11 October 2012
Writing About Trauma Part II
I once heard documentary filmmaker Ken Burns say, “History is not safe.” What he meant by that I think is that just because some incident or event happened a long time ago, that doesn’t mean the repercussions of the event aren’t still affecting people today. The event could have even happened hundreds of years ago, but it still carries a certain resonance into the present day. When we experience trauma, as individuals or collectively, even though time passes, the vibrations of the event get locked within our physical form including our nervous system and to heal we need to move the energy out of the stuck place and transform it. If we don’t, we experience all kinds of problems, physical and psychological, especially addictions of every variety, that don’t necessarily get better with time. Writing is one way of moving the stuck emotional energy.
Many artists have always had a strong desire, even a compulsion, to explore the darkest, most difficult aspects of being human so that they may help others in their struggles and, yes, even to reveal historical, spiritual, or energetic truths which cannot be learned any other way—and besides, the hero’s journey usually makes for a popular story, but deep down, I think all art (and even all creativity) is about healing, yet the process of exploring trauma also requires a great deal of faith that this healing is actually going to occur otherwise we’re liable to panic at any re-visitation of the trauma, feeling trapped all over again. We really want to believe that what we undergo has a purpose or a greater meaning—and we even construct stories to back-fit what we’ve gone through to match the needed meaning, but there is a great difference between a nicely constructed story and a moment of actual insight and peace.
Ultimately, I can’t solve the timeless mystery centered on the question of whether there really is a reason for all our suffering. But I’m even asking a deeper question. Do our souls truly exist or are we (by “we” I mean this consciousness and relation that we all seem to recognize even if we can’t name it) simply trapped in a materialistic and meaningless hell from which there is no escape until death and that death in this materialistic sense only means the witness disappears forever into the void of nothingness?
I feel like I’ve had enough signs if you will that there is a far greater reality—and I’ve been told this by every great spiritual teacher and resource I’ve ever known. I also know that I can personally create more serenity and peace in this life now by believing rather than not believing, but we all like to see results: Evidence of healing within our lives, and even better, evidence of resonance and connection with others as we undertake this journey to explore trauma. Are we making the world a better place or just temporarily fixing our internal breakdowns?
I want for my students what I want for myself. To find that portal into the voice of the soul as Ken Wilbur describes in the following passage. The inner witness (again, what I would call that recognizable essence or energy of consciousness or awareness) must be freed, even if it has become prisoner of our bodies, locked away by the shock of extreme trauma:
“. . .the true self is also called the witness: It witnesses all that is occurring but cannot itself be turned into an object—as a true subject it cannot be objectified. It is also called the mirror mind—it effortlessly and spontaneously reflects all that arises but does not grasp or keep. The true self is in some sense a deep mystery something that can never be seen, and yet it sees the entire universe in front of it.” [Ken Wilbur from the Foreword of Entering the Castle by Carolyn Myss]
I think uncovering the perceptions of the witness can be a frightening experience because we might have to revisit the trauma but also because it is so intimidating to the ego. After all, it takes a significant investment in our ego to hold onto the pain, to lock away the witness—at least as much effort as it would take to release it. We hold onto it because we often need to limit ourselves and especially our consciousness because we’re just not ready for all the power we would free up—you know, fear of knowing means fear of doing. And as I’ve implied, the fear and anxiety springs from our ego as it strives to maintain the status quo, the safe space of identity and certainty, rather than the unpredictable and often chaotic release into the great void of possibilities, limitless though they may be.
The trend many of us are following in this current time period in human history is to do just the opposite. Most of the mind altering drugs we use now limit the flow of stimuli into the brain, quite the opposite of the 1960s when people sought to open up and allow more stimuli—now we want the opposite—to shut down and withdraw from the witness. Most if not all of the psychiatric medication has this goal in mind because to be fair we want relief from the uncomfortable or debilitating symptoms we’re undergoing—the end result we seek to avoid is complete disability. Yet, collectively, we seem to have more depression, anxiety, and suicide than ever before. Something is not working.
