"We sail because our mind is like a fantastic seashell and when applying our ear to its lips we hear a perpetual murmur from the waves beyond the shore. Citizens of two realms, we all must sustain a dual allegiance.”In Trauma and the Soul, Donald Kalsched describes the first world as being the one we all live in. It is filled with violence and suffering of a mortal, embodied existence. Whereas, the second world (and this world is the subject of his book) makes the suffering of the first-world bearable.
- Donald Kalsched
This metaphysical second world does more than make our suffering tolerable, it also reaches heaven; infinity; everything. Kalsched describes the second world as "sacred, beautiful, boundless, and eternal, opening into an ineffable mystery that soothes the soul." This second world, and its potential for healing trauma, is what Trauma and the Soul is all about.
"Almost all the "highly sensitive people" whose cases appear herein have had mystical experiences. Often they have a soulful connection to nature, to animals and to the mytho-poetic world of film, theater, art, and literature- especially poetry... Unfortunately, as the mystical, mytho-poetic life of the trauma survivor unfolds, the benevolent spiritual presences that seem to have saved their soul begin to lose their protective power.
Under the pressure of repeated disappointments and disillusionments, these inner objects often turn malevolent. Inner protectors turn into persecutors and the "better angels of our nature" are displaced by the demons of dismemberment, psychic deadening, and primitive defense... This is also a spirituality, but a spirituality of darkness and dread; also a mysticism but one of violence, demonic possession, and loss-of-soul."
Here, Kalsched describes exactly the inner world that I have experienced in my healing from childhood trauma.
In brief moments of supreme ecstasy, I remember the joys of life, such as hearing a piece of music that I connect with, or reading a poem that speaks to my innermost self.
Before I healed from the abuse I was subjected to, I used to stand in front of paintings at the local gallery, mesmerized by the intensity of Turner's skies.
During these rare moments, I remembered who I was, and why I was alive. But, so often, I was not in these states. More often, I stumbled through the anxiety and dread of a life stripped of color. In these moments I was trapped on the other side of the inner landscape. I was trapped in the world of demons; the inner-persecutors that harass and harangue the sweet inner-child until feeling is washed away and all that is left is an infinite gray.
How can the survivor of trauma navigate these two poles? How can we traverse the highs and lows? As a survivor, I have sought to find an en-souled middle-ground where both the peaks and troughs of my inner world are navigated with calm. With practice and courage, these extremes both give way to meaning and I can live soulfully.
"C.G. Jung realized early on that the magical and mysterious world into which the trauma survivor falls when dissociation cracks open his/her psyche is not only an artifact of the splitting process but is also an archetypal or mytho-poetic world already there to catch them, so to speak.
This world of non-ordinary reality surrounds the fractured soul with a dramatic story from the archetypal repertoire of the ancient psyche..."
Jung believed that there is a universal collective unconscious that the trauma-survivor taps into. His theory was evidenced in my own healing. I also believe in the idea that there is a ‘safety net’ of archetypal symbols to contain traumatic experience. This capacity of the human spirit provides a sense of reassurance that the universe is benevolent. It also gives a sense of unity to the myriad possible lives that humans lead.
Before I had accepted the full extent of my childhood traumatization, I wrote a story which had all the features of this collective, Jungian, mytho-poetic, archetypal world contained within it. Before I knew anything of Jung or Kalsched, my story appears to have emerged from a communal well-spring and contains a wisdom that was not readily available to my normal, waking consciousness.
It was as if my higher self, which had access to this store of human knowledge (passed down through time; epigenetically, or by some unknown process) made sense of my dormant trauma, and wrote my escape out of it. This is precisely the type of escape from trauma that Kalsched encourages in his book. He invites us to explore the world of archetypes as a kind of ‘language’ of the soul that, once understood, can be instrumental in healing ourselves. Once we can understand and speak the language of this archetypal world, we can restore our health.
In the story I wrote (prior to my healing), the main character, Sarah (who shares my name), meets a mysterious older guide in a rose garden in Paris. After this chance encounter, the pair are compelled to open "Pandora's Box" and go on a journey through time and space, traveling back through important memories in their lives. After working through key memories, with the assistance of the guide, Sarah is ready to return home to the stars. Sarah flies upwards over the ocean, to the stars, holding the tail of a hummingbird (her spirit animal).
The imagery in this story can be interpreted as archetypal in nature, although this was not my conscious intent. The story also appears to be a premonition of my own healing path.
Returning to the story I wrote (while still traumatized), I can see that the ‘ocean’ I described now appears to represent my unconscious. Having worked through her traumatic memories, the ‘Sarah’ of my story was then ready to transcend the suffering she went through and journey home. The stars represent that magnificent place of peace and radiance. This is a feeling that comes from living an embodied life in the present moment.
The hummingbird in my story is Sarah’s vehicle to the stars. This hummingbird came to me in a dream and I now consider it to be my spirit animal. The Sarah of my story discovers that the hummingbird can transport her back to real-life here on Earth. I now see how the hummingbird represented my soul.
