Psyche and Mind Soul and Spirit Trauma and Embodiment

Trauma and Spiritual Integration

The meaning of life is to live it ~Joseph Campbell

The awakening is this: Our bodies must not be left out of the healing process. Our bodies are the storehouses of every unresolved/traumatic experience in our lifetimes. These living organisms must be held, encouraged and understood. Their expressions and communications may be shaken out, danced or vocalized. Body regions that have been hardened, numbed, or gone slack need the reinvigoration of conscious breath and movement, in such a way that the light comes through our eyes as reflection of the fire in our belly, and soft easy smiles on our faces radiate from our warm hearts.

Spirituality, psychology, and neuroscience are waking up. There is no enlightenment, no actualization, no optimization of potential without addressing trauma. This stands of course for single incident trauma but is equally true for developmental trauma or as it is being called, the trauma of everyday life.

The consequences of trauma: anxiety, depression, panic attacks, addictions, unstable relationships, personality disorders, physical ailments, and chronic shame are overwhelming our personal lives and our culture. It is increasingly clear that abuse (physical, emotional and spiritual), neglect, abandonment, enmeshment and witnessing tragic events in young life is crippling not only to the individual, and the society, but is even passed onto future generations through DNA [Wiki ACE study and transgenerational trauma]. 

Our bodies and our stories.

You cannot talk your way out of trauma  ~Peter Levine

Trauma is increasingly spoken about synonymously as fragmentation. We are torn apart, go to pieces, heartbroken, shattered . . . we lose coherence,  we are no longer integrated. Our senses of wholeness and belonging are compromised.

Trauma is stored as two types of memory. We have both explicit memories and implicit memories. Explicit memory deals with our conscious sense of the past. Essentially it is our story, and is also referred to as narrative memory. The narrative can be more or less accurate or coherent. Talk therapy often involves working to create a coherent narrative memory and although some modern spiritual teachings advise dropping the story, having an accurate and coherent narrative is an important capacity of a functioning adult.

Implicit memory is the raw sensory data of memory below the level of conscious thought—the body memory. These are the memories that are stored not only in the lower brain but in the muscles, fascia, cells and even DNA. Implicit memory not only holds your capacity to walk or drive a stick shift but also our beliefs about reality—the safety of the world and others, our lovability, capacity for expansion and abundance etc. Complex constellations of memory become unconscious schema or maps for our behavior, this is why in spiritual traditions we are often invited to awaken from the dream. These schema are the basis of our reactivity: responses programmed into our implicit memory. Fight, flight, freeze, or faint or some combination form the basis of our reactivity. These basic survival impulses drive a diverse array of human behavior in the form of rigid or chaotic coping strategies.

Like our narrative memory, our implicit memory can be clarified. The result in this case is not a clear and accurate story of ourselves but a capacity to respond to life situations in a way that is appropriate to the moment rather than what our bodies have come to “believe” from the past. 

This embodied liberation is where healing can happen most quickly. As we regain connection to our bodies, the potential is to realize our true spiritual nature: boundless love, luminous awareness, immanent presence or vast emptiness. The body however is more than just a portal, it is living spirit. The following steps may prove useful to awakening to body as our spiritual ground.

  1. Physical practice: Consistent physical exertion is incredibly potent for our well-being. Cardio and weight-bearing exercise as well as, dancing, singing, drumming or quiet walks in the woods are regulating and sustaining. Professional methods like Myofascial release, structural integration, breathwork, etc. also access the body as do yoga and EMDR. The key is interoception: attunement to the inner feelings of the body both gross and subtle.
  2. Self investigation: As the capacity for interoception grows we must also come to know the meaning of our feelings. What is the guidance within feeling? What emotion or physical movement is the body wanting to express? What action, growth or development needs to happen? Sensing our inner experience can guide us to actualizing our potential . . .whatever that may be, doing a triathlon, digging a garden, or starting a business or a family.
  3. Shadow work: Feeling ourselves more deeply and understanding these feelings will reveal old wounds that need attention and compassion for healing. We need to see how we are are living out our past in present day schema or enactments. This will likely require the help of a skilled teacher or therapist but it will support the next step.
  4. Building trusting relationships: With good fortune even those of us with difficult childhood relationships can find safe and secure relationships in adulthood, it is also important to be realistic about our expectations for healing within our intimate connections, there are limits. Relationship with a teacher or therapist can provide the openness to explore and unravel contractions and dive deeper into healing presence. Engagement in an open and supportive community is also a support for the unfolding soul.
  5. Connection to the ineffable: Meditation, mantra, music, satsang, sky gazing, silent retreat or anything that takes us beyond our limited sense of self while remaining connected to our interoceptive vitality can be a vehicle for healing. There is also growing body of research to support the use of psychedelic medicine in working with both single incident, and developmental trauma [].
  6. Cultivation of the subtle: For those that connect to ineffable presence there is a bottomless well of subtle qualities and capacities, a spacious inner world of love, compassion, power, intelligence, fortitude and value. Ultimately to know our innermost being is to know ourselves as timeless, loving and indestructible radiance.

