Peter Levine: Presence in Trauma and Spirituality
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.
January 13, 2016 @ 4:25 am
Beneficial sharing here…well said Elizabeth. Truly the chasm between excitation and ecstasy, fear and love, loss and intimacy…navigating that edge brings us home in claiming
our full life force energy in a productive way!
May 13, 2016 @ 5:19 pm
Thanks for this wonderful comment Kim. I am thinking about your soon-to-come book. Can’t wait to read it!
October 15, 2015 @ 9:45 am
Thank you for sharing this Elizabeth – it is such a wonderful topic that poses so many questions. I also have the experience that trauma in it rawness closes down the heart as fear the fear of the trauma sets in and that as the trauma is re-negotiated the heart opens to a deeper space. I am fascinated by the link that Peter has given his talk on. Is there anywhere that you know of that I can gain access to recordings/transcripts of his talk? Many thanks and kind regards. Miles.
October 15, 2015 @ 10:16 am
Thanks for your interest Miles. And for your touching sharing.
I recently found the video of Peter’s talk. Here it is.
October 14, 2015 @ 12:13 am
Thank you for sharing this, and sharing your thoughts. I have had a spiritual practice for many years, and with getting into traumahealing the last years I have experienced a much deeper trust that has opened my spiritual heart more and more. I now also trust and accept bodily strange experienses in meditation, which earlier would have frightened me and put me off. The combination of spiritual practice and traumahealing has brougth me deep connection to my spiritual heart and to joy, bliss, connectedness, trust. I love Somatic Experiencing Therapy and TRE. I think they have been necessary for me to be able to continue and deepen my spiritual practice. Fear blocks, trust opens.
October 14, 2015 @ 5:07 am
Thank you Elin for this wonderful sharing. May it be an inspiration to others to work their trauma issues as part of their spiritual unfolding.
October 10, 2015 @ 11:49 am
Elizabeth, I agree with your note above, that in spiritual experience, the heart opens. Perhaps in the healing of the trauma, the traumatic wounding gets transformed … because – this time – the heart shows up to embrace and soothe and heal our woundings … and we are restored to our beautiful souls.
October 10, 2015 @ 11:56 am
Ah Rifka, what a loving and deep point you make on the role of the heart. Many blessings to you. Elizabeth