Fighting the Spiritual Void

Trauma is a moral and spiritual issue as much as a psychological or chemical one.

Comments: 212

  1. "Our society has tried to medicalize trauma. We call it PTSD and regard it as an individual illness that can be treated with medications. But it’s increasingly clear that trauma is a moral and spiritual issue as much as a psychological or chemical one." No, that isn't clear, increasingly or otherwise. In fact, I think the author just made this up. I also think that if you asked him to define exactly how "psychological" is different from "chemical" is different from "moral" is different from "spiritual," he would not be able to provide any sort of answer. What is the point? Who does this help? What does this add? Why was this written?

  2. THE POINT is that we humans are more than chemicals. THIS HELPS many of us who deal with trauma who don't look to drugs for solution. THIS ADDS important insight into how and why so many in the modern era are struggling to find peace with ourselves and neighbors. IT WAS WRITTEN to expand our understanding of where, and how, we might find meaningful answers to life's questions. Thank you, David Brooks!

  3. @karp Mr Brooks is referring to the fact that reducing emotional suffering to categorical man-made medical diagnosis, and treat it as such, is not sufficient to heal. Reading "The Spirituality of Imperfections" and "An American Madness" may answer some of your questions

  4. @karp Be still and know I am God. Be still and reflect upon this universe and God or not, here we are, making love, making war, building pyramids, building the great cathedrals of Europe, foot steps on the moon and now a jeep running around on Mars by creatures made of blood and skin and a jelly or custard like substance for a brain. It is all comedy, mystery, love, hate, loss, grief. It is life, not mere bacteria at the bottom of a murky swamp. Whether one believes in God or is an atheist, it is a miracle or if one prefers, a happening/ From a mix of chemicals wrapped in skin, Peace.

  5. Mr. Brooks, this is exquisite. I’m not religious, and I don’t want to be. But this speaks to my soul, that part of me that truly desires helping others and relieving their pain. Everybody hurts, and everybody can help heal hurt. Take a chance, and take a small step. Help your neighbor, lend a hand, volunteer your time, donate some money. Like it or not, we’re all in this together. This thing called Life.

  6. @Phyliss Dalmatian The common 'religion' of our society is 'spiritual but not religious'. Established religion has no mechanism and no language to address the spiritual trauma that grips so much of so many people's lives. The modern world needs a spiritual revival, and is hungry for it. Organized religion has to follow the lead of the people and tip their own scales to being less about outward religiosity to being more deeply spiritual. Pope Francis can be the world leader in this revival, if the Church- most especially the Bishops in the US- will follow. His message: a more merciful Church is the future Church.

  7. @Phyliss Dalmatian We all do those things, Phyliss, that helping of others and relieving of their pain. You make it sound like we're all in our houses being selfish. That is certainly not the case with all the people I personally know. But, I cannot help a vet with PTSD because I don't have the resources or the knowledge. Even parents of vets with PTSD cannot help them. Sitting in a church hearing about a God that allows war will not help them. The government needs to step up and provide programs for these people that include professional counseling and being given something worthwhile to do. In ancient times, the boys could go back to hunting and trapping and collecting stones to build huts to help them rebuild their lives. We need programs like that here, but let's be realistic--we are a wage earning society, not a subsistence hunting trapping society. The other issue I have with Brooks is his nonchalance with ex-cons, as if a big group hug is all they really need to assimilate. After basically being treated like animals while incarcerated? No, I'm sorry, that won't work. These are people who have been damaged in a way that goes beyond what food pantries or hugs or sermons in church can do for them. I cannot hold a sixteen day purification ceremony for them. At the end, Brooks throws in- "nations and people have to grow a soul." My soul is fine; my nation's is not. And, as we all know, the tone of any organization is set from the top.

  8. Brooks is much too negative about America's spiritual void. Although there are many who suffer from various problems, most people are able to cope, and get help from their friends, colleagues, and loved ones. Some of us don't require religious type experiences or traditions to feel a send of worth or community, and Brooks shouldn't be so judgmental. Some find it through thoughtful and interesting books or films or art, through political involvement, or even collegiality through sports.

  9. @Larry Figdill Imagine the worst moment of your life repeating itself in your mind over and over. This can go on for years. After awhile nobody wants to hear about it anymore. Friends abandon you. Family prays you don't mention the trauma again. Professional help is needed to Recover from PTSD.

  10. With family and community structures greatly eroded by consumerism, social media and other modern pitfalls it's especially hard for Americans to deal with trauma. I would hope that those who try to help others who are suffering could extend their empathy to other societies who have likely undergone far greater trauma (sometimes at the hands of Americans - I think we've sponsored 30 or 40 wars since WW2!) After living many years overseas, I was privileged to learn a bit of what our society does not know anymore about war - since we haven't had one HERE since the Civil War... it does make a difference.

  11. A lovely column. Thank you Mr. Brooks for feeding my soul and hoprfully others' as well.

  12. Beckoned or not, the gods will appear. Beautiful article. Thank you.

  13. Maladaptive neurophysiological conditions do not present a valid justification for bringing the divine back to life. Without meaning any disrespect to the faithful, not everyone needs religion to overcome trauma. Joseph Campbell was on the right track in his interpretation of the ‘Monomyth’, but human psychology does not require mythology to be understood. It’s fine if people find solace in a personal faith, or spirituality, but there is nothing okay about using faith as a rationale to proselytize other people.

  14. In spirituality, people do not find solace, they find and come to know God.

  15. @ubique Well there always the Unitarians.

  16. Mr. Brooks writes, "... community would take possession of the guilt the soldiers may have felt for the things they had to do on its behalf." "say a prayer for the common foot soldier..." The endless war the working men and women of the Armed Forces are fighting is profit driven by the MIC. I honor the workers, I have zero respect for the bullet makers.

  17. Here's a modest proposal - let's worry, as a society, as much about minimizing the traumas as Mr. Brooks does about trying to relieve their effects.

  18. I appreciate this article very much and find it interesting that some have responded as though it's something to be argued over. It's merely one man's viewpoint and concern over the starkness that permeates our culture and then making a few suggestions. I love the ongoing process that is life and have had many different viewpoints and passions throughout my life. At this time I have particular concerns over men and boys in our society. It seems to me that from the youngest age, there's still a pressure for them to "tough it out" and stifle their emotions. Addiction and suicide are rampant among males and females at this point, but somehow women seem to find it easier to find places to turn to deal with their emotions than men do. There's such disrespect for men that are vulnerable. It really concerns me.

  19. An ounce of prevention truly is worth a pound of cure. So let's stop making excuses to fight wars, avoid enormous moral injury and trauma, a get honest about the fact that there's no excuse for the brutalities we commit in the name of country. Evil is evil, and cannot be exorcised by therapy or feel-good messages or invocation of myth.

  20. @judy snyder Well said! And let's regulate those firearms INSIDE the country! Inside and outside the USA is combative. Why? Because this country's leadership and too many clueless voters (often superficially religious) have no soul. They are empty and unhappy.

  21. A quick reading of the comments reveals that this piece isn’t for everyone. Well and good since many things in life aren’t for everyone. The Four Seasons by Vivaldi gives wings to my spirit, while for my wife it brings sleep. We don’t all have to be moved by the same thing. Mr. Brooks piece spoke deeply to me for those I know, unfortunately many, living with PTSD, and to me living with the losses caused by degenerative arthritis. Mr. Brooks thank you for casting your words as bread upon the waters. For some it fed there souls, for others it had no meaning. All well and good.

  22. @Clinton McKinven-Copus The ducks ate the bread cast upon the waters of a David Brooks column.

  23. @L D Nonsense. Stop being so cynical. Happy Thanksgiving!

  24. We used to have a shared space for ritual, and soul restoration, and healing. I remember. We called it “church.” It wasn’t the emotio-tainment that passes for worship on the stage of the average American-Evangelical gathering . It created room for mystery, and reflection, and connection; rituals to encourage forgiveness and recommitment, in humility. It strengthened us for our real moral imperative: love God, love our neighbor— who happens to be everyone. In some places, for some of us, it still does.

  25. @Kris K In the 50+ years I faithfully attended church I saw no room for mystery, ritual nor humility. I only saw an assertion of "truth", which served only to divide and stigmatize. Modern American Christianity in all it's guises has created the void of which Mr .Brooks speaks.

  26. @Kris K As long as Christians line up behind a leader who spits on everything that Christ stood for, there's no reason to think of the Church as anything but a political function for organized smugness and systemic racism. Jesus told his disciples to pray not in public, but in the privacy of their own homes. He had a point. That was the first of many, many things that his supposed followers pointedly ignored. I find it impossible to take them even a little bit seriously anymore.

  27. @Kris K I whole heartedly agree. But in 2018, there are fewer people who ever experienced church in the way you describe. Read an article called "Church is something we create together" on the OnBeing website. I read it to my congregation instead of a a sermon, and they were moved to tears. It's not exactly how I would have worded it....I give more credit to the Spirit than to us for "creating Church." But it will warm your heart nonetheless. I grieve for my countrymen and women whose picture of "Church" is the horrifying image of America's politicized evangelicals-- in my opinion they profess a gospel that is NOT good news to the world. How tragic! Pray for "eyes to see" and "ears to hear." Thanks for writing.

  28. More rites of passage. Yes. That does make sense. You've pointed to something sorely missing in our society: a way to acknowledge and communicate our collective recognition of experience achieved, challenge surmounted, and forgiveness. In this culture of individualism we need ways to reach out and draw in, to include and embrace, not just divide. A thoughtful, moving column. Thank you.

  29. @SRF Rites of passage, so important to instill communal values and to affirm an individual's worth and potential, especially for boys, who tend to grow up into those who cause the most trauma, men. Bar mitzvah, Eagle Scout, communion, sports, high school graduation - there are several key times that can't be overlooked or diminished. But the most important is from father to son. When he looks in your eyes, hands on your shoulders, and says, well done, you're ready.

  30. @wc So true, but equally true, I think, for girls and boys. I understand what you mean when you say "especially for boys" and do recognize the great pressures they in particular face. The suffering of girls tends to be more internalized and the hurt and anger aimed inward rather than outward. It's less visible and less physically violent, but it's there, and girls are equally in need of recognition and affirmation.

  31. Our trauma as a nation is dealing with our president. We have a mad man at the helm and he is only growing daily more insane. How do we as individuals deal with that? How do we deal with it as a nation? Many people have said to me they are afraid when the president goes down, and he will, he will unleash nuclear war and take millions if not billions with him. How do you deal with that on a personal and national level. Seems over whelming to me. I think I'll have another glass of wine and hold my kitty cat in my lap. However, I will vote.

  32. @Nightwood Good idea. I have five kitties. They sent me out for the past three years (and many, many prior years) to knock on doors and work the phones for smart, humane Democratic candidates, in addition to the voting booth.

  33. @Nightwood No, you are not suffering from trauma. Get a grip. It's not all about you. He's a bad president. You have not suffered death, injury, rape, or loss of a loved one because of him. Soldiers suffer trauma. Rape victims suffer trauma. Children who lose a parent suffer trauma. You have not suffered trauma. . The worst thing Trump has done to this country is to give license to catastrophists who regale us with tales of how the world is about to end, and just how it affects them emotionally, at least twice a week. Some of them are NYT columnists, but they're particularly common amongst the commenters online. Could you please try to regain just an scintilla of perspective?

  34. @Tom, no this trauma is very real. He is not just a bad president. He is dealing in gaslights and is undermining our trust in reality, truth, science. His behavior is intolerable, and yet he holds an office representing the most powerful person on earth. As a consummate con man, he is lying and bearing false witness to advance his own agenda, and that agenda is as vicious as it based on greed and Machiavellianism. He is hurting people, Tom, very badly and yet he commands the support of some 45% of us. That fact alone can drive a person to wine and kitties.

  35. Rituals and ceremonies are all well and good. But science has pretty much disproved the religious dogma offered by existing religious hierarchies, and materialism and greed have been enshrined by our political and economic system. I suspect the "spiritual" problems to which Mr. Brooks refers are caused by people having to fit themselves into corporate and political systems that have lost the ability to genuinely care about people. David Graeber described this well:

  36. @mitchtrachtenberg Science has also shown us that there is no spirit or spirituality, and morality is an merely an opinion. Problem solved!

