Tag Archive | trauma

Wanted: A Cocoon

I’ve been trying to think hard about what I want. This is because I have no idea how much longer Barry will go on (two days or two years, it is impossible for me to know). What I do know is that I am  preparing for the next phase of my life. This isn’t just about right now.

I have to find a place to live. After realizing that WV would be too mountainous and isolated from all my resources, I was faced with a “specialty” toilet that cost $500 to replace and half a week to order and install. Drama, drama, drama. Ugh.

What I really need is a cocoon: someplace quiet, with as few distractions as possible, so I can do some internal transformation and start making the hundred changes that will need to be made for the next phase of my life. I am talking about that mystical combination of stillness and change. It’s hard to do the emotional work while lost in the mountains almost getting run over by coal trucks.

What the trip east did for me was to give me some highly precious solitude. I could organize my time and deal with emotional stuff at my pace, not trying to maintain someone else’s schedule. Being alone felt wonderful. I am hoping to achieve more solitude by not having to take care of a house. I can hope.

Trying to Get Beneath Things

During a meditation, I realized what I have always been trying to do: get to the causal level of everything. It explains everything: my obsession with simplicity, my interest in Taoism, endless therapy, my fascination with organizational dynamics (talk about a weird interest!), you name it.

The obvious problem is that most causes are also effects. Then endless cycle of karma is the epitome of what I am talking about. My understanding of the universe is that everything is interconnected and sometimes in ways we cannot see and may never fully understand. Anything that helps us connect more dots is often a good thing.

My epiphany had the ring of truth because my gut reaction was, “Ohhhhh. That’s it. Crap. How do I integrate this into my knowledge base?” Every time I have been excited at an idea, it has been because the execution of the idea held the promise of getting various needs (usually subconscious) met, whether romantically, religiously, socially, or vocationally. Of course the needs were never met because I was completely unaware of them until their never getting met became a foregone conclusion.

It reminds me of a book about the AIDS epidemic, The Band Played On, by Randy Shilts. Scientists were struggling to figure out what was causing all these bizarre maladies (horrific infections, cancers, etc.). An epidemiologist asked a patient what he remembered about the summer when he and all his friends (now suffering from similar problems) were all together. The patient mentioned “all the pretty boats in the harbor.” The epidemiologist instantly knew what the guy was talking about: the bi-centennial, 1976. The epidemiologist suddenly felt an instant foreboding. This was 1980. Whatever the hell was causing all these symptoms had a long latency period and people had been spreading it for years. Seemingly unrelated dots were simultaneously connected with haunting implications. Sometimes you almost wish denial was an option.

I want to deal with situations before they become problems, if that is possible. I want to deal with problems while they are still small, as the Tao Te Ching advises. Solutions always involve getting into the silence and refusing to unnecessarily complicate one’s life.

Easier said than done. Last year showed me that we are often given more than we can handle, belying Veggie Tales theology. Being forced to deal with things that are more than we can handle is called “trauma.” Sometimes you cannot deal with the underlying issue because you are too busy coping and just putting one foot in front of the other, and feeling good about being able to accomplish that much. Been there, done that.

So I ask myself what a life lived in the causal plane would look like. This is why I want to be in the back office somewhere, noticing everything and letting those in charge know the trends I see. I am not looking to be “the face of” anything. I am looking to make a difference on a deeper level than many people even know exists. Can I do this? Maybe someday, when my life is actually about me. But not for the foreseeable future. Right now, I am too busy functioning for two and dealing with the alert light in my car saying that the tire pressure is low, despite having two new tires and all the pressures being perfect. One thing at a time…..

Enjoying Non-Drama

“Express yourself completely,
then keep quiet.
Be like the forces of nature:
when it blows, there is only wind;
when it rains, there is only rain;
when the clouds pass, the sun shines through….

In the practice of the Tao,
every day something is dropped.” Tao Te Ching, Chapters 43 & 48, Stephen Mitchell translation

This is where I am.

