Dear Éiriú Eolas family,
The Éiriú Eolas Research Team accesses a wide variety of material and we find many books that are worth recommending to our students. One of these is In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness, by Peter A. Levine, Ph.D.
Dr. Peter A. Levine is psychotherapeutic, comparative brain researcher, with an interest in animal behaviour, especially as related to trauma. He has proposed the idea that trauma is not a “disorder” (as in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), but an injury to the body-mind. Rather than a syndrome that may be a life-long burden, trauma can be healed.
Part of the book is devoted to tracing the evolution of the different strategies used by organisms to cope with the dangers of their environment, and the way the nervous system develops as animals become more complex. It’s a complex subject, but Levine does a very good job of explaining it in layman’s terms. From the earliest expression in jawless fish to the culmination of development in mammals, each level of development has a characteristic strategy for responding to threats, along with the mechanisms for recovering from stressful encounters. Essentially this is the history of the development of the vagal portion of the autonomic nervous system. Stimulation of the vagus nerve, of course is the key to the effectiveness of the Éiriú Eolas Program.
By comparing how animals cope with traumatic experiences, Levine shows how those adaptations have culminated in our own system for dealing with our environment. He uses the example of his automobile accident, to walk the reader through the successive states of shock, disorientation and reorientation, showing where this natural process can go off the rails. The experiencer can become stuck in one part of the process or another when the body’s systems for rebalancing after a traumatic experience are interfered with, which causes PTSD.
Dr. Levine then takes you through six case studies, showing how re-engagement of the body’s survival mechanisms can bring about complete recovery from even deep, decades-old traumatic wounds.
Here is an excerpt, just to whet your appetite!
Transmutation of Negative Emotions
A young brash samurai swordsman confronted a venerated Zen master with the following demand: “I want you to tell me the truth about the existence of heaven and hell”.
The master replied gently and with delicate curiosity , ” How is it that such an ugly and untalented man as you can become a samurai?”
Immediately, the wrathful young samurai pulled out his sword and raised it above his head, ready to strike the old man and cut him in half. Without fear and in complete calm, the Zen master gazed upwards and spoke softly : “This is hell”. The samurai paused, sword held above his head. His arms fell like leaves to his side, while his face softened from its angry glare. He quietly reflected. Placing his sword back into its sheath, he bowed to the teacher in reverence. “And this,”, the master replied again with equal calm, “is heaven”.
The ability to contain and process extreme emotional states is one of the linchpins both of effective, truly dynamical trauma therapy and of living a vital robust life. We can be driven insane by rage, paralyzed by fear and drowned by sorrow. Once triggered, these violent emotions can take over our existence. Rather than feeling our emotions, we become them; we are swallowed up by these emotions. This can be quite a dilemma because being informed by our emotions, not domineered by them, is crucial in directing our lives.
In the story of the Zen master and the samurai, one could speculate on what unconscious thoughts and images were stirred when the master provoked the swordsman’s ire. Perhaps the samurai was startled and at first even agreed with the characterization that he was ugly and untalented. This strong reaction to this insult (we might hypothesize) derived from his parents, teachers and others who humiliated him as a child. Perhaps he had a mental picture of being shamed in front of his classmates. And then the micro-fleeting “counter thought” – that no one would dare to call him that again and make him feel small and worthless. This thought and the associated (internal) picture, coupled with a momentary physical sensation of startle, triggered the rage that led him down the compulsive, driven road to perdition. That was, at least, until his “Zen therapist”, precisely at the peak of his rage =, kept him from habitually expressing this “protective emotion” (really a defense against his feelings of smallness and helplessness) and forced him to the ownership of his real power and peaceful surrender.
With the Zen master’s critical intervention, the samurai held back and felt the preparation to strike with his sword.In this highly charged state he paused and was able to restrain and transmute his violent rage into intense energy and a state of clarity, gratefulness, presence and grace. It is the ability to hold back, restrain and contain a powerful emotion that allows a person to creatively channel that energy.
The uncoupling of sensation from image and thought is what diffuses the highly charged emotions and allows them to transform fluidly into sensation-based gradations of feelings. This is not at all the same as suppressing or repressing them.
In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness (pg 321)
We hope you will enjoy reading this book as much as we have.
The Éiriú Eolas Team