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Spears: Adverse experiences and trauma in Mindfulness

Sydney Spears discusses adverse experiences and trauma in Mindfulness.
Yeah, that’s really important for sure. And especially in this day and age with what we’re all dealing with globally in terms of stressors and traumas and vicarious traumas. So it is highly necessary for teachers who are providing mindfulness classes and training of all different types. And meditation to come from a trauma informed and trauma sensitive lens. As well as a trauma informed and trauma sensitive practice to infuse that into what they are offering individuals. Be that one individual, be it a group, be it a community, for example. And the importance around that is to do no harm to invite people into the space, the mindfulness space, the meditation space.
So that they feel welcome that there is some degree of true orientation. Especially for people who have experienced trauma on a lot of different levels, even prior to our pandemic here. But then that’s layering on some other layers of trauma for many people too. But in particular for those individuals, it is so important to really be clear about orientation and by that I mean orientation to the environment. Because sometimes this mindfulness teachers, we can forget about our environment because we’re used to it. And then in a virtual form it’s still an environment. So perhaps inviting everyone that just kind of look around at everybody else in the space in those little squares, even if you don’t know the other people.
But it’s a way of orienting to your environment, inviting people who are in the space to perhaps look at their external environment. Like here, I’m sitting in this room, I could be invited to look around my space and to just notice perhaps something that may be more soothing, maybe more pleasant or maybe even neutral. But it’s a choice that I can make if something happens to arise within the meditation or within the mindfulness class unexpectedly too. That, I might feel that sense of activation. I’m feeling my nervous system kind of closed down. I’m starting to withdraw. I’m starting to get really highly activated. I’m feeling really anxious. That can be a choice instead of staying with the meditation.
There may be a part of that that I’m trying to test out our experiment with, with good intentions, but it gives me an option of what I can do. How I can relate to that experience that I don’t have to go into this internal world. Because for many survivors of trauma going inward can be pretty scary, very scary or just noticing the body. Especially if I’m very disassociated from my body. So they have that option of I can kind of find something in my external environment. If I need to do that, I can focus on or another choice could be, maybe I just need to take a break.
And do what I need to bring more self compassion to myself, do what I need to take care of myself. So what I’m just sharing is that, it’s so important for us mindfulness teachers and meditation teachers too offer options. Very clear options to the people who are in this space. And then that if you think about it, most survivors of trauma did not have options when they experience their shock trauma or their developmental trauma or both. They didn’t have control, they were overwhelmed. So that’s even been bringing in trauma theory into the mindfulness or meditation space because that’s where it’s based from. So they didn’t have control, they didn’t have options, they were overwhelmed.
And with whatever their traumas might have been, or the current traumas they may be holding. So this way we are sensitive to that by telling people, you don’t have to basically do anything that you don’t want to do. Or that is just too uncomfortable for you are you notice that you’re starting to feel overwhelmed. You can come back to another option that is best and more self compassionate for you in that moment. At any time to rather than for the mindfulness teacher or meditation teacher to kind of indirectly course, maybe the intention is not the course, but it can come across.
It’s almost like this unspoken expectation that you really should try to sit with this entire meditation regardless of what your experience might be. To open up the space so that people are able to work with regulating themselves and they have some options and choices that you have shared with them of ways of doing that. That is a master skill in and of itself. And then giving people that power, their own sense of empowerment and control over what they are experiencing. And if they feel like they may want to come back and test it out again, that’s another choice for them.
And allowing them to have their own internal sense of agency and to practice that sense of agency of what you can and cannot do. So I think in particular with meditation and mindfulness, because there is research and David too Elevens work around how mindfulness and meditation can be very activating triggering for many people. And again, some people who don’t even think that they are trauma survivors. Who don’t even know that their trauma survivors that can happen to are some people who may have been in a meditation class or a mindfulness class and they’ve been fine. They were totally fine before it was no problem. Maybe they’ve been practicing for quite a long time.
But all of a sudden, maybe there’s a word thought that arises a body sensation. Some emotion that comes up of anger or shame or guilt that they didn’t expect, that all of a sudden that arises. So we can’t just say, well if you’re an expert meditator that will never happen to you. You never know because we’re human beings and we suffer, we have pain, things happen to us. And sometimes those things are suppressed and with meditation and with some mindfulness practices, that can come back up that can arise in our awareness when we’re not expecting that.
So, those are, I think the maintenance of that voice and choice, providing that sense of welcoming, providing that sense of orientation within mindfulness classes is so important.
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Demystifying Mindfulness

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