Preoccupied by trauma

I was going to title this “addicted to trauma” but preoccupation is more accurate and less dramatic – which is the point of this whole post.

Some days meditation is challenging. It’s as if part of my mind doesn’t want the experience of clarity, peace, and pure awareness. Not because there is something better on offer, but because there is something more compelling.

The compelling thing is our past experiences of, and adaptation to, trauma. The experience of trauma, conflict, violence and suffering becomes ingrained as the most compelling phenomenon in our inner landscape.

Not that we enjoy going there and dealing with that disaster area, but part of us wants to keep returning, because the promised reward of resolving the trauma seems to overshadow the rewards of living a peaceful, normal life.

If I sit and meditate I will feel better, but that better feeling is not as salient as fighting an internal battle.

So what to do about it? If we remain mentally pre-occupied by trauma it will inhibit our enjoyment of life and desire for constructive goals. Tuning in to the urgency of potential conflict and struggle and the adrenaline of putting out fires (real or imagined) stops us from tuning in to more rewarding and uplifting sources of inspiration.

But that implies the solution is simply to notice when we are tuning in to trauma, and choose to tune into something else instead. Recognise the feel and flavour of the fire-fighting urgency, and observe what it does to you on a physiological, mental, and emotional level: elevated heart-rate, racing thoughts, headache, flattened affect, feeling on edge. These don’t feel good, even if they do feel compelling.

Do the same for some better-feeling states of being: how does meditation feel? How does stretching or yoga feel? How does reading a good book feel? How does sitting in the garden feel? Look at the physiological, mental, and emotional effects of these states as well, until they are familiar enough to present credible alternatives you can turn to and tune to when old habits come into play.

All it takes to create a new habit is to start changing an old one. With practice we can diminish our preoccupation with old trauma and be occupied with much happier things.

And who knows what the flow-on effects of these new habits will be? When we are preoccupied with conflict and struggle we tend to elevate and magnify these themes in our lives. We ask our brain to find evidence of whatever we are focused on. Imagine how nice it will be to cut loose sources of conflict and tension, and be open to sources of love, joy, and happiness instead.

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