Nonduality, Spiritual Emergency & Spiritual Bypass
The development of nondual psychology demands an inquiry into the phenomena of both spiritual emergency and spiritual bypass. In this article, we propose that Nonduality, while offering beautiful tools through which trauma can be alleviated, also risks accentuating the traumatic split through insistence on certain philosophical precepts such as the absolute nature of consciousness. We suggest that spiritual bypass – not only of individual trauma, but also ancestral and collective – has a spiritual, psychological and social consequence. In conclusion, we propose that THAT – the source of consciousness which includes unconscious states, coma and deep sleep, be espoused as the most healing non-dual position for trauma work and PTSD.
By definition, trauma is a word signifying breakage, separation and disconnection. Although this severance is often accompanied by the sense of shock, this shock can be encapsulated in a traumatic moment or event, or it can be seen as the effect of repeated shocks. When Brian Dias and Kerry Ressler of Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, [Ref] investigated the effects of trauma as passed onto mice for generations, that experiment involved the repeated exposure to a set of circumstance. In this case, when there was a smell of cherry blossom, the mice were given an electric shock. This procedure was repeated numerous times until just the smell of cherry blossom was sufficient to trigger stress hormones in the animals.
As such, trauma can be viewed as a kind of learned behaviour resulting from the identification of a collection of parameters. It can be through inculcated, repeated association of certain sets of circumstance with stress and danger, and/or it can be anchored in one key event which at that time was uncontainable and therefore created a severance from the normative environment.
Traumatic feelings and emotions can be aroused by the repetition of any part of the collective circumstance. In this case, the cherry blossom in itself became enough to induce stress, just as (of course) an electric shock without cherry blossom would also be stress-inducing. The animals were not tested for other signatures of the environment i.e. the cage, the gloves of the lab technician, the distinctive smell of a laboratory environment as part of the accumulated traumatic stimuli.
While the identification of danger signals (eg. the smell of blossom) has classically be seen as a mental association, the experimental evidence indicates that it is due to sensory perception, not thought. That is to say, even without any ‘mental’ investigation, the autonomous nervous system, alerted through the sense of smell, activates stress hormones associated with the flight or fight response. The thinking mind initially has no part in this: the traumatic activation is pre-conscious, pre-lingual, instinctive and presents and reacts at a core level of physical survival through the sensory and nervous systems of the organism as a whole.
In terms of body-mind, the activation is (in the first instance) more at the level of body than of mind, which acts as a support to either reassure the system, or to implement a response to the stress signals of the nervous system.
The evolutionary role of mind in the field of trauma would therefore seem to be in service of:
- The relaxation of the system when actual threat is not fulfilled, or not present at all;
- The liberation of the system from the fear of separation (trauma), through the choice to process direct sensory perception of what is ‘real’ in the environment of the ‘here’ and ‘now’;
- The support of the meta system in presenting a sense of continuous conscious perspective during the shock of separation, allowing a transcendence out of conflicting dimensions of form.
This vital, evolutionary role played by mind would seem to be affirmed by the use of the witness position as the one safe and least physical space during the phenomena of dissociation. When the rupture is extreme, a third point is found through the disembodied “witness” of events, through which traumatic events are viewed from beyond the regular parameters of space and time. As such, mind, or higher mind, would seem to have an evolutionary function in the passage between dimensions, from physical life, for example, to non-physical form. In this, interruption of the process of dissociation through medication or other non-organic means is counter-intuitive, with the possibility of causing long-term harm in the further confusion and disempowerment of the inherent intelligence in body, heart and mind of the organism as a whole.
When dissociation is supported rather than combatted, a door is left open for the gradual reconnection of the mind and the whole field of association into the new framework presented post-traumatic split. Rather than a widening rift from the environment caused by medication, stigma and psychiatric isolation, core integrity, the freedom of choice, and the possibility of soft and supported re-embodiment is left open. It is important to remember that although dissociation, like other mentally unusual states, could seem daunting when viewed from the outside, the person themselves is still witnessing all events around the body with a great clarity – for better or worse.
However, even this witnessing perspective is lost when consciousness is lost through ‘black-out’, whether this is a physical loss of consciousness or the result of traumatic shock. In this area, which is over the cliff edge of mental perception or witnessing, we see trauma-related phenomena such as memory-loss (often emerging as unexplained short, mid, or long term memory lapses). This area directly signifies the ‘unconscious’ mind: the horrific stuff that the mind has actively decided to forget, to blot out, including fears that we don’t even know we have; feelings we are unable to feel; obstacles to thinking processes which objectively seem confused, but to the subject seem natural.
In this, a nondual ideology that espouses the notion that a waking consciousness is “Absolute” unwittingly closes down the tremendous healing resource found in the allowance of the deeper logic, mystery and healing requisite of the “unconscious” mind uncovered by Freud, Jung and affirmed therapeutically for a century.
