by Nancy McCrumb
Alright, I’m trying to feel feelings without self judgement. I actually had a decent shot at this round of nontraditional treatment since I was so blown away by my last experiment. (If you missed it I did a blog about the Radical Aliveness Program in November). For this adventure in alternative therapy I hitched a ride with the founder of Serve the Warrior, Julia Decker, down south to check out John Newton’s Ancestral Forgiveness Healing. John believes this is the most fundamental step in restoring well-being, for our life and our lineage. His techniques include forgiveness work, Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) and Breath Work.
We had a great drive and it was a rather nice trip down memory lane for me, as the center hosting John’s seminar was just south of good old Oceanside, CA, home to Camp Pendleton. Gotta love the smell of a Marine base on an early Saturday evening. As Julia helmed the wheel I spied the set up for a training exercise off in the wilderness area, with a command center, mess and barracks tents all poking at the dusky sky. Pendleton has been the farewell site for so many..including yours truly, who lingered (perhaps malingered) at the gate with a guy I was dating until the last moment possible, when he was called back inside and shipped off to Kuwait. But I digress. Lots. It’s a symptom of PTSD, I hyper focus and get easily distracted with memories and shiny things. Which I believe is also an apt description of a sentimental house cat. See what I mean, the digressing.
Back on track; I was a bit trepidatious about our final destination as we pulled all the way to far end of an empty industrial park. The first few seconds on the property had me freaked and trying to decide if the GPS was playing a joke on us. Then I saw the small sign above the back door that had “AwareHouse 11” printed in a calming font over a field of chakra colors. We had in fact arrived. AwareHouse11 Conscious Arts Center describes itself as a “community arts collective”, encouraging self-expression, and ultimately consciousness raising, through various arts modalities. Ah, so its not a joke, they’re just going cover me in pachouli oil while we talk about spirit guides and soul journeys…….great.
I shook off my angst, and we walked in. It was a startling building in its contrasts; the outside was warehouse-like and the inside had been partitioned off into a few hallways and a ‘treatment room’. We took our shoes off before we entered the treatment room–the smattering of various styles of kicks on the entry floor were a good indication that shoes were not allowed beyond that point. There was plush, new carpet on the floor that mitigated the transition from industrial complex to haven-like womb. There was color encircling us everywhere–the carpet was a weave of bright patterns and hues and the walls were painted in eye-catching jewel tones. It was visually loud and stimulating, but to my ear the room was wicked, wicked soft. The lighting was subdued and the music seemed to emanate from Pandora’s “Enya” channel. It was rather like being in the center of a very large lotus blossom.
The floor was set with multiple rows of folding chairs facing a slightly raised stage area with a single chair in the middle, facing outward. We sat quietly talking and the buzz in the room was palpable. You could feel all the energy of the thirty people assembled–both positive and anticipatory. Some of the people in our session were there to see John for the second time in as many days and everyone was excited to see him in action. He entered the stage with a quiet and down-to-earth kind of vibe. Jeez, I’ve been in the ‘Aware House’ for fifteen minutes and I already sound like a patchouli convert. Here I go, reacting.
John was handsome and well spoken and had a very calm demeanor. He took a seat, greeted everyone and started talking about getting people back to their ‘natural state of being’. He explained that our minds keep us from living in the emotional and physical moment of right now because they always have to make excuses and explanations for every experience or thought that we have. Well that sounds exhausting, lets quit doing that, I thought, and then I thought about how thinking that was my mind’s usual pattern of shenanigans, and just like that I was chasing something shiny down the digression rabbit hole. It really sneaks up on me sometimes.
I refocused in about the time that John was going over the interconnectedness of us all and the universe, which, after having it so aptly demonstrated to me at Radical Aliveness, I was all on board with. He then went a step further and explained that as people we are profoundly affected by not only our parents, but their parents and their parents’ parents, both by ancestral emotional ripples and plain old-fashioned lab coat science DNA. He emphasized that DNA stores the trauma of our both our personal and collective, or ancestral, memories. Trauma operates at a cellular level and through this forgiveness work, he helps us clear the DNA of these past hurts and transgressions. This work was the main focus of the evening.
John told us that some people mistake his technique for a miracle. The miracle, which boils down to a belief in something bigger than yourself (anything you are comfortable calling it, he says, as long as you believe and trust) and the humility and surrender it takes to ask forgiveness for yourself, your ancestors and everyone who is affected in any way by the fears and doubts of your (normal, I remind myself) crazy-making mind machine, is essentially an innate ability we’ve all forgotten we have.
