"Heaven gives it's glimpses to those not in a position to look too close". ~ Robert Frost
In the four noble truths we find the definition of the human predicament according to the teachings of the Buddha. The first truth is that human life is wrought with frustration, pain and suffering. The Buddhist tradition refers to suffering as duhka.
The concept is an honest and straightforward description of the experience of human life. Although there are those times when we feel rather elated with our lives, as we engage with others we see, on the whole, so much suffering in the life of humanity. The digital age and the revolution of technology exposes us daily and more readily than in the past to enormous quantities of stories of human suffering and tragedy.
This discussion will reflect on two questions:
The first noble truth also defines human suffering as an internal issue for humanity. Science would define this internal experience of duhka as psychic or psychological, emotional suffering. The human intellect, with our innate capacity and ability of thought, can act almost as an enemy to us in life. Thought alone, with recollection upon memories of psychological trauma, for instance, can inflict us with suffering repeatedly, long after the traumatic event has passed.
Add to this the knowledge we carry that informs us, almost unconsciously, that we will age, get sick and ultimately, we know, we are going to die. This makes human life seem rather pointless. To some, the ultimate suffering of knowing we are living only to one day die, is what we might refer to as a meaningless life. No matter how hard we might try to not think about our inevitable demise, we can't help but think about it. Death, we know is waiting for us all. We've seen death. We know this is true. With this knowledge, we suffer.
The theory of natural selection in science supports the Buddha's reference to life as suffering in a more sterile form. Natural selection suggests that only the strong among us will survive. By survival, the theory of natural selection proposes that as a species of primate, not far removed from the abilities of the chimp, our quest in life is also a simple one. In this theory of science, the aim of humanity is to leave behind on earth, as many copies, individually, of our genes as possible to carry on into the next and coming generations.
Therefore, individual human life is a life of competition with other humans, to ensure the passing on of our genes. The study of evolutionary biology is the science we might engage to support this position to define the human condition or predicament. Evolutionary biology proposes that all human activity is fueled by this survival of the fittest, internal biological drive within humanity.
The second noble truth taught by the Buddha, supports natural selections definition of human life. This second truth teaches that suffering has a cause and that this cause is, in fact, that we are constantly struggling as humans to survive. Individually, we are constantly trying to prove that we are important to the world and that our existence, individually, matters. Unfortunately, the teaching suggest that the harder we struggle to establish ourselves in our efforts to survive with importance, the more painful our experience of life becomes.
The third noble truth in the Buddha's teaching tells us that suffering can end. He says that our struggle to survive, and our effort to prove ourselves to the world isn't, at all, necessary and that we can make adjustments to get along in the world in a peaceful way, without the suffering we tend to endure. Basically, the Buddha says, if we can learn to act in a simple, direct and straight-forward manner with ourselves, by accepting the reality of life, we can eliminate the cause of our suffering. He tells us we can do this by abandoning our expectations about how we think things should be.
This takes us to the forth noble truth, proposed by the Buddha.The fourth noble truth is the way, or path to end the cause of suffering. The central theme of this path is the practice of meditation. For the purpose of this specific discussion, meditation, here, means the practice of mindfulness.
We become mindful, according to the Buddha, by abandoning our expectations about the way we think things should be and, out of our mindfulness, we begin to develop awareness about the way things really are. We begin to develop the insight that we can handle ourselves, and our relationships, and we can then learn to live peacefully and comfortably with ourselves and others in the world.
This is where Buddhism and science come together in an incredibly helpful way. Mental health practitioners are now incorporating mindfulness training into treatment modalities. Mindfulness practice, for those who suffer with a variety of medically defined mental illness, teaches the 'patient' to not only become mindful of behavior, but more importantly, mindfulness training teaches us to become aware of our thinking. By observing our thoughts, without judgement, we can see the thoughts that cause us pain. We can gently allow the thoughts to come and go, thereby eliminating power of negative thinking over time and with practice.
When we look at the tradition of the four noble truths with some comparisons to modern science, the two points of view seem to align. Specifically, when we consider the value of mindfulness teachings and apply the practice in therapy in mental health practice, there is harmony between the two schools of thought.
