A recent post on Trans Survivors, “Mindfulness Meditation for Trans Trauma Survivors” (https://trans-survivors.com/2020/02/28/mindfulness-meditation-for-trans-trauma-survivors/), gives specific and detailed advice for trauma survivors on how to meditate safely. Would Meditations for healing trauma: Mindfulness skills to ease post-traumatic stress (https://bookshop.org/books/meditations-for-healing-trauma-mindfulness-skills-to-ease-post-traumatic-stress/9781626255029) be as helpful?
The answer is maybe. David A. Treleaven, the author of the first book, Trauma-sensitive mindfulness: Practices for safe and transformative healing (https://bookshop.org/books/trauma-sensitive-mindfulness-practices-for-safe-and-transformative-healing/9780393709780), is focused on what can go wrong when a trauma survivor meditates, and how to fix it if a problem happens. The author of Meditations for healing trauma, Louanne Davis, is more straightforward. Hers is a how-to book, educating trauma survivors on how trauma affects them and leading them through developing a meditation practice.
Why meditate? All humans, she suggests, live mostly in a state of unclarity:
“Our awareness is like a container of water and sand. Much of the time, the container is being shaken, which stirs up the water. The water becomes cloudy with floating particles of sand. Mindfulness is like setting the container down so the water becomes still and the sand settles to the bottom. Now we can see clearly through the water.”
Those of us with a trauma history, however, have some specific needs: “the extreme stress caused by trauma disrupts the connection between your body, heart, and mind.” Meditation can offer the antidote:
“When we are able to bring a calm and steady attention to our body sensations, we interrupt the overactive fight/flight/freeze system. When our attention steadies, our body settles down. Our emotional mind settles down as well.”
More specifically, people with post-traumatic stress can use meditation to achieve the following:
“Their urge to fight, flee, or freeze (shut down) [https://forge-forward.org/resource/self-help-guide-for-trans-survivors/, Chapter 2] when triggered by a trauma reminder does not come on as quickly or as strongly. They are more connected with their bodies. They more readily recognize body sensations as part of the experience of emotions. They can step back and recognize that they are being triggered. They are more able to choose how to respond instead of just reacting. This shows that their emotional and rational minds are working together. They function better in situations that are not life and death. Their post-traumatic reaction patterns are no longer as strong, and healthier patterns are gaining strength. They tell me that they feel less like a helpless bystander in their own life and have a greater sense of self-control. At the same time, they spend less time and energy trying to control PTS symptoms. They engage more fully in all aspects of their lives. A life that is no longer limited by avoidance breaks the vicious [post-traumatic stress] cycle and eases symptoms.”
Unfortunately, Davis warns us, “recovery from trauma is like climbing a slippery slope. It requires a great deal of patience and compassion, since progress comes slowly.” The first half of the meditations are designed simply to help you establish a regular practice and develop basic skills. It’s not until many, many weeks in (she suggests that people practice each meditation for a week before moving on to the next) that this reader saw the meditations begin to directly address symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Here is the one that is designed to help trauma survivors begin to rebuild their sense that they are ever safe:
“Prepare for meditation and begin in your usual way. Use the sensations of your feet being supported by the floor as your anchor and keep your eyes open during this practice.
“Look around the room. This is what a safe place looks like. Really take it in with your sense of sight. Notice the colors, shapes, textures, the areas in shadow, and the areas in light.
“Lower or close your eyes and take in your surroundings with your sense of smell. What does this safe place smell like?
“Shift your attention and open your ears to the sounds in this safe place. What does this safe place sound like? What can you hear inside the room? What can you hear outside of the room?
“Are you safe and okay in this moment? Shift you attention to the state of your body. If you wish, cross your arms over your chest, or rest one or both hands over your heart. What does it feel like to be safe and okay?
“Now shift your attention to notice the state of your mind. What is your mind like when you are safe and okay?
“Now shift your attention to the state of your emotions. What emotions are present when you’re safe and okay?
“Repeat the following phrases to yourself. Or choose your own words to create phrases that have the same meaning to you.
“May I be safe from all harm whether from the world around me or from within me.”
“May I be aware that I am okay and truly safe in this moment, here and now.”
“May I enjoy each and every moment that I am okay and safe.”
“Continue to repeat these phrases, or other phrases you have created, to yourself for as long as you decided to practice. When you are ready, slowly and mindfully bring this practice to a close in your usual way.”
So if you are interested in starting a meditation practice and want to know which book to start with, this reader would recommend Davis’s Meditations for Healing Trauma. Consult Treleaven’s Trauma-sensitive mindfulness if you run into problems you’d like help solving.