Voyage through Chaos to Equanimity
This is a long read, a 21 page paper from my days in College
By Eva Angvert Harren, BEAM LiFE Coaching @ 510.825.7574
Think about a good life, a healthy, productive enjoyable life. The science of psychology in present research has convincing evidence that some of our behaviors and thought processes are controlled by implicit memories formed before we are born. The old question nature vs. nurture is still a great source for controversy. According to some researchers, the blueprints for our lives are made in uterus, a genetic inheritance, a DNA blueprint that cannot be changed. The child is at the mercy of the mother’s nervous system and chemical potion. Other researchers, like Dr. Robert Scaer in his book Trauma Spectrum, gives our genes some power to create the self, although he stresses the importance of the relationships between mother/infant and the environment around us…still, the pressure is on the mom…and her mental and emotional state of mind.
Dependent on the mother’s state of body and mind, a mixture of chemicals, are produced and transferred to the fetus via the umbilical cord. The blueprint for success or failure is initiated in uterus where the fetus receives the foundational building blocks to heaven or hell. In addition, at birth, there are several factors which can affect the babies’ launch into the world; drugs, stress, complications including the mothers’ condition and participation in the birth, and immediately after. Conclusively, we can consider the time of conception to around two years of age to be the window of opportunity for creating a secure blueprint for the child. After that we mothers can spend the rest of our lives in guilt trying to ‘correct’ our initial mistakes. This paper will focus on life’s “little traumas” created by the mothers with less than a stable mind, including me. We will also recap some of the infinite avenues for healing available today.
After 20 years of research in an alcohol and drug induced rut initiated by my own “little traumas,” I have acquired enough research material for my own “Ph. D.” in the subject. Following another 20 years of recovery, healing, and self-development, I would like to claim a little expertise in the area. Personal experiences with healing have lead to an agreement with many of the spiritual leaders who say that any personal growth is an upwards path, like climbing up a mountain. Not in a straight line though, but on an ascending circular climb.
We tend to pass by the same, often hurtful memories, have an opportunity to rehash the experiences, release another layer of pain, and recognize a trace of improvement. As some of us move up the mountain with prayer and meditation, we create greater distances between us and our memories. We have reached a higher place on the path; we have evolved, moved on, and become stronger. The view becomes clearer and we have more access to the sounder part of our mind. We are becoming aware of ourselves and our surroundings. We have more resources available to create a healthy life. We have a shot on being a decent parent.
Unfortunately for my children, I carelessly preceded to become a mother with unresolved trauma, trying to raise two toddlers, before I started my climb and took a look at my past. Their first years of life were riddled with rage, anxiety, and fear. The damage done to the next generation by mothers like me can only be anticipated. Often ill informed about the significance of the mother’s health and mental balance, pregnant and after delivery, we mothers precede to go about our lives in our old conditioned and destructive manners, unaware of the potential harm. The first years with our toddlers can many times become a frightening inferno with few moments of true attunement.
The quality of attunement and connection in the first hours and days after birth, may determine the template on which the child will build the skills in self-regulation. Dr. Scaer says that the infant’s ability, later in life, to “self-regulate” and stay emotionally and psychologically balanced in the face of adversity will be determined by the early bonding relationship between mother and infant. If the mothers have not resolved their own trauma, they are less able to attune to the babies subtle hints of needs. Instead, they are more than likely to transfer tendencies for neuroses, fears, anxiety, and internal stress to the baby through their behaviors (119).
Such stated accounts regarding mother/child bonding affects are supported throughout Scaer’s book. He points to research by Klaus & Kennel, and their book, Maternal and Infant bonding: The impact of Early Separation or Loss on Family Development, (1976) where observations are noted to tell that even in the absence of trauma, if the mother herself was not well taken care of at birth, she will not possess the vital intuitive skills necessary to bond with her infant in a soothing and supportive manner after birth (116).
Furthermore, Dr. Scaer introduces the founder of attachment theory John Bowlby (1976) who through his research has come to the conclusion that there are inborn behaviors the infant utilizes to encourage the appropriate care from the mother. Again, if the mother is not able to attune to these behaviors, the human need for a good balanced start is greatly undermined.
