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Reclamation Project: stories that want to be told
Ashlar Center Center provides arts driven programs for expression and healing. These programs began thirty years ago with a women's memoir writing class. These groups became safe soul nourishing communities and over time transformed as we responded to the trauma stories that emerged with such regularity -- these never spoken difficult truths -- even to their psychotherapists -- that they shared, directed us to focus on the business of understanding trauma. We began the search in the early 1980's and never gave up. The most important piece to date has been the discovery in brain science of the neurobiological underpinnings of traumatic stress/PTS -- neuroscience has been more help than we can say in its ability to give solace through understanding to family and those suffering symptoms of trauma who feel guilty, weak or permanently damaged. We began applying other creative processes in addition to writing.
We researched interdisciplinary approaches to healing and celebration and moved with an anthropological lens to explore the histories of cultures other than our own to see how they addressed healing, expression and making sacred these stories. What we found: using creative expression and ritual existed everywhere. It began to look like * story telling is an instinctual activity. As though, we are hard wired to tell our stories and that they were contained in a formal structure that included ritual: story telling, poetry (the rhythms in the body brought deep story to the surface), song, dance, drumming and music. At Ashlar, we recognized vestiges of primitive rituals in the way contemporary psychotherapy addresses traumatizing events or conditions though often it appears that the ancient traditions were more effective -- which left us questioning the concept of Primitive: in ancient times, there was no fifty minute hour allotted for healing. At Ashlar, we take our cues for our work directly from creative processes with its deep ties to sacred traditions. The listener is instructed in the art of Deep Listening, being present and reverent. To begin with deep story most often exists in fragments. Telling our story, writing our story, reading and performing our stories and using the Yakima Life Ball to give an overview and coherence to story brings fragments together in the process of reclamation. In the Jungian tradition, our work is grounded in the archetypal forces that inform our lives -- in this case Chiron, the Wounded Healer, Mars, the Warrior, Aphrodite, the bringer of love, beauty, peace,working deeply through relationship. Aphrodite is the one Greek Goddess about whom it was said that She and She alone can bring peace to the world. She is laughter and flowers, relationship, making beauty, love of children. *See the personal statement of Andrea Steffens in About Us.
Our program is grounded in the experience and belief that a community’s greatest resource is its members.
Traumatic stress, we discovered, is a far more ubiquitous than we imagined when we first started this work and exists in many many communities in epidemic proportions-- veterans, Native Americans, refugees, inner city people,those people newly released from prisons and jails. In one school district in San Francisco 2 out of 6 children had suffered traumatic stress events or chronic conditions sufficient enough that their ability to perform academically was impaired-- the studies moved across class, ethnicity, and race. All our children reflect the traumatizing nature of our times. As a matter of fact, in all our communities symptoms of severe stress are growing at a time when public funding for mental health care is shrinking.
Clearly, there will never be enough professionals specifically trained in trauma resolution to deal with increasing numbers of people who need this work. We have been developing peer to peer program training lay people to remediate symptoms of traumatic stress (peer to peer) and become educational resources for their communities and its institutions (schools, hospitals, police and fire departments). We also work to support the families of those suffering from Traumatic stress symptoms who have also suffered and offer a road map of the process toward resolution. Things change and when even for the better, people need to know what is coming. We also provide multiple services as the emerging self is not properly addressed with a single technique -- we have access to a licensed medical nutritionist for example. (see associates in: About Us )
Making meaning out of the stories we reclaim is also essential and time is spent on that focus as well.
For our students who desire it, we help design a solid Self Care program presenting a variety of options to accomplish this end. The Self Care program when practiced religiously builds resiliency. For example, you cannot take a deep breath just when things go wrong, it helps, but with a daily deep breathing discipline returning from upset to relaxation is much more easily attained ( the quicker we can return to a baseline of well-being, the more resilience we have to deal with difficult situations)– additionally people who daily practice the Calming Breath don’t get as upset by things either. People find that using the Ashlar technique we call Writing Through the Body helps tremendously as does keeping a very small illustrated journal. We teach Qi Gong and encourage our students to seek out a Restorative Yoga teacher or Rosen practitioner. As we grow, we will offer more of these classes ourselves.
At base our program rests on the Community to serve The Reclamation Project; the story that wants/needs to be Told. We have found that with respect, encouragement, training, and support, community members succeed well as facilitators in healing and educating about the destructive impact of unresolved traumatic stress and PTS on individuals, families, and communities. After completing the program themselves, then they learn the techniques necessary to help others. Then, lay facilitator/educators are available to their communities to teach about all things Traumatic Stress including resolution techniques.
We establish a deep sense of Safety for our students -- the first necessity before creative work can begin. The environment, the group community that produced the outpouring of the Reclamation Project in those early years in Ashlar's history has become the bedrock of all the work that we do. We focus on learning the skill of Deep Listening -- mindful listening -- the emptying of self in order to be totally present to another. We provide competent guidance, respect, a nurturing environment and open hearts -- an element that is rarely spoken of and all too often dismissed but there you have it: Love! We believe in loving our students -- this is a special discipline that requires a certain selflessness but is easy to do once practiced. Many mothers and fathers know about this kind of love -- it is as unconditional as one can get.
In most cases what has been wounded by other must be healed by Other and done with love and acceptance even when the trauma story is tough to tell and sometimes tough to hear. It must be done and there are many ways to tell the story. We offer a variety. An additional ingredient is a Trusted Community -- one that we all long for and need in order to have our stories received and honored.
Telling our stories is a practice as old as humankind itself. It is built in -- people want to tell their stories, unless they seem too frightening to tell or that they think we can't handle it or that we will sit in judgment. Our primary job is to listen deeply with presence and without criticism. Our stories teach as well as entertain. They map our lives as we live them, and they are our greatest legacy. Ultimately, your story is your treasure.