Fair Disclosure: This is a recount of my personal experimentation with revisiting trauma through self-induced pain in a meditative space; I do not encourage the experiment be recreated in any way neither do I condone it as a method for self-healing. One should consult a trained professional, psychologist, meditation instructor, or guided counsellor for help.
The memory always sits well within the range of the subconscious, finding its way into interpretations of my dreams; appearing as a snake wrapping itself around my neck.
Waking up instantly, to a heart pounding so rapidly it feels that my chest might explode; breath starts to shorten, and sweat drips down on my cold body.
Muscles clench up as I try to shake it off, “try to calm your mind” — let it pass.
After experimentation with therapy and the constant urge to suppress painful experiences, I researched into the subject of patients who have gone under surgery without anaesthesia; using only guided meditation.
The idea was intriguing, yet daunting at the same time.
Pain suppression through meditation seemed alarming, but appealing enough to peak my curiosity.
For thousands of years, Buddhist monks have postulated that the practice of mindfulness meditation can significantly alter the subjective experience of pain. For instance, the ancient Buddhist text, the Sullatta Sutta (The Arrow), states that meditation practitioners have the unique ability to fully experience the sensory aspect of pain (first arrow) but to “let go” of the evaluation (second arrow) of pain. However, only recently have scientists examined the mechanisms underlying mindfulness meditation–induced pain relief and health improvements. — Cited (Zeidan, F., & Vago, D. R. (2016). Mindfulness meditation-based pain relief: a mechanistic account. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1373(1), 114–27).
Whilst the study was conduced on physically experienced chronic-pain, I wondered if it was possible to divulge into a deeply meditative state and recreate a traumatic memory; in essence forcing the mind to process the trauma and come to terms with it, accepting that it’s the past and letting go.
Since it was not a conventional mode of dealing with trauma, I understood the limits of which it could be discussed with pessimists; who might mistake my attempt for the actions of a masochist.
In a traditional society, the idea would be ridiculed and often one would be redirected to a therapist; rightfully so, I’d failed to find comfort in therapy and medication.
It felt as though this might be worth a shot, much preparation would be needed and since there would not be a counsellor in my presence; this would be far from a guided meditation session.
I had nothing else to cling to at this point in my life, and I found resonance in the act of being mindful.
What all else fails, one looks to whatever seems like the most viable option to recovery. Having tried therapy and medication for long enough; I felt maybe it was time to take control of my recovery and come to terms with it on my own accord.
I’d practised Transcendental Meditation enough that I felt confident in my ability to fully isolate myself and once, having achieved a sense of comfort — I’d attempt to recreate past trauma; knowing full-well that I had control of the situation, I was relying on my conscious brain to snap me back to the present moment, should the experience become too unbearable.
Reminiscent of the ability of the mind to wake me up from a nightmare, where the recurring snake wraps itself around my neck; I’d been awoken enough times from wretched dream, in hope that this meditative state would be no different was far more fulfilling.
Trust in oneself is an important factor for a breakthrough, and as such the realisation of being aware of my surroundings; making sure I was not disturbed would be key if I were to truly achieve any sense of clarity from this experiment.
“Please, zap me back if it becomes unbearable” — I hoped.
The process began; as I would immerse myself deeper into the transcendental meditation state, as I’d learned to do so in the past. Finding myself in a comfortable space, back rested whilst maintaining a comfortable posture, not focusing too much on experiencing the effects of inducing a traumatic experience — letting it flow should my mind wander, and slowly introduce memories that I find uncomfortable.
The core ideology of transcendental meditation is to focus the mind on something benign, such as a made up word; something our brain associates no meaning with. Forming a recoupable path of neurotransmitters in a state of being subconsciously aware.
Focusing the mind on a word with no meaning attached to it, intuitively starts the process of mitigating the flow of thoughts, reducing mental noise.
Not trying to focus on my breath or calming my muscles, the brain will do that subconsciously as I repeat the word in my brain; resonating and shifting the balance, allowing my train of thought to transpire into what is often described as an empty rice-bowl.
The goal is not to focus on recreating trauma, nor the memory; I’ve realised that the brain is already alert to the intent of meditation and as such fighting or forcing a memory would fail to form a natural flow of thoughtful patterns, to achieve a state of inertia.
In the meditative state, it’s important to remain calm; let thoughts pass and acknowledge as they come through, the more I try to fight the urge the more difficult it will be to isolate thoughts and achieve a sense of clarity.
In letting go, I focus on creating a sacred place; one imagined — a body of water, cool breeze, and being completely alone and content with myself.
Focusing my energy on the feelings, the experience of being immersed in this meditative state; I acknowledge the presence within this surrounding of my creation.
In this mental state I am completely safe and there can be harm done to me — I remind myself.
Slowly following the patterns that emerge, feeling as though formations behind the darkness of my eyelids — I let my eyes wander within this darkness to make sense of what is visible.
Time has no meaning, and thus I’m not too concerned nor bothered to acknowledge how long I’ve been immersed in this state — the point is to be still, and let my mind take control.
It feels as though I’m under water, yet still able to breathe; remain composed.
In giving up the instinct to control every thought, every memory, recreated — the mind wanders; on the positive and the negative.
“I am here, I am present”, is all that makes sense.
“I am Nabeel”
“I am curious by nature”
“I am creative”
“I am anxious”
“I am discouraged”
“I am incomplete”
“I fail to find belonging”
“I am failing”
“I am failing”
“I am failing”
“I am failing”, and the memories emerge — slowly I am seeing patterns forming into shapes that I can recognise, memories I can associate with, emotions I have felt before, it’s baggage and this is where I’ve buried it.
“Acknowledge”, I can’t — this farce is all I have.
“Acknowledge the past”, but it falls short of every expectation.
“Acknowledge, because I am brave”
“Acknowledge, because it’s not who I am”
“Acknowledge because if I don’t, it will hold me back”
Let this baggage be left here in this place, acknowledge it for what it is — it is the past.
It’s painful, but it’s done — and there’s not much I can do to change it, except for accepting it for what it is.
“Acknowledge, that though these events were traumatic, I’ve emerged through them.”
“Acknowledge, because if I don’t if will be the ruin of me.”
I feel the emotions start to dissipate and I’m now seeing myself in the present moment, of where I am in life currently, of how every thing I’ve viewed so far has been through the lens of past trauma — I’ve refused to allow it to control it, but it always has.
I must acknowledge it, come to terms with it, take one last look and bury it.
Move forward in life now, knowing and acknowledging as though I cannot change the past — I certainly control my present being.
Acknowledge, because no matter how difficult it is; it is the only way to persevere.
I refuse to be a victim.
I am a human being, moving through this life, taking in every moment for what it is in this passing moment, acknowledging the presence of it and no longer held by the past that once narrated it.
“I am Nabeel, and I’m not perfect. I’m no longer pretending to be. I am free”