Also, Dr. Scaer includes Allan Schore’s book Affect Development and the Origin of Self: The Neurobiology of Emotional Development, as a detailed illustration of the “behavioral structure” developed through the “bonded pairing” between infant and mother. As a reminder, the pressure is on the mother.
However, regardless of infinite research on the potential damage done, my personal experience agrees with Dr. Young’s statement, “then there is repair.” After watching the results of a rocky beginning, and having spent 18 years with the most wonderful and enduring daughters, I would claim there is plenty of hope left. When we mothers’ show willingness to take a look at and heal our own traumas, much of the children’s resilience and chance for a life in heaven can be restored.
Here is the important variable: if we blew it while our babies were developing in uterus, and even if we continued our destructive behaviors during our children’s first couple of years, we can have a second chance to minimize the damage done…if we heal ourselves. There is a tendency for us mothers to try to fix our children, keeping the focus on them, forgetting that our children have to live with us. We are part of their environment, and unless we are willing to look at ourselves first, before we take our kids to psychologists asking what’s wrong, we will consistently reinforce the damage. Unless we are willing to change, our children’s’ environment will stay the same, or most likely become much worse; the brush strokes will dry and crack.
With the willingness, hope for restoration and a life of well-being is available to us all. Dr. Bruce Lipton in his book The Biology of Belief, as well as Dr. Daniel Siegel in his book Mindsight, offers a great amount of hopeful information to help us understand the benefit of healing and personal growth. They both point to the significance of a positive environment and the undoubtedly possibilities for repair. The journey to equanimity and a life worth living can be painful, is most likely exhausting, and requires willingness, open-mindness, and plenty of hope. Nevertheless, it’s possible.
The battle is basically between our ears. All the doctors mentioned in this paper points to the fact that we need a constant flow of energy and information between our mind and body to maneuver skillfully through the terrain called life. As humans, if the messages from our bodies are creating discomfort or pain, we have a tendency to ignore and sometimes totally shut of the origin of the signals. Consequently, we habitually resist any signs of ‘dis-ease’ and loose access to the wonderful wisdom our bodies hold. If we are not connected with ourselves and our bodies we have a tendency to feel less connected with others. Furthermore, people are not that excited about us when we live in an insulated self absorb bubble, plagued by “little traumas” from our past.
If we didn’t have safe surroundings in which we were able to develop our awareness and abilities to tune into other, a void can appear, with great uncertainty and paranoia. Through countless mental wars of comparison and competition for air space, our minds desperately try to find the queues for communication. Dr. Scaer explains that as trauma victims we lose the ability to learn “even rudimentary new adaptive behaviors,” because we have become “frozen in the past.” Not only do we seem to over react when exposed to minor stresses, we also tent not to attain any new “adaptive social skills beyond the age of the trauma” (70).
As a result, if the trauma happened at an early age, we tend to be stuck in the self-centered mind a young child would exhibit, with a great risk for the ‘illness of Narcissism’ to develop; the loners disease. This condition can be classified as an illness and disease for the sad reason that our self-absorbed behaviors create ill feelings in others, and after we’re done, we leave them with a sense of dis-ease. Through countless desperate attempts of connecting and forming lasting relationships, we have had the opportunity to blast a trail of failures oblivious to their cause. We don’t get it! The pilot light needed to keep the passion for life going…flickers. Sensations arise which resonate with Dr. Siegel observations that, “a living organism links its differentiated parts—and without integration, it suffers and dies” (259). I didn’t necessarily want to live…I just did.
As disconnected, narcissistic loners, we end up being quite clumsy and awkward in our attempt to manifest attunement with other humans, including our children. The journey from hell to heaven can then become an all consuming obsession that has the potential of holding people hostage and creating plenty of casualties in the search for connections and friendships. We are basically left with a nauseating feeling of confusion and loneliness, painfully aware that there is something wrong with us, something inherently wrong.
Where did we make the wrong turn? According to Scaer it could have started early. He says that infants who are at the mercy of a traumatized caregiver will most likely develop high levels of internal stress, and have severe deficiencies in maneuvering lives demands (118). Scaer mentions Dr. Allan Shore model (1994) that implies we are born with a “plastic and malleable unfinished genetic template on which life experience will build a behavioral structure.” In other words, the paint used to draw our blueprint for life is not dry as we arrive. The canvas can easily be altered with anything less than a perfect parenting style. The most important ingredient in a mother/infant relationship to establish a balanced and strong template is the calm and supportive “face-to-face and eye-to-eye connection of the mother and infant” (119).
