Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Managing Mental Illness Symptoms with Buddha-ness?

Suffering, is a “mental state,” “inside” your mind, not in Reality.
There are two worlds?

1. The world of the mind.
2. The world of reality.

The world of reality is real, the world of the mind isn’t real.

The attribution of reality to the mental objects of our mind, is the cause of mental suffering.
We suffer because of the “fantasies” in our mind.

“The fantasies of your thought are not real. They are generated by your attachment, and therefore by your desire, your hate, your anger, your fear.

The fantasies of your thought, are generated by yourself” _Buddha.

We suffer because we mistake the fantasies of our mind for reality.

It is fundamental, therefore, that we learn to distinguish between reality and the fantasies of our mind.

Developing Buddha-ness awareness, can help you manage Symptoms of Mental Illness?

Buddha! Literally means Awake! Or more fully Self-Aware & attuned to Reality?

Diagnosed with a mental illness almost 33 years ago now, I learned to self-manage my symptoms of bipolar type 1 disorder when countless medications failed to grant me the mood stability I craved. With four children to help raise, and with an initial misdiagnosis of schizophrenia, a bipolar disorder diagnosis came as a tremendous source of HOPE. An essential ingredient for real recovery? Unfortunately, I'm one of the estimated 30 - 40% minimum of people who do not respond to the long term use of anti-psychotic medications. Sleeping pills became my mainstay for managing mania and the euphoric psychoses I'd experience, while exercise and diet became my mainstay's for managing depression. Although, I must confess to spending months at a time, under the bed blankets, drowning in a sense of helpless hopelessness, far too many times.

Over the decades, my relationship with Doctors of medicine, held the hope of managing my symptoms of mental illness, while bitter experience betrayed such hope. That sense of betrayal, that helpless hopelessness which haunted my deepest depressions, is perhaps best expressed as a feeling of lack? I lacked self-awareness, I lacked an attunement to my own reality, an embodied sense of myself? I was lost in "cognitive concepts," a sense of self trapped within the mind, in that flight from traumatic injury, we call "mental illness."

Please consider a recent post on Mad in were the cognitive debate on mental illness and psychiatric diagnosis rages;

Thinking about Alternatives to Psychiatric Diagnosis, by Lucy Johnstone.
David Bates on January 8, 2013 at 6:39 pm said:
“This extraordinarily narrow way of conceptualising emotional distress is, as far as I am aware (but please correct me if I am wrong) unique to the last 100 years of Western societies. In contrast, other cultures and sub-cultures (before they are colonised by the Western worldview that is codified in DSM, as documented by Ethan Watters in ‘Crazy like us’, 2010) seem to have ways of making meaning out of distress, not ruthlessly divesting it of its personal, social and cultural significance.

This isn’t accidental – the biomedical approach is there for a reason, and many have argued that mystifying individuals about the origins of their emotional pain while at the same time concealing the true extent of the damage that Western cultures inflict on individuals is not just the effect but the purpose of psychiatry (see Ingleby, 1981.) But setting that aside for the moment, it seems to me that any alternative to psychiatric diagnosis has to have at its heart the restoration of personal meaning within its relational and social contexts.” _Lucy Johnstone. (see full post here)

My Comment:
Personal meaning within its relational and social contexts in Western world tends to to take the “mind” as the foundation of our personal reality? A “who am I?” Not “what am I,” approach? Yet is the West with its urge to dominate other cultures, confused about the very nature of subjective experience and reality? And is our preference for diagnosisng others, stimulated by our instinct based intelligence and an innate need to judge otherness?

Consider a non-western approach to the mind & reality;

“Presence in Reality

Presence in reality is not possible if your mind is overwhelmed by thoughts. When the mind is emptied, it is possible to turn your attention spontaneously to reality.

But what is reality?
Reality is the environment that surrounds us.

In fact, for each of us, the environment that surrounds us is our reality.
This isn’t such a trivial fact, which we unknowingly or unconsciously take for granted .

Try this little test.
We are in New York, sitting on the terrace of the Times Square Brewery.
I ask you, ‘Do you think the Place Pigalle in Paris is real?’
You probably answer, ‘Yes.’

