A Guided Journey with Aundi Kolber

We’re pleased to welcome Aundi Kolber back to the podcast to chat with Rachael Clinton Chen about healing from trauma and finding compassion in the journey towards true flourishing. 

Aundi, a licensed professional counselor and author, shares her deeply personal journey of creating the “Strong like Water Guided Journey: A Compassionate Path to True Flourishing.” This resource, born amidst her own experiences of grief and trauma, offers a warm and compassionate approach to healing.

Throughout the discussion, Aundi emphasizes the importance of compassionate resourcing and body-centered practices in the journey of trauma recovery. She beautifully highlights the paradoxical nature of healing, where strength and vulnerability intertwine, and extends an invitation to listeners to soften and rest amidst life’s challenges.

Listener Resources:

About Our Guest:

Aundi Kolber is a licensed professional counselor (MA, LPC) and author of the critically acclaimed Try Softer as well as her best-selling book, Strong Like Water. She has received additional training in her specialization of trauma- and body-centered therapies and is passionate about the integration of faith and psychology. Aundi regularly speaks at local and national events, and she has appeared on Good Morning America as well as podcasts such as The Lazy Genius with Kendra Adachi, Typology, and The Next Right Thing with Emily P. Freeman. As a survivor of trauma, Aundi brings hard-won knowledge about the work of change, the power of redemption, and the beauty of experiencing God with us in our pain. You can follow Aundi on Instagram at @aundikolber.

Episode Transcript:

Rachael: Good people with good bodies. I am thrilled today to be joined by Aundi Kolber, as you may remember, was on the podcast with us last fall in October. She’s a licensed professional counselor, a critically acclaimed author, a trauma-informed practitioner and healer and follower of Jesus who I think holds tension together so well as someone who not only talks the talk but is also living out the journey. And just so deeply appreciate you, Aundi, and the ways in which you so generously give us research-based, deeply thoughtful insights into healing from trauma, but always coming from a place of a lived humanity and a lived reality. And so when we had you in October, you were talking about your newly released book Strong Like Water, and you’re back today with more resources. But ultimately just so thrilled to have you. So thanks for joining us.

Aundi: Well, it’s just a pleasure to be with you, and I’m so grateful. I loved our conversation last time. It was so rich, and I’m really thankful and excited to be back with you.

Rachael: So the newest resource that is available, and I just will give multiple plugs to this throughout our time, is Strong Like Water Guided Journey: A compassionate path to true flourishing. And you and I were talking about this briefly before we started that I know a lot of us are familiar with the workbook companions to writing, which can be really incredible and really compelling and a more practical guide to things. But what you’ve created is so much more than that. So I would love for our listeners to hear even just a little snapshot of what is the Strong Lake Water Guided Journey and why does it matter to you? Why did you create it?

Aundi: Yeah. Well thank you for that introduction. And yeah, I mean, I am really excited to offer this work for so many reasons. And I think part of it is because, I mean, first and foremost, I would just say that this has been a labor of love for me. When I was really finishing this book, the majority of this offering was in the immediate wake of my dad’s death. And I have a very complicated story, and part of that story is that my dad was a very cruel and abusive narcissistic person. And so he was really the primary source of my complex PTSD.

Rachael: That’s right.

Aundi: And so as you can imagine, what a difficult and painful thing, we had not been in contact for about 17 years. And even with all that profoundly painful…