My own children received an eye-to-eye alright; their eyes were met with an intense stare of panic and agonizing fear that they were going to die, just like their older sister had a couple of years earlier. There are many sleepless nights pondering what destructive brush strokes were done on their canvas. Dr. Scaer is in detail explaining how we mothers and/or caregivers have the incredible power to totally ruin our children’s changes for a good start just with our looks alone; a sure negative alteration to an otherwise perfect template.
Then we have to ask, what is a perfect template? How is it created? According to Dr. Bruce Lipton in his book The Biology of Belief, Dr. Shore’s version of the “plastic and malleable unfinished genetic template” is being created in uterus. He says that,
Information acquired from the parents’ perception of their environment transits the placenta and primes the prenate’s physiology, preparing it to more effectively deal with future exigencies that will be encountered after birth. (176)
In other words, dependent on how the mother sees her own environment, she “transits” her interpretation through the placenta to prepare her child to survive her perception of the world…not necessarily the world as it is. If the mother has un-resolved trauma and intense fear of life itself, the child will be equipped with the right tools to survive that particular perception of that world. After birth, dependent on the children’s environment, different genes will be epigenetically triggered and will shape the opportunities for a life in heaven or hell. The combinations for our genetically formed templates are infinite.
Luckily for us, science attempts to design a perfect copy of a “normal person” have so far been futile, and according to Dr. Daniel Siegel in his book, The Developing Mind, there “are no definitions of absolutely ‘normal’ ways of relating that some ‘objective’ therapist can push onto others” (287). In agreement with Siegel, Dr. Scaer also points to the fact that we humans are “social beings,” and that positive interactions with social peers lead us to gain strength and health (168). A possible interpretation could be that, with the right support ‘we all have a chance,’ which brings some hope to the lifeless loners. Maybe there are social groups for us too.
It is said that humans need humans to survive and thrive; we need to belong…somewhere! To become successful in life there is a fundamental dependency for interpersonal relationships and support from other humans. Dr. Siegel emphasizes in his CD collection The Neurobiology of “WE” that our brains need to feel “attuned” with other brains to develop and thrive. The attunements with others provide a sense of belonging, and if our social community can muster up some acceptance for our awkwardness, and direct us towards appropriate behaviors, we can shine some light on our lifeless habitat and become alive.
Doug Oakley’s article in The Daily Review rapports about Lily Dorman-Colby, a 22 years old Yale student who, with the help of such support is preparing to graduate with a 3.56 grade-point average. Despite a mother on drugs and with bi-polar disorder, separated from her brothers to live in foster homes, Lily realized at the young age of 11 that education was the only way out. What planted that thought? What did Lily have that so many of us don’t? Where in her template were the guts and tenacity, and the mental health and strength to not only survive, but to thrive?
Our broken and sometimes chronic canvases are seldom recognized as “Trauma.” We have some stress, but so does everyone, we had some unfortunate events in our past, but so does everyone. If these experiences will become life altering depend on the meaning we give them. Due to the stigma attached to the word trauma, the events go concealed for years; we continue living, trying our best to figure out why we hurt so badly. Then something happens that creates a domino effect and starts to reveal the suppression of our misery. A personal initial domino which directed the attention onto my past was the death of our first born child Kristina. Most of us have a story to tell involving trauma.
Dr. Scaer definition of trauma is:
A continuum of variably negative life events occurring over the lifespan, including events that may be accepted as ‘normal’ in the context of our daily experience because they are endorsed and perpetuated by our own cultural institutions. More importantly, [he] suggest that the traumatic nature of those experiences is also determined by the meaning the victim attributes to them. That meaning is based on the cumulative burden of a myriad of prior negative life events, especially those experienced in the vulnerable period of early childhood. (2)
What some of us may be able to endure, will make others crumble. Doctors’ visits, operations, broken bones, and “regular sickness” can have a traumatic effect on many. If we then add neglect, molestation, physical abuse, or just a mean and threatening environment, we have plenty of opportunity for trauma, often desperately hidden in secret parts of our beings. A great number of people who live their lives in “silent desperation” can now within such definition find a home and validation for their suffering.
