"You tend to take something someone said and focus on that." A friend recently said after I asked for feedback about getting triggered. Which, by the way, further triggered me. Tis the season to be triggered.
"I just want to get to the point where I'm not triggered," a client said to me in a session.
"I don't believe that is possible, what is possible is for us to learn how to respond to triggers in healthy, nonhabitual, reactive ways," I replied.
That I believe is possible. To not have our triggers run our lives. To be more at peace, to be free from our defensive patterns. For such freedom we have to maintain some awareness on the spot. Notice the sensations in the body, and thoughts in the mind. Though we feel reactive, we can slow down and ask ourselves: "What is directing this reaction?" Dedicate time to contemplate what provokes us along with identifying ways to respond to these triggers. When we become aware of what provokes us, saddens us or causes us fear or defensiveness, we can practice being with it in a compassionate way. Include in this awareness an understanding that daily life and relationships are full of triggers. Even objects like a broken dish, a picture of someone, a bottle of alcohol can trigger us.
Contemplate the last few times you were reactive, perhaps defensive, and what was the (likely) trigger. Write about that. Focus on your side of things, not so much on what the other person did or didn't do. What inside of you was triggered?
I was recently triggered in a group where I experienced someone cutting me off in a conversation around, paradoxically, triggers. My reactive state was to feel disregarded and to drop out of the circle entirely. I did not. I intentionally have stayed put. And, I went into active contemplation around what provoked me. I listened to my body and thoughts. I soon became aware that she had triggered an old story where "someone I perceived doing me wrong but not admitting to it." Family history stuff. All our triggers have a history. In the past I wanted others to admit to their alcoholism, their abuses or unkindnessess. I wanted others to make amends. Such old stories getting triggered are an opportunity to practice. Practice noticing what is coming up through mindfulness and contemplation. After a couple days of active contemplation around what was triggering me I arrived at this reminder (and felt instantly freed): My happiness does not depend on others acknowledging wrongdoing they may have done to me, while my happiness does depend on my acknowledging any wrongdoing I may have done to others.
A few days later I got triggered by a friend who made a comment that seemed to say I was her back up plan for her holiday and that she was disappointed in this. That's when I asked for feedback from another friend, who then said, ""You tend to take something someone said and focus on that."
Her feedback was so helpful. (Please notice that I was sincere in my asking for feedback, which is important here. Unsolicited feedback is not good for sender or receiver.) I did stop her from going into more detail of how this was a pattern of mine. Perhaps stopping her was like not putting too much salt on a good meal. I let her comment season my heart and mind. I let it guide my contemplations.
That following morning before my meditation practice I got this in my inbox: "When you love, truly love somebody, there is no version of reality in which what is good for them is bad for you, no choice they could possibly make that is right for them and wrong for you, nothing they could give you that could make love more complete. This is a difficult notion for the Western mind to grasp — too easy to mistake for the psychopathology of codependence, too quick to slip into the tyrannical Romantic ideal of merging. At its heart is something else altogether: a kind of transcendent ego-dissolution under which the self ceases to be and becomes Being."
That is what Ram Dass (April 6, 1931–December 22, 2019), from his landmark 1971 book Be Here Now.
The message went on: "Most people see the problem of love primarily as that of being loved, rather than that of loving, of one’s capacity to love. Hence the problem to them is how to be loved, how to be lovable.”
Everything continued to open for me with this reminder. My focus on something I think someone said that was unkind was about me, and being loved. In many wisdom traditions this is known as abandonment panic (many triggers provoke this abandonment panic/anxiety. The abandonment panic gets us focusing on how we are not loved or how we are being abandoned.) Even where someone has said or done an unkindness how does it serve me or humanity to focus on the wrong? Our practice can be about deepening our capacity to be loving. To go out in the world and focus our attention and actions on being loving. Even when being triggered.
“I believe mindful acts of agency and activism remind us of our potential to bring about profound change. After all, we are not disembodied characters. The sensations we feel are genuine and permit us to communicate with others and experience deep connections. Observing these sensations and understanding our motivation can shed more light on our true intentions. With practice, I’ve learned that this process can help us shift out of discomfort and fear and position us to act from a place of kindness and courage.” –Lauren Krauze, Tricycle Magazine, March 15th, 2016
Everything is Waiting for You. by David Whyte
Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
What's waiting for you? Write about that.
"Women’s curiosity was given negative connotation, whereas men were called investigative. Women were called nosy, whereas men were called inquiring. In reality, the trivialization of women’s curiosity so that it seems like nothing more than an irksome snooping denies women’s insight, hunches, and intuitions. It denies all her senses. It attempts to attack her fundamental power.” –Clarissa Pinkola Estes
My dog Lulu does not like to be leashed. She will however go for long walks with me, leashed, as the alternative to no walk. We make it to the dog park at least twice a week, so she can run free of restraint. Off leash she greets and plays with other dogs and chases her nose out beyond my view.
I'm going for an analogy here.
Where in your life do you feel leashed and unable to follow your nose, your curiosities and longings? Write about that.
These leashed places are not safe. What would we do and experience differently, what would we pursue or chase, unleashed? Explore this.
When was a time you escaped or slipped out of a leash and chased an idea till you caught it? Write about that.
When we are discouraged to doubt authority or break the rules we stop following our noses. We hesitate to explore out beyond the tug of a leash. When we can't move our awareness and explorations out beyond what we have been instructed to see or experience, we are not really truly seeing what is possible.
To be curious is to explore, to explore is to discover.
Instead of doubting yourself, doubt what you are being told.
