James S. Gordon, MD is a Harvard-educated psychiatrist internationally recognized for using self-awareness, self-care, and group support to heal population-wide trauma. He is the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Center for Mind-Body Medicine, (https://jamesgordonmd.com/), a clinical professor at Georgetown Medical School, and was chairman of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy. His latest book, The Transformation (https://amzn.to/31Xi5nl), helps us understand that trauma will come sooner or later to all of us, and how to navigate it.
Gordon has been on the ground during moments of profound upheaval, from Haight-Ashbury during the Summer of Love to Mozambique in the wake of a civil war fought largely by child soldiers, and war in the Balkans, the Middle East, Africa and more. In today’s conversation, he talks about what it’s like to lead teams in hands-on trauma prevention and integration work in these extremely challenging environments, as well as his hopes for re-humanizing medicine, choosing risks over betraying the self, and the incredible power we have to heal in community.
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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
So I guess today, James gordon study, to become a psychiatrist at harvard he became a clinical professor Georgetown med school was chairman,
under president Clinton and george w bush of the white house commission on
complementary and alternative medicine policy and really
deeply involved in the world of government and trying to reinvest
what's working, what's not working in the world of health in medicine and the further
serve. He moved into the field, the markings,
and he started to feel by the rules and traditions all around him and the kind of inner advocate and active
who rebel inside him
challenging the system and searching for new and different ways to help people and feel better
that led him eventually to create a really different, integrated approach that draws upon
If awareness and self care and group support to heal,
population wide psychological trauma- and
found the nonprofit centre for mind body medicine in DC his latest book.
I understand that trauma
we'll come sooner or later to all of us.
Part of the human experience not as a pathological anomaly, and he
I thus too can step in a company
instead of evidence based program to reverse the psychological, the biological damage that trauma causes. He really shows drawing on a lot of research and fifty years of clinical experience and and a lot of wisdom and inspiration,
stories how we can really.
meet the challenges that trauma brings discover the ordinary joys, as well as the meaning purpose of our lives, and he's also got a fast,
lady lens on healing trump
both on an individual level, but also on a societal and global scale, and the importance of looking
out into the community as part of the process,
we dive into all of this in our conversation today, so excited to share with you. I'm Jonathan feel
and this is good life project,
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what originally brought
you to want to explore medicine and even as a devotion.
Well, I had my father was a surgeon and you're, not the
he's man on the planet but, to say the least,
He was really good with his patience and he loved what he did. So that was an influence on my mother's father had been a pediatrician, and I
I didn't know him particularly well, but
through my mother, there was again the sense of sense of service, a sense of compassion, the sense of concern for free
but who were in trouble and in both cases not just people who had money, but also
people who had no money at all, so I had a sense of being a physician as being something useful as being aware
of service, something I could make a living out of
from the beginning, and I also a group in this chaotic family. So from the time I was
five or six. I was kind of like a a couples. Therapy
my parents are member running back and forth between them when they were shouting at each other. When I was five years old, try to help each one
calm down a little and understand and listen to the other and then returning to the other one going back and forth. So I had some early training
and the story, girl,
eight years old, my father
said to me. He thought, like they say, general, that's what I thought
What are you gonna be when you grow up?
several either a farmer or rabbi, and he looked at me
What all you want to do that for it will you know why I like animals and I like to grow things, will be nice to be a farmer, and a rabbi helps people.
My father said: jenny
or sell people a hell of a lot more than rabbis do and if you're a doctor, you can make enough money, so you can have a farm. If you're a doctor, you can do anything. He did
I quite a gently, but I took that and I can do anything and so
It's really what I paid attention to all along. I have done my best, not without some hiccups or
obstacles along the way. But I've done my best to do would felt right to me and filled
to me in relationship to my patients into the
that was living there and
curious, getting that
it's from your dad sort of being wired wire? The way you your wired seems eight there's a serve like a re empathic heart behind it all,
and then seeing how you describe your dad was one way with his patience, but very differently
If you did that create any any level of serve cognitive dissonance about
I would say so. I thought this was buddy
it was a
peculiar is, but it was what I did really is it made me want to connect with him more. That was a place where I could connect with him with that tendering,
send him, and occasionally, when I was sick myself, he would be much more tender to me. It's a good thing. I didn't
got into much and become a sick person in order to get attention, but it was just something that I was able to notice, and I could feel that an him and I suppose,
That also comes out to me that its very that it's easy and one of the good graces of being
The physician is its
an easy place for that tenderness to come out. Other people
the tragedies of course
Physicians are now serve moving, so
quickly and operate,
according to our pre, predetermine ways of doing things that they don't have that opportunity and, of course there
don't either yeah I met at it really does seem like. That is an almost tragic shift, that
nevertheless, maybe two decades in practice, and
It's also a much a curious, because you will. You will see this a lot more than that. I would whether you
like it's actually either drive
people out of the profession or stopping them from entering. I think both
people. Who are you look at them,
studies when we're we're doing a training programme? I always am we're working with professionals, summer health problem,
those mental health professionals, educators, community organizers, leaders of women's groups.
The health professionals and mental health professionals or getting burnt out there not satisfied and in the studies that have been done,
Very significant percentages of them say I
go into it. If I had to do over again- and I would spread
can we would medicine and when they asked the question, what would you say to young people, many doctors,
I would tell them not to go into medicine and
as I was growing up everybody, those wonderful profession to go when you could help other people, you can make a decent life
and it was always interesting and accounting.
used to be that way for me and said
I agree. I think have suffered the worst when on when I was a medical school,
ten percent of my class. This is harvard
percent of my class women psychiatry, and we were note, though,
here than anyone else in the caucasus. Now it's one or two percent, because sick
history has become so narrow, so focused on simply giving medication anxious that there is no longer interesting and so some of the best students
I've had as it now as professor a medical students who would
are interested psychiatry, one up not going into it? They go into pediatric
they go into internal medicine or family medicine, because they say
that have more opportunity to be with people. When I go into their
so interesting so
literally been about a ninety percent reduction and the people that are focusing. I wouldn't say that
or control s daughter, your inspiring observed, that's what we're here of the students and sea and on the one hand it makes sense.
and on the other hand,
The need for people who understand condition.
the mind, has ever been higher,
so to know that, but I guess the actual them
oh practice of psychiatry- has changed so dramatically at it and I guess
now so much more focused on medicine. They are that make.
