The greatest obstacle to spiritual development is—not what you might think. Various religious and spiritual pathways talk about our disturbed emotions, our anger, our anxiety, our past actions. Others dwell on the persistent clinging or attachment to various aspects of our outer world and inner experience. Still others site our self-centeredness, our grasping at a self or so-called “ego-clinging.” Each of these is valid in relation to different stages and aspects of the path. And in every case we could also debate their value or relevance or the misunderstandings that arise in regard to any of these complex issues. A plethora of books are also available that focus on one or another of these factors, but they all neglect a major obstacle to our progress. Indeed most of these factors that contribute to our suffering are based on a still deeper cause. Like the mythical many-headed hydra, it can manifest in hundreds of ways, yet if you cut off one head, ten more grow in its place. That overarching cause is simply this: Trauma. Before we can either reject or accept such a notion, we need to define what trauma is, beyond the limited concepts offered by either the popular press or clinical psychotherapy. And though the extensive literature and methods of working with PTSD and trauma are well-developed, diverse and generally effective, for our spiritual development, the impact of trauma is different, as are the solutions.
What is a Trauma?
For our purpose, a trauma is anything whatsoever that disrupts our normal physiology or homeostasis on a body, mind or spirit level—and leaves a chronic, seemingly permanent and distorting imprint on our optimal bioenergetic structure. There is no need in this short article to present a full catalog of the toxic impacts we are subject to all the live long day. These are inflicted on our biological being in the form of internal wastes and oxidative by-products, along with thousands of toxins in our food and water and atmosphere. There is a gigantic grab bag of genetic predispositions, toxic metals, drugs, viruses and other microbes, and other pollutants. Psychologically there is past or ongoing stress, loss and grief, fear, worry and abuse and so on. From the more complex spiritual perspective, there are astrological forces, ill-will and “curses,” non-human entities and of course the effects of our own actions i.e. karma. Karma simply means cause and effect and so it is not just “what you did” but also what was done to you, what your experienced and what your endured.
None of the above are necessarily traumatic if the body-mind-spirit fends them off and recovers perfectly—or at least almost so. But intense shocks create a semi-permanent record that results in dysfunction somewhere along the traumatic spectrum. Rather than a temporary impact, it becomes a perpetuating, recurring, usually hidden and resistant pattern or program that will sabotage our health, wealth, well-being or sanity whenever it is triggered or we become weak enough that one or another such trauma rears its proverbial ugly head.
The range of symptoms produced by trauma are legion. Being a form of stress, the effects are not only psychological, but metabolic, neurological, immunological, vascular and so on. While none of these problems specific to trauma alone, the real key is to appreciate what trauma means for the bioenergetic body, for the intricate web of electrical, magnetic and photonic forces and fields that make up our subtle body.
Our physical form itself functions as a liquid crystal matrix, with the fourth, magnetic stage of water being an important part of our composition. Our connective tissue matrix and PVS (primary vascular system) interweaves through every organ and tissue. Beyond this exquisite network of minute vessels and microscopic collagen, we also have an energy body. Just as there is network of ever finer arteries and capillaries, and ever more subtle branches of nerve fibers, there is a highly structured energy field. Imagine a polished diamond or some other magnificent gem with billions of facets, intersecting and overlapping in perfect symmetry, reflecting photons carrying complex qualia of light and information. This network, these formative patterns, are the basis on which our physical organism is built. And all structure and all function follows these invisible lines of force.
Buddhist and Hindu texts describe the body as having 84,000 energy channels, known as nadi (Sanskrit) or tsas (Tibetan). This is certainly a figurative number, or represents only the more coarse channels. The main energy pathways have been detailed in Chinese Medicine and Daoist alchemy, in Buddhist Vajrayana and Hindu Shaivite and yogic practice. But for now we only need the broadest of brushes to understand the role that trauma plays in disrupting or damaging this complex energy body.
