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When The Child Within Needs Tending

By Helena Weaver.

These are challenging times. Today I was able to drop into meditation for the first time for a couple of weeks. I sat for a while, settling in, while my breathing slowed and deepened. Then I started to scan through my body and feel gently into the physical and emotional sensations within, gradually becoming more and more aware of how I felt in my body.

After a while I began to sense this layer deep down inside that felt shocked and frozen. A subtle, fizzy, tense feeling, capped by a floaty sensation. I understood then that I’ve been skating over this layer, distracted and disoriented by events of the last few weeks, feeling ungrounded at times without quite knowing why, other than that the times are extraordinary and shocking. But this inner frozenness also felt familiar – there came the knowing that this layer is always frozen to some degree.

Gently feeling into it, I began sensing that it holds the feelings of a young child – memories of Bahrain floated up – we were there between my 4th and 8th year. I began a gratitude meditation which had the effect of beginning to open the heart with love, which in turn began to unfreeze the freeze – which was scary for the frozen part as it had been freezing to protect itself from all the uncertainty and instability and all its fears of being unworthy and incapable of coping and holding itself. And a lot of sobbing began to happen that was a howling at times, coming up from deep in the heart and solar plexus, rocking the body. Back then, the parents used to have fights – there came memories of a scary one with things being thrown by him and me huddling with her. And the shouting, the shouting, the unpredictable explosions, the sudden way he’d burst into rooms and pace around them raging, complaining; his acid rain. All the endless dramas that fused them together consuming all their attention.

And remembering how that lonely young child growing up alongside these volatile, warring parents turned into herself, into her imaginary world, her secret garden and shut herself away inside herself, as we moved from country to country, Kuwait, Iraq, Bahrain, Turkey, Libya, here and there for a couple of years or so at a time, each move a loss of home, garden, friends, school, familiarity of local streets, and routines and habits of living, each new arrival a starting over that tested my adaptation skills and underdeveloped social skills past their capacity. I grew up introverted, shy, insecure, easily shocked, easily triggered, endemically wobbly. Actually, I’m not sure this little part of me grew up at all. It feels like she has always been in there somewhere, frozen, tucked away, hidden yet able to exert her influence through her anxiety, when triggered, and inhibit me.

Today, I realised for the first time, listening and feeling inside, how this external situation of Corona is mirroring this early past in the sense of being an echo of living choicelessly with a big, external cloud of dramatic, continual threat. Ah, yes. Those of us with early trauma know the reality of coping with unresolvable anxiety, with never feeling really fundamentally safe. But I hadn’t fully seen that this young part of me is so triggered by what is happening around her. That this is why I have periods, whole days sometimes, of feeling disconnected or floaty, or close to tears.

It makes sense now, though. I’ve been noticing the tendency to want to turn away and retreat and bury myself back in my magical garden. At times, I do need this, she needs to do this – and I let her. She loves to study languages, to play with words and sounds and the fun of working out what they mean – like code-breaking – so we’re learning Greek and French. This garden is protective and restorative, but not a place to vanish into all the time, (which is what she wants to do).

So today, it felt so good to meet this young part consciously and to listen to her, to receive her distress completely and validate her memories, acknowledge her fear. To gently embrace her in that fear, with acceptance and understanding, which made it easier for the fear to be fully felt without shame of it so that there could be release.

With that, she opened up, felt held by me, seen and even loved and some of the protective freeze dissolved. And then the gratitude meditation began to suffuse my whole system and the knowing came that we are all being held, all being loved without exception or question, just how we are in each moment, as we go through whatever we are experiencing, by something none of us can really name, whether we are aware of it, or not.

 

Blaming Each Other

By Colm Burgoyne.  

A guilt and sorrow arose in me regarding my own, and our collective contributions towards each other’s pain.

While inquiring into a dream I had, I saw memories of how my siblings and I unconsciously contributed to our parents’ pain and our parents unconsciously to ours. I could see an image of my mother in the bottom half of my body, in pain, while looking on in fear at her children getting into trouble. I observed my father’s figure around my head area, with a different kind of feel to his fear and pain than my mother’s. I looked, felt, cried, regretted and questioned.

While my process unfolded, it felt best to use open questions with myself, as it’s less rigid this way for me. I find that it grants my system a remarkable way of flowing, gently loosening my psyche up more to a multitude of depths and answers in a merciful way.

What keeps uncoiling for me as I see and question what I see, is that most, if not all of us, are in a loop of contributing towards the exchange of pain, just as we are also looping the exchange of love. In my mind’s imaginary, perfect world, it would prefer not to be contributing to, or reflecting back anyone’s pain. Neither is the idea of another reflecting mine back to me a jolly one. I have wondered at times “Is the unconscious infliction of pain from one to another some kind of profoundly sick joke from an insane existence to humanity? “Or is there a method to its/our seeming madness?” Oddly, yet not so oddly enough, I get a yes to the latter. My yes comes from experiencing that if it wasn’t for being triggered, I would have nothing reflecting the unconscious pain lurking underneath and ruling my actions. The loop then remains cemented in continuum for everyone to see but me, unless I look. This doesn’t mean however, that when the trigger is being pulled, I don’t curse the puller of the trigger for pulling it. I can and do do this at times. The Living Inquiries have taught me though, there is more to it than meets the conditioned eye of blaming.

