Suffering = Pain x Resistance

One of the most healing balms we can apply in life is acceptance.  Its so hard to hear at times that we need to accept painful things that have happened, most especially abuse or the failure to be protected by those we thought ‘should have’.  However what has happened to us has happened and for some of us, perhaps, left deep scars or even a festering wound really as these kind of wounds have not yet formed scar tissues until a way along the journey.

I think at times we can compare our pain to an open wound.  We so suffer unconsciously from what happened to us that is not yet fully known yet leaves its bloody foot prints upon us.  This is where applying unconditional loving presence towards our hurting, painful or contracted places can help.

Christine Neff talks alot about the equation that heads this blog in her book on Self Compassion in the chapter on resilience.  What she says, and what many Buddhist teachers teach, is that it is really our resistance to our pain or things we wish did not nor did not want to happen that causes us even more suffering in the long run.  I know for myself when things don’t go well or I hit a brick wall my immediate response is to try to find a way to more through it or react, that is when I need to pause and bring my energy back deep within in order to move it in a more helpful non resistant direction.   I do this a lot on the road when driving and getting stuck behind a very slow moving car.  I pull back and slow myself even more in this situation.   But I can also see situations in which I did not do this in my personal life and my not accepting and fighting against the certain thing I didn’t like I made things far harder for myself.  That said there is a time to fight for things that are within our power to change when it would be for our own or another person’s good.

We are in the long run human and our reptilian brain does cause us to react.  Christine explains in her book how we are hard wired to escape pain and predators as mammals, those defensive reactions served us well in the past but if we are reacting to being retriggered in the present all the time such responses become counter productive.  In PTSD and Complex PTSD we can get frozen in those responses.

Key to understanding how and why we resist and react is the concept of experiencing emotional flashbacks or what John Lee has called age or emotional regresssion.  I am the midst of writing a post on this concept.   When we age regresss or flash back we are no longer in present time and we often do not recognise it.  We can say things that were better not said, we can get frozen in time.  We can start to try to fix or give unwarranted advice.

I am just reading a book which deals with the concept of being hijacked by what the author calls our ‘toddler brain’ this occurs when we are age regressed and triggered by some kind of cue, perhaps the harsh tone of somone’s voice or undeserved criticism.

When we are in age regression or hijacked by the toddler brain we cannot respond well and with empathy.  We may not see the truth of a situation.  We may lash out.  We may sever friendships.   Getting ourselves back in adult brain takes work for those of us who had difficult or traumatising childhoods that left us with deep attachment wounds.

When we can open to a difficult reaction in the present moment with our full awareness (one of the skills we learn when practicing mindfulness); we can be less reactive.  We can practice self soothing.  The adult part of us can turn toward the inner child and comfort him or her, we can take ourselves into time out in order to have that inner dialogue.  We can also set boundaries with our wounded self in order to take care of him or her and not react.

Christine makes the point in her book that we are more hardwired to remember negative experiences than positive ones.  I guess this is one of the ‘pinning’ aspects of trauma I spoke of in a recent post.  When we are pinned to the negative sticking place we see only threat, we may be flooded emotionally or physically with a panic attack.  In my own case when this happens now I remember to work to take a few deep breaths into my belly because when I pay attention to my body I realise what has happened is that I have frozen my body or stopped breathing something I had to do when trapped in the car waiting to be cut out all those years ago, something I also used to do a lot when my Mum’s energy was upsetting or troubling me.   I have then learned to shift my focus and my attention to something beautiful in the surrounding environment.  I will have to deal it time with things that call me stress and anguish but being mindful in the present moment means I don’t have to ‘blow them up.’

Stopping the running of negative dialogues and scripts is also a part of this process. Often when stressed or panicking if I pay attention to my inner dialogue its all about resistance, saying things to myself like “this is all too hard, all too much. shouldnt be happening” or feeling and telling myself I cannot cope.  Sometimes in order to feel better all I have to do is place my attention on a task in hand that is right before me and start with that one little step instead of looking at the big picture and totally freaking out.

Doing something loving for our body is another way we can draw attention away from pain when we pinned in place and increase the flow of good chemicals such as oxytocin inside.  For example when I woke this morning and push pull symptoms of PTSD began I reached for some hand cream beside the bed and gently applied it to my arms and hands.  This soothing action took me into a gentle, loving, peaceful place.

