Blue Beryl Blog
Mindfulness and TraumaTrauma is ubiquitous in contemporary experience.We might not equate certain experiences as having been traumatic. Rather, we’re referring to the response of the bodymind, in general, to experiences that fail to be integrated and simply impact the way we implicitly move about, perceive and regulate intense emotions and stress.In many cases, we just go on our way - that is adaptive intelligence, but I'd argue self-care should be ritualized, such that we consciously mitigate the impact of every day stress, as a measure of preventative care.The impact of trauma is that it creates dysregulation of the nervous system. Mark Epstein, psychoanalyst and Buddhist contemplative, in a series of recent works (The Trauma of Everyday Life and Advice not Given), takes a look at the encounter of therapy and meditation, while narrating his growing intimacy with knowledge of trauma and its impact. In the latter, Epstein conveys a path of healing based on the therapeutic and transformative framework of Buddhism, within a psychoanalytic frame.In his encouraging new work, therapist David Treleaven (Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness 2018) explores ways that mindfulness can be adapted for trauma-sensitivity.The evident truth this book advocates for are the needs for traumatic experience, and the understanding of individuals in a variety of social contexts, to be acknowledged when engaging mindfulness practice. Both therapy and mindfulness purport to uncover difficult and often unconscious material, for many, even short-term meditation may stir up or awaken us to parts of our experience that are less than comfortable.The same may occur to us when we receive difficult news, are confronted with old feelings of abandonment, insecurity or blanketed pain – we might move into fight, flight, freeze or immobilization. Each of these presents a considerable sense of loss of control, what to speak of disengagement from the things we need to take care of, in the day to day.Having undergone a number of intensive, and even long-term retreats, I have limited knowledge of some perils that beginning and advanced meditators encounter. While most retreats have provided great insight, opening and much needed respite – meaning they promote personal growth, healing and transformation – I learned from them that they offer precisely what they claim.They are methods and technologies aimed at deconstructing limiting thoughts, habitual behavioral patterns, and releasing imprints of the past, that condition our way of experiencing in the present.Treleaven’s book offers some grounded appeals and guidelines for those who teach mindfulness to larger populations. I would agree that meditation instructors can benefit from therapeutic and neuroscientific insights, and that even traditional teachers can learn from these contexts. These insights can be instrumental to how we adapt meditation for our own healing, outside of retreat, when we apply meditation to difficult experience.I’d also add that we as practitioners also need to learn more about these potentially unsettling experiences, and that traditional teachers and experienced retreat leaders (those with extensive long-term solitary experience) may have received unique training to counter these processes and struggles.Mindfulness, coopted for secular contexts, requires such contextualization, stripped from what Epstein highlights as Right View – which includes the type of perspectives that are beneficial at the time of traumatic upheaval in the contemplative encounter. The same goes for medicine and healing – including so-called healing crises or how we deal with anxiety, depression and trauma in acupuncture or herbal medicine. There is a view of therapeutic process. To just give pills, without insight and dialogue is more akin to contemporary psychiatric practice.Asian medicine always returns to the body, self-regulation and experience as it is to be engaged in therapeutic process.Last month, the Veteran’s Health Administration published a document, expanding upon the welcome inclusion of more extensive and advanced acupuncture treatment for veterans and how acupuncture, and other wellness and integrative care strategies, can be covered for populations that would benefit from it.Mindfulness is also part of the expanding “tool kit.”We share the same concerns for best practice, as everybody has experienced trauma, in different degrees. Others may have experienced emotional loss, early childhood shame from bullying, systemic racial oppression – but the imprints are similar. The mechanism of trauma is not only related to memory, but also regulation and integration.These types of experiences can also come up in acupuncture, or yoga, and yet they present a new terrain of conscientiousness and learning, as we co-create novel approaches to care and healing.What trauma research has shown is not so much the experience or circumstance, but how we responded and reacted to traumatic influences in the present – how we integrate through narrative and agency. The young and courageous survivors of the latest Florida school shooting tragedy reflect an act of resiliency we often do not see, but which is somewhat essential to more rapid and thorough recovery – the ability to speak, act and mobilize – in a manner in which the indelible wounds and emotional scars may be a source of strength, learning or appeased pain.A traumatic imprint may be known or unknown, but rather than a rude awakening, mindfulness, yoga and acupuncture can be integrated into our therapeutic strategies, provided we engage practice skillfully.