But it isn’t.
If you are in New York, in Times Square, the environment that surrounds you is Times Square in New York, not The Place Pigalle in Paris.
Therefore “your reality” is Times square New York.
Paris and The place Pigalle are not the environment that surrounds you. They aren’t your reality.

They are only in your mind, in your memory, not in your reality.
Herald Square in New York isn’t real to you either, if your in Times Square.
Because Herald Square isn’t the environment that surrounds you. Herald square isn’t real to you.

Do you understand what I’m saying?

Your reality is the environment that surrounds you, and which you percieve with your senses.
In other words, your reality is your surrounding, wherever you are.
Nothing else.

Paris and the Place Pigalle may be the reality of someone in Paris, but this is not your reality.
Your reality is only the surrounding environment of wherever you are right now.
If you behaved as if you where in Paris, you would not be intune with reality.
You would not be present in your reality.

There are two worlds:

1. The world of the mind.
2. The world of reality.

The world of reality is real, the world of the mind isn’t real.

Of the objects which present themselves to our consciuosness, in fact, some belong to the reality that surrounds us , while others belong to our mind – that is, to our memory. (the body/brain and its nervous stimulation).
We tend to falsly believe that “both” kinds of mental objects are real, yet this is a false assumption based on our past, not the present reality, by which we are surrounded and unknowingly immersed in.
Only the mental objects which belong to the surrounding environment are real, not those which belong to our memory ( the body/brain nervous energy of the past)

Your probably thinking that this is a very debatable point?
Especially, if your still strongly anchored to the world of your mind, here’s proof though.
A relitive of yours who has died is undoubtedly still present in your memory, yet it is obvious that they are NOT present in the environment which surrounds you, (or even in the environment which doesn’t surround you), which means that they are no longer real.

The attribution of reality to the mental objects of our mind, is the cause of mental suffering.
We suffer because of the “fantasies” in our mind.

“The fantasies of your thought are not real.
They are generated by your attachment, and therefore by your desire, your hate, your anger, your fear.
The fantasies of your thought, are generated by yourself” _Buddha.

We suffer because we mistake the fantasies of our mind for reality.

It is fundamental, therefore, that we learn to distinguish between reality and the fantasies of our mind.

A state of “Buddha-ness – truly awake” involves awareness of the distinction between the world of the mind and the world of reality.

Deprive your fantasies of your approval and they will vanish” _Buddha.

Buddha? Awareness of Reality?
Most people in the Western world, love the mind and the power of its creations, and rightly so, yet true presence in reality does not negate the power of the mind, it simply offers a way out of suffering.
Suffering generated by our own mind, due to confusion about the distinct difference between objects of reality and the mental objects of the mind, as NOT real?

Buddhism has one essential purpose: liberation from suffering.
All it is saying is, you cannot defeat the fantasies of your mind, by staying within your mind.
You need to come out of your mind and enter reality.

This is why “attenuating” thought allows us , quite naturally and without effort – in other words, spontaneously – to implement the second power of Buddha-ness (truly awake): presence in reality.

In true reality, there is no suffering!

This is a simple truth, which is difficult for us to accept.
Again, using an extreme example:
You have just lost a loved one.
You think that reality is the cause of your suffering, because in reality the person you have lost is no longer there for you.
But this is precisely the Buddha’s point?
In reality that person is no longer there, but that’s ALL.
In acceptance of true reality, there is no suffering.

The sun continues to rise, the clouds continue to sail across the sky and the birds continue to sing.
Your suffering, is only “inside” you.
Yet you think that reality is the cause of your suffering, and you mistakenly, unknowingly, attribute your suffering to “reality” itself.

But “suffering” is not an object which can be found anywhere in true reality. Suffering, is a “mental state.”
In other words, suffering is “inside” your mind, not in reality.
A famous Zen koan says:

“Show me the hand which is holding your suffering.”

You can’t do it, because “mental suffering” belongs to the world of the mind and not the world of reality.

True presence in reality, is not a question of “intellectual knowledge,” but of “experience.”


