I watched this talk on Healing Trauma and Spiritual Growth with Peter Levine, who developed Somatic Experiencing, and Thomas Huebl, a spiritual teacher, and found it enormously helpful. In fact I watched it twice. I was struck by a story told by Peter Levine. In his work in Germany, he worked with the child of someone who was in the SS, and also the child of someone who worked for the resistance. Doing this work, they found out that their traumas were the same.
This story reminds me of something that happens in The Heart of the Family, a novel by Elizabeth Goudge, that takes place after World War II. Sebastian, a concentration camp survivor, comes to work for David Eliot, and lives in his house. Sebastian struggles with hate for David, who he sees as being successful in a world where children are starving. David feels his hate and accepts it as something he deserves, because he is beginning to see his own faults and weaknesses. Sebastian discovers that his hatred has its roots in his own enjoyment of success before the war, and is able to let it go. He feels he must make reparation, so he tells David the story of how his wife and children died in the bombing of Hamburg. David then says “Would it help if I were to tell you why you hate me? … I was a bomber pilot in that raid on Hamburg.”
Sebastian goes through an intense tumult of mind and spirit, and comes to understand his oneness with David. “They were together in what they suffered, caught in this lunatic age that was not of their making. Or had they made it? While one of them harbored one thought of hatred, hugged to himself one moment of self-indulgence, they were not guiltless of the misery of these times. Mutual guilt locked them together, as well as mutual sorrow.” p313
Sebastian goes on to say “You saw far enough to recognize instinctively the oneness of men in their guilt. I was able at one time to see the oneness of men in their pain. Neither of us saw far enough to see the oneness of the guilt and the pain.” p315
The Heart of the Family was published in 1953. She intuitively knew what Peter Levine discovered his work. I read somewhere that one reason slaveowners treated their slaves so badly was that, deep inside, they knew they were wrong to treat a human being like an object. I remember sitting with my mother one day, when she said “Jack says I was a bad mother. But I was a good mother. I took care of you little peeps…” She went on to complain about Jack’s ex-wife, slurring her words. I realized that she knew she was a bad mother, and her guilt made her reach for a drink so she wouldn’t have to feel it. The tragedy of addiction is that it was the drinking that made her a bad mother.