Meditation after trauma

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.

Buddhism without Sanskrit! Yay!
Tara Brach.


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.

Ajanta Caves

Ajanta_Padmapani cave 1

From 200 BCE, the Ajanta caves in Maharashtra, India, were Buddhist monasteries decorated with art which is particularly alien to the Christian eye.


These are art-works for monks, celebrating the beauty of the human form. The people illustrated are sexual beings.


In Christianity, sexuality is suspect. Not for all times and in all places- the Song of Songs is sensual- but celibacy is praised, and sex may so easily be sinful. Here are religious works for separate monasteries, which celebrate human life with sexuality simply a part of that. It is liberating to see them.


I am addicted to this hobby. Having several comments gets me a little high. I find checking the blog compulsive. Self-control! I urge myself.

Ajanta_Paintings 4 An_art_on_wall_depicting_lord_Vishnu_with_goddess_Lakshmi_at_Ajanta_Caves Coming_Of_Sinhala_(Mural_At_Ajanta_In_Cave_No_17) OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA World_of_bliss


Counting breaths

File:KamakuraDaibutsuSlide.jpgHow could you get breathing wrong? Well, you could hyperventilate.

I kneel in my ritual space to count my breaths, and notice how I second-guess even my breathing. It is supposed to be natural, unconscious, autonomic, but when I observe it, it becomes self-conscious. It fits what I have been taught to think about breathing, what I have learned about it. A deep breath calms, relaxes and centres a person.

Though at the poetry slam, before starting to recite, I took my deep relaxing breath too close to the microphone, and it echoed round the room HOCHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

But here, I should be simply observing. Is that first deep breath then learned behaviour, or is it what my body does, assuming this position? How could I know?

My anxiety to get things right:

Ah. Positive self-management. How to think of this, to feel the right thing? My anxiety has spurred me to learn many things, but it has also been too much for me. I have given up, rather than fulfil my own demands. If I practice observing, before jumping to conclusions (oops, that is judgmental) If I practice observing, I will see everything is alright really. Deep breaths…

Jack has the theory that people breathe more File:Man sitting under beach umbrella.JPGshallowly as a method of social control. We are taught this in childhood, and it keeps us quiet- then and now. If we breathe more deeply, we can be raucous, or boisterous, or Stand in our Own Power.


I have no mind’s eye, but I can think in pictures. It seems that some people, with their eyes closed, can visualise things, which seems to be similar to actually seeing them. So I read of an NLP technique: imagine a bad memory as a small monochrome photograph, and a good memory in as much detail and colour as you can.

Some people cannot: a trick to develop the skill is to imagine a sandy beach, sea, blue sky, three elements, two straight lines, the photo on the right is too complex. I have tried that.

How to explain my experience?

I have actually thought in pictures. I thought, I could drive home by [] or by [], and this was a total shock to me: I am thinking in pictures– and the shock of realisation remains in my memory, ten years later. If I close my eyes, what I see is blackness, or light through my eyelids, and if I imagine something, like that yellow parasol-

sometimes I can know what it’s like. As if there were a black veil, but I somehow perceived what was behind it. This may be worth practising.

Elgar’s mind’s ear was so good he could hear an orchestra in his head from looking at a score. I can hear an orchestra in my mind, remembering a piece of music. The fidelity gets better if I concentrate.  I can hear the sound of a violin playing a tune I have not heard it play: that too needs concentration.

Worship at Buddhafield II

Meditation space after the Puja

ShrineOn Saturday evening, with time to spare before the ceilidh, I sat under a sign saying Meaningful Conversation. I had little, though we established that Meaningful Conversation must have meaning for all the conversationalists. The woman invited me to worship in a small tent in the Dharma Parlour. Here we chanted a simple mantra for half an hour. Chanting links us to the Power and its gifts. Oh, OK.

Sitting comfortably is difficult for me. I need to stretch my thighs, to kneel in postures which seem so natural in others. That is on my mind. And- the sound of the singing bowl, and its shape, are beautiful.