Later in Kalsched's book, the author deconstructs the Latin word 'dis' and how it relates to trauma. This word literally means ‘to divide’, and the word 'disaster' means to be divided from your star. When the Sarah of my story returns to her star, she has overcome the fracturing, fragmenting quality of dissociation which separated her from a pain too difficult to bear. Having remembered and processed the fractures in her psyche, she is able to return to her star, becoming whole.
"In the darkness of the unconscious a treasure lies hidden, the same "treasure hard to attain" which... is described as the shining pearl, or, to quote Paracelsus, as the "mystery," by which is meant a fascinosum par excellence. It is these inherent possibilities of "spiritual" or "symbolic" life, and of progress, which form the ultimate, though unconscious goal of regression.”
Kalsched writes of a treasure lying deep within us, shining like a pearl, with endless potential. This is a very apt metaphor for the internal world. From my very first psychedelic voyage, I came to know this inner world, which I recognized as the landscape of feelings and interelatedness which surrounded me as a child.
As a child, I freely inhabited this world and it inhabited the external world. Both worlds were connected, and in alignment. This connection to my inner landscape was shattered during the many traumas I experienced. But, through drawing and making art, as an adult, I have experienced this 'Seelenbilderwelt' (as Herman Hesse would call it) again. I have reintroduced myself to the ‘picture world of the soul’.
I drew out the symbols and visions that I saw during my earliest psychedelic-sessions and gained deeper access to this world once again. I did this by following the guidance in the book LSD Zen.
Reading Kalsched's books, and respectfully using high-dose psychedelics, has allowed the great mystery to re-enter my life, even in moments where I am not technically having a psychedelic experience.
Sometimes, through painting, I also gain deep access to the inner healing wisdom which acts through me. This allows me to represent my trauma symbolically in the form of abstract paintings. On one occassion, I painted what looked like cells, with darkness coloring their normal tone. It felt like (through the painting and transformation of the trauma) I had expressed what was happening biologically inside of me: The darkness was leaving my cells and every part of me was becoming well again.
Kalched’s metaphor of a pearl is interesting. Mollusks make pearls in response to irritants that enter their shell. The mollusk forms the pearl around the irritant to protect itself.
How wonderful that the mollusk takes a ‘trauma’ (something from outside, invading its personal space) and transforms this trauma into something beautiful. The mollusk’s self-protective strategy is one of surrounding the ‘invader’ and turning it into a ‘jewel’. Perhaps the mollusk sees its pearl merely as a random abnormality. The mollusk does not do interviews, so we will never know for certain if it shares our marvel at its work. Nonetheless, the metaphor stands.
This idea of beauty in the repair of wounds is similar to the concept of wabi-sabi, the Japanese tradition of filling in the cracks in porcelain with gold. This concept also embraces the idea of great beauty existing in things that are 'old' or 'weathered' through use, or adventure.
I feel that I have done work as a ‘mollusk’ myself by transforming the darkness of the abuse I experienced as a child into something beautiful, through my art. My work honors the innocent child within me, who went through incomprehensible experiences. My artwork focuses on me as a child and my subjective experience of what happened.
"Mineralogists tell us that if you want to understand the basic structure of a crystal, you should examine the places where it is broken… I present a series of cases where traumatic experiences have broken the "crystal" of people's ongoing, otherwise cohesive lives and let in a mysterious light. The broken places, or lines of cleavage, represent what we call moments of dissociation..."
In a song lyric, Leonard Cohen describes how there is a crack in everything, “that's how the light gets in”. After trauma, we are like the cracked crystal; the perfect structure has become fragmented and the energy of the crystal (and trauma survivor) is scattered across the whole.
It's not possible to individuate and remember your whole life's narrative coherently, such are the average human'ss many traumas; both collective and individual. But we shouldn't hate on the cracks in the crystal. These breaks performed the life-saving function of protecting us from trauma that was too extreme to process at the time.
As adults, we have the opportunity to view these cracks transformatively, as Leonard Cohen does. We can allow the light of conscious awareness, and our re-assimilation of the original traumas, to heal the cracks in the crystal. Then the crystal can shine brightly and we, as survivors of trauma, can become whole.
"When Jennifer grew up and entered therapy with me, she would tell me she had lost her soul. There were fleeting moments, she reported, when her soul would return to her -- when she painted alone in her studio, or isolated times in nature, but most of the time she felt devoid of value inside and she was convinced of her own lack; her own "badness."
After Jennifer is in hospital, where she almost loses her life, she remembers what helped save her soul, and gave her the strength to continue living:
"At last, she was moved into a room with another child. As she lay on her back watching, she saw this beautiful blonde child sitting in bed, coloring; using crayons from a box like she used at school. It was then that she formed the thought that there could be some reason to continue fighting. Though she had closed her eyes, the image of the large, bright-colored crayons stayed with her and the need to make a picture, "Can I color?" she asked. "I want to color."
This passage in Kalsched’s book made me cry. I remember times, when I was a kid, where everything around me was hell, I was literally in hell. There was nowhere where I was free from being abused. But, at an after-school play center, where I felt isolated from all the other children, I made a special journal. In this journal, I drew special, colorful pictures. I felt so at peace and connected to myself. I filled the whole journal in one afternoon with bright drawings that made me smile.
