By: Venerable Jim Jiang-Wen Kearse, OEB
Childhood physical abuse is devastating. It doesn’t end when the beatings stop or you move away from home. It lingers on. It affects us in adult life, it determines our perspective of the world. It hurts. And it continues to hurt even when we are grown.
It is especially hurtful in those times of quiet when we are alone with our minds. Sitting on the cushion is both a terror and a relief.
I want my mind to be quiet and peaceful and all zen-like, but what I get is a chaotic mass of memories, terror and disbelief. Memories flood in and force themselves upon me so that I can no longer avoid looking at them. And I relive the pain, the confusion, the fear, and the self-blaming.
Then the painful, teary questions come: Was that abuse really my fault? How could I have been treated like that – I was only a little boy. Why? Why? Why?
This is the terror.
But I hold those memories, I ask those questions, and allow that pain to be fully present and felt. Why shouldn’t I just push it away and avoid it? After all, that strategy seemed to work fine for much of my life. I buried it deep, so deep that much of early childhood is a forgotten blank. But one day I find myself in fragile, depressed state and a hollow in my chest that I can’t explain. I discover that I can no longer avoid the ugly truth of my past.
I embrace fully the pain that has come into my life; I don’t try to avoid it, but I allow it to bring itself fully into my experience – how can I deal with something that I can’t even look at? So I allow it to wash over me and look at it head-on so that I can process it from a variety of perspectives. I begin to understand, to see how childhood trauma still affects me now, some 50 years later.
I can begin to let it go, little-by-little until it no longer holds me as it once did. I begin to feel a loosening in my body, my mind, my life. I can breathe deeply and fully and I can begin to feel happy for the first time in a very long time. I can finally start to get out from underneath that heavy burden of shame and guilt and feel the sunlight warming me.
This is the relief.