My dear friends, I just survived one of the most intense ordeals of my life. A series of traumas—one after the other over the past two years—have threatened to level me in a way that is reminiscent of the Perfect Storm that led me to leave medicine ten years ago. That Perfect Storm fundamentally transformed my life, resulting in a quantum leap in my consciousness, my career, my relationships, my spiritual journey, and how I live my life. I can only assume this one will as well. But damn . . . it’s been painful.
I am considering it an initiation of sorts. Mircea Ileade says, “Initiation recapitulates the sacred history of the world. And through this recapitulation, the whole world is sanctified anew . . . The initiate can then perceive the world as a sacred work, a creation of the Gods.” More and more, I see the world as a sacred work, a creation of the Gods that is filled with so, so much love.
Because it is my practice to expose my vulnerability and use even my most uncomfortable stories as an alchemical teaching tool, I intended to tell you all the detailed stories of the traumas. But after consultation with my mentors, concern about exposing my daughter Siena to details she’s not yet ready to hear, and deep inner reflection, I’ve decided to focus instead on how I’m handling the traumas, with prayers that those of you who are healing from trauma yourself might find medicine in my story.
The Day After
Like many people who experience a great shock trauma, my immediate reaction to this series of traumas was to withdraw from life, to curl up into a frozen ball of fear, grief, shame, panic, and despair. It took every ounce of strength inside of me to resist the temptation to isolate myself from the very people who I knew could help me through this crisis. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I didn’t want to leave my bedroom. I didn’t want to eat and couldn’t sleep. I was experiencing all but one of the DSM-5 symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. But I knew that, for the sake of my daughter, I would need to muster up the courage to reach out and get help.
Fortunately, I have a long practice of calling upon my spirituality—and my tribe—to help me deal with painful experiences. I knew enough to know that I needed to force myself to reach out of the trauma bubble. Telling my loved ones the details of what happened was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I didn’t want to be witnessed in this weakened state. But I also know that it’s a strength to let yourself be seen when you’re vulnerable, that vulnerability is the gateway to intimacy, and that intimacy is necessary if we want to belong. I had to trust deep in my marrow that we can do hard things with great love.
Discernment & Trust
Because I was very fragile when one particularly painful part of my initiation began a year and a half ago, I was careful about who I told. When you’ve been traumatized and you’re in a state of intense vulnerability, it can be unwise to tell those who can’t be trusted to hold that vulnerability safe. In fact, it can be re-traumatizing to do so. I took some time to discern whom I could trust with my story. Who would not try to rescue me or fix me or judge me or create drama? Who could simply hold space for my story, the way Heather Plett describes in this video? Who could hold space like the bear in this video, rather than rescuing, distracting, or pitying like the maddening rabbit in this video? Who was spiritually and psychologically mature enough to help me remember my wholeness when I was feeling broken? I needed to be held safe, cocooned in a blanket of loving acceptance and support. The people I confided in offered me what I needed—pure, radical, unconditional love. Each one of them reminded me I am safe, I am loved, I am whole, I belong, and everything was going to be okay.
The Freeze Response
When people experience acute trauma, they tend to fight, flight, or freeze. I froze.
Like many who have been traumatized, I was paralyzed by trauma, and this paralysis kept me from doing the very things that might have protected me from further trauma. But although I reached out and shared my story, I was not initially strong enough to resist the temptation to freeze, and because I did not get more help immediately, things went from bad to worse. (If you’re like me and your trauma initially prevented you from getting the help you needed, please be kind to yourself, forgive yourself, and don’t wait another minute to get help now.)
At the time, the only thing that dragged me from my frozen funk was that my daughter and I were scheduled to go on Goddess Quest for her spring break, which was only about a week after the initiating trauma. We had been planning to drive to Oregon to stay with a therapist friend of mine, and I hated to disappoint my daughter, even though the thought of a long road trip up towards the Pacific Northwest was terrifying in my post-traumatic freeze. I hadn’t told Siena what happened, so I had to “fake it ‘til you make it” on her behalf. Siena’s excitement for our trip lent me the strength I needed to get out of bed. Our Goddess Quest was magical, as they always are. Nature, the Divine, and time with my beloved daughter began my healing process.
