Thursday 29 September was an intensive day with beautiful, inspiring conversations and encounters!
The day started with the first team meeting with colleagues from the IkiBuntu Foundation, with whom ACE Aware NL will collaborate intensively in the coming period.
I met one of the founders, Ilona Schra, during my fieldwork for the master Medical Anthropology & Sociology. We were together at the same meeting about a research project on the concept of Positive Health, where she was present as a student for the master Healthy Aging. We started talking, met a number of times afterwards and turned out to have a lot in common in terms of views on health and what it takes to lay a solid foundation for it through fulfilling the basic needs of children. She and her fellow student Wout Peters subsequently set up the IkiBuntu Foundation, whose six pillars are a supportive network, nourishing food, natural exercise, consciously relaxing, living a meaningful life and waking up well-rested. The name comes from the merging of two beautiful concepts, namely the Japanese ‘ikigai’ and the African ‘ubuntu’.
Ikigai is about meaning. What do you get out of bed for? What drives you? What things are worth living for? Four elements come together in it: what you love (passion), what the world needs (mission), what you can be paid for (profession) and what you are good at (vocation). If they all come together in what you do, then you have found your ikigai!
Ubuntu is a concept that roughly translated means ‘I am because we are’ and is broadly about humanity, about service to the community of which you are a part. You can define this community small and large (your family, your neighbourhood, your work environment – the world!), but the core is that as a person you are connected to humanity as a whole. It is about not feeling threatened by others, but being confidently aware of your own value for the whole, making your unique contribution to that whole and feeling that with the suffering of a part of humanity, humanity as a whole gets damaged and needs healing.
Both concepts, brought together in IkiBuntu, fit in beautifully with the seven pillars of ACE Aware NL: connection, compassion, courage, curiosity, confidence, kindness and resilience. These concepts are both a precondition for and a result of positive life experiences. How do we get there?
The formation of our world view starts very early, much earlier than often thought. When you are exposed to a lot of stress hormones in your mother’s womb, because she is having a hard time and has to endure a lot of adversity, then you, as an unborn baby, already get the sense that the world is a threatening place. Your mother’s stress hormones, reaching you directly via the umbilical cord and influencing your rapid development in the womb, make you establish a stress regulation system that is on alert from the start.
If the living conditions after your birth do indeed turn out to be stressful and worrisome, that early imprint is confirmed again and again; it then becomes deeply ingrained. Your worldview is intensely coloured by traumatic early experiences and probably influences your behavioural patterns as well. Under difficult circumstances this is ‘adaptive’, helping and supporting. However, it often later becomes ‘maladaptive’, hindering and undermining. It takes a toll on your entire organism, on the constant feedback between all your organ systems. That has an impact on the beliefs with which you go through life. Those convictions are not a conscious choice, but a ‘default setting’, a basic attitude that is based on your very earliest experiences. This can lead to beliefs such as ‘I’m not good enough’, ‘I can’t do this’, ‘I can’t count on anyone when it comes down to it’. Such thoughts make it difficult to reveal your spontaneous personality and your radiant authenticity. They are trauma reactions to what you had to deal with at the beginning of your development and which left you feeling overwhelmed because of the lack of support.
These kinds of beliefs and the behaviour that can result from them in the form of aggression, defenses, reticence, unhealthy lifestyles, addictions and even crime, therefore have a neurophysiological basis: your brain and your other organs are constantly in survival mode from a deep sense of insecurity. In that mode it is very complicated and almost impossible to focus on things like logical thinking, developing more patience and changing unhealthy behaviours. Your only goal is: to survive, to keep yourself upright, with everything you think is necessary for that and what helps you with it.
That is why it is important that everyone who cares for others, in whatever environment, is aware of these developmental processes. Knowledge about this helps enormously to interpret certain behaviours in a correct way. Why is your child ‘suddenly’ hot-tempered? Why are you jumping out of your skin? Why is your colleague being so snappy? What is the reason the doctor does not listen to you? Where does your customer’s aggression come from? Being aware of possible underlying stressors and then responding appropriately to the other person is the core of what we call a trauma-sensitive approach. You take into account that the other person’s stress system is overloaded by adverse experiences. That can also help explain a person’s behaviour pattern. This is often about behaviours resulting from that early imprint of lack of safety and security: fight, flight, freeze, fawn.
This is not a simple matter. That childhood was not as cheerful as we like to remember is often unconsciously present like a pink elephant in the room. Yet we do feel that there is something very great and essential that burdens and hinders us or the other. The emotions that accompany this are often suppressed for all sorts of reasons. They remain unspoken, with all the consequences that this has for the immune system that does feel that stress, even if it is not made explicit. Many people get stuck in healthcare and in therapies due to the lack of attention and recognition for the early childhood trauma they have gone through. They carry that with them and it has (had) an impact on their neurophysiology and stress regulation.
The effects of suppressed emotions… that is the core of what the Emovere Foundation focuses on. After the great team meeting, I took the train to Ede last Wednesday, where in the afternoon and evening Emovere’s fourth friends meeting took place. The plenary sessions, the documentary about the road that Michelle Kraaij took to recovery, the workshops that were given in two rounds… they all had one vision in common: it is important to view pain complaints as signals from the body and to look for the underlying emotions.
It is essential that we recognise that by the time that, as humans, we move into any external setting, we have already spent a crucial formative time in our family of origin. That family was our beginning, the place we depended on as babies, as children. We therefore feel a lot of loyalty to that place and the people who belong to it. That also makes it understandable that a lot of resistance can be felt against looking for the cause of current (emotional and physical) pain in that place and those people. That old, sometimes all-encompassing sadness you feel… holding open or facing the possibility that it originates in your own origin… that hurts.
It takes courage to dive deeply into that, to where it gets dark and uncomfortable, but where also lies the key to insight, wisdom and healing. The injury arose in a social environment where the interaction did not go well. For healing, it is invaluable to build an environment where compassion prevails and an understanding of how the injury can affect a person’s life in an intensely sad way. You deserve to find and gather people around you who understand that, who don’t try to fix you, but just listen to your story first.
That’s what ACE Aware NL is committed to and we think it’s great that the film ‘Resilience’, which explains all this so impressively, is the center of the lunch webinar by Alles is Gezondheid, ProScoop and the Emovere Foundation in collaboration with ACE Aware NL.
Would you like to know more about it and plan a training or presentation for your organisation? Let us know; we would love to talk to you to work out the details together!