Join Cassie Gillespie from VT-CWTP as she speaks with Laura van Dernoot Lipsky about Trauma Stewardship and Trauma Exposure Response, specifically as it pertains to child welfare workers and caregivers.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky is the founder and director of The Trauma Stewardship Institute and author of Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others and The Age of Overwhelm. Widely recognized as a pioneer in the field of trauma exposure, she has worked nationally, and internationally for more than three decades.
More information about Laura and The Trauma-Stewardship Institute can be found at https://traumastewardship.com
You can also watch Laura’s Ted Talk: https://traumastewardship.com/media/#ted
Check out her downloadable resources: https://traumastewardship.com/purchase/
And read this open letter: https://traumastewardship.com/2021/02/a-letter-from-a-trauma-worker-on-the-anniversary/
Cassie Gillespie (00:02):
Hello, I’m Cassie Gillespie. And you’re listening to Welcome to the Field, a podcast for child welfare workers, caregivers, and community partners. Today, we’ll be talking with Laura van Dernoot Lipsky about trauma stewardship and trauma exposure response, specifically as it pertains to child welfare workers and caregivers. Laura van Dernoot Lipsky is the founder and director of the Trauma Stewardship Institute and the author of Trauma Stewardship, an Everyday Guide to Caring for Herself while Caring for Others. She’s also recently written The Age of Overwhelm. Laura is widely recognized as a pioneer in the field of trauma exposure and has worked locally, nationally and internationally for more than three decades and full disclosure. She’s also my professional idol, and I cannot believe that she’s here to talk with us today. If you haven’t already seen it, Laura has an amazing Ted Talk called Beyond the Cliff and you should definitely check it out. Okay, Laura. Welcome.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (01:03):
Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.
Cassie Gillespie (01:06):
Oh, no, no, really thank you for coming. It’s so exciting. Okay, so I’ll stop. I’ll stop fan girling out
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (01:14):
And let’s see, happy to spend some time with you now. That was great for me. Thank you so much.
Cassie Gillespie (01:19):
Wonderful. Okay. Well, let’s, let’s dive right in. So some folks who are listening have probably read your books, both your books and watch the Ted Talk. Some folks are newer to this information, you know, as you know, turnover is pretty high in the field. So for the folks who were just kind of, catching up, can you tell us what is trauma stewardship?
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (01:40):
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Just because it’s been coming up more and more in, in so many different contexts and just kind of the evolution of it and how I did think about it and how, so many folks are talking about it and how it’s been moving out into the world. I mean, essentially for me, you know, trauma stewardship is how we interact with and care for suffering. How we interacted with and care for suffering of humans, other living beings, the planet itself, so suffering and pain and hardship and crisis and trauma and how we steward it and care for it. So even while we work to eradicate, oppression of course, and supremacy, and we work to dismantle the systems of and structures of social and environmental injustice and all of that, we also acknowledge, that there remains a lot of pain, a lot of suffering and a lot of harm.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (02:48):
And, how do we care for that? And as we are caring for that, how do we simultaneously care for ourselves individually and also collectively so that we can really sustain doing this work. And for some of us that work is a job. And for some that is a career and for some of us, it’s a field that we’re in. And for many of us it’s caretaking responsibilities, in the home or in our community. And for lots of people, it’s a whole combination of those. So that’s, that’s some of what it is, you know, finding a sustainable way through,
Cassie Gillespie (03:31):
I think we’re all looking for that. Or at least I shouldn’t speak for everyone. I know I am.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (03:35):
Cassie Gillespie (03:37):
So in the book, I know you talk particularly or specifically about trauma exposure response. And I just wanted to ask about, you know, sometimes in the literature, there’s a lot of kind of calling out or referencing vicarious trauma or secondary traumatic stress or burnout or overwhelm. I’m wondering why you use that term trauma exposure response and what that kind of conveys that the other terms either don’t, you know, or does.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (04:03):
