The Fabric of Our Lives

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“My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue,

An everlasting vision of the ever-changing view.

A wondrous woven magic in bits of blue and gold,

A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold.”

                                                                        ~Carole King

            When I was young and would loudly sing along with Carole King in my room, these words were beautiful. As I grew older, they became profound. Now they bring tears, as they demand reflection. I hope I have many more years to live, and that I can live them awake and aware, knowing that with the good there will be bad, and it’s all part of the tapestry of my life.

Tapestries became popular during the Medieval era, largely because they were portable art, and people and kingdoms often had to move quickly. Originally tapestries told religious stories, then later in life they told tales of romance and fantasy. The process of following a large drawing and transferring that image onto a large, vertical loom is fascinating. The detail work is awe-inspiring. Perhaps our lives are tapestries, the big picture set forth at our birth, the details added as we grow and change.

“We sleep, but the loom of life never stops, and the pattern which was weaving when the sun went down is weaving when it comes up in the morning.”

                                                ~Henry Ward Beecher

Our live are indeed tapestries, each day woven into the existing patterns of the day before, incorporating light and dark, good and bad, fear and safety, life and death. What makes life rich is not to have had only good, safe and happy experiences, but their opposite as well. The contrast in the patterns of the tapestry is what makes it interesting, what paints the picture, what tells the whole story.

As I’ve written in previous blogs, I would not want my traumatic experience to be washed away and taken out of my life’s tapestry. The Dalai Lama once said, “There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’ No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful the experience is, if we lose out hope, that’s our real disaster.”

How do we live through trauma, grief, and sorrow and find our hope again? Through faith. Through turning it constantly over to God to heal. Through trusting the Divine will help us if we but ask. And through looking back at your tapestry so far. Look at how far you’ve come. Really see what you have survived, what gifts it brought you, what strength you gained. Examine the details of your tapestry. What small acts done by you or someone else, wove a new idea into the pattern? What help or compassion patched the place where the threads unraveled? Look at the strength of the whole piece. This has been created by the Divine, and nothing can tear it apart.

“Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.”

                                                                                                ~ Richard P. Feynman

What a beautiful thought! It’s easier to realize this concept when we look at nature isn’t it? The patterns weave together and create the entire tapestry. I am filled with awe when I truly “get” this.

And so we move forward daily, not usually aware, our tapestry growing and changing and becoming richer until the end. So we must accept the entire tapestry, the good and the bad, the frayed edges, and the solid images, the times we were deeply afraid, and the times we were profoundly safe. The times we withheld love, and the times we gave it freely. Accept it, because in the end, what counts is everything, the whole picture ~ the complete tapestry. It’s all part of the fabric of our lives.

“Into Christ’s presence will we enter now, serenely unaware of everything His shining face, and perfect Love.”   ~ A Course in Miracles – WB 157

You Are Still Beloved

Victoria McGee

2/28/2017

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Four Things to do Today to Help Heal Your Trauma

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“True healing is the willingness to treat yourself and others better than the past ever did.”                ~ Matt Kahn                 

I’m fond of being cerebral and spiritual. But sometimes we just need a list, right? Here are the directions. Just do this and you’ll feel better. Don’t give it too much thought, just do it. So here is my practical suggestion for four things you can do every day to help heal your trauma. (Still with the cerebral and spiritual quotes, because they’re awesome and healing in their own right.)

1. Quiet your mind.

“Listen – are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?   ~Mary Oliver

Breathe deeply. Set aside some time today to breathe deeply and quiet your mind. Settle yourself in a place you can feel safe, stick some nice music in your ears, whatever you need to just sit still with yourself. And BREATHE. Breathe deeply and profoundly.

Empty your brain as best you can, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Thoughts will trickle in, just gently say to them, “not now.” And return to the emptiness.

This is like pushing a reset button on your nervous system. And I know it’s hard when you’re a trauma survivor. I KNOW. Sometimes being alone in your own mind can seem scary.

I promise the more you practice, the deeper you breathe, and the more you disempower your random thoughts, the less scary it will be. It will start to be a safe harbor, and at some point become a necessity. This is the space we need to remember that we are one with God. 

