October 31, 2023

Pádraig Ó Tuama – Creating Healing Spaces

Thomas is interviewed by distinguished Irish poet, theologian and mediator, and the host of the Poetry Unbound podcast, Pádraig Ó Tuama. They discuss the relationship between spirituality, religion, and trauma, and the importance of incorporating art – including writing, poetry, and visual art – into social healing rituals. Pádraig emphasizes that “Art speaks to our being in a different way than rational words.”

Their conversation also focuses on the need for structured spaces in society where people can eschew dogmatic thinking and digest fear and pain together in order to feel more grounded and gain valuable new perspectives.

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“Trauma is a crisis of trust.”

- Pádraig Ó Tuama

Guest Information

Pádraig Ó Tuama

Pádraig Ó Tuama is the host of On Being’s Poetry Unbound — a podcast that has gained over 10 million downloads since its start in 2020 — and also the author of Poetry Unbound; 50 Poems to Open Your Life. Profiled by The New Yorker, and published in Poetry Ireland, the Harvard Review, The Kenyon Review, and many others, he brings interests in conflict, language, religion, and power to his work. His most recent collection is Feed the Beast (Broken Sleep Books, 2022).

For more information, visit padraigotuama.com

Notes & Resources

Key points discussed in this episode include:

  • How trauma creates repetition of the past and how safe, healing spaces can bring us into the present
  • Understanding trauma as a crisis of trust, and how to create safety by honoring feelings of mistrust
  • The need to commit to trauma-informed leadership styles
  • How trauma can result from clashing dogmas, and what we can do to reconcile our differing beliefs

Episode Transcript

Pádraig Ó Tuama: Welcome back to The Trauma Summit. My name is Pádraig Ó Tuama, and I am one of the hosts for The Trauma Summit this year, and it is my real thrill and delight to have an opportunity to sit down and be in conversation with Thomas Hübl, whom you all know, and we’re going to talk about all kinds of things. I’m curious to hear what emerges in the space with you, Thomas. Thank you so much for the opportunity to be in conversation.

Thomas Hübl: Yeah, thank you so much, Pádraig. It’s lovely. I’m looking forward to this. I still remember our last conversation, but we had a different setup, so I’m curious how it’s going to go.

Pádraig: Yeah, I know. I’ve been looking forward to being in conversation with you since then. I want to start off by asking you a question from your own youth, Thomas. I’m curious if there’s any experience or friendship or something in your childhood that you think prepared you for the work that you find yourself doing now. Was there any indication or curiosity in your childhood that you think now you look back on?

Thomas: There are three things. It’s an interesting question. It’s lovely. There are immediately three things coming to mind or four. I mean, I grew up in a family that was, my grandparents were post-World War II, so all four of them experienced the world war. So that’s maybe one thing. But the other thing is already as a boy, I had a very deep connection to God, but I had difficulties with the Christian Church, at least in the village where I grew up. It was cold and distant. It didn’t feel warm and open, and a place where you want to be and be in community. So I don’t know, I didn’t fully connect with the place, but I had this inner… And I prayed as a child, and so I was deeply into the communion with God, but the setup didn’t fully fit for me, at least where I was. I’m not saying this in general about the church.

And then the second thing was when I became 16, I joined the Red Cross and I became a paramedic. Already while I was going to high school, I trained to become a paramedic in the local Red Cross station. And I think that really taught me so much about people, society, trauma. And only in retrospect, I see how much I learned about trauma at that time. At that time, I didn’t deal with in the complexity as I understand it today. And the third thing was I was with our small group of friends at the time. We were totally into fantasy role playing games, and we had such a kick in this. We were sitting up the nights, literally nights or weekends, playing in these fantasy worlds together.

Pádraig: You’re going to have to give a few of your characters away now. (smiling)

Thomas: And it was such a blast, really and we were so creative. I wrote a story for these role playing games for nine years, it was an ongoing story, and my friends too. And so we involved each other in this world. Because you need to be very attuned and synchronized to live together with characters in this kind of world. And it was a super creative time. So I really enjoyed it and, somehow, I see that also as a contribution to what I think.

Pádraig: I had put a bit of thought this morning into thinking, “I wonder what he’s going to say.” And I did not think that you were going to speak about fantasy role play. I am delightedly surprised about that. What does that say about the imagination? Because fantasy role playing games tap into something of the creative power, tap into what’s possible in terms of the escapism that actually can show you there’s a different way. I’m curious what it is you learned about healing through fantasy role play with your friends.