I decided years ago that I am going to be honest about my feelings, regardless of how extreme they may be. I want to work through things, not live in denial, like I see so many people doing.

The sun is passing through now. I’ve gone a few days without any new drama and it feels wonderful. Barry does not have a UTI. I am getting things done. Boredom looks like a luxury I took for granted.

One advantage of the chaos I have lived through lately is that I have had no time or energy for relationships and people that do not serve my highest good. Now that things have calmed down, for this minute at least, I am questioning whether I want to restart things with people. I have the energy, but not necessarily the willingness, to continue things. I have no stomach for games, other people’s expectations, etc.  I’m done. Why would I ever want to go back? My vision is getting clarified. I am dropping so much and I finally feel honest. People may or may not like the real me, but that no longer concerns me. Knowing where not to turn in a crisis is a handy piece of knowledge in itself.

Timing and Trauma

Timing and Trauma

Lately, I’ve come to realize that I can handle almost anything—just not everything simultaneously. A big tree branch fell in the backyard. Also, Barry told me he had blood in his urine earlier this week. I told him I would take him to one of those urgent care clinics if he wanted (after his doctor office had no openings) and he said no. I can’t make him go to a doctor And today he said it had gone away. He told me right before we went to bed. As if that’s what I need to think about as I try to drift off.

So I’m working at getting the tree debris removed and trying to take care of myself and run errands. In other words, I’m trying to act like a normal human being. Good luck with that, Cindy.

It made me think about the Supreme Court gay-marriage ruling about a week ago. Such a huge, monumental ruling. Or was it? By this past Wednesday, not even a week out, it no longer made the evening news. I was a little amazed. It was already old news. I almost feel sorry for Republicans because it may be impossible to maintain a high level of moral outrage for sixteen months until the general election. People will have processed the implications by then.

That’s what we all need: time to process the events of our lives. Otherwise, we are all just stuck in trauma, frozen in place. People tell me, “God never gives us more than we can handle.” What a crock! I call such platitudes “Hummel Figurine/Veggie Tales theology.”  People are given more than they can handle routinely. It is practically the definition of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Some people recover from PTSD; many, however, never do.

However, in our information-saturated society, ethical issues abound. Imagine managing for a company and knowing that huge changes are coming. Do you tell your subordinates everything, like ripping off a bandage and possibly traumatizing them? Or do you give them information a little at a time, giving them time to absorb it but also risking someone else telling them and possibly facing accusations of a cover-up? These choices must be made every day. We all play God with each other’s lives.

I try to look at all of this through the lens of compassion, for myself and others. I know what I can handle at a given time. I will process things one at a time because I have no choice. I am subject to the laws of physics and can only be in one place at a time, handling one issue/crisis at a time. I try to apply the same concept to others. What can they handle right now? However, being in a chronic state of crisis has dimmed my vision for others. I am barely functioning myself. I wish I were capable of more.

Fragility

“But we are fragile beings, so maybe we need to split until our meditation becomes more steady and supportive. That’s okay. In meditation, just notice how you’ve split. Notice how the gap feels in your body. Allow the split itself become the focus of your meditation. It doesn’t matter what kind of pain it is; open into it with your kind attention and it will take you where you need to go.” Nothing Holy About It, Tim Burkett, page 101

It is so easy to forget how fragile we are.

Last week, I was driving to the DMV office to transfer my plate to my vehicle that my parents just sold me. And some lights came on regarding the ABS brakes and tracking features. I instantly went numb. Another crisis? I went to my parents’ house and broke down emotionally. It turns out, so far, that it was just a light coming on and it hasn’t come on since.

People keep asking me what I want and need. The answer? To go a month or more without some new, bizarre trauma sucking up my time and attention.

In lieu of that, the best I can settle for is the friendly, open space of a friend that lets me vent however and whenever necessary. Meditation can provide some space, but may only end up allowing the full trauma to surface without the necessary supports to handle it.

I understand how and why people go postal, shoot randomly into movie theaters, get strange revenge on people, etc. I get it. People can only take so much. People need space and compassion and don’t always get it.