  37. This all may be true. And while I do not have any particular event in my life that has caused me trauma, every day my senses are under assault from the demon in the White House. We watch and listen to the news, we see things horribly affecting people all over this country and others, and instead of reassuring words from our dear leader, we get name calling and verbal assaults on people of all types, including those we normally would think of as our heroes. The nation as a whole will soon be, if its not already, suffering from this continual verbal assault. It is truly a slowly accumulating trauma.

  38. @LesW There is a formal name for such Trump-induced PTSD. It's called Trump Derangement Syndrome or "TDS." It's very common these days, and I understand some experimental treatments are in the works.

  39. @LesW - while I realize that not every NYTimes comment needs to be about Donald Trump, I completely agree with you. Any person who has endured sexual abuse is walking around triggered by the fact that this vile abuser occupies the oval office. Every LBGT person is terrified that their newly won rights will be taken away or that they’ll be victims of a hate-crime. African-Americans, Jews and Muslims are waiting for the next shooting. Members of the Armed Forces are wondering if we are heading towards another war. Having Trump as our so-called leader is traumatizing for many. It’s traumatizing not knowing what’s coming next. Many don’t sleep well, are overeating, and are showing other signs of stress and trauma. Very good point.

  40. Brooks posits a superior moral equivalency of the spiritual "opiate of the masses" for the other more contemporary chemical ingredients. Can he be certain that either provides the necessary relief from the pain and anxiety of modernity?

  41. I’ve never been anywhere near a war but when the war veteran described his trauma as his soul leaving his body I knew exactly what he meant. My childhood trauma has affected me for decades, and the process of uniting and recovering body/soul is the most important work of my life. Trauma is the great untreated epidemic of our time. This article is profound.

  42. @wsr Yes, it was similar for me when I read it, too; a knowing that reaches beyond anything literal, that was born for me too, of early and frequent abuse that set me up for decades more of it in life choices. The work of decades to grow into the human identity I now have, came through the opportunity to transform following the 12 Steps, validation of that fellowship, and friends and family who see love before condemnation. I feel I have had more than one life.

  43. @Judy 100%. My trauma led me to drugs & alcohol & sex, which all worked very well initially until it all burned down, which led me to the 12 steps (thank god), leading me to sanity & therapy. The fellowship gave me the foundation to literally 'recover' what was taken from me as a little boy. And yes a lot of it happened in churches, not in the sanctuary, but in the basements, where the real healing occurs.

  44. Brooks supported a GOP administration that authorized torture and attacked anothe country over WMD that did not exist. The politicians he supported sent young men into the middle of a civil war they did not anticipate and for which they were not prepared. Where is his morality? So much of the trauma he describes here was caused by the very people and policies he supported. That is why his words on this subject ring hollow.

  45. @Mrsfenwick And he voted for Donald J. Trump Sr., the spiritual leader who fills our void. Tua culpa, tua culpa, tua maxima culpa. Feel better now?

  46. @Mrsfenwick thank you for stating this. It needs to be said to him over and over again. He is the one who has a void to fill.

  47. @Mrsfenwick Come on. Mr. Brooks has changed his opinion about both Trump and the Republican party, and made that clear in his columns. Save your powder for those who never admit their mistakes.

  48. Or maybe we could do more to reduce PTSD by, say, not starting insane forever wars all over the globe. That might help.

  49. @MikeP And not taking children away from their parents by locking them up. Instead use diversion programs and support people with mental health issues and substance abuse issues so the children have a constant home base and supported parents.

  50. A wounded soul, PTSD, call it what you like, but there is no one size fits all cure (ritual, as Brooks proposes, or therapy, or drugs--prescribed or otherwise). Every individual is unique, and while people may experience the same or similar trauma, they experience it in the uniqueness of their being. As I get older, I find it ever more saddening that instead of helping each other, as Jesus taught, we hurt each other--sometimes in horrifically violent ways, sometimes in more subtle ways. Of course it probably was ever thus; we just know about more of it thanks to the information age. Human nature doesn't change, I believe, but society can change through organized movements. (See abolition, suffrage, civil rights, feminist, gay rights movements. But see also all the backlash. So it's ebb and flow.) One thing I will say relative to the most often mentioned kind of trauma here: the wounds of war. We have to treat our veterans better. They shouldn't have to wait to get counseling when they are in crisis. They should be given the best health care. The military and government should do everything possible to help them heal physically and psychologically to the fullest extent possible. Politicians pay lip service to our men and women serving in the armed forces and to veterans, but they don't want to pay to provide the care of those who have come home wounded in their body or their soul. Shame on them.

  51. @JediProf I agree that we have to take care of our veterans, but we must also not send young men into unnecessary wars. The War in Iraq is an example.

  52. There was a sort-of-joke in the 60's: what is the worst kind of acid (LSD) trip? The answer was: one where you don't change. The worst, and scariest, aspect of a spiritual void is not knowing it exists in you. The various Comments reflect the problem: complaints about "religion" not really mentioned in the article; criticisms about Mr. Brooks choice of words. Meaningless, trivial, irrelevant thoughts - sadly ignoring or not understanding the point. Our pathetic culture has absolutely no spirituality in its foundation or anywhere else. Our "melting pot" has melted away the rich and wonderful spirituality that most immigrants brought with them. The oppressive need to "fit in" has brought our culture to the lowest, simplest common denominators. Any kind of spirituality is too "different" to be acceptable to us as a group, too unscientific to be accepted as "fact". In times of crisis - like now - we have nowhere to look for the wisdom of our ancestors or our elders.

  53. A lack of spirituality is the mirror of our society so it will be hard to help traumatized people if the void is within us. No drug might fix this it will only wipe out memories.

  54. Mr. Brooks has hit on a wonderful idea: establishing a community centered on a system of shared morals and rituals. But I think someone thought of this already . . it's called religion. You can look it up on Wikipedia. It's an old thing that people used to have before they learned that God is dead, and that all cultures and values are equal. Brooks seems to advocate for a "spiritual" mindset that will make people feel and act better. So that's nice. But it's easier said thsn fone to be a "spiritual" secular humanist.

  55. @Wiener Dog, would you posit that the culture and values of ISIS, or of white supremacists, are equal to liberal democracies that embrace universal human rights? Are you suggesting there is moral equivalence among all value systems?

  56. How can there be any spirituality that spans a culture when that culture is in the throes of late-stage capitalism? Even the so-called traditional venues are now stadium-sized mega-churches devoted to the "prosperity gospel". A miracle for these adherents would be actually sitting near the same stranger on two successive Sundays. Everyone's ready to grab what they can and they're all cheered on by some guy in a $5000 suit that they probably wear once. Rituals of purification only have efficacy if they are recognized universally, otherwise, they are just regarded as some airy New Age mumbo-jumbo, even ultimately by those who undergo them. The minute you walk out of the room, you're back in the same Hobbesian chaos. Since organized religion seems to be inadequate to the task anymore, maybe we should devote more attention to the offerings of psychedelics, which don't presuppose any elaborate and questionable mythos to work.

  57. What does Brooks mean by the word "spiritual"? Is this another of his attempts to get us to turn to some non-existent deity for guidance and help? Formal rituals and ceremonies can have a great benefit but let's divorce them from this notion that some divine force is ready to soothe us and resolve the problems of our own making if we appeal to it. One ritual I would like Brooks and other Republicans to complete in a very public way is an admission that they were wrong to support the second Bush administration and its disastrous colonial expedition in Iraq -- a pointless war which resulted in the deaths of thousands and traumatized so many veterans and their families.

  58. This may make it even worse for the traumatized to learn in public that they fought the wrong war. The soul is a tricky thing I fear. Sure a lot compassion is needed for these victims and we should admit the mistakes from the past to shape a better future.

  59. @ClarkTCarlton For me, the word spiritual's meaning has changed through my life. I no longer turn to an organized religion to guide me, but I feel the spiritual word close by. It's the new baby, the love that I feel for a pod of orcas that I see, the healing that takes place between individuals, the different groups helping others work towards healing due to past injustices. Despite the fact that our world is troubled I see so much goodness on a daily basis--that spirituality.

  60. I completely agree with Mr. Brooks about the need for a "purification ceremony", especially for a our troops returning from combat. The act of violence committed against our fellow humanity is so traumatic to one's soul, there need to be a way to repair that trauma. The ceremony of cleansing should be created, using religious traditions (think baptism/purification rituals), of a civic ceremony should be created.

  61. As a member of AA I recognized what David Brooks was suggesting. We celebrate years and, even, days of sobriety with coins given from sponser to sponsee. They mark the milestones of how far we've come from where we were. Good luck to all the people who want to live in or re-live the past. Either way we can't change it. We can only move forward. One minute, one hour, one day at a time.

  62. Thank you, Mr. Brooks, for your voice of uplifting moral clarity. We do indeed have a spiritual void in this world and we are trying desperately to fill it with consumer goods on the individual level and economic growth on the national level. We fail to realize that life's most important imperative is to find our calling and share it with others. As a teacher, would that I can help young people find their talents and their passion and use those to craft a better world for themselves and others. Your column reminds of this opportunity.

  63. Thanksgiving is close by and we mostly manage to have what we need by rubbing shoulders with relatives, friends and the larger community. Christmas doesn't work as well as it did in the 1950's I knew. All of us who read your opinion have been gifted. As an aside, I think life in 2018 is pretty good, all things considered. The echo, soundbox (or facebook and twitter) magnify the problems and, for the most part, rarely have much positive to absorb. Oh well, I trust that my grandchildren and their children will also live a life easier and more rewarding than my parents' generation and earlier. Be thankful--even if you have to stretch a bit.

  64. Ne thankful yes this is so right when there is good reason to be thankful.

  65. what an unexpected and beautiful piece. thank you

  66. I'm a Zen Buddhist, and being a religious person helps me get inside the doors of prisons, to do volunteer work. But I prefer to meet with inmates outside of a chaplaincy or religious framing. They already have vibrant, hearts, minds and souls, which are traumatized by incarceration, often under cruel conditions. They sure don't need me or Brooks to give them souls, or to teach them about morality. 70% of inmates are functionally illiterate. Instead of a soul, or rituals, they need a chance: something not previously afforded them. These are men who would've been ecstatic to be accepted into the military. Or to join a craft guild and be apprenticed for a skilled job in the construction industry. But are too illiterate When the men leave prison, they have no resume, only the requirement to disclose to future employers that they are felons. They will be on the street with $50, and face the immediate trauma of homelessness. Ending the school-to-jail pipeline is more compelling to me, than talk of purification and other rituals. I'd rather hear about ways we can fix society so that fewer people are traumatized by poverty and ignorance. I'd like to see them be given an opportunity to have passages in life to celebrate.

  67. I think you are both right community matters to fix broken people the head the heart and the soul have to be seen as one.

  68. @Eric Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  69. This in-depth analysis of the human spirit gave me pause to think about distress in my life as well as others. For the most part my time here on earth has been no different from most people's...sad and happy times, joyful and heartbreaking experiences, and even giving birth yet witnessing death of loved ones. And although I no longer follow closely organized, man-made religions per se, I do still believe in the endless quest of the soul, to transcend as best we can the struggles and flaws within us. Mr. Brooks is correct when he says that as necessary as therapy and medication are in times of traumatic stress, we still need the uplifting by the spiritual to be healed fully. We find these means surrounding us whether it be our churches, our synagogues, our Mosques. We also find this healing within the Native American culture, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Great works of literature often show us that tragedy in life is inescapable while simultaneously expanding and making stronger the soul. But as David Brooks touches on, it is that community which is in so many instances The Healer....we being there for others and vice versa. It's that human connection of mutual compassion, empathy, and love that in more cases than not is our salvation.

