Continuing on from my post here, writing further about what I learned at the workshop “Trauma, Neuroscience and the Evolving Therapy of Traumatised Children and Adults” by Dr Bessel van der Kolk earlier this week and referring to his book The Body Keeps the Score.
The most important job of the brain is to ensure our survival, even under the most miserable conditions.– The Body Keeps the Score pg 55
Amygdala is the smoke detector in the brain that detects danger. In a traumatised person’s brain, the amygdala becomes hypersensitive, very involved. It goes off all the time. This also translates into low serotonin production. Boosting serotonin can help quieten the smoke detector too.
Using the Buddhist practice in the present moment, I can rely on my prayer for survival. This action focused on bringing out my greatest potential enables me to bypass the in-built brain circuits that were formed in the past. I am gently nudging myself to not fall back to old ways, but let in new possibilities. SGI activities, visiting members, connecting to others, going to meetings gives me a sense of belonging that helps to boost my serotonin levels to calm the smoke detector.
When I sought guidance from the general director earlier this year, I was told that “Until the time, I am stuck in the mode of why is my life this way, why is this happening to me, I am still looking for the Gohonzon outside of myself. Instead when I chant to embrace my situation and I determine to engage with others, no matter what, I will find creative ways to solve my current situation”.
Translating this into the speak of neuroscience, I could say that, “While I was still thinking why is this happening to me, I was reactivating and further hardwiring the patterns or circuits already existent in my brain owing to my past. This kept my amygdala hypersensitive because it kept perceiving danger. My whole body and being would be in danger mode but also “frozen” as it was in the traumatic situation in the past. This is not conducive to creating new connections or finding creative solutions. When I chant, first I establish a connection with the rest of my body and am not stuck in my head; second, chanting is already taking action and I am stepping out of the “frozen” mode and gaining power of being able to “do” something about my situation rather than being powerless. When I embrace myself, I turn off the “danger” signal in my brain. Embracing myself tells my brain that I am ok, everything is ok, that I am not under attack. Now when I determinedly engage with others, this boosts my serotonin levels and provides a further sense of self-empowerment and boosts my serotonin through connection with others. As I continue this process over days or weeks, I start to find new ways to look at a situation. This starts to form new connections in my brain and enables me to see solutions or patterns I didn’t see before. And I start to change my “karma” i.e. tendencies / patterns of thoughts, words and actions. When my inner reality changes, it starts to manifest in my life and my environment. This evidence further calms down the limbic brain that learns through experience, not through logic. It can see this process working – this is the process of “strengthening my faith day by day”.
Ultimately this action comes from having a determined prayer accompanied by action. All of these elements are key.
The limbic system is shaped in response to experience, in partnership with the infant’s own genetic makeup and inborn temperament.– The Body Keeps the Score p5
In Buddhist terms, the limbic system could be seen as the sum total of seventh and eighth consciousnesses.
The seventh consciousness is directed towards our inner, spiritual world. It is in the 7th consciousness that the conditioning we experience as we grow up is stored. It is through this consciousness that we have our sense of who we are, our gender, our national identity and so on. Attachment to a self distinct and separate from others has its basis in this consciousness as does our sense of right and wrong.https://www.sgi-hellas.gr/en/the-nine-consciousnesses/
The eighth consciousness is a vast storehouse of all the causes and effects, which affect the way that the world comes to us. It is where we accumulate our karma, both positive and negative. It accounts for our looks, our circumstances, our reactions, our good or bad fortune, our work, our relationships, our health, in fact, every aspect of living. As causes are made in thought or word or deed, so internal effects are stored in this level of consciousness.
Because the internal cause and effect exists deep inside, on a level of life, which is interconnecting with all of life, eventually external causes and effects appear in response to the karma in the eighth consciousness. It is the existence of the eighth consciousness that explains the great differences which exist between say ‘identical’ twins in their experiences of life. It explains how things that happen to a young child appear to have no cause in this lifetime. It is this eighth consciousness or karma, which migrates between lifetimes. It is our karma from previous lifetimes which we are born with, which then causes the world to come to us on the basis of our internal causes in all the different aspects of life.
Most of the Western culture and medicine still has not found the existence of the ninth consciousness or our Buddha nature. Through chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo and practising Nichiren Buddhism with Soka Gakkai International, we can bring forth the ninth consciousness.
