How is the spiritual awakening process different for a trauma survivor? and, What unique wisdom can trauma survivors offer to quicken our collective spiritual awakening?
By trauma survivors, I mean folks who develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after life-threatening experiences.
This includes accidents, medical emergencies, chronic illness, domestic violence, hate violence, sexual assault, oppression (racism, ableism, classism, etc.), attachment disruptions, neglect or abuse (sexual, emotional, physical or spiritual) war, incarceration, torture, displacement, etc.
What do I mean by spiritual awakening? Spiritual awakening is a process that transforms our bodies, hearts and minds from a “me” perspective to “all beings” (including “me!”) or “all that is” perspective.
Awakening is usually gradual, although there may be dramatic milestones.
The most important thing about spiritual awakenings is their viral impact.
As we gradually embody more kindness, wisdom and courage, we become contagious and inspire kindness, wisdom and courage in others.
I have a two-fold purpose in exploring the relationship between trauma survivors and spiritual awakening:
1) I want spiritual guidance to be more accessible to trauma survivors;
2) I believe that the trauma survivor’s spiritual journey is relevant to us all.
Humans have developed countless spiritual technologies to suit the particular contexts and temperaments of diverse individuals and cultures.
We need to build on these traditions.
As a trauma survivor and a spiritually inclined person, I find traditional spiritual instructions usually need to be tweaked for us trauma survivors.
* For example, the common introductory meditation practice of “following the breath” is challenging for those of us who hold our breath to keep overwhelming feelings at bay;
Or those whose traumatic experiences involved our airways being cut off. For us, focusing on the breath is an advanced practice.
An alternate “way in” is needed.
* Another issue is meditation instructions that reinforce a trauma-induced tendency to space out or “leave” our bodies.
Accommodations may be needed, such as heavy doses of grounding practice, or gentle somatic practices that help us gradually tolerate and re-inhabit our body sensations.
* Finally, some of us cannot bear to sit still with our thoughts, sensations, and undigested trauma memories waiting to emerge.
Sitting meditation may be counterproductive during the early stages of trauma healing. Movement meditations may be more appropriate.
A relationship to Spirit (something larger than us) is everyone’s birthright. Trauma survivors deserve to have accessible doorways into spiritual practice.
I have learned much about “what works” for me and other trauma survivors, and am eager to share my discoveries.
Most importantly, the trauma survivor’s journey of awakening is everyone’s journey.
We have entered a time where just about everybody is–or soon will be—immersed in collective socio-political and ecological trauma.
The trauma survivor’s story is now, more than ever, the human story.
Our present context is and will be for the foreseeable future, traumatic. We need to quicken spiritually to muster all the kindness, wisdom and courage we can.
We need to wake up!
Now is the time to learn from trauma survivors, become trauma-savvy, and cultivate spiritual awakening.
It’s a good time to learn from the people and communities who have survived and thrived during and after individual and collective trauma.
We can study the biographies of trauma survivor-spiritual leaders. There are famous survivor/spiritual teachers, such as the Dalai Lama, Maya Angelou, Hildegard of Bingen, and Thich Nhat Hanh. We can study their lives.
We can learn from our trauma survivor ancestors. People who were able to access love, courage and determination in dire and hopeless situations such as fascism, apartheid or war can teach us about resistance and resilience.
We can learn from communities that have survived genocide, slavery, witchhunts, pogroms and other forms of systemic oppression.
We can look to the people who found the spiritual strength within ongoing trauma to turn things around.
The journey from trauma to spiritual awakening breathes in our cells and tissues. We are living maps.
One principle that this trauma survivor has discovered is, whatever helps heal trauma also builds your spiritual muscles.
Practices that soothe your fight-or-flight reptilian brain, such as bodywork, acupuncture, authentic movement, restorative yoga, tai chi, somatic healing, resting in space and silence, being in nature or with animals, and making music are all excellent preparation for spiritual awakening.
Follow the lead of trauma survivor-activists. Refugees of climate change and global capitalism, island peoples and people with disabilities or chronic illness are the canaries urging us to wake up.
Water Protectors. Dreamers. Black Bodhisattvas who insist their lives matter. These trauma veterans are our spiritual warriors and guides.
Instead of transforming our situations together, we often perish or barely survive.
How did our more resilient ancestors avoid that? Now is a good time to find out!
This time ‘round, many of us are awake to the pitfalls of our survival biology.
We have the precious opportunity to respond creatively and powerfully to the collective triggers, instead of being hijacked by our reptilian brains.
Each of us can learn how to witness ourselves with compassionate eyes when our animal bodies react to protect us from threats.
We can grow our awareness of how we get stuck in those reactions. We can practice shifting our resilient bodies from victimhood to grounded power.
Trauma has always been part of the human story; now it’s been brought into language, and into the light. We are more trauma-savvy than ever before.
We are discovering the neuroscience of trauma. We know, more than ever before, how to empower traumatized individuals and communities. The wisdom is available, so let’s get trauma-savvy!
Cultivate Spiritual Awakening
Spiritual practice and spiritual narratives re-wire our brains over time so that we can access an ever-expanding view of peripheral vision and choice.
The stakes are the highest–life on earth.
It’s time to activate our collective immune system. Time to unearth our joy and our purpose.
Trauma survivors who have worked deeply with their trauma(s) can teach us how to use trauma to wake up spiritually.
The essential wisdom of the trauma survivor is the certainty that we can visit the terrain of our personal hell and emerge with new tenderness, substance, and grit.
In the writings to come, I will share some personal stories of how I navigate spiritual awakening as a trauma survivor, and how trauma healing and spiritual awakening are reciprocal.
I invite you to share your stories with me, and each other.
I will also share tips and tools for integrating spiritual practice into your daily life, and for befriending your personal trauma story to deepen your awakening.