The past few months have felt like surround sound psycho education, an immersion in a new perspective, becoming increasingly familiar with it. This is enabling an increased sensitivity to my internal experience and how to track it, while mastering the concepts and vocabulary from a range of different disciplines and practises. These include Somatic Experiencing, EMDR and an online training in Trauma Sensitive Mindfulness. ‘Psycho education’ is important in understanding something of the way the brain and nervous system function, and how these subtle physical processes can be interrupted and knocked off track very easily into fight, flight and freeze.
Recently I was trying to describe the relationship between what I was learning and my dharma framework. I said I had a whole map of the mind that I worked with awareness and wisdom practice, but there were a couple of countries I visited regularly within the globe where I didn’t speak the language or know the customs. This articulated something of the experience of being with very familiar painful states of mind and body but not understanding how they kept arising and persisting year after year however I practiced with them.
It’s been helpful too, to see some connections between meditation, especially the receptive practice I’m trained in, and more psychophysical approaches.
One of the features of trauma sensitive mindfulness is that we are always ‘in choice’. This is because some of the traditional focuses of meditation practice – on the breath or the body – can be very triggering if you’ve experienced certain kinds of trauma. So, it is important that you have options and can chose a focus that really does conduce to relaxation and stability of mind rather than its opposite. I’ll describe a couple of different areas where we can be ‘in choice’.
Usually, a meditation teacher would lead a practice with a specific focus such as the breath, or a body scan where you pay attention to each part of the body as it’s named by the leader. But in TSM you would always offer more than one option as to where someone might focus their attention. Typically, this might include the breath, or a neutral part of the body like sensations in your hands, or perhaps sounds in the environment around you.
Uncontrived Mindfulness, and the receptive approach that I learned from Sayadaw U Tejaniya doesn’t specify any single or particular ‘object’ to rest the attention with. The object is seen as quite unimportant, irrelevant even; the only ‘job’ of the breath or sound or body sensation is to support awareness becoming more continuous. So, the focus will often be quite momentary and light moving to different aspects of experience but with a continuity of mindfulness. So receptive practice is – in this way – very compatible with trauma sensitive meditation.
Another way choice and flexibility is encouraged is through the posture we take up. If there is an over-emphasis on sitting (either on the floor or in a chair) and, in particular, sitting very still, we can end up overriding instincts that are trying to keep body and mind feeling safe and the nervous system at ease. Being able to observe very subtle emotional tensions and make mental and physical adjustments can help avoid further tension and rigidity, bringing about some equilibrium.
It’s made me realise how even though Sayadaw U Tejaniya in Burma has studied very little outside of his own monastic tradition, he could recognise a ‘dharma casualty’ at 50 paces! That’s a flippant way of saying he has learned and now instinctively knows what’s helpful for a mind to practice well. Such things as relaxation, flexibility and self-trust all feature strongly in the approach he has developed from his own teacher.
Sometimes, in our desire to push through, to ‘get somewhere’ in practice, we try and keep to the rules to race to our goal. Instead, with more sensitivity, though we might feel we’re letting ourselves off the hook, think of the long game. We’re setting up conditions that support relaxation and presence. Whether we do that lying down or moving a bit in meditation is beside the point. We learn to judge for ourselves what a helpful quality of mind in and out of meditation feels like. Once we’ve connected with how to bring those conditions into being, we’ll be able to do so more and more often until it becomes second nature.
Worth taking a little time over don’t you think?