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.

Evil?

 

Some people like to use the word evil.

It’s easy to understand why.

It’s part of our culture. Christianity likes to do the same. (Even if it initially was to discredit competing religions.)

It makes it simple.

We don’t have to look for complex answers to why people behave the way they do.

We can use simplistic solutions. We can tell ourselves that everything will be good if we just get rid of the evil people.

We can put it on others and keep ourselves safely on the good side.

And yet, it is an overly simplistic term. It robs us of the opportunity to a more real understanding which can help us deal with it in a more constructive way.

And that too seems very obvious, but it apparently isn’t to everyone yet.

So what’s behind what looks like evil?

One answer is trauma. When we are traumatized – whether it’s from social conditions or personal interactions – one way to deal with it is to react to it through dehumanizing others and using verbal or physical violence. And that can certainly appear as “evil”.

So what’s the solution? In some ways, the solution is also simple. It is to create a society where people’s basic needs are taken care of. Where food, shelter, education, and health is taken care of. Where there is less inequality globally and within regions. Where people who suffer receive help to heal and get back on their feet.

This is already in place in some countries, mainly in Northern Europe, although there is always room for improvement. To have this happen globally is a taller order, partly because many are opposed to it.

Some are opposed to it since it benefits some to have a great deal of inequality. The current neoliberal ideology, adopted by many in industrialized countries, ensures continued and perhaps widening inequality.

And ironically, some who are traumatized adopt a strong us vs. them ideology which prevents them from supporting policies benefiting everyone – including themselves. (We see this in the US, including among many current Trump supporters.)

Note: I am not blind to the irony in calling “evil” an overly simple label and then proceed to give a relatively simple answer and solution…

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Trauma: Stuck as prey or predator animal

 

From nature’s side, we are equally prey and predator. Any time we are in danger of being hurt by another we are in an prey position. And any time we are in a situation where we can hurt or – in theory – kill and eat someone else, we are in a predator position. Each one comes with certain characteristics which aids our survival.

When we are less traumatized, or sometimes if a trauma is not triggered, we have a more relaxed relationship to these two roles. We shift into either when it’s needed, and out of it when the situation changes again.

In contrast, when we are traumatized and the trauma is not cleared or released, we can get stuck in one or both roles. We can perceive and act as if we are permanently prey or predator.

Being able to go into and out of these roles fluidly is a great evolutionary gift. It’s what has allowed our species to survive, and still – even in our modern society – allows us as individuals to survive. (For instance, the prey animal in us may be triggered when we are about to get into a car accident, allowing us to act more quickly by bypassing consicous deliberation and decisions.)

The good thing is that we have ways to release trauma. One of them is even built into our bodies in the form of neurogenic tremors. (Tension and Trauma Release Exercises is a way for us to access this mechanism.)

This topic came to mind since I have been interacting with horses lately. I have been very aware of them perceiving and acting as prey animals, as they are. And although I see them as partners and equals as beings, I am in a predator position (control). Horses have only one role, but humans shift between either.

This topic has also come to mind when I see Trump. I imagine he is pretty traumatized, and he may be stuck in perceiving himself as prey (fearful) and acting as a predator (dominance, power oriented) in order to compensate for it.

The photo is of Niki after having had a roll in the snow. She is relaxed since she is not perceiving any current threats and is not actively in a prey role, although she can shift into it at any moment if the situation calls for it.

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Dark nights and existential terror is rooted in identification and trauma

 

In my experience, dark nights, existential terror, and even general discomfort is rooted in identification and trauma.

Identification means identifying with the viewpoint of any story, taking it as true, and believing it. And I am using the word trauma in a very broad sense here, meaning what happened when something scared us enough so we created beliefs and identifications to protect ourselves (aka the imagined separate self).

For some of us, it’s easy to either romanticize dark nights and existential terror or see it as something mysterious and intangible that has to run its course and resolve by itself. And while there may be some truth to it having to live out its life, seeing it as rooted in identification and trauma gives us a pointer in how to work with it.

At the root of dark nights and existential terror is identification, and that’s something we can work with in a practical and grounded way. It’s rooted in identification mixed in with all sorts of mild and more serious trauma.

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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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Beating around the bush 

 

It’s very common to beat around the bush in inquiry and most other forms of healing work.

We work on the more peripheral or immediate issues, and hold off working on the deep, scary, and more core issues.

