Our inherent wisdom in scary situations

Adventure cat

When we moved to our tiny house about a month ago, our cat Merlina came with us. Our backyard is 15 hectares of semi-wilderness.

She has been in the countryside before and is always careful at first, but is more careful this time. Likely because there are smells and sounds of many wild animals here. These include Jaguarundis – cats related to cougars and cheetahs, porcupines, marsupials, and other species unfamiliar to her.

It makes sense to be cautious until she is more familiar with this place and its animals.

She spends a lot of time in the house sleeping, and also listening to and smelling what’s outside. When she goes out, she stays close to the house and expands out slowly in small widening circles. She also likes to go out with us since that makes her feel safer, and I like going out with her.

This is all very wise, and it’s a reminder of the wisdom we all have in us.

When in a new place, get to know the place. Take time. Don’t push yourself.

And when you go into scary places, or fear is triggered in you, take it easy. Here also, don’t push yourself. Go into it gently and for only short periods so it’s not overwhelming.

We humans, with our more complex mental constructions and tendency to make identities out of them, often do it differently. We may push aside the fear and pretend it’s not here. We may push ourselves into fear and feel overwhelmed and maybe even traumatized. Or we may get stuck in the safe zone without exploring and opening our world.

Animals remind us of our inherent wisdom, the wisdom that’s here when we are less distracted by our mental constructions.

This is very important in trauma work. If you are going to explore traumas, it makes sense to work with someone you trust, and someone who won’t push you. It makes sense to go slowly and gradually. It makes sense to go into it for short periods of time (seconds, minutes) and then retreat so you don’t get overwhelmed. It makes sense to work primarily with the body and not go into the stories around it so much. (At least, at first.)

Reduced capacity to set emotional issues aside in an awakening process and from exhaustion

When we have a reduced capacity to set aside emotional issues, they tend to naturally surface.

And that can happen in several different situations.

FATIGUE AND DYSREGULATION

I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS/ME), and this is far from regular tiredness. It’s a profound fatigue and dysregulation of the whole system.

When my system is extra fatigued, it’s no longer able to regulate very well. It has trouble regulating temperature (too hot, too cold), thoughts (difficult to think clearly and make decisions), emotions (more sensitive, reactive), and much more.

This includes difficulty regulating emotional issues. When my system has more resources, it can more easily set old emotional issues aside. (Although they will always color perception and actions.) And when it’s more fatigued, these old issues surface more easily.

That’s one reason I prefer to just go to bed when this happens and set aside any tasks or conversations for when my system functions a little better. (And often, I don’t have much choice. My system desperately needs that rest and anything else is automatically set aside.)

OUR NATURE RECOGNIZING ITSELF

When our nature recognizes itself, something similar can happen.

For a while, it takes itself to most fundamentally be this human self, a separate being in the world. Or, at least, it pretends to do this since others do it.

And then, the oneness we are recognizes itself. It shifts out of its temporary self-created trance.

And, as Adyashanity says, this can take the lid off a lot of things, including anything very human and unprocessed in us. What’s unprocessed comes to the surface to be seen, felt, loved, recognized as love, and recognized as having the same nature as we do.

I am not sure of the exact mechanism, but here is my best guess: It takes active regulation for the oneness we are to pretend – to itself and others – that it’s a separate being, something specific within its content of experience. When it recognizes its nature, it is no longer actively regulating, and that (sometimes) means it’s also not actively regulating old emotional issues. It’s no longer setting them aside, so they surface.

This doesn’t always happen. It can happen a while after oneness first recognized itself. (In my case, it happened several years into the process.) And when it happens, the oneness we are can react with confusion, feeling overwhelmed, fear, and much more.

It’s humbling, it can be very messy. And – as Evelyn Underhill said – it’s a very human process. And it’s not necessarily easy. In my case, it’s been the most challenging phase of my life by far.

And it’s also necessary. For the oneness we are to live from consciously recognizing itself, our human self needs to be a good vehicle. And that vehicle needs tune-up and cleaning. Any remaining emotional issues (beliefs, identifications, emotional issues, traumas) operate from separation consciousness, and they inevitably color our perception and life even if they don’t seem activated.

So they surface to be seen, felt, loved, and recognized as part of the oneness we are. They surface to join in with the awakening.

OTHER SITUATIONS WHERE OUR REGULATION FALTERS

There are other situations where our system has trouble setting aside emotional issues.

The most obvious is when strong emotional issues are triggered, and our mind identifies with what comes up. Here, we take on the perspective and identity of the issue and actively perceive and act as if we are that part of us. We may not even try to relate to it in a more intentional or mature way.

I suspect it also happens in some kinds of mental illness, and under influence of some kinds of drugs. (Sometimes this happens when drinking alcohol.)

CHALLENGES & GIFTS

There are challenges and gifts in our system being unable to set aside old emotional issues.

I imagine the challenges are familiar to most of us. It’s uncomfortable. It can feel overwhelming. We may get caught up in the struggle with what’s surfacing. And we may get caught up in what’s surfacing and view the world and act as if we are that hurt and confused part of us.

There are also gifts here. When these issues surface, we get to see them. It’s an invitation to see, feel, and find genuine love for what’s here. It’s an invitation to examine these confusing and hurting parts of us. It’s an invitation to get to know them. It’s an invitation to recognize that and how they operate from (painful) separation consciousness and unexamined and painful beliefs.

It’s an invitation to find healing for our relationship with them and to find healing for the issues themselves.

All of this is can seem obvious if we are familiar with it, but navigating it is often anything but easy. It takes skill, dedication, experience, and time.

It’s not something that’s done and dusted. It’s an ongoing process.

It’s part of being a human being.

It’s part of being oneness taking on the role of this human being in the world and living that life.

And it’s also where awakening and healing become one process. Where the two are revealed as aspects of the same seamless process.

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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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Who or what is unawake? Or has emotional issues?

Who or what is it that’s unawake or has emotional issues?

