This was first posted on 21/07/2021
While trauma has become the lens through which many people makes sense of human behaviour and experience it is, in itself, a certain type of debilitating experience, loosely related to certain types of events. If it is traumatising to a woman to have an uninvited male hand placed on the knee, then it is more traumatising still to be born, go to school, be continually rejected sexually as a teenager, and not least to be subject to the institutionalisation of sexual shame and free will. However this elasticity simply renders the concept of trauma almost meaningless, while doing nothing to help people assimilate deeply wounding events such as violent rape, surviving an otherwise fatal car accident or being beaten with a weapon by agents of the state, while belittling their experience by clumsy and insensitive association.
Trauma is a psychosomatic condition that you can be left with as a result of something that is no longer happening.
The effect of a specific event is determined in part by the individual psychology and social relationships of the participants, and what they experience immediately afterwards. What is a traumatic event for you, is not necessarily a traumatic event for me. I have been threatened and attacked by strangers, beaten by police, arrested at machine-gun-point, looked into the frightened eyes of a teenager with his finger on the trigger of the weapon he held against my forehead, convicted of crimes i did not commit, serially institutionalised, sexually assaulted by friends, prison inmates and police officers, raped, held a dying child of mine in my hands, while my appetite for life, risk and the unknown remained and remains undiminished.
The biggest problem in resolving trauma, is the reason resolution is required in the first place: disembodiment. Any event that is threatening, or even apparently so, can be met and dealt with, or it can produce a dissociation response that obstructs the free flow of Natural Intelligence. This response can be anything from denial to total freeze. Mind turns away from the threat, but body is shocked into a specific neuromuscular constriction. Unable to safely respond the body becomes locked in a psycho-somatic pattern of defensiveness. This defensiveness then colours all future experience, not only those that resonate with the originating threat.
Although trauma always has its somatic imprint, it originates within dissociation from a painful event. This dissociation is a moment of disembodiment. One that takes place even as the traumatising event becomes debilitatingly embodied as muscular tension. While disembodiment can be a momentary event, it can also become a state of being.
There is much more to disembodiment than being out of touch with your body. It means living principally from and in cognitive intelligence, the story telling genius of mind. The ability to think is given dominion over the ability to feel. Shared ideas are given more authority than personal experience.
Disembodiment insulates people from their inner compass, out of touch with the Intelligence and Wisdom of their body. This creates an ongoing anxiety so deep and so common that it functions below the threshold of conscious awareness and social convention. Unable to locate a sense of safety within, people are looking for safety to the accepted and acceptable. They are at the mercy of the natural instability of mind: their own and the collective. They displace their helplessness into the herd. Not only by participating in relentless consumerism, but by colluding with authoritarianism, extending from the arrogance of the professionally qualified to the hypocrisy of those that govern.
Disembodiment is expressed through and supported by false and constraining ideas about satisfaction, happiness and success that are inextricably linked to the consumption of distracting experiences, compensatory gadgets and mood altering chemicals. While disembodiment satisfies itself with the virtual, it is driven by the conceptual. This leaves people satisfied enough by the idea of something to not look for the experience to which the idea points. Thinking and talking about compassion, solidarity, enlightenment, wholeness become substitutes for experiencing them.
Hidden within this is the fallacy that conceptual understanding is knowledge. This fallacy allows people to believe that psychotherapy has been successful because they can conceptualise and explain their sense of un-ease. The explanation is an evasion mechanism, that displaces awareness from facing the issue: disembodiment, which contains a hidden alienation from Natural Intelligence. The same can be said about trauma.
How do we become whole, when we do not know what wholeness is? How can we experience wholeness when we feel broken? Is there something that we can fix, and when fixed will allow us to feel whole? I have been answering these questions with Somatic Methodologies of Intimacy for over thirty years. Methodologies that invite the left over traces from unresolved past experience to release by way of the vulnerability of honest and open intimacy. These methodologies are based on the understanding that the accessibility of wholeness is not dependent on information, skill, understanding or intention; and that the experience of wholeness is prevented by the effort to achieve it.
Trauma has two fundamental aspects: the somatic imprint left over from unresolved past experience that constrains both action and perception; and the stories with which they are associated. These stories, including explanations of cause and effect, however insightful, function as displacement techniques. It is the activation of these stories that creates resistance and panic. Any sensori-motor pattern, however restricted, deep or frozen is signalled by sensations. While these sensations may be unpleasant they are pale shadows of the resisted sensations that put them there. Feeling them is not re-traumatising, dramatising them is not either, though it is surely reinforcing.