  70. "Our society has tried to medicalize trauma. We call it PTSD and regard it as an individual illness that can be treated with medications." "Trauma" and "PTSD" aren't the same thing; a person can experience trauma without developing PTSD, a clinical diagnosis with forty years of research to back up its validity. And although two medications are FDA-approved to reduce its symptoms, PTSD is widely viewed as being best treated with psychotherapy, not drugs. "But it’s increasingly clear that trauma is a moral and spiritual issue as much as a psychological or chemical one. " No, it isn't. In fact, no sentence with the word "spiritual" - or, for that matter, "soul," another favorite of Brooks's - can be said to be "clear." Both words imply the existence of some murkily defined supernatural realm for which there's not one shred of evidence.

  71. @bergfan Yes. I was traumatised. Though I came to think of the experience as "soul-destroying" (and then "soul-wounding" after further reflection) I never meant more by these terms than that I no longer experienced being me as I did and could no longer act as I was before. In other words I was poetically describing a change in my subjective experience of living and being me. The likely objective reality, however, is that traumatisation unfortunately involves injury to the proper functioning of our lower brain - in particular our amygdalae. That how we experience ourselves to be, is a consequence of our brain functioning, is something we should accept. It's much easier when you know you are not as you were or should be. At least I don't "have the luxury" of being deluded that my physical self is a thing utterly apart from who I am. People saying "my body", is as ridiculous as talking about one's self in the third person, as far as I am concerned.

  72. @bergfan Yet another know it all. It's depressing reading these comments. You take some words of Brooks and twist them into a pretzel of your own making. Brooks is talking about something that is way off the beaten track for most people in the West.

  73. There is a big loophole in the medical diagnosis of PTSD that needs to be filled. Every edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), including the current one, narrowly defines the diagnosis for PTSD as requiring either experiencing (or witnessing, or being threatened by) a *single* horrific event of physical violence. However, there are many types of trauma that are induced by repeated, prolonged exposure to horrific events of a psychological nature, and/or that might not rise to the level of life-threatening violence. Spousal abuse and child neglect can take these forms, as can forced prostitution, living in a war zone, etc. Doctors call this type of trauma Complex-PTSD. It has some similar symptoms like PTSD; but there are important medical differences. Unfortunately, the DSM has never included C-PTSD as a diagnosis, even though it's included in the International Classification of Diseases. (It has been considered for the last two editions, but not adopted.) Because C-PTSD is not an "accepted" diagnosis in the US, victims who suffer C-PTSD often encounter three big problems: 1) Doctors who don't accept the illness as "real," and misdiagnose the victim with a different and incorrect illness. 2) Insurance companies who don't accept the diagnosis. 3) Legal impacts, such as not being covered by the ADA or Worker's Comp. It's time that the medical community create a valid diagnosis for C-PTSD, and treat it as a distinct illness.

  74. This article seems to dabble with some very important, intertwined issues of society. It's clear that people who are oppressed or suffer in other ways should be supported within their society. The big question today is whether there should be a moral imperative imposed across society, namely, political correctness, to do this. I believe that skepticism toward politically-driven, social values and mores is healthy (even when such imperatives are noble) and reflect a wisdom more common in backwaters of society, e.g. fly-over country. Morality should not be conscripted by institutional authorities, like Hollywood, political parties, the media, or even organized religion or science. It should be a natural CONSEQUENCE of understanding, appreciation, respect or love, i.e. something good. For example, many believe Islam is a young, reactionary religion, loaded with strict rules of conduct and minefields of blasphemy. I believe that much (though not all) of such morality, which regards the Holy Koran or Muhammad, for instance, is a natural consequence of great love and respect for these entities. In contrast, each letter that was added to the LGBTQ community acronym in our society did NOT seem to follow a higher level of awareness of or empathy with each new addition. Having to declare that black lives matter suggests to me that this approach may have limited success.

  75. This is extremely misleading and potentially harmful: "trauma is a moral and spiritual... as much as psychological or chemical... Wherever there is trauma, there has been betrayal, an abuse of authority, a moral injury. Medication can rebalance chemicals in the brain...." Trauma is about the brain/nervous system. It is caused by overwhelming experiences when something happened too quickly to process or we were overpowered. Accidents, surgery, adoption and other pre- and peri-natal disruptions can create trauma, and those usually don't involve abuse or betrayal. Medications and psychotherapy treat symptoms of trauma, they do little for true healing. There are emerging body-based therapies that perhaps for the first time in history, are allowing us to actually heal trauma by rewiring the nervous system (Somatic Experiencing, EMDR, craniosacral, AEDP, IFS among them). Peter Levine, Bessel van der Kolk, John Chitty, Diane Poole Heller, Ray Castellino are among many who are breaking new ground in this field. While I agree with Tick's perspective on the soul, I wouldn't call him or any of these experts moralists. We all should know a bit of trauma first aid, because PTSD is often the result of how we respond to an event (and is about human connection - the part of this article that's most on target):

  76. If everyone were just nice to everyone else like I am with people, there would be no trauma in the world. There would be peace, and goodness, and everyone would be equally happy and prosperous. Problem solved.

  77. @Tom I'm new here, trying to fit in with the commenting crowd. This was my attempt to summarize those who believe that with the right political leaders, there would be no more trauma in the world. Did I hit the right note of self-righteous vacuity?

  78. @Tom Well, you almost got it. You fit in with David Brooks' vapid philosophy quite nicely. Nailed it, in fact, with the "self-righteous vacuity." I'll be using that phrase going forward.

  79. David Brooks is my favorite NYTs columnist. And, this piece is confirms my opinion. Gail, Maureen, Paul, Charles, Frank, Ross, Roger, and Nicolas are all great, but with Brooks I sense a humble human growing as we all are trying to make sense of this journey. Best to all!

  80. Supportive communities all over the US know how to do all these things. If a person feels a spiritual void, it is very easy to find a neighborhood church, for instance. Welcoming people, hospitality, rites of passage, rites of forgiveness/ reconciliation... it's all there.

  81. Yes, that’s exactly what happened when a family friends recently brought a mixed-race couple to her evangelical church in the Midwest. The mixed race couple was immediately set upon by one of the very best that the “pro-life,” “moral majority” has to offer. It was so horrible that one of the party, a hyper-fundamentalist woman (former overseas evangelical missionary along with her husband, sister) in her early 70’s actually left that church. There’s plenty of “community” among Catholics too, if one is a child that wants to be sexually abused by priests or if one desires to form a protest group against church cover ups or even a denial congregation (the supporters of a priest accused of sexual abuse were recently described in a NYT article). One can also find comfort in their desire to condemn others for the “sins” in their personal & private lives.

  82. @Alyce Maybe they need a hand to help them there. Shattered people who already feel vulnerable... well put it this way, a little kindness goes a long way.

  83. @Ann Not all churches all the same. Vital, loving communities are out there, but you have to do the work to find them.

  84. Trauma is part of my DNA. I am the child of Holocaust survivors. My parents helped. I was told many, many times, "In Poland is was good. There were troubles sometimes, we worked hard but for 1000 years we had a religious life there. We do not regret having stayed. We just wish we had done more with all the good people (many Jews and many non-Jews). Go back and help with the bad people " I did and found my soul. I got my PhD in constitutional law specializing in human rights. I then went back and for 25 years started and ran the largest private human rights NGO. More in the spirit though also with the few who remembered pre 1935, they taught me to pray and do good from the soul and in my case,it was a Jewish soul but also found the souls of the good people who were not Jewish. It is always the spirituality that is our essence and organized faith is but a human endeavor to try to work together in community and it is often not perfect, but it is helpful if one realizes that it is not the rabbis, nor the priests, but more so the community working together with some guidance trying to do good for those who need more help than we do. Whatever our institution is it needs constant attention and spirituality is one of those vital parts where institutions are also needed. For example, without a moral, ethical basis Facebook can end up doing more bad than good.

  85. I am not surprised to see that many people here are attacking the mere hint of religion in this op-ed. I don't want to weigh in on that. But I would point out that there are many places in the world where rite-of-passage rituals are based on nation or community as much as religion. Take the Central-Asian, Muslim nation of Kyrgyzstan. The nation has an ancient founding epic known as Manas, about a Hercules-like hero of the same name who united the Kyrgyz tribes and fought off invaders. Across the country there are various natural features where he is said to have performed super-human acts or where the great moments of the epic occurred. Communities near them often use them for rite-of-passages; young men will climb mountains or reenact some great deed that occurred there. This goes for many other rituals at many stages of life, and a visit to his birthplace in Talas is like a visit to Mecca to the Kyrgyz. These rituals connect them to their founding myths and their founding fathers. In America we have history rather than myths (mostly). I'm not sure how easy this would be to replicate in our young, disparate nation, but Thanksgiving is a few days away. Suddenly I feel guilty that my wife, cousin, mother and I are just going to Denny's this year. Maybe I'm part of the problem.

  86. What an excellent, heartfelt article. I really appreciate it. I feel you did a good job steering away from politics and religion that people react to and miss the point. The human dilemma. I totally agree there needs to be some help back into society when people come from major trauma. I work in a group home that is just for that purpose. And apparently there's only one in the whole state of Virginia. No doubt there's hundreds, if not thousands, if not more -walking around in a cloud of oblivion wishing they had someone they could talk to before they get shoved into the fast lane. Out west I hear there's groups of veterans that group together themselves and go on week or month long hiking trips together and have a chance to decompress, out in nature.

  87. On the other hand, learning to put things we don't like, or that scare us, or disgust us in perspective works pretty well. In 1972, Andrew Weil published his first book, The Natural Mind, in which he drew the fundamental difference between 'natural' highs, attained through meditation or skill development, as being positive addictions, in that what is difficult at first grows easier as we acquire expertise, but not only easier, but more and more rewarding as one gets better and better, and negative addictions, such as drug highs, where the first experience is most intense, but increased drug usage entails a lowering of pleasure, until the addict feels nothing but compulsion. I've been meditating since 1962, about 500 times/year, and it's far more satisfying now than it was even last year, when I was a mere 77 years old. Similar experiences with acquiring skill in the lifetime sport of golf. Or getting more sophisticated in statistical analysis. Tobacco, alcohol and other mind altering experiences...just the reverse, just as Weil stated. Religion, as Marx stated, is the opiate of the people. All of the holy rites and holidays impress children who later attend church out of habit and as a way of 'fitting in'. It's main draw is the promise that death, the primal fear, is not the end of existence. In the end, either you live an informed life, or you consider life as a dress rehearsal. The spiritual void? The soul? Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

  88. @Nat Ehrlich I can only speak of my experience, not that of "the people". I did not attend church as a child, so attending as an adult is about choosing to journey through my adulthood with a community, not a repeated habit. This community is not perfect but they are all seekers of kindness, compassion and a better world. We help each other heal, and together we also help our community. It is about providing love in THIS life. No fear, no conforming. Love and community.

  89. It was the mythic perspective that helped me heal from a devastating psychological trauma. Myths are not false tales. Rather, they are stories that reveal truths about ourselves, truths that do not arise from factual knowledge. All facts must be true, but not all truths are factual. Such is myth.

  90. "My soul has fled." What a profound observation, and expression of same. I can relate.

  91. As a Presbyterian Church USA pastor, I encourage anyone who finds today's culture of materialism and individualism a thin gruel for the soul to (re)connect with a healthy religious community. While much in the church today has rightly been deemed corrupt and deserving of condemnation, there are many vital congregations quietly trying their best as fallible, faithful people to live humbly, justly, and lovingly in service to God and neighbor. The Holy can be found and wholeness can be discovered in worshiping communities. It happens there more frequently than most suspect.

  92. @John C. Van Nuys Here in Quebec 80% of the population is agnostic or atheist. I have lived in the bible belt. There is no difference between believers and non believers. The need is not for spirituality it is for community. We need hugs and affirmation.

  93. @Memphrie et Moi Attending a vital congregation, as this pastor describes, provides not just spirituality, but a community! I, too, am a member of a vital church community. We celebrated our veterans on Veterans Day. Almost 200 of us sang happy birthday to one member who just turning 90 this last Sunday. On Thanksgiving you can join a big gathering if you don't have family near by. We work together, side by side, supporting each other and those in need in our greater community. I cannot imagine raising my family with out the support of a community. It is out there if you seek it!

