I'm not a preacher. The gift of delivery of sermons belongs to those groomed and dedicated to this calling. Christ, I will say, is a member of my healing circle in terms of spiritual understanding. As I started to unravel in life, with all the symptomatic junk that PTSD wrought, there was a time when I wondered if I wasn't dealing with a devil. Once I found the more useful scientific, medical explanations for my symptoms, I abandoned any thoughts of demon-possession, in favour of more helpful avenues of exploration into healing.
I slowly learned to accept that the knowledge delivered to me, through prayer, wasn't the devil, tricking me away from God and I slowly accepted that my prayers we're actually finding answers. My faith took a major turn. The one person whose face never changed towards me in response to my illness and grief, was Christ.
Years ago, in 2000, as the pain was rising to the point inside of tearing my life completely apart, I was invited to portray Christ in an Easter celebration. I was drawn to community theatre as an effort to find my purpose in life. I'd always admired the acting community and even in childhood, I showed promise. I seemed to always be chosen to lead in school productions. For me, this portrayal was a significant highlight in my short-lived, acting career.
The significance of Christ's life, in terms of trauma, lies in the suffering he lived through his own short life. In his community, as a man (I wish to remain focused on Christ's humanity) he stood out as different from the others. He seemed wise beyond his years, speaking of things that truely amazed all who heard him speak. As time passed and he came to his own place of growth towards his role, vocationally, as a Rabbi, he became a liability, a threat.
What did Christ threaten? Frankly, he was a threat to power. The power held by the Roman Empire was threatened by Jesus. Power in the church and a certain amount of power in the streets also came to ultimately bear-down upon the gentleness of the man.
When power is threatened, I think we can all agree that it seems to resort to the same, incideous means of protection. Power will always turn against the threat it perceives and kill the threat, to protect itself. This is a very dark reality of our nature as human beings. Sometimes, to ensure dominance, we are not that far removed from the animal we try so desperately to exclaim we are not.
Sounds very much like self-defense or a fight-or-flight response gone array, when we think about power and dominance taking it's fear out on the rest of humanity. Whatever it is, I believe such a response is corrupted and rationalized, unconsciously, when we act out of our perceived need to defend our place.
Those of us in recovery often feel what power must well have been feeling during this time in history. We know what it is to feel threatened, without real reason, when our own symptoms of PTSD come rising to the surface out of the blue.
As you can possibly imagine, filling the sandals of such a role on stage as Christ, proved impossible in the beginning of rehearsals. My mind was already well-groomed to learn the lines written for me to speak. The character of Jesus, I had no idea what to draw upon to represent a man of wisdom, gentlness, compassion and deep faith. Through treatment, I've learned I was already knee-deep into the psychological demise of PTSD, the symptoms of which do a portrayl of Christ zero justice, as a means of coming to a sense of gentleness.
The one who was chosen to portray Christ's mother, came to me during one of these struggling times to perfect the character in the role. She could see I was in pain. She knew I wasn't pleased with how I was acting out the role. Her words of advice, ring so true to me, even today, "Just let him in. Get Darren out of the way".
From here, I opened myself to experiencing the role, almost as an observer. I stopped building from within the character of Jesus, his gentleness finally coming through during the eight final days of performances: Behold, The Man: A Passion Play, written by my dear friend, Mr. John Hopcraft. This takes us to the suffering of the Christ.
By allowing myself to observe the events of this man's life, I know fully, the suffering of Jesus. PTSD, coming into full light, gave me what I needed to represent the real, human pain in the suffering of this gentle man. Aside from the struggles to maintain a gentle character, when it came to portraying Christ's suffering, PTSD proved itself a gift.
Christ was, first and foremost, (for the purpose of this discussion) a man. A human-being. As a man, though gentle and humble of heart, with wisdom beyond anything anyone during his time had ever heard, he suffered extreme trauma in his living and dying.
