Many excellent resources to do with trauma are available on YouTube (this, from Gabor Mate), for example). Through them, I discovered what trauma is and how it affects the body and the brain and one’s behaviour. I learned that trauma is any experience a person has that overwhelms their ability to deal with it. Usually, it is associated with things like traffic accidents, abuse as a child, war experiences and so on. But I think other, less extreme experiences, can also leave a person coping with post-traumatic stress. For me, it was expulsion from the Baha’i community by the House of Justice in 2000 for obscure reasons. At the time, I never imagined that what happened to me would cause long-term traumatic symptoms, but I have since realised that it did. I recall that for a month after receiving the startling email announcing my disenollment, I could not think and was not able to focus on anything for more than a few minutes. I kind of went around in an inner fog. Also, I cried everyday for a year. At the time, I thought it was grief on account of my being suddenly completely separated from the religious community I had identified with for 20 years. Perhaps, that was true, but I know now, 22 years later, that trauma was also involved, for I can see how it changed my personality. I became withdrawn, quiet, deeply depressed, and I avoided contact with people. I assumed that every Baha’i I engaged with hated me or was about to abandon me. Actually, I had good reason to think that way, because many Baha’is did act like that, but I found it hard to maintain connections even with Baha’is who were genuinely friendly.
What I learned from the resources on YouTube, and the book by Bessel A van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score, is that trauma causes a fight or flight reaction in the body, which never goes away unless it is actively healed. The tension established in the body, brain and psyche at the time of the trauma stays there, causing problems in the long term. Essentially, in order to heal, the person needs to feel completely grounded again, so that the body has time to relax out the tension and come back into equilibrium. That involves finding an environment that generates in the person a feeling of being 100 percent safe. With this knowledge, I began looking around me for the things that leave me feeling safe. Suddenly, I saw them everywhere, and I realised that, unconsciously, I had been creating havens for myself in order to heal from the trauma. For example, I saw that I live in the country, in a house surrounded by trees. I can’t see the road, neighbours are hundreds of metres away, and the sheep graze in little paddocks near to the house, and the lawns are covered with our delightful hens. I always used to joke that the hens were my new Baha’i community, and that unlike the real Baha’i community, the hens gave me joy, kindness and family. Now, I see that my joke was right on the mark. The hens have played a big role in my healing, because they have been a safe little group that I could belong to. Another haven that I have created for myself is my office in the house, where I spend large chunks of time. Another haven has been Netflix, where I can travel to other lands in safety.
But the trauma is in the mind too, and that is where Baha’u’llah comes in, although I have Baha’u’llah to thank for giving me the external havens I have just described. Now I see with new eyes the Arabic hidden words in which Baha’u’llah promises safety to those who enter his castle.
“Awakened child, my love is my castle. The one who has entered it has escaped and is safe, and the one who has declined has gone astray and perished.” (No 9)
“Child of self-expression, my castle is you! Move into it so that you may be safe and sound. My love is in you. Get to know it as a part of you so that you can find me close at hand.” (No 10)Arabic hidden words nos 9 and 10 (my translations)
I see now that Baha’u’llah is directly addressing the issue of trauma and suffering. God bless Baha’u’llah – he doesn’t say anything like what the world says to those who are broken: “toughen up”, “you are mentally ill”, “you deserved it”, “you are a covenant breaker”, “I can’t associate with you, sorry”, or, just in the past week, “you are in serious error” and on and on it goes. Baha’u’llah says something like “yes, the world is a hostile place, but I offer you permanent and complete safety. Come and join me in my castle. I’ve made it easy by placing the castle within you.” This is when I know for sure that the unkind things Baha’is say to me, which they think will please Baha’u’llah, are miles from where he is. He is with the broken people, which is why he says that “tribulation is a horizon to my revelation”. You have to suffer to find him.
“Say: Tribulation is a horizon unto My Revelation. The daystar of grace shineth above it, and sheddeth a light which neither the clouds of men’s idle fancy nor the vain imaginations of the aggressor can obscure.”Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, XVII