The Unique Perspective of a Spiritual Leader on Racism, COVID, and Political Upheaval – Dr. Tirzah Firestone – HPP 63
Do we really understand the devastating effects that trauma brings? How do we know that we are suffering from trauma if it happened in the distant past, in our parents, grandparents, or even our ancestor’s time? Is trauma intergenerational? And if it is, does it directly affect our genes with the possibility to have it passed down to our children and grandchildren?
The reality is, most of us are completely unaware of how trauma hides itself in us. Living in today’s modern world, trauma may have already buried its roots deep in all of us that may have caused multiple societal issues. We almost always see or hear stories of civil unrest and suffering from groups and minorities because of political upheavals or injustices due to racism, add the fact that the existence of a global virus has significantly impacted all of us.
Today, these are only some of the many questions that we discuss and find answers to. We are honored to be joined by a respected spiritual leader, author and Rabbi, Dr. Tirzah Firestone and head deep into the conversation of how trauma can destroy not just the individual Self, but also our lineage, how it causes harm to those around us and how it has affected our society in a major way.
Dr. Firestone’s Early Beginnings – 03:03
“when you’re in this community, in this traditional Jewish community, and with that kind of upbringing that you have kin everywhere in the world, you can go anywhere and you’ll find a place to stay. You’ll have meals, you’ll sort of like a grid, a worldwide network that you can plug into”
Horrors of the Past – 06:41
“She escaped Nazi Germany in 1939 on the Kindertransport, this amazing project that was instigated by the Quakers to get the kids, get youngsters out of Nazi Europe—So she narrowly escaped and her siblings all made it out but her cousins, uncles and aunts were all murdered in Europe”
How Spirituality Plays A Part in Healing – 11:08
“What does a psyche mean? It means soul. Those of us who are in healing arts and I say that as a broad envelope, we’re soul doctors. We’re the new incarnation of priests and priestesses I think in many regards. People have dropped out of synagogue life or out of church life. Or maybe they go but they want to dive more deeply than their clergy can take them into the psyche, into the land of dreams, into the land of these deep urgings and promptings of the soul”
Understanding Trauma and its Intergenerational capability – 15:02
“They don’t just end when our lives end. They do get past through the family train, and they continue in the next generations. So I’ve heard unbelievable stories of impossible kinds of transmissions that you just can’t imagine how this transferred from two generations”
Intergenerational Trauma in Current Culture – 19:18
“And I would say here that what we’re experiencing in the world today is in so many regards the product of centuries and generations of intergenerational trauma that’s forcing its way to the surface to be healed. Now, that is both very dark, and it’s also very promising if we can rise to the occasion”
The Impact of Trauma – 26:37
“So we dissociate so that we can keep functioning and I think dissociation is probably the number one hallmark of trauma, whether we’re talking about individual or collective traumas. We numb out and we let the memory fragments splinter in our psyche and ultimately we have to reintegrate those memory shards”
Path Towards Healing – 32:45
“I do believe that as each of us, and I’m talking to you and Keith and everyone who’s listening, as we do our work, our personal work and keep deepening it and expanding it to enlarge our context to understand the matrix of our issues. We are really putting forth ripples of inexplicable change that can go into the collective”
A Story of Healing – 37:53
“And she went home that night and started to ask questions and all hell broke loose because she unearthed a family secret which was very filled with shame, which was that her parents when they rode out of Tehran, they left a 94 year old, blind grandmother”
Tirza Firestone, Dr. Will Van Derveer, Keith Kurlander
Dr. Tirza Firestone 00:00
The hallmark of trauma it’s about its repetitive nature. And of course Freud calls it the repetition compulsion, and it’s this unconscious compulsion to reenact the injury on ourselves or on others.