  94. @John C. Van Nuys Spirituality and ethics do not necessarily come from religion. Example: The Crusades; The Inquisition; Religious Wars throughout all ages. I am very tired of the lecturing by religious people about the "soul". I would bet that many in the Alt-Right who are virulent hateful people are church goers.

  95. Brook’s is out of step with his party. Like Scrooge his party only cares about punishment. And using the criminal justice system as a lever to maintain white supremacy (along with Gerrymandering). It has elected and holds beloved a president whose bottom line is winning, and identifying losers White Evangelical men and women do not care about supporting a system that provides for those in need. They only care about lowering taxes, ending the social safety net, killing the ACA, abandoning those with pre-existing conditions to unaffordable options and short term gains through long term destruction of the environment. So if Brook’s really wants to make a statement then leave his GOP.

  96. The physical body is just a vehicle for transporting the spiritual soul during this life on earth. The cure for the rising suicide and depression rates is for people to have a relationship with God, the One who can help us through the difficult times. Jesus tells us in the gospel of Matthew" Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."

  97. Beautiful. It is so simple, but often when people are offered this hope, they are only offended. Why?

  98. "When you privatize morality and denude the public square of spiritual content, you’ve robbed people of the community resources they need to process moral pain together." So public morality is maybe like putting disobedient citizens in the stocks or making them wear a red letter? And the public square has been denude[d] . . . of spiritual content" because all the churches have had to remove the crosses from their steeples?

  99. (Details changed for the sake of confidentiaity - this is a collage of several patients I worked with) I worked with a vet who had grown up in a rather violent inner city neighborhood. She recalled being in her home the day Martin Luther King died, lying on top of her younger brother to protect him from bullets coming in the window during the riots. She decided as a teen to become a doctor - and her plan included being a medic in Vietnam, then returning to her community to “give back.” In Vietnam, she was traumatized by what later appeared in her repeated nightmares as “trucks piled high with dead bodies coming into the compound.” A charismatic person, she ran for local office in a state far from home, was elected and became quite successful until accused of corruption. One day, on the verge of giving up, holding a bottle of pills in her hand, sitting at the edge of a pond by her father’s house where she had come to recover, she suddenly felt overwhelmed by the oak tree to eh side of the bench she was sitting on. When she talked about that moment, she described “the tree at the end of the earth,” and communicated a sense of awe and beauty as she spoke of it. The room filled with calm and peace as she spoke and for months afterward, I would ask her to tell me where her “tree” was. 9 months after we began, she returned to work, still in pain but somehow supported by “something more.”

  100. After WW2 veterans were given support togo to college. I believe this kind of recognition of an individuals value by entry into a community of mature students be it college or manual helped many erase the trauma.

  101. David, it seems to me that your "elephant in the room" is religion, religious belief, and religious ritual--all of which WERE at the heart of the post-pagan world. That's what I suspect you're lamenting when you say that "WE" have "made our culture a spiritual void," and that's what Weber meant when he noted "the disenchantment of the world." I note that religious belief and practice, if statistical evidence is to be accepted, continues at a very high level in the United States. Citizens still find it comforting, valuable, and even natural to believe in God and to join with others in worship and in ritual observances. Despite that, there does seem to be an emptiness and a vacuum in our culture generally, and in individual "souls," that religious energy can't deal with positively: Religious people still struggle with the after-effects of traumatic experiences--and rather than healing through pastoral care, or prayer, or community worship, many still drift with prescription drugs, self-medication, or just fall apart. It's tempting to blame the deficits, and the inadequate responses to them, on the culture. But the fact is that nothing has changed in "the essential human condition": we still live in, are injured by, and have to recover and survive in, a world that is not disenchanted, but still full of mystery and challenge. It seems to me that our root dilemma is existence itself; we need to face up to its imperfection, and develop the resources that all mortals have.

  102. "There could be a communitywide rite of passage for people coming out of prison, for forgiveness of a personal wrong, for people who felt they had come out the other side of trauma and abuse. There’d be a marriage ceremony of sorts to mark the moment when a young person found the vocation he or she would dedicate life to." Classical Judaism has publicly recited blessings for much of this. There is, e.g. matir assurim, the blessing upon release from prison (although there are stipulations as to what kind of prison) and the all inclusive generic ha-gomel, "He who bestows favor on the undeserving", publicly recited, by men and women, upon deliverance from all forms of danger. I am not aware though of any vocation blessing. If anything that type of marriage suggested by Mr. Brooks might be followed by a divorce. No blessing for getting fired either.

  103. I truly appreciate Mr. Brooks continued harkening toward the values of spiritual community. We must recognize the damage wrought throughout the world by 'western judeo-christian' colonialism. Close to 40% of the U.S. is racially/culturally not 'western', and closer to 50% if one includes those stigmatized by christianity. Our current struggles reflect humanity shedding its dried and frayed historical folklore mythology skin - resisting the truer, science based epidermis below. Reminiscing is self-delusion.

  104. Christ loves everyone, and offers hope, peace and healing to everyone as well. He is no respecter of persons.

  105. Good topic . Thanks Mr. Brooks and others who share here. Just a reminder: Healing takes time.

  106. @Bull One more point: Language has serious limitations. Of course that wont stop us from trying to talk/write our way out of messes. I guess that's why mind & body should remain intact, and an integral part of a healthy life, whenever practical.

  107. Our whole society has institutionalized cruelty and suffering, and made it OK to disconnect, by turning a blind eye. We are morally corrupted and ethically a wash in the mythology of this time, a very dark time. Trauma is daily, moment to moment now. In my lifetime it has increased, become more violent, and spread to effect most all beings. There are many ways to heal, but one will still be faced with the trauma. What I find helpful, when the body's memory kicks in, I try to talk to it like an old friend; "Hi, it's you again, I could go down that path and I will sometimes, and I won't judge myself, but, my friend, this is something I want to release, so I'm letting it go now," and then I release it. It is a series of releases. My body has never healed (even after a soul retrieval), even though I have sought help in many ways. So it's what I must live with, and instead of pushing the feelings away, I say hi, its you again, ok, now I'm turning my attention elsewhere. This doesn't always work, but it works enough, a lot, and it does get so much easier. And I believe that underneath all of the horror and beauty there is a field of sameness. This allows me to go forward, eyes and heart open, and blinders off to the cruelty and suffering, and then, to concentrate of relieving the pain of others; all creatures, and our Earth. Everything is alive and interconnected, and the more compassion we can feel for others, the more we heal too.

  108. @Leslie S Such insight, so beautiful!

  109. Carl Jung spoke about soul in a way that resonated with Joseph Campbell and his subsequent popularization of the hero's journey. The soul is complicated and, as such, is resilient. As a culture, we have lost our acknowledgment and appreciation of the soul--human and universal. To be concrete, soul is the essence of all life that connects us humans to everything outside ourselves--including the environment and the inhabitants of this fragile planet we live on. In our own insulated, protected lives we have lost touch with our planetary home. We have lost touch with our souls. We have lost touch with heroes. We have lost touch with resilience. We have lost touch with ourselves.

  110. Wonderful column. The purification of warriors is described in Numbers chapter 31 verses 19-20. Analogous to an orbiting spaceship, reentry following a traumatic episode is dangerous, and if the trajectory isn't precise, the soul overheats. Some prefer to stay in the safety of their orbit, some succeed and return to earth, and some, tragically, burn up trying. A healthy culture guides reentry and reduces the risk.

  111. @Eitan One more note - my father in law was in the 2nd infantry division, landed at Normandy on D Day, fought in Northern France and in the Battle of the Bulge, and his battalion entered Pilsen in May 1945 ahead of the 3rd Army. He had a bronze star and two purple hearts. Most of the people he fought with did not come home. It took him over a decade to "reenter", marry and resume a "normal life". Once General Patton visited his platoon and was reviewing the troops. He said to the Captain, "I don't have time to thank all your soldiers personally, but I'd like to shake the hand of your best soldier." "Why that's Corporal Besdin", replied the officer. As Patton, a notorious anti-Semite, shook his hand, my father in law said - "And I'm a Jew, Sir". Clarity of purpose, fairness and decency to all. May his memory continue to inspire me and my family.

  112. These sorts of rituals work best at a tribal level, or the level of a religious congregation. The only secular organization that we have of that size are primary schools. It needs to be a few hundred people of a wide range of age groups (schools have a narrow range of ages). Sadly, at sizes above that, rituals don't scale well. We don't know enough about the participants to care about them. It becomes impersonal. I fear that before we can return to the sorts of rituals that David advocates (and I agree that they are spiritually healthy), we would need to establish social structures of that size again, the size of a rural village, a church congregation, or a big company union local. Our lack of useful rituals is really just a symptom of the decline of civil society at a local level. We need a way and a reason for secular neighbors to bond, ideally not on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religion, because we don't want the ugly sides of tribalism together with the good ones. . How to reconstruct civil society in a secular and atomized society? Perhaps channel more government benefits to be spent through local government structures, which will get more people involved in local politics. But people like their autonomy too much to embrace small communities today. We need something like religion without the gods, priests and the ugly bits of the dogma, a new secular religion. Nobody has found that yet.

  113. Actually, 12 step programs offer "religion without the gods, priests and the ugly bits of the dogma". Yes, dogma creeps in from time to time, but a time honored principle of these programs is "take what you like and leave the rest".

  114. Rwanda instigated a community reconciliation process for perpetrators of the genocide that my Rwandan friends tell me was often effective. There are amazing accounts of forgiveness and healing. If that kind of community process can work with something that severe, there is hope that something similar can work in other traumatic situations.

  115. "We in America need ceremonies, is, I suppose, sailor, the point of what I have written." Updike, "A Traded Car" As our country was self-invented, each American is called to invent their own universe. Sometimes it's tiring, and lonely.

  116. There’s a ritual called voting, through which the ordinary man or woman shares in the power of the body politic, and can see, through the sheer effort put into collecting and counting votes, that their opinion is valued by the community. And then there’s a group called the Republican Party, that tries to prevent people from voting, or to collect their ballots and throw them away uncounted. This is an ongoing trauma inflicted on the American body politic. Yes, it would be nice if America had more morally affirming rituals. So let’s begin by removing the political party that works so hard to suppress them.

  117. Mr Brooks, I liked this piece because it spoke about a kind of spirituality that is true and healing. That is the essence of all true religion, that it be based on the idea of a loving creator. As sincere followers of any faith, we try to live in a moral manner. When one of us is wounded, whether emotionally or physically, we offer compassion, acceptance, and kindness. In these modern times, there has been a lot of brokenness, what the medical establishment calls trauma. It is difficult to find spaces in very large communities for myth-making and ritual. These sorts of things are best done in smaller groups, such as a temple, church, or even a community center. Another aspect to this is considering how we live our lives. Do we support programs and policies that continue hurting people, or do we try to lessen our impact, for instance, on what will exacerbate climate change? Can we all learn cooperation so that individuals aren't suffering? Can we back politicians who are committed to staying out of an unnecessary war?

  118. Odd coincidence. I reread, Demien by Hesse last week. The point of the novel is to teach the reader that, "every persons life is a journey unto themselves". Max Demien, an important character in the book means, great spirit. The lead character is Emile Sinclair a German youth, who eventually winds up seriously wounded in WWI. The questions, the reader asks after finishing the work is, was there two persons or one? Is a person's great spirit, or soul always within them? Is life's purpose to find it?

  119. The notion of rituals to cleanse moral injuries may have some relevance to traumatized combat veterans, but seems less well suited to persons whose trauma may have sprung from, for example, prolonged childhood abuse. And community-based healing presupposes the existence of a community, which is increasingly hard to find.

