I had a wonderful opportunity to present a daylong seminar at Marymount University this last Friday on "Focusing and Mindfulness to Treat Trauma and PTSD." We had a wonderful collection of graduate students, clinicians and hard core meditators in attendance. I was excited and a bit enthralled to be able to speak to this convergence of mind/body and contemplative traditions to treat serious trauma. As we look at practical, effective ways to deal with such emotional and psychic suffering, the perennial teachings are emerging as guides.
My entrée into the day was telling the story of my dad, who shipped off to WWII at age 18. By the time he got back, waiting for his 21st birthday, he'd been wounded twice, was MIA, was twice awarded medals for 'most days of sustained combat without reinforcement.' He spent two and a half years in Northern Europe sleeping outside - the only time he had a roof over his head was when he was in the hospital and one night in barn somewhere in Southern France when he got separated from his unit.
I found out from my aunt last year that he woke up the household screaming in bed most nights on his return. He never spoke about his experience until many, many year later when it started to spill out. Horrendous stories of finding his friends dead in courtyards; leaving his foxhole to get an infected thumb checked out only to find they'd taken a direct hit; being told to 'clear out a village' with two other GI's and coming back as the sole survivor; his boat, crossing the Rhine at 2:00AM on the invasion of Germany taking a direct hit and him being pulled out of the water unconscious, his arm dislocated.
We've all taken hits. No matter the degree of the intensity of our suffering, the way through seems to be our capacity to name what is there ... and to find a way to be with it.
Suffering also wakes us up.
My father went on to tap into the GI bill and became a college professor. He became a Quaker, developed a course still offered called the "Literature of Peace." He was a draft counselor during the Vietnam War and is an active, committed pacifist, though he still gets incredibly pissed when anyone says 'some wars are good wars.'