I find it most helpful to think of it as our parts. A part of me is unawake. A part of me has an emotional issue.

Sometimes, there is identification with this part, and then it seems like “I” as a global whole is unawake or has an emotional issue.

In a sense, that’s accurate since there is a kind of global identification with it and we perceive and live from that part of us. And it is more accurate to say that a part of us is like this, and there is a conscious identification with or as that part.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR HEALING AND AWAKENING

Seeing it this way is practical and helpful, in many ways.

It helps us dis-identify from these parts of us, and recognize them as parts and not (even close to) all of who or what we are. We can see them more as objects and relate to them more intentionally.

It reminds us that even if we have done a lot of healing, there are very likely parts of us still operating from confusion. We don’t know how many they are, or what many of these are. They will color our perception and life. And when they are triggered, we may get temporarily identified with them.

And it reminds us that even if there appears to be a kind of global awakening here, there are likely still many parts of us that are unawake. Any part of us that has something unresolved, and doesn’t recognize it’s nature, is unawake. Here too, we don’t know how many of these parts there are, and we often don’t know (yet) what they are. They will color our perception and life. And when they surface, we may get temporarily identified with them and perceive and act from and as them.

Recognizing this keeps us a bit more sober.

SAME DYNAMICS FOR AWAKENING AND HEALING

I have differentiated between unawake and emotional issues here, and they are really two names for the same.

The terms unawake, emotional issue, belief, identification, hangup, contraction, and trauma, are all names for the same dynamics.

That’s why psychological healing and awakening go hand-in-hand. They are part of the same process.

We heal from emotional issues, and we heal from separation consciousness. The same dynamics create emotional issues and separation consciousness. The same approaches can invite in healing for both.

And thorough healing from our emotional issues can only happen through awakening. It can only happen when we notice that our nature, as a whole, is the nature of our contracted parts, and when we invite these parts of us to find and rest in and as their own nature.

HAPPENING WITHIN AND AS WHAT WE ARE

It’s not wrong to say that this human self being unawake or having emotional issues. It’s how it appears to most people.

And it’s perhaps more accurate to say that parts of us are like that, and when there is a conscious identification with these parts, it appears as if we – as a whole – are like that.

We can also say that what we are is capacity for all of this, all of our experiences related to this human self and the wider world. And that we are the field all of it is happening within and as. We are what takes all these forms.

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Do I have to become somebody before becoming nobody?

You have to become somebody before you can become nobody.

I recently heard this again and thought I would say a few words about it.

As far as I understand, it means that we need to develop a healthy psyche before we can start exploring what we are and how to live from that.

Is it true? As usual, the answer may be yes, no, and it depends.

YES, SOMETIMES IT’S GOOD ADVICE

Yes, it’s generally good advice if you are unusually ungrounded, unable to take care of your life very well, are dealing with a lot of trauma, and so on. In these cases, taking care of this goes before most other considerations, including exploring what we are.

NO, IN MOST CASES IT DOESN’T NEED TO STOP YOU

No, in most cases you don’t have to wait. If you are normally unhealthy and dysfunctional, you can do both. Seek out approaches that invite in healing for you at a human level, and also helps you find what you are and live from that.

There are a lot of tools out there that does both, including different forms of inquiry (The Work, Living Inquiries), heart-centered approaches (tonglen, ho’oponopono, metta, prayer), body-centered approaches (yoga, taichi, chigong), training a more stable attention (good all-around), basic meditation (notice + allow), and more.

IT DEPENDS ON THE PERSON, SITUATION, INTENTION ETC.

And it depends. It depends on what you mean by somebody and nobody, the person, the situation, what you are interested in, and so on.

I assume by somebody, they mean a healthy and functioning human self. The operating system works reasonably and normally well. By nobody, they may mean finding what we are, which is what allows this somebody and all our other experiences.

Who we are happens within and as what we are, so finding what we are doesn’t at all exclude who we are. On the contrary, finding what we are can allow our human self in the world to function in a more authentic way, with more flow, and it often starts a process of a deep healing of our human self. That healing process can be challenging, which is why it’s typically easier and safer if we start out normally dysfunctionally healthy.

What can go wrong? Nothing is inherently wrong since whatever happens becomes part of our process. But there are some typical challenges that can happen if we explore what we are while our human self is unusually unstable or we are dealing with a lot of trauma.

If we have a lot of trauma in our system, and whether we know about this trauma or not, it can get released through meditation and other forms of spiritual practice. And this can be frightening, overwhelming, disorienting, and we may respond to it by creating new traumas. It’s important to work with a guide or instructor who is familiar with trauma work and signs of trauma, and knows how to help you deal with it. At the very least, the person needs to be aware of what may come up, the signs, of it, and who to send you to for further assistance.

We may also react to our pain by wanting transcendence, or by going into disassociation. We may want and hope that awakening will help us leave our human self and the pain we associate with being this human self. If this is the case, it’s good to address this early on. Finding what we are is not really about transcendence, it’s more about finding a different context for our human life.

And we cannot avoid whatever is unprocessed in our human self. It’s always there, it will always color our perception and life, we’ll always be in reaction to it one way or another, and it tends to surface on its own because it too wants release and healing.

In some cases, people may get fascinated by what they are – or the idea of what they are – to the exclusion of living and taking care of their life in the world. That happens with other things as well, including – I assume – stamp collecting. If this happens, it’s natural and to be expected if it’s relatively mild and not too long-lasting. And there may be a component of avoidance there, especially if it is extreme, and something to look at and find healing for.

In general, it’s good to focus on healing parallel with any focus on noticing and living from what we are. And it’s good to examine any beliefs we have about awakening and what we think we’ll get out of it.

Many who get into exploring what they are do so partly because they want to escape something. Again, there is a lot of potential for finding clarity around our painful beliefs here and finding healing for how we relate to our own discomfort and for the unhealed parts of us. The motivation is not wrong, it’s a pointer to something in us we can find healing for.

SUMMARY

So do we need to become somebody before becoming nobody?

