There’s a lot of talk about “integrating” and “healing” traumatic experience which I believe has led to a lot of confusion.
We have to re-envision words like “integration” and “healing” for they can so easily lose their meaning, magic, and aliveness. Before we know it, these concepts can become further tools of shame, blame, and self-abandonment, enactments of an early environment lacking in empathic attunement, replaying the developmental trauma that colored the inner world of a tender, sensitive nervous system. We must breathe life back into these ideas in an imaginative, grounded, and creative way.
Often what is meant by “integrating” or “healing” trauma is that one day we will “get over it,” “transcend” it, “outgrow” it, meditate or somehow zap it away by the latest technique, or otherwise purge it from our psychic-emotional-somatic being. In my experience, 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.
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, bring together and illuminate the shards of dissociation, and discover deeper meaning, then these concepts can come alive again. Slowly, over time, 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 to re-inhabit our bodies even in the face of profoundly disturbing experience, we can begin to weave a more "integrated" narrative of our lives, re-authoring the sacred story of who we are, what has happened to us, and how we are being called into a new future not yet known. We can gather the pieces and begin to trust in the validity of our experience again.
The goal then is not some fixed, “cured” 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. Perhaps, when all is said and done, it is love that will soften the wounds of the body and the heart, for they will never unwind in an environment of abandonment and aggression. It's just not safe or majestic enough there.
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, slowness, patience, and care of the soul, as we open into the mystery together.
Or we could also set these words aside if they no longer resonate with the untamed, unprecedented, uniqueness of our lived, direct experience, and replace them with new words, to chart a new course and to bring a new poetry into the world.
The next book, The Unfolding Heart, will be published by Sounds True in early 2020, details to come
My next event:
The Great Befriending: A Five-Day Journey of Self-Love, Deep Rest, and Coming Alive (with Jeff Foster), September 21-26 in Loveland, Colorado