Hurricanes – Trauma – Recovery
Hurricanes, as the recent Florence, demonstrate the extremes of nature
with massive destruction and disruptions of lives. The full impact of the storm forced people and communities into survival mode. The process of recovery, the rebuilding of homes and lives begins as the storm moves and resides. For some people, the aftermath of the storm is a time of reflection, self-assessment, prospect taking, and possibly personal transformation.
Mary* was a young a single mother, divorced, living just above the poverty line, with a thirteen-year-old daughter.
With her new waitress job, she was able to move into a small rental cottage near a scenic local river. It was the first time she felt some security. She now had a place to call her own, where she could store her meager belongings. Her daughter settled into a new school. Mary had a history of mood swings, depression, anxiety, and PTSD from childhood sexual abuse. She grew up in a very chaotic and disruptive home – especially after her alcoholic father deserted her and her mother. She had experienced a difficult growing up with parental neglect, physical and emotional abuse. Beneficial therapy for her emotional and mood difficulties, along with the addiction treatment for stimulant and narcotics addictions, brought her a new level of stability. With the improvement from her treatment, she was able to better cope with life and its demands. After gradually tapering off of medications, Mary made a move with her daughter into the new rental home by the river.
The hurricane came and took everything: the house and all of her belongings. Mary just barely escaped and made it to a local shelter with her daughter. From the shelter, Mary and her daughter were able to move in with her mother, after making repairs to what had been an estranged relationship.
(*Mary is not an actual person, but a composite of people with similar problems encountered in the past.)
Mary had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from early childhood trauma which returned after the hurricane. Episodic depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and nightmares occurred again. Mary felt like he was living in a continuing hurricane – a storm of swirling negative thoughts and emotions. Her mind was turbulent with traumatic and intrusive memories – worse at night, contributing to nightmares and poor sleep. She at times felt despondent and had suicidal thoughts about taking her own life to escape the torment. There was a loss of pleasure in doing her usual activities: she felt hopeless, helpless and isolated herself from others.
While in the shelter with her daughter, during and briefly after the hurricane, sessions with a therapist and counselor trained in trauma work helped her gain insight and relief. The devastating hurricane had triggered a return of personal despair and feelings of loss. This time around, things were different, perhaps related to Mary’s increased maturity and therapy work she had done previously. Mary experience profound insight into the vicissitudes of life and of the greater context in which all things exist with equal potential. She saw the possibilities in herself and others: for choices, compassion, acceptance, redemption, transformation and deeper healing.
She realized that she was a survivor of not only the destructive hurricane but also of the devastating storm in her mind that affected her at all levels – body, mind, and spirit. Mary accepted and developed compassion for herself, the many destructive elements in her life, and the residuals of past trauma. There was a realization of the potential for change, especially of her beliefs and attitude. She embraced the notion that there was a greater, undefinable source beyond herself and her self-interests – as the source of a wave being water and the ocean. Feeling now, a more stable, calm, gratifying sense of being, she felt greater compassion for herself and others. She became more committed to being more loving and helpful to others. Mary gradually built a more sustainable healing and recovery program with a nurturing support network.
The hurricane was the great and final destruction of Mary’s tightly-held and limiting beliefs and attitudes. The great storm, literally and figuratively, swept away the non-essential mental and emotional debris of her past – leaving her open to deeper inner change, redemption, and transformation. Her life in the past was a repetition of painful cycles, driven by addiction, mood disturbance, trauma memories, and self-destructive choices. Now there was hope and sense of a new beginning.
The eye of the hurricane, is an area of calm, in the middle of the storm’s activity.
A person, even with periods of wellbeing, stability, peacefulness, and spiritual reprieve still has dark forebodings. Mary feared she would relapse back into the devastating experience of depression, PTSD, and drug addiction: back into the fury of the storm.
Unresolved trauma issues, worries, fearful thinking, feelings of vulnerability or a sense of lack, can contribute to psychological or emotional difficulties. Openness to receiving help, therapy or treatment is encouraged. Most important in healing and recovery is finding the peaceful center, in the heart of the storm – the portal to serenity, healing, recovery, and transformation – the center is the placeless place of timelessness, feeling of connection, love, non-resistance, acceptance, quietness and peace. An essential part of the healing journey begins in moments of freedom from emotional turbulence. Gradually, as part of the healing journey, there is an extending towards longer periods of being the center. Greater ease becomes possible for resourcing the serenity state of enlightened consciousness.
In the mandala art of the East concentric rings surround the center.
The mandala appears like a storm or hurricane which always has an eye or center. The ancient yogis described the eternal peaceful center as “Satchidananda,” the realm of enlightenment: being, consciousness, bliss, happiness, and truth.
The bands of a hurricane or the mandala rings can represent stages of mental or emotional contraction, turmoil or suffering – all arise out of a calm originating center of all potentiality. The way of survival or healing is to come back to the place of sanctuary, spiritual connection or respite. A movement towards the center from any place in the concentric rings of human experiences is healing and enlightening. With the embrace of acceptance and the release of all resistance, there is a release of suffering like a drop of water returning to the ocean.