Buddhism teaches that there is a ninth consciousness, which Nichiren Daishonin identified as the Buddha nature, or Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. It is the basis of all life’s functions and is known as the ‘amala’ or ‘fundamentally pure’ consciousness, shared at the most profound level with all life. As we chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, so life-force comes from the ninth consciousness, purifying the internal causes and effects that lie in the eighth, and improving the way our sixth and seventh consciousnesses function. We start to create new causes in the eighth consciousness, based not on the tendencies that we have developed after making many different causes, but on the life-state of the Buddha, and therefore filled with courage, compassion and wisdom. Another benefit of this process is that we start to see our lives with the eyes of the Buddha, enabling us to see our karma in its true light. As we see it, so it becomes easier to challenge it and change it.https://www.sgi-hellas.gr/en/the-ninth-consciousness
On day 2 of the conference, when Dr Kolk showed the video of a patient that found healing through his “psychodrama” treatment, she seemed to have found peace in letting go of expectations of her parents who were not capable of providing what she needed. He said that she learned to see them for who they were and find what she needed from others – “created her own family” as Ash once described to me. My best friend Ash that lives on the other side of the world said to me how there is family we are born with and family we choose. Our friends and people around us together can form our chosen family and care network.
What Dr Kolk’s patient experienced seemed to be closer to Buddhahood in that moment. However, there were clearly behaviour patterns he pointed out that he said were going to be in scope of the future therapeutic work he would do with her. How can a person rely on a therapist their whole life to help provide these treatments that last a lifetime?
How many patients could Dr Kolk possibly see and help? How many other therapists could be as competent as him, a world leader in his field?
We already know the answer – not many. The only way to progress on this path of self-enlightenment is to find another way. Nichiren Daishonin said in the Gosho:
You must be firmly resolved. Do not begrudge your fief; do not think of your wife and children. And do not depend on others. You must simply make up your mind. Look at the world this year as a mirror. The reason that you have survived until now when so many have died was so that you would meet with this affair. This is where you will cross the Uji River. This is where you will ford the Seta.6 This will determine whether you win honor or disgrace your name. This is what is meant when it is said that it is difficult to be born as a human being, and that it is difficult to believe in the Lotus Sutra. You should pray intently that Shakyamuni, Many Treasures, and the Buddhas of the ten directions will all gather and take possession of your body to assist you.https://www.nichirenlibrary.org/en/wnd-1/Content/10
In other words, when I resolve firmly and pray to the Gohonzon, I can activate my ninth consciousness that opens up the way of life to me. I take full responsibility of my life and my healing – this empowers me to take action. When this happens, every single action I take in faith and in life furthers my healing process. Whether I choose to see a therapist, or try one of the other treatments, everything will contribute to my healing because it is reaffirming my self-empowerment which breaks the long-formed and reinforced circuit of powerlessness in the face of trauma when I was indeed powerless. The network of friends in SGI provide me the means to find and form my “chosen” family wherever I am.
My determination to change that, from this moment on, changes the past, present and future. As President Ikeda says:
“The important thing is to not shrink back in the face of hardship. We must not have a weak spirit full of lamentation or doubt. When we have a powerful forward-looking inner resolve, we can change all aspects of our existence and manifest a great state of life of indestructible happiness. This is based on the principle of ‘3,000 realms in a single moment of life.’ “http://nichiren.info/buddhism/library/SokaGakkai/Study/LectLS/Lectur29.htm
The important thing is right now — the present moment. Our present inner resolve, our determination, enables us to sever the bonds of karmic causality by the strength arising from within and enter the sure path of happiness.
Faith of the Buddhism of the true cause, which constantly arises from the wellspring of life, enables us to develop a state of eternal happiness and to lead a supreme existence. The spirit of the Buddhism of the true cause is the spirit of limitless hope and eternal advance.
How this change manifests in my life – by rewiring my brain and via neuroplasticity. When my brain wiring changes, it has changed how I perceive the past, what I do now, and how I look at the future.
And then I can strive to introduce others to this profound life-changing philosophy by showing proof in my life, creating ripple effects and world peace, transforming trauma into happiness for all!