And see what you wanna be psychotherapist, go into clinical social wherever psychology, which also have been constrained in certain ways by this whole medical model, this narrow medical model gap by my
there's going to be going to medical school next fall, she's determined to go in
psychiatry, and no doubt
something like what I'm doing an change psychiatry, which is, I want to support
people want to do that as well, bring psychiatry back to its roots of really deep connection
other people and also connection with the large world yeah. Do you in your heart?
do you believe that is possible, given the sort of eight d
the nature and the structure of how psychology a how psychiatry and how the medical system or say to Ashley
the human eyes it on that level. Yes, oh brother,
the most. I wouldn't I work, and I think that part of the problem is the medical education is so shot through with fear. So
students are also they're afraid they won't do as well as their room made or the person sitting of the growth of across the hall they worry about.
residency. They're gonna get him. They worry about student debt, they were
about malpractice there-
secondly worried and
For me, one of the beautiful things about medicine was signed for being helpful to other people
we could always make a living and they d forgotten and they feel like there,
they they feel so intimidated and so pushed into these various corners
Often they don't feel comfortable. So, yes,
I think it's a matter of developing an understanding of themselves, a real.
action with why they went into medicine in the first place and helping to build up their courage to challenge the system. What what are they
It's not going to shoot you if you disagree with something I wouldn't do things when I was a resident that I was told, I wouldn't give people shock therapy. I didn't
was my experience with it. My reading of the literature,
didn't seem like a good idea. There had to be other ways I used very
medication than for the same reasons by supervisors or something
very angry at me. But so what I'm not there to play
supervisors, I'm there to take care.
My patience in the best possible way, and I wasn't
can touch with that, and it was a different time to be a europe, but I think we need to get back in touch with.
Is those values and this sense of ourselves not tested and met psychiatry
your medicine, but everywhere other watchword. We're gonna, throw ourselves get
I mean I wonder what the role of the weather
you described user, saying like no, I'm gonna do what I believe is maybe quite right action
regardless of what the contract around it, is telling me to do
were you on an untruth? Were you unusual among your classmates and in that way, the us
I was an unusual.
very polite word. I was different
or weird among my classmates, my classmates were very smart and
There are many of them had published papers and scientific journals of medical school,
for they even got to medical school.
I was I was, I was an outlier,
I had a sense of what I want. I was involved in civil rights movement when I was a medical school. Thousands
early on the anti war move. My classmates thought I was just a just kind of weird and I
impatient with some of the structures of medical school now later on twenty five years later and by twenty fifth,
medical school reunion. I I gave a talk, some some classmates
The talk and- and I talked about, interestingly,
I talked about psychological trauma and caught the talk was
old, very similar to my book. In a way it was called trauma and transformation, and I said that
strong attic events in my life, where my
you're in medical school. When I felt so different and out of place ever was
thing to me is that a large number of my classmates came up to me afterwards and said I felt the same way no kidding, but I could never have right observed,
though they seem to me like it was all find them, but they, it wasn't. Fine, wasn't fine
where patients were treated and the
education, even though professors were brilliant and the students were brilliant. The education
felt. Much too narrow was a mighty imaginative, challenging education that I'd out in college. So I was like
the shooting of it. I felt very different and my classmates looked at me as if I were different
but had so interesting to find that the twenty five years later? That may be part of that was perception.
yes, I know national realities actually yeah
which one of the reasons? Why are the one of the things we do at the center for my body medicine? Is we train
nickel school faculty, to leave, I'm body skills groups and wood
happens. In these mind, body skills troops, groups of take ten.
People and in this case, for talking about medical school cycle,
working with medical students. Is this
Students have an opportunity to really be themselves to be more votes.
More than they usually about, usually are, and it makes it
huge difference in the way they
about medicine the way they think about themselves away. They take care of themselves. They have less stressed out
They do better. They sleep better there less anxious, more hopeful,
becoming doctors and
They also have more compassion for each other, so it's it lives
so in a way this is sort circling back and bringing what I've learned over all these years back into medical education, yeah
This is a big piece of that puzzle to at an almost.
I wonder if you.
I think there is we're tension between being willing to be different ends and speak. Your voice had asked questions and do what you feel is right and at the same time, feeling
if you know, you're different in some way, feeling safe and and out,
under if part of what was going on with you, is that somehow you were able to claim that
of safety while may be others around. You were
and so that you are willing to satellites say
what's on your mind, where is it your twenty
Years later, until you come back to you and say why
I was different. I wasn't feeling that also, but they just want localizing at abstruse. What you're you're
your lens on the role of safety, social safety, personal safety is never idle,
did you ever thought of it is safety.
I just thought in fact. Sometimes I felt quite unsafe
yeah. Just that I was just it just what I had to do, because two done anything other than what I do
terrible would have felt like a trail myself, so
as a matter of choosing now that you're giving me too
about. It was a matter of choosing what felt right to me, or do
something that would feel terrible and then what was the point of doing that? I don't want to live that way.
Even then, I think it was
more sense of being, rather than safety just being in touch with with what I mean,
to do, and if people didn't like it wasn't that I was immune from criticism or attacks with they can
it was. It was painful, but I'd rather suffer that pain than the pain of
suppressing myself and of doing something that felt
the violation of either me or of the patient
I was working with that. That will be terrible yeah at an if you
if you are bringing this activist heart
to the education and then eventually the practice that also it sort of yeah, there's almost said
a justice, a social justice element to what you're doing exactly, and I did you do it. There were allies from time to time that I found people who
a great girlfriend that she was wonderful. I had friends who were outside
of medicine, who were share
In my view of the world people who were
was a musician and political scientists and writers and other people I was connected to. I had my that may be weird
where my zone of flight safety
for ass. I had these other people were there
and then when I went to therapy the man I wanted to therapy with with somebody who was
tell him what was going automatically school. He nodded his head and deep
understand because a dozen years
before had been through the same egg yeah I mean
What would you consider him to be one of yours, early first allies in the field who really got it? This is a man named Robert coles, who was very well known years ago was a I I at first
encountered him in his writings. He was rooms a psychiatrist in the air force, and he
stationed in new orleans
and in his spare time he was working with the black kids, who are integrating the schools in new orleans. Late fifties, early sixties and I still
reading what he was writing, and so this is also then at that time, in that place, the height of the dead and actually the early part of the sitting.
