Trigger warning: sexual abuse and loss of air flow
When I was thirteen I decided I wanted to learn how to meditate, and from about ages fourteen-seventeen I meditated daily, sometimes for as long as forty-five minutes each sit.
When I got to college my practice ebbed and flowed. But it always felt like something I could return to.
I have tried several times to meditate in my new life of being a survivor and living with PTSD. Each time has led me to some sort of panic attack or flashback.
Last night I tried meditating, but this time with somebody else present, hoping that in not being alone, I might be able to settle into the old joy and relief I experienced meditating.
After less than ten minutes, I was crying, standing up, leaving the sitting area, and shaking from a flashback.
I went online and decided to do some research. I had a feeling there must be resources out there on meditating after a traumatic event. My feeling is correct. There are so many!
The first article I clicked on felt like gold, because it validated so many of my experiences, and gave tips and encouragement.
“The body and breath are anchors for awareness that can be returned to again and again. Mindfulness of the breath is especially useful for trauma survivors, who tend to hold their breath as a way of not connecting with the present moment. Holding the breath is an unconscious response to anxiety, and may also be part of the process of dissociating from the experience. If, however, the trauma was related to the act of breathing (such as choking or oral sexual abuse), then the breath is obviously not the best meditation anchor. In these cases, during “sitting” periods, try listening meditation, body sweeping, mantras, or touch points.” -Amy Schmidt and John J. Miller
Such a relief and validation to read these words. I had been feeling ashamed that I wasn’t able to do my old practice, which always included “watching the breath” as a central approach. But reading the above passage made so much sense. Integral to my trauma is the loss of breath. No wonder this does not feel like a safe place for me to start.
I kept reading: “It can be helpful for survivors to practice in a way that seems contrary to the traditional Buddhist teachings. In the sutras, the Buddha advocated a warrior-style practice: ‘Let only my skin and sinews and bones remain and let the flesh and blood in my body dry up; I shall nor permit the course of my effort to stop until the end is reached.’ Instead, trauma survivors need to learn what one teacher calls the ‘reverse-warrior’ practice….working with trauma is like having two jobs: You’re doing the practice of meditation and the practice of healing at the same time. In this regard, the meditation focus needs to be on simple, small steps.” -Amy Schmidt and John J. Miller
This passage also feels tremendously helpful. However, I happen to quite like seeing myself as a warrior. So instead of “reverse-warrior practice” maybe it can be “adjusted-warrior practice.” So I can still be warrior, but also remember it’s okay to make adjustments to common practices in honor of healing and being kind and gentle to my own personal practice.
For anyone interested or who thinks they might be helpful for you or someone you know, below are some of the links I stumbled upon last night after trying to meditate.
May each individual remember that meditation practice is not only a practice, but a personal practice, and depending on our life experiences and circumstances the shape and form of the practice might need to change. This does not mean we are not warriors.