Trauma exists within our body, tissues, cells and molecules. Recent research has given us extensive new understandings about what happens within the vascular system and how blockages and distortion, or a lack or excess of angiogenesis (blood vessel building capacity) accompanies disease. Such disruptions also occur within the complex web of energies, the vibrating strings of light and organized fields that belong to each unique organ and tissue. These take the form of weakened or broken lines of forces, distorted or expanded “bubbles” within the bodyfield or thickened, tangled or blocked energetic pathways. The perfect symmetry and organization of our bioenergetic structure is transformed into a tangled skein. To make matters worse, these areas, large and small, develop defensive fields, not unlike the physical scabs and scars with which we are so familiar. The traumatic imprints become walled off and inaccessible, “safely” stowed away—yet becoming a ticking time bomb.
While the energy body will reflect the impacts of long-held traumas, these impacts also live in our memory. The location of memory may be disputed by science, but in reality it exists within the bioernegetic matrix. These various disturbed and distorted areas, whether deficient or congested, hold the traumatic memories, the overwhelming impacts that we could not resolve and could not eliminate. They are stuck there, adding to the accumulated burden of negative, unresolved experiences.
The fact that trauma is stored in the physical organism, the energy body and the mind is also our key to resolving these points of dysfunction. In mainstream Vajrayana Buddhism we have already have many of these tools, though for cultural reasons they have not been used to full effect. Vajarasattva practice, for example, is used to cleanse the body and psyche in preparation for deeper meditations. But while this kind of practice is used for “karmic purification,” it can and should be used to specifically target physical and psychological trauma. Some would object that this is a form of therapy and not dharma, and that the two should not be conflated. It is a valid point, except that one discovers that the two are intimately and irrevocably intertwined. The only thing that makes something therapeutic, as opposed to spiritual practice, is one’s orientation. Is this about making me a better, healthier, saner person or moving me towards enlightenment? I see these both as valid goals for a creating better world for all of us, call it what you will.
And in my own experience, the 5 Elemental connection is the crucial missing component, even in this practice. Using Vajrasattva of the five different colors, or using the Elements themselves, their forms, colors, seed syllables and sounds, allows one to specifically target the trauma. With a thorough understanding of the Five Elements in both their healthy and maladaptive forms we can focus on which Elemental or subelemental energy field combinations suffered the original damage.
Additionally, Western psychological methods such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and HMR (Holographic Memory Resolution) are useful and effective methods. Integrated with various bioenergetic models, they have the potential to be even more profound in their effects.
While we are clearing up past impacts, we may also be busy accumulating fresh trauma! The solution seems straightforward—protect oneself. But how to most effectively ward off these attacks, large and small? Fortunately Vajrayana again is replete with defensive methods, and in fact a good deal of the daily practice of a tantric Buddhist professional is spent in this way. Daily water offerings, smoke offerings, morning Tara practice and evening protector practice are largely dedicated to stopping harm to one’s health, possessions, companions, spiritual practice and the transformative teachings in general. The extensive and widespread practice of Chöd is another unique way of clearing “incoming karma” before it manifests into serious obstacles and difficulties. Then again, merely holding to the identity of the Yidam or meditational deity archetype provides ongoing protection, as we discard our habitual identity, the proverbial “magnet of suffering.”
The Trauma-Resistant Form
Inner work of another sort is also necessary and highly effective. This takes of form of building up one’s five element structure, area by area, noting where there are weakness and filling in the gaps. The integrity of our Elemental matrix is our greatest asset and greatest bulwark against the forces of entropy and decay. They are formative patterns of meaning and intelligence that provide a scaffold for biophotonic light, electricity, magnetism and eventually a vital form built of molecules, cells and sinews. The Elements should be our first concern in the morning and our last thought at night, providing diurnal protection. If one can achieve full Mahamudra pure light states, do that. But the Elements will still be our guide through the mundane world of apparitions and the confused wandering of sentient beings.
The Trauma World
Without question, we are in one of the most turbulent and disruptive times of our collective lives. That means that the traumatic impacts—physical, mental and spiritual— are coming hard and fast, with no certain end in site. Working daily to clear out “hits” of the day is more essential than ever. Meanwhile, opportunities arise to whittle away at our lifetime backlog of karmic impediment. Every liability can become an asset. The spiritual alchemist knows hat we are here to transform lead into gold, poison into nectar, confused bumbling into sacred living. We just need to put into practice what we already know and let it slowly enter our Essence.
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