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Trauma-Informed Spirituality 101

There is no question that for our planet to thrive, we all have to unite.

There is no more powerful unifying force, I believe, than spirituality - the true embracing of the God-spark dwelling deep within our hearts; the sublime surrender to a higher power so much greater than our own individual selves.

Yet in the world today, spirituality has so many different faces - some worship Christ, others bow down to Shiva, Buddha or Allah, while still others speak of the Divine Self or Source Connection. Sadly, this multiplicity has been a historical source of division.

What is it, then, that can truly unite so many different people with so many different creeds and colours, so that spirituality can actually become a powerful unifying force?

I believe what unites us is our common shared experience of trauma - individual, in our families and ancestors, and in our culture and collective. Trauma is the great equalizer, it is what ruthlessly brings us to our knees again and again, it is the shared experience of that undercurrent which keeps us powerless, fearful, frustrated, deeply sad and desperately yearning for something better. It is our common humanity. Yet it is also the it is the mud from which the lotus of pure love can grow.

Whether we are Christian or Buddhist, agnostic or anarchist, or simply choose to follow the path of our own heart, I believe we all could benefit from learning about trauma. Then every form of spirituality, whatever we choose to embrace, will be united by the common thread of trauma-informed teachings and practice, which can then be integrated into the very substrate of our lives.

What is trauma? What are the burdens we carry in our subconscious or shadow side? How does trauma affect us as individuals, families and generations, and also as cultures, societies and even the earth as a whole? How is it that collective trauma can remain so well hidden that we regard it as 'normal'? How does trauma repeat itself through history and what can we do about this? What can we do to feel strong and safe enough to enter the re-membering of the scars it leaves in our psyche and release them once and for all?

These are questions which, I believe, should be an integral part of any type of education, and should become embedded in how we teach, learn and practice spirituality - regardless of where we might be coming from.

What might spirituality look like, we may ask, when trauma-informed principles are absent?

Put simply, without an awareness of trauma we become utterly vulnerable to what we call spiritual bypassing - when we use spirituality to paint a rosy-coloured picture that simply isn't aligned with reality. This can leave us aloof, disconnected and out of touch with what is actually happening.

When I reflect on my own life, I can clearly see that I spent many years of my life on the bypassing treadmill. Growing up as a Catholic devoted to many hours of sincere prayer and penance, I had no clue that I was actually really awkward and disconnected around my peers. Then when I first embraced a Buddhist path, I took pride in being single and removed from the world's distractions. Later on, I used New Age workshops and non-duality teachings to avoid looking deeply into my own shadow side - which I was only able to unveil much later on when I truly embraced my own trauma.

What, then, if the opposite was true and we only focus on trauma and forget about spirituality?

Speaking again from personal experience, there have been times when the pendulum has swung the other way and I have been utterly disillusioned with anything 'spiritual'. Yet honestly said, for much of this time I identified as a victim, lamenting that the spark of divinity has abandoned me and abandoned the world. The oneness, the rapture and the surrender felt oh so very distant. When I was finally able to see these periods as expressions of unhealed trauma, I began to get really good at neutralizing the pain, grief, anger and fear which had been buried for so long. However, my whole life basically became neutral. A great deal of trauma was healed, yet joy, love and purpose had no way in and my skeptical 'thinking mind' was mostly running the show. I had inadvertently used trauma to bypass spirituality! Deep down I knew I longed for more than this.

How, then, can we discover a middle way, a balanced view of trauma and spirituality where we do not bypass one nor the other?

This is something I am still working on, yet at least now I feel my inner compass is pointing in the right direction. I can only imagine how it would be to completely surrender to the flow of life in all its kaleidoscopic shades of agony and rapture. I am inspired by the poetry of Rumi, the great Persian mystic, filled with intoxicating devotion to his beloved teacher Shams of Tabriz. And the songs of surrender of the Tibetan saint Milarepa or the great Christian mystic Saint Francis of Assisi.

How can we emulate this? Personally, I find incredible value in the Tibetan approach of learning to identify directly with our deepest spiritual core through the transmission of someone who embodies this truth. After receiving this transmission we first visualise a reality imbued with the qualities of direct awakening, which leads to a feeling or intuitive knowing of these qualities and then finally gives birth to direct experience and complete embodiment. Our first glimpse of these qualities - such as awe, unbridled gratitude and Self-expansion - is like seeing the ocean for the first time, and integrating all our traumas and burdens is akin to diving into the ocean again and again until the ocean becomes crystal clear and we realise it has always been inside us.

True spirituality, then, is expanding our view of the ocean while healing our trauma is the humble and arduous quest of cleaning it all up.

True spirituality opens our minds and hearts, while trauma healing ruthlessly clears out all our orifices so there is real room to expand.

True spirituality is claiming the brilliance of who we are in the dynamic dance with all beings in the cosmos, while trauma healing lets us dismantle and release the wounds of a toxic culture where everything is seen as separate

True spirituality activates the infinite compassion, bliss and clear seeing that lies dormant in our Being, while trauma healing clears the knots, tensions and constrictions in our body which block this sacred stream.

True spiritualty makes us more sensitive to everything all around us, while trauma healing lets us release what makes us hypersensitive, anxious and fragile.

My sincere prayer is that we will all discover this incredible synergy between spirituality and trauma healing. I pray that this notion of trauma-informed spirituality will grow into a genuine unifying force that can bring us together in our quest to heal ourselves and heal our planet. I pray that this vision will begin to manifest in our education system so that all people - from all walks of life - will reclaim the God spark that is our divine inheritance and courageously co-create a future that is bold, beautiful and awesome.


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