Worship should be beautiful. Worship should feed souls. Contact with others, shared experience practice and aims, are all lovely, and the sound of the bowl adds to that.

There are seven of us, with a worship leader aware that some of us are campers, and do not do this “in real life” as we dismissively say. Or I am projecting. We chant, we hear the bowl, we open ourselves to Higher Things, and we kneel or sit in silence for a time, after.

Sunday morning, I did the “awareness of breathing for beginners” session. I did not do the “Metta for beginners” session. First, we count breaths: in, out, 1. In, out, 2. So on, to ten, then back to one. We do this for seven minutes.

Shrine 2Continuing, we count breaths: 1, in, out. 2, in, out. So on to ten, then back to one. We do this for seven minutes. Third, we are aware of the sensation of the breath. We do this for seven minutes. Fourth, we are aware of the breath in the nostrils and the tip of the nose. We do this for seven minutes.

The seven minutes could be ten, or shorter, or longer. Two minutes would be too short. The counting is to give the conscious mind something to do: if we lose track, or think of something else, we go back to one. Sometimes people forget to go back to one after ten: “The record is 32”. If you do this, go back to one. If in the third or fourth sessions you find your attention drifting, it may help to count breaths for a minute. Breathing may become shallow or deep: notice it, do not force it. Breathing happens, all the time, mostly without being noticed (though I notice it now, as I write of it)

It makes us still, and away from the conscious mind. This has advantages, I understand, in clarity of thinking, reducing worrying and ruminating (going round in circles). It is a practice I could adopt, easily, at home.

I had to go to the loo at 3am. I walked through the dark silent campsite in pyjamas, loving the brightness of the stars and the Milky Way: with light pollution, and clouds, I have rarely been aware of it before.

Questions for sharing in workshops:
-What is Peace?
-What are you sensing, right now?
-Can you get closer to the sensation?

At 11, as I am going to bed, I find a group playing. I join them, and play their keyboard.

Worship at Buddhafield

shrine at night

shrine at night 2Many people here are new-age hippy types, but many are Buddhist. Some of them have a visible case of Believer’s Pity- they know the stuff, you don’t, how crap that must be for you! Whatever, I wanted to worship with them, to see what I might gain from it.

If Ariabandhu, whose Sanskrit name means “Noble friend”, feels such pity I do not notice. He lives in a semi-monastic community and tells me something of his worship. After chanting, they share something of their feelings or experiences. For example, in Cambridge he had been irritated by all the fences and keep out signs along the river. He does not like being controlled- who does- and they shared about that.

The opening ceremony, full of singing and dancing, had Buddhist content. I spoke to one of the Rituals Team as we queued for dinner. How do you design rituals? Well, myth speaks to the subconscious, and they use elements of myth. She let me choose a card with a saying on it: Dave got “Walk a mile in my shoes”, which tickled him, as the cards are left in people’s shoes, outside the workshop spaces. I got “May all blessings be yours”, which I burned in the ritual fire at the closing ceremony. Spread the love, and make no idol of the physical object.

Lying in the meditation tent, I found, All that makes me one is a story. Let that story be compassion. I left the card behind, though I make sure to squirrel away the sentiment here. Going outside, I found a Rumi quote tied to my sandals: Love said to me, All is Me. I tied it to Lucy’s guy rope.

Someone said you can lose yourself in the singing, in a crowd. I am pleased to sing, but I am always present, watching myself.

At the opening, a woman with a loudspeaker and entourage processed through the camp, with instruments and singing, pausing to shout (we followers echoed) Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, and All sentient beings, We invite you to the opening ceremony. Join the parade! I did. We processed to the Ritual Space, where we danced and sang, and processed through gates to a central fire pit.

I wanted to worship, and on the Friday evening there was the Dakini Puja. A Dakini is a fire spirit, born out of the charnel grounds at the edge of towns- something of the phoenix in this story- which can “cut off your head” and leave you in your heart. We crowded into the meditation tent, where we learned two mantras. Then a woman chanted an account of the Dakini Vajra, and we repeated her words. As we chanted the mantra, we could go up to the altar, to make an offering, or just kneel.

