Traumas, conceptualized by western medicine-psychology, is a syndrome or collection of symptoms. Like medical symptoms, we seek to reduce or eliminate them.
Psychiatry will use drugs, usually anti-anxiety drugs, to extinguish the fear and feelings of dread that constitute trauma. Psychologists have developed techniques such as flooding, desensitization, and insight as ameliorative tools for victims of trauma.
Eastern thought sees a different landscape. Eastern psychology does not focus on symptoms. Eastern Psychology is most preoccupied with internal states of mind. It sees trauma as a variety of fear, and a narrative state of mind which is constantly anticipating a future of disaster.
And while Western psychology advocates doing battle with our symptoms, Eastern psychology regards them as inherent parts of ourselves, a part that we must feed, not fight.
One school of Buddhist psychology sees our disruptive inner states as demons (maras in Sanskrit). Demons are energies that we experience every day, and in this sense, traumatic states are no different than any state of fear. The problem with disruptive internal states is that they drain our energy and prevent us from being truly awake. Treating them as symptoms and struggling with them feeds the symptoms, rather than quells them. Thus, Western approaches are likely to aggravate symptoms rather than help.
Buddhism offers many “practices” to transform trauma into harmony. One such practice sees trauma as a demon. One such demonic practice was developed by a female monk named Machig Labdron (1055-1145), and was called, Chod.
Chod involves five steps:
1) Find the Demon in Your Body: Identify the feeling which is draining your energy right now. As you think of a situation where this feeling manifested, scan your body. Where is the demon located in my body most strongly? Describe its color, its shape, texture, its temperature.
2) Personify the Demon: Allow the demon to exit your body and take a form in front of you. See it with limbs, a face, nose, mouth, eyes. Notice size, color, gender, the look in its eyes. Now speak to the demon: “What do you want? What do you need? How will you feel if you get what you need? What is your goal?”
3) Become the Demon: Switch places and become the demon. Close your eyes, and feel what it’s like to be the demon. How does it feel to be connected with an ally. How will you help me? Will you protect me? How can I access you?
Settle back into the ally’s body. Switch places and become the ally. How does it feel? How does your normal self look from the ally’s point of view?
Ask the ally for help, and reply as the ally. “How can I help you?…How will I protect you?…I pledge I will…You can enter me by?”
4) Feed the Demon and Meet the Ally: Settle back into your body and see the ally in front of you and feel its energy pouring into your body. Now imagine the ally dissolving into light. Notice its color. Feel it seeping into every cell of your body. Note the integrated feeling in your body. Now you, in this integrated state of being, also dissolve.
5) Rest in Awareness: Be in the present. Notice the calmness in your body. Maintain the energy of the ally in your body.
We suffer when our pain seems alien to us. When we see it as just another aspect of our being, suffering is temporary and our state of mind becomes filled with equanimity. (The Chod Technique was published in Lion’s Roar Magazine)