In Kalsched’s book, Jennifer makes a miraculous recovery, but months later her health starts to decline again. Kalsched recounts:
"The angel, when it came to her, was in the midst of a soft white-yellow light beside her to the right... Calmly and caringly, the ethereal messenger declared without preamble, "You don't have to continue; it's all right to let go now." The presence paused then continued, "If you decide to stay it won't be easy."
Jennifer remembers that it was so tempting to let go at this moment and very hard to call out for help. In her agonizing deliberation, Jennifer’s eyes fall on the box of watercolors. She is drawn to the color rose madder:
"How can I leave without using this color? I must stay to paint-to use my colors." Without daring to look directly into the light, [Jennifer] told the angel that she knew that she must stay in life."Jennifer's experience with a guardian angel, who offered her protection and guidance at a transitional moment in her life, mirrors my own experience with a guardian angel. To know that you are not alone, and that there is a greater whole in which you live, makes the struggle of childhood bearable. Perhaps some part of Jennifer knew that if she held on, her life might get better as an adult. Indeed it did. Kalsched tells us that Jennifer became an artist and continued with her love of painting and color.
I experienced a similar artistic journey to Jennifer. My childhood love of drawing has stayed with me. It gives me purpose in my life and has been a continual friend in the moments of extreme loneliness caused by the trauma.
When I draw, I connect to my most innocent, purest self and that reminds me of who I really am.
The image of my ‘guardian angel’ came to me when I remembered being abused by my mother. This guardian angel filled me with light and a sense of lasting peace. I drew my guardian angel floor-to-ceiling on my wall in the apartment where I was living at that point during my healing. Whenever I felt scared, I would look at my guardian angel ‘hologram’ on the wall and feel her real presence there with me.
Whether my guardian angel emerged from a magical realm, or was an artifact of my subconscious-archetypal mind is, I feel, unimportant to me. The simple reality is that this entity healed me. Whether real or imagined, her power to heal remains intact and her grace undeniable.
"To recognize one's participation in normal human tragedy is different from feeling like a failure as a human being. Jennifer now realized that there was more to her than the summation of her outward successes and failures. A part of her was connected to something larger and when she told her story about the angel, this 'something more' was in the room between us."
To know that we are more than the sum of our outward successes and failures is one of the most important experiences a survivor can have; to realize that we have inherent value; that we are worth something, even if everything in our environment decries against it. It is a gift to see the totality of ourselves; the innocent babies that entered this world, whole and in the image of the universe.
As humans, we are nothing less than the whole universe inside our unique form. Even when our environment does not see our inherent-preciousness, the universe never forgets it. Benevolent presences like guardian angels reaffirm this for us.
"Jennifer's narcissism at the beginning of our work… her almost complete identification with her 'presented self,' and the way this gave way to her developing capacity for engaging the suffering of her true, inner sadness, finds some interesting parallels in Kierkegaard's psychospiritual writings.
Kierkegaard called the narcissistic stage the aesthetic and the aesthetic individual he said, lives in total unconscious immediacy "enmeshed" in the external and the temporal, "anxiously fearing that the Eternal might break through to remind him that his whole life is a lie." (Kierkegaard, 1972; 183).
Unable to reveal himself to anyone, he also cannot love; hence his existence is shot through with an abysmal melancholy and despair; a "hysteria of the spirit"(Kierkegaard, 1972; 193). For this condition, Kierkegaard has but one remedy- an act of Despair. For Kierkegaard this moment was the beginning of a genuinely ethico-religious life."
I can relate very strongly to Jennifer's fixation with a one-dimensional "presented self" instead of a fully whole self that suffers the true pain of childhood.
Before I was ready to access the pain of my past, I went through a phase where I just focused on my external appearance and tried to blend in with the crowd. I had a group of superficial friends in high school. It felt better to me to be one of them, accepted and popular, rather than suffering the loneliness of being my authentic self.
My "aesthetic" self as Kierkegaard calls it, was obsessed with the appearance of things and lived ruthlessly in the present moment. Here, all pleasure was taken from immediate things: an ‘artisanal’ cappuccino, or a beaded scarf found at a flea market. It’s not that these things are bad to experience in an en-souled life, it's just that these were the only things I lived for.
I walled-up the space in my psyche that would have provided my roots in this world. The spiritual dimension of reality, the part that gives meaning to life in this world, was sealed deep inside me. I blocked out my pain by visiting discotheques, and obsessing about my grades at college. I thought that if I could only have perfect grades, perfect hair and a perfect wardrobe, I would be free from the abuse and be loved.
When I was a teenager, I worked as a professional model, and I thought that this would bring me the happiness and peace that I was searching for. Modeling is perhaps the ultimate misstep; the absolute embodiment of Kierkegaard’s “hysteria of the spirit”. I was, with other models, hopelessly “enmeshed” with the “external and the temporal".
I wanted to be loved and valued. My abusive parents never taught me to do to this for myself. I had no internal model for self-care. My modeling ‘career’ trapped me in the "aesthetic". I based my happiness on personal appearance and clothes. Neither of these things could make me happy or give me the value that I was so desperately searching for.
It was only when I felt my pain (as Kierkegaard puts it, entering “an act of despair”) that I traversed out of this first-phase of the aesthetic. The second-phase, which I then found myself in, was very helpful for me; I would call it an existential crisis.
