The Power and Pitfalls of Using Meditation in Times of Crisis.
Meditation is a powerful way of connecting to ourselves and our feelings to regain clarity, to reground in our true self, and to regroup discombobulated split parts, especially when we’re going through trying times in our personal lives and/or as a nation, as is the case now.
However, special precautions may be in order for people with trauma histories during national or global crises because of the collective energy that’s brewing in the air.
For instance, the upheaval and distress resulting from the recent Orlando hate massacre, and growing public awareness and evidence of police brutality ending Black lives, can trigger Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms and previously repressed feelings that have been twisted and contorted for so long that the person overtaken by them is at grave risk of not seeing straight and acting impulsively.
It’s possible to become overwhelmed by, or sometimes completely swallowed up by, very old, festering layers of rage, powerlessness, sadness, shame, self-loathing and hopelessness related to past trauma, unacknowledged current trauma, and generations of repressed emotion of similar or greater scope and intensity without realizing what hit us.
We can completely lose our sense of self and reality when PTSD symptoms haunt us in the form of nightmares, flashbacks that are visceral or visual, crying spells, numbing or withdrawing, panic attacks, drowning in intense moods and feelings, rageful outbursts, acute conflict, vulnerability to psychotic and paranoid breaks and directives, and/or proneness to all kinds of addictions to soothe the pain while our body and soul try to access and release energy that’s trapped in a dark and abandoned trauma bubble.
It is very likely that both the Orlando and Dallas shooters snapped because of severe PTSD-related vengeance that was layered, convoluted, irrational, and intense: they stated that they either wanted the bombings of Syria and Iraq to stop, or the disproportionate killing of Black men by police officers to end. There has been speculation that the Orlando shooter also suffered from severe internalized homophobia and extreme contempt of his sexuality within his immediate family.
Even when we’re not as severely affected by past or daily ongoing violence and trauma, the overwhelm and build-up when we snap can be intense, erratic, vengeful, and dark, because we’re all connected, whether fully conscious of this or not. A lack of strong inner structure can cause dormant fuses to get blown instead of getting energized by the meditative light that they need.
If you sense that this is the case, focus on self-healing and building an inner structure first before rushing to the front-lines to help save the world. This may be more tempting, and seem more promising and effective of a solution in alleviating personal and societal suffering, but that’s an illusion. We often find ourselves getting similarly triggered elsewhere, and don’t provide the saplings that we are trying to grow the sustained sunlight they need to take root.
Mindful or present-moment meditation, with the intention to expand our sense of self and tolerance for intense feelings, is a great place to start, and can have a calming effect. The feelings don’t get pushed under, and emerge under the conditions that the self is ready to make the most out of them. It’s like diffusing a few drops of poison in a glass of water versus in a bath tub, lake, or ocean.
With practice, our inner sense can get aligned with an infinite source of wisdom and peace, and we become better able to help ourselves and others do hard transformative work.
Sitting still can be especially triggering for those who are discovering for the first time that they tend to leave their body when intense feelings and unresolved past trauma surface.
In that case, the kind of meditation that may be the safest to start with is a metta meditation, as outlined by GinnyLee Taylor of Women of Wonder. In her recent blog post, Loving-Kindness for a Weary World, Ginny offers the mind a positive, loving focus that has a soothing effect when challenged. The goal here is to stretch our inner container, not to minimize and shrink the problem.
Because it focuses the cognitive mind on a set of healing instructions, embodied symptoms and stuck patterns are gently invited out of the trauma bubble and into the field of unconditional love and acceptance.
Also helpful is focusing on the immediate here-and-now, experienced by the five senses and doing something that helps the mind remain focused on one point, such as a breathing and counting pattern. This can reduce flashbacks, and strengthen mental muscles that reassure the person that she is now safe in the present moment.
Once that skill set is pretty solid, insight-oriented meditation, regressions to the times of the trauma, and/or shamanic journeying — which strengthens our receptivity to our body wisdom and nature-based guidance while in a light trance — can be very effective in speeding up the healing process.
A discipline and practice to embrace freshly triggered feelings related to past trauma can develop and offer deep meaning and a clear sense of purpose, rather than repeated PTSD flare-ups, in the future.
When in doubt, meditating with caution and/or in the presence of someone with expertise and experience in remaining calm and grounded can offer great support, guidance, companionship, and strength to stretch our inner container, integrate hard feelings, and honor important truths that were too overwhelming to confront in the past.
The more we do this crucial work as individuals, the more we ground our collective foundation of consciousness for others to gravitate toward and adopt as their new baseline.
Loraine Van Tuyl, PhD, CHT, holistic psychologist, depth hypnosis practitioner, and shamanic healer from the Sacred Healing Well, is devoted to helping wisdom-keepers, healers, and seekers, including her tween girl and teen boy, dive deep into their self-healing potential and carve out their sacred dream paths in service of their dynamic whole self and the greater good. Her memoir-in-progress, Amazon Wisdom Keeper, is an eye-opening account of her spontaneous spiritual emergence and shamanistic initiation triggered by indoctrinating double-binds in the mental health field. What gives her story an added twist is her ability to anchor into her rich cultural background and mystical upbringing near the edge of the Amazon rainforest when standing her ground, challenging her field, and placing all bets on her spiritual integrity, intuitive resilience, and clarity: each one severely tested after escaping the chaotic aftermath of a military coup in her native Suriname, and losing almost everything that she knew and loved at the age of 13.