In some cases, yes. If we are unusually unstable, have a lot of trauma, have a strong tendency to disassociation, and so on, it’s good to address this first. That’s true in general, even outside of this context.

In most cases, no. If we are just ordinarily unhealthy and dysfunctional, we can do both. Especially if we use tools and approaches that support healing, noticing what we are, and living from this noticing.

And as usual, it depends. It depends on who we are and what we are dealing with. It depends on the situation and what support we have. It depends on our motivation and what we are really seeking. If we just want some relief from discomfort, then healing may do the trick. If we are genuinely drawn to what we more fundamentally are, and also seek deeper and more thorough healing, then awakening is the ticket.

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Jeff Brown quote on trauma: finding its validity and the bigger picture

This is an unusual type of article for me. I don’t often examine a quote that doesn’t resonate with me so much. I nearly left this article unpublished, along with a few thousand other articles (!), but thought I would go against my habit and make it public!

At the very least, this article shows some of what goes through my mind when I see quotes that don’t immediately make sense to me or feel a bit off. I try to find the validity in it, and in what context it makes sense. And I also explore, to some extent, what it leaves out and the bigger picture.

Why I typically use quotes from just a few sources

There is a reason most of the quotes here are from a few sources – Byron Katie, Adyashanti, and a few mystics from the spiritual traditions. It’s because what most spiritual teachers say often feels a bit off to me. It doesn’t necessarily mean that what they say is actually off, it just means it doesn’t resonate with me, or there is something I don’t get. I typically don’t examine this in these articles but will make an exception in this case.

Jeff Brown quote on trauma

“Not all traumas were caused by mistakes that require a lesson to avoid repeating them. In fact, most serious traumas weren’t mistakes on the part of the victim. They weren’t events summoned by their unconscious or karma to teach them something they need to learn. They were victimizations. They were attacks. So, let’s stop telling trauma survivors they must learn a lesson from their experiences. That’s just another form of gaslighting. Sometimes, there is no lesson. Sometimes, the most they can do is heal. Let’s support that.” – Jeff Brown.

I don’t disagree, and I suspect this quote is in response to a very specific situation and makes more sense in the original context. That context is missing, although I can imagine what it may have been. Perhaps he talked with someone who was traumatized, and felt unseen and invalidated from people in their life saying “suck it up, it’s your karma” or “you made it happen because of something unresolved in yourself”. That would explain the quote.

In a more general sense, the quote isn’t quite as accurate. There is a bigger picture, which I imagine he may be well aware of.

Unhelpful responses to trauma

They weren’t events summoned by their unconscious or karma to teach them something they need to learn.” Obviously, blaming something on “karma” isn’t very helpful. Nor is a general “you made it happen” statement said at the wrong time or without much empathy or wisdom.

If someone says this, in that way, it’s often a way for them to protect themselves from feeling their own pain. They try to distance themselves from the pain the other person is experiencing since it reminds them of their own pain.

The other side of this is that sometimes, we put ourselves in harmful situations because of our own painful beliefs or past trauma. It doesn’t justify anyone harming us. But if it happens, it’s good for us to examine our own painful beliefs and identities, and unresolved old traumas.

Validating how people feel, and examining stories about victimization

They were victimizations.” Again, he may have said this in a very specific situation where someone needed to feel validated before they could take the next step and examine the victim/victimization stories.

There is also another side to this. The idea of victim and victimization is, in itself, often a part of the trauma. To heal, we typically need to see through those stories about ourselves.

A deeper healing also typically requires that we find and examine the victim-victimizer polarity in ourselves. A component of trauma is often that we keep victimizing ourselves, long after the original situation is gone.

Learning from trauma

“So, let’s stop telling trauma survivors they must learn a lesson from their experiences.” Again, I assume he is responding to a very specific situation where this makes sense.

In general, there is a great deal to learn from trauma.

We can learn…. about ourselves and how to find healing for trauma and emotional issues in general. To identify and examine our stressful stories. To work somatically, for instance through therapeutic tremoring. To have self-compassion. To meet our distress as a good and loving parent. To have a more loving internal dialog. To find a deeper honesty with ourselves and some others in our life. To find deeper empathy. To identify our priorities and reprioritize. To find meaning through helping others who have gone through something similar. And this can transform and benefit us for the rest of our life.

The sequence of working on trauma

There is a sequence of working on trauma that often works well.

First, validate what the person feels. None of it is wrong. It’s perfectly understandable considering what they experienced and their history.

Ask what they want and how we can be of most help to them. Respect what they want.

Be there with and for them. Be a witness. Hold a safe space for them. Allow them to feel and think whatever they are feeling and thinking.

Then, when they are ready, we can use more specific approaches.

Often, using certain emergency measures may be a good for allowing things to calm down a bit.

Heart-centered practices and gentle somatic work is also good early on in the process.

When they are ready, and if it seems appropriate, we may start examining their stories. Not so much through talking, but perhaps through examining the stories themselves through inquiry.

The Jeff Brown quote seems to address the first step here: validation. The quote seems to mostly be about validating what the person feels. It doesn’t address the other steps because it likely wasn’t the right time or place.

Exploring quotes and finding their validity

This quote is an example of something that makes sense in a very specific situation and leaves out much in the bigger picture.

And this post is an example of some of what goes through my mind when I see these quotes. I try to find how and in what situations it makes sense. And also explore a bit the bigger picture.

Most of the time, that happens in a flash. I don’t always take the time to go into detail as I have here.

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One type of dark night: Parts of us wanting to join the awakening

There are many dark nights we can go through in an awakening process, as it is in life in general.

One type that can happen in an awakening process is when parts of us want to join the awakening.

This is perhaps the one I am most familiar with so far.

The essence of dark nights

The essence of any dark night is perhaps that we struggle with what’s happening. That’s why it appears to us as a dark night. Some part of us doesn’t like it and struggle with it, and the mind identifies with this struggle and the painful stories behind it.