2. Find something in Nature to marvel at.

“I go to Nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more.” ~ John Burroughs

We are all so busy, aren’t we? And here I am telling you to squeeze more time into your day to marvel at some Nature. But this doesn’t have to be a hike in the woods or a trip to the park. Even in a big city, Nature is literally all around us. Watch snow fall out the window, watch your cat or dog sleep, be amazed at the strength of an ant carrying a crumb across the kitchen counter, look at the moon or watch the stars come out. If you have a yard, sit in it and look around you. Just notice. Is there a gentle breeze, perhaps, stirring the leaves in the trees? Are there birds going about their busy day? Do you see things growing all around you?

Nature restores our faith by being so constant and accessible. It heals our trauma by reminding us that life goes on and to rely on these good and steady displays of God’s love.

Practitioner hint: to save time, you can combine #1 and #2 – in fact, I highly recommend it!

3. Take another step toward forgiveness.

“Today I decided to forgive you. Not because you apologized, or because you acknowledged the pain that you caused me, but because my soul deserves peace.” ~ Najwa Zebian

Forgiveness is critical to healing. It’s not easy and it won’t happen all at once and you will need God’s help to get there. But today, just take one more baby step closer. Not for their sake, but for yours. We truly keep ourselves in prison when we refuse to forgive.

Studies have shown, too, a correlation between the ability to forgive and the severity of PTSD. Holding back on forgiveness means holding on to some rage, which keeps our bodies in fight or flight status and can lead to increased anxiety. So by not forgiving, we are stuck in trauma. I know you don’t want that. You deserve better.

So just for today, hold a little thought, “I will forgive you, because my soul deserves peace.” Notice how saying “will” forgive can mean either you’re doing it in the next moment, or just maybe someday. Wherever you are in your healing will determine the timeline.

 

“The intelligent way to be selfish is to work for the welfare of others.”  ~ Dalai Lama

Selfish? But if I’m giving of myself Dalai Lama, how is that selfish? Because there is no quicker path to healing than to help someone else! Service takes us out of our own drama and reminds us of our ability to contribute in a positive way to the world around us. Service can restore our faith, not only in God, but in ourselves and our fellow man. Service can be anything! It doesn’t mean you put in many hours at a soup kitchen, although it’s great if you can! It can be many small things throughout the day – times you leave your own head, your own drama, to see what someone around you might need.

Trauma can be so hard on our self-esteem. Self-esteem is defined as how lovable and capable we feel in the world. Service helps us regain some of that. We can again see our value in the world, we make a difference, however small, and we are capable of giving and receiving love. So do something, today, for someone else.

So there it is. Four things to help heal trauma that you can do today. But to be truly healed, you know, we must do them tomorrow too, and the day after that, and then the next day. We don’t do it because we have to. We do it because we are brave and healing is our right, our destination, and our beloved journey.

“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we’ll ever do.” ~ Brene Brown

You Are Still Beloved

Victoria McGee

January 17, 2017

DISARMING TRIGGERS

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 “Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.” – Dalai Lama

Thanks, Dalai Lama. I’ll keep that in mind.

Recently, I’ve been having a hard time with this concept. Suddenly, certain triggers seem to be everywhere, almost impossible to avoid. And survivors of trauma know that avoiding triggers is not the answer, because if you don’t deal with this one, another one will come along, until you deal with it.

So what do we do? What do we do when we are faced with a trigger on a daily basis? I’ve seen so many examples of this; whether it’s someone in the news, a new supervisor who makes you uncomfortable, a new co-worker who resembles someone from your past, a new neighbor with domestic violence issues or who likes to set off fireworks – how do we deal with new and frequent triggers?

The answer is that we deal with daily triggers the same way we deal with intermittent ones, but with more diligence and compassion for ourselves.

First of all, most triggers are not there intending to be a trigger. It, or they, are just existing in the world, in their own sense of reality, being what they are. We are experiencing it as a trigger. We are assigning fear and panic to it. In most instances, a person or thing is not intending to trigger you, but you are triggered by it. It is not their fault, nor is it yours; it just is.

For me, I have to shift this into a state of spiritual opportunity, or anxiety sets in rather quickly. When I’m triggered, I experience the fear and panic, the anger and rage. Then I must step out of this linear reality, examine my own projection, and replace it with a new thought.

I also have to be willing to make this shift. Sometimes I’m not. Recently, I’ve been rather enjoying my rage, and I got stuck there. I had to find a way to stop raging at the trigger without letting it off the hook. This is the spiritual conundrum isn’t it?

Sometimes we have what we feel is rather justified anger, coupled with a notion that anger is not spiritual. But it is! Everything is spiritual.