During this phase, I spent a lot of time staring out of Parisian, rooftop windows; drinking coffee at moonlit cafes; reading books; writing poetry, and generally indulging on my inner world, the world that was so cut off in the aesthetic phase. The reader may feel that there was still an ‘aesthetic’ preoccupation in my Parisian ‘crisis’; after all, where is more ‘fashionable’ to have an existential crisis that Paris? Even in my escape from the world of fashion, I was determined to remain ‘stylish’.
Nevertheless, I did escape. I escaped despite the paradoxes. In Paris, I became the moon; the feminine energy. In my wandering about the city, I started to feel more whole, as I gained access to the deep pain that was inside of me, and this felt real.
The starlit nights that Kierkegaard describes in Kalsched’s book, remind me of moments where I would walk the star-dusted streets of Paris listening to music as I walked endlessly through the night.
"So when all has become still around one, as solemn as a starlit night, when the soul is alone in the whole world, then there appears before one, not a distinguished man, but the eternal Power itself. The heavens part, as it were, and the I chooses itself, or rather receives itself.
Then the soul beholds the loftiest sight which mortal eye can see, and which can never be forgotten; then the personality receives the accolade of knighthood which ennobles it for eternity. He does not become another man, than he was before, but he becomes himself. Consciousness is unified and he is himself."
It was during these moments in Paris that I became more unified and more myself. I was beginning to connect with my own pain, and to feel more ‘real’ in the world. It was a ennobling experience, to reach divinity through the spontaneous transcendent-experience of fully-feeling and connecting with the whole; my own whole and that of the cosmos. Although it was not until I began to work with psychedelics that I became absolutely whole again, Paris was a significant milestone on my way home to myself.
"In every adult there lurks a child-an eternal child, something that is becoming, is never completed, and calls for unceasing care, attention and education. That is the part of the human personality which wants to develop and become whole." (Jung, 1954)
I love Jung's idea that there is an eternal child within us. This child is constantly growing and needs our full attention.
Jung’s idea reminds me of Alice Miller’s concept of the “gifted child” within each of us. Tending to this inner child (especially in difficult and challenging moments in life, where the child is frightened or angry) can be the most challenging and healing process. It is through nurturing our soul-child that we become whole.
Instead of fragmenting and dissociating when life feels like too much, we can choose to become one with our feelings by listening. As a result, we become much more empathetic and kind.
Kalsched quotes Tagore whose dreamy poem images conjure up moments in childhood (and in later adult life) where I have touched the limitless.
"On the seashores of endless worlds children meet. The infinite sky is motionless overhead and the restless water is boisterous. On the seashore of endless worlds the children meet with shouts and dances... Children have their play on the seashore of [endless] worlds.” (Tagore, 1913)
Tagore describes moments-of-forgetting about time and space. He evokes the feeling of being fully present between both worlds (the immaterial and the material). On this threshold, we can touch on infinity and expansive bliss.
Children inhabit the space between imagination and reality freely. A simple act (such as playing on a swing), can be for a child (or an awakened adult) like flying with the birds. I have experienced moments like these when exploring psychedelics. In this state, I remember contemplating a tree, and the journey still ahead of me. My simple bicycle resting lightly on the tree's edge, glinting in the sun. Both contained something utterly transcendent, and I felt like I could rest there forever.
"On the seashores of endless worlds, the soul comes to presence (indwells) through the evolving life of a child at play, free to live with his whole being, all out, with all [his] heart , with all [his] soul, and with all [his] might."
A child growing up in a loving environment is able to attain a fully-realized, soulful state all of the time. Such a child lives passionately and in the present moment.
There have been times in my healing journey when I have felt this way of living fully. For example, when realizing and responding to how I am feeling and making a radical change (such as shifting my environment by moving countries), an incredible feeling of freedom and possibility has opened up.
In those moments I feel beyond life and death and would be happy to ‘die’ right there; in a mystic sense. This is true living. By continuing to heal from our childhood traumas, this state of living becomes more and more the default way of being. My anxiety and worry evaporates and I respond intuitively to my heart's beat.
"This sculpture (first-century Roman statue of Eros riding a dolphin)... emphasizes the coincidence of these two themes, child and dolphin, both of which connote new life or rebirth."
Richard (one of Kalsched's ‘patients’) sees the image of a dolphin in one of his dreams. When studying the mythology of a dolphin, we can see how this symbol is related to innocence. In mythology, dolphins symbolize a new beginning.
A dolphin also arrived in one of my dreams, and I took it to be a very positive symbol, reaffirming my innocence and child-like joy. I drew a dream symbol: myself riding a dolphin. This, again, helped me to connect to a vulnerable, childlike part of myself.
Dreams have been particularly helpful to me on my healing journey. A common symbols which has reoccurred in my dreams (and which Kalsched analyses in detail) is the soul-child (often depicted as an animal). This ‘soul-child’ took the form of my childhood friend and cat Charlie.
I also had dreams containing Nazi symbology. These Nazi dreams represented my inner-persecutor-system. This type of system seeks to destructively protect the soul-child.