For the first two months after the most painful part of my Perfect Storm, I did nothing to protect myself, which left me open to further pain. Fortunately, as the shock wore off—and as my mentors intervened—Kali came alive in me, and the frozen paralysis melted into outrage, which spurred me into action. The Kali in me delivered the sword of truth, challenging me to stand up for myself and for all people everywhere who have even been traumatized.
“If you cannot be a voice for the voiceless, Lissa, who will? If you cannot stand up and fight for yourself, who will?”
That fierce goddess energy filled me with a fire in my belly fiercer than I’ve never experienced before. That fire brought me back to life and made it possible for me to do some things I never thought I’d have the strength to do. This began a long and painful journey that I’m grateful I had the guts to activate, But jeez—it’s been rough.
Getting out of the Victim Story
When you feel victimized, it’s really really hard not to feed your victim story. After all, through one lens, you are a victim. The victim story can be functional for a while. It propels you to get angry, get help, set boundaries, enforce them, stand up for yourself, and do something to try to avoid being victimized again. But if we get stuck in the victim story, we can get lost there—forever. We can create a whole identity around the victim story. Some people get really comfortable snuggling into their misery, and they spend their whole lives milking their victim story for every last drop of sympathy, attention, financial support, and pity they can squeeze out of the people who hear their story. They use their victim story as an excuse to withdraw from life, behave badly, ignore a dream, destroy relationships, and avoid fulfilling their calling.
Certainly, everyone would understand if genocide survivors like Rwanda genocide survivor Immaculée Ilibagiza and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl stayed stuck in their victim stories. Experiencing atrocities like having your entire family and race murdered could scar you for life and shut you down forever. But these two used their trauma for alchemy, soul growth, and activation of their callings. I have not experienced anything near the kinds of traumas many like these two have experienced, but if they could overcome the worst imaginable trauma, I knew I could too. (And so can you.)
Although you don’t want to get stuck in your victim story, you also can’t skip the part where you feel like a victim—because those feelings are very, very real when you’re in the wake of a trauma. I knew it would not work to employ some sort of “spiritual bypass.” I didn’t want to skip feeling the pain and helplessness I felt. I didn’t want to bypass the full range of human emotions I was experiencing, and I also didn’t want to get stuck in them or fully identify with them, spiraling into a pit of despair, paralyzed, powerless, and pessimistic. How do we navigate so many intense feelings all at once? I was grateful for my spiritual practices, which I activated throughout this whole process. This is why we practice our spiritual disciplines, so that what we gain from our practices becomes second nature when we’re in crisis. As Krishna Das says, “Do practice while you can. You’ll need it when you can’t.”
Therapeutic Tools & Practices for Dealing with Trauma
Meditation practice can be extremely helpful when you’re in a crisis, but if you’re acutely traumatized, you may find it impossible or even unbearable to use transcendent practices like Vipassana meditation. It may even be contraindicated. I prefer the embodiment and energy psychology practices that can move you into the experience, help you feel your feelings, keep you in your body, protect you from dissociating, and clear the traumatic energy out of the body. I’m a fan of therapeutic techniques like Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), Advanced Integrative Therapy (AIT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Somatic Experiencing.
One of my practices is this 8-step practice I use when I’m triggered. Another practice is the Whole Body Intelligence work I learned from Steve Sisgold. A third practice is Byron Katie’s The Work, which I wrote about here and which you can do yourself here. (Disclaimer: I don’t think The Work is appropriate in the midst of acute trauma, and it can actually be a harmful, re-traumatizing kind of spiritual bypass. But I do think it’s very useful later on in the healing process if you get attached to your victim story and have trouble letting it go.)
I took advantage of most of these practices as soon as I had the strength to do so.
