It was after having meditated since the late 70’s that I had my own trauma history emerge from a deep slumber. To say it shook me up is an understatement! I’m imagining if you are reading this site, you have a similar history, perhaps similar experiences and are looking for ways that meditation can help.
To give you some background, I am currently a psychotherapist with a private practice in Watertown, MA, USA. I have taught therapists in workshops and trainings in South Africa, Mexico, Canada, Scotland, and Ireland as well as all over the US.
Becoming Safely Embodied
Some of what’s in this website is part of the Becoming Safely Embodied Skills Groups I led for over ten years in the Boston, MA area. The groups are a short term, psycho-educational series of skills meant to teach some skills about trauma and being in the body.
In 2007 I published a manual on the skills, oddly enough called The Becoming Safely Embodied Skills Manual. I’m honored to have those groups led in Chicago, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, and Berkeley, CA. To preview the Becoming Safely Embodied Skills Manual click here
To read Janina Fisher’s Foreward to The Becoming Safely Embodied Skills Manual click here
While designing and leading those groups I also had the pleasure of being a lead trainer for the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute for eight years. The trauma training developed by Pat Ogden, PhD teaches therapists how to heal trauma through the body. It’s wonderful work, supporting clients to live within their window of tolerance, which is a phrase that Pat Ogden coined to describe not being hyper-aroused – or conversely not being hypo-aroused (numbed out, depressed, or shut down.)
How I got to this point
It was while I was living at Kripalu Center that my memories came up. I had been living there for a number of years without knowing I had a “problem.” And then, boom — I went from having a satisfying and nurturing yoga and meditation practice to no longer being able to be in my body, meditate, or keep my emotions regulated. It was a hugely disruptive time.
It took me years to understand why, and figure out what to do differently. First I had to understand why I went from being in my body, comfortable and at ease to being afraid to “go inside” and getting panicked at spending time in meditation.
I started psychotherapy and also talking to a lot of friends and guests who came to Kripalu. It was like I had gone from one world to another in which I had only rudimentary knowledge. I was surprised to find such a large subgroup of people where the common denominator was having a trauma history.
The field of trauma
The field of trauma was new then, twenty years ago. There wasn’t that much out there; the distinctions that are now considered classic trauma treatment weren’t there yet. Bessel van der Kolk (who I later trained with at his Trauma Center), Jim Chu (who is at McLean Hospital where I also did some training), and Judith Herman were carving out new ground.
It was while I was training at McLean Hospital that I started teaching meditation and yoga to trauma survivors on an inpatient dissociative disorders unit to explore how to support their own healing. Later I developed a series of groups while at The Trauma Center in Brookline, MA to find what worked best.
I realized with them 1 -2 minutes of meditation was often all they could tolerate at one time. Guided meditations worked best; they needed external words and my voice to help them start present. Without my voice prompting them, they could often find themselves in terrifying territory.
These people whose struggle taught me so much were drawn to meditation
They wanted very much to find ways to quiet, to calm down, to believe there was an antidote to the internal chaos they lived in.
Working with these groups of people balanced out the work I was doing with trauma survivors who practiced either yoga or meditation or both. Many had been on intensive retreats in Asia, India, or here in the US. Some had lived in spiritual communities around the world.
Listening to these long term experienced meditators, I became aware of the scaffolding deep in their psyches. Their stories and reflections described how they were able to tolerate the shattering of their psyches – and the shattering of their practices – caused by the surfacing of their trauma histories.
Talking to these many people was extraordinary. Each held me enthralled as they shared the process of their healing. Their individual voices merged over time rising into a larger pattern.
What emerged was the sometimes unconscious investment these long term meditators had in the philosophical framework that contextualizes the Eastern spiritual paths. They believed the ancient texts which claimed there was a path off the karmic wheel of suffering. After years of practice, this belief had been transmuted into ontological fact. They didn’t question it: the “fact” served them.
From the long term mditators and from those with more disrupted internal worlds, I realized some common ground. For both groups as they recovered from being annihilated by trauma they needed to be held in a meta-construct, something strong enough and big enough that has a rightful place for suffering.
Much of what I learned over the years has become part of this website