  120. I don't understand any of this. I have lived in communities of faith and I have lived in places like here in Quebec where 80% are Atheist or Agnostic. There is little if any difference. It is community that makes all the difference. It is community that sets standards of behaviour. I know of One of our Protestant Ministers who proclaimed she did not believe in God and when her church tried to get rid of her her flock would not have it. I guess she really explained the Gospels. Nobody explains your constitution is a social contract. It is about how we deal with each other. The second amendment is far more important than guns it is about how we treat those whose morality prevents them from being in the military. It says we must respect deeply held convictions. Your country was founded on respect for each other and your country is lead by someone who has no respect for even himself. When Mr Scalia changed the meaning of the second amendment he echoed the words spoken by Barry Goldwater in 1964. Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Karl Hess III wrote those words and he was a libertarian. Libertarians don't believe in spirituality so can lie with impunity.

  121. It's like you've been trying to say this for oh-so-long. A breakthrough, this column. Going forward, try to apply this insight more broadly and you might see the shortcomings of the punishment ethos of the conservative movement Trump so handily highjacked.

  122. Another deceptive straw man to battle! Comprehensive treatment for PTSD is a lot more than psychoactive medication. However, among the things that the Reagan Revolution eliminated were the mental hospitals, i.e., the very places that people could get comprehensive treatment. We do not need to look to myth or religion to help people suffering from trauma; we just need to support the institutions that would help.

  123. Quote "I wish our culture had many more rites of passage, communal moments when we celebrated a moral transition. There could be a community wide rite of passage for people coming out of prison, for forgiveness of a personal wrong, for people who felt they had come out the other side of trauma and abuse. There’d be a marriage ceremony of sorts to mark the moment when a young person found the vocation he or she would dedicate life to." But I gotta tell ya, the great contradiction that continues to exist in your writing is that you seem to be allergic recognizing the fundamental veracity of much Marx and Weber's descriptions of how capitalism undermines the 'thick moral culture' you long for. Throw in the 'natural void' amplifying the 'spiritual void' caused by the trashing of the planet in the search of profit, and it's really staring us in the face. "All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man [sic] is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind. The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe." KM, The Communist Manifesto. I agree with much of what you say. But until you come clean about the corrosive effects of the basic trajectory set by surplus value extraction in a globalizing regime that privileges property over people and refers to corporations as legal persons, your analyses seem borderline sentimental.

  124. @Brendan ... but wasn't it Marx ( or maybe Lenin ) who said " religion is the opiate of the people "?

  125. Interesting that he commented about our society being in a spiritual void. Finally someone recognizes this void. Suicide rates would plummet it we would allow the soul to feel, to be recognized. So often in society God is hated and shunned, but God wants to share all of his light and love; he wants to heal our wounded souls. Why does society think it is so awful to believe in a God who can heal the soul and help anyone overcome trauma? In Matthew 11:29 Christ invites people to come unto him with the promise that they "...will find rest to their souls." What a blessing.

  126. @Marielle Ryan I agree with you that healing is found in the words of Jesus, however, since many people have been harmed by the "church" they have rejected the words of the Bible as well and immediately attack anyone who brings up religion, especially Christianity.

  127. @Marielle Ryan "Finally someone recognizes this void. " I am always confused by comments like this. This void is talked about 24/7 in churches and elsewhere.

  128. @Marielle Ryan The hitch has been that the American right wing snitched Jesus away and made him into a weird, hateful monster. No, I'm sorry, you cannot love Jesus and hate gay people and oppose gay marriage. No, I'm sorry you cannot love Jesus and support cutting social service programs for the meek and poverty stricken while cutting taxes for the billionaires. No, I'm sorry you cannot love Jesus while dumping toxic waste into rivers. Jesus sits at our borders, disguised within an immigrant caravan, takes a look at his people, cheering on a hateful man who enjoys ripping babies from their mothers, and weeps. When the American Evangelicals and other "Christians" start reading David Brooks and try swapping love for hate, embrace for fear, and most anything besides Donald for president, Jesus will relax.

  129. We are physical, mental, emotional, spiritual beings. All parts to make a whole. When one part is repressed, ridiculed or wounded deeply then the potential of the whole person at best goes unmet at worse distorts the individual/nation into something grotesque. It’s good to hear that people have found a ways to help heal the mental wounds folks carry. Thank you Mr. Brooks for your continued thoughts on healing and becoming better more fully human.

  130. I am glad you are addressing humanity a bit more here. I would like to read about your impressions of the trauma that many black men have felt from being reported and assaulted for just looking threatening. The largest group of those with trauma ruminations here in the US are women who have been sexually assaulted. Those women who are pregnant while being assaulted pass the trauma chemistry onto their unborn children, so they are damaged, too. Rape victims relive the nightmare(s) over and over, and over, just like soldiers from the violent war theater, and sometimes it leads to a slow form of suicide: like substance abuse. PTSD was a label advancement on what has always been known as trauma rumination. Trauma ruins lives. The only way out of the disease, just like with treating other psychiatric problems, is to rehearse focusing outward, towards the needs of others, to have a mission, to have employment, to not be allowed alone inside one's own head. This is cognitive therapy to distract and retrain the mind to other thought patterns. A ritual might help, but I think it would take more than that. The community around these trauma victims needs to change to re-enable them. The biggest threat to traumatized soldiers returning, or to assaulted women, is not being needed, wanted, hired, by the community. We can't make a private sector hire these former soldiers.

  131. You would do well to read a book called "The Body Keeps the Score" by Bessel van der Kok, MD for a profound examination of ptsd and trauma from abuse, etc. as well as war. Our culture contributes much to causing it including by not providing sufficient community.

  132. Art is certainly the best way to free a human soul. It can give a person individual strength in the bleakest of situations. Without a sense of individual dignity people always turn cynical and hopeless. And that speaks volumes about the problem with poverty on this planet. The greatest thing about art -- not to mention how it can develop perceptions, emotional intelligence, and dignity -- is that the greatest artists the world has ever known celebrate humanity. There's compassion in art. There's hope in a life full of dreams and memories. So what do you think art is made of?

  133. While our constitution pays lip service to freedom of worship and speech, the true passion of our nation is revealed in clinging to the right to inflict mortal violence without restriction as the most exalted of human rights. When we excise violence as our right, and the just answer for wrongs, from our essence, perhaps we will find a spiritual rebirth. Until then, an America without violence is like a Persia without poetry.

  134. Let's understand the etymology of the word "religion," from religare, to tie, to fasten, to bind. The same root forms the word ligament. A body without ligaments supporting its various pieces in an integrated upright posture would collapse into a heap of bones. A psyche without inner supports and connections, however these may be understood or defined, faces the same ungamely fate. Thank you Mr. Brooks for your insight into the necessity of ligaments in a healthy society.

  135. For everyone saying this is on the money, there are others saying it's all neurotransmitters. If you think the world is reducible to synapses, chances are the word soul has no meaning. A former soldier who said he felt his soul leave his body after killing many and retreating? I guess you'd suggest his medications be adjusted. I agree with you 100% Mr Brooks. This is a powerful piece.

  136. @Talbot I'm one of those soulless types you disparage, and I would not suggest that the guy who felt his soul leave his body needs his medications adjusted. (Though I wouldn't scorn medication either; if you have any compassion at all despite considering yourself very high on the spirituality meter, you recognize that medications can do a lot to relieve suffering in some cases - so, in short, do adjust his meds if it helps him to cope.) But my first answer is not to send him into combat in the first place; then we won't have to argue about who is morally superior, debating medication versus soul-babble.

  137. The film “The Best Years of Our Lives” sought to typify the challenges of veterans returning from WWII. In that story three veterans who did not previously know each other become entwined with each other in their efforts to reintegrate following war. In different ways they offered hope and encouragement to one another. In “The Deer Hunter” the alienation of returning Vietnam vets is depicted as almost insuperable. Unlike other wars, US veterans organizations largely abandoned returning Vietnam vets. Neither the VFW nor the American Legion welcomed returning “long-haired hippies”. As a result of abandoning the vets at the time of their return, these organizations have shrunk to obscurity, and the veterans lost the communal support they badly needed. The organizations have since changed their stance, but it has been too little too late. The isolation, abandonment and hyper-individualism imposed on Vietnam vets has come at a high personal and social cost that continues to be paid today. One can only dread the enduring cost of imposing multiple tours of duty on our military in the Middle East. The supposed virtue of a volunteer Army has devolved into the reality of a misused mercenary force whom we feel free to send back into unremitting combat because “they are paid to do it” and “they agreed to do it”. They did no such thing. They agreed to serve a country that would use their service wisely, not foolishly. And that betrayal will take decades to repay.

  138. Thank you for talking about the place for soul in how we heal. While there is much to be said for the medical model, the original Ancient Greek meaning of the word "psyche" was soul; not mind, brain or behavior. So psychology was originally the study of soul. Of course, this was not a Christian conception of soul. It was a polytheistic conception, in which every wise, heroic, jealous, vengeful, nurturing, lustful, ecstatic, mad or loving god or goddess reflected some part of the wide variety of human experience without moral judgement. So I would be wary of Brook's use of the word "moral" in this context, but I applaud his main point. Myths can act as mirrors for us to see and accept the many parts of ourselves that we might otherwise ignore or deny. They can also offer a measure of meaning to our descents into darkness, if you consider how the Ancients saw descending into the Underworld as necessary to turn an innocent girl like Persephone into a Queen or a lost man like Odysseus into a true Father. Ritual can evoke such images and midwife such rites of passage. But it need not be ensconced in established religious or cultural traditions. Creative, attuned groups of people can collaboratively create new rituals with more vitality and transformative power. The empiricists were right to reject empty ritual and superstition. But the objective focus of science cannot replace the subjective nature of the soul. (See: "Care of the Soul" by Thomas Moore, & Meridian University)

  139. If we required a two year commitment to some sort of national service from everyone, it might go a long way toward thickening the country. I suspect we would discover new ways to be a "hero" without going to war. Working together with folks from dissimilar backgrounds, I suspect we would discover new ways in which we are all in this together, and we might come away with a greater respect for "the commons," and our part in preserving them. And I suspect requiring a two year national service for everyone would be good for our traumatized collective soul.

  140. @Ben Bryant Thank you for this comment. National service would provide profound benefits to individuals by embedding them deeply in their communities, reducing isolation, and promoting purpose. It's also the only way I can think of that we as a society can move off our glide path towards hatred and civil war.

  141. @Ben Bryant Well said. As J.F.K . put it, “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. As true today as ever it was. It would give many young people the opportunity to make the transition from school to a career with a chance to meet and work with Americans of dissimilar backgrounds and views about living in America. In that kind of environment it is to be hoped they would learn that not all have been as fortunate as they and perhaps develop compassion and understanding for those less fortunate. Good idea.

  142. Thanks Mr. Brooks. We need to discover & develop what ties us together in a spiritual way. BUT, the way must be one while acknowledging one part of our nature---the destructive one, WILL, at the same time, develop our constructive & supportive part, and have the HOPE that this positive part will control our negative part. LOVE IS THE CATALYST.

  143. I am normally contemptuous of the New Age language of “spirituality” but I have to agree with Mr. Brooks. Trauma is a moral and spiritual wound rather than a medical one. Medicalization of the human condition is a grave danger. When a grieving spouse or parent is offered pills instead of religion or philosophy; when works of art are disfigured by “trigger warnings”; when students complain that ideas they disagree with a danger to their health, it is the culture, not the individual, that is sick. And it will breed trauma, disaffection and misery faster than the makers of antidepressants can develop new drugs. There are studies that show that cognitive therapy or philosophical or religious conversations are as effective as drugs in treating depression. War trauma is less in societies in which the returning soldiers are admired and lauded rather than despised. More books, less pills should be a prescription for every trauma sufferer.

  144. @Mor Thoughts and prayers, eh? Medication is meant to be a bridge, not a replacement of inner healing. Individuals come to terms with trauma, to the extent that they are able, via different paths. To blame the culture is simplistic and wrong. The whole "society is sick" trope is just an excuse to get on a favorite hobbyhorse and go for a gallop around the room. Trigger warnings seem to be one of yours, as is a belief that returning military are despised - also incorrect.

