Blue Bloods: Victims and Retraumatization

Some may call it a guilty pleasure. However, I don’t experience guilt about this and as for pleasure, well, it’s something that I enjoy because it’s kind of a mindless activity. Each week, I record a few different police dramas on TV. I watch the shows when I get to them. Typically, when I’m too tired to read before going to bed but want to help my mind turn off in order to sleep, my preference is to watch one of these shows. Among the shows I record is Blue Bloods.

To be honest, I don’t find Blue Bloods very engaging or the plots very deep. Every episode is predictable. In this family of police, one or two members get into some unlikely complicated mess related to a criminal incident that in real life would probably be a front page story. Ultimately, the characters masterfully work out problems and the cast comprised of an Irish Catholic family gathers for Sunday dinner and reflects on life lessons learned from these entangled stories. I suppose you could say that it’s something of a modern fairy tale.

While watching a recent episode called “Bad Company,” a subplot depicted the family patriarch Frank Reagan accompanying a woman who visited an inmate in prison. The inmate had brutally murdered her family when she was six years old. The woman, now in her 20’s, made the visit at the invitation of the inmate as part of a restorative justice program.

Restorative justice, which has long historic roots, became common in the United States about twenty years ago. Restorative justice attempts to repair the harm done to a person by a perpetrator. Various programs have developed guidelines for processes on how this can occur.

The Blue Bloods episode, “Bad Company,” depicted the woman whose family had been murdered in a prison meeting room with a mediator and Frank Reagan. The inmate explained that he had suffered for years with undiagnosed schizophrenia and, through the course of treatment, realized what horror he had committed. He wanted to take responsibility for his actions and express his regret. He talked of past suicide attempts. He grew from that low point in life to helping other inmates accept their own guilt. Now he had to take full responsibility and admit his guilt to this woman. In response, the woman whose family had been brutally murdered, who was stoic as he spoke, broke out in rage, insisting that nothing could be done to make up for her loss and telling the man that he should kill himself….and to “do it right next time.”

While the scene made sensational drama, what the writers of Blue Bloods did was to demonstrate an emotional outburst that was probably pathological in nature and presented it as normal and appropriate. If the scene itself was not sufficiently disturbing, the woman appears the next day in a church with Frank Reagan as the bride in a wedding. The image conveys that sense that everything that just occurred in meeting with the inmate was not just appropriate but was somehow right with God.

Yes, there are intense and complicated emotions that follow tragedy. Particular for survivors of murder, the future is difficult and often marked by symptoms of depression, anxiety, and anger. Indeed, the grief from such losses is usually never fully resolved. That said, if a person continues to experience raw emotional distress that is difficult to contain twenty or more years after a traumatic event, something is seriously wrong.

What Blue Bloods did for the sake of drama was present a woman who was experiencing the raw impact of trauma decades after the trauma occurred. Without further diagnostic information, this is probably a form of Post Traumatic Stress and may have other mental health implications.

Blue Bloods depicted a myth: that people who have been victimized should remain angry and unforgiving for the rest of their lives. In the context of this story, the message was that such victims have a right to remain enraged forever. In other words, they should be permitted to re-traumatize themselves and victimize others in the process. I find this myth very dangerous physically, spiritually, and psychologically.

While no grief is ever fully resolved, if we fail to move past deep hurts, resentments, angers, and traumas in life, the result is a widening list of disorders that impact our physical health, mental well-being, and spiritual wholeness. Such heighten emotional states that are not resolved contribute to anxiety disorders and clinical depression as well as a variety of physical diseases.

There are many platitudes about the process of forgiveness: that forgiveness benefits the person doing the forgiving. This is indeed true. Taking proper steps to release the emotions that results from significant trauma is of critical importance to a person. It’s part of what leads a person from being a victim to being a survivor. Such a release of the past does not imply that the traumatic event didn’t occur or that someone wasn’t responsible. Instead, the release of the traumatic pain causes the kind of change within a person to prevent the past from being a source of pain in the future.

In the show, Blue Bloods, the character Frank Reagan did a horrible thing: he convinced the women that it was good to remain a victim, to hold onto the pain, and to never let it go. Perhaps if the woman would have taken time to realize that the inmate who killed her family understood that he was taking full responsibility for his actions and admitted that he was horribly wrong, then she’d be able to let go of some of the emotions that continued to haunt and harm her.

