Taming Fear, Taming Thoughts

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“My thoughts are not going to disappear, but I can develop a different relationship with them.” ~ Sharon Salzberg

I was thinking about the nature of fear the other day, wondering why last year I was triggered at times about my own trauma when dealing with the grief of facing my father’s death. Aren’t grief, trauma and fear all different emotions? Or all they all fear? A Course in Miracles (and other spiritual teachings) contend that all that is not love, is fear. So whether we are angry, depressed, grieving, or anxious – it’s all fear. I find this to be true, that when I follow the more obvious emotion deeper, to its core, I eventually end up at fear. And when I sit with one fear, other fears come up. Which led me to this conclusion:

“One fear begets other fears because it reminds us of our vulnerability.”

In dealing with my father’s death, I felt vulnerable. I felt powerless. I felt unable to cope. I felt like it was all so unfair. These are mirror emotions to how I felt after sexual assault. No wonder I was triggered. And all of these emotions are fear-based. Before you know it, once you allow yourself to fall into the thoughts of fear, your mind will offer you a buffet of all the times in your life you have felt afraid, vulnerable, powerless, angry. What will you choose today?

It can be so oddly comfortable there, swimming in fear, because we know these thoughts, we’ve been on this ride before. It doesn’t feel good, but it feels familiar. Past hurts, nightmarish images, ugly memories play on the screen of our mind. We know how to do this all too well. We often don’t know how to make it stop.

“Nothing brings suffering as does the untamed, uncontrolled, unattended and unrestrained mind. That mind brings great suffering.” ~ Buddha

As the Buddha says, this kind of thinking, fear-based and uncontrolled, brings great suffering. And God would not have us live there, in that state of suffering. God would have us move toward Love. The way out, then, is the opposite of what the Buddha describes. The way out is learning to control and tame our thoughts. The way out is to attend, with great care, the thoughts we allow to occupy our mind. The way out is to constantly return our thoughts to the Divine. How do we accomplish this? Through prayer, meditation, mindfulness and service.

“I cannot always control what goes on outside. But I can always control what goes on inside.” ~ Wayne Dyer

We truly have no control over what happens outside of us, around us, and the world at large. But we do, as Dr. Dyer says, have control over what goes on inside. So to control our thoughts, thereby reducing our fear, we must continually turn inward. Prayer, even for a moment, gives us a break from our spiraling thoughts. Start with a breath, an instant, and fill your mind with a brief prayer – God is love. All is God. God is love. All is God. Even this brief break in fear thoughts will start to calm you and distract your mind. Prayer opens the channel to God’s love. Spend as much time there as you can to quiet fear.

“Meditation isn’t really about getting rid of thoughts, it’s about changing the pattern of grasping onto things, which in our everyday experience is our thoughts,” ~ Pema Chodron

Meditation is a wonderful tool for taming our thoughts. Meditation has helped me by putting me in a state of openness to the thoughts of God, rather than my own thoughts. In meditation, my fear thoughts show up, but because I’m sitting in a state of Oneness, they don’t hold the same power and I let them go much more easily. Meditation also helps us see our thoughts as merely thoughts. The thoughts in our mind are all based on the past, so they have no real threat to us in the present. Let them stay in the past, floating through and out, while you sit in Love.

“Mindfulness helps you go home to the present.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Mindfulness is a beautiful tool for getting control of fear thoughts. As the Buddha said, unattended thoughts bring suffering. Attending to your thoughts and actions with complete mindfulness brings peace in that moment. The beauty of mindfulness is you can practice it anywhere at any time. We are often drawn to being mindful when spending time with someone whose end of life is near. We savor the time together, take mental pictures with our mind, and stay fully present with them when we are together. When we are mindful, we savor and treasure the present moment, staying in the moment. Fear thoughts, since they are based on the past, find no home when we are being mindful. It is a luxurious break from daily stress. A spa visit for your mind.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Lastly, service is a beautiful tool for taking us out of spiraling fear thoughts. When we are present for others, we cannot get lost in our own thinking. Service has been described as deceptively selfish, because we enter in with the intent of being there for others, but we come away feeling healed ourselves. There is such Divine beauty in sitting witness for someone else’s struggle. You will find God there, and your own devastating thoughts will recede as you find it in yourself to help someone else.

