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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?

In Need of Satsang Detox

By Scott Kiloby.  

One reason I moved into the area of addiction treatment at the Kiloby Center was to get away from the satsang circuit. In and of itself, the circuit doesn’t necessarily create a lot of harm. But I remember getting numerous calls, texts or emails from spiritual seekers who had just attended a weekend or week retreat with a teacher. They would say, “The retreat was wonderful – I truly found peace” or something like that. But by Tuesday or Wednesday of the next week, the emails, texts or calls would change. “I’m suffering again right now, what should I do?” I would say, “Investigate for yourself, using the tools you have learned. Awakening is truly an inside job. Going to satsang and expecting to wake up and be free of suffering once you enter back into your normal life is like going to a drug dealer and expecting that temporary high to last forever.” So many times the person would not investigate for themselves. Instead, they would schedule and attend the next satsang or the next three to come to town. Then the cycle would repeat, with the high or peace of satsang replaced by the usual suffering days or weeks later.

I have to admit that I am biased. I never attended satsang back in my seeking days. Sure, I watched a DVD or two of a spiritual teacher giving satsang. But once I extracted some really valuable tools, I put all of that down and began investigating on my own. This made all the difference. When I’m talking to spiritual seekers who are heavily into the satsang world, they often cite “transmission” as the reason they keep going back. The notion behind transmission is that there is some recognition that is transmitted from teacher to student during satsang. I won’t argue with that. Perhaps transmission does happen for some people. However, continuing to go back over and over and over so easily slips into the realm of addiction, treating the teacher kind of like a drug dealer who is doling out the good stuff. In many cases, it stops being about transmission. It becomes all about addictive seeking.

I am not waging a war against satsang. It has value. But I think it is important to point out that investigation using skillful means is of utmost important, to finally put to rest the seeking that leads one back again and again to satsang. Most good spiritual teachers would agree, even the ones who are doing satsang regularly.

At the Kiloby Center, we truly make no distinction between addiction to drugs or alcohol and addiction to spiritual seeking or satsang. They carry many of the same elements: wanting to avoid or escape the past or uncomfortable thoughts and feelings showing up in the present, continuing to go back to the “drug” even after recognizing the cycle of “high” followed by withdrawal, believing that there is something (a drug) or someone (a teacher) outside oneself that has the answers to life’s pain, and chasing certain states and experiences rather than letting all states and experiences come and go freely.

If you are a satsang teacher or someone who goes to a lot of satsang and this writing triggers you, there is probably something to examine. This writing comes with no ill will towards anyone. No trigger. My body is completely calm as I write this. This writing has more to do with feeling great compassion as I watch people look outside themselves repeatedly for what cannot be found outside oneself. I would say the same thing to either a drug dealer continuing to dole out drugs to addicted people and to the addicted people who are enslaved to those dealers. And I’m not saying that all teachers are drug dealers and all seekers are like addicts. This is mainly just a metaphor. There are great teachers out there who emphasize self-investigation. And there are seekers who do a lot of self-investigation. But, if you are triggered by this writing, chances are the shoe here does fit. So maybe take a look. Again, investigate for yourself.

This post is republished from the previous Living Inquiries website

Dialogue on the Living Inquiries – Everything You Want to Know about This Work

By Scott Kiloby.  


Q: Scott, eventually I want to get to some more controversial and depthful questions about your work. But let’s start off with some basics. What are the Living Inquiries?

Scott: They are a set of tools developed by me and other facilitators to help question the beliefs, stories and identifications that create suffering. They are designed to help us feel emotions and sensations directly in the body, without the layer of words and pictures (i.e., thoughts) stuck to those emotions and sensations. The Inquiries undo what I call “the Velcro Effect” which is the experience of thoughts being stuck to emotions or sensations. There are three main inquiries – The Unfindable Inquiry (UI), the Anxiety Inquiry (AI) and the Compulsion Inquiry (CI). I first developed the Unfindable Inquiry. The Compulsion Inquiry was later co-created by Colette Kelso and me. The Anxiety Inquiry was developed by Fiona Robertson mainly, with some help from me and Colette in the beginning. But virtually all of the facilitators, especially the Senior Facilitators, have helped in the ongoing development of this work. It’s truly a co-creation in every sense. For more information about the Inquiries, visit www.livinginquiries.com.