Speaking personally, I know mindfulness teachings have improved the outcome of my own experience with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I personally value the practice and now incorporate a few minutes, three times/day into my personal recovery plan. Many report the same value in the mental health community.
As we move towards healing our individual lives, it would appear, both Buddhism and modern science, with the application of mindfulness into treatments, can support one another without conflict. As for any conflicts with religion, we'll leave this discussion for another time. The single concept of mindfulness, is making a huge difference in terms of recovery potential for those who live with the effects of trauma.
Consider a study of Buddhist practice. Consider mindfulness training. Don't suffer with any ideas of conflict. Rather, embrace the concepts and you too will find a contributor to healing. Peace awaits and this peace has been a long time in coming. We all deserve this peace. We all deserve to experience an end to our sense of personal suffering. Mindfulness practice, adopted from Buddhism, can make all the difference.
Be Well. . . . . . . .
Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia: Mindfulness (psychology): 2014 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindfulness_%28psychology%29
Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia: The Four Noble Truths: 2014 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Four_Noble_Truths
Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia: Natural Selection: 2014 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_selection
Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia: Evolutionary Biology: 2014 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_biology
The Trauma Recovery Blog: Thought & Mindfulness: 2014 http://www.traumarecoverybc.com/1/post/2014/02/thought-mindfulness.html
"Post Traumatic Stress is an anxiety disorder that leaves sufferers feeling overwhelmed. It is a normal reaction to exposure to traumatic events. Learn about the impact on the body, mind and emotion and how people recover." ~ Dr. Anna Baraanowsky
In the blog-post I shared titled, 'Calming The Mind', I suggested that in order to find our best shot at healing from our psychological traumas, we're best to agree with ourselves that it's important to learn to become consciously aware of our thinking.
There are many who written about the human condition who agree. I acknowledge here all who across human history shared these words, or words similar, to point out how important right thinking has become for me:
"What we think . . . We become."
I've learned that to tackle my own symptoms that present as troubling behaviours often, I first must tackle the thinking that's attached to the behaviours: symptoms of anxiety can still get in my way sometimes when triggered enough to take away any steps of remission I might have gained. So this 'thinking' thing, remains on my plate from time to time needing attention.
This is not an easy task, getting in touch with what one thinks. Given that conscious thought-awareness can elude us in our efforts in the beginning to be well, we need some guidance into how we can best learn how to do that. With an understanding of what it means to be meditative commonly accepted by many to mean, 'getting rid of thoughts':
I've found this inaccuracy keeps us-beginners shy in terms of making a decision to give such things a try.
I speak here of learning to meditate. When I first was drawn in this direction, I held the same beliefs about meditation that many of us do. I believed the purpose of meditation is to silence our thinking in the mind. With a life-time of practice, I suppose this remains part of the deal with meditation. In the beginning, what I learned made a whole lot more sense for this beginner:
The purpose of learning meditative skills, is to learn, first, how to observe our thinking (thoughts) as they come and go. We are to learn how to listen-in on these thoughts without attaching any meaning to them-judgement, so to speak, about whether or not the thought that goes by even holds any validity.
With some education and now a couple of years of practice (supported with some study of Buddhist Philosophy), I've come to learn that much of our thinking is insidiously silent enough already. Having become for us something more like subconscious programming of the brain, it's this silent thinking that drives the majority of our behaviours,
I can agree with my friend, Charles A, that our silent-subconscious can often take us places we don't really even want to go.
Here's how Charles put it to me in regards to the silent subconscious.
He shared a story of getting himself ready for work one day, packing up his mining gear, his food, clothes he needed and the like. From there, he lived close enough to the workplace to walk himself to the job. He found himself sullen, shoulders slumped over, and his head was down enough, he started watching his feet as the legs moved him step-by-step towards the job.
What came next was a revelations for him, Charles says:
"I looked down at those feet, and I stopped to ask them a question. 'Feet?' I questioned. 'Why the hell are you taking me again to someplace I don't even want to go?'"