I mean, I think for me, you know, it was less about what was, or wasn’t there in the other terms, it’s just, for me, it’s just kind of the way my brain works is it’s just, even the visual of it, of just having a visual where I can see all of these things together, you know, just in a circle of, you know, it’s not a cycle, it wasn’t a continuum. It wasn’t set up in any of those ways. It just, it helped just the way my brain to just see them laid out all of these manifestations laid out, knowing that, you know, again, individually and collectively, personally, and professionally at any given time, we can also relate through these, right. And we can just find ourselves sometimes we’re numb and sometimes we’re, you know, totally grief-stricken and sometimes we’re full of rage and sometimes we’re navigating addictions and sometimes we feel dissociated and sometimes we’re feeling like we can never do enough.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (05:06):
And so it’s not that at any given point, you’re going to feel all of those. But that I think it is helpful partly because the way that vicarious trauma and cumulative toll works in that can be really, really, really hard to identify the ways we’re effective, because it’s such a cumulative toll. So I think just having a visual where you can check in now and then glance at it and just, you know, be affirmed of like, oh right, you know, I’m not alone. It’s not just me. There’s actually a term to this. There’s a visual of this. You know, and, you know, one can remind oneself, like I’m in very good company because we know that one of the most damaging things with anything related to trauma and anything related to oppression is when we feel alone. And so I think that’s just so much of the work that I try to do is reminding folks like you’re in really, really, really good company, if you’re, you’re feeling any of these things
Cassie Gillespie (06:06):
Powerful. So I’m going to ask you this question that I have been waiting to ask you since the first time I saw your Ted Talk like five years ago, I was like shouting, like, but what about, you know, so here it is. I shouldn’t give you such a preamble, but spoiler alert, if you haven’t seen the Ted talk, one of the ways that Laura talks about, oh gosh, I’m going to probably mess this up. So you correct me if I’m getting it wrong, but essentially the need to be present, right. That some of the antidotes, some of the, some of the stuff that helps you stay resilient in the work is to combat the numbing because you can’t numb selectively, right? So the need to stay present. And then here’s the question. I, like many others I know, intentionally used compartmentalization sometimes even dissociation to make it through the Workday. Like you just have to kind of box up some of the stuff you’re seeing and experiencing, because you have to go to the next thing and the next thing, and then you got to pick up her kids from school, you know, and you gotta just move through your day. Right. So, you know, my question is, how do you reconcile or what do you recommend when folks are really trying to find that balance between, staying present and a need for numbing to get through the day?
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (07:20):
Right. That’s a beautiful question. No, it’s a really, really, really beautiful question. It’s so important. Okay. So what I try to communicate with folks is this isn’t about if we’re numbing out. I mean, it’s not, I mean, I don’t know anybody who, doesn’t not like that. It’s not, it’s not about it. It’s a conversation about when we’re numbing out, why we’re numbing out, how we’re numbing out and our intentions for numbing out. And then very importantly, how are we going to bring ourselves back to, you know, what we talk about in terms of our full range of feelings, as, you know, as we say in early childhood education, having our big feelings, right? So like coming back to a full range of feelings. So really it’s about cultivating an ongoing state of awareness of here’s me numbing out, here’s me in this conversation, numbing out, here’s me in this forensic interview, pulling back a little bit, here’s me in this meeting, uh, not, I just can’t be fully here for this, like, and having that kind of, you know, conversation in one’s head.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (08:35):
Um, and even sometimes as you said, that dissociated sense, even hopefully having some awareness there of like, okay, okay. Third person, like vibe here of just like, okay, all right, thanks. See myself do this. It’s about having that awareness around it and being accountable, being responsible, being, very even if you’re not able to be intentional, at least, because it’s not always an intentional thing, but being able to be really, really clear what’s happening. And, I think as I said, being really clear on having a plan to bring ourselves back to feeling, like on our own terms and part of, part of what this gets at is as you know, so well historically in your field and in many other fields, there has been, you know, really, really, really problematically. I mean, I understand where it comes from and I think, you know, countless of us participated in it, but the sense, you know, that could be just to get this work, you know, get to get this work done and to be able to really like, just survive in it.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (09:45):