Q: Please explain how the Unfindable Inquiry works.

Scott: It works through the process of naming it and then finding it. You start by naming what it is you are looking for. For example, you might look for the self or a more specific version of the self like “the person who isn’t good enough.” Where is it? While resting as and looking from awareness, you bring words, pictures, emotions and sensations (elements) into awareness, examining each of them in isolation, one by one. For example, if you are looking for the person who isn’t good enough, you ask that question towards each element. Let’s say a memory in the form of a picture arises. You look at that picture and ask, “Is this picture me, the person who isn’t good enough?” Instead of answering with the mind, you take note of whether there is any emotion or sensation stuck (or “velcroed”) to the picture. If there is, you answer “yes.” If there isn’t, you answer “no.” If there is a yes, you slowly move to that emotion or sensation and ask the same question towards that emotion or sensation, while feeling it without the picture on it. “Is this emotion, by itself, me, the person who isn’t good enough?” If you are experiencing that emotion without any words or pictures on it, you generally answer “no, that isn’t me” and continue resting and letting the emotion be as it is. If there are any words or pictures stuck to that emotion, you answer “yes.”

Then you slowly move to each set of words and each picture, one by one, asking the question. As you move through the various words, pictures, emotions and sensations, you often begin to notice that you cannot find that person. In not finding it, there is a release or relaxation from identification with that story. The key is to stick with the looking, trying to find it wherever you look, at whatever arises. Another important key is slowing your experience down, truly examining everything in slow motion. Trying to move quickly through an inquiry can result in skipping over important elements that continue to create suffering (i.e., bypassing).

For a demonstration of the Unfindable Inquiry, watch these videos on YouTube:

(demonstration of me doing the UI on myself, looking for the Self) and

 

(here, I am facilitating someone else through the UI).

The video “Understanding the Living Inquiries Before You Inquire” is a good explanation, rather than a demonstration:

Perhaps the best source for understanding how the UI works is in my book, “The Unfindable Inquiry,” which will be released in 2016. If you don’t want to wait for that book to be released, the book, “Living Relationship,” which is available on amazon now, also contains thorough instructions: visit: www.amazon.com. (Note: this is a republished post, the book “Living Relationship” is no longer available via Amazon)


Q: The Compulsion and Anxiety Inquiries work in a similar way?

Scott: Yes, those inquiries are specific adaptations of the Unfindable Inquiry. With the Compulsion Inquiry, the object you are looking for is an urge, desire or command to do something compulsively. The CI can be used not only on addictions but on any compulsive movements e.g., the desire to change your experience or even the urge to be right. With the Anxiety Inquiry, the object you are looking for is the threat, danger or attack that underlies fear or anxiety. The CI and AI work the same way as the UI with the only difference being that you are looking for one of those specific objects, rather than looking for the self. Once you become adept at all three inquiries, you can begin weaving them together, which is very powerful.

Fiona has some great videos explaining how the AI works:

(Introduction to the Anxiety Inquiry) and

(self-facilitation using the AI). She and I are also writing a book on anxiety that will include specific instructions on the AI (to be released in 2016). (Note: this is a republished post, you can find Fiona’s book “The Art of Finding Yourself” by clicking here). The CI is not yet demonstrated in any video. However, my book, “Natural Rest for Addiction” contains specific instructions on it: visit www.amazon.com.


Q: How do you know what to look for with the UI – how to name it?