People need time to heal from trauma. People also need to support from others. There is a time when it’s appropriate to be emotionally raw and express the pain.

While I watch shows like Blue Bloods as a way to unwind before going to bed, I find it difficult to tune out how poorly personal growth toward wholeness is depicted. I believe it’s critically important to support the process of recovery among those who have experienced trauma rather than encouraging them to retraumatize themselves regularly over the course of a life time.

© 2015, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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Writing: A Spiritual Practice

It’s the kind of comment that isn’t made on my blog very often. I think that’s why it captivated my attention. As I thought about it, I hadn’t received one like it in the past. In response to one of my recent blog postings, a reader commented: “Let’s talk about laboring together in the vineyard of spiritual writing.”

What made this comment a bit different from others is that typically people respond to my blog postings with a comment about what I wrote. Of course, there are those who probably didn’t actually read what I wrote and post a comment about what they want to say. Sometimes those comments are a kind of self-promotion. But this comment stood alone. It asked about something that wasn’t in my blog at all. So, I gave it some thought.

My immediate response was, “Sure. We can go there.” But then as I began to consider the statement, I wondered what I was being asked to address. After reflecting for a couple of days, it occurred to me that it is probably worth exploring my own experience of writing as a spiritual practice. It’s because writing truly is a spiritual practice for me that I use a weekly blog as a kind of discipline to make sure that I write.

Have you ever looked for a definition of “spiritual practice?” When I Googled, “definition of spiritual practice,” I found that most entries were examples of spiritual practices. I even found some that began with statements like, “There are lots of definitions of a spiritual practice.” Those entries also proceeded to give examples of spiritual practices and make recommendations for “the best” spiritual practices. Surprisingly, Wikipedia provided the clearest definition of a spiritual practice that I could find: “A spiritual practice … is the regular or full-time performance of actions and activities undertaken for the purpose of cultivating spiritual development.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritual_practice

Writing is one of the spiritual practices in which I engage. It’s contemplative, thoughtful, and expressive. Writing takes me out of my own self awareness and enables me to connect with things beyond my daily sense of self, including ideas, other people, and God. Writing also enables me to sort out my inner experience drawing me to greater clarity both in heart and mind.

When I write my weekly blog, I typically begin toward the end of the week – on Thursday or Friday. The first stage is a kind of rumination and meditation. I consider various things that have occupied me, things I’ve felt deeply, experiences I’ve had, and thoughts that have occurred to me. In this rumination, I allow some idea or topic to grow. By Sunday, I’m organizing thoughts and often writing out some of them. On Monday, I begin to draft a piece. Over Monday and Tuesday, the blog posting is drafted and revised several times. Usually, some parts are very clear to me while others are confused. Wednesday morning, I often complete the final draft and hope I’ve not left too much work for my editor. Then on Wednesday, I email the piece to my editor who corrects for typos, punctuation, and so forth. Sometimes there are problems with organization that my editor notes as well. Later in the day, I get the piece back and complete the edits. Thursday morning is typically when the new blog posting is sent to my web master who loads the blog to the site and sets up the auto delivery via email. Then the process begins again.

Those are the steps of my process. What’s difficult to account for is the spiritual dimension of the process. Throughout the writing and editing, there are countless pauses and moments of reflection. There’s a kind of rhythm of engaging with the writing and stepping back to center myself and reflect. I can’t rush the moments of clarity that enable me to write. Instead, I need to allow them to come as they do. In this rhythm, I find myself becoming more inwardly aligned and balanced. It’s as though I move from a fog to clarity for a brief time, then back to the fog.

Ultimately, my experience of writing as a spiritual practice is that the process is much like life. It’s the same rhythm of moving from the fog to clarity in successive ways. Only what happens with writing several times in the course of an hour is a process that’s elongated over years when living one’s life. By engaging in writing, I am better prepared for the back and forth nature of life as I consider the ways the course of life has brought me out of fog into moments of clarity.

The discipline of writing each week also leads to greater clarity of thought. I need to be sure that my ruminations are developed sufficiently for others to read and understand. What’s more challenging is finding the words to express what I experience at the heart level: that sense of clarity and alignment which occurs in the writing process. As it occurs, this heartfelt experience is palpable for me. Yet, encapsulating it in words is very challenging. It’s often lost in the attempt.

It’s often like that with other spiritual experiences or processes. I experience something very similar in meditation and prayer. While the experience is deep and rich, it fades when I attempt to encapsulate it in words.

