Shifting center of gravity into more universal identities

 

In some ways, any challenging life situation is an invitation to release identification with more superficial identities (roles, work, gender, preferences etc.) and shift the center of gravity into more universal ones.

– from a previous post

This is a part of healing and awakening, and – to some extent- sustainability and creating a society that works better for all, including future generations and ecosystems.

We all have a mix of different identities. Some set us apart and some are more universal. Some are conscious and some are less so. Some have strong identifications and some not so much. And they come from culture, family, and personal experience (sometimes reactivity).

Life tends to challenge the identities that set us apart, and the more strongly we are identified with them the more stressful and dramatic we may experience those challenges. For instance, we may be identified with being young but we inevitably get older. We may be identified with being healthy, strong, and active, but get sick. We are identified with a political orientation but realize something else makes more sense. And so on. The identities that set us apart typically have to do with roles we play in life, whether it’s relationships, work, age, gender, or different political, religious, or other orientations.

There is nothing wrong with these identities. They all serve a function. We couldn’t live without them. But when life challenges them, as it tends to do, it is painful to have invested them with too much energy.

And that’s an invitation to notice and question these identities, and perhaps shift our center of gravity into more universal identities. These more universal identities include being human, part of life, part of the Universe, being awareness, that which all happens within and as, and so on.

As usual with these type of things, we cannot consciously shift the center of gravity into more universal ones. Any shift requires a ripening that largely operates outside of our conscious awareness and largely comes from influences far outside of us as individuals. And yet, we can invite it to happen through various practices or explorations.

We can identify and question identities through inquiry (Living Inquiry, The Work). We can engage in practices that come from and help us shift into more universal orientations such as heart centered practices (ho’o, jesus prayer, all-inclusive gratitude practice). We can help more universal identities come alive for us through Epic of Evolution type experiences and practices (Practices to Reconnect). We can do energy work that tends to, over time, shift identifications into more universal ones (yoga, tai chi, chi gong, Vortex Healing etc.). And there is a great number of other approaches that similarly helps us shift our center of gravity to more universal identities.

Note: When I say “influences far outside of us as individuals” I mean influences from the past and from the wider social and ecological wholes. Anything that happens has innumerable causes, and these stretch back to beginning of time and out to the furthest reaches of the universe. And that includes any ripening that happens in us and any shifts in identifications.

Lessons from losing a bag

 

I left my Timbuk2 messenger bag on the train a couple of days ago, and have not had it returned. It contained several things important to me and some that are difficult (or impossible) to replace.

Here are some things I have noticed:

I did experience some shock right away. It seemed unreal, especially since I have never lost anything important in this way before.

It’s helpful to be kind to my own experiences – the shock, sadness, frustration. They are like creatures that just want some presence, kindness, and respect.

I reminded myself that most or all can be replaced in different ways. And that they are just things. I can get by without any of the specific things I lost.

It’s a reminder that everyone and everything comes and goes. In a few decades, everyone alive now will be dead. In a few decades or centuries, everything I have will be gone. In a few millenia, everything humans have now will be gone.

I don’t “own” any of it. I don’t even “own” my own body. It’s all here temporarily. At most, I am a steward of this life and these physical things. And it seems that now, that particular bag with it’s content has passed on to someone else. Just as they came into my stewardship, they are now in someone else’s stewardship.

I get to notice some beliefs and identifications coming up from this situation. Life is rubbing up against them, so I get to notice them more clearly. I don’t consciously believe any of them, but somewhere in me they are believed. Here is a selection:

I am a victim. I am unlucky. Things go wrong for me.

I deserve to have it back. I always return what I find. Life should be fair.

I own those things. They are mine.

It’s hard to live in a world where people are so crude and lack empathy.

It shook me up and gave me a boost to get certain things in my life more in order.

Whenever life goes against our shoulds, we can use it to fuel stressful and painful beliefs. Or we can use it to open to our experience and meet it with some kindness, notice and examine our painful beliefs, and see that we are all in the same boat.

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The rigidity of beliefs and identifications

 

Why is it appropriate to use a strong word as trauma in this way? Because beliefs and identifications are inherently stressful and – yes – traumatic. There is a low-level trauma inherent in any belief and identification. And in some situations, when life pushes up against the rigidity created through beliefs and identifications in just the right way, it can create a full blown trauma as trauma is understood in a conventional sense.

– from a previous post

There is a lot of information in that paragraph, and it may seem a bit opaque.

What does beliefs and identifications mean? A belief is when we hold a thought to be more or less absolutely true. And identification means that we are identified with the viewpoint of that thought. We – as strange as it may sound – take ourselves to be that viewpoint.

Why does it create rigidity? Because the mind goes from the fluidity of being able to consider and recognize the validity in any thought and viewpoint on a subject, to holding one or a few thoughts and viewpoints are true and real and excluding the validity of other – now apparently opposing – viewpoints. And this creates a certain rigidity of the mind.

It also creates a rigidity of the body since it needs to contract certain muscles to support these beliefs and identifications. (See the previous post for more on this.)

Why is this rigidity stressful? When life pushes up against these beliefs and identifications, it’s stressful. And life will since life is inherently uncontrained by any belief or identification, so it naturally creates situations that goes against any belief or identification.

How does this create trauma? It creates trauma, as trauma is understood conventionally, when life pushed up against the rigidiy of the body-mind in a strong way, or a way that’s especially stressful to that particular body and mind.

The role of society and culture. I should add that society and culture plays a significant role in this. Society and culture comes with a blueprint for most of our beliefs and identifications. The ones that may appear more uniquely individual are variations of themes set by culture and society.

Rigity and life flow. This rigidity of mind and body, in a sense, limits and blocks the flow of life. It limits our perception. It limits how we perceive opportunities and make chocies. It limits how we live our lives. And it even limits the mind’s and body’s natural and inherent capacity to heal itself.

At the same time, in the bigger picture, this rigidiy is the flow of life. It’s life creating this rigidy within itself. And in the even bigger picture, it does so in order to express, experience, and explore itself in its richness and in as many ways as possible. Including through temporary rigidity and what that temporarily creates.

