This week, Ana (@anamariecox) talked with Teresa P Mateus (@teresapmateus), trauma specialist, professor, and founder of The Mystic Soul Project. Their conversation began with Ana asking Teresa how she became a trauma specialist. She was led to the work through her own experience as a trauma survivor, as many people are. As a rape survivor, she undertook a years-long recovery journey and felt that she had to do much of the work on her own and that there was a better way of recovering than she herself went through.
“As I went through my own process, I thought that there has to be an easier way to do this. So, I wanted to be somebody that could facilitate supporting people on that journey…” she explained.
Ana then asked more about Teresa’s work, and she said one thing that makes it distinct is that it is centered on people of color. She was adopted by white American parents, but is of indigenous Colombian descent, and always felt like there was a gap in her own mental health because of it. She tries to bridge that gap for other people through her work.
That doesn’t mean excluding white people from the conferences and programs Teresa helps organize. She consciously tries to create a space where everyone is welcome while also centralizing the experiences of people of color, and not prioritizing the traditional, white perspectives that so dominate Western culture and exclude and marginalize people of color. Ana asked what that looks like in practice.
“The voices that speak, that are teaching, the voices that are going to be in conversation, are gonna be predominately people of color. And if there’s room, and time and space, for white people to engage, then there is, but if there isn’t, then there also is the tension, the discomfort of that is also a learning practice to change those dynamics internally in ways we don’t even realize,” Teresa said.
That is active, constant work, ensuring that the organization is as representative as possible and doesn’t devolve into the sort of progressive group that only looks diverse while still being led by a white man. In creating that space, it enables the group to break out of many of the Western structures that govern so much of how our society operates. One way that manifests is at conferences Teresa helps organize, where they are not strict about things being on time.
Although the types of recovery addressed are different, Ana and Teresa found similarities between trauma and addiction recovery. Chief among them is a choice to let go, and allow a God figure to ground oneself. Making that choice allows Teresa to treat different forms of spiritual trauma inflicted by things like sexual abuse as well as the trauma inflicted by homophobia or the denigration of women. It also allows people to deal with the myriad ways that an identity has been erased, particularly for people of color.
This led Ana to ask about a specific erasure: that of black evangelicals. Teresa talked about the irony of that, because Christianity was born among black and brown people, and the earliest Christian mystics were black and brown people who didn’t want to live among the Roman Empire. It’s important to Teresa to acknowledge those realities, and it is something she tries to do in her own work. She explained why she does, saying, “Because it’s become so white in our contemporary world, and that’s not actually the origin of where it came from. And I think a lot of that erasure of past and history and ancestry becomes a lot of the ways that it becomes easier and easier to invisibleize people in faith spaces.”
From there, the conversation turned to dealing with the difficulties posed by the modern world. One thing Teresa said the Mystic Soul Project works to do is providing a community for people, and activists specifically, so they can guard against getting burned out, and recharge to keep working. Ana then asked what a well-meaning white person can do in this moment.
Teresa encouraged well-meaning white people to get involved with communities and organizations doing good work that isn’t necessarily focused on white people and to show up intending to listen rather than speak, and not insert themselves into a space where they aren’t needed. She also called on white people to educate themselves about their whiteness and privilege, and share that knowledge with other white people.
Ana added on and called on well-meaning white people to self-police, and call others out when they see or hear something that reinforces our existing, white supremacist power structures. Their conversation ended with Ana asking if this moment we live in is actually that much worse than what came before, and whether we’ll be able to heal moving forward. Theresa closed things out on a positive note and exhorted her belief in neuroplasticity and its healing potential for all of us.
“What that means is the brain can change. And so I believe in the scientific principle that everything that changes can change again, and that’s been the principle on which I’ve worked with trauma clients over the last decade, in terms of their own healing. Even when it feels impossible, technically we are able to change,” she said.
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