My Journey To Mastery

  • By: Pia Baerwald

I was born in 1955 as a single child and looking back I mainly lived in a state of trauma governed by helplessness, numbed, like embedded in cotton, lonesome, feeling abandoned, confused, insecure: “Am I o.k.?” I remember a deep yearning for belonging, still coming up once-in-a-while all my life long.

My parents were refugees.

My mother born 1925, with German ancestors, banished from Estonia after WWII together with her mother and 3 brothers. Her father was a teacher, unapproachable, excessively severe and authoritarian, missing in action in the war. Her emotional life was ridden by fears, hyper vigilance, being on alert, hyperactivity and migraine. She could not tolerate physical closeness and emotionality. Handicraft, gardening, painting, collecting beautiful items gave her inner peace. After 30 years of working as a cosmetician she started in her seventies a training to become a humanistic psychotherapist. She wrote and painted her life history as a way to solve her issues.

My father born 1924 lived in Pomerania (Poland) until he became a submarine soldier in the war. As a P.O.W. in England he stayed there suffering from heavy asthma but enjoying the self organized theatre and arts groups of the imprisoned soldiers. I experienced him as an irascible and demanding person but also as a free-thinker. His resources were travelling, handicraft, gardening, writing poetry, leading theatre groups. And he was a lover of Osho.

Repeatedly I asked myself what I inherited from my parents besides their love:

Permanent restlessness, being on search, not finding my place. Feeling aloof, abandoned, disconnected, many removals, new orientation and ever-changing domiciles, finding new friends, feeling strange. Phrases like “When I settle down here I’ll have to leave anyway”. I felt different than other families and therefore had a hard time. I wanted to be normal.

As my father was remarkably authoritarian he often threatened me by announcing punishment. He finally stopped routinely spanking my bare buttocks when I started to laugh out loudly at him around 14 years of age. Nobody heard my helpless screaming and I protected myself by withdrawing and numbing not to feel anything anymore. I retreated into my inner world entering into a league with friendly beings and helpers by inventing stories. My inner world more and more disconnected from the outer world. I know how it feels to be vulnerable, needing contact and support but finding nobody out there. My performance at school went down. I was that much disconnected not being able to follow the lessons and simply did not understand the subject matter. I felt ashamed when my father had to teach me in the evenings me feeling uneasy and stupid.

My first career meant working as a pedagogue with traumatized children in institutionalized foster care. In this work I got contact to self experiental group therapy. Bioenergetics, Emotional release, Breath therapy, Encounter – these methods step by step supported me finding a feeling of myself. All what came up inside of me was screamed out and moved. I lived in a community and finally perceived myself as part of a group. My longing got fulfilled. This was my way! As a pedagogue and therapist in the field of humanistic psychotherapy I began for many years leading courses and projects taking care of and teaching unaccompanied juvenile refugees from the first Iraq War and counselling and training long-time unemployed people, ex-addicts and people being in social welfare.

More than 30 years now I work in my practice and seminars mainly with developmental trauma, body awareness, contact and relationship issues. 12 years ago I entered the world of trauma therapy after experiencing the Tsunami in Sri Lanka. I survived physically well but psychological tracks and memories stayed. Diagnosed as PTBS (post traumatic stress disorder) with symptoms like inner restlessness, sleeping disorders and frequent feelings of being overwhelmed I went into my own trauma therapy process. I got helpful support. I learned to regulate and stabilize myself and to free the fear energy stuck in my nervous system thus making me unable to act for my life and its events. I came back to myself and my flow of life.

Besides other trauma therapeutic methods Peter Levine`s Somatic Experiencing proved to be a salient approach. It helps to track bodily sensations and use them as helpful messages. I learned to distinguish in due course when I dissociate, what activates or even over activates my body sytems, how I come back to a grounded state, how I protect myself against overwhelming emotions and sensations: By slowing down and gradually melting the blocked energies. I learned to experience my body as a resource, to regulate myself, to breathe to calm down and discharge the “Too much”. To give space and time for mindfulness and perceiving myself instead of avoiding by numbing or running away.

I am a seeker on all my journeys through the inner and outer worlds. My outer journeys expanded my inner perspectives and enriched me. And vice versa. That way meditation came to me taught by different spiritual teachers and masters. I am very grateful to my fellow-travellers, my daughter, my partner, my family and friends, benevolent mentors, caring therapists and trainers and all my clients and students whom I also learn from. And yes, my own process of travelling and learning may develop further on and grow.