We can use everything that occurs to show us where we are asleep and how we can wake up completely, utterly, without reservation.” – Pema Chodron

This beautiful quote from Pema Chodron is the ultimate in spiritual thinking. Using everything that occurs, absolutely everything, as our teacher, as that which will lead us to our true nature, that will lead us to the Divine, is the answer to every question.

Letting our triggers show us where we are still asleep can be seen as a gift. In her book, When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron advises seeing what arises in our lives as enlightened wisdom. We do not know what we need next on our spiritual path, only Spirit does. Trust in this. If triggers have come up, if you are struggling with it daily, turn it over to God. The reason for it, and the healing of it, will come to you.

When we need to disarm a trigger, here are some steps you may find helpful.

Breathe – Stopping the gut reaction with a large intake and exhale can help.

Follow the fear – Ask yourself what about this person or situation is triggering fear or anger in you. (This is assuming the trigger is not the original source of your trauma!) Journaling about this can be helpful.

Step into neutral – Once you’ve identified the trigger, shift your mind into neutral. Try to see the person or event from an objective place. They are not “a” trigger, they are “your” trigger.

Ask for Guidance – Ask God to help you understand this trigger, what you are to learn from it, and bring you to a place of healing.

This is not to say that there are not times we need to make changes in our lives. Sometimes a daily trigger is just too much for us. It depends on the trigger, the source trauma, our support network, and where we are in our healing process. Take care of yourself and follow your instinct. Don’t stay in an uncomfortable situation – ever.

As I said, I’m struggling with this right now as well. Some days I’m good at it, some days I give in to anger and fear. It’s a PROCESS. All I know, as I look back on what are now decades of dealing with trauma, that triggers, anger and fear will not win. Constantly turning to the Divine has always saved me, and always will.

A Course in Miracles: Lesson 69:

“Because your grievances are hiding the light of the world in you, everyone stands in darkness, and you beside him. But as the veil of your grievances is lifted, you are released with him. Share your salvation now with him who stood beside you when you were in hell. He is your brother in the light of the world that saves you both.”

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

December 6, 2016

 

This is Your Brain on God

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“We expand what we focus on.” ~ Wayne Dyer

Healing trauma can feel so overwhelming. Good days and bad. Doing the work but not feeling better when we want to. Annoying friends and bloggers telling us to pray. Pray about it. What a bunch of mumbo-jumbo!

It’s not just mumbo-jumbo. Science is now proving that not only does trauma significantly change the brain, but so do prayer and meditation. New research is constantly studying the neuroplasticity of the brain, the ability of the adult brain to change and adapt.

Without getting too technical about parts of the brain, etc. suffice it to say that trauma definitely affects brain function. Brain researcher Viatcheslav Wlassoff, PhD, says this; “It is no use telling them to ‘get over’ it because PTSD fundamentally changes the brain’s structure and alters its functionalities.” In fact, new research in imaging is allowing the diagnosis of PTSD with PET scans, because the changes in the brain are indeed observable.

If you are a trauma survivor, you are probably already aware of this. Your thinking, reactions, and processing of information is different. Your brain has been rewired to some form of protection mode, and God knows we need this. However, functioning long term in this mode is unhelpful and unhealthy.

As science continues to expand in its understanding of the effect of trauma on the brain, so will the treatments available. According to Alexander Neumeister, MD who researches the brain and PTSD, “People with cancer have a variety of different treatment options available based on the type of cancer that they have. We aim to do the same thing in psychiatry. We’re deconstructing PTSD symptoms, linking them to different brain dysfunction, and then developing treatments that target those symptoms.”

There is so much hope on the horizon for the treatment of trauma. But there is also new evidence that we can do simple daily actions that will help our brains recover.

This is where the mumbo-jumbo comes in. God. Yes, focusing on the Divine, prayer, and meditation, will connect new synapses in your brain that will heal, or at least diminish the strength of the changes trauma has created. And science is proving it.

“Be silent, only the hand of God can remove the burdens of your heart.” ~ Rumi

Richard Davidson, PhD, at the University of Wisconsin, claims we can change the brain with training and practice. He’s proven that the thinking brain connects to the emotional brain, so our thoughts can indeed influence our feelings and change how we react to certain stimuli. Quieting our thoughts also has a profound impact. In one study on people meditating for 30 minutes a day Davidson reported, “Just two month’s practice among rank amateurs led to a systematic change in both the brain as well as the immune system in more positive directions.”

