way, but that’s the destructive way. That’s what we want to prevent. And we want to take care of the pressure that is in our subconscious lakes in a different way.
And that’s why I think collective trauma work is so important because it has so many effects that are, in my understanding, the root causes for many of our global and cultural challenges that we meet at the moment. And then something like COVID comes, that is something we could take care of, but with the amount of inner fragmentation that we carry, it becomes a crisis because it hits many places in us that are actually pre-stressed and pre-fragmented, and then a stressor comes, then we see lots of polarization. What we see now in our culture is basically how we deal with a global crisis, it shows that, I think, very vividly. Yes.
TS: Now, Thomas, I never attended one of your CTIP events—that stands for Collective Trauma Integration Process, CTIP events—and probably, truth be told, most of our listeners probably won’t get a chance to attend one of these events. I mean, maybe some will, but most won’t. How could we take the principles from Collective Trauma Integration, the process you’ve developed, and apply them for collective healing, whether that’s a challenge in our organizations when it comes to racial justice, or a challenge in our family when it comes to some kind of inherited family trauma that we’ve recognized? How can small groups of people—can they use some of these principles to heal collective traumas?
TH: Yes. First of all, like the book describes CTIPs, but the book also describes that collectively, the collective trauma field or structure slowly becomes something that our consciousness will grasp consciously. As long as it’s unconscious, it’s something that runs and directs parts of our lives, but it’s not in my awareness, I just deal with symptoms in my life.
So, one invitation is that we start to understand, OK, there are collective trauma structures that are built into our societies. It’s like you have a house and you have many bricks, but many—some, like, let’s say, 20 percent, or 30 percent of the bricks of your house are made out of ice. They’re frozen, so that frozen substance looks, in a way, stable, but it’s a nonmoving, frozen part of life. Now, the nature of life, as we know, is movement. Everything is changing and the frozen parts of life create the tension with the original movement of life. That’s what we call pain and suffering.
And now, since we all have been born into this world, that world looks normal to us. It’s like, “OK, that’s the world that I know.” And so, my parents might have carried some trauma, like it expressed itself in the way they parented me, and then my grandparents and my ancestors, teachers around me, the society around me—so it’s not that on every corner, somebody was standing and said, “Thomas, this is trauma,” or when your teacher talks to you like this, then he is reacting out of his trauma or when your mother says this, this is her own attachment wounding. So, I didn’t get that explanation, so for me, it looks like there is life.
And then that, the inner fragmentation that the mind and the body and the emotions are not expressing one message is a deep symptom of trauma, but we grew up in a fragmented world, so people’s minds, emotions, and bodies don’t express one message and then, that creates confusion in the communication, and that creates confusion in organizations. That’s not clear from the beginning to everybody, so we have to learn this as grownups. And what I’m saying is, so one step of the answer to your question is that since the book is supposed to create a movement and awareness process that we as a culture pay attention to the collective traumatization and how many structures in our society actually frozen.
And here’s an example. When we look at cultural evolution, we can say—it’s simplified, but there are three forces. One is evolution—that’s how life wants to evolve anyway. Life wants to move and be creative. The second is habits. We all create habits, but when we need to change or when an organization needs to change, so then they need to restructure our organization given the current circumstances. You know this as a businesswoman, I know this, many business leaders know this. OK, we are adaptable and we can change. It’s sometimes not comfortable because it’s a bit of a discomfort to open habits and create new ones, but once we do it, it’s actually again, a creative process.
But then there is trauma, and the trauma doesn’t work through—it doesn’t work to deal with trauma through pushing, through activation, through even educating you is not working because it needs another space. So, when we look at the climate change conversation, we hear humanity is not fast enough or we are too lazy, and we are not changing quickly enough, which all might be true. But it has different reasons, because the habits in our lives can be changed through activism, through activation energy, through education of the public media campaigns and all this. But trauma doesn’t work that way, like trauma will contract when you push it.
So, the frozen layers of our society actually don’t want to change, we are terrified to change. And if I treat that in the same way, I will just get resistance. And so, the one aspect is like an education and an awareness process that we start to subject/object transcend that elephant in the room that is living in all of us, somehow. We are all shareholders of the collective trauma field. And the second part is that we know that the CTIP process in the groups works basically, that we create enough coherence that we allow for the trauma—for example, racism—that we allow for the trauma in the room to have an authentic protected space where it can be voiced and it can come up, and that we provide digestion spaces, because every trauma needs to be digested. It needs to come back into awareness, it needs to space to open up, needs a digestion. And then there is an integration process, and through the integration process, we get the learning, like the pearl of wisdom within the shadow. That’s an integration process.