Rachael: Absolutely

Aundi: to experience his death and lots of complexity to that and that his death was 10 days before Strong Like Water came out. So to say that there’s been a lot to unpack in this last year, and it was my 40th year. I had turned 40 last year. But one of the things I had to really turn inward to sort of listen to myself, to the Spirit of God and to just get really low to the ground because I think people often really well-meaning, and I’ve got great folks, but I think it’s easy to want to look to other people to tell you what to do or how do you do this thing. And that’s not all a bad thing, but for me, I really needed to turn inward and I needed to listen to my parts and I needed to listen to my true self and God. And so in that wake, I tried to be really gentle with myself, but I felt really strongly that I wanted to still launch Strong Like Water. And then I was able to delay my deadline for Strong Like Water Guided Journey, which my publisher worked with me, which I’m really grateful. But it was still in that time period. And in that time, part of that work was choosing even in this guided journey to tell some stories that I have never told before. Stories that I have been afraid to tell. Stories that even with all the work that I have done and all the building of safety that I have been able to gain and build, still caused me to feel like, okay, I’m not ready to share that. And certainly not everything, but one of the stories that I was briefly sharing with you is my own experience of, part of my story is that I was stalked by my father for a number of years after we had set some boundaries because of his behavior towards me and towards my family and how that then affected me. So I was in therapy because I was trying to navigate this person who was supposed to be one of the safest people in my life and who was deeply harmful to me. And so I had shared in therapy that I had been receiving these really kind of terrifying letters. And as I was talking and I write about this that I was shaking, which is a really normal thing to happen, but at the time I didn’t know because there was just a lot less, this is probably, this is 16 years ago and there was just less available. And the way that that therapist was really unable to attune and really unable to validate and really unable to resource me in that place. And I felt so alone, I felt so much shame. And this is one of the things that’s so difficult about abuse is the way that oftentimes those who are experiencing the most harm are made to feel as though it’s their own fault. As though they are responsible to not only for the harm, but also to make it right. And it’s this weird transferring from those who actually own it, who own the behavior, who own what’s happened, that there’s a whole set of things that can happen that can cause the person who’s actually been harmed to feel as though they own it, they carry it, it’s somehow now their shame even though it’s not. And so that is, for example, one of the stories that I talk about and just the way that how that has influenced my work to say, wow, here I am this person and I do not have, I’m educated and I have some resources and I have people who care about me. And it’s this hard for me. I’ve been doing this work for over 17 years and it’s this hard. What about folks who aren’t able to get into therapy? What about folks who are only in environments that cause them to believe that they have caused their own harm? So to come back to your very first question, for me, this guided journey is a place, it’s almost like I want to be really hospitable to the reader and I want to invite them to say, look, there are all these amazing tools that God has offered us. I want you to look around. I want you to feel this out, and I want you to see how can this serve you? How can you make this even more your own? Because I can tell my story and I own my story, but my deep, deep hope is that it will empower and resource others to honor and listen and tend and work with their own story.

Rachael: Which I just want to say is so incredibly… you’re a really good shepherd. And I don’t know if you get referred to as a good pastor often because I know your realm is the clinical realm, also that integration of faith in psychology. But you’re a really good pastor, someone who it goes a little bit ahead on the path to make the way, but in a way that I think is very Jesus that’s very authorizing and empowering and inviting people to not just be a part of the journey, but to reclaim something of their God given right to heal, to trust, to restore, to reclaim, to unburden. And there’s such honor in that, such generosity and such honor. So I want to say thank you because as trauma studies are growing and developing and expanding, there can be a very authoritative voice with people, which isn’t, I mean, I know we’re all kind of hardwired to look for the voice that just tells us this is what it is and here’s the five steps. And I appreciate the way in which you do say, Hey, this is really helpful information that you do need and here’s some resources that you need. And you have a lot of autonomy as to how you want to weave them. It’s a really good shepherd. So first I just want to say thank you, and I also want to just point out for myself and for our listeners the wisdom, the hard fought wisdom that you bring that we can be in this work for a really long time. And because as you’ve put so well, we never get to bypass our humanity, these resources are kind of timeless, so to speak. I found that to be true for myself in ways that are really humbling and sometimes really frustrating in healing from complex PTSD or just being human. I do kind of have this expectation, okay, you’ve been in therapy for a decade over multiple seasons. You work in trauma-informed care. You have all this knowledge, you have all these resources, you should be able to navigate this more smoothly or less human-size because so much. And it’s just I find again and again and again when I’m in seasons that are just ripe with suffering or triggering to trauma that I’ll be healing from for the rest of my life that I have to go back, and I think you said this when we talked in October, I have to go back to the basics. It’s such a mercy and a grace to have the basics in a contained way. I feel like that’s also a part of what you’ve offered in this guided journey is hey, here’s a place you can come when you don’t have the capacity because of the way trauma works to go find all of your resources. You can just come to this space where here’s some real simple practices that are highly effective. So just really grateful.

