Have you ever seen a compass needle react to the presence of a strong magnetic field? Have seen how sensitively the needle reacts, unsure of which direction to point under the influence of the magnetic force?
A compass- a common symbol of guidance, clarity, of paving pathways- can be demagnetized with relative ease; a tool used to navigate the way forwards can become something seemingly useless, confusing, or even misleading, the very opposite of what it once was- all because of a polarizing external force.
Perhaps in this way, we as humans share a similarity with these emblematic devices. When I think about how the compass I held here in my hands is supposed to point a way forwards, I think about how being caught in these cycles of grief, anxiety, and stress is often so much like existing as a depolarized compass- or one being held constantly around strong magnetic fields. The compass needle pointing the way to the present, to truth and value- it’s just not lining up. But much like how a demagnetized compass’ polarity can be corrected with another magnetic force, I posit that it is also possible to heal emotional trauma caused by external forces.
Sometimes when outside forces- whether they are social agents, structures, or events- negatively impact our lives in a way through which we have little or no control, we may consequently experience an internal crisis that might lead us to lose a sense of purpose, value, direction- even identity. We may experience a profound sense of loss, disillusionment, and pain. We may feel as though our own internal compass needles spin askew- up and down, backwards and forwards, past and present, and good and bad: these concepts can begin to lose meaning as we find ourselves spinning in circles.
It can grow so difficult to distinguish the past from the present, to recognize real threat from that which is only reminder. It can even become hard to remember the people, places, and pursuits we truly value- that which bring us true joy. Anything that keeps us oriented to the present may become easy to lose sight of when we feel overwhelmed by the pain of the past, living as though it still exists in the present. This may be still further complicated by body memories, nightmares and flashbacks- ways in which our brains may trick us into physically reliving past events, sensations, and emotions.
To “correct” a demagnetized compass, a polarizing external force is needed. If we apply this logic to cyclical, intergenerational emotional trauma resulting from largely external forces, what might those polarizing forces be? Certainly we must consider that one is moving forward from the past, towards the present. This will often look different on a micro level compared to the macro level; it does not mean forgetting our past, which would effectively erase the metaphoric compass rose and defeat the purpose of navigation entirely. Without the past, we lose direction all over again. But we need a present to point towards, to orient ourselves towards- which brings us into the future. And then what else?
What does healing individual trauma and collective trauma look like today? What work should be done individually and what should be done as a community? How do we begin to integrate some of those unique healing processes? What will remind us of meaning, of value, of joy to be derived in the present?
Ultimately: the compass is the metaphor for the emotion of it all, but we are so much more than that. The feelings, The cognitions, the conditioning, the parts of our brains that must be “rewired” like the demagnetized compass which needs another magnetic force to essentially reverse its polarity- We are so much more. I believe we are so much more than the sum of our parts. We hold them, we contain them; we observe them, and we may often express them in so many vibrant ways. So for those of us considering these things as we heal from pain and as we reflect upon the pain of others, what is holding us back from healing our own?
Our inner fragments and feelings can feel like so much to hold, but perhaps when we sit with them for awhile- when we take a moment to process- they aren’t so overwhelming, after all. They can be beautiful to look at, even the ones that are heartbreaking. Have you ever sat with your compass- or whatever you choose to think of your feelings, your grief and pain as- and just looked at them for a moment? However long is tolerable- what might that be like? It’s hard for me, still. I ask for myself, too. Every day.
I’m working harder at honoring my painful emotions as well as my joyful ones because they all are hard to look at. And I’m working harder on re-orienting myself and my “compass” back towards the present. It’s time to live here; it’s time to exist in this timeline. I want to experience this life, not just the one I survived through. I want my compass pointing the way forwards.
Thank you for joining me here in my efforts to just be here.