Energy is one of the most powerful forces in existence. It is everywhere (in motion) or nowhere (static) at the same time. One of the first images that come to my mind is energy expressed as light; organic (like the sun) or synthetically engineered (flipping a light switch inside your home). Energy can also express itself in the form of sound waves: thunder from a lightning storm or decibels created by a radio speaker or sound system. Our sense of smell can detect an energetic reaction like lighting a candle or the smell of rain. Tasting energy (as odd as it may sound) is also possible as atoms and molecules in the seeds of our food undergo chemical and physical reactions before we eat it…giving a unique flavor.
Everything is energy in one form or another and it binds us together in the web of life as we know it. We experience the energy of a thunderstorm: the torrential rainfall, roars of thunder clapping in our ear, the flashes of lightning we see, and the strong winds that we feel. We have advanced forecast models and technologies that allow us to predict and track weather systems as they develop. We have instruments to help us prepare before, during, and after the storm. We feel the energy of the storm in external ways as described above, but we also feel the storm internally as well. Any time Gary England became involved with weather events you knew it was serious business growing up in the heart of Tornado Alley: the great state of Oklahoma. You knew in your mind, body, and soul you needed to pay attention when the threat of severe weather strikes and Gary was on the television screen. All of this occurred because of a meteorological storm that was on the way.
The spectrum of human senses and emotions are fully engaged when mother nature unleashes her furry. Fear is a powerful motivator when our livelihood feels threatened or under attack. When a storm is bearing down on your house or neighborhood we begin to panic and our survival instincts kick into high gear. Your senses become heightened and suddenly your body is overwhelmed with the amount of information now flooding it. You then have a choice to make: are you going to be in control of your emotions or they going to control you?
Analogous to the above scenario, there will be storms of life that will show up in your life. Some storms you can expect and plan for while others come crashing down at random. How do you prepare for life storms that are unpredictable of when they will occur and to what magnitude? And once they hit, how do you “weather” the storm and how will that experience affect your ability to reorient yourself as it will inevitably change you? The answer lies in allowing yourself the ability to feel your emotions deeply. It has been my experience that human energy and emotions have a profound impact on humanity. What makes emotions unique to our species is that we have the ability to reason and control the directions of our thoughts and related emotions more than any other species in our evolutionary history.
Human beings are incredibly complex in every way imaginable. The way we think, act, talk, feel, and especially how we interact with other human beings. All of these senses are energy expressed in different forms that are relevant to human species. Some individuals are wicked smart in their cognitive intelligence and can rationalize themselves out of any problem and into a solution. In education, we measure a students capabilities based on how well they can take a test, sending an indirect message that a student’s cognitive abilities (read energies) are the only true measure of potential and success. This narrative has been perpetuated within the bedrock of higher education at its inception: grey matter is the only form of intelligence that counts. However, times are changing and we are in the midst of a radical paradigm shift in how we understand and document success and human potential….information that is applicable to all individuals, not just students or professionals in education.
Human emotions are the most powerful yet overlooked energy force on this planet. The elements present in a thunderstorm are pure energy expressed as a thunderstorm. The right conditions intersect with one another in a way that creates an imbalance in that brief moment of space and time. The rain, thunder, lightning, wind, are mighty elements in their own right…but collectively they provide the perfect storm; a clash of energies that will persist until the environmental conditions are met with equilibrium and become harmonious once more.
Human emotions affect the human body much in the same way a thunderstorm wreaks havoc on our homes and neighborhoods. At any given moment, our thoughts, feelings, and emotions can be thrown into chaos. Most people react in one of two ways: flight….shut down and bury your emotions, causing your rational mind to go into overdrive as a way to compensate for emotional suppression. Or, you fight by lashing out in anger stirring an emotional response where even the most rational of minds is pushed aside. Both reactions inflict indiscriminate harm on our bodies, small micro-doses of trauma that has tremendous impacts on our health over time. Naturally, we accumulate this traumatic stress, it becomes our new normal, and our mind, body, and spirit become sick. Suddenly, the same energies behind a ferocious thunderstorm in the external world are expressed internally: a storm of human energies.
