If you are not familiar with Yoda from the movie Star Wars, you are missing out. In this movie, Yoda comes to the aid of Luke Skywalker who has crash-landed on a mysterious planet. Yoda earns Luke’s trust and trains himto be a Jedi Knight. Yoda eventually helps Luke to use his new-found powers to pull his spaceship out of a quagmire. Now, Luke is ready to do battle with Darth Vader and the dark side! Without Yoda, Luke would have had a problem that would have seemed impossible to solve. He certainly would not have been prepared to battle Darth Vader. Figures like Yoda are examples of “enlightened witnesses”. This is a term Alice Miller used to describe the important people who guide us, teach us and accept us at critical moments in our lives.
While most of us have been fortunate to have numerous "enlightened witnesses" who have assisted us at critical times—neighbors, relatives, teachers, coaches, friends' parents, etc., many of those attending BIP have had only a few of these powerfully positive relationships. Revisiting these relationships and acknowledging the contribution is a valuable process. If we are wanting to teach about healthy, respectful relationships, reminding participants of a time when they were in one can be valuable. This can easily be done through the memories of the "enlightened witness".
While it is often pleasant to have conversations about our "enlightened witnesses", stirring these memories can potentially connect people to great pain and sadness.
While it is often pleasant to have conversations about our "enlightened witnesses", stirring these memories can potentially connect people to great pain and sadness. When people who have only had a few of these figures in their life talk about the death of their "guide", they talk about their world falling apart. They will say things like, "my life spun out of control", or, "I stopped caring, as I had nothing to live for." This loss of an "enlightened witness" can be profound.
When we ask participants, “Who was there for you and loved you when you were young, without you having to earn it?” A common response is “The only one was Grandma. I always went to my Grandma’s house. I was safe there and she made me feel valuable and special.” This experience of being safe, loved and accepted at a vulnerable time, even if only by Grandma, can become a frame of reference for how participants can create loving, respectful relationships in adulthood.
The evidence is clear that “enlightened witnesses” can reduce the impact of cruelty and reduce the cruelty that is passed on to others.
To illustrate the point, think about a person who loved you unconditionally when you were young. Can you think of a person who was there for you at a time when you really needed someone? Once you get that person in mind, imagine for a moment that this person never existed. How would your life have been different? Where would you be without them? For many participants in our groups, the answer is often, “I cannot imagine how I would have survived without Grandma”. Unfortunately, that is often followed with "She died when I was young." The positive impact as the result of a relationship with an “enlightened witness" becomes clear, as well as the impact of that loss without replacement.
The evidence is clear that “enlightened witnesses” can reduce the impact of cruelty and reduce the cruelty that is passed on to others. At the Family Peace Initiative, we think that part of our job as facilitators is to position ourselves to become “enlightened witnesses” for those we serve. Recognizing the powerful impact of our own “enlightened witnesses” helps to prepare us to pass along this gift to those in need of guidance at this moment of their lives.
As we approach this holiday season and the tradition of giving, it could be that being an “enlightened witness” is the best gift of all. Here is a link to read more on the subject. Happy holidays, everyone!