Spiritual Processing: 3 Steps to Working Through Traumatic Events
I've written a few other posts about living in truth which can be found here. I encourage you to read them if you'd like to gain more in-depth knowledge about the steps to Spiritual Processing I share in this post. Before we begin, I also wish to send gratitude to my client for allowing me to share some of the details of our coaching session in this post.
Recently I was working with a coaching client and we were discussing getting triggered, responding to that trigger, and then processing the event fully in order to avoid getting pulled into reacting from the ego and/or storing the event as a trauma to be dealt with down the road. There are different intensities here; we made a distinction between the everyday annoyances we deal with all the time and the larger, more upsetting events that occur less often but that are more likely to be stored in the body and energetic field as trauma. As we talked, I realized that we could boil down this method of what I call Spiritual Processing into three main steps.
Step One If you've read much of my writing or watched my Wind Down Wednesdays show this first step will probably not be surprising to you: awareness. The first step in any spiritual practice usually involves awareness. Noticing how we feel, that we're having a strong response, is how we recognize that we're being triggered by an event. This is uncomfortable, and my client wanted to know if we can eventually eliminate the physical response we have when we are emotionally triggered. It's a great question, and I wanted to be able to say yes, but the reality is that as long as we are living in these physical bodies, even with the admirable goal of living in Spiritual Integration, we will get triggered.
In fact, we might notice that as we become more open to our intuition we may also become more sensitive to stimuli, which can include a more prominent trigger response. This is a natural part of the process and is actually a sign that we're on the right track! It's important to recognize our physical reactions so that we can step into awareness to process a triggering event. These strong reactions are the body's way of inviting us into awareness. The body doesn't want us to store trauma any more than we want to unearth it weeks, months or years later, so having a strong trigger response is actually a gift. When we can no longer ignore our triggered responses, we are invited to begin processing them immediately, which is how we avoid shoving them down or behind us where they fester and cause discomfort and dis-ease until we finally unearth and deal with the trauma.
As we do this work we may also find that we are less triggered by the everyday things that used to set us off, and the reward for learning to process events more quickly and more fully is that in ten years we're not having to deal with something we couldn't face in the present. Eventually we do get triggered less and we're nimbler about stepping back into integration when we lose that neutrality. And we will, for after all, we are human and perfectly imperfect.
Once we become aware that we have been triggered, we can move to step two, which is mental processing. This involves stepping outside the triggered reaction in order to access response. We accomplish this by inviting our observer self to step in to evaluate the triggered reaction without (or with less) emotional attachment. The goal here is to come as close as possible to accessing a state of neutrality. This step may take a while. In the heat of an argument, we may have to walk away or ask to resume the discussion at a later time when we have been able to step further into neutrality. If you are ever uncertain of your physical safety, that is always your first priority. Get to a safe place and begin the work of Spiritual Processing when you are physically safe and emotionally ready.
Breathing is always important in spiritual work, but it is especially helpful in this step. There is truth to the adage about taking five to ten deep breaths when we get upset. Deep breathing is how we access a meditative state, and the more we practice meditation outside of pressured situations, the faster we can access that state during a triggering event. It's also important to note that stepping into this neutral state does not mean we are processing the event emotionally and physically. Mental processing is not about working through the triggered response; especially if it's deeply triggering, that work comes later when we're in a safe space, physically and emotionally. Mental processing is about stepping out of the triggered reaction into a neutral observer space so that we can respond to the triggering event from a spiritual place rather than reacting to it blindly.
What I have found is that often the work of mental processing begins during the event and allows us to safely respond (or to choose not to respond in some cases) rather than reacting. Mental processing may continue for a few days (or even weeks or months in the case of a deeply triggering event) while we work through this event on the level of thought. Why did this happen? Could I have done something differently to change the outcome? Working through the situation in the mental space gives us time to ready ourselves for the deeper work of emotional and physical processing that comes next.
Step Three Emotional and physical processing is the third step in this process, and this is what really anchors this as spiritual work. Many of us stop at the mental processing step when we encounter a triggering event, but to truly release it from our body and energetic field we must do the work of emotional and physical processing. This step can vary greatly depending on the depth of hurt we feel (keeping in mind that hurt may present as anger, blaming, fear, sadness, despair, depression or any number of related emotions), the physical presence of reaction in the body, where that physical response is felt, and our own personal response to different methods of moving energy.
What we're aiming for in this step is working through the reaction in a way that feels appropriate and allows for release. Examples can include journaling, meditation/prayer, conversation or letter writing (real or simulated) with the other party if it involves another person, and talking through the event with your coach, therapist or a trusted friend. All these techniques allow us to move the emotional energy that was created by this event through our field so that we can eventually let it go and move forward in a present and expanded state of being.
During this process we allow ourselves to experience the surface emotions affiliated with the event, but we also delve into what comes up at a deeper level. Often when we are triggered it is because of a trauma or event in the past that we haven't fully dealt with, and this is an opportunity to become aware of these deeper traumas so that we can send love to them to encourage release. Working through a current event may open the door to work through events from our past, which can be addressed using the same Spiritual Processing method.
Since emotions are held in the body as energy, it is also important to address the physical during this step. Movement is a great way to release energy from the body, and any form of movement with presence is appropriate. Note that I said movement WITH PRESENCE. This must be movement done with the conscious intention to allow energetic blocks or stagnation to release. Any type of movement done consciously with this intention can work; personally I tend to use yoga and meditative dance to bypass my ego mind and allow my body to move freely as it wishes for release. Walking meditation with conscious breath is a good way to move energy, and even sitting in a chair and moving the arms with intention can be enormously effective.
Asking our body what it needs for release and then getting quiet so we can really hear what the body is calling for is our best introduction into the physical part of the process. Honoring what the body is calling for and taking our personal level of mobility into consideration is key here. The body knows what it needs for release; most of us have just lost touch with that communication. Keep in mind that different events will most likely call for different physical release. This will definitely get easier as you practice!
And the last step in the process...wait a minute, there are only three, right? There's a bonus step! The final step in Spiritual Processing is to LET GO. Once you've completed emotionally and physically processing to the extent that you can, step away from the process and let yourself absorb it. This is like the final savasana in a yoga practice. We allow ourselves to get quiet and really absorb the work we've done to spiritually process this triggering event. This absorption is just as vital to the process as the rest of the steps. We're allowing energetic reorganization to occur on all levels of our being, and that calls for time, silence, and loving tenderness toward ourselves.
Keep in mind that this process can be used for any triggering event, however significant. With a more traumatic event you may discover that you need to repeat one or all of the steps after the initial period of letting go, and that is perfect. It means that you're checking in and responding to your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual needs as they happen instead of ignoring these messages and soldiering on in an unconscious, ego-driven state. Returning to emotional and physical processing as you are ready for further release especially allows for continued growth and expansion.
This process takes time! Be gentle with yourself and recognize that we all lose our connection. Set the intention to step back into awareness as often as possible but let go of judgment toward yourself when you lose it. Remember that it is always appropriate to reach out for help when you need it, especially when you are processing deep trauma. You may need to consult with a licensed mental health professional to help work through an event. This process is complementary to the kind of mental and emotional work done in therapy as it addresses the energetic and spiritual component that is sometimes not accessed in the mental health setting.
The root of all spiritual practice is love: allowing ourselves to be loved by stepping out of the ego and into Divine connection, opening up to self-love by recognizing our divinity, and demonstrating this newfound love of ourselves by becoming more loving toward others. Spiritual Processing invites us to step into this loving connection even when we are triggered. The result is more love at every level of our being, which leads to more loving relationships in our lives.
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