Decreasing our resistance and lessening our suffering is also about opening to body sensations that may have come from our compulsive need to resist that formed over long years if we were not taught as children to engage in a positive way with challenging emotions.  Burying them inside us is not helpul.  For myself I know how my body has suffered from the chronic tightening that goes with repressed or denied anger I was not allowed or helped to express.  Today I sometimes deliberately tighten my muscles or limbs as an excercise to help them release stress and relax and I find this exercise helps me., but this exercise is totally different to a lifetime in which we had to bite down hard on difficult emotions and experiences.

All in all there are many things we can do to deal mindfully with our pain so that it doesn’t have to turn into deeper suffering.  Self compassion, mindfulness and learning to work with painful sensations, thoughts and emotions are all ways we can apply the soothing, healing balm to our wounded, contracted, hurting or fearful places.

 

Core trauma and core sentences : addressing carried ancestral or parental trauma and pain.

Many of us have core thoughts or beliefs, often fuelled by past pain, losses, trauma or fear which run over and over like an ongoing monologue either at the level or just below the level of consciousness.  We may not be fully aware of them.  We may not be fully aware of where they come from.  Not knowing our parents or grand parents or great grand parent’s history (about which they often remained silent) we may not realise that they actually relate back to something – a loss, trauma, illness or injury that happened in past generations.  They may then fuel our lives in painful ways causing much havoc.

This blog is a continuation of earlier ones I wrote last week on the subject of ancestral healing  Its something I became aware of in my own life through intuition as I learned more about past traumas on my mothers’s side of the family after I got sober in 1993.  I was aware when I began to attend Al Anon after many years in AA that my addiction was a family inheritance, something passed down in some way.  It wasn’t until I was given access by chance to information about my great great grandfather’s history of addiction, loss, grief and eventual abandonment that I began to join up some of the dots.  That is why I was so excited to finally read Mark Wolynn’s book on ancestral pain and healing It Didn’t Start With You last week.  

In an early chapter of his book, Mark tells the story of a young (19 year old man) called Jesse who at that age suddenly began to experience panic attacks which involved his body feeling covered with cold and shaking.  On exploring the family history Mark found out that Jesse had an uncle who died at the age of 19 after falling down face first in the snow.  Jesse at the same age of his uncle’s trauma was re-experiencing the symptoms and emotional as well as physical pain of his uncle. Once the connection to his ancestor’s pain was acknowledged and healing work was done to make a separation Jesse’s symptoms and panic attacks subsided.

The second story Mark tells of a woman who began to feel suicidal at a certain age.  She would be overcome with the worst depression and say to herself “I just want to incinerate myself”.  Turns out a host of her relatives had actually been gassed in the gas chambers by the Nazi’s during World War II.   The family history was hidden and never spoken of but this woman carried the painful feelings of longing to die which hit around the age some of her relatives were killed.

There are too many other powerful stories of healing in Mark’s book to relate in this one post and I have a limit tonight on what I can transcribe.  What I would like to address is that so often pain we carry may not only be ours.   It may have roots in childhood but often the childhood relates in some way to the past of a parent or grandparent that was transferred.  According to Mark if the there is a murder or other legacy of guilt in a family a later member may be urged to attone for that guilt or murder.

What is required to free ourselves from such unconscious repetition compulsions and carried ancestral trauma bonds is the ability to honour the ancestor’s pain and give the guilt or grief back to whom it belongs.   To this end Mark suggests the following ways of handing back and releasing ourselves from ancestral pain so we no longer need to carry on the unhappiness, grief or guilt that didnt start with us.

Visualise the family member or members involved in the (traumatic) event.  Tell them : “You are important.  I will do something meaningful to honor you.  I will make something good come out of this tragedy.  I will live my life as fully as I can, knowing that this is what you want for me.”

Construct a personal language or healing sentences to counteract the destructive power of damaging ones.  In this language acknowledge the unique connection you share with the person or people.

In addition you can use the following healing sentences :

“Instead of reliving what happened to you, I promise to live my life fully.”

“What happened to you won’t be in vain.”

“I will use what happened as a source of strength.”

“I will honor the life you gave me by doing something good with it.”

“I will do something meaningful and dedicate it to you.”

“I will not leave you out of my heart.”

“I’ll light a candle for you.”

“I’ll live my life in a loving way.”

“I will make something good come out of this tragedy.”

“Now I understand.  It helps me to understand.”

Mark give additional practices in the next part of the book which involve keeping a photo and working to return guilt or pain to its original source. Lighting candles to honor the journey of our ancestors,  Visualising and creating boundaries and distance between the ancestor’s or parent’s pain and keeping that boundary clear and clean while honoring their loss, pain or trauma.

Additional practices involve connecting with our own bodies to honour our integrity and self as we learn to achieve a psychic wholeness and deepening connection within.  I shared one of these in an earlier post today.  The involve putting a hand on our body, breathing deeply while saying the following :

“I’ve got you.”