Exactly, and I reckon
was riding on this beautiful, what he's doing as a psychiatrist, helping these kids and and
creating this change that has that, as far as I was concerned, had to happen that that ring a bell for me
I talked with him about his work and then
I got in trouble psychologically
had taken a euro automatic school. My girlfriend and I had broken up, I wasn't sure sure, about medical school. I called him up
was there for me on the phone which
or two hours on telephone. I was still a new, then
my you're off he was in cambridge.
and he was there and he really became very both a model
and also an important support for me in those last
two years- a medical school there, so too
I said he was the exemplar of what was going on. He was a he. He was not only a good therapist, but he was a
he was an example of who I could be. He also got me to laugh at myself, which are very important, goes. Take you for all of our times, and you know him
was compassionate, but also he didn t
quite so seriously, which was important for me to read what was your first move out of out of school when you when it was time to actually developing impact?
and go? What was the first about?
I I I didn't
school than I did an internship right at my internship. I went to
and francisco during the summer of love nineteen seeing these ever because that was the place to be, and I want
to be wanted to be see what was happening and feel what was happening and be their animal
great was the intervals at mount zion hospital and they in turn ship was great
We're organizing against the war and going to the filmore in
dancing listening to the grateful dead and jefferson airplane and the doors and valuable
so was an amazing an amazing year then I came back to me.
can I did residency and psychiatry and war.
In the bronx, and it was with great
I was really I was able to create a psycho
Patrick ward, where people could come and did not have to be met.
It I'd, been a student of and had written about,
or de lange.
If you remember, lying down along with the kind of
major figure in psychiatry as a challenger twin orthodox psychiatry, and he worked with psychotic people without medication and any
I want to spend time with him in london when I was resident eroded what wound up
a cover story for the atlantic about buying and his work and the
I had an opportunity to be chief residents and psychiatry, so people not
they came from the bronx, but they came from all over the united states because they read the article in the atlantic and so people were showing
open and I have an opportunity to create this community. Where are we?
really respecting people who were going through this psychotic experience,
very serious depression, and they had an opportunity to see this experience as a voyage of
recovery of voyage in the interior of voyage of discovery, and we do our best.
He created a situation in which they were guided and garden. Those are lange's original words as they went through this experience that was
powerful for me as well yeah? I would imagine it would be. I'm I'm. I'm curious also
how much or whether
Nor experience being out in san francisco and sixty seven and being involved in the community and the music and
celebration and how
That then in
whence is what you create in the bronx and then beyond a minute. You, I think, about a mill dark work on collector
effervescence and had here that this river, the culturally
therapeutic effect and bonding effect that it has, which effectively was what was going on in the summer of love.
and how that might have certainly you'd new being a party
that much is witnessing being in. It then changes the way that you actually practice like that for
appreciate what you're saying yes,
to live in a world which was just
and seller pretoria
I wanted to make that possible for myself, but for everyone I worked with and so forth
beginning there was a sense of wanting to be
community wanted to create a world, because I understood that it's not just about.
Treating individuals as a psychiatrist, hers a doctor. It's also
creating a world in which people can become who they are meant to be an that's, been
that's been my theme ever since, and I am unsure all that early experience civil
during the civil rights movement
in the hague ash worry running. A psychiatric ward is a kind of true healing community.
All of that is influenced everything I've done ever since and help to shape
work. I do now with population my trauma, yeah.
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in the bronx, then that area
asian or that later avenues. This was early, sixties laid secretary sixties. I finish my residency there and seventy one okay. So then
send for my body, medicine, doesnt start until ninety one bright. Wouldn't I do between what's the matter was I went to the national
stood a mental health as they are for eleven years. At that point, in the
sixties early seventies. All doctors were subject to the draft. There's something called the bear.
plan, and I knew I wasn't going to go on.
try wasn't gonna support the war in vietnam. I wasn't gonna say I was crazy. You could,
about whether I was crazy or not, but I was hardly was going to try to get out now,
physical disability. I wasn't going to say I was gay, because I wasn't gay and I wasn't going to go to canada cause this is my country, so I had two choices:
one was to go and if I could go on
public health service and to serve
a country that way the other was to go to jail and
I was fortunate enough to be accepted in the public health service. I think I was fortunate, maybe would have been better if I go to jail among us
Lastly, another member- I am not sure about that, but what
happened is I got accepted in the public health service.
I was able to work with really
great by own job and the job was working with young people on this
homeless and run away, kids and working with them
initially on the street, where he with the counsellors who were working with them and then
your time as I continued to do this work. Creating a national programme for runaway, almost kids, based on the
principles that these kids are not crazy. They were,
and regarded as crazy and locked up and mental hospitals quite inappropriate, and they weren't criminal.
running away was a crime in most states are being homeless, was a crime, so
really challenging those accepted definitions, along with the council's, who were work.
With runaways, many of whom were seminary ends, and civil rights workers and hippies
we're just gonna come
together to do something worthwhile, and that
I started so for a number of years. I worked with these kids and their counselors and really again
creating communities where these kids could find themselves in a figure out who who they
what they were supposed to be doing.
At the same time, within
couple years of doing that- and this is such a such a great
such a blessing. For me, I had this real freedom
is this. As a researcher the national institute of mental health, I wanted to explore all of
these other forms of healing that I
starting to hear about to practice. I got an interested in chinese medicine at this late sixties.
I'm interested in meditation interested in
I was able to make the exploration of these areas an important part of my job.
instead of mental health, which was fantastic,
and so I worked with
Overall number of teachers and work with me,
we're doing the most interesting and exciting work in the field and eventually met me
of them, was given.
the opportunity by president Carter too,
a study and rosalind carter. To headed,
Study on alternative mental health services, I proposed it to them for, though,
president's commission on mental health and
yes- and so that's what I did, I spent several years going around the country.
meeting all as many of the leaders in these various
As I could
standing. What research was done, writing about it becoming a kind of.
organizer as well as a d
searcher and documentary yeah-
during that window of time. I'm curious, were there big
eyes. I mean we're didn't entering that process and then spending a number of years in it. I am sure we all go into something that was certain beliefs or
expectations, but then, when you're in it, you know, data replaces assumption
while you're in that serve season curious. What
the big things that you became aware of that may be weren't expected or or shifted you and
in a meaningful way
early on and in their work. I
working at a there was then a laboratory in community mental health, no more
exists, but I became aware that
every professional in
facility had some
if significant stress, related disorder upward at this summit.
