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Dr. James Gordon: We can actually become better, more integrated, kinder, more helpful and happier people after we have moved through the trauma that comes to us.
Marie Forleo: Hey, it’s Marie Forleo and welcome to another episode of MarieTV and The Marie Forleo Podcast. You know, given how intense this past year has been for everyone, I am so excited about my guest today, because he is an expert who can help us all get on the path to hope and healing. Dr. James Gordon is a Harvard-educated psychiatrist, former researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health, and chair of the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy. He’s spent the past five decades working to help us all learn how to heal trauma. He’s written for countless publications like The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Atlantic, and you may have seen him on 60 Minutes, Nightline, NPR, or read any of his 10 books, including one of my personal favorites, Transforming Trauma.
Jim, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today. I have to tell you, I love your book, I recommended it to everyone on our team, I told them on our team call, I was like, “Y’all, you have to get this book ASAP. And not just get the book, but do the book because it is so transformative.” So thank you for your work.
Dr. James Gordon: Thank you.
Marie Forleo: I want to start off with something you wrote, you said that there are two dangerous myths about trauma. You said this right upfront. I’m wondering if you can tell us what those are, just because some folks in the audience, they might not even know if trauma has happened in their lives or may not anticipate it will happen.
Dr. James Gordon: Sure. The two myths, and they are very common. One is that trauma only happens to those other people, those people who live in war zones, those people in the most desperate poverty, the ones with the grotesquely abusive homes, that it doesn’t come to most of us, and shouldn’t come to most of us. That’s the first myth.
The second is that if it does come, it’s going to disable us forever. And we’re going to need a lifetime of medication and therapy and support. Now, both of those are very dangerous. And both of those are newfangled in a sense, modern ideas. Indigenous people all over the world, and also the great wisdom traditions and the great wisdom healing traditions, all understood that trauma is a part of human life.
It may come early in life, if we have parents who are just difficult and neglectful, they don’t have to be horribly abusive, may come if we have a significant childhood illness, it may come if there is a violent neighborhood that we’re living in. And then in young adulthood and midlife, many, many of us, myself very much included, have experienced trauma. Loss of a significant relationship, loss of our hope for a particular kind of future, in this career or that career or that part of the country. Divorce. Well over half of U.S. marriages end in divorce, I have yet to see an untraumatic divorce, they may exist, but I’ve never seen one in all the years I’ve been working.
So trauma comes then to most of us. And if it doesn’t come in early or mid-life, it comes when we grow old, and we’re frail. And inevitably, we lose people we love, and we have to deal with our own death. So trauma is a part of life. And we need to understand that and not be ashamed if we have experienced a situation that is overwhelming and disturbing. Trauma means injury, it’s a Greek word that means injury. It’s going to come to, it’s going to come to everyone, sooner or later. That’s what’s really important to understand.
And the second thing is that if it comes or when it comes, that we can learn from it, heal from it, move through it. Again, this is an ancient understanding. But we don’t look at it that way, we look at, oh, somebody is traumatized. They’re disabled for life. That is, in fact, not true. There are ways that we can learn to bring ourselves back into the balance that trauma disrupts, the physiological and the psychological, social, the spiritual balance that’s disrupted, we can come back into balance. We can mobilize our intelligence and our imagination to find new ways, both of understanding what’s happened, and new ways to move forward with our lives.
And the ancients understood this, and all indigenous people understand it. And modern psychology is beginning to catch up and we’re calling it in our modern or postmodern way, post-traumatic growth. And that’s what can happen. We can actually become better, more integrated, kinder, more helpful and happier people after we have moved through the trauma that comes to us.
Marie Forleo: You know, you’ve been doing this work for over 50 years, you founded the nonprofit Center for Mind-Body Medicine. Can you take us back to 1997 when you went to Bosnia after the war to begin the Mind-Body Skills Group? I loved when I read this that you did the first published randomized control study of any intervention with war traumatized kids. Can you talk about the result of that study?
Dr. James Gordon: Sure. Well, actually, that particular study was done in Kosovo after Bosnia. But the story does begin in Bosnia. Colleague and I, Susan Lord and I went to Bosnia shortly after the Dayton Accords, the peace accords were signed after a war in which 200, maybe 250,000 people were killed. And we saw a whole society that was devastated, torn apart, civil war between the Serbs and the Croats and Bosniaks, Muslims, Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholic, just whole country torn apart. And all the systems in the country, including the economy, shattered.