Dr. Scaer’s discoveries around trauma have added groundbreaking understanding for many patients’ dis-eased conditions. With an independent rehabilitation center under his authority, and 30 years experience, he has had the opportunity to identify countless medical conditions and illnesses from a variety of causes (3). He points out that “the effect of the experience of trauma over the lifespan lays the seeds for most chronic, poorly understood disease processes that defy explanation by our current concepts of health and disease,” a concept which tend to compartmentalize our bodies and ignore the connections between body-mind-spirit as a foundation for well-being (6).
Personally, constant visits to the doctor’s office, with complains about aches, pains, weird infections, frightening breathless moments of anxiety and panic attacks only created lack of sleep and added material for psycho-somatic hypochondria. Years of psychotherapy with another specialist created more convincing evidence for insanity. I still have to hold on to myself when I imagine what blueprint my next two girls received as they developed in uterus and throughout the first 5-10 years of their life while I was healing.
I didn’t heal before I had more children. I was healing as I had my children, which comes with the reality that my children’s beginnings of life were spent on the same earthquake I lived on. There are plenty of sleepless nights pondering over the raging brush strokes drawn on their canvases as they grew up. This gives plenty of reason to desperately hang on the belief in repair and awakening, and hope that Dr. Shore’s theory stands; that the malleable unfinished genetic template stays malleable for a long time! I can only speak from personal experience, but my scars were so old and deep that Kristina was only the tip of the iceberg. Constantly motivated to become a better (less damaging) mom I had to melt down my whole structure for living, and start all over including body-mind-spirit.
There is continuous evidence throughout Scaer’s book pointing to that healing requires a holistic approach. As an SE practitioner and Integral coach, I find it imperative to include our bodies as we discover our inner landscape. Personal experience has shown that without an ability to ride the wave of sensations, we are limited in our process to heal. After 20 years of recovery by the help of several healing disciplines, I would dare to claim I have arrived at a greater understanding of what it means to have a sound mind and body; to be aware and connected to the spirit.
Moreover, I would claim with absolute conviction that sanity implies healthy balance and connection between all functions of the human anatomy. Dr. Siegel, in his CD collection “The Neurobiology of WE,” identifies the mind as being a network of neuron pathways not only located in the brain, but throughout the body. He refers to scientific evidence of neurons found in tissue surrounding the heart and also in our intestinal tracks, hence the expression for “hearts filled with compassion” and “gut feelings”; or…broken hearts, broken by trauma, abuse, or maybe neglect.
Unless we communicate within the whole network of pathways we overlook vital information for healing. The body is a vital part of the network with areas of wisdom we need to reach to heal. When we learn how to communicate with these often forgotten and secretly tucked away parts of ourselves, we are trending towards recovery and health…towards connection with ourselves and the world.
According to Dr. Siegel’s book Mindsight, a sign that we possess happiness and a sense of well-being is when we can see “our ‘selves’ as part of an interconnected whole—connecting with others and with ourselves in authentic ways that break down the isolative boundaries of our separate self” (259) . There is hope for us all to develop the magic Dr. Siegel calls “Mindsight.” The healing can begin, and as we try not to repeat the damage done to us, we can simultaneously become more willing and conscious of how our own pain alters our behaviors.
A great source of healing is when we are able to make sense of our lives. Dr. Scaer in his book Trauma Spectrum, says that “having found the meaning for who I was, and why I was that way, I could live with the image of myself—an image that in previous years had not actually been different but rather altogether absent!” (xvi) That “meaning is based on the cumulative burden of a myriad of prior negative life events, especially those experienced in the vulnerable period of early childhood” (2). He is not alone in his findings. With personal experience as evidence, in addition to several of my clients, we seem to have an easier time facing our past if we can find the meaning for who we are. Scaer continues, “Healing, in fact, may represent the return of consciousness and of the wisdom of the self” (xvi).
