Signed in as:
Signed in as:
The voice of the child crying out of the mouth of the
is a misery and a disappointment.
The voice of the child howling out of the tall, bearded,
is a misery, and a terror.
—Mary Oliver, The Leaf and the Cloud
A short introduction (less than 10 minutes) to spiritual direction, spirituality, trauma, and trauma-informed spiritual direction.
I began the explorations and development of “trauma-informed spiritual direction” in graduate school in the mid-1990s. I just didn’t know it. The focus of my research was what was then called “self disorders in religious behavior.” In brief, I was writing about how toxic theology and a wounded sense of self identity form a double-helix of suffering that feeds off itself. In other words, they co-create each other; the weapon creates a wound and the wound creates a weapon. As a queer Christian who started practicing yoga as a teen (and was keeping both my queerness and my yoga practice secret), my interest was more than eager academics.
Along the way, my interest became a method. A method needs a lexicon, a means of communicating foundations and intentions. This is especially true when one is attempting, as I am, to integrate numerous influences into a means of support.
So what follows is some of “my words.” I hold the definitions lightly, but there is definitely a flow among them. In the end, I hope that the flow becomes the method and the means to wholeness and a fullness of life. The definitions are like a chrysalis: certainly useful, but always intended to be shed
T-I Spiritual Direction
T-I Spiritual Practice
Toxic Theology & Spiritual Abuse
For more information about different options of support, please click below.
I offer an Apprenticeship in a Trauma-Informed Scope of Practice tailored to your learning goals.
the visible and invisible web of radical connection of everything to everything. The relational flow of the liminal; the life “in between.” The space of relationship.
It has lots of names. In yoga and Ayurveda, it is called prāna. It’s the activity within the empty space between the dendrites of neurons, the exchange of gases in the alveoli of lungs. It’s the “not here” and “not there” that blend together to make “the present moment.”
In brief, it is the energy of connection.
(“Connection” is the key word for all the elements of my practice.)
the felt sense* of safe and nurturing connections with one’s Soma**, others, Spirit, and the planet. It’s the fullness of feeling alive.
*The felt sense is the fullness of being alive, whole, integrated. First coined by Eugene Gendlin (Focusing, 1978) and significantly developed in the work of Peter Levine, it is often a pre-verbal sensation; it can be difficult to name, even by the most skilled poets. It’s the inner knowledge and bodily-felt meaning. It is a synthesis of awareness of bodily sensations, emotions, memories, and consciousness, but mostly carried by implicit knowing (that which you know but cannot yet fully experience or express).
**I sometimes use the word “Self” and other times use “Soma.” In either case, I mean the unseparated totality of you: sensations, feelings, thoughts, body, mind, soul — you in your completeness.
a specialized and supportive relationship of compassionate, contemplative, and skillful listening between a spiritual director and spiritual directee with the sankalpa (sacred intention) of growing safe and nurturing connections within the Self and in our relationships with others, Spirit, and the planet. Modern and ever evolving, it is an ancient practice found within many of the Wisdom Traditions.
Spiritual Direction is similar to, but distinct from, psychotherapy and pastoral care. For me, the “sign-posts” of spiritual direction are satori (inner awakening), samadhi (integration/wholeness), shanti (inner peace), shalom (communal peace rooted in justice), and salaam (freedom from harm).
any technique or practice that increases our felt sense of safe and nurturing connections to Self, Spirit, others and/or the planet.
“Trauma” defies a single definition; these are a few sutras (threads) that hold the fabric of my experience and concept:
Whatever else trauma may be, it is a wounding and bruising of our soul, our sacred core. It leaves a mark, a residue, in the nervous system of our bodies and in the strained and severed connections within our communities (communal bodies).
Traumatology is the study of trauma, its effects, and methods to modify the effects. The study of trauma not only helps to repair the ruptures created by traumatic events, but can also strengthen us against trauma and significant stress.
In my opinion, to be trauma-informed is to center issues of safety, connection, and social engagement and to intentionally attend to the challenges of rupture and repair.
“Trauma-informed” shapes a scope of practice. Educators can be “trauma-informed teachers.” Doctors can practice “trauma-informed medicine.” Pastors and chaplains can provide “trauma-informed pastoral care.” Leaders can have a trauma-informed lens and leadership-style.