1. Calm your breathing, relax your body, observe with a “felt sense,” your thoughts.

2. Come out of your thoughts and observe (sense) the environment around you.

3. Perform common actions, (interactions with reality). Do the dishes using your senses to interact with your surrounding reality, to discover true presence. To Be in Reality.”

Excerpts from “HOW TO BECOME A BUDDHA IN 5 WEEKS: The Simple way to SELF-REALIZATION” by Giulio Cesare Giacobbe.

Perhaps we need to let-go of our “I think therefore I am” mind & come to our senses, to discover why we diagnose, why we judge and find the presence to be with each other, without “acting-out” an instinctive need?

* * *

Western Science & Eastern methods of Sensate Awareness?
During three years in Thailand, I mixed science discovery, with a buddhist practice of Self-Awareness.
Please consider;
Long Night of The Soul - An Invitation to Depression

The Prince of Sense-Ability? As I've come to know him.
May 8th 2012:

A no thrills hotel room in Laos, 2am and the mechanical hum of an old pedestal fan accompanies a grinding ache in my stomach, thoughts of defeat and a fraudulent sense of self won‘t stop buzzing around my head.

Almost two and a half years into my self discovery sojourn here in South East Asia, I fear I’m running out of time with dwindling finances and visa restrictions, becoming pressing concerns.

“I’m just kidding myself that I understand anything about the processes involved in mental illness. The fantasy of writing a book just rationalizes a life’s unconscious default pattern of withdrawal and isolation.

Follow my heart notions are a mania fueled romantic joke, leading me to ruination not salvation.” After five years with no return to a cyclic pattern of depression and no need for medications of any kind, I’m feeling the old familiar sensations of defeat and collapse here. There‘s a pressured sense of doom inside my head, as a continual loop of disaster thoughts hold my mind in a vice like grip of driven compulsion. “It’s a physiological state and my mind is amplifying it,” I tell myself. “Then face it and stop running away from it, the negative thoughts are stimulated by a core feeling, its innate fear-terror.”

I turn onto my stomach and adopt my mind-less meditation routine, a practice that has worked really well for dissolving the racing thoughts and energies of bipolar disorder’s mania. If the mind is dependent on physiological state as the polyvagal theory indicates, then changing this physiological state should work just as well for this dreadfully negative state of mind. I focus on the felt sense of my flesh on the mattress sheet, feeling the sensation of my internal organs and the knot of painful tension just below my rib cage. I follow Peter Levine’s advice and try to feel into this pain sensation, staying with it and noticing any subtle shifts. Yet I can’t seem to get into my body now, stuck fast in my head as each attempt to experience the felt sensation is blocked by an instant rush of thoughts. Curiously, thoughts and image memories of the same painful gut spring to mind, a forty year old memory of fear and avoidance, the same knotted tension in the same place, just below my rib cage.

“A body memory, the place I’m always running away from, always avoiding,” I tell myself. A whole slew of thoughts about trauma and how we normally think in terms of external, causal events, runs through my mind. “Yet its an internal process, my brain stem and my nervous system with their electro-chemical stimulation are the actuality of post traumatic experience.” A familiar shudder runs straight down my spine now, as if making a comment on this thoughtful interpretation, “a conversation with my unconscious self, perhaps?” I try again to just feel into the knotted tension in my stomach, and let all awareness reside there, and again there is an instantaneous surge of thinking. This time self recriminations about wasting time, letting months drift away instead of writing. “Self revelation is an organic process, there is no clockwork timetable involved,” some part of me kindly advises.