When he shared this story with me, he shared a light-bulb moment with me that's stuck ever since.
The lesson is this: We've a ton of learned-already stuff that's stored in our brain below our conscious awareness. When we repeat behaviour patterns enough times, the brain learns what it needs to carry out such commands as 'walking to work' by rote. Only when we address the subconscious processes, as Charles did with his question, will we find any way at all to challenge the 'program' (so-to-speak) in a way that can bring upon some changes.
It is estimated that our conscious mind can process, only 1-3 bits of information coming at us at a time as we meander around in our living environments. The conscious mind is said to fire at a rate of 40 bits of information per second.
On the other hand, the subconscious processing capabilities are expanded. The subconscious (our "autopilot") processes 4 Billion bits of information per second and can manage to interpret thousands of events. This ends up creating a challenge for us as we choose to develop greater conscious awareness of our thoughts, beliefs, and conscious choices-all which leads to decision-making and behavioural action-when we first start to work on repair of our trauma-damaged mind.
If we can think of the brain as a computer (it isn't-the brain is more powerful) think of conscious thought as the writing of our software to operate the programming we experience day-to-day, ultimately. Our subconscious, acts as the completed installation of the programming.
The subconscious brain (mind) then operates much like a computer might on autopilot, taking in a ton of information at once, processing it all, near-silently and immediately. Then the subconscious triggers the thoughts and behaviours necessary to complete any task or to take any action towards 'doing something' we need to do as part of typical life.
When we walk as adults, for instance, without falling on our back-sides or bouncing off-of the walls-this is driven subconsciously. When we drive, after learning how to get that done without putting ourselves in harms way, this too is subconscious stuff once we've learned how to drive.
With these two simple examples: does much conscious thought go into our walking or driving once we've learned how to do such things?
No-we seem to do both rather automatically once we've learned.
This is what living through our subconscious programming (stored away, learned memories in the brain) can be sensed by us to be.
Think about it. When we're learning anything, we receive "input" (sensory information). We interpret and calculate the input (both consciously and sub-consciously) in using the brain. With that accomplished, we produce "output" (any given behavior our bodies might perform in response to the input we've received). When all this is seamless and functional, we've little problem carrying out what we've learned once it's drilled in as second-nature.
When this process is confused by our experience with trauma, we operate with a computer (subconscious mind and processes) that has been corrupted, for analogy's sake.
Trauma, in terms of programming us (learning) teaches us to subconsciously remain on alert for future threat, when the traumas aren't dealt with correctly, which is why we end up then struggling with PTSD.
Via our traumas, we've LEARNED what out here in the big-bad-world could threaten our well-being. With that drilled into the subconscious, the brain and body fire with any perceived evidence of threat. Threat that's real or otherwise.
Anything coming at us in the form of 'triggers' from the environment we're living in, for us, it's our symptoms that tell us we've connected with our trauma-driven, learned-conditioning again. As I shared in prior posts, memory-recall of traumatic events alone can set this off for us inside.
Because the subconscious is firing so rapidly in terms of processing information (4 Billion bits/second); it becomes a major challenge to hear the thoughts driving the reactions we experience, post-trauma, living with PTSD.
Prior to our experience of trauma, this way of living on auto-pilot didn't create too much trouble for us in terms of behavior. Up until our time of injury, for instance, we'd likely grown to a point in which we were no longer giving "thought" much attention at all where our day-to-day behaving is concerned.
We'd learned to walk in many ways over our lives prior to trauma, those of us traumatized as adults, that is. For those who've suffered the oft horror of Adverse Childhood Experiences, this analogous programming was put upon us in childhood when the brain was naturally developing, which makes the subconscious stuff more deeply ingrained.
This is how the subconscious works.
We're hungry? We eat. Or, it's noon-therefore, it's time to eat. Whatever life-stuff we do, once learned, isn't any longer carried out by our conscious mind and conscious processing in the brain.
I would suggest, that this may be one of the major issues in trauma. We'd taken it for granted that things were a particular way in our lives-we'd learned what life is, or were taught in childhood by less-than-helpful teachers.