“I’m here.”

“I’ll hold you.”

“I’ll breathe with you.”

“I’ll comfort you.”

“Whenever you’re feeling scared or overwhelmed, I won’t leave you.”

“I’ll stay with you.”

“I’ll breathe with you until you are calm.”

When we place our hands on our body and direct our words and breath inside, we support the parts of ourselves that feel most vulnerable.  In doing so, we have a chance to erase or release what we experience as intolerable.  Long standing feelings of discomfort can give way to feelings of expansion and well-being.  As the new feelings take root, we can experience ourselves being more supported in our body.

Such ways of being with our selves and supporting our bodies provide for us a holding environment and counter act dissociation or an attempt to move away and self reject or self abandon.  We may never have learned this way of coping or self soothing before but now we can.  We truly can be present for us and send our own body all the love, support, comfort and healing we need for our journey of separating from old pain we should not have to carry onward.

Be inspired : reclaiming the breath

Breathing

We must fully reclaim the breath, because without it the body withers and so does our writing.  The message written by the tight chest, the stilted body, carries no duende (a term used by the poet Frederico Garcia Lorca to describe the energetic instinct that guides creativity), no darkness, no belly stretched wide by the breath.  Such writing is a mere whistle.  It rises up like a ghost, substanceless, with a mask for a face, and we do not believe.

What must we do to reclaim the body, the breath?  We must address the fear that paralyses us, the darkness we have held back, like stifled coughs and whispers.  We must open ourselves allowing the wind to enter and change us.

When we human beings are scared, excited, hurried, or anxious, we stop breathing.  the sight and sound of a distressing scene or the momentary flicker of past trauma, causes us to hold our breath.  Shallow breathing is a way of stopping short, of postponing full involvement in whatever is going on. By shutting down our air supply, we can alter our consciousness.  We begin to feel lightheaded, our eyes glaze over, and our emotions recede into the distance.  The recede, they don’t disappear.  To begin writing with the full power of our body’s knowledge we must welcome our life, our breath, and our emotions completely.  We have only to begin breathing fully to show Life that we are serious about embracing her.

When we breathe deeply, we more completely inhabit our bodies, and yes, our pains, but also our contentment and our ecstasy.  Unfortunately, we have made a habit of cutting off the breath in midstream.  We allow our bodies just enough oxygen to keep the brain going, the vital functions operating at half mast.  But it’s not enough air for us to feel this intricate, magnificent life.

“I’m ready,” you say.  “I’m certainly willing to take deeper breaths, if it will bring my novel into being!”  But once we begin embracing the breath, an inner battle ensues. The mind comes up with platitudes it has used for years to keep us in limbo.  “There, now.  Don’t be silly  It’s not that bad. It didn’t really hurt. Crying won’t help.  It’s water under the bridge, split milk, stiff upper lip, pull yourself together.”  What the mind is really saying is, “Don’t feel.  Forget it.  We don’t have time for this.  Get back to work!”  These messages have had us by the throat for so long that we’ve forgotten we are in danger.

But also in childhood, now and then a comforting voice would offer real wisdom.  “Slow down for a moment.  Take a deep breath.  What is it you want to tell me?  Let’s count to ten and start over.”  People who were breathing their lives not only encouraged us to take deep breaths, but showed us how to do it  They invited the air in with their whole bodies, and so could listen with their full attention as we poured out our wild stories, our childhood worries and secret mistakes.  By breathing fully, these listeners allowed our pain to pass out of us.  They didn’t absorb our pain: they only listened with respect.  I try to practice this when I do emotional release work in workshops.  When I take full, deep breaths while someone else is experiencing wave upon wave of grief, I’m communicating that I not only encourage and welcome what that person is feeling but also that my own body will survive the process intact.  In our search for mentors we must bear in mind that we need the support of people who live in their bodies, who aren’t just visitors in their own skin.

By following the breath, instead of always being led by the brain, you’ll find yourself in a places you didn’t “think” you’d ever visit.  Going into these unknown places is motivation to write:  indeed it’s the payoff.  By breathing into your writing, descending into the body and its past, you will be able to see and report parts of your experience that were previously hidden from you.