There are good and sane reasons for this. We want to feel that we can trust the process and the person guiding it – whether it’s ourselves or a facilitator – before we get into the deep stuff. If we dive into it too soon, without proper guidance or  understanding of how to work with it, we can easily retraumatize.

There may also be fear preventing us from going into the deeper issues, fear that’s unmet, unquestioned, and unloved. And it can be very helpful to look at this fear. What do I find when I explore the elements making up this fear? What shoulds do I have about not meeting these deeper issues, or about meeting them? What deficient selves do I find, either when I consider facing the deeper issues, when I find myself scared of doing so, or if I look at the deeper issues themselves? Looking at these deficient selves is often easier than diving right into the traumatic memories.

Looking at these things helps bring us to a place where we more sanely can evaluate whether we want to dive in deeper or not, and whether we trust the process and the guidance enough to do so.

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Current situation colored by what it triggers

 

Today, the primal survival fear is alive in me again. It’s quite familiar now, as it’s been visiting off and on since the darkest phase of the dark night of the soul set in. (I am calling it “the dark night of the soul” just as a shorthand, knowing that it’s a label with a lot of assumptions that have some but limited validity.)

It feels primal and ancient. Some of it may be passed on through family dynamics. Some from epigenetics. Some perhaps from past lives. Who knows. What I know is that it seems primal, ancient, and universal – something that’s a shared experience for perhaps all mammals and even other groups of animals.

I also see how it does what triggered traumas often do. It colors my experience of my current situation. It makes certain things seem really scary, while the reality is that they don’t quite warrant that level of fear. The more I can notice what’s happening, rest with the physical sensations of the primal fear, and notice the associated images and words, the more I am able to notice that coloring, and the more I notice the scary stories my mind creates based on the coloring. It helps me differentiate and relate to it all – the primal fear, the coloring, my current life situation – more consciously.

How to avoid retraumatizing in inquiry

 

Some form of trauma is behind anxiety, depression, addictions and just about anything else that seems troubling to us.

That’s why it’s helpful to focus on trauma in inquiry sessions on these type of topics. A good question to get back to an early or initial trauma is to have the client notice and feel the sensations connected with the current problem, and ask what’s your earliest memory of feeling that way?

How can we avoid retraumatizing the client in inquiry?

Here are some ways to reduce the chance of retraumatizing:

Approach it indirectly.

Find the deficiency story triggered or created by the traumatizing situation. What does the situation say about me? Explore that identity.

Explore the threat in looking at the images and words associated with it, and feeling the sensations.

Isolate out the components – images, words, sensations – one at a time. Look at words or an image, feel the sensations, and set the rest aside for a while as best as you can. Slow it down, isolate out each component.

Notice the infinite space the imaginations or sensations happen within, and that’s also inside of the sensations and body contractions.

Spend a lot of time resting with what’s here. Again, slow it down, isolate out each component, spend a lot of time resting with it.

Meet what’s here – images, words, sensations – with kindness. Meet it with gentleness, kindness, patience. If needed, use ho’oponopono. (I am sorry, Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.) Or the thank you phrase. (Thank you for arising. I love you. Stay as long as you like.)

Sometimes, other supports can also be helpful such as tapping (EFT, TFT). Or the amplify / release technique. (Make the sensations, image, or words as strong as you can for 10 seconds, then release and relax, repeat a few times.)

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Awakening and trauma

 

Awakening can happen whether we have worked through a lot of our human stuff or not.

When it does, it’s often followed by a transcendence of our human hangups and pain. We experience a honeymoon phase. We experience some relief from it.

At some point, the intensity of the awakening may fade, and life’s pressures can retrigger our human wounds and hangups again. It may feel like something went wrong, but it’s just life showing us what’s left.

It’s life saying, now you have a taste of what you are, so use that new context to invite healing into who you are, into your human self.

It’s sounds simple talking about it in this way. And it can be experienced as very messy and often confusing when we are in the middle of it. That’s why it can be very helpful to have someone in our life who knows this process and has gone through it themselves.

And it’s not something that happens only once, or in just one way. This clarity / realigning cycle happens over and over and in many different ways.

It’s part of our human life.

