In the early summer, I ran a course at the Spa Road Buddhist Centre in Bermondsey, London on the subject of tapping and meditation.
It was the first time I had taught on these two subjects together, despite having practised and taught meditation for a couple of decades and used tapping in my personal life and my therapy practice for the last 10 or so years. (I wrote about its significance here.)
The course was fascinating. And, as so often happens, I learned a great deal by teaching it.
Tapping works to remove patterns of trauma from the body
Tapping is a catch-all name for many different energy psychology forms such as EFT, AIT and TAT. It’s not altogether accurate since not all these modalities use tapping, but nonetheless, it’s the most colloquial way of describing it, so I’ll stick with it.
The defining feature of tapping is that it works to remove the patterns of trauma in the energetic body.
This is really useful when those patterns are persistent and debilitating, as in people suffering from PTSD. (“Cognitive somatic” practices, which is what the British National Health Service calls tapping treatments, are recommended as a treatment for PTSD in the UK.) But in my own life and in working with many clients over the years, I’ve also found tapping remarkably powerful in freeing me from persistent and debilitating patterns of unconscious behaviour and belief that I may have carried from childhood on.
A virtuous circle of more and more relaxation and expansion
This is why I felt that it might be useful to combine the tool of tapping with the arena of somatic meditation, which I have been working with in the last six or seven years since meeting my Buddhist teacher Reggie Ray.
In my mind, these energy techniques impact us much more strongly, when we are in an embodied and grounded state of being. They also seem to remove the blockages that get in the way of us reaching that state of being. And in that way, they help build a virtuous circle of more and more relaxation and expansion.
While I was teaching this course, one of my most perspicacious students, Alina, raised an excellent question. ‘Aren’t we always being encouraged to turn towards “what is” in meditation and not push mind-states away? Isn’t this an example of our ego wanting to get rid of something it doesn’t like?’
This is the pertinent question in all meditation. Are we using the practice to turn away from experience rather than towards it? And I was interested to find myself answering in the following way. (Sometimes I don’t know where the teaching comes from. Certainly not from my everyday deluded mind.)
Don’t accept greed, hatred and delusion.
1. Buddhist meditation is not about accepting everything. If we just accepted everything in our mind without any insight we would never travel down the path and there would be no possibility of enlightenment. We would be like the animals, blindly following our biology and our conditioning with no awareness of our own agency. Buddhist teaching is very clear that we do need to develop discernment about our mind and let go of certain tendencies and cultivate others. The fundamental thing we are encouraged to let go of is greed, hatred and delusion. What this means is our habitual tendency to want the Present to be something more agreeable to us (greed); for it not to be the way it is (hatred) or to not be there at all (delusion). All three are a denial of reality.
These old fashioned terms, heavy with Christian freight, are sometimes better translated as rejection, clinging or dissociation. They are the three great ways of avoiding the reality of the here-and-now. And the Buddhist teaching definitely urges us to stop using these ‘false guardians’. Habitually, we think we are sparing ourselves by rejecting the unwanted, clinging to an alternative or dissociating the situation altogether. But what we are actually doing is missing life altogether.
If we can use tapping to release these habits of life-avoidance then this is a very strong benefit.
Patterns set up to stop the trauma happening again
2. Secondly, with regards to trauma… Psychologically, trauma is the repeated patterns set up in the psyche following an overwhelming experience that the mind could not allow the body to process. The protective mind wants to spare the organism the repeat of the overwhelm and so sets up a pattern of avoidance and activation around any circumstance where it looks likely to happen.
So if we were chronically neglected as children, then a pattern is set up in the psyche where any occurrence of neglect, (our adult partner not returning our phone call) summons up a whole cascade of emotions and unconscious presuppositions which can paralyse us.
The breeze-block in the river
The image I often use if of a breeze-block dropped into a river. The river of our life runs continuously but sometimes a big event drops a breeze-block into the stream and the river has to run around it. The water is still flowing but the event has caused a pattern of turbulence which gets incorporated into our life. Sometimes these patterns just become part of who we are. Sometimes – especially when there are multiple breeze-blocks – the patterns become incapacitating and we need to seek help.
When I’m working with clients I often explain that the tapping will help lift the breeze block of trauma out of the water and the river’s natural flowing tendency will then re-assert itself. And indeed this is often what happens. We do a couple of sessions of tapping and the client feels a natural re-establishment of ease and relaxation – even when faced by the triggers that had previously paralysed them.
Is tapping denying the dharma of our life?
What Alina questioned in London, was whether it was ‘dharmic’ to want to change the patterns of our life and would it not be more Buddhist to simply accept the breeze-blocks and the turbulence.
Quite apart from the desire of all Buddhist teaching to remove suffering, there is another Buddhist reason to use tapping to work with trauma.
This is to do with the nature of the mind and trauma itself. When I use the image of the breeze block then I am actually being rather misleading, because in fact there is no permanent and lasting breeze block. We actually re-create the breeze block moment to moment with our minds and then arrange the water around that imaginary breeze block too. This is the true nature of mind, that we are creating our whole reality in each moment, and that it takes an extraordinary amount of effort to create the breeze block, create the turbulence and then worry about the turbulence.
The traumatic event did indeed happen in the past – but the arrangement of our life around a constantly recalled memory of it is unnecessary and exhausting.
No breeze block, no turbulence, only the river.
The Buddhist teaching of emptiness points to the non-essential quality of these beliefs and memories we have of ourselves. We remember our childhood neglect over and over, and then we build our behaviour around that remembering ‘as if’ it were real. But, in fact, in the wide-open space that meditation gives us access to, there was never a breeze block, never a pattern of turbulence and never a resolution of that turbulence. The river has, in fact, been flowing unceasingly and without disruption the whole time.
In this view, the tapping is not ‘removing’ the breeze block or the turbulence. It is simply allowing us to return to the reality of the unimpeded river. If it is removing anything, it is removing all the mental effort we expend in creating and re-creating these patterns every moment of our lives.