Sometimes, we must treat our worldly mind like a toddler and simply distract it. When our thoughts feel like a broken record we can “move the needle” with these tools – prayer, meditation, mindfulness and service. We can tame the fears because we can tame our thoughts. What will you choose today?


“The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind.” ~ Caroline Myss

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

2/19/2018

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Dipping Back In – Healing Trauma is Not a Straight Line

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“Wounds don’t heal the way you want them to, they heal the way they need to. It takes time for wounds to fade into scars. It takes time for the process of healing to take place. Give yourself that time. Give yourself that grace. Be gentle with your wounds. Be gentle with your heart. You deserve to heal.” ~ Dele Olanubi

This quote is profoundly comforting. It reminds me to be gentle with myself and my process. No one has a straight, flat, easy path in life. Every life journey is unique. For those of us who survive trauma along the path, who may struggle with PTSD, and for whom healing is part of this journey, we need to remember that the path is not linear. We will often take great strides in healing, only to be triggered and feel we have fallen back. I’ve come to realize that these are not steps back, but steps sideways, a time we need to witness how we are triggered, and dip back into healing.

I call it “Dipping Back In” to remind myself that I will always be healing, and that it isn’t possible to dive in and heal all at once. So I dip my big toe in, test the water, then wade in for while. This way, I know I won’t drown.

“Just because you’re struggling doesn’t mean you’re failing.” ~ Anonymous

Admittedly, the trauma I survived was a long time ago, so I don’t deal with PTSD every day any more. But I clearly remember the early days, months and years when I was working so hard to heal, and was regularly triggered. I would get so frustrated about triggers. “Aren’t I getting better?” “When will I be done dealing with this?” “When will I be healed?” Over time, the reaction to the triggers lessened. I can see now, in retrospect, how the path was unfolding. It’s harder to see in the midst of it. We get so tempted to beat ourselves up if we get triggered again, or if we go through a difficult time emotionally.

As many years (decades) as I have worked with healing trauma, I’m still having to “Dip Back In” occasionally. Just last year, I had to spend some nights alone for the first time in a long time. I was massively triggered, couldn’t sleep, and had nightmares again. Rather than lose hope that I’m not fully healed, I now know this is an invitation to “Dip Back In” and see where I have more work to do.

MORE work to do? Really? (My inner child has a small tantrum at this point.) But I know that a little more work is exactly what I need. And I couldn’t have done it sooner, because healing occurs in stages. Healing is circuitous. Healing is random. Healing is difficult and it is also not optional if we are to recover and live fully. For me, I need God on this path with me.

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” ~ Buddha

And so we must accept our healing for what it is. And to do this, we must get to a place of surrender. We must surrender our ideas of what our healing is supposed to look like. Surrender our linear ideas of how long it should take. Surrender the human tendency to compare our healing to that of others. Be gentle and loving with yourself.

Surrendering the form and time-frame of your healing leads to a deepening in the faith of your own path. Surrender to the healing God has planned for you. You are safe there. God will lead you to those feeling and situations that will help you heal when you are ready for it. Surrender and have faith.

So “Dip Back In” when you feel you need to. Have faith and surrender to the process. God’s plan for your healing is inevitable. It will be there for you when you are ready for it. It will be there for you when you embrace your journey as solely your own, and surrender to the chaotic beauty of your healing path.

“Your path is beautiful and crooked and just as it should be.” ~ Anonymous

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

February 12, 2018

Crawling Out of Trauma

“If all you can do is crawl, start crawling.”  ~ Rumi

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When I saw these ancient words of Rumi, they hit me right in the gut. What could be more true for someone who has suffered a traumatic experience? Who among us has not been there?

Even if you’ve not lived through a trauma, even if you don’t suffer with PTSD, you have probably been at the steps of profound grief, on the floor, or on your knees, and all you can do to move forward is – crawl. Often, it’s all we can do.

