Crawling Out of Trauma

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

crawling light

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

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Be Still and Know

stillness-in-motion

“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

A Mindful New Year

“Now is the only time there is.”       ~A Course in Miracles

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Last night, struggling to fall asleep as I so often do, I paid close attention to my thoughts. I noticed all of my thoughts were either about the past or the future.

I was either ruminating over things that had happened in the past, or spiraling about what could happen in the future. Recognizing this as a futile use of my mind, I reminded myself to “be here now.” (Thank you, Ram Dass.)

Lying in a dark room, unable to see much, there is truly nothing in the present moment to think about. So I began to empty my mind and focus on my breath. I noticed how my lungs fill and empty without my thinking about it. What a wonder our bodies are! I noticed how peaceful and relaxed I became as I emptied my mind of the past and future. If my mind started to drift, I came back to the simple thought, “Thank you, God.” Soon, I fell asleep.

Why is it so difficult to be in the present moment? Why do we constantly drift in our thoughts from the past to the future? What is this human tendency and has it always been there?

Perhaps we have always tended to worry. Plato, who died around 348 BC, once taught, “Nothing in the affairs of men is worthy of great anxiety.” Lao Tzu, who lived a century before Plato said, “To the mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.” And Jesus taught, “Which of you, by being anxious, can add a single hour to your life?”

These great teachers could have never imagined the distractions we have today! It seems we are surrounded by a world that constantly distracts us from the present moment. Mastering the art of mindfulness, however, can create an oasis from our busy thoughts.

For survivors of trauma, it is easy to feel powerless to these thoughts. We empty our minds, only to have a unwanted memory flash into the peaceful space we are trying to hold onto. We clear our minds, try to sleep, but in the darkness we have anxiety about our safety, and the safety of those we love. How can we harness this wind?

First, we have to really want it. We have to want peace of mind above all else. We have to be willing to let go of the ball and chain we are dragging around.

Getting caught up in memories of the past or worrying about the future is a form of self-imposed suffering.                 ~ Ram Dass

With PTSD, we feel our suffering is not self-imposed. We didn’t ask for some of these memories we have. But the truth is, clinging to anything of the past, or fear of the future, keeps us in a prison of our own making. We must be willing to let it go, even if at first it’s just a few minutes a day. Being mindful and staying present is just like any muscle – we have to exercise it to make it stronger!

Second, find a mantra. Your mantra can be anything. Any reminder that will take you away from the painful past and the fearful future. It can be a favorite quote, a spiritual teaching, anything that brings your comfort. Memorize it and come back to it when your mind wanders. Say it with your breath. Regulate your breath. Think only of the words of the mantra and your breath. You will feel your body calm, your heart rate slow, and your mind will stop spiraling. It takes diligent practice. When it is challenging to hold onto your mindfulness, ask the Divine for help. When you really feel it, you will recognize it as such a wonderful tool in your toolbox, and a wonderful gift to yourself.

Let this be our new workout routine for the new year. And rather than focusing on weight loss, we focus on gaining Peace of Mind.

“It is extraordinary how near we are to our deeper being. It’s just a thought away.”

~ Ram Dass

You are Still Beloved

Victoria McGee

12/30/2015