The word healing is charged with countless meaning and hopeful images. What it means can be different for each individual. The www.dictionary.com includes descriptions like, “to make healthy, whole, or sound; restore to health; free from ailment.” The freedom from ailment includes the freedom from disease, including dis-ease of the mind. In this way healing the body and mind includes rid the body of illness, and the mind of intrusive clutter in the process. It is difficult to feel happy, joyous, and free when we feel physically sick. Being isolated, depressed, and confused about the causes of one’s misery can manifest sensations of pain and discomfort in the body that will lead us to the doctor’s office. Ironically, there will be inadequate “measurable” evidence for physical ailments and we will be sent on our way with yet another diagnose of “psycho-somatic” (imagined) symptoms; in other words, it’s all in our heads. Dr. Scaer tells several stories about patients in his office who has years of experience going from doctor to doctor being accused of being a hypochondriac.
Another explanation is,” to bring to an end or conclusion, as conflicts between people or groups, usually with the strong implication of restoring former amity, settle; reconcile. Here again, dependent on who we are we have to realize that part of the healing process includes “restoring former amities”, meaning relationships between people, organs, mind and body…down to the smallest cell and out to the larges connections with life. We have to find our energy and vibration to become attuned with the rest of the world. As in the orchestra…with the right ear we can hear the slightest miss-attunement. The road to equanimity includes, finding our ability to “hear “our miss-attunements and adjust our minds and bodies to create a resonance to help us ‘see’ and discover the nuance of life, and the resilience to respond. Dr. Siegel says that we need to develop a body so we can ‘float’ with life like jellyfishes respond to the water: gently, awake, attuned, adjustable, with strong electrifying boundaries to support our journey.
As for the third definition which could in a sense cover it all: “to free from evil; cleanse; purify: to heal the soul.” In our modern society we have to be persistent with our desires to heal, and sure of our own definition. The soul has yet not been located and we can all claim personal experiences which would tell us where it is. One thing we seem to have in common is the more we heal (our soul), the stronger connection we tend to claim. The more time we spend in solitude and meditation, the more we tend to credit our soul for our choices in life, the more our choices seem to be in alignment with what is good for us and our world.
Based on my experience, “healing my soul” would be needed to find the ability to stay present for my family, friends, community, or just life at large. After 16 years of desperate attempt to become whole through countless avenues of healing, I was finally introduced to Somatic Experiencing (SE). Throughout the SE training, a trauma healing model created by Dr. Peter Levine, I was consistently reminded about the ‘freedom of attention’. My interpretation of the statement evolved to the freedom to attend to what is presenting itself in the present moment without being intruded upon by the past. As I heal I see signs of the freedom in my attention and hope for Dr. Lipton’s version of conscious parenting, where he claims that one is not guilty of being a bad parent unless one is consciously creating harm. He says that we are personally responsible for everything in our lives “once we have become aware that we are personally responsible for everything in our lives” (178).
Lipton emphasizes the importance of “conscious parenting” to help prepare the child for maximum living. In addition, he challenges us parents to “let go of unfounded fears and take care not to implant unnecessary fears and limiting beliefs in your children’s subconscious minds.” He emphasizes that we should not accept the “fatalistic message of genetic determinism,” which resonates with Dr. Shore’s “malleable unfinished genetic template.” Lipton says that “conscious parents and seers like Rumi knew that for human babies and adults the best growth promoter is Love” (181).
The ability to feel compassion and love for others, I would argue, goes hand in hand with the ability to feel love for one self. After having the honors to un-plug the life support for our first baby Kristina, two months old, I was faced with the dilemma created by love. From personal experience, I would like to claim: Love hurts and has the power to destroy what is left of us, and make it difficult to initiate love with any living thing. As healing is initiated around the topic of love, there need to be some emphasize on the love for the self, the missing ingredients in many people, including myself.
Having had the opportunity to feel absolute overwhelming sensations and emotions for another human being, and then have to terminate the source, leaves many unanswered questions, and have the potential to open a can of worms. After Kristina died, my body had a life of its own. It itched, shook, got hot, then cold. What really pushed me over the edge were the unbearable aches in my gut and those pressures in my chest. I would explode, with no reason; the pressure would go down…and then…I would start shaking again, and the pressure would build. The shaking was irritating and took a lot of attention, like standing on an earthquake. How do you have a relationship with anybody if all you can think of is not to fall over?