When we notice what we are, unawake parts of us come up to join the awakening

Awakening means to notice what we are. We find ourselves as capacity for the world, as what our experiences happen within and as.

Even if we notice what we are, and this noticing is relatively habitual, there will still be parts of us living in separation consciousness. We can call these beliefs, identifications, hangups, emotional issues, traumas etc.

When these surface, as they will – often triggered by life situations – they come with an invitation. In a sense, they ask us to help them join the awakening. They are like suffering beings wanting liberation from their suffering, and we are the ones who can help them align more consciously with awakening and oneness. (How we do this is less mysterious than it may sound, and I have written about that in other posts.)

Normally, these surface now and then with periods of more calm in between.

The dark night of parts of us wanting to join the awakening

And sometimes, these surface in great numbers and with a great deal of intensity.

This doesn’t happen for everyone, but it does happen in some cases.

And when it does, it can be one of the most challenging things we have ever experienced. It can feel completely overwhelming, unbearable, confusing, and disorienting. The intensity of it can, in itself, bring up a lot of fear in us. And we can feel very alone in it since others likely don’t understand. It’s also likely that we don’t understand, at least not for a while.

How to deal with it

How do we best deal with it?

I don’t have a magic formula.

In general, we can deal with it as we deal with anything.

We can inquire into stressful beliefs about it. (The Work of Byron Katie, Living Inquiries). We can dialog with what comes up. (Voice Dialog, Big Mind Process.)

We can use heart-centered practices to shift how we relate to what’s surfacing. (Tonglen, ho’oponopono, metta, inner smile.)

We can find ourselves as capacity for what’s surfacing and our human reactions to is. (Headless experiments, Big Mind process.)

We can notice that the true nature of what’s surfacing is the same as our own true nature.

We can bring our attention to the physical sensations, and set aside or focus less on the thoughts, and over time make this more of a habit.

We can work on whatever emotional issues surface, and in whatever way works best for us.

We can receive treatments that work for us, whether it’s massage, acupuncture, or something else.

We can spend time in nature. Take a bath. Spend time with good friends. Do physical activities. Do gardening. Spend time with animals.

And whatever else that helps.

Why does it happen for some and not others?

I am not sure why this happens for some and not others.

I suspect it may have to do with how much trauma we have in our system. If we have a lot, a lot may surface at once.

How long does it last?

Again, I don’t know. It’s very individual.

I suspect the typical pattern is for the intensity of what comes up to gradually lessen over time.

And for us to learn to navigate the process better. Over time, we learn to befriend what comes up and be less caught up in our fear response to it. And that makes the overall process a little easier.

Eventually, we may return to a more “normal” pattern of these unhealed parts of us coming up now and then and typically with less intensity.

When it happens outside of awakening

The metaphorical lid can be taken off outside of awakening as well.

It can happen as the result of any spiritual practice, which is why it’s important for spiritual teachers to be trauma-informed and let their students know about the possibility before they start.

And it can happen for other reasons than spiritual practice or awakening.

In my case

I have written about this other places so will just give a short summary here.

The initial awakening happened when I was sixteen, and I had about ten years in a honeymoon phase. Then, some years where I was more focused on community work and sustainability. Then, a period of a very clear no-self awakening. And then, a dark night that included what I have written about here.

Several things happened that’s a little on the side of this topic. (Serious illness, loss of marriage, house, money, belongings, etc.).

And, at some point, the metaphorical lid was taken off and a huge amount of survival fear and traumas surfaced. The most intense phase lasted for about nine months, followed by a gradual lessening over the next several years, with some very intense periods again.

I explored all the ways of dealing with it mentioned above, and more. All of them helped to some extent – in relating to what came up, finding healing for what came up, and generally getting to know it and the process.

In general, it seems that this is a process that lives its own life and has to run its course.

There may be a magic bullet out there that I haven’t found.

I also know that the “magic bullet” idea comes from not having found peace with what comes up. And it seems that one of the main invitations of this process is to find peace with what comes up, as it is.

Trauma-informed storytelling

I have watched Peaky Blinders and WandaVision recently, and they are both examples of trauma-informed storytelling.

Having some understanding of trauma, and telling stories reflecting how trauma plays itself out in real life, is not new. But I am wondering if there isn’t an upswing in trauma-informed storytelling these days, perhaps because there is a slightly better understanding of trauma in the mainstream.

In both these series, the main character(s) are severely traumatized, and they react to their own pain in a way that hurts other people. The stories show us the connection between what they went through, which was no fault of their own (war, multiple losses), and how they react to their pain in ways that hurt others (gang violence, making meat-puppets out of citizens in a rural town).

Hurt people hurt people. In a way, that’s the essence of how trauma plays itself out. And that’s what these stories show.

Instead of making the “bad” people into one-dimensional villains, they are shown as real people who hurt a lot and only know how to deal with it by hurting others.

This opens for empathy with people in this situation, and we can probably all find times in our own life where we hurt and reacted to in ways we are not proud of. And that obviously doesn’t make these actions OK. In real life, we still need to do what we can to prevent hurt people from hurting others.

This is multi-faceted and includes working at all levels to provide help for those who experience trauma, preventing trauma at collective and individual levels, and obviously preventing actions that cause harm.

More specifically, this includes… Trauma education for teachers, therapists, police, and people in other people-oriented professions. Good social safety nets and social justice since poverty and social injustice are major sources of trauma. Sustainability since ecological devastation is, directly or indirectly, another major source of trauma, and we’ll see more of it in the near future. And lowering the threshold for seeking out and finding help.

Another small piece of the puzzle is trauma-informed storytelling, as we see it in these two series. It’s one small step in the right direction.

Dark night of trauma

As Adyashanti says, when the mind and heart open, they also open to what’s unprocessed in us. When the mind and heart open during an awakening process, they also open to trauma and any emotional issues that are here.

Sometimes, this is a trickle. Other times, it’s as if the flood gates have opened. This can be called a dark night of the soul, although that expression can refer to many different things. I think of it as a dark night of trauma.