You’re, obviously going to have to numb out. I mean, that was kind of implicitly and explicitly communicated along the lines of like, you know, if you’re cool enough and tough enough and committed to your cause. And if you’re going to suck it up, like it was like, those were like, it’s just like, even if it’s not sad, I mean, sometimes it is sad, but even if it’s mindset, all of this implicit communication around that, and certainly that kind of keeping your head down, doing what you have to do. And like the, just like, like don’t be so young and naive, like of course you’re going to numb out. Like that’s what we do is we numb out. And, and sometimes like sometimes it was explicitly said a lot of times it was just implicitly conveyed. And then some of that was, you know, the way we talk about the folks we serve, it’s very, very, very, very disparaging ways.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (10:28):
Sometimes it was dissociation, like you said, sometimes it was copious amounts of drinking with our colleagues, you know, whatever it was. But the whole kind of just the assumption that there was absolutely no way to do this work and stay fully present. And obviously if you did this work, you were going to have to numb out. That’s what we’re trying to challenge with this paradigm of like, hang on a second. First of all, it’s not true. Like, first of all, you can do this work and be present and you can stay feeling like that is possible. Second of all, numbing out is there’s a huge cost to us when we numb out, a huge cost. Either you’re pulling something into your system. I mean, whether you’re drinking or you’re getting high or you’re on pharmaceuticals in a, you know, unmindful way, whatever there’s, I mean, there’s no judgment there, but like there’s a cost to that.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (11:26):
So that’s that if you’re not doing those things, let’s say you’re loaded on red bull. Let’s say I’m eating copious amounts of sugar. Let’s say I’m just on highly processed food. I get zero judgment. But like, there’s definitely a cost to my system there. Let’s say I’m not doing any of those things. And I’m like, gluten-free vegan, macrobiotic, whatever. Let’s say the way I’m numbing out is through judgment. And I’m just totally disconnected. And I’m doing like whatever, you know, horrible judging or discriminatory things in my mind. That’s the other way that people come out. Right? It’s like, I can’t relate to these people. Like, I mean, we’re human, but I can’t relate to them. I mean, however one chooses to numb out. There’s a significant cost. So it’s not like we do this work and we’re just like, oh yeah, my plan is just a numb out like easy breezy, no, like it’s devastating to workers when they numb out.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (12:13):
Like, it is very, very hard to stay present. But part of the reason that I take numbing out so seriously is because while workplaces might get a lot out of workers in the short term by colluding with, or encouraging again, implicitly or explicitly them numbing out, because you can get more out of workers in the short term and just like jacked up on adrenaline. And like, you know, just going through the motions, the toll of that is on individual workers. Because again, you’re either bringing something on board to do it or an Eastern medicine. We say disintegration, you’re disintegrating, your nervous system. Like you’re disintegrated internally, your mind, body, spirit, all of that. And then to your point, you don’t numb out at work and then go pick your kid up from daycare, soccer, practice, ballet recital. You don’t go do that. And then be like a fully functioning like, Hey darling.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (13:13):
And be the parent you want to be the aunt and uncle. You want to be the grandparent you want to be, you don’t then go home and be the roommate you want to be, you know, go home and take care of your dad who has Alzheimer’s, you know, or your brother whose got Lou Gehrig’s disease. Like that’s not how it works. You know, it’s not, it was a police officer in Vermont who said to me, you know, it’s a switch. I just flip it. It’s a switch. And then like 20 minutes, he was like, actually, I don’t know how to flip the switch anymore. Right. So it’s not like that. It’s just not how that works. And the toll is devastating when we numb unintentionally. So it’s a whole different thing if you’re numbing intentionally. And if you’re in a situation, a conversation, a meeting, and I think we’ve all been there when we’re like, oh, okay, we’ll be present for this.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (14:00):
I’m going to pull back a little bit. And then I’m going to walk out of this meeting and I’m going to go to the bathroom and I’m going to cry over the sink and put a ton of cold water on my face. Or I’m going to go sit in my car and call my best friend and screaming at the phone, or I’m going to go on a run at lunch or whatever it is. Right. So, so it’s not about like, oh, there’s people who numb and there’s people who don’t numb. I mean, we all numb out, I forgot. I mean, like you can’t, who’s in society today. Who’s not numbing out. Right, right, right. But it’s about the level of awareness. And then what our plan is. To bring ourselves back to feeling. And then when we look at the systems and structures, I really put a huge amount of responsibility on the systems and structures to create a workplace environment that workers could do this work and not have as one of the only option numbing out as a way of surviving.