  145. @Mor Are you serious? Have you not heard a serviceperson thanked for their service a hundred thousand times here? I go to the store, a military or ex military guy in front of me on line gets his military discount, and the cashier says, "thank you for your service." I watch a ball game on TV and see some military guy and his family carted out onto the field so everyone can applaud and thank them for their service. This constant thanking and expressions of heartfelt gratitude has not seemed to help our soldiers suffering PTSD from their stints in Iraq and Afghanistan one iota.

  146. @Mor: I notice tour examples do not include children being torn from the arms of their mothers, people being denied medical treatment because of pre-existing conditions, or people who are denied assistance after fire or hurricane damage - to name just a few. While I feel that we cannot be truly spiritual until we transcend religion, while still recognizing the verities upon which religions are based, I think that both trauma and (for want of a better word) materialism are both veils over the soul, the conscience if you will, which when awakened, demands that we view the world differently than we have previously. It is a dangerous undertaking to awaken the soul; we risk remaking all our values and priorities.

  147. You have written something here Mr. Brooks that is vital to each one of us, whether suffering from inner torment (are we not all in some measure tortured?) or not, and thus key to our culture as a community of caring human beings. You have gifted me with a new and hopefully growing perception of life and its priorities. We need to nurture one another to establish meaning and our own course in life. It can and must come from connection to one another.

  148. David highlights the role a community plays in helping its wounded members recover from the traumas they have suffered, often on behalf of the community, itself. The failure of American society to extend similar aid to its damaged members surely arises in large part from the individualist ethos that defines our culture. We offer our citizens a high degree of autonomy, but in exchange we demand that they assume responsibility for the consequences of that freedom. We celebrate our soldiers, but the community provides little support to help them recover from the horrors they experience in combat. We expect them to remain strong, to fit our image of the heroic warrior. As in the case of General Patton slapping a shell-shocked GI in WWII, we seem embarrassed when some of them display their vulnerability. Their "weakness" challenges our myth of the resilient individual, able to confront life's traumas without flinching. In like manner, we may express sympathy for the victim of a sexual assault, but many Americans still harbor the suspicion that her own behavior contributed to the attack. She either drank too much or wore provocative clothing. In either case, she misused her individual freedom and paid the price. A society committed to the ideal of the autonomous individual has a difficult time nurturing the values and institutions which acknowledge the limitations of that outlook. We pay a high price for our blindness.

  149. @James Lee, In a manner of speaking, my spouse went on a ramble about Vietnam, with a veteran friend who nearly choked him in the process. Could you blame him. Earlier watched a case of a seventeen-year old, raped by a man ten years her senior, and who 'brought it upon herself' for wearing embroidery on her underwear. This took place in Ireland, where the Women's Movement is growing in momentum. Here I would have pointed out that Belgium nuns are known for their embroidery skills in placing lace on such garments. 'Selfish' is the dominant word that comes to mind in the midst of a society of gentle, peace-loving, grasping souls. So kind, we are, and ruthless in acts of well-meaning, ill-advised measures. On reading the reflections of a well appointed financier, who came to the conclusion that in life, it is not the motivation of wealth or sex that drives us, but the killing instinct that remains dormant in our make-up, I blinked and pondered. Perhaps one of the reasons, our Nation finds comfort in food and enlarges its girth, is to fill a void of emptiness, while counting our blessings with another slice of mince pie.

  150. Veterans of wars represent a small fraction of those who experience the life-altering consequences of trauma. Just ask the thousands of young boys and girls who, today, can barely function as a result of their abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church; or the millions of women - our mothers, sisters and wives - who are just now finding public expression in the Me Too movement for their centuries of sanctioned and ritualized abuse... and the list goes on. The cover for this horror: Brooks' peddled myth of Nationalism, wherein myth itself displaces the actualities of what it means to live in this world creatively, trusting in the self and others, without fear. Even the examples conjured in his article - i.e. the traumatized soldier who, through the help of community, becomes a newly minted heroic "warrior" - reeks of the wholly abusive power structure he sets out to confront. What Brooks appears to be terrified of, as are all proponents of the myth of Nationalism, is the power of the individual conscience, the one source capable of confronting the corruption and abuse inherent in every community. His "thick moral culure" is not going to be achieved by the recitation of cliche-ridden mumbo jumbo, but rather through the hard process of accountability - which this article does not even touch upon.

  151. @RMW While accountability is necessary, the victims of trauma still have to deal within themselves with the physical, mental, and spiritual effects of the trauma they suffered. Brooks is right to ask the question: what do/what can we do to help people in that situation? Medication, therapy, etc. can be helpful, but they tend to be victim and doctor/therapist interactions. Brooks is asking what we as a community can do to help. How can we accompany trauma victims, whether returning soldiers, abused children, or those grieving the death of a loved one whether "natural" or the result of a mass shooting? If we ourselves don't have a strong moral/spiritual "soul", we won't be able to do much for them. So Brooks is right to ask us to look at the spiritual void that exists in this country now, a void that is reflected, among other places, in hatred of the "other" and in the inability of elected officials to work together for positive good.

  152. “Wherever there is trauma, there has been betrayal, an abuse of authority, a moral injury.” This conclusion by David Brooks is incorrect, although his column about the concept of soul is true. Sometimes, probably more often than not, a person sustains psychic trauma without any wrongdoing by anyone. The death of a parent, of a sibling or, most horrific, of one’s child inflicts such trauma on people. Terrible things happen to good people every day. Accidents or unexpected illnesses happen to family members or close friends, and the community typically grieves with those suffering the loss and offers comfort. Usually, no one was at fault in these situations. There was no betrayal. No one suffering such trauma lost his or her soul – unless we call a broken heart an injured soul. If we entertain the notion that a person suffering such a loss now feels morally tainted, rather than recognize the deep sadness they are experiencing, we add insult to injury.

  153. @sdw, These are known as 'circumstances beyond one's control', and while telling the person that you are sorry for whatever is the cause of their feeling lost or bereft, one can follow this by a deed of action. It would be wondrous if this presidency could allocate relief funds to our Californian fellows who are now without shelter, forgotten by those of us in the East, ready to prepare our favorite Thanksgiving recipe, while Mother Nature leaves many Americans in a case of unease and anxiety, subject to her whims and caprices. Let us bin the sentence, 'I feel your pain', or 'We all have a cross to bear'. Ask yourself when was the last time you thought of Ferguson.

  154. @Miss Ley You mix situations, lumping everything into “circumstances beyond one’s control.” In the case of the California fires, this applies to the role “Mother Nature.” We should feel empathy and act on that feeling. On the other hand, you also write about whether Donald Trump will allocate sufficient relief funds, and you write about Ferguson, where a police officer shot an unarmed 18-year-old black youngster and riots ensued. Trump’s action or inaction and the Ferguson shooting both fall squarely into the three requisites for trauma listed by David Brooks: betrayal, abuse of authority and moral injury. The focus is not on whether we show enough empathy. It is on whether the person guilty of misconduct has created and the victims have sustained an injury to the soul. And, Miss Ley, speaking to a bereft person about “a cross to bear” suggests that the person somehow has done something to deserve punishment. It is cruel.

  155. Happy Thanksgiving. This was lovely.

  156. Outstanding essay! We are experiencing tectonic plate shifts in religion of all sorts because we are outgrowing them. But we still need myth and ritual to nurture and express the soul. I see some attempts at myth in stories such as Star Trek, Black Panther, Hunger Games, and almost anything from Pixar. Lacking any really good options, we have placed much of our ritual life in sports events where we struggle with body posture during the national anthem. Our collective PTSD arising from the current global angst may lead to healing our weary souls if we can approach healers with grace and humility.

  157. Thank you, Mr. Brooks. Was hoping earlier that there would be an essay from you, and my wish has been now granted, without keeping it a secret. It is possible that our Nation has been slightly traumatized by this Presidency. Eh, and it is becoming harder to stay in the same place? One has to run faster than ever in this revolutionary era of technology and we don't know 'What is Happening'. Singular as it sounds, acquaintances come to 'visit' in times of sorrow, on the basis that I always know the right thing to say. This is not true and makes one feel like a walking encyclopedia of platitudes. When taking up the gauntlet, and deciding to help a person, an acquaintance, a friend traumatized by a loss, we take the journey together. We go through the looking-glass, knowing that we are there to relieve the burden. It can be a long journey where we go our separate way on occasion, only to find each other again looking at the next obstacle to hurdle. Sometimes it works, where the casualty of stress feels relieved, while you remain a bit jangled and mangled. There are two books on my list to read: 'Road to Character' by you and Joseph Campbell's mythology, and perhaps you might enjoy meeting Ebenezer Le Page, in the book by G.B. Edwards, where the narrator never leaves his island. Thanking you for your honesty, and wishing you a happy Thanksgiving, while we continue on our travels. What a Life!

  158. It is important to recognize trauma, to act to deal with it in ourselves, and to help others deal with it. However, wallowing in it makes it worse. The idea is to overcome it, not to let it take over life. Sometimes it takes over anyway. Fighting that is dealing with it. I don't mean to blame the victim. I'm thinking more of people around the victim. They too often emphasize the trauma instead of the recovery. They help perpetuate the trauma instead of helping the victim get past it. The first time this was pointed out to me was by a teen, whose complaint was that her family would not let her get past the sexual abuse of her by her uncle. They let that define her, and she said that hurt more than what the uncle did. She wanted it all to stop, because they were making it worse. They were her problem, not helping her. They thought they were helping, being supportive, or so they told me. She felt they were making it about themselves, not her real needs as she felt them.

  159. I think you are missing something here. Many trauma survivors don't know the extent of the trauma they experienced as children, young adults and even adults. Children who are subject to emotional and physical trauma including physical and emotional abuse mostly blame themselves. And if one is lucky enough to find a counselor or therapist to help one through the emotional maze of having survived, there remains the lingering feeling that as a victim, you are still at fault, despite evidence to the contrary. I am not speaking of war-related trauma, I have not experienced that. However I struggle, as a 50-something woman to live a good life. I blame no one at this point, life happens. It's only about me, at this point, to the extent that my recovery is on me.

  160. That was beautiful and very compassionate. While there are many of us traumatized by family members drug addiction or absent alcoholic parents, Alanon has provided so much spiritual hope and help. I think those twelve steps are an extraordinary ladder or wheel of healing for anyone who has suffered any trauma. As a retired teacher, I always felt the greatest compassion for students traumatized by poverty, refugee status, culture shock, one parent in prison, violence or abuse. Now I have the greatest compassion for all those affected by the trauma of the Camp Fire. I hope they find a safe breathable place to live soon.

  161. David remains content to promote his brand of mysticism. It's easier than facing his complicity in GOP mischief since Reagan. The middle class is effectively destroyed. And "capitalist" billionaires/corporations are running wild feeding off government tax breaks/hands outs. Until David addresses the modern Robber Barons, this type of essay is pure deflection.

  162. @David Henry Thanks David. Many "therapists" want to pitch a philosophy. As stated, patient "Art" is not credible and any professional who professes that the "soul" left his body is a charlatan.

  163. @David Henry Yep. The column can be summed up as "Thoughts and prayers."

  164. I totally agree with David's conclusion that spiritual needs are and have always been part of human experience. Humans have certain areas of growth and development that each person must be responsible for: physical health, mental health, social health, financial health, community health, and spiritual health in which one adjusts one's relationship with the universe until it is aligned with good against evil. Tribal and traditional religions have often served the function of helping one move in the direction of the good. However, a traditional religion is not necessary for all us. Some can take messages from all sources from Confucius and Socrates to Gandhi and other great spiritual leaders and find our own way to spiritual growth and awareness. Happy Thanksgiving.

  165. "Wherever there is trauma, there has been betrayal, an abuse of authority, a moral injury." Huh? The article is proof that you can say anything and making sense is not a requisite. When dealing with emotional and physical injuries causing trauma, it is not so easy to put them in to categories. Nor is it appropriate to portray some of the things in this article as actually real, as something that exists outside, like a rock. The failure to understand that we make most everything up and that all things are transient does not permit us to see actually what is there, what is real. Sorrow is not trauma, until people make it so. A lot depends on what people say to themselves, over and over, about the experience. If Mr. Brooks means trauma that is caused by meaningless events, the machinations of other minds, by the moral and/or spiritual failures of others, it is not the end of the world, and we do not have to perceive it as such, unless you choose to do that. Consciousness, itself, is at the root of trauma and is traumatic in its own right. Many never recover from the experience. Fear is the great force connecting all trauma, a feeling of anxiety concerning the outcome of something. It can only be dealt with effectively by deciding on an action and pursuing the action. Either it works or it doesn't. Try, try again. We are all afraid of something, one time or another, and a culture that is based on stimulating fear to control people is not a culture at all. Enter Trump.