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When people are strongly triggered

 

When old pain is strongly triggered in us, it may feel completely overwhelming. Any continued interaction with the triggering situation or person feels like too much. Sometimes, we may just need to take a break and withdraw from the trigger, whether it’s a situation or a person. (Some people do this the only way they know, which is to break off connection completely.) And if we are the triggering person, sometimes the best we can do is give them space and wait.

Sometimes, we may just need to take a break and withdraw from the trigger, whether it’s a situation or a person. (Some people do this the only way they know, which is to break off connection completely.) And if we are the triggering person, sometimes the best we can do is give them space and wait.

In these situations, old trauma is triggered by the current situation, and the intensity combined with our capacity to consciously relate to it determines how we are able to deal with it. We may lash out in anger, fear, and pain. We may put all blame outside of ourselves. Or we may be able to recognize the pain in us, that it comes from old trauma, and meet it with kindness.

From a parts perspective, we can become identified with the pained and suffering part that’s activated in us. We may temporarily “become” that part, and act and speak in uncharacteristic ways. We may also see the triggering person as the person in the past (if there was one) that was the catalyst for the initial trauma. We can easily demonize that person, even if what they said and did to trigger the wound in us was innocent or small seen from an outsider’s perspective. We both become different people to the person who has a wound that was activated.

If I trigger a deep wound in someone, it’s important to acknowledge the pain and suffering the other person is experiencing and give them space to be with it. It’s equally important to take responsibility for my part. Whatever the person is saying about me, and however much it comes from their own pain, I can find where and how it’s true for me and acknowledge it.

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Addressing traumas in inquiry without retraumatizing

 

Many of us have traumas and areas of the mind that seem scary and dangerous to approach. At the same time, we would like to be free from the painful dynamics these tend to create in our lives.

How do we work with these issues?

One approach is to plunge directly into trauma and the scariest areas of the mind, overriding any natural and understandable fears or resistance to doing so. That tends to retraumatize and creates a lack of trust between the facilitator and client. And that’s understandable since this is not a very skillful way to do it. Such an approach tends to come from inexperience or from a belief on the facilitator’s side that the client should plunge directly into these things while ignoring fears, resistance, and red flags.

A more skillful approach is to fully acknowledge the fears, resistance, and red flags. We take them seriously. We explore them. We see what’s there and perhaps their roots in early life experiences. And from there, we see where to go next. We may continue exploring related issues such as fears, resistance, and identities. After these explorations, we may also find that it seems safer to explore these traumas more directly. There may be a readiness to do so.

In the Living Inquiries, how do we approach inquiry in these situations? A common approach is to initially look at one or more of the following:

(a) The fears of entering the traumas or other scary areas of the mind. How does the mind create its experience of these fears? What imaginations and sensations make them up? What’s really there? (These may be fears of being overwhelmed, not being able to deal with it, that healing is not possible, we are broken beyond repair.)

Conversely, what fears are there about not entering or exploring these areas? How are these fears created by the mind? What’s really there? (We won’t ever heal, we are missing out of an opportunity.)

(b) Any commands to enter these areas or to not enter these areas. How are these commands created by the mind? What imaginations and sensations make them up? What’s really there?

(c) Any identities related to these traumas and scary areas of the mind. What does the traumatizing situation say about me? What do I fear others would say about me? What’s the worst someone could think about me in that situation?

Each of these is often easier to explore than entering the initial trauma head on. And these inquiries tend to get at core issues relating to the trauma. They may also reduce the charge sufficiently so we feel comfortable facing the trauma more directly, allowing us to see and explore what’s left of the trauma related charge.

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Dark nights of the soul & trauma

 

There are different varieties of dark nights in a spiritual process. In some ways, there are as many varieties as there are dark nights since each one is somewhat unique.

Still, there seems to be some general categories or facets of dark nights. One category or facet is a dryness or lack of meaning and enthusiasm. Another is an experience of loss of God’s presence or an expansive state. And one is where the lid is taken off of our unprocessed stuff and it emerges to heal and be recognized as spirit itself.

I imagine that each dark night is really an adaption to a new emerging phase, and it’s difficult to the extent we struggle against it and try to hold onto beliefs and identities not compatible with this new phase.

The type where the lid is taken off our unprocessed stuff is especially interesting to me. It seems that it’s mainly connected with trauma. A lifetime of trauma surfaces to be seen, felt, loved, healed, and for spirit to recognize it as itself. And it’s not only one lifetime of trauma, but several. Trauma from our ancestors is passed on through the generations (behavior and epigenetics) and our culture. Trauma may even be passed on from past lives. No wonder such a process can be intense and feel unbearable.