Cassie Gillespie (14:51):
That was, that was one of the things I wanted to get your read on was this idea that like some, how do I want to say this? It it’s a delicate balance sometimes I think, to encourage people, to be individually responsible for their own well being and not let the system off the hook. Do you know what I mean? Like, right. So that, that balance between systemic obligation and kind of individual responsibility and how you reconcile that, because sometimes, you know, when we’re doing work, people will say things like it’s just caseload numbers are too high or these policies keep coming, or there’s a new initiative every week. And, you know, there’s, there’s some, appropriate, but some pushing of sort of responsibility on to the larger system, which is both true. And I don’t know. It just doesn’t seem, it seems like we want to be really honest that you can’t like self care your way out of this too at the same time. You know?
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (15:47):
Right. No, absolutely. Oh yeah, absolutely. And I think, yeah, it’s a really important point you’re making, and that’s, that’s something that I spend so much time trying to like over communicate over, communicate like this, isn’t an individual, you know, turn your friends, but I town individuals and it’s where I think self care can. It can really, I mean, really very, very, very problematic. Right. So, um, okay. So here, here’s how I talk about it is that, you know, I think that our agencies, organizations, systems, structural structures have a moral mandate and an ethical obligation to create sustainable work environments. I mean, period. And I will talk with folks however long they want to talk about that simultaneously. I am very risk adverse in that I am somebody who’s, you know, a huge amount of my career and time spent is being called in after horrendous things happen in workplaces that are heartbreaking.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (16:49):
That includes when our colleagues take their own lives. And when our colleagues, horrible things happen between our colleagues and when other awful things happen at our colleagues hands. So I never tried to have our colleagues be in a vulnerable position of okay, when my supervisor gets their seed together, when our executive director, you know, gets up to date with trauma, you know, when, you know, when the agency lead, like I don’t yes. For the organization yes. For the system. Yes. For the structure having that responsibility. And again, I am, it we’ll talk about that. However long folks want, and I’m endlessly committed to that and like right here. And right now it is very important to me to do what I can for our comrades. So that if nothing outside of them changes like nothing outside of them changes they have what they need in front of, so that no harm comes to them while they do this work.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (17:53):
And I’m talking like no physical harm comes to them. No health consequences come to them, no mental health consequences come to them. Because there’s too much riding on it. There’s just too much riding on it to have any of our comrades be in this position where, we’re taking any chances with like, well, you know what, let’s just, let’s just wait. Like, let’s see if the system and the structure shifts at all, like shifts have to happen. That’s absolutely evidence. And also our colleagues are taking their own lives. Horrible things are happening between colleagues. Also, things are happening, you know, on like throughout all these agencies and organizations on all different levels. And it’s not necessary. Like it is absolutely unnecessary harm and suffering that’s happening. So I just, I never want our comrads to be in a vulnerable situation in that regard.
