What is spiritual about trauma?

So, I am just back from a meeting in Brighton UK where a group of us get together twice a month to discuss all things spiritual. We read books, share stories and experiences and philosophise about love, life and the human condition. Just before lockdown we had started reading “Grounded spirituality” by one Jeff Brown. I had tried to up the ante a bit by suggesting this as I feel after 4 – 5 years the group needs a bit more ooomph and it was getting a little tired and stale. We had started out as a Gurdjieff study group but the self study seemed to have wained a bit. Adyashanti’s “The end of your world” had pepped things up a bit briefly but I felt things had ground to a halt a bit and then lockdown came and we were each left to our own devices anyway.

Mr Brown, it seems, has (just as I hoped) set the cat among the pigeons. Two of our male members seemed to take an instant dislike to the book, the first time any such thing has happened. We have been through quite a wide range of literature but this one really caused a stir. The main bone of contention seemed to be the chapter on Eckhart Tolle. Here is an excerpt:

“Despite my points of disagreement, I understood why Eckhart Tolle’s message was being received so positively by the mainstream. It was perhaps the first time we as a society had been invited out of our limiting self-identifications to taste a vaster perspective of our inner and outer lives. Yet, other than the helpful tool of temporarily witnessing our patterns and issues, I had to wonder if this approach was actually taking us anywhere good? Was this the power of now, or the power of then? The New Earth or the New Mars? Were these teachings those of an enlightened master, or merely a master of self-avoidance?

I went back in and read the Introduction to ‘Power Of Now’ with a more seasoned lens—eyes that had just been through a rich, explorative experiment. I now saw the intro much differently. Tolle’s flash of sudden and instantaneous enlightenment that left him homeless on a park bench, surrendered in bliss, now registered very differently in me: “I understood that the intense pressure of suffering that night must have forced my consciousness to withdraw from its identification with the unhappy and deeply fearful self, which is ultimately a fiction of the mind. This withdrawal must have been so complete that this false, suffering self immediately collapsed, just as if a plug had been pulled out of an inflatable toy. What was left then was my true nature as the ever-present I am: consciousness in its pure state prior to identification with form.”

If there was one thing I knew for certain from my own healing journey, it was that you don’t dissolve your emotional material that quickly. You may find a temporary technique to buffer you from your pain, thus preserving your life, but it is not possible to work through that level of suffering in the blink of a (third) eye. There may be a momentary peek into a vaster perspective. But that is only the beginning of the work that lies ahead: in fully embodying, integrating, and re-assimilating those emotions and wounds. A suicidal man does not fully heal and transform his consciousness in the course of one night. The pain still exists in your emotional body, your memories, your somatic structure, your cells. Material doesn’t just dissolve like 1-2-3 hocus pocus!

It took a long time for the pain to form roots in your consciousness, and those roots won’t be eradicated in one evening. Not a chance. Tolle purported being ‘peace,’ but it was not the kind of integrated, enlivened peace that comes at the end of a long, transformative healing journey into the heart of the embodied self. This was either pure dissociation, as many therapists would identify, or an initial stage of awakening—the preliminary stage when we first realize that there is a vaster framework of perception that exists beyond the ever-familiar mind and its habitual way of thinking. But it was not enlightenment. This was not the more difficult, and ultimately satisfying path, of weaving the transcendent with the immanent, the sky with the earth, the truth of oneness with the truth of individual story. This was just one man’s attempt to abate his suffering.

And yet, I understood the temptation. We live in a traumatized world. We are an overwhelmed and often over-stimulated humanity. For many of us, it’s difficult to be here. In order to survive, detachment practices are truly essential. At least until the danger passes. But no longer than that, or we run the risk of making things far worse for ourselves.

There’s a big difference between momentary peace and sustainable transformation. At some point we have to return home. Not our cosmic home, but our embodied home: our selfhood. The cosmic home comes later, when we die. Let’s not go there before our time.”

Jeff Brown 2019

I added to this with my rather frustrated opinions that people like Tolle are rich and famous because they purposely provide a view of spiritual enlightenment that is unrealistic, fluffy and attractive to the layman. Indeed I would suggest that they are charlatans preying on that basic need we all have to find something bigger and truer in our exsistence. I would go so far as to say these are self help gurus not spiritual masters. They have had an initial taste of awakening (which the ego has seized upon) and using one or two aspects of ancient teachings they set themselves up as something they simply, are not. A guliable seeker is easy game and doesn’t know any better. Tolle himself is relatively harmless as it goes, although to hear him described as the greatest spiritual teacher on the planet by Fearne Cotton on BBC radio recently tells its own story. Other contemporary “teachers” are not quite so tepid and provide a wider threat to your sanity and wellbeing, not just your wallet.

What has this got to do with trauma? I’ll get to that in a minute.

True realised guru’s are free! That is the number one thing to look out for when attempting to discern whether one is genuine or not. If you sniff the slightest whiff of attatchment to money, fame, poularity or the dreaded one – sex then this is where you should be upping sticks and running for the hills. I have met true sages in the mountains of India. They lived in caves, alone and would be brought rice and other neccesities by local from the nearest village. These men (mostly men – but that’s another blog) who can change the weather and explore the universe in a state of samadhi want for and ask for nothing. If you have ever read the “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Yoga Ananda you will get a true idea of how an enlightened being or guru lives. They most certainly don’t require large dollops of cash and fawning adulation.

The society we live in accepts quick fix solutions for its problems, the cheaper and less complicated the better. From media to music to film and literature. Mass is crass. The cream most certainly does not rise to the top. So, why should spiritual seeking be any different? It is those with the best marketing, who achieve the most hits on Youtube that are thought of as the best, simply because they are more visible.