A Reappraisal of Desire: Sexuality, Longing and Connection
“Your Body is the Source of all Goodness.” – Chokyi Gyaltsen
Former Buddhist nun, Damcho Dyson, experienced a dramatic turnaround after her sexual desire was reawakened following a massage, and reclaiming the power and beauty of her sexuality has made headlines through her donning of latex.
I don’t suppose much of a contradiction – believe it or not (having been a monastic) – because the experience of joy in contemplative life is abundant. Sometimes we have a wakeup call to different areas of our life. We recognize how desire, aesthetic appreciation and eudomia (internally-generated joy), aren’t essentially aligned with hedonistic values, and can drive us is meaningful directions, expose us to our power and deliver us to our hearts.
After a lot of yoga, you realize that the body itself is a bliss factory.
Hence, latex and meditation, and late nite parties. The connection is “obvious.”
One might be surprised to find that in early mindfulness practice, attitudes toward the body and sexual attraction involved contemplating corpses and the body as illness ridden, as a counter to attraction – the belief being that lust and attachment arise in the mind, and that to achieve total happiness one must overcome them through an understanding of desire’s influence upon compulsive behavior. I was reading a translation on the train today – giggling. The phrase was contemplating the “loathsome” flesh.
So how do we negotiate happiness and our relationship to desire? Disowning desire will cause a backlash. Luckily, there are other – more body-positive orientations.
In traditional medicine, there’s a focus on sexual enhancement, fertility optimization and longevity. Cultural variations in how sexuality and the complexities of love and intimate relationship are viewed, are reflected in not only how we view the body, but also how we orient toward desire.
Desire is called “kama” in Sanskrit. It’s said to make the world go ‘round, but must occasionally be extracted like a thorn, because our taste for the pleasurable grows exponentially, like a fire (kama-agni).
Mindfulness of desire builds restraint. Our drives for bodily joy are bartrered by systems of reward and immediate gratification. Yet, our feelings of desire can be nebulous.
Beyond Mindfulness, restraint figures in how we transform and express desire, as well as incorporate new levels of satisfaction, joy and vitality that go hand in hand with rejuvenation methods. When we begin to conserve our energy and essence, we have also to renegotiate unconscious ties with feelings of desire and satisfaction, as vitality increases in the body.
In the way of essences, the body of desire awakens. As with the vital energy – we have also to learn what to do with these newfound feelings. They too have to be integrated. Ojas and jing, the refined essences that support immunity and reproduction can be cultivated, but also misused or become stagnant.
Reawakening to desire can reconnect us to voices – initiate a dialogue with sensations, impulses and feelings that remained dormant and stagnant as they are reformulated by our changing awareness of the body. That’s why I’m not so interested in promoting commodities of knowledge to fill a consumerist void. What does it feel like when the well is filled, and what do we do with that newfound energy?
With the hallmark holiday right around the corner, preparation to awaken the body of desire can ensue.
Prior to launching into the role of aphrodisiacs and other such love potions, its important to consider the current state of ‘desire’– expressed, repressed, sublimated or transformed – and how it’s related to our sense of happiness, creativity, vitality and emotional regulation.
That’s called “rasayana,” the “path of juicing,” and vyajikarana. We’ll talk more on how nourishing the vital body, the reproductive body and the fluids and essences can promote greater degrees of “eudomonia” – the buzzword in contemplative science. It refers to inner happiness and flourishing, with our particular spin on embodiment and self-healing.