This brings me to say that for some months now, I’ve been diving into my relationship as a man towards women and also their relationship towards me. I’ve been seeing the shame and pain that comes glued to my patterns around this exchange of messy humanness between us and how we all contribute. It has been a rollercoaster of both darkness and relief. It’s not surprising to me then, that the dream of my family pain happened. My brothers, sister and myself causing pain and hurt to each other, while blaming one another for starting it. As I look at my own personal journey with this, my looking has reflected that the similarities between the collective and personal are plain to see.

I wasn’t to know that when starting to use these Inquiries I would experientially become helplessly sensitive to the magnitude of sensation that arises from not only my personal pain, but also the generational and collective pain. This work can open you up to it all. And yes, in my experience, it can be a tough journey, yet also simultaneously wonderful. The Inquiries have negotiated a safe pathway towards the pain, where an intimacy with oneself opens in response to my moving towards it.

To read more about Colm Burgoyne, click here.

Waking Up In the Midst of Sleepless Nights (and PTSD)

By Lisa Meuser.  

Last night was the first night in a while where it was cool enough to keep my bedroom door open. Delight!

And!

It also led to me waking up quite a bit during the night. This led to experientially connecting with a question that came up in a recent gathering:

 

What can I do when waking up in the middle of the night?

Waking up in the middle of the night can happen for different reasons, and when that waking happens it can catch us in different states. Sometimes we just need to reposition the blanket, or simply roll over, and we fall back into sleep. Other times we find ourselves jolted awake, and/or restless and weary. Rarely do we care about the former, but the latter can make for some challenging nights, and exhausting days.

It’s the staying awake that bothers most of us.

 

What wakes us in the first place? 

Practically speaking it can be useful in exploring why we wake up in the first place.

I can’t imagine listing all the possible factors that lead us to waking, but I think naming some of them can be helpful. There are factors happening within us that contribute to our waking: the dreams we’re having, the state of our mind before going to bed, the state of our bodies, the level of stress or anxiety experienced during the day, the food we have eaten, our digestive systems, needing to use the bathroom…   And then there are all the miscellaneous external factors: pets, children, weather, house noises and so on.

Some of these factors are random, like the occasional thunderstorm or the extra helping of chili reeking havoc on the digestive system. Other factors are more systemic and seem to be directly related to stress.

 

Stress and Post Traumatic Stress (PTS[1])

We all know that stress can cause wakefulness as well as lead to insomnia. When I speak with people I often find that behind the scenes of their wakefulness is some kind of overt or covert stress.

Weather woke me last night, but it reminded me of a time when I was experiencing a lot of PTS and I frequently woke up in the middle of the night and had a hard time falling back to sleep because there was so much stress in my system. While waking up in the middle of the night may not be a big deal for you, I’m going to share my journey as it has a lot of practical application.

During that time, period I was literally my own science experiment as I was constantly trying new and different things. While waking up in the middle of the night was originally anxiety provoking and often terrifying, it wound up taking me on a journey where I discovered practices that changed my life and led me deeper into self-care and self-love. It was a life-altering process.

 

What did I do?

I did a lot.

I utilized different herbs, vitamins and minerals (along with simple rest/meditations) throughout the day to help balance out my system so that my body wasn’t in overload when I went to bed. I also took natural remedies before going to bed to specifically aid with sleep. I mention these things because stress and PTS is hard on the nervous system, and sometimes articles offering practical advice (diming lights/not using electronics at night, exercise during the day, aromatherapy, soothing music, etc) don’t include the nutritional needs of the nervous system.

Taking care of my nutritional needs often helped me obtain full nights of sleep, but I still sometimes found myself awake – uncomfortably awake. Simple breathing practices often helped but other times I would toss and turn desperate for sleep, not knowing how I’d make it without another decent night of sleep. That initial sense of desperation was a sign that my nervous system was already out of balance, which made it highly susceptible to even more distress.

Those middle of the night awakenings were often the most challenging part of having PTS. I dreaded finding myself awake in the middle of the night because of how triggered I might find myself. My deepest fears would often surface if I didn’t quickly fall back to sleep: being abandoned/rejected/isolated, being attacked by my abuser, and being power over-ed or unable to find my agency/resourcing to “fight back.” Few of these things made sense rationally, nor would arise during the day, but in the dark of the night my subconscious and unresolved trauma was often loud.

And I mean loud.

