“Tormented by thirst, they continued to argue with Moses. ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Are you trying to kill us, our children, and our livestock with thirst?’ Then Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What should I do with these people? They are ready to stone me!’” Exodus 17.3
I started reading the Bible following the Lectio Divina practice, which is a very mindful way of reading scripture. Instead of my usual One Year Bible that I’ve treated like a study the past year, I am now reading piecemeal, using the formula of reading a shorter passage, meditating on it, praying on it, and then contemplating it. Having this extra time to really think about the passage allowed my mind to examine it in a deeper way, and what I read today reminded me of the tricky problem of trauma.
I have a lot of trauma. It’s generational, and it killed my dad. As a result, I’ve dedicated my current studies to understanding it, and learning how to respond to crises. I’ve chipped away at the shame which keeps trauma in the dark, festering like an infected wound. So when I read this passage today, I noticed two things: 1) The translation added the word “tormented”, which I appreciated, because it caused me to take notice, and 2) In my Life Recovery Bible, the footnote for that section really wrote-off the pain that the Israelites were facing which drove them to battle against Moses.
The thirst that the Israelites felt that lured them to defy God and Moses was looked upon as as a moment of weakness brought about by a temporary discomfort, but today I understand that trauma causes a phenomenon where the person is unable to think reasonably. Science is also beginning to support this by showing that episodes of trauma disrupts connectivity in the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that facilitates complex cognitive behaviour, personality expression, decision making, and moderates social behaviour.
What I have noticed since I have begun my journey to understand this type of distress is that it’s largely misunderstood. I have heard people’s trauma be dismissed by calling the person or their actions lazy, self-seeking, or crazy, amongst other fault-finding adjectives that steal our dignity. But I am finding in all of these circumstances, the person is coming from a place of incredible pain that causes actions that seem peculiar or offensive.
I have found that the best way to manage trauma is to allow for space. This space permits the processing of the emotions that can get short circuited during times of stress. When I think back to the times I or someone I cared about acted strangely, it was because the space was not there to invite understanding and compassion – traits needed to begin the healing process. This is why my recovery today is contingent on having the space to allow love to flow, so that I can give myself or others the attention and respect needed to begin the healing process.
The ability to give space which supports the traits that bring about growth can seem like a contradiction, because in order to have space there requires a mindset of having enough to give, and it’s the scarcity principle, which, for example the Israelites experienced, that often shows up when space is needed the most. I have discovered that true healing begins once we abandon the not-enough, victim mentality that keeps us grasping at straws. From there we can begin to give ourselves, and then others, the space to heal from generational trauma.