Dr. Andrew Newberg, author of “How God Changes Your Brain” says prayer can absolutely heal. His new field, called neurotheology, studies the effect of religious and spiritual experiences on the brain. He has scanned the brains of Buddhist monks and Franciscan nuns. He found that in deep meditation or prayer, the part of our brains engaged in focus light up, while the part engaged in organizing sensory information goes dark. When this part, the parietal lobes calm down, our sense of self diminishes (in a good way) as we feel more oneness.

We’re fascinated by the words, but where we meet is in the silence behind them.” ~ Ram Dass

For people with faith, this research is not a surprise so much as a validation of what we already feel. Focusing on the Divine, prayer, and meditation lead us to feel more whole and healed. For people without faith, this is wonderful scientific evidence that meditation and mindfulness can truly help heal the brain that has suffered trauma. Focusing on the breath, closing your eyes, trying to empty your mind each day will speed your healing.

Whatever our beliefs, knowing that our brains are plastic and capable of change brings hope. Knowing that God and prayer truly do change the wiring of our brain means that we have the tools to begin and extend our healing any time, anywhere.

Knowing that science and the Divine are working together for our benefit is astonishing.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

October 5, 2016

Note: I do not suggest that spirituality alone can heal trauma or PTSD. I merely suggest that restoring your faith, and finding a spiritual practice, can enhance effective therapy and assist in post-traumatic growth.

 

 

 

THE VALUE OF ANGER

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I have not lost faith in God. I have moments of anger and protest. Sometimes I’ve been closer to him for that reason.” – Elie Wiesel

Trauma, PTSD, and traumatic grief are breeding grounds for anger. Our sense of unfairness, our indignation at being victimized, our outrage at the victimization of those we love is a fertile field for growing and maintaining anger. And rightly so. We should be angry – to a point.

I believe that anger is a necessary part of our healing process. Without it, we can find ourselves stuck, or it can rear its head at a seemingly unrelated matter. One of the most profound quotes on this I ever read was in a book called Women, Anger and Depression, by Lois Frankel. “Anger turned inward is depression.” I had to spend a lot of time with that thought. Anger and depression seemed like opposite feelings to me. How could they be the same?

Survivors of trauma often suffer from depression. The reasons are obvious, but look at the relationship of anger to depression. If indeed anger turned inward in depression, who has more right to claim this emotion than us? Childhood abuse, domestic violence, rape, veterans of war, people who have suffered traumatic acts of nature, been in serious accidents, and slogged through grief: what do we have in common? We are angry. And we were often silenced in the midst of our trauma. So the anger became stuck, as it had no release. We are often like the radiator of an overheating car. If we allow the anger to fester, it will turn to disease. But if we can lovingly and safely find a way to let it out, it can be one of our most useful tools for healing.

                        “The cure for pain is in the pain.”   ~ Rumi

I am blessed to live in Hawaii and recently took a trip to the Big Island, where a lava flow is currently entering the sea. I felt strongly compelled to go and witness this up close, so I took a sunrise boat tour to see the lava up close. I was not prepared for the feelings that overtook me.

The lava flow on this particular morning was a mile wide stretch along the coast. Pockets of fiery lava burst from freshly formed rock, steam spewing forth as it came in contact with ocean water. As I viewed the lava flow, I was filled with such reverence. There is something so primal about seeing new land being created before your eyes. I felt perfectly in tune with God, with nature, with Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess, and with a knowing that I have no words for.

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It’s almost impossible to see living lava and not think of anger. It is everything we associate with anger: red, fiery, hot, unpredictable, passionate and explosive. Lava is often destructive as well.

However this lava, as it encounters water and cools, becomes new land. As its old form burns away, the new form takes shape. As the fire surrenders to the water, it finds a new purpose.

So it is with us. For anyone with PTSD, any survivor of trauma, we have a right to our anger, but we must lay it down at some point. Anger can be a motivator, but once it propels us out of depression, we must let it go. Like the primal lava, it cannot be useful to us until it is cooled. Then, and only then, can we build upon it.

“The true hero is one who conquers his own anger and hatred.” ~ Dalai Lama

We are entitled to our anger. But we are obligated as spiritual beings to heal it and let it go. Humanity needs us to keep reaching for love, forgiveness and peace of mind.

Ask the Divine today to show you how to use your anger, how to find the value in it, and how to let it go. Carl Jung said, “What we resists, persists.” So dig deep, gather your angels, and turn your anger into something new, something useful.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

9/1/2016