Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, by Peter A. Levine with Ann Frederick. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA. 1997. Paperback $16.95.
Peter Levine has worked as a trauma healer for twenty-five years. Here he has gathered some of his accumulated wisdom into a profound, but simple, book about trauma, its consequences, and how to heal from traumatic experiences.
Everyone undergoes trauma in their lives. Even birth is called the "birth trauma." There are intense arousals associated with the trauma response, and sometimes those arousals can be discharged immediately, and sometimes they cannotfor many reasons. (Perhaps a babys crying after birth is its version of the "fight" response to stress.)
As mind-body workers know, reactions to trauma that are not discharged are held in the body, where they can close down and distort our natural processes. The person will continue, perhaps for a lifetime, to try to discharge the complex of trauma reactions, often getting caught in a self-perpetuating cycle, a negative vortex, of partial re-enactment.
Were all familiar with destructive compulsions, negative behavior patterns, and nameless fears and anxieties. Levine persuasively attributes these to unhealed trauma reactions. He shows how even inter-generational patterns of abuse fit this paradigm.
Healing trauma is a natural process. However, there are certain junctures at which that process can get stuck, and we need some special help to access our natural, instinctive selves. This is "waking the tiger," where we allow instinct to guide us into that strong response which weve shut down. Suddenly (or gradually), as we face the tiger, we are released from our inner prison of fear and immobility. We re-encounter our natural selves, and regain our joy in life.
We can access that healing process through the body, through what Levine calls our "felt sense," which is grounded in specific bodily sensations.
No matter what the trauma, or when it occurred, the important thing is how our body felt it, and is still feeling it. Thus tuning into our body is the one real skill we need to facilitate this healing process. Our culture de-emphasizes the inner life, and we are discouraged at every turn from tuning into ourselves. We say "get over it" or "move on," rather than examining how our body feels.
Checking our bodily reactions, or those of another who is traumatized, is not difficult. But it takes practice to learn to do it well, and consciousness to remember to do it. Patience and time is also required.
The reward, however, may be opening the door to the tiger, however fearful it may be, and beginning a healing journey.
When we are traumatized, we become fearful, and our basic trust in life is diminished. It is common to react by feeling helpless, and thereafter playing a victim role. It is also common to react with anger. If that anger cannot be discharged at the time, e.g., a kid with an abusive parent, it leaves a residue of revenge, or feelings of being treated unfairly.
Levine quotes psychiatrist James Gilligan, from his book Violence: "
the attempt to achieve and maintain justice, or to undo or prevent injustice, is the one and only universal cause of violence."
This is a provocative statement, and evidence from my experience indicates that it may be true. Astrologically we notice that Libra, the sign of justice, is often involved in conflict and in war, as well as in mediation. General Eisenhower was a Libran who made war, and Jimmy Carter a Libran who made peace. In GWs chart, for example, Libra is the dominant sign (cardinal and air). It includes his Moon and Chiron, which together indicate wounding and dis-ease in his childhood. It appears that he felt unfairly treated, and has much unresolved trauma to discharge.
According to Levine, justice is experienced as completion of the trauma response. "Without discharge and completion, we are doomed to repeat the tragic cycle of violent re-enactment."
We see this happening in the world, as ethnic groups continue their ancient enmities. The Truth Reconciliation Commission of South Africa is a means of trying to come to terms with the need for justice. So is the reparations suit which was just brought by a group of blacks against some U.S. corporations which aided and profited from slavery.
This is a remarkable book. Levine places trauma at the center of both individual and world views in a simple, illustrated way which arouses "ahas" in the reader. At the same time he gives simple, step-by-step ways of dealing with trauma, again illustrated with examples.
Although published in 1997, Waking the Tiger is particularly relevant now. One of the common reactions to threat is immobilization, which we see happening in the U.S. One of the common ways of attempting to discharge the traumatic response is re-enactment, which we also see happening here.
We all suffer, more or less, from unresolved trauma. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to everyone for a better understanding of the process, as well as a guide to healing.
Thanks to reader Veronique Raskin, from San Rafael, CA, for sharing this book.