The use of an Altered State of Consciousness in healing is especially pertinent to any therapeutic process that focuses on trauma experienced during childhood. Sexual, emotional and physical abuse during childhood creates a lost, frightened and frozen child within us. If we are unable to reach this lost and wounded child then we may never heal ourselves. We prefer not to remember the sufferings of childhood, so we bury them and hide. We run away from seeing deeply into the causes of our suffering. Yet we have to find a way to reach the hurt child and make her safe. Although we may now be adult, there is also a little boy in us, a little girl in us, who is so afraid and suffers deeply, no matter what kind of happy pretend face we present to life. This suffering child within our adult frame colors everything we do, generates our fears, insecurities and self loathing, wounding us in our relationships and life. That wounded child is us and we must extend a different energy to him so that the energy of childhood suffering can be understood, defused and transformed.
This means touching the seeds of childhood suffering from an adult state of being mindful and aware, knowing that we must make it safe for that child to come out from hiding behind the closed doors of suffering and pain. It is us as adults who must no longer run away. We must have the courage and awareness to bring healing to our hurt inner child and thereby produce a transformation for ourselves. The steps we take are not only to heal ourselves, we somehow connect to all wounded children – those in our ancestors and descendants and elsewhere in the world. For once we cultivate the seeds of mindful healing in ourselves, the energy of these seeds continues on into all that we interconnect with as a quantum leap from our cellular memories to everyone else’s throughout time and space.
Thich Nhat Hanh addressed the issue of child abuse in a Question and Answer session held in the Lower Hamlet of Plum Village, France on the 17th October 1998. Very gently he spoke about the ignorance and pain of the abuser as well as that of the abused, and stated clearly that understanding was the basis of recovery. Not blaming or feeling guilt and shame, but seeing deeply and understanding. First of all to understand that the person abusing must have lived under ignorant and deprived conditions without support, guidance or a wise teacher. So much so that the power of ignorance was stronger than the person, and thus they were driven to do wrong things. If the person abused can begin to understand just a little bit of that, then their anger, shame and outrage can transform into compassion and through mindfulness practice their suffering can diminish. When forgiveness and understanding are there, suffering decreases. The second step was to recommend that the person abused practice mindfulness, to transform herself into a Bodhisattva and engender the compassion to help and be of service to all children who need protection. By merit of understanding his experience and recovery from abuse, such a person can practice and use their talents to promote education and measures to protect children from abuse. This helps to eradicate the ignorance that generates abuse. This practice and the energy of compassion for children will transform the pain and sorrow that have been with the abused person.
There are many techniques and methodologies of therapy that address issues of the inner wounded child. The first one I am going to describe is simple and anyone can do it. It is a first step and I recommend that it be practiced under the guidance and consultation of a therapist, shaman or spiritual teacher. You are going to start a diary or log book for you and the inner child to write to one another. The adult you will write using the hand that you normally write with. You begin by saying “hello” to Little John, to Little Allison. Then go on to say how sorry you are for having been away and neglectful; that you are grown up now and strong, and that you are going to do everything to make it safe for Little John, for Little Allison. They will be safe, loved and cherished. Write in your own words along these lines.
Then with your other hand, the one you do not write with, allow the inner child to express herself. Do not edit. Just write down whatever comes out. It may well be angry, blaming and abusive words that come out, and it is your job not to be shocked or defensive but to provide constant re-assurance, love and guidance. You bring to this communication with the wounded inner child all the qualities of love, compassion and wisdom you can muster. These are the seeds of mindfulness you consciously bring to support the wounded child inside you. The energy of these seeds works on the energy of the traumatized inner child to reduce his pain and suffering. Talk to him through writing in this way – with total love and acute mindfulness.
Details of trauma may be revealed that you did not know about, which is why you need the help and guidance of a trusted therapist, shaman or spiritual teacher. This is to support you being a wise and loving parent to your wounded child. And with time you will notice shifts and changes in patterns of expression as the child becomes trusting and starts to grow, eventually merging fully with you as an adult. (You also learn to write very well with your other hand!) In your letters tell your inner child about yourself and your life, take him on picnics, treats and give to that child all the care, attention and love you feel you did not receive when you were a little boy, a little girl. The suffering will diminish and you will experience such a transformation, for you discover that your relationships with co-workers, friends and family start to change, and your fears of the past and anxieties about the future do not have the same driving force. When you notice things like this tell your inner child: “Thank you for being with me. That makes me so happy.” The experience of being with the inner child in the healing journey is a stimulus for this kind of happiness. There are times you may cry, or feel total joy and also suffer despair, which is why guidance and support is necessary on this beginning journey of reclaiming yourself. You need that wise friend and teacher to keep you steady and mindful. I know, for I went through it. I am happy to say that it worked for me, as I experienced the painfully slow establishment of trust, then the exhilarating joy of safety and integration, until finally my inner child was the adult me, integrated with a freshness and vitality that I continually treasure (see January: Shattering of Concepts and of Self). To support this journey there are other practices and meditations that are valuable for the steady process of healing.
In Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh’s practice center in France, he has provided a much loved practice gatha for the meditation community, which begins with “I have arrived, I am home.” This is used in walking and other meditations as an instrument to concentrate on breath and be present. In this way the fears and traumas of the past and anxieties about the future do not crowd in and overwhelm the mind. The gatha with walking meditation, connected to in-breath and out-breath, provides an essential tool to take care of the many mental formations that flood our waking consciousness with fear, pain and suffering. With daily diligent practice we can examine these same mental formations but from a place centered in mindfulness. This simple gatha has become the dharma seal of Plum Village.
Child Has Arrived Meditation
This is so beautiful
to say to yourself as you breathe in and out whenever you do walking meditation,
for each step welcomes your wounded child to be well and to come home to
you. When you walk to your car or your office, by a river or in a
park, you can be more specific and recite to yourself:
In order to
heal it is necessary to cultivate the internal energy of mindfulness before
stopping and looking deeply into what caused the fears and traumas of abuse.
The practice of arriving in each moment nurtures that strength. From
the space of clarity provided by locating yourself in the present moment,
not only is your child welcomed home, there is also the lucidity and instrument
of mindfulness practice to deal with the ghosts of the past and at the
same time put the ghosts of future anxiety to rest.
I bring Love
You can say use a loving name for your inner child if you wish. Say silently “Dear Mary” or “Darling Joseph.” Feel the energy of love fill you from top to toe and register with the energy for several breaths. Then continue in the same way with:
I bring Compassion
I bring Joy
I bring Equanimity
the meditation by once more bringing Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity
to the adult you. This meditation nurtures the wounded inner child
wonderfully and at the same time nurtures the adult you. The Buddha’s
teachings on Love provide the foundation for this Love meditation to the
wounded inner child. The concentration on these four qualities is
an incredibly powerful instrument for healing. I do not have the
words to adequately describe the impact but Thich Nhat Hanh does (1997,
There are many other methods of meditation and practice that could be documented here. I felt it appropriate to indicate some of the ones I used to good effect in my process of healing. These were practices that accompanied the shamanic healing conducted in an ASC. One factor that was very important is that I was determined to heal once understanding dawned in my consciousness. From that awareness I took specific steps and relied on wise teachers, medicine women and steady friends to help me along the path of healing and transformation. I must emphasize that this is not a journey that can be taken alone so do ensure that you have support from your sangha and good guidance from a therapist, shaman or spiritual teacher.
I am reminded with great gratitude of a particular closing chant sung after ceremonies and sutra readings in Plum Village:
the way of awareness