When my nervous system was in overwhelm, my mind would kick in and I would be overcome by irrational thoughts. I would re-live events and painful scenarios. I often felt deep fear or restlessness, literally feeling terrorized by my mind.

 

Thinking strategies and somatic fear

When our bodies are in a state of fear, imagined or real, resourcing goes to our reptilian brain – the parts of our brain that are connected to survival/staying alive – as opposed to the parts of the brain responsible for spaciousness, awareness and curiosity[2]. This would be great news if a tiger was chasing us (who needs to be calm and present while running for their lives?) but when this happens while lying in bed it can be a pretty unbearable experience.

We’re already a culture that mainly relies on the strategy of thought, but doing so without the benefits of creativity and spaciousness makes for a very distressed nervous system. Not feeling safe to connect with our stress-filled bodies, we think, think, think – and then we think some more. We’re literally convinced thinking will save us from the fear we’re experiencing because being present to a body that is overwhelmed seems out of the question.

 

The seeming impossible is actually the most sustainable option

With fear chemicals streaming through the body, feeling into that chemically invaded body seems like the least safe route. But unless there is actually a tiger chasing us, that’s really our ticket to freedom. We must learn how to feel. In order to do that, we must learn that it’s safe to feel, even when our minds are telling us that we are not safe.

As the fear chemicals flowed through me I knew I had to find a way to gently relate with my physiology before getting sucked into the thinking mind that was convincing me of horror stories.

 

Experimenting with somatic practices.

Somatic practices have been a part of my life for a very long time, but my circumstances motivated me to take my practices to another level. PTS disrupts feeling safe, and so a crucial part of my somatic journey was going very slow and being very gentle in finding a sense of safety in my being.

Learning the science behind what I was experiencing helped me understand that what I was experiencing was a trauma/PTS response. This helped me to understand that I was not in actual danger, but perceived danger which allowed me to feel safe enough to try new things – like slowly and gently staying with the physiological experiences I was having.

I learned how to get curious and be simple: I’d find my toes, my fingers, my pelvic floor, and/or whatever felt safe to connect with. I’d breathe. Each time I found myself awake I’d curiously connect with whatever felt safe to feel/attend to. If it felt right, I’d involve my breath, and breathe into parts of my body. If it felt too triggering to connect to my chest or core, I would just stay with feet, or fingers, or limbs. I’d cycle back from my spinning thoughts to my body over and over and over. I fell back to sleep hundreds of times doing this practice. It became easier and easier.

I spent a lot of time during the day and at night gently exploring sensations, noticing what felt safe and what didn’t feel safe. I did somatic-based inquiry during the day, and eventually during the night, to explore what was leading me to believe I wasn’t safe and to make meaning of this. I started to learn that I could have sensations that did not feel safe, while feeling safe to have them.

Each time I stayed with challenging sensations I learned that I was experiencing something temporary. Each time I lived through a difficult experience I learned that it was safe to stay with something that felt scary. Eventually I learned how to be present with all that was happening when I would go into a full PTS response in the middle of the night – the thoughts, the sensations and the memories.

I became more and more resourced, more and more able to have the ability to interject and interrupt the fear responses that were happening. I slowly developed a relationship with fear and the stories, instead of being consumed by them. This was huge for my nighttime waking and also huge in my trauma recovery.

Over time, I felt safe in my body, even during the most fear-ridden moments – even when my body was shaking uncontrollably, releasing trauma[3] . After living through so much, some part of me trusted that I would be ok. Eventually waking up no longer triggered dread, but instead offered an invitation to feel more deeply into the belly of the beast and into my earliest childhood trauma.

 

Life emerged in the terror

Some of my greatest healings happened in those dark moments. I fought my demons, my greatest childhood fears and terrors, and I survived. When I would find myself tossing and turning in my bed, desperate for sleep, not knowing how I’d make it without another decent night of sleep, I turned to my practices.

I remember a pivotal moment in my healing journey.

Although I was well into my healing journey, and the PTS was less, I still was having a lot of intense dreams that involved my abuser. One night, while still dreaming, I was able to consciously engage with my sleeping/dreaming self. I was able to remind my dreaming self that I could find refuge in my body, and was not victim to the stories and thoughts playing out in my mind. “This is not actually happening. You are safe to breathe the body that is here and now,” was the subtext. From then on, when I was awake in the middle of the night my body became my refuge from my spinning thought-filled mind. I was able to be present with myself even when I was experiencing a sense of child-like terror. After a while there was nothing too intense that I couldn’t be present with, and that increased sense of agency [4] and resourcing literally changed my life. I was able to truly face my most horrible childhood fears and trauma, and the PTS shifted dramatically after that.

As odd as it may sound, those sleepless nights led me to Wake Up to a different way of being. My thinking mind, which had once been the safest place for me to “go” because what I was feeling was so intense, was no longer that refuge. Thoughts no longer delivered relief or provided solutions and even in fear states I was able to recognize that thoughts would not save me. As that was seen through, my being became safe to reside in and with.

