Healing Trauma in the Form of Art


On Sunday night, June 2, we gathered at Congregation Nevei Kodesh for The Internal Fable of the Ancestors, a rare and beautiful evening dedicated to the healing of body, soul and community. This edgy, emotional, and gorgeous evening wove together ritual invoking our ancestors, poetry, dance, song, and storytelling—all on the topic of healing our intergenerational legacies. The experience of art as an embodied expression of Wounds into Wisdom teachings moved me to tears.

Our premise was this: Even though our Western society might reflect otherwise, none of us are here entirely as free agents, as solo acts. We all hail from others who went before us, and we are all held by an ancient webwork that is much larger than our individual selves. But often that webwork gets knots in it. And it falls to us to untangle those knots, to loosen the grip of past wounds so that everyone can breathe more freely.

Art is one of the strongest, most visceral healing tools. Here is a mystery I have discovered: When we do our personal work to heal our traumas, we simultaneously free others from wounds that ripple back through the generations. This retroactive healing is quite miraculous.  

Healing in the form of art goes back milenia. The highly evocative expressions of art can break down the ego’s defenses,  allowing the artist and viewer true transformation. Sunday evening was a continuation of art’s transformational legacy.

We began by asking the audience to invoke  the names of their inspirational ancestors of blood lineage, artistic expression, social action, spiritual paths, upon whose shoulders we stand. I shared stories about the uncanny magic of healing intergenerational trauma through dreams. A powerful dance, “Ghost of My Ancestors,” came next.  Performed by Allison Blakeney, Ilia Davis, Helen Estrella, Nicole O’Farrell, and Marisa Malzone, the work is based on inherited Jewish trauma that pervaded choreographer Jenny Schiff’s childhood, and shaped her life. Jenny also performed a solo spoken word/dance piece that reflected her own healing journey to liberate herself from these traumas at a cellular level. You can see that solo below.


The magic continued with Rebecca Hartt and her original music. Her voice filled every inch of that room, teaching us the effects of beauty standards on a bi-racial young woman who has begun to sing in her own voice.

During a post-performance talk back the audience and artists shared in conversation their experiences on healing from trauma and the power of art to amplify that healing. Audience members expressed seeing themselves reflected on stage and how they felt an internal reorganization as a result. One woman commented, “What if joy was the mission?” Another cried, “More! We need more of this kind of art!”

All of this was beautifully strung together in a final poem by Rae Abileah who synthesized the wisdom expressed in each movement, note, and word of the evening. Her poem acknowledged the ancestors whose crafts were not given the spotlight due to racism, able-bodiedism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and any number of fears of the perceived Other, but who danced and sang and made music and wrote poems nevertheless, inspiring generations. Rae helped us offer gratitude to the ancestors who not only said no to injustice, but said yes to that other world they knew was possible.
May we all have the bravery to dive into our cellular experience and find a venue to express it.

Excerpt from Rae Abileah’s poem:

Who are your people?

Where did they come from?

What is their dream for you?

And what is your destiny?

We begin with the radical notion that our destiny is ancestral

That the past informs the future

That all there is is the present...

Honor the ones who didn’t have it so easy.  

They who hid in the cellar

still hiding in the cellular

Threading my dna with worry

And I wonder why I always have an escape route plan?

They who were refugees, still seeking refuge inside of me

Sweet child, it isn’t the walls that will keep you safe

You can’t segregate yourself into peace, only to pieces...

Your great great great grandmother is asking you to pay attention

The smallest price you can pay

To be woke.

Give attention

A little offering you can give

To be present

Offer attention

Toward accepting these imperfect ancestors

Toward reparations and healing

Toward honoring the lives that joined together

To bring you life.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, 
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’
doesn’t make any sense.”

— Jelaludin Rumi

Tirzah Firestone