It’s not a bug in the system, it’s a feature.

The awakening requires that all parts of our human self awaken. And that means that the unawake parts – the trauma and emotional issues – come to the surface to be seen, felt, recognized as the divine, and align with reality and oneness. These parts of us also want to join in with the awakening.

This is also essential for embodiment, for living from the awakening more consistently in daily life. When a particular trauma or emotional issue is resolved in us, the situations that previously triggered this issue – this bubble of separation consciousness in us – are situations we now can respond to with more clarity and kindness, and from oneness.

Since most of us have innumerable bubbles of separation consciousness in us, I suspect this is an ongoing process.

We may arrive at a place where our new habit is to relate to these bubbles in us with more intention, kindness, and clarity, and invite them to unwind and join with the awakening. But bubbles may continue to come up.

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.

Trauma and awakening

These days, there seems to more awareness of the different connections between trauma and awakening.

There are people more experienced with this than me. But I have some experience in working with people with trauma and from exploring the connections between trauma and awakening in my own life, so I’ll say a few words about it here.

What are some types of trauma?

Trauma comes in different forms. Acute trauma is what most of us think of when we hear the word – from violence, catastrophes, war, loss. There is trauma from witnessing others experience and living with trauma. There is developmental trauma which comes from being in an ongoing challenging situation, often in childhood.

We can also expand the definition and say that any emotional issue is a form of trauma, and any belief and identification is a form of trauma. It comes from and – depending on how we relate to it – may create more trauma.

What is trauma?

It’s often explained as how our system deals with a scary and overwhelming experience we feel we cannot deal with. The basic elements of trauma are strong stressful beliefs and identities and corresponding muscle contractions (to hold the beliefs and identities in place). And trauma behavior span a wide range including anger, anxiety, hopelessness, and compulsions and addictions.

What role does trauma play before awakening?

Trauma can be part of our drive for healing and awakening. We may wish for healing and/or awakening to find relief from the pain of trauma. Whether we chose mainly a healing or awakening path, or a combination, depends on our inclinations and what we have available.

If we already are on an awakening path, it can be very helpful to include an emphasis on emotional healing.

If we are on an exclusive healing path and are happy with it, there is not really any need to include an emphasis on awakening. Although some of the tools for awakening can help deepen the healing, and glimpses and tastes of awakening can certainly help with the healing.

What about trauma following – or within – awakening?

Awakening involves an opening of our heart and mind – and even the body. And at some point, this can include an opening to whatever unprocessed emotional material is in us.

This often happens in smaller doses and over time. We have emotional issues triggered, are unable to ignore it as before, and have to find a way to relate to what comes up that’s healing in itself and allows what surfaces to find healing.

Sometimes – and perhaps especially if there is stronger trauma in the system – it happens in a more dramatic way. When this happens, it can feel confusing, overwhelming, and unbearable. (We can see this as a certain type of dark night in the awakening process.)

How do we deal with overwhelming trauma?

The best is to get help from someone experienced in working with trauma. Find someone you trust, are comfortable with, and respect where you are and don’t push you. If the person also understands awakening, then it’s even better.

The main guideline is patience, kindness, working with the body, and using nature.

I have written other articles on this topic so won’t go into it too much here.

How do healing and awakening go together?

Emotional healing helps living from the awakening. The fewer and lighter emotional issues, the less likely we are to be hijacked back into separation consciousness when they are triggered. (Although if it happens, it shows us what’s left in us to explore and find healing for.)

Awakening gives a new context for healing emotional issues. The healing can go deeper and the process may be a little easier.

What are some tools that invite in both healing and awakening?

There are several. Some of the ones I have found helpful – and that I keep mentioning here – are different forms of inquiry like The Work, Living Inquiries, and the Big Mind process. Tension and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE). Heart-centered practices like ho’oponopono, tonglen, and Metta. And energy work like Vortex Healing.

Note: As usual, take anything you read – anywhere – with a pinch of salt. It may be different for you.

Photo by Adrien Aletti on Unsplash

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Mind going to the past

If you keep going over the past, you’re going to end up with a thousand pasts and no future.

– Ricardo Morales in The Secret in their Eyes / El secreto de sus ojos

Yes, that’s true. If we get obsessed with the past and only repeat and fuel the stressful stories, we get stuck in the past. We get stuck in our stories about the past.

But there is a reason the mind goes to the past. It goes to traumatic or stressful events in order to seek resolution. It seeks healing. And it will keep going back until it finds it. There is nothing inherently wrong in it. It’s part of the healing process.

If the mind goes back to the past, and we use it to reinforce the painful stories, then the healing process goes no further. But if we relate to it with some kindness and skill, it can be an invaluable opportunity for healing.

Relate to the emotions and stories with kindness, as you would a child in pain. Acknowledge the pain that’s there. Feel the sensations of the emotional pain in the body. Allow it as it is. Find a gentle curiosity about the stressful stories. Listen to what those stories are. Write them down. Examine them. If you are gently, brutally, honest with yourself, are they true? What is more true?

One aspect of recovering from trauma: recognizing collective trauma

Here is a very brief point about healing from trauma, and specifically the trauma that’s passed on through generations or through society.

When we are caught up in the trauma, it’s not uncommon to feel like a victim and have a me vs them view. For instance, if trauma was passed on in our birth family, we may – secretly or openly – blame our parents. We see ourselves as victim of their behavior and hangups. (This trauma can be developmental trauma which comes from difficult ongoing dynamics in our childhood.)

A turning point in our healing process can be when we understand that our parents too were traumatized. The trauma has, most likely, been passed on through generations. And it may also be a common trauma in our culture shared by many families to different extent. They were traumatized, lived – or lives – from that trauma, and that traumatized us.

There is a shift from they did it to me to we are all in the same boat.

If anyone is a victim, it’s not just me it’s all of us. (And it’s good to question the idea of victim.)

