The Wisdom of Shock in Nondual Therapy


By Georgi Y. Johnson

The experience of shock is inseparable from trauma, but it also follows the same pathway as conscious awakening. Shock resets the system. When used against us, it can dictate our behavior. When mastered, it can become an entry-point to unconditional freedom in form.

We are going through our regular day, with our normal thoughts, and our regular perceptions. Even if we’re not particularly happy, everything feels familiar and known to us. There is a kind of habituated naturalness and our core consciousness is latent as the system functions in a manner that is nearly autonomous. Everything ticks along within a spectrum of predictability and our sense of self feels continuously there, stable, in the background.

Then it comes - the phone call, that knock on the door, or that physical event that randomly disturbs the status quo. It’s a psychic circuit-breaker. The normative processing system is disrupted. Something impossible to immediately process has intruded - often with a violence - on our routine state. 

While shock is part of the breakage of trauma, it is also part of the pathway back to wholeness. This is because shock opens the possibility to look at things differently, and the potential for realignment of attitude and the allowance of change. 

Shock is a phenomena that affects body, feeling and thought simultaneously, launching consciousness out of form. It’s like a psychic reset, a circuit breaker that momentarily disables the habitual and reflexive system. With shock, our consciousness is launched into the unknown, a space of open dis-identification. What happens next is the rewriting of a psychological program based on preserving the status quo that could determine the very nature of how we experience being alive.

If we look at rats in a laboratory, their behavior and nervous reflexes can be conditioned for generations by the application of shock. If they are shocked when they taste cheddar cheese, for example, they develop an intergenerational aversion to cheddar. Even the scent of this delectable cheese sends them into panic. 

Something similar happens in classrooms where children can be yelled at, called out, and shamed. A short, sharp shock has historically been used to awaken children to learning something new. Those of us over 50 probably grew up with similar conditioning from our parents. A slap, or even a belting, was seen as a necessary discipline to mold us into a civilized shape.

We have been, and continue to be, conditioned by shock. This means that the inquiry into the conscious experience of shock has tremendous value in both healing trauma and reclaiming the whole dimension of conscious awakening that is psychosomatically following the same pathways as shock.

Shock is Holistic

Shock appears as the very force which causes the fragmentation. Yet when we allow the direct experience of shock, we can find that it is fundamentally about shifting to a wider, preservative dimesion of wholeness.

In the moment of shock, we are one. Body, heart, mind, left, right, up, down, self and other collapse in this timeless and immediate field of sensation in which there is a sudden and unexpected awakening of consciousness beyond all known parameters.

There is an immediate effect on the sense of time, which can be experienced in slow motion or in rapid contingency. There is also an immediate impact on space. We can feel lost in a boundless expanse, and unbearably close. We can also swing from left to right, or from up to down, often with accompanying cold and hot sweats. There are also after effects on form. With shock, the appearance of reality is lost, and something new is appearing. It is often involves both psychophysical emergency and spiritual emergence.

The body can seem alien, or remote, and we can experience an array of physical effects to the explosion of normative experience. Common idioms in English point toward these somatic effects on the orientation of our consciousness in space and time:

You could have knocked me down with a feather. 
Her jaw dropped open.
It was a bolt from the blue.
I had to do a double take.
His eyes were on stalks.
I jumped out of my skin.
It knocked their socks off.
They stopped dead in their tracks.
He was rooted to the spot.
We were struck dumb.
I was taken unawares.
Words fail me.

The whole autonomous system of the psyche is destabilized, and with a high voltage of energy, consciousness is ejected out of its attachment to normative reality. What we previously took for granted now appears as strange. What previously seemed “real” now appears as “surreal”.  We have no idea what is going to happen next and we find ourselves suspended in a formless dimension that can feel far from the action of the body, the senses, and even speech.

When that pathway is opened again - either through trauma or conscious awakening, the same effects could repeat, because shock first of all conditions itself how to be shocked. This why our core freedom depends on finding freedom in the pathways of shock. Where it is not free, the repeating suffering of traumatic residue can be intense.

Shock, Trauma, and Nonduality

Shock ejects our consciousness out of form, and in this, proves to us time and again that our consciousness is free of form. Form is a configuration of time and space. That means that from that place of untethered consciousness, we are masters of time and space. 

It is possible, through inner inquiry, to slow time down, and to re-experience your unique pathways of shock in slow motion. We can even relax behind the contemplation. What is at play here is the existential and inviolable freedom of consciousness itself from any form. Handled skillfully, it’s a nondual healing opportunity, because the freedom of consciousness means that we have the freedom to heal.

The experience of shock can include sensations of fragmentation, dissociation, and displacement. Shock is not only an event, it is a psychic experience, in which our consciousness is awakened beyond form. It’s a rude awakening, but an awakening of consciousness none-the-less. Our consciousness is no longer tied in and weighted by the predictable routine. It is no longer fused with the background state of passive normality. We might experience formlessness, lostness, confusion, and psychic suspension. And all of these sensations are witnessed and felt by an even deeper consciousness.

When - by hook or by crook - there is an awakening of consciousness, there is the opportunity for a psychic reset. Outside of the shackles of “reality” there is spaciousness, freedom, curiosity, and even awe. It’s possible that something from the core of ourselves becomes very alive. Maybe you could imagine the psyche as a computer running outdated software. When the system crashes and reboots, a whole reset of infinite possibility opens up. When this awakening of consciousness is through devotion or practice, we can be surprised by bliss in the here and now. When it comes through pain, breakage and suffering, then it is a rude awakening - a shock - that rains down traumatic residue. Yet it is still an awakening beyond the normative programming of the psyche.

