Trauma vs. Initiation

Francis Weller, from a talk published in Kosmos Journal:

In any true initiatory process, there’s three things that happen. First, there’s a severance from the world that you once knew. Then there’s a radical alteration in your sense of identity. And then there’s a profound realization that you can never go back to the world that was. In true initiation, you don’t want to go back to the world that was. Initiation is meant to escort you into a wider, more inclusive, participatory, sacred cosmos.

Trauma, on the other hand, has the inverse effect. The same three things happen. There’s a severance from the world. There’s a radical alteration of the identity and in a sense, you cannot go back to what was. But what trauma does to the psyche is it reduces it down to a singularity. I become cut off and severed from that sense of being engaged with a wider and more encompassing sense of identity. I become isolated in the cosmos. If you talk to anybody who’s gone through trauma, that’s the effect that it has on the body and on the psyche. You are torn out of that sense of being a part of the cosmos.

This is exactly how I feel when the world becomes cardboard, and probably how I felt as an infant and left alone.

What distinguishes these two things is initiation, what I call the contained encounter with death. The containment was provided by the community, by the elders, by the ancestors, by the rituals, by the space itself. In a sense, you are initiated into a place, not into abstraction. You are actually initiated into the ground beneath your feet. Those are the five things that provided a containment field for that encounter with death, because all initiations require some kind of encounter with death.

What I call trauma is an uncontained encounter with death. There’s nothing there holding you when that same precipice is approached. You are left basically naked, nothing holding you. Again, you contract back into a place of survival in that moment rather than expand out into that wider, cosmological sense of being. We don’t have those containment fields in white, western culture. We still live through these encounters with death, which are inevitable. I often say initiation is not optional.

This total validation of my experience, along with the revelation from my most recent post about the connection between Mother’s not being able to mother me and my struggle with having to ask my friend Eleanor to leave, has resulted in a big change.  It’s lasted a couple of days, I hope it will last longer.  It’s a sense of my basic goodness. How much I wanted to help my friend, to the point of endangering my own life, how I was angry at myself for not being able to keep helping her.  But I never blamed her, and I struggled with my feelings instead of drinking.  I did finally see that I had to say no, that it had been wrong of me to keep going so long, but I continued to be angry at myself.  It took nearly 30 years, getting on medication, understanding that I had been traumatized, doing Somatic Experiencing, and then working on attachment issues with Erica.

The other piece I saw as I was writing the previous blog, was that the Universe had brought the Kosmos article to me at just the right moment, that the 27 years of work had been necessary, NOT because I was a weakling, NOT because I didn’t work hard enough, but because the task was so difficult and I didn’t have all the pieces.  Even bigger than feeling that I can trust my basic goodness is the feeling/knowing that I can trust the Universe to bring me what I need, not necessarily when I ask for it, but when I’m ready and able to use it.

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