The Dance of Sensation & Story: PART II

The Dance of Sensation & Story: PART I
June 30, 2014
Melting Chronic Pain & Illness
August 5, 2014
Last month I wrote about how, five weeks after a bicycle accident, I began waking every day
to terrifying, overwhelming sensations. When I came up with an “I must be excavating and
healing childhood trauma” story to explain my sensations, I was reassured.

I told myself that the accident had re-awakened my familiar child sexual abuse dynamics; this story empowered me to stay with my experience. I now share Part II of how finding the right stories enabled me to collaborate with my post-accident sensations and find healing.

*Warning* if you are a trauma survivor, what follows may trigger you. I hope that it will inspire you.


In the days that follow, my trauma healing story anchors and motivates me to keep inquiring into my somatic experience. Each morning, fresh waves of sensation drag me under and spit me out.

One morning I scrabble for air, choke on screams. My heart staggers, collapses. I can’t do this. I can’t feel this, pass this, puke this. It’s too much. A child’s voice is in my throat, panting, howling, begging for mercy, whimpering with shame. My heart moves; I weep for her. I hold her hand in hell.

Another morning. Another excruciating journey from incoherent terror and skinless despair to vast warm tenderness. I do not want to be a survivor of early age torture and neglect. But I am.

And I am a loving goddess who holds that feral child-tornado in her arms. My enormous patience extends out infinitely to everyone, including me. May this grueling archeological dig benefit others.

Another day. Story and sensation join seamlessly into an experience of my 4 year old self. She shudders. I promise her I will not turn away. I sit with this petrified pillbug-child, feel her hummingbird gasps, bristling nerve endings, indigestible grief.

She wails her heartbreak and rage. “Your voice is powerful.” I say, “You are powerful. You did it, you survived! It’s safe to cry now. Go ahead and have a tantrum. It’s okay.”

I hold her. I don’t leave her alone. When she whispers, “Nothing matters.” I tell her, “Youmatter. To me.” I drop my morning plans and give her all my attention.

I draw a bath, let the warmth hold us. Make a cup of tea. I sit quietly, letting chair, tea and journal hold me as I hold her. I need all the help I can get.

Her bottomless terror is crushing me. I call up my lioness heart and tell my little one, “I’m right here! I will face the suffocation with you.” I hold her, in the morning light, in my arms. I let her flip out. I growl; I roar: “If we die, we die together!”

We do not die. Again we travel from clawing, gibbering horror to soft, warm ocean. Rest in tenderness.


In other moments, I tell myself a story about being depressed. One might as well call it depression. Although it is not so simple. It’s more like landing at the bottom of my personal sea, arriving at age 5.

My little one shows me when she resigned herself to terror, where she gave up hope. It’s cold on the ocean floor. I am empty, crying from a wordless place.

That was yesterday. Today the “depression” is milder, but present. The grit in me sculpts a new story: from now on, I refuse to ignore the grief and despair of my young self.

I choose to stay in steady communication with her, even if that means feeling “depressed” for the rest of my life. I will not abandon her. I welcome her into my daily life.

The next day I sink into “depression,” land softly at my beginning. My defenses melt like snowbanks, revealing stark charnel ground. Machig Lapdron dances nearby; I rest my head on the soil. My tears, slow-motion drops of fear and defeat, soak into this yard of bones.

My depression story morphs again. As the earth holds me, I wonder: what is depression, anyway? I never knew it was so rich (too busy running from it, I guess). Depression offers depth, slowness, space.

Is this depression even “mine?” Can it be separate from our collective mourning for this sweet planet? Even in depression, I am not alone.


As I recall meditation retreat experiences, I find another story. While on retreat, many things arise. Odd obsessions, intense sensations. Powerful memories, tumultuous emotions.

Some dissolve immediately. Some persist for hours or days. My teacher describes these phenomena, these “nyams,” as opportunities to purify our hidden contractions.

So I try to welcome whatever appears during meditation. Often, stories emerge from my body—never the stories that I would expect. Dismayed or amazed, I watch and dialogue with them.

Sooner or later each nyam mysteriously digests, each story melts. When they’re gone, I let them go.

After my last retreat in March I kept reminding myself: “The retreat continues; nyams continue to arise and dissolve.” This retreat story has allowed me to view getting “doored” and its aftermath as a series of nyams.

I can engage each nyam with all my heart and mind and soul and strength. And I can let each one dissolve. My intention is to love whatever shows up, for the sake of all beings.


I just shared some stories that helped me navigate my challenging post-accident sensations. I marvel that my mind and body can come up with such ingenious stories!

These stories have been stepping stones across the abyss.

Any stepping stone can be a rest spot, but no stone (no story, no nyam) is the destination. Like nyams, we leave stories in our wake.

When I leave a story behind, is it still true? Was it ever true? Was I re-living childhood trauma? Am I depressed? Will the next stepping stone be true?

How can I know? How can anyone?

But here’s another story: I do not face my scariest demons just for me. My commitment is to wake up to benefit all beings, so this journey from stone to stone is not mine alone.

And so I tell my five year old self a story she has not heard before: “We do not walk alone. We walk this path held, guided and befriended by all beings.”


My dark night lasted five weeks. Thirty-eight days of despair and inertia. I once read this Ch’an Buddhist adage, “Little doubt, little enlightenment; great doubt, great enlightenment.”

The morning it began to turn, I was sitting in meditation with my sangha and teacher. I wondered, was I allowed to love what I already was? Could I love my misery and utter stuckness, even if they never changed?

What if I decided to enjoy my self, like some interesting, twisted bonsai tree? Could I just decide to be happy? Yes. Wow.

The next day, I was lying on my bodyworker’s table. As she held my head and jaw, quietly, patiently, my body remembered and showed me my head, immobilized in the ambulance that April night. My head was straining to escape.

Now I let my head struggle and fight. I felt my cheek snarl and my jaw growl. My solar plexus was roaring. My body amazed that it could fight. I got my fight back.

How did I get my fight back? Living through those five weeks. Feeling it all, facing it all. That morning beside my teacher, accepting all of it, all of me.

Since then, a little more joy each day, a little more motivation.

I am learning to fight for my life–in a new way. I am discovering effort without anger, drive without fear. Fight full of lifeforce, empty of blame.

There are still obstacles, many of them. It’s Life, after all!

But me, I am unstoppable.

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