These multi-generational rhythms, survival responses and (correct or incorrect) intuitions of danger will continue to dictate and arouse thoughts, feelings and even spiritual experiences based on what is fundamentally an origin of trauma – the shock of separation. In addition, denial of these demons of the emptiness will lead to increasingly paradoxical behaviour between mild dissociation (disguised as ‘transcendental states’) and physical release (hidden as a kind of spiritual relapse), as the spiritual need of embodiment is blocked by the unprocessed traumas at the gateways of the physical senses.
The originating trauma now widens the split, separation or duality. Now, it is not only between the individual and the environment on the horizontal plane, but also between the world and the witness, or the spirit and the body, heaven and earth, in the vertical dimension. As the originating trauma seeks release, this split widens, demanding an ever-increasing supply of bliss, spiritual ‘high’ or worldly appreciation in order to maintain the elevation, while at the same time engineering an increasing amount of pretence, hypocrisy and spiritual ego in the quest to continue denying the more instinctive, bodily aspects which seek expression.
In this way, a close analysis of the dynamics of trauma, especially as it is passed on through the epigenetics of the very cells of the body and brain from generation to generation, will affirm that the grasping to states of “consciousness” as the perennial reality is likely to create an additional traumatic split, or duality, in lived experience.
The deeper freedom, whether seen psychologically or spiritually, must be in the ability to move fearlessly with the surrender of consciousness into its own source, which, by reflection allows for its easy and unconditional re-emergence. To deny the black-out resource of extreme shock is to twist the nature of trauma, to distort our method in healing trauma, and to deny the precise exit point (the unknown, unfelt, unperceived) through which life is able to re-emerge in freedom.
In addition, scientific evidence accumulates testifying to the dramatic healing quality of deep sleep (dreamless, unconscious absence) in healing depression, anxiety, grief and even in the regeneration of stem cells which are vital to all physical health. The dreamless sleep, non-aware, free even of the witness position, is a therapeutic resource present moment by moment, in the now, as unconscious mind.
Although waking consciousness can rest in a nondual position, it is always in a polarity with its own negation. Only with a radical revision of what is meant by the word ’consciousness’ – to include total absence of consciousness, or the non-perceiving source of all perception – could the word then be used as Absolute. Yet such a redefinition of the English word would unnecessarily confuse centuries of psychology and medical definition. We therefore continue to advocate the trilogy of perception as described in I AM HERE – of consciousness, awareness (spatial, sentient perception) and perception through emptiness, together with THAT which is at the source of perception itself, unconditional to form. THAT, dreamless unconscious ‘sleep’ exists as a continuum, prior to all perception as well as through, within, behind and at source to all manifestation of form, whether gross or subtle.
THAT precludes definition – as anything (including even the subtle vibration of pure awareness, as well as thoughts, feelings and sensations) that can be experienced is not THAT. At the source of perception and experience, THAT can experience all forms as manifestations of itself, and yet all forms are not THAT in purity. Like the eye that cannot see itself, or the knife that cannot cut itself, THAT is the core nondual position, which in itself is a non position as it is in no way an end-point. Beyond both time and space, THAT is a continuum through all time and space, just as it is the one, indispensable ingredient to all forms and all configurations of time and space. While describing THAT can make it appear as some kind of rare attainment, it is however, ubiquitous, more here than here and more now than now. It remains continuous regardless of experience – whether it be advanced senility or a transcendental state of consciousness. THAT can never be lost and never found. It can’t be sought, as it is at source to the one that seeks. It can only be allowed. Although in itself imperceivable (as it is the absolute subjectivity), the effects of allowing the surrender beyond consciousness into THAT are dramatic, including a quickening of karma and the acceleration of the vibration of perception.
Interestingly enough, when a traumatic state is entered, although there is experienced a severe breakage between one form and another (such as the inner sense of ‘self’ and the environment), the experience of THAT can come very much to the foreground. With it’s accompanying odour of truth and formless reality, THAT which shows in the space of the rupture of form, seems to endow a profound truth and deeper sense of reality to the traumatic state. When a subject enters a state of trauma, therefore, he or she can experience a tremendous sense of righteousness and separate truth, as if this reality (that on the horizontal plane separates him or her from the world) is actually more truthful than normal, daily integrated experience. This is because often trauma involves ‘looking in the face of death’ and to many, the atmosphere of THAT can be psychologically position as the death-truth of every form.
Yet THAT is not a destroyer, it is the source of life, and the recognition of its rightful place at source of consciousness, life and a universe of constant transformation and harmony, can be the game-breaker in healing trauma. Through reuniting THAT which was revealed in the face of trauma with THAT which is prevalent in every moment of perception, as a direct source of consciousness and life itself, a new kind of self-consolidation and wholeness can emerge.