By Christina McMahon and Darrin Kagele
CM: The most traumatic moment in my life was also the most important one. In September 2010, I was doing fieldwork in Mozambique. After feeling the joy of immersing myself in this beautiful culture, I experienced the underbelly of human nature. An intruder held me captive in my rented apartment for hours. While I wasn't physically harmed, the psychological pain was acute. I wondered how I'd ever feel safe again.
After I returned, I made a major life shift. Besides undergoing intensive therapy, I began meditating. I believed in a higher power again. I devoted myself to a spiritual path, and re-shuffled my priorities: inner peace over academic achievement; self-care over ambition. Now I see my trauma as a precious gift. It has brought me to happiness.
I once told my story to a friend. She said she knew a woman who had experienced a similarly harrowing crime. Ever since then, she's been on a downward spiral to alcoholism and drug addiction. I realized that trauma is a choice point: we can allow the experience to take us higher or lower.
DK: Perhaps our emotional wounds and traumas are paradoxically the very fuel we need to power our healing journey in life. Imagine that our spiritual growth is akin to a rocket ship sitting on a launch pad ready for take off. What is the fuel that drives and propels this rocket ship, helping it to escape earth’s gravity? (Gravity here is the equivalent of our own complacency).
This idea occurred to me after a conversation with a friend who was feeling guilty about possibly causing his son emotional damage. My friend has been challenged by his 11-year-old son’s hyperactive behavior. He was concerned that his frustration with his son might be creating negative memories that his child would carry with him the rest of his life. Knowing my friend to be a loving and conscientious parent, I acknowledged and emphasized his need to balance good boundaries with compassion for his son’s constant demands.
However, I also wondered if his child's emotional struggles - including any challenging experiences with his parents – could turn into a resource for him later in life. Might those difficult memories later become his son's personal rocket fuel? Something he would actually need for liftoff?
In psychology there is a term for our original trauma known as our “core wound.” I certainly attribute my own personal growth liftoff and spiritual evolution to the emotional pain that has surfaced throughout my life. What if the very thing we resist and push away is exactly what we need to break through to new levels in our life?
If we subscribe to this idea, we can recognize the potential for our traumas to become upward vehicles of liberation, discovery, and empowerment. And if we are parents, we can cut ourselves some slack if we feel we don't always "get it right." After all, our children need rocket fuel too.
Darrin Kagele is a transformational coach based in Los Angeles. He holds a Master’s degree in clinical psychology and has extensive experience coaching individuals and couples on how to transform their limiting beliefs and negative self-image into the life and relationships they have always desired. Darrin has been practicing Mindfulness and self-compassion/self-love for over 30 years and teaches groups directed towards helping people learn to sit with all their thoughts and feelings in the pursuit of acceptance. He is the loving and devoted partner of Christina McMahon.
Christina McMahon is a writer, energy healer, and meditation teacher based in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. She holds a Ph.D. in theater from Northwestern University, and applies a mindfulness-based approach to her creative projects and healing practice. You can find her guided meditations on Insight Timer and her own website. Christina is also the editor of this blog, which you can subscribe to here. She is the loving and devoted partner of Darrin Kagele.