Thomas: Yeah. First of all, some of the mystical principles and healing and all this stuff is part of this fantasy world. So that’s one thing. But I think as you said, there are two things, there’s to be… Because we were very good friends and we were dialed into this mutual space and we could challenge each other. We could have fun with each other, we could challenge each other also to go to limits of what it means to give yourself to a character. And that is not only always in the boundaries of the regular politically correct convention. And I think to be in a creative space together, it means relationship, creativity, attunement, and also daring to go into areas of life that are not conventional. So you are checking the boundaries of them. I enjoyed it very much at that time.

Pádraig: It’s fascinating. It’s profoundly vulnerable too, to reveal your fantasies of characterization to your friends that they see who it is that you want or they see how it is that you would want to be. You’re revealing something true while you’re doing something that’s fantasy. I mean, it’s a way that fantasy is a very true… I mean, I think all art has a capacity to tap into something that is to me, by putting aside certain imaginations of forensic truth, actually you’re revealing something that’s a profoundly intuitive truth.

Thomas: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah, it’s really fun.

Pádraig: Well, I am so interested. A connection with God, communion with God, Red Cross and fantasy role play. What interesting things from your childhood. You’ve spent your whole life really talking about collective trauma and looking at how it is that communities can gather around and have responses to collective trauma. And thinking of collective trauma through people, and generations, and history, and societal, and psycho-spiritual impacts and effects of all of that. And I’m really curious to know when it comes to your approach and the language you use around collective trauma, how has that changed over time? And maybe are there any recent changes in the way that you speak about it and what’s brought about those changes?

Thomas: Yeah, it’s interesting. I see my work in general as everything I do, this conversation, every client interaction, every big group I run, every talk I give, I don’t know, every book I write, everything that I do adds more concentrated information into a body of teaching or understanding or a skillset that gets deeper and deeper. So I see all the time changes because every group teaches me something. Every interaction in every group gives me a little bit of a different spin and understanding of a small tiny aspect of the whole. And so, I wrote this also in my first book. I said, “This book contains all the interactions that I’ve ever had leading up to this book.” And it’s true that in the 20 some years ago when it started, that collective trauma showed up in my groups in Germany after the Holocaust and the Second World War, I got an outline of an understanding.

After some time I saw this multiple times, then I started to understand, okay, that’s basically how the collective unconscious shows up. That’s how we work with generational material that has been dissociated and this ghost stuff in the middle of our society. And so I got this then. But then over time, the 20 years helped me to refine and refine. It’s like when you polish something and every interaction polishes it more and the light, the shine through the diamond gets clearer. And I think that’s also what happened. And also I walk my own path. Through my own group, I learned so much in myself. I worked on my own work on my relationship to my ancestors, to my culture or Austrian culture where I come from. And then it expanded into how Europe’s connected to or responsible for a lot of the colonialism that happened and racism in Europe. So it deepened and I felt every time I went deeper, something new opened up in the work and I could go deeper personally.

So that’s in constant interplay and a constant learning and deepening and yeah, so that’s the constant updates and that’s why I call it also IAC fluidity and not a method, like Individual, Ancestral, Collective lignification because it’s not a method. A method becomes a fixed idea versus something that’s fluid is moving.

Pádraig: Yeah, of course. I mean, it’s always difficult to discern in the moment. I know that. But is there anything that at the moment that you’re trying to tune yourself into, Thomas, as you think about some things that you’re paying attention to, as you think of the fluidity of this IAC approach? Something you’re trying to keep an eye out for?

Thomas: I’m always going for the, what’s the next ripe fruit? So when you go to an apple tree and you want to pick the apples that are ripe and you leave the apples that are not ripe because they are so sour, they need more sun. So I look at individual and also collective processes as there are some things that are ripe and some things we might from our motivation want to push, but it’s actually unskillful to push that because it’s not ripe. It needs something, a step before or a step before that unlocks the next step. And so, I’m very passionate at the moment about building. There is already an NGO that we call The Pocket Project. It has worked for seven years and now we are expanding this into what we call the Global Restoration Institute. And so where we have grassroots projects, but we also work on top-down projects with governments, with diplomats, with negotiation, mediation in crisis zones and so on, the UN.