John Lee, Inspiration : The Breath and the Word : Writing from the Body

 

Overwhelm

Breathe

Overwhelm

Here you come like a flood

Threatening to drown me

I gasp for air

And cannot breathe

Panic

Don’t lead me astray

Or throw me off the scent

Tears you are here

Underneath the wave that rises up

Reminding me of so many forces

And events I was powerless over

In the past

Power

I only touch you

When I put the focus on the Now

On little things I can do

Sorting out some of the mess around me

Or sitting still

Connecting to my breath

Saying to the little one

Locked inside my restless beating heart

It’s okay, darling I am here

Fear

You are present

I notice you

Fear

There were good reasons for you being there

In a world that often did not understand

And wanted to overpower

What seemed so small and weak

But was really trying to grow strong

Fear don’t make me do

What is against my will

Pulled on by forces of larger wills

Let me stand strong and true

In Leonine courage

Building a protective support around my heart

Not to keep out love

But to protect what really is love

From forces that seek

To destroy it

Feeling my way into my heart

A truly heart centred life is not easy to live in this world.  So many claims are made upon our time and energy.  In many respects I am lucky not to be pulled on by a ‘day job’, as I have shared before I stopped work after two traumas and then I isolated alone for a few years before seeking release or ‘rescue’ through a new relationship, although I did not fully understand at the time that that was what I was doing. Instead this strong guy turned up at the units I was living in, in an semi isolated place on the coast and we were pulled into a relationship.

Our very first conversation was one in which I shared that I was a sober recovering alcoholic. Not that that is really who I AM but it was the space I was in at the point, abstinent from alcohol, trying to get a handle on the forces that had been pulling on my life and heart and struggling to see how I could find a new direction inward to my heart in order to know my way.   But I didn’t even know all of that at the time and I had been severely discombobulated by two accidents, the first of which happened overseas when I was trying to make a ‘break’ and move forward but also being impinged upon by other wills, other voices, others’ resistances.

I now see I was on the edge of my ‘grief work’.  The lost kid inside me was trying to find a way back to herself and if that lost kid lives anywhere, I believe he or she lives in both our gut and our heart.  We absolutely cannot know her ways until we can open the door and find a path inward to those true places of being and knowing inside of us, no matter how long barricaded or buried.

In many ways this guy I met was also a lost child. As I look back I see that at that point in 2007 we two lost kids found each other and then went to war with the barricaded places.  In my case I was sad a lot and angry when old wounds of lack of attention and abandonment were triggered.  In his case the way to his sadness was barricaded by an angry monster who had erected a sign on the door.  ‘Do not enter’.  So I was angry and sad a lot but also full of joy when our two little kids came out to play together at times and we touched base with a place of heart, being and may I say love.

The entire 4 and a half year story is too long to go into here.  We eventually split up and my heart was now not only trying to deal with the grief I took into that relationship but also the resonances of older griefs it had stirred up.  Overpowered I ran back to my home town after another aborted attempt to make a break in a new place.  And here over the past 6 years I have been trying to find my way to my heart, or rather the place in it that is not broken or shattered, the place within it which has a wellspring of hope, joy, promise, self expression and love.

Today I sat in my local shopping centre drinking my coffee at my favourite place, reading the biography of someone also in addiction recovery who eventually after finding sobriety made the decision to leave London and return to her home, Orkney an island in the Scottish Hebrides.  Here she touches base with nature and eventually takes on a position working in the Royal Society For the Preservation of Birds.   It is a biography tinged with isolation and aloneness but also with the courage of a woman trying to find a way forward from a destructive past. Sadly it doesn’t really go into the hidden pain in her heart. As a young child she watched her father flown away to a psychiatric unit after a ‘manic’ attack.   But it is still hauntingly beautiful and today as I read I felt tears in my eyes as I thought both of my self and this woman, two survivors trying to find a way forward after suffering the wreckage of a confused and lost past.

And those tears were a relief because those tears spoke to me of truths that I could never fully articulate in this blog where so much grief and pain lurks in unspoken spaces but also a winged bird of heart awakening to truths that in burgeoning there so long to arise and take flight.   So on a half used tissue I wrote these words, my meagre attempt to express this ;

I can cry,

no one can see me sitting here

silently

fissure deep broken open

to reveal a heart,

longing,

so long buried

forsaken

or denied

where could I find myself

under such barren skies

lost

wandering

artless

it seems so long since I ever had a home.

If home is where the heart is…

where is my heart?

Silently beating

between breathless fits and starts

it flutters in my chest

like a broken winged bird

who so long ago lost direction

finding itself in the middle of the flock

broke off

soared freely

captured by winds of desire and inward turning

it was lured to another destination

beyond the mainstream

Where storm filled skies and winds

Led it to crash amongst the rocks

Slipstream

carry my heart,

let it open its wings to the breeze,

let it surrender those defences

which arrest the flow of breath and blood

so that new life can enter

and that broken winged bird

can finally

gain enough strength

to fly again.