It became clear that things are much, are really difficult to work with when the whole society is destroyed, and after four years of war. So when the war in Kosovo started in 1998, Susan and I went into Kosovo, the time to work with trauma is when it’s happening, if you possibly can, and the war was creating it. So we began to work with families that were bombed and burned out of their homes, and with the peacekeepers, the military who were there to monitor and to some degree to keep the peace. So we began to teach them the same self-care techniques that I teach in Transforming Trauma right while the war was going on. We could sometimes hear guns in the distance or bombs falling.
And that was really important. And I want to say this, not just because it’s about me in my experience, but that the learning is, the time to deal with trauma is if you possibly can while that’s happening. And there’s no, people say, “Well, shouldn’t I wait till after?” What are you waiting for, the longer that we wait, the more these patterns, the patterns that trauma creates, of fear and anger and withdrawal, emotional withdrawal, the more entrenched they become.
So we began working right when the war was on. And it was the first time I’d ever been in the middle of a war. Nobody was shooting at me, but they were certainly shooting. And that was an important experience too, because I understood just a little taste of what people go through when there’s a war and how unbelievably disruptive and damaging and terrifying it is.
We’ve worked during the war, then during the NATO bombing of Kosovo, we’ve worked with refugees in Macedonia, and then came back in after the bombing, and eventually, trained 600 people in the model of self-awareness, self-care, and group support that I described in Transforming Trauma that we do at The Center for Mind-Body Medicine. And those people in turn have been able to share this model, these techniques, these tools with the… they used to make them available to the entire population of two million.
And the program still goes on, 22 years later, 23 years later, it’s still happening in the Community Mental Health Centers in Kosovo. So it’s a beautiful opportunity. At some point, one of the groups we trained was a group of teachers from a region called Suva Reka, which is in the south of Kosovo, and Suva Reka, 80% of the homes were destroyed, and 20% of the high school students lost one or both parents. So major, major trauma.
And we were able to train a number of teachers in this particular high school. And they worked with all 1000 kids in the high school, all 1000 kids were in 12 week-long groups, once a week for 12 weeks, 10 kids in a group, and the group was led by one or two of the teachers. And those groups were the subject of our first research. And what we discovered is that well over 80% of the kids who qualified for the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, when they entered those small groups, no longer qualified for the diagnosis after 12 group sessions. And the gains held at three months follow up. That was amazing.
It was a landmark… I mean, I was impressed myself. It was a landmark study because it was the first randomized controlled trial, which is the gold standard of medical research, of any intervention with war traumatized kids. But beyond that, and this is really important for everyone, including people who are watching us now, is that the people who were leading these groups were not psychiatrists like me or psychologists or clinical social workers, they were rural high school teachers, smart people who cared about the kids, they learned the tools and techniques of self care themselves, and they shared them with the kids. And we provided mentorship and supervision, but they did the work. And it was a brilliant result. And that inspired us. And was a kind of, if you will, the pilot program for the work that we’ve done in the subsequent 22 years.
Marie Forleo: Just incredible, so inspiring. So for anyone watching, you know, obviously, the world has been through a lot in this past year with the pandemic, and so many things that have happened. So I feel like this conversation, this interview, your book, your work, it is just the most perfect time. If someone’s watching this and they’re curious, let’s say they’re part of the population that they’re still unsure, they’re like, “I don’t know if I’ve experienced trauma.” What are some of the common symptoms or things that people might just try and push past because they want to be tough or they think this is just a part of life? What are some of the things that can show up that can indicate perhaps we are suffering from some trauma?
Dr. James Gordon: Well, I think the first thing is just to pay attention to what’s going on with you. I have yet to meet anyone, and I’ve worked with thousands of people during this pandemic, mostly on screens like this, some in person. I’ve yet to meet anyone who has not been significantly affected, traumatized. This is a, this is a global pandemic, none of us has ever experienced that, I mean unless, nobody’s, hardly anybody’s alive from 1918. But this has affected everyone.
Now some people are affected more than others, to be sure. I mean, I have yet, I have no adult black friend who has not lost family and/or close friends. And a, you know, a number of friends, right? And, you know, they’d say, “This aunt, this grandmother, this good friend, this college roommate, gone.” And all of us, I talk with people, and I will say to a group of people, and these are, sometimes these are community organizers, or leaders of women’s groups, or doctors or nurses, I say, “How many people are having, have had trouble sleeping?” Nine out of 10 people… [Marie raises her hand.] You have? Yeah, me too.
Marie Forleo: Absolutely.
Dr. James Gordon: And that is a sign. That is one of the signs of experiencing trauma. How many of us are a little more short-tempered? [Marie raises hand.] Exactly.