And I think if we apply those simplified processes in organizations, I think that’s very helpful. And also in smaller groups, and because for the bigger and for the larger processes, I think it needs a training. And we also wrote this in the book, that I think it needs skilled facilitators to hold many people. And the reason is that if in regions—let’s say in the US, we do such a process around racism or the Native American genocide, many people in the room share in a way a similar traumatization. So, when a few people touched it, it might be that suddenly many people are in a very strong process. So, for this—we did, for example, for our large process is we brought many, many therapists and we had a huge team to hold the group, so we need to be prepared and be responsible to always create the right container because we are dealing with strong forces, in a way. So, that’s also important, but I think it’s being able to apply smaller versions the same principles to do integration work in groups and organizations, definitely.
TS: Yes. So, let’s talk about those principles a little bit and how people can begin to use them, really, in their lives. So, sticking with this topic you brought up about the trauma of climate disruption and climate change. I live in the western part of the United States where we’re surrounded by fires—even right now, today, after a big snowstorm, there are still embers burning and some of the fires are not contained. And I think to go through the—in the book, you call them waves, not exactly steps, but these waves that emerge and to begin to bring our awareness to it, not to be in denial, but then you started talking here about digestion and integration. And as a listener and I’m imagining the people who are listening as well, this is undigestible to me. This is just horrific to me. How do people digest what seems undigestible, unmetabolizable? It’s too horrific. And then talk to me about the integration phase as well.
TH: Right. And that’s true. I mean, I have worked with many groups of people of Holocaust survivors and people going through unbelievable situations and suffering, and we need to honor first, the human capacity to stay alive in unimaginable circumstances, and that the process of dissociation is super important. And so, whenever we are numb, whenever we feel, “It’s too much, it’s overwhelming, I can’t do it. This is not digestible,” that we honor that kind of inner state.
And it’s not that that inner state is the final truth, but that inner state is very important as a function, how we learned over hundreds of thousands of years—and longer most probably as animals already—how we learn to deal with these overwhelming, peak moments in our lives that only like that we could survive. And I think it’s very important to say this, that there is a very high intelligence in those, in the trauma response is a very high intelligence. That I can split off a part of my nervous system and numb it in order to stay active, or fight and flight or whatever, is super important.
When I come closer afterwards, I will meet the same feeling again. “I cannot do it. It’s too much.” It’s also what many people would say at first is, “It’s collective trauma, it’s so big. How can we ever deal with it?” And that that feeling needs to be honored, but holding presence. It’s not that that says the truth about collective trauma, it’s the feeling that comes up of overwhelm that we go through when fires are burning, many people lose their houses and/or there was lynching in the US, or there were people in gas chambers, or there were dictatorships with cruel tortures. “It’s too much. All I want to do is look away.”
And I have been in the room with many of those processes, and there is this phase before the first wave arises, is this denial phase. You’re in the room and you feel, “What am I doing here? Why am I doing this? It’s so heavy, it’s so difficult. It’s so uncomfortable. I want to just be out of this room.” And that’s the collective denial, but if we hold that in presence, another level comes that allows for a part of the trauma to or that energy that is stored to arise. And if we do that in a regulated way, so it starts a healing process.
So, I think that the feeling you mentioned is very important and it needs to be respected, and through respect, we relate to it, and then we take it seriously. Yes, that’s what we feel. We feel overwhelmed, we feel it’s too much. And if the too-much-ness is being held in compassion or love, it turns into a beginning of a feeling and then a deeper feeling, and then it turns, like a coin that turns around and the feelings can come up and then we feel how hard it was on us or it is on us and that needs to safe space.
So, we need to provide safe spaces, but I believe given that we are in for a longer run—I mean the climate crisis is going to be a marathon. And so, we need to find ways, how to find a sustainable way of being with waves and waves of climate change impacts, and maybe millions and hundreds of millions of climate refugees, so it’s going to come anyway in waves. And the more we are prepared and strengthen our resilience, we find ways how to stay engaged and related. If not, then we will more and more dissociate and become indifferent or become—or it will end up in conflict and more destructive processes. But I see a chance for us to learn how to digest it together and create resilient communities that will be able to provide that function for each other, so that we can digest.
