Trauma and mindfulness, Gary Van Warmerdam

Discussion of meditation in the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions.
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cjdevries
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Trauma and mindfulness, Gary Van Warmerdam

Post by cjdevries »

I'm passing on this message from Gary Van Warmerdam. It's from his podcast: https://pathwaytohappiness.com/blog/pod ... reatments/

“You may have been trying to change your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors through certain modalities of talk therapy or self help programs or meditation/mindfulness, and those are going to be ineffective if you have a trauma history. And surprisingly a lot of people have a lot more trauma history than just a small percentage. And so If you’ve been struggling with making changing in your thought process and negative thinking and emotional state and depression/anxiety, there may be other causes to that that need to be addressed in different ways. Because, if you have trauma in your history, talk therapy is not going to work; the general approaches of therapy don’t work; some do; but there are specific treatments for trauma that are effective. So if you have that as a source of these emotional, negative thinking and behavior patterns, to get the right tool to get to the source of the problem is what I’m hoping to convey. Someone that is working through a trauma history needs to do practices that address the nervous system more directly. Effects from trauma can lead to symptoms that look like ADHD, anger issues, anxiety/panic attacks, depression, OCD, strong self judgment, bipolar, anything that’s labeled with a disorder after it is often the result of trauma. People try to solve these issues or talk about theses issues, but they are not getting to the source of what is happening in the brain and nervous system so they end of going around in circles, not really solving it. You need a different tool set to solve this...[for example,] with sexual abuse, when triggered, your thinking is not going to solve it, your mindfulness meditation exercises aren't going to solve it, because what you do with your conscious awareness attention does not get deep enough into the layers to address these primal protective functions. You can't think your way out of overriding the limbic system. That's why there's very specific treatments for trauma.” -Gary Van Warmerdam

He goes on to explain tools for dealing effectively with trauma, so that meditation and mindfulness can be more effective.
"Please call me by my true names so I can wake up; so the door of my heart can be left open: the door of compassion." -Thich Nhat Hanh

"Ask: what's needed of you" -Akong Rinpoche
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Johnny Dangerous
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Re: Trauma and mindfulness, Gary Van Warmerdam

Post by Johnny Dangerous »

Curious what his specific trauma treatments are.

The standards are exposure therapy, and stuff like EMDR, which is another form of exposure therapy really. In my own experience he is right to point...you definitely can't talk your way around trauma.

However, it depends on what you mean by "Mindfulness"...many forms of exposure therapy already have a mindfulness-like practice built in as a safeguard for exposure.

In my own clinical experience with addiction stuff, I have found approaching the nervous system first, then moving into the cognitive stuff to be a better approach than starting with cognitive stuff. Quite often in cases where someone is fight or flight mode constantly, thought-based approaches just make them feel worse.

I did EMDR around some of the violence that was part of my ambient upbringing. I had assumed that it never really affected me because I was not a direct victim, but I was around a fair amount of it growing up, got shot at randomly a couple times, and saw a number of ugly, crazy things. It definitely caused me issues later in life, ignoring it as assuming I was ok. The EMDR wasn't a miracle, but it enabled me to be able to functionally manage the anxiety etc. that partially resulted from this stuff.

The catch though - I think EMDR is probably *way* more effective for people who are already meditators. One of the things you learn in medtiation is how to avoid cognitive fusion - identification with thoughts, and if you do not have that ability, some of the things that come up in EMDR could be almost unbearable.
"...if you think about how many hours, months and years of your life you've spent looking at things, being fascinated by things that have now passed away, then how wonderful to spend even five minutes looking into the nature of your own mind."

-James Low
cjdevries
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Re: Trauma and mindfulness, Gary Van Warmerdam

Post by cjdevries »

I definitely have no professional experience, so it's very helpful to hear from a professional regarding what has worked in their experience with clients. I did EMDR for childhood trauma and found it very helpful. I have found that this statement by Gary Van Warmerdam spoke to me because I have found that mindfulness alone has not been enough to successfully manage my past trauma. I found a qigong healer who was able to help release much of the trauma from my system, but there are still psychological effects and lingering emotional problems that I still have to manage.
"Please call me by my true names so I can wake up; so the door of my heart can be left open: the door of compassion." -Thich Nhat Hanh

"Ask: what's needed of you" -Akong Rinpoche
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Nemo
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Re: Trauma and mindfulness, Gary Van Warmerdam

Post by Nemo »

Depends on your skill as a meditator. Many Tibetans lived in murderous concentration camps and maintained their sanity. Experienced meditators know thoughts lead feelings and feelings lead thoughts. Overcoming limbic trauma would involve feeling those compartmentalized emotions and letting them pass. The proof is in the results and I've seen no one do better.

I can guess why this works. Old schoolers your early retreats were quite brutal. Extremes of heat, freezing cold, leg pain, lack of sleep, etc. You learned to listen to your body and not react. My military experiences were traumatic. They felt like being on fire while on the cushion. Took a few years but you can empty the ocean one bucket at a time. A few thousand hours would be sufficient.
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