Thoughts, charge, identification

 

Finding clarity often has to do with differentiation. And here is a very basic one.

There is a difference between thoughts, bodily sensations, and identifications.

Thoughts are mental imitations of the senses – whether they are images, sounds, taste, smell, movement, sensations, or something else. When we talk about thoughts, we usually mean images and words, and words are typically a combination of mental images (of the words) and sounds.

Sensations are bodily sensations. When the mind associates certain thoughts with certain sensations, the sensations tend to lend a sense of charge (reality, substance, solidity) to the thoughts, and the thoughts lend a sense of meaning to the sensations.

When there is identifications with a thought, it seems true. The mind identifies with the viewpoint of the thought. Thoughts that are not identified with pass through and are recognized as just thoughts. They are seen as questions about the world. Temporary guides for orientation and action in the world, at most. It’s clear that they don’t reflect any final or absolute truth. Thoughts that are identified with tend to seem true and real. And the mechanism for identification with thoughts is for the mind to associate sensations with thoughts, as described above.

When it comes to tools for exploring these, they each seem to work on certain aspects of this thought, charge, and identification dynamic. They each use a slightly different angle to invite a release of the charge out of the thoughts, and soften the identification with these.

For instance, Living Inquiries tend to release the association between thoughts and sensations. Thoughts are then more easily recognized as thoughts, and the previous associated sensations may still be there but now with less or no particular meaning. The Work helps us recognize that previously believed thoughts are not inherently or absolutely true, and that other angles are as or more valid. Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) tends to release the charge from the body which is associated with stressful thoughts and trauma, and the thoughts behind the stress and trauma tends to seem less charged and less true, and there may be less identification with them. Vortex Healing seems to work from both the bodily charge and consciousness side of this dynamic.

A footnote about mainstream psychology: I have for a long time noticed that mainstream psychologists sometimes don’t differentiate between these. For instance, many psychological questionnaires ask about thoughts but not how much charge they hold, or how identified the person is with these. And that’s one of many ways questionnaires can be interpreted in a misleading way.

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I am not useful?

 

Sometimes, we feel we are not useful. Maybe even that the world would be better without us in it.

Inquiry. This comes from thoughts, and it can be good to investigate these thoughts.

The Work. What stressful stories do I have about myself? How others see me? What the world expects from me? How I should be to be useful? What do I find when I examine these thoughts through The Work?

Living Inquiries. What does it say about me that I am not useful? Make a list. Find the statement that has the most charge and examine it. See what thoughts (images, words) and sensations make up this identity. If guided through this process by someone experienced in this form of inquiry, it can help release the stressful charge behind it.

Lila. Also, if it’s real to us, it can be helpful to remember lila. It’s all the play of the divine. The universe and us within it is life – the Universe, the divine – expressing, experiencing, and exploring itself. We are the play of the divine. Our life – as it is right now – is the play of the divine. Nothing is out of order. Nothing is wrong. There is no lessons to be learned. Nothing we are placed here to achieve.

Don’t know. We may discover this through inquiry, or we can remind ourselves, that we don’t really know. All my stressful stories and thoughts about myself and the world are stories and thoughts. They don’t reflect an inherent or absolute truth about myself or life.

The two last reminders – lila and don’t know – can be helpful reminders if they remind us of something that’s real to us. Something discovered through a spiritual opening or awakening, or through inquiry. Otherwise, they may be a pointer, something to explore for ourselves, for instance through inquiry.  Or it may be something not so useful for us right now.

TRE, Breema, Vortex Healing. I should also add that other tools can be helpful if we feel that we are not useful, our lives don’t matter, or that the world is better off without us. TRE can help release the tension, stress, and traumas behind it or created by it. Breema can help us find and experience the wholeness are already are. Vortex Healing can help clear the identities, beliefs, and traumas creating these experiences.

And there are, of course, innumerable other approaches that can help release the charge in the identities and beliefs behind this pattern, and help us (re)find our clarity. The ones I mentioned above are just some of the ones I have found most helpful.

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How to be miserable

 

As the video above, and the book it’s based on, reminds us:

It can be helpful to explore how we create what we want less of in our lives.

If I want to be more miserable, what would I do? Here is my list, right now.

Sleep. Make sure to consistently not get enough sleep, or sleep way too much. Make sure it’s consistenly irregular.

Diet. Eat a good deal of dairy, sugar, wheat. Eat mostly refined and processed foods. If you notice you crave something, then eat lots of it.  (Craving = a sign that your body reacts to it.)

Physical activities. Find ways to move as little as possible. Drive instead of walking. Stay indoors as much as you can. Avoid nature.

Thoughts. Believe stressful thoughts. Indulge in them. Never question them. Treat them as true and unquestionable. Seek out more stressful thoughts. Let them amplify each other.

Social. Spend a lot of time alone, isolated. OR spend time with people who focus on what doesn’t work, who believes and reinforces your own stressful thoughts, who is unable to be present with you, who wants you to change (for their own sake). Set other’s needs before your own. Make those around you miserable. (Complain, be ungrateful.)

Situations. Stay in situations that doesn’t work for you, that feels wrong at a deep level. Grin and bear it or complain instead of doing something to change it.

Attention. Put attention on distractions. Put attention on things that are urgent but not important. On news and drama. Train attention to be scattered.

Activities. Set diffuse goals, and impossible goals. Don’t break goals into doable steps. Always wait until you feel like doing it do actually do it instead of scheduling. Tell yourself that whatever you do isn’t enough or won’t work. Let small setbacks or discomforts mean that you should give it up. Complain instead of making a change.

Why does this exploration work?

It helps me examine what doesn’t work, and how this comes about.

It makes it easier to recognize when I do it.

It makes it more into a “thing” which helps me relate to it more intentionally. These dynamics are seen more as an object and are less identified with.

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Why we feel lighter

 

Why do we sometimes feel lighter? For instance, if something desirable happens, or we have a release through inquiry, Vortex Healing, TRE, or something else?