And I’m very interested in getting to a place where we can collaborate with governments on developing a social healing architecture. I think we have psychotherapists and trauma therapists and we have medical institutions like hospitals, but we don’t have a healing architecture for the legacies that I think all the cultures around the world have some collective trauma in their history, but we don’t have any tools or places to work that really on a mainstream level. And so I’m curious how we can work towards setting that up on the larger scale that, for example, the second world war where the Holocaust, slavery, racism, the Native American genocide, the Irish conflict, or in the whole British history that happened. I think we don’t have any tools at the moment, so we just try to not have it.

Pádraig: Yes. And talk about prosperity or talk about progress. It’s all a fantasy of the future. One of the things that I’m struck by in what you’re saying here, Thomas, is that what you’re talking about is a different dispensation towards time. Because working with governments, governments are always about, are we going to get voted in? Are we going to stay in power? When’s the next election? In a certain sense, a governmental imagination of time it’s really about your next term of office, which is pretty short, three years, four years, five years, whatever it is with whatever government you’re working with. Whereas what you are talking about is an expansive imagination of time, a very rich present that reaches back and looks into the future with something other than strategic planning. Strategic planning is all about a fantasy of being able to say, “If we do this, this will happen.” You were talking really about, as you call it, an active unconscious imagination of time. It’s a metaphysic of time really.

How is it that you work with groups of people who have serious responsibilities for leadership to put aside their daily agenda for which they’re elected and to maybe not put it aside, but to somehow accompany their daily agenda with a more expansive imagination of time for the betterment of their communities?

Thomas: I think the more we understand trauma, we see the trauma is actually, as you beautifully said, is like a fixation in the past that creates a repetition compulsion to repeat the fixation in the past ongoingly like a pattern that doesn’t stop. So we hurt each other, there are wars all the time, there’s gender violence, there’s, I don’t know, racism, and then and all kinds of other things. So, as you said, we need to create spaces where we can onboard that fixated past into presence so that we can really receive the future in the presence, not the future is there, but how we receive the future now. And I think that the more… Or at least in my experience, I meet more and more people that really understand the principle of trauma, trauma symptoms, and collective trauma because they’re dealing with this every day. And once somebody comes and frames it in a way that makes sense, the symptoms that we are trying to handle in our societies, so then there is at least an openness to go, “Okay, what can we do? What are the options?”

And then we are looking together at what kind of options are doable, maybe what kind of options would be great, but they’re not doable now. So we don’t go to the extreme of what we would want, but we stay attuned to the process and then see how to expand it. And I feel that there are many doors opening at the moment, and of course, it could always be more, but that’s not the point. The point is what is real and what is now, not how we fantasize about the future. But I feel a lot of readiness also in some of the really high-level corporate leaders. I see some of them beginning to want to adapt certain principles in their organizational culture, maybe in stuff that happens in society through this organization and to come back to restorative processes so that, I often say, that the right to being gets reintroduced into societies that are mainly about becoming and doing.

And I think one human right is the right to be alive because we are alive. So nobody has the right to take somebody else’s life because that’s a human right. And I think because we don’t have enough being space, which also means reflection, I reflect, I digest, I integrate, I learn. And when that’s not happening, they’re just repeating retraumatization as we see now in the world. So we have to have more being space and being is the recipe for peace. And if we don’t have being, we don’t have peace.

Pádraig: I’m going to say something so that we can circle back to it. I’d like in a while to circle back to questions of art and ritual because I’m curious about how you incorporate ritual and also you’ve got poets the whole way throughout your trauma summits. I’m fascinated by your curiosity and your interest in poetry and other forms of art too. But we’ll come back to that, I just want to plant that there as a little seed. Because first of all, I’m curious to talk to you about spiritual trauma and you mentioned being interested in God as a youngster, whereas the experience of formal religion wasn’t something that felt warm for you, where is it that you see spiritual trauma showing up? And I suppose I mean that formally, people who are religiously affected or affiliated, as well as outside of that as well.

Thomas: Yes. As you said, I think if there is trauma in institutions that are connected to spirituality, for example, what came out in the church recently, or the church and Indigenous populations, and the church and colonialism. If there is an institution that is centered around spirit and trauma happens in that institution, it immediately disorganizes our connection to the divine because that’s pure and accessible for everybody in the world. But the institutions that actually say that they provide safe spaces to practice are part of the pain. It’s like when parents are part of the pain of the children. So this is a disorganizing impact on what I believe, where I see leadership, how I see authorities, how I trust in the process of the world. And so I think it’s there or in any other spiritual communities where there’s abuse of power, where there’s power over patriarchical structures that are power over versus competence based and relation based.