Keith Kurlander 00:18
Thank you for joining us for the higher practice podcast. I’m Keith Kurlander with Dr. Will Van Derveer. And this is the podcast where we explore what it takes to achieve optimal mental health. Welcome back. Today we are going to explore the concept of intergenerational trauma and understanding how trauma and human suffering across the timeline of generations can really impact the way we see the world, how we are in the world and the way our mental health is, whether this is something that can cause a lifelong experience of feeling sad and down and confused or anxious, agitated and scared. We’re really going to kind of dig in here with a rabbi who has focused a large portion of her career on understanding how trauma gets passed down from generation to generation, and how prevalent that might be. This is a great talk for really understanding if maybe there’s something that came into this world that you didn’t know about. And maybe you’re still struggling in ways that feel confusing, and it actually has to do with intergenerational trauma. It’s something that’s hard to identify sometimes inside of us and this was a really, I think explorative conversation of how to look for the signs. I’ve known Rabbi Tirza Firestone for over a decade. We met a long time ago, actually around this conversation when I was focusing in my own life on intergenerational trauma and healing I needed to do. Rabbi Tirza Firestone is an author, Jungian psychotherapist, and founding Rabbi of congregation Nevei kodesh in Boulder, Colorado. She was ordained by Rabbi Zalman Schachter shalomi in 1992 and she’s a leader in the Jewish renewal movement and a renowned Jewish scholar and teacher. Let’s welcome Rabbi Tirza Firestone. HI, Tirza, welcome to the show.
Dr. Tirza Firestone 02:47
Hi, thanks for having me. Yeah, it’s great to have you.
Keith Kurlander 02:50
And it’s fun. Just our previous conversation of the full circle of past lives of all of us, you know, how we’ve interacted in the past and what everybody’s up to now.
Dr. Tirza Firestone 03:00
Yeah, many lives within one life.
Keith Kurlander 03:03
Yeah, lives within lives. So we thought a good way to start with you is actually to hear a little bit about your background, your upbringing. The show is going to focus quite a bit on intergenerational trauma and some of your work there and also some other insights you have as a spiritual leader and rabbi. We thought it’d be great to just start a little more personal and just say a little bit about; I believe you grew up in an orthodox family, Is that right?
Dr. Tirza Firestone 03:28
Yes, I did.
Keith Kurlander 03:29
Okay, yeah, it would be great to just hear, you know, what was that like for you growing up in an orthodox family and some of the real supportive elements that came out of that for you and also some of the challenges that you had to work through because of that upbringing?
Dr. Tirza Firestone 03:41
Great. I’d love to share about it. My upbringing in the Midwest, St. Louis, Missouri, in a very modern orthodox but fairly ultra orthodox community. It was very rich in so many ways. It was rich in education, both cultural education, Hebraic education, secular education, and of course, in the sense of community and belonging, which is so important. You know, when you’re in this community, in this traditional Jewish community, and with that kind of upbringing that you have kin everywhere in the world, you can go anywhere and you’ll find a place to stay. You’ll have meals, you’ll sort of like a grid, a worldwide network that you can plug into. But the other side of that coin, of course, is a sense of insularity and living in a kind of closed circuit that goes hand and glove really with being in a tribe. That sense of tribe is so positive and it also can be pejorative as well. So being a curious lass as I was and extremely hungry for spiritual exposure and also spiritual independence, I really, really needed autonomy. By the time I was a teenager, I made off as soon as I graduated high school and went on my own odyssey to discover the world. And I wanted to get truly as far as I could from my Jewish background and from my family, who I reckoned were so pathetic and so neurotic, to discover a life. To discover what was out there. So that really is the topic of my first book, which is a memoir. And how I made this odyssey into going around the world traveling and did everything from Kundalini Yoga, to Christian mysticism to become very overly involved in a Hindu cult and to recall all of these things and sated my appetite for all these things. And, of course, paradoxically, it led me back home. It led me back as the hero’s journey often does, back to where we started from. So it was only much later that I understood that you really can’t split from your matrix. Your matrix goes with you. It’s so deeply embedded in you and your nervous system in your psyche. And so all the neuroses of my family had traveled with me to Boulder, Colorado which was where I ended up. And once I began studying healing arts and then psychology and started to get my degrees, I realized, Oh my God, my matrix was I was the product of trauma. I was a product of trauma survivors, my parents. So I’m sure that this is both my journey as well as many, many people listening here. We come full circle, and then we realize I have to start where I began. I have to continue where I began.
Keith Kurlander 06:41
Thanks for sharing that. And the question is sort of about your interest in intergenerational trauma and you started to answer where that comes from, but also where that interest deeply comes for you as part of the question, the next question, and then also hearing a little bit about your own relationship to what you traversed there in terms of inside yourself recognizing intergenerational trauma and what you learned from that process.
