Bearing Trauma

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the former Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau. As a longtime student of history and politics, and especially as someone who works with people to alleviate suffering, I have wanted to visit these places to witness evidence of what the human psyche is capable of doing when we ignore the true nature of our existence.

It’s important for us to keep in mind that the mass murders and abuses like those of the Nazi regime are not only historical events; this delusion of otherness and violent disconnection continues today in various forms and to varying degrees all around us, perhaps including in our own families, and each episode in communities around the world leads to individual and collective trauma that wounds us all.

Cycles of trauma worsen and grow as long as we don’t take personal responsibility for our emotional experience of them. Pointing fingers and cultivating a victim or martyr role will cause more suffering and keep trauma alive. Nothing can be done about the traumatic events themselves, as they have already happened, but a great deal can be done to heal the lingering emotional and psychological pain, thereby allowing for some sort of constructive resolution of the relationship to the initial circumstances – maybe including some form of human justice – as well as preventing future trauma down the line. Overcoming the pain of trauma is a step towards living freely; holding onto blame is a prison sentence with no parole.

Science has demonstrated what healers around the world have been saying for ages: trauma is passed down through generations, expressing itself emotionally and physically. Research on children and grandchildren of those who survived the Dutch famine during the Second World War as well as descendants of Holocaust survivors show that they have a different stress response which affects them emotionally and physically.

Misunderstanding our emotions has been known to be seriously problematic by all traditions over millennia. In Āyurveda, each emotion resonates with a bodily organ, the mechanism for which science is now finding ways to understand. The following is an incomplete sample of how a range of emotions can lead to imbalances and illness in various organs:

The brain – Shock, compulsive thinking, confusion
Thyroid – Lack of communication, guilt, abandonment, betrayal
Lungs – Grief, sorrow, regret
Heart – Worries and ruminations, lack of love, rejection, shame
Liver and gallbladder – Anger, hatred, frustration, physical pain, envy, jealousy
Spleen – Attachment, greed, hopelessness, pride
Stomach – Nervousness, depression, disgust, annoyance
Kidneys – Fear, terror, anxiety, insecurity

Your experience of trauma might not be personal

Healing our emotions leads to physical healing – this is why Cardiologist Dr Madan Kataria started to teach laughter yoga to his heart patients. He saw that they were disconnected, stressed, and lonely, and laughter healed them faster than anything he learned in medical school.

Nowadays, relationships at nearly every level have become highly emotionally charged in a way our grandparents would not have understood. While it’s better that we are more emotionally aware and expressive today than ever before, we are supposed to understand and process them for ourselves, not flail about spewing them onto everyone around us. Tact and diplomacy are as much about maintaining our own peace of mind as maintaining peace within relationships.

So, the aim throughout our life is to master our emotions in order to find more peace, health, and ease. To be clear, this does NOT mean suppressing or bypassing them: it means understanding the emotions that arise, feeling them without reacting from them, recognising how we played our part in the story, and moving on without remaining attached to the story. Yoga – through postures, breathing, and meditation – āyurveda, and hypnosis are all proven techniques that support this healing process.

The mind being what it is, we can easily start to believe all kinds of stuff about people and events in our lives – including those whom we have never met and might be halfway around the world. The mind is constantly flickering with ideas and emotions that may or may not be real or appropriate, so we need our highest discernment to overcome this perpetual trap. Be a loving parent to your thoughts and emotions – don’t hide them in the basement. Listen to them in order to understand, then guide them to behave in the best way possible.

With much love and light,