 

Embodiment is practical

Connecting with my body became the way I learned how to fall back to sleep (and go to sleep when I first go to bed), and generally speaking continues to be my “go to” when I wake up in the middle of the night. How that looks in action can be varied. Last night I woke to the wind blowing through the trees and as I melded my conscious attention with the sounds they lulled me back to sleep quickly and with ease.

Other times I might find myself unable to fall back into sleep.

Just a few nights prior I woke up and after trying my usual “connecting to breath and being” approach found myself still awake. I tried listening to the sounds of the nighttime creatures singing their symphony outside my window, and that didn’t lull me back to sleep either.

I considered reading as I find that this is a good option for me when I wake and it doesn’t seem that I’m going to fall back to sleep. If I can get over the fact that I may not have a full night of sleep and might be a little tired the next day, I often enjoy reading or writing in the quiet of the night. I have often found that giving my mind something to do, like reading, keeps the thinking part of me occupied so that other parts of my attention are free to connect my body. While part of my mind is engaging in words, other parts are connecting to my breath, pelvic floor, legs and feet. This is often very helpful in switching what feels like “head energy” into calm and present body energy.

I turned on my night lamp, but I noticed that I was too tired to read so I turned it off and tried again. After a few moments I discovered that my mind was even more awake, and while I may have been too tired to read, I was not too tired to think!

My “laundry list” of things to do was annoyingly popping into my attention like popcorn on the burner. I wrote them down so that my mind did not have to hold them (I have found this repeatedly helpful during the day and if I wake up at night). They continued to come but instead of resisting them I just let them be, and at the same time I kept bringing my attention to my breath, and my body.

I patiently and curiously returned to this cycle many times and was disconnected from it many times by thoughts. I just kept reconnecting. The rhythmic cycle of my breath eventually lulled me back to sleep, but it took a while. It is not that different than times during the day in which I find my attention caught in a mental whirlwind: over and over come back to breath, to body, to the here and now.

 

Night into Day into Life

I love that the nighttime wakings have shown me value and insight with regards to how to be in my day time wakings: curiously conscious and present to what is happening, as it’s happening. In fact, how I was able to make it through those PTS/stressful nights is quite similar as to how one might make it through PTS/stressful days.

I find the reminder to keep reconnecting extremely practical whether it’s during the nighttime or during the day. I get disconnected from my being a million times a day. The invitation is to re-connect, over and over and over. This builds a safe and relational way of existing and being present. Instead of trying to avoid or change my experience I am able to relate and be with my present experience directly as it is happening.

Whether it’s daytime or the middle of the night, I find it very useful to have the internal resourcing to identify what I enjoy, what makes me feel comfortable, and is soothing or/and safe. This requires that I have some self-awareness and that is a big part of the process!

In my nighttime healing journey I discovered a deeper sense of agency and self-connectedness allowing me to identify and turn towards what nourished me. I was then able to have the resourcing to, find fingers that felt safe, for example, or feet that felt safe. This was a crucial component of my healing and it continues to be an important aspect of self-care and self love.

This sense of agency and self connectedness shifted my world from being at the mercy of “out there”, and the thoughts and imagery that referred to an out there, to a deep sense of coming home “here.” I continue to come home to myself – to attend to and love myself – any time I feel a sense of disconnect. I am grateful.

 

Last notes on wakefulness practicality

There are so many more things I could write about with regards to waking up at night, but for now I’m going to list some tried and true strategies that I’ve used over time, many of which are self explanatory.

  • Watching TV or a movie. In some of my worst nights I put on a comedy that occupied me mentally so that my body could get a break from incessant thoughts.
  • Listening to music.
  • Listening to a recorded rest or mediation. I often guide myself through rests/meditations, but sometimes it’s just nice to let someone else do this. I have hundreds of recorded rests/meditations – feel free to email me.
  • Leading myself through a breathing or rest practice, or prayer.
  • Reading or journaling.
  • Changing positions in bed or changing sleep locations or clothing.
  • Getting up for a drink or a snack.
  • Doing something practical around the house.
  • Gentle yoga or stretching.
  • Cool water on the face or behind the neck.
  • Resetting the house temperature: making it cooler in my room makes it more enticing to snuggle under the covers, which often gets me back to sleep.
  • Changing something up in the room – opening or closing window/using noisemakers or light blocking blinds.
  • Not looking at the clock or phone until it’s clear that I’m not going to fall back to sleep. Keeping my eyes closed has been instrumental in getting back to sleep quickly.
  • Redirecting attention from what feels like “head energy” into that which grounds me. This may include bringing attention to lower parts of the body: into the feet, the legs, the pelvic floor, or the lower belly. It may involve grounding in something more energetic that is running through me/as me.
  • Connecting to an energetic presence or space that exists “around” me – that energy that seems to hold all that is, and is “greater” than me. This was helpful in a practical way when I had vertigo and would feel somewhat dizzy when I woke in the middle of the night. Instead of trying to get rid of the dizzy feeling I connected to something greater than me that was holding all of me. It was extremely powerful to rest in that energy while I was experiencing physical dis-ease.
  • Do some simple inquiry as it resonates for you. If you tend to make not sleeping a problem in and of itself you can try these inquiry questions: “Who is the one not able to sleep? Is there a threat in not sleeping?” If you feel equipped you can go into deeper inquiry questions with regards to what you’re experiencing. If you’d like specific assistance with this please send me an email.
  • Know when to get help. Nighttime is often when parts of our subconscious arise into conscious attention. Without training, practical experience or an ability to connect with a sense of safety it can be very hard for one to hold space for un-integrated experiences and trauma. Finding someone to help you journey through what is literally keeping you up at night can be invaluable on a variety of levels.
  • Use compassion and mindfulness to support the body as it may shake, twitch, tighten, hold, release and so on. Email me if you’d like support with this.