Dr. Tirza Firestone 07:08
Absolutely. I mean, it took me years really decades to be able to language these things. Of course, it wasn’t as much in the collective consciousness as it is today. Intergenerational trauma wasn’t a term nor was historical trauma or collective trauma or any of these things. I think that’s really been burgeoning over the last 10 to 15 years, but I realized once I started studying trauma, psychology and healing, that I was a daughter of a Holocaust survivor. My mother never spoke of it because she had a German accent. She escaped Nazi Germany in 1939. On the Kindertransport, this amazing project that was instigated by the Quakers to get the kids, get youngsters out of Nazi Europe in time and so there were thousands of children that were put on trains and taken into freedom. So she narrowly escaped and her siblings all made it out. Her cousins, uncles and aunts were all murdered in Europe. She never spoke of that. But I found out much later. And my father was an American kid, who was a Jewish guy from Brooklyn who was sent in the US Army during the war to all the most devastated portions of Germany to do bomb detection. And so he found himself in the camps upon liberation. And what he saw in Buchenwald, for instance, in 1945, as the British troops were liberating that death camp was I think, more than his circuitry could contain and he was extremely traumatized. But again, he never mentioned that in fact, I never knew about that part of him until I read his Obituary, literally, that my brother had put together. I was already in my late 20s. I did not know that he was there. But later, we liberated his file cabinet and found this stack of photographs that he had taken there while he was serving. And this death camp and I realized all the dots just connected for me and I realized, oh my god, that’s what was making him tick all those years and that’s what mom was feeding inside of her. And they never mentioned these things. They were kept secret, probably to spare us as trauma often is. We try to spare ourselves, we try to spare others the residue, the horror, the shock, the grief. But it doesn’t work because we have these nervous systems and so it comes out sideways and it came out in their parenting and came out in their politics and it came out in every which way. And so we received the transmission. For me, every one of my siblings handled it in different ways, some not so well. There’s a lot of suicide and mental illness in my family. For me, I went into psychology and started to research and started to study and started to work on myself in Union analysis. And so the rest is history.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 10:18
Thanks for that, Tirza. So many different directions we could go with this conversation right now. I’m thinking about the parallels of the experience I’ve had in my family in growing up in the south in a Methodist family that didn’t talk about emotions much. I just thought it was curious how many suicides and how many very mentally ill people were in my family tree and I think in my 40s before I started to appreciate the level of trauma that I was carrying in my own body, part of which was definitely coming through the lineage. It’s amazing how long, how many decades can pass before someone speaks up.
Dr. Tirza Firestone 10:56
Sometimes its entire generations.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 10:59
Dr. Tirza Firestone 10:59
But this doesn’t mean that those secrets don’t land in us, and they push at us, and they work us over.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 11:08
Absolutely. I mean, from the inside out, right. I’m curious with your background as a spiritual leader, as a rabbi, and as a union psychotherapist. Did I say that in the right way? How would you position spirituality as a part of the healing process with trauma?
Dr. Tirza Firestone 11:27
It’s everything. It’s the beginning. Wherever I start when I teach, I’m working with that common boundary between spirituality and the psyche. What does a psyche mean? It means soul. Those of us who are in healing arts and I say that as a broad envelope, we’re soul doctors. We’re the new incarnation of priests and priestesses I think in many regards. People have dropped out of synagogue life or out of church life. Or maybe they go but they want to dive more deeply than their clergy can take them into the psyche, into the land of dreams, into the land of these deep urgings and promptings of the soul. So in my work, I talk a lot about this common boundary of entelechy. It’s a word that Jean Ustun introduced me to. It’s a word that’s in the English language, but it’s rarely used. It comes from the word telos, which means an end goal, or an aim, and entelechy is the internal end goal, the internal soul’s code that is imprinted upon us at birth we could say or even before birth that pushes upon us or prompts or urges us toward our work. There’s a lot of talk about the daemon, about the higher calling in Jungian psychology, and Hillmann wrote that famous book the soul code in mysticism as well we find that certainly in Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah, there is a sense that we are, we’ve made a contract. Our soul has made a contract. We’ve signed up for a piece of work to do here. In Judaism we call it the Tikun, our Tikun, the piece of repair work that we can only affect in this life. And that’s based upon everything from genetics to family traumas, to our metabolic forces to our you know, what our nervous system can handle or not everything. It’s all of those factors included in what our perhaps past incarnations as well, what we are here to do. So although I tried desperately to flee my heritage, I made it desperately and married a Christian minister who I thought was safe. My whole family disowned me. I was literally excommunicated for years. At some deep level, I thought I’m free. I’ve made it home. I’m free. They can’t get me now because they hated the idea that I had married a Christian, a devout Christian. But this Christian minister ultimately was someone who had studied with Abraham Joshua Heschel and Maurice Friedman and he knew all about Kabbalah and so he was asking me like, why don’t you love your heritage? Like what’s wrong with you, like I know more about your Judaism than you do? You need to check it out. And so there I was, and through that other freelance, I was able to come back and revisit my heritage, it was all a trick. It was all a grand cosmic trip to get me back in the fold and to become reengaged with my birth religion and get back into it but at a much deeper level, at a level that really has transformative power and healing power. So this common boundary for me between spirituality and psychology of course, I’m talking about depth psychology. That’s always been my Avenue.
