A friend of mine was recently giving a seminar to a group when a shooting occurred in the shop next door. A man was killed and bullets penetrated the wall between the two rooms. People were understandably frightened, and she did her best to maintain calm.
Since the incident she has experienced unexpected moments of anxiety along with emotional and physical shakiness. These trauma-induced sensations and feelings happen in a present moment free of any threat, a present moment that is profoundly impacted by something that happened in the past. Because she has considerable self-awareness she has been able to figure out what has triggered the anxiety (on one occasion she was driving toward the general area where the shooting took place.) Knowing this does not stop the involuntary response of her body and emotions, so she is going to get help from healers skilled at assisting others with releasing trauma from the body, mind, and heart.
I’ve been thinking about this friend as I regularly read posts on Facebook admonishing everyone to “let go” of the past and “move on.” (Two pieces of advice, which even when they may be well intended and not entirely inappropriate, are about as helpful as telling someone experiencing tension to “relax.”) Generally, we are not masochistic. If we are able to let go and move on, we do. If we haven’t it’s because something more than a snappy slogan or spiritual ideal is needed.
Being fully present helps us live fully and deeply, enables us to find, cultivate and co-create peace within ourselves and the world. The decision and desire not to be perpetually traumatized or limited by the past is an instinctual desire for expanded life and freedom. But there is a real risk in believing in or stating this as if a simple mental decision or spiritual aspiration to let something go will or should instantaneously banish the effect of past experience on our present inner condition. In fact, insisting that we or others can and should “just let go” can be a way to reject the present moment when something uncomfortable that is related to or an echo of our past is arising. That’s not being present with what is. That’s denying what the present moment holds and clinging to the ideal of emotional amnesia (even as we cloak it in more “spiritual” terms) in the understandable hope that we can avoid pain and suffering.
Sometimes, what arises in the here and now is being profoundly affected by an experience we had there and then. If we repress awareness of how a past experience is sparking a reaction in the present moment because we believe we “should” have let go and moved on by force of our will, we become an unwitting menace to ourselves and others. Free will choice is directly proportional to conscious awareness of what is.
When I was a young woman, I was raped. I can honestly say that the only thing that sends even a ripple of fear through my body about that past incident now is seeing the man who raped me (I was once in my car at a stop light when he walked across the intersection- he did not notice me) or seeing someone built like him (he is a distinctive six feet seven inches tall) when I am in a place that may be potentially unsafe (like walking home alone at night.) But even on the rare occasion when this happens, the healing work I have done with skilled practitioners around this part of my past enables me to breathe into and be with the fear that arises, evaluate any present danger and recognize a reaction that is influenced by the past. I am also, these many years later, able to welcome these minute flashbacks as opportunities to feel and release residual trauma that is still held in the deepest recesses of my body, mind or heart.
I am confident that my friend will be able to release the trauma of the shooting incident. She has the knowledge, resources and willingness to seek skilled help, and she is doing so shortly after the incident. When past trauma is more severe, (and this is both subjective and related to the relative power we did or did not have at the time) when it was repeated, chronic or in the distant past, bringing it to consciousness and releasing it from all levels of being can take some deep and extended excavation. And that requires skilled assistance and great courage.
Like all organisms in nature we are built for healing, designed for surviving and thriving. We are incredibly, astonishingly resilient. We really do have the capacity to be present with whatever is in this moment- even when what is present is a memory or feeling about something from the past. There is no need to qualify our commitment to being here and now- we can be with this moment completely, even when it is coloured by what happened there and then.
Oriah (c) 2012
"breathe into and be with the fear that arises, evaluate any present danger and recognize a reaction that is influenced by the past." I love this.. it can be adapted to so many other types of anxiety-related issues. And the beauty is that we can choose another reaction; it's a conscious choice. Marianne Williamson always says, "I am willing to see this differently," and "miracles happen in the present." I keep these in mind... thanks Oriah.ReplyDelete
Yes, we can choose a different response- but sometimes it takes a lot of work to get to the place where that is a real choice and not just a theoretical one :-) Of course, getting help and doing the work is another choice.Delete
Once again, I am treated to the synchronicity of your post relating to my week! I am continually reminded of the many many layers to healing which seem to be boundless. Each time I hope "I'm done" I know that it will be right back to release yet another layer. Sometimes it's a mystery to be solved, other times it's simply another bit of pain to be observed. Like finding dust bunnies under the bed, we are never truly "done", but that doesn't diminish the grace of healing.ReplyDelete
Ah the desire to "be done" and I would add "once and for all!" Always a red flag to me (when I am hoping for this) re: there still being something of value in another go-round at a deeper level of the spiral. :-)Delete
This is something I have been thinking around a lot lately and so agree about the 'letting go' imperative - if it were that easy we'd all do it!ReplyDelete
You say -
'There is no need to qualify our commitment to being here and now- we can be with this moment completely, even when it is coloured by what happened there and then.'