There is an unending list of the aspects of awakening and the knowledge needed to truely call yourself a spiritual teacher. There is also the small fact that true guru’s are in fact chosen by their own guru when the time is right to spread the word. They are not self appointed or chosen because a few of their mates think of them as being a bit wiser than they are. Some even invent a lineage that does not exist – see Mooji and Ramana Maharishi. I reference Yogananda’s extreme reluctance to sail to the U.S when his guru Babaji told him that that was his path as a truest example of the birth of a guru..

So, what is Jeff Brown talking about? Why do I include “trauma therapies” on a website predominantly about yoga?

This is the crux! We are all traumatized. There! I said it. Each one of us has received our fair share of traumatic events in life. Childhood in particular is a trove of shocks and disappointments. Extreme trauma like a car crash or memories of war are easier to pinpoint than what most of us wouldn’t consider necessarily traumatic at all. The angry parent, the broken heart of puppy love, the death of a pet. Larkin wrote :”They fuck you up your Mum and Dad, they may not mean to but they do…….” and never was a truer word written.

“So, big deal you say, we all have our shit to deal with!” “Very true!” say I, apart from the fact that we don’t deal with it. “But I’ve had years in therapy!” you say, “I know why I act the way I do. My therapist told me.” Here we get to the point of this blog and what Mr Brown is getting at. We do not deal with trauma and we cannot deal with trauma, (which can manifest in all sorts of peculiar ways) by talking and thinking. Trauma resides in the body, in the nervous system, in the heart and in the gut. Our stiff neck, our bad back our need to drink alchohol or zone out infront of a screen are all symptoms of unresolved anxiety caused by untreated trauma. Trauma, anxiety, anger or stress are all effects of surplus energy in the body which needs to be released. Crying is a good example of this but how often do we freely do that? How many times have you heard someone apologise for crying? We no longer know how to release this amalgam of tension that has been building up since the day we were born and possibly even from before that. In fact we are actively encouraged not to – Grow a pair, suck it up, Pull yourself together, stiff upper lip and the bulldog spirit!

Tension lives in the body not the mind: butterflies in the stomach, heart skips a beat, I nearly shat myself, shaking legs when in danger. These are just a small example of times when it is the body responding to negative stimuli not the mind. The mind plays catch up in response to the body sending it signals and then takes ownership of that response whilst finding a reason outside of itself for those uncomfortable feelings. This is how phobias begin. I will be writing much more on this subject but to bring this blog to some sort of conclusion, I shall attempt to round it off with reference to what Jeff is talking about.

Most spiritual practices are based on purification. Yes? Eating a satvic diet ( veganism is seen as spiritual because of this), cleansing and opening the nadis in yoga asana and pranayama. Understanding the gunas. Working with Kundalini. On a physical level most of us have some sort of basic understanding of this at least. But trauma is also a blockage in the body and we need to be prepared and open and heal before we attempt to deal with advanced spiritual practices and concepts. This is a huge part of yoga but most people seem to think yoga is asana and is about keeping fit in an aerobics kind of a way. Do we understand cleansing our bodies from trauma – the invisible blockage? We have a propensity to use whatever is around us to actually bypass these unpleasant feelings. They are not thoughts they are feelings. We don’t say “You hurt my thoughts” do we? We use screentime, drugs, booze, adrenaline junkie pastimes, sex, gambling and whatever else is at hand to soften the blow and take us out of our bodies and help us disconnect from facing them. In essence we bypass them. Permanently seeking pleasure and comfort and avoiding discomfort. A capatalist society is only too keen to help us in this pursuit whilst feeding the inner critic and self loathing eating away at the core of our society.

So what has this to do with spirituality and uneducated teachers? Well, once we discover that there may be a spiritual cure for our woes then we seize upon it to make us feel good. WE SPIRITUALLY BYPASS! This in essence is what JB is getting at. Therefore teachers like Tolle and Mooji et al are actually enabling and encouraging us to spiritually bypass whilst making a fortune in the process. I would thus surmise that they are not that much different than a drug dealer because they are offering you something to temporarily ease the pain. It’s no wonder students get addidcted to being in the gurus pressence or watching their Youtube channel as they constantly need a fix of feel good shakti.

More and more of us are waking up to this and actually seeking guidance with trauma and it’s results. Taking a breather from cerebral philosophies and concepts. Breaking with the intense kundalini practices. coming back into the body, grounding back into life and then, and only then resuming our spiritual aspirations from a far more centred, grateful and cleansed place. It takes bravery, total honesty and self awareness to admit this to oneself and the work becomes hard and painstaking. So, ask yourself next time you click or turn the page, am I doing this solely because it makes me feel good or because I want to delve deep inside and discover who i truly am – warts, samskaras and all. We need to see and accept something before we can change it. This is where body based trauma therapies like TRE and bioenergetics come in.

One thought on “What is spiritual about trauma?

  1. Very good article. Thanks. And I totally agree. I admit I tried Ekhart Tolle a couple of times and could never get further than a few pages, sensing him as highly phoney. The only thing that made me doubt was that Richard Rohr, an American Franciscan priest who I do like and listened to and read a lot at one time, DOES speak well of him… I could never make that out.
    It seems you are in Normandy. I am too : I am shamanic practitioner recently set up in a Bell-tent between Caen and Bayeux. Perhaps it would be nice to meet.
    I have recently started a Youtube channel (in French), I would be interested if you slogged through a couple of my videos and gave me your opinion ! It’s called “Chamanisme en Normandie”. (I formally had another channel which was more political, sometimes spiritual, sometimes clown : “Eric dans sa bagnole”).
    In friendship and in peace, Eric.

    Like

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