And digestion is like food. When I’m really stressed, my body doesn’t digest food well, but when I’m in a good regulation, I can digest my food well, and my experience is the same. If I’m chronically stressed, I cannot digest my experiences, and that’s why I cannot become quiet and still. My mind will race, my emotions will come up, and then people try to meditate, but the pressure of the stress is constantly shooting into our neocortex. And then it seems like the mind is racing, but it’s not that the mind is racing, the wind in the windmill is simply so strong, because activation is an energy that goes up. Relaxation is an energy that goes down. When I can switch my nervous system freely into relaxation, I can also meditate easily.
But for many people, sitting down is like balancing the moving up, like I’m balancing my attachment stress and balancing my ancestral trauma stress, like that I was born already with higher stress receptors, because my grandparents were deeply traumatized and epigenetically, I’m carrying this. So when I try to meditate, I will feel frustrated, and then if you don’t understand what’s happening for me that is not that I’m not capable of meditating. It’s also not true that the mind is racing, and it’s doing its own thing, it’s that there’s too much activation stress in the nervous system that keeps the mind racing. And once we understand that, we see that how spiritual practice and personal trauma work and maybe spiritual practice and personal and collective trauma work are a whole, they are supposed to be one. And I think if they work well together, we have actually an amazing skill set that that helps us to develop our spiritual practice, but it also helps us to deal with the challenges in our life and heal our wounds.
And I think that all will lead to the fact that we have less suffering, that we have more compassion, more love, more clarity, more global collaboration, more presence, and we feel deeper related also to the natural environment, because the climate crisis, I believe, is also based on the collective trauma that reduces the feedback loops and the sensing of the biodiversity and the climate change, or the change in our natural habitat. And so, the disembodiment that is an effect of trauma is a root cause of the climate change to start with, and the follow-up traumatizations will make it even harder.
And that’s why I find it very timely that now when we have access to also more global synchronization that I think that’s why also collective trauma appears on the surface, it shows itself to us because of the time that we are in. I think it’s part of that global challenge that’s coming towards us.
TS: Now, Thomas, in your book, Healing Collective Trauma, you write a lot about the process that you teach, and you described facilitators and their role in the process. And I wanted to ask you about this one quote: “Facilitators need to be able to steadily and consistently access and channel light for the benefit of collective trauma integration work.” I wanted to understand more this notion of facilitators channeling light.
TH: Yes. So, now we will move a bit to the mystical dimension for a moment. So, in the spiritual practice, as I understand it, there are two major—I mean, there are many practices, but there are, let’s say, in the contemplative practices, we have two major practices. One is to drop deeper into whatever stillness practice and presencing practice, and go from what I would call mindfulness to spaciousness to kind of a magnetic causal presence, and then into kind of a nondual state may experience, or it’s not an experience of state. And so, their practitioners learn to, in a way, sink deeper and deeper into stillness. And that’s a process of letting go of activity because the activity overshadows that ground, that deep stillness. And that’s deeply related to kind of an opening process, that my nervous system is kind of like a receiver of what I would call the light of our soul and higher levels of consciousness, that light has always like a kind of a vibrational state and then information.
And when we look at—when we look at the nature of light then we see two kinds of light. One is the embodied light—that’s the world, that’s the light that has become substance. At the beginning of the Bible, it says, “Let there be light.” So creation, like light and the word light, is not to—so, light is being created. It’s kind of in, whatever scientific language, we will call it the Big Bang, but it’s, light being created is the energy of the universe. And when we connect to evolution, we connect to light, so light as embodied light, that’s awareness. I’m aware of the world that I’m living in. There’s a manifest universe and when I am aware of your body and I am aware of you. So, the embodied light in Thomas is aware of Tami.
And then there is potentiality. That’s the world that we, in a way, receive through inspiration, through creativity, and through deep insights. And that’s kind of above the manifest world. That’s the world that we download together. There are many startup companies, everybody has a kind of a different idea and everybody is trying to—so at the moment, we are downloading technology, for example. It’s a new part of our consciousness that is being downloaded through ideas, light that forms itself into thoughts and excitement into feelings and into work through our body. Like just—when you had the idea to found Sounds True, you had an impulse and that impulse created excitement and then you pulled in possibilities that supported you, you created it. And now today, it’s a very big structure and it supports so many people to find deeper knowledge and inspiration about all kinds of things.