Marie Forleo: Yes.
Dr. James Gordon: And this may not be, you know, super dramatic.
Marie Forleo: Yeah.
Dr. James Gordon: May not be, you know, you know, beating your kids with a stick. But that short temper is there. I feel it in myself, the difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating at times, uneasiness about going out in the world, wondering about the future far more than usual, young people, especially, I’ve worked with a lot of young people, in college and recent college graduates, what am I going to do? Is a job going to be there? What about my social life? You know, am I, am I going to have a partner? How am I going to manage that? Where am I going to live?
You know, all these questions become more urgent and more poignant because we’re in this state of anxiety, agitation, we have a kind of low-level fight or flight response that continues, not always there. So that’s the first thing, is just to be aware of what’s going on and to understand that these responses are natural and normal responses to an abnormal situation. And it doesn’t mean you’re crazy or there’s something wrong with you, but you are, you know, distressed in certain ways.
Marie Forleo: Yeah. Yeah, and there was one I wanted to highlight in particular, as I talked to colleagues and friends, and just talk about how we’re all feeling, how we’re doing, you know, there’s one that I loved in the book is about trauma’s impact on the gut, and therefore the microbiome and therefore, the brain function. And my goodness, Jim, I have so many colleagues, myself included, who have like, during this time, taken a step back and go, “Wait, whoa, a lot of my internal systems are off, what is happening here?” And took the time to dig deeper. Can you talk to us about the kind of havoc that stress and trauma can wreak on our guts and our brains?
Dr. James Gordon: Sure. Well, I think the first thing that we need to understand or remember is that we are completely, every cell in our body is connected with every other cell. The thoughts and feelings we have affect all the organs and all the cells in our bodies and what’s going on in those organs and cells affects our thoughts and feelings, and how our brain functions. That’s just the way humans and indeed, all animals basically are set up.
So when trauma comes, the effects on the gut can be very significant. One of the reasons that the chapter on the trauma healing diet is the longest in the book is because when most people think about or write about or try to help people with trauma, they don’t talk about digestion and food at all. And that’s a very serious omission. Because what trauma does is it affects every aspect of digestion, from how we go to the supermarket, how we pick out foods there, how we prepare foods, how fast we eat.
And then the level of stress also affects the inside of all the digestive organs. Just, the chapter describes this in detail, but just if we look at the small intestine, which is the major place where we absorb nutrients, there are really two significant changes that happen when we’ve been traumatized or under chronic stress, and you referred to one of them, you referred to the microbiome, those trillions of bacteria that live in our intestine.
When we’re under significant stress, to simplify, the bad bacteria multiply, the good bacteria, the ones that feed us, enhance our immunity, enhance functioning of our nervous system, are depleted. So we need to do something about that, because when they’re depleted, the, and when the bad bacteria are multiplying, they affect the vagus nerve, that’s V-A-G-U-S, which 90% of whose fibers return from the other organs to the brain. Vagus nerve is the primary nerve of relaxation and of rebuilding the brain.
When we’re stressed out, and the microbiome changes composition and the good bacteria, the probiotics, if you will, are lower and the bad bacteria are up, the vagus nerve cannot convey back to the brain the necessary signals for rebuilding the trauma injured brain for helping us to most effectively deal with stress. So it’s like we’re shackling the vagus nerves. So that’s one, and we have to address that, we have to replenish those good bacteria in the gut, both with food, with food, with fiber, and also with supplemental probiotics.
The second major thing that happens and most obvious thing is the cells that line the small intestine, they’re called endothelial cells, endo is inside. The cells that line the small intestine normally, are really close to each other, they have what are called tight junctions. Under long-termso-called stress or trauma, the cells separate and you no longer have the tight junctions and molecules to fuse from the intestine into the bloodstream that don’t belong there in the first place. Gluten is a very obvious one, the gluten that’s wheat and barley and rye. Now, there are some people who have gluten sensitivity that’s hereditary, [Marie raises her hand.] [Marie laughs.] they have it all of their life.
But during this time of the pandemic, a lot of people have become sensitive to gluten who were never sensitive before…
Marie Forleo: Yep.
Dr. James Gordon: …because the molecules are diffusing across the intestine into the bloodstream. Maybe they’re going to your knee and you’re having, you know, more trouble walking or running. Or maybe they’re going to the brain, those molecules, and they’re causing inflammation in the brain because they don’t belong in the brain.
Marie Forleo: Right.