I find it helpful to think of it in a trauma perspective. It makes it more grounded and concrete and points to some ways we can work on it and ease some of the pain inherent in it.

It does seem that the process needs to run its course and lives its own life. And it also seems that we can work on certain elements of what’s happening and make the process a little easier on ourselves.

I have found the following helpful for myself:

Therapeutic tremoring (TRE) to release tension and trauma out of the body.

Inquiry (The Work, Living Inquiries) to support release of beliefs and identifications. (These create a struggle with what’s happening, and they are also what hold trauma in place.)

Natural rest. Notice and allow.

Heart centered practices. Ho’oponopono. Tonglen. Metta. Towards myself, suffering parts of myself, and others.

Service and work, as I am able to. (There has been times when all I could do was survive, and other times when service and work has been possible and very helpful for my own process.)

Body-inclusive practices such as Breema, yoga, tai chi, and chi gong.

Nature. Good diet. Herbal medicine. Supportive friends. Gentle exercise.

Understanding of the process. Guidance from someone who has gone through it themselves.

More recently, I have found Vortex Healing to be helpful for me in this process and in general.

Why does the trauma surface in this way, and sometimes in such a dramatic fashion? To me, it seems that life is impatient in clearing us and making us better vessels for whatever awakening is here. Any trauma in our system will prevent a deepening and stable awakening, and an expression of the clarity and love that’s recognized in the awakening. It’s also a very humbling process, which means that identifications are stripped off and we become a little more aligned with reality.

Note: When I wrote “categories or facets of dark nights” it’s because these characteristics sometimes seem to appear one at a time (categories) and sometimes several at once (facets).

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Adyashanti: Enlightenment is a destructive process

 

Make no mistake about it – enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbing away of untruth. It’s seeing through the facade of pretense. It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagine to be true.

– Adyashanti, The End of Your World

Yes, enlightenment is a falling away of our familiar world. Of what we imagine to be true.

Interestingly, for many of us, that also includes trauma. Traumas are created and held in place by what we imagine to be true. So traumas surface so these imaginations we imagine to be true can be eradicated.

At some point in the awakening process, these traumas surface to be seen, felt, loved, and held in presence. They surface so we get to examine them and see how the mind creates them. We get to see how body contractions and imaginations create traumas, and we get to see each component for what it is. Sensations as sensations and imagination as imagination.

This can be challenging beyond what we have experienced before. Our habitual reaction is to shrink away from these traumas, and that’s very understandable. Evolution and culture both tells us to avoid what’s painful. And now we are instead invited to hold these traumas in presence. And examine them. We are invited to face what we have spent a lifetime avoiding. We are invited to re-experience the pain of the trauma as we enter into it, and meeting it in a very different way from before.

This is a very real part of the awakening process. It’s often not encountered until we have gone through a honeymoon phase in the awakening process. And it’s often not mentioned in the initial sales pitch for practices that may lead us into an awakening process. Both life and teachers tend to wait with presenting this to us, for good reasons. If we knew, we may not be that interested. Not that we really have a choice. Life will have its way with us, and this is part of it.

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Sweat lodges helping veterans with PTSD

 

[Video removed since it autostarts.]

A beautiful story in so many ways.

“You pray for your enemies and people that don’t like you,” Cheek said. “And that’s difficult, and as a veteran, you’re praying for those people that actually shot at you. That helps you come to terms with a lot of the stuff.”

– from Centuries old tradition is helping veterans sweat out stress.

I would say that this is probably an essential part of the healing for these veterans. Love and reconciliation – even if it’s only inside of ourselves – heals.

When Jesus said “love your enemies” he may not have meant it as a prescription or morals. He may very well have meant is as a guide for healing.

Current situation -> early trauma

 

When I work with clients with the Living Inquiries, we often start with a current charged situation.

There are several reasons for this. One is that the client feels heard and respected. They feel that their immediate concerns are understood and taken seriously.

The other is that any current charged situation often leads us relatively quickly to a traumatic situation early in life. I will usually explore the current situation for a bit – look at a couple of images and perhaps some words, and feel the related sensations. Then, I’ll ask what’s your earliest memory of feeling that feeling? This will usually bring us right back to an early traumatic situation – either a one-time or a repeated situation. Often, one instance stands out of a series of similar instances.

