Monday, October 12, 2009

The Thunderbolt

What do you do when your world falls apart? I am not sure that I really have the answer to that question, but I do have some thoughts. One question I ask myself is how to remain intact throughout, but perhaps I miss the mark when I do this. Perhaps what I should be considering is why it feels so important to me to remain intact.

Something bad happens and we feel intense emotion- loss, shock, sadness. We suffer. Or we busy ourselves and push the suffering away. We ignore the pain. I have learned however, as perhaps you can attest to also, that if we ignore our feelings, if we tamp them down, they come up anyhow, maybe much later and maybe in ways that we don't expect or want. We explode or fall apart in reaction to something small. It is like when your back goes out as you reach for a toothbrush. Because the underlying cause has been there for a great while, it only takes but a hair to break the proverbial camel's back.

Why do we push on being strong, burying our feelings when faced with trauma? First of all, we have responsibilities; other people depend on us. Second, being strong is what we are supposed to do. Our culture admires it. Third, there is shame about feeling week, vulnerable and unhappy. So, if we do allow ourselves to experience our feelings, often we have judgments about those feelings. I need to be stronger. I need to get a hold of myself. I can't fall apart. It's not the end of the world. But sometimes it feels like it is indeed the end of the world. See those people falling in the picture? They are leaping from the burning tower. Their world has fallen apart.

And when things fall apart, we experience suffering. To judge the feelings you are having is to kick yourself for being down. We don't do that to dogs, so why do we do it to ourselves? It is human to feel. It is human to suffer. And being human is what we are. But to honor the feelings, to feel what there is to feel as opposed to putting them away somewhere takes courage. So, although it seems like we are doing the strong thing when we ignore our feelings, it is actually a courageous act to sit with our feelings and really feel them, going past the narrative, the thoughts that we are having about whatever is going on, and to discover what lies underneath. You might have a story about why you are mad at someone, but when you allow the story to fall away, you are left with the feelings underneath. It might be fear, shame or sorrow that you feel. Once you get in tune with it, be gentle with yourself. Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is that you feel. Know that it is ok and that you are ok for feeling that way. My experience is that feelings don't go away unless you honor them. Then healing can happen.

Staying with feelings that are so strong and raw that it causes you to re-experience the trauma is isn't productive, however. But after a time, when you have some distance from the event it can be very helpful to open up and see what is there, to let yourself become a bit undone, or vulnerable at least, as long as you can be gentle and accepting of what you find.

Another thing I have found to be tremendously helpful is to connect with the body. My experience of trauma has had me feeling at times, as if I were not solid. My body feels as if it were vapor, as if a hand could pass right through me. Exercise, walking, body work, yoga, the reassuring touch of a friend or family member, even my own hand on my leg, on my arm, on my heart, communicating that I am indeed here. There is something very comforting about feeling connected with the physical matter of the body. (Remember the last post? The Mary Oliver poem? The spirit "needs the metaphor of the body.")

Whether you are going through a difficult time or not, my wish is to offer words and ideas that might be of some help if you do indeed need them at some point in your journey.

Wishing you balance,


P.S. The image that accompanies this post is of the Thunderbolt card from Osho's Zen Tarot deck. Here is some of the text that accompanies this card-

"The card shows a tower being burned, destroyed, blown apart. A man and a woman are leaping from it not because they want to, but because they have no choice. In the background is a transparent, meditating figure representing the witnessing consciousness......but this inner earthquake is both necessary and tremendously important...if you allow it, you will emerge from the wreckage stronger and more available for new experiences." -Osho Zen Tarot, by Osho


  1. wow, this post really spoke to me, dealing with the loss of my husband... i have been through all that you so clearly stated here. and yes not until you face the pain and emotions and let them come out do you finally start to heal. thank you, it always helps when you hear or read it from someone else.

  2. Very powerful message here. Wishing you healing along with balance!


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