Vajra Blue

Mindfulness and Compassion. Understanding trauma in young people.


Mindfulness: Authority bias and finding out who is really in charge? Changing our inner world.

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A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting its shoes on,.

Attributed to Mark Twain

Mindfulness is becoming ever more popular and is in danger of being seen as a panacea for all the problems that trouble the human mind. Even when the practice is divorced from the other elements that form part of a spiritual path, it can be a useful tool for self management and helping to create greater contentment for our lives.

Practicing mindfulness can help us to work out exactly who is running the different aspects of our mental lives, and how this impacts upon our sense of fulfilment and happiness in what we do.

It can help us to avoid being fooled by the world and others.

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Complex trauma: self harm and cutting to stay alive

Over the last couple of decades there has been a steady increase in the number of young people who are harming themselves.

This seems to be a worldwide phenomenon, at least in westernised countries. 

The act of self harm, which usually involves deliberately cutting, burning or otherwise harming the body, is not a diagnosis in itself, but is a symptom of psychological distress. 

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Mindfulness: karma in action.

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Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

Sir Isaac Newton.

My son recently introduced me to a YouTube channel which featured episodes labelled “Instant Karma”. There are a series of video clips showing people who are behaving badly getting their come uppence from the environment around them.

This “payback” element seems to fit with the common conception of karma. However this is not the whole story. On a simple level Karma can be seen as “If you behave badly/well then bad/good things will happen to you.” Such a world view would make a reasonable philosophy for living our lives.

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Mindfulness: a campaign for slow friendship.

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Or should that read “who only knows your emoticon”?

If you find a wise person, Who points out your faults and corrects you,

You should follow such a sage, 

As you would a revealer of treasures.

It is better, never worse, 

To follow such a sage.

DHAMMAPADA (verse 76)

 A few weeks ago I was sitting at a café in the centre of town, enjoying a few minutes peace  with a long black when I noticed three people at the table next to me. They arrived together and after ordering their drinks they continued to sit at the same table. For the twenty minutes that I was able to observe their interactions they did not speak to each other, instead they seemed to take it in turns to pick up their phone, tap away at the screen and then replace it on the table. Then the next person repeated the procedure. To all intents and purposes it appeared that they were talking to each other by text message. The art of small talk and conversation appeared to have died a death.

I belong to a spiritual community that has spread around the world  over the last two and half thousand years. It entertains the idea of spiritual friendship as a force for good in people’s lives. Friendship is viewed as an important aspect of the spiritual journey. When people with shared interests and goals meet to share their experiences with others it can provide an environment which acts as an aid to personal and community development. allowing a free exchange of infromation and for each perosn of be of help to all the others.

This process takes no prisoners. Spiritual friendship is a fierce form of friendship. However, this is only one form of friendship that matters. Friends are important to all of us in many different ways.They are our support network when times are bad and a source of joy when they are good.

This process takes no prisoners

We need to look after our friendships as otherwise they can wither away and die, leaving us on our own and missing one of the necessary parts of being a human. Human beings are often described as social animals,  this means that we are evolved to live in groups, and that much of our development towards consciousness appears to have been triggered by this. Language, social behaviours, play all come from the way we mix as people and with the people in our world. Out of this comes the whole world of  culture, art and science.  We are driven to communicate  almost from the moment of our birth.  The evidence is that as newborn babies we start to communicate before we are our old.

The success of social media suggests that contact with other human beings is a thing that we all enjoy. But there is a huge difference between the friends we have online and those we see in the flesh. One problem with social media is that the interactions  we have with other people are impersonal and conducted via a keyboard or touchscreen. We have no context in which to understand the messages that we receive. we would do well to remember is according to linguistic research only about 7% of the information that  here when we communicate using speech is in the words that we choose to use, the rest of the meaning is in our body language, tone of voice, facial expressions etc. indeed it is entirely possible that we can make the words that we choose to use mean the exact opposite of what they literally say purely by how we say them.

When we add the lack of context to this mix we can end up in some very interesting, and scary places. There is an aphorism widely used in neuroscience at the moment that says that “neurons that fire together wire together,” in other words if we use different pathways in our brain a lot they tend to become much easier to set off,  and can cause reactions that are semi automatic so that we can respond to both familiar and unfamiliar situations in ways that we would not usually intend. Similarly if we practice using bits of our brain to excess we find that this can trigger an habitual response to events or situations in out lives. This means that we can have large and unexpected responses to minor triggers in our social environment.