In this way, we get to address both the earlier traumatic situation – which often is behind several current issues and the initial current issue. The client gets to see and feel the connection between the two. And the charge may relax around both through being present with the imaginations and sensations that make up the charged issues.

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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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A few words about trauma – used in a broad sense

 

I am using the word trauma here in a broad sense. Any situation that combines a feeling of threat and helplessness can create trauma for us. It can be a one time event, or – more commonly – an ongoing situation (bullying, unhappy relationship, unkind boss, poverty or financial problems, health challenges etc.) We all have trauma to varying degrees.

With the more ongoing situations, we often see that trauma gets passed on from one person to the next. Hurt people hurt people. This can happen structurally, through policies and ideologies favoring one group and hurting another. (Which, in reality, hurts everyone.) It can also happen in any kind of personal relationships.

Trauma has a bodily component (chronic bodily tension contraction) and an imagination component (associated images and words). It can be very helpful to work on both of these, for instance combining therapeutic tremoring and bodywork with inquiry and kindness practices. (Kindness towards ourselves, the parts of us in pain, and anyone in our life including whomever was involved in the initial traumatizing situation).

– from a previous post

Since I am working with trauma these days, I tend to see things through a trauma filter. It’s easy to broaden the definition of trauma so it captures a great deal – or even all – of the painful part of human experience.

For instance, we can see trauma as behind the creation of any belief, identification, wound, or velcro. These are all ways we try to protect ourselves – the imagined separate self – from harm.

It only makes sense that when the mind experiences a situation that feels dangerous and it feels helpless, it wishes to protect itself – or rather the imagined separate self. And it often does so through creating beliefs, identifications, and velcro.

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Repeating a trauma or giving it what it really wants

 

When the part of me that feels abandoned surfaces, it’s easy to want to shy away from it and abandon it again. If I do that, I repeat the situation that created it in the first place. I do exactly what it fears. If I am aware of this, I can instead meet it with presence, patience, love, and interest. And the more I do so, the more it becomes a new habit.

– From a previous (and so far unpublished) post.

With trauma, we tend to either avoid or repeat situations similar to the initially traumatic situation.

In this case, both are often at play.

We seek to avoid situations where we may feel abandoned.

And when the feeling of being abandoned is triggered, in spite of our best effort, we tend to repeat the abandoment pattern. We ourselves avoid and abandon the abandoned part of us in pain. We shy away from it.

The remedy is to be aware of this dynamic. And turn 180 degrees and instead meet this abandoned part of us with presence, patience, kindness, love, and curiosity. The more we do so, the more it becomes a new habit. And the less this part of us feels abandoned and in pain.

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Awakening includes rude awakening

 

If you have a rude awakening, you have a severe shock when you discover the truth of a situation.

– from The Free Dictionary

An awakening process can be a rude awakening.

Some parts of the awakening process is what our personality likes. It aligns with what our personality likes and wants. For instance, an early and temporary transcendence gives us a taste of freedom from trauma, pain, and hurt.

Other parts may be more difficult for our personality. They can challenge or clash with habitual patterns our mind initially created to stay safe. These include but are not limited to:

Disillusionment. Awakening includes disillusionment and especially disillusionment about what awakening is and what “we” get out of it. We may hope for a state of eternal peace and bliss, and what it’s really about is awakening to and as that which already allows any experience and state, including sadness, anger, and pain.

Awakening to the shadow. Awakening means awakening to everything, including our own very human pain, trauma, and hurt. At some point, this comes to the surface with an invitation to question the unquestioned stories holding the hurt in place, feel the unfelt feelings and emotions, and love all of it as it is including any reactions we have towards it.

Most people have a lot of misconceptions about awakening or enlightenment. This is partly inevitable since awakening is a change of the context of our experience rather than a change within our experience, and most of us are only familiar with the latter until there is an initial opening or awakening. These misconceptions are also partly encouraged and perpetuated by some spiritual traditions and teachers, either for strategic reasons (which I happen to not agree with) or because they don’t know better.

It’s difficult to know in advance how much of the trauma is healed or cleared up by the initial awakening, or any practices we engage with before or after the initial awakening. It’s also difficult to know how much is there in the first place. A lot of it is “collective” trauma passed on through the generations and by our culture, and some may also be due to epigenetics. I was certainly surprised by the amount of pain and trauma that surfaced for me.

