There is lots of value in Western Buddhist stuff. “Non-reactive presence” is just what I am working on at the moment, to be aware of a situation and my emotional response without succumbing to impulsive reactions, but to respond in Love and creativity. I read the term, shorn of any Sanskrit mysticising, and recognise it immediately. It is “foundational”, I read, and want to read more.
The very movement of trauma resolution is from disempowered collapse into an empowered, self-protective response. There’s a worthwhile goal. Meditative interventions which are helpful for a person with a nervous system which has not been impacted by trauma might be counterproductive or even harmful to a person with a trauma history. Ah. Mmm.
I have not been meditating. I have been scared of it. I kneel, I become aware of emotion, I get hurt. I have recently been aware of emotion which felt good, like a healthy reaction to current circumstances, and I want more access to that- so, meditate- Good, even though “painful”, “difficult”, even “bad”, being fear, anger, shame, confusion- Good, because appropriate. Fitting. Responding to how the world is now, not my past.
Awareness of emotion is good. Meditation is good. What kind of “meditative intervention” might have value for one traumatised?
Googling “Meditation after trauma” finds Tara Brach. I hate her. She writes of Radical Acceptance as if it is her trademarked jargon term, a particular wisdom you can buy from her. (I am enjoying my unfairness to her.) She writes of “learning to be her own best friend” and how when she was around twenty she had a harsh inner critic- but not usefully indicating to me how I might do that apart from buying her Wisdom from her. She goes on to the story of her psychotherapy client “Rosalie”, who was severely sexually abused as a child, and beaten when she put up any resistance. She describes some of that abuse, and how it affected Rosalie in her thirties- anorexic and unable to form sexual relationships.
The beating gets to me. The sexual abuse is horrible, but the beating worse, that brings home to me the child’s complete powerlessness which affects me most of all. Now, I think of that powerlessness and feel horror, bewilderment, misery. Pain. It is not simply empathetic. It is mine.
I did not find the article easy to read. And I compare myself- that abuse! I repeat to myself- I may take it in some time- even if anything I have suffered would be nothing to any person with the most minimal resilience, it matters to me.
I “experienced nothing like that”? Well, I am where I am.
Under the utterly brilliant wise psychotherapy of Tara, Rosalie plumbs the depths of her problem and quickly becomes well-adjusted, wise and happy. My mental image of me kicking both of them in the guts and neck repeatedly changes into another of me as a baby on the floor, crying, while they ignore me. Of course I am pretending. There is nothing wrong with me really. I am such a drama queen! There is a brief paragraph in Tara’s account where she acknowledges the rest of her meditation class could benefit: It opened up the possibility of forgiving themselves for not facing their own deep wounds, and it helped them understand that it was natural to seek relief by hiding and defending in the face of unbearable pain. Ah, the therapist’s mantra- Everyone’s screwed, so everyone needs therapy! She quotes Carl Rogers, The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.
Whether this is Tara’s intention or not, I have such an emotional response to this article that I can barely take from it any useful gen on how to improve, myself. I will go back to it.
I get a lot more from Manuel Manotas. For one thing he does not describe what “Roger”‘s trauma was- he was raped repeatedly, he stubbed his toe once, whatever. I feel less judged. And this makes sense to me: Part of doing inner work consists of discovering the right balance between challenging and supporting ourselves; when trauma is present, this point tends to be skewed toward either too much challenge or complete avoidance of the situation that triggers the trauma. Neither approach will help you metabolize and transform traumatic psychological imprints. This is why having someone to help you traverse this difficult territory is key. Manotas’ concept of “titration” makes sense- plunging into trauma retraumatises; controlled bearable exposure, as with titrating reactive substances, helps me control the reaction, metabolise the pain, and heal. My avoidance structures have value. Here, I confront; then I watch telly for hours.
Staying with our experience without trying to change it is at the core of mindfulness meditation practice. Mmm. Yeah. Definitely a good thing, and more than I would really like I have to run away.
The comments are good, too.