Going on here, that shouldn't be going on and on.
did as I brought them together in a group the same
the theme to talk about. What's going on help them deal with their stress help them deal help all of us
with the conditions that were contribute
to the stress, and so this partly with surprise
the level of stress related, almost that was there. The other thing that was, I
was a bit surprising, but I shouldn't have been surprised. Isn't
boss didn't like it. She didn't
I was organised.
and so she is a threat to the existing structures glare
So I had it was a two year commitment that I had they. They kept me on for another year because everybody like the work I was doing. I was publishing. It was important work
It was a new model for working with runaway and homeless kids, but they didn't like the organizing that I was doing so. I had to fight.
To stay at an age- and I thought I'll be there for two years, I ll come back to new york I'll work on the wrong side of an but I'd know,
I didn't like the idea being pushed out.
Like the idea of not being able to continue this work. That was very important to me, so I had to fight
and this is a real major fight with, though- and I am
which bureaucracy and I had opponents I had champion.
And so this was it was about.
I wasn't I shouldn't
Been too surprised because I certainly had challenges throughout medical school and residency, but this was a whole other level and
and I had to ask for help from p
two to define champions in divine people who really wanted
keep me there. In spite of my tendency to organise wherever I went, there may lead
challenging and fertile place to be it in that moment, did you I'm cool
Did you an end to this day? Do
find it easy
or difficult to be in a place where
due to ask others to step in and help
I'm doing there now, with with the transformation with this book,
friends, I'm asking people, some of whom I dont know so well, like you, I'm saying
written this book. That, I think, is really important. Can you help me so it's an
trusting lesson in
I'm doing on promoting my boy,
god promoting myself. But it's all
very interesting lesson and humility, and so it continues
as a challenge was interesting that you picked up on that it is about
the challenge to ask for help and good for me too.
For it is only good for the transformation, it's good for my transformation to be in,
the position of saying to other people could attend at all.
To be very much on my own and taking care of things
they can things happen, and I found it
I've been very touched by people's responses. That said, no sure I'll help
I mean I'm always fascinated sort of a, I think, an ongoing question of mine and I
I explore this within myself, but also with so many,
so I've been fortunate to sit down with one
when you have an individual who is bright and
and powerful a lot of ways and driven, and also
confident and competent in there
capabilities and and abilities to get things done. When you hit
place where there is just so much complexity or so much resistance or adversity that yes, there is
way to do it alone and
such it's so interesting to see how people grapple with that.
and move through it and open to it or not, and how that effects this bigger thing that there
There really want to see happen. We know that
idea that we could do. It alone seems a little bo peep.
We are the ones like about rights and also- and this is very much this whole rugged- individualist notion- that we have that swim. Particularly,
peculiar to americans. I think that
can and should be doing it our own of a really strong of a really good at something, and so
Well, that's necessary, I suppose some of that's what makes for the dynamism that we have it
the visuals in that's their in america. But I
some of its very limiting and also very dangerous, and
for me the
the sense of dependence.
Not just being the leader of an
organization and other community which I have been, but really
depending on other people's really good for me, and it helps
I put myself in many ways to other people have become closer to them
finding that as I'm as I'm asking people for help,
transformation that all those people were
indications or shifting someone
there's a little more sweetness and those more vulnerable.
we'll in the way I approach them and their more time
or towards me as well, instead of being ok
do this or in a kind of matter of fact way or or being
still, of course,
this Y know what's more more mutual.
And was really nice yeah now,
I've seen that as well. You hope is the notion of being a bit
or vulnerable of progressing.
blending. Those two issues is hard. I thing for a lot of people who feel very self reliant.
Competent in, and I shouldn't
It shouldn't need help you, but when you do it says it's, it's done, just change how you feel it changes. The social dynamic
those around you in really powerful way that that I think
Not just enables you to do the thing you're here to do, but changes
our experience of the relationship, you have along the way exactly and
it helps to create whole new structures or
they form the structure. That term
and so, for example, in waste,
the centre for my body medicine. Ninety one, as you mentioned,
for a long time? I was leaving all the trainings, but now we have so many more places that were working. I can't do it, and I was
The training in northern california shasta county were working after
wildfires of all communities been deeply traumatized and some of
some towns were pretty much wiped out and and
There's all the older issues that are still there, issues of poverty and issues of abuse,
all these other.
The stresses in the community that are coming out- and I would wish,
we'll just to be there for the first day
part of the first day, because I had to come back here and was
over the whole programme to other people who were leaders from or faculty.
it was good of an ever turned out to be very sweet. I had some o, however,
Kay and I'm sure they're gonna do great and they wish
feeling of warmth between us with
over a kind of gratitude from them, and gratitude for me that their we're gonna do it yeah,
Well, when you hold the work so tightly wash,
Maybe you know that it's going to get.
Done. The way that you have in your mind, it needs to be done, but at the same time you know we become the primary constraint in scale and impact
What happens in ninety, one or or in the years leading up to ninety one that makes that leads to the launch of centre? For my medicine will
ring. I live nash,
sit a mental health in nineteen. Eighty two, I could no longer have the freedom
There was reagan administration. I no longer have the freedom to create new programmes to investigate new,
opportunities that I'd had before. So I went into private practice.
And I was doing.
practice. I do acupuncture herbalists and work with attrition and manipulation. The way osteopathic sore chiropractors do- and
so all the danger, typical psychiatry would now battles like reprisals.