We grew comfortable with those ways; and we lived our lives accordingly.
We'd learned how to do life, When we were directly traumatized, it's because what we'd learned prior to trauma, didn't have anything stored away in the subconscious for the brain to respond with.
Thus, the level of hurt and confusion we experience at the time of trauma that floods our system (the body) with so much stress-chemistry. Chemistry more powerful than any street-drug circulating in the black-market today.
When the trauma came knocking at our door to eventually haunt our lives, the brain was simply too overwhelmed with information to cope with the processing. Under stress, our traumatic memories are "super-learned" memories. These memories take over the mind and body, as we attempt, naturally, to make sense and to re-frame our experience.
Post-Trauma, making sense of anything is incessantly difficult for us to do.
With automatic, instant behavioral processes going on for us, as the brain has programmed any number of stimuli we took in at the time of traumatization, thinking through certain actions seems impossible: which it is. With PTSD active, our 'what should scare the shite' out of me brain, and our, 'let's see this through rationally' brain, no longer are in sync.
In fact, studies suggest, the thinking brain we need is shut down when our symptoms are active. Those I've studied suggest that when we're dealing with active PTSD, and other mental health issues for that matter, the thinking we hope to be able to do, can't be engaged as it's becoming biologically impossible for us to do.
Think of it this way-for those stricken, as well as for those visiting who simply want to learn about this stuff:
Have you EVER, personally, been empowered to think clearly and rationally through any decision-making if you're in a state of panic or fueled by anger?
If you're like me, I suspect you can understand what I'm hinting at. Thus why PTSD-Brain makes it difficult post-trauma for us to learn practically anything we try to learn at all. Thus, again, the why I attach to my encouragement of others to seek-out right, trauma-informed clinical care.
I found that until the day came when I found such care and could face-down the trauma with safety and right support, I remained stuck with a reptile's brain, dictating to me that I needed to remain in survival-mode, which until some of the traumas were released, made learning, for me, extremely difficult.
I've come to accept this as truth:
Across our lives, we form memorized patterns of thought, which create habits that translate to behavior. We act out these habits day by day, leaving us to believe that thought is no longer necessary (totally unconsciously-we're little aware this is happening).
Once we learn anything, thought is no longer a part of our behavioral equations, post-learning.
Thought is there, running silent the show we put on as we live. When thoughts are firing below our conscious awareness, we simply aren't in a position to hear these thoughts as we might when we make a conscious choice to think about something-like reading, for instance, which is a conscious choice and process you're engaging to consciously think right now using words.
It's said, via Cognitive Behavioural Therapy principles, that if we are in emotional discomfort, living with anxiety or depression, for instance, our thoughts are focused either to heavily on past information (creating the depressed state) or too heavily on imagining future events coming in our lives (creating an anxious state).
Some thoughts, of which, have no basis in fact often. I've uncovered now many times that what I might believe, isn't always accurate. Sometimes, not whatsoever accurate. I think we all can relate to our symptoms making it difficult to remain 'with-it' sometimes as engage in any current-moment-by moment, present reality.
A key to our recovery, lies in our ability to develop thought processes that are more mindful; Thinking that is based on living in the "now" moments of life, consciously.
This is the challenge I personally took on in my own recovery: To learn ow to think and live in such a way as to remain focused upon my present reality, no longer distracted by the memories of my trauma-past, and no longer taken in with any imaginings that are about what can only be an unknown future.
How can we achieve this practice of taking charge of our thinking?
I won't lie to you, it's long, arduous, trial-and-error, very tough work to get though.
I'll say as well, however, that doing the work, will prove itself over time in terms of value.
We learn to practice, mindful living-That's what I agreed with myself about 5 years back to learn how to do.
It's a learning curve, but worth the effort. So, please, at the very least, consider taking a shot at learning how to get there.
To help share knowledge of developing a mindful practice, to aide our psychological recovery from trauma, let's meet, Jon Kabet-Zinn, through this biography from Wikipedia.
Zinn is the pioneer of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.
After reading the article, consider taking some time to learn about Mindfulness and Mindfulness-Based Sttress Reduction from other sources.