When you’re in your victim story, the running mantra in your head is, “Why me?” This can be a helpful question because if you avoid letting it become a self-attack or a blame-fest, it can help you inquire within yourself how you might have participated—consciously or unconsciously—in co-creating whatever left you feeling victimized. I have a raging case of what Rob Brezsny calls “pronoia.” Pronoia is the opposite of paranoia. It’s the unshakable belief that everything in the universe is conspiring to shower you with blessings. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but my pronoia point of view helps me make meaning of the painful things that happen on the planet, so this belief serves me. I don’t believe we’re helpless victims of a hostile universe, and I also don’t believe we are in control of our reality and can manifest anything we want. I believe it’s a co-creative process. We are creating the world with the Divine and with each other. We participate in our reality, but we’re not in charge of it.
So the question “Why me?” gives me the opportunity to question how I participated in what happened, not as a way to blame myself, but as a way to deepen my self-awareness, illuminate any potential blind spots, take responsibility for what happened without taking too much responsibility, clean up my side of the street, and shine love on anything in need of healing within myself. (I described my process of how I did this after the pit bull attack here.) If you’ve been traumatized, I invite you to do the same. Be gentle with yourself as you do so though. If practiced without self-compassion and deep acceptance of your beautiful imperfections, this kind of inquiry could re-traumatize you or cause you to practice the spiritual bypassing tool of blind compassion and neurotic tolerance. Take responsibility for your side of the street, but don’t take responsibility for someone else’s side. Make sure you don’t let your over-responsibility prevent you from setting and enforcing clear boundaries, establishing and following through on consequences, or neglecting your “Hell no,” which can open you up to more trauma.
Why NOT Me?
While I used my victim story to learn, grow, and deepen my self-awareness, I also found it liberating to turn the question around. Why NOT me? What makes me think I’m so special? What entitles me to be the one who is spared painful traumas like these when millions of people around the world are experiencing the exact same kinds of traumas I experienced? I felt humbled by that inner voice that asked me “Why NOT you?” and almost embarrassed by my privileged entitlement. Of course. Why not me? The world bubbles over with people who suffer from the most unspeakable traumas. This planet is brimming with pain. Innocent people are bombed by world superpowers who claim they know best. Helpless children are raped and murdered. Black men walking down a street can be killed by police for no reason, and the police often pay no penalty. Entire races are exterminated when they did nothing to earn such atrocities. Babies are born with horrific, painful medical conditions that cause them to suffer and then die young. Their parents endure an unbearable loss. Life is not always just.
I can’t accept those who write off this suffering with spiritual platitudes like “Well, it’s their karma.” Maybe. But maybe suffering is just suffering, and we shouldn’t try to write it off with teachings like “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” Maybe suffering is not optional. Maybe we just can’t handle feeling the raw vulnerability of how hard it is to live on a planet where trauma is ubiquitous and pain is unavoidable. Nobody ever said the world is fair—purposeful, perhaps, soul-growing and evolutionary, yes—but not fair. What made me arrogant enough to think I might be singled out to experience a trauma-free life when so many others are on the receiving end of way more trauma than me?
Maybe, instead, this is meant to connect me to my human brothers and sisters, the ones who feel violated, traumatized, betrayed, and mistreated. Many of you who are reading this can relate to such feelings. Maybe because we share these kinds of feelings, we come closer together and grow in our compassion for one another. What a gift!
And . . . it still hurts. I’m still scared at times. I still feel contractions of resistance to the ordeal that is not over yet, and then the contractions subside, and everything really is okay. An anonymous Japanese poet wrote, “Within every tempest there lies a hole, like a navel, through which a gull can fly in silence.” Somewhere, the gull in silence lives within me, and every part of this ordeal is calling it forth. The inner liberation that expands as the outer world contracts around me brings me peace and a strange, paradoxical inner calm.
I believe that, as souls, we come to Earth School to learn what we must in order to close the gap in the story of separation—to heal the Original Wound (as I described here), when we came into human bodies and believed we were separate from the Divine, separate from one another, separate from nature and the cosmos and All That Is. Perhaps some of us take on heavier burdens than others, not because we’re cursed, but because we’ve been through the wringer, life after life, dimension after dimension, and we can handle really intense pain.
I love the story in Danielle Laporte’s new book White Hot Truth about Jerry, a young man with brain damage, who hollered as he hobbled down the street, screaming, LOUDLY. Danielle’s heart broke every time he hollered his way past her window. She felt the pain of all the human experiences he would never enjoy—riding a motorcycle with his sweetheart, reading a book in the bathtub, making steamed rice and eating it with friends, talking about politics or signing a check.