Not a Mature Adult Right Now

My life is spinning out of control at the moment. My car is having bizarre problems. I drove it to the coffee shop (Biggby’s) Sunday and it was on the verge of overheating. I went inside, had some coffee, and then decided to perhaps put some water in the radiator. I pull the hood latch, heard a noise, and then discovered that the hood had not released. Was that the hood latch I just pulled? With a car threatening to overheat and the hood possibly flying upward randomly, I have it towed to Tuffy. I go to Tuffy the next day. The car is on the hoist. I ask the guy what’s going on. He explains that I did pull the hood latch—and that it snapped like a twig. He goes to my car, walks back to me, and hands me my snapped cable. He explains that I need a body shop to replace the cable so they can even look at the engine. As he removed the car from the hoist, I just stood in the parking lot (holding my hood latch cable), dumbfounded, and said to no one in particular, “Really? Are you kidding me?”

. So I drive it to Sundance Chevrolet because I know they have a body shop (and everything else under the sun for my Aveo), after being reassured that it shouldn’t overheat on such a short trip. It comes very close to overheating and it will be a couple days before they get the cable and fix the hood and then they can roll it down the hill to their mechanics who can then look at the engine.

I am pushing fifty years old and have never had this go wrong. I’ve owned at least a half dozen vehicles and had everything else imaginable go wrong, but this is a new one.

This is after I saw a new realtor. I never heard from the old one again, so I had to get a new one. My parents graciously lent me one of their cars for as long as I need. Now I have a list of things I can start working on for the house, some of which I have been working on just as common sense.

Later my best friend calls. I am emotionally overwhelmed and cannot talk to her. I am on the verge of tears. So I hang up on her a couple times. She calls back and leaves this horrendously condescending message about how childish I am acting and that if I want to “act like a grown-up” and talk it out with her, I can call her back.

Fuck her.

Her expectation would be perfectly appropriate and reasonable under normal circumstances.

These are not normal circumstances. I am at the end of my rope and cannot operate under the normal rules of engagement. She had the option of either cutting me some slack (and wondering what on earth is wrong with Cindy) or leaving the world’s most condescending message and waiting for me to call her back. She chose Door Number Two. Are you kidding me?

I am stuck in the present moment. I cannot make plans because I don’t know when I will get my car back. This is in no way “The eternal now.” This is TRAUMA. I have been handed more than I can possibly handle and I am frozen in place, paralyzed, “stuck” by any definition.

What I need to do is to ground myself and not detach myself emotionally from what is going on just for the sake of expedience. Detaching myself emotionally only leaves me dealing with the emotional trauma at a later date to reintegrate the scattered pieces of myself.

The goal is to be functional, not gain the approval of others.

To me, Buddhism is about dealing with all of reality, not just the easy or convenient parts. Part of compassion starts with oneself and consciously dealing with whatever is going on. The Buddha is all about grounding. He found enlightenment sitting on the ground under the Bodhi Tree.

I am currently “over the edge.” I cannot act like a mature adult at the moment.

One of the things I decided years ago was that I was going to be honest with myself about as much as I possibly could be. People are dishonest because social protocol demands it. Screw social protocol. There is a time for maturity and a time for just dealing with reality, if one can even handle that. This is not the time for social niceties.

Is Openness the Antidote for Stagnation?

It seems that previous Zen cultures had some of the same concerns with stillness I do. In The Method of No-Method: The Chan Practice of Silent Illumination by Sheng Yen (p. 84):

“During his time, many people criticized Hongzhi and his Silent Illumination practice. They called people who sat in Silent Illumination ‘withered logs,’ and likened the state of clarity to stagnant water. The true state of Silent Illumination is vastly different than that. Although the mind is still and serene, it is lively and clear. So the state of Silent Illumination is likened to ever-flowing water, clear and transparent to the bottom. Because the mental state is like this, it is described as spiritually potent and vast, bright, and luminous.”

Clearly, others saw hazards back then that I am seeing now. To dismiss their observations addresses nothing.