And I was working a lot with people with all different kinds of chronic physical, as well as psychological issues,
and I was writing who's running for the new york times the Washington post, the atlantic
and was no. It was good, but I began
I feel that I needed
something more that the understanding I had of the important
of bringing self awareness, self care and group support
the centre of all health care, the training
health professionals and the education of our children. But that was a mission that I had an
I couldn't do that in a private practice I can eat. I was a commendable professor georgetown
he's doing some teaching, but that wasn't. I couldn't really do with their either an
wanted to have a larger effect that stayed in washington after I left, and I am age because I wanted to support people who were doing
the team meaningful to make people from the boat people with it,
the government people in congress, people in the bureaucracies, as well as people who were you
community based organizations. People were advocating for a civil war
it's your women's rights for health care, one support them
We're staying in washington
and I discovered that there was no
face that I could really mean
This sum make this vision,
of self care being central to all health care or reality.
I couldn't do it georgetown they're happy to have me teach there, but they
If there were really significant limitations- and I looked at a couple of other possibilities and- and it just didn't work- so I said well, I'm going to
start, my own organization, the
I do want to have this effect, and I also then understood to that. I wanted
create a healing community and a community of healers. I wanted to bring people together for this effort and I would decided the best way
make this much larger change
Create an organization they could support people in
All of these establish
organizations whether within the government or medical schools, or hospitals or education systems,
and so I would work from the outside and teach and educate and train those people. What I was learning, so I really had to do it. It was part of mine,
growth and development. My mission, if you will- and I said
with no money
and we heard about about twenty five volunteers who were interested him: what
was doing and wanted to be part of it and doctors
mental health professionals, teachers and one
because almost who is probably also an expert in human psychology, a lot of ways rightly was invested, use most interested in attachment theory how that would run their birds bob
I guess maybe multiple motivations. Yes, that's we. We started that way and began to created a curriculum and mind body medicine, which is
still the one that were using an end in many ways, one of more many of the elements of that original curriculum for almost thirty years ago or the
In the transformation refined over the years and expanded
Many many ways is there. We began
looking locally initially with thirteen or
high school students. I had a friend who ran the latin american you'd centre and we develop
programme in mind body medicine, which brought together Letty
High school students who were interested in the health
professions and joy
down medical students who wanted to mentor the high school students we brought them
together in a programme of
a body medicine and we did all kinds of things they gather the medical students took the high school students into the the sexting rooms
they showed them. What an autopsy was like an they helped them applied a car
It is in that we have
we hung out in the latino neighbourhood and got to know. What's going on, there was a lovely programme. We started locally
going very well,
We were also working with other populations where him with people who were in significant need people who had cancer and hiv. This is before the effective drugs for aids are working with all the people with the.
other people with chronic illnesses. Working with these inner city, kids, also
working with stressed out professionals
just about everybody in washington in a profession there all extremely stressed out with georgetown medical students.
bringing this model to them, and I was beginning to lead groups by buddy skills troops from medical students,
also, I was seeing a lot of people. My practice have been tortured and other countries and
teaching them this model as well, so that
locally there was
interests, so we trained hope my between thirty people, locally
To do this work went well next step.
The train people nationally always had the sense of my work was education fundamentally, and
and we started training people nationally and we had a hundred and twenty people come to our first training from all over the country.
they learned or model, and then they began to bring it back to hospitals, clinics, medical schools, community
historic innovation, school systems and then
I was going well so by ninety ninety six-
began to wonder if the same approach, these using these same techniques of different forms,
annotation and guided imagery and self express
in words and drawings and movement of if that same approach could be used in some of the most troubled ports of the planet. The question how to my mind so I started going and a colleague and I went first to Mozambique
and spent some time with former child soldiers sermon late nineties and ninety six ram, which was a Devis
In time there were good,
they had a war of independence and they had a civil war near these kids, twelve,
Jeanne years old, been forced to kill their parents and then kill
lots of other people and we started. We win
visit there and who were teaching the kids these same techniques. But what am I mean
What was that light for you led the first time you knew it
who built the centre.
doing well your expanding in the: u S, you're, seeing a lot of difficult circumstances, but still within her of the
fines of a relatively modern functioning society, the very
first time you drop into mozambique ambition.
Is personally what that means
what they see is like the kids.
The extraordinarily painful because the kids
order to do what they had done. They had to kill most of themselves as well
we had to shut down in so many ways, so these kids were just frozen. We talk about fighter flight and freeze respond,
these kids were the bbc in their bodies. They were so tight eyes. They were really fairly blind
They were so you could there can a vibrating with with tension and fear and anger and confusion too painful to be in there.
Presence and required me in susan law.
It was with me using all of our self care skills. To just be
able to relax with them, so we had to relax ourselves, which of course, is the fundamental
principle of our work. You can't each other people how to take care of themselves unless you know
you're doing it yourself, so we had to do.
And sit with them, and I had no idea really with
They would be interested in anything
the offer. But it turned out
We didn't spend a lot of time with them, but it turned out that they appreciate
being able to breathe deeply? They could feel a little bit more relaxed
They were then a little bit more able to talk about what had happened to them, what they done. Other people we got them up
their bodies and at first there so stiff, but then they could also
begin to relax and shake off some of that terrible frozen tension that they have done
at first. It was really I went with the question. The quest
is. Is this approach that
working well in the united states. Can it be useful and
The answer I got back from my experience:
was yes and then we see
some time with people and family members killed during apartheid.
And it was the same answer having a place where you could feel safe when you could share what
what had been going on with you and where you can learn some techniques to deal with a disorder,
physiology and the troubled psychology and difficulty interactive.
what other people that that those
people, those those those primarily women who experiences.
Also in south africa, that it could make a difference to them. So it's ok. This can make a difference, and then I said, but.
I think I feel too comfortable
Let me go to bosnia,
the wars, the war
just ended, two hundred thousand people have been killed
really wanna go to bosnia at first the climates, not very hospitable. I would never speak
language I thought, but they ve been
adding each other for hundreds of years, but it was where it felt like we're was important for us to be. This was a place where we can
potentially demonstrate the effectiveness were, people would pay
pension and worthy of a bigger challenge and away again.
somebody asked me about going
a woman. I know who
Actually a psychic had said. Would you like to go to balls
My first responsible know, and then I went to mozambique and south africa. I came
I guess I'm. Ok, let's go to bosnia, and so
went to bosnia then began to work there and had we had some connections with the hills.
many leaders and hills and public health started with them
and work with the monsignor of the catholic church, with the president of the islamic university started to do some training
was going, will accept
It was also clear that this
now a year after the war little more than a year after the war was over
The whole society was traumatized. Everybody knew just walk the streets
first of all, they on the streets in Sarajevo, where people were shot,
snipers serbian, snipers, shooting down at the muslims and croats in Sarajevo,
they died in the street. They painted the streets read so there
these splotches of red to signify the blood that people had shed when they been assassinated, shot by snow.
