Buddhist Cartography: Trauma Maps

April 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

Yui

“Yui” Printed by Kyoto Hanga in Tokyo.

In the days of the wooden mast sailing ships the most valued of secrets was the exploration map of the oceans and the world. On these maps the fortunes of nations were made or lost.

So important were these maps that traders and kings would hide them in sealed rooms while simultaneously displaying outdated ones for their competitors to see. They would also display maps with missing details or showed land were none existed in an attempt to mislead their enemies.

People suffering from trauma also use inner maps with holes where details should be and land where none exist. The holes are filled with hurt, anger, fear and shame. The land is the rationalizations and lies told to protect the psyche from the trauma, a false self, if you will, whose exposure would be as devastating to the traumatized as the theft of a map would have been to the fortunes of the old nations.

I recently had occasion to hear of a classic trauma map. A woman had offered her name as a reference for a man seeking employment. When the man actually gave her name she became unreasonably agitated to the extent that she sabotaged the man’s effort with the employer.

Following her trauma map, the woman was willing to be a reference because she felt it necessary to be helpful. However, lending her name meant she was bringing attention to herself; something a trauma map is designed to avoid. Her agitation and subsequent sabotage were the results of her trying to protect her core self from being known.

On another occasion a victim of rape told me that she avoided being assaulted again by going down dark alleys at one or two in the morning whenever she had to do some grocery shopping. As in the first story, this woman’s trauma map was drawn with the aim of self-protection, and self-protection meant not being seen.

Trauma maps are inner, secondary maps that are drawn with the pen of denial. They are drawn with the aim of hiding one’s core nature, which is seen as the source of one’s vulnerability. The essential feature of the map is, “Show your self in any way, and you die.” Concomitant with this denial is the creation of a false self that is drawn to deflect attention away from the core self.

Maps drawn from trauma may work well in traumatic situations but once the survival event is over, following them leads to paradoxical and conflicting behavior. Mindfulness starts the traumatized on the path to healing by enabling them to check their false thoughts with their actual experience. From this, the difference between thought and reality slowly comes to light.

Trauma maps, however, lead the seeker away from self, while mindfulness and meditation are meant to bring one face to face with one’s own true nature. Because of this, every effort must be made to avoid using a trauma map to guide one’s meditation. This means special attention is to be paid to observing and accepting one’s thoughts and feelings without repressing, denying or being overwhelmed by them. The traumatized mind is to avoid a central element of trauma, i.e., denial, by developing the quality of accepting whatever arises in consciousness without necessarily acting upon it.

Overcoming the brain’s directive to deny thought and emotion, without then becoming overwhelmed by them is a slow process for any mind, let along the traumatized one. But by using meditation to stabilize the mind, and mindfulness to accept what the brain has been denying, trauma and PTSD can be overcome. Then, your own true self that was seemingly lost will be found and, like the prodigal child, you will come home again.

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