There were other thoughts too, about futility and how nobody really wants to know about non-conscious self-awareness, how group harmony is maintained by a shared “I think therefore I am” preferred awareness. Although accompanied by a twin awareness that writing a book was always a metaphor for re-writing the narrative of my cognitive sense of self. “Different experiences to change old habitual patterns, is how your re-writing that narrative,“ I advise myself. “Raising to conscious awareness a re-conditioning of my nervous systems unconscious expectations about scenarios of survival? This sight, this scene, and an unconscious reaction within?” For a full minute I focus on trying to just observe the process, the effort to sense into the pain area and the instantaneous flight into thoughts. “Try to catch the gap between the spark and the flame of thought,” I tell myself. “Its not a bloody spark, its an instinctual reaction, a recoil, a cut-off from pain’s felt awareness and it’s the theme, the motif force of my whole freaking life.” I despair that I’ll ever break it down into what it actually is, that I’ll ever be able to articulate it to myself, let alone anyone else. All my thoughts seem to do is rationalize away from a core sense of self that my conscious mind either can’t or doesn’t want to know about. I persevere with the attempts to stay with the felt sensation of tension in my stomach though, just as my mentor advises in his book “In an Unspoken Voice.”

“In particular, you will begin to notice what various sensations (i.e., tensions, contractions, aches, pains, etc,) tend to emerge in sequences or in groups. For example, you may notice that a “knot” in the belly or tightening of the anus is associated with a suppression or holding of breath.”(Levine, 2010.)

As I continue to practice what has become so effective in letting go of the surging energies of excitement in mania’s manic mood swings, I’m mortified by how difficult its proving to let go the bipolar opposite of what is beginning to feel like a fall into depression. God knows I‘ve been here before and I‘m getting really scared that I can‘t resist the collapse, scared that I won‘t cope with this first overwhelmingly negative state for five years. So many memories of feeling just like this and helplessly drowning in depression. “How have I become so immersed in this state of fear?” I ask myself. As awareness of tension expands across my whole body, aware too, of “holding myself in,” of shallow breath and the stiff posture of awkwardly positioned limbs. A flashbulb memory of holding myself like this as a child comes to mind, “this is how I got myself to sleep at night.” Fear driven immobilization the experts now call it, or “tonic immobility,” an unconscious response hardwired as a mammalian survival trick, although a paradoxical trap for human beings. “This is what came from a three day birth ordeal, brutal forceps delivery and the immediate isolation of a mechanical crib. This is my default response to life, an existential crisis which has always been the ghost in my internal machine.”

“Our nervous system assesses threat in two basic ways. First of all, we use our external sense organs to discern and evaluate threat in the external environment. We also asses threat directly from the state of our viscera and our muscles-our internal sense organs. If our muscles are tense, we unconsciously interpret these tensions as foretelling the existence of danger, even when none actually exists.” (Levine, 2010).

Again I try to bring all awareness into the felt sense of pain, suddenly my eyes open and I become aware of the tension that had been unconsciously held there, along with the corresponding release of pain in my stomach. There is also a frizz of warm sensation in my feet as blood circulation flows more freely there. “A whole brain/body systemic reaction,” I say to myself, suddenly remembering a trick I was taught by an Alexander Technique therapist. I turn over onto my back and focus my eyes on the light switch by the bathroom door, some six yards away. I concentrate on widening my peripheral vision either side of the switch, and hey presto, a spontaneous release of stomach tension. “I think you have an exaggerated startle reflex,” the therapist had told me, explaining that it fitted perfectly with my suspicions about birth trauma. “Its more common than is realized, with people learning to adapt to a rather rigid posture and inhibited responses,” he’d said. “All the world’s a stage,” comes to mind as I turn back onto my stomach and continue to dissolve this physiological state of fear.

This time when I feel into tension in my stomach I’m equally aware of the tension around my eyes, which now feels like I’m forcing them shut. Holding an awareness of both eye socket and stomach tension, I feel a warm tingling in my feet and fingertips too, as a spontaneous deep breath overcomes me. My nervous system is coming back into balance now, as I de-arouse this unconsciously stimulated, whole body state of fearful rigidity. As I continue to relax into my body and gain a more mind-less state of embodied awareness, I remember how years ago I would have gotten stuck in that pressurized compulsive thinking, maintaining and amplifying this fearful state all the way into that avoidance of life we call depression. Yet just as now happens when I’m too excited and worry about escalating into a manic mood state, I begin to drift back down into my body with a mind-less muscular relaxation. The unconsciously stimulated physical tensions of fear, dissolving, as sleep, per chance to dream, overcomes my “I think therefore I am,” all too self-conscious mind." An excerpt from Born to Psychosis an online memoir of my journey to full recovery.

