Meditation for Complex Trauma or PTSD
Successful trauma intervention isn’t just about technique. It is mostly about meditation and being able to hold the space for disturbing emotion(s) while applying a technique or intervention.
You need meditation first which is a state of non-duality, of being present, of holding space.
You can have all the right theory, education, knowledge, and certifications but without meditation, therapy will fail.
Meditation and Working through Post-Traumatic Stress
Meditation has become a charged word associated with all kinds of practices: reciting mantras, breathing techniques, visualizations, and whatnot... though I think the essence of meditation is much simpler. It is looking at what is, without interfering with what is.
Our lives have become so complex that meditation, which in essence is so simple, has become very difficult.
When you are disturbed and feel overwhelmed your nervous system, and your mind’s responses instinctively move towards complexity. You react with fight, flight, freeze or please, out of survival and out of an inability to contain your emotional responses.
It is only natural that you can’t contain your emotional responses when you are facing or have been faced with abuse, neglect, being unwanted, or have experienced or are experiencing any other form of trauma.
How to Apply Meditation Yourself to Heal PTSD, Complex Trauma, and Post-Traumatic Stress
Meditation is not a place you reach or something you work towards. It is not for the initiated only, nor is it an ideology of a state of perfection. Meditation is each moment in which you are able to “sit” with what is, however disturbing that might be, and however short that moment of meditation might last. It does not matter. You start where you are and with what you can do at a given moment in time.
Meditation is observation. It is understanding that whenever you react by liking or disliking, by desiring or rejecting, you are perpetuating that very state of how you are feeling.
For example, if you are anxious and you get upset with yourself for being anxious, you are perpetuating a state of anxiousness through your reaction. I am not blaming you and the way you might be reacting. I fully grasp getting upset with feeling a certain way for too long. I am only pointing out that any reaction towards how you feel will cause that very state of mind to continue because you are channeling more energy into it.
Why is Meditation so Hard and How to Get Started
Identification and reaction seem to happen instantly when you are feeling depressed, angry, anxious, despairing, hopeless or hypervigilant. It is reaction through choice, through rejection (of pain), that helps you cope. That shift in focus caused by your reaction temporarily creates the illusion of separating you from your suffering; even though that very reaction is a way of coping, it also perpetuates a particular emotion or set of emotions that keep you from moving forward.
Let’s see if we can do a meditation together to see these processes in action:
Sit somewhere quiet where you have the space to observe yourself.
Take your attention inward by closing your eyes or looking at your hands and taking a moment to be with yourself. Sit comfortably, and be aware of your breathing.
Once you are in a quiet place and are comfortable, see what mindset is most present for you. Are you feeling restless? Or anxious, nervous, hypervigilant, depressed, ashamed, guilty, embarrassed, angry and frustrated, stressed or perhaps a mixture of those with some overtones of certain emotions?
As you slow down and take time to observe what emotion or state of mind is most present for you, you will likely also feel how difficult it is to do just that. You will become aware of how your mind is constantly reacting; how feeling a certain emotion pulls you into thoughts and memories that are related to or associated with how you feel, and they carry you away.
Now, just catch yourself there. Resist the actual pull into thoughts, into thinking, into association and memories. Instead, sit with the difficulty and the pulling, reaching, escaping, searching, and constant trying of your mind. Stay with the feeling of that, and shift your focus away from the particular thoughts or memories that come up for you.
If the thoughts and memories are too strong, get up, do something else, go for a walk, and come back to this again later.
By observing how your mind reacts when you attempt to sit with a tough emotion, you are canceling out that very reaction. The energy that normally is invested in reaction-- which is a form of dissociation-- that energy now moves into awareness.
As you sit through the reaction, you can again move closer to what you initially felt-- the original feeling, emotion, sensation that was most present for you. See if you can “hold” the space for that feeling-- as it is-- without falling into it and getting further overwhelmed by it or getting pulled out of it into thoughts or memories.
If you are able to hold the space for that state of mind-- that emotion, sensation or feeling-- you will allow that energy to flow into awareness and you thereby create more resilience and containment. You might notice that the intensity mounts for a while before it decreases and starts to integrate.
From here on you can go deeper.
When you keep in mind that Post-Traumatic Stress is a set of reactions that has created various layers of coping mechanisms, you can ask yourself, “How is the current emotion that I am feeling helping me? What is it protecting me from?”
That inquisitive approach is very different from a judgmental approach, and gives you the ability to open up and explore the deeper layers of your Post-Traumatic Stress.
Guilt, embarrassment, shame, anxiety, depression or frustration might appear to be dominant, but when you no longer react to or accept them, and thus no longer fully identify with those emotions, you might hit upon a deeper layer of hurt that previously you weren’t aware of, or that you did not yet have the capacity to stay with.
You can start applying this same meditative approach to working through the various layers of your Post-Traumatic Stress.
Share with me below-- in the comment section-- how doing this meditation here above was for you?