I would say it is vital that we DO stay 'with this moment completely' with whatever it is full of, but not letting the mind make up stories about whatever floats into it and takes us away from the moment. I know this is a well known truism, but it bears repeating, and it does work.It somehow removes the sting. Of course with a really traumatic event I can see experienced support would be needed.
Well. . . we are meaning-making animals and the way we make meaning is with stories. Even the technique of stopping the story-making that may add to the suffeirng is, in fact, a story- and one of the many useful ones we have. I used to firmly move my mind away from stories when they arose (and still do when they are very well-known goin' nowhere stories) - but now I am often interested in watching the story that comes to find out what may be happening below my conscious awareness at other times. Of course, this requires a stepping back, where we can see but not identify with the story as The Whole Truth. :-)Delete
Ah, I don't think I explained what I meant very well! I was referring to the way the mind can go into automatic loops of anxiety, worry, reliving events etc. In some circumstances the need is to stay with the presence of the Self in the moment and gradually de-link the emotional response from the mental need to assess, categorise, find reasons, keep the issue going etc. Otherwise I totally agree with what you say.Delete
Ah, I don't think I explained myself very well. I was referring to the need to stay with the presence of the Self in the moment when the mind tends to assess, categorise, find reasons, keep a worry alive etc.Delete
The mind as creative friend is wonderful!
Jeanlu- oh I think you explained it well- and heaven knows my chattering mind can anguish over pretty much anything endlessly- and it's often a good idea to drop that! It's just that where I once would always try to gently stop the chatter about a feeling that arise I now sometimes eaves-drop as a way of investigating what kind of story really is driving this feeling that keeps arising. Interestingly I have learned somethings I did not know about myself, unearthed some beliefs from deep in the unconscious- and once they are made conscious they are not such a driving force :-)Delete
Sorry about the double post! I thought the first one was 'lost'.Delete
Having overdone the 'listening in' for many years I think I just needed to address the imbalance. And discovered that staying with the moment is ultimately more revelatory, for me.I'm sure there are times and seasons that come to us in whispers and nothing is the final'answer'
Love from springtime in Somerset.
Oh, thank you for this. I have (as if by natural instinct) been in the moment "even when it is coloured by what happened there and then". I too have had some traumatic experiences (sexual abuse for some years when in childhood,plus some more things). I've spent years in therapy (and other healing things), it has truly been good but very though and it has taken such long time to come to where I am today: feeling free from the experiences. I've had to work slow and thorougly, however painful and tough that has been almost the hardest has been just what you describe: people telling me to let the past be gone etc. I've tried sometimes to explain: I'm on my way. I have kept on doing the healing work my slow way, today I'm happy for it. But people around trying (in their ignorance)to "cheer" me up and show an "easier" way has sometimes hurt a lot. When I read what you write here it makes me cry...it is strange: reading something like this is healing in itself, my tears feels like healing-tears...as if all the sadness I felt when people told me "let go" now flows away...maybe because I'm ready for it. (Excuse if my english isn't right all the time). Yes, we are "built for healing", it is amazing really how healed we can be...no need to rush into "letting go". I'm in awe over this...feel so grateful now, for your words and all associations they give me.ReplyDelete
Maria, congratulations on doing the work for your own healing. I think those who tell us to "just let go and move on" sometimes honestly just want us to be out of pain. Of course, that is often because they can't be with our pain- which is most often because they cannot be with their own. (And by they and their I mean us at least some of the time- it's all us :-)Delete
Absolutely beautiful. I find this same thing in contemporary "non-dual" communities, in which we are continually told that there is no "self" to be traumatized, that it is all an illusion, so for years I have denied any connection to past traumas that have wreaked havoc in the present. In a sense denying my feelings as unimportant to who I really am - type thing. I am slowly extricating myself from that belief box that limited me; allowing myself to feel *all* my feelings, even the buried ones that got covered over with "spirituality."ReplyDelete
Oh wow- now that's one I had not heard before (although it is a logical extention of some other non-dual fundamentalist beliefs.) No self to be traumatized? Wow. It take denial to a whole new level. Thanks for sharing this- and I am so glad that you have found your way home to your humanness :-)Delete