As Buddhist and Hindu Yoga lineages take root outside of Asia, their insights into human nature, the causes of suffering, and the paths to joy and liberation are finding fertile soil in sincere seekers and dedicated spiritual practitioners worldwide. As many of us find our personal and collective journeys deeply served by contact with these ancient teachings, we are also finding that the particular conditions of our postmodern lives require care and in many cases real healing if the yogic practices of introspection and embodied inquiry are to bear fruit. The collective traumas of racism, sexism, economic precarity, and environmental crisis affect us all, and despite our various privileges many of us suffer in addition the painful symptoms of attachment rupture, physical and emotional abuse, injury of many kinds, and the stresses of busy, unstable lives.
Central to the Buddhist path is a profound inquiry into suffering (Pāli: dukkha) and its cause: habitual contraction around both pleasant and unpleasant experience. The medicine for this suffering lies in our ability, with training, to remain alert and vibrant through both ease and difficulty. In Buddhist meditation, the practices of Mindfulness (sati), Skillful Attention (yoniso manasikāra), and Loving-Kindness (mettā) depend in large part on the practitioner being able to settle the mind and heart in the present moment, focused on experiences as they arise. Many modern practitioners, however, find even this most basic aspect of meditation very difficult, and may spend years wrestling with anxiety, self-doubt, regret, and overwhelming emotions in meditation. Trauma resolution models like Organic Intelligence® (OI), Somatic Experiencing (SE), and Stephen Porges’s Polyvagal Theory, by restoring healthy nervous system function, build the ability to be relaxed, embodied, and present, deeply supporting meditation and other spiritual practices.
More than just being supportive, trauma work is also an application of Buddhist and Hindu Yoga teachings around energy, attachment, and the sense of self and other. The process works to restore natural rhythmic oscillation to the nervous system, which expresses itself as both expansion-contraction (energy) and liking-disliking (preference/feeling). As natural oscillation is allowed to return, long-held patterns of fight, flight, and freeze are completed, unbinding the heart from habitual resistance to experience. As resistance melts, experience becomes vibrant, less rigid, more free.
In the Insight Meditation community, my primary Buddhist lineage, there is growing recognition of the value of therapeutic modalities that address the nervous system, and training in trauma resolution is now part of the teacher training programs. My own dedication to this work started with my teacher Jack Kornfield’s suggestion that I study SE (which developed into OI, a central aspect to my work and teaching), and receiving the work has made a noticeable and very positive difference in both my meditation practice and my overall well-being. Now that sitting with students is central to my work, I find OI profoundly helpful in negotiating the complexities of suffering that so hinder contemporary spiritual seekers.
And in an era of growing consciousness around the systemic traumas of white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism, sensitive trauma resolution work like OI offers a complex systems model for deep transformation and resilience that is rooted in the contemplative but orients outward through compassion and skillful engagement in community. I find the OI clinical approach to be the most Dharma-resonant counseling style I’ve ever encountered, a form of specific mindfulness-powered inquiry into subtle wholesome and unwholesome state qualities as they express themselves through autonomic nervous system activation.