Scott: Trust your own experience. Who do you think you are? What identity feels really sticky, real or true – or creates suffering? Deficiency stories such as “I’m inadequate,” “I’m unlovable,” or “I’m unsafe” are popular targets for the UI. If you have difficulty naming what to look for, use the Boomerang or Panorama Inquiries (naming tools) to help. Explanations of these tools can be found in the upcoming book, “The Unfindable Inquiry” and also in the book, “Living Relationship.” Essentially, with these naming tools, you are asking what other people or things mirror back to you about who you are. For example, if my father triggers me, I might ask, “What identity is he mirroring back?” Perhaps the answer is, “I’m helpless.” Once I’ve named it, I can then use the UI on that identity. These naming tools work within the mirror of relationship and really help illuminate the root of the suffering. It looks like someone or something outside of myself is the source of the pain. But quite often, the other person is merely triggering a certain identity that is unconscious until I properly name it and then attempt to find it. The UI is not limited to looking for deficiency stories. You could look for anything, such as a table, a bad day, cancer or anything else.


Q: So, the point of these inquiries is to see the unfindability of whatever you are looking for?

Scott: Yes and no. The main purpose of the Inquiries is to allow us to bring into the light of awareness unconscious thoughts, feelings and sensations that create suffering and then to rest and allow them to be as they are. These thoughts, emotions and sensations often fall away naturally just from resting and looking at them. In this way, the Inquiries are providing a natural and deep acceptance of our entire experience. Transformation happens just from that resting, looking and allowing. It also happens through seeing the unfindability of whatever you are looking for. But if people make unfindability the main purpose, as if they are trying to reach an endpoint where they see something as unfindable, they may miss the delicious opportunity that the Inquiries truly provide, which is the experience of allowing everything to be as it is. Essentially, the Inquiries help us change our relationship to thoughts, emotions and sensations, so that we are no longer resisting, trying to change, fighting and/or avoiding whatever arises. Bypassing becomes virtually impossible once you become adept at this kind of inquiry.


Q: Do you suggest that people try the Inquiries on their own or work with a facilitator first?

Scott: Some will be able to read about the Inquiries or watch some videos and then be able to use them skillfully. But in most cases, I suggest people work with a facilitator first. A certified facilitator is trained to help a person spot the identities and other sources of suffering that are largely unconscious and then gently guide them properly through the Inquiries, so that there is no bypassing. Once you become adept at self-facilitating, doing the Inquiries on your own can be incredibly liberating. It’s like having a sword in your arsenal that cuts through suffering like a hot knife through butter. But the key is skillfulness. There are all sorts of pitfalls that people experience when they do not first learn how to properly use this method. This is why working with a facilitator first is so important. Facilitators can be found at www.livinginquiries.com.


Q: I know you did private work online for many years. Do you work with people in groups or one-on-one anymore?

Scott: I only work with clients at the Kiloby Center. It’s a full time job. I no longer work online or in person with people. But there are many, many very good facilitators available for online or in-person work. Occasionally I will do a retreat. But they are few and far between. I am doing weekly podcasts called RUF talks (note: this post is republished, the weekly podcasting has been stopped). They are free. You can listen to them here at www.kiloby.com.


Q: But why have a method? In the nondual community, teachings often say that liberation cannot be realized through a method and that methods often just create more seeking towards the future.

Scott: Some methods do that. But the Living Inquiries are designed to reveal the emptiness of that self that is seeking as well as the object or future state that is being sought. For example, if you really looked for the one who is “unenlightened” and you looked for whatever you are chasing (e.g., enlightenment) you would likely discover that these things are unfindable. You would see that there is no inherent self and no inherent enlightenment. This would relax the seeking and provide a deep rest as present moment awareness and a natural allowing of everything to come and go without identifying with whatever arises.


Q: At the risk of beating a dead horse, I want to stick with this point. All these teachings that shun methods can’t be wrong. Doesn’t the very idea of using a method create the idea of an endpoint that you are trying to reach?

