Vipassana Meditation for PTSD

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Vipassana means to see things as they really are. It is a self-exploratory, observational meditation technique that trains you to navigate your body’s sensations and move through them with objectivity. This technique derives from India and is based on the principle that there are scientific laws which govern the phenomenon of what happens in our bodies. By regularly concentrating on the natural occurrences within, we find the roots of our suffering and can slowly untie ourselves from it.

I recently attended a 10-day introductory Vipassana meditation course, from 17 – 27 December at a retreat center in Joshua Tree, California. This is where I spent my Christmas.

This course was assisted by two amazingly trained meditation teachers, but taught mainly by S.N Goenka (1924 – 2013) with recordings. Goenka is a teacher who started in India, 1969, and taught hundreds of thousands of students his meditation technique which spread to the East and West.

Coming from an orphaned birth in the Philippines and with PTSD from my adoption, I wasn’t sure how successful this meditation would be. I’d researched the technique, plus had previous experience in Buddhist yoga practices and meditations. I believed I possessed enough knowledge and context to allow me to understand the technique. I also realised it couldn’t cure personal issues, deep emotional or mental instability, disease, chronic illness, or depression. What I hoped for was the Vipassana meditation technique might give me the ability to heal myself if I was stable enough. Learning this could help me work with my PTSD on my own. This could give me the mental and emotional tools to fight my dark battles within and cure myself of my own ailments in time, and hard work. So, I went through with my plan.

It was tough. The hardest mental work I’d ever done. It was like using the mental concentration of a Master’s program and applying this concentration to myself. I woke up at 4:00am and practiced meditation trainings until 9:00pm for 10 days straight. All in silence. My breaks were during breakfast, lunch and dinner. Stuff rose up within me. Thoughts about past lives. Romantic fantasies. Burning pain. Frozen terrain. Blissful peace.

I fought within. I struggled. I was overcome with sensations. Fears arose. I submitted. I was restless. But, I was determined. I concentrated my attention of my breathing for three full days, practicing pranayama. In the meditation hall, I sat with 80 strong women and many of us caught a cold during this time. We pushed through together.

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In the middle of the 10 days, I had a vivid dream about my older brother also adopted from the Philippines like me. In my real life, he had slowly gone insane with his own PTSD. I had loved him even though he’d been damaging to me. In my mid-twenties, he’d disappeared and scarily turned into a stranger with an off personality. The pain from losing him the way I had was devastating and these memories of him bled through the currents of my whole life.

In my dream, my adopted brother sat next to me in a booth at a restaurant. He had cuts all over his face which he had done to himself. I scribbled him a note, I will always love you. To my surprise, my brother drew over the note. He drew a large house over my words. I woke up. That’s when it struck me. The house related to an earlier teaching from Goenka. A recording of him spoke about how our suffering can perpetuate and build a house we live in. That day, I processed more emotions and hard sensations.

I bolted as fast as I could the morning of the 11th day. It has been a month and I can say my meditation has improved. I am trusting myself and my process more. I am beginning to work through emotions from the past in a more productive and objective way. I now have a tool to start healing myself of my PTSD and memories. And, I’m beginning to use this tool with more precision.

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What I’ve come to discover is the phenomenon of what happens when training in Vipassana meditation and being committed to efforts towards enlightenment, that is, a seed is planted within. The seed grows in spurts, as our thoughts and actions begin to create a practice in itself towards the goal of transcending. To me, it’s like circumambulating around a stupa, every action becomes more focused, not only of the self but also of our greater humanity. This practice changed me from the inside out.

This is why I’m preparing to learn more about meditation and cultivate a regular Buddhist meditation life. As an intercountry adoptee from the Philippines from the 80’s, having been born from destitute poverty and experiencing not only an inhumanly impersonal adoption process and trauma from my post adoption placement, the pain of what happened cannot be ignored any longer. I feel I’ve pushed this pain away all my life. My healing cannot wait any longer.

So in this new year, I’m making a decision to set a new course that grew from this Vipassana training. I’m deciding to set up my life around self healing first, allowing my work and visions of ‘success’ to come second.

This is why I’m moving to Hawaii.