* * *

Those Cognitive Constructs of the Mind, in the West's Mental Illness Debate?
Consider another comment on Mad in;
David Bates on January 9, 2013 at 5:13 pm said:

It is a very good articulation of Buddha-ness, as Giulio puts it.

Its interesting to contemplate how we tend to objectify or mystify the human experience in our mind’s interpretation of reality? Buddha, literally meaning Awake, mystified into the name of its originator Siddhārtha Gautama who developed “the way,” transformed hundreds of years later into Christ’s “I am the way?”

It seems the great theme’s of existential reality never change, in which respect this “now” is of coarse eternal, and Tolle explores this reality in his “The Power of Now.” Is the practice any different to Siddartha’s Way? The great prince of Sense-Abilty, as I’ve come to know him.

Lucy mentions other culture’s and the white man’s need for dominance above, and I must admit I went to Thailand with a typical Western sense of superiority. Yet I found recovery in mixture of Western objective science (The Polyvagal Theory) and Peter Levine’s adaptation of Eastern practices of sensate awareness, and of coarse a culture which takes non-attachment to the objects of the mind, for granted, a daily practiced, way of life.

Lucy suggests we think about a regurgitated model of Carl Rogers “person centered” approach in her articulation of “Formulation” yet of coarse an Eastern approach would regurgitate a need to center the person in the realty of the body and its sensory nature.

The existential theme of being, remains the same? Perhaps its all about the body, and its its need of approach or avoidance? Consider;


Imagine an archetypal interaction: A cat is cornered by a dog. The cat hisses, its body tensely arched, hairs on end, ears pulled back. If the dog gets to close, the cat lashes out, claws unsheathed. If we could see the cat’s heart, it would be pounding “a mile a minute.” The dog barks loudly, bounding forward and backward, but coming only so close, as not to get slashed by the cat. What is motivating their behavior? “Fear” and “anger” might be a satisfactory answer in everyday terms.

A slightly more sophisticated explanation might be that the dog’s initial attack was produced by anticipation of a good chase, but the cat’s affective defenses successfully thwarted the dog’s intentions and provoked frustration. That really aroused the dog’s ire and got emotional volleys of anger and fear bouncing back and forth. (p, 10)

At the simplest level, world events can produce approach or avoidance, but careful analysis of the evidence now suggests that both these broad categories contain a variety of separable, albeit interactive, processes that must be distinguished to reveal a proper taxonomy of affective processes within the brain. (p, 14)

I will assume that recent evolutionary diversification has more vigorously elaborated surface details of behavior and cognitive abilities, than it has altered the deep functional architecture of the ancient brain systems that help make us the emotional creatures we are. Thus, fear is still fear, whether in a dog or an angry human. At deeper levels, very similar emotional systems guide many of the spontaneous behavioral tendencies of all mammals, (p, 15)

Even though our unique higher cortical abilities, especially when filtered through contemporary thoughts, may encourage us to pretend that we lack instincts–that we have no basic emotions–such opinions are not consistent with the available facts, Those illusions are created by our strangely human need to aspire to be more than we are–to feel closer to the angels than to other animals. But when our basic emotions are fully expressed, we have no doubt that powerful animal forces survive beneath our cultural veneer. It is this ancient animal heritage that makes us the intense, feeling creatures we are. (p, 21)

The most primal affective-cognitive interaction in humans, and presumably other animals as well, is encapsulated in the phrases “I want” and “I don’t want.” These assertions are reflected in basic tendencies to approach or avoid various real-life phenomena. When these affective systems are overtaxed or operate outside the normal range, we call the end results “psychiatric disorders.” Under-activity of certain systems may cause depression and variants of personality disorders. Over-activity can contribute to mania, paranoid schizophrenia, and anxiety, obsessive-compulsive, and post-traumatic-stress disorders (PTSDs).

