How does a community begin heal after a major trauma like the July 22nd shooting on The Danforth in Toronto that left two young people dead and thirteen others wounded? How do you reclaim a once-joyful part of the city, after it’s been painted with deep sadness and fear?
As I walked back from my from my weekly tap class at Joy of Dance at Danforth and Broadview, nine days after the shooting, I was invited to participate in a very cool form of trauma response, community ear acupuncture in a group setting. Members of the Toronto Acupuncturists Without Borders (AWB) were using their skills and compassion to treat anyone impacted by the Danforth gun violence.
Standing on the street, outside the offices of Carrot Common at 348 Danforth Avenue was a volunteer by the name of Karen, smiling gently. She asked if I would like to participate in a free, 30-minute ear acupuncture session on the roof of Carrot Common. I was wary. I thought I was being sold something. I hesitated. “Do you know what ear acupuncture is?,” she asked. When I confessed that I really knew very little, she explained what was on offer and why.
Ear acupuncture is intended to alleviate trauma and stress and to build community resilience and recovery after a traumatic event. Five small needles (new and sterile) are placed in each each ear, allowing people to be treated fully dressed and sitting or reclining in a chair. The treatment can be done in a group setting with no special facilities required. Acupunc
According to their website and print materials provided before the treatment, AWB’s mission is to interrupt the devastating effects of trauma by reducing suffering and helping individuals and communities find greater balance and resiliency, using community-style ear acupuncture as a powerful, simple, safe way of helping people “reset” their nervous systems to a greater state of calm, quiet and clarity. The idea is that when members of a group experiences this relief from chaos, they can begin to restore hope, determination, resiliency, and the ability to move forward.
Acupuncturists Without Borders was founded by Diana Fried, M.Ac., in September 2005, immediately after Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. From October 2005 to November 2006, AWB provided free community acupuncture treatments to 8,000 people in Louisiana, including evacuees, residents, first responders, emergency personnel, volunteers, and other care providers. Since that time, the mostly volunteer organization has developed training programs, trauma recovery efforts (including in Canada, Haiti & Nepal), international community service clinic programs, and a world healing exchange initiative.
So, does it work?
I can only tell you what I experienced – five tiny pinpricks in each ear and then a feeling of spreading warmth as I settled back into the reclining chair, one of ten or so set into a circle in the rooftop garden of the Carrot Common. A cool breeze blew around me, and I focused inwards, vaguely aware of the sounds of other people arriving and departing. The warmth on the outside of my head helped me banish the clutter of my inner thoughts, the distractions of to do lists and minor concerns.
As I relaxed, there were sirens from the street below. Normal city sounds, but they made me tense up more than usual. I took note of this, breathed in more deeply, and made a conscience effort to accept the healing that was being offered me. The second siren sounds made me less anxious.
Some people fall asleep during the 30 minutes session. I surprised myself by staying awake. Close to the end of the session, I got a little restless and opened my eyes twice, wondering if I had been forgotten or if I was supposed to be keeping track of time. I hadn’t been and I wasn’t. A soft hand on my arm soon told me that 30 minutes had passed. I was offered tea and fruit by a volunteer and was soon on my way.
Afterwards, I felt more at ease in my body, more complete, and my mind felt clearer and sharper with less inner “noise”. I had less desire to retreat into my cell phone and social media feeds. I observed the people around me instead, appreciating a greater connection to community, real and not virtual. I was less irritable. I had an amazing night’s sleep.
If you are ever offered this opportunity, take it. I think there is great healing power in people both offering and receiving group treatment for the wounds we cannot see, but which impact us so deeply.