Dealing with the original wounds


This is not a trigger warning, but it is an invitation that you pay attention to yourself. I am going to talk about the violence that is the foundation of the creation of the United States. It is easy to read history and turn it into information: something that a person “knows” and “understands.” Please don’t do that. Everything written here is about real people; people like you and your kin. What is written here might be about your kin or your people might be the kin who were committing the violence. Either way, notice yourself as you read. Listen deeply, listen to how your ancestors might whisper to you through your DNA, through your spirit. Read this as a prayer, not a school lesson. And then breathe.

I just finished taking a walk along the Mississippi River. The leaves are mostly fallen, the sumac is bright red, and the ancient cottonwoods loom large along the riverside. I usually walk near Coldwater Spring, a sacred Dakota site that has been taken over and domesticated by the park service, and along the river just north of Fort Snelling. I never go there without remembering where I am and what happened at that place. I never go there without remembering that eight generations ago, there was no Fort and this was only Dakota land. I never go there without remembering the 1600 Dakota families who were interred at the Fort after and during the Dakota war, only six generations ago. I go there and remember the expulsion of the Dakota people from their homelands, still six generations ago, all of these actions taken by President Lincoln within months of his signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

As a bodyworker who studies craniosacral therapy and learns from other modalities, I know that if you can identify the original wound, the first significant hurt, and if you can support that original wound to get what it needs to transform, then many of the things that happened afterwards will transform at the same time. I have seen that kind of unwinding, this moment of deep healing, within the cells and tissues of people who invite me to be with them. Held trauma is a moment of unfinished history. Life wants to come back to the present moment, to feeling connected to other life. This means that held trauma will find a way to resurface again and again until it is finished. This is why a person seems to get involved with the same kind of person, the same boss and situation at work, the same feeling of isolation and sadness. Until we can heal or shift the original conditioning or experiences, we will get tangled up in the same tangles.

The same is true of what happens to the collective body. I believe that for those of us who live on this land, there are two significant original wounds. These wounds overlay a whole range of histories that we have separately brought as people coming from many different places but when we settle here, on these lands, then we settle in relationship to the original wounds.

The first wound is the attempted genocide of those people indigenous to this land. For over 500, 5000, some peoples say 50,000 generations there were people who lived on these lands. They moved and migrated like people do, from one ocean to the other, from the south to the north and the north to the south. Real people who did all of the glorious and absurd things that real people do, who had wars and who got sick and died and who lived contented lives, real people who never lost their relationship to the land. Real people who understood - and understand - that we are the land and the land is us. The first wound happened when Europeans brought their wounds to this land and planted them. Those wounds were the wounds of disconnection from land and the idea of land ownership. Their wounds included the idea of profit, something that is not possible without inequality. They included rigid and specific gender assumptions that subjugated anything seen as feminine and they included a patriarchal and transcendent God who expected harsh discipline and service from his followers. These were the wounds that had evolved in western Europe for thousands of years. In their European homelands, people were (and are still) fighting for a connected life that does not depend on violent inequality at its base. Many of those who first crossed the ocean to come to this land came because they wanted to find a place where they could live more spiritually grounded simple lives. But even those who came seeking heaven on earth came bringing their own original wounds, this deep disconnection from life, and they carried it like a virus as they built their farms and towns and expanded across the land. This is the first original wound: the attempted and unceasing disappearance of the original people of this land through murder, forced assimilation, land theft, and cultural policing and minimization.

The second original wound came soon after first contact with these lands. This was the wound that enabled those who settled to increase their profits and to feel justified in doing so. First the land was turned into an object to be sold and used for personal purpose and second, human beings were turned into objects to be sold and used for personal purpose. The second wound is the institution of slavery, the economic system that depended on the creation of race as a way to organize the complexity of life. The European system of slavery or the owning of people has its roots in European feudalism, anti-Semitism and the colonizing mix of the Catholic inquisition and crusades. The way the institution of slavery developed in the Americas is born of these histories with each colonizing country putting the pieces together slightly differently. This second original wound is entwined with the first; both together creating the foundation of the creation of the United States: indigenous disappearance and the violent policing of anti-Black racism. The institution of slavery had already been started in the islands and lands to the south of us. This means that as Europeans first started coming north to settle and colonize, they brought with them enslaved Africans. The first settler’s legal code, the Massachusetts Body of Liberties, legalized slavery in the colonies. After the Bacon Rebellion, a shared fight by Black slaves and Black and white indentured servants only two generations after the first large scale settlement in the East, race rather than class became the tool for social control.

When you attend to an original wound, are not distracted by all of those things which show up at the same time, you increase the potential for transformation.

There are many other wounds that exist here on these lands: gender oppression and classism and ableism and religious persecution and anti-immigrant hatred and all kinds of phobias. But they are not the original wounds of this land. Most flavors of US-based class and gender oppression have European roots, not indigenous or the many different kinds of Asian or African cultural roots. Forms of gender and class based oppression might well exist in those lands, but upon settling here, in the United States, those other homegrown inequalities merged with the European form of cultural divide.

The one thing all of us share who are living on this land that is now called the United States is the experience of being raced. This is true whether we are new immigrants or our people have been here since first contact. This is also true for those who are indigenous to this land but it doesn’t quite work the same way. Being native to this land exists before race and so identities like Lakota or Ojibwe or Cree are cultural experiences that exist before they were raced. Being raced means having the complexity of your history, your culture, and your understanding of yourself and your kin aligned with a category that you have no power to shift. The only people who get to experience life without the awareness of being raced are white people.

White supremacy, I believe, is a system of coddling European-descended people so that they don’t have to feel the impact of the wounds they brought with them over the ocean and then transplanted directly and indirectly into this land and into people’s bodies. White supremacy is a system set up to maintain these original wounds so that they are raw and bleeding, never able to heal and then transform into something new. White supremacy exists so that European-descended people don’t have to experience the profound contradiction between the life they are leading and the values they claim to hold.

To me, healing justice is about directly addressing these original wounds. Period. This means healing justice seeks to stop the violence of these histories as they show up in the present day, including in how newer immigrants are defined through the lens of anti-Black racism and anti-indigeneity or with the added layers that are defined in relationship to US global economic interests.

As healers and healing practitioners, we work most of the time with individual bodies. Life shows up in healing spaces in very local ways: as an experience of pain, of emotion, of disconnection, of compromised movement or energy. We are there in response to how the truth of someone’s life shows up in any given moment.  This is healing. What makes it healing justice is how we hold the truth of the present moment within the larger context of the original wound. How we do this is part of what I will keep reflecting on in this blog.

I want to be clear about one more thing: paying attention to the original wound does not mean ignoring the real pain of gender and class and all other forms of oppression and violence. But it does mean still and always paying attention to the original wound. There is no gender or class liberation possible on this land without attending to the original wounds. Without attending to and healing the origins, other fights will eventually become aligned one way or another with white supremacy. It matters deeply that profound class divisions, sexual violence and rigid gender binaries did not exist on this land prior to colonization. They are not native to this land. They were brought here and transplanted, just like a Monsanto seed, fighting its way into the reproductive cells of native seeds as they are transformed against their will.

Beneath all of what I wrote here is the foundational hurt: the one that these histories made possible and maintain. Beneath all of this is our separation from the life that sustains us. This land, right here, below our feet. The kin who are within arm's and heart's reach. How we experience the connection of all things, spirit, life.  And the ancientness of our selves, our ancestors joining hands along our DNA. Notice your breath. Right now.

Susan Raffo