Dissociation is a term used in psychology to describe an experience of disconnection from reality. “Dissociation is the essence of trauma. The overwhelming experience is split off and fragmented, so that the emotions, sounds, images, thoughts, and physical sensations related to the trauma take on a life of their own,” says Bessel van der Kolk in The Body keeps the score. After the traumatic event, the person might blank out or dissociate from reality whenever something reminds them of the traumatic event. Blank stares, absent minds and a sense of numbness may be symptoms of dissociation.
The issue with dissociation is that we are not fully in touch with life happening in the present. Those who experience more severe dissociation might feel numb, disconnected from emotions, a kind of internal “death”. The issue with numbness is that we cannot selectively numb one emotion. So although it may be a relief to numb out an overwhelming emotion of rage or panic, it also means that we are unable to feel joy, happiness and peace.
All of this opens a huge question for me: When am I really present and when am I spaced out, “blissed out” or simply gone? And are my so-called spiritual practices really connecting me to reality or am I seeking a form of escape from reality by practicing yoga and meditation? When I visualize myself through meditation on a deserted beach, or on a mountain top, am I being fully present to what is going on right now inside of me?
When I choose to take a fast-paced Yoga class, do I make that choice because it connects me to myself or because it allows me to not feel what is actually going on inside of me?
Through my studies of Yogic Philosophy, I realise that for the longest time yogis saw life as suffering (Dukha) and wanted to put an end to the cycle of birth and death (Samsara).
The Bhagavad Gita (600 BCE) says in Chapter 14, verse 20: “The person who climbs beyond all three guna states is in essence transcending nature itself, and is thereby freed of the natural body, and thus liberated from the awful cycle of birth, decay, death, and rebirth”. (Jack Hawleys translation in The Bhagavad Gita, a walkthrough for Westerners)
The three gunas -sattva, rajas and tamas- are the three main qualities present in nature. In essence, this verse encourages yogis to transcend the realm of this material world to merge with the Divine or Ultimate dimension.
Laurence Gilliot facilitates transformational journeys in Asia and Europe. More about upcoming events and Yoga Teacher Trainings.
Much gratitude to Isabelle Goormachtigh , my mum, for her powerful art work (see paintings above)