I went up, and followed the way of kneeling and prostrating. By kneeling to the power, I gain its gifts. By offering obedience, I gain its instruction. I am never carried away, but I am buoyed up by this. Click to enlarge:



His Holiness the Dalai Lama

File:Dalailama1 20121014 4639.jpgStandard blog-post: prejudices and a bit of googling. But- I will record my prejudices, then see where the Googling takes me.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a Buddhist leader, symbol of unity for the oppressed Tibetan peoples and their diaspora, and source of wisdom which I mostly access through Facebook. Gems such as My dedication is to serve the 7 billion human beings on this planet and the other creatures with whom we share it. If you can, help and serve others, but if you can’t at least don’t harm them; then in the end you will feel no regret. posted on Tuesday 12th.

And then I see that while he is against discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation, he has said Buddhists should only have penile-vaginal sex.

What of, We must be willing to be revolted when science — or for that matter any human activity — crosses the line of human decency.  Here, the wider context seems unobjectionable. The basic goodness of human nature, which Catholicism does not recognise, is a good basis for allowing people to make their own decisions and not rushing to judgment.

Then I remember my Chinese friend. Religion performs two discrete functions. It gives a simple world view with comprehensible rules, so that those who obey the rules, and act normal, are all right. This is the “mostly friendly policeman in the sky” religion that Benedict caters. And, it gives freedom through mystic contemplation and knowledge of reality. This does not necessarily mean the ultra-liberal religion I follow, it can be much more orthodox than that. Most British Buddhists are converts, and have the latter purpose, but C told me that when she was growing up Buddhism performed the former role, even if it did not have just the one policeman.

So, there. I planned one blog post, contrasting silly, out of touch Benny with the cuddly, lovely Dalai Lama, and end with two more nuanced posts. Tenzin Gyatso the Ocean Guru has to lay down the law for some people.

Buddhist Christianity“God is three, and God is One.” What is that, but a Koan? Koans such as “the sound of one hand clapping” are impossible things, which one tries to understand then simply accepts. Accepting the impossible, realising it is even though it does not make sense, is an important part of spiritual maturity and wisdom. It is a pity that Christians, most damagingly Calvin, have tried to make sense of the Trinity and other doctrine, and it is our fault that Westerners have to turn to Eastern Wisdom where lived Christianity could have given some of the answers.

Religion helps one surrender the need for things to be other than they are, and I have been thinking of my progress in surrendering through the prism of the Christian concept of Faith and Works. James’ epistle mocks faith without works: “So you believe Jesus is the Christ? The devils in Hell believe that, and tremble.” Pelagius, the British heretic, believed one could earn Heaven.

I have a vague idea that Catholic and Reformed official views differ on this, but do not know how precisely. God gave God’s only son to be a sacrifice, to be Incarnated as a human being. We could not earn God’s mercy, so God gave it freely, asking for nothing, like the father of the Prodigal son.

I am terrified of what I imagine are other people’s demands on me, and I flee, and so I want my own salvation through my own Works: I will do Good, and will be OK. Not in the eyes of God, but those of Society. And it occurs to me that no-one has any demands of me. My landlord would like the rent paid, but apart from that I can think of none. I have just skived off CAB this week, and Les forgives me. He is not angry. The judgment on me, if any, is my own.

The demands on me, and the salvation I might gain through meeting them, are alike my own illusory creation.

So rather than saving myself through Works, I seek salvation through Faith. I believe and trust in the World, in Reality. Everything is OK. There is no demand I can meet, no Good I can be, that will make everything OK, that brings within my power and control the ability to Make it all right, and much of my effort towards that and certainly my worry (adding a cubit to my stature?) has been wasted, and yet so far, everything has been alright. I have not always been happy, or seen my way clear, but I have always been all right.

Christianity has the idea of God incarnate, God coming into being as a human, God’s complete empathy with any human suffering possible, God suffering with God’s suffering creation.

I have had faith in myself. Now, I will to have Faith.