Aundi: That means so much. And I receive that. I receive those words. It’s so generous of you and it honors me. And I think that just that idea of reciprocity that is present in real healing, and it reminds me of, I think it’s such a principle of the Jesus way, which is that there is this upside downness where it’s like what we often crave is this certainty. You be the expert and you tell me what I need, when really it reminds me of how Jesus goes a little bit like, well, actually I put this beautiful still small voice in you. And I’m going to love you into being able to hear that voice. I’m going to, let’s get you resourced enough to believe what’s already there. This is not putting something into us that’s not there. This is sometimes, I like the analogy of a midwife.

Rachael: It’s a great analogy.

Aundi: That it’s like we are not like a midwife is not creating the pregnancy or the labor. They’re helping to facilitate and to witness and to help guide. And so all people with us on our journey, they can never step in and have access to the deep, deep wisdom that God already put in us. That’s ours. And I love the word you use of the reclaiming, right? Because so often what things like trauma and abuse and different systems, what they do is it’s like they cut us off from the wisdom.

Rachael: That’s right.

Aundi: It’s not that it’s not there. We have to find our way back to it.

Rachael: Amen. Just want to say amen. Tell me a little bit more, tell me a little bit more about some of the resources people will find in the guided journey. So obviously you’re bringing more story, you’re providing some practices. How else would you give people insight into what they might find?

Aundi: Yeah, so I kind of like to think of this a little bit… it’s almost like healing is a prism. And I think when you turn a prism, you see things, it’s the same thing, but you see it from lots of different angles. And so also I had my Try Softer guided journey come out. And this one certainly is unique, but the concept is similar of saying, so some of the practices are specifically body centered. So we’re really looking at it from a place of saying, how can I help you begin to listen to the language of your body to be able to facilitate. Sometimes that’s movement. So it’s allowing, Peter Levine talks about trauma, almost like it’s thwarted responses. And often whether you’re a trauma survivor or not, but particularly if you are a trauma survivor, some of the things that our body naturally wants to do when things are hard, and these responses are really helpful in metabolizing pain and moving through it, sometimes we almost subconsciously suppress them because we’ve learned, maybe we’ve learned we have to be small or don’t take up too much space, or we have just this shame of you can’t trust your body, or there’s so many different narratives that get placed on that. So if we can begin to have that permission and enough safety to, I really love the language of experimenting because again, it’s less of like, hey, here’s your three things that will always work, right? And it’s a little bit more like, hey, here’s something to try. Here’s a way to move. I really appreciate the work of Dr. Ariel Schwartz, who is a somatic psychologist, and she really talks a lot about re-patterning. And I have found her work to be really helpful again around that somatic piece around how do we really get granular? So an example from my life, because of some of the work I’ve done around what I’ve experienced, particularly with my dad, but unfortunately in some other settings too, is that things like getting the mail for a while was very tied to a trauma response. For me, that makes a lot of sense because for many years I would out of nowhere get these deeply abusive letters. And the way that, so to bring a somatic lens to this would be not only to honor that original wounding and original experiences that happened, and we want to do that at the pace we’re able, and oftentimes we need a therapist. But then what I found is that I had patterns that my body would hold that when I would expect the mail, I would notice myself clenching or bearing down a little bit. And so these things, then it’s like my body is anticipating threat. And so part of repowering might be bringing enough of that compassion attention, perhaps it’s also needing safety, so it might need to be in the presence of someone that I trust, or maybe it’s doing an orienting practice, really getting grounded in the present. I am a 41-year-old woman. Here’s what’s true today. Here’s what I know. And then to work with that pattern in my body to gently allow myself to perhaps clench my hands and then allow them to release if that feels like a resource to me. And to bring in that, a lot of times it’s like there needs to be some titration, so meaning we have to do just a little bit at a time so that our body can handle it. So that’s an example of throughout the book, each section has a body centered practice that’s specific to that. And then there are art centered practices. So a way to really tap into that right brain of using our creativity to both express and even sometimes sort of reimagine what repair might look like. And then lots of different, there are journal questions because that can be a helpful resource to write

Rachael: Totally.