  166. @Reuben Ryder, I am not convinced by your proposed definition/explanation of trauma as "a feeling of anxiety concerning the outcome of something." Trauma, as defined by psychological professionals (for example, in the DSM-V) and as it is referred to in this article, relates to an event that has already happened. The outcome of the event is known (and indeed was usually witnessed firsthand). Thus the detail offered by Mr. Brooks—"betrayal, an abuse of authority, a moral injury"—makes sense to me. One might argue with Mr. Brooks that trauma can also be caused by a non-moral event, for example, by a car accident. But I don't see how trauma can be anxiety about the future. Trauma, as I understand the common and technical use of the term, is about the past. I imagine that Mr. Brooks might agree with you that "we do not have to perceive" moral injuries as traumas, but in this column he argues that it can be very difficult to change one's perception and that this mental adjustment often cannot be achieved alone as a pure act of will but may instead require community support and validation.

  167. @Tucker Lieberman I hear you, but perhaps I needed to be more clear. The definition does not imply the future, literally. The outcome of something was about the event of the past. Perhaps this you will better understand. You are making an assumption that it was about the future, when it is about the past and what to do in the moment to relieve the anxiety. Like all crises, they do not last forever. You either come out of them better or worse. There is no doubt that a supportive community is a great tool to recovery. Some of the best proposals for returning soldiers has a great deal of well defined behavior by supportive staff that helps the patient to regain their well being. Again, it is not about the future. We live in the present, all the time, whether we are aware of it or not.

  168. Meh. We had a prospective tenant last weekend tell us he has PTSD because of bad relationships, and a rough childhood. It was kind of laughable at first the first part...but the guy was troubled and at risk... Telling someone like that to just get over it is unrealistic. It's societies problem not yours.

  169. I'm a psychotherapist who has worked a great deal with people struggling with the effects of all sorts of trauma. I am explicitly "spiritual" with folks when it is appropriate. I believe that it is a powerful part of the healing process for some people. My hope is that the secular members of my profession are tuned to the same frequency as Mr. Brooks!

  170. Myths, OK. But careful: making yourself into a myth will lead to inflation, and then you have to deflate without wounding yourself, if you want to lead a normal life (what other kinds are there?). And drugs are not your friend here. There's nothing quite like having a stable consciousness, and there's nothing like no-frills yoga to achieve and maintain yours. Books are written about all this, but the bare facts are worth bearing in mind. The freedom of consciousness, including freedom from religion, we now enjoy, has enormous pitfalls, as we are seeing. The free person falls back on herself or himself, so having a Self that is known and that you can communicate with and tend is of paramount importance.

  171. We live in a society in which lots of money is the greatest good, the measure of a person's worth. Decisions are made "top down," and crying needs and new ideas are routinely ignored and rejected because, I guess, they were not needs or ideas that concerned the top echelons of our society. We are not even trying to remedy the causes of so much of our pain and suffering or even trying to find out what might be wrong. I guess you could call this a "spiritual" problem. How are "thoughts and prayers" working for you, Mr. Brooks? It could also be that we are living under a new system of Feudalism whereby hopelessness is just the lot of the serfs toiling for the landlords. This may be surprising, but rich, well-educated crazy people have nothing on poor and abused crazy people. Our society and its people are being tortured by concentrations of money and their consequences. Humanity no longer has a place here.

  172. @Al Mostonest, it is certainly important to identify what is hurting us so that we can stop it from occurring in the future, and it is also important to support the emotional recovery of people who are already hurt. These two strategies support the same goals. The latter strategy is what Mr. Brooks discusses in this column.

  173. As a returning VN veteran, I had the benefit of the friendship of a quiet assuring older brother in-law who was a WWII vet, who was a tail gunner in Britian with several purple hearts. He could not talk about his experiences in the Air Corp and the limping back to base or the loss of so many buddies. But his life's example of a good career, raising a great family and his commitment to his church and volunteer community was a visible sign to me that things would be OK in time. His patient look and understanding with my anger and sometimes rage was enough. He knew how I felt deep down, and that showed me the way back. I am greatful to him and those at the VA who do so much to help others come back.

  174. I think it's a lovely concept to address the spiritual void involved in trauma recovery. I think it more important to direct folks to effective and empirically proven trauma therapy. EMDR therapy has been helping trauma sufferers for decades. It's effective, safe and powerful. It gets results. See EMDRIA's website for more information. It's real and tangible.

  175. Good for EMDR. Some EMDR grows resilience and provides relief. Some ... didn’t. Soul growth after trauma comes thru many forms and mediums. Astonishing how stubbornly we resist the answers of human civilizations for eons—mythos.

  176. In addition to those suffering from trauma continuously (and consciously) recalled, there are certainly many others who also suffer from childhood trauma whose memory has been suppressed and that they no longer consciously recall.

  177. Interesting that a most important description has been left awash. It’s not a Ways about what happened then but often about what is happening now. Abnormal responses to normal situations are oft times built on the developmental curve of life. The question we might ask ourselves, or others, is “how old do you look at this response”. A tantrum thrown at this might well be based on that from developmental years. I.E. a veteran might find his current decisions, while based on the now, are perhaps based on Ericsson’s (?) moratorium. I often see this in adult children of alcoholics; more learned behavior. Sigh. We are a tangled nest are we not?

  178. fighting the spiritual void? don't we have anything better to do, in this physical life, than fighting something that does not exist? the soul is just a word we have developed to name our sentient awareness as self, and to relate that self to the idea of sin, of right and wrong... we continue to deny our simple identity as human species. we have to be something better, "special" when in reality, there is nothing better to be than what we really are already. we just haven't gotten there yet. and we insist upon filling the space in our heads with the supernatural and mythical... but, things are changing, slowly over time...

  179. Mr. Brooks: Much better than Tick's book is Jonathan Shay's ACHILLES IN VIETNAM, and its companion, ULYSSES IN AMERICA, for Vietnam Veterans' PTSD, which examines war trauma through the Greek myths. My Philadelphia VA Hospital has a program entitled "War and Moral Injury" for vets with soul trauma, which I have found very helpful in dealing with the loss of one's soul and the trauma of combat. I highly recommend these books to you, and this program to fellow combat vets.

  180. MickNam A well said commentary. The books you mentioned were and still are the cornerstone of my post VIETNAM rebuild. The understanding of developmental psycho social moratorium is most important. Myth, non myth, Jung, Campbell all create reasonable, yay necessary, blocks of construction to restore what we as the the veteran cannot always see. Thank you for your comment and welcome home brother...

  181. @MickNamVet Another book that might assist, because there is always the two-way street, is The Sorrow of War, by Bao Ninh, who appears in Burn's The Vietnam War. (Didn't you leave an explanation/opinion on here a year and a half or two ago about why you thought former Marine General John Kelly hooked-up with Trump as his gate-keeper? Always stuck with me because I thought you nailed it succinctly.) Anyway, have a nice Thanksgiving, from one Vietnam Vet, (REMF) to another.

  182. Beautiful essay, and very wise. As a community, we are just beginning to understand how trauma represents a spiritual injury. Sometimes, as with the trauma suffered by soldiers or law enforcement, that can be a moral injury. Almost always that means injury to sense of self, to our sense of how the world works and our relationship to it, and our connection to something greater than ourselves, however we conceive of that. We have also lost our understanding of the importance of ritual to mark important times of transition and to remember (not just memory, but a re-integration of self, and self and community, re-member). Ritual can be in a ritual context, but it does not have to be. Lastly, we have denigrated myth to the point where "myth" equals false: "That's just a myth." Myths are our sacred stories that help us understand our lives, our world, and our place in the world. They help us make meaning. Thank you for illuminating the connection of these things and the role they, and too often their lack, is impacting us today.

  183. I always struggle with Brooks' columns like this one, which seem to constantly nibble at the edges of organized religion. I don't particularly disagree with anything he says but in this age of political evangelism and so many people searching for authoritarian structures it makes me very nervous. Everyone needs to find their structures, their communities and make their rituals. And everyone needs to allow others their own way. And NONE of it should be in politics. I find David's longing for moral architecture in today's America of hugely varied experiences and backgrounds and the Trump Administration upsetting and somewhat dangerous.

  184. @LS I was going to write something about dealing with the trauma that is convulsing America and the world at a time when a dangerously narcissistic autocrat is running the White House, but then I saw your cautionary message, so I'll limit myself to responding to your expressed concerns. I share your concern about David Brooks' column, but also feel that the next great awakening in America will need to be spiritual. Not sure what form that will take, but I think you're on the right track when you suggest that it's a personal journey and don't believe that conflicts with what's written in this column.

  185. People experiencing trauma and anxiety are churning thoughts and ideas in their heads almost constantly. I've found that the best spiritual medicine is to empty the mind of all thought in meditation. This takes practice, but when the mind is empty of all thought there is no trauma or anxiety. The mind is pure and free of all struggle. And I, too, wish our society would take spirituality more seriously. But it shouldn't be based in belief. It should be based in the practice of emptying the mind of all thought. Get thee to a Zendo!

  186. This is a beautiful column and talks about a subject that has been made taboo by those who are so virulently opposed to the dogma of organized religion, and rightly so as it has also traumatized and violated so many. But Mr Brooks is not talking about these institutions. He is talking about the care of one's soul, our central core that exists after all the masks society imposes on us are peeled away, including religious upbringing. Yes, of course we must stamp out war, review our hideous treatment of human beings through incarceration, attend to human rights, etc. I have worked toward these goals all my life. But even if these atrocities no longer exist, we will continue as human beings to be subject to suffering. The loss of a child, the death of a mother, the illness of a beloved friend, divorce, etc. How do we restore ourselves to health? How do we integrate the wound so they we may function and how can we use it to gain solidarity with all suffering people and enhance our love and compassion? I agree with Mr Brooks that meaningful ritual that touches our unconscious is part of the answer. Of course we may need medicine and counseling as well. Moreover, how we can use ritual to replace our tendency to actually want to go to war? Some accounts of combat are horrific but at the same time many combatants tell us they have never felt more fully alive. Why is that? What is lacking in our society that we want to place ourselves in extreme positions to feel alive?

  187. Actually I'm pretty sure that the medical community recognizes that talk therapy is essential for working through trauma like PTSD. Talk therapy, soul searching and soul recovery are typically longer term treatments (in some cases perhaps lifetime treatment is required). It's the insurance companies and their ilk who insist that a pill will fix it all and refuse to pay for anything further(they do the same with physical injuries as well which is why people can get 80 vicodin for a muscle pull but not physical therapy). And of course the VA is part of this scam, for years it has denied claims of PTSD and discharged vets under spurious claims of misconduct so it wouldn't have to treat them for PTSD. People are not rediscovering morality they're fighting to take it back from a corrupted framework that emphasizes stockholders and share price over actual patient care and positive outcomes. Healthcare is a right not a privilege. No amount of pseudo-religiosity will make the majority of Americans forget that.

  188. I know an elderly woman in her 90s who faced utter childhood trauma. Her mother shunned her because of her dark skin and she was always treated as an outcast, taunted constantly by her own brother and other relatives, the biggest taunt being "who will marry you"! She also survived her dad's premature sudden death from heart attack when she was barely 8, she had always felt her dad was the only one who loved her. Now he was gone too and her mom widowed with 4 kids, became poor overnight. Fortunately wealthy relatives from her mom's side, stepped in and gave shelter to the family. This elegant dark complexioned lady survived all that. Brilliant in school, her family urged her to higher studies, medical school and such. She became a brilliant physician serving mankind for several decades, a loving giving wife mother grandmother sister aunt in-law and friend to scores. Extremely spiritual, she practiced yoga meditation since her mid 40s, receiving spiritual support from a community spread worldwide. Today in her 90s, her PTSD emerges, visions of her harsh childhood, her rejection from her own mother, the taunts from relatives, come flashing as though fresh. Being a physician she proactively does everything from prayers to guided meditations to pharmacological to talk therapy, even regression therapy. She does it without shame. With courage, I am human she says.