Keith Kurlander 15:02
I want to open up a little dialogue here, the concept of intergenerational trauma and share a short story with you to lead into that. So we discussed this a little before the call, but probably 12 years ago, and do you know, Annie Brock? You know, Annie Brook, Tirza? So Annie was the first person that said to me, you know, I wasn’t well mentally and she said to me, I think this is something about the Holocaust. She was the first person that ever said that to me. And I was like, I don’t know. I mean, it just felt so far off in the moment. But over time, within a couple years, I realized that there was a major wound there inside of my psyche, my soul. And eventually I went on a journey out to the camps by myself. And the first place I went, you just mentioned was Buchenwald. Do you say Buchenwald? That’s how you pronounce right? Yeah. So it was my first stop. And when I got there, it happened to be a day when I got up to the gates, the fog was so thick you couldn’t see past the gates. It was like maybe five feet in front that you could see. So it automatically started stirring up experiences of feeling something I had always felt inside of me, which is, I’m terrified of what’s in front of me, but I don’t exactly know what’s coming. The mystery in front of me doesn’t feel good, and just not being able to see and it was stirring up all these old memories. And then I was inside. And once all the fog cleared, I was walking around. And all I could think about was how would I try and escape from here? For hours, I just keep going there. And then I realized there is no escaping from here. And I came to that and myself. There’s a way to get out of here. So I’m sharing this because what came out of that for me was recognizing a lot of the way I was thinking in my life. Based on these sorts of patterns of like, how would I get out of here? I can’t do anything about it. Now I just feel like I’m going to give up. I’m just curious if you’ve been looking into intergenerational trauma for a long time? It’s just how much do you think this impacts people? Obviously, not just the Holocaust. There are so many traumas across generations and across groups of people, and how much do you think this is impacting people in the way they operate in the world and who they are? And do they just have no clue what’s going on? I mean, I had no clue that was going on until about 12 years ago.
Dr. Tirza Firestone 17:20
Absolutely. It’s fascinating to learn people’s stories and the kinds of themes that we grow up with. A feeling of being suffocated or a feeling of having to hide, a feeling of contempt, a sense of self hatred. Whatever it is that those threads that we have, then we work them, we own them, we try to go to therapy to undo them. From this larger perspective, we begin to realize that these things didn’t always begin with us, that as we do this ancestral excavation, through our dreams and through our journeys like you did Keith, actually making a geographical journey. We understand that people in our family system, not only did they have those same feelings, but they were living them out. I just worked with a woman who was always ducking and hiding and trying to be invisible. And when she opened up the possibility that there was more to this and did some ancestral work, she learned that her forebears were living in hiding, and that this was a kind of imprint, epigenetic imprint that we don’t really understand completely, scientifically, yet. There’s not enough data in but we know intuitively enough to know that we are part of a morphogenic field that is our family, and that these unfinished threads, the unfinished life stories and the unmetabolized traumas go somewhere. They don’t just end when our lives end. They do get past through the family train, and they continue in the next generations. So I’ve heard unbelievable stories of impossible kinds of transmissions that you just can’t imagine how this transferred from two generations hence, but they do and maybe we’ll tell some stories too before we’re done.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 19:18
Sounds great. I would love to hear some more stories of intergenerational transmission. And, you know, right now is such a difficult moment in the world. There’s so much going on. We have the backdrop of the environmental crisis, we have political unrest with a very contentious election coming up. We’ve got heightened awareness of racial inequality, the murders of people of color, past few months, and of course, we’ve got the pandemic, on top of it all. And I’m wondering if you could speak to a mental or psychological spiritual framework for how to make sense of the world right now, how to cope with these challenges.