Aundi: But kind of coming at that from lots of different angles. And then there are community based questions too. So a lot of folks like doing this in a community-based setting. And so even just giving them suggestions about some trauma-informed practices to be able understanding about really respecting, for example, people’s boundaries or that they’re pacing or things like that. And just some ideas for how you might structure that.

Rachael: Oh, I love that. What I appreciate is, and I think you’ve named this before and even the prism is naming that we need a lot of resources to heal from trauma and different seasons might warrant different types of healing pathways. And I would be curious to hear from you even just naming that as you were writing this, you were in your own season of trauma and navigating, and I just want to make a note that we see this a lot in our work too. I think we often think in the absence, the absence, the physical absence of a person who’s harmed us, especially in death and departure from this world as we know it, that will alleviate our pain. Or even that we need to be ashamed of our grief if there’s also been pain and heartache. And so yeah, there’s just, thank you for sharing that with us. But what were some of the practices that you found sustained you in this season of this labor of love or are sustaining you in this season?

Aundi: Totally. Yeah. No, I think that’s an important question. And I think really, and I haven’t even really touched on this yet, but I think this is such a central piece of both Strong Like Water and the Strong Like Water Guided Journey is this concept of compassionate resourcing and really through the lens of understanding it that this is a way that we are queuing safety to our body. And so for me, compassionate resourcing is vital, I would say. And there’s a lot of different ways. I think that as we are in different seasons or different nervous system states that compassionate resourcing almost appropriately is going to change, right? So the more out of our window of tolerance, so out of that range of arousal that we can handle, the more outside of that we are, the more almost basic the resources are that we need. And that just comes from a place, and I appreciate that you named that earlier. It comes from a place of saying, when we get more into that survival brain, it doesn’t really matter what in your higher order seeking, it’s not accessible. No. And you might even be able to say, I know something’s true, and that thing feels like the furthest from true. And so a cognitive awareness is not the same as an embodied knowing. And it doesn’t mean that that cognitive knowing can’t ultimately be integrated because it can. But that comes with safety, that comes with the work of metabolizing experiences and feeling safe enough to actually be in our body. And so oftentimes it is the gap between what we know and what we feel that tells us there’s some work to be done. And it doesn’t mean that there’s any shame there. It simply means it’s worthy of our attention and it’s worthy of our compassion. And so for me, always something I come back to is really, it’s often centered around compassion. It’s often centered around really cultivating some gentleness and softness and internal connection that there is often I think a maternal quality for me to the way that I feel there’s a parental quality to the way that I feel towards myself in my pain, and it’s absolutely essential to me. I would say that it is the thing that I personally in my life, everything else, and what I’ll say is that even before that, it’s often because I feel loved, maybe because I know there are at least a few people who really hold me in their heart, that gives me the internal capacity to believe that I can be with myself in my pain. But when we’re talking about this through the lens of what I personally am really doing, it’s often it might be listening to a guided meditation for self-compassion. I often will, last year around this time, I was probably taken three walks a day, and it was really just very based off of needing to be outside. Often it might be like the music choices would change depending on what I needed to feel or what I needed to grieve. And then I would just say, for me, grounding is really important. And by that I just mean really using my five senses to orient. And so that’s why I love being outside because there’s just so much to pick up. There’s so much beauty and there’s sensory-wise, bringing so much in. And then I would just say, yeah, I mean, I think it shifts because sometimes I just had my 41st birthday and I was telling a couple people in my life I feel like I passed through a very tumultuous channel that is what my 40th year felt like. And I felt like I had what I needed to pass through the channel. But it was wild. It was where I’m from in the Northwest. Well, you’re in the Northwest.

Rachael: Yes. Well, I’m actually in the Northeast now, but I spent 14 years in Seattle. So yeah, I’m in Philly now, so it’s a lot more aggressive.

Aundi: Okay. So yes, yes. Well, so in Washington, across the river from where I grew up, I grew up in Astoria, Oregon. There’s Cape Disappointment. And so Cape Disappointment, which you may already know this, but I think is used by the Coast Guard for training because it is so tumultuous and so dangerous that it’s like this place where it’s really helpful for them to get the worst conditions. And what I feel like is I got a little Cape Disappointment kind of waves this last year that there was so many big waves. And so in the midst of that, what I felt like is this sense of finding ways to ride the waves and then when I could really breathe to just allow myself to be nourished with goodness, to let the grief come as it needed, but then also to allow it to flow.