Consider what Neuroscientist Marc Lewis writes in a recent article called “My Kool Aid Acid Test.” He compares the drugs people took in the 1960s to today:
Serotonin’s job is to reduce the firing rate of neurons that get too excited because of the volume or intensity of incoming information. Serotonin filters out unwanted noise, and normal brains rely on that. So, by blocking serotonin, LSD allows information to flow through the brain unchecked. It opens up the floodgates—what author Aldous Huxley called the “Doors of Perception” . . . .It’s interesting to note that serotonin is once again the target of a culturewide chemical invasion—except that the serotonin drugs we favor today shift human experience in the opposite direction from LSD. SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) like paroxetine (Paxil) and fluoxetine (Prozac) are the most prescribed pills in the U.S., used to treat depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, and undefined feelings of ickiness. Instead of getting rid of serotonin, these drugs block the reabsorption process so that serotonin keeps piling up in the synapses. The result: an extra-thick blanket of serotonin that filters out the intrusions of anguish and anxiety, making our inner worlds more secure. Instead of turning on, tuning in, and dropping out, they help us turn off, tune out, and drop in—into a solipsistic safety zone, protected from too much reality.”
[To read the entire article click here:
Lewis’ assertion is really interesting to me because he suggests as a society we’re moving farther away from experiencing the testimony of the witness if you will and closer to an expression of a carefully constructed reality that buffers us from anything unpleasant, while at the same time destroying our capacity for spiritual and artistic growth. This movement is in complete contrast to what happened during the 1960s where people took drugs and found others ways to open up more to each other and what was happening in the world outside them. Have we further locked away the witness at our own and our society’s peril? I’m not advocating doing any drugs by the way. There is a way to unlock this witness if we’re patient enough and really want to experience the freedom and chaos that might well ensue. Again, I get that to free the witness is now a desire in complete opposition to current cultural trends. Going back to the earlier quoted text, Wilber provides a superb description of the complex process of freeing the witness. To reflect all without grasping or keeping requires that the ego be left behind, simply and purely speaking from a very sacred place, one mysterious and certainly unique, yet at the same time connected to the entire universe. That's the real artistry—to speak from one's own personal experiences, yet mirror the truth of all existence—Individual and universal at the same time.
Let’s say we’re not using any drugs though—then how do we hear the voice of the witness?
Acquiring the keys to unlock the doors to the mansions of your soul still requires some mind alteration. Layers of ego and experiences cloud perceptions. Consider this example as Peter Kingsley [in his book Reality] describes an ancient Greek and later Roman practice he calls incubation:
“It involved isolating yourself in a dark place, lying down incomplete stillness, staying motionless for hours or days. First the body would go silent, then eventually the mind. And this stillness is what gave access to another world, a world of utter paradox; to a totally different state of awareness. Sometimes the state was described as a kind of a dream. Sometimes it was referred to as like a dream but not a dream, as really a third type of consciousness quite different from either waking or sleeping.”
How can we get to the above described state in our modern world that is so jammed with input every minute of the day? Dreams are one way. I’ve suggested my students explore their dreams with all due enthusiasm and vigor, even having a certain time period devoted to group sharing of dreams at the beginning of each writing class I teach. At least we are publicly and openly giving our dreams and the process of dreaming credibility and respect. I’ve used Robert Moss’ techniques called “Lightning Dreamwork” as a model, and I would suggest anyone interested explore his work. But the process is simple. You write down your dreams and share them. You find more ways to bring the dream consciousness into waking consciousness until the waking world begins to take on aspects of the dream world and vice-versa. This plasticity is necessary for anyone challenging the limitations of reality—dreamers have always been the ones to bring about hope for transformation. You can employ dreams in your creative and healing initiatives as well.
Lastly, an attitude rooted in freedom without the slightest concern for other's criticism, again not based in ego but in faith in the process (and trust in a higher power or spiritual protectors), is required. Consider the following: “Since God is free to establish an ineffable communion with the questing soul, the soul must be free to set down its experiences as they occur to it.”
[from Interior Castle St. Teresa of Avila by E. Allison Peers].