Magical spaces also appeared in my dreams. In these dreams it felt like my subconscious was letting me know that new bountiful, landscapes (hitherto unknown), were opening up inside of me with each new step of my healing.
"The total nihilism of ‘Dis’ – the fact that he is the great nay-sayer in the psyche – seems related to the aggressive energies that are necessarily directed back into the inner world after trauma ruptures the child's flow of experience. A child who is violated and violated again and again over time develops tremendous anger that it cannot express to its persecutors. Instead, this aggression is directed back into the inner world; toward the neediness that the child repeatedly feels, but must repeatedly repress."
In one particularly helpful part of the book, Kalsched uses Dante's book Inferno as a metaphor for describing the inner persecutors which hound a chronic trauma survivor.
Personally, I can testify to the extreme level of internal-anger that early-childhood trauma survivors carry around with them. Parents who belittle and use violence against children when the children express normal needs, creates an internal resevoir of anger. The child often directs this anger against themselves internally to prevent more abuse occurring externally.
When abuse is repeated, a child is ‘taught’ to self-attack. The child internalizes the abuser, effectively installing the abuser as ‘rogue code’ in the child’s bio-computer. This is an unconscious process and the child cannot hope to literally describe what their nervous system is doing to ‘protect’ the child.
The next time the abused child has an unmet need – one which should in a healthy environment, be met by their parents – the child directs anger towards itself to shut itself down internally before it is ‘shut down’ externally by the abusive caregiver.
This internalization-of-the-abuser prevents the child from having their head kicked in (for example) in the outside world. It is a life-saving strategy during childhood for many children. Later, it produces meek, compliant adults, or future-abusers. The former act-in their anger; the latter act it out.
The abused child’s survival strategy remains intact into adult life, where it is now ‘maladaptive’. In other words: The original stimulus for of the adaptation is no longer present; the abusive caregiver is gone. However, the adaptation (internal self-attack) continues to operate. This is the mechanism that underlies ‘depression’, which is simply the turning of anger against the self.
Maladaptive strategies allow us to avoid difficult external conflicts such as confrontation with government. Most governments are abusive caregivers, and many citizens are trained from infancy to comply with the caregiver’s orders or suffer violence.
One programmed self-attack that I have found to be particularly insidious in my own psyche, is a tendency to blame anything that goes wrong on myself. This results in extreme guilt, and 'black-and-white’ thinking. Because of the abuse I suffered as a child, it is a default reaction in my mind to say things to myself such as "I am always this...", "I am never this..."
My sense of pain can have dire ramifications if I do not remain conscious of it. Pain is particularly detrimental when it is unconscious. These are moments when I believe that my 'pain' has become my entire personality and I cannot remember my kind, innocent self. This ‘pain’ is, in fact, split off aspect(s); a sub-personality, which developed after too many disappointments and attacks.
The depressive quality of my ‘pain’ denies everything positive and sucks all those around it into its black-hole hurricane. In depressing (meaning, 'pushing down') anger in myself, I had a tendancy to depress ('push down') those around me. This was another unconsious expression of my unfelt anger.
The key to moving through my 'pain' or ‘dis’, was to become aware of when feelings are occurring and consciously and making notes to myself. I write down when the pain is occurring and what programming-routine I feel is being activated. It is then a good idea for me to release lots of anger. This is because anger, when de-pressed down, allows ‘Dis’ to continue his whirlwind.
Releasing anger transformatively takes the matches away from Dis's pyromaniac hands. Typically, I will run, cycle or swim, while consciously breathing into my feelings.
"The minute we accept objectively the guilt and shame, the innocent part of us begins to suffer, the weight becomes a sword. We bleed, and the energy flows back into us on a deeper and more conscious level. What is more... there is always an implicit universal meaning even in the carrying of small miseries. Every time a person exchanges neurotic depression for real suffering, he or she is sharing to some small degree in the carrying of the suffering of mankind, in bearing a tiny part of the darkness of the world.”
Here, Kalsched quotes Helen Luke. She captures the essence of truly feeling the pain of our childhood. Often, when memories of abuse come up, so does an overwhelming amount of guilt and shame (the feelings that the abuser dispensed into us, at the time of the violation.)
The person who originally hurt us disowned their own feelings of guilt and shame. We are left with their overflowing pot of emotion; it has been ‘poured’ into us.
When we fully accept these emotions as being there within us, however difficult it is, we realize that they were never our emotions to feel. In this moment of awareness (which is difficult to reach) we pass through into a conscious sadness for all that was done to us. A sadness for our essential innocence. It is a often the case that we have a great pain to be felt. This kind of pain brings wisdom through the hardship. Feeling this pain is what our abuser was never able to do. Instead, they repeated it in stupidity and cowardice. By agreeing to feel our pain, and to breath with these feelings, we triumph over our attacker(s) and bring light into our collective world.
"Every one of us carries a deforming mirror where he sees himself too small or too large, too fat or too thin... One discovers that destiny can be directed, that one does not need to remain in bondage to that first imprint made on childhood sensibilities, need not be branded by the first pattern. Once the deforming mirror is smashed, there is the possibility of wholeness, there is the possibility of joy." (Anais Nin)Kalshed quotes Anais Nin. She captures perfectly what many trauma survivors go through on a near daily basis.