And so there are different hierarchical structures and one is very painful, the other one is width, it’s power width. It’s – we are together and maybe there’s more competence that some people step forward, but they also know when to step back that other people step forward. So it’s a fluid process. And not a fixed process. So that’s one thing. The other thing is that also in religious context, when the identification with the spiritual identity gets stronger than the original mystical message. Because highly awake people or individuals or beings like Jesus or Buddha or others, there was a true insight, something opened up and what they said means that their word and energy was the same.

When the state and the energy are the same, then it’s true. When we recite or talk about things that they said in the past, then it’s only partly true because we are reciting something that maybe is true on that level of consciousness, but it’s not true for everybody who doesn’t experience it. It’s an aspiration maybe, it’s a learning process. But if that crystallizes into dogma and if that crystallizes into the inability to perceive the present moment, so it becomes a filter between us, suddenly I’m looking through this dogma at you. Then it’s painful and then it creates trauma because it’s not true. It loses the humility. All the big spiritual traditions talk about the bowing that allows a blessing to be received. And if I don’t know anymore how to bow and really to be honest about my spiritual development, so what’s true for me, I can speak about, what’s not true for me, I’m a student, so I’m learning.

And I think a lot of trauma happens like that. And when dogmas clash against dogmas, then we have religious wars, we have all kinds of violent situations, we have torture, we had inquisitions, we had witch burnings, we had the inequality between masculine and feminine principle in religions is out of balance and that led to a lot of violence. And then some religious communities supported racism and slavery and colonialism. So I think there’s an endless list of how spirituality is connected to trauma and that has a backlash in the secular world of an anti; “I am an atheist,” so I’m defined by what I’m not. So-

Pádraig: Yeah, another kind of certitude.

Thomas: Exactly. Yeah. But we can talk about this more. So that’s an attempt to describe something big in a short time.

Pádraig: Yes. I spent a lot of my life working in the context of conflict resolution and language. And in a place like Ireland that has been affected by the British-Irish conflict and where religion was an enormous dominant part of your political identification, I see here the profound draw, the promise that such belonging offers, and then the cost of such belonging too. And it’s not like I want to say that such belonging should just be put away because there’s something powerful about it. But the question is, are its borders fluid, or are its borders hostile? What are the wars that are unnecessarily involved when it comes to imagining identities and the interaction between them, and changing loyalties and questions about all of that? What do you see when it comes to paying attention to spiritual trauma on a mass scale for groups of people where perhaps some spiritual principle was used in a way to make it so fixed that it actually did more harm than good? What do you see that helps?

Thomas: Yeah, what always helps. And let’s also put into the mix that, for example, in the Nazi movement in Germany, there was a deep interest in some aspects of the Nazi movement in mystical powers and also in the abuse of mystical powers. So it literally happened. And that’s why our fear sometimes of being misled, being manipulated, being… I mean, that became a collective demon in a way, which I think we need to deal with. And the way to deal with it is that first of all you need to stop. Because as we are running, we are not good at reflecting. When your nervous system is in active mode, it’s not so good in reflection. So we need to say, okay, for some things being active, progress, innovation, perfect, wonderful. We all want that, and we all benefit from the medical and scientific progress that we made. It’s amazing. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have this conversation now.

But at the same time, and not either/or, because sometimes we say either/or also in climate change. Either we need to totally wake up the world and we have no time for healing. Why? You can wake up the world while other people do the healing at the same time, we just share competencies. So you also don’t stop a hospital when the surgeon makes the surgery because everybody else, is you just do that. No, you can do everything. And the same is in, I think, here we need to stop and say, okay, in order to digest this and reflect on it, we need to open the space, say these things happen or happened. And now we need a space to open that up, create safe spaces that are facilitated. Let’s bring that in. Let’s see who we are, not talk about them, but talk about who I am in relationship to them. And then create spaces where many people have a collective witnessing space. We have space to speak, to share, to see many different facets of the same thing, and learn from each other.