  189. David Brooks’ thoughts bring to mind the restorative justice practices being used in school. They bring those who are disruptive into conversation with each other, offering an alternative to the prideful posturing that often extends conflict.

  190. While I would agree that mythic structures do have the power to reclaim or re-energize the soul and, would certainly support efforts to recreate some sort of mythic structure to help those suffering from trauma, we are living in a century where those mythic structures have been proven to be just that---myths. In those great interviews between Joe Campbell and Bill Moyers, Moyers continually ask Campbell what would replace the myths he devoted his life to studying--to which he no clear answer---only to say, myths did serve an important role in infusing meaning into life. I know this probably sounds banal, but, for the last month I have been canvassing for several local political candidates, and would say, even when listening to people I had severe ideological disagreements, there was always in these conversations sparks of humanity---going forward, I feel if we could all stop looking upward and stop looking downward and instead look at and listen for those sparks in others that would add a bit of humanity to our day.

  191. Just a reminder to some of the commenters here that "spiritual" healing does not require a religious content including any of the prophets or even God. The Native Americans did just fine with the earth and all of its features and attributes. Spirituality is a state of mind.

  192. @Mister Ed Wow, Mister Ed, someone finally realized spirituality is not the same as religiosity. Congratulations, and thanks.

  193. Now that our society allows people to acknowledge their own pain and suffering, however big or must also accept more responsibility for bringing these people into the fold. Society can throw all the drugs and therapy it wants at people, what outcasts mostly need is a sense of belonging, acceptance and normalcy. This emerges from society and the group, not necessarily within any individual.

  194. Great column. Support is essential for recovery from trauma and it is good to know people are getting it. Medicalizing trauma treatment without support is useless. If one were to measure the amount of trauma Americans experience compared to less developed countries, I think we would be surprised at how good most of us have it. People recovering from trauma need to have deeply felt and abiding relationships with family, friends and counselors who identify traumatic behaviors and work through those behaviors in real time. Outside that bubble, really nice people help allot.

  195. From my time living in Japan, I can attest that David is right about the positive power of ritual in society. The Japanese have hundreds of rituals for all sorts of activities, from significant events to simple daily activities. They even perform a ritual thank you every single time they eat a meal or snack. This is a thank you to the universe, and they perform it whether they are in a group, alone in their apartment, or bivouacked on the North Face of Mt Fuji or Half Dome. My friends have told me that these rituals are a powerful force which bring structure and meaning to their lives. But these traditions and rituals come from thousands of years of Japanese society. America simply does not have a deep history like that, and we can't just wish it on ourselves. David continually longs for a return to some misty-eyed 1950's American Protestant past which I personally never knew, and within which I am frankly very grateful that I never had to be cocooned, since it was based on a foundation of discrimination, denial of science, and Christianity, which is not my belief system, and I don't want it forced on me. We Americans must adapt to our own modern reality. We can't invent tradition and pretend we're the Japanese. We can't wish for a fantasyland past with dark shadows. What our society CAN do is adopt truth- and fact-based public policies that demonstrably improve the lives of most Americans. We haven't done that yet, and it would be a really great start.

  196. @Chip Leon Catholics have ritual. Confession to heal the soul and put the person back on track to avoiding the same sins. Three sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Eucharist which physically connects us back 2000 years to Jesus Christ, and Confirmation for candidates who have gone through training and are personally accepting final sacrament of the three. Anointing of the sick for those who are about to have surgery, are in the throws of illness or on the cusp of death. People have put aside their faith while they pursue activities that yield visual results. Sports are the new religion. The impact on the soul of rituals done right just does not resonate with many people today. I believe you can see the results in the rising rates of depression and suicide among our valuable yet emotionally fragile young people.

  197. @Chip Leon Since you never lived through the 50's please don't make such ridiculous assumptions. Today Christianity is in your face, it wasn't then. Science was exciting then when the race to space started after the Russian launch. As a child it was a free, creative time when your parents weren't breathing down your neck all the time. Kids today are cocooned with their video games and smart phones, not us. Was it perfect? No. There was discrimination that even now we are sorting out.

  198. @amp I wasn't there but I've heard all about it from my Mother who fled a society that required her to be a Catholic mother or schoolteacher or go to the nunnery (no kidding, her friends did this), or nothing. So... women weren't super well treated. Same sex couples also didn't get the best treatment, nor blacks or Latinos. So it was a great time for a select few. Discrimination is not an afterthought.

  199. It needs mentioning that clinical trials are now being done on treating PTSD via MDMA in conjunction with psychotherapy. Great promise has been seen for MDMA as an adjunct for therapy, and as a way to access the spiritual depths of each sufferee.

  200. Despite the woo woo nature of this column, Brooks has tapped into something invisible , but none the less real. Trauma and the associated horror are like black holes. You can’t see them, but they exert an enormous powerful force. Ritual and respect for these forces is essential. When trump stood in the smoldering ruins of Paradise California, amid what inevitably are the ashes and miasmas of incinerated humans and animals, and couldn’t remember the name of the town, he did damage. His inability to honor the dead soldiers in France and at Arlington, strikes a blow to the spirit of this country. Somebody needs to smudge the White House.

  201. Bob Dylan's girl from the Red River Shore is a song about longing the narrator is told by the girl to go home and live a quiet life. He goes to the West and to the east leads his quiet life. he stands by his cabin door and stays out of a life of crime. I am always intrigued by mr. Brooks essays on those dimensions of life where we attempt to find meaning. The best we can do just accept our obligations . I remember years ago a gunnery sergeant in the Marines told me your fault my fault nobody's fault you're still dead. In the end the best we can hope for is to enter our house Justified.

  202. I have long admired David Brooks as a writer, and can't describe my surprise and delight at his topic today. Many of us privately set out on our own spiritual quest or journey, without validation or support from our culture, because we sense an inner spiritual void. But in public, or maybe even within our circle of family and friends, we don't mention it. To see it right out there in print in the New York Times this morning is a gift, because as a culture, we are so in need of healing.

  203. I am one of those whom E Tick saved with a healing trip to ancient Greece and Turkey. In 1998 I went into a major depression after the death of my mother, followed by the sudden death of my older brother from pancreatic cancer, and then the most crushing blow the suicide of a brilliant, but very troubled, undergraduate assistant of mine whose body I discovered. Fortunately, Ed was taking wounded people like me on a trip to ancient Greek healing sites and I dropped everything and joined him. In ancient Pergamon (now Bergama) we visited the ruins of an ancient Greek hospital complete with dream chambers where healing dreams were encouraged by the ancients. Ed arranged for us to repeat that ritual and I had a powerful healing dream which I described to him and later wrote up for inclusion in his book, "The Practice of Dream Healing." Since then Ed has focused his energy on healing Vietnam war vets with equal success in trips to Vietnam. I cannot say enough about Ed's unique approach to healing. He's been the physician of my soul, traveling companion, and friend.

  204. PTSD seems to be more prevalent in soldiers who come from middle class American families. While the Marine machine-gunner at Kke Sanh certainly suffered trauma, compare his experience in a single battle with the author of "Blood Red Snow." This account of a German machine-gunner on the Russian Front in WWII is much more harrowing, and the German soldier's battles were multiple and went on from 1942-1945. And yet, he doesn't seem to have been affected by PTSD. Perhaps the fact that most of Germany was destroyed in WWII made his individual trauma relatively minor. In contrast the Marine in Vietnam came home to a civilized, undamaged society. Another interesting book is "Men at War." (Both books available on Amazon.) The author describes the harrowing hand to hand bayonet fight during the battle of Bunker Hill. And yet for the American Minute Men who survived it, the battle was considered a perfectly normal wartime event. The Americans retreated, got a good night's sleep in their nearby homes, and were ready to continue fighting when called upon. The author surmises that there was no mention of PTSD because life in general was hard for American colonists. This is both good news and bad. It's good that we live in a First World society where most people don't see a lot of everyday trauma. But this just makes it harder for our service members to avoid PTSD when they deploy to war torn countries where life is hard and violence is common.

  205. David, If you want to focus on trauma, a better use of your creative energy would be to focus on trauma that is man-created or exacerbated and then look at how to prevent it in the first place. One main reason that so many of us are traumatized is that our government allows terrible suffering to take place with no regard for human life or happiness. Witness- mass shootings, the recent California fires, hurricanes, etc, some of which are wholly preventable (mass shootings), and the others while even if they are created by nature are exacerbated by climate change and inadequate governmental response in terms of a financial safety net and lack of reliable healthcare. Equating all kinds of trauma is a waste of intellect as well as a waste of time. Please start talking in concrete terms about what we can and must do to reduce trauma that we create!

  206. I agree with Mr. Brooks that individuals often cannot privately process their "moral injury" and their resulting "moral pain." They suffer profound disruptions, and I agree that cultural affirmation might enable their healing. In this column, Mr. Brooks writes mostly about communal responses to specific injuries, but he makes a conceptual slide toward organized religion more broadly when he decries the tendency to "denude the public square of spiritual content." Allowing organized religion to have freer rein in the public square does not guarantee that sufferers of PTSD will be helped. If we are serious about helping people with psychological and moral pain and mental illness, indeed we should put more effort into narratives and rituals that can support their healing and growth. Other strategies are of course important, too. We need to provide effective, informed responses. But merely making it more socially acceptable to use "God" language in the public square does not ensure that anyone is helped. For this reason (among others), I avoid the word "spiritual" when describing the range of human emotions and values, the narratives we make of them, and the meanings we assign to them. We need to be informed about trauma, and we should contribute to a supportive culture. But we don't need the word "spirituality" to express that, and we don't need more spirituality or religion in the public square.

  207. Why not take steps to prevent trauma? Many of the traumatic events Mr. Brooks describes are preventable. Rather than accept these injuries as inevitable, we can do more to prevent child abuse, sexual assault, and unnecessary wars. We can alleviate the trauma inflicted by poverty and the lack of access to affordable health care. So much of what Brooks laments results from inadequate public policies or the absence of policy. What is required to remedy the situation isn't a rebirth of spiritualism but political will.

  208. This is simplistic. Cancer, stroke, and heart attack survivors can also suffer from ptsd. Trauma is not always a moral issue. One may lead a decent life and still be stricken with a severe illness. These health issues are traumatic because they can suddenly strike young, apparently healthy people who don’t go through life expecting catastrophe around every corner, who do all the right things— get an education, save money, eat right, exercise, don’t smoke— but get sick anyway. The last thing these patients and survivors need is the suggestion that they are somehow to blame. I’m also not clear on why it should be a diverse society’s function to come up with a purification process. This is putting the cart before the horse. Jews have Yom Kippur, Catholics have confession. If you want the benefits of a spiritual existence, it’s a lifelong undertaking. It’s not an acute treatment to be picked up when times are tough and discarded when things are fine and you don’t feel like being spiritual anymore.

  209. @Lawyermom. I guess anthropology has nothing to offer. A shame. It seemed so promising—this hope that we could learn from those with a different way of living.

  210. @Lawyermom Moreover, accidents happen that are faultless. No moral judgement there, yet trauma results. What is worse though is that "I wish" we had a culture that actually cared about other people enough to remove "medical bankruptcy" from our vocabulary. You don't have to visit many other countries to see how sick our society is. But it would all be cured if we just had a ritual. Yeah...

  211. @Reader Bottom line, we can wring our hands, move onto another issue (we Americans are so good at that) or we can recognize the spiritual lacking that so clerly exists in our country today. It's easy to criticize but talk to people on the "front lines" in mental hospitals, VA offices, etc. You'll hear of a collective hopelessness that, I believe, can only be rectified through some sort of spiritual renewal.