Stepping Into Spiritual Practice after Religious or Spiritual Trauma
My religious and spiritual trauma happened because I was mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually lied to, manipulated and abused in the religion of my childhood (Jehovah’s Witness).
In 2007, I was officially and publicly shunned and outcast from the religion. As a result, every member of the faith was obligated to shun me – not even speaking a word to me. Every single person I considered a friend – my entire support network – turned on me overnight. Even my immediate family (who were all a part of this religion) shunned me from that day forward – my father, mother and two brothers all treating me as if I were dead. Why? Because the men leading the congregation I belonged to believed me to be a “wicked man.” (This is a quote from the leader of the “Judicial Committee” who decided I was no longer worthy of their god’s love.)
What I’ve just shared is the easy part. I won’t go into the rest of the details about the deeper spiritual trauma I experienced in the 35 years of my life prior to being kicked out of the religion. While painful, being kicked out has actually been one of the brighter moments.
And, that wasn’t the only time I’ve been publicly outcast from a spiritual group. It happened to me another time, more recently. In this instance, libel was spread publicly about me, along with an abrupt, forced separation from a group that I love dearly and had dedicated many years of my life to build and nurture.
Despite the spiritual trauma, here I am, joyfully running my very own coaching company, helping to lead many clients around the world in their own business, life and relationships, reminding all hearts about the important of spiritual connection in business. I’ve journeyed from a deep, dark place towards a bright, joyful place of spiritual depth and connection.
Since I know many who follow my work have similar experiences, before I share any more, from my heart to your heart, I want to say…
I see you. I hear you. I understand you. You are not alone.
In my many years in business, I’ve come across many who have also been spiritually traumatized. The business coaching I do with my clients resonates and is effective, and I’ve learned that the spiritual sides of what I teach and use within my coaching practice can present unexpected or unintended obstacles to business growth.
When I was first learning business, I took a big, expensive program, and it didn’t change my business much at all – it really was quite ineffective in that regard. What it did instead was radically change my life – and although the program was focused on business, the transformation that took place in my heart was far beyond what I ever could have expected. Although I didn’t know it, I HAD to do some inner work first. The outcome was totally unexpected, but the value was ten-fold beyond what I’d anticipated.
SIDE NOTE: Please don’t take big expensive courses when you’re early in business (which means if your business isn’t already supporting you fully). If your business is rockin’… then go ahead… use your profits to pay cash for a big, expensive thing you think will change your world. Otherwise, please understand that what you need early in business is already available for free on the web… you might just need some support to find and organize it. (If this described you… reach out to me, and let’s talk.)
So, if you’re here, perhaps having been spiritually traumatized, and exploring your own relationship with spirituality – I wanted to share are a few key things which I learned and leaned into heavily as I walked with my trauma. I’ve found these pieces extremely helpful, not only in this situation but in many aspects of life. I want to share what I learned with you in hopes that it can help sooth your heart as you walk your own path forward with both deep, tender care and great strength and power.
Believing Something Different
The first thing I had to break down was all the years of brainwashing which instilled in me that my relationship with the Divine had to be a certain way, could only be approached through one channel and that I had no choice in the matter.
I had to recognize what had been ingrained in me – so I knew what to dismantle. Then, I had to choose to believe something different. This is a key point… you can’t just dismantle old beliefs, those old beliefs must be replaced with something new, or the old belief will haunt you.
This has been one of the single most transformative and beneficial tenets of my life in the past decade: I get to choose what I believe.
Especially true is that I get to choose how, when, where and why I have a relationship with the Divine – along with what I consider the Divine to be.
Taking on this mantle, however, is a huge turn-around from the disempowered teachings of my birth religion. Part of the healing of my own spiritual trauma was taking back my power to decide to believe something different.
How does this impact my life day to day, in and out of spirituality? I’ve made it a habit to follow almost every thought I think, every sentence I hear, and most statements I or others make with the question, “Is that true?” By asking this question in my heart, what I’ve done is given myself a chance to decide. I’ve opened up space in my heart to feel what resonates and what doesn’t.
After years of practice, it amazes me that even when I would rather something not be true, because for it to be true would mean my own disadvantage or discomfort, I can’t ignore the resonance… and so it’s not a bypass towards a feel-good, nicety-nice, made-up world of candy-canes and sugar-plums.
I get to choose. My relationship with the Divine is up to me. I don’t have to believe anything. The same is true for you… your relationship with the Divine is purely between you and the Divine. And, you don’t have to believe anything you don’t want to.
And, for the record…. I choose to believe Love. I believe that the Divine is Love. I believe that Love is the answer… all-ways. Full stop.
It wouldn’t feel honest if I didn’t also say that I struggle to find and practice reflecting the Love sometimes. And I celebrate how im/perfectly and relentlessly I try.
Discovery, Discernment, Practice, Translation
After my spiritual trauma, I knew I wanted a spiritual relationship with “God” – whatever that was. And so I became willing to explore and experiment (something that was also highly discouraged in the Witnesses).
I read a LOT about others faith and heard them describe their relationship with the Divine. A few had parts and pieces that resonated with me – many, many, many didn’t. I tried to be willing to mine the nuggets that felt resonant in my heart, and to leave the rest aside. It didn’t mean I was judging those teachings as invalid or casting those beliefs off permanently. I simply found it important to be willing to take it one step at a time.
This wasn’t about finding truth. My journey was about finding resonance.
For a number of years, I lost my spiritual practice – prayer, community, etc. Then I was introduced to the Sufi practice of Remembrance. I’m not a Sufi, and have no interest in walking that path, but the Remembrance practice… that’s a keeper. (I’m building a Remembrance Treasury in my business… check it out!)
