The Creative Potential Within A Time of Trauma

the Promise of Post Traumatic Growth

A rainbow appears in a Scottish storm.

Let me preface what I am about to say by making it clear I am not taking trauma lightly and certainly not recommending it as a basis for creativity. I believe this period of challenge from the unseen enemy of Covid 19 is quite a trauma for a large number of people throughout the world, and trauma leaves us vulnerable which means other unwelcome stuff can surface. In what follows I’m going to using the word ‘soul’ to mean that unique individuality, or individual essence of us as a human being not only as a thinker but as an organism of emotion and creative potential. 

There are positive possibilities and the work of people like Tedeschi and Calhoun suggests that ‘post traumatic growth’ can come as the brain begins to explore creative possibilities to reshape it’self for the future. The mind can reframe, open new up new patterns of thinking.

Deep trauma can throw the mind and body into shock but instead of the mind recovering, the mind remains ‘stuck’ and can repetitively replay the anxiety which is extremely exhausting the mind feeling in state of the chemical flooding that comes with flight, fight, freeze challenges. This in turn can produce a sense of disconnection and immobility – perhaps the mind seeking rest? Anxiety and depression are so closely interlinked and there can be episodes of darkness and inner turmoil.

The idea that human beings can be changed by their encounters with life challenges, sometimes in radically positive ways, is not new, the theme is present in ancient spiritual and religious traditions, literature, and philosophy. What is reasonably new is the systematic study of this post traumatic growth phenomenon through scientific investigation. But lets start at the begining.

The ‘dark night of the soul’ is a term that goes back a long time. Yes, I have also experienced it. It is a term used to describe what one could call a collapse of a perceived meaning in life… an eruption into your life of a deep sense of meaninglessness. The inner state in some cases is very close to what is conventionally called depression. Nothing makes sense anymore, there’s no purpose to anything. Sometimes it’s triggered by some external event—some disaster perhaps. The death of someone close to you could trigger it, especially premature death—for example, if your child dies. Or the meaning that you had given your life, your activities, your achievements, where you are going, what is considered important, and the meaning that you had given your life for some reason collapses.

It can happen if something happens that you can’t explain away anymore, some disaster, which seems to invalidate the meaning that your life had before. Really what has collapsed is the whole conceptual framework for your life. That results in a dark place.
There is the possibility that you emerge out of it into a transformed state of consciousness. Life has meaning again, but it’s no longer a conceptual meaning that you can necessarily explain. Quite often it’s from there that people awaken out of their conceptual sense of reality, which has collapsed.

They awaken into something deeper. A deeper sense of purpose or connectedness with a greater life that is not dependent on explanations or anything conceptual. It’s a kind of re-birth. The dark night of the soul is a kind of death. What dies is the egoic sense of self. Of course, death is always painful, but nothing real has actually died—only an illusory identity. Now, it is probably the case that some people who’ve gone through this transformation realize that they had to go through that in order to bring about a spiritual awakening. Often it is part of the awakening process, the death of the old self and the birth of the true self.

You arrive at a place of conceptual meaninglessness. Or one could say a state of ignorance—where things lose the meaning that you had given them, which was all conditioned and cultural and so on.

Then you can look upon the world without imposing a mind-made framework of meaning. It looks, of course, as if you no longer understand anything. That’s why it’s so scary when it happens to you, instead of you actually consciously embracing it. It can bring about the dark night of the soul. You now go around the Universe without any longer interpreting it compulsively, as an innocent presence. You look upon events, people, and so on with a deep sense of aliveness. You sense the aliveness through your own sense of aliveness, but you are not trying to fit your experience into a conceptual framework anymore.

Note: from Eckhart Tolle Newsletter, October 2011. Edited by Kosmos.

The dark night of the soul
comes just before revelation. When everything is lost,
and all seems darkness,
then comes the new life
and all that is needed.

Joseph Campbell, A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living

When old patterns are being detroyed, or at the very least feel corrupted, then the mind begins to look for the new. Great therapy gives words to the mind and the sensations of the body. The arts gives expression to that which may have no language, or they communicate in a language not always fully understood and yet offer meaning.

 “We live in a time when human ambition is focused on decreasing our dependency on and attachment to the human body. Be it overcoming the physical decay brought on by the realities of aging, enhancing our physical performance via wearable or implanted tools of augmentation, or dematerialising corporal experiences via virtual reality, entire industries and the world’s best technological innovators are working in this field, habitually dreaming up and realising new and varied ways to fundamentally renegotiate the relationship between our physical bodies and our inner selves.

MAX HOLLEIN – SCULPTOR OF THE MIND, 2018. From EARTH BODY, Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg, Austria, 2018

A virus that exists only to replicate has challenged our disconnected world and shown it to sadly wanting. Back in 1969 smart enough to have put men on the moon using technology that today seems laughably simplistic. In 2020 we have technology beyond all imagining in 1969, we have taken ourselves to the brink of mass destruction with climate change and viral infection, now is the time to begin post traumatic growth, using our creativity to positively imagineer a future that feeds your body and soul.

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