The Scarlet Witch and how we relate to our trauma

I watched Doctor Strange in the multiverse of madness which is one of many trauma-informed stories in pop culture these days.

In it, Wanda experiences immense pain from losing the love of her life, her (imagined) children, and more. And she deals with it by reacting to this pain.

She goes into an obsessive pursuit of being with her children in a parallel universe, no matter what the cost is to herself and others, and without considering if the children of another Wanda would accept her. In her obsession, she is unable to consider and take in the real consequences of her strategy.

REACTING TO OUR PAIN

We all sometimes do this.

We go into reactivity to our pain.

And when we do, it always has an obsessive and compulsive quality.

We may compulsively do just about anything to distract ourselves from the pain, or try to find a resolution to the pain.

We may compulsively eat, work, have sex, or go into relationships. We may obsessively seek something spiritual and engage in spiritual practices. We may compulsively go into ideologies about politics, religion, or just general ideas about how life should be. We may go into blame, hatred, biotry. We may go into shame and self-loathing. We may go into depression or anxity. We may go into pursuing perfection. We may seek fame and success. We may hide from the world. And so on.

Whenever anything has a compulsive quality, it’s a good guess that it’s an attempt to escape pain.

This is not inherently wrong. It’s our mind creating this in an attempt to protect us. At the same time, it’s not the most skillful way of dealing with our pain, and it inevitably perpetuates the cycle of pain and creates more pain.

It doesn’t deal with the real issue so it’s not a real solution.

RELATING TO OUR PAIN MORE CONSCIOUSLY

Is there another option?

Yes, we can relate to our pain more consciously and with a bit more skill and insight.

We can learn to genuinely befriend our pain.

We can meet our pain with love. And this is often easier, at first, when we use a structured approach like metta, tonglen, or ho’oponopono.

We can feel the physical sensation aspect of the pain and rest in noticing and allowing it.

We can dialog with the part(s) of us experiencing the pain. We can listen to how it experiences itself and the world. We can ask what it needs to experience a deep resolution and relaxation. We can ask how we relate to it, and how it would like us to relate to it. We can ask what it would like from us. We can find the painful story it operates from, and help it examine this story and find what’s more genuinely true. (And often more peaceful.) We can find a way to work together more in partnership. And so on.

Through this, we may come to realize that the pain is here to help us, and even our reactivity to the pain is here to help us. It’s our psyche trying to help us. It comes from a wish to protect us, and it’s ultimately a form of love. And it often reflects a slightly immature way of dealing with pain. It’s the way a child deals with pain when they don’t have another option. And that’s no coincidence since these parts of us were often formed in childhood when we didn’t know about or have experience with other options.

We can also find our own nature – as capacity for the content of our experiences and what the world, to us, happens within and as. Notice that the nature of this suffering part of us is the same. (It happens within and as what we are.) Rest in that noticing. And invite the part of us to notice the same and rest in that noticing. This allows for a shift in how we relate to the suffering part of us, and it invites the part itself to untie some tight knots and reorganize.

MYTHOLOGY OF OUR TIME

Whether we like it or not, big Hollywood blockbusters are the mythology of our times – at least for large parts of the world.

So it’s wonderful to see that some of these stories are trauma-informed.

They help us notice patterns in ourselves, at least if we are receptive to it.

Yes, I am like Wanda. I sometimes go into reactivity to my pain and become compulsive about something. That can create even more pain for myself and others, and it doesn’t really resolve anything. And there is another way.

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Anakin & Judas

I see that Anakin Skywalker plays a central role in the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi series.

There is something beautiful in how Anakin is written The prequels show his journey from a gifted and innocent child and youth to someone who – through loss and trauma – descends into bitterness, resentment, and hatred. Darth Vader isn’t just a regular villain and evil character. He was the boy Anakin who later became Darth Vader through how he responded to his own loss and pain.

THE ARCHETYPES OF STAR WARS

The original Star Wars trilogy was explicitly written around archetypes, especially Luke’s hero’s journey, and that’s one reason it resonates so widely.

These archetypes mirror universal parts and dynamics in each of us in a clear and simple way that brings out their essence. We are fascinated by these stories because, somewhere in us, we want to better get to know these sides of ourselves.

WHERE DOES THE FASCINATION COME FROM?