Stressful beliefs (identifications, trauma) come with muscle contractions. In order to believe a thought, the thought has to be associated with sensations, and these sensations give the thought a sense of substance and reality. The thought feels true. The easiest way to have these sensations readily available is through muscle contractions. So when the mind needs to believe a thought, it contracts associated muscles to provide sensations, and these in turn give the thoughts a sense of solidity and reality. These muscle contractions feel dense and heavy. We – almost literally – feel the weight of our stressful beliefs or identifications.

So when we are either distracted from these stressful beliefs, or they are released, there is a sense of lightness. The muscle contractions lighten up or go away, so we feel lighter.

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Hangups take a lot of energy

 

Hangups take a lot of energy.

What is a hangup in this context?

A hangup is the same as an identification which means identifying with the viewpoint of a thought or story so we perceive the world through that lens. We “become” that viewpoint and live our life as if we are that viewpoint. We perceive and act as if we are it.

It’s the same as taking a thought as true, real, and substantial.

It’s the same as velcro. Thoughts and sensations that seem “stuck” together so the sensations give the thoughts a sense of substance and reality and the thoughts give meaning to the sensations.

A hangup comes from trauma when trauma is broadly defined. A hangup is something the mind seeks refuge and safety in, and it does so out of care or love, and out of unexamined and unloved fear. And that comes from and is trauma.

Why do hangups take energy?

Hangup takes mental energy since the mind tends to be drawn to looping thoughts relating to the topic of the hangup.

They take emotional energy due to the underlying fear which is either dormant, chronically low grade, or triggered.

And hangups take physical energy since they require muscle contractions to exist. The only way we can have a hangup (or identity, belief, trauma) is for sensations to lend substance to the related thoughts, and the only way the mind can have easy access to these sensations is through muscle contraction. If the hangup is chronic, the related muscle contraction will be chronic. If it is triggered more sporadically, the obvious muscle contractions will be more sporadic as well, although there will tend to be a low-grade chronic muscle contraction.

What happens when a hangup is released?

When a hangup is released, there is often a sense of lightness, relief, and more available energy. For instance, we may have an impulse to start or engage with a project that’s meaningful to us but we didn’t have the energy or motivation to spend much time on before.

In some cases, the release of a hangup may feel a bit confusing or even a let-down, but even here the longer term result is a sense of lightness (from reduced muscle contractions) and access to more energy.

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When in a funk, careful about drawing big conclusions

 

A funk or any strong emotional state tends to color our experience of everything. And that goes for our thoughts as well. Our thoughts tend to reflect whatever emotional state we are in. It’s as if our mind wants to be helpful, so it creates or brings up thoughts aligned with the emotional state.

It’s good to notice this pattern.

I notice I am in a funk or an emotional state. I notice my mind creating certain stories that goes with that funk or emotion. And I notice that as the funk or emotional state passes, as it does, then those thoughts pass as well. They were linked to the emotional state. They were not as true as they seemed when they were supported by the emotional state.

As I notice this pattern over time, a part of me also recognizes and knows what’s happening and not to believe those thoughts. A part of me knows they are fueled by the funk or the emotions, and as the funk or emotions pass, the thoughts will not seem as true or real.

And that helps me avoid fueling the thoughts further, draw big conclusions (about life, others myself, situations) based on them, and especially to act on those conclusions.

This is kindness towards myself.

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I am not good enough, original sin, and marketing

 

I am not good enough. I am broken beyond repair.

These are core beliefs for many people.

Where do they come from?

The immediate cause may be childhood experiences and what the mind does with them to protect us.

The broader cause is to be found in our culture. For instance, the marketing industry intentionally reinforces our experience of not being good enough and then promise that their products will make us good enough – at least temporarily. They create a problem and then sell a product to fix it.

And it may reach all the way back to the Christian idea of original sin. In Christianity, we find the same strategy of creating a problem (original sin) and then selling a product to fix it (Jesus as a savior). Christianity has permeated our culture for a couple of millennia so it’s natural that the underlying beliefs and assumptions in Christianity still operate in our culture, even if many or most no longer consider themselves traditional Christians.

As usual, there is a lot more to explore here. For instance, is the core identity of “not good enough” found only in our culture or in all cultures? (I would guess it’s cultural more than inevitable.) It’s also clear that the marketing industry intentionally play on and reinforce people’s low self-esteem so it’s easier to sell them products and services.

There is also the issue of how to tackle this issue. When we work with individuals, it’s helpful to do inquiry on this and help people find freedom from this identity, and it’s also good to help them see the bigger picture and where it comes from in terms of marketing and culture. Working at a group level, we can support critical thinking and media literacy at all school levels, and also work with the marketing industry. (Media literacy also includes being critical to what’s sold by Christianity and other religions.) Ultimately, we need to shift out of a consumerist economy and into one that’s healthier for all of us, including ecosystems and future generations.

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Disappointment

 

Sometimes I look forward to something and it doesn’t happen.

I feel disappointed. Sometimes, I even feel heartbroken.

I know and sense it’s old and not really about the current situation, and it feels a bit childish to get so disappointed. That may be a reason I haven’t thoroughly looked at this yet. The embarrassment and the thought “it’s childish” serve as gatekeepers for entering and exploring the wound behind it.

I recently had this disappointment triggered again.

The situation triggering disappointment, what does it say about me? What do I tell myself about me in that situation? 

I am missing out.

I am unloved. I am uncared for.

I am alone.

These thoughts are familiar to me and came easily. I want to see what more is here.

Others have more fun than me. They are enjoying life more than me. They are getting something I am missing out of.

My life is not worth living. It’s hopeless. It will be like this forever. I am unloved by God. I am unloved by life.

This second set of thoughts are also familiar to me, but I hadn’t seen that they were behind this disappointment and the emotions and states that came with it.

What’s my earliest memory of feeling so disappointed? 