More Reading

https://www.dhamma.org/en-US/about/vipassana

All That I Wish I Could Say

I’m sorry that I can’t fully introduce myself. I can’t. If I could, I’d tell you that I was born an orphan in the Philippines. I lived in an orphanage until I was two years old and this set my world on fire, forever altering my life.

I wake in the mornings as an adult and I manage my life’s loss. I confront my adoption. It wasn’t my fault. Now I live without a sense of culture or heritage. Without a biological family in sight – as if they were all dead to me.

You wouldn’t know this because I try so hard to keep myself together. On the surface, I make sure that I present myself in the best of ways.

But in reality, I was forced to live in the United States with strangers. Due to my intercountry adoption process in 1987 and the socio-economic crises in my birth country, all my past relations are unrecoverable today.

What was it like to be adopted, you ask? I wish I didn’t have to say this too. But, my adopted life in the United States of America growing up was traumatic.

I lived in the Midwest with an older adopted brother who slowly went insane. And with parents who would at times make it worse not better.

I endured the worst of life’s cruelties but you don’t want to hear this. It’d be depressing to know that as child and teenager I watched the frail threads of a family that I’d needed so much, break apart. I grew up accustomed to the way the hard edges of the most bitter realities pressed down around me, as I persevered to keep my ideals strong. And that I survived my life carrying a broken heart.

I wish I could tell you all about the real me but I’m afraid you wouldn’t understand. I’m afraid you’d wrongly judge me? Or hurt me, or disappear?

So I’ve stayed mute about this all my life. But now I’m an adult, I see how this silence has become my own prison. And I’m not making any changes by covering this up or pretending this didn’t happen.

Now, more than ever, I want to speak up.

Because now more than ever, I’m beginning to realize that I’m not the only one with a voice here that needs to be heard!

 

Steph’s Column: Reflections on the Navajo Reservation and What a Smile Can Do

The Navajo Reservation looks like this alien, lunar landscape that is perfect but extreme, tough to navigate, but surreal all at the same time.

It glows with eternity on its side, in a realm we can’t enter unless we’re a part of it. There is a trailer beside an unreal hill that is towering, smooth and dark in places. It’s like an underbelly where areas are upturned.

This terrain is tough to know firsthand.

Its expansive world. Ancient canyons. Mesas towering with time.

I can relate to this landscape because to me this vast terrain shows aspects of myself as an intercountry adoptee. As an adult, I can’t take back what has changed over time. However, I can live my life and try to make it better.

And help others, especially the ones I relate to.

At the school library, at first I don’t know what to do. I start munching on these lemon-flavored potato chips hidden in one of my drawers, that I bought on a different on my lunch break at the gas station next door. I recall how these chips first tasted weird to me. Now, I’m totally hooked.

Every bite tastes tangy but good.

After eating some potato chips, I remembered a goal that I’d written in a curriculum map that I made for the school library a month ago. This month in December, I planned to introduce Caldecott and Newbery book awards to the kids. So throughout the day, I made bibliography reference guides.

Throughout the day I also had interactions with children.

One interaction that stands out most was with Lena, a kindergartener with thin glasses and a matter-of-fact tone to her voice. She has long brown hair, is always pointing things out blatantly and has a dry sense of humor.

I swiveled in my chair at the desk around 2 p.m., and there she was, standing there, picking her nose for who knows how long.

And not just picking, but digging.

“Lena,” I said, “I think it’d be good if you gained a habit of using a tissue. We have tissues right there,” and pointed to a tissue box at the desk.

Lena frowned and kept staring hard at me. She removed her finger from her nose and handed me her book. I took her book and checked it out slowly, avoiding the potential danger zones of where her boogers might be lurking.

While trying not to make my efforts obvious.

“This looks like an interesting book Lena,” I said, “Enjoy reading it.”

I slowly handed the book back to her, as she still wore a serious expression on her face. Her expression made me think about things.

In that moment, I contemplated the reasons why I’m here at this library and chose to work on the Navajo Reservation in the first place. I wasn’t here to tell the kids what to do. Or to help Lena stop her habit of picking her nose. She’s in kindergarten and I was being hard on her, the way I’m hard on myself.

These kids are Navajo. Many live out in hogans and trailers that are scattered throughout the miles of open ranges on the Navajo Reservation. Some live with at-risk family members or are at-risk themselves, as alcoholism and drugs are a few issues out here. And, the kids’ literacy levels are effected by having to learn their native language and English too.