It took me a long time to work through my ‘deforming’ mirrors, especially after working in the uber-critical world of the Fashion Industry. Many many times I told myself, I am "too fat", my skin is "too bad". These self-attacks echoed the insults of my abusers. Nevertheless, I felt these thoughts were my own; I had been programmed, through their relentless repetition of phrases, to believe their lies.
Now I have left the fashion industry, I try to understand why these thought patterns were so persistent. I realize that it had nothing to do with outward appearances. My skin being the most obvious example of this. My skin was sensitive and provided a thin boundary between my inner landscape and then outside world.
My skin (this boundary between inner and outer), was constantly being violated through sexual abuse as a child. It would make sense then, that my inner-outer boundary would be malfunctioning, and I would be susceptible to troubles with my skin. The only way I have moved through this is by acknowledging what my skin means in its totality. My skin represents the part of me that was hurt in the abuse. It also carried the outward shame of the abuse. It would not surprise me to learn that all ‘acne’ is a symptom of sexual abuse. Our skin speaks where our mouths cannot.
When I try to reformulate my thoughts and accept my skin as a marker of the pain that I went through as a child, I feel better about myself. It is only through this kind of acceptance of myself that transformation can take place. I had to reach a point of total acceptance, for the "problem" not to be relevant any more. I also had to understand the hidden psychodynamics of the trauma survivor; in combination with safe and respectful psychedelic exploration. This is Kalched’s talent: He has written the missing manual for the human soul. I am deeply indebted to him.
Sandra's artist friend Kalsched recounts his experiences with a ‘patient’ called Sandra:
"Her new friend was an artist and naturalist and had suffered a great deal of trauma in his life... He had acted out as an adolescent, abused drugs and alcohol, had gone on to multiple marriages followed by multiple divorces, and had left a trail of failed business ventures in his wake.
"I know .... but I can see your wholeness." [Sandra told him]. A long silence followed in which she could see that her artist-friend was struggling with how to respond to her comment. His eyes filled with tears, and he had to look down in embarrassment to avoid flooding with emotion."
I like the idea that there is some incorruptible essence to us as human beings. However hard life's circumstances are, this core cannot be corrupted. I would add the caveat that I feel that some child-abusers have genuinely lost their souls. That said, for most people, although it feels like your life is a mess from the outside and does not make any sense, it is useful to remember the inner decisions that led you to where you are. The right path may also be a difficult one. Being kind and self-aligned is not always easy.
Even if things seem chaotic on the outside, and like you are changing things a lot, this may be a very good indication that you are sticking to your principles and your authenticity.
As J.R.R. Tolkien reminds us in his Lord of the Rings trilogy, “Not all those who wander are lost.”
Ultimately, by making decisions based on our internal sense of right and wrong and personal intuition, we stay true to ourselves and become ourselves; whole.
"Sandra had such a story as almost all children do, who have their spontaneous gestures violated by the world. She thought there was something "wrong with her" – a defect or a set of inadequacies that rendered her life and inevitable "failure,"... She didn't know what this defect could be, but she was convinced that it was "her fault."
When dissociation protects us from pain that is too great to bear in childhood, we forget the original ‘programming’ experiences that led to the creation of our deforming mirrors and storylines.
Every time we express ourselves as children, by drawing a beautiful picture, doing a dance or something similarly creative), and we are told "no" by our caregivers, we internalize this message and believe that we have done something terribly wrong.
As adults, some of us are unable to see that we were not wrong as children: It was our environment that was wrong. It was only after much healing work, with the light of an inner-divinity guiding me, that I could correct these errors in self-understanding. I see that I did nothing wrong. I am not inherently ‘wrong’. Now, when drawing a picture, my inner critical-voices may still sometimes raise their ugly voices, but I am better at recognizing these abusive voices and telling them "No, I am not wrong, this drawing is good and true. I am good and true.”
"For Jung, as we know, wholeness is a universal human urge or desire to fulfil all of oneself-all of one's potentials, all the aspects of ourselves as they have come into being or failed to come into being in our particular environmental circumstances. The unfolding of this potential wholeness from within is what Jung meant by individuation-"the strongest, the most ineluctable urge in every being, namely the urge to realize itself." (Jung, pg 165)
I found that, as I progressed through my healing journey, my need to self-actualize became stronger. After my experiences in Paris, and before my work with psychedelics, all I could think about was healing from the trauma. Now, I can remember all the dreams that I had as a kid. I remember what I was going to 'be' when I was older. I now enjoy discovering these unfulfilled potentials within me, and learning that life is more than just about surviving.
Jung had the following dream set in Liverpool (the word ‘liver’ in ‘Liverpool’ means: The seat of life. Jung dreamt:
"...While everything round about was obscured by rain, fog, smoke and dimly lit darkness, the little island blazed with sunlight. On it stood a single tree, a magnolia in a shower of reddish blossoms. It was as though the tree stood in the sunlight and was at the same time the source of light.”From this dream, Jung infers that, "the Self is the principle and archetype of orientation and meaning." This image of the magnolia tree immersed in light is so powerful. It is a visual representation of the inner core of the ‘self’. The magnolia on the island is protected from the outside world (which is grey and gloomy) so that this inner core is never corrupted. This core is the source of our truth and vitality.