This doesn’t excuse us from responsibility for our own actions. We are all responsible for our actions. But it does reframe how we understand the situation and – to the extent we take it in – this can be an important part of our own healing process.

This reframing supports our own healing, and it’s also often a product of our healing.

It can also be an indicator to see what’s left of our own healing process. Do I genuinely feel that we are all in the same boat? Or do I go into a me vs them view?

This goes for healing any emotional issue, not just obvious trauma. A part of the healing process is seeing that it’s passed on through generations and the culture. It’s not personal. (Although it appears personal to us when we are identified with it.)

What’s the purpose of trauma?

What’s the purpose of trauma?

There are several answers to this question, partly because meaning is something we create and add to life.

Creation & Maintenance of Trauma

What’s the purpose of the creation and maintenance of trauma?

At an individual level, the main purpose of trauma may be protection. The pain of trauma is an incentive to avoid situations similar to the one initially creating the trauma.

At a collective human level, it’s probably the same. Traumas serve a survival function for our species. When a situation is overwhelming and we feel we can’t cope with it, we create trauma and the pain of the trauma helps us avoid similar situations.

Healing from Trauma

What’s the purpose we find through healing from trauma?

At an individual level, we may get a lot out of exploring and finding healing for our traumas. We obviously learn from the process, we learn how to heal from trauma and perhaps emotional issues in general. We may find we are more mature and humanized. We may be more raw and honest with ourselves and others. We may find ourselves as more real, authentic, and perhaps in integrity. We may have reprioritized and found what’s genuinely important in our life. We may discover the universality of human life and that – even with our individual differences – we are all in the same boat. We may have found a different and more meaningful life path. Our life, in general, may be more meaningful to us. We may have found a deep, raw, and real fellowship with others on a healing path. We may have learned to be more vulnerable with ourselves and others. We may have discovered how the path of healing from traumas fuels, leads into, and perhaps is an integral part of an awakening path. We may discover the deep capacity for healing inherent in ourselves, humans, and life in general.

At a collective level, it’s similar only scaled up and with the extra illumination and richness that comes from the interactions of people with different backgrounds, viewpoints, and experiences. Collectively, we learn about and from healing from trauma. We realize the universality of it, and of our profound capacity for healing. We see that healing from trauma is something we do together and not just individually. We discover that much of what we thought were individual traumas are actually more universal and collective traumas. We discover that culture is not only what gives us much of what we love about human life, but the painful unquestioned assumptions inherent in our culture is what creates much if not most of our pain.

Bigger Picture

What’s the purpose of the experience of trauma in the bigger picture?

If we assume there is something like rebirth or reincarnation, then the experience of trauma provides food for our healing, maturing, and eventually awakening. It’s the One locally and temporarily taking itself to be a separate being going through a reincarnation process and through that healing, maturing, and eventually awakening to itself as the One. The One the adventure always happened within and as.

Traumas seems an important part of the dialectical evolutionary process of humanity as a species and – by extension – of Earth as a whole. The aspects mentioned above and much more go into this.

And it’s part of the play of life or the universe or the divine. It’s lila. It’s life exploring, expressing, and experiencing itself in always new ways. It’s part of the One temporarily and locally experiencing itself as separate.

Note

When I use the word trauma, I mean the traditional one-time-dramatic-event trauma, and perhaps, more importantly, the developmental trauma that most of have from growing up in slightly – or very – dysfunctional families, communities, and cultures.

In a wider sense, any emotional issue, any painful belief, any identification, is a form of trauma and comes from and creates trauma. It’s the trauma inherent in the One temporarily and locally taking itself to fundamentally be a separate being.

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Bessel van der Kolk: To overcome trauma you need to wake up your body again

To overcome trauma you need to wake up your body again. So that you can really take pleasure in the small things of life, and learn again to pay attention to yourself.

All over the world, except in [North-]America and Europe, are people singing and moving and dancing together in response to trauma, to re-establish a sense of harmony.

– Bessel van der Kolk, Cumulative Effect of Trauma from the Collective Trauma Summit

Trauma-informed daily life: not believing what the trauma tells me

There are many sides to living a more trauma-informed daily life.

A big one is to recognize when a traumatized part of me is triggered and comes alive, notice what it is telling me, and not (fully) be caught in it.

How do I recognize when trauma is triggered in me? For me, it’s often a combination of things. I may recognize that it’s the same trauma that has been triggered in the past, perhaps in similar situations. I may remember exploring and investigating it. I may see my reaction – defensiveness, hurt, anger, fear, reactivity – and recognize it as typical trauma-behavior. I may be told what’s going on by someone close to me.

The trauma always tells me something. It’s partly created and held in place by stressful stories that my mind and body, somewhere, holds as true. These stories are created as a way to protect this self, so there is inevitably rigidity, defensiveness, and a kind of obsession in these thoughts. And that’s how I recognize it when they are triggered. Do I feel, speak or act from reactivity or defensiveness? Do I hold onto a view as if my life depends on it? That’s a clear sign that this is the voice of trauma.

Sometimes, these are acute. When the trauma is triggered, its voice is different from my voice when I am more relaxed, balanced, and sane. I may say or do things that aren’t what I would say or do when the trauma is less or not activated. These are relatively easy to notice since I go a bit crazy. I am not quite myself.

Sometimes, they are more chronic. The trauma informs my long-lasting views, ways of speaking, and behavior. These are obviously harder for me to notice. Although they are often easy for others to spot, which is why it’s important to invite feedback from others and be open and receptive to it when it happens.

I noticed one of these in me earlier today. A Facebook friend wrote a dismissive post about people who want certain services to be public (transportation, kindergartens, nursing homes, etc.). I noticed I felt hurt and that my mind jumped into a metaphorical trench, ready to battle his position. I saw it as it happened, recognized it as trauma behavior (although it all happened internally in me), and allowed the internal storm to pass. I still don’t know exactly what trauma this is from but I plan to explore it in the next few days.

