Peter Levine discusses: What is the relationship between the heightened presence experienced during trauma and that experienced during spiritual practice?
Recently, Peter discussed this in a talk on “Spirituality, Archetypes and Trauma” before the Jung Society of Austin.
The following is from the material distributed to the public to advertise the talk, with permission from the Jung Society. It has been edited, with emphases added, to make it easier to follow.
Presence, Spirituality and Trauma
- The “awe-full” qualities of horror and terror may share essential structural, psycho-physiological, and phenomenological roots with such underlying transformative states as awe, presence, timelessness, and ecstasy.
- Our organisms are designed with primitive-instinctual proclivities—“slow-motion” perception, and intensely focused alertness, for example—that move us to extraordinary feats when we perceive that our lives are threatened. When these survival capacities are bridged to or “owned” from more ordinary states of consciousness, an experience of timelessness and presence—sometimes referred to, in meditation systems, as “the eternal now”—is promoted.
- In addition, the effect of trauma involves a profound compression of activation. The ability to access, and integrate the rhythmic movements of this “bound energy” determines whether it will be destructive or potentially vitalizing.
- In the yogas of the East, awakening of the “Kundalini” (as studied by Jung) has long been utilized as a vehicle for spiritual transformation. In trauma a similar mobilization of (survival) activation is evoked, but with such intensity and rapidity that it is overwhelming. Naturally, many individuals faced with such energy become frightened by these involuntary bodily reactions and tighten up against them, causing even more fear to develop.
- But if we can gradually access, titrate and integrate this “energy” into our nervous system and psychic structures then the instinctual survival response embedded within trauma can also catalyze authentic spiritual transformation.
Note from Elizabeth Bader: In my experience, one major difference between the heightened awareness produced by trauma and that experienced during spiritual practice is that the heart is not open during trauma. We can open to love during spiritual practice, but the heart generally shuts down when there is shock or trauma.