My trauma-informed perspective is grounded in neuroscience and Wisdom Traditions, primarily:
Trauma-Informed Spiritual Direction (TISD) is a specialized method of spiritual direction
that seeks to establish, cultivate, and restore safety and connection
to the strained or severed felt sense within the Self/Soma
and our relationships with others, Spirit, and the planet
through trauma-informed spiritual practices.
Drawing from the deep wells of the Wisdom Traditions and modern neuroscience, it is a supported journey toward satori (inner awakening), samadhi (integration, wholeness), shanti (inner peace), shalom (communal peace rooted in justice), and salaam (freedom from harm).
The work of TISD takes patience, persistence, and the belief that restoration is possible.
It is an embodied practice grounded in contemplative curiosity and heart -courageous compassion, a turning toward our suffering, not away.
A spiritual practice is any technique or practice that increases our felt sense of safe and nurturing connections to Self, Spirit, others and/or the planet (see above).
Trauma-Informed Spiritual Practices (TISP), in my scope of practice, intentionally utilize skills and techniques from my trauma-informed perspective (see above). They seek to establish, where absent, cultivate, where present, and restore, where damaged, a felt sense of safe and nurturing connection to one’s Soma, others, Spirit, and the planet. (Here again I mean “Soma” to be the fullness of our humanity.)
The techniques of TISP are an integration of modern neuroscience and the ancient Wisdom Traditions. Through small portions of education about their nervous system and in experiences of their body and breath attuned and aligned, spiritual directees can often (re)establish a sense of agency and cultivate self-compassion to restore the centering of their own inner Wisdom.
Guided by the foundational concept of “The Window of Tolerance,” a phrase I oft-use in my scope of practice is: a little a lot is better than a lot a little. TISPs are often micro-practices usually measured in micro-moments (a few breaths) that lead to micro-restorations.
I have often heard Peter Levine say:
"Trauma is a fact of life.
It does not, however, have to be a life sentence. "
I have already indicated that for my scope of practice for spiritual direction, the “sign-posts” are satori (inner awakening), samadhi (integration/wholeness), shanti (inner peace), shalom (communal peace rooted in justice), and salaam (freedom from harm).
If I add-on the modifier “trauma-informed,” what might I then include as “aspirations” (the quotation marks are intended as a caution of the word “aspirations”). Here are just a few suggestions:
No matter the form or means of trauma, agency (the ability to choose for our selves) has been violated. TISD makes extra effort to help the spiritual directee recover their sacred sense of agency: the Wisdom they seek is already within them; trauma disrupts their access to it.
If agency is the ability to choose for ourselves, then it is a necessary component of authenticity (attachment to our Self/Soma).
We often sacrifice authenticity for pseudo-attachment to others.
As TISD facilitates increased agency in spiritual directees, it creates a greater capacity for authenticity, and only then can sustainable attachment to others be formed.
Hurt people hurt people; desperate people do desperate things. These common sayings are painfully true. The cycle of trauma perpetuates itself. The weapon creates a wound and the wound creates a weapon.
I heard Resmaa Menakem say: “Time de-contextualizes trauma. Trauma in a person over time can look like personality. Trauma in a family over time can look like family traits. Trauma in a people over time can look like culture….the nervous system teaches the subsequent nervous systems (generations) how to organize and navigate.”
TISD can help disrupt and repair transgenerational and intergenerational trauma patterns.
There is a type of Wisdom that can only be found in the desert wilderness; and there is a Wisdom that only arrives in the wounds of our suffering.
This is never intended to glorify suffering!
But in the alchemy, the transformation, of our suffering we ourselves are alchemized and transformed. In that process, Wisdom can be discerned and discovered.
Redemptive empathy is a type of post-traumatic wisdom that has learned how to “presence” and “witness” the suffering of others. It is a stewardship of our own suffering that enables us to skillfully support others on their journey.
Empathy is not sympathy. Redemptive empathy is a heart courageous compassion that stands with another person without being consumed by their suffering.
The stress that comes from not being seen, heard, and safe for something fundamental to your person; an attack on your person for your social location. The stress comes from you simply trying to exist in the world against the tyranny of the “normative.”
Exactly what it sounds like:
theologies that exclude and assert universal certainty instead of include and assert universal connection and community. Spiritual practices for the sake of bypassing instead of connecting, nurturing, and transforming.
a traumatic bruise or wound that comes from violating our sense of morality or witnessing others doing so. It calls into question ours and others’ fundamental goodness.
Here is an article I wrote: Moral Injury and the Pilgrimage of Moral Restoration.