I am 6-8 years old and in London on vacation with my parents. I am exhausted from a long day walking around in parks and galleries, and I want and am looking forward to my favorite thing which is coca cola in a can. (We didn’t have coke cans in Norway.) The street vendor doesn’t have it, and I am grief-stricken and angry. My parents buy me a souvenir knife (a small folding knife with ivory on it and a picture of a beef eater). I throw it hard at the ground.

If I bring myself back to that situation, what does it say about me?

Life is over. My life has no meaning. I am unloved. I am uncared for. Life is against me.

Seeing these thoughts, I also see that it makes sense I felt the way I did. The sadness, grief, hopelessness, frustration, and anger didn’t make sense in the context of the current triggering situation, but they do in the context of this early situation where I was worn out and had looked forward to one thing that I didn’t get.

These thoughts spun around in my mind, and although I was not consciously aware of them I certainly experienced their effects in terms of emotions, moods, and states. As I identified these thoughts and wrote them down, I got to see what created these feelings and states, and I got to see that it all makes sense and that it has to do with early experiences in my life. I got to see the innocence of it all. And there is some relaxing of these dynamics just from identifying the thoughts and seeing the innocence of it.

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Is trauma behind most or all distress?

 

To me, trauma seems to be behind any distress or suffering. And it’s a simple formula:

Trauma -> beliefs, identifications, velcro (as protection, to find a sense of safety) -> distress.

Trauma can come from small or big events, and from ongoing or one-time events. In any case, the mind responds to the event by creating trauma, and it does so through forming beliefs, identifications, and velcro. It does so to protect the (imagined) self and to find a sense of safety. These beliefs, identifications, and velcro then produce suffering and distress. When life rubs up against beliefs, as it inevitably does, suffering is typically the result.

I am using a very broad definition of trauma here. For instance, someone tells us we are chubby when we are little and this  creates a deficiency story of being chubby, which in turn can lead to a lot of distress later in life. An apparently innocent comment can be experienced as traumatic, the mind responds by creating deficiency stories, beliefs, and identifications, and this creates distress.

And the reason it was experienced as traumatic in the first place is that some beliefs, velcro, and identifications were already in place. Perhaps initially just from copying adults and others around us.

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Unconsciously identified with vs noticing as content of experience

 

When something charged is triggered in me and I don’t notice it very consciously, I tend to be unconsciously identified with it. I take on the viewpoint of the stories within the charge. I perceive the world through that filter.

Say hopelessness is triggered and I am unaware of the sensations and imaginations creating it. I take on the viewpoint of that hopelessness and I feel that the current situation or my life, in general, is hopeless.

I am a client in an inquiry session. Anger gets triggered. I don’t notice the components making it up, so I feel angry and get annoyed at the facilitator, the inquiry, or anything else my mind chooses to put it on.

A deficiency story of not being good enough is activated. I feel I am not good enough in relation to anything in my current situation, whether it’s work, a relationship, a task, or even being facilitated in an inquiry session. This story will color my experience and influence how I behave.

I may instead notice that something charged is triggered, and I may also notice the most obvious elements making it up (sensations, images, words) as it happens. I notice it as content of experience, and that softens or releases identification with it. I can relate to it more intentionally.

Hopelessness is triggered by a current situation. I notice the sensations and some images of me looking hopeless. I may notice words saying “it’s hopeless”, “nothing will help”. I relate to these more intentionally and recognize it as a combination of sensations and imaginations. I may recognize it’s not anything more than that. I may recognize that it’s coloring my experience, and at the same time is not any ultimate or final truth nor is it my destiny. There is some distance to it. I can explore it further as an experience that’s here now.

And the same goes for anger or not feeling good enough, or anything else with a charge that’s activated. I can explore the sensations combined with imaginations, and relate to it more intentionally.

In short:

When something is charged, it’s charged because sensations become “glued” to imaginations or stories.

The charge functions as glue or a magnet for identification.

When it’s activated by a current situation and it’s not recognized as what it is, there is almost automatically identification with it. There is identification with the viewpoint of the stories making up the charge.

If I instead notice it as an object within experience and notice the sensations and imagination components, there is a softening of that identification. That happens even if I just notice the most obvious sensation and one or two associated mental images or set of words. And it happens more thoroughly if I take time to inquire further into it.

It can sound a bit abstract but it’s also something I can repeatedly notice just about every day.

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Going to thought to avoid feeling sensations given meaning by thought

 

Most of us go to thought to avoid feeling sensations given meaning by thought. It’s an interesting circularity that begins and ends with thought.

Here is the simple version of what’s happening.

(a) Thought gives a scary meaning to sensations.

(b) Since it seems scary, we want to avoid it.

(c) And the easiest way to avoid it is often to go to thought.

And a more elaborate description:

(a) Thoughts give a scary meaning to sensations. And the same sensations give a sense of substance and reality to those thoughts. These sensations often take the form of a body contraction, and this can be activated in the moment, or it can be more chronic.

(b) Since it seems scary, we want to avoid it. The thought-sensation combination seems scary, so we typically want to avoid looking at it closely. We may be caught in the drama of it, and even that’s a way to avoid looking more closely at the thought component and feeling the sensation component.

(c) The easiest way to avoid it is often to go to thought. These thoughts can be about nearly anything. They can be distracting thoughts. Analyzing thoughts trying to understand the problem. Strategizing thoughts trying to find a solution to the apparent problem. And they can even be the initially troublesome thoughts themselves when we get caught in their content instead of recognizing them as mental images and words.

There is a circularity here. The whole cycle starts and ends with thoughts. It starts with a scary thought held to be true. And ends with thoughts aimed at avoiding taking a closer look at these thoughts, and avoiding feeling the associated sensations and body contraction.

The solution to this and the way out is described in several other posts on this blog.

Why does attention go to painful memories/stories?

 

A client asked why she can’t stop thinking about a painful situation that happened several months back.

More broadly, why does attention sometimes repeatedly go to painful memories or stories?

There are several answers, each with some truth to it.

Symptom of trauma. It’s a common symptom of trauma. Its common with obsessive thinking about the initial traumatic situation or similar (real or potential) situations. Trauma can come from ongoing or acute situations and the obsessive thinking tends to reflect the traumatic situation in either case.