Dr. James Gordon: And so you may be a little foggy or a little anxious or more depressed, so that has to be repaired as well. And we need to repair the gut by dealing with the stress, and also by ensuring that we have a diet that puts as little burden on our gut as possible. Now, there are many healthy diets, it’s not one, but essentially, if you get rid of 98% of processed food, you’re most of the way there.
Marie Forleo: Yes. And I think you and I have a mutual friend, Dr. Mark Hyman. And I’ve been working with him for a very long time. And I will tell you, and just for everyone listening, man, Jim, I’ve spent the past few months completely overhauling. I’ve always been a pretty, what I felt was a pretty healthy eater. And when I really dug into everything that you’re just saying and said, “Nope, I’m doing a reset on everything and putting an extreme focus on rebuilding my microbiome and really giving my body what it needs to be it’s best.” I think it was in, within maybe like eight or nine days, my goodness, could I feel such a huge difference, which just speaks to the incredible healing power of our body, and what it can do when we start to fuel it with what it really needs and take so many of the steps that are in your book. So thank you for going into such detail on that.
Dr. James Gordon: Well, yes, I’m really glad you’re saying that. Because this is not a matter of belief. The science is there. And you did an experiment.
Marie Forleo: Yes.
Dr. James Gordon: You did the work for yourself. And all of us, really, I mean, my book, Transforming Trauma, and every, all the work I do, it’s an invitation to experiment.
Marie Forleo: Yes.
Dr. James Gordon: To see what happens and then make up your own mind.
Marie Forleo: That’s right. And, you know, what’s great too, is even just the addition for me, it was like, wow, I didn’t realize I wasn’t getting enough fiber, like ground flax seeds, adding that into my smoothie every morning. And I just, again, eight or nine days, I could not believe the transformation that I felt in my energy, my ability to sleep, the brain fog went away. It was just, it was miraculous.
Dr. James Gordon: But Marie, I think that emphasis on fiber is really important too.
Marie Forleo: Yes.
Dr. James Gordon: Because it completely changes the nature of your bowel movements, it completely changes the functioning of your intestine, and it helps significantly to rebalance the microbiome. And the lack of fiber, we are a fiber deficient country. And all so called developed countries, pretty much, are pretty fiber deficient. The amount of stool, the bowel movements of people in the United States are about 1/6 the size of people who are living in a village society in Africa.
Marie Forleo: Wow.
Dr. James Gordon: They’re having healthy bowel movements, because they’re eating the right amount of fiber. And humans always did…
Marie Forleo: Yup.
Dr. James Gordon: …up to the last 100 or 200 years.
Marie Forleo: Yeah.
Dr. James Gordon: And now we’re totally out of whack. So.
Marie Forleo: Yeah. The, removing the processed food too, that was something. It’s been really, really fun for me, just to, I basically, nothing, I came from, you know, and all of us, not to make anyone wrong. It’s just like, you know, many of us grew up where there was a lot of things coming out of boxes and cans, and, you know, it was convenient, and that’s just what the culture was. But then once you know better as Maya Angelou said, you do better. I love that you also you let us know that diving into this work and learning to heal can be quite challenging, that it’s not easy to feel long-suppressed pain, but that it’s incredibly satisfying to reverse the biological damage that trauma can inflict. Can you talk to us a little bit, because you’ve worked with so many people? Speak more into post-traumatic growth, what that other side of healing can look like? So if anyone here is listening and they’re thinking, wow, this sounds like deep work, it sounds like important work, is it really worth it?
Dr. James Gordon: Well, it depends. I mean, if you want to stay miserable. There is a, there is a matter of choice.
Marie Forleo: Yeah.
Dr. James Gordon: And I sometimes I experienced it, you know, perhaps you do as well. There are times I get up in the morning, and it’s, “Oh, my god. What’s going on?” And there’s a point of choice. Do I want to see if I can do something, no guarantees, or not? So that’s why I begin the book and why when I’m working with people, I begin with the sense of what’s possible, of the fact that there is hope.
And I’ve experienced in my own life when I’ve been through very serious trauma of my own. And I’ve seen it with thousands, really hundreds of thousands of people now. So the first thing is to say it is possible. And to say that from my experience. And what I also do is I tell the stories of, in Transforming Trauma, a couple of others, a couple of stories of people who’ve been horribly traumatized, who have become amazing, you know, kind, generous, thoughtful human beings who have worked through their trauma, so it’s possible.
The second piece is experiencing the kind of thing that you experienced with your eight or nine day food experiment. And the way I usually begin, I may begin with people with making suggestions about changing the diet. But right away, I teach them slow, deep, soft belly breathing. Breathing.
