The Numinous, Trauma, and What Comes After

Imagine you see a UFO. It doesn’t have to be a UFO, but Something that doesn’t fit in your worldview: light(s) in the sky not following all the rules you learned about how to function, blinking that seem to be responding to you, to your feelings, to your attention, little beings who aren’t quite human. For most people, these things don’t happen until (sometimes) they do. What do you do after? What happens to you, what happens to your sense of self, to your place? How do you go about your life?

In a related way, what happens if you’re traumatized? When you encounter pain, or damage, or maliciousness that bends you and your sense of self?

I don’t think seeing a UFO (or anything numinous) is the same as being traumatized, exactly. But instead they have commonalities around encountering something that doesn’t fit how the world is supposed to work, encountering the thing that shouldn’t happen, that shouldn’t be there. Something that shouldn’t be, but is. And the share an accompanying risk of isolation, of marginalization, of being stuck & othered by what you experienced.

All the time, things are happening to, around, through, with us. And sometimes, these things exceed our previous limits; trauma from a sideswipe encounter with genuine malice or a personally undeniable supernatural experience — the damned’ in the sense that Charles Forte used the word. Somethings that don’t fit the narratives and fortress walls of context we use to navigate the psychedelic ultra-abundance of all things seen and unseen, perceived and previously imperceptible. Something that seems to mock the entire notion of working in florescent light to pay the bills, pursuing our previous goals. But there are these things that happen, at least to some people if not to you. Good or bad, they’re like bits of sand in the maw of the oyster- they don’t fit with the soft pink tissue wrapped in a hardened shell of our concepts and identity-narratives that we assume is the world.

An engine of the world (or, perhaps just the human world) is that for these moments, there is a template we (at least sometimes) seem to follow to get past them. First, we must wrap the encounter, the string of encounters, the season in a narrative. If we live anywhere, we live in a weave of stories: where did we come from, where are we, where are we going. Anticipation and apprehension. Without our stories we are as a naked human in the snow, we are as a ship without sail or engine; reliant on currents and movements to take us where they will.

I’ve seen people, and I would guess you’ve seen people as well, wrapping & re-wrapping the same moment, over and over again. Telling the same story, especially if they’re intoxicated. Trying to get the sail cloth back up after it was thrown down, torn asunder by a powerful wind they had no conception of before it blew through their lives.

But telling the story is only part of the process. And without the entirety of the process (which may needs be repeated, which may need to be begun again if it goes astray) people are stuck.

After, or even as we wind this narrative around our traumas and our context obliterating moments, we need at least one other human being to hear us. We would probably be best served to be heard by many humans… our ideal would probably to be heard & recognized by our entire tribe; but we can make do and survive by merely being heard by one. This is a moment of great peril; to be rejected, to be dismissed here can fold us, hurt us worse than the initial encounter I believe. Moreover, this hearing is best given by a wise confidant, perhaps an elder, who can (lovingly, carefully) help us trim and prune our narrative. Because the stories we spin can be our liberation or our imprisonment. We can weave dead-end stories which see us mired in bitterness like tar, unable to move forward. We can draw the wrong’ lesson, which simply means the lesson that makes it harder for us and others to flourish. I think we have institutions that can help us with this.

But there is something we most often miss as disembodied moderns:

The shake or, said differently, ritual release that is grounded in the body.

And this perhaps needs to be grounded in a visual metaphor. I recall watching a nature documentary, about a gazelle fleeing a lion. Both creatures sprinted, duck, juked; amped up to their maximum performance. In the predator-prey dance it doesn’t serve the pursued to hold anything back… dump all adrenaline, burn all reserves, get away at all and any cost. In this case, the gazelle was successful and the lion broke off pursuit. But the reprieved creature stood shivering quaking from its own overclocked nervous system. Even though it had successfully escaped, part of it was still trembling as though it were -still- running for its life.

So after a moment it shook, violently… almost like a barely controlled seizure. And only then was it able to wander off — to graze, to herd-cuddle with its fellows. But it needed that reset, that seizing to signal to all its myriad systems that yes, it had been in the presence of the predator, the other. It had encountered the thing that made sense of adrenaline, that made sense of running as though tomorrow didn’t exist (because in that moment, tomorrow was profoundly rather than merely incidentally uncertain). But now, things were different. Now was the time for walking and grazing and living at a different tempo.

We need this shake as well; after trauma, after terror, after _. We need to viscerally plug into ourselves as incarnate, embodied beings and mark that that was then and this is now by creating a semicolon in the narrative flow of our lives.

And this isn’t a rational process, it’s not something that can be intellectualized. It is I think a sweaty, trembling, sanguine mystery.

This isn’t a medical prescription, this isn’t a one size fits all’ notion of how this works. But it is something I have seen work, it is the best way I can create a template for what has worked for me at times. And I think these sort of ritual releases are part of the engine of humanity.

Up next En Memento Mori (Life in the Perma-Covid) Let us begin here, in what is the source of ancient & eternal wisdom: you will die. Unless you pin your hopes on some manner of transhuman excess or Earth Day For thousands of years, we did not understand our purpose. Those were dark times, times when we poisoned the sky and soured the land
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