Trauma and Meditation: An Open Letter to the Community
Warning: May contain triggers for survivors of childhood sexual abuse
Dear “Awakened” Communities,
Yes I mean YOU, Buddhist and Non-Buddhist alike. I am angry with you. Yes angry, oops am I not supposed to be angry? Well buckle up, you may not like this ride, or just jump off and avoid all these “negative emotions” if you can. You are good at that…unless of course you are wielding them at others while they are all dressed up as truth and passive aggressive compassion.
Yes, I am angry…but YOU are dangerous.
I am angry because I was raped when I was an eight year old little girl. You are dangerous because you tell me that I should live as if this didn’t actually happen.
Through my meditation practice I have learned to let go of my shame, and because of this I have learned to be open and honest about being raped and molested as an eight year old child. I have found the courage to sit with and write about the flashbacks, the anxiety, and the PTSD that has resulted from that traumatizing year of my life. Sitting still and silent has not made these things go away. Philosophy and critical thinking have not made these things go away. Cognitive behavioral therapy and other forms of counseling have not made these things go away. Alcohol, self-injury, exercise, and diet have not made these things go away. Prayer, and begging, and bargaining have not made these things go away. You know why? Because these things do not go away. Full stop.
Trauma can be ignored and lied about. But it does not go away
Trauma can be folded into daily life, it can be set safely in the background, it can be worked with, and looked at, and talked about. It can also be ignored, dissociated from, and lied about. But it does not go away. We know that trauma changes brain chemistry, especially childhood trauma. So until I undergo a lobotomy or brain death, these changes will not go away. I can maybe mitigate them with diligent self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self compassion. But, no amount of ephemeral “no-self” or “emptiness” is going to change the fact that the rape occurred, that these physical brain changes occurred, that PTSD is the result. To offer “no-self and emptiness” to rape survivors as some illusory way out is a dangerous, arrogant, and self-serving game. It serves only to deny the reality of what happened. It serves only to continue to silence us. It serves only to leave survivors feeling alone and like failures when inevitably these memories come charging back in the form of PTSD. It serves only to allow YOU to feel more comfortable with what we represent…the loud, chaotic, unpredictable, and cruel nature of this world.
You want to talk about present moment, real present moment? At any given moment I can be unconsciously triggered into a flashback, into anxiety, into my PTSD symptoms. I can be sweating, heart racing, nauseous, short of breath, and physically incapacitated. I can be back in that bed feeling crushed by that man while he inserts himself into my mouth, my vagina, my brain. I can be once again looking out that window while it is happening praying for help, praying for my mother to come home, praying for God, someone, anyone to save me. These things happen exactly IN that “empty present moment” and they are anything but an empty illusion. But, do you know what I do? I stop and sit still and silent WITH them. I watch them occur, I feel them, I let these things wash through me and over me and I notice what that means, and I notice that I do not die…to spite every fiber of my being that tells me otherwise. I shake, and I cry, and I experience the present moment of PTSD. Then I get up and experience the other present moments during the day when the reverberations of PTSD and rape remain in my body. When these things pass, I live with and experience that relief as well. I am fully aware that both of these things will happen, and I let myself experience both the pain and the relief. This is my practice. Present moment isn’t supposed to always be easy, blissful, and peaceful. Present moment is simply what it is when it shows up, and the real practice, the real bravery, comes in letting it be what it is, making real contact with what that is, for better or worse.
And you say “emptiness?” And you say “no-self?” And you say “let it go, it is an illusion, it is imaginary?” Why does what you say sound EXACTLY like what my abuser said to me in order to keep me silent, in order to keep me trapped, in order to continue raping me with impunity?
You may not understand this if you have not been through it.
You will hold tightly to your belief that there is some simple on/off switch that can make the past disappear, that can make future flashbacks never happen. Oh how I wish that was true, just as you do. Believe me, I have tried to find that easy switch in nearly every way possible. That on/off switch does not exist, in any form, from any religion or belief system, and to pretend like it does is no different than selling snake oil to a terminally ill patient. It is no different than turning your back on a rape-in-progress. It is no different than telling the victim, and the perpetrator, not to worry it will all be over soon and when it is over it will all be imaginary anyway. Your “emptiness” denies the violence of the act as equally as it denies justice or responsibility for the act. Your “emptiness” denies the humanity of the person raped and the intentional cruel action of the person raping. Your “emptiness” denies a harsh reality. Oh how I wish I could deny it too, but I cannot.
You want to see my anger, my struggle, my vigilance, my embodiment, and my honesty as some sort of proof that I am not “awakened, realized, saved.” But oh how wrong you are. I spent most of my life trying to escape this human form, dissociated from it, and guess what…that didn’t work. Now I am in it, feeling it, allowing it, and I don’t know if this works either. Hell, I don’t know what “works” is supposed to mean anyway. But, I do know that I am done trying to be something I am not. I am no longer ashamed to be human, I am no longer afraid to speak openly about sexual assault or any other part of my humanity, and I am no longer looking out that window waiting for someone else to save me. Not even you.
Sincerely, angrily, unashamed, and still sitting,
Me when I was 8 years old
Originally published in May 2015