“Piping down the valleys wild,
Piping songs of pleasant glee,
On a cloud I saw a child,
And he laughing said to me;
"Pipe a song about a lamb!"
So I piped with merry cheer.
"Piper, pipe that song again;"
So I piped, he wept to hear.
Our birth is but a sleep and forgetting:
The soul that rises with us, our life's Star
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
(Wordsworth, 2004a: 159)”
These are two of my favorite poems and I was delighted to find that Kalsched had referenced them in his book Trauma and the Soul. The first time I read these poems, they reminded me of who I really was inside.
The first time I read William Blake's Song's of Innocence, I was deeply effected by the accompanying illustrations. These were vivid and wild, and spoke to the spirit realm from which they arose. The image of a little lamb resonated strongly with me. Growing up in a city, I never had much contact with animals (such as lambs), but later on in my life, I had the privilege of living alongside some beautiful, strong lambs. The cheer of these animals, and how they frolicked in the fields allowed me to understand more fully Blake's poem.
The second poem was given to me as a gift from a very special English teacher when I was a child. She was a very special teacher as she had no interest in the pre-programmed government-set-list that dictates what we should be frying our young brains with.
Instead, this teacher took us outside in the snow to read a poem and gave us a ‘favorite poem’ each week to collect. I collected them all and still keep them safely to hand. They provided me, later in my life, with the sustenance and soulfulness to continue living during difficult times whilst I was healing. Such is the power of a poem.
The Little Prince (of the eponymous book) lives on his fantastical planet, hidden away and protected from any threats of the outside world. Despite his separation from the rest of the universe, The Little Prince still has to face intrusions on his peace. One of these intrusions is called the "Catastrophe of the Baobabs."
The Little Prince lives with the constant threat of complete annihalation on Asteroid B-612. The destruction of everything he holds dear looms ever present. This is similar to the ‘planet’ inhabited by the survivor of childhood trauma.
While the survivor feels content in their internal world of dreams and fantasy, there are dark forces at work (defenses) which try to bring the traumatic material into consciousness. Unfortunately, the conscious mind rejects this vehemently because when we were children, this force would have destroyed us.
As adults, the suppression of this material is destroying many of us. The only thing that will bring a lasting peace to the Little Prince's planet (and our own) is working-through and remembering the trauma that put him up on his little planet away from the world in the first place.
Again, Kalsched’s mastery as a healer is obvious: His book is full of these wonderful references to stories that will speak to both the adult survivor and to the wounded child within. Kalsched interprets The Little Prince brilliantly:
"The pilot in [The Little Prince] represents the grown-up, functioning, "false," or adaptive self on a person whose innocence and childhood animation have been split-off and are no longer available, being "on another planet." The pilot has survived his painful early life circumstances, externally. He is a perfectly well-adapted individual with many outer accomplishments in the world... but he is not really living. He has lost his soul. He must learn how to become a child again and discover or rediscover something worth living for- before he dies!"Many of us on Earth have forgotten who we really are. Although this ‘forgetting’ is supposedly more extreme in trauma survivors (where the splitting-process has caused self-alienation) the question must be asked: Are we not all trauma survivors on Earth?
The impact of our social-programming in the school systems; university; and "the world of work" is immense. All of these systems are -- in their structure and overriding objective -- forms of mind-control. Who among us is not wounded? Who is not alienated?
I can relate to the pilot in The Little Prince. When I was between the ages of 16-18, I just wanted to be ‘normal’ and fit in with my peers. I made a group of ‘good friends’, but at the expense of my true self. I longed so much to be accepted and to be loved by friends of my own age. My school years were intensely lonely. So, I decided to become the ‘perfect student’ and do all the activities that were ‘normal’, at least at that time, for teenagers of my age. I escaped into a world of nightlife and music, wanting to be pretty and popular.
In short: I became a ‘pilot’; I lost my childhood self. I lost the self that loved to draw and play with her animal toys. It is only now, more that ten years later, that I have begun recovering the true-self that I lost to the ‘herd mentality’ of ‘modern’ life. As Kalsched puts it:
"The "two worlds" we have been exploring in this book are illustrated in [The Little Prince] in dramatic contrast to each other. First, we have the spiritual world of the "divine child" – the little prince, living on his tiny perfumed planet, tenderly watering his beloved single rose, devotedly cleaning his three tiny volcanoes, and diligently moving his chair 44 times so he can enjoy the beauty of multiple sunsets. Listening every night to the music in the stars up there, he lives contentedly "in his own world." As yet, he doesn't know he's lonely… Then there are the so-called grown-ups. They occupy a parallel universe in our story (some of them live on asteroids too) and they all seem to be embodiments of emptiness and absurdity."
Kalsched draws our attention to the split between the world of ‘adults’ and the world of ‘children'. Only a few special souls on our planet manage to rescue their childhood selves and keep them alongside as they age.
I have had the experience of connecting very well with children, as they still have a magic spark about them and you can laugh with them easily.
Children, mostly, live true to their souls, and you can see this in every moment shared with them. In contrast, the world of adults is a lonely and disparate place.
