The Science and Spirituality of Trauma
Trauma is understood as anything that overwhelms the body’s ability to cope at any given time and can be measured on a very wide spectrum from disapproval to neglect to physical and sexual abuse. It can be from caregivers to strangers alike and can be sustained anywhere from pre-verbal to adulthood.
In my experience, people with trauma are less likely to self identify with its symptoms. This can often be due to the detached self-awareness needed to keep them safe. Most are likely to say things like "I had a good childhood, my parents loved me and my needs were met." because as children we do not have the emotional intelligence to understand that somehow our parents are only human. We also carry a hard wired internal logic that if our parents are bad, so are we. Or we hear things like "It wasn't that bad, at least it wasn't this or that" because, and especially if we are socialized female, we've internalized our abuse and believe we are somehow at fault or could have prevented it.
We often dissociate during stress/trauma, protecting ourselves from the pain by detaching from our feelings and felt senses. Neurologically, this amounts to shutting down the critical functions of the higher brain which help inform where you are in time and space. Instead, the emotional instincts of the lower brain take over to manage the fight/flight/freeze/fawn response. If you've ever had a panic/anxiety attack, you've probably experienced first hand what it feels like to have logic and reason completely inaccessible to you.
Because we are separated from our higher brain functions, we loose the ability to store memories attached to a particular time and place. Instead we store the memories as simple images, feelings, or smells. Because those images, feelings, or smells are unattached to any time or place, if we experience them out of their original context, our body believes we are back in the moment of that real or perceived threat and will elicit the same physiological stress response. During stress the body will route all it's resources into mobilizing to fight or flee; increased heart rate and blood flow to the limbs, and decreased resources to the digestive organs and brain. While this is a healthy function of being a human, over stimulation of the stress response can lead to adrenal fatigue, sleeplessness, nightmares, slow or poor digestive system, anxiety, depression, irrational behavior, feeling out of sorts/out of control and so on.
Spiritually, this splitting off from our feelings and felt senses is what is often referred to as soul-loss. We check-out because a part of us believes our body is no longer a safe place to inhabit and cuts off all connection to preserve itself. When we experience dissociation in this way, an un-embodied or fragmented part of us is still living in the past unable to integrate new experiences. This lost part of us, while still intact, is unable to feel felt sensations and emotions therefore unable to contribute to the spiritual growth of you as a person.
Our response to stress is vital to our survival. Healing from trauma necessitates honoring and befriending our coping mechanisms because once the threat is over, coping mechanisms only serve as limiting beliefs. These limiting beliefs take up space in our bodies and energy fields, blocking us from being fully present and keep us from experiencing how life energy wants to move through us, connecting us to our joy, self love, abundance, confidence, and self acceptance.
At our most basic level we are looking to be loved, seen, and understood. The goal of this practice is to re-engage the critical thinking mind by using mindfulness as a tool to become an observer of our patterns rather than having them dictate our reactions. By accessing emotions and felt senses and being met with positive reinforcement in real time, we are able to start re-wiring the way the brain stores trauma so you can live in alignment with what is most true for you.
Astronomical cycles have been linked with personal ritual since the dawn of time and span across many cultures, races, and religions. Connecting with this practice offers the invitation to reconnect to your own lineage by exploring the indigenous practices of your ancestors who practiced land based traditions.
The Moon relates to the element of Water and our emotions. When we align ourselves to the cyclical rhythms of the Moon, we align with nature and make use of the energies already available to us.
Each lunar cycle can represent the whole wheel of the year:
The dark moon represents the element of Earth, the cardinal direction of North, and the season of Winter. The energy here is still, quiet, heavy, and cold, The turning point between the dark Moon and the new symbolizes the moment between death and rebirth, of the stillness from which all life springs.
As the Moon moves through it's orbit, more light is reflected off it's surface. This is called the waxing Moon as energies are building and intensifying as we move towards a full Moon. This stage is related to the element of Air, the cardinal direction of East, and the season of Spring. It is a time of renewal, rebirth, growing, and inspiration.
The full Moon reaches its zenith as the energy peaks to its fullest like a flower bursting open into full bloom, revealing its hidden potential to the world. Its energies are hot and light representing clarity and transformation. The full Moon relates to the element of Fire, the cardinal direction of South, and the season of Summer.
Once the moon has peaked it begins it's return to darkness. This waning or decrease in energy is like harvest season. What grew from the sunlight of summer that is now available for harvest? What can you take stock of and store over winter to sustain you before the next cycle begins? The waning Moon relates to the element of Water, the cardinal direction of West, and the season of Autumn.
One way I've learned to ritualistically align with the cycles of the Moon is to take some time to reflect on what's been coming up for me, explore any themes or limiting beliefs I'm working with that might benefit from having some intentional space? Do I have any intentions around those themes I can write down on a piece of paper and put it on my altar or sacred space? Once you have a theme of your own to work with, you can start at the new moon, sitting at your altar or sacred space with it at least once a week to symbolize each of the 4 lunar stages.
Every culture has its own Harvest celebration. It's a time honored tradition of gathering that which will sustain us during the long night of winter to come. It is a tradition born of our instincts and the need for survival. It comes from a strong connection to the Earth and her rhythmic seasons.
Each season brings with it a blessing. Both in the physical world, where our personal and worldly structures are tended to, and also the unseen world, the realm of our hearts and minds.
As summer began to burn itself out, I felt a tension building within that continued to grow, finally breaking a few days after the Equinox- a time of perfect balance. The Equinox is a celestial event happening only twice a year where north and south hemispheres receive equal amounts of light and equal hours of light and dark each. It marks the waning of summer and beginning of autumn. As these forces moved closer and closer to perfect balance, why then was I feeling tension instead of harmony?
Summer, ruled by the element of fire, pushes us to become more active and engaged with ourselves and the world around us encouraging that which is dormant to grow both within and without. The energy of Fire brings us to understanding our own courage and strength, empowering us to find ways to manifest our desires. And Autumn, ruled by water, whose reflective and cooling properties invite a pensiveness and sensitivity. The transition from Summer to Autumn sees the skies open as the rains come to wash away and cool the fires. It brings reflection and the promise of the mystery of our own depths.
Feeling the opposition of these two forces, I came to understand that balance is not that fleeting moment where two forces are equal. Rather, it’s the harmony of the entire spectrum. We could not have one without the other and we need both to survive. That moment of balance, in truth, is more of a tipping point.
As we reap our own emotional harvest whose growth has been fueled by the fires in our hearts and minds, we leave the ground bare and empty. Ready to be nurtured and tended. Allowed to rest and "winter" as the grounds freeze and we are given the opportunity to reflect and digest what it was we harvested. As the waters of autumn fall from the sky to sooth and cleanse our inner landscapes, we are gently reminded how to seek solace within ourselves allowing kindness in the stillness of reflection.
We may find surprises that have risen in our garden. Seeds we did not ourselves sew yet the wind swept them to our gardens nonetheless. Perhaps they have come as a blessing. Perhaps they have come as our medicine. For this we also offer gratitude.