One must survive the outward destructive storm and get to safety: then healing and recovery can begin. A peaceful center of serenity and calm is always available and present even while the busy mental activity and life’s demands are happening – as a wave in a surging sea is always apart of the ocean. Access remains open with awareness, acceptance, compassion, and love.
The center of the hurricane or the inner peace sought by the troubled person is similar to the third stage of sleep: the deep sleep stage is where a person returns to a peaceful and recuperative state, waking to feel refreshed and revitalized. Discovering the calm hurricane center is like the depressed person dropping into a place of quiet, peacefulness, and rejuvenation. The peaceful center is free of busy mental activity and agitation. (Sleep – read more)
The “center” or eye of the hurricane is known or observed and therefore easier to discuss and conceptualize.
The idea of a peaceful human center of consciousness, or the use of other terms, falls short in the attempt to explain the very abstract ideas or concepts in the setting of a very wide unspecific context – as trying to explain love, beauty, spirituality, the universe or infinity. The experiencing of the state of pure awareness or heightened consciousness is a movement beyond more literal, constricted definitions, and narrow context. The shift is to the realm of abstract expanded context and more difficult to define words and concepts: to move from the known and knowable to the unknown and unexplainable – beyond names and definitions – where science is now beginning to explore the uncharted territory.
What it is, or what we are, is beyond finite description or words. Rupert Spira (click to his book) relates – that the spiritual center is an always existing presence as well as the consciousness that we always have. He likens it to watching a movie on a screen: The screen is always there, yet one becomes unaware of the screen as the attending mind only sees the drama. Or like in a dream – we become both the dream and dream character, losing the awareness of who we truly are. Nisargadatta (click to his book), one of the great modern sages of India, in the popular modern spiritual classic “I Am That” – brings his audience to a clearer understanding of the nature of mind and the true nature of our being and existence.
David Hawkins, MD (click to his books) elucidates different levels of consciousness: reflecting the limitations, conflicts, struggles, and suffering that is attributable to both limiting mind-ego and linear, literal thinking in a narrow context. The realization or enlightenment to truth becomes paramount to moving out of the containment, struggle, or entrapment of lower levels of ignorance, non-truth and misunderstanding.
Water, the ocean – the place of waves, storms, and hurricanes
is a metaphor in Eastern thought – represents the underlying principle or origin of all things and appearances. Spiritual, religious, and Eastern philosophies support the idea of one central infinite creative source. It is believed to be the potential from which all perceived or experienced things originate. The works of Joseph Cambell and Carl Jung offer an in-depth examination of the human psyche, spirituality, myths, and symbols as water, the ocean, and etc.
Advanced scientists, mystics, and meditators often express the deeper meaning of the observed and experienced:
- In Eastern thought, it is the all-encompassing infinite source, the Self, and pure awareness vs. the limiting mind-ego, ‘small self,’ fixed or inflexible patterns of beliefs, concepts, perceptions
- Yoga is a traditional practice from the East which involves movement, stretching, holding postures, relaxed breathing, mindfulness, and finally resting quietly in peaceful repose
- Meditation or prayer lead to a place of calm and peacefulness – a sanctuary from the emotional and physical anguish and excessive activation
- The opposite point of view dominates in Western materialistic and less advanced scientific thought – everything experienced in the perceiving, thinking mind exists, only as a real object or solid matter
Opening to the life-enhancing center of inspiration and healing
Integrative-holistic guidance or mentoring can help facilitate recovery and a return to a healthy integration of mind, body, and spirit. Spiritual emergence-oriented programs recognize that many symptoms of psychological, emotional distress or life crisis, represent an opening and opportunity for healing at a higher level of experiencing and functioning from a more enlightened awareness and consciousness. Using conventional medical or psychiatric labeling, diagnosing, and treatment – like the attention to symptoms, is only a starting point in the journey of healing and discovery. Spiritual emergence approaches use the analogy of the birth process and moving through the birth canal towards the light, liberation, life, and integration. Click here for Center for Spiritual Emergence.
Regular attuning of the body with health practice is a good beginning: improving lifestyle, exercise and diet. Other essentials are regular practices like meditation, self-reflection or prayer. Companionship with persons and pets helps get past the individual mind ego. Joining or sharing with a supportive social network – as the power of recovery seen in the Twelve Step Programs (read more) in addiction recovery work.
Find positive ways to help escape the destructive storm of our self-mental preoccupation and an over constricting mind ego. Our perceived separate selves, feeling of incompleteness, lack, unfulfillment, need for more security and wealth can be alleviated by being compassionate, charitable, sharing, serving, giving, helping and loving. Compassion is welcome now for all those affected by the recent hurricane. It is an opportunity for giving aid to all of those in need by all who can. With the current catastrophe, damaging so many people’s lives and possessions, one can help by giving to charity and relief efforts:
By Ron Parks, MD & edited by Shan Parks
Send your question or comments!