The Pathway to Healing. Start with Seeing.


(pictured above: Resmaa Menakem, MSW, LICSW, SEP - therapist and author of "My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies")


A few years ago I attended a conference on Mass Incarceration in Los Angeles. Prior to the conference I met up with Kathryn Carner, the Operations Director of the Actors Gang Prison Project (co-founded by actor-director, Tim Robbins), and I asked her what it was like the first time she went into a prison with the Prison Project.


She said she was really glad and excited to be there and remembered those who were incarcerated being really eager for more programming..... and she paused... searching for what it really was. .....


Then her face showed me she'd remembered...and she looked me straight in the eye and said, "They want to be SEEN."


This past week I sat in on a conversation with three thought leaders. One of them was Otto Scharmer (author of Theory U: Leading From the Future as it Emerges).


He coined the term "attentional violence".

I'll include a quote here at length from a 2008 blog post of his.


...People were suffering and yet the cause for the suffering was not another person (direct violence) but the collective economic structure (structural violence). Likewise it dawned on me over the past few years that there is yet another form of violence that tends to be even more invisible, unrecognized, and pervasive: attentional violence. Attentional violence is to not to be seen and recognized in terms of who you really are–in terms of your highest future possibility. Instead you are only seen in terms of your journey of the past, that is, in terms of the circumstances of the past, in terms of who you happen to be today. People are blind or ignorant of that aspect of your self, that isn’t (fully) born or manifest as of yet.

Who is the victim of such attentional violence? Its our highest future possibility, our essential or authentic Self. When our authentic self and highest future possibility is not seen, then its future potential is cut off from the evolution of the present. It does not have a holding space where it could land, were it could presence itself. Not being seen is a form of violence because it violates fundamental human needs. Our culture (following Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) thinks of material needs as more fundamental than our spiritual needs (such as being seen in one’s highest potential). I believe that is dead wrong. When do your social and spiritual needs start? at 1200 calories a day? 1500 calories? 2000?


So what we are talking about is seeing what has not been paid attention to.

Facing what has not been faced.


Foundationally, I believe, to the societal realization that Black Lives Matter, is SEEING Black Lives. We are being invited to invert the direct, structural AND attentional violence.


A few years ago I read a profound book called The Body Keeps the Score - about how we hold trauma in our bodies. Bessel van der Kolk the author says, that for people who have endured trauma, we need to provide spaces where they can have "experiences that viscerally contradict the helpless, rage, and collapse felt during the traumatic experience."


This was a big inspiration for the genesis of my work. Even though I don't work with trauma survivors per se, we all have various levels of experience with traumatic events and events that get imprinted in our bodies. This is the power of incorporating (no pun intended) applied improvisation philosophy and practice of presence, support, co-creation, etc. with our colleagues. Trust is not just an intellectual exercise. I would argue it's more foundational; it's visceral. It's about seeing and being seen. And frankly that's can be scary. Because to be seen is to be vulnerable. And that's why providing support is so key. We need to come to slowly, iteratively, begin to have a visceral experience of trust with those around us.

This leads me to the NY Times Bestseller (and recently in huge demand) book "My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies" by Resmaa Menakem.


I came across this book a couple of years ago and it was one of those that I got from the library and it was due back before I had finished reading it. And it's one of those that there is deep things to digest - not just in your head, but your whole self. And it's one of those books when the author writes with deep grounded authority and skill.


I just received my copy in the mail this week and a few friends and colleagues are going to read it together and yet I don't perceive it to be a book that we ''just read''.. It will impact us deeply and transform us if we allow it. Because we all need to be on a pathway of healing, and a big part of that pathway is being done with just intellectualizing things and cutting off the rest of our embodied selves.


His book offers not just thoughts and stories, but also embodied practices for us all to mend our hearts and bodies.


Podcast Interviews w Resmaa Menakem on OnBeing.org

  • I recommend his interview to you with Krista Tippett. Find it HERE

  • And he has a conversation with Krista and Robin D'Angelo, author of White Fragility (that I haven't heard yet. Find that HERE

Resmaa's Website


How will you cultivate the practice of truly seeing those around you? seeing Black, Indigeneous, People of Color?


What would it take to see others as their highest future possibility?


What would be possible if we did?








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©2020 David Westerlund