Rachael: That’s right.

Aundi: And so those things, it was just like this very interesting, the bigness of this year emotionally was a lot, but I feel, so when I got to my 41st birthday, it was so interesting because I felt this profound sense of integration. I mean, it was sort of my parts in my, I felt like the Spirit of God was like, well done. There was just this sense of just deep peace. And so all that to say, I feel like my tools, there was a lot of flexibility based off of where I was at. But I think often it came to allowing myself to both feel what I needed to feel while also really keeping myself open to goodness.

Rachael: The picture that comes to mind is just that’s the humanity we’re meant for, right? To be able to feel a robust range of emotions to be impacted, but also to be grounded and rooted in a sense of being beloved and to be able to give and receive in a mutuality. There’s just something so powerful about hearing you name, I felt integrated. And we talk about this a lot in our work reframing integrity. Because for so many of us who were raised in maybe more fundamentalist context, a word like integrity was mostly used usually to shame or judge. But it had mostly our kind of imagination of integrity was like moral, not even moral righteousness, just like moral behavior. That’s integrity. And there is certainly a capacity of having good solid character that is a part of integrity. But when you start getting into parts work and you understand how trauma fragments and not just fragments are developmental parts, fragments our mind from our body, from our spirit, even though those things are so deeply entwined. That’s why I love your resourcing of giving somatic vocabulary because we don’t, in our culture especially, we don’t have a voice for our body. So finding a language for it, and when you have an experience in your healing journey where you feel a different kind of integrity, it is such a holy space of welcome, radical welcome and rest. And it doesn’t necessarily eradicate pain. It doesn’t give us some self-righteous holier than thou wisdom. It’s there’s a kind of rest when parts of us that have felt exiled feel like they are home and they have enough healing to settle even for a brief moment. And I have found that to be true of being in my forties as well, especially as a woman, a lot of reclamation of parts of me, a lot of re-parenting and getting to Mother, and you’re right, coming because I’ve been mothered and fathered well and loved well by other people that change my neural pathways or re-pattern parts of my body just give me a different access to compassion and belonging and feelings of belovedness. And there is just something, and I think it is a part of the gospel, and I think we see this in the way that Jesus is helping people recover parts of themselves, whether that trauma is because of empire or disease or sickness or exclusion, and there is the healing is always so much deeper.

Aundi: Yeah. Yeah. No, I think that’s beautiful. I think that’s such a beautiful description of integration and how that, I totally agree. It’s like right behavior is certainly oftentimes an offshoot of living in integrity. But when we always value behavior ahead of humanity, it distorts us. It distorts our internal world to feel like our behavior is always, it’s not that our behavior doesn’t matter. But we begin to internalize the belief that we don’t matter. That perception matters more in many ways than reality. And that will always mess us up. How could it not?

Rachael: It’s hard to have compassion when you’re, because when I hear you tell the story of being with a therapist who obviously lacks trauma resourcing, it’s like, yes, the shame you feel, because a very good truth telling part of you is bringing voice to your suffering. That shame in and of itself, it is almost a new kind of trauma that your body has to metabolize. And so when we’re in context, I think for myself, so much of the way my trauma has manifested before I knew I had trauma was massive anxiety. And that so often felt like such a betrayal of my moral character because you’re not supposed to have fear and you’re not supposed to freak out. And my anxiety would manifest a lot as anger, agitation, because turns out cortisol and adrenaline and norepinephrine, I’m a fighter when I get out of my window of tolerance because that’s the nature of my trauma, that that’s how my body was wired to survive, was to gear up and be ready to protect and be ready to soothe the bully. And so here I was, especially in church context with just things manifesting that felt like, what’s wrong with me? Why am I so crazy? Why am I so bad? And so the journey to find compassion, and I love your framing of compassion as such a necessary movement and healing from trauma and not just healing for the sake of healing, but healing to have a greater capacity to love and to be fierce and tender in a world that needs us to move out of our most rooted selves. And to that journey toward compassion was actually so hard because I did feel so much shame and actually so much distrust of these parts of me that felt like this isn’t who I am, and I don’t know why this is here, and I don’t know what’s wrong with me, and why can’t I just believe differently? And thankfully, I do believe differently, but that has not come through beating myself up or shaming myself to become better or deprivation or withholding, at least not in a sustainable way.