The extent to which the emotional operating systems exhibit neural plasticity–changes in the efficiency of synaptic connections and dendritic arborization as a function of experience–is becoming an increasingly important avenue of empirical enquiry. Practically every brain system changes with use and disuse. For instance the “archetypal situations” described earlier are the types of experiences that lead to PTSD, and its presently believed that persistent neural traces of emotional traumas reflect the development of long-term sensitization in areas of the brain such as the amygdala, which are known to mediate fearfulness.

Indeed, newly emerging disorders such as “multiple chemical sensitivities,” which may have contributed to that mysterious recent outbreak known as the “Gulf War Syndrome,” may be due to a change in the sensitivity of emotional circuits that can be induced, especially in temperamentally predisposed individuals, by exposure to environmental toxins. Although our knowledge of chronic changes that can occur in emotional circuits remains rudimentary, it is likely that all emotional systems exhibit forms of plasticity, which eventually will help us understand much about the underlying neuronal nature of psychiatric disorders.

Each emotional system is hierarchically arranged throughout much of the brain, interacting with more evolved cognitive structures in the higher reaches, and specific physiological and motor outputs at lower levels. The emotional systems are centrally placed to coordinate many higher and lower brain activities, and each emotional system also interacts with many other nearby emotional systems. Because of the ascending interactions with higher brain areas, there is no emotion without a thought, and many thoughts can evoke emotions. Because of the lower interactions, there is no emotion without a physiological or behavioral consequence, and many of the resulting bodily changes can also regulate the tone of the emotional systems in a “feedback” manner. (p, 27)

Taxonomies of emotions are bound to differ depending on an investigator’s preferred level of analysis. For instance, subtle social emotions like shame, guilt, and embarrassment may emerge from separation-distress systems interacting with higher brain functions. In any event , at the present time, the lower command level provide the best organizational principles for scientific inquires. We can now be confident that a limited number of executive structures for emotionality were created in our brains by our genetic heritage, but we cannot yet be certain how many exist and how widespread they are in the nervous system.”

Selected excerpts from, “Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions.” by Jaak Panksepp.

Are most “intellectuals,” here on MIA, too firmly “attached” to those wonderful cognitive constructs, and the life of the mind? Will we continue to regurgitate cognitive constructs here, as we wind on down the road, our shadows taller than our Souls?

We’re not animals and we don’t have instincts? There is no predator/prey axis in the emotional life of human beings?

* * *

No Predator/Prey Axis in the Emotional life of Human Beings?
Is it a harsh comment? Am I wrong to liken the Trauma of Child Abuse to a Predator/Prey Relationship?

In true reality, there is no suffering!
Is Giulio Cesare Giacobbe right in his articulation of Siddartha's meaning?

Is mental illness a suffering of the mind which is an attempt to escape a harsh reality of life? If so, can we hope to come to terms with our symptoms of mental illness, by an effort of will and the power of the mind? Consider Giulio's words again;

"Most people in the Western world, love the mind and the power of its creations, and rightly so, yet true presence in reality does not negate the power of the mind, it simply offers a way out of suffering.
Suffering generated by our own mind, due to confusion about the distinct difference between objects of reality and the mental objects of the mind, as NOT real?

Buddhism has one essential purpose: liberation from suffering.
All it is saying is, you cannot defeat the fantasies of your mind, by staying within your mind.
You need to come out of your mind and enter reality.

This is why “attenuating” thought allows us, quite naturally and without effort – in other words, spontaneously – to implement the second power of Buddha-ness (truly awake): presence in reality.

Is an admission of our evolved nature, our animal instincts and their role in our unique susceptabilty to truama, a failure of reason and a betrayal of God and Jesus, as so many of the West's Christian's seem to believe? Or is the rising tide of mass education taking us into an era when the reality of evolution will become an embodied phenomenon? IMO One the problems with our Western sense of "I think therefore I am," is a taken for granted "lip service" to the reality of being? "Yeah! Yeah, I know that," we tend to react, when asked about darwin's theory of evolution, not realizing just how we function with an instinctive-intelligence?

IMO We can cut through the confusion of the mind's "cognitive constructs," (objects in the mind?) like those in the soon to be published DSM-5. We can learn to embody our own reality and manage our symptoms of mental illness, by practicing a sensate awareness, as outlined here and further explained in My Bipolar Recovery Method?