 

I’d love to hear about your own journeys with sleep, or if you’d like to hear something more on this topic please let me know! In the mean time, notice how your nighttime and your daytime adventures weave through each other in curious, mysterious, and relevant ways!

(For those of you waiting for part 2 of my Social Justice, Heart-Work, and Evolution  series, it’s coming!)

To read more about Lisa Meuser, click here.

[1] I used PTSD in the title because most people know what that is. I’m dropping the D, because I don’t think we always need to label our experiences based on the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). From here on out I use PTS, to refer to “posttraumatic stress”. For what it’s worth, my own experience was more akin to complex PTS, but for simplicity sake I simply used PTS in this writing.

[2] This is a basic explanation. For more information I recommend Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson to most of my clients and course participants.

[3] Although it can be unnerving to experience the body spontaneously shaking, it is normal for the body to shake when trauma is being released. If you’d like more information on how to support the body through this natural release mechanism please send me an email.

[4] By “agency” and “resourcing” I am referring to a source of support and wisdom that flows from within.

On Realising The Political Is Personal

By Fiona Robertson.  

We’re all familiar with the play of oppositional, fear-fuelled politics. Don’t elect them. They will damage you or threaten your lifestyle or your life in some way. Whether it’s the other political parties, other countries, a particular group, or a kind of people, the dynamic is the same: there’s them and there’s us and never the twain shall meet. In the early 1970s, feminists coined the phrase, “The personal is political.” I’d suggest that the reverse is also true: the political is personal.

Since I was young, I’ve sided with the underdog. I’ve worked and lived in disadvantaged, inner-city areas. I’ve expressed disdain for the one percent, the bankers, the flagrantly rich. As I looked with another facilitator, an underlying story became very apparent. I saw the words, “I have to be modest.” In addition to the words, there was a strong sensation and numerous images. Not only was there a self here who has to be modest, but also a command or instruction to be modest. I began to see how this played through in many areas of my life.

I don’t yet know how seeing through this story of having to be modest will play out. We look, and see what follows from the looking. There’s no prescription here. Whatever happens from now on, I’m no longer carrying that previously unconscious story of having to be modest, which was understandably triggered by images of people living in grand, distinctly immodest opulence. I no longer need to project it onto others; if it arises again, I’ll most likely be aware of it. If not, I can simply inquire further.

Wherever you sit in the political landscape, take a look at those you think of as them, whoever they are. Whoever you hate, passionately disagree with, campaign against, or shout at when you’re watching the news. Be it the political right, left or center, Muslims or Jews, black people or white people, refugees, feminists, paedophiles, the religious right, the religious of any shade, those in same-sex relationships, immigrants, Darwinists, homophobes—this isn’t about deciding who is right or wrong, but looking at how and where the political is personal.

Rest for a few moments, close your eyes, settle into your body, and take a couple of breaths. Then bring an image of them to mind and have a look at it. Simply look. Judgments about them may well arise. That’s okay. We can come to those later. For now, see the image there in your mind’s eye and see if it’s a threat or danger or attack—find the word that fits the best. Remember, this isn’t an intellectual or cognitive process; let your body give you the answer. If it responds in some way, it perceives a threat. However the response comes (as a sensation of tightness or contraction, a feeling of fear, some kind of emotion), let the response happen just as it’s happening. Take time to feel it. And then let the process unfold, looking at the words and images that arise, and feeling the sensations and feelings. See exactly where the threat lies, going by your body each time.

You may also notice that a self-identity arises in response to the perceived threat. You may notice words like “I’m under attack” or “They want to take something away from me” or “I’m inferior or superior to them.” Look for that self, too.

It may also be useful to use the Boomerang or Panorama Inquiries here. We use the Boomerang to inquire into one triggering person or situation and the Panorama for looking at more than one.