And so, it’s my physical body needs to ground the light and make it manifest. And when we work on collective trauma processes, we need to know that my personal identification, when I am identified with Thomas, it’s my persona. But Thomas is living as a part of a culture, of a country, of a world, so they are collective structures of consciousness that are way bigger than my personal identification. The awakening process is transcending them from subject to object, from subject to object, so that the witnessing capacity grows, and the world’s going to be in me, but not anymore in me as Thomas, only in me as a wider consciousness, a wider perspective.
And so, because when we go into this collective trauma fields, they’re very large, they’re very vast. And if I have a deep spiritual practice, I can stay connected to my sense of inspiration or deeper inner guidance, so it brings information to me that is beyond my reach as a person. I’m deep and I’m kind of connected while I’m walking into the underworld, so to speak, if you want to use a mythological language. And if I lose that connection, then I start to become identified with the forces of that collective field, so I cannot hold a bigger perspective. That’s why I think collective trauma work has to come together hand-in-hand with a transpersonal practice. I need my personal integration, otherwise I cannot discern my own trauma and the collective trauma. And many people too early bypass their own pain, and then they deal with the pain of the collective, that’s also a trap.
And so, when I’m willing to do as a facilitator, deeply my own integration work, and I’m committed to that for the rest of my life. I’m not looking when it’s going to end, because it’s not going to end and it’s going to end means I don’t want to do it. That’s the first thing. And so, if I just do it whenever it’s needed, so then I’m with it all my life, if it’s needed, because I’m committed to it. And then, we learn more about the collective trauma field and we study this and we also learn more how to integrate that. And then I have a deep spiritual connection and a grounding in the spiritual dimension.
And that’s why we wrote the book as a pendulum between the scientific, “OK, what does science say to trauma? And what does the mystical dimension say to trauma? And what does science say to collective trauma and the mystical dimension?” Because I think the dialogue is actually what we need at the moment—that inner science as we call the mystical dimension and regular science need to be in dialogue and need to inspire each other because they are both very powerful. And I think for the collective trauma work, they’re both very needed.
TS: Now, Thomas, I want to talk directly right now to that person who’s listening and some aspect of their own intergenerational trauma, in their own family history, or some aspect of collective trauma—maybe it’s the slaves in the United States, that that’s part of their collective background, that they personally and deeply connect to that pain. What would you say to that person right now who’s listening who feels collective trauma, intergenerational trauma stirred up in their experience, and they’re not quite sure how to take everything you’re saying and make good use of it?
TH: Yes, first of all, already, the willingness to pay attention to it, to what comes up, is already great. I mean, the first step is that once we ask that question, we’re already willing to deal with it, even if we don’t know how, but we make space in our life not to just try to get away from it, but to be with it. And the first capacity that I think we are building through a deep inner work and spiritual practice is the capacity to stay with whatever is arising. And if that’s arising, and I can stay with it, it’s great.
The second step is there’s nowhere written in the universe that we have to do it alone. So like bringing, like creating circles where we come together with like-minded people and we start, “OK, we will explore ancestral and collective trauma together,” and we create the space to listen to each other’s arising, especially in times where collective trauma will be triggered, through a global pandemic, through climate crisis, through forest burning. Like, there are enough reasons why that layer of us wants to get activated.
And once I know that, I say, “Wow, actually, me participating in the process—I don’t have a problem, I have an opportunity.” I have an opportunity to take care of a part of humanity’s legacy because no matter if I’m part of an African American family or if I’m part of a white family, we might have a history, somewhere back some generations or even shorter, like a connection to a collective trauma. We might have a connection to the Native American genocide or, which I believe in the US is also what I would call a collective trauma is immigration. Like, many waves of—because it’s a difference, if I’m the CEO of a great company with a lot of money and privilege in one country, and I take my suitcases and fly with my private jet to another country and become the CEO of another company. Maybe then immigration is a different thing, but for many people immigration meant walking away from trauma, from wars, from famine, from deep poverty—like it’s not that we walked away from the best life we could have into the even a bit better life that we could have. And so—and my children growing up in a country where I don’t speak the language fully and I’m not fully part of the cultural code, and I am a kind of a newcomer, and new immigrant, all of that is not that easy, and it needs a lot of care to integrate the aftereffects.
