[This post was written in response to a link to an article about meditation and therapy.
On Meditation and Therapy
To me, meditative work is very much about healing of trauma. It’s also about wholeness in this moment. Does that seem contradictory?
Peter Levine is a therapist who works with trauma. In his book Waking the Tiger, he describes how most of our efforts to resolve trauma tend to make changes in how the trauma is managed but reinforce the core of the trauma itself. Then he describes how there are rare moments in which the entire trauma pattern opens up and there is nothing left to reinforce. He describes this as the healing of trauma.
I can relate to what he says from my own experience with personal trauma. In meditative terms I would say that the moments he describes are moments in which all resistance has dropped away. It is total vulnerability and total openness. It is a moment when all agendas have dropped away. In such moments wholeness blazes forth.
I often feel that too much emphasis on meditation practices very much stands in the way of this happening. It is all too likely that behind an emphasis on a meditation practice is a “practicer.” I mean that there is an identity and an agenda that becomes fixed to the practice and is reinforced more and more deeply with each moment of “practice”. After all, a practice implies that I hope to get something from it.
To me, Life always wants to sweep away all my intentions. It wants to knock out from under me all my plans for improvement and healing. When Life blazes through in this way, all resistance is blown away. It’s not that I stop resisting so that I can heal. Healing/wholeness – when it is able to move through this organism – redirects the energy that was going into a knot of resistance so that that energy goes into healing and being.
Once this possibility of being swept wide open by Life becomes greater in us, I think there is more awareness of our traumas and we can get much more out of working with a therapist. I used to expect this kind of help from my meditation teachers, but that’s not really their training.
I do question the view of the author of the article that somehow Siddhartha didn’t have traumas and that made his path easier. I’m not sure that makes sense to me. From what I see, it is the nature of our delicate nervous systems to be continually susceptible to traumas – old ones and new ones. Wholeness doesn’t require an absence of “issues.” It reveals issues in wide open space and the space of wholeness seems to naturally lead to healing (which is accelerated by working with a skillful therapist.)
A moment of wholeness is a moment in which it is clear that all life is one undivided energy unfolding as it needs to and grounded in stillness. Awakening to this has nothing to do with whether we have a broken leg, arthritis, anxieties, a bad eye or are perfect, beautiful beings. It only has to do with seeing if it is possible for Life to open through us in this moment, which can only happen when our dreams and goals for becoming a better person get swept away.
I don’t mean to say that we somehow shouldn’t deal with traumas and issues. It is quite clear in a quiet moment that a pattern of severe anxiety isn’t helpful. I’m just trying to share that what fundamentally allows trauma to open and heal is the discovery of this energy of Life that sweeps away my resistances in this moment. And I’m raising the issue of examining whether spiritual practices become part of the resistance to what is happening right now.
It is not too hard to look, during a meditation period, at what I am actually doing. Am I focused on something – the breath, a sound, a vision? Is that helping me right now to be in touch with everything that is around me right here – the air, the feel of the body, the sound of the fan, the presence of other people? I personally find that I’m often blocking out a lot for some reason. What reason? Someone told me it would help me become a Buddha in the future? Or that if I do something long enough I would heal? But what has become most important to me is my relationship to everything in this moment. To sacrifice that now for some “wholeness” in the future doesn’t make sense to me any more.