What do I mean when I say that awakening is a shift in the context of our experience? It’s because an awakening is an awakening to – and then as – what experience happens within and as. This is sometimes labeled awareness, presence, Spirit or something similar, although any label will make it seem more discrete and like an object than it is. Content of experience doesn’t have to change at all, although it often does as a side effect of this shift in context.

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Violence in the US

 

There are mass shootings almost daily in the US, which makes the US an anomaly among industrialized countries. Why is it so, and what can be done? My answers obviously reflect my own biases and limited understanding, and I also know that many of the solutions that make sense to me won’t have enough support to be implemented – at least not now.

  • Poor social safety nets. Although Obama has done what he can to improve this, many people still live in fear of living in poverty and possibly losing their home. This creates a culture of fear which sometimes takes the form of anger, hostility, polarization, and even violence. The solution is to create better social safety nets, similar to those in most countries in western Europe.
  • Gap between wealthy and poor. Again, this tends to fuel fear, resentment, polarization, anger, and even violence. The solution is to reduce the gap, partly through increasing minimum income so it’s a livable income, perhaps reducing maximum income, and implementing policies that benefit people and nature over corporations (reverse of how it often is today).
  • Sense of powerlessness A sense of powerlessness fuels fear, resentment, anger, and violence. Access to affordable education, a stronger political voice, and more power to workers help avoid this sense of powerlessness.
  • Political polarization. The current two-party system is increasingly polarized, encouraged by much of mainstream media. A multi-party system requires collaboration to a much higher degree. Political polarization leads to a habit of us-them thinking and even dehumanization, and this can – for some – lower the threshold for using violence. (This is a less important point than the others on this list but I thought I would include it.)
  • Untreated trauma. My impression is that there is more (obvious) trauma among people in the US than in western/northern Europe. I am not sure if that’s true. In any case, there is a great deal of untreated trauma, and trauma is often behind violence. If it was up to me, trauma education would be part of regular schooling, and simple trauma release practices such as TRE would be included in schools and workplaces.
  • Poor coping strategies and self-regulation. Learning better coping strategies and self-regulation in school and at workplaces will make a big difference, at least for some. Mindfulness and physical awareness (yoga, tai chi etc.) exercises could be part of this. And “mindfulness” could include recognizing presence, noticing content of experience, heart-centered practices, and simple forms of inquiry.
  • Easy access to guns. If you are angry and have easy access to guns, you are more likely to use them. It’s a simple equation. I know that liberals tend to focus on gun control. In itself, it’s a simplistic solution, but it’s one piece of the puzzle. Reducing the political influence of gun manufacturers is part of this solution.
  • And, as I saw someone suggesting, if gun owners were required to have liability insurance, that itself may lead to changes. The insurance industry would lean on politicians to change the law and regulations around gun ownership. (Making it more difficult, requiring training, requiring gun producers to install safer locks etc.)

I am sure I am missing important pieces here. And I also know that changing these depends on political will and agreement, and both of those seem in short supply in the US today.

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.

Terrorism: Hurt people hurt people

 

Why terrorism? Specifically, why the Muslim terrorism we see today?

To me, the most obvious answer is that alienation, trauma, and the way the west has treated the rest of the world for centuries = terrorism.

Alienation of Muslims in the west + individual and collective trauma (individual trauma from abuse, violence and poverty, and collective trauma from war, violence, poverty, authoritarianism ) + continued western military / economic / cultural imperialism = fear, anger, hurt, reactivity = radicalization and terrorism. It’s the perfect recipe. And to reduce and prevent terrorism, we need to change the elements of that equation.

Terrorism is a crime and needs to be treated as a crime. There is no question about that. I support that wholeheartedly.

It’s also obvious that war and (amazingly childish) retaliation doesn’t solve terrorism. It only fuels anger and resentment which in turn fuels further radicalization and terrorism. War is its own form of terrorism, and often has much more to do with control of natural resources and gaining a foothold in certain regions than dealing with terrorism.

It may seem that terrorism in this case has to do with religion, but to me that’s a lazy answer. Religion in itself is pretty neutral. It’s what we do with religion that matters. And what we do with it comes from our level of health or hurt. If we are deeply hurt, we may easily use religion or any other ideology to hurt others.