To remember being hit by a car is only symbolically like being hit by a car. One can kill you, the other can not. This blurring of the distinction between the experiential and the imaginable is one more example of the destructiveness of disembodied mind running away with itself.
Trauma is not really the problem that it is often taken to be. We have all been traumatised, although some more violently than others. Being traumatised does not prevent you from experiencing wholeness. Nor does it prevent you from completely letting go of defensive somatic imprinting. This is why trauma can lead to substance addiction for so many. Disembodiment is the problem; and it is not so difficult to reverse. Not by rectification or compensation techniques. Not by words however elegant, insightful or relevant. But by experience: deep and ongoing experience of somatic intimacy.
The fact that everyone carries deep wounds, and is constrained by sensori-motor defences, means that somatic intimacy needs to be guided with understanding, compassion and sensitivity. Guidance and support must be given on the basis of a clear understanding of human nature and its vulnerabilities, and human intelligence and its source. It is not enough to care, you have to know how to take care.
To know how to take care of wounded human beings you have to understand how the body learns and unlearns, and how mind does. You have to guide people experiential step by sensitive step. People cannot learn to be sensitive dancing to music or running. Nor can they learn to access Natural Intelligence if they are prompted to reinforce the false authority of mind, by immersing themselves in elegant ideas and compelling concepts.
We simply need to recover our willingness to feel. This will not come from understanding our unwillingness to feel and its origins. It comes only from learning that it is safe to feel more. This learning can only come from experience. It can only come sensitive step by experiential step. These steps need to be based on how the body learns and unlearns, and how mind does. They need to support body and mind in developing new perceptual and behavioural pathways that become stable and deep enough to replace the old. This is not so hard to do.
Healing trauma, if such a concept is even valid, only requires letting go into the power of Natural Intelligence, and its innate momentum towards wholeness. This letting go can not be imposed. It comes naturally as the willingness to feel deepens. As it does the ability to feel is released and able to fulfil its natural momentum towards wholeness. It is in your ability to feel, not your ability to think nor ability to act, that Natural Intelligence most directly and potently expresses itself, and its momentum towards wholeness. As long as you are being breathed Natural Intelligence is available. Accessing that intelligence is the challenge that is not being met.
When you don’t know where the light switch is, your flounder in the dark. So it must be with all attempts to understand and support human psychology and behaviour that do not take into account the nature and significance of Natural Intelligence. At the same time the inadequacy of the mechanical materialist model of life to human behaviour and psychology is incoherently complemented by idealist assumptions about intention, volition and intelligence which have no basis in human nature. Yet even though totally speculative and unsubstantiated, they underpin the ‘official’ conversation about wellness, wholeness, therapy and trauma.
False assumptions about human nature, how people perceive and learn, the power of intention, the ability to choose, the significance of consciousness, habit and circumstance have led to an overview of health, disability and trauma within which the ability to think is not only running away with itself. In doing so it makes false claims of ascendancy and ownership over the ability to feel, marginalising it. While at the same time the boundaries of trauma are continuously extended to the point of meaninglessness, simply because the whole project is driven by a limited understanding of human nature and intelligence, and what it means to be healthy.
“Somatic Therapy” and “Trauma Therapy” as pop-cultural phenomena are specialised expressions of the “damage-fix” culture spawned by the collective mind running away from the body. One that needs to continuously generate new theories and new methodologies to compensate for and replace their failed predecessors. This is not happening in isolation. It is happening within a broader culture of ‘progress’ within which the solution to all problems are based on their cause: disembodied mind, alienated from nature and blind to Natural Intelligence. The ‘solution’ to the destructiveness of technology is more technology. The ‘solution’ to illness and disease is to suppress symptoms with surgery or pharmaceutical chemicals. The ‘solution’ to pollution is to consume differently.
As this madness creates ever more deepening alienation and marginalisation, a panicked reaction of “Inclusivity Culture” has established itself, while contributing further to alienation, isolation and deprivation. “Inclusivity Culture” is continuously expanding the boundaries of unacceptable behaviour, so that the solution to racism is to criminalise opinion, the solution to gender dynamics is to outlaw gender dynamics, and the solution to differences is to insist that there aren’t any.