As a further explanation of how I used Western & Eastern awareness in my full recovery from Bipolar Disorder Type 1, and the tryranny of "hopeless helplessness," in my lack of self-awareness, please read;

Madness & the Chaotic Energies of The Trauma Trap?

Madness & Chaotic Energies of a Trauma Trap?
Of coarse, Real-Life, Is a Hollywood Movie?
Is a new understanding and appreciation of Trauma, re-defining our view of Madness & Mental Illness?
Is the experience of Mental Illness being re-defined, as The Trauma Trap?

Does the Human Mind, actively block a Natural Process, of Trauma Resolution? Resulting in the signs and symptoms of Mental Illness?

Its hard for us humans to give up our egoic conviction, that the mind is the center of the known Universe (no pun intended, of coarse). Yet are we entering an era of science research and spiritual yearning, which may be ushering in the golden age, so many Mad Euphoric's, have long predicted?

Is Religious Ecstasy, for example, one of the positive symptoms, now considered an illness in our objectively rational, modern era? Of coarse, the negative symptoms of mental illness, still holds sway, in our normal judgment.
Sadly, our shadow, is still taller than our Soul?

Peter Levine, PhD.
40 years of Trauma Resolution Wisdom
Trauma and Spirituality:
In a lifetime of working with traumatized individuals, I have been struck by the intrinsic and wedded relationship between trauma and spirituality. With clients suffering from a daunting array of crippling symptoms, I have been privileged to witness profound and authentic transformations.
Seemingly out of nowhere, unexpected “side effects” appeared as these individuals mastered the monstrous trauma symptoms that had haunted them- emotionally, physically and psychologically. Surprises included ecstatic joy, exquisite clarity, effortless focus and an all-embracing sense of oneness. _Peter Levine, PhD. Author of the quintessential guide to trauma resolution;
"In an Unspoken Voice."

So what does "Trauma Trap," actually mean?

In his 1997 book “Waking the Tiger,” Peter Levine described his unique views on post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as trapped survival energies needing to be discharged. His ideas and success in treating trauma sufferers with his unique approach, helped lead a revolution in the mindful approach to emotional issues in a wide variety of therapeutic practices.

In "Waking the Tiger" Levine asks a simple, yet potent question? "Why do animals living in the wild, not suffer post trauma effects, after the kind of experiences that cause the symptoms of PTSD in many humans?"

It takes a momentary suspension of our normal reasoning, to imagine an unconscious nervous system, mediating much of our everyday social behaviors, as the evolved nervous system we share with all other mammals. As an evolved aid and defense of survival, mammals have an innate ability to feign death as a last ditch, instinct for survival. When there is no possibility of fight or flight, no possible means of escape from immediate and overwhelming threat, mammals escape into a simulated death state. "The Trauma Trap?"

Humans share an evolved autonomic nervous system with other mammals, although evolutionarily adapted to our unique needs.  If we imagine such human reactions as shock, fainting, freezing in fright or even in the sensations of acute embarrassment, when we feel that desire for the ground to open beneath us. It becomes possible to see a "continuum" parallel, with a mammalian ability to feign death?

Recent advances in our knowledge of the autonomic nervous system, have altered the famous fight/flight notion of the human stress response, to a freeze/flight/fight response, as the order of our instinctual responses, to the kind everyday environmental stress we encounter. Again, it takes a momentary suspension of our normal, everyday reasoning, to imagine a continuum of response, by degrees? This unconscious trick to aid survival, the stimulation of a temporary death state (an extreme "freeze" response), adapts to a subtler state of "tonic immobility," an important aspect of "The Trauma Trap." Please consider;

"Traumatized people are too “suppressed,” too stuck in “primal defenses” more appropriate to our amphibian or reptilian evolutionary predecessors. So what is a therapist to do with human beings hurt and beaten down by past trauma? Help people listen to the unspoken voice of their own bodies and to enable them to feel their “survival emotions,” of rage and terror without being overwhelmed by these powerful states.

