Using meditation to quiet the mind and create space for healing, those who have experienced trauma can begin to heal and process the difficult emotions and memories standing in the way of a happy life.
Over the last ten years, meditation has increasingly become a big part of my life. The journey began, as most personal development journeys do, with a need to put an end to feelings of hopelessness and disease and too many nights with bottles of wine and Bridget Jones’s Diary.
I found myself, in my early 20s, full of hurt and anger
I was suffering with constant hives and gut sensitivity, wanting love and fearing it at the same time. From the age of eight until my 12th birthday I endured physical beatings from my stepfather and was sexually assaulted at age 18 and again at age 23.
I was taught I was worthless. The anger, shame, and sadness were having serious impacts on my health, both physically and mentally. I felt tired all the time. My body was reacting to normal foods and environmental triggers as if they were dangerous. This was causing inflammation of my intestinal tract and severe allergic reaction. My weight was constantly fluctuating. I had regular headaches and nerve pain in my arms.
I was also starting to isolate myself socially. The worst part was no doctor could tell me why I was so unwell. Test after test revealed no physiological reason for my symptoms. These factors started to make me feel angrier and bordering on depression.
The thing about abuse is it may be delivered in a physical way but it affects you in a psychological way
You don’t feel angry and know that it was because you were abused or raped. You project those feelings on to whomever or whatever is happening at the time because you suppress the traumatic events and separate yourself from it. It wasn’t the act of being beaten or raped that hurt me. It was the emotional side of these acts that had the greatest impact.
The childhood abuse had set a personal tone for believing I was bad. I was the cause of problems, and I deserved to be treated badly because I was worthless. I’d had a hard time comprehending that I was raped. I remember convincing myself that I wasn’t raped, that I’d subconsciously asked the perpetrators to have sex with me through my body language and actions. But I felt something was wrong. I didn’t want to have sex. I said ‘Stop’. Sounds crazy, I know. When a trauma specialist put it to me, I didn’t accept it at first.
Counselling was hard
Reliving the trauma made it feel real again. I started having nightmares and anxiety when I was in crowds and alone with men. Something else had to happen. I had to find a solution to this pain.
From there I started looking into meditation and relaxation for well-being. There was a lot of supporting scientific data conducted by American and British universities and scholars, even a piece in Time magazine. Over a period of about a month, I read Louise Hay, Eckhart Tolle, and the Dalai Lama’s An Open Heart. Buddhist meditation and the philosophies really resonated with me because it talked about the root of emotions and thoughts. It placed control firmly in my hands through cultivating a sense of personal agency and emotional intelligence. I found a class easy to get to after work and booked myself in.
Armed with what I thought were reasonable expectations, I attended my first meditation class in a hall run by a university group
There were lots of beautiful sights and sounds, some pretty potted flowers and leafy green plants, and incense.
I assumed, like most first-timers, that meditation would be relatively easy and I’d walk away feeling blissful and calm. This was not how it panned out. I found it really difficult.
Sitting cross-legged on a pillow, still and silent, for 45 minutes was not at all comfortable. The loud breathing of the bloke in front of me was really distracting.
I couldn’t stop thinking
I couldn’t visualise the serene waterfall the facilitator was describing. At the end of the class my back was sore, I was angry at myself for not being able to do something I thought was so simple. I was angry at myself for being angry when I was supposed to be calm. This class was not for me.
I located a Buddhist Society and temple and decided to attend their open beginners’ classes on Sunday afternoons. Each class went for 1½ hours and incorporated a talk, guided meditation and a question and answer session. It was held in a traditional Tibetan temple, followed by afternoon tea.
I attended the Buddhist centre for 2½ years.
I didn’t shave my head and cast out all my worldly possessions
Instead, I just enjoyed the classes and the people. I am not advocating that you rush off to a Buddhist group. This is just what resonated with me and what I was looking for at the time. Coming from a Catholic family background, spirituality was important to me, even though I had given up on the Church many years ago.
I found it became really easy to be happy and relaxed while at the centre. However, as soon as my car pulled away and I was back on urban streets, I almost immediately felt my stresses return.
The art of quiet awareness was very difficult to grasp at first
I would start out focusing on my breathing. Then I’d find myself thinking, “I wonder if anyone is looking at me?” or “Am I doing this right?”
Sometimes I even started thinking about what to have for dinner or if I’d paid my bills or what to do with my project at work. Sometimes I’d have really dark thoughts about myself. I remember one day sitting quietly and all of a sudden I was thinking about the sexual assault I experienced years before. I was instantly caught up in thoughts about how I was not good enough to be in this temple. Feeling dirty and unworthy, I started crying and couldn’t stop.
I was so embarrassed I didn’t want to return the next week
I found out later that is was a normal response to learning meditation.
Everyone has a different experience. Some people pick it up easily and early on in their practice and only ever feel wonderful. Others struggle with the self-reflection and self-awareness that comes out of meditation practice, and can experience sadness and sometimes depression at the beginning of their journey.
If this happens to you, be sure to talk to your meditation teacher about it or seek guidance and support from a GP or counsellor. With the right kind of support, this can transform into a positive experience of self-awareness and growth.
For me, the physical benefits of meditation have been significant
As mentioned earlier, I had developed a severe case of hives that caused me to drastically restrict my diet to very plain and boring foods. I couldn’t have Vegemite on my toast or orange juice. I couldn’t even have chocolate!
After three years with an expensive specialist, restricted diet and regular outbreaks of mega mood swings, hives, acne, and irritable bowel syndrome, I consulted a naturopath. She suggested that there was no physical problem with my body.
The things I was experiencing were related to the stress in my life
After one year of regular meditation – by regular I mean meditating for 15 minutes twice a day, every day – I saw a significant improvement in my skin and bowel. I was able to reintroduce foods into my diet. My bowel movements returned to some semblance of normality. Even and my mood was more consistent.
After five years of meditation, there was only a handful of foods that would bring on an outbreak of hives. Ten years on and my diet is full of great foods. I feel confident and happy within myself. Consequently, my anxiety and stress have significantly reduced. I still have periods of stress. I am no beacon of bliss and calm. However at these times I can recognise my internal responses and start to do something about it.
Meditation has helped me deal with the anger and emotional pain with which I tortured myself for most of my life
I have learnt I alone create the thoughts in my mind that keep me feeling angry and worthless. I see that I let those who have hurt me continue to hurt me when I keep those thoughts alive in my mind. Meditation has helped me replace those negative thoughts with positive ones. I no longer dwell on the hurt and judgment. This was a very powerful revelation that has helped me forgive myself and to change how I see myself.
I love meditation because I am in control of my practice, my development and the extent of its application. Additionally, I can use meditation as a spiritual tool or as a stress reduction tool. I am grateful for the peace I have found and the love I am now able to give to and receive from others, and most importantly, to myself.
Author’s name withheld by request
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