Aundi: Yeah. No, I think you’re making so many beautiful and important points to the paradoxes of this work. And I think as you’re talking some of the verses to bring that faith integration lens, some of the things that I hold when I think about this because I think it can sort of be disorienting when you’re trying to figure out how does this all fit together? And one thing I think about a lot is this paradox of Jesus saying, come to me all you are weary and heavy laden and I’ll give you rest. So we hear this, Jesus, so soft, whenever I hear that verse, there’s something for me that even when I’m in a really protected place that feels like softer after I hear it. But then I hear Jesus say, I came that they may have life and have it to the full, right? So we’ve got this really interesting paradox where Jesus is basically come and be soft and rest, let me take care of you, and this is what will happen. We will move towards fullness of life. And I think that this is a thing that’s right in front of our eyes that we miss because we think, oh man, try really hard armor up, do all these things. And certainly sometimes we don’t have a choice, but even when it comes to our own pain, that’s the invitation that God is calling us first to soften so that we might expand. And in a way, there’s this, so I just love this way that, and then we have this, and obviously I’m definitely taking all these random verses, but one of the verses that has been so powerful for me is where the Spirit of the Lord is. there is freedom. So to me, when we hold all these things together, it actually paints this different picture of what I think many of us are taught where instead of feeling like, man, suppress it, push it down, don’t talk about it, just keep your head down and do the right thing. Jesus sort of says, Hey, if the Spirit of the Lord is there, there will be freedom. There’s something to that really matters, and here’s your invitation. First come and rest. First start there, right? First be gentle. And so I love how there’s a way in which it’s almost like the opposite of a lot of what I think we are taught, which is essentially start from the outside and just image management and eventually you’ll get there. And instead, we are invited to this compassionate way of being.

Rachael: Oh, and I just so wish our culture that this was a more central way, our cultural move, we see so many people that that’s what they’ve been told is the right thing to do, and it is so costly. I mean, there’s no way around the cost or suffering, but that’s a kind of cost and suffering that does not lead to abundant life. Does not lead to abundant life. I hope you are hearing, again, I will just say it, what a good shepherd you are. I hope for our listeners that they’re getting a taste of what this companion could offer them. Anything else you’d want them to know before we tell them where they can find yur book?

Aundi: Yeah. Well, thank you. I truly just am so grateful for this conversation and your heart for this. And first, I would just say to folks, I’m just so glad that they’re here and listening and honored that they would do that. And one of the things I would just want to name is one of the offerings that I’m excited about is I recorded five or actually six different videos to go along with the guided journey. I know I’m the type of person who I love reading, but sometimes I need to see somebody talking about this. And so that’s what these videos are sort of just a way, I hope that it makes it feel even more accessible to really hear me unpack it a little bit more so that they can get a sense of it in their own bodies. Because oftentimes I think that creates sort of a springboard so that they get a sense so that folks can get a sense of how that feels and that will help it feel more accessible to them.

Rachael: Well, I’m assuming that they can find this guided journey. I know where I found it, but I’m assuming they can find it in many places.

Aundi: Yes, wherever books are sold. So Barnes and Noble, indie bookstores, Amazon, you can go to my website, AundiKolber.com. And there’s also a place to get to the videos on my website if folks are interested. And that comes access to that comes with the guided journey. So yes, hopefully you can find that all there.

Rachael: Well, Aundi, I want to say thank you, mercy and power to you and your community in this season. I know kind of birthing something like this also brings a different kind of need for rest and recovery, but it also stirs up more work to get there. So just much goodness to you. Thank you for the ways in which you co-labor and labor. Deeply grateful and hope that this is a restorative season in the wake of such a tumultuous year last year.

Aundi: Thank you so much.