Dr. Tirza Firestone 19:59
Through the lens of intergenerational trauma, it’s everywhere. This is a very fraught time. It is a very dark time and I think we are all feeling that deeply. And I would say here that what we’re experiencing in the world today is in so many regards the product of centuries and generations of intergenerational trauma that’s forcing its way to the surface to be healed. Now, that is both very dark, and it’s also very promising if we can rise to the occasion. We think about the racial violence and the racial upheaval for one instance of generations of hate crimes of violence that came long before George Floyd, centuries of such things which were not caught on camera, which were living in the blood, in the lifestream of black people and people of color all over the world. You saw what happened. It spread out from this country and became viral within a day or two. There were protests all over the world against it because the pain is intergenerational, because the tolerance of this has come to a boiling point. You think about the ethnic violence and genocide and intergenerational trauma that predated the State of Israel. And then you look at the policies today in the State of Israel, which is also a very contentious area in the world, but it’s gotten much less view time because of everything else. And next thing, the Palestinian territories. So you take that in the context of the larger matrix of historical traumas. Think about the wounds of patriarchy, massive intergenerational injuries that women have endured for centuries, we can barely even speak about that. Everything from the witch burnings and the kinds of horrors that women have lived through that predated the women’s movement and the #metoo movement and the sense of enough and, frankly, the movement away from cisgender binaries might also be part of that patriarchal trauma that we have all been bearing and tolerating for too long. So it’s everywhere. And if we can look at these things through the broadened aperture, the wider perspective of intergenerational history, we might have a little bit more compassion for the fact that these things are coming to a head now. It’s an opportunity. It’s such an opportunity. It’s such a crisis moment that if we seize it, if we can see it, and grip it from that place of compassion, and that we have the power to transform these things, we must seize them, then it can be a profound turning point. So much more to say there, but just a little piece of my vantage point.
Keith Kurlander 22:50
Yeah. And a lot of your work is about developing ways in which people can heal from these generations of archives inside of them of the pain of the past and just curious about your perspective on how much important that individuals are healing this inside themselves in order for us to also collectively make changes in the world.
Dr. Tirza Firestone 23:16
Yeah, there’s such a paradox about that, isn’t it? I mean, we want to grip all of these enormous collective themes, but we can really only start from ourselves. So one of my philosophy professors taught me years ago that these universal themes can only be gripped by the particulars, but once we understand that, you know, we look at the hallmarks of trauma. And one of the most mysterious ones, we know about hyper arousal, we know about shame and isolation, one of the most mysterious ones that I write about it in my book, wounds into wisdom is the hallmark of trauma that’s about its repetitive nature and of course Freud calls it the repetition compulsion. And it’s this unconscious compulsion to reenact the injury on ourselves or on others. And we see this both very much inside. If I’m a victim or a survivor of sexual abuse or sexual assault, there is this compulsion to master that and to keep it but I’m more vulnerable to abuse for that reason. And this also happens on a larger scale perspective, how whole ethnicities keep repeating and reenacting historical trauma. So it finally comes down to this “ahah” recognition. If I can recognize the pattern in myself, then I can bring it to my prefrontal cortex. I can get it out of my limbic brain that is sort of like a mechanically reenacting and I can start to grip it in myself, my work in my teaching, I’m helping people. I am hopefully helping people to sort of pull the threads In their own personality or their behaviors or their stuck places and pull, follow the thread into larger contexts into the family, culture or tribe so that they can start working on it. I think it has to start with ourselves. What do you think?
Keith Kurlander 25:19
Well, I think that is a both end for me in myself and in ourselves that has to be happening while the work’s also happening externally in the environment on the social level. But it seems like the problem is if we focus too much on the outer environment and making change there, and we’re still traumatized, we’re going to keep getting ourselves into trouble throughout our life.
Dr. Tirza Firestone 25:45
Yeah, you see this in the world of activism, you know, when we’re doing our activism, when we’re doing our Tikun Olam work, we call it a repair work, our service in the world and ourselves are still hyper aroused when we’re coming from a reactionary place and the hyper vigilant place or you know the bombs are going off in my body. It’s pretty rare that I’m going to be able to interface in a civil way with people that are toting guns or people that are saying things to me. I found it even on a hiking trail in Colorado this summer where scores of people coming in from Texas and they refuse to wear masks and get into it. I have to do my own work first, otherwise, I’m going to be completely ineffective with others.
