Bearing Witness

Bearing Witness to Pain Brings Healing

We’d completed a great deal of inner work during the forgiveness retreat, and I was leading a final closing exercise. A young woman approached me and tentatively asked if I would help her. Tears welled in her eyes as her body quaked in response to the memories of abuse rising up within her.

“Stay with me,” I said gently as her eyes started to stray away from mine.

She shuddered and began to curl forward toward me.

I braced her with one hand on the small of her back and another upon her shoulder, holding her firmly as if she were a dance partner, though this was her own inner dance with demons that fluttered in the mists of the past.

“Breathe with it…breathe with me,” I urged her.

She flinched as her eyes again darted away.

“Come back here and breathe.”

Her eyes showed she was now present, while the tears rolling over her cheeks made it clear the trauma inside her was being attended. I smiled and breathed so deeply with her that she could see my chest rising. I knew this because her breath deepened as well.

We stood for long moments breathing together steadily. She would tell me later that feelings were cascading through her, but gently now, no longer a torrent.

A softening sadness came to her face, almost wistful, as the tears eased. I could feel her posture softening too.

“Good…good…just keep breathing with it…” I said as my touch on her lightened.

An almost imperceptible nod came to her and her eyebrows rose slightly.

“What did you just see?” I whispered.

“Momma and Daddy…” she smiled very softly. “It’s like you said.”

I cocked my head in an obvious sign of curiosity.

“They just didn’t have any okay to give.”

“Yes,” I replied. “Anyone who is not whole within themselves cannot nurture it in someone else.”

Tears welled again in her eyes, matched by those in mine. She smiled shyly and shook her head with obvious understanding. Our eye contact held.

She leaned forward to embrace me, but only for an extended moment. Then she comfortably eased away, our contact lingering before breaking.

Seeing True

Often we cannot see through the eyes, rather true sight comes through feeling. Some healing cannot be done in thought for the wound is not in thought, rather it is held in the body as feeling. It is there the work must be done.

Seeing True in Action

Three things seem invaluable in releasing old injuries and trauma:

  • Someone or something needs to hold a space for us, to provide what one spiritual teacher called a “container” that is strong enough and safe enough. This could be a teacher or therapist.
  • We also benefit from someone who can bear witness. They need do nothing, for there is nothing they can do. Only to see us without thought or judgment. This should be one in whom we trust.
  • The breath is a powerful ally. It grounds us and allows us to re-embody ourselves. The shamans of the world might call this the retrieval of the soul.

Into this space a presence or power can arise. Through it healing comes.

For those seeking a useful tool, Unattended Sorrow: Recovering from Loss and Reviving the Heart by Stephen Levine contains powerful guidance.