While we certainly live in challenging times many of us have access to support and freedom for being our true selves that is unique to this time in history. Even taking the time to read an article like this is a testimony to your drive to be true and free. Of all that has been mentioned above by far the most powerful “tool” you possess is your heartfelt and sincere desire to be real and to be liberated from soul-limiting beliefs and reactions. Take a moment to feel inside . . . what it is like to desire freedom? Allow the breath to enter that feeling . . .let it expand, let it grow. 

You cannot talk your way out of trauma  ~Peter Levine

Psyche and Mind Trauma and Embodiment

Hatred as a vehicle for love

Hatred is perhaps our most taboo human emotion; this can be especially true in spiritual traditions. Often easy to identify in others, it can be near impossible to see or feel ourselves. There is good reason for this taboo—acting from hatred has led to some of the greatest human atrocities, but it is a great loss to dampen our capacity to feel hatred directly and thereby understand and experience the underlying life force that lies within this universal emotion.

It is quite common for people to claim that they have no hatred within themselves; however, when we recognize the manifestations of this icy emotion—coldness of heart, hardness in the eyes, shutting others out, resentment, bitterness, and more intensely the desire to annihilate—it becomes clear how pervasive it can be in our lives. Think for a moment about someone you see as hateful . . . how do you feel toward them? How do you feel toward those who are violent, racist, destructive to nature, or cruel to animals or children? Can we be very honest and see how we wish that certain people, corporations, governments, would just disappear . . . forever.

When we begin to see that our contempt, aversion, and antipathy are all forms of hatred, and that this feeling has earliest precedent in our vomiting out what repulses our infant organism, we can begin to admit and normalize this socially undesirable feeling of hatred.

“Feeling” is the key word here. Human beings for very good reasons learn to suppress, repress, or over-express feelings to such a degree that simply “feeling” certain emotion seems undesirable or downright impossible. The collective emotional body of humanity dearly needs to learn that whatever the feeling may be—it is just a feeling. Our bodies have stiffened and densified, our breath become short or shallow in attempts to control the flow of feelings. On a very physical level it is hard to accept that it is just a feeling and that feelings come and go and they don’t mean anything about us. Nor do they need to be acted out.

So suppose that for a moment we can suspend our bias toward the feeling of hatred. It might help to understand that emotions are action orientated feelings meant to help our organisms maintain regulation—much like the infant vomiting above. So what is the action that hatred is trying to accomplish? Hatred seeks to remove obstacles that keep us from feeling states of equilibrium—namely peace and love. How many times have we wanted to quiet our environment or spend some time in nature to experience peace? How often have we wanted someone we love to frankly just shut up and listen to us so that we could re-establish a sense of loving connection?

While the examples above seem a far cry from the bitter fangs of hatred that make our blood run cold, they give us a hint at what action the severe feeling is attempting. We want to feel safe, at peace, loving and loved. Throughout our lives we experience all manner of obstacles and downright insults to our sense of peace and love. While it is easy to identify trauma and grave injustice, it can be harder to see the effect of relatively minor mis-attunements, neglect, or invasiveness repeated throughout our lives.

Almost universally somehow or other, we have become disconnected from our deep sense of love and peace—qualities we see so openly available in babies and small children. This leaves us cold, at least parts of us. We want to get rid of what is in the way—we hate it. Here’s the rub: we feel powerless to do anything about it. We cannot make the world come to peace; we are hopeless in our attempts to make others love us when they don’t.

Powerlessness is a key ingredient to the emotion of hatred. The more powerless we feel to change a situation the more the natural energy of assertiveness and volition begin to compress within us. Without relief the feeling of needing to take action becomes compressed as surely as coal into diamond becoming hard and with loss of hope; cold.

You may be able to feel this as you read. So what to do? First if you have followed to this point you’ll see the importance of normalizing the feeling of hatred, removing the taboo. That can be a relief in itself but now we are faced with feelings and thoughts that are disturbing and difficult to tolerate. (Powerlessness being a prime example) I will suggest now that you go further and see if it is possible to bring love and understanding to your hatred. Whether it shows up as contempt, resentment, revenge, or outright desire to annihilate, this is your feeling—it belongs to no one else. It can only be addressed with kind attention, self-care and time.

This kindness may need to come as a regular meditation practice or private work with someone who can hold and help to understand the communication of this powerful force within. It may be that changes are needed in your life, perhaps some retreat from daily life or a mediated reconciliation. It may seem cliché but the world really does change from within you.Finally to the point above about changing the world—often we can’t. The deepest and most powerful discovery that can be made within feeling our hatred is that peace is your own presence, love abides. Situations are always changing there is war and conflict as well as pain, as well as broken heartedness. Again hatred is simply a frustrated need to remove obstacles to peace and love. Our desire for peace is really about returning to our deepest self—our sacred nature. Our longing to be loved isn’t wrong but it misses the mark—love is our innermost being. No one can do it for you, but sometimes a door opens. May you have the courage to step through that door.