This is where human emotions (read energies) can become incredibly complex and dark in nature. At some point, every individual will endure thunderstorms in their life with varying degrees of magnitude. Some individuals will experience unfathomable trauma in the form of sexual assault or rape. Where the foundation of their core self feels as if it was wiped from underneath their feet like a home blown off its foundation during a tornado. Others will be born into poverty that will stump that child’s emotional and psychological development, not to mention the malnourishment and feelings of not feeling safe living in their physical body. There will be individuals whose families experienced racist brutality and murdered for centuries, resulting in generations of accumulated trauma. How can you expect people of color to succeed in a country that does not address its racist past and engage in deep restorative justice and generational healing?
There will be individuals who were abandoned and/or neglected in their home life due to homelessness as the direct cause of substance abuse or addiction. Some individuals will grow up in a world that judges them by who they sleep with and makes it their business to decide for us our true gender identity. There are many dark experiences in the concept of life and it often feels as if we dump our trauma onto others instead of dealing with our own demons. We should instead begin the hardest work you will ever have to do in this life: the power of understanding and loving yourself. Anyone who’s been through trauma knows it changes you on a cellular level. You are no longer the same person and the traumatic experience can make you feel angry or even apathetic. Nobody asks to experience trauma; we don’t get to decide when it happens and to what magnitude. When it happens, how we respond is where our growth resides but on our time and terms. Nobody gets to decide for you when and how you should respond to the trauma you experienced.
Working in any helping profession, you will undoubtedly come across individuals who are dealing with unthinkable life experiences. They may be working through their trauma where their behavior or reaction may be a self-preservation tactic rather than being adversarial or difficult. Instead of asking what is wrong with them….we should be asking what happened to them? It is vital to create an environment that allows for individuals to not only stand in their truth but to find the words to describe how their emotions and feel comfortable disclosing that information. This approach to working with individuals is known as trauma-informed care and it continues to revolutionize how we relate to human beings and their suffering.
Becoming a trauma-informed professional in education means to recognize that people experience many different types of trauma throughout their lifetime. The focus is on recognizing and addressing a person’s past experiences rather than attributing their behavior to some version of a deficit or character flaw of themselves. One example what this can look like is creating an environment where students feel loved, accepted, and appreciated where true learning can take place. You have to be careful with this approach to trauma-informed care and make clear to yourself and others you work with that you are not a licensed counselor. You could cause more harm depending on the type and level of trauma some people experience. It has been my experience that students open up to me because they feel safe and trust my response will be in the best interest of their situation or context. It becomes less of an issue of doing more harm and more about matching appropriate counseling resources for them to receive more informed care.
Colleges and universities are seeing dramatic increases in the number of students who are seeking counseling services due to various mental health experiences. It is a sign that people are struggling all over our country and we as educators need to get out ahead of the increased demand in ways that is trauma-informed. I believe very strongly that educators need more training in trauma-informed care as a way to help address the mental health epidemic both in k-12 and higher education. Trauma-informed care, with careful training and practical application, will help counseling professionals reach more students in an ethical and just way.
Putting all of this together, every person is going through something in their life that can better explain their behavior. We should instead be asking what happened to that individual rather than what is wrong with them. The storms of life will challenge us in deep ways demanding a different version of ourselves to overcome traumatic experiences. The next time there is a thunderstorm heading your way take that moment to self-reflect to see if it’s possible that there may be an internal storm that needs to be addressed. Try to recognize what event happened that threw you into turmoil in order to seek the appropriate resources needed for radical healing. Human energy does matter and it is our job as educators to recognize when students are in crisis and begin to tend to the environment they live in (home, school, community, etc) rather than focusing only on their individual behavior.
Above all: “Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical. And expect more than others think is possible”. -Cadet Maxim
With much love and light, -Bradley