The practice of Remembrance feels similar to meditation, but there’s a devotional aspect to it. The practice is calling the name of the Divine into your heart and being in connection with Love, drinking in nourishment directly from Oneness. It’s a way to explore and experience your own personal relationship with God. It’s one of my most favorite things.
In the early days, however, there were a thousand things about Remembrance that triggered me. In fact, I was so triggered by Remembrance that, for a short time, every time it started I used some pretty hard drugs to numb myself from the fear and emotion it brought up. (I don’t recommend this strategy, by the way.) I share this vulnerable little tidbit to help you understand that if spiritual practice of any kind is challenging for you – you’re not alone. It’s okay. Be gentle with your heart.
The lesson here is – gentleness. If you’re stepping into spiritual practice and it’s triggering you, or the use of a name for the Divine is triggering, or whatever – it’s okay. Don’t push yourself so hard that you re-traumatize yourself, like I did. Be willing to explore, and if something is too much – be willing to set it aside.
Also, be willing to try again. It took me about a year before I was able to start doing Remembrance without feeling cautious. I kept working with it because in my heart, I felt resonance.
There’s a difference between discomfort and trauma. It takes discernment and connection to your body to learn the difference.
It’s totally okay to be uncomfortable. It’s not okay to be traumatized.
And so, I kept coming back to the practice of Remembrance (as well as other spiritual practices which felt resonant in my heart) and trying. Again and again. Over and over. Practice, notice, adjust. Practice, notice, adjust. Rinse and repeat.
Utilizing the Tool of Translation
Along the way, I learned to become a highly skilled translator. I’ve found this critically important.
Whenever I hear a word, phrase or practice which feels triggering, non-resonant or uncomfortable – instead of only being in resistance, I allow my sincerity to come forward in an exploration of what feels more resonant to my heart. It forces me to explore my own personal beliefs and heart to define what works for me.
One great example of this is the use of the name Allah. I didn’t have to use that name, no one forced me. But there was something about it that I kind of liked. But still, it was a really difficult one for me. I had so much association of that name to terrorism. It was really challenging. But then, in my heart, I realized, “I’m here, and I’m doing this practice, and I feel love and kindness and joy. I’m actually very safe. There is no terror here. What if that name meant something different? What if Allah meant One? The One. The One.” I began to explore my own definition of the name (re-translate). (In this case, my “translation” wasn’t far off from the true meaning of Allah… but I didn’t know the research behind the name at the time. Other phrases and concepts I’ve had to translate: Forgiveness, repentance, etc.)
If you’ve ever heard me lead you in Remembrance, I often share that I use the name Allah, not because I’m Sufi or I think that’s the “right” name for the Divine, but because I translate the name in my head into two words that feel really good to my heart and reflect what feels true about the Divine, as I perceive it to be.
First the name Allah starts with, “all” – which I believe the Divine to be.
Second, it has the sound, “Ahhhhhh,” like a sigh of relief – which is what I want to feel when I am in relationship with the Divine. All-ahhhhhhh. That feels good even typing it out right now.
Much further into my own personal spiritual growth, I’ve learned that there’s all sorts of other reasons (none that are “religious”) which make using the name Allah really work for me.
The real question is, however… what feels good to you? Use that.
You’re always welcome to explore using this name to see how it suits you…. but please, don’t use it if it’s not for you. Use what works for you, and employ your inner-translator when we practice together. Some days, for whatever reason, Allah doesn’t feel good in my heart, and so I then use the sound, “OM” instead. That’s another really beautiful sound which carries some of the same sonic coding in it’s vibration that Allah does.
So, I encourage you to continue learning to translate. Don’t ever blindly accept something someone else says as true, or the only way to be in relationship with the Divine. Discover. Discern. Translate. Practice. (For the record – since I have such a high sensitivity to anything dogmatic, I am always on high-watch for this. Nothing I present spiritually is the “right way,” it’s just a possible way.)
I don’t believe anyone else can teach you “how it’s supposed to be” when it comes to spirituality. I believe spiritual teachings and practice are meant to lead my heart to discover its own relationship with the heart of Oneness. “Masters of Divinity” and other ordained holy people might have a context and language with which to help you explore and discover and give voice to your relationship with the Divine, but there isn’t a right way… just the way that you’re experiencing. Trust, and honor that, even if others don’t.
Loving my Protector
The trauma is there. It comes up to visit sometimes. The repeated violence I’ve experienced in spiritual groups at the hands of men wielding power has been incredibly painful, and through it, I’ve learned more compassion, more strength, and more sovereignty within my self.
These days, I view the trauma and the lessons I’ve learned from it as my spiritual protector – always on high alert so that I don’t get re-traumatized. When it shows up, I love the heck out of it for offering to protect me. Then, I use the tools I’ve shared here to find a safe and resonant path forward along my spiritual journey.
I’ve found that deep spiritual connection (to the Divine, Oneness, the Universe, my heart, my higher-self…. whatever you want to call it) is critical to being able to create a business where every action we take in our business is an act of Kindness and Love. We need more of this in the world…. so much more of this.
I’ve only scratched the surface here. The spiritual journey, and recovering from spiritual trauma, could never be sufficiently related in one blog post. My only hope is that if you have suffered spiritual trauma as I have, that something in this sharing helps your heart feel safe enough to continue moving forward – with deep confidence that wherever you are on your spiritual journey, you’re welcome here, with all my heart.
In the comments below, I’d love to hear how this article lands with your heart, and how these practices might support your spiritual journey.
(There is no need to leave comments of sorrow or support for any of the past or more recent spiritual trauma. Also, please do not make any recommendations to “good” spiritual groups of any kind, as I won’t find that helpful. While appreciated, I’d prefer the focus to be how what I’ve shared here can support you in your own spiritual and business journey. Please and thank you.)