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Healthy Minds in Practice: Healing Intergenerational Trauma

Illustration courtesy iStock

Historical or intergenerational trauma can impact groups of people in both subtle and more acute ways, across generations. It can be helpful to make space for strong emotions by getting curious about them through Insight and by leaning on gratitude. That’s what we’ll be doing in this practice today, as an honor to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Healing Intergenerational Trauma

Led by Ronné Wingate Sims

Welcome! This is Ronné Wingate Sims with the Healthy Minds Program. Thanks for joining me.

Traumatic experiences can trigger anxiety, anger, sadness, fear, despair and other strong emotions. But when traumatic events happen to a particular group repeatedly over time — often called historical or intergenerational trauma — the impact can range from subtle to more acute across generations. It can be helpful to make space for our strong emotions by getting curious about these feelings through insight and leaning on gratitude as a coping strategy. That’s what we’ll be doing in this practice today.

So, when you’re ready, join me and settle in to where you’re sitting. Make sure you’re comfortable. You can place your hands in your lap or at your sides, whatever feels right. And if it’s okay with you, close your eyes or you can keep them open. Take a moment to settle in right where you are. 

Now, take a few deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth — slowly filling up your lungs, holding for a moment, and then exhaling completely.

As you breathe you may notice how your abdomen rises and falls, how air flows through your nostrils, into your lungs, and flows back out again. 

Let your breath return to normal, and notice how you feel. Do you feel any tightness or discomfort anywhere in your body? If you do, just notice where it is and what it feels like--there’s no need to fix or change your experience in any way. 

Take a moment to appreciate your body and your breath. With each breath, your body is taking care of you, while you’re taking care of your mind. 

Now let’s set an intention for doing this practice. Why are you engaging in this practice right now? What do you hope to gain here? You might consider taking this time as a gift to yourself, your loved ones, or to the wider world. 

It might be helpful to know that you’re not alone in this practice. You are a part of a strong, vibrant and resilient community of people who are also taking time out of the day to do this same thing.   

All of the people listening to this practice -- including you and I -- have survived 100% of the things life has thrown at us. You are resilient. That’s part of who you are and a part of all of us. Take a moment to appreciate your resilience. 

Now, let’s turn our attention back to the breath. See if you can focus on the movement of your breath as it flows through your nose, deep into your lungs, and back out again. If at any point you find that your mind begins to wander off, that’s fine. Just gently bring it back by focusing on your breath. 

There’s a lot going on in our world, things that can trigger strong feelings. See if you can explore how you’re feeling right now. Can you name your emotions? Are you feeling angry? Sad? Fearful? Frustrated? Take a moment to name it for yourself, and if you are having a hard time naming the emotion, see if you can simply feel it in your body. 

If you’re feeling more than one emotion, see if you can choose one emotion that stands out the most and let’s stick with that. 

Whatever you’re feeling right now is ok   Even if those feelings concern or scare you, what you’re feeling now is giving you information about your relationship to the world around you. If you begin to feel overwhelmed by your feelings at any point, try returning your attention back to your breath or some other sound in your environment and then focus on that. 

Do you notice any tension, tightness, or discomfort in your body right now? As you continue to breathe, scan your body from your head down to your toes and see if you can relax any muscles that you notice are tight or clenched. 

Try taking a few more slow, deep breaths — in through your nose, filling up your lungs, holding for a moment, and back out again. With every exhale see if you can let go of the emotion even just a little bit.

Now that you’ve named what you’re feeling try to extend yourself a moment of grace. Doing the work of sorting out our emotions begins with naming them. Trust your own ability to move through these feelings. It’s important not to judge these feelings, but to be curious about them.

Now, allow your breath to return to its regular pace. If the feeling is still present that’s okay. The goal here is not to take it away, but to make space for other feelings and experiences.

Focus on the movement of your breath as it flows through your nose, deep into your lungs, and back out again. 

If you’re willing, let’s spend some time giving thanks. Give thanks for those who have come before you, whether related to you by blood or by struggle. Give thanks for your ancestors who - not only survived, but found ways to thrive under seemingly insurmountable circumstances and leaned into the possibilities of life. Even the possibility of you. 

Give thanks for the trusted people in your life, in your community, in your village. Reflect on someone who’s been particularly supportive of you in your past or in the present. 

As you think of them, try to visualize their face. Whisper a ‘thank you' to that person. 

Give thanks for those who are to come, knowing that these moments you’re taking to heal now will positively impact them in the years to come. 

Give thanks for the love that surrounds you. Love from family, friends, a partner, or even a pet. Guiding love, sustaining love, restorative love, lavish love, revolutionary love. For a moment just rest in knowing that you are loved. Receive it. 

And yes, give thanks for yourself, knowing that in spite of all that’s happened in your life and that’s happening in this world, you’re still here. Give thanks. 

Now, for these next few moments, let’s return to the breath. But this time listen to your breath as you inhale and exhale.

Note the quality of the sound of your breath. The sound you hear is a reminder. Let every inhale and exhale remind you that you are a living testament to the power of the human spirit.

The sound of your breath is part of the soundtrack of your life. So for this last part of the practice we’re going to stay with the breath. 

In the safety of this moment, there is nothing for you to do here but breathe. Allow yourself to be. 

As we prepare to finish this practice I want to appreciate you for taking the time out to care for yourself. You are worth it. Now when you’re ready, slowly open your eyes. Take in the stillness of this moment. 

Notice and appreciate what you see and what you hear.

What’s happening in our world and in our daily lives can trigger strong emotions. In this practice you were able to name and get in touch with your feelings and draw upon the deep well of resilience within. What amazing work! Feel free to come back to this practice as often as you need throughout your healing journey. Thanks for joining me today. Be well. 

Awareness. Connection. Insight. Purpose. We consider these to be four ingredients of a healthy mind. You can train yourself to improve these skills, just like you can develop any habit. This audio practice is provided by Healthy Minds Innovations (HMI), an external, affiliated nonprofit dedicated to supporting the mission of the Center for Healthy Minds. Want more practices? Try the Healthy Minds Program App.

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