Cassie Gillespie (18:47):
In child welfare, Parlin. So it’s concurrent planning your case, planning for both outcomes at the same time, you know, absolutely. One of the things that, I read in your book that really shouldn’t have blown my mind, but did blow my mind. And I wanted to ask you to talk about it a little, is this idea about the parallel process that happens between workers and then kiddos and families. So specifically, you know, you’re calling out this idea that workers might say like, oh, this system will never change, you know, or like, I can’t change that, like the idea to stay present and sort of be attentive to your own wellness and also push for these larger systemic changes feels like it’s so big and will never happen. And yet then you turn around and you walk out in the field and you ask a family to make a change. That’s so big that they feel like it can never happen. And just kind of the irony of those two things happening. Side-by-side, you know, I had never considered that before.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (19:41):
Well, yeah. And that, I mean, I think that, I mean, some of what you’re talking about there too, that is just like that hopelessness, you know, and that helplessness that can set in, right. That there’s just, I mean, I just feel like it can happen in a matter of minutes that we do this work as workers become so hopeless and just feel like, you know, in Spanish [inaudible] like, it’s just like, not enough, like it’s never going to be enough. Like just that sense of like, it’s just insurmountable and that you really don’t have to be in this field that long to start feeling that. And then for families, I mean, it’s just like, I mean, how easily it can, one day can feel insurmountable, like two minutes after you wake up. Right? And so I think that that is, it’s what it takes as a worker to exude, you know, a sense of like, what is possible, look, that was all before the pandemic.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (20:40):
Okay. So that was all before this last year and a half. And as you know, there’s some, you know, there’s some folks who come to this and there’s quite a bit of distance between their lives and the war. You know, some people come to this work and they’re very, very, very closely and you’re, you know, you’re in Vermont. So I mean, there’s a lot of you know, some people have a lot of anonymity when they do those work, but in Vermont, pretty much less of that because people know each other in the smaller towns and the rural and all of that. But nevertheless, there’s still, you know, some people really are very deliberate about like, look, I’m not trying to like, have like a whole lot of intimacy here with my work and the folks I work with. And then some people are like really, really closely tied in.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (21:16):
But then this last year, and a half came where, I mean, are we all in this together? I mean, in a way, but also not really, because how everybody’s affected by this last year and a half has to do with any number of things, including privilege, race, all sorts of things. Also it is a pandemic. So, I mean, everybody’s been navigating that. So I think to your point of anybody who before had any mechanisms of, I’m going to kind of have my own coping mechanisms over here about how I have a little distance from things and that’s different than what the folks I’m working with are experiencing. I think that has been, what I have seen is that has been really shaken up this last year and a half. Now. It is true, of course, that like everybody I’m working with has insight of like, okay, it’s not like the folks I’m serving you know, that you’ll hear classically folks say, like, who am I to complain?
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (22:08):
Because it’s like, it’s so much worse. So people still have that insight. And also, I think it is just become a whole different level of like that ability to try to kind of like show up. And even if you’re not feeling it like exude, like what’s helpful and what’s possible for the folks you’re serving. And it is, becomes that much more difficult over this last year because workers have been facing so much in their own personal lives, in ways that, that many of them historically haven’t had to, you know, and again, I do want to just acknowledge, it’s not just, it’s not like anybody came in this last year and a half in some state of Nirvana either. So there was whatever you came in this last year and a half with, if you believe in intergenerational transmission of trauma and oppression.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (22:54):
And if you believe in epigenetics, there’s all of that from way back in the day. Okay. Then there’s what you came in this last year and a half with. Then there is a pandemic and not just the pandemic, right. Destruction, supremacy, and systematic oppression, surfacing, not new, but surfacing in horrific ways. There’s a climate crisis, also not new accelerating and horrifying ways. And then regardless of where anybody’s at politically in Vermont, I mean, I don’t know anybody who’s enjoying what’s happening with a democracy, right. So those are just four additional, there’s all those additional layers. And then there’s, everybody’s personalized and everybody’s professional lives. So it’s just like the magnitude of what people have been waiting through is really, really, really, I mean, it just breaks your brain over this last year to think of that.