And I think these collective learning spaces help us to first reflect, notice how the trauma lives in me, spiritual trauma, then digest that and have learned to create an internal connection in myself. Then I learn about you and I’m witnessing and feeling you while you go through your process. I learned from you something new about spiritual trauma that I don’t know. So it’s a very fertile process. And then we can integrate the trauma and expand our perspective and get the ethical learning because I believe we get the ethical learning only once we integrate the trauma. Some people jump too fast to intellectual ethical conversations, but we don’t have the embodied ethical conversation.

Pádraig: Yes, sure. When it comes to working with large groups like this, a large group, a big national bank, a big national broadcaster, a university of global renown, a government, a big religious group. On the one hand, they have a lot of power. And on the other hand, I often see that with great power comes great fear as well. And so those groups can often be frightened of acknowledging the trauma that they’ve caused or been part of. And in a certain sense, the defensiveness against that can in itself then make it even more stringent and more tightly wound, even though everybody knows large corporations need to face up to their past. And the fantasy seems to be that if they face up to it, the whole thing will crumble. I’m curious about how you go about addressing that fear in order to say, “Actually this is a way into life into the future” rather than “the end of things as we know it” for whatever large corporate group people are a part of.

Thomas: My approach is always not to talk about fears, but to… Because once I get into the argument of why another way is better, I’m overriding the emotional process. If somebody is afraid to tap into something, open something, take more responsibility. So let’s be with the fear. The fear is the first thing that shows up. So let’s create a space where that fear has a space to breathe. Let’s see what it’s about, but not stay in the intellectualization of the fear, but let’s begin to be with it until I feel, oh, I’m opening myself more. I feel I can digest my fear, I ground myself and my perspective grows. And so I think what often happens is that we try to find good arguments to convince people versus starting where we are and say, “Okay, if that’s scary, let’s honor that it’s scary.” And it is scary because it might have consequences, but let’s see who we are in relation to the fear and to the imaginatory of, I don’t know, the imagination of consequences. And maybe that’s not going to be true, we don’t know.

But what we know now is that we are afraid of it and let’s start there. And then we begin to open that process. So until we can have a deeper connected conversation, if we open it up or not. But so once I feel that somebody gets tense when we bring a topic into the room, pushing more doesn’t make sense. And I think that’s what often happens. And then people create an internal resistance and then it slows down transformation. And I would say if I feel already that something is tense, so let’s slow down and let’s acknowledge that somehow. Let’s see that something needs to be seen before we go a step deeper into the direction where we want to go. And I somehow have the feeling that that creates a lot of trust, like when I see people and when I hold the space for people, leaders, corporate leaders, whatever.

The moment when we see that that’s respected and that’s felt and sometimes even noticed without people saying it. So then it creates a, okay, we are together in this and there’s also some unspoken commitment that we won’t go further than the next step allows us to go. And once we have that trust, usually the heart opens up and then many people know by themselves that something needs to happen. I don’t need to say this because if something needs to happen in our life that needs to be restored, we all know it. If somebody hurt somebody in a relationship, it stays as a nagging small feeling inside. And even if I can suppress it, when somebody mentions it, I feel that it doesn’t go away. So ethical restoration, the conscience in us, the part in us that feels when we cross a line doesn’t disappear. It stays.

Pádraig: I’m so interested that you mentioned trust so many times in that last response because all throughout the conversation, I’ve had this idea in my mind about how a trauma is often a crisis of trust. And there’s such a deep desire to trust, trust in yourself, to trust in others, to trust in whatever it is that offers promises for you some kind of belonging. And you spoke so eloquently there about trust and the idea of in the face of fear, rather than thinking, how can I conquer fear? Instead of going, “Well, how can I create an experience of trust in the moment?” That might mean that something else emerges, something becomes possible.

Thomas: That’s beautiful. Because what you’re also saying, and I think there sometimes we don’t get the point that trust cannot be made. If somebody mistrusts, I always trust that the person’s mistrust has a perfect reason. Maybe I don’t know the reason because I don’t know the biography of the person, but I know if I see they don’t trust me, first of all, it’s not personal to me. And secondly, I feel wow, I need to honor the mistrust. And then by honoring that, we synchronize our consciousness with the real process that’s happening. It’s a withdrawal. It’s like I’m scared. And many people override their sense of being scared by….  I should be a grownup person that is courageous and is in the world and does his or her thing. But if I feel this, I need to respect it and then I can grow with it and through it. And the other thing is that I think we have a distorted view of fear because first, once we are traumatized or hurt, the fear is a separate experience. So it’s my fear or it’s your fear, or it’s the CEO’s fear or the politician’s fear.