Rumi’s words are so comforting and inspiring at the same time, because they not only acknowledge that you’ve been knocked down, and you are weakened and overwhelmed by what lies before you; these words also acknowledge that the road forward – the road of healing – is inevitable. So start crawling.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  ~ Lao Tzu

In the early days and weeks of the aftermath of a traumatic event, you are crawling. Every movement, every question someone asks you, getting yourself out of bed in the morning – these things are monumental. They are heavy. They require every bit of focus you can muster because a good part of you is still in shock. You feel like you’re watching a movie of other people’s lives. The movie of your life has taken a shocking turn. This is not the story you wanted. This is not the part you wanted to play. And yet, here you are. This event is now part of your life, part of your past, part of your future. And this, you come to find, is where your power begins to come back to you. You decide what part it will play in your future.

And so….and so….we start to crawl out.

What IS that within us that drives us to start crawling? To eventually get on hands and knees? To stand? To walk? Survival instinct? The basic will to live? Anger and revenge? I’m sure the specific things that get us up off the cold, hard floor are as different as we are, but I do think that we all have an intrinsic, Divine spark that gets us up and pushes us forward, toward healing, toward overcoming, toward courage and toward the transformation the Holy Spirit has in store for us.

“We tend to forget that baby steps still move us forward.”  ~ Unknown

Crawling is forward motion. Baby steps move us forward. The point is to honor that fire in our belly that tells us to move forward, keep moving, and start taking the steps to right yourself, for you have been knocked off balance in a profound way. Get help. Make that call. Talk to others. Pray. Take steps.

I thought about this during a yoga class this week. I’m trying to regain some flexibility in my body and then hang on to it! In yoga, as in life, you are sometimes asked to do impossible things. And you look at the teacher and say to yourself, “Oh no, I could never do that.” But the teacher gives you options and reminds you that there’s beauty in the trying, and to only do what your body can do, and that’s enough. That’s enough! What a wonderful metaphor for life and for healing! Each day, take some baby steps and that’s enough.

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”  ~ Nelson Mandela

Yes, you will fall down again. Yes, you will take a few steps back sometimes. Be kind and forgiving toward yourself when this happens. You are doing your best in an impossible situation. Much is being asked of you. Be gentle with yourself, with your progress. For you will always get back up and move forward again. And when you are down and it’s so hard to get back up, remember to not rely on your own strength. Turn to God, again and again. God wants nothing more than your healing, so when you are crawling, reach up for strength. God will lift you.

Also, on those days when we have been knocked back a step, we need to remember to look back – look back to where we were in our healing two weeks ago, or two months, or two years. You will see progress. Your fears lessen, your flashbacks lessen, your engagement in life slowly increases. Look back, then look ahead again and take a step.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

February 5, 2018

Be Still and Know

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“Stop all doing and be still. Let the fire of stillness burn everything and reveal that which is Openness.” ~ Adyashanti

Be still.

Sit in stillness.

Be still and know.

I’ve been seeing this message everywhere lately – even on a sign at a craft store. So cool that this idea is becoming more mainstream at a time when we need it most. The world is more full of distractions than ever in its history, so being still is critical, not only for ourselves, but the planet we live on.

When you’ve been through trauma and are working on healing, being still can be difficult. We are tempted to keep in motion, find distractions, essentially run away from our own mind where the shadows live.

We come to learn that is where we must go to defeat the shadows and find the light.

“When you lose touch with inner stillness, you lose touch with yourself. When you lose touch with yourself, you lose yourself in the world.” ~ Eckhart Tolle

This quote from Eckhart Tolle is so true, isn’t it? And we know when we are lost in the world. It’s as if we are part of a discordant symphony. No matter how hard we try to play, the notes come out wrong. Sitting in stillness is like tuning your instrument. Until we quiet the whole orchestra, the song we are supposed to be playing cannot be heard.

It’s often difficult for people with PTSD to practice stillness and meditation at first. If our trauma is fresh, our mind can be a scary place to spend time. Left to our own devices, our mind will replay tapes of traumatic experiences. Trying to empty our mind and be still can lead to extreme discomfort and agitation. Sometimes closing our eyes is impossible, because the images are right there, ready to trouble our mind and spirit again.