But the whole city. Everybody smoking, all the time drinking all the time very tense,
So when the war in Kosovo started in ninety eight, we knew we had to be there right at the beginning and had to work that that was the time to work
if you wait till after the war is over all these patterns,
anxiety. The irritation difficulty focusing difficulty sleeping the withdrawal from other people, the alcohol,
some? Should they alcoholism the abuse of women and children all of those pattern?
had become fixed, so
time to work was as soon as possible and
within a month or two after the war in Kosovo started.
Susan, and I went to Kosovo
began to work with people who were bombed and burned out of their homes
mostly women, children and older people,
and also with the the soldiers from the organisation for security and cooperation in europe.
There to monitor and come between
in the warring I'll be
in revolutionaries and the serbs whose were being rebelled against, so we
so we started stored in Kosovo during the war and we could see this
the time to start, and we were found with what we had to teach was very helpful
the people were driven out of their homes and also helpful to the military who are trying to keep the peace.
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you describe some of the patterns that get laid down fairly quickly
through the process of trauma
how what is trauma or in your language. What is your lands on? What this thing trauma?
actually is withdrawn. Was a greek word
means injury and reach of the body
to the mind to the spirit and
all of us are going to suffer trauma and our lives, if not early, because of discrimination.
poverty or abusive or neglectful family. Then, as adults
were likely to and we have a break up of an important relationship or major disappointment at work.
Or on an illness,
in the family parents death
illness and then, if not, then toward the underbrush
if the buddhist know this very well is right. It's good to have what kind of become frail we're going to have all the you know the disability of
of old age and we're gonna have to face around death trauma- is a part of life and that's what I,
I have understood,
for me, my early trauma that have early trauma with my very difficult family, and I had some trauma
Some of that was reawakened in medical school and reawaken when I had the break up with my girlfriend- and this is part of living, we all accept
and trauma and so
We have some of it is more dramatic. Some of the people who work with who had twenty members of their families murdered. Of course that's huge, but but it's not about
hearing one trauma with its another. It's about
becoming aware of those forces.
factors and events in our lives, the throw us
the chaos they make us shut down. So those are the concept.
this is a problem and we know what we know. What in our minds and our bodies when we're
down. What we want to hide
the under the bed, what we ve been withdrawn,
from other people. We can't sleep, we can concentrate. You can bet
been traumatized and
is really I mean, I think one of the difficulties with
concentrates. It's come away from its roots and has forgotten that late night,
century freud employer. They were talking of this. The foul
the modern psychiatry, we're looking at the effects of early
problem in later life
and now we're too focused on these diagnostic entities,
treating the symptoms that we ve forgotten the role
problem in the difficulties we experience later on. Yet I mean so interesting to hear you describe trauma that way because
rather than this big capital, t that we must at all
do everything we can to avoid frame
it as its it's something
that we all will expand
on some level at some point and potentially ma
four points throughout our lives
it gives you it gives you different ones
on how to personally frame. I think most of your point about comparison, I think, is fascinating
I wonder if people think
have a look at some of the scenario that you describe: lay war torn areas. People been through the most horrific things and say
to themselves. Well, that's trauma,
You know I'm just struggling at work or I just broke up with this person, or I just have whatever it is like a okay. So.
I'm not really worthy of
tabling this trauma and therefore now
really charged with doing something.
Body also throughout europe,
literally right- that's that's very pervasive notion.
we are in some ways of societies and escapes
the dull german, perhaps overly preoccupied with its individual self, but on
their hand there. Is this deep shame the steep
that we are not worthy that those things that we compare ourselves to other people. You know it was interesting to me- is that those other people who have suffered those terrible traumas that they know they
Whilst all those family members had lost their homes, they don't
in the same way,
I feel like just because you
talking about on pulled, only a break up with a plan,
They don't see that is so minor they live in
Will they have a more generous what broader
understanding of the nature of trauma, as we often have
people in the same group, some of whom have suffered horribly,
war or other circumstances.
of whom have suffered the ordinary trauma of our lives and very quickly people see
among they see than in the words
the famous psychiatrist harry's debts
eleven we are more simply human, and otherwise all of us were all in this together and and we need
We appreciate that not too, we don't need to exaggerate.
And comparisons are almost always pretty deadly and make it
we feel better than somebody is not too
pleasant to be around the we feel worse, which is not
for us we're just here
all in this together. We're all gonna go through trauma
it's the understanding that I'm convey
in the transformation. That's what we bring the people in the groups and an people can, after a while
they can relax and they may let go of some of that comparison, yeah
I think she's such an important thing to focus.
in the end it because it's almost like he gives you permission to feel what you're feeling yes and say? Oh oak, okay, like I, it doesn't matter what anyone else has been through, doesn't matter in
this moment in my life in my body in my mind
things suck. You know, I'm feeling this unfeeling constrictor really paid, I'm feeling ill whatever it may be and dumb.
Getting really doesn't matter if you label trauma, but just acknowledging the basket of war
we experiencing and knowing that
I have to compare it to anybody else to make the decision about whether you want to do something to try and feel differently exactly, and the first thing is becoming for many people is becoming aware to me over the drop because we're not aware we go
We think it's normal to sleep
five hours and wake up three times or not be able to folks know. That's not something's going on and off
that something has to do with some trauma
Events and the problem is not or immediate response to trauma
or flight response to stress
again something that's over wellmeaning or difficult for us to deal with the problem is that it
continues long after the
that is over or worse,
in situations that continue to produce a response that continue to traumatize us relation
ships are an obvious example, abusive relationships with
would we don't want to wake up to the fact that this relationship is really damaging us seriously, psychological
and physiologically. So the first thing is:
Take a little time. Take some deep.
Hats and begin to think about what is going on. What is actually happening to me now and then than theirs
the opportunity to make a decision to have and to say, ok, do
but do something about it. Yeah I mean I'm glad you brad
The notion of awareness,
I do agree. I feel that we are so disconnected.