The pathways of shock align with the pathways of conscious awakening. They mirror each other. Have you ever experienced a moment of conscious awakening, opening up to unknown potentiality of the here and now, only to find yourself dropped moments later into a field of dread, spooky sensations and distrust? This pattern shows the interdependence of pleasure and pain and the pathway of awakening. Conscious awakening will always be a healing opportunity and a movement of self-realization, however we come there. Here are 4 examples covered in the course The Trauma that Blinds us

For Better or Worse

  • In trauma, there is a rude awakening, followed at some stage by a transformation of this awakening into deeper resilience and bliss.
  • In conscious awakening, it can be blissful and liberating, that will be followed by a need to address emotional residues of trauma, and all those places where we are still attached to form through unconscious fear reflexes. In the words of Jack Kornfeld: “After the ecstasy, the laundry.”

Dimensional Shift

  • In blissful awakening, we shift to a deeper, more formless dimension of ourselves, where our consciousness has the freedom to witness, observe, and contemplate changing forms of experience. This disembodied consciousness seeks re-entry, expression and integration into the field of experience.
  • In a rude awakening, we are also shifted to a deeper, more formless dimension of ourselves. Our consciousness is now witnessing the unfolding of events from a dissociated point of view, and sometimes a view-point where there is a sense of disembodied safety that is not normally accessible. This “outsider” space becomes a hidden safety valve, forming a protective pathway should the traumatic event repeat.

The Sense of Reality

  • In a rude awakening, our habitual patterns and forms of reality subside into a more acute sense of reality. Belief structures fail.  Something feels more “real”, more alive and more true, than the consensual norms. Yet this reality imparts a sense of fakeness about the old forms - they seem surreal, alien, and immensely unreliable. This can breed a background of cynicism toward life, and a certain contempt toward the sleepy conditions that allowed the trauma to occur. We often feel alienated, depersonalized, as if all we see is suffused with a sense of “strangeness”. We are also developing resilience through this experience, becoming increasingly able to meet the freshness of each moment with alertness - as if it were our last.
  • In blissful awakening, our habitual patterns and forms of reality also subside into a more acute sense of reality. We see through the veil of illusion. We move beyond “belief” into direct perception in the here and now. After such an awakening, there can also be an intolerance and subtle contempt toward others who are not “there” yet. There is a spiritual arrogance as a spiritual superego forms a safe-space to avoid exposure to the suffering that could have been part of the original drive to pursue conscious awakening. This arrogance is often masking the traumatized alienation or strangeness. When the practitioner moves through this and reclaims the freshness of beginners’ mind or beginners’ heart, a whole new connection with the mystery of being alive is able to open up.

The Dimension of True Nature

  • In blissful awakening, we meet core attributes of our true nature, such as unconditional peace, freedom, love, power, or purity. These qualities are often experienced as a direct effect of the contraction out of which consciousness was awakened. For example, out of deep conflict we might have the experience of unconditional peace; or out of the suffering restriction, we might access unconditional freedom. The flood of these qualities then has a reverberating effect as they seek integration through the whole system, through the old patterning of the body and mind. This can lead to spirals of repeated awakening as the healing momentum deepens.
  • With a rude awakening, we also meet these core nondual qualities in some way, only here our relationship with them is conflictual. We might be shocked in the openness of our unconditional care, for example, and in that moment feel that it’s unbearable or impossible to care at all, so we enter that formless dimension where care can be “free”. Within the resulting traumatic split, we might try to re-enter the field of wholeness with a controlled construct of care - a care designed to be risk-free and painless - meaning conditional care. (for example: “I will care about you only if you show that you care about me”). This quality will then begin activating a pathway of reunion with itself, exposing all those areas where it’s not free. For example, we might find ourselves in damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t, areas of despair where care has been substituted for guilt and obligation. Our fake care gets called out, opening a process of exposure of the authentic and unconditional care which is part of our essence. This is also a healing pathway, leading to realizations of what is true for us from the core, and a resilience that allows us to embody unconditional quality, even when there is suffering here.

Shock and Healing Trauma

When we work with the healing of trauma, we work experientially and through a regression of sensory impressions. These impressions hang together by association - forming a healing pathway. That means that we will encounter shock as we move toward contacting the core of the traumatic experience. It’s in the pathway of fragmentation. When we come to this sensory dimension of shock willingly, with support, it is possible to even begin resourcing it. In that space - beyond worlds - there is infinite possibility. There are so many ways to relate to our ability to experience. When this space is allowed as a blessed space which we come to out of the intelligence of the whole system, we can also receive support from the sense of safety it gives. 

This safe resource, together with the possibilities within the system reset, means that we can pick up again the natural movement of processing the whole experience. We can do this, because our sensory capacity is restored. It is now safe, and permissible to feel what we feel, before the event, during the event, and after the event. When the feeling capacity awakens, then we begin opening up to the deepest healing, which involves unconditional wholeness.

When we allow ourselves to open up to the sensations of shock, all those times where we were shocked (or surprised) or consciously awakened will begin to light up. A whole new perception is unfolding in which our consciousness is becoming liberated and our core relationship with life, existence, and wholeness is becoming free. Out of this new spaciousness of possibilities, the qualities of true nature (such as freedom, peace, love, insight) begin spontaneously emerging as a support to process. Nothing is denied, and new dimensions of wholeness are emerging.

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