Dr. Keith Kurlander 26:37
How are you defining trauma at this point? There’s so many different lenses on how we could speak about trauma. We can talk about it from a neurological perspective, we could talk about it from a psychological perspective, we could talk about it from an external perspective of these types of events that are traumatic. I’m just curious how you’re defining trauma now?
Dr. Tirza Firestone 26:58
My friend Resmaa Manakam or Menakem sometimes said, he’s a block activist and trauma therapist from Minnesota for the Milwaukee area., he says, any life experience that comes at us too fast, too much too soon. It’s really any life experience that is too extreme to digest, to process, to integrate at the moment. And so we go into this life saving mechanism, the self defense mechanism that preserves it rather than shatters us, puts it aside, so we send it elsewhere. So we dissociate so that we can keep functioning and I think dissociation is probably the number one hallmark of trauma, whether we’re talking about individual or collective traumas. We numb out and we let the memory fragments splinter in our psyche and ultimately we have to reintegrate those memory shards. The kinds of hallmarks that we see for individual trauma, for these overwhelming unmetabolized life experiences is the same as for collective trauma. Whole ethnicities can be numbed out, can be dissociated. Whole ethnicities are, I know from being a Jew, you know, we’re in constant hyper arousal. I think that comes from living for centuries waiting for the shoe to drop, waiting for the explosion, waiting for the next pogrom or for the next raid. So that is deeply embedded in our gene system and in epigenetically as well. So, yes, micro, macro, there’s a sameness.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 28:38
We’ve had a number of guests on the show here. We had Dick Schwartz who brought forward internal family systems, parts work, Peter Levine and Gabor Mate and different perspectives or different approaches to the process of healing trauma, and from your background as a jungian psychotherapist, how would you describe how the jungian framework can help with trauma? What have you seen there?
Dr. Tirza Firestone 29:06
It’s all a Gestalt at this point, you know, there’s like a spectrum. But I’ve always been a dreamer. And from the time I was eight, I began to keep journals because I just felt that was sort of my god voice speaking to me, and went into jungian study as early as I could. So there is a sense of this interior self that is whole, this hidden wholeness, that Parker Palmer speaks about, this sense of unshatterable wholeness of the soul. That is a starting point for the trauma work that I feel is very powerful and very positive in the jungian work, that we’re always referring back to that potential self, capital S self, and that sense of telos, that sense of I am here because I have something to uncover, I have something to free, I have something to heal. That is my life’s work. And so the jungian work makes available these larger themes of the archetypal themes that are beyond tribe. It’s beyond culture. It’s the seams of humankind, death and life, mother and father. I would say now, because we’re talking on this day in this summer in this strange, surreal reality that was so much at stake. I would say that it was one of my teachers and in his big trajectory that came forth from his work in archetypal psychology, we are unafraid to say that evil is emerging, to use that word evil with a capital E even to say that the darkness that we’re feeling. No, it’s not just the absence of good. We’re saying that there are dark forces that have been unleashed. And that we are in a moment right now in world history that we have to. It’s not the only moment, certainly not unprecedented, but that we have to understand that everything is not relative. No, actually, it’s not that there are good people on both sides. Now, actually, we need to understand that those evil forces have been unleashed that some of your listeners, I’m sure will think I’m out of my mind. I’m archaic. But we see that in watching dreams now, many, many dreams that are being dreamt by people from different cultures. We see that in dreams that say we’re enslaved or that there’s a global strike or there’s a symbolism for this darkness, but we have a big God wrestling going on here. We have a big wrestling match and it’s not short thereof. To say that we’re trying to rescue out the forces of light. I know that might sound very gnostic or very dualistic. But that’s what I love about Jungian work. It’s so simple and it’s so complex at the same time. But Jung would say that the archetypal forces have been unleashed now. it’s very important that we do not go with the masses that we don’t get caught in the group mind, the mass mindedness, he would call it, but that we keep our own threads, the thread of our soul and that we are listening to our own interior voice as best we can right now, to be the individuals that we work with that we are and in the paradox that as we listen to our souls voice, we’re part of the Anima Mundi, the soul of the world as well because she’s crying out, she’s crying through us through each of our individual souls.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 32:45
Thank you. It’s really helpful. And it reminds me of this word that’s come up a few times today. It’s something that Keith and I study with a teacher named John D. Martini, who connects the word telos with the telencephalon which is the front part of the brain. And when you start talking about evil, I start thinking about how distortions from trauma and what we’re talking about today on digested intergenerational trauma can actually wire the brain into more of a limbic pattern, where we’re just reacting and we see things in black and white terms and friend or foe, very binary perspectives. And so I’m wondering about what do we do about this on the bigger level of getting people into their telencephalon and supporting them to follow their existential healing, their Tikun to borrow that word? How can we mobilize large numbers of people right now into this expression of their own telos?