Our sensation from what were actually feeling- and maybe me
because we are so distracted by other things that were just not present and maybe we're intentionally numbing ourselves to a certain extent because facing it
would require us to either acknowledge the fact that were choosing not to do
think about it or do
think about it, which I think a lot of us would be, would perceived as being disrupt
to our lives may be more so than what were actually feeling up absolutely right. We were. We are busy
We don't want to look at it. We have a hard time, look at it and we want to move ahead. The show must go on and on.
We see this most obviously, with I do a lot of work with with military people active duty mill
wherein veterans veterans, families, everybody thinks we go.
keep moving ahead, but does not just veterans such as military. It's there
health professions sincere and teachers, it's there and business people. It's there
so widely this. This notion that we that weak,
the notion that we shouldn't deal with our emotions that we should
be paying attention there only emotions, those are only our feelings. Who am I to talk about
by that I have experience, and we need
to really kind of this. Isn't it,
but re honour ourselves to honour ourselves once again-
perhaps for the first time and pay attention
to those feelings and pay attention to what
actually going on, and then
when we start realizing what's happening. We are faced with a decision.
We want to do something about it or not, still or decision, but it's important to have that decision,
but at least owning the circumstance that brings you to a point where you realize is a decision to be made
I think in some way, even that's progress exactly that
Jerome meditation is central towards what I'm teaching s were really the first step in in the transformation, the first that by supposes that I may clear, is trauma.
After all of us and it-
I mean a life sentence to being miserable. There are things we can do about it and the first thing
is to learn how to get into that relax stay where you are
we can become aware of, what's going on, because ordinarily, most of us are so busy
ensure the show goes on that were not aware of what's happening, so it's really important too.
fundamental foundational to teach people just relax.
Red slowly and deeply too.
what is what's happening and I'm sure familiar to you you're and I have a feeling you're, a buddhist practitioners of the asset, I'm looking at the beads, so yeah as for this is the first principle. This is this
Beginning of waking up is taking
we'll time to relax and pay attention,
funny, working with medical students. I can't do it. I have no time after this when they start
We teach slow, deep, south belly, breathing breathing in through the nose and out for the mouse. What the ballet soft and relax the to concentrate
meditation that also encourages mindfulness, and they do it for ten minutes
and they are starting to notice. Oh I'm studying better, I'm sleeping little better and not so irritable with my room. Maybe it's worth taking the ten minutes, but people have to.
Up their mind, everyone has to decide, or are you willing to take
a little bit of time to take care of yourself, yeah so important and end
You're nearly your approach of of.
Integrating a lot of different modalities to serve almost rewire nerli physiologically psychologically.
The way that we experience, stress and drama is, I think it.
it's so sensible. I also way
his fascinating about it is.
It is not about
you looking for the person who is going to fix. You is about
what can I do to have a sense of agency
to get myself as good as I can get. Maybe I stole me:
maybe I still need medication may best still me these other things, but it's
it is about starting with you exactly exactly
and its end. It's up to each person and one of the reasons that I teach so many techniques and
Transformation is because some people-
I want some like another. I think we need. This is part of our mentality. This. This is part of the comparison
that we are talking about for the tendency to compare no new
not like this particular meditation. You may not like it.
particular guided imagery. Don't worry about
There are many ways for you to understand and help yourself many different forms in
you can express yourself many
of your life, that can be healing, may be, for you most important,
is going into nature and spending time there. That's your primary meditation! That's your problem
revealing avenue for somebody else. It may be doing drawings for somebody else. Maybe one of the active x.
I said meditation said that I teach the shaking and dancing everybody's different and the
idea. My idea of working,
people with the right working with them in print in a book or in person, is it's an experiment, see
What happens we have this notion and unaware? We got it that experimental
both to come out a particular way. No, why do the experiment? If you know, if you know how
gonna come out the idea to do the experiment. You some of the use these techniques, see what happens check out for yourself. What would I
I do is I provide
standing, scientific understanding of how these different techniques work. In our mind, work on our body
they provide the research. I give them inspiring examples, but ultimately,
up to each person what worked for
what doesnt work for you for you, such a power for re frame of the idea of views
action, taking as a series of experiments to see what's actually going to work for you, rather than trying
on a one size fits all prescription which should work for everybody, because it's been put
and then the data were for a lot of people, but then
I fail at it and you think you're a failure and there's there's no option for you rather than saying okay. So my primary metric going into this is not cure, is learned
The primary objective is, is: will this work and then
if it doesn't
ok like it would have been nice if it did, but knowing that
They're. Ok said there are a dozen other things that are now the next series of experiments
my senses. It gives you the sense of forgiveness and willingness to continue to explore
there are no longer your mentioning forgiveness- is really important peace as well, because that is the first place
forgiveness is. Most important is not and that terrible person to
ex wires. Eating is for giving yourself now having.
compassion for yourself. As you start to take care of yourself
for giving yourself if you dont, like ex kind of
meditation or ex kind of guided imagery that somebody else thinks is wonderful. So having that compassion,
and then out of that it becomes
lot easier to forgive others and to ask them to forgive us, and I dont
in in the transformation. I don't talk about forgiveness, told total.
We on the book because you gonna get
common off and praise.
and often you gotta do some experiments with yourself before you
A place where you want to really deal with forgiveness yeah
it occurs to me too, that you know as
destructive. As this lens of let me run a series of experiments to figure out the blend of things at all. For me is
when you are in a place of fuelling the
the embodied effect of trauma and very likely some level of anxiety at the same time
It seemed like. There would also be attention that I can understand, because you just want to be out of that feeling.
dear of not being able to take it
I'm just doing one thing that works, but I see oh, let me take a longer term lens. There are certain things I can do its job,
the financial like that you just want, I think, we're all just in search of like gimme the thing or tell me. This team is going to make me feel better now, but you know one of the things I took completely understand that one of the things about this. This method, though, is that many of the techniques will
give you at least the taste of that right away. I was just doing this workshop in northern.
before noon, shasta this county that was terrible brought out by the
and another, maybe a hundred people in this training programme that were doing and
I got everybody up first, more
got everybody up shaking and dancing and a number,
I feel more relaxed. I feel more energized.
