We exist in a web of relationship that spans space and time, a dynamic constellation that interweaves from the deeply intrapersonal to the collective and beyond. In acknowledgment of this interconnectedness, one’s own process of healing is not only reflective but also constitutive of the healing of the collective. Social transformation flows from personal transformation – peace unfolds from the inside out.1
The connections between the intrapersonal and international, and every level in between, is very apparent in considerations of trauma and the trauma healing process. While myriad definitions exist for trauma and trauma healing, the experts at Peace ReWire have understood trauma to be “grounded in human experience, in a close and dynamic relationship between the psychological aspects of human experience (thoughts, emotions, behaviors), and the wider social experience (relationships, traditions and culture).”2 Trauma healing, then, supports individuals in cultivating psychosocial wellbeing, which includes psychological, social, and cultural aspects.
Safety, Connection, and Healing
Nurturing connection and supporting healing – whether for an individual healing trauma or a community engaged in peacebuilding and collective healing – begins with establishing a feeling of safety. The feeling of safety is enabled when one can relax and the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest system) is activated. Among other important functions, having a sense of safety helps the brain to cope with stressful situations, process things, and shift one out of the narrow thoughts characteristic of activation of the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight response, focused on one’s self and self-preservation). Increasing the parasympathetic activation, which is chronically under-activated in individuals who suffer from trauma, facilitates the exploration of new perspectives and ideas, an important process and practice in trauma healing.3
Ritualized Practices and the Creation of Safe Spaces
While carving out or accessing a safe space is not always evident, symbolic safe space can be created for individuals and groups through ritualized activities. Ritualized activity can take place individually or in groups – one may light a candle every day in the same place at the same time, or, many communities have bonfire rituals with various symbolic purposes. The predictability and, for some, sacredness of a personal ritual can be very supportive in the healing process. Ceremonies and rituals in group settings are transformative not only for the individual but also for the collective. In fact, “healing ceremonies and rituals typically underscore the notion that survivors’ needs are multifaceted and cannot be considered in isolation from their community.”4
Communal healing rituals can be a form of collective acknowledgment and validation of trauma, whether experienced by one or many. It shows victims and survivors that they are valued by the community and acknowledges their experience, the validation of which is also an important element of the healing process. This is especially so for individuals who may have been stigmatized, for which the acknowledgment of their suffering and cleansing elements of ritual can help them regain community acceptance.5 In the meaning making process that is trauma healing, the new meanings made of individual and collective experience are informed by culture; yet another way in which drawing upon community and cultural resources through ritual practice can support individual and collective healing.6
In these ways, and more, ritual practice is a powerful avenue for peacebuilding and trauma healing. It allows for lines of connection to be strengthen within oneself and between oneself and others. We all can benefit from such practices, as we are all have wounds to heal, be it personal or collective. Every community and society carries a legacy of past harms and wounding that cannot be ignored. And so, the invitation is extended to consider what rituals you already engage in, or what ritual practices you can integrate, to access daily moments of safety and connection in your life.7
For inspiration regarding what practices can support you and your community, browse the Peace ReWire World Practices Database, which features ritualized experiences and other practices that support healing around the world. For more information about trauma healing, peacebuilding, neuroscience, and spirituality, read our White Paper referenced in this post that details existing and potential avenues of research in these areas.
1 Brandon Hamber, Elizabeth Gallagher, and Peter Ventevogel, “Narrowing the gap between psychosocial practice, peacebuilding and wider social change: an introduction to the Special Section in this issue,” Intervention 12, no. 1 (2014):11.
2 White Paper: Key Research Hypotheses, Rewiring the Brain for Peace: Bridging Neuroscience, Spirituality, and Peacebuilding (Peace ReWire, 2017), 9.
3 Ibid., 23.
4 Béatrice Pouligny, “Resilience, Trauma and Violence, Flagship Study on Societal Dynamics and Fragility” (World Bank, 2010), 60
6 Meeting Report Summary: Spirituality and Trauma Healing, Rewiring the Brain for Peace: Bridging Neuroscience, Spirituality, and Peacebuilding (Peace ReWire, October 25, 2016).
7 For more support and resources for integrating ritual into your life, go to: https://shamanicspiritualhealing.com/rituals-practices/.