Here's a couple of links to start:
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: Health-Link BC.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: What It Is and How It Helps: Psychology Today.
Below is a 72 minute talk, in which Kabat-Zinn discusses Mindfulness with staff from Google. His gentle, teaching approach, brings a softness to the experience. The lessons he shares, will become priceless, as we all agree, who are dealing with trauma issues, to work our recovery towards an experience whereby we're more empowered to remain present, in the reality of the moment.
With Zinn's help, we can begin to construct a daily practice of mindful, relaxation; create a better lasting sense of peace; and learn, as well, a technique to assist us as we develop ways to self-regulate our emotions in daily life.
One of BC'S clinicians who treat trauma issues, works with Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, in combination with Equine Assisted Therapy. I fully trust Dr. Sandra de Blois, having witnessed her skill personally. She came my way highly recommended by my brother in the cause, NAFFVN'S, Shannon Pennington (Former Fire Fighter and now my Peer in the cause).
Through recovery from our trauma experience, the gift of mindful living will support, along with other tools we'll pick up along the way, leading us as far out of the darkness of our past as we can get, into the light of the present-if we agree to allow it to do so.
Mindfulness Practice in my experience learning this, is powerful in assisting creating balance for us, as we march on into the unknown future more fearlessly (with less anxiety).
Always keep in mind, that the information shared here is for educational purposes only, and is no substitute for professional guidance.
For those who want to give a course a try: Visit Palouse Mindfulness for an Eight Week (Free) introduction to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.
While you are here, please take the time to visit the Charter for Compassion (a partner) and consider signing the pledge they share that reminds us to remain compassionate first towards ourselves, which will lead to a stronger sense of compassion for others.
Thank you for stopping by. . . . . .
Darren Michael Gregory: Curator, The Trauma Recovery Blog
One of the most helpful stepping-stones in recovery is breath- work. Learning to breathe effectively forms a foundation for all future work we may choose to engage in. Breathing through our anxiety, for instance, can help reduce our symptoms, quickly and dramatically.
Breath-work also forms a foundation for developing meditation practices should we choose to pursue adding meditation to our recovery toolbox. Mindfulness (learning to live in the present moment) is a practice that is revolutionizing recovery in mental health.
Breath-work is a first step in learning mindfulness concepts.
A second key concept is Grounding.
In my own recovery practice, Grounding translates to simply using techniques that help me to restore my direct connection with reality. I still find myself in states of self-protective dissociation, from time to time. Dissociation protects us emotionally. The state allows for detachment from our surroundings when the senses start taking in too much of the action.
Numbing out for a time acts to silence things inside, for those days when our mind is dealing already with far too much in terms of trauma memories.
Dissociation only really becomes a problem for us when the activation of the process creates enough of a loop in memory that activation of dissociation quickens and makes more reactive the dissociative response.
The response is quite normal for us otherwise.
When a feedback loop occurs in the filing system in our brain: This creates a problematic issue as the process causing the action of checking out of reality for a time, and with this looping in play, dissociation comes at us more often than is helpful.
For some of us with PTSD, this dissociation then shows up for us when we'd rather it didn't.
What does dissociation feel like?
Do you recall, for instance, losing touch with reality for a time while driving? Feeling as though you've missed, mile upon mile of highway? Then, seemingly suddenly, you sort-or 'wake-up' to realize where you actually are on the road your travelling?
This is what the dissociative response feels like in action to me.
The symptom can become quite problematic for us in the long-term, should we end up with this state looping in the brain leading us deeply into a more debilitating situation of absolute withdrawal from life.
Grounding techniques can help significantly in regaining our connection with reality. Or, grounding can assist us through a process we can us as a means for coming back into the real world following a dissociative episode:
One that perhaps kicked in to calm the input of the environment for us to physiologically protect us from adding insult to the injury of an already far too busy, hyper-vigilant mind.
Trauma, with anxiety active, gets us thinking incessantly sometimes. Focusing too much about the past or transporting our imagination too far into the unknown future. This can leave us in a state of inner-flux and can leave us highly symptomatic.