The systems around him, bullied him, publicly. His church labeled him a blasphemer and heretic. The people, so abused by the power structures of the church and state, didn't trust this man of the Jewish cloth, at least not everyone. Over time, however, his sincere love for the broken, turned the people towards empowerment. Jesus, sparked a revolution in the hearts of the lowest people in the rungs of society. Power, simply could not allow this revolution to spark and set out to save itself.
Arrested first as a criminal, with no just charge to hold against him, the system manipulated the situation to enforce the decision it had already made. The man, this threat, must die. Power couldn't let this happen without the intense public display necessary to reverse the tide coming with the revolt. Suffering was imposed to send a clear message to the people. The suffering of the Christ we've seen repeated many times since. We think of such things as this, whenever tyranny rules on earth.
Christ's suffering was intense. He was made a public spectacle. He was beaten, tortured, in fact. The whip used to deliver the blows, the flagrum (scourge) was the weapon of choice in Roman times. A cat-of-nine, with shards of metal, ripped at Christ's flesh, repeatedly opening his body to bleed-out, massively, in response.
He was delivered into the hands of bidding men of Roman honour, who tortured Christ further, beating him, spitting in his face, ripping at his hair and tearing beard and flesh from his body in the process. The 'crown of thorns' depicted in his story, with thorns of nails, forced down upon his head, by those charged with carrying out the work on power's behalf, tore into Christ's face as the men drove the crown as deeply as they could into the heart, really, of this already dying man.
These soldiers were well-versed in performing this bidding at the bequest of their masters. They had no choice. Fear of power, will drive us to do unspeakable things in our humanity. Many now home from Iraq and Afghanistan, can testify to the brutality and suffrage soldiers are often ordered to inflict upon others in war.
Brought back towards the people, the message was clear, "This is what happens to anyone who threatens OUR REIGN". With the message clear, the people no longer had a choice either. When asked if they would like to see Jesus spared, the answer from the crowd gathered as witness was as loud and just as clear, "Crucify Him!"
Can you imagine what one must go through who is crucified? Forced to lay, face down, nails driven into the body? Some reading this, may well have been forced to kill another man, not out of vengeance, but as an act of duty. The soldiers tasked to this act were no different than the soldiers of today. They had a job to do, as much as this job might be detested within themselves at times, their duty was clear, and they carried this out, with no apology necessary.
When it was done, they made light of the situation, to protect their psyche. Dark humour and gambling for Christ's clothing was all they could do to pass the time waiting for the slow death of Christ to come. As the story tells us, the death was a slow one.
Those closest to Jesus, ran the other way in fear. Many chose to betray the life of the man they once revered. Some gathered to offer solace to the soul of a dear brother as he passed out of earthly existence. Christ spoke to their hearts, even while dying, asking friends to care for his mother, and to love each other as he taught them was most important to do. He granted forgiveness to the sinners beside him, thieves wondering for themselves what would come for them after their own public demise and execution was complete.
The greatest act performed through Christ's suffering and death, the forgiveness of his oppressors and of those who carried out his execution, still rings in my theatrical ears:
"Father, forgive them . . . For they do not know, what it is, that they are doing".
To share the feelings of Christ's passing, I only have a single word to share: compassion. Christ remained compassionate towards the ills of humanity to his last breath, or so the story goes. The actor in me, would never come back to look at the world in the same way again.
Truth, delusion or myth, the story of the suffering of this man teaches us lessons of our human nature. All of us can fall victim to the temptations of power and hatred. We all can understand, especially those who have served in the military, the human virtues of duty and honour. We know all too well, those of us fully in touch with the psychological traumas in our lives, the broken-ness that comes with betrayal. Some of us, have suffered unimaginable abuses, physically, emotionally, and most tragic, sexually at the hands of other men.
As shared in the beginning, this isn't meant to be a sermon. I have no business, none, dictating to anyone whom they should study along their intimate and personally unique avenues of recovery. I can tell you, that prayer took me through this and other experiences, leading me to this story and also to the life of the Buddha, whom I now also cherish as as a welcome teacher as I continue on my journey of personal healing.