I’m a librarian but giving them just books is not the main reason why I’m here. I’m here, to support this community in the ways I can.

I decided to smile at Lena. And this is when Lena smiled. It looked as if she were glowing herself, beaming with this wide, open smile.

“Thank you, Ms. Flood,” Lena said in a chirpy voice, and I could see true, genuine happiness in her facial expression.

“You’re welcome, Lena,” I said, my heart bursting.

At the end of the day, I’d finished my bag of lemon-flavored potato chips and my book lists, and was soaring on the shuttle back to Flagstaff, staring again at alien-looking terrain and upturned cinder hills.

In my mind, I contemplated on my interaction with Lena. I realised all Lena needed, was a smile.

Funny thing is, I think that’s all I needed too.

STEPH’S DISCUSSION QUESTION

Q: How do you feel adoption has changed the way you live your life? Has this changed any views of yourself or the world?

Steph’s Column: The Growing Connections Between Adoptees and Nonadoptees

My adopted life was a mountain of isolating, hard terrain. Now an adult, I know the importance of being connected to resources, information and diverse perspectives. I also know that action and awareness is needed on this subject that we’re all connected to, as the degrees of separation with adoption continues to close in for adoptees and non-adoptees alike.

This past week, I shyly began to make friends on Facebook with adoptees, in-between the regular stresses that consume me at this school on the Navajo Reservation. I observed everyone’s posts and photos, and found that we’re are all so individualistic and unique. Yet in so many ways, we’re just like everyone else. Posting photos of cats, food, and sunsets. Most times, I can’t even tell which is an adoptee or non-adoptee.

I did a lot of thinking during the 50-minute shuttles to and from work this week. First, I wondered about categorizing individuals as “adoptees.” In the context of human rights, I felt it important to make efforts to define what it is that identifies individuals and communities. Especially if people fall into the regions of being at-risk, vulnerable, or marginalized. Later, I went home and found some research to discover – that adoptees do fall into these regions.

During more shuttle rides, I thought more on this. I realized that categorizing also gives a face, to concepts that are hard to perceive for those who haven’t experienced this type of displacement and assimilation.

From my own life, I know how these events alter human life and psychology. And since this categorization includes a massive populous of marginalized and underrepresented people I feel that adoptees, our, experiences need to be named, identified and hopefully, equalized into society one day.

After friending some hundred adoptees on Facebook, I also learned that adoptees encompass about every demographic and community existing, and are also living in all geographic regions of the world.

Further research showed a growing amount of adoptees in the world, that supports how the degrees of separation between adoptees and non-adoptees are closing in. And just on personal levels, this can happen by making more adoptee friends on social media or knowing more peers in my everyday life that are associated with adoption.

Towards the end of the week I learned that with or without our knowing, this subject is connecting us all together almost invisibly.

Additionally, adoptees are linked by other global issues and situations. As socio-economic issues and refugee crises in the world increases, adoption situations rise too. So overall, from my knowledge and finding online research that I’ve linked and referenced here, I guess I believe it’s time to begin to bring these difficult topics to the table to start making solutions.

For me, raising awareness can bring a light to that difficult terrain that has weathered my life path since birth. This action allows me to envision ways to connect us all to each other a little more too. From working as a librarian on the Navajo Reservation and by being a writer, I have found that making connections keeps us all from being isolated in one category or another. Connections, can also bring support to where its needed most.

References

Friedlander, Myrna. (2003). Adoption: Misunderstood, Mythologized, Marginalized. Counseling Psychologist – COUNS PSYCHOL. 31. 745-752. 10.1177/0011000003258389.

Harf, Aurélie et al. “Cultural Identity and Internationally Adopted Children: Qualitative Approach to Parental Representations.” Ed. Ye Wu. PLoS ONE 10.3 (2015): e0119635. PMC. Web. 1 Dec. 2017.

“Human Rights Watch.” Human Rights Watch, www.hrw.org/.

Keyes, Margaret A. et al. “Risk of Suicide Attempt in Adopted and Nonadopted Offspring.” Pediatrics 132.4 (2013): 639–646. PMC. Web. 1 Dec. 2017.