The answer may be, heal the soul through prayer, meditation, and positive adjustment of our behaviors, and will most likely include personal amendments of the flawed brush strokes on our templates. Many times this process involves a total reshaping of who we have become. When our past is holding us hostage with intrusive thought patterns or straitjackets sculpting our bodies, we cannot ‘see’ the present moments. We cannot ‘see’ who we have become. I lived in a bodysuit full of tension and pain which constantly created discomfort and fear. My energy was spent on holding on to myself so I didn’t explode, there was no energy left for the freedom of attention to ‘see’ my children.
Now, seeing my girls at their ages of 16 and 18, I see them and ache with pain over the loss of all the years I lived blindfolded in the “prison of the intellect” overshadowed with leftovers from unresolved trauma. In that state of mind I have the ability to muster up some compassion for how my mother may also feel…the loss of her childhood…the loss of her time with her children. A closer look at my mother’s life experience and chemistry explains my own incompetence in coping with life or forming lasting friendships. A closer look at my chemistry due to intrinsic chemical in-balance and trauma, gives reason for more compassion for my children’s challenges. It creates a temptation to believe that trauma can be inherited. If we re-cap Lipton’s theory (earlier on pg 7) in how we “transits the placenta and primes the prenate’s physiology, preparing it to more effectively deal with future exigencies” we can include the mothers look on life as an ingredients in what DNA will be activated. If so, how do we stop the cycle? We muster up the willingness to heal…and change our perspectives.
As we become more able to stay present with ourselves and others, we are healing our body and mind and have more opportunities to access our own inborn wisdom. This thought process goes well with Dr. Siegel’s stories about “the healing power of presence” in his book Mindsight. He goes into scientific details about how our minds have the ability to feel each other. For the magic connection to occur between two human beings, we have to “feel felt”. (138)
For those of us who did not have the opportunity to feel felt in our first years of life, and from that moment on were molded on an un-centered and cracked foundation, with the right willingness we now have a change to become whole. Through the connection with another human being, a healer, who themselves have been willing to go inwards and face their demons, we have the opportunity for an “in the moment, face-to-face” connection which will “initiate the long-term synaptic changes” that will allow us to function even when we are alone. (139) Here is the opportunity for the beginning of what should have happened our first year of life according to Dr. Scaer’s theory; “face-to-face and eye-to-eye connection of the mother and infant.” So, Dr. Young is right, there is repair. We are trending towards mental health.
Think of a healthy mind. There are several definitions for mental health and a healthy mind dependent on what spiritual discipline we inquire. However, if we try to find a definition for a healthy mind in the medical community, the search will continue far beyond the mountain top. In his CD collection, The Neurobiology of “We,” Dr. Siegel talks about having asked 74,000 professionals within the society of psychology how many of them had taken a class in what a healthy mind is. 3-5 % had had one class in the study of a healthy mind. The rest of the time the professionals in the psychology community are focused on the un-healthy parts of our mind. What we give our attention to expands. Hence, diagnoses like bi-polar and addiction are increasing rapidly. How would our society look like if 74,000 psychological professionals would focus on finding the healthy part of our minds? Would this part expand too?
As a practitioner, I am trained to give great focus to the healthy parts of the clients and support the creation of their “container” with which they are to hold their experience as they connect, release, mold, and balance their “plastic and malleable unfinished genetic templates.” Dr. Scaer says that “to play the role of a healer, one must believe that the brain indeed is plastic and adaptable and that experiences create long-lasting changes in brain structure and function.” (168) I believe! There are infinite examples of people who have healed their past through a countless avenues of practices.
Jack Kornfield suggests in his book A Path With Heart, that when we finally settle into our chosen practice of meditation, we become our own monastery in which we can with “regal strength and dignity” feel relaxed and open with a sense of “gracious receptivity to life.” In this space we can learn to stretch our ability to stay present and anchor the sensations within. According to Kornfield, with a present body and an open heart the mind is attentive; “we can sense the universal human capacity to open, to awaken.” (36) In other words, as we expand the healthy part of our mind, the gate out of the prison of the intellect is available to us all. We are back in heaven.
If you want to know more about the BEAM LiFE process and how it can help you discover your own path out of addiction, visit www.EvaAngvert.com or call me at 510-825-7574.
I’ll meet you on your journey.