Velcro. When attention goes to certain stories in an obsessive way, it’s because these stories have a charge to them. (Or the mind tries to avoid stories with a charge to them by going into daydreams.) Sensations combine with imagination, lending them a charge and sense of reality while the imagination gives the sensations as sense of meaning. That’s how trauma – and any other velcro – is created.

Resolution. The mind goes to these stories because it tries to find resolution. And the only real resolution comes from the mind meeting itself with presence, kindnessn, love, and some insight into the original situation as well as how the mind creates its own painful memory.

Evolution. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense for the mind to return to painful memories to try to learn as much as possible from it and prevent it from happening in the future.

To me, these are all valid. It is a common symptom of trauma. It’s what happens when there is velcro. It’s mind seeking resolution. And it’s built into us through evolution since it makes sense to return to painful situations to try to learn as much as we can from it and prevent similar things from happening in the future.

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Notice push/pull of distractions

 

During any form of meditation, it can be interesting to see where attention goes when it wanders.

This may happen during a training of more stable attention (keeping attention on something, for instance the sensations of the breath at the nostrils), natural rest (noticing and allowing), a heart centered practice (ho’o, tonglen), a body centered practice (noticing sensations, yoga, tai chi, breema etc.), or something else.

When attention gets distracted, it gets distracted by stories that has a charge to them. And these stories have a charge because they are associated with certain sensations. (Sensations lends a sense of reality, solidity and charge to the imagination. And imagination lends meaning to the sensations.) Instead of charge, we can say identification (identification with the viewpoint of the stories), beliefs (at least a part of us taking stories as real and true), or velcro (sensations and imagination associated with each other).

And when I say “distracted by” that can happen in at least two different ways, and there is often a combination of the two.

One is the stories that attention goes to. These may have a charge to them, as described above. And this charge makes them seem important. The charge may be interpreted as a like or dislike. We like or dislike the stories and/or what they are about.

Another is what attention seeks to avoid, which is also a story with a charge to it. When we look, we may first notice the sensation aspect of it (uncomfortable sensations) or the imagination aspect of it (uncomfortable stories). And it appears uncomfortable because a certain story is associated with sensations that makes it appear real, true, and solid.

Explaining it in this way, it may seem complicated, but it can be quite simple in practice.

(a) Keep attention somewhere, for instance in one of the ways mentioned above.

(b) Notice when attention wanders. (This noticing may happen during or after the fact.)

(c) Notice where attention goes. Notice the story or stories it goes to.

(d) Does that story have a charge? Where do you feel it in the body? What are the associated images and words?

(e) What among the sensations in my body did (or do) I not want to feel right now? What did attention want to escape? Find it in the body. Take some time to feel the physical sensations. Notice associated images and words.

This is a simple way to explore it. We can also use inquiry to take it further and explore it more in depth. In most cases, there is a lot of different sensations and imaginations (images and words) connected to what attention went to and tried to avoid.

In the beginning, can be easier to explore it in this setting. It provides a supportive container for the exploration. And really, it can be done in any situation in daily life. Whenever attention gets drawn into a story, I can explore the charge in the story it goes to and also what attention was trying to avoid.

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Velcro = manipulation

 

Whenever I hold a story as true, there is manipulation of myself or others.

Sensations anywhere in the body are sometimes associated with imagination, and this lends the imagination a sense of substance, solidity and reality. It makes the imagination seem true to us. Our mind makes it seem true to itself. This is called velcro in the Living Inquiry terminology. (Velcro = Sensations + imagination.)

This velcro lends a sense of reality and charge to imagination. And this imagination may take the form of a perceived threat, a deficient or inflated self, a compulsion, or anything else. And this tends to leads to manipulation of myself or others.

I manipulate to avoid a perceived threat. To compensate for a deficient self. To uphold an inflated self. To act on a compulsion to fill a perceived hole. To avoid feeling certain sensations associated with a threat, deficient or inflated self, or compulsion.

More generally, my mind manipulates it’s own perception to fit it’s beliefs, and it manipulates it’s own actions to act as if these beliefs are real.

There is nothing inherently wrong here. It’s just the way the mind works. It’s innocent. And it creates suffering, which is why we are motivated to change it to the extent we see and realize what’s going on, and that there is an alternative.

The alternative is to (a) notice what’s going on, (b) be honest about it with ourselves and perhaps others, and (c) examine what’s going on – for instance through inquiry.

Note: Velcro here refers to the same as a belief, holding a story as real and true. And identification, identifying with the viewpoint of a story. And even “ego” as that words is sometimes used in spiritual circles.

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Beliefs ≈ allergic reaction

 

I have often thought that beliefs are similar to an allergic reaction.

There is a stimulus which normally or in itself is harmless. We react to it as if it’s a real threat. And we do so because our mind has a belief about it.

To take an example from my own life: There is a leaf blower outside my window. My mind makes itself stressed and agitated and tries to find an escape – any escape. This is very similar to an allergic reaction. The stimulus (sound from leaf blower) is in itself harmless. My mind over-reacts to it. And it does so based on beliefs (identifications, hangups, velcro).

The same happens in all areas of life. In some cases, as the one above, it’s pretty easy to see. Many don’t respond that way, so it’s clearly nothing about the stimulus itself. In other cases, it may be more difficult to see since a majority responds in a allergic type way.

In all cases, it’s really the mind reacting to itself. The mind produces imagination (images, words) about past, future, or present. Sensations combine with this imagination to give it a sense of solidity, reality, and a charge. The mind takes the initial imagination as real, solid, and true. And reacts to it as if it’s real, solid, and true. The initial imagination is in itself harmless, as are the sensations. So again, this is an allergic type reaction. Since it’s the mind reacting to itself, I guess we could even call it an autoimmune type reaction.

I know what many will think here: Sometimes it’s appropriate to react to things, that’s not an allergic reaction.