You know, people can do this with us, you can do it, I’m going to do it as I speak. Just breathing slowly and deeply, in through the nose, out through the mouth, with our belly soft and relaxed, focusing on the breath coming in through the nose, and going out through the mouth, and our belly is softening and relaxing. And knowing as we do this, that we’re activating the vagus nerve, which is the antidote to the fight or flight response, it’s slowing heart rate, lowering blood pressure, relaxing the big muscles in our bodies, quieting the center of fear and anger, the amygdala, which is a part of the emotional brain.
And at the same time, as we continue to breathe like this, slowly and deeply, in through the nose and out through the mouth, with the belly soft and relaxed, we’re stimulating the frontal part of our cerebral cortex, areas responsible for thoughtful decision making and self-awarenessnine-day, and compassion.
And one branch of the vagus nerve is connecting with other nerves responsible for facial expression and speech. So when we breathe like this, slowly and deeply, in through the nose, and out through the mouth, with our belly soft and relaxed, quieting our bodies, calming fear and anger, enhancing our capacity to think clearly, to use our imagination, to become self aware, and making it easier to read other people’s facial expressions, to tune into their speech, to bond with them. So how was that?
Marie Forleo: It was fantastic. And it was quite intuitive of you because that was exactly where I was going next, because you share so many tools in the book, all of them are so practical and accessible. And I love that we start with soft belly breathing.
Dr. James Gordon: And what happens is with that tool, and you asked, “How do we get to post-traumatic growth?” This is, the first point is, it’s possible.
Marie Forleo: Yeah.
Dr. James Gordon: Second is you can begin to feel a change. I felt a change in those few minutes, did you?
Marie Forleo: I did too.
Dr. James Gordon: We just did three or four minutes.
Marie Forleo: It feels like everything is even more open, and I’m more grounded in my seat.
Dr. James Gordon: And feeling that means, and making that happen, you did that, you’re not helpless. And when we have been overwhelmed and traumatized, we feel helpless. We also feel hopeless. Breathing like this, we become aware. 80, 90%, first time they do that, I usually do this with people for 10 or 12 minutes, 80, 90% notice a change.
Marie Forleo: Yes.
Dr. James Gordon: And the others usually will notice it the second or third time they do it. The other thing is noticing that change and that you’re able to produce it also is giving you, giving all of us the message that if one change is possible, then other changes are possible. So we’re neither helpless nor hopeless, and that’s the beginning. And as we understand that, and as we come into physiological balance, we can use all of the tools of self-care, all the tools, for the imagination and intuition and self-expression and moving our bodies, so much more effectively.
The second kind of technique that is really important in moving through and beyond the trauma is moving our bodies. And that’s another way, we can talk about that in a minute, that between those two, those begin to really help us rebalance ourselves and open us to all the healing possibilities and also make it far easier for us to connect with other people, whether they’re friends, family members, therapists, whoever they are, teachers, because when we’re traumatized, those parts of our brain that make it easy to connect with other people are also somewhat shut down.
Because we’re in a life or death situation. Now sitting in my house here in Washington, DC, there’s no immediate threat of death. But I’m in a kind of, you know, fight, maybe in a fight or flight because of everything that’s happening around me. Once I start coming back into balance, that begins to go away, and then I can, if I’m scared for my life, which we kind of act on, respond to our physiology as if our lives were being threatened, even if it’s only our livelihood, or our job that’s being threatened, or our kid’s education or our relationship, it feels to our bodies kind of like a life and death situation.
And once we are able to move out of that situation. And that’s a situation in which we don’t connect with other people, we are just here to save our lives. But once we quiet ourselves down, then we can talk with each other. And we can be, “Oh yeah, it’s great to see you Marie.” And maybe I can tell you about this, that or the other thing, and I realize I’m not alone, that you’re here, that we’re talking, that I can tune into what you’re saying, and vice versa.
So that’s on a physiological as well as a psychological basis, if we can bring ourselves into balance with slow deep breathing, or mindfulness meditation, I like the slow deep breathing, it’s simpler, a little more relaxing. If we can break up fixed patterns of tension and frozen shutdown bodies with moving our bodies, then all the other approaches can be so much more easily used. And we can work with and connect with other people so much more easily.