Dr. Tirza Firestone 33:45
It’s so urgent that it has to be large scale and fast and yet that also reminds us that we have to go as slowly as possible, so that we stay embodied. There’s all kinds of paradoxes here. We have to stay embodied and take our bodies along on the journey and listen deeply inside and have enormous compassion for being in bodies and trying to digest all that’s traumatic experiences, to read the New York Times everyday, the amount of suffering that’s going on. When you say telencephalon. I’m wondering if how does that interface with the prefrontal cortex, Will?
Dr. Will Van Derveer 34:24
Basically the same structure where executive functioning occurs, abstract thinking, impulse, inhibition, things that are important for functioning as a healthy adult.
Dr. Tirza Firestone 34:34
Yes. Good. So we’re on the same page. I was just checking there. And I have so much reverence for all the people who are doing training and compassion in mindfulness in every form, because that really is exercising and cultivating that part of the brain. And then it’s being tested obviously right now with so much heat and reactionary turbulence in the air, in the field. I’d love to hear a little bit about your work because that’s something that I have my eye on. And if that’s okay, how you would answer that question, given your cutting edge work.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 35:16
I suffer from a compulsion to go too fast. So I’m always asking how can we do this faster? And I really appreciate what you said about this paradox of digestion of our experience actually takes the amount of time that it takes. So thank you for that reminder. I think the approach that Keith and I have taken with our institute is to really, we’re doing it right now with you, is to deliver wisdom from people like you to people who are hungry to learn about the root causes of these massive problems that we’re facing, as a species, as a culture and as individuals and what can we do about It. So spreading awareness and giving people an opportunity to contemplate mindfulness practice, or going for some trauma therapy, or looking up the jungian therapist in the neighborhood or finding your book and reading that, or looking at Rachel Yehuda’s perspectives. I think the best that I can offer is to do as much as I can to spread the word.
Dr. Tirza Firestone 36:24
That’s beautiful. I do believe that as each of us, and I’m talking to you and Keith and everyone who’s listening, as we do our work, our personal work and keep deepening it and expanding it to enlarge our context to understand the matrix of our issues. We are really putting forth ripples of inexplicable change that can go into the collective. I really do believe in Rubber Shell Tricks understanding of that morphogenic field that we are all interconnected in this web work and as those of us who are doing our work, make our breakthroughs. We are shifting the larger field. And I see this with ancestral healing all the time where a student or one of us has a breakthrough toward compassion and honoring, some not in our family fields, and then within a week, there’s a letter from somebody who knows nothing about us who has been completely shunned or who has shunned us, all of a sudden the letter comes or the phone will ring and there they are. I just had this feeling I wanted to call. So there are these mysterious magical repercussions that happen when we do our work. And we can’t do other people’s work but certainly can’t do our children’s work for them. But our work benefits the next generations as well. I truly believe that.
Keith Kurlander 37:53
It’s a very rich conversation. I think it would be good to get a story from you before we end, maybe a story of healing.
Dr. Tirza Firestone 38:01
A story of healing.
Keith Kurlander 38:02
Let’s get a story of healing.