Then her mom gave her a paradigm shift as they gazed upon a gnarled man in a wheelchair. “Strong Soul,” she said. “People like him have souls that can take it.”
Danielle writes, “Believing her words didn’t take away the pain I felt, and I’m not sure if it would have comforted the man in the wheelchair either. But it dissolved my pity—and made room for the most immense kind of respect. Now when I witness suffering, one of my internal responses to that person is reverence. You’re an incredible being for taking this on.”
I know I am a Strong Soul. I suspect you are. Maybe we are incredible beings for taking on this human experience and feeling it fully. Maybe this is, to quote Mark Nepo, how we “unlearn our way back to God.”
The Pleasure Toolbox
I’m trying to balance out the intensity of my life by using every single tool in my Pleasure Toolbox right now, bench pressing my receiving muscles, and letting my soul tribe shower me with blessings, love, gifts, attention, healing, nourishing hugs, and cuddle puddles. Normally, if I were recovering from a crisis, I’d go to Esalen Institute or Harbin Hot Springs, but Esalen has been inaccessible due to mudslides and broken bridges, and Harbin burned to the ground the same day my friend Scott Dinsmore died last year. Plus, I adore baths and I haven’t even been able to go in a bathtub for two months because of the collagen dressing I’m using on my pit bull attack wound that requires the wound to stay dry. The victimized part of me felt a bit cursed—torn from the very things I usually use to soothe myself. But then Richard had the brilliant idea that my pit bull attack wound is now small enough (it’s almost all the way closed—with no surgery!) that I could cover my wound with the waterproof dressing Tegaderm. So Richard just took me to Wilbur Hot Springs to help restore my nervous system and help me heal. All of my beloved friends and mentors have rallied to uplift me. I could write a whole blog just about how grateful I am. I could not have endured all this without my tribe. (Thank you, tribe! I love you!)
I’ve been pulling other tools from my Pleasure Toolbox too, as I wrote about here. I’ve been watching whales breach until they move me to healing tears. I’ve been lying in cuddle puddles with beloved friends while we “koala hug.” I’ve been walking on the beach with the sand in my toes and sitting in silence to allow the intense emotions to move through me like labor pains. I’ve been talking about my story to friends, family, and my Visionary Mentoring Program clients, and they’ve been loving me through it. I’ve been sweating my prayers and dancing my suffering. I’m also praying for help enduring and coping with all of this trauma. To use the inspiration from Tosha Silver’s Change Me Prayers , this is my prayer right now. “Divine Beloved, change me into someone who can handle all this trauma and alchemize it into soul growth without closing my heart or losing my faith.”
Life at Full Volume
Maybe, as one of my friends suggested, this is what it feels like when you open yourself to the full range of the human experience. Life at full volume. Hard core. No numbing it. No prettifying it. No bypassing the raw pain of how hard is to be alive on Planet Earth right now. Yet along with feeling all the pain, life at full volume is filled with blessings. We can open up to feeling so much pleasure, so much joy, so much ecstasy, so much magic—even in the midst of pain.
I cannot deny the infinite blessings that shower me even right in this painful moment. I have an amazing family, both my family of origin and my chosen family here in California. I adore my work and I feel so fulfilled by it. I live in ocean/redwood/mountain paradise. I’m five months into a beautiful, sacred new love affair with Richard, who has been an angel during all of this trauma. I feel so deeply connected to Source and to nature and to the Oneness of it all. I have grown so intimate with those closest to me during this time, and I am so grateful for this intimacy and the gift of their unconditional love and acceptance. I have you all—my online tribe—and I can feel your deep support in the tenderest place in my heart. I am truly blessed. Many have it much, much harder.
I’d be worried if all this pain wasn’t countered by intense experiences of ecstatic bliss. I’d be tempted to take it as spiritual guidance that my life had strayed off track, that I was getting the kind of massive wake up call I got back in 2006, the kind that nukes your life because you’re so far off your soul’s path of Divine alignment that Life needs to pull the ground out from under you to get your attention. Maybe that’s what’s happening here too. I’m certainly open to perceiving this as a giant cosmic redirect. But it doesn’t feel the same as my last Perfect Storm.
