Anneke Lucas answers the question:

What role does trauma play in spirituality?

Watch Anneke Lucas’ interview:

Welcome, Anneke.

Hi, Phil.

Thank you for joining us today. Allow me to introduce you. Anneke Lucas is a survivor and advocate for victims of sex trafficking, and a public speaker and author on the subject of trauma, sexual abuse, and healing on the personal and global level. Anneke is also the founder and executive director of Liberation Prison Yoga, a nonprofit organization bringing yoga and meditation to jails and prisons.

Anneke, what role does trauma play in spirituality?

Thank you for asking that question, Phil. That question kind of sums up my life. Trauma is a big part of my life, and I can say that I found the spiritual journey through it and the ultimate purpose, I think, for trauma.

I take trauma as to be part of life for everyone. As some say, no one gets out alive, and I think the threat to the loss of the body is what causes trauma — and think it's inevitable in life that there is going to be a threat to the loss of the body at some point.

Now, depending on when or how this happens, this comes with a tremendous fear that is natural. The survival instinct is the strongest instinct, to be alive. And with that comes a whole set of reactions, and suppressed reactions often, that form a longer period of trauma and a need for healing.

In that need for healing lies a spiritual concept that is often overlooked. The ultimate goal, I believe, is for people to really understand and go further and go deeper in understanding so that we know that we are not the body and that we can move beyond body consciousness, that we don't even have to stay in this realm of duality, where the body... we come to play this role in this body, and we have to, to some degree, believe that we are the body in order to even live here.

While that belief is inherent with our existence here, the purpose, I believe, is to get beyond it and to move beyond the body consciousness and to become enlightened — that is to say, to move beyond our duality and to find the greater truth about ourselves that is not attached to the body, that is the pure consciousness. So that is the greatest sense.

Then within trauma, there is a tendency to sometimes using the spirit to bypass the trauma. I think it's actually the opposite, that the trauma is there and that feeling into the repressed feelings that are necessarily repressed in the moment of trauma. Like say there's abuse... there are several reactions, negative reactions that cannot be expressed in that moment, that would be too dangerous to be expressed.

Feelings of anger, betrayal, and, of course, deep pain are suppressed in the moment of the trauma and remain in the body/mind consciousness, stuck there as it were, and need to somehow be released — and it is in the connecting of these cutoff feelings to the original trauma that an integration starts to happen. And that integration, I believe, is inherently spiritual because integration forms union. That is to say in this case, it is integration of feelings with the trauma that creates neural integration. A cellular integration takes place — that is a physical phenomenon that's been proven and tried and tested.

And the way that that feels is hard to describe, because a lot of people don't ever really have that experience, so it's like trying to describe the taste of an orange. You don't really know what it tastes like unless you actually experience it.

The experience of neural integration, connecting feelings to their original trauma, creates an expansion, consciousness expansion. Now, in certain translations, feeling and consciousness are translated as the same word. That is the chidananda, that bliss through consciousness, bliss through feeling. They are actually the same.

I've experienced that through this kind of healing where I've connected some parts that were disconnected and may have acted up through certain triggers in my life when they were connected to the original trauma, I was able to then breathe and integrate that experience into my body/mind system, live with it, and move beyond it through going through it.

Then I experienced this expansion, this awareness expansion and everything changes... I change... everything around me seems to change… my physical circumstances change through it. It's an experience of magic and I do believe that it's inherently spiritual, that it is part of dharma, that it is part of the spiritual path to reconnect with our feelings and to grow in that way. I think that is what emotional growth could be called; post-traumatic growth is called that. And then I think spiritual growth, to a certain degree, is also reliant on the way that we deal with our life.

In spirituality, you can say, "Well, I'm going to change a bad habit. I have this habit of drinking caffeine. I'm going to change that because I want to be a better person.” Now, when I change that bad habit, I may find underneath my attachment to caffeine certain feelings that I wasn't aware of before. And then perhaps it's not sufficient to just change the habit.

Perhaps it's not sufficient to just change the mind pattern and to bring in a new thought, change my thoughts. Perhaps the changing of my thoughts is going to bring out some things that I've been hiding beneath the surface that need my attention. And so while I am all for the coaching model, where we change the minds to change ourselves, we don't want to gloss over any part of our experience. And so sometimes we need to go underneath and really deal with the trauma underneath it.

Wow! That was beautifully put. Well said, and thank you for sharing your wisdom and insights and deep experience with us today. I very much appreciate your time, Anneke.

Oh, it's my pleasure, Phil, always. Thank you for having me.


Anneke Lucas is a public speaker, author, and advocate for survivors of sex trafficking. She is the founder of the nonprofit organization Liberation Prison Yoga, bringing yoga and empowerment programs to prisons, training yoga instructors to work with traumatized populations, and educating the general public about trauma.

In 2013, she started two groups at the Rikers Island jail for female survivors of sex trafficking. She counsels survivors of sexual trauma, sex trafficking, and extreme abuse. She herself survived some of the worst atrocities known to humankind before reaching the age of 12. Sold as a young child into a murderous pedophile network by her family, she was dramatically rescued after five-and-a-half years of abuse and torture.

Her background, the obstacles she overcame, and the insights she received into the nature of the human psyche on her 30-year journey to mental and physical health, form the basis of the Unconditional Model, a way to effectively share any healing modality, which she developed in her work with traumatized populations.

Anneke graduated from the MFA Screenwriting program at American Film Institute in 1993, published a novel in Belgium in 1997 on the subject of sexual abuse, and has written many articles about yoga and sexual trauma. She is currently working on a book about the Unconditional Model.

Click here to watch Anneke’s May 2018 video interview in Catalyst, "Restoring the Female Principle Through Healing From Personal and Global Trauma."

Click here to read Anneke’s April 2017 article in Catalyst, “Finding Forgiveness in Healing From Trauma.”

Click here to read Anneke’s June 2017 article in Catalyst, “The Right Use of Commands.”

Click here to read Anneke’s July 2018 article in Catalyst, “#MeToo Rouses a Yoga Community.”

Click here to read a New York Times article featuring Anneke.

Click here to read the March 21, 2017, NBC News article on Anneke, “Human Trafficking in Hotels: New York Lawmaker Teams Up With Advocate.”

Click here to watch Anneke’s TEDx Talk, “From Child Sex Slavery to Victory - My Healing Journey”

Click here to watch Anneke’s 6-minute video and accompanying essay on titled “My Name Is Anneke Lucas and I Was a Sex Slave to Europe's Elite at Age 6.” Click here to watch Anneke's companion 5-minute video, "Anneke Lucas Talks About Her Mom, Society And Emotional Maturity."

Click here to read Anneke’s January 2017 interview in the U.K.'s Daily Mail.

Click here to watch a 24-minute documentary called “The World & I” about Anneke’s past and her prison work.

Click here to sign Anneke's petition to help victims of sex trafficking.

Click here to email Anneke.

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This article appears in: 2018 Catalyst, Issue 25: Perspectives on Spirituality