But actually, the privatization of emotion is already part of the trauma symptom. Because otherwise when you see a child that gets scared, the child comes back to the parent, who regulates with the parent and makes the fear a shared landscape, “Mama, daddy, I’m scared.” “Okay, come. I feel you’re scared.” Fear becomes us, not your fear or mine. It becomes our process. And that’s beautiful. And I think we can restore trust every time we make fear our process, something safer.

Pádraig: I’ve been in positions of leadership for a lot of my life and I get lots of people that you work with have been in positions of leadership. And one of the things that I think of with leadership is how lonely it is. It’s always easy when I’m working for an organization to think, “Oh, they don’t understand. They don’t this, they don’t get it.” And there are good reasons to be critical of people in senior leadership. I’m not saying that those are always misinformed and the critiques of leadership are misinformed. But when you’re in a position of leadership and you feel like, “I’ve got the title of power, but I have very little capacity to make enough of the changes that I’d want, and nevermind everybody else.” That there can be a deep loneliness in that. How do you go about creating a wider consciousness of loneliness and loneliness and leadership, and then when it comes to the groups that we’re part of looking at something like trust in the context of that, because leadership is always going to be limited?

Thomas: That’s right. I would first see that loneliness is a retraction from the surface. So when a leader is lonely, I would look at how their loneliness is already part of their biographical history somehow because it’s a relational dynamic that most probably was there before and gets amplified by the leadership position. So I would look at that and then I would also say, okay, there are certain things that leaders need to discuss with other leaders maybe. Because we need a space where we share a common understanding and we also share the safe space that certain things we have to discuss there. But for the larger part, I think that in many organizations, the vertical data flow, like in our spine, there’s a vertical data flow. I believe in every organization, if there are hierarchies of leadership tiers, the vertical data flow, I’m fully committed to my organization, and my organization is fully committed to me.

That process of mutual support so that an organization understands the leadership function is very important, it orchestrates something. We can think about more fluid leadership models, but still, we want to support each other in our highest capacity. And that’s true for both ways. And I think that often doesn’t happen because we are coming out of an era, of thousands of years of power over structures, and I think many of us are still bruised. So authority issues and all kinds of envy, jealousy, this and this, and suppression and subtle power over, and subtle manipulation. There are many of these things in our organizations and they’re results of trauma. And so if we commit to a trauma-informed leadership style and trauma-informed organizational development, then we create safer spaces. I think where that dynamic can also slowly be liquefied so that we feel all we belong. And still there are decision making competencies that need to be with certain people maybe because they have the highest competence in the organization.

Pádraig: Whether you’re speaking about an organization or a larger collective of a community or a country, what I hear you say so often is about healing spaces. And now I would be really interested in you talking about ritual and art. What ritual and what art is it that you think, or that you have seen and that you’re curious about when it comes to addressing some of these things in the past and the way that the past is showing up?

Thomas: So there is one aspect that when we talk about art, and then I’ll talk a bit about healing rituals. So when I came out of my four years of meditation and I did my first years of my work, I got to know my wife after some years. And so my wife is an international artist, and an art professor at the university, and I have to thank her for initiating me into the world of art in a way that I would never have done by myself. I would never have had access to the depth that I have now and the much deeper understanding, also a much deeper… I got to know an entirely new cosmos that I wasn’t so connected to. So thanks to her, I can see also and I learned a lot about the power of art in different forms. Being it poetry, music, but also visual arts, films, and paintings. How the unspoken aspects in the cultural space are being represented by art as a psychoactive substance. The alchemy between a good artist and whatever is the topic creates a psychoactive substance in the public space. And I think that’s really amazing.

And if we combine this now, I think the social healing rituals that I’m talking about have to have poetry, art, music included, because that has such a psychoactive dynamic in the collective space. So when I talk about social healing spaces, I see them as inclusive of art because art speaks to our being in a different way than rational words and all kind of knowledge. I mean, that’s important, but that doesn’t run the show. The show is the relationship when the heart opens, when we trust each other when we create safe spaces, and also when we liquefy a bit the power over or the top-down suppression of the mind over the emotion and the body as a trauma defense mechanism. That’s why often knowledge is not the right way to address this because knowledge will just create more separation. And art doesn’t do that. Art even disturbs sometimes our minds, honestly. And so-

Pádraig: Yes, it’s experiential.