So, there are families where the immigration history is kind of reverberating through the generations and it has a deep effect. And so when that comes up—because I see collective trauma as we deciding together that we will clean up humanity’s living room, because most of the trauma has been created through deep ethical violations. And, so there’s our current life, then there is the whole trauma world and the collective unconscious, and then there is a deep ethical correction. I believe every good trauma work leads to a restoration of the fabric of life. And the fabric, the tissue of life can only be restored fully when the ethical law or the ethical line is being restored.
So this means that we always, when we do deep trauma work, we learn something; we learn something about appropriate parenting, we learn something about violence, about wars, about human dignity, human respect, respect of differences, and like all kinds of things. But we don’t learn it just cognitively, because many of us are very educated and we know already many things cognitively. We need to learn it through our bodies. and the healing happens in our cells, in our emotions, in our relations. And when somebody has stuff come up, so then to see this as an opportunity to do our share—I said before we’re all shareholders of the collective trauma field, so we take care of our share and we give whatever we can give and we look at it [as] “I have a personal commitment to pay attention to what’s arising in me, even if it’s fears, anxieties, numbness, whatever comes up. And I will create for myself the right environment, because that’s my response ability. Ability to respond to whatever is arising in me also includes that I create the right environment for myself.”
TS: You’ve said many powerful things in this conversation, Thomas, but two that are sticking out to me—one, when you talked about when we do this collective trauma healing work, we’re healing our sense of separation, that trauma and separation go together. And now, here you’re talking about creating ethical repair in our living room as a society. Those two things are very powerful to me. So, I just wanted to underscore that and thank you for that.
Now, here’s something in the book I had a question about. You write, “The heart is the doorway, the elixir is light, and the present can change the past.” And it was this last idea, “The present can change the past. Now, I understand how the present can change how the past lives in me. I get how it can change how it lives in me, that makes sense. But in the book, you seem to take this a bit further; you talk about something that you call “the theory of retrocausality,” and you say the retrocausality principle is at the heart of the work that you do around trauma healing. So, I need a little more understanding here.
TH: That’s great, I think you picked one of the most complex things, it’s lovely. And, yes, so I need to create a little bit of frame around this. In, I believe, the mystical understanding of the universe, we could say that presence is our natural state and that integrated history adds complexity to the sense of presence. So the fact that all the functions that we use to have this conversation means that hundreds of thousands of years of life are leading up to us both having this conversation; and that the thoughts that we use, the emotions, the expressions, the thinking, whatever the society that we live in, is not our development. I mean, a lot has been developed before we were here.
And so, when we say integrated history is presence, and presence is the birthplace of the future, potentiality, that’s how it comes in. Otto Scharmer calls it the Theory U, and the bottom of the U, you connect to innovation. And so, the future is not another point in time; the future is in the deep presence of the creative act. It’s in the deep presence of the contemplation. It’s in the deep presence of people that are very passionate about what they are doing and because they are very passionate, I believe you hit thousands of moments where because you’re so committed to your work, you had all kinds of creative ideas and they came out of presence. That future was born in the present moment. It’s never somewhere else in time. And so, that’s that.
But then in our society—and I believe that’s the flat-earth principle of our time. When we look back, we say, “Oh, there was a time when people felt the planets were …” and then we are laughing a little, smiling about innocent it was. But today is that the past is the energy of the history that is still around that has not been integrated, and that’s why it creates a movie on top of the movie. Most of the fears that we have are not because the serial killer is next door or the lion is sitting outside and it’s just waiting until we open our front door. So, most of the fears that we have are fears that are actually energy of the past that arise in the current moment.
Even if somebody takes a business decision and invests $100 million, the fear that arises has nothing to do with the decision. But it might look like to our minds that, “I’m afraid to take such a big decision.” Know that if you feel that that’s the right thing to do, you will do it because you feel it. And if you don’t feel it’s the right thing to do, so you don’t do it. But it’s not that the fear is the thing here, it’s that the fear is a voice of the past. So, in the moment we fragment life, in the moment there is trauma and dissociation, we created a past which is the energy of the past, not what happened in the past. And it creates a split future that’s not the real future, that’s the future that is kind of an escape. It’s a mirror of the past.