The greatest lesson of all, should we choose to allow the lesson to sink in, is that no matter what our trauma experience imposes upon us in terms of suffering, we are not alone. Others, many others, have come before us, including as the Christ story suggests, God himself. What do we do with the lesson of Jesus and of his suffering?
We learn through our own suffering that the real power of human existence is not as it might be displayed by the various institutions of church and state that we allow to govern our lives. It's not in the suffering itself, that we learn the lessons of this story. We can accept any betrayal we may have already lived through as an act of the darkness of our human nature, and we can learn to release, slowly, deliberately over our time in recovery to forgive. How do we forgive others and most importantly, ourselves for not living up to the worlds expectations, as dictated to us through the influences we've discussed?
We do so, by coming back to the truth of this lesson. We learn to readopt a sense of love towards ourselves and others, towards power, and I would suggest, even towards the suffering itself that comes with our trauma experience. Love binds us up. Love heals all the troubled wounds.
Love opens doors, that PTSD, almost like a demon, wishes to nail shut. Love breaks the shackles of our psychologically imposed prison sentence, and prepares us for a return to life. We will never be the same as we once were, before trauma came into our being. This doesn't need to be a bad thing. If love, compassion and empathy for others who suffer as man can be the ultimate outcome for us as we heal? Perhaps the lesson of Christ, for everyone, can help us to find the way.
For if the story is, in fact, true? We have Christ and many others who've walked the journey ahead of us to show us the way through our experience. Remember, the ultimate lesson of the story is this: the world can do to us, whatever it chooses to do, in the end the efforts of the world of humanity to embrace power over the lives of others fails. Even death itself, in this story, has no power over us, none at all.
The true power of humanity comes with love. We'll find our way back to this love, however we might individually journey to do so. Christ, and the story of his suffering, for me, has made a difference. No sermon. No demands of you to accept anything spiritual. I share this, to share this one aspect of my own journey, out of love for all who may read and need to know, they are not alone. My prayer, for all visiting here remains:
Be Well . . . . . . .
The Buddha teaches that human life itself is an experience of suffering. In Buddhist philosophy, the illnesses of the human condition, with suffering (or duhkha), are thought of as a general state of inner human experience in which we sense that something about our life is simply, 'unsatisfactory'.
Those of us living with the aftermath of psychological trauma, know all to well this sense of living a personally unsatisfactory life. To face that reality, the suffering, is the reason I've learned as to why we bury away the story of our personal traumas inside. We hide away the truth, denying us the opportunity in doing so to actually feel the pain, on way to healing it.
The Buddha teaches that there are three forms that duhkha represents in the experience of distress in human living.
First, there is the suffering we experience as physical pain.
We all know what this pain is. When we suffer a physical injury, the brain signals the body with a response to the wound. The pain we feel serves an understandable purpose: to rest the wound. Over time, as the injury heals, the pain signalling slowly subsides and we eventually return to living without the constant reminder that an injury to our body has taken place.
Emotional pain, the pain we feel as a result of our trauma, is another form of duhkha described by the Buddha. This second type of duhkha, is the emotional suffering we experience that is brought about (in the Buddha's teaching) by any situation of change.
The Buddha says that all things in life are impermanent. If we resist this impermanence, we will suffer emotionally in the body and in the mind. This includes even the feelings directly related to this form of suffering, including the actual emotional distress itself.
This idea also includes our happy or blissful feelings and the Buddha also teaches that the actual reality of impermanence of all experience, applies to all humans universally in life. This concept too, is an easily accepted description for a cause of suffering in the human experience of trauma-the pain of which seems to not wish to ever end.
The third form that duhkha takes in the Buddha's teaching, is produced with our insistence that we are independent beings, unconnected to one another and to all that is. The 'I' we believe we are, does not stand alone in the Buddha's understanding. All things and all human beings, including what we might think about in terms of our being a separate and independent 'self' is not truth in the Buddha's understanding.
