Warrior for Peace: Holding Space and Vicarious Trauma

In Warrior III, we’re instructed to feel ourselves reaching in all four directions – the crown of the head, the heel of the extended foot, each of the arms in opposition. But I’ve always found that I best achieve balance when I sense extending into 6 directions: east, west, north, south – and down to the center of the earth, rooting through the standing leg, and energy rising up through the standing hip into the sky, the ether, above. In this way of expansion, I gain greater access to my center – that place in my core which stabilizes my entire being.

Indigenous cultures recognize the four directions as typically affiliated with a season, an animal, the seasons, or one of the four natural elements: earth, wind, fire, water.  Every tradition has its own take on the philosophy behind these elemental properties. My most recent journeys taught me how the Q’ero Shamans of Peru view the four directions.

In the Q’ero tradition, the south represents earth element and the serpent, which reminds us to shed old wounds that no longer serve us. The west represents the jaguar, which calls on us to track our fears and move honestly through our path. The hummingbird is associated with the north, and invites us magic and joy into our lives. Finally, the eagle represents the east, guiding wisdom and manifestation of highest purpose.

In her seminal work, Trauma Stewardship, Laura van Dernoot Lipsky applied knowledge of the five directions (that center direction that, according to ancient tradition, ties the underworld to the heavens) and created a guide for people who work with trauma. Therapists, coaches, healers, space-holders of all kinds are susceptible to taking on the suffering of those with whom they help recover from trauma.

You can use the following guide to reduce the negative impacts of vicarious trauma for further sustainability on your mission of holding space for others to heal. According to Lipsky:

  • The south, represented by earth element, implores us to build compassion and community. Think about how what you do creates systemic change. How can you increase compassion for yourself and for others? Who is your tribe that shares your same mission?
  • The west, the air element, is concerned with finding balance. Lipsky recommends we engage in life outside of work, practice gratitude, and find ways of moving energy through the body.
  • The north is associated with the water element and calls for us to create space for inquiry. Primary questions here are: Why am I doing what I’m doing? Is my own trauma being triggered here? Is this working for me?
  • The east, the fire element – that passion, refers to choosing focus. Be intentional with where you spend your time and energy. Are you choosing to pay attention to the positive or the negative in your evaluations? What is your plan B? – In other words, what would you do if you could no longer work in this capacity? By considering alternatives, we are reminded that what we are free to choose what we do and opens up possibilities, cultivates curiosity, and promotes solution-focused thinking.
  • the 5th direction consists of a daily centering practice (this can be any spiritual practice – meditation, being in nature, prayer, running, journaling, creating, etc).

How are you connecting with your center and expanding into your fullest expression today?

If you would like further guidance on how you might apply these concepts to your individual life, contact me to get started at therapy@meghanharbin.com or 706-372-1772.

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