I’ve been there. I’ve been afraid to close my eyes. Afraid to sit still. Afraid of the dark. Afraid of my own mind. I was lucky that I was never afraid of prayer, and that I believed in prayer on the go. I found I could pray at a stop light, in the grocery store, anywhere. Prayer was my way in to the stillness. Prayer and practice. Eventually, prayer and meditation became one.

“Stillness is the altar of the spirit.” ~ Paramahansa Yogananda

If sitting still is difficult for you, I invite you to practice. Start with only 1 minute a day. Simply sit and be still. If you have a prayer, say it. If you have a mantra, say it. Sometimes just repeating a simple phrase works, like “Be with me, God.”Just be still. If you don’t want to close your eyes, fix your gaze on something pleasant for that 1 minute, and try to quiet your mind. Stay with 1 minute for as many days or weeks as it takes to feel comfortable and at ease here. Then slowly add to it. Your mind, spirit and heart will begin to crave this minute and lead you to longer practice periods. Take your time, but take the time. The ability to sit with yourself, with God, will give you back your power, and speed your healing.

“Within yourself is a stillness, a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.” ~ Herman Hesse 

Think of your post-trauma self as a murky bowl of water, cloudy with stuff. We are the ones who keep it murky by constant movement, avoidance, distraction, and mindless stirring of the stuff. So how does cloudy water become clear? Stillness. The sediment sinks to the bottom and the clear water rises to the top. That which is not useful will fall away when we stop stirring and allow clarity to ascend.

“Let it be still, and it will gradually become clear.” ~ Lao Tzu

In searching for thoughts on stillness for this blog today, I was struck by how universal this idea is among all religions. From the Psalms, “Be still and know that I am God,” to Buddhism, Islam, Hindu writings, and beyond, they all point us inward as our path to draw closer to God.

There may be shadows in your mind, in your stillness, but the light and Love that knows no limit is also there, waiting for the opportunity to heal and comfort you.

“In quietness are all things answered, and is every problem quietly resolved.”                      ~A Course in Miracles 

Be Still and Know you are Beloved.

Victoria McGee

January 29, 2018

Healing doesn’t have to be Heavy

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“I believe in the healing power of laughter. I believe laughter forces us to breathe.”

– Brene Brown

The title for this blog floated into my brain during a group meditation at a Reiki class. I almost laughed out loud because looking around the circle we were all so serious in our quest for deepening. And of course, connecting with God, expanding our ability to Love in God’s name, forgiving our enemies, these are serious things! But we have to remember to laugh.

Healing from ANYTHING is difficult, whether it’s physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. Sometimes it’s a full time job, getting well. Everything starts to revolve around getting well. We have physical therapy, psychotherapy, yoga, hiking, prayer groups, whatever – and it’s easy to forget to find time and places to laugh.

“Man when you lose your laugh you lose your footing.” – Ken Kesey

But as Ken Kesey so profoundly states, losing your laugh means losing your footing. I would even say losing your laugh means losing your hope. What is more hopeful than laughter? I have a distinct memory of my first big laugh after I was sexually assaulted. I don’t think I really laughed for at least a month, which is pretty normal. I was deeply traumatized, focused on healing, still dealing with an investigation, and trying to wrap my head around what had happened. Trying not to be angry at God. All of it.

I don’t even remember what made me laugh, I just remember laughing deeply at something and in that moment, long lost endorphins flooded my body and I felt (could it be?) hope! I knew I was going to be okay. Laughing helped me feel normal, and connected, and alive in a way I hadn’t felt for some time. It was a gift, and it continued to grow and help me heal in the months and years following.

“What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul.” –Yiddish Proverb

Those of us who have struggled with PTSD know the numbness that comes with it. If you’re not in a state of freak-out you’re just kind of numb. No highs, no lows, just existing. Laughter can break through that numbness, as it did for me, and give you a taste of feeling truly alive again.

Scientifically this is being proven to be true! Research shows that laughter lowers the level of stress hormones (epinephrine, cortisol, etc) in the blood and raises endorphin levels. It is now being seen for the healing force it is, boosting immune systems, lowering blood pressure, and soothing the souls of soldiers with PTSD, healing victims of trauma. Of course, this is in conjunction with other healing modalities, but laughter definitely enhances whatever else we’re doing.

“Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain.” – Charlie Chaplin

Sometimes we can seek laughter and find it. Other times it will sneak up on us and lighten our load. Interestingly, science shows us that real and fake laughter have the same effect on our physiology. This is why laughter therapies are springing up all around the world. It’s difficult when you’re feeling low, in grief, or focused on healing to think about doing something to make yourself laugh, but try! Try! Watch an old favorite show, go to a comedy club, gather with friends.

When friends gather, laughter is inevitable, and so is connection. Often with PTSD, we turn to isolation because it’s easier and we feel wounded and we don’t want others to see. But we need the connection, we need the laughter, and these things are blessed by God! The Divine doesn’t want you suffering in the depths of your soul. God wants us lifted up, laughing again, being Love.

Even the Dalai Lama is quoted as saying “I am a professional laugher!” He understands that laughter heals the soul and lifts the heart.

“Laughter is an instant vacation.” – Milton Berle

In other aspects of my life, I do comedy improv. I once remarked to a friend that it felt like an odd dichotomy, to write about healing spiritually from PTSD, and then do comedy improv. My friend just smiled and said, “They’re both healing. I don’t see them as opposing each other at all.” That was such a gift to hear! So I go forward, healing myself and hopefully others with laughter.

Give yourself the gift of laughter today. Healing doesn’t have to be heavy. Healing includes laughing.

Seriously.

You are Still Beloved

Victoria McGee

January 22, 2018

Being In the Love

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“Be loving and kind. Call everyone to your table of kindness.”

~Ma Jaya

In a meditation not too long ago, I was trying to just stay open and not have an agenda, but secretly hoping I might feel some presence or connection with my father, who had recently passed on. As I became aware of that thought and sought to let it go, trying to return to a connection to God, this thought floated into my consciousness, “Be in the Love.”

Sometimes we get messages and guidance we don’t understand. This one was immediately crystal clear for me – Be in the Love, for that is where your father is. Be in the Love, for that is where your comfort lies. Be in the Love, for that is where you will find hope. Sit in the presence of Love.

Such a direct and beautiful reminder to constantly bring ourselves into Love in order to feel and reflect God’s Love.

And how soon we forget. I’m learning and trying and meditating and seeking like so many. And we are, after all, spiritual beings having a human experience! So we are tested in how we love and who we love. I have been struggling with this in the face of so much going on in the world regarding political and sexual misconduct. I’ve been harsh and judgmental and truly hateful toward these people. How do we look at these people and feel Love?

I don’t know the answer! I’m struggling with it! But I suspect it’s very similar to the reason we forgive others. Because we keep ourselves in chains if we don’t. Every time I withhold Love, I’m separating myself from God.

Ouch.

So I have to find ways to Love (or at the very least not hate) so I may draw closer to God. It sounds selfish, but the more we all expand and spread God’s Love, the better for all beings.

“Remember – we are not the light; we are simply the lightbulbs. Our job is to remain screwed in.”  ~ Desmond Tutu

How do we stay “screwed in” when we have so many distractions tempting us to withhold our Love and react in judgment? I think the answer lies in compassion. I often see horrible deeds done on the news, whether in war or everyday insanity, and I think, “My God, what must this person’s life be like for them to act like that or do those things?” And just that little sliver of compassion helps me to feel moved to pray for them. We pray for those that are hurt, but we know the one who committed the act needs prayer as well.

Scarlett Lewis, who lost her small son Jesse in the tragedy at Sandy Hook, said this about the shooter, “The reason I say Adam Lanza’s name is because I think it’s vitally important we remember that he was a human being too. And he was in a tremendous amount of pain.” She found her way to forgiveness through compassion. She’s choosing to Be in the Love. Her strength and wisdom are beyond inspiring.

“As you dissolve into Love, your ego fades. You’re not thinking about Loving; you’re being Love, radiating like the Sun.”  ~ Ram Dass

I want to Be in the Love. I want to radiate like the Sun! So I’m going to keep trying, every day, to screw in my lightbulb to the Source or light and Love, by turning toward compassion instead of judgment. Compassion, I truly believe, will guide us to Love. And Love will take us Home every time.

Be in the Love.

Be in the Love.

Be in the Love.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

January 15, 2018