Feeling so wound up so terrible before they see,
difference right away that it may not be gone completely. I think that the difference
the distinction between the different sets of you will of taking a pill undoing
Making a dancing is you're, doing
shaking advancing somebody else's handing you the bill and so
requires a little effort but
The reward is so much greater because it's not only the physiological relaxation that you get from the technique. It's the sense. I can
the indifferent used. The word agency before I can
something for myself, and this is-
beginning. This is
beginning of the end of the
despair of the hopelessness and helplessness that we so often feel
we ve been traumatized hopelessness.
business. For the hallmarks of depression, there there
with people who are anxious there there, with chronic illness of pretty much every time
so once you start to have a sense that I can do something to help myself, everything can start deterrent.
so you do get some immediate gratification there now deafening
The one thing I want to touch on with you:
ask about. Is this notion of
not just healy as an individual in isolation, but in community and
the role of that the importance of it, how it changes things really it's a great, was
you know in in I'm writing a self care books. I'm writing a book for people to read, but I also
make the suggestion several times
what you're learning with other people do it with somebody else? Do these techniques with other people
and share what you're learning what your experiences are. What's coming up for, you
with somebody else, one
crucial things in the healing and dealing with trauma of any kind and pretty much everybody recognises this
but the social psychologists call social support, which means other people
that's a fancy human beings, and it makes such a difference when you're going through.
the difficult time to have somebody. You can share some piece of what's happening with em
you discover likely as they,
had something very similar, we're all human we ve all been through these things. I started to learn this when I was in bed
school one for our started. Opening up related for the first time to other people. My age and I talk about-
some of the issues that were challenged me and
first they were shocked. Oh you seem so cool like you have it all together, I don't
They were both butterfat. Neither do I hears what's happening with me and I've seen this is so it's great to be able to show.
With other people
at the centre for my body, medicine or model is small groups are really the best way
learn self care. It's great. You can learn all the techniques from the transformation from the book, but it's wonderful to be in a group there's a sense of were in it together, a kind of energy
it makes sense to have that, were you know of
we're here that people other people in this with me, I'm not by myself and then
There's the amazing discovery that other people
or not exactly who you thought they were and that all,
preconceptions and prejudices you had when you first sat down with them in a few
groups later. You ve sat with him for a few hours,
oh you're, really not like that.
So there's a sense of not only of feeling supported and learning from each other
there is a sense of moving through
prejudices getting over your projections onto other people and
also a sense
of your experience being useful to other people, because as you
talk about. Oh, I did the same,
well, they breathing, and it was hard for me because I had all these thoughts come to me and
Somebody else was in the groups it. Oh, I had a lot
come to me. I thought I was the only one who had these thoughts. The kept coming so you're, not
only receiving help you're. Not
Creating a community but yours,
being of use to other people, that your struggles are actually
illuminating to others tat. Nothing is so important,
years ago- I taught yoga undone and we
and are yoga centre. Eight. We
after nine eleven inhales kitchen in new york city, and you know what what start
As you know, what I thought would be a celebration and community enjoy turned,
into something profoundly different, and you know we were also are look.
She was was too avenues away from the peer where many of the the first responders and aid workers were staging, and we would just
people down and just say common new people were just wandering around the city. Talk about mass trauma not knowing
what to do and in which kind of open our doors it like a do.
Gus sit meditate cry whatever you need to do just this is a place just for fun,
Would it be with each other and breathe and feel like for this
What I witnessed there you in
Once following was just standing sure people were doing you're quote asano physically odor practice.
But what I realized was that, with such a small part of what was happening between
people in a room over this nearly ninety minute window of time there was something very different that was unfolding. There is a a deepening
opening. There was a relationship and there was a
A sense of
slow but noticeable healing
great will, you were able to create them
safe space and you were willing to invite
people to share themselves.
fortunately that doesn't happen, and most yoga studios summit does
too often once again, that hold show must go on. We gotta do all these also it has become very performative. I think a lot as opposed to allowing people to relax and the pastures and see what happens now and then giving them a time to share
I don't know how many yoga closer to afterwards. What would happen? What came up anything you'd like to share with one of them?
we train a number of yoga teachers in our centre. For
buddy, medicine programmes and many of them bring the audits
in the approach that you had naturally and this crisis that you brought your students, they they come through.
Graham and aid. They learn how to do that with other people and their classes are very, very different afterwards, because
they're, giving that space for people to share the beautiful that coming together
and there's so little of it that happens
in our society here in the united states in this yeah, and I feel it gets needed more than ever now.
Here and around the world. Yes,
is the nino, not just the you know, to complain, not just the yell and scream that little of that is fine, but what
going on inside you not just your opinion, but who are you
what's happening to you, we all need
space one of the people I write about
what has become one of our faculty. Members was horribly abused in her child.
Those were raped by her father, physically abused and she
I haven't, went through. A number of therapies are one of the things she said. It was most important about her work with us should now
but he tried to fix me. It was
rate learning all these techniques. It was one.
For being in a group. But I've been in groups before, but this is the first group where nobody tried to
ex me, where they just allow me to make my own discoveries and share what I needed to share. I didn't feel like there was something wrong with me or up until
and even with no good. There are beaten supportive groups
kept feeling like there's something wrong with me and the whole.
He is wrong
here, were all human and were all
I'll, try to fine greater balance and to live our lives in a more fulfilling way, and we ve all heard differ
along the way and we need to create, replace
where we can share that experience that that's powerful so as well?
Gotta come full circle and in this container of the good life project, Sir Leon
exploring this central question of what it means to live. A good life when I offer out that phrase to live a life. What comes up
to live a good life. I would say
to enjoy every minute of it is.
the important thing to oppression,
Eight and celebrate each moment to me.
I'm doing that. I feel like I'm living a good life and that
in doing that, I am able to respond to the person
is there in front of me to open my heart to that person, I'm able
who appreciate all the gifts.
given the fact that I've have given a body to live the fact that I can still breathing air
and it also puts me in touch
What I need to do with what
I may need to do if I'm really
appreciating each moment that I am also aware of the pain and suffering and the injustice
there in the world- and I can
and away way I'm informed,
about it continually and I'm scared
what and how to respond to it by my interactions with people by my interactions with the environment. So I really
focus on just helping people.
in the moment and celebrate those moments, whether its eating or walking or having conversations per se
a patient. Thank you.
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Transcript generated on 2023-06-25.