A phenomenon called kindling can come into play in this situation.  In much the same way that we can create a fire from a single spark by slowly adding larger pieces of  combustible material to encourage the flames to grow,  we can adversely affect mental state I constantly rehearsing and adding small negative elements. If we have been having a bad day we might send texts to several of our friends telling them about it.  We find ourselves typing the same negative comments several times, each time we do this, it reinforces and deepens negative mental states contributing to increased levels of unhappiness. At an extreme it can worsen depression and anxiety and  lead to worsening states of mind.

Kindling can come into play.

When we meet a friend face to face and discuss our worries the situation is often very different we may well tell a friend how awful we feel, and they may well listen and sympathise, however, this conversation cannot persist for very long and we  will  inevitably move onto other topics of discussion. Just being in the presence of someone we like can have a strong positive effect on mood and well-being, and if we share our difficulties with them it is likely to be a helpful experience where we have a chance to explore our feelings and thoughts about the issue in much greater detail than would  be possible if our contact is purely on social media.

One worrying piece of research suggests that people are considerably more likely to give negative feedback over social media than to make positive, constructive comments. The anonymity provided by the Internet, combined the human tendency to pay more attention to the negative aspects of our environment (a necessary survival skill)  means that there are people who feel safe to say things that they would not normally say in a face-to-face situation at, with the results that vulnerable people can be exposed to great deal of negative feedback which will exacerbates that condition to activation of our fight or flight response, leading to a strengthening of the mood states stop

There has been a lot of research into longevity and the human condition. Blue Zones, those areas where there are unexpectedly high numbers of men and women who are living healthily into extreme old age, have been much in the media over the last few years. According to the research that has been carried out, one of the main contributing factors to the development of these pockets of healthy old people is regular social contact. This is an important contributory factor that plays a significant part in maintaining their physical and mental health, these are two important factors that contribute to a healthy and long life.

In this twenty-first century we all seem to be too busy to manage our time and environment to allow us to live a healthy life.  Over the last 50 years or so there have been various movements harking back to the old days.  In the UK the campaign for real ale rebels against the big brewers who are introducing a homogenised  keg beer, preferring to pay more money for a slowly made craftsman brewed product. and there have been similar campaigns around the world directed at bread, and food in general.

A new campaign.

I am suggesting that we introduce a new campaign.  It is time to spend more time  socialising and in direct face-to-face contact with other people.  So I would encourage you all  to join the new campaign.

THE CAMPAIGN FOR SLOW FRIENDSHIP.


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Mindfulness: living in the moment

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When you correct your mind everything else will fall into place.
Lao Tzu.

A few years ago I went through a difficult period with stress and depression.  At this time my partner commissioned this brush painting for me. It shows a bamboo leaf falling, twisting in the air, full of life, while at the same time it is suspended in a single moment. A moment in which anything is possible, a moment that is full of possibility and in which nothing can be taken for granted.

It serves as a reminder that nothing lasts, that everything is transient, and that I need to do my best to stay in the present moment, open to new experiences and doing whatever I can to remain open to whatever opportunities and options come my way. It also reminds me that making predictions can be fraught with danger, after all a dragon might just fly down and eat the leaf.

This is also one of the reasons why I like rainbows, those fleeting, numinous phenomena that only exist in the eye of the beholder. A momentary experience of physics in action, something that is best when it is just experienced and enjoyed, not analysed.

This is what mindfulness is all about. Continue reading


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Trauma Informed Care: Changing the culture to help the client.

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Some years ago a professor of oriental religion went to see a Zen master. “Please teach me about Zen,” he said. The Zen master was busy making tea, and when all was ready he started to pour the clear, steaming, green liquid into the professor’s cup. He poured til the cup was full, and then went on pouring, and the tea went all over the table, and onto the floor. “Stop!” said the professor, “The cup is full and there is no room for more tea.” “My precise point, ” said the master, “How can I teach you anything new when your head is already full.”

Zen story.

In the same way that different societies have their own ways of doing things, the habits and practices that make up the unique culture of that society, organisations also develop their own individual ways of coping with the work that they undertake. They too have their cultures, some of which are helpful to clients, some are neutral, while yet others are actually unhelpful.

All cultures are based on one simple idea, the idea that this is how we do things around here. Sometimes the mental models that a service holds at the centre of its treatment approach, and which underpin its entire philosophy of therapy, seem to work against the best interests of the group it was set up to help.

This may happen because the latest research has moved the story on, and the changed paradigm that has resulted has yet to trickle down, or sometimes such a state arises due to the aberrant beliefs, or long term practices of one or more charismatic staff, often seen as representing the culture holders of the organisation.  Many of the worst abuses in social care homes seem to have resulted from this kind of situation.

