There’s a lot of talk about “integrating” or “healing” traumatic experience which I believe has led to a lot of confusion.
It's important to re-envision words like “integration” and “healing," as they have lost their relevance, aliveness, and magic. They have become worn-out, second-hand, and no longer filled with life. Additionally, for many they have become further tools of shame and blame, new ways to attack themselves when they (we) do not live up to the demands of a conceptual spirituality. We must breathe life back into these ideas in an imaginative, grounded, and creative way.
Often what is meant by “integrating” or “healing” unbearable experience is that one day we will “get over it,” “transcend” it, meditate or "manifest" it away, or otherwise purge it from our psychic-emotional-somatic being. Or that somehow we are to blame for the feelings, the emotions, the raw sensations that have come; somehow, their mere presence is crystal clear evidence that we have failed, "attracted" the material, or are in urgent need of some "secret" to win an illusionary battle.
In my experience in sitting in the fire with many courageous men and women with the most heartbreaking histories, this view of trauma is in large part inaccurate, aggressive, misguided, and at times even dangerous and violent. There are some things that happen to us that we will never “get over” nor would this even be an appropriate goal or lens to use in approaching the sacredness of the human temple. Our vulnerability and our sensitivity is not something to "get over," but to enter into relationship with, to explore, to hold dearly as our link to the sacred world.
Let us set aside any spirituality or “healing” which is (unconsciously or subtly) rooted in self-abandonment, self-attack, and self-hatred and replace it with slowness, empathy, and a grounded, relentless compassion. Otherwise, the project of self-improvement becomes yet another re-enactment of an early environment lacking in empathic attunement.
But if what we mean by “integration” is discovering a place inside us where we can hold and contain our experience, make sense of what happened in new ways, and discover deeper meaning, then these concepts can come alive again. Slowly, over time, guided by new levels of kindness, clear-seeing, and multileveled awareness, we can begin to bear that which has been unbearable, providing sanctuary and safe passage for the pieces of the broken world to re-organize.
As we train ourselves - with the help of our fellow travelers - to re-inhabit our bodies even in the face of profoundly disturbing perceptions, feelings, and sensations, we can begin to weave a more "integrated" narrative of our lives, re-authoring the sacred story of who we are, our purpose here, and what is most important to us. We can gather the pieces into a coherent whole and begin to trust in the validity of our experience again.
The goal then is not some fixed state where we have successfully purged an aspect of our self-experience from what we are, as if it were some wretched foreign substance, but rather to find a larger home for it within us. Slowly, we can allow what has become frozen and solidified to thaw and become flexible. Ultimately, it is love that will soften the wounds of the body and the heart, for they will never unwind in an environment of self-aggression. It's just not safe or majestic enough there. This "love" is not merely some sort of sweet feeling, but is full-spectrum, at times fierce, creative, and alive.
Over time, beyond merely holding and containing the sacred wound, we are invited to practice intimacy with it, to come even closer than we imagined possible to the lost children of the psyche and soma … discovering that they have not come to harm, but only to return home, to resume their instinctive place in the inner family.
In this way, perhaps we can salvage these concepts such as "integration" and "healing," at least for today, re-envisioning and re-enchanting them with the force of an uncompromising and unapologetic compassion, soaked in the native wisdom of our true nature, as we open into the mystery together.