When we project qualities onto others, be they positive or negative, there’s nearly always a deficient self-identity in play. Again, rest and bring an image of them to mind. As you look at them, see what the image of them says about you and who you are. Who are you in relation to them? Ask the question and listen for the answer. Ask several times, as different answers may come each time. See which one resonates in your body most and continue looking for that self in the words, images, and body sensations and feelings that arise.

Using the Inquiries in this way helps to defuse the fear and sense of threat around any political issue. Even things that seem inherently real—global warming, refugee crises, financial crises, whatever you feel affected by or preoccupied with—can be inquired into in this way. Leave no stone unturned. To inquire isn’t to deny the existence of things or to arrive at a conclusion about them; it is simply to explore our experiences of them and to see where there are unexamined assumptions and beliefs operating.

When we’re looking in this way, we can let go of any notion of being politically, emotionally, or spiritually correct. The Inquiries allow us to be gut-level honest in any given moment. We may be shocked or embarrassed by what comes—that’s all part of the process. If there are places we dare not tread, we can look. What’s the worst that could happen if we look at these words or images, or feel these feelings?

When we take the time to disentangle the personal from the political, we often find there’s more clarity, flow, and spaciousness around our opinions. Perhaps we discover that the anger we’ve always felt toward the other side actually stems from an unconscious deficiency story. Or we find that we’ve aspired to be like our parents in order to gain their approval, side-lining our authentic selves in the process. Whatever we discover, we’re left free to hold whatever views make sense to us, minus the rigidity that comes from fear or deficiency.

This article is an extract from Fiona’s book, The Art of Finding Yourself. Find out more about Fiona and her work here.

Watch below as Fiona discusses this article with Richard Cox:

On Realising the Political is Personal. 
Fiona Robertson and podcast host Richard Cox (50 minutes)

Fiona Robertson comes back on the Deep State Consciousness podcast to talk about her essay On Realising the Political is Personal. Fiona and podcast host Richard Cox discuss how our political positions are inextricably linked to our core beliefs about life, both in terms of the positions we hold and the dogma or open mindedness with which we hold them. They go on to discuss how cultivating a relationship with a sense of self which is deeper than the opinions we hold can allow us to drop our addiction to certainty and engage with people in a more relational way. They ponder what the implications of this would or could be for our polarised political climate. What if we were all open to inquiring about all our political viewpoints?

Freedom Through The Edges

By Lisa Meuser.  

One moment Dave[1] was asking for a hug so he could tell me he loved me. A few moments later, after hugs and “I love you”s had been shared, the scene dramatically shifted. I was sitting on one side of the couch, my mom at the other. He was still standing – all 6 feet and 300 pounds of him – positioned in between us. All of a sudden, in a booming voice, he was calling me a “fucking cunt,” with some other minor insults thrown in for for good measure.  My mom, still sitting a few feet away, called out his name in “that tone” one uses to show overt disapproval.

Are you wondering what led him to have this outburst? Surely there must be a reason, right?

Those of us who participate in codependent or abusive relationships live with that inner narrative on a regular basis. Three common thoughts often occupy our attention:
“What did I do?”
“What should I have done differently?”
and “How could I have avoided that?”

I don’t feel obliged to tell you what happened for a few reasons.

1. In no sane reality is that kind of outburst/verbal attack appropriate.
2. I know it wasn’t about me or anything I did.
3. I know the context and the situation.
4. I know Dave. He suffers from rapid-fire bi-polar disorder[2], intense PTSD, and – on top of that – he has debilitating pain in his back and other areas of his body. He is like a walking landmine, and it only takes a small amount of pressure to set him off.

The short story was simply this: he was set off, and I was his target.

In the moments afterward, I immediately knew all four of those things. I knew I hadn’t instigated that response. I knew he was in immense mental and physical pain. I knew he was like a time tomb, and even he – to a certain extent – knew that he’d just done something really inappropriate. As he stormed up the stairs he continued to talk to us of his pain, offering various excuses and justifications for his outburst.

Back in the living room with my mom, the part of me that knew all those things was (surprisingly!) calm and present. I was conscious of how fucked up that exchange had been, but I didn’t take it personally. It was more like “Wow – life can really be toxic sometimes.” The television continued to play, and I continued to do what I’d been doing on my laptop. I felt present. Connected. Still. Safe.

Life went on as if it had never happened.

Except that it had happened. And it had made an impact. And that impact wanted to be acknowledged.

Little by little I started to review what had happened. Could I have done something differently? Should I have said something to him afterwards, and if so, what?  All these questions were trickling down to reflect this subtle narrative: How could I have been me, only better?

“How could I have been better?”

This is the kind of arrogance that codependents such as myself are raised with. It’s an innocent survival strategy – I coped with the dysfunction of my surroundings by thinking it was my fault. It was a way that I could have a sense of control within a life that felt really out of control and unsafe.

I quickly moved through that strategy and onto the next one.