The truth, according to the Buddha, is that we are, in fact, interdependent. He further suggests that we must learn to accept this interdependence in order to achieve any end to the suffering we experience in our human experience of living and being in the world.
Western society, very much promotes this idea of individualized separateness from our fellow man. We live in North America very individual lives that dictate to us a form of human competition. We all individually seem to be on a solo, separated quest towards some unseen subjective prize.
In seeking the achievement of grasping hold of this symbolic trophy, whatever that trophy may be, we seem to need this competition to demonstrate our worth to our fellow man (in reality, to prove to the ego that we matter). We've learned in our culture to proudly state that it is for this reason, the personal achievement of whatever subjectively represents for us the individual prize, that our separate self is most important, somehow, in terms of us being and feeling alive.
In Western Culture: We learn best how to become humans 'doing' one-thing-or-the-other. Resting on accepting that we are, in fact, humans 'being' isn't something we've been taught to do all that well in the West.
We suffer in living this competitive life. Even before trauma hit me upside the head, I'd started to sense the meaninglessness of hoping to be some rising star that the world is to take notice of. We suffer too, when we feel, as we do in our experience of trauma, that falling-down in our lives is a symbol of failure in our society of the worst degrees. This is the stigma we live with in our illness, for instance, that is an internal sense of failure reinforced in the attitudes towards mental illness from the society in which we live.
For example, we see evidence of this angst in the homeless people now seemingly filling the streets of our inner-cities. Many in this population, suffer with mental illness and addiction, caused by the emptiness that our society has imposed upon their souls. These lives, broken and torn apart, are the direct result of individual humans, traumatized in unimaginable ways, being forced-out by the rest of society as assumed failures. Thus how these folks end up spilling into our inner streets of ultimate despair in cities.
In a society bent on individual competition, as we exist as humans in North America with the ultimate trophies being money, fame, status and/or power, we end up with these outcomes in people's lives. Outcomes where people are judged as winners or losers in the game of western life, not dependent upon WHO we are; but, rather, we are judged as 'good human' or 'bad human' in many ways based on what we do (for work) that allows us to WIN all these apparent prizes that are there. It's as though we've accepted that all life is a carnival.
A second example of the human competition we experience in North America, stands out in business. Concepts of capitalism have driven us, it seems, further and further apart from any sense of collective, human-harmony. There is competition in capitalist business. It's said that capitalism needs this competitiveness itself, for capitalism to stay alive.
The largest companies with the greatest mass of wealth and resources are the ones we deem most precious to us, in terms of societal achievement. Those at the top in these now globalized corporations are the one's too many of us admire the most, and strive to model-ourselves after.
The problems we are now experiencing globally, with environmental destruction of the planet we call home, stands as evidence enough to determine that all people in our society, individually and collectively, are suffering tremendously, with philosophies of competition and capitalism carried around as though they're biblical commands. Global warming of our climate, the ultimate symptom of this suffering, is proving itself to stem from the individual human activity we engage in practicing corporate competition.
Denying our interdependence with one another, with the earth, with the universe and all that really matters, is destroying us individually, collectively, and is impacting life as we know it in dangerous ways today. With environmental evidence to the negative piling up on us, I've personally had to wake up to the reality that we are killing the very planet we call home. As we continue to kill the planet, we threaten the life of every bit of life that lives with us. At the end-of-such-a-game, we see the most tragic, potential outcome of all now staring us right in the eyes if we're not afraid, or in denial deep-enough to look:
We're threatening now the life of the human species, us, itself.
Add traumatic experience to this already somewhat sick way of life, and we experience the pain of western living, beyond any magnitude that we can explain. Many in our western culture, thrive in feeling the power and wealth when these prizes are actually won. When these trophies are not achievable?