Marie Forleo: I also want to thank you too, because I know you’ve described shaking and dancing, I’m a very physical person, my audience knows. I was a Nike Elite dancer for a part of my career and dance and movement has been the core place that I’ve always gone to support my mental health. And I love that on your website, you have, just the demonstration of the shaking and dancing, and it’s so simple. And, you know, we have fun in our audience. And most of the folks in our audience, they love to just throw in music and just move their bodies however they want. And I’ve also just encountered so many people like, “I don’t have a rhythmic bone in my body.” So I love that with the shaking. And it’s not about that, it’s about giving your body permission to just move, and you could do it with your eyes closed. And however it looks and however it comes out, but it is so incredibly transformative.
Dr. James Gordon: It is. And you know that’s built into our biology. If you, I don’t know if you have dogs?
Marie Forleo: Yes.
Dr. James Gordon: So dog gets in a confrontation with another dog, but you’re walking the dog or you’re in a dog run. And the dog is in the confrontation, “Ah!” They’re in fight or flight, it ends for whatever reason, and they shake themselves off. They get rid of that tension that’s in the body. There are a number of indigenous people, the Kalahari Bushmen are the best known, that regularly do shaking, all the time. They know that even in a relatively simple society where, you know, far less conflict and, you know, distractions than ours, they’re still tensions that are going to be there.
So they regularly build in the shaking. And the meditation that I teach, and people can look on the website, look at us shaking and dancing, people all over the world, for about five minutes of just shaking your body, a couple of minutes of standing and being aware of the breath in the body, and then letting the body move to music. And what this does is it breaks up the fixed patterns that come particularly if the trauma is very severe.
Some trauma, most of the time when we’re dealing with trauma or stress, there’s a conflict, we go into fight or flight mode, even though the threat may not be physical. So we get anxious, agitated, heart rate up, irritable, difficulty concentrating. If the trauma is overwhelming and inescapable, as it has been, at least at times for so many of us during the pandemic, there is a tendency to go into the freeze response, to shut down. And you can see it, you can see people, you know, kind of hunched over like this.
And they’re putting out endorphins to numb the pain. And psychologically, they’re taking a distance from what’s happening because it’s, they can’t, they feel they can’t do anything about it, feels unbearable. I worked a lot with people who were tortured in other countries by dictatorships. That’s the way they survived. I could see what was happening. People would say to me, “But it didn’t hurt, really. And I felt like I was on the ceiling of my prison cell while it was happening.” But that freeze, you don’t have to be somebody tortured in a dictatorship. Many of us go into that freeze when the situation feels overwhelming and inescapable, and we feel shut down, we feel a little numb.
A lot of people have said, “You know, I don’t, I’m not connecting so well with other people. My emotions are not as accessible to me and I feel tired.” Because if this goes on for a while… I don’t know how many people, I work a lot with police, among, as well as with community organizers, which is a whole interesting story in itself. But many of my friends and colleagues will say, “I’m so tired, I’m sleeping eight hours, but I’m still tired.” They’re in that freeze mode. And the way to get out of it is with the shaking and dancing. And that breaks up those fixed patterns, brings emotions to the surface that need to be brought out, that we’ve suppressed in that stoical attitude that you mentioned right at the beginning of our conversation, that so many of us have. And then the dance, the free movement, you just move your body the way it wants to move. And then your body will thank you afterward.
And, yeah, the whole script is there in Transforming Trauma for anyone who wants to read and anybody can do it, it’s perfectly safe to do, there’s no contraindication, physical contraindication. Emotions may come up. In fact, anytime you do any kind of meditation, whether it’s a quiet concentrative meditation like soft belly breathing, or a mindfulness practice like mindful eating, or an expressive meditation, which are the oldest ones on the planet, like shaking and dancing, emotions may come.
So give your… Emotions are not the enemy.
Marie Forleo: Yes.
Dr. James Gordon: Let them come. And, you know, if you’re worried about them, you know, make sure you have somebody you can call up and say, you know, “All of a sudden, I’m sad, all of a sudden I’m angry at my mother, or angry at my father, it came up, it was…” It’s okay. And this is a whole other piece that we need to and that we can learn during this time, is to become more at peace with our emotions, not to condemn ourselves. Because we’re fearful or anxious or angry or happy. We feel guilty because we’re happy sometimes.
Marie Forleo: It’s true, especially at a time like this, I cannot tell you the amount of people who just privately have tried to whisper, you know, like, “I’ve had so many emotions, but when I’m feeling good right now, I feel like that’s not allowed either. Because I know so many other people are having so much pain and so much struggle.”
Dr. James Gordon: Yeah but you’re feeling miserable ain’t gonna help.
Marie Forleo: Right? It’s so right, Jim. Yes.