It wasn’t me, it was him! What the actual fuck? I found myself fuming with righteousness, thoughts spinning to once again reveal an innocent survival strategy – trying to have control, even if it was all in my head. “This why I don’t spend much time at my mom’s house,” I said to myself.  “This kind of behavior is not okay. This is not the kind of energy I am willing to be around.

As I was fluctuating between inner stillness and inner chaos, Dave came back down the stairs. He came up from behind me, leaned over, and put his hand on my shoulder. “I didn’t mean to call you a fucking cunt,” he said. I took a deep breath. I knew he was trying to apologize, but I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to sweep it under the rug and I wasn’t willing to pretend it was okay. This wasn’t about blame. This was about honesty and integrity.

The truth is, I wasn’t willing to lie.

You see, I learned how to minimize my experiences (i.e. I learned how to lie) when I was very young. The old Lisa would have “risen to the occasion.”  With sincerity she would have smiled and hugged him and loved him. And as she was doing that, she would have been pushing another part of herself down into her psyche’s basement.  She would have been lying about the entirety of her experience, and wouldn’t have felt safe to do otherwise.

 

Forgiving without fully owning or acknowledging all aspects of a situation creates an inner split personality.

It’s a personality that gets love by being kind and forgiving and loving, even if it means getting stepped on, lied to, or manipulated. It’s a personality that can’t say no, choose herself first, or have healthy boundaries. That kind of personality stays in abusive and codependent relationships. That kind of personality minimizes violent or manipulative behaviors done by those intimate with her. She’s proficient at forgiving and loving others, but not so much herself. A sense of safety within is unfamiliar so she tries to get it from outside herself by altering who she is.

The current me did not rise to the occasion of pretending.

I did not minimize my discomfort and anger. I did not minimize the inappropriateness of his actions, even though I knew he wasn’t able to be any different. “I didn’t mean to call you a fucking cunt,” he said. “Please step back away from me,” was all I replied, with a calm but firm voice. Something felt unsafe, and I was safe to honor that. He straightened up, backed off, and immediately began to insult me again as he walked away. I understood. I understood for the both of us. We were both doing our best, even in our triggered states.

Unbeknownst to him, however, he was not merely mirroring the “him” from my childhood.

He was also mirroring a “him” from a past abusive relationship I’d been in, where my ex had repeatedly and cleverly redirected responsibility for his inappropriate responses and projected onto me. There was no accountability on his part – he was always dumping it onto me as the most skillful of gaslighters are apt to do.

But this was not my ex avoiding accountability.

This was Dave, who – for a variety of reasons – does not have the capacity or ability to manage the vastness of his pain. Holding him accountable for his outburst would be like holding a toddler accountable for his tantrum. But that didn’t mean there wasn’t an impact, and it didn’t mean I had to minimize that impact. So I didn’t. I was safe to be me.

My thoughts briefly reeled again.

That tricky bastard Doubt was sneaking in. “Was I making a big deal out of nothing?  Should I go apologize?” The old Lisa would have. She’d have thought, “Just move on, it’s not really that big of a deal.” This was the dissociation I grew up with. This was the strategy I used in dysfunctional relationships.  This was not the pattern I wanted to perpetuate anymore.

There arose an invitation to let it be as big as it felt.

Not in some kind of dramatic way, but by simply honoring what was arising. Something inside me told me I was processing old stuff that I hadn’t been able to process when I was younger. I didn’t need to confront my brother – I needed to be honest with what I was feeling, I needed to be with my internal landscape, and I needed to be true to me. So I was.

I slept well that night.

But the next morning I woke conflicted with regard to what it would mean for the future. Would I refuse to visit my mom again? I didn’t want to make her feel like she had to choose between us, and I didn’t want her to feel like I was abandoning her. I felt guilty prioritizing my own well-being because it meant potentially leaving her. I felt the pressure of all of this and started to cry, and the cries turned into sobs.

Then it hit me.

I suddenly realized that I was still grieving over how my mom had abandoned me and left me alone to deal with Dave while we were growing up. Moreover, I often took on the role of standing between the two of them, caretaking and assuming responsibilities I was unequipped for at that age. My mom hadn’t protected me from him then, she certainly couldn’t now, and I was finding myself in a delusion that I could some how protect her… and that it was my job to do so. I allowed myself to sob from deep within my being – grieving the mom that I never had, the protection and support that I needed but never received, and the inner conflict that I had known but didn’t have the resources to sort through. As the tears flowed, the torment and pressure released.

Something magical happened after the sobs quieted.

The holdings, tightenings and various grips in my body subsided.  All the problems that desperately needed to be figured out faded. The future worries that felt like burdens on my shoulders fell away. I spent the day feeling a sense of peace. I was still aware of some challenges that lay ahead, but there was no sense of the danger, urgency, or threat that had previously been there.

That evening there was a sense of calm back in the house.

