The Tao of Trauma

Last night I was at the AGM board meeting for the North Island Survivors Healing Society, a counseling center for adults affected from abuse. The various talents, in-depth knowledge and commitment, of the counselors and the Centre amazed me in general. While they were giving a brief synopsis of how they work with trauma, addictions, and the variety of abuses people have survived, I found myself reflecting back to my experiences as a child growing up in California in the 60’s.

I grew up in a small coastal town 25 miles south of San Francisco. The Pacific Ocean was my playground. This 2 mile stretch of coarse white sand, deep throaty waves, and sand stone cliffs, was the place I loved and bonded with, so naturally, I took every chance I could to be there; to play, dream, wonder, and run wild and free.

It was the summer of 1967 that 100,000 hippies came to San Francisco for the Summer of Love. Haight-Ashbury was alive with long flowing hair, the smell of marijuana wafting through the streets, "alternative” music, bare feet, and everyone chanting "sex, drugs, and rock and roll”. At 10 years old I was fascinated. During that summer they spilled into my small town with their strange, colorful, drug induced way of living that caused the "law abiding citizens” of my town to demand, "something be done!”

My mother, brother and I were down at the end of the beach getting mussels off the rocks when we heard what sounded like "loud popping”. I saw pockets of sand exploding around me as my mother started screaming "hide in the rocks!” Time slowed down as I became deeply aware of absolutely everything happening around me; my hair lifting from my head where the bullets passed, my mother’s slow motion run toward us, the taste of sea salt on my tongue. I looked up into the cliffs and saw the sun shining off the metal of the rifles held by two people, and petite puffs of smoke as the rounds discharged. I felt so alive! I could feel every heartbeat, my skin stinging from the sand that the bullets spit up around me, the strength of my muscles when I grabbed my little brother, pulling him behind the rocks, rock chips hitting my face, and the tiny trickle of warm blood on the side of my left jaw. During this entire experience, I had a deep sense of safety. I just knew I wasn’t alone; that I could die, but wasn’t going to.

After a few minutes, the shooting stopped, and cautiously, we came out from the rocks. We heard laughter, as the two started shooting again! Running, we jumped down behind a long, five-foot wall of sand, formed by the waves of the sea. We scurried beside this wall as far as it went, heading back to the path leading home.

Fear followed on the heels of that experience, but not before I became deeply aware of a Divine Presence that was carrying me that day. Could this be what the Taoist Philosophers say about the Yin and Yang within the Tao? Life for me always has some shadows within the light; and some light within the shadows. I often miss the intensity of that Great Power in my comparatively mundane day to day life; however I’ve come to see that my most painful experiences can also be my greatest teachers.