“What is joy without sorrow? What is success without failure? What is a win without a loss? What is health without illness? You have to experience each if you are to appreciate the other. There is always going to be suffering. It’s how you look at your suffering, how you deal with it, that will define you.”
~ Mark Twain
These clear and simple words from Mark Twain highlight some of our most profound spiritual beliefs. There is a cosmic balance to the universe that we mortal souls can’t really comprehend. We get flashes of it sometimes, but I imagine our ability to understand it could fit on the head of a pin.
I was recently reflecting on this yin yang idea, and trying to understand it in terms of trauma. There are always two or more ways of looking at and understanding everything that happens. In therapy, we like to call this re-framing. Re-framing is a wonderful tool for taking something negative that has happened to us and finding new ways to think and feel about it that are more positive and healing.
When I first went to sexual assault counseling, I was strongly told not to think of myself as a victim, but as a survivor. This advice was both good and bad. It was good in that thinking of myself as a survivor helped me feel stronger at a time when it was tempting to feel weak and vulnerable. It was bad in that it delayed my rage at having been victimized. I found that, for me, appropriate anger was a necessary step in healing. Months of stifling that rage, of not declaring myself a victim, was not healthy. In dealing with our trauma, we must recognize both truths. Yes, you were a victim. Yes, you are a survivor.
The difference is in the tense. You were a victim in the past. You are a survivor in the present.
So in finding some balance, and re-framing these thoughts, I was recently led to a new book called Whatever Arises, Love That by Matt Khan. It’s a great title and the ideas in the book are practical and loving. It appeals to those of us healing trauma because we so often have thoughts, flashbacks, and other triggers that rear up when we least expect it. The idea of loving those seemingly unwanted thoughts disarms the charge they can have. When I have a flashback, I send love to that young woman that I was and feel love for the life I have now. Through that, I give love to the flashback. I know without that experience I would not have fully appreciated so many good things in my life that came after. The more I do it, love what arises, the more objective I become about the trauma, and the less power it has over me.
“In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present.” ~ Francis Bacon
If we are on a path of healing, we try to recognize that we must have darkness to appreciate the light, and we must have sorrow to fully know joy. Those dichotomies are part of the balance of our lives. But survivors of trauma are left with a profound question. If we must feel sad to recognize happiness, then why did we have to be a victim of trauma? What is the opposite? Is there an opposite? How do we find the balance for being victimized? We don’t need to be traumatized to appreciate safety.
When I meditated on this, I received a way to re-frame this idea. Rather than thinking “I was a victim of trauma,” my new thought is “I was shown trauma so I could understand it.”
This isn’t exactly a yin yang concept, but it makes sense within me, and makes sense in my life. The answer you receive will make sense for you. Meditate on this idea. Ask for a balancing thought. Your angels are patiently waiting for you to open your mind and heart.
“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or
always stretched open, you would be paralyzed. Your deepest presence is in
every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and
coordinated as birds’ wings.” ~ Rumi
You are Still Beloved.