In what ethologist’s call “tonic immobility,” helplessness, we are “scared stiff.” In human beings, unlike animals, the “state” of temporary freezing becomes a long-term “trait.” A paralysis of will, shame, depression and self loathing following in the wake of such imposed helplessness. The mental states associated with trauma are important, but they are secondary. The body initiates and the mind follows. Hence “talking cures”  that engage the intellect or even the emotions, do not reach deep enough. Trauma is not a disease, but rather a human experience rooted in survival instincts.

When an organism perceives overwhelming mortal danger (with little or no chance of escape), the biological response is global paralysis and shutdown. Ethologists call this innate response “tonic immobility.” Humans experience this frozen state as helpless terror. Humans, in contrast to animals, frequently remain stuck in a kind of limbo, not fully reengaging in life after experiencing threat as overwhelming terror or horror.

Rather than being a last ditch reaction to inescapable threat, paralysis becomes a “default” response to a wide variety of daily arousal. I discovered it was crucial to “titrate” (gradually access) these physiological reactions so that they are not overwhelming. I also learned that, shaking and trembling, which constitute the discharge reactions, were often so subtle as to be barely noticeable to outside observation. Often the manifestation of the discharge was a gentle muscular fasciculation or temperature change, noticeable in the hands and face.

I was exploring how various imbalanced patterns of muscular tension and postural tone were related to symptoms - and how releasing and normalizing these entrenched patterns often led to unexpected and dramatic cures. The Alexander technique is an approach for reducing harmful postural habits that interfere with both the physical and mental states of an individual. (see The Physiological Foundations of Mental Anguish?

At the right time, traumatized individuals are encouraged to and supported to feel and surrender into immobility/NDE states, states of profound surrender, which liberate these primordial archetypal energies, while integrating them into consciousness. In addition to the “awe-full” states of horror and terror appear to be connected to the transformative states such as awe, presence, timelessness and ecstasy." _Peter Levine.

Selected excerpts from “In an Unspoken Voice,” by Peter Levine, PhD.

A TRAUMA TRAP? - Mental Illness/Torment? As an Injury, Not a Disease?

"An Iraq war veteran objected to his combat anguish being labeled PTSD, and named it PTSI, the “I” designating “injury.” Rather than being a disease in the classical sense, trauma is a profound experience of “dis-ease” or “dis-order.” Excerpt from "In an Unspoken Voice."

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Its another long, long post, I know, yet there is no quick fix to the experience of mental illness, no magic bullet in form a pill (not without side effects). No easy, feel good phrase that will make all the pain and hopelessness, suddenly go away. It took me three years of constant reading and a daily practice of the "mind-less" meditation I've articulated throughout this blog. Three years in Thailand where I had the time, space and lack of Western judgements about my so-called condition, to begin to really embody my own presence in reality?

Looks odd at first sight I know, sounds odd to the ear? "How can you not embody your own presence?" You may be thinking? Yet we don't fully embody our own presence in reality, when we confuse the mind's reality, with the external reality which surrounds us? Yet IMO It is true, that we avoid ourselves, by escaping into the mind, on a continuum from so-called normal to abnormal, human behavior. IMO we are moving closer to embodying more of our evolved nature, particularily in the ongoing awareness of a trauma conditioning of the autonomic nervous system? (ANS) Please consider a paper by the US military and its recognition of the ANS in PTSD resolution;

“ A systems perspective on health and resilience seeks to establish good functioning and balance across all body systems (e.g., homeostasis and harmony) through integration of beneficial health and mind- body practices. This review focuses on promising integrative practices (also referred to as mind -body practices) for regulating stress via the autonomic nervous system (the ANS). The practices reviewed are focused more specifically on integrative mind- body techniques designed to help regulate and manage stress, emotions and arousal (i.e., strategies for lowering anxiety when it is too high or for increasing arousal when it is too low). Routine pharmaceutical and psychological interventions are often a last resort for helping people manage stress and their emotions. Consideration of the spectrum of mind -body approaches to help mediate and manage stress before it becomes too intense to self -manage provides a preventative approach to strengthening resilience and prevention of psychological health difficulties. ” 

See: Mind Body Skills for Regulating the Autonomic Nervous System