Remaining grounded and functional in these situations can be quite difficult for us to do. Keeping our focus about living only into the reality of the present moment takes practice following traumatic experiences.
When living with PTSD, it's best for us in terms of recovery to schedule a consistent practice regime for breath-work, mindfulness, and grounding techniques. For us all, every ounce of prevention we can muster can be definitely worth it's weight in gold.
Managing our symptoms: This for many of us will be a need long-term. It's therefore better for us, in all situations that can be troublesome for us along the way, to be ahead of game and educationally prepared.
Practice, does make perfect. It keeps us on our toes and in touch with the sweet-spot of near perfection over time. Daily practice prepares us for those unexpected triggering events that are inevitable in our lives.
During our breath-work, for example, when we allow just TEN MINUTES periodically throughout the day of selfish 'me' time to work with our breathing, I personally found myself by doing so making incredible strides in my own recovery.
With breath-work alone added at intervals (like a pill we might swallow) every day, we can use those ten minutes of silence by focusing on only our breath, which will prepare us, should we so choose to explore the concepts, towards learning the deeper practices, like mindfulness, which will over time bubble up inside of us to accept the validity of this singular truth:
The Present Moments in Life are truly the only real moments we have to experience in our unique, personal surroundings, and it is within our uniquely personal inner-space that we can appreciate some near-silent, quiet moments, simply observing our thoughts, rather than allowing these thoughts to steal away our sense of peace.
Looking back at the past or fretting about what lies ahead in an unknowable future?
This activity is really, in the present moment, only about us recalling memories and imaginings we're reflecting upon. There is no reality left in either one of these states of mind.
Daily breath-work and daily grounding practice will improve our connection to reality in a preventative way, reducing the brain and body's need for dissociative self-protection, over time.
Traumatic memories can be so intrusive, this is true. They seem to constantly override our experience of the present. It is important to learn to reflect upon the trauma experiences by choice. As we might do in the safety of a counseling relationship.
To learn breath-work practices and grounding techniques we sometimes do best with a human teacher. This is the gift of therapy, actually. Finally accepting the courage we need to allow ourselves a little vulnerability can lead us into the world with a human being who just might know a thing or two about exactly where we've been.
Let's face it. We aren't supermen. To learn these techniques takes training. Help is waiting. We only need the courage to risk being vulnerable enough to ask for it sometimes.
Thus my own consistent insistence that any who might visit here consider entering into a relationship with trauma-and-violence informed, clinical care:
I hope you can use the two videos included in this blog as an introduction to developing your recovery practices. The video is courtesy of Dr. Anna Baranowsky with the Traumatology Institute.
One of the best products they offer, the Breath Trainer App, is a very inexpensive smart-phone application and is an ideal tool to get started practicing and training our bodies to respond to anxiety.
I've included here a video as well that grants 10 minutes of doing nothing else at all, which helps to train the mind in focusing solely for awhile on the breath when anxiety might take hold, or we find ourselves dissociating from reality for whatever reasons.
Learning to reduce our symptoms consciously, using our own breath and the act of our own breathing to get us there: This is what starting out in recovery was first actually all about for me.
It's a very wise decision to make, agreeing to learn these tools. In terms of adding to our lives a little prevention, follow the links below as well to find a 12-Step grounding tutorial.
Many thanks to Dr. Anna Baranowsky and The Traumatology Institute for explaining in the video for us both of these very powerful techniques.
Be Well. . . . .
Darren Michael Gregory: The Trauma Recovery Blog
Further Reading and Links
Breath Work: TI Breath Trainer App
Relax & Breathe: Do Nothing for 10 Minutes: YouTube
Disclaimer: These materials and resources are presented for educational purposes only. They are not a substitute for informed medical advice or training. Do not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem without consulting a qualified health or mental health care provider. If you have concerns, contact your health care provider, mental health professional, or your community health centre.
Darren Gregory © 2014: All Rights Reserved
Certified: Community & Workplace Trauma Educator Traumatology Institute.
Associate Member American Academy Of Experts In Traumatic Stress.