Yes, it’s often helpful and kind to take action. What I am talking about here is the additional layer of stress the mind creates for itself through beliefs (identification, velcro). That’s where the allergic type reaction comes in and the over-reaction. That layer is something we can explore, see more for what it is, and find genuine peace with as is. We get to see its innocence, and that it really is OK as is.

As a side-effect of this exploration, this extra layer of stress may even soften and fall away. We see how the mind creates it for itself. We get to see its innocence. We befriend it. We find peace with it. So there is no longer any need for it to hang around.

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The depth of painful experiences

 

It can seem that painful experiences are powerful, deep, and pervasive.

These painful experiences are created by painful beliefs. Or identification. Or velcro. And velcro here means the way sensations appear stuck to images and words giving them a sense of substance, solidity, and reality, and also giving them a charge (dislike, like, or neutral). This is really the same as beliefs or identifications. It’s also how hangups, wounds, trauma, compulsions, and chronic patterns of anxiety, depression, and anger are created.

In a way, it’s true. If the velcro is unexamined, if the parts of it are unloved, if the sensations making it up are unfelt, then it can certainly appear powerful, deep, and pervasive. We become a slave to a master that can seem powerful. It can seem that there is no end to it. It can color our whole experience and life.

At the same time, it’s not completely true. Velcro is created by the mind associating certain sensations with certain images and words. It’s created by the mind, and it can be undone by the mind. It can be undone by (a) separating out sensations, images, and words from each other, (b) recognize each for what they are (sensations, images, words), (c) ask simple questions about each to see what’s really there, and see what’s more may be there, and (d) feeling the sensations.

There are also other aspects, such as finding kindness towards these sensations, images, and words (which is not so difficult when we see that that’s what they are), noticing the boundless space they are happening within (if there is an image of a boundary, that too happens within space), and perhaps using bodywork to help release the chronic tension that typically hold chronic velcro in place (TRE, massage).

It can seem that noticing sensations, images, and words would be insignificant. After all, they are pretty ephemeral. At the same time, they are what make up our whole experience, without exception. (If we take “sensations” to mean sensory input, and images and words as any imagination). It is, literally, our whole world. We can undo any painful aspect of our whole world this way.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t feel anything. We will still experience physical pain. There will, most likely, still be sadness, fear, anger. And yet the overlay created by our struggle with it, and the overlay holding it in place over long periods of time, may have fallen away. My experience is that the sense of connection and empathy deepens and more and more experiences become quite beautiful.

Another angle on this is our own experience in doing natural rest and inquiry. Through this, we may see – sometimes within minutes – that what appeared solid, unquestionable, painful, all pervasive, unhealable, is anything but that. We may see it vaporize as we are watching.

Sometimes, it may take quite a few sessions on any one trauma. That’s quite normal. And yet, with sincerity and actually doing it, it may well undo itself. There is no end to it, and at the same time more and more falls away as we keep exploring.

Pitfalls of openings and awakenings

 

Here are some common pitfalls of openings and awakenings:

New identifications. With an opening or awakening, new identities may surface and the mind may identify with these for safety. These identities include but are not limited to awareness, oneness, spirit, free. These are just more thoughts that the mind identifies with, and it’s good to notice and inquire into these as soon as they arise.

Unprocessed material. With an opening or awakening, the lid may be taken off any unprocessed material. Anything that’s unfelt, unloved and unquestioned comes up to be felt, loved, and questioned. Any unfelt emotions or feelings surface to be felt. Any unloved parts of us or our experience (including our whole world) comes up to be loved. Any unquestioned stories surface to be questioned. This can lead to a version of the dark night of the soul.

Kundalini. With an opening or awakening, kundalini may activate. For some, this may lead to a kundalini overcharge. It may feel like high voltage is going through regular house wiring, and as if parts of us – and perhaps our brain – is fried. This can be prevented and reversed.

What do I mean with an opening or awakening? I mean that we realize what we are, or what we are realizes what it is. This is what the mind may call awareness, oneness, no separation, spirit (or even Buddha Mind, Brahman if it’s so inclined). This may be a glimpse, or it may be a more stable recognition. Often, there is a mix of this recognition and remaining identifications which partially obscure this recognition. We then live partially from noticing what we are, and partially from remaining identifications. This is very natural, and there is not really any problem here, but it’s good to be aware of and acknowledge, and also to have ways to work with these identifications.

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Fear and identification

 

When I was in training to become a Living Inquiry facilitator, I would ask the is a threat question whenever I sensed there could be a threat or fear connected to a particular image, word or sensation. Whenever I checked in with myself, I could usually find a threat or fear connected to any velcro (any belief, identification). I learned to dial this back a bit since I seemed to perceive threats where others didn’t. That may partly be because of my PTSD which tends to bring the whole system on high alert so threats are perceived just about anywhere.

And yet, I still wonder if fear is not behind or connected with just about any velcro, belief or identification. Why would the glue be there if not for fear? At the very least, there is fear about how it is to live without any particular velcro or identification.

It also seems that the velcro is often initially created through fear, and then recreated through fear in the moment. It may not be obvious, but when I look I find it for myself.

Byron Katie: The body is the ego’s greatest ally

 

The body is the ego’s greatest ally.

– Byron Katie

Yes, in so many ways.

I am this body. I will die. I don’t want to die.

My body is sick. It will get sick. It’s not good looking enough. It’s too old. It will get old. I won’t be attractive anymore. They won’t like me. I am wearing the wrong clothes. What will people think about how I look? Am I good and impressive enough looking to find a partner?

I am this body. The rest of the world is not me. It’s something that can help me or hurt me. It’s a precarious situation.

And more basic:

These sensations are connected to these images and words, and means these images and words are real, solid and true.

The mind is great at coming up with thoughts related to or relying on the body. And there is no end to how much stress can be created by these thoughts when they are unexamined and held as true. (Even if just a part of us hold them as true.)

Any thought can be stressful 

 

Any thought can be stressful.

Even the most apparently peaceful and hopeful thought can be stressful.

I will go to heaven –> Maybe not? Maybe I did or will do something terrible so I won’t go to heaven? Maybe I don’t even know how horrible it is as I do it? Maybe there isn’t a heaven?