I wish to help others and myself. I am looking for solutions in my life that I may turn around and help others. On page 35, Yen says, “We are most compassionate when we strive not for our own liberation but for the liberation of all beings. When no-self is realized, one can roam freely in samsara responding to the needs of sentient beings.” My feeling of what he is saying is that stagnation is unlikely when one is open to the sufferings of others. Like a spring meadow, while there may be utter silence, there is activity teeming within. Anyone spreading out a blanket for a picnic knows how close this activity really is to the surface. The meadow is not stagnant because it is affected by everything: breezes, the angle of the sun, humidity, and the activities of local critters. It is open and vibrant.

This openness is what I am guessing that Yen says makes stillness not stagnant. I relate this to people that I know that seem to live in the past, particularly at a moment when their lives seemed to stop. For example, I have a brother whose eldest daughter died in the 1990s. He and his wife moved out to the country with the settlement money and, as near as I can tell, checked out of the real world like a cheap motel. Going to their house gives me the heebie-jeebies. It is like stepping into a time capsule. The fresh air of current reality never blows in their world and I am still treated like I am twelve years old. Eeeuuuwwww. My family remains mystified as to why I don’t participate more in family events. I can barely deal with my current reality, let alone go time travelling for various holidays.

I am leery of some of this philosophy because it seems so passive and reactive. When I learn a lesson in my own life, I do not simply wish to help others respond likewise. Rather, I wish to help prevent others from going through my current situation at all. My desire is to be proactive so as to prevent suffering altogether when possible.

I feel like I have awakened rather abruptly in certain areas of my life, such as realizing that I am simply not up to taking care of my house by myself. How do I help others to wake up to whatever their situations may be? I don’t want others to go through what I am dealing with, if at all possible. How does this work?

The Body Remembers

“The truth about childhood is stored up in our body, and although we can repress it, we can never alter it. Our intellect can be deceived, our feelings manipulated, and conceptions confused, and our body tricked with medication. But someday our body will present its bill, for it is as incorruptible as a child, who, still whole in spirit, will accept no compromises or excuses, and it will not stop tormenting us until we stop evading the truth.” Alice Miller, quoted in “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry” by Jack Kornfield, p. 177

I read Alice Miller books twenty years ago, including and especially “The Drama of the Gifted Child,” recommended to me by my shrink back then. Her insights are powerful. She might be European. I remember how she described German pedagogy and showed how Hitler was no anomaly. What Americans considered inexplicable, she revealed as inevitable, given early-twentieth century childrearing techniques across the pond.
Enter American Buddhism. And Buddhism-lite. I’m talking about not just long, intensive meditation retreats, but also such things as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Mindfulness is entering corporate America.
My suspicion is that we have opened a can of worms. We will have to finish what we start. Because there is NO going back.
You sit down to meditate. And issues immediately surface: anger suppressed for decades, fear never listened to, long-standing resentments, pent-up physical/emotional exhaustion from decades of caregiving, you name it. The idea of stress reduction now seems ridiculous.
Think of mindfulness in a work environment. The thin veneer of professionalism is stripped away and suddenly a worker realizes that they hate their job with a passion or perhaps they were sexually abused as a child and the memories come flooding in. The boss should do what exactly about any of this? Things could get ugly quickly.
Our culture is obsessed with distraction. I am part of it myself. The downside of it is the superficiality of life and the worthlessness of the activities so much time and energy are spent on. The upside is that these distractions keep us at least semi-functional drones in the professional arena.
But once the body is awakened, the pretense is over. If you hate your job, you can never pretend as effectively as before that all is A-OK. Once you feel that repressed rage, going home and having a nice, normal meal with the family is now out of the question. The issues must be dealt with. The toothpaste is out of the tube. Things will never be the same again.
But this could be a good thing. When one person deals with their issues, many issues can now be addressed. Problems now have the hope of being solved instead of denial ruling the day. Once things have permanently changed, it behooves all involved to make the changes as positive as possible. Now is the time for personal evolution. Not revolution—evolution. Growth. Development. Learning. Once one assumption perceived as permanent changes, they are all up for grabs. It starts individually, but it is hard to imagine the changes as remaining in the solely personal realm.
I’m starting to see acknowledgment of such things. I saw an article in a Buddhist magazine about Edward Brown’s first attempts to meditate and how he had physical shaking. Suzuki Roshi even confronted him about it. When Brown explained that he was trying to observe the movements with curiosity, Roshi was suddenly fine with Brown’s attempts to meditate. I have also seen a book for sale by a Buddhist author called “The Trauma of Everyday Life.” Buddhists are starting to realize that something is going on that must be addressed.
I get the impression that a whole lot more needs to be done. There need to be more Buddhist therapists. More re-integration emphasis after retreats. That kind of thing.
Also, businesses need to be more careful before opening that whole mindfulness can of worms. A corporate therapist (or at least a highly-trained HR professional with access to resources) needs to be on hand. If companies don’t want to deal with the human issues that will unavoidably arise, then they should build robots. Being human is messy.

