- Quality of Life & Wellness
Communicating on a Spiritual Level can Produce Healing, Part I
Spirituality, Grief, and Trauma
Although the terms spirituality and religion are commonly used interchangeably, they are not necessarily reflections of the same experience. According to Julie L. Larson (2012), "In contemporary use, religious rituals represent an outer or exterior aspect of belief, while spirit/spirituality references the interior, private, personal experience." When individuals suffer a violent experience beyond their control, mental trauma can include frightening thoughts and painful feelings. Mental trauma can also produce major changes in behavior, including withdrawal or over-attachment, lack of concentration, irritability, disturbances in sleep, aggression and hyper vigilance (National Institute of Mental Health, 2012). Grief, according to the Mayo Clinic (2012), is "a strong, sometimes overwhelming emotion for people, regardless of whether their sadness stems from the loss of a loved one or from a terminal diagnosis they or someone they loved received." Grief can be experienced with any kind of loss or change in life experiences, including the loss of a job, the loss of being an only child with the expectation of a baby, the impact of a move from one home to another, etc.
Grief Can Make Us Isolated.
Individuals experiencing grief may feel removed from daily life, unable to carry on with routine activities. In situations of experiencing grief and trauma, the result is that it is felt on a deeply interior, private, or personal level. In such circumstances, healing from trauma and grief can therefore be enhanced through a strong spiritual foundation, as it is at the heart of the emotional human experience. A strong spiritual foundation has been shown to help guide individuals through traumatic and grief-inducing experiences including surviving the Holocaust, school shootings like the Columbine incident in Colorado, terrorist attacks like the Oklahoma City Bombing, and natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina. Regardless of the situation, having a spiritual foundation can generate a stronger healing when dealing with grief and trauma.
Although I have written extensively on this topic to include examples and incidents from Oklahoma City and Hurricane Katrina, I have opted to omit them from this article for the sake of brevity. This article is still rather lengthy; however, if you choose to have me to continue to elaborate on my thoughts, I will gladly do so. Just comment below the article and let me know.
Genocide and its messages for Trauma and Grief
Those who survived the events of the Holocaust faced repeated and constant trauma and stress, to the point where true experiences of grief could not be determined until after physical recovery had begun. Yet, as the physical strength returned to the body, the more and more mental anguish was recalled by many of the survivors. Within that struggle was also the reconciliation of what religion had taught them and what their own spirits--their own internal expression--was dictating. Elie Wiesel, in his novel Night (1989 reprinting) asserts with strong conviction: "Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never" (pg. 32).
The first night in the camp was the most relentless to Wiesel's senses. He recounts still being able to close his eyes and seeing "the faces of little children, whose bodies [he] saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky" (pg. 32), as well as the "nocturnal silence" that took from him any desire to live. Yet, as the brutality and violence became more and more a part of his existence, the more and more he was able to survive each day. His own sense of grief came in brief spurts and in a way that could only be described as a part of life in the concentration camp, as opposed to facing death. One day, a man was hanged for stealing. As the man was facing death, he refused to be blindfolded. As the noose was going around his neck, he started shouting, "Long live liberty! A curse upon Germany!" His cries were silenced when the rope was taught. In Wiesel's words, "I remember I found the soup excellent that evening" (pp. 29-60). Yet another time, when a child was hung alongside two other adults, "being so light, the child was still alive...For more than half an hour he stayed there struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes...That night, the soup tasted like corpses" (pg. 62).
For Wiesel, grief was expressed in the taste of the soup. One hanging was particularly pleasing to him because of the defiance of the man who was hanged. The other was considered such a strong contrast. As the hanging was occurring, someone behind Wiesel was asking, "Where is God?" Wiesel could hear himself answering in his mind that God was hanging on the gallows (pg. 62). The environment of the camp would not allow Wiesel to truly grieve for very long, but was reflected in how he ate his soup. By the next morning, the routine was such that he had no opportunity to grieve beyond that evening's meal.
Dr. Viktor Frankl analyzes such reactions as those experienced by Wiesel and other concentration camp prisoners with clinical calculation: "Apathy, the blunting of emotions and feeling that one could not care anymore...eventually made him insensitive to daily and hourly beatings. By means of this insensibility the prisoner soon surrounded himself with a very necessary protective shell" (1984, pg. 42). The camps then generated their own environments through which prisoners had the chance to adapt to their conditions both physically and psychologically, thus providing them more of an opportunity to survive. But what happened to these prisoners after those circumstances had subsided, after camp liberation, after they had to re-adapt to life outside the camps?
Elie Wiesel is one survivor who does not speak much about his internal struggle, except in dealing with with is own reactions to God and religion. The internal struggles he has faced are seldom written or published. Potentially the closest he gets is a dialogue he has with Moshe the Beadle at the beginning of his work Night (reprinted, 1984). Moshe says, "Man raises himself toward God...Man questions God and God answers. But we don't understand His answers. We can't understand them. Because they come from the depths of the soul, and they stay there until death. You will find true answers, Eliezer, only within yourself" (pp. 2-3).
Dr. Viktor Frankl, however, utilized much of his life after the Holocaust, and indeed while he was still living in the concentration camps, to generate an internal dialogue and analyze the situation from an internal perspective. In Man's Search for Meaning (1984 reprinting), Frankl describes one experience he recalls as "perhaps the deepest experience [he] had in the concentration camp" (pg. 137). After having the draft of his first manuscript stripped from him, he also had to come to grips with the realization that nothing and no one would probably survive him. At that point, he explains in his book, "I found myself confronted with the question whether under such circumstances my life was ultimately void of any meaning." His answer came to him simply yet profoundly when, upon receiving his camp uniform that had until recently been on the body of another individual recently sent to the gas chamber, he received a note. "Instead of the many pages of my manuscript, I found in the pocket of a newly acquired coat one single page torn out of a Hebrew prayer book, containing the most important Jewish prayer, Shema Yisrael." In this specific specific circumstance, Frankl dealt with his own religion, but in a very spiritual (i.e. personal) manner. "How should I have interpreted such a 'coincidence' other than a challenge to live my thoughts instead of merely putting them on paper?...The question which beset me was, 'Has all this suffering, the dying around us, a meaning?' For, if not, then ultimately there is no meaning to survival; for a life whose meaning depends upon such a happenstance--as whether one escapes or not--ultimately would not be worth living at all.' " (pg. 138).
He continues to speak at length about his recovery to life after the camps, and how his whole experiences from dealing with chronic trauma, the onset of and perpetual grief, recovery, and living a healthy life led him to generate a new kind of psychological therapy--Logo Therapy. Each of his moments of realization and practice "living his thoughts" were generated in a spiritual realm and were supported by outward religious beliefs. By generating an opportunity to explore and place meaning on the spiritual soul of man, Frankl was able not only to personally recover from trauma, but help others as well.
To Be Continued
Please Read Part II of this writing, for other examples and conclusions.
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