Inside the Pu'uhonua
Posted on September 19, 2013
Before I start my post, I want to thank everyone for their kind words about the first post…this is more fun that I imagined! I also want to thank everyone for their thoughts and well wishes concerning the impact of the floods in Colorado. My wife and I are fine but our community’s infrastructure is in pretty bad shape and many of our neighbors’ lives have been turned upside down. We will rebuild stronger as the flood is a great example of the resiliency created when people come together to survive and recover from a trauma. I’ve never been prouder to be a citizen of Boulder County, a Coloradoan and most of all a Nedhead (for those out of state this is what people living in my mountain town of Nederland call ourselves).
Continuing my thoughts from the last post on the Pu’uhonua, let’s look at what happens inside. The details about the internal workings of the Pu’uhonua are not well known. We do know that ceremonies and rituals were performed to heal the individual and integrate them back into the community. While I would love to know the details, this unknown reality isn’t that far away from the magical work you all do every day. Ever try to explain what you do to a family member or stranger on a plane who knows nothing about the helping professions? In some ways the process of healing and growth are still mysterious to many in our society…to be honest, in many ways they are still an awesome mystery to me!
What happens at the Cascade AIDS Project in Portland that results in medical adherence? Where does Mercy Cares in Springfield Massachusetts find their passion to serve the homeless in their community? How does the Illumination Foundation transform the lives of the homeless in a very conservative Orange County California? How the heck does my friend and mentor Dr. Olga Vera Ne-Smith use eye movements and memory recall to heal trauma? What you do has at least some of the Pu’uhonua’s mystery to it and I would argue is more than a little magical at times.
Think about the perspective of the individual who survived their journey to the Pu’uhonua. Imagine seeing this structure in the distance…a symbol of hope and salvation. Every step up to this point could have been your last. Your family might just have been killed in war, you might have made a mistake and broken a taboo. Regardless, you approach the Pu’uhonua defeated and disgraced. The beautiful island that had been your home for all your life is now a place of great danger and trauma.
Stepping into the Pu’uhonua must have been a great relief unlike anything many of us will ever experience. Imagine physically walking into hope. One moment you faced the threat of death and the next you crossed over to sanctuary and refuge.
I cannot say I’ve ever had such a powerful experience…though the Rocky Mountains I call home comes very close! I have heard many stories from current and past clients that rival the experience of the person walking into the Pu’uhonua. A clinic, treatment center, or office served as the physical representation of hope…a light in a dark world where hope resided and healers did their magic.
I can’t help hurting a little when I think of this, however. While I get to see the great work so many of you do, I also see too much dysfunction and the impact that emotionally dysregulated people, programs and organizations have on staff and clients. Sometimes direct care staff attend my leadership workshops to figure out if they are crazy or if their supervisor is really abusive. I have people tear up when I talk about secondary trauma and burnout. And worse of all I hear stories from clients of abusive and de-humanizing practices by people paid to help them.
Imagine if we stepped foot into the Pu’uhonua only to find angry and burnt out healers who seem disinterested in us and our traumatic struggle for survival. What if as we stepped into this refuge and saw healers fighting with each other, and sometimes physically restraining others who are seeking sanctuary and hope? What would happen to us if our one hope for sanctuary, turned out to be more of a mess than the pain and danger we were trying to escape?
Many of our clients don’t have many chances for healing and hope. Their journey to our doors are painful and hopeless. We have to embody what the Pu’uhonua represents: a physical representation of hope in what has become a dark world for our clients. We have to focus our energy and expertise on creating healthy and powerful places where the difficult work of healing can be done effectively. What do clients feel when they walk through your doors, sit in your waiting room, and work with you? It is easy to get lost in our stress and workload but we must prioritize the health of ourselves and organizations above all else. Only then can we create a sanctuary where our clients can heal from their pain and integrate back into their families and communities as whole people.