Dysfunctional Traumatized Energy

Everything is energy. Energy, movement, change, and heat are all the same concept applied differently. Everything is changing, so what’s the problem?

Things get stuck. I am currently reading about trauma. Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine is fascinating. In a world of fight-or-flight, I always freeze. The book is about how animals handle trauma and then release it. This is profoundly interesting because, in my experience, we are all traumatized to some degree. We humans positively suck at releasing trauma. We think our way into PTSD. We short-circuit the automatic emotional release mechanisms that would make us healthy. Unthinking animals simply let go in instinctive ways. We try to think our way into solutions, which is fabulous when we are not traumatized, but completely unsuccessful when threatened on a primitive level.

The energy we do not release wreaks havoc in our lives. Talk therapy only helps a small degree because the intellect isn’t the problem in the first place. The solution needs to be somatic. Thinking about traumatic events seems to only re-traumatize ourselves. I can vouch for that. I’ve had enough therapy to be acutely aware of what talking about a problem can and cannot accomplish. I have lost much of my faith in verbal communication due to its ineffectiveness for resolving deep issues. If talk fixed things, my life would have been perfect a good twenty years ago.

I see people re-enacting dysfunctional behaviors everywhere, all the time, including myself. It looks like we are all just working out our issues on each other. I am tired of watching myself and others go around in circles. There has to be a better way to use my energy. I want to help people and organizations to listen to each other, but how can they, if they are frozen in place with fear? I am looking for answers.

Energy Trauma

Everything is energy. Energy, movement, change, and heat are all the same concept applied differently. Everything is changing, so what’s the problem?

Things get stuck. I am currently reading about trauma. Waking the Tiger by Peter (?) Levine is fascinating. In a world of fight-or-flight, I always freeze. The book is about how animals handle trauma and then release it. This is profoundly interesting because, in my experience, we are all traumatized to some degree. We humans positively suck at releasing trauma. It looks like we think our way into PTSD. We short-circuit the automatic emotional release mechanisms that would make us healthy. Unthinking mammals simply let go in instinctive ways. Our intellects/brains are not equipped to think our way out of being literally scared stiff. We try to think our way into solutions, which is fabulous when we are not traumatized, but completely unsuccessful when threatened on a primitive level.

The energy we do not release wreaks havoc in our lives. Talk therapy only helps a small degree because the intellect isn’t the problem in the first place. The solution needs to be somatic. Thinking about traumatic events seems to only re-traumatize ourselves. I can vouch for that. I’ve had enough therapy to be acutely aware of what talking about a problem can and cannot accomplish. I have lost much of my faith in verbal communication due to its ineffectiveness for resolving deep issues. If talk fixed things, my life would have been perfect a good twenty years ago.

I see people re-enacting dysfunctional behaviors everywhere, all the time, including myself. It looks like we are all just working out our issues on each other. I am tired of watching myself and others go around in circles. There has to be a better way to use my energy. I want to help people and organizations to listen to each other, but how can they, if they are frozen in place with fear? I am looking for answers.