Dr. Tirza Firestone 38:04
Here’s a story that I tell him. The wounds into wisdom are full. It’s my doctoral work that went around looking for people around the world who had suffered enormous tragedies, unspeakable tragedies, and yet had made it through into becoming brilliant, transformed moral leaders and teachers in the world. And it’s a book full of stories like that. So here’s a story of a woman who came to me and her lineage was Iranian. Her parents had made it out of Tehran, literally, they were very wealthy people, but they closed up their mansion with a shopping bag, nothing else, and rode out on a donkey cart riding on opium bundles in the middle of the night. This was in the early 1980s at the onset of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, striking down on all minorities. Anyway, this client who came to me was in utero at the time when her mother rode out with their parents on this donkey cart across the Pakistani border. And then bribing people left and right and finally coming to Switzerland and then finally coming to Miami and etc. So it was a great family legend and she was very proud of it. But she had a very big problem in her family, which was that her seven year old daughter was very dysfunctional. A paralyzed child, not physically, but she had this horrible, outsized separation anxiety, couldn’t go to school and couldn’t have playdates and she could not let go of her parents. She couldn’t let them be out of sight. And so my client was pulling her hair out and came to me for just some support. And just for a fluke, I said, let’s just diagram your family story on a genogram. Let’s make a family tree. And as we did that, and she told her family legend, and she was so proud of it, I said, but what about this other side of the family? I hear nothing about that. And she went home that night and started to ask questions and all hell broke loose because she unearthed a family secret which was very filled with shame, which was that her parents when they rode out of Tehran, they left a 94 year old, blind grandmother. She wasn’t in any way mentally compromised, but she couldn’t see and she was very vociferous, and they didn’t want to tell her that they were leaving for fear of their lives that she might set off alarms. And they simply closed the door on her. They never say goodbye and here she had a grandchild. Her first grandchild was being brought into the world and they never said goodbye. They just left and she died shortly thereafter. Talk about separation anxiety and a broken heart. They never said goodbye and they never contacted her after that. This was a horrible secret and as my client started to unearth this and rant and rave at her parents for having done such a heinous thing, and a lot of grief, there was a memorial service and pictures started to get pulled out and stories and a lot of the shame and the secret nature of this head was released. Took weeks of hell basically and tumult. And the other part of the house, this little seven year old girl started to heal. And within three weeks time she was back in school. She started saying get me out of here. Adults are crazy, whatever is going on. She had no idea what was going on, but she wanted out and she started going back to school and going back to seeing friends. She became this normal seven year old girl again. So we see that over generations and thousands of miles, these things can be transferred. These terrible wounds can be transferred through generations and a separation anxiety, a heartbreak around separation can land in two generations’ hands. And with the mourning and with the unloading of that secret, that family secret, unloading of the heart and doing the grief work, which is so important, we release things, we release some magic, we release vitality, we release healing power that we don’t even know the extent of its ripple. That’s one story to take with you.
Keith Kurlander 42:38
It’s a great story of transformation. And I’m glad you shared that one. So thank you for sharing that. I would love to hear what books should people be aware of that you’ve read, ways of working with you or ways to be in contact with you?
Dr. Tirza Firestone 42:52
Yeah, you can contact me through my website, tirzafirestone.com. Very, very simple. There’s an info button there. There, you’ll see my teaching course. Everything is online now due to COVID-19. But hopefully I’ll be teaching again doing ancestral healing in person, God willing, at some point, maybe in the next year or years, and “Wounds Into Wisdom” is my book. It’s a book about intergenerational trauma. And it’s a book about stories from all over the world like this. A book about what trauma is made of in lay terms. It’s an easy, easy to read, and very capturing and also filled with stories and hope that we can integrate our trauma in a way that is both for the life of ourselves, our families, and also for this world that we love so much.
Keith Kurlander 43:47
Great, and we end the same way with everyone, which is if you had a billboard that every human would see once in their lifetime and it had a paragraph on there, what message would you tell everybody on this planet?
Dr. Tirza Firestone 44:01
You are far more powerful than you know. And as you go inside yourself, to follow your heartbreak, and to follow your inner promptings, you will unleash those powers to help so many people around you.
Dr. Will Van Derveer 44:21
Thank you for these words of hope, Tirza. There’s a time when we all need that. Thank you very much. Wonderful having you.
Keith Kurlander 44:35
So that’s a really profound topic for myself. And I’m sure many of you that have listened to this episode that it sparked a lot of ideas and thoughts about, you know, what are we carrying in this world and where is it coming from and this archive of, you could almost say cellular memory, genetic memory, of things that have happened to our lineages and how we can’t forget what’s happened to our lineage and what do we do about that? How do we process what’s occurred over time in history, because so many things have occurred over time that have been extremely challenging and scary and terrifying and it’s a really hard way to not know if that’s inside of us and being informed by it. And I hope that you gained some insight from this conversation to see if that’s something you’re dealing with or somebody you’re working with is dealing with and can start plugging in to that material so that we can get healthier as a culture and as a human race. We look forward to connecting with you again on The Higher Practice Podcast where we explore what it takes to achieve optimal mental health.