Cassie Gillespie (23:38):
Yeah. Yeah. It does. I think part of what I really love about your work is there’s a little bit of, cause I can sit in that place, like where you just left us, where you’re like, oh man. Right? And then there’s a little bit of a, okay. So, and then, you know, at the end of the, where the last part of the trauma stewardship book, you have these tips, right? Like different ways to stay present and, you know, be thoughtful and reflective. I’m wondering if given the last year and your more recent work on overwhelm, if there’s any, you know, of those original tips or just ways that you’ve been thinking about them more recently that you think are most applicable for both caregivers and workers, you know, right now holding all of that, in terms of ways to be well to be stewards as opposed to just, um, carrying the cumulative toll.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (24:27):
I think a lot of my focus recently has been really trying to like, okay, okay, okay. Like, I’m never assuming people I work with have, you know, a lot of inspiration, a lot of time, a lot of resources, a lot of capacity. And then let’s just, let’s just again, like whole different level here in terms of how little time, how little capacity, how little financial resources. So now we’re getting really into the desperate times desperate measures. Right. So then, you know, given that we’ve been, I’ve been trying to really, really focus on a couple things anywhere you can limit exposure, like anywhere you can limit exposure to things that you don’t have to have exposure to, like things that are hard, things that are, like providing you with things that would provide you exposure to unnecessary overwhelm, right. Or things that would just the tax, your nervous system.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (25:21):
If we just bring it down to like the fundamental level of our nervous system, let’s remove those things from your days. Okay. So for example, one practice really concrete is protecting your mornings. Now this doesn’t have to cost you anything unless you need like a little alarm clock, but otherwise totally free. It doesn’t have to be a big time commitment. But the idea of protecting your mornings is this is about limiting your exposure. So what so many people, as you know, do is wake up and reach for portable electronic device, check the news, check, social media, check correspondence from work, check responsibilities, you know, caretaking. So what’s going on with your kids summer camp, what’s going on with school, with what your in-laws need, what’s going on with your church, whatever it is, right. And really immediately for most people, just like a surge of cortisol starts coming out of your nervous system.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (26:10):
And you’re kind of crushed by wave of cortisol before you’re even half awake. And then you spend the whole rest of your day, you know, trying to like kind of out from underneath this tidal wave of cortisol. So protecting your mornings, that’s an example of trying to really limit exposure. Okay. So that that’s like when we’re talking about really concrete practices, two things, one is where can you limit exposure in your life to anything that is unnecessary. You don’t have to expose yourself to, that’s going to activate your nervous system. And then the other is what conditions can you have in to metabolize what you are bearing witness to what you are experiencing. So protecting your morning is a way that you can limit exposure. Doesn’t cost you anything doesn’t have to take a lot of time, you know, could just be a few minutes where you wake up..
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (26:57):
A colleague of mine who’s a counter-terrorism specialist. She just wakes up and just requires that she spends a couple minutes looking out the window, daydreaming, you know, gives herself a minimum, like three minute requirement before she reaches for her phone to see, you know, how the world’s disintegrating kind of a thing. Right. But that’s an example where you allow yourself to wake up and not just be leveled, right. By a wave of cortisol that then for the rest of the day, you’re having to kind of again, crawl out from underneath. Okay. So that’s a really concrete example. And then, you know, other ways you can limit your exposure news and social media, right? So for anybody who’s still on social media, trying to really encourage folks, you don’t have to be drastic and dramatic about like running your phone over in a parking lot or anything, but just being thoughtful about like, look, if you’re on social media still, what’s your plan of what time of day are you going to be on social media?