We may be fascinated with archetype-rich stories for a couple of different reasons.

The fascination may be built into us through evolution. Fascination with archetype-rich stories helps us to get to know more about these universal human dynamics, and that gives us a survival advantage. It helps us relate to them more consciously when we meet them in the world or in ourselves.

We are also inherently whole, whether we notice it or not. Our mind seeks to bring this wholeness into consciousness. One way that happens is through a fascination with what appears as “other” while it’s in reality us. And archetype-rich stories are an especially good way for us to learn more about universal dynamics and how they may play out in our life and in ourselves.

A third reason, which rests on the two other, is that all (?) human cultures emphasize archetypal stories. We grow up with fairy tales, mythology, and other classic archetypal stories. This may even further encourage our inherent draw to these stories.

ANAKIN & JUDAS

I’ll focus on Anakin’s journey to Darth Vader here, and Darth Vader’s redemption, and leave out the other archetypal dynamics in Star Wars.

For me, Anakin is an example of how we sometimes respond to our pain in a way that hurts ourselves and others.

In the case of Anakin, he indulged in hurt, anger, and reactivity. And when this becomes extreme, some like to label it “evil”. (I don’t find it a useful label.)

Judas is a similar figure. He is an image of how we all sometimes react to our own hurt and pain by betraying our inherent kindness, clarity, and wisdom. Judas betrayed Jesus. We sometimes betray our own clarity and wisdom by how we react to our own pain.

And there is no lack of these types of figures from fiction and history. Sometimes, they are presented as just inherently evil. Other times, we are presented with a background story that presents their journey from a relatively healthy person to one who indulges in reactivity to their own pain.

ANAKIN SKYWALKER & DARTH VADER

Anakin’s story shows us what happens when we respond to our pain with reactivity, and specifically bitterness, victimhood, and so on. We all do this, sometimes and in typically less dramatic ways.

And Darth Vader is both an example of how it looks when we live from this, and that we always have an opportunity to turn it around. He turned it around at the very end of his life. He chose to meet his pain and respond to it differently, in a more honest and vulnerable way.

HOW WE RESPOND TO OUR PAIN

We can respond to our emotional pain in two general ways.

We can react to the pain. This can feel good at the moment. And it’s really a distraction from the pain, it tends to create more pain, and it also reinforces the habit of reacting to pain.

And we can befriend our pain, which invites healing for how I relate to it (reinforces a habit of befriending instead of reacting to) and it invites healing for the pain itself.

When we react to our pain, we seek to distract ourselves from the pain. And the best way to ensure distraction is to go into compulsions and a pattern of indulging. We can be compulsive about and indulge in just about anything: Work. Status. Perfection. Sex. Relationships. Entertainment. Food. Anger. Sadness. Ideologies. (Political ideologies, conspiracy theories, etc.) Spirituality. Awakening. Healing. Religion. Victimhood. Blame. Bigotry. And so on.

A MIRROR FOR OURSELVES

Anakin and Judas and a wide range of similar figures from fiction and history are a mirror for ourselves.

What stories do I have about each of these? What do I find when I turn that story back to myself? Can I find genuine examples of how and when it’s true?

How do I react to my own pain in a way that hurts myself and others? In what situations have I done it? Can I find specific examples?

How is it to befriend my pain instead of reacting to it? How is it to explore this when the pain is milder and I am in a supportive setting of exploring how to befriend it? How is it to support and deepen a new pattern in how I respond to my pain?

This is an ongoing process, and it’s important to have some compassion for ourselves in this exploration. Many of us are trained to react to our pain instead of befriending it, at least when it comes to some types of pain and in some situations. It’s often an ingrained pattern, and something we have learned from family and culture.

How is it to befriend any reactions in me when I notice I still sometimes react to my pain instead of befriending it?

SOME WAYS TO EXPLORE IT FOR OURSELVES

Most or all of the approaches I write about in these articles can be used to explore this for ourselves.

We can use tonglen, ho’oponopono, and forms of prayer to shift how we relate to this in ourselves and others. We can shift how we relate to our own pain, and what triggers our pain.

We can use inquiry to examine our beliefs about our own pain, and what triggers our pain, and find what’s more true for us. (The Work of Byron Katie.)