These traumas can be big or small, central or more peripheral to how we see ourselves and how we are in the world. Traumas are often developmental, formed over time as our response to an ongoing and difficult or overwhelming situation. Our system created the trauma to try to deal with it and in an attempt to protect us. Traumas are often inherited from our parents and sometimes the wider culture.

The more central the trauma, the more it colors our whole perception of ourselves and the world, our views, and our behavior and life. And the more difficult it may be to notice it since it’s the water we swim in and have swum in for a long time, often since childhood. And, as mentioned above, the more difficult it can be to recognize it.

Trauma also has a role in politics. Whenever we have rigid views on something, it’s often rooted in trauma. It’s the mind’s way to try to protect itself, based on something painful that happened in the past. I have an acquaintance who is deeply committed to holistic health and caring for nature, and yet is equally deeply against any ideas of climate change or ecological crisis, and she doesn’t miss any opportunity to let everyone know about it. To me, this looks like trauma behavior (it seems reactive, irrational, and almost a life-and-death matter). It’s not my place to mention it to her, but it’s my place to notice if and when I do something similar.

To end, here is a brief list of trauma-behavior signs I look for: Reactivity. Blame. Guilt. Defensiveness (defending a view or position). Dehumanizing others (or oneself). Inability to adapt views to new information. And sometimes acting out of character, or in ways that seem odd to others. (There may be other explanations for this.) Anger and sadness, if combined with the other signs, can also suggest trauma.

As always, this is all to be taken with a big grain of salt but it can be helpful as a general pointer or guideline.

The ancient roots of meditation, inquiry, and therapeutic tremoring

If you have no patience for mindfulness and you’re too fidgety to meditate, a new approach to tackling stress has just reached the UK’s most fashionable yoga mats — and it might be for you.

The Times, Too fidgety to meditate? Try TRE — the new tension-release technique

The article makes a very good point. TRE can be very helpful for people who are fidgety and wish to release tension. And it is relatively new as a formalized approach.

At the same time, therapeutic tremoring is ancient. It’s built into us and all mammals through evolution. It allowed our ancestors to survive by giving them a way to naturally and effortlessly release tension and trauma. It goes back far beyond humanity and to our pre/non-human ancestors.

Basic meditation is ancient too. If we take it as noticing and allowing what’s happening in our sense fields, it may be a part of life for most beings and may have been for most of our human and pre/non-human ancestors. In a more formalized form, it’s found in many ancient cultures.

To a lesser degree, this is true for inquiry. At least for humans, and to some degree, it’s natural to notice what the mind does and notice some basic dynamics and patterns. And this too was developed and formalized in some ancient cultures.

The basic approaches for us to heal and discover who and what we are ancient. They have ancient roots, sometimes stretching back to pre/non-human ancestors. They are, in their essence, simple. And they bring us back to simplicity, although it’s a more informed and mature simplicity.

To go back to the news article: presenting TRE as a relaxation technique for those who are unable or unwilling to sit still in conventional meditation practice is a good selling point. But it does misrepresent meditation and, to some extent, therapeutic tremoring.

Meditation isn’t really about relaxing. (The basic approach is designed to help us notice and discovering and finding ourselves as what we already are.) It may well bring up whatever we have put a lid on in ourselves, and it’s anything but relaxing when that comes up. And although TRE practitioners (like myself) are trained to go slow with clients, it can still bring up old buried emotional material. When it happens, it’s good since it’s part of a deeper healing process. But it’s not necessarily comfortable and it’s not relaxing.

When we embark on exploring meditation, therapeutic tremoring, or something similar, it’s good if we are aware of these possibilities, that we cannot really put the lid back on when it has gone off, and decide if we are committed to going through all of this. There may be no going back.

In the big picture, all of this is good. It’s part of our healing and awakening journey.

At the same time, if a meditation- or TRE-instructor wants to be responsible, they need to inform the students about this, and perhaps also do an evaluation for trauma and adapt their approach accordingly.

Of course, for some of us, it doesn’t seem a choice. We just seem to know we have to do it. It calls us.

Unknown: Trauma is the gateway

Cannabis isn’t a gateway drug. 
Alcohol isn’t a gateway drug. 
Nicotine isn’t a gateway drug. 
Caffeine isn’t a gateway drug.

Trauma is the gateway.
Childhood abuse is the gateway. 
Molestation is the gateway. 
Neglect is the gateway. 

Drug abuse, violent behavior, hypersexuality, and self-harm are often symptoms (not the cause) of much bigger issues.

And it almost always stems from a childhood filled with trauma, absent parents, and an abusive family.

But most people are too busy laughing at the homeless and drug addicts to realize your own children could be in their shoes in 15 years.

Communicate. 
Empathize. 
Rehabilitate.

— unknown, attributed to Russell Brand

This reflects the current understanding of addiction and compulsions and happens to be something I completely agree with. People with interest in the field know it but it has yet to fully filter into mainstream culture.

I’ll add a few words about trauma and addiction.

Trauma can be created from either ongoing situations (often family situations in childhood) or sudden events (accident, fire, war). Trauma can be serious or mild, and all-encompassing (engulfing our whole experience and life) or more isolated (triggered only in very specific situations). And trauma is something we all have. It’s part of the human experience.

When unhealed trauma is triggered, we may respond to the pain in it in a range of ways. We do something try to avoid the pain – or just the unpleasant feelings and thoughts – inherent in the trauma.

Trying to avoid the pain of trauma often becomes a habit. And that’s how compulsions and addictions are created. These compulsions and addictions can be what we conventionally view as serious or mild. And they come in the form of “inner” compulsions (reactivity, anger, depression, etc.) or “outer” compulsions (food, internet, sex, drugs, alcohol, etc.).

As I see it, these dynamics are variously called trauma, emotional wounds and issues, hangups, beliefs (The Work, inquiry), and identifications (spirituality). They are all created by the mind to keep us safe. They all come from the inherent care and love in how our minds function. They all made sense when they were created. And we can find healing for them.