“Looking out for vulnerable international adoptees.” The Donaldson Adoption Institute, www.buildingstrongfamiliesny.org/news/looking-out-for-vulnerable-international-adoptees/.

Silverstein, Jake. “The Displaced: Introduction.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 5 Nov. 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/11/08/magazine/the-displaced-introduction.html.

Wulczyn, Fred H., and Kristin Brunner Hislop. “Growth in the Adoption Population.” Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, 2002, doi:10.3897/bdj.4.e7720.figure2f.

Steph’s Column: Reconstructing Identity and Heritage

I made “Roses” from old magazines at a time in my life when I felt lost. I tore up and cut out tissue paper from earlier art projects, from pages out of books and discarded scrapbook paper. I assembled the mixed media on square backing. The word “heritage” was glued in the background.

The roses became the focal point. These turned out most clear and prominent in the piece, which hadn’t been planned at all.

As I begin to blog on behalf of orphaned issues and intercountry adoption, I realize this art I’m making revolves around having an orphaned identity, that I’ll try to address with my own perspective in this post.

Overall, there are many hard things to confront with this disposition even before healing can begin. In my experience, I had to confront how I was born, which meant accepting the most difficult part of the past that had undergone the trauma of severe displacement. Next, I had to mend the trauma with ongoing personal efforts of reconstruction and the power of belief.

A resolution that I found in having an orphaned identity is the promise of a new day. A promise that the sun will rise. That within the complex landscape of our lives there is a rose growing in the midst. And if we focus on what is blossoming, we might be able to tend to this new growth.

To those who have an orphaned past, who have experienced ultimate displacement where there is no going back, I can relate.

My feeling on this, is that this is where one can begin to move forward.

Step by step, day by day, we can reconstruct our lives and what heritage means to us, today, and with every new day ahead of us.

 

Stephanie’s Column, Filipino Intercountry Adoptee

My First Blog Post

I’m in the shuttle, sitting in the back seat with my headphones on listening to Krishna Das. It’s 6:49 a.m. and the sun is rising above the horizon. As the van turns to leave the bus barn near the mall, I can see the sky lightening. Pink, yellow, and purple, with low streams of clouds. The train passes by as we stop and turn left, soaring down the access road to the freeway. As I write, the sky transforms into dusty, baby blue and lavender. Green ponderosa pines pass my window as we make our way to the elementary school I work at.

My name is Stephanie and I’m a 32-year-old adoptee living in Northern Arizona. I was born in the Philippines in 1985 and relinquished to an orphanage at birth, where I was taken care of by Catholic nuns. My birth name was Desiree Maru but it changed to Stephanie Flood when I was adopted at the age of two. 

I’m starting this regular column, Stephanie’s Column, Filipino Intercountry Adoptee because I want to start voicing myself as a past orphan, adult adoptee, and a woman who carries past traumatic wounds no matter where I go. As I heal, I write in hopes to raise awareness on critical subjects and bring new dialogue to a space where many can’t tread unless they’ve been there.

I’m here to fill this space with needed perspective. With humanity. My humanity. So overall this blog will contain my whereabouts, thoughts, actions, insights, memories of my past and hopes of my unseen future.

I think it’ll be an adventure having this column.

I am writing this first entry on my way to a school out in Leupp, Arizona on the Navajo Reservation. I work at a school library as a library media assistant/librarian and I run the library by myself. This school is about 45 minutes from Flagstaff where I’ve been living for the past ten years, attending college at Northern Arizona University and now I’m an online student with San Jose State University studying Library and Information Science.

The atmosphere in the van today feels thick with tension.

I always have music playing in my ears on these shuttles to work and back in an attempt to make these daily trips a pleasant, contemplative voyage.

There is so much gorgeous scenery that passes by.

Land you can’t fully fathom unless you’re here and you have a reason to traverse this well-preserved part of the world.

Rolling hills in the distance. Once we hit Leupp Road, the ponderosas change into thickets of juniper pines that are as large as trees. They’re these bristly, round, green pines that smell so sweet. You can burn the dead branches for incense or prayers, and they make good kindling for wood stove fires.

Now the light is awake. It’s golden and raw, raking the Earth, sweeping over this high desert landscape with honesty. Finally, it is warmer in the vehicle. I can take my sweatshirt off since I have a sweater underneath. It’s been cold in the mornings in Flagstaff, especially at 5:30 a.m. when I wake up.

