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ECLIPSED BY FEAR: Transforming trauma into sudden awakening
Written by Brian Theriault .
Paradoxica: Journal of Nondual Psychology, Vol. 2: Spring 2010
This article explores the
possibility of transforming trauma into sudden awakening.
Within human consciousness exists an undisturbed stateless state of unconditional
awareness. This unconditioned state can provide a profound transformation of traumatic
pain. A descriptive account of the author.s own transformative experience is given
followed by a discussion of the limitations and benefits of conventional forms of trauma
therapy. The offerings of nondual psychology are then explored including their
limitations related to trauma resolution. Nondual psychology views human suffering as
existing in the belief in separation from what arises in consciousness. From this
perspective, the possibility of transforming trauma into an awakening experience can be
seen when a person is encouraged to embrace the essence of fear, the wisdom of no
escape, and merging with the empty space of non-being. A client case vignette is used to
MEd. CCC is a transpersonal therapist with a primary
focus on trauma
resolution and Stage II and III addiction recovery work. He facilitates individual and
group counseling sessions in both private and government related treatment settings.
While curled up in the
middle of the circle in the group room, my chest
tightened up like a vice grip with tremendous fear and terror racing
throughout my body. The fear was intense. There was an inner image of
myself descending to the bottom of the ocean waving and thrashing about.
I thought I was going to die. Here, I was invited by the facilitator to
surrender and cooperate with the process; to be with the intensity of the
experience but from a place of no judgment. Confused, I took the risk to
do just that, however, I would bounce in and out of fear, and as a result I
was continually reminded not to judge the process and see that this
moment is it. And then, suddenly, in the midst of my internal chaos, there
was no division, I felt merged with the pain that was arising in my body
and mind. An awesome internal black stillness revealed itself; a silence so
great echoed throughout my Being. Surprisingly, I was none other than
this black stillness. Here, I felt that I did not exist, and yet, at the same
time, I was very much aware of the entire process taking place. The
chaotic energy ran its course and finally thinned out to reveal a deep sense
of peace. (Author.s journal entry)
The above experience took
place well over 10 years ago while completing an
undergraduate degree in Addictions Counselling. It was my first direct experience of
nondual consciousness, and subsequently facilitated a psycho-spiritual journey towards
wholeness. It would be several years before I would come to fully appreciate and
understand what actually took place. For many years, I had avoided the pain of my
biographical history, with the traumatic imprints collected over the course of my then,
short life. Of course, at the time I did not have the language or understanding of what
took place within that profound group experience, but the experience was so incredibly
shocking that it radically changed the course of my life and essentially my work with
counselling clients experiencing trauma.
Mark (a pseudonym), a
self-referred client, contacted me wishing to do trauma
resolution work and "heal the demons from the past." At our first session, he reported
feeling continually haunted by his past traumas, including abuse from his family and
while acting out with drugs and alcohol. This caused him to withdraw from life and from
his close relationships, and led to a shutting down of his energy. Mark had also been on a
psycho-spiritual journey for the last 4 years in which he embraced the work of David
Deida, Krishnamurti and Herman Hesse.s Siddartha. Like most, he was seeking the
golden prize of peace and happiness. As a "seasoned spiritual quester" he had also
participated in many bio-energetic healing sessions and extensive meditation retreats as a
means of finding resolution to his pain. However, he reported feeling continually
frustrated and in pain.
While acknowledging the
benefits of his prior work, I offered that the experience
of no-self can be an important transformative agent. He asked, "That.s what Siddartha
saw and what Krishnamurti always spoke about, isn't it?" I nodded in reply, and
responded that awakening is already the case, right now. Awakening is the realization
that there is no solid separate self apart from existence. The dream is in believing that we
are strictly our thoughts; that we are bound by our bodily impulses and emotional states.
Or to put it another way "Who you are is the permanence existing right now, regardless
of states and experiences" (Adyashanti, 2000, p. 58). And since Mark was somewhat
familiar with the spiritual journey, I pointed out that the natural stateless state of no-self
is the fundamental condition of who and what we are in the present moment and that,
although there are no guarantees, perhaps seeing the various dimensions of our traumas in
the light of no-self could be transformative. With this, Mark was open to the invitation.
We will return to Mark's transformation which will be presented later within this
article. Let us first take a look at the traditional forms of trauma resolution in contrast to
the nondual perspective.
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