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (27:47):
How are you going to limit the duration, right? How are you going to be really, really thoughtful about what platforms you’re on? How are you going to be able to gauge whether or not it’s causing you harm or whether you’re causing harm on social media? Like all of those things. That’s another example of exposure, right? The news exposing yourself to the news. And if you’re somebody who, you know, you, if you’re committed to environmental justice, if you’re committed to social justice, if you feel like you need to know what’s going on in the news. Cause you’re, you’re somebody who really wants the children to do right in the world, understanding that there’s a lot of ways to get that information. That doesn’t mean you have to expose yourself to the news per se. So that’s another example of limiting exposure and, and that, you know, to your question of just kind of like when we get really, really concrete, some of it is like, look, you’re nervous, like understanding the degree to which your nervous system is just so tax right now and cognitive overload, how much cognitive overload is going on for folks.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (28:45):
So we need to take it really, really seriously. How are we going to protect our nervous system? So one is limiting exposure. And then the other piece is how do we metabolize what we are going through? How do we metabolize what we are experiencing? So that’s where we talk about getting your heart rate up, breaking a sweat, you know, every single day, unless you’re medically advised against it where you can really make sure you’re doing a full purging of anything that’s accumulated in your nervous system. Right? So you’re really addressing the saturation that happens in our nervous system, both individually and collectively. Right. That’s where we talk about being really, really thoughtful about decision fatigue, you know, really trying to be very, very diligent about like right now, given just what ineffable times we’re in simplifying things as much as we can around us, again, to kind of lighten the cognitive load and take a strain off of our nervous system.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (29:36):
You know, being outside, I know it can sound super simple, but it is something that is free. Doesn’t cost us anything. Doesn’t have to take a lot of time and it really helps to instantly reset our nervous system. So those are some examples, but the idea being that we know that if we’re not very, very deliberate about having conditions in place to metabolize and to limit our exposure, that it takes very little time before our nervous system gets saturated. And of course, I’m talking about our own individual nervous system, but I’m also talking about, you know, you and your organization, you have a nervous system, your kids’ summer camp has a nervous system, right? Your household has a nervous system, your community has a nervous system. So there’s also the collective nervous system, you know, that we all need to be paying attention to as well.
Cassie Gillespie (30:24):
Oh, that’s great. I love that you call it metabolizing the trauma too. Like it’s just, it gives you a really, it gives me anyway, a really clear mental image of what I’m trying to, what I’m trying to get after there, if it’s okay with you. I want to read you, I want to just fully get here and read you something from your own book and then ask you to comment on it. If you’re following along guys, it’s on page 173 from the first book. You do this great surfing metaphor.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (30:50):
Cassie Gillespie (30:52):
It was one of those pieces I read. And then I remember it stuck with me when I first read the book. And then when I re-read it to prep for this interview, it’s been just kind of knocking around in my head. And so I wanted to chat with you about it. So you say, wave after wave comes in surfing as in life and you don’t get to decide what they look like or how they break or how far apart they are. What you do get to choose is which wave you try to catch and which wave you are going to focus on. When you pick a wave, you try your best. Sometimes you ride it all the way in and it’s sublime. Often you ride it for a time and you fall off sometimes very hard. In that moment as in life, you have a decision to make. Okay. So I’m going to stop there, not read the whole book, but, tell us a little bit about that. Like, how do you see that functioning and what the utility has been for you?