Dr. James Gordon: Quite the opposite. Quite the opposite. We need to, we need to, first of all, tune into what’s actually going on with us. And the more we do that, the easier it is to be with other people.
Marie Forleo: Yes.
Dr. James Gordon: And the easier, what I’ve discovered… I mean, somebody tells me a family member has died, of course I can feel the sadness, I’m present with the sadness. But then something may come up, this is an old friend. And there may be a moment of joking, remembering that family member and remembering a funny story or there may be something that I want to share from. So I think the first thing that we have to do is tune into what’s going on with us and accept it. And then we can be there with other people.
And, you know, I’ve been with people who’ve gone through the deepest grief. And often enough, if we’re present with each other after a while, they sometimes get me laughing. I have to say. They just… because they’re just wanting to be, to go through their experience, they’re wanting to share their experience. So they may be in the middle of grieving, and they may, then if I can be there with them in grieving, if they can give themselves permission to grieve, they can also give themselves permission to tell a funny story, or to change the subject, or to make a cup of coffee, whatever. So I think, you know, we have to be kind of more comfortable with ourselves for our own benefit, but also in order to be able to help and be with other people.
Marie Forleo: Yes. And I loved that, that’s where I was going next about emotions. You know, the power of journaling with our emotions, and I loved this piece about dialoguing with our emotions, about just talking to our emotions on the page. I thought that was wonderful. Do you mind just sharing a little bit about that process?
Dr. James Gordon: Sure. Well, writing down in a diary or a journal about emotions, I mean, I’ve been doing that since I was 18 years old. I didn’t know it was supposed to be good for you. Nobody told me, but it felt good to me. I was bicycling by myself through France at 18 years old and I was, you know, going through the whole country. And I wanted company sometimes, I wrote in my journal, first time I kept a journal.
More recently, beginning in the 1980s, James Pennebaker and his colleagues at University of Texas had discovered, if you simply write down in a journal 20 minutes a day for three days in a row your emotional experiences, you lower your level of stress, you lower your level of stress hormones, you feel less anxious, your mood improves. Three days, 20 minutes a day of writing about what’s inside, bringing out what’s inside.
This is part of the truth of any kind of psychotherapy. It’s also traditional wisdom tradition, there’s a gnostic gospel, the Gospel of Thomas, it’s wonderful, it’s not one of the, you know, regular gospels, canonical gospels in the New Testament, it’s another gospel that was found in a cave by some kids in Upper Egypt. And it’s supposedly the words of Jesus. And he says, “If you do not bring out what is inside you, it will kill you, destroy you. If you bring out what’s inside you, it will save you.” This is Jesus. This is a carpenter’s son 2000 years ago with profound psychological, as well as spiritual, insight. So that’s, bring it out, write it in a journal.
The dialogue with an emotion is a way of exploring what the emotion is about. And again, I describe it in detail in Transforming Trauma, but it’s very simple. You write down, what emotion is there that’s of concern to you right now? So for me, I would say it’s anxiety. David, my present executive assistant, is leaving at the end of this week. Ella is here, she’s just coming. This is her first day in the office. We’ve worked online, so I’m anxious, how am I going to manage?
So I might have a dialog today if I were doing it, with anxiety. And the way it would go, and I haven’t done this yet. So I’ll ad-lib a little. What you do is you write down your initial, for me, it’s J, for you, it’d be M, and then what’s the emotion? And my emotion is anxiety. So I write down a dialogue with J and A. So, and I write as fast as my little hands can carry me. And I say to anxiety, “Why are you here?” And anxiety says back to me, “You know damn well why I am here. David is leaving, you’ve come to rely on him, Ella is here. Ella’s coming in. You don’t know her, she doesn’t know you. You don’t know what’s going to happen, you got a lot to do.” I say, “Okay. Yeah, I do know that. But what am I supposed to do?” And what anxiety says to me is, “Why are you asking me? Why don’t you sit for a moment, quietly, and ask yourself what you’re supposed to do?” Okay, so…
And the first thing that comes back is appreciate Ella. Appreciate everything about her, just as a human being, that’s the first step. And then I say to anxiety, “Oh, that’s a good idea. That’s good. That’s nice for Ella, that’s nice for me, nice for our relationship. But how’s that going to get rid of the anxiety?” And what anxiety says to me is, “The way you’re going to get rid of me is by recognizing me, by appreciating the person who’s creating the anxiety, and by just enjoying yourself and not taking yourself so seriously.”