Right about this point in the evening I can’t seem to shake a resounding chorus of my father’s voice ringing in my ears and repeatedly screaming ‘snake oil salesman!’. I figured this unbidden image of my dear old military dad was the perfect opportunity to try my hand at Ancestral Forgiveness. I quieted my mind, concentrated on my breathing and thought about asking the great universe/source/‘god’/all-knowing-grand-dame-in-the-sky to release me and all my ancestors of any guilt or fear or hurt surrounding mistrusting strangers and broken faith in healing. I waited for some great sign that it had worked. I felt a little lighter and calmer, but that could have just been the nap-time sound track and soft mood lighting. I decided that the request for forgiveness was kinda like the request for a pony or for your high school football team to win state, you just don’t know ‘til you know if the message got through. Rather like sending a fax to god with no transmission confirmation page. Faith sure ain’t for sissies. And just like that, dad’s back. I try to get centered.
John did not work on all the people in the room, but attended to each of those who raised their hands in a bid for healing. And I was at the auction to buy. John remained on stage, and we stayed in our seats as he did his work. One woman raised her hand and talked about the chronic, debilitating pain in her shoulder. He asked her for a number to describe her pain level, then asked for a descriptive–rather than emotional–word to define the pain. Asking for this, along with getting her to focus on the sensation, allowed her to become more present. In this present state of mind, there was more opportunity for her to receive a higher, restorative energy.
“Tight,” she said. He directed her to close her eyes and he was quiet for a while, nodding to himself like he was talking to someone we couldn’t hear or see. At this point he was tuning in to his higher power to help this person forgive. He then gave her forgiveness phrases pertinent to her life and family history, which she confirmed as accurate, although she had not shared any information with him prior. I really do not know how he intuited that, although according to practitioners like Louise Hay there are certain areas of the body that are related to emotions and perhaps he zeroed in on the shoulder-associated issues. She repeated the phrases and got very choked up and as she did so, the energy in the room became heavy. She was expressing the apologies and feelings we all tend to suppress and cover in our lives, and it hit home in this space. John asked again about her shoulder pain and she said it was “70-80% better” and she described an openness in her chest and a lightness in her being. People used the word “light” a lot after John was done working with them. I’m not sure how much of that is mystical and how much is stuff getting out in the open, saying something out loud that you haven’t ever said out loud before. It can be freeing, and that unburdening definitely feels like a weight lifted.
John believes it is not the event that transpires, but the emotional content we continue to attach to it, that feeds the trauma and keeps us in pain and a state of suffering. The good news is that suffering is optional. As I learned again and again throughout the evening, the removal of attachment to experience and the focus on the sensation in the present moment is key.
As I watched others having what I can describe as “revolutionary moments”–some small, some intimidatingly powerful–I was ready to see firsthand if he could bring it. I raised my hand and told him about my chronic jaw pain, a gift from a childhood injury that’s exacerbated when I stress out (which, thanks to my PTSD, is often). He had me tune into the feeling and think about it without focusing on it, without naming it. He asked me to talk about the sensation (the physical feeling) without attaching to the suffering (the emotional pain, the associated traumatic experience, the “story” attached). Then he had me close my eyes and just breathe into that physical sensation. Everyone was so quiet and focused at the same time. Even with my eyes closed, I felt that. I felt their support.
The energy level in the room was a strange new experience for me, because it’s rare that you find quiet, still people operating on a high energy level. At least for me. I’m used to the knock ‘em up high energy of a film set, where the energy begins when you hear “action!”. The juxtaposition of silence and this buzzy type of movement kinda left me dumbstruck. In a good way.
After some time John had me state my forgiveness and thank you’s and apologies to my ancestors and ancestral archetypes (like women choosing the wrong men and taking on masculine roles), which really hit home for me. My jaw pain did not seem to subside right away, but I felt open to the flow of healing, and I too breathed a little lighter.
The rest of the experience with John was spent with me breathing and feeling whatever came up and watching and listening to the other people have and share their experiences. It had a nice calming and unifying effect without having to talk about my “issues” or hold hands with any sweaty strangers, so that was a very nice bonus for me. It certainly made me aware of the power of a collective thought process, because it seemed to put everyone on the same wavelength. We all left, a little lighter of step and slower of breath. It certainly challenged my firm belief that everything always has to be controlled by me all the time, and that letting go was a bit cathartic. All in all, I’d say it was decidedly interesting and very relaxing, and seemed to have a powerful effect on some of the attendees. As we drove home, past Camp Pendleton, I saw no mess tents and heard no practice shelling; just an endless, open horizon and the sound of my steady, hopeful breaths.
© Serve the Warrior 2013 All Rights Reserved
TFGP Editor – Pamela Haber