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

 

 

 

 

Season of Rebirth

“A rebirth out of spiritual adversity causes us to become new creatures.”                                                                                                           ~James E. Faust

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December in much of the world celebrates many forms of birth, rebirth and rededication. It is perceived as an uplifting time of year with people giving gifts, traveling to be together, and sharing common beliefs. If trauma has touched your life, you are likely having a different experience.

Often, the holidays are challenging for survivors of trauma. There may be triggers, family issues, or just that haunting feeling of being different from others. Sometimes we feel we just can’t be as happy as other people, or as happy as we once were. How can we reclaim our happiness and our holidays?

As with much of our trauma healing, the secret is in re-framing, and turning it over to God.

Re-framing our thoughts about the holidays has to do with focusing on the idea in the James E. Faust quote above. We have been through spiritual adversity, and we are becoming new creatures. I would venture to say that no one who experiences trauma is the same person after. Nor should you want to be. Trauma changes us.

“How could you rise anew, if you have not first become ashes?”                                                                                          ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

We had no choice in the trauma that we experienced, but we have choice in what we do afterward: how we heal, how we grieve, how we move forward. We can let it change us into a hard and bitter creature, or a creature who is wiser, deeper, and who can offer grace and healing to those around them.

Claim the holidays as your own rebirth. Be reborn into your vision of the next step in your healing.

We can draw a parallel to our first birth into this incarnation. When we were born, we had no conscious choice as to whom we were born to. Our personality, resilience factors, and appearance were genetically and environmentally fixed. As we grew and became our own person, some of that changed, but much of it is a through-line in our lives.

Just as our first birth, our rebirth carries a set of circumstances we cannot change. We have survived war, sexual assault, child abuse, domestic violence, natural disasters, a sudden death – you name it. But we have the power to now visualize who we will be in the next chapter of our lives.

Look at your next step. Who do you see? Do you see someone who is nervous, not sleeping, depressed, or withdrawn? Do you see someone who is engaged, productive, rested, healthy, and (dare we say) happy? This is your chance to choose. This is your opportunity to give birth to that which is pregnant in you: hope, peace of mind, and the Divine spark.

Our rebirth is as much a miracle as our original birth.

How do we accomplish this rebirth? I believe we need these four steps:

Forgive: We must forgive those who have wronged us, or peace of mind will forever be elusive. As long as we carry this burden, we only weigh ourselves down.

Engage: Be with others. It is good to be alone, but not lonely. Depressions feeds on loneliness. You will have to force yourself sometimes, but feel the fear and do it anyway, as they say.

Give: You may feel you have nothing to give. Everything of yourself has been stripped away. But if you go to the soup kitchen, give out presents to homeless children, or in any way make someone else’s holiday brighter, watch what happens. Rebirth.

Visualize: Spend time – real time – visualizing your new self, the creation of your rebirth. If you’re having trouble, ask God to show you. See this every day, as many times a day as you can. The Universe will conspire to make this vision reality.

As we struggle to be reborn, include the Divine in all efforts. God is our midwife! Just as human birth is painful, spiritual rebirth brings psychic pain. The Holy Spirit is the balm for this pain. Call on the Divine to guide you, heal you, keep you safe, and hold you in the light of love and peace. Feel the warmth of pure Love fill you and soothe the pain.

Rebirth doesn’t happen overnight. Like all healing, it is a process. But why not take this season as a starting point? A catalyst for your new self to begin to emerge? You have nothing to lose, and your self to gain!

This holiday season, be reborn in the sure knowledge that you are Still Beloved.

“This Christmas, give the Holy Spirit everything that would hurt you. Let yourself be healed completely that you may join with Him in healing, and let us celebrate our release together by releasing everyone with us.”   ~ A Course in Miracles T, XI

Victoria McGee                                                                                                      12/21/15

Happy Holidays from PTSD

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”                      ~ Albert Camus

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Whatever your spiritual beliefs, we recognize that December is a time of holidays and religious and family gatherings. While those around us look forward to the delights of this season, survivors of trauma often find this a difficult time to navigate. Whether you suffer with PTSD yourself, or live with someone who does, it’s important to be prepared and know that whatever you bring to the season is enough.

For some survivors of trauma, the holidays may be good. For me, it was a rare opportunity to sleep deeply, without fear. For others, the holidays themselves may be when their trauma occurred, and the fight or flight instinct is awakened, despite their best efforts. As we are surrounded with images of love and light and innocence, we may re-experience the grief our trauma brought us; of never quite feeling that profound sweetness of innocence again.

Though that may be true, and we may indeed be changed in irreparable ways, we can still find hope in taking charge of our perspective, in taking care of ourselves, and in taking control of our holidays.