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (31:37):
I imagine probably everybody is way more spiritually enlightened than I am in terms of like control and all that. But I, I mean, I am somebody who like the degree to which like things are out of control right now. I mean, certainly in how just out of control things are right now, there and how much is out of my control right now. That is challenging for me, you know, and again, I have no doubt that sure, all your listeners are way more seriously like that regard, but for me, how much is out of control societaly and around the world and how much is out of my control. That is a push for me, generally. And certainly now, and so I think that it has been a long practice to try to come to terms with, as it applies to suffering, that there remained so much suffering and there remained so much harm being done to humans and other living beings and our planet and that I was raised, you know, I mean, I’ve been doing this work formally since I was 18. I’m 52 now. So, I mean, I was raised in this field, like you really, you just didn’t stop until the work was done, which obviously the work is never done. And that caused a lot of harm. I mean, and it caused a lot of harm for me and it’s caused a lot of harm for my colleagues. And I think so much of this paradigm shift for me has been okay if we’re trying to do this work for a place of liberation based practice, we can’t be dismantling harm out there. You know, like in dismantling the injustices out there and then replicating harm as we do this work. So part of what that means is we need to be doing this work to the best of our ability without causing harm while we’re doing the work. And so when I think about that, then it means like, it’s not about just working until the work is done.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (34:00):
It’s about understanding that there is this indescribable amount of pain and suffering and sorrow that is continuing to course out there. And I think it is imperative. If we think about she sells web of life and king single garment of destiny, that we really be mindful of tending to our immediate part of the web and making sure that we are doing no harm in our immediate part of the web and that our own health is shored up and our own mental health is shored up. And our, the next level of that is our intimate relationships that we are not causing harm in our families and our friendships and our relationships. And the next level of had is that we are really being very thoughtful about our colleague relationships, comrade relationships, because that’s another place that harm happens and that, that we are being very thoughtful about no harm happening in those realms.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (35:01):
And from that place, then we continue to show up and be of service in every way that we choose to be of service. And from that place, then we understand that we then get to try to do everything we can to work for social justice and work for environmental justice and work to take care of repairing the world in all the ways that we elect to, but then we’re not causing harm as opposed to right now. So often what happens is we are trying to take care of all these places that need help, but the way we’re doing that is simultaneously causing a huge amount of harm to all these parts that are closer in our immediate parts of the web. So we might be doing extraordinary work in the community and our health is tanking and our mental health is suffering and we are disasters at home and there’s awful things happening within our agencies and with our movements.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (36:05):
Right? So, so the waves to me, when I think about those waves, it’s really acknowledging that there are going to be countless things that remain out of my control for sure. And out of our collective control. And what I do have control over is how I respond to what arises and the way that I react to that, you know, and I certainly, I mean, I also want to always do what I can for the causes and conditions. So to try to get at the root of it, like I said, the systems and the structures and those larger, you know, the upstream of course, and there remains just so much that is out of my immediate control, but I think it’s really important to me to not become powerless in, oh, there’s just so much outside of my control. And then despair comes from that. Right. And also not go to a place of being so, so controlling that, that I’m causing all this harm closer in thinking that somehow, because we do great work as a community, it makes up for all this disaster that’s been caused closer in. Because it’s one web, right? That’s it you’re being, it’s one web. Yeah. So that’s, that’s similar that I speak to you with that.
Cassie Gillespie (37:21):
That’s so that’s so powerful. And you know, some of the things we’re going to talk about later on in the season is about safety culture, which is really a systemic intervention, right? It’s a systems intervention and it’s calling in that larger systemic responsibility to create those appropriate conditions, both for workers and for families, you know, for the better outcomes for everyone. And then we also have a couple of podcasts dedicated to really digging into what racial justice work looks like here. You know, not that our podcast will fix all these things, but trying to look at the different levels of oppression and impact that crop up, you know, both individually, organizationally societaly so that we’re at least trying to talk and talk around all the edges. Yeah. Awesome. Okay. Well, this has been amazing. I am so, so appreciative that you were able to pop in and chat with us today. Thank you so much for your time.
Laura van Dernoot Lipsky (38:12):
Oh, of course. Thank you.
Cassie Gillespie (38:18):
Thank you for listening. Welcome to the field is produced by the Vermont Child Welfare Training Partnership and the State of Vermont. Our music is composed and performed by local band Brick Drop and our sound production and engineering has been brought to you by Esmond Communications and Egon Media Productions for Welcome to the Field I’m Cassie Gillespie, and we’ll see you next time.