Maybe life is on a dial—and pleasure and pain come together. Maybe when you dial up your threshold for experiencing the full range of the human experience, pain and pleasure go up together. Maybe we’ve been sold a false bill of goods by New Age self-help teachers and positive psychology enthusiasts who suggest that the spiritual path will deliver loads of love, light, pleasure, rainbows, and ecstasy while simultaneously reducing pain. Maybe as we become more emotionally resilient, we simply learn to increase our threshold to experience both pleasure and pain. And maybe it’s supposed to be this way. After all, we’re in Earth School. When we chose to come here as souls—intent upon learning about life, love, growth, and how to be closer to the Divine—nobody ever promised us it would be easy.
The Spiritual Fire
I find myself reflecting on what I have been taught by wisdom teachers about the spiritual path—about how your whole identity gets burned at the stake in the phoenix process, how the spiritual path takes everything from you, including all your precious ideas of who you are, who you’re not, and what you’re capable of. I reflected upon how the spiritual fire literally burns you at the stake, taking with it all your cherished ideas of how to get what you want and fend off what you don’t want, how the world works, and how to control your life. During this kind of purification, everything that is not pure soul/spirit gets stripped away.
I remember exactly where I was three years ago—on a hiking trail in Point Reyes when I said the scariest prayer of my life. “I remove all conditions on whatever it takes to wake me up.” I shook in my boots as I said it, for I had a sense of what I was invoking with this full surrender. I wondered what might show up to test me or grow me or open my heart or humble me. I wondered if I was being masochistic when I fell to my knees with this prayer. Was it a mistake? Would I be better asking for mercy, begging for God to take it easy on me?
Now I see that what is happening is all part of something I invoked, something I sincerely invited, and as hard as it is, I am strangely peaceful and grateful in the midst of my discomfort. It is clear to me that I am in the midst of another Perfect Storm, but I am a Strong Soul. (Good job, Soul!) My last Perfect Storm, the one that resulted in me leaving medicine and turning upside down my whole life ten years ago, resulted in a quantum shift in my consciousness, a painful bursting open of my egoic stronghold, and a systematic dismantling of everything I believed to be true. I wonder how this Perfect Storm will soften, humble, and transform me too.
Finding the Gifts
This Perfect Storm, I trust, is also a gift. What am I meant to learn from all this? How can I navigate this shocking earthquake with gratitude? How can I milk this for all it’s worth and receive every last drop of soul growth from this intense Fierce Grace? One of my teachers taught me to practice chanting the mantra, “Thank you for this gift of love” when I’m experiencing something I don’t like. I’m using it often these days.
Thank you for this gift of love.
When this is too hard, when I can’t find the feeling of love in the pain, I fake it until I make it, all while feeling the pain and letting it move through me, holding both in paradox.
It is part of my practice to find the gifts in painful experiences, to put on magical eyes and look for them, even in the midst of the intensity. Some of the gifts were apparent right away, like the intimacy I’m experiencing with those in my inner circle, who have been right by my side this whole time. Like the gift of receiving their love, support, gifts, presence, and caretaking. Some of the gifts may have not yet revealed themselves. Maybe one of you will read this blog, and it will comfort you to know you’re not alone in your trauma. Maybe one of you will grant yourself the intimacy of revealing a trauma you’ve held close to the breast, or going to a therapist to heal a trauma that has kept you silenced, lonely, addicted, depressed, anxious, or suicidal. I am an empath, so I often feel the trauma of the collective and sense that as the collective grief moves through me, I cry for the world and help us all heal. Maybe I am taking one for the team, so we can all grow closer to Love Itself together.
Maybe my willingness to reveal this story will inspire you to use magical eyes to view your own traumas as initiatory phoenix processes. Maybe you will find the gifts in your Fierce Graces. Maybe you will say “Thank you for this gift of love” when things aren’t going your way (and when things are). Maybe you will be grateful when things happen that humble you and bring you to your knees in front of Divine Love.
