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Suffering, Challenges, and the Soul

Posted on August 7, 2015

Today, we meet our hero in the darkness of trauma. The stress of the traumatic event has overwhelmed the person’s biological, psychological, and social capacity, and the trauma and resulting stress has become the organizing factor in of our hero’s life. There is no secure base, little support, and hope is, at best, a fading glimmer of light at the end of a long tunnel. Alone and lost, life becomes focused on surviving the pain and a world that has shown its evil and dark potential, which now dominates the horizon of our hero.Hero Challenges

As I’ve been writing this series, I have continued my reading on mythology, which brought me to the work of a student of Joseph Campbell’s, Phil Cousineau. In his book Once and Future Myths: The Power of Ancient Stories in Our Lives, he makes a statement that I found very insightful to our current conversation. ”I refer to this mystery as the difference between the ‘overstory,’ which is the visible plot, and the ‘understory,’ which is the invisible movement of the soul of the main characters. What is mysterious about mythic stories is how they always meander back to the same place: your soul. In this sense myth is a living force, like the telluric powers that stream through the Earth. It is this mythic vision, looking for the ‘long story,’ the timeless table, that helps us approach the deep mysteries because it insists there is always more than meets the eye.”

As our hero moves into the darkness and into the stages of suffering and challenges, I see the power of the over- and understory Cousineau mentions playing out in our jails, homeless shelters, and pockets of poverty throughout our country. Suffering is the understory – it is the impact of not only the pain from the traumatic experience, but also the passive trauma experienced due to lack of support, empathy, and compassion that the person receives from society. The overstory, or challenges, is the “presenting problems” that end up in our intakes, biopsychosocial, or medical/psychological diagnoses. While we see “presenting problems,” those outside our experience too often see sick, evil, lazy, immoral, and invaluable people draining the good and resources out of our society.

Using under- and ovestory to represent suffering and challenges, respectively, pulls together both the internal experience of trauma, as well as the outward expressions of traumatic symptoms. What connects the inward and outward for Cousineau is the soul. Our hero’s journey is not a journey of the body through physical space, but instead is one of the soul from light into darkness and back to light.

We live in a time where those looking at the brain can find it difficult to agree on a definition for the human mind, or even reach a consensus on whether or not the mind actually exists beyond the biological structure of the brain. The soul has been nearly forgotten altogether in the scientific realm. From a historical perspective, we have replaced any mention of a spiritual aspect of human psychology with secular names for our mental or emotional process. While the mind might remain mysterious, we seem to have discarded the part of ourselves connected to a higher power that, through the soul, is manifested in our human experience.

The understory of trauma is one of spiritual pain and, without help, the potential of spiritual death. Loss of the connection to spirit might be the best way to describe the darkness and internal experience of trauma. “Why did God, or other higher power, allow this to happen?” is a question that must be answered by those of faith in order to ascend back into the light. Think about this question for a moment and the power it holds, not only for the traumatized person, but also for ourselves as helpers and healers.

Has our inability to discuss the spiritual been partly responsible for our focus on the symptoms of trauma, or the “What did you do?” paradigm? If we shift to the trauma informed paradigm of “What happened to you?” and explore it at a spiritual level, we can encounter an energy of pain and suffering that can easily overwhelm even the strongest helper. We don’t need to go far in any sacred text to find the consequences of separation of spirit or God. This absence is often described as darkness, and if there is light, it is usually the light of fire, often connected to damnation and unimaginable suffering.

I have been a student of the spirit my whole life. From my own faith background and struggles, to being pulled into psychology through my love of the work of Carl Jung, to a continuous study of the shamans, priests, medicine women, and other traditional healers in whose footsteps we all walk. Besides this intellectual and personal journey to spirit, I also have been privileged to sit with person after person whose reconnection to God or spirit has been the moment in their lives where they saw light and hope, and utilized this energy to find motivation to journey back into the light.

I often get a laugh from a true statement in my trainings: “When I get to ask those who have been through hell and come out of the experience to reclaim their lives how they found hope and energy to retake their story, I consistently get the response: I found Jesus and a compassionate case manager, nurse, social worker, etc.” While I use this to demonstrate our power in their lives, the truth in the statement is that a spiritual rebirth was as much a part of post traumatic growth as any service they received. Yet, in our striving to be welcoming to all faiths, viewpoints, and beliefs, we seem to have lost the ability to talk to each other about spirituality much less bring it into our work with clients.

The most spiritual people I have ever met reside in our professions – for many of us, it is part of our call to become healers. Yet, we often do a verbal dance to see if it is safe to “come out” and share our beliefs. If we can’t even talk about spirituality among ourselves, how do we bring it up with our clients? I would like to create a safe place to have a larger conversation about this topic. I would love to hear about your experiences and how spirituality has impacted or brought you to the work of helping and healing. Also would love to hear how you bring spirituality into your work with clients. I encourage you all to come back to the comment section a few times this week to see what others post.

12 responses to “Suffering, Challenges, and the Soul”

  1. Karen says:

    This really hit home for me today, Matt. I am a Unitarian Universalist and feel grateful that I have found work that aligns with my values. I agree that we need to make space for, and celebrate, people’s rebirth process. Thank you so much for this.

  2. Karen says:

    This really hit home for me today, Matt. I am a Unitarian Universalist and feel grateful that I have found work that aligns with my values. I agree that we need to make space for, and celebrate, people’s rebirth process. Thank you so much for this.

  3. Dany says:

    Cheers pal. I do apcitpraee the writing.

  4. Dany says:

    Cheers pal. I do apcitpraee the writing.

  5. Hi,May be the hum is related to project HAARP, or sub terrestrial high power radio transmission tests at 13.56 MHz or VLF / ELF, or modulated microwaves transmissions…MPS: I may have more infos on the subject.Let me see what I can find.

  6. Hi,May be the hum is related to project HAARP, or sub terrestrial high power radio transmission tests at 13.56 MHz or VLF / ELF, or modulated microwaves transmissions…MPS: I may have more infos on the subject.Let me see what I can find.

  7. I am not certain where you’re getting your info, but good topic. I must spend some time studying much more or figuring out more. Thank you for wonderful info I was on the lookout for this information for my mission.

  8. I am not certain where you’re getting your info, but good topic. I must spend some time studying much more or figuring out more. Thank you for wonderful info I was on the lookout for this information for my mission.

  9. Considering the amount of garlic used in portuguese cooking I would consider to develop a version without a hole.I'm also thinking about a full head version for portuguese artists. Avoiding them to brainstorm.Notice to portuguese artists : this was a joke. I love garlic. I love your country. I even live there !

  10. Considering the amount of garlic used in portuguese cooking I would consider to develop a version without a hole.I'm also thinking about a full head version for portuguese artists. Avoiding them to brainstorm.Notice to portuguese artists : this was a joke. I love garlic. I love your country. I even live there !

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