And who is to say that the way the west has treated the rest of the world isn’t terrorism? It has certainly terrorized people for centuries, and it continues today.

So what’s the answer? To me, it includes reducing alienation of non-westerners in western societies. Strengthen traditional cultures and self-reliance in cultures around the world. Reducing western cultural, economic and military influence around the world. Admitting openly to the trauma created from centuries of western imperialism and abuse. Healing trauma. Giving people a real opportunity for a good life.

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Reminder: It’s not life threatening

 

It’s not life threatening. That can be a very helpful reminder when our system is on high alert, either from external or internal stimuli. External stimuli can be sounds, visuals, smell, taste, or the situation. Internal stimuli are images, words, and sensory input. And it’s really all the same, it’s all happening within my awareness as sensory input with associated images or words.

This is one way to help our system relax, relate differently to the stimuli, and over time reorganize and reorient towards a more consistently relaxed response to non-life threatening stimuli.

Waking up – from the trance of trauma

 

Waking up can be understood in many different ways.

Most often, it means waking up to what we really are, that which all experience happens within and as. (And cannot really be pinned down by a label, although it’s sometimes called awareness, Spirit, Existence, Brahman, Big Mind etc.)

For me, more and more, it also means waking up from trauma, from the trance of trauma.

The two go hand in hand. One shows us what we are. The other helps soften and release the often strong identification created by trauma, and holding trauma in place. What we call “ego” so often seems to be result of trauma. A way for us to try to find safety, for this vulnerable self we sometimes take to be who we are and separate. (Which is not wrong, but also not the whole picture.)

And trauma does create a trance. A trance of believing the stories and deficiency stories creating the trauma and holding it place.

Empathy towards those low on empathy

 

There are many reasons why some of us are low on empathy. It may be partly genetic. Partly life experiences. Sometimes trauma. (Trauma can get us in survival mode, which puts empathy on the back burner.)

These days, there is a lot of very understandable anger towards a US dentist who killed (“hunted”) a lion. Yes, I also don’t support it. I also see hunting as pretty lame. I also support animal rights. (And the formalized rights of ecosystems, species, and future generations of humans and all species.)

And yet, I can have empathy for this man, even if he is low on empathy. If he is low on empathy, which seems likely, that in itself is a good reason to have empathy for him. I can find it in myself. I sometimes am low on empathy too, especially when I am caught in fear.

Empathy can very well coexist with disagreeing with someone’s actions, and even actively work to prevent certain harmful actions to take place. It even supports it. It helps me come from a more clear and heartfelt place.

When did you first experience X?

 

When I facilitate a Living Inquiry session these days, with myself or a client, I often ask:

When did you first experience X?

When do you remember first having that feeling? Sensation?

When do you remember first feeling X? (Unlovable, not enough, better than etc.)

And I then explore that situation for a while, to see what’s there.

Very often, the velcro was initially created in childhood, as a protection. And we then continued recreating it and bringing it with us into adult life and the current situation.

We keep recreating it, because not doing so seems threatening.

Revisiting trauma in a healing way

 

If we revisit a trauma without enough skill, it can easily be retraumatizing. That’s why most of us are reluctant to revisit traumas, even for a while after we have learned and developed sufficient skills. There is a wisdom there too, since it’s often helpful to revisit traumas in smaller portions. There is a wisdom and kindness in wanting to do it slow, in hesitation, and even in resistance. Resistance can be an expression of wisdom and kindness.

In Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) we start with very short sessions, especially if we know or suspect there is a good deal of trauma in the system. (Which there is for many, or even most (?) of us.) We may shake for 1-5 minutes for the first few sessions, to see how the system responds and to get familiar with the experience and process. Then, we may expand to 10 minutes, 15 minutes, and even longer. Also, at first, we do it with just allowing and noticing, and perhaps feeling the sensations. Then, again as we get more familiar with it, we can bring something moderately stressful or traumatic to mind while trembling. And with time, even something more traumatic, as it feels comfortable. Always keeping in mind the comfort, checking to see if we are comfortable physically and emotionally, and taking a break if any discomfort feels a bit much.

With Living Inquiries, we may start with a boomerang instead of looking directly at the traumatic situation. Or we may start with something current for the first one or two sessions so the client gets familiar with the process, and then go back in time to earlier traumatic experiences. Some more experienced facilitators may also go directly to these without much warm up time.