“The depth of the feeling continued to surprise and threaten me, but each time it hit again and I bore it…I would discover that it hadn’t washed me away.” – Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott so perfectly expresses what we trauma survivors know too well. The surprise and fear that feeling something so deeply can bring. It’s like being in the ocean. The same water that lets you float suddenly grabs you and pulls you under!

But we rise again to the surface and discover, “…it hadn’t washed me away.” If we can keep acknowledging that, each time we have a flashback, or a bad day, or a bad night – we haven’t washed away. We are here, and we are doing the very best we can.

If the holidays tempt you to feel struck down by waves (of memory, of family, of expectations, of anxiety) take time to notice that you are not washed away. Keep your perspective focused on your progress. You are here and you have gifts yet to give.

Next, take care of yourself. This is non-negotiable. As a survivor of trauma, you need to be doing this anyway, but even more so at the holidays. The holidays may hold more triggers for you than at any other time of year. If you are not rested, mindful, healthy and balanced, triggers will sneak up on you. Be your own best friend. Don’t neglect the Divine, or the Divine in you, for the sake of pleasing others. Show up when it feels right, and you can bring your best self. If you’re in doubt, ask yourself if a holiday experience is going to drain you, or fill you up? Honor the answer you receive.

Finally, take control of your holiday. If crowds give you anxiety, avoid big parties or malls. If big family dinners are difficult, perhaps join with a smaller part of the family for breakfast, then find a place to be of service instead, perhaps a holiday meal for the homeless. You may need to create new rituals to honor where you are in your healing. For some, there is a need to be with family. For others, there will be a need to serve. Some will feel the old familiar need to isolate, but I urge you not to. If you need isolation and alone time for balance, make time for it, but avoiding the holidays altogether will not serve your highest healing. And that is what the Divine wants for you.

Perhaps all we need to do during the holidays is focus on the best ideology of this time of year. Give to yourself and each other: Peace, Light, Hope, and God’s Love.

“This Christmas, give the Holy Spirit EVERYTHING that would hurt you. LET yourself be healed completely that you may join with Him in healing, and let us celebrate our release together by releasing everyone with us.”  ~A Course In Miracles

Take good care of yourself. Find in yourself, your “invincible summer.”

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

12/06/2015

 

 

TRAUMA & RESTORING FAITH

“Faith is not a belief. Faith is what is left when your beliefs have all been blown to hell.”
~ Ram Dass

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All who have survived trauma know well the feeling of the broken spirit. The loss of faith that comes with having your belief system ripped out from under you.

How can trauma survivors come to a place of restoring our faith? Our faith has been built over time as we live and construct in our minds the things we believe in. Trauma can shatter those beliefs in an instant.

In her amazing book, Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman, M.D. addresses the issue of faith. She states “(Traumatic events…) violate the victim’s faith in a natural or divine order and cast the victim into a state of existential crisis. “

In other words, we begin to question everything we have come to know.

Herman goes on to state the depth of this loss of faith.

“In situations of terror, people spontaneously seek their first source of comfort and protection. Wounded soldiers and raped women cry for their mothers, or for God. When this cry is not answered, the sense of basic trust is shattered. Traumatized people feel utterly abandoned, utterly alone, cast out of the human and divine systems of care and protection that sustain life.”

Let’s re-read that last sentence: “…cast out of the human and divine systems of care and protection that sustain life.”

There is nothing more profoundly despairing than that feeling. To feel abandoned by the Divine is a trauma in itself and leads to the disconnection that is such a hallmark of PTSD. So how do we begin to rebuild our faith?

It is important to distinguish between faith and belief. Beliefs are products of our minds. They are decisions we have made, constructs we have formed to make sense of our world. We believe in God, in certain people, in certain relationships.

Faith is a product of the spirit. Faith is the abstract knowing that the Divine is constant. When there is a crack in that knowing, what can heal it? When there is a tear in the fabric of faith, what will mend it?

After 9/11 there was a wonderful quote by Mr. Rogers going around. His advice in times of extreme trauma was to “Look for the helpers.” This is a start in restoring our faith.

If you have survived a trauma, you were likely helped, if not immediately after, then soon after. Look at those helpers. For me it was kind police officers, a calm and soft-voiced trauma nurse, and my friends who came in the middle of the night without asking why I needed them, they just came. When I looked back on all that, it made a few stitches in my torn faith. I could trust the goodness of those people, and they had faith in me that I would survive this. It was a start.

Who were your helpers at the time of trauma? Who around you still holds you up?

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and rescues those who are crushed in spirit.”   ~ Psalm 34:18

Another way to restore your faith is to simply ask. Ask God to restore your faith. We can do nothing apart from God. We can’t restore our own faith by ourselves. Sit in quietness and solitude and ask. Gather with others and ask. God will begin to show you the constancy of Love. God will lead you beside still waters and restore your soul. You will begin to see examples of Divine Love that will make you smile, knowing it’s another stitch in your torn faith.