Everything happens for me –> Yes, although if that’s true I am not making full use of it. Maybe I am missing what it means for me. Maybe I am missing opportunities for growth and healing. I am not up to the task. I miss the boat, over and over again.

These types of thoughts may be comforting, and they may help us reframe or give us pointers for action or exploration. At the same time, they can be – and eventually will be – stressful. Holding onto them as true may even stop us from exploring what’s more true for us than these thoughts.

They become a place to “land” and life is too kind to allow us to land for very long anywhere, including in nice ideas about how things are, so it nudges us along through making holding onto these ideas stressful.

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Compulsively avoiding velcro

 

I know this sounds simplistic, and it also seems quite accurate.

Compulsively avoiding velcro is what creates discomfort and suffering, and what keeps it in place. When I avoid velcro, I avoid feeling certain sensations and looking at images and words associated with it.

Velcro here refers to the sticky conglomerate of sensations and associated images and words. When sensations stick onto images and words, it makes these images and words seem real and solid. It’s another word for belief, or identification, or even “ego” as its sometimes used in spiritual circles.

When I compulsively avoid velcro, I compulsively seek something else. That helps me avoid the velcro. It gives me something else to do, and it may even appear to promise deliverance. They are two sides of the same coin.

I go into compulsive avoidance, overthinking/intellectualizing, rumination, hopes or fears about the future, regrets about the past, eating, entertainment, spiritual practice, work, wanting to be a good person, being liked, being admired, and more. For some, the compulsion may even involve drugs and alcohol.

The remedy is to do the opposite. To feel the sensation component of the velcro. To rest with it. To examine the associated images and words. To look at what’s really there, and already there.

This approach supports us in noticing what we are, and in the healing of who we are. As velcro (identifications) soften or fall away, it’s easier for what we are (presence, what experience happens within and as) to notice itself. It’s easier for the natural rest that’s already here to notice itself as what’s already here, and more consciously rest in itself. And it supports the healing and maturing of who we are, as an ordinary human being.

In this way, what a thought calls spirituality and psychology are both included, and the thought-created division between the two becomes less or not important.

Note: This experience, as it is, independent of how peaceful or turbulent it seems from a conventional view, is already natural rest. Sometimes, that’s noticed. Other times, it’s not. It’s still natural rest. And when that’s noticed, independent of the content of experience, something shifts. There is a sense of coming home. Of release. Of relief.

In what sense is it already natural rest? It’s already happening within and as presence. It’s already happening within and as what we are. It’s already sensations, images, words, each of which happen within presence and natural rest.

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It’s not easy to believe a thought

 

It’s not easy to believe a thought.

It takes a lot of effort.

It’s stressful.

It needs to be maintained here and now.

And more than that….

 It needs to be elaborated upon. If it’s true, other stories follow from it, and these needs to be taken as true as well, and maintained as true.

It’s underlying assumptions must be reaffirmed and supported.

We need to filter our experience of the world through it.

We need to defend the truth of the story, since it is or will be out of alignment with aspects of reality. We need to defend it against other stories which may invalidate it.

We need to contract muscles to create persistent sensations which can support taking the thought as true, through lending the thought charge, and a sense of solidity and reality.

That’s why there is often a deep sense of relief when any particular belief is seen through and – even in temporarily – falls away. And it’s why there is even more of a deep relief when beliefs in general fall away, even if temporarily and in a glimpse or for a period of time.

From this perspective, the primary question isn’t why is it so difficult to awaken? (Although that’s a valid question.) It’s more, how come we go through all this effort to stay in our own dream world, specially considering it’s often painful? 

I don’t really have the answers to that. Although I suspect part of the answer is a combination of two quite simple things.

We do it because that’s what those around us do. As babies, we look to the adults in our life for cues about how to live here, so we follow them. In Rome, do as Romans do. It’s very innocent and understandable.

Also, intentional thought is a relatively new tool in our evolution. We are still grappling with how to use it effectively. We still stumble in how we use it. We take our own thoughts as real and true, even if they are simply thoughts and are better used as practical tools for navigating the world. This too is innocent and understandable.

A golden child, and then all fell apart 

 

I thought I would share some of the painful stories that come up for me to be seen, loved, rested with.

These are very basic stories, and they come up without much filtering these days, partly because I seem unable to filter or set aside much.

These seem related to elementary school experiences:

I am a victim, unsupported, under siege.

In elementary school, friends would turn against me when certain other kids were around. I felt unsafe, scared, confused, unsupported (by family, teachers, school mates), under siege. All of these still come up now and then. I feel like a victim of life and circumstances (especially with my health, brain fog, divorce, loss of friends, lost opportunities, things continuing to fall apart). I feel under siege (noise, chemicals, lack of support, no place to call my own).

In elementary school, I couldn’t fight or flee, so I froze. I became paralyzed. And that’s still showing up in some situations in my life. (Being passive where it would be more helpful to be active.)

And a more overarching story:

I was a golden child, then all fell apart.

I had amazing opportunities and inner and outer resources until I got married and left my guidance (by physically moving away from many things that felt deeply right to me). Then it all started to fall apart. I lost opportunities. Lost friends. Lost health. Lost education and career opportunities. Lost support. Lost inner and outer resources (health, clarity, confidence, capacity, house, money).

And another story:

This is a dark night of the soul. I went through the initial awakening and illumination phase, and now it’s the dark night of the soul. (Very similar to how Evelyn Underhill describes it in Mysticism.) It’s a heroic journey.

This one may be partly valid, and can – to some extent – be comforting. And it’s also unhelpful if I go to this story instead of looking at what’s really here, in immediacy.

There is also an earlier story, which came up more strongly a couple of years ago but is still here:

I am unloved. I am unlovable.

My parents would leave me alone in a dark room in my crib. I cried, and they didn’t come. So I gave up. (I froze.)

Before incarnation, beings showed me that it was time to incarnate and the essence of how this life would be and why (for my own maturing, and to do my little bit to help shift humanity). I agreed because I saw it was good, and didn’t voice my hesitation. (I had glimpses of memories of this even as a very young child.)