Scott: I’ve already answered that above. But I do understand where your focus behind this question comes from, so I want to honor it. Allow me to elaborate. If someone uses the Inquiries to try and get somewhere (which some do in the beginning until they learn the true purpose of this work) they are missing a key component. They are missing the opportunity to examine the very identity of the seeker and the thing being sought. You can only continue seeking if the identity behind the seeking and the thing being sought are not examined. Again, the main point of the Inquiries is not to reach the point of unfindability. Somewhere along the way, you start to see that the point is to rest and look from and as awareness and let everything be as it is. That’s what enlightenment is really all about. The fact that you can also realize the unfindability of whatever you are looking for is like icing on the cake. The cake is the resting, looking and allowing. The inquiry questions are designed to bring about a more gentle, thorough and directed examination of the elements that make up suffering. They are not intended to make the process heady or overcomplicated. When done skillfully, the questions make looking much easier.


Q: But don’t those Inquiry questions just get in the way? Why not just rest and allow? Isn’t that enough?

Scott: Before the Inquiries were developed, I spoke a lot about the value of just resting and allowing. I still do, as resting and allowing lie at the heart of the Inquiries. The problem is that it just doesn’t go deep enough for many people. Many of us are not consciously feeling emotions and sensations directly as they arise. By directly, I mean feeling them directly in awareness without the veil of thought on them. The Inquiries are designed to help us feel into and rest with whatever arises in the body directly. Our default state is to focus on and identify with thinking. Many teachings focus too much on just watching thoughts or resting as awareness. They do not point people to how to be consciously in their bodies. This is a big miss because so much of our suffering arises in the body. We feel the past and the future in a very visceral way. If you check into your own experience, you will find that you identify with thought mainly when there is an emotion or sensation stuck to it. The stronger the emotion or sensation, the more you believe or identify with the thoughts. The Inquiries help to undo that Velcro between thoughts and the corresponding emotions and sensations. I have noticed that many people who have been involved with nondual teachings for decades are still suffering and seeking some future state, mainly because they haven’t yet developed the skill of truly allowing the emotions and sensations to arise and dissolve without thoughts on them. They wonder why they are still suffering so much and still seeking. But it isn’t rocket science. It’s just that a big part of their experience (the body) remains unconscious. The Inquiries help everything come into the light of awareness. No stone is left unturned. You cannot learn the Inquiries and use them skillfully and continue to suffer and seek.


Q: What do you mean by suffering? Are you saying that the Inquiries eradicate all emotional and psychological pain?

Scott: The trajectory of this work is the natural diminishment or elimination of emotional and psychological pain. But suffering is not the same as temporarily experiencing negative thoughts, emotions and sensations. Suffering means to carry identification over time – to identify with something, believe it, feel pain over it and continue identifying with it for hours, days, weeks, months or even years. Thoughts, emotions and sensations are natural, temporary arisings in our experience. This is not about trying to eradicate them through the force of personal will. It is not about trying to get somewhere, including to a future place where you feel no pain. It is about allowing every arising to be as it is and undoing the velcro that holds the arisings together. It is about seeing that what you perceive to be real and true and to be the source of your suffering is actually unfindable. It is about seeing that thoughts only stick around and make you suffer when you do not notice and fully, gently allow the emotion or sensation stuck to it. As you begin to see this more and more, in the midst of whatever is arising, suffering diminishes or even vanishes. But again, it’s not a seeking game. It’s a game of resting, allowing and asking a few skillful questions to truly face and resolve what makes you suffer.


Q: How deeply can one take the Inquiries? It seems as though someone could use them in only a surface-level way, dealing only with some painful thoughts and emotions. But couldn’t one also take them deeper than that, into seeing that everything is unfindable?

Scott: Yes, this work is influenced by (but different from) the Madhyamaka School of Buddhism, a rarely translated school. I first learned about the teaching of unfindability from my friend and teacher, Greg Goode. In this school, the point is to refute the notion that things exist inherently. Inherent existence makes us suffer because we are constantly misperceiving reality and the people, things and circumstances of our lives as being objective, fixed and permanent. If you take the Inquiries very deeply, you begin to see the emptiness of everything. This is incredibly liberating. If one does not want to take it that far, the Inquires can be used to simply deal with some pesky addictions or anxieties or deficiency stories that create suffering. It’s up to each individual to gauge how deeply he or she wants to go.


Q: Emptiness – a confusing term. In awareness teachings, emptiness is often considered to be the same as awareness. Is this what you mean, that life starts feeling like a big empty space?