I continued to look inward for any sense of conflict – for any need to create separation from my brother – and continuously came up empty.  The animosity towards him, the judgments towards myself, and the sense of being caught in the middle seemed to have shifted almost mysteriously. It’s hard to even put it into words, but it was as though working through that piece of childhood trauma opened up something in my system that was beyond both Dave and my abusive ex. It healed another layer of separation that had been between my being and god/Presence[3].

A chat between my daughter and me might help illustrate it.

She was watching me stare into space.

“Whatcha thinking about, Mama?”

“Oh….  I’m thinking about…the polarities of  ‘good’ and ‘bad’,” I replied honestly, kind of chuckling.

She wanted to know more.

“Something in me is studying… trying to know… something that lies within them…” my voice trailed off.

“Acceptance?” she asked.

“Acceptance… ahhh. Yes… but also… something else.” I sat and breathed, waiting for the word that was in the wings.

“Reconciliation,” I finally shared. “My system is looking to know reconciliation, not from my head, but from my being.”

I continued, “I think… that there is an invitation to live in the world, where we can acknowledge that there are such relative things as ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ and yet at the same time we can see and know ‘god’ in all of it, or maybe with all of it. Inclusion.”

We sat and breathed that in, no more words needed.

 

What does this conversation with my daughter have to do with the altercation with Dave? 

When I’m out of Presence – when I’m adhered to the mental realm and all the concepts and beliefs created there – I can’t help but prescribe to the duality and polarization of existence, and all the good/bad/right/wrong.  Through such a lens I can’t help but exclude much of the richness of life as I’m too busy defending my ideas of exclusion. How close to god am I, in such a state? How safe am I, truly, when I’m in such duality.

Living from a place of fear, not love, becomes the mainstay of existence when I try to make myself fit into various roles – good sister, good daughter, good person – and all that those roles entail.  In trying to live in accordance with self-imposed roles I innocently minimized what was arising in my experience, which kept me from being genuinely and authentically me. This pretending, based on the various polarities of “good” and bad” and the various concepts linked to them, cut me off from myself and from my knowing of god/Presence.

Working through yet another layer of pain body/trauma from my childhood, I inadvertently peeled back another layer of that (left brain) meaning making (the should, shouldn’ts, goods, bads, etc) – all which contributed to feeling separate from god/Presence. Not minimizing what I was experiencing meant I could be honest and authentic. I experienced presence, safety and peace as innocent byproducts of this authenticity, rather than as a result of my trying to “be good” or do what I “should.”

When aligned with Presence, there is no longer an investment in an absolute “good” or “bad.”

There is, instead, an honoring of the edges of what my human system is experiencing, within the experience itself – me interfacing with others and experiencing my humanity in the process, exactly as I experience it. From such a place, the need to make Dave (or myself) wrong falls away. I feel what I feel and, in honoring that, I connect with authenticity and Presence. Of course I can still make claims of “good” and “bad” and so on, but doing so from a place of Presence brings the experience of freedom instead of exclusion. Presence exists amidst it all – with no  requirement to choose sides, defend, or protect.

 

A couple days after “the incident,” my mom was leading mealtime prayer like she always does.

We were standing up and holding hands, and after she was done I requested that we pause and breathe together, hands still clasped. There we were, joined together. Breathing. I happened to be standing next to Dave. I could feel the two of us breathing as our hands were joined. Not having skipped over any part of my being a couple days earlier, I was fully available to be present in that moment. I said a few words while we continued to breathe. I acknowledged love, god, and our “perfect” humanity. I felt the bounty of humility. At different parts he and I chuckled, sighed, breathed, and nodded our heads together.

There was that reconciliation.

It’s a very different world to live in when I am not trying to minimize anything.

There is less fear, less anxiety, and less pressure. It isn’t always easy, though. Doubt arises, and a different kind of fear can come in as I move into unfamiliar territory of not pretending.

“Is it really safe to be me?” has been a question I’ve long asked myself. The answer used to be a resounding “No!” And while I still may get hints of “No” from time to time, they are short lived when I stay turned towards myself and am honest with what I am actually experiencing. From that place, I am safe to be the me that is arising in that moment – whoever she is in that moment – without minimizing.

This sense of safety is profound – physiologically, emotionally, and spiritually.

The nervous system is quieter, and less preoccupied with past or future. The right and left hemispheres of the brain are co-mingling as designed, instead of the left-brain dominating – as is often the case for most humans today. All of this sets the stage for the ability to be curious and aware, and in relationship with that which I am aware of.

Safety brings about immense freedom in a human being. Within this honest freedom to be authentically me, I feel intrinsically tuned into god/Presence. There is depth. There is width. There is space. There is the experience of unity, whilst acknowledging the vast array of flavors that exist within unity. And ultimately – maybe most importantly – there is permission to be fully human.

[1] Not real name of relative

[2] http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=education_brochures_bipolar_disorder_rapid_cycling

[3] That “force” or “knowing” which contains all, or exists “outside” of self.