This culture of ‘inclusivity’, which continuously expands the boundaries of unacceptable behaviour, may be designed to protect the vulnerable, but actually undermines the experience and vulnerability of those who have experienced genuine trauma. It is a culture that is based on fear. At the surface, this fear may be of professional incompetence or misconduct, but its roots run damagingly deeper. They are embedded in our cultural disembodiment within which imagination and reason have lost their grounding in the embodied domain of direct somatic experience. This disembodiment generates an ongoing unconscious anxiety within which any perceived problem is responded to without reference to the nature of human intelligence, and little or no understanding of the ‘relationship’ between body and mind. Instead the false authority of mind is left to run away with itself with new theories based on the old assumptions; new techniques based on the new theories; new problems created by the new techniques.
’Trauma Culture’ runs the risk of becoming a land of make-believe within which almost all psychological suffering is categorised as trauma, and most unpleasant experiences as traumatic and traumatising. This is a very similar trajectory to that taken by psychoanalysis, within which every boy wants to kill his father and fuck his mother. For the words “trauma”, “traumatic” and ’traumatising” to retain significant meaning they need to have a clear, consistent, limited definition. This is not going to happen. It has already happened, and has been made irrelevant by the paranoid impulse of “inclusivity”, and its disembodied assumptions about human nature, experience and behaviour. For those assumptions to define the norms of human behaviour or the protocols of healing would leave us all clutching at stars and chasing rainbows forever.
Obsessed as everybody is with the obvious, quantifiable and mappable, the significance of the subtle, unquantifiable and un-mappable has been disastrously lost to us all. So it is that human beings relate to each other in and from an ignorance that binds us all in a snowballing momentum of symptomania. While from the calm and spacious depths of Natural Intelligence, the quantifiable and mappable constitute the rippling waves at the surface of a stable, vital ocean. Yes, this shallow surface is where we choose, struggle and suffer. But it we look to it alone for solutions, this suffering will continue.
There is a wisdom within each one of us. This is not myth, nor metaphor. This wisdom is orchestrated through and by the body, but does not originate there. It has no origin. It can not be located, quantified nor mapped. It is not a passive wisdom, it is the power that creates and sustains life. It is the source of all insight and genius, all wholeness and healing. It is the Natural Intelligence that underlies and expresses itself through the intelligence of both body and mind, most pertinently as the innate momentum towards wholeness. Putting people in touch with this momentum is not so hard. Familiarising them with it a little more so. Their staying in touch with it is the challenge. This is a matter of circumstance, lifestyle and support.
The roots of self-destruction are not as deep as they seem. They flourish in the tangle of our biological and social vulnerabilities, and they originate there. They neither extend into nor compromise the stability and invulnerability of Natural Intelligence. This invulnerability contains, supports and mitigates our biological vulnerability and its troubles. Yet we have become so alienated from it that we neither clearly recognise, nor understand, its presence. If we are really interested in wholeness we have to become intimate with the Natural Intelligence that we most deeply are. This does not require the erasure of our past, nor the wounds by which it may have constricted us. It requires only a willingness to feel. This willingness can not be commanded. It can only be invited. Not so hard to do.
Our wounds only appear deep from the surface. Those who pride themselves in being deep are usually only scrabbling under the surface, looking back up at it. They see what those who look down from above don’t see, but they are still looking at the surface, the superficial. This is almost inevitable as it is only at the surface that anything can be meaningfully quantified or mapped. Yet there is more to life than what mind can make of it with its names and labels, categories, distinctions and divisions.
Once you stop struggling with your wounds, and allow your deeper intelligence to take you, they lose their power. They no longer seduce you into thinking that you can or need to get rid of them. The past can never be erased. It can only be contextualised. We are all fucked up on the surface, and we will all remain that way. Yet if we are able to see how small a part our fucked-up-ness actually plays in the unquantifiable vastness of our being, we can find the way to soften and contextualise it within the richness of our deeper invulnerability and its loving generosities. That way is somatic intimacy. A way that flows without the strategies and intentions of mind, through your willingness to feel into the deep wisdom and power of Natural Intelligence.
Defining yourself, and your capabilities, by your trauma is to infantilise yourself and remain in a state of external dependency. You may be anxious, guarded, ill at ease, but you are no less the compression of intelligence that you were when born, albeit functioning less fluidly. That fluidity can easily be recovered through commitment to Somatic Intimacy that deepens your willingness to feel. It will not come from hope, nor from the compassion and wisdom of others. It can only come from your own ability to feel being released, little by little, sensation by sensation, from its learned captivity.