Scott: No, even that big empty space is unfindable if you look for it using the UI. Emptiness here means that whatever object you were perceiving to be true, real, objective, fixed and permanent does not exist that way at all. Seeing the emptiness of a thing means that you cannot find it when you look for it. If you then come to rest in what feels like a big, open, empty space called awareness, you can look for that awareness and see that it too is empty and unfindable. This helps from landing on the notion that life is one big void (which can bring about nihilism or dogmatic thinking). The big void is as unfindable as the self or a threat or urge. All things are equally unfindable.


Q: If one takes the Inquiries that deeply, wouldn’t life start feeling meaningless? Everything would seem to be untrue and illusory right?

Scott: As I answer these questions, keep in mind that I am speaking from my own direct experience. I am not assuming that everyone comes to see things as I do. Meaningless only becomes a landing point when you refuse to look at it. Meaningless is unfindable also. Life is full of meaning. Every word I type has meaning. Every story we tell has meaning. The difference is that you see that nothing has inherent meaning. This “means” (see the irony?) that all the stories in life continue showing up but you are not identified with them. You are not grasping and clinging to them anymore. You can play in this world with all of its stories. Tell them. Listen to them. Enjoy them. Argue with them. But you also see the illusory nature of all these stories at the same time. It’s paradoxical. For example, if you looked for the self and didn’t find it, you would still refer to yourself as “Joe” including all the stories that pertain to Joe, but you would do so with a lightness and non-seriousness about it all. Life becomes joyful play, rather than the serious and heavy sense that everything you are thinking about a Joe and about everything else is objectively true and real.


Q: But how does this help the world’s problems? How does this end terrorism, for example?

Scott: It doesn’t, unless terrorists start to inquire into the inherent beliefs that propel them into violence. Inquiry is something you do for yourself. As Michael Jackson sang, start with “the man in the mirror.” You begin to change the world by changing your relationship to thoughts, emotions and sensations. With that investigation, you begin to see the world very differently. Until the terrorists and murderers of the world begin to inquire, we have to look at more conventional ways to address these problems. I’ll leave that to the politicians and I’ll vote for those politicians who are aware of the possibility that even their own beliefs are empty. Inquiry opens the door to more transparent, compassionate, loving and harmonized relationships. Right now, the world is largely involved in a lot of outward pointing. It’s always someone else’s fault. Something or someone else is seen to be the source of pain and suffering. Inquiry encourages us to go deeper into the triggers, beliefs and identifications behind all that outward pointing. It would be amazing to see two world leaders engaged in inquiry about each other or two dogmatic religious people inquiring into their beliefs. But inquiry is very threatening to our most precious beliefs. That fear alone stops many people from taking a deeper look.


Q: Relationships are so challenging, including the relationships between people and between groups, nations, religions and political parties. Is there any hope that we will all begin to investigate our perceptions more thoroughly to help harmonize these relationships?

Scott: We are far from that right now. You don’t see Inquiry on CNN. You don’t hear about it in presidential speeches or debates. You don’t often see couples who are mutually engaged in inquiry instead of reacting from the usual triggers. Part of it is education. Many people don’t even know about the possibility of inquiry. They heve never even heard the word “inquiry.” The more we speak about inquiry and the value of it and demonstrate its effectiveness in our own lives, the more other people will catch on to it. Freedom is very contagious.


Q: Couldn’t inquiry result in someone staying in an abusive relationship instead of taking action to leave or speak up more?

Scott: Not if it is done thoroughly and effectively. Most people find they are able to take clearer action after inquiring. For example, just looking for the “victim” can dissolve the victim identity. And that identity keeps many people in relationships that are harmful or destructive. Inquiring into one’s own suppressed voice or expression can bring about a greater ability to speak up in relationship.


Q: Do people experience a sort of nothingness about themselves after inquiring, such that self-love becomes irrelevant?