For me, the final step in restoring my faith was through service, and I wish I had come to it sooner. When you want to curl up in a ball and feel abandoned, take action instead. Get out of yourself and find a way to help others as soon as you feel able. It is like a salve to your wound. Compassionate action opens the way for the light to return. Imagine a sky that is all gray clouds, except for one hole where sunlight is breaking through. That is what service will do for your faith.

An added by-product of service is seeing your value in the world again. Sometimes trauma can leave us feeling powerless. Service restores our faith, not only in God, but in ourselves.

I leave you with this inspiration from Walt Whitman:

“The question, O me! so sad, recurring –

What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer.

That you are here – that life exists, and identity;

That the powerful play goes on,

and you will contribute a verse.”

 

Have faith. You are Still Beloved.

 

Victoria McGee

11/29/2015

 

 

 

What’s in your Cloud?

“Be miserable, or motivate yourself. Whatever has to be done, it’s always your choice.”                                                                                                                                           – Wayne Dyer

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What are you storing in your cloud? What are you uploading? What are you downloading? How do these choices affect your life every day? How does it affect the next moment?

Long before the cyber age we’re living in, we all had a Cloud. We still do! The database we carry around, filled with thoughts, feelings, memories, plans for the future, hopes, and dreams. We call it our Mind.

Unlike the Cloud, which is just for accessing stored files, our Mind can also discern, choose, evaluate, create and invent! Those are the amazing gifts of our Mind.

But like the Cloud, we have the ability to choose which files we upload, and which files we download. This is an incredible choice and gives us full power over what we think about, and how we feel. Of course with great power comes great responsibility. (Peter Parker) So when we come to fully realize that only we have full power to engage our Cloud and focus on certain files, we can either celebrate in that knowledge, or cringe from its horror!

Some of us who struggle with PTSD have files that would horrify other people. Trauma that is our own personal heart of darkness. So every day we have this choice. Which files do we download? Which files do we keep in the Cloud, and for how long?

PTSD can feel like a broken record. The same files keep downloading. Even when we try to think about something else, to create something new and good, the old file shows up again. Where’s the pop-up blocker for the trauma thoughts?

Dr. Wayne Dyer said, “Initiate a habit of choosing thoughts and ideas that support feeling good and powerful and elevate you to a higher level of consciousness.”

Who wouldn’t do that if they could? Ah, but you can, grasshopper. The key word is habit!

Too often we feel helpless to these intrusive files. But the more often we practice not reacting to them, but calmly saying, “Not now,” and sending them back to the Cloud, the easier it gets, and the less they “pop up.” It takes practice. Mind practice.

Have you ever had the cascading pop-ups on your computer screen? That’s what those intrusive thoughts can feel like. And what do we do when that happens? We usually have to re-start. Same with our Mind. Re-start, and then install an anti-virus.

For me, the anti-virus is God. I could not control these thoughts, my Mind, the Cloud, without calling on God’s strength, mercy and grace. For if I cannot love these thoughts away, God can. Only the thoughts of God can “elevate you to a higher level of consciousness.”

The more of the strength and faith in the Divine I can upload into my Cloud, the more power I have over negative downloads.

Of course the negative files exist, and there are times and places they need to be downloaded and dealt with, but it needs to be of MY choosing, not random.

There are also times the negative files will keep popping up because we need to deal with something. Often, it’s when we need to do the next healing step, and that’s okay. Just listen to your instinct. You will know when the pop-ups are unnecessary, and when it’s time for an “operating system update.”

The choice is always ours. Even when it doesn’t feel like it, just try it! Own it. Choose it.

A Course in Miracles sums this up beautifully:

“And so again we make the only choice that ever can be made; we choose between illusions and the truth, or pain and joy, or hell and Heaven. Let our gratitude unto our Teacher fill our hearts, as we are free to choose our joy instead of pain, our holiness in place of sin, the peace of God instead of conflict, and the light of Heaven for the darkness of the world.”                                                                                      -A Course in Miracles, Lesson 190

 

Never underestimate the power of your thoughts.

What are you uploading?

Keep throwing light on the darkness.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

 

 

HOW BIG IS YOUR BRAVE?

When I first heard this lyric in the song “Brave” by Sara Bareilles, I was struck by what a profound question it is. How big is your brave?

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This week, as our hearts are turned to Paris and the traumatic events there, the idea of courage and bravery come up for all of us. We all have questions: What would I do in that situation? Are we living in a new normal? How big is my brave?