The land looks so beautiful when it’s aflame with sunrise.

As we drive, I can hear the teachers in the front get louder but I focus on the music blaring in my ears. The light glares in my eyes. I keep writing. I breathe and focus on my breathing, because what I’ve come to recognize is that I get anxious easily, especially around hostile or fast changing environments. 

At this school, the students can suddenly be aggressive with each other without warning. I’ve been yelled at by two teachers while I’ve been just doing my job too since I’d been hired here in August. To keep my composure here and my job, I keep my distance. I enforce strict, professional boundaries because I work better in positive, enforcing environments.

I like uninterrupted, positive and focused work flow too.

Although here at this elementary school, it’s like I’m at times bulldozing unseen walls just to do the work needed at this school library.

I fight to keep focused on the library’s needs and the Navajo children, as I’m pulled with other requests and stresses. As this library is grossly under national standards, every day is a fight to keep what I care about afloat.

I pass three crows sitting on a wire fence.

Tiny, little houses sparsely speckle the open, wild but barren landscape that spreads out for miles out here.

Hogans. Grassland. Trailers. Open range.

In the distance there are mesas now and the horizon is shrouded in blue hues. The junipers are gone. Groups of cows pass by. Then more open land.

I can hear the teachers in the front of the van raise their voices again. They get louder. I look down at my necklace that I’m wearing.

It’s the Tree of Life hanging on my pendant from a red, leather band.

I wore it this morning to remind myself of my own values that I’ve cultivated since I was young, growing up in Wisconsin, mostly on my own since my other adopted older brother had severe post-traumatic issues and my parents were often working. Since childhood, I’ve cultivated my own value system that has been rooted in personal growth and spiritual philosophies.

Faith was my support system. Although this faith has changed over time.

It now appears like we’re looming closer to the school.

I secretly fear the secretary here but I know it’s mostly all in my head.

I realize, I am at times prone to a casual victim mentality—having grown up accustomed to being so extremely affected by my external environment and not having enough resources to support me as an adoptee.

Now an adult, I’m understanding the issues that had arisen from my extreme upbringing. And, I see that it is more important than ever to break away from certain bad patterns that have prevented me from moving on, and reinforce my obstacles into opportunities to learn and change for the better.

I go to the morning meeting circle and it looks like Peta is bothered by something. She is in 2nd grade and very quiet. She chooses to stand next to me for a bit.

I ask her a few questions while everyone is gathering:

What animal is that on your shirt?

An elephant.

What did you do this weekend?

Mumbled something.

I like your glitter nail polish.

And still, there is trouble in her eyes.

Peta has shiny almond brown eyes and dark silky hair. She is a soft talker like me and lately she’s shown other aspects that remind me of me. She likes being helpful in the library and often asks to assist me. I see that she does fit in, but at times, she doesn’t due to her offbeat behavior, like me.

Peta is standing next to me as the circle started to congregate.

A girl walks up to her, one of her peers, Taima, another 2nd grader in her class who is often really confident, happy and social.

Taima stands boldly in front of Peta. She stares directly in Peta’s eyes, and they gaze at each other silently, face to face, like quiet warriors.

Taima asks what is wrong.

Peta stares back at her unflinchingly and doesn’t respond.

Taima looks up at me, questioningly.

She’s thinking, I say to Taima.

Taima walks away, and later, Peta goes to her class. For a few minutes, I wonder about Peta and all of these children on the Navajo Reservation.

In the school library, I have melodic music playing on Pandora at my desk computer. It eases my deep, mysterious soul and the feelings of isolation out here since I’m not friends with anyone at work either.

At my desk, I have a sticky pad of call numbers and book titles about adoption.

I also just wrote:

NOVEMBER

National Adoption Awareness Month

on the dry erase board in green marker that is in front of room.

On this particular day, I had started collecting adoption books from this library and other district libraries, displaying them at the dry erase board.

This is a step for me to start including new and diverse perspectives to this school library. I had originally imagined adoption in the Navajo community too but mainly, this was a step for me to start bringing myself out a little more.

Adoption is not just people and family members, I had told the students when I introduced these books on check-out day the next day.

You can adopt creeks, nature, animals, dogs, even hamsters!