And I believe when we live and our ancestors went through something—for example, my grandparents went through the Second World War, and the healing work that I do, every time something heals in me, a condition heals in me that is interconnected and it spreads into my ancestral tree. So that when I change something in my own setup, like something really heals, it has a domino effect into the past. And physics—and that’s why we call it retrocausality—there’s a similar theory arising in physics that is also a deep principle in the mystical traditions, that the future or now—I’m the future of my grandparents, we have the power to rewrite, to have an effect that changes is something in the past. Not only that the past lives in a different way in me, that’s true, and that there is a change effect. And the change effect is very powerful, and it’s also like a resource, because what is our future changing for us now.
TS: OK, so let’s say I want to help. I want to help heal the trauma in my ancestral tree. I want to actually do that work as a gift to my ancestors. What are you recommending as a process? Maybe I have a sense, I can feel in my own body, in my own psyche, what that trauma is that my ancestors went through.
TH: Right. And there again, there is something that I can do for myself and then it’s also very beneficial to do this with others or to do this with people that are skilled in the trauma work, because sometimes we open stuff up where we need some support. So, it’s good to look, what’s the right environment, and what’s responsible, what can I hold, and where am I so overwhelmed that I need some external supports? But let’s say we take care of that; so then, you said something that I want to underline is very important. “I can feel that in my body.” So, the body is an important tool because ancestral trauma work doesn’t happen in my mind. My mind is a good entry gate, but it needs to happen in my body.
When I tune in with my body, what do I do? I feel the library of my nervous system. My nervous system developed—it was there when I was one year old, two year old, three year old, four year old, up to now, so my nervous system is actually a huge complex system. And when—let’s say I got traumatized at age two, then in my nervous system, the trauma is stored at that level of my development, so I need a way to attune to that. That’s why I often say when people say “I’m scared,” and when we train therapists or people or facilitators and I said, “OK, if somebody says, ‘I’m scared,’ it’s way too unspecific.” I want to know what kind of fear you’re talking about.
It’s like you go to the interior designer and you say, “I want a red wall.” Yes, but what kind of red? There’s so many shades of red. There are so many shades of fear. Is my client talking about a very early attachment fear that is kind of taking over his or her whole life, or has the person been bullied at school, at age 12? And then, there’s a fear, that fear needs a very different treatment than the early attachment fear. It’s not the same; it’s called the same emotion, but it’s a very different thing.
And I’m speaking about that because that’s true for my own development. So, when I feel myself, some people, for example, say, “I have tension, I have a back pain.” Yes, but that back pain happens on a certain level of my development. Maybe as a five-year-old, I needed to suppress so much fear that the muscle contraction happens on the level of age five. When I feel myself as a 40- or 50-year-old, I don’t need that; I feel it only as a symptom, pain or tension. I don’t feel the process of tensing up and regulating fear.
And the same is true for my ancestors. I can dial in with my ancestors and really attune my nervous system to the level of my parents. And then I can—through my body, I go through my body, I use my breath, and then I tune in with my parents. And then I tune in with my grandparents. And it’s a fine attunement process. So, when I want to work on the traumatization of my grandmother and how it affects my own life today as fears that come up constantly in my life, so then I need to have that attunement that will connect me through my fear to my grandmother’s fear or hurt. And through the embrace, because I’m really dialed in, I actually can start to digest the traumatization that my grandmother couldn’t digest.
And so I become like a bigger space of consciousness that can include that, digest it, integrate it, and then I will feel that in me, symptoms will dissipate and disappear. And I will also feel more connected to the ancestral stream, because many people at the beginning when we do ancestral work, it’s hard for them to feel their ancestors. It’s not something especially in the West that we all grew up with, how to do that. I mean, there are other cultures where it’s so clear, it’s kind of part of the education. And for us, it’s something that we have to reclaim, but our ancestors are the roots that connect us to the planet. And if I don’t feel my roots, I don’t feel a part of my planet. And that’s why I think we also create cultures that exploit, in a way, the planetary resources, because we don’t feel it anymore fully, as that that’s part of our body, the planet is part of our body.
