No matter the form ceremony took in my life - from my psychedelic journeys to my experience of church as a young child; from annual holiday traditions to day-to-day celebrations; from indigenous rites of passage to new-age yogic and healing workshops - they all share a few fundamental commonalities…
What do a French philosopher, a modern neurologist, and trees have to do with emotional intelligence? First, that we must stop trying to understand and teach emotional intelligence through the lens of thought alone.
For a long time, I have been seeking an experience outside of myself. Something to give meaning and depth to the perceived mundanity of my human experience – a glimpse of divinity in the void or a connection to a consciousness greater than my own....The further I walk down my own path of growth, exploration, and, yes, spirituality, the more I find myself coming back to Earth – to the ground beneath my own two feet and the felt sensations of my body. To a wide-open embrace of every aspect of my experience, inclusive of my joy, my elation, and my contentedness as well as my anxiety, loneliness, grief and boredom.
The simple practice of turning your attention to the present moment - your breath, the sounds you hear, the sensations you feel - can actually physically change the structure of your brain and counteract the effects of stress and trauma in less than 8 weeks. Studies are now revealing that mindfulness-based therapy is more effective than anti-depressants and cognitive behavioral therapy combined in treating PTSD. Even better, the results are permanent as long as participants continue to practice mindfulness in their daily lives.
The first two posts in this series defined trauma and then explained trauma in the context of the central nervous system. This post explores the long-term health impacts of early childhood trauma and revisits our original inquiries...
We are often by perplexed explosive outbursts, emotional volatility, and reactions that seem out of proportion to the actual event. It is important to remember, however, that someone who has experienced trauma is not necessarily responding to events in the present moment. Instead, their stress response system lives in a state of hyperarousal as a result of past experiences and is easily triggered into a fight-or-flight response.
Despite the prevalence of trauma, it is a term (along with mindfulness) that seems to be frequently misused or misunderstood in both therapeutic and educational sectors. A closer look at these terms, however, might just reveal why trauma could be the most costly and deadly public health concern our society is facing, and how mindfulness might be one of the most viable solutions we have.
When we develop our capacity to direct our attention, without judgment, to the present moment we find this space between stimulus and response - even if that space is as small as the gap between thoughts, or as simple as a deep breath. From this space, we move from a place of reactivity to a stance of empowerment, choice, and freedom.