We suffer. This is what the Buddha says-we suffer because we desire too much. I'd argue that we desire actually many things we don't even actually need.
We seem to need, though, to continue to do our very individual best to find ways dominate anyone we feel is getting ahead of us. "Keeping up with the Jones'", it's called. Whoever the hell these 'Jones' folks are that we're in some race with them, I've no longer much of an idea.
Vulnerably expose ourselves in our society as a failure?
Oh, my, can we judge.
We judge and condemn the visibly homeless for instance, through very cloudy eyes. I've sensed personally in Canada that we're now lacking any sense of compassion for our fellow-humans at all. We've lost, it seems, near every bit of energy to that interdependent living, and understanding, may have in the past opened us up in terms of social conscience. "It's all-about-me" it seems. I admit, I couldn't see this when life was working for me-when I could still live the competitive life as motivation to live at all.
Will we learn to accept the Buddha's advice? Will we choose a new way of life in western society? Will we learn to abandon this concept of individualized and corporate success based on prizes of wealth, status and power as the ultimate measure of our individual worth?
Will we come to learn the value of interdependence and draft for ourselves a new way of life?
It would seem, we must. Those of us living with trauma on-board, with the illnesses of traumatization seeming to control practically every thought: I'm beginning to accept that the Buddha has much to offer. I view him as perhaps the worlds historical first, and best, perhaps, therapist.
Suffering can end, the teachings of Buddhism suggest. The Buddha's teaching to us is the truth: All life is interdependent. Getting back to knowing this truth, could make all the difference for North American Society in the years of increasing warming of the planet which we can't any longer deny is what the human species will face in the not-so-far-away future that lies ahead.
In healing our experiences of trauma, I'm getting how important is is that we learn to resist our sense of individualized failure and pain. What I mean here, is that the judgments that stigma adds to our suffering: Have NO PLACE at all in terms of being included in our recovery journeys. Stigma is so lacking in truth, anything stigmatization has to say deserves no attention, in my view, any longer at all.
By coming together in our experience and sharing a collective sense of hope, we can engage in an individual and collective healing-which is a huge part of why I choose to maintain this blog. I want to be as open as I can, sharing my personal journey, so that any others who might find the site, at the very least, will learn how not alone we are in this experience we share.
By moving away from the isolation of individualism (says the Buddha); and by forming collective human tribes, compassionately engaged in healing, others suggest:
We can find mutual understanding and support. For it is in this interdependent sharing that we can move out of our individual modes of simply wanting to survive, over time, moving into a common, more collective goal, of helping one another to truly be . . . . alive.
Please accept this challenge, coming into our Easter Season.
Reflect upon this diagnosis of suffering as defined by the teachings of the Buddha. Give it some serious thought. Consider, not becoming a Buddhist (unless that intrigues you enough, of course, that you wish to get all-the-way-into tackling your trauma issues via "The Eight-fold Path".
Next month, I'll discuss the suffering of the the Christ. I'll share my take on that subject, as means to perhaps understanding, even more fully, our experience of suffering through our personal healing of trauma:
According to the story of the Christ-God knows exactly what human suffering is.
How 'not alone' does that make a mortal-trauma-infused-human feel?
If even God knows human suffering: To me, that suggests: Nobody is ever truly alone as we work said suffering out.
For A Quality Read That Represents The Healing Value Of Considering the Buddha as a Teacher: Her's a link to "Buddha's Brain", written by Rick Hansen, PhD.
I've enjoyed learning more deeply about the Buddha and Buddhism with these two courses available on Coursera:
Buddhism and Modern Psychology
Tibetan Buddhist Meditation and the Modern World
For Some Readying From Robert Wright, Professor For The Buddhism and Modern Psychology Course: Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment.
Thank you for stopping by.
Be Well . . . . .
Darren Michael Gregory, Curator, The Trauma Recovery Blog
Associate Member American Academy Of Experts In Traumatic Stress.
(Currently Needs Renewal).