TS: Now Thomas, I mentioned in the very beginning, that you started doing this group work far more than a decade ago, probably close to two decades now, and here you’ve written a book for the first time on this healing collective trauma work called Healing Collective Trauma: A Process for Integrating Our Intergenerational and Cultural Wounds. And one of the things you pointed to in our conversation is how the time is so ripe right now for us to be doing this collective trauma healing work. What is your vision for how this work will take hold and be of benefit in the world? How do you see it spreading out?
TH: Yes, I feel that it’s an absolute must. It’s something that we have to do, because it’s like, I think our life base depends on it. And given the global challenges and the new activations, we see that the issues that we have ask for it. So that’s number one. Number two is the developments of our time also ask for it, because we created a global brain, the internet and all the technology that we have, and that global synchronization speeds up data. If data gets faster, it hits more and more the traumatized, unmoving parts of ourselves. So it will create more and more tension and polarization in the world—which we see, there’s more and more polarization because the inner fractures, there will be a pressure through the data stream and the speed of our life onto the nonmoving parts. And we created a global village where suddenly there is no “out there.” Before, we took the toxins and we just threw it somewhere. There was always an “out there.” Now, the “out there” is coming back to us. Microplastic is coming back, toxins are coming back, the food chains are completely contaminated. So we are sitting in our own making now, and it seems like the room to balance that is getting smaller and smaller, and so that’s number two.
And number three is that I believe the science, also the trauma science and all the great pioneers of trauma work, like we are going deeper and deeper to rewrite medicine books, we are going deeper and deeper to rewrite psychology books, and so the science of trauma is actually very popular, which I think is great. And now, we can start to address—with that knowledge and with more studies, we can address the systemic traumatization and look—because the same like with the trauma patient or client, there are symptoms in his or her life, and if we deal with the symptoms, we don’t get to the healing. We’ll keep repeating them. But if we go, if we see the symptoms and then we look, “Where’s the fire? I see the smoke, where’s the fire?”
And I think we want to be as good as we are already with one-on-one clients. We want to be as good with that as we are with political conversations, economical crisis, big social issues, climate issues: that we see the smoke, but we go to the fire and we take care of the process that’s really happening, not with the symptom it creates. And if you just listen to the current political conversation, we see so much trauma information being expressed, and we cannot solve it on that level of conversation. That’s very clear. And so, to have that kind of systemic effect, I think, is very important.
And the last point maybe is that the current technology gives us a level of synchronization, same as we use here; we’re sitting thousands of miles apart and we have this wonderful conversation. I think that synchronization is getting easier, and that is a resource for us to do the CTIPs even in virtual spaces and in real spaces, and maybe all kinds of mixtures. So that we can create the global movement to take care of the large wounds that we have.
Because in those wounds is human potential that is stored. It’s like stuff frozen in the ice. And I often say when the inner ice can melt, less outer ice will have to melt. And so, we harvest the human potential stored in the large wounds that we mostly inflicted upon each other as humanity, and we use that fuel for our collective evolution.
That’s just a few—I mean, given our time, these are just a few reasons, but I think that a global movement to take care of our living room and create the ethical correction that we were speaking about to have a brighter future.
TS: Thomas, I just want to underscore one thing. As I was reading Healing Collective Trauma: A Process for Integrating Our Intergenerational and Cultural Wounds, I got stirred up reading the book, truthful, and I noticed just having this conversation with you, connecting with you, feeling you makes all the difference. And I do think that relatedness principle that you emphasize, that we heal collective trauma through our relationship and our love with each other, that that’s part of the basis of the healing movement. I just want to point to that, because I felt it here just being with you for this time, so thank you.
TH: Thank you so much, Tami. And I highly appreciate your work and thank you that we collaborated on this book. I very much appreciated it.
TS: Talking with Thomas Hübl, he’s the author of the new book, Healing Collective Trauma: A Process for Integrating Our Intergenerational and Cultural Wounds. With Sounds True, he’s also created the audio series, The Power of We. And I do think that’s what it’s going to take, the power of we.
Thank you for listening to Insights at the Edge. You can read a full transcript of today’s interview at soundstrue.com/podcast, and if you’re interested, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app. And also if you feel inspired, head to iTunes and leave Insights at the Edge a review. I love getting your feedback, being in connection with you, and learning how we can continue to evolve and improve our program. Working together, I believe we can create a kinder and wiser world. SoundsTrue.com: waking up the world.