One of the greatest gifts I’ve received is realizing that my faith is unshakable. I used to say I had blind faith. Now I have evidence-based faith. Time and time again, I have been shown that I am loved, supported and guided by invisible forces of love that have my best interests at heart. Not once have I felt like God has forsaken me. Not once have I tried to abuse my spiritual super powers to influence 3D reality to sway outcomes in my ego’s favor. Not once have I made up a story that interrupts my pronoia. Over and over, I have surrendered this whole experience to Divine Will and asked for help showing me what is aligned and how I can handle whatever arises. One of the miracles is that I am still here, standing tall, sharing my experiences, and—believe it or not—feeling really, truly joyful.
Ten years of spiritual discipline, great mentoring, therapy, and life experience have given me priceless gifts of the spirit—wisdom, compassion for myself and others, heart-opening, forgiveness, and gratitude for the gift of life, even when it’s hard. I don’t believe in a punishing God who tests our mettle to see if we’re up to snuff. I don’t know how the Universe works, but I believe God is infinitely loving, accepting, and supportive of our growth, even when it hurts. We are made of Love, and we can handle it. I feel that Love all around me these days. I fall asleep held in its arms. I wake up bathing in its Light. I see it in the eyes of my loved ones. I feel it from those who are here to carry me through this, including all of you. Perhaps it is during these intense times that we most deeply feel the love that surrounds us always.
I am about to take my daughter to what may be the last Nana Camp, the yearly summer holiday we spend with my mother at her lake house in Ohio. Although Siena has spent every summer of her life swimming in the lake and playing Nana Camp Olympics, eating watermelons at outdoor picnics, tubing down the river, making art, picking blueberries and tomatoes, gardening in the fairy garden, and riding bicycles through the corn fields, cancer-ridden Nana can’t do much camp these days, since she’s only awake a few hours a day and doesn’t have much energy to do anything but lay on the couch. So we will go to Love Camp instead, and we will give Nana our love, drinking in every last drop of her that we can savor. When it comes time to lose her, I will call upon all these same practices again. Divine Beloved, change me into someone who can handle losing my precious mother.
Come Hug Me at a Workshop?
In the face of a great deal of uncertainty, life still—thankfully—goes on. After canceling almost all of my work for the past year and not running the Whole Health Medicine Institute for the first time in 5 years, I am slowly coming out into the world again in my public and professional life. I will be at Omega Institute in late August, speaking at the Energy Psychology Conference and also teaching a 5-day Heal the Healer Workshop. In September, I will also be teaching The Anatomy of a Calling Workshop at Esalen in Big Sur. I’m also teaching a Heal the Healer workshop in Mill Valley, CA and an optional Healing Mastermind at my home nearby October 27-30. You can register here .
Thank you all for holding space for my sharing about this. You can help me and my family by simply seeing us in our wholeness, in case we forget. I believe in the power of shared intention and group prayer, and I also know that research on altruism and prayer shows that those who send positive vibes to others benefit even more than those who are sent blessings! THANK YOU for caring. It means the world to me, and I can feel it all wordlessly.
If You’ve Experienced Trauma Yourself
Psychologist Dawson Church, PhD defines a traumatizing event as something that is:
- Perceived as a threat to the person’s physical survival
- Overwhelms their coping capacity, producing a sense of powerlessness
- Produces a feeling of isolation and aloneness
- Violates their expectations
By this definition, all of us have been traumatized. We need not be ashamed of trauma or see it as a weakness that causes us to be “damaged goods.” We need to have the courage to enter into the belly of the beast and heal it. Fortunately, cutting edge therapies really work for healing trauma. (I wrote about some of the modalities that are effective for healing trauma here.)
Please, if you’ve experienced trauma, love yourself and your loved ones enough to get help, and if you’re blessed to have been spared from trauma in this lifetime, please keep in your prayers the countless others who are healing from traumas.
It has been humbling to have so much uncertainty and so little control over the past couple of years, but I am healing in the wake of my traumas and learning to flow with an uncontrollable river, trusting that somehow, someway, all of us are being floated back Home.
Much love and infinite blessings to you all,
Enjoy this post? Subscribe here so you don’t miss the next one.