I’ve maintained a weekly blog for five years. I’ve been asked from time to time if I will continue. I expect that I will. But my reason for continuing is not because the blog is widely read. Instead, the process of writing the blog has become a dependable spiritual practice for me. It wasn’t a practice I set out to establish. But it’s become part of my life.

While the topics I address do vary widely and my postings are not limited to specific spiritual beliefs or practices, the blog is titled well for me: I write about spirituality as it is emerging in my life. Part of that emergence is the process of writing itself. It’s a great gift. For that, I am grateful.

© 2015, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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Tending One’s Own Vineyard

In many parts of the world, including the United States, there is a growing desire to eat food grown from seeds that were not genetically modified, i.e., non-GMO foods. Much of this food is organic. Monsanto, as well as other companies, make seeds that are genetically modified to resist the commonly used herbicide Round-Up. Plus, there are other common genetic modifications that impact crop yield, disease resistance, and shelf life of crops once harvested. Among the various problems encountered by non-GMO and organic farmers is that their fields can be contaminated when pollen from genetically modified crops is blown by the wind or carried by bees and birds into the non-GMO fields. When this occurs, the law and subsequent court decisions all fall in favor of Monsanto and other major companies in agribusiness. Even when a farmer plants non-GMO crops, if evidence is found of genetically modified plants in the field, the farmer may need to pay fees to Monsanto for planting trademarked crops. Even when a buffer zone is planted as required by the laws on organic farming, pollen drift still occurs. Among the results of pollen drift is that between .5 and 2% of organic corn grown in the US is contaminated from genetically modified plants. (http://www.rodalenews.com/research-feed/organic-vs-monsanto-organic-farmers-lose-right-protect-crops)

While there is a social justice issue at the heart of the tension between agribusiness and non-GMO and organic farmers, this example makes it quite clear that even when tending one’s own garden or vineyard, what other individuals plant can impact your garden, and vice-versa. The ways in which I care for the soil of my garden, water and fertilize the plants, and pick the produce is not just about me but affects those around me. The results can be both short term and long term.

Tending one’s own garden or vineyard is a metaphor often found in Christian spiritual literature. Recently, I came across this quote from The Dialogues of St. Catherine of Siena:

“Keep in mind that each of you has your own vineyard. But everyone is joined to your neighbor’s vineyards without any dividing lines. They are so joined together, in fact, that you cannot do good or evil for yourself without doing the same for your neighbors.”

Living in the 14th Century, Catherine was an advisor to royalty in Europe and several popes. She traveled widely and eventually began to dictate letters to scribes that were collected and distributed among her many followers. Her book, The Dialogues, is a series of deep spiritual reflections in which Catherine frequently uses nature as a source of recollection.

Catherine encourages her readers to tend their own vineyard: to sow seeds of loving-kindness, to tend with patience, to fertilize with mercy and compassion, and to allow the growth of beauty in the vineyard to inspire us. But Catherine is also clear that there are no real dividing lines between one’s own vineyard and that of one’s neighbors. Whatever is sown, whether it is good or evil, will take root in one’s own garden and will also pollinate the gardens of others.

Let me explain something about how this works. Perhaps a person uses meditation as something of a refuge from the stresses and strains of life. Meditation becomes the oasis in the midst of trouble. While meditation leads to a calming state, our friend in this example may not be using meditation to release the sources of anger: the expectation that situations or people will be different. Instead, our friend finishes meditation with the self-centered preoccupation that others shouldn’t intrude on the sense of inner peace. Of course, it doesn’t take long for inner peace to be lost because others will simply never meet our expectations. Our friend quickly becomes enraged. Walking down the street, our friend yells at a senior for being too slow, gives the left handed salute to a person crossing in front of him, and shoves a mother attempting to tie a small child’s shoe. Rather than actually sowing an interior garden of peace, our friend has set the conditions for internal discord using a poorly developed approach to meditation. The result is that our friend is going around making both his life and the lives of other people more difficult. How tragic is that?

Catherine reminds us to tend the vineyard of our interior life in such a way that nourishes the fruit and beauty not only in within usbut in the world around us. If we properly tend the vineyard of our interior lives, we do improve the quality of the world. It will impact the lives of others.

Ultimately, the dynamics of the spiritual dimension of life aren’t really much different from any other aspect of life. If we tend the vineyard of our interior lives well, the pollen will spread to others.

© 2015, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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