Trauma survivors know the answer to that. Wherever we are in our healing, we know we have survived what would be unthinkable for most people. If you are new in your healing process, that is enough to know. If you are well into your healing, you know the courage needed to heal is sometimes more than that of surviving the trauma. But you also know the well of courage is bottomless. Even if we lose courage one day, the next day we awaken ready to fight the good fight again.

A Course in Miracles states “there is no order of difficulty in miracles.” I often apply that thinking to trauma and healing. There is no order of difficulty in surviving trauma. If 100 people went through the exact same trauma, they would react and deal with it in 100 different ways. We bring into our trauma a set of beliefs, feelings, thought patterns, culture, and maturity that are uniquely ours. We can never say another person’s similar trauma is more or less difficult than our own.

There are traumas we can look at and know they are more harrowing and difficult to heal, yes. I’m talking about similar trauma. We have an unnecessary tendency to make comparisons. We need to remove all judgment from trauma healing. In a situation needing love, judgment is a profound lack of love.

If we follow this line of thinking, then there is no order of difficulty in courage. What it took for me to survive and heal from rape, was courageous for me. What it takes for you to survive and heal is courageous for you. Don’t play small in acknowledging your courage.

And for those days when your brave feels small, ask the Divine for strength. Ask the Divine to hold you up. I used to imagine sitting in the lap of the Divine and being rocked. It comforted me and gave me strength to go on. Sometimes the well “seems” dry. That is when we need to turn to God to fill it again, and rest in that Holy comfort.

As the initial coverage of the Paris attacks subside, we will start to be hear the small stories. The everyday people who became heroes for others. But we will most likely not hear the stories of the survivors and the witnesses to this violence who may have their own PTSD in the months ahead. They will have to become heroes to themselves as they heal. Join with me in asking God to be with them, and with the families of those whose lives were lost. Their brave IS big enough. My brave IS big enough. And when it isn’t, dip from the well of God’s immense and indefatigable LOVE.

“Everybody’s been there, everybody’s been stared down
By the enemy
Fallen for the fear and done some disappearing
Bow down to the mighty
Don’t run, stop holding your tongue
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in

Show me how big your brave is~”     – Sara Bareilles

 

Victoria McGee

11/15/15

 

 

WE ARE ALL ONE. Wait, what?

 

Beyond the idea that we are not our bodies, that we are all spiritual beings having a human experience, is the radical idea that we are all one.

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For those of us who have suffered trauma, often at the hands of other beings, is there a way to wrap our minds around this spiritual tenet? How can I reach to that place beyond forgiveness to a state of seeing all beings as one? And most importantly, is it necessary for my healing?

 

I will go out on a limb up front here and say, yes, ultimately it is necessary for your healing, but it will probably be one of your final steps in courage and faith, as it takes a certain amount of diligence, mental and spiritual training and seeking, and the strange examples God will send you on your journey.

 

Why must we take this final step? Because to be truly healed, we must see others as God sees them. Not as beings in different degrees of worthiness, suffering, privilege, evil, or love. But in a state of acceptance for what is. Even “accepting” where someone else is on their path is a form of judgment.

 

Martin Luther King, Jr. understood this. In the face of horrific racism and the victimization of African-Americans, he saw that you cannot meet hate with hate.

He said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.”

 

How does it serve the evolvement of my soul to hate the person who assaulted me? How does it serve the evolvement of your soul to hate your attacker, victimizer, ex-husband, enemy soldier? How does it serve the evolvement of the spiritual beings of our planet to meet hate with hate? It doesn’t. And the stakes are that high. We are all contributing to the vibrational energy of the planet with every thought, every word, every deed.

My soul needs your soul to heal. Your soul needs my soul to heal. The very hard work we are doing is not just for ourselves. It is to shine the light, to heal our souls, to diminish trauma on the planet.

 

All spiritual writings seem to hint at this vastness of beingness, the eternal IS, the I AM that encompasses all we are aware of. These writings also speak of an exponentially larger field or dimension we are not aware of, and probably can’t even comprehend. When I think of the vastness of God, of Love, of the Divine, I come back to asking “Who am I to judge?”

 

So, you ask, do I really think I am one with my attacker? Yes. Absolutely. Because on some level of spiritual existence, there is no separation.

I’m not a guru. I’m not a monk, or a nun, or a minister. But I am a warrior for spiritual healing, and when I truly pray for deliverance, and for peace of mind, and when I join my mind with the Divine, I DO get there.

I get to the place Rumi spoke of in his wonderful poem:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field.

I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.”

 

This is a tough one. It’s a difficult concept for most people, but especially for those of us who have been victimized or terrorized in some way. But through prayer, meditation, service, and grace, we will be able to see with new eyes, and love with new hearts.

there are no others

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

11/8/2015