Later in life, I gravitated towards the arts to find other child-like souls, but even in this creative field, many people had become so far removed from their core personality as children that I could not connect with them.
Earth’s citizens urgently need to undergo a collective uncovering process. This must be a process where the trauma we have buried deep inside of us, as a community, is revealed. It may be that this process is already afoot and much of it is unconscious. The global events of the last two years, for example, appear to be a collective embodiment of the hypochondria and psychosis that often proceed a breakdown, and then a break-through.
"Let's be friends. I'm lonely!" "I'm lonely... I'm lonely... I'm lonely..." answers the echo. And then the real pain begins. The little prince stumbles into a garden of 5,000 roses and is suddenly overcome with another disillusionment. His single rose had told him that she was the only flower of her kind in all the world, but she had lied to him! She was just a common rose."
I had a very similar experience to the Little Prince. I felt that I was not "special" any more. This realization came to me when I started modeling as a teenager.
I thought that I would feel better after being 'selected' as ‘special’ and ‘beautiful’. But, in that world of competition, each unique individual is measured against other individuals of (superficially) a very similar kind.
Modeling was no escape from my pain. It made me feel worthless and unlovable. However, I now see that I was trying to gain my sense of self-worth externally. Just because there are other special and beautiful souls, it does not mean that your own entirely-unique soul is worth any less. Can't all the souls be special and beautiful and unique together? Yes.
I encountered similar realizations in friendship, just as The Little Prince also discovers: We may feel that our friend is special, unique in all the world, and yet there are so many others out there who we can also connect with: Humans; animals; roses etc.
I discovered how unique and wonderful a friend can be when I spent time with an animal-companion: a cat. Through living with this cat and seeing her joy and her extraordinary personality I realized how special she was. I lost this cat, tragically, and this loss reminded me even more strongly how special she was. Luckily, if we love a friend, they are never really gone. They stay with us forever in our hearts and I feel certain we will meet again in eternity. Kalsched explores these ideas in reference to the world of The Little Prince:
"Only the children know what they're looking for... They spend their time on a rag doll and it becomes very important to them, and if it is taken away from them, they cry..." "They're lucky," the switchman said.”Here, Kalsched describes how we can see how both forms of innocence manifest. Children understand innately what life is all about. They know that if we care for things (like a rag doll), and other humans and animals, they become important to us and give us joy. Caring about things in this world makes life worth living. In other words: Love makes life worth living. As long as we love, we live.
In other words, children are not afraid to love and to risk their innocence in a process of taming that leads inevitably to loss (of the original condition) but also to something more – to a glimpse of wheat fields and, through a process of mourning, to a higher innocence that brings a connection between the worlds, and hence a greater meaning.”
"It is only with the heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye," Kalsched reminds us.
When we live connected to our hearts, we live truly and authentically. In children there is a pure unabashed love, that has often not yet suffered a separation in death.
The Little Prince learns, through his time on Earth, that love is worth the risk of suffering the pain of losing the one we love or being separated from them. I believe that, on a metaphysical level, there is no death, and a separation only happens superficially in the physical realm.
When the Pilot in The Little Prince looks at the stars he is reminded of the Little Prince on his home planet, and all the stars are laughing.
"’The stars are beautiful'... says the little prince, because of a flower you don't see... and... 'what makes the desert so beautiful,' he continues, 'is that it hides a well, somewhere'"Kalsched gives us this beautiful interpretation:
“The pilot begins to understand that the invisible secrets hidden in the human heart are the sources of life's beauty and meaning and suddenly he is deeply moved. He picks up the sleeping little prince in his arms and walks into the night. He is suddenly in touch with the exquisite beauty and vulnerability of that fragile innocent creature in his arms."At this moment, the Pilot recovers his inner child (The Little Prince) as he is lying so tenderly in his arms. He realizes that what is important in this life is what we cannot see, the inner world.
The Little Prince’s first encounter with the Pilot is a strong reminder of what it is like to be a kid. The Little Prince asks the Pilot to draw him a sheep. The Little Prince understands instantly the Pilot's drawing is a boa constrictor that has eaten an elephant (not a hat as so many adults around him say it is). Children can often see fresh possibilities although many adults around them have lost the ability to imagine or create. All the 'cult'ural programming the adults have been subjected to has made them dull and uninventive.
The Little Prince talks to the pilot on the same intellectual level. In see so many adult-child interactions where there is a power game at work. The adult 'talks down' to the child. I had the experience of working as a kindergarten teacher. I found that the children there related to me in an honest and authentic way. I knew how they really felt about me and what I was ‘teaching’ them (they were really teaching me). This was because I treated these children as my equals.
At this kindergarten, I could see that other 'teachers' were treating the children as their 'peasants', while the 'teacher' played the role of feudal king or queen. Many teachers had set up their own micro-monarchies. Their classrooms were places where power and control were the objective, not learning. This is sadly the case in many schools.
One of my favorite moments in my life so far, was in a kindergarten in a desolate neighborhood on the outskirts of a major city, but where the children seemed to be well-loved and free to express themselves. A little girl named Lara, at the end of my time there, threw her arms around me and said: "Ich will dich nie wieder loslassen. (“I never want to let you go.")