Thomas: Yes. I think social healing spaces are ritual spaces, and I think through colonialism we lost a lot of the Indigenous wisdom around rituals and embodied healing and music and the various forms of trauma healing that nowadays some kind of renaissance of healing those wounds and honoring that wisdom. But even beyond that, I think we need ritual spaces because as you said before beautifully, also in spiritual communities, the belonging aspects, when it’s a clean community, the belonging is very important because it creates a cup, a container, and every transformational work needs a healthy container to create alchemy. And I think art is definitely an important ingredient.

Pádraig: As I was preparing for this, there’s a line from Björk that came to mind, that magnificent Icelandic musician, in her song, Who Is It, she says, “Carry my joy on my left, carry my pain on the right.” And as I was thinking of that and looking at how you use the word integration so often, there can be a fantasy that healing is about the future where the impact of the past is not present. And what I see you put forward societally and also individually in therapy, is that somehow there’ll be a container, a cup, as you said so nicely, for how it is that things can be contained. And I can say, yeah, I do have my pain on the right, but I’ve also got my joy on the left, or whatever those things are. Carry my courage here and my anger here, carry the trauma here and my creativity here. That for you, integration isn’t about undoing the past or about saying there’s a fantasized future where you’re going to completely forget about the past, but rather that there’s something of holding those together.

Thomas: Yes, I see. It’s beautiful what you’re saying. Exactly. When you eat, where does the food go? The food becomes part of your body, it becomes you. It’s not that the nutrients that you absorb in your body become your blood, your cells, your brain, I don’t know everything. When the integrated past means that we integrate the charge that is undigested. We ground the ghosts of the past to disturb our present moment. But that integrated history makes us, it becomes us. We learn from it. And I think especially if we have to deal with the wounds to get the ethical upgrades, if you don’t deal with the wounds, we cannot expand our ethical way of living. We cannot become really better people because we become mentally better people. We become maybe sometimes politically more correct, but the mind and the body don’t go together. And then when I get stressed, I still snap on people. I still do whatever I do and it creates impact because what I understand here needs to live here.

And I think restoring ethics and using the healing spaces as a way to say, “Yeah, we have to learn something here. We have to learn something from the Holocaust, and we didn’t yet and that’s concerning.” Because we don’t make the time and the space to say, “We are going to take care of this.” The Middle Eastern conflict is fueled by the fuel that the unintegrated Holocaust, also including Europe and Germany, is not being looked at enough. So the fragmentation will just go on. And I think we have to say, “Yes, we understand that, and we create the architecture because without architecture we can’t do it.” We need to create some spaces for this, same as we created hospitals once because we saw that it’s important and we have surgery rooms. We need also these kinds of spaces funded by the society and the government because then the society says, “This is important for us, it’s public health.” So that’s how we came full circle to the healing spaces.

Pádraig: We’re going to be coming to a close. I’m curious about a really practical question. What is it that you’re doing these days in terms of locating yourself in outside space? Because I’m interested in, where is it that you go? Is it the mountains? Is it the sea? Is it looking at a bird or a tree? What is it that you do for locating you on the ground?

Thomas: For me, one way to locate myself on the ground is to sit. Just sit quietly like as if, not only then, but that’s an intensification of vibrating with everything around. So that’s one way. And then yes, I love to go to mountains and then coming from Austria you can’t avoid mountains. So I love to be in the mountains but also here where I live now in Israel, there are not really mountains. So the sea is beautiful. I love nature and for me, any kind of, I hear the birds sing out here in my office right now. So then there is a deep connection. So I love it. And I feel that also when I am in a space, I feel that nature is always part of what we do, that I feel connected to the biosphere. I am a part of it. Yeah, I think that’s mainly it. But I think also sitting quietly and just being in it, this is my main way of having a practice for that matter.

Pádraig: So Thomas, I always come away from conversations with you thinking that there’s a lot more to talk about. I have got so many more questions. Thank you for the opportunity of doing that and for the opportunity for me to interview you at the Collective Trauma Summit that you’ve convened. Thanks for the generosity of all that. It’s been a great joy to talk to you.

Thomas: Thank you, Pádraig. So when I feel you, there’s such a lovely depth that you bring into the space. So I deeply enjoy that and I enjoyed your questions. And I think it’s the first time in an interview that I talk about role-playing. So that says something.

Pádraig: May it not be the last.

Thomas: Exactly. So thank you very much. I deeply enjoyed our conversation.