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Coming to our senses

 

Coming to our senses.

That’s an expression that can be understood literally.

When I am caught in thought, I am – in a sense – caught in the imagination of my senses. I am caught in the story created by mental images (sight), words (sight, hearing), and mental imaginations of sound (hearing).

I am absorbed in these stories, because they feel real. And they feel real because these images and words are connected with sensations in the body, which gives them charge and lends them a sense of solidity and reality.

All of this can be useful in a practical sense. Imagination is vital for us to function in the world, to plan ahead, run through different scenarios, sift through and examine the past, and act on what we learn from this imagination. It’s vital for our survival.

At the same time, it can go a bit awry. We can get caught in stressful stories about the past or future, and these can even go in a loop. We stress ourselves out rather than use imagination as a simple and practical tool.

What’s the remedy? One is to examine these stories. (Is it true? What happens when I take it as true? Who would I be without it? What’s the validity in the reversals? (The Work.) What images and words are associated to the sensations? What do I find when I look at each one, and ask some simple questions to help me see what’s there? (Living Inquiries.))

Another is to, literally, come to my senses.

I can notice what’s here. Notice sensation. Sound. Thought. Shift from thinking to noticing thought. Allow. Notice it’s all already allowed. Notice the boundless space it’s all happening within.

I can feel the sensations. Feel the sensations I may have wanted to escape, by going into thought. Rest with it. Take time.

Both of these – noticing and feeling – helps me shift out of thought.

The noticing helps me notice thought as thought, notice imagination as imagination.

The feeling helps me meet, feel, and even befriend the sensations I initially tried to escape by going into thought. I may get to see that the sensations that initially seemed uncomfortable or scary, because of the stories attached to them, are not so scary. They are sensations. They don’t inherently mean anything. I can feel them, rest with them, even find kindness towards them. I get to see I don’t need to escape sensations by compulsively going into thought. (Getting here may require some inquiry.)

This is a retraining of the mind. A forming of a new habit of noticing and feeling, when I notice the compulsion to go into (obsessive, stressful) thought.

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Taking stories as true, and bodily contractions

 

When I believe a story, it seems to come with a bodily contraction.

There are good reasons for this.

To believe a story, it seems that it has to be attached to sensations. Sensations associated with images and words gives them a charge, and lends them a sense of reality, solidity and truth. It seems that it may not be possible (?) to believe a story unless it’s attached to a sensation in this way.

And to create sensations, we need to tense up muscles. In other words, create a contraction.

As usual, there are different ways to explore this.

Rest with the sensations and any images and words that come up. Notice and allow.

Inquire into the associated images and words. See what’s there. See if they are a threat. See if they are X. (A deficient self or whatever the contraction seems connected with.)

Perhaps also meet it with kindness. See it’s there to protect, it comes from caring, from love.

Neurogenic tremors (TRE) can also be helpful, releasing the tension out of the body. (Of course, this tends to come back unless the stories creating the tension have been examined and perhaps loved.)

These contractions – and really the beliefs creating them – seem to fuel reactivity, anxiety, depression, compulsions, addictions and more. That’s why it can be very helpful to not only explore this from the belief (velcro, identification) side, but also the physical side.

What’s the mechanism that leads from beliefs to bodily contractions? One way to look at it is that beliefs often come from and create (unloved) fear, and that’s why the muscles tense up – in order to prepare us to flee or fight.

Leaving no stone unturned

 

There is an important difference between mainstream psychology and inquiry: Mainstream psychology leaves many underlying assumptions unloved and unquestioned, and inquiry leaves no stone unturned.

Of course, it depends on the practitioner. I know psychologists who addresses even the most basic underlying assumptions and identities, and I am sure there are people using inquiry who don’t.

I assume that as inquiry and Buddhist practices keeps influencing psychology, there will be a change in how mainstream psychology operates. They may soon recognize the importance of identifying and questioning our more basic assumptions and identities.

What are some of these basic assumptions and identities?

I am X. (My name. Gender. Nationality. Occupation etc.)

I am X. (Personality traits.)

I am X. (Thoughts. Emotions. Awareness. Love.)

I am X. (A body.)

X is as I perceive it. X is findable. (The world. People. Objects.)

X is as I perceive it. X is findable. (Thoughts. Emotions. Sensations. Awareness. Love.)

X is as I perceive it. X is findable. (Space. Time. Past. Future. Present.)

There is a findable threat. There is a findable compulsion.

And more. Whatever we can name, which we usually don’t question.

Why is it important to leave no stone unturned? To leave no assumption unloved and unquestioned, even the most basic ones? It’s because these too are stressful beliefs and identifications. These too are limiting. These too are out of alignment with reality. These basic and underlying assumptions are what most or all of the other (stressful) assumptions and identities rest on.

Identification = belief = velcro = ego

 

Identification = belief = velcro = ego.

At least roughly.

Identification is when mind takes on the viewpoint of a story, and holds it as true and real. Mind identifies with the view of the story, filters experience through it, and even acts as if it’s true.

A belief is when mind holds a story as true, and perceives and acts as if it’s true, at least to some extent. (Often, it’s not a 100%.)

Velcro is when sensations seem “stuck” on associated images and words, giving them a charge, and lending them a sense of reality, solidity, and truth. The images and words feel true, because of the associated sensations.

Ego can be used in a psychological and “spiritual” sense. In a psychological sense, it’s just the operating system that allows this human being to function in the world, and we want it to be healthy and keep maturing. In a “spiritual” sense, the “ego” refers to identification and what comes out of identification. (Or a belief or velcro, and what comes out of these.)

These are all words describing roughly the same. It’s all referring to the mind identifying with a story, and what that brings with it.

What does it bring with it? Here are some possible consequences: Filtering perception through that story, acting as if it’s true, perhaps wanting to defend the story, dismissing what doesn’t fit, perhaps discomfort or suffering when life goes against the story, finding people who agree and support our story, and more.