How do we recognize trauma in ourselves or others? As I mentioned, it can take many forms. Generally, it’s a combination of seeking refuge in something and feeling we have to defend it. And it reflects past experiences more than the current situation.

Sometimes, we seek refuge in anger, grief, guilt, overactivity, or hopelessness. Sometimes in blame, judgment, dehumanization of oneself or others, polarized thinking, or finding safety in ideologies, religion, or spirituality. Sometimes, we seeking refuge in food, internet, TV, sex, drugs, or alcohol. And none of these are, in a real sense, a refuge.

Our only refuge is finding healing in how we relate to the trauma and perhaps healing and resolution for the trauma itself.

Image: By D B Young from London – Russell Brand London Revolution Protest, CC BY 2.0, Link

Trauma-informed relationships

A first date question: “How aware are you of your traumas & suppressed emotions and tell me about how you are actively working to heal them before you try to project that shit on me.”

Unknown (to me) source 

I love this question. 

In a mostly trauma-unaware relationship, one or both get trauma triggered, react on it, and may project whatever was triggered onto the other. It’s easily a vicious cycle. 

In a more trauma-aware relationship, both are aware of the typical signs of triggered trauma (reactivity, over-reaction, defensiveness, blame, going into stories and ideology, etc), recognize it when it happens in themselves or the other, are able to step back and put words on it, are willing and dedicated to resolving and finding healing for their own trauma, and support the other in finding healing for her or his own trauma. 

Of course, life is messy. It’s not always so clean and clear-cut. But if this is the general trend and orientation, the relationship can be very beautiful and serve as a source of deep healing for both. The general rule is to take care of your own shit, as the quote says, and give space for the other to take care of theirs. When it happens for me, I can acknowledge it and put words on it, and actively seek resolution and healing for it. When it happens for the other, I can notice, quietly support, and allow the other to notice for themselves and put words on it. (And sometimes, I may share how I experience it, how it impacts me.) 

I also find that in these type of relationships and interactions, the love can be more of a constant even as these traumas are triggered. I notice I love the other, I notice trauma triggered in myself or the other, and the noticing of the love can continue as a stream through it. Of course, that’s not always the case either, but that’s OK. That’s part of the process. The love is still there whether it’s noticed or not. 

Mindfulness for relaxation?

As the modern exploration of practices from various spiritual traditions matures, so does our awareness of the upsides and downsides of these practices, and useful precautions.

For instance, it’s a bit naive to promote mindfulness for relaxation. These practices were evolved for awakening, not relaxation. Relaxation may be an initial pleasant side-effect. But mindfulness practices are liable to eventually take the lid off unprocessed psychological material, and that can be surprising (if nobody told us), frightening, and overwhelming (especially if we don’t have guidance from someone familiar with the process).

This can happen early on, in rare cases even in our initial experience with meditation. And it’s reasonably likely to happen, to some extent and at some point, if we stick with a mindfulness practice over time. This depends a bit on what type of mindfulness practice we engage in, but it can happen with even the most watered-down versions.

So what are some precautions? Participants in mindfulness courses should be informed about what may happen. (“Mindfulness” here can mean yoga, tai chi, chi gong, and various types of meditation.) The instructor should be trained in recognizing it when it happens and either know how to help people through it or send the person to someone qualified to guide them through it. And if someone has a history of trauma, including developmental trauma, they need to know that it’s more likely to happen in their case, they should be encouraged to get help to heal from the trauma, and if they still want to continue with the mindfulness practice, to take it slowly.

Why does it tend to happen? One way to see it is that mindfulness (or awakening) practices aim at opening the mind to what we are, and that tends to also open the mind to whatever in us is not yet processed. Also, mindfulness tends to invite in a healing of the mind, and that includes meeting what in us is previously unmet. Awakening tends to go into unawakening when a wounded part of us is triggered, and bringing these to the surface gives them a chance to be healed. And an intrinsic part of the awakening path is embodiment, and embodiment – living from whatever clarity, kindness, and wisdom is here – can only take place to the extent we are healed psychologically.

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Trauma-related dark nights

Dark nights or challenging phases of a spiritual path come in many different forms.

What’s common is that life rubs up against our remaining identifications with some of our identities and beliefs. Often quite central ones, and sometimes previously un-noticed ones.

One type of these dark nights is the trauma-related dark nights. As Adyashanti says, the lid is taken off some of our remaining traumas. Our mind opens to the divine as all, or as the One, and that sometimes means it also opens to what’s unhealed in us.

Another side of this is that it happens so these parts of us can be met, seen, felt, loved, and healed to some extent. And that’s required so the awakening – whatever clarity is here – can be lived more fully in more situations in our everyday life.

As long as traumas are left, they’ll be triggered by life situations and we’ll tend to react to these traumas rather than responding from whatever clarity and love we have access to.

So there is love behind this dark night, as there is love behind any dark night. It comes with an invitation to clarify, heal, mature, and live more fully what’s realized so far.

It doesn’t mean it’s easy or painless. It often feels unbearable. It can seem like it will never end. Our minds may even tell itself that it has “lost” God or the awakening, or that something has gone terribly wrong. This may especially happen if we don’t have a guide who has gone through it on their own, or if we don’t have a community around us who understand what’s happening and support our process. And if we don’t, that becomes part of our process and comes with its own gifts.

As others have pointed out, it’s a very human process. It doesn’t feel “spiritual” at all. And it’s deeply humbling and, if we allow it, humanizing.

I am writing about this in a more general way here, but it comes from own experience. I have gone through this for the last ten years or so. First, there was an initial awakening or opening. Then, a honeymoon phase. Then, another form of awakening. And then health challenges and a trauma-related dark night (what some may call a dark night of the soul).

It has gradually become easier but I am still not quite out of the woods. Life wants more in me to be seen, felt, met, loved, explored, allowed, and perhaps healed. At the very least, there is an invitation for me to heal my relationship to it, and that’s as or more important than the healing of the issues themselves.

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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.

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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