I say, “Okay, well, how am I going to get out of that?” And anxiety says, “Well, what you’re going to do is you’re going to tell Marie about it, and she’s gonna, because she’s enjoying listening. And she’s kind of laughing along with you, that’s going to help you relax, right?” And I said, “Oh, right.” So that’s the way the dialogue goes.
Marie Forleo: I love it. It’s so good. And it’s so playful, and it’s so doable and achievable. So thank you so much for ad-libbing in the moment, because I think all of us can, at least for myself, there’s been times where there’s so much judgment that I shouldn’t feel this way. This is a bad emotion. This is something that, you know, I should be beyond by this point. And it’s just such a load of crap. It’s such a lot of crap.
Dr. James Gordon: Yeah. Beautifully said. But that’s where, and I know this interests you too. That’s where laughter comes in.
Marie Forleo: Yes. Yes.
Dr. James Gordon: That’s where laughter, I think I called the chapter “Laughter Breaks the Spell.”
Marie Forleo: Yes.
Dr. James Gordon: It breaks that spell of taking ourselves so painfully seriously, of being so guilty, and so judging of ourselves. We just start laughing at ourselves, not other people, laughing at ourselves. And if we just do this just… [Jim laughs.] [Marie laughs.] Again just how it goes, and it breaks up the patterns, breaks up the tense muscles, energizes the muscles below the diaphragm, and the abdomen, and in the chest, and in the back, and the neck, and the face.
And it raises the levels of those hormones that make us feel good, like dopamine and serotonin and the endorphins and decreases the stress hormone, cortisol. So laughter is brilliant medicine, and it gives us not only helps us on that biological basis, it gives us perspective on ourselves. And I need it today. Today, I’m glad we’re talking because this is…
Marie Forleo: It’s awesome.
Dr. James Gordon: And that’s the other thing is we should take advantage of these situations that come up in our lives.
Marie Forleo: Yes. Yes. It’s just, you, I have to say it, Jim, you are such a treasure. Thank you so much. Before we wrap up, is there anything else, of course, again, like I said, I want everyone to get their hands on this book. It is just absolutely transformative. But as we wrap up today, is there anything else that you want people to know about the journey?
Dr. James Gordon: Well, if just people read Transforming Trauma, let me know.
Marie Forleo: Great.
Dr. James Gordon: Was it helpful? Were there any questions about it? They can get in touch with me, my email is in there. And I welcome that. And also people who want to participate in other activities. I have a whole calendar of activities I do at The Center for Mind-Body Medicine. We have online groups, eight week-long groups where you learn the techniques that are there in Transforming Trauma, not all of them, but a number of them.
And everyone is welcome. You don’t have to have a particular diagnosis. And the fee is completely adjustable according to what each person can pay. So people are welcomed in those groups. And then for those who are interested in learning how to do this work, for themselves, and to share it with others in their community, we have training programs. We have a number of training programs that are online right now and communities all over the United States and programs that are open to people anywhere in the world.
We’re doing a program very soon that is timed. So it’s good for people in Africa, Europe, Central Asia and Middle East, we have national U.S. programs, look on the website, cmbm.org. And if you’re interested, and you want to take this workout, and you don’t have to be a doctor, a nurse, a mental health professional, you can do this work beautifully. If you’re willing to work on yourself, to learn on yourself, if you’re committed to helping other people, and you’re willing to get some mentorship and supervision as you do it. So please, anyone who’s interested, check out the website cmbm.org. And we’re a community of healers and a healing community. And I’m very happy, so happy that you’re inviting me into your community as well.
Marie Forleo: Oh, I have adored you. I’ve adored this book. And I am just so, so grateful that you are here in the world, and that you took the time to be with us today amid everything that’s going on. So I know we’re going to get a lot of folks coming over to your website and checking out your programs, because one thing about our community, it’s a global community of people who care about each other, and care about the state of the world. And so this work fits right in. This is beautiful. Thank you so much, Jim.
Dr. James Gordon: Thank you, Marie.
Marie Forleo: Now, Jim and I would love to hear from you. So we covered a lot of ground today. And I’m curious, what is the biggest insight that you’re taking away? And especially today, how can you put that insight into action starting right now? As always, we have some incredible discussions over at the magical land of marieforleo.com. So head on over there and leave a comment now. And once you’re there, if you’re not already subscribed to our email list, do me a favor and subscribe and become an MF Insider. Every single week, we send these fantastic inspiring and action-filled emails and I don’t want you to miss out.
Until next time, stay on your game and keep going for your dreams because the world really does need that very special gift that only you have. Thank you so much for tuning in and I’ll catch you next time.
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