Peter A Levine; Ann Frederick: Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma (North Atlantic Books 1997).
Peter A Levine's main message in his book, Waking the Tiger, could be summarized as follows:
1) The felt-sense of the body will guide us to trauma energy release if we focus on it, and
2) Release of the energy that was created at a traumatic event is necessary for healing.
This book, read together with Trauma Releasing Exercises by David Berceli, seems to hold potential for a huge breakthrough in the healing of trauma.
This is a hugely inspiring health book and I would recommend it to anyone interested in trauma healing and how to 'listen to your body'. But I would highly recommend you also learn the trauma release exercise technique as taught by David Berceli - his book shows the full technique. These two books, as far as I know, are written completely independently of each other, yet address the same topics, albeit from slightly different viewpoints.
One downside of this book could be that the descriptions of traumatic events can be a little disconcerting. I found the book a slightly heavy read at points due to the depressing/ scary descriptions of the manifestation of trauma and some actual events that happened to his patients. I will thus in this book review leave out these parts as much as I can, i.e. keep it as light a read as possible. Generally, the message of the book has lots of hope, inspiration and optimism to offer. The more uplifting points are the most interesting parts of the book anyway, in my opinion.
"I am endlessly fascinated with the subject of trauma, with its intricate relationship to the physical and natural sciences, to philosophy, to mythology, and to the arts. Working with trauma has helped me to comprehend the meaning of suffering, both necessary and unnecessary. Most of all, it has helped me to fathom the enigma of the human spirit. I am grateful for this unique opportunity to learn, and for the privilege of witnessing and participating in the profound metamorphosis that the healing of trauma can bring about.
Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence. Not only can trauma be healed, but with appropriate guidance and support, it can be transformative. Trauma has the potential to be one of the most significant forces for psychological, social and spiritual awakening and evolution."
- Peter A Levine, p. 1-2, Waking the Tiger
Although the book has both heavier and more uplifting parts to it, Peter A Levine highlights that just reading through the book is good practice in terms of paying attention to one's felt sense, the body and one's feelings.
"If at any time the material or exercises seem disturbing, stop and let things settle. Sit with your experience and see what unfolds. Many of the misconceptions about trauma go surprisingly deep and may affect your experience of as well as your attitude towards yourself. [...]
"Body sensations, rather than intense emotion, is the key to healing trauma. Be aware of any emotional reaction swelling up inside you, and be aware how your body is experiencing these emotions in the form of sensations and thoughts. If your emotions feel too intense, i.e., rage, terror, profound helplessness, etc., you need to enlist professional help."
- Peter A Levine, p. 12, Waking the Tiger
Peter A Levine explains that it may also help to periodically shift your focus to a very pleasant memory or an imagined place which makes you feel secure, if difficult thoughts arise. The trauma release should be gradual, and not feel too intense. Working through the emotions in small parts is recommended by Peter A Levine.
"Beyond the mechanistic, reductionistic view of life, there exists a sensing, feeling, knowing, living organism. This living body, a condition we share with all sentient beings, informs us of our innate capacity to heal from the effects of trauma. This book is about the gift of wisdom we receive as a result of learning to harness and transform the body's awesome, primordial, and intelligent energies. In overcoming the destructive force of trauma, our innate potential now lifts us to new heigts of mastery and knowledge."
- Peter A Levine, p. 3, Waking the Tiger
This case study highlights a seemingly small incident which unexpectedly causes anger and anxiety-like symptoms in later life:
"Johnny, age five, proudly riding his first bicycle, hits loose gravel and careens into a tree. He is momentarily knocked unconscious. Getting up amid a flow of tears, he feels disoriented and somehow different. His parents hug him, console him, and put him back on the bike, all the while praising his courage. They do not realize how stunned and frightened he is.
"Years after this apparently minor incident, John, driving with his wife and children, swerves to avoid an oncoming car. He freezes in the midst of the turn. Fortunately, the other driver is able to maneuver succesfully and avoid catastrophe.
"One morning several days later, John begins to feel restless while driving to work. His heart starts racing and pounding; his hands become cold and sweaty. Feeling threatened and trapped, he has a sudden impulse to jump out of the car and run. He acknowledges the 'craziness' of his feelings, realizes no one was hurt, and gradually, the symptoms subside. A vague and nagging apprehension, however, persists most of the day. Returning home that evening without incident, he feels relieved.
"The next morning, John leaves early to avoid the traffic and stays late to discuss business with some colleagues. When he arrives home, he is irritable and edgy. He argues with his wife and barks at the children. John goes to bed early. He is awakened in the middle of the night and faintly recalls a dream in which his car is running out of control. He is drenched in sweat. More fretful nights follow.
"John is experiencing a delayed reaction sensitized by the bike accident he had as a child. Incredible as it may seem, post-traumatic reactions of this type are common."
- Peter A Levine, p. 247, Waking the Tiger
Peter A Levine introduces the idea of the 'Felt Sense', which we can learn to pay attention to and which will tell us about the sensations in the body, which can not only lead to the healing of trauma but also to more intense experiencing of everyday life.
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