I ended my last piece on trauma by saying that it’s never too late to untangle us from ancient, twisted, karmic knots that exist in our body/mind. Psychologists suggest that we all need adequate nurturing, protecting, initiating, and empowering, to do this successfully. If we didn’t get this as kids, we can create or move into an environment in which we can get this now.
Nurturing And Protecting
Did one or both of our parents celebrate our birth and support us and nurture us when we were growing up? If not, we may have not developed a sense of self-worth, which includes the capacity to experience joy in our selves and others. But its never too late to see through the superficiality of whatever story we are telling ourselves about being stuck or permanently damaged by our past. The first treasure in Buddhist teaching is Buddha, and by Buddha we don’t mean some perfect being, we mean a spiritual friend/teacher who will both nurture us and protect us. He or she does this by being available to listen to us and support us as we engage in serious meditation practice.
Although my own teacher did not generally offer to hear my problems, I sensed that he was continually in the background cheering me on and offering me protection from my own worst impulses. When he noticed that I was being seduced by another teacher who was offering me all kinds of promises of ego death and enlightenment, he merely said, “you have a great treasure. Someone may try to take it from you. Don’t let anyone take it from you.” He was reminding me of my own still, quiescent Buddha nature, which is the ultimate protector of a Zen practitioner, whether she knows it or not! Regardless of what happened to us as kids, through our meditation we can tap into a feeling of intrinsic safeness, referred to in Buddhist teaching as Trust in Heart/Mind.
In your meditation a memory of some traumatic event or environment, may surface at any time. That’s fine. All you need to do is note the feelings, the thoughts swirling around them, and keep returning to you breathing and other bodily sensations until the former fall away- and they will.
There’s no magic bullet here. We just open up to whatever comes up (sometimes nothing at all) until our obsessive feelings and thoughts lose their intensity. And if the inner tyrant starts taking over by trashing us, then a few repetitions of, “May I be safe, may I be protected, may I feel love…” can help turning this negativity around.
Initiating is a process of leaving home. A key component is realizing that we each are a valuable and welcome member of a larger community that includes both the human and natural world. If things go well, a mother does this with her daughter by welcoming her into womanhood and a father does this with his son.
Initation may include a formal ritual or it may just involve behavioral role modeling. But when it doesn’t happen, we generally remain enmeshed in our own family or cut off from them completely. Or we may substitute a false initiation, like joining a gang, doing drugs, or embracing fundamentalism. When choosing a spiritual teacher, we may want to ask whether she creates an impression that she has superior understanding and we should surrender to her. We should ask ourselves whether a specific initiation inhibits or enhances our ability to move on to genuine self-empowerment.
Indigenous communities all had initiation rituals. I have been initiating folks into Zen Buddhism for many years. A key component of this is “home leaving”, a metaphor for breaking out of the confines of your own protective shell to commit to opening to genuine self-empowerment. Two main components of this are sewing a mini-version of a Buddhist robe and being given a name by your teacher.
As we begin to feel nurtured by a spiritual friend and if we are fortunate, have been through a positive process of initiation, we begin to feel more empowered.
Our mother or father may or may not have empowered us. A good teacher will, however. She will applaud us when we make effort in our meditation, and fully accept us regardless of how many times we screw up. She will even be happy when her student equals or passes her in their “enlightened” activity. I call this “turtle practice” because the process of dis-identifying with internal negativity is very gradual. But sooner or later each of us can settle into a happiness that is not dependent on conditions.
Wisdom comes from having to cope with difficulty. Rather than viewing our trauma negatively, it can give us the motivation to stretch our heart/mind and we realize that deep happiness is not dependent on the external conditions of present, past, or future. Each of us has the capacity to embrace whatever wound we have so it becomes a doorway to great awakening.
Tim Burkett, Guiding Teacher