Trauma Informed Care is one of these newer paradigms.  A positive model that is being seen as a useful guide to inform the provision of services for those who have suffered developmental, attachment, or other complex traumas during their development. Such traumatic experiences interfere with the victims’ ability to regulate their emotions and automatic behavious, to form secure, reciprocal relationships and to think effectively when under stress.  This represents a group of people who have very well-developed fight or flight responses, that have arisen through living in physically, or emotionally dangerous environments, at crucial stages of their development.  People whose survival mechanisms continue to work too well.

When abuse occurs, the result is often hyperaroused people who show dramatic responses to what appear to the rest of us to be insignificant events.  Neglect, on the other hand, can produce underaroused people who are less emotionally responsive than might otherwise have been expected. In either situation they show reactions to events that lie outside the norm for most people, and they can subsequently be seen as either uncaring or over-emotional, manipulative and attention seeking.  They attract diagnostic labels such as Borderline or Antisocial Personality Disorder, which can all too easily becomes  pejorative labels that prevent access to care, and not ones that should facilitate their help seeking behaviours.

One of the main problems for services and those who work in them is that, to some extent, they have to go through the same processes as their clients when they attempt to change how they work.  Unlearning their current behaviours and the belief systems that underlie them, and then to replace them with new, more helpful way of understanding their clients’ difficulties.  Like our clients the services have to learn to use this new vision to develop new ways of living  in an altered world, ways that free them up and not ones that tie them down. We have first, to imagine that things can be different if we are to be able to work towards a more fruitful future.

For unlearning to occur, a participatory process is needed that enables a group to decide what is important to remember and what it is safe to forget. Sandra L Bloom

One of the key things here is to help the process of unlearning move forward.  Giving up the hard-won knowledge (often over many years) about ourselves and our world, and then being able to start to challenge this world view and to replace it with something new, something fresh, something more helpful.

Moving away from a  damage model to one based on the concept of the trauma organised brain, introduces a more fluid set of possibilities into the treatment interaction.  We can move from the idea of “fixing” something, to the concept of using the construct of neuroplasticity to bring about a lasting transformation for our clients in a collaborative partnership.  A process that requires us to develop new ways of thinking about and applying our hard-won skills to an altered therapeutic environment.

 A recovery model demands that we reassess our assumptions about how we choose to define success.

We may be doing the same thing but thinking about it differently.  No longer seeing ourselves as people who cure, but instead as facilitators, allowing the client to develop their own path to recovery within the therapeutic setting. A recovery model demands that we reassess our assumptions about what defines success.

There are advantages for both the client and the organisation in going through this process of thinking aobut how to change the way that we work together. The client comes up against a service that is more flexible, and better able to adjust to the changing nature of their presentation, often ins way that allow the right intervention to be offered to the client almost before it is needed. Services in their turn develop staff that are able to manage their client’s strong emotions more effectively, and without developing burning out to the same extent.

Trauma Informed Care also exposes us to the possibility of learning from vicarious resilience, the chance to witness, and then to learn from our client’s increased ability to bounce back from the vagaries of life in the twenty first century, as we help those in great distress to cope better with whatever life throws at them, and to live increasingly fulfilling and enjoyable lives.

 

 

If you are interested in these concepts I would be glad to hear your views and to read your comments.

I would also recommend the work of Sandra L Bloom and Brian Farragher, summarised in their trilogy of books on the Sanctuary Model.

Creating Sanctuary.

Destroying Sanctuary.

Restoring Sanctuary.

 

All published by Oxford University Press


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Trauma Informed Care: Dissociation for beginners.

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We use the terms trauma, crisis, major stressor and related terms as essentially synonymous expressions to describe circumstances that significantly challenge or invalidate important components of the individual’s assumptive world.

Calhoun and Tedeschi: The Foundations of Post Traumatic Growth

 

Dissociation is a symptom this commonly seen when a complex trauma pattern of brain functioning is present. It indicates an altered state of awareness.  The narrowed field of consciousness that is present is often accompanied by amnesia.

Repression, on the other hand, occurs in a normal state of consciousness.  This involves an active process of pushing memories, thoughts and emotions out of conscious awareness.

When our social environment is good enough during the period when we are developing, and growing up, then we are able to rapidly, and fluidly, change between the various emotional states that are needed if we are to respond appropriately to ever-changing environmental triggers.

When this developmental environment has not been good enough, we can become overwhelmed by the constant change in our emotional state and a protective state of dissociation can become a part of our emotional repertoire.  Continue reading