Healing Imprints of War

When I was a  little girl, I can remember my mother watching a series on public television about the Holocaust. The introduction of the show is hard to forget, because photographs of Jewish people…men, women, and children…were surrounded by flame. I remember that it terrified and fascinated me. It certainly made a deep impression on my psyche; but I sure didn’t want to know the story behind such gruesome images.

Now I live near a town in France where I take French lessons in a building that was once used as Nazi headquarters during WWII. Apparently, there are many locals who still refuse to enter the building. I can’t say I blame them. Interestingly, the town was divided between those resisting and those assisting. Makes for some uncomfortable relating at community functions, no doubt…even after all these years. Someone who now works in the building told me that they used to execute people in the square outside. Chilling thought. Would my desire for survival or my humanity have won out? Would I have resisted or assisted? I know what I’d like to think.

I believe in the lasting resonance of things that occurred in a space and time. It isn’t so much ghosts I fear. But I do believe an energetic imprint remains. If you close your eyes, you can feel the soldiers, feel the villagers, feel the mixture of hatred and fear. You can hear secrets whispered and the orchestrations of betrayals. I can’t help but wonder about the people who had to live through it. And I can’t help but be shocked to realize it happened less than 100 years ago. That isn’t so long! Even if few remain who lived through that awful time in history, there are many alive who heard the stories first hand from their relatives.

These kinds of experiences must have such a deep and unfathomable impact, not just on a community, but on a culture. I feel completely blessed to have grown up in the USA. We’ve fought our share of wars (hell, seems like we start most of them!), but in my own lifetime, we’ve never fought on our own soil. Of course, historically, we had the Revolution and the Civil War. But we were fighting ourselves. We’ve never faced a foreign enemy on home turf…not like elsewhere. The point is, I wonder what kind of impact an occupation has on the people of a town or country. I wonder what beliefs nestle their way deep into the subconscious of a people who have lived in such fear and oppression, who have had to face the decisions one only ever faces in wartime. What insidious seeds get planted and passed down?

There really is very little here than isn’t stained by war…from one time or another. Things are old here, and you can feel the history, almost smell it as it oozes out of stone walls and rises like smoke from a damp earth. It isn’t just a metaphysical thing, of course, because in every town, there is a monument to remind everyone of the dead from two world wars. Blood has been spilled, great grief and loss compiled over centuries of human arrogance and power-mongering.

By the way, years later, I did learn the story of the Holocaust when in middle school we had to watch the same series whose beginning sequence had so frightened me as a small child. Ever since, I’ve been endlessly fascinated with movies focused on that time period like The Reader, The Pianist, Sophie Scholl, The Black Book, and The Counterfeiters. Eventually, I even taught units on the Holocaust to my own middle school class. It was too important; they needed to know the terror of which man is capable. They needed their eyes opened and their hearts broken lest they ever fall into the hateful patterns from a history forgotten, though it is no better to get frozen in past tragedy as if it was the present moment.

So now, here I am. I walk this land conscious of its history, breathing in the air. And I pray that through me, with each exhalation, some healing takes place. I pray that the despair never comforted, the anguish never extinguished, finally releases into peace and light. I pray that restless and vengeful souls find their way home and that the energetic stains of their pain be purified within those that still live and still love. I breathe not to erase the memories of a horrific history but to transcend them. I also pray for the day when mankind isn’t hurling itself towards another war.

What else can I do?

Read the account of Jean-Jacques Auduc and the French Resistance.
On women’s role in the French Resistance
Charlotte Sorkine: French Resistance Heroine
On 1) Nazi Collaborators and 2) Nazi Callaborators in France
On a country split by inconvenient truths.

Lessons from A Deer in the Garden

This morning, I looked out my meditation room window to see a deer in the field. I was shocked that it was on the wrong side of the garden fence. How it got in, I’m not sure, because despite repeated efforts, it simply couldn’t jump back out.

deer smallThe poor thing kept running from one end to the other, desperately trying to figure out WTF happened to it. How did I get here? Am I trapped? How do I get out? Will I ever get out? Is my life now the size of this rectangle? These are the questions I heard myself asking (je me demandais) as I watched the scene.

I called Stuart to see what was taking place. We saw the creature jump into the mesh fence and spring back startled and frustrated. Stuart grabbed his camera and went downstairs. He reappeared out the window and started closing off the driveway. I’m not sure what he was thinking (he later said he was afraid it might run into the road and get hit), as that was the only way out for the creature. I suggested it would be better to leave it open and get the animal to move in that direction.

So, Stuart had to sort of herd the deer away from the path it had been running, back and forth, as if it would suddenly yield some new doorway, some new relief and freedom. This, of course, spooked the deer even more, and it slammed itself against the fence in desperation to get away. It made me wonder about that fight/flight part of the brain that tells us to run and how often it might be faulty.

As I watched, I had to wonder also about what I was dreaming…this symbol of the heart and unconditional love feeling caged, trapped, and confined. I felt its anxiety, or at best, maybe just projected my own, and began to hum. I wanted it to feel calm, to stop just enough to realize there was another way. The beaten path would get it nowhere.

And a moment later, it had its revelation and headed toward the open gate and down the road, looking back as if to make sure there was no one in pursuit. It bounded across the road and up into the open field across from us.deer oh deer

I feel touched by this medicine in so many ways, the deer being a symbol of gentleness and, ironically, alternate paths to the same goal…

“Deer has entered your life to help you walk the path of love with full consciousness and awareness, to know that love sometimes requires caring and protection, not only in how we love others, but also in how we love ourselves….When a Deer totem enters your world, a new innocence and freshness in about to be awakened. New adventures are just around the corner and there will be an opportunity to express the gentle love that will open new doors for you.” From ShamanicJourney.com

If I could just find that gentleness of spirit within myself and toward myself when I feel anxious and caged, maybe I would discover an open gate through which I too could leap. Maybe the only reason I feel so anxious and lost sometimes is because I keep trying to run the same 50 yards of territory in a vast, mysterious world.

So I pray for greater awareness. I pray to find the grace with which to move through life’s obstacles. I pray to turn my head and walk in a new direction when necessary for my own happiness…one in which my heart is free to be open, one in which I trust my intuition over the fight/flight response, one in which I am less demanding for perfection in myself and others. I pray to remain vigilant to my highest path.