We can explore how our mind – largely through associating mental representations with sensations – creates its experience of all of this, including the identities we create around it. (Traditional Buddhist inquiry, Living Inquiries / Kiloby Inquiries.)

We can engage in dialog with these parts of ourselves. We can listen to what they have to say and how they experience the world and us. We can help them see things in a way more aligned with reality. We can learn to recognize them as parts and relate to them more consciously. And so on.

We can find our nature and what we are in our first-person experience. This helps us recognize all of this as coming and going and living its own life, and it’s not what we more fundamentally are. (Headless experiments, Big Mind process.)

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Ancient pain

A lot of the emotional pain we experience – in daily life or in a deep healing and awakening process – is ancient pain.

It’s ancient patterns of thoughts and beliefs that create emotional pain.

In what ways is it ancient?

It’s ancient in that it’s universally human. It’s what people from many times and cultures have experienced. (I imagine many other species experience this type of pain as well.)

It’s ancient in that much of it has an epigenetic component. It’s biologically passed on from our ancestors.

It’s ancient in that it’s passed on through the generations through belief and behavior patterns, from parents to children.

It’s ancient in that much of it is passed on through culture, through beliefs, norms, expectations, and so on.

It’s ancient in that much of it comes from very early on in our lives, sometimes even before we had language.

If reincarnation is correct, it’s ancient in that a good deal of it may go back many lifetimes.

Why is it helpful to notice this?

It can help us notice the different ways painful patterns of beliefs and behavior is passed on over time – into our life and beyond.

It can help us be aware of how we pass on these patterns, to our children and others in our life and perhaps even society, and counteract some of it.

It helps us see that we are not alone in this. It’s pretty much universal.

It helps us see that it’s not as personal as it may seem. It’s not just about me.

Bubbles of pain surfacing

At some point in a healing and/or awakening process, it’s as if the lid has been taken off the emotional pain that previously was safely tucked away. That happened for me some years ago, and the pain that surfaced was intense and felt overwhelming for quite a while.

The pain still comes up strongly at times, although there are more calm days and when it surfaces it tends to be less intense.

Today was one of those more painful days, and it was triggered by a situation that in itself was very minor.

I sometimes feel like a little kid when small situations are enough to trigger this deep pain in me. Although it’s also something to be grateful for since it’s surfacing to be met, felt, loved, and gently looked at, and why not have it surface based on a smaller situation. In my case, it often seems to be a disappointment and crushed expectations that are the trigger.

So how to relate to this emotional pain when it feels overwhelming? Here are some ways that are helpful to me:

Talk with a friend who can meet your experience with kindness without buying into the stories.

Sit with a friend who can hold space.  Sit in silence. Allow and feel the physical sensations of the emotional pain.

Eat some protein and nutrient rich food. Drink plenty of water.

Go for a walk. Use the body. Get fresh air. Spend time in nature.

Rest with the physical sensations. Notice if images or words come up, and rest with them if they do. Return to the physical sensations.

Notice any wish for the experience to be different. Find where you feel it in the body, and rest with and allow those sensations.

Identify and write down the painful stories connected to the emotional pain. Take these to inquiry. (The Work.)

Relate to yourself, the parts of you in pain, and the painful sensations, with kindness. Use ho’oponopono, tonglen, or something similar as a support.

Let the painful stories be true for now. Allow and feel the emotions surfacing.

Remind yourself about what’s happening. The pain is old and not about the current situation. The stories come from the pain and have only a very limited validity.

Ride out the pain. It’s a storm passing through. Look at the pain when it has subsided some and it’s easier to feel the sensations and explore the imaginations connected with it. With time, your capacity to do this will grow and you can do it while it’s more intense.

Treat yourself as you would treat a dear friend, child, or animal in pain. Treat yourself with that kindness.

Treat the pain as you would like to be treated when you are in pain. Meet it with presence, kindness, patience, respect.

Sometimes, like today, it’s often a combination of going for a walk, getting fresh air, eating a nutritious meal, talking with a friend, sitting with the feelings and sensations in silence with support of a friend, resting with the sensations on my own, identifying stories for inquiry, and also riding it out some.

It’s a humbling process. Apart from the healing that can come if I meet the pain with presence and patience, there is also a deepening sense of universality about this emotional pain. We are all in the same boat here. We all experience it at some point in our life.

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