During TRE, physical tension is gradually released out of the body, including chronic tension associated with – and fueling – trauma. There is usually no need to re-experience anything, although emotions or images may come up. Unfelt emotions come to be felt, sometimes with associated images.

In a Living Inquiry session, revisiting the trauma is made easier through looking at images, words, and sensations separately. That’s also where the healing is. We separate out the three, look at each one at a time, and perhaps ask some simple questions to easier see what’s actually there.

From the TRE perspective, we can say that revisiting trauma through talking about it often can be retraumatizing, and perhaps not so helpful. It’s easier and more effective to release the associated tension through the body, and then add the mind component later as needed.

Similarly, revisiting trauma by “looking at velcro”, which is what most talk therapies do, can be retraumatizing. Instead, in Living Inquiries, we separate out the images, words, and sensations making up the experience, and look at each one at a time, which is much gentler.

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Trauma and police brutality

 

There has been many stories of police brutality in the US recently, and it’s clearly a serious problem.

I can’t help wondering if it’s partly related to trauma. Many police officers have experienced trauma, either from specific instances or accumulated over time. And trauma leads people to act in a reactive way, from fear, sometimes with violence, and out of proportion with what seems appropriate to the situation. And that’s what we are seeing from the many reports of police officers abusing their power, using excessive force, and even killing unarmed people.

One remedy is to offer trauma education and healing modalities in the police departments across the US. I know this is partly done, although it often happens in a police culture that doesn’t take trauma seriously, so this may not be the whole solution but it can’t hurt.

One possibility is to make Tension & Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) mandatory once or twice a week, for even just half an hour. That would make a tangible difference, independent of how seriously they otherwise take trauma. With the support of current research on TRE and trauma, it may be possible to start this in one or a few sympathetic police departments, and it may then spread.

Another aspect of this is the militarization of the police, although I assume that’s more connected political and financial interests (including profits for those selling the equipment).

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Dark night and trauma

 

Following an awakening or opening phase, there may be another where “the lid is taken off” as Adyashanti says. A good amount of what is unquestioned, unloved, and unhealed in us comes to the surface, and we have little or no ability to set it aside or push it away.

It’s as if life wants to heal the human side of us, so we can become better vessels for the clarity, love, and awakening. The more we have questioned our unquestioned stories, the more we have found love for what’s unloved in us and our experience, and the more we have healed and matured as human beings, the better the clarity, love, and awakening can be expressed and lived through us.

For some, this may be more gentle and ongoing, and without dramatic “dark nights” of this type.

For some, it may be relatively short, or less intense. Perhaps if they already are quite healthy as a human being, and relatively free of what’s unloved and unhealed.

And for some, it can be quite dramatic, intense, and overwhelming. I seem to find myself in this category now.

Why is it more dramatic and intense in some cases? I suspect part of the answer is trauma. If there is more trauma – more that is unquestioned, unloved, and unhealed – this type of dark night may be more intense as well, and perhaps even last longer. There is simply more material to question, find love for, and heal.

The drawback then is that this phase may be more rocky, painful, and last longer, and it can impact ones life in many areas. The benefit is that there is an opportunity to learn a great deal through this process. And this may in turn even benefit others. There are plenty of examples of “wounded healers”.

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Here and now, and from the past

 

Velcro, identifications, and trauma are here and now, and from the past.

They are here and now, and cannot be found in the past or future. We cannot even find past, future or present outside of what’s created by images, words and sensations.

At the same time, velcro, identifications, and trauma were initially created and formed at some point in the past, often in early childhood. And it can be very helpful to look at that, question the painful stories, and find love for what was unloved. One way to find these early events is to ask when did you first have that thought?, or when do you remember first having that feeling?

It’s frequently said, and it seems to be true enough, that childhood trauma is behind a great deal of what we struggle with as adults.

So which one is it? Are these things here and now? Or found in the past? It’s both, as so often. It’s all happening here and now, and within that we can find painful stories of events from early in our life. And it’s important to look at these, and find some resolution and healing.

It’s also neither. At some point, it can be helpful to look for velcro, identifications, and trauma themselves. Can I find these outside of my images, words, and sensations that create an experience of these?

And unfindable doesn’t mean doesn’t exist or that they are not helpful stories or pointers in some situations. They can be, for instance, in finding healing.

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