Scott: Quite the opposite. Speak to facilitators who have used the Inquiries on the deepest identifications. They will most likely tell you that there is much more self-love and compassion now. That’s another paradox. One might think that the result is just seeing no self or self as like an empty space. But in a very mysterious way, inquiry brings about a compassion, love and acceptance for how we show up in life in any given moment.


Q: How has Inquiry helped you personally?

Scott: The previous deficiency story that ran my life – I’m unlovable – is nowhere on the radar for me. It feels like a faint memory with no velcroed emotion or sensation with it. This allows me to experience more unconditional love towards myself and people with whom I am in relationship. I feel much more comfortable being whoever or whatever I am in any moment. Yet I cannot truly define what or who I am, which allows me to take myself and everything else much less seriously. It has also helped tremendously with trauma, anxiety and addiction. Addiction has virtually been wiped off the map for me. I still indulge in some pleasures, but I don’t feel shackled to them.


Q: What would you say to those readers who are reading your answers here, but who still feel reluctant to learn and use the Inquiries?

Scott: Just try it. What do you have to lose? Even if you have no money to work with a facilitator, there are plenty of free videos explaining how the process works, so that you can try it on your own. If it doesn’t work, you can abandon it. But it is very rare for someone to try it and find that it doesn’t help at all. Mostly what stops people from trying it is fear, close-mindedness or some idea that methods generally don’t work. Some people are just not ready for this work. They need to suffer more. But suffering has a way of leading people to what works. So they may eventually come to the Inquiries after a few more years of suffering. Any resistance one experiences towards this work can be examined through inquiry. For me, life is too short not to have a skillful way of examining the source of my suffering.


Q: Aren’t some people really stuck in their heads around spiritual concepts and not really experiencing what nondual teachings are truly pointing to? How can those people be helped with Inquiry?

Scott: Yes, we call this overcompensation. It is safer to cling to the concepts than to examine them. Overcompensation is a way of avoiding the deeper, more painful emotions and sensations in the body. It’s often a way of masking unresolved trauma. It’s always a question of readiness. Do you want to strengthen your ideas and your knowledge about spirituality or do you want to directly experience freedom? Do you want to continue bypassing and overcompensating or do you want to examine and resolve the pain underneath all of that? For me, the choice is very easy. I know that during times in which I was trying to understand all these spiritual concepts, I was bypassing. I was not ready to examine the deeper pain. But life has a way of showing us how we are not going deep enough. The suffering continues until we open the door to looking more skillfully. That’s when Inquiry can help a lot.


Q: Do you still inquire?

Scott: Much less than I used to. The less suffering there is, the less there is to examine through inquiry. And now I am experimenting at the Kiloby Center with new avenues of exploration, ways that incorporate the basic foundation of the Inquiries but add new elements, especially elements that address deeply rooted contractions and trauma in the body.


Q: What does Scott still need to examine? Is there any suffering left for you?

Scott: No, I don’t carry things over in time. Occasionally, a small trigger will arise, but it is usually seen very quickly, resolving itself on its own. When my mother passed, I felt tremendous waves of grief. But the inquiries helped to remain conscious of the deep pain. They allowed me to see that grief is really just love, disguised as pain. But there was certainly pain there. It resolved itself naturally but the grieving process had to be fully explored. The pain has not been carried over in time. When I think about my mother, I feel only love and compassion. In the last five years, I have focused more on some of the deeper contractions near my spine, remnants of earlier trauma from growing up gay and being bullied. But those have largely released. There is still some energy in small pockets near the spine. They are dissolving naturally through simple rest and occasional inquiry. It’s been quite an amazing process to watch, as previous deficiency stories, addictions and anxieties have fallen away, resulting in the deeper contractions and blocked energies coming into the light of awareness and slowly dissolving. Life is great! There is no end to the depth of freedom. It hasn’t always been easy. I have dealt with a lot of pain through the years. But I feel so blessed to have found this approach. I can’t imagine a life without it. This is why I’m so enthusiastic about this work. This is why I write and speak about it so much. I just want others to know that it is out there and that they don’t have to suffer anymore.

This post is republished from the previous Living Inquiries website

 

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.