Updated: Jun 15, 2021
I have tried many different things while I have walked the road to healing. I remember being in spiritual communities & churches that were teaching that we need to pray, meditate, & practice mindfulness (not to mention countless internet searches). I understood the principles of these practices & wanted to see the benefits in my life. I struggled really badly with meditation & mindfulness. Of course I began to make meaning about my worth as the result of my struggles with these two things. In this post, I will talk about how trauma survivors have a unique challenge when it comes to these two practices & how you can embrace them & not give up on these tools of self discovery & growth.
The Missing Link with Mindfulness & Trauma
Lot's of people are tapping into the power of meditation & mindfulness as a daily practice. The benefits of each of these practices are proven & backed by science. I personally found each of these practices to be challenging because guess what happened when I closed my eyes & began to focus on my breathing...it forced me into my body. Most trauma survivors flee their bodies & numb their emotions in order to survive. So getting into our bodies can cause panic, dissociation, anxiety & an aversion to keeping up the practice. You or those around you may judge your inability to remain in that state for any period of time. I want you to know that there is nothing wrong with you. Your body & mind are reacting to a perceived lack of safety from the trauma you endured. It is possible to cultivate the ability to use these tools & reap the benefits of them. I will share with you how I've been able to create a practice of my own that incorporates them both.
What Meditation & Mindfulness Are & Aren't
Many people believe that meditation is stopping all thoughts, this is not the purpose of meditation. The purpose of meditation is to watch your thoughts & let them move through without getting pulled down the rabbit hole behind them. Even if you do get pulled into the hole, you can always return to your breath & start again. The wonderful thing about this is that you can always begin again & it doesn't negate what you have done so far. With meditation, I advise using guided meditations on a topic that you would like to cultivate such as peace, gazing at a candle flame (or a fixed point in the room), or sitting still while breathing in through your nose & out through your nose. You can start at 2 or 3 minute intervals, noticing what you feel as the result of the practice. As your brain begins to develop neurons that support the practice, you will find it easier to sit for longer periods of time. Mindfulness is the gentle presence to what you are currently doing. Thich Nhat Hahn talks about mindfulness & how to cultivate it. Let's take an every day task that we must do & apply mindfulness to it. Let's go with eating. How mindful are you while you eat? Do you shove it in there & keep it moving? Do you chew your food fully before swallowing? Do you taste your food? Practice these things the next time you sit down to a meal. It is simply the practice of being fully present to what you are doing each moment. Another thing you can do is practice mindful breathing. Breathe in for a count of 4 & say "I am breathing in", breathe out to a count of 6 & say "I am breathing out". Mindfulness can help you alleviate a lot of suffering. It takes practice just like anything else & even just a few moments of practicing will help you. Mindfulness is not designed to make you a superhero, it is simply a tool of awareness so that you can see who you really are.
Taking it Slowly
Everyone thinks that they have the exact answer to everyone else's problems. There are as many different ways of doing things as there are people on this earth. If you take nothing else away from this post or any of my posts, let it be that YOU HAVE TO FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU. If you are just starting your journey to heal from trauma & abuse I'd advise you to take things slowly. Give each thing you try time to work. It is no different with meditation & mindfulness. Trying to force yourself to sit in meditation for an hour or even 30 minutes when you have never done it before is a recipe for disaster. Also, closing your eyes might be triggering if you have intrusive thoughts or flashbacks. Deep breathing may be an entirely new concept to you & can make you aware of how you have not been fully breathing. This can cause panic. Remember that it is the tortoise that wins the race not the hare.
Accepting Where You Are
I have heard many stories & have my own experience with feeling like things are getting worse as I began to work on my issues. Things are not getting worse, you are just becoming more aware which is a good thing. When you first visit your therapist, things will seem worse. When you first start meditation you may not be able to sit still, it's normal. When you practice mindfulness you may get squirrel brain, it's normal. Don't give up on yourself you are building new pathways in your brain & it takes time for them to develop. Accept the challenge that creating a new way of being presents. Give yourself plenty of grace & keep at it. You deserve it!
What are your experiences with these two practices? Have you found a hack that helps you maintain the practice or are you completely lost & struggling to get into the groove? Would it be beneficial to practice this with safe others? If so, join The Proving Ground to start practicing with me. I'd be glad to help you get a routine that supports your healing. Click here to join.