The old myths and propaganda around doubt and curiosity—such that curiosity killed the cat and that it will get you in a heap of trouble—is a myth intended to control the congregation and keep naughty kids (and adults) in line. Propaganda and dogma's purpose is to make you unwilling to challenge what you are told or question authority. Rules set up so that you must follow them to get the prize makes you an acolyte, not a leader. In his seventh-century commentary on Aryadeva’s Four Hundred [Verses] on the Yogic Deeds of Bodhisattvas, Chandrakirti tells the story of a ship’s captain captured by an ogress.
The ogress warns the captain never even to look, let alone venture, to the south of her island. This admonition arouses his doubt and uncertainty about what he is being told. He becomes curious, so, one day he evades her watchful eyes and steals away to explore. There in the south, he finds the king of horses, Balahaka, who will carry you away across the ocean to safety on the other shore if you hold on to even one hair of his mane. And so the captain escaped from the island on which he had been held prisoner.
Such doubt is a perfect navigational tool, a way to ignite a sacred curiosity that leads to other possibilities. This doubt gets us to question, study, and investigate what we are told. We also question the appearance of phenomena and are not as easily fooled. When we listen to our doubts in this way we won’t be so easily controlled or imprisoned by others’ views. We will discover truth for ourselves and adventure out beyond the comfort zone of dogma put out by others.
Besides, one person’s religious experience or antidote could be another’s imprisonment or poison. Write about that.
Don’t spend your life on someone else’s island. Question everything of significance. Let all admonitions arouse in you a sacred curiosity of doubt. Follow your doubt (your curiosity) to the other side of things. Don’t be leashed by others’ beliefs or desires—break away.
"You can’t sit around and wait for somebody to say who you are. You need to write it and paint it and do it."— Faith Ringgold
"What do you see on the screen that may help you with your question?" –An Apple technician helping me navigate my new computer.
This advice above was so simple and yet so clever! If only we could just let go of our resistances, breathe and find our answer in what's in front of us. In therapy I have often heard someone's solution in their questions. Resistance to what is in front of us is, I think, a universal experience. Steven Pressfield writes in his book, The War of Art how resistance is a sure sign that something is important to you. In fact, he emphasizes the bigger the resistance the more valuable the project.“The more important a call or action to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”
So, are all my resistances because the pursuit is part of my soul's evolution? Or is it something else? (Hint: it's something else).
Turns out resistance isn't only attached to meaningful pursuits. Being afraid you won't be able to accomplish the thing you want or need to accomplish, is a sure way to get you to do everything BUT that one thing. This flavor of resistance can come up in more mundane yet uncomfortable tasks like figuring out something on the computer. Recently, I avoided even trying to fix something technical. First I attempted to get someone else to figure it out and fix it. That didn't work. So I sat down and thought, I can do this. If I just stick with it I can l figure it out. Just don't give up. This project was not part of my soul's evolution. And, it's something that needed to be fixed. I decided to stay with it until I figured it out. In this case it took 6 hours sans human support (Google hasn't any human support). What relief and pride I felt when I figured it out on my own and fixed the problem.
How does this work in our spiritual and creative life? What about (not) writing my novel? Is my resistance to finishing the final draft all about resisting what is meaningful to me?
Turns out, no.
I am simply afraid I can't do the work. I am afraid that I won't really be able to figure out how to write a good (or great) novel. That's it really. That's my demon here. Afraid I won't be able to accomplish a well-drafted book. So, now that I know the truth, that I am not resisting writing my novel because it is such an important soulful pursuit (though it may be that too), no, I am simply afraid I won't be able to actually do the work that it will take. So,
What if I were to approach the novel like I did my computer problem? Just stick with it, figure things out as I go? Ask myself what the computer tech asked me: What in front of me can help me accomplish what I want?
That's my plan.
Each day I will spend at least 15 golden minutes sitting with my novel, using all that I have in front of me to work with. I have many novelists before me to learn from, I have my story, my protagonist and antagonists, along with my 100,000 written words.
I am going to show up for the work and see what happens. What can happen.
This persistence instead of avoidance arrived as a gift from my recent meditation practices. 15 months ago I started the Anapanasati practice of meditation. I almost missed out on this opportunity by backing out of a retreat at the last minute. Then with a poke from the teacher I saw a pattern of not following through, not showing up. So every morning since (I've missed only 6 or7 days), I have sat for an hour of meditation practice. Just showed up. The benefits, though mostly subtle, are nothing less than miraculous for me.
So here late in life I have learned better how to simply show up. Or, how to show up better. Be consistent and persistent with what wants and can unfold. I can learn to write a great novel, if I just keep showing up. I can learn how to fix computer problems if I just stay put and look at the screen and ask, "What do you see on the screen that may help you with your question?" (And yes, reaching out for live support when it's necessary and available).
One more mention and then back to my novel (well, after a good walk with my dog). I have found that what helps me to show up is knowing how and when to let go. (And what to let go of). In every creative and spiritual success there is a letting go.
Until next time, Write about what you keep avoiding. Make a list. What happens when you simply show up and do the work? Write about that. How did it feel when you figured something out for yourself? Write about that.
"Letting go is a natural ability. It is not something new or foreign. It is not an esoteric teaching or somebody else’s idea or a belief system. We are merely utilizing our own inner nature to get freer and happier."
–Hawkins, David R.. Letting Go
“And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being.”
Nothing so hardens the heart of man as a barren familiarity with sacred things.
J. C. Ryle
When objects become too familiar they lose their sacredness on us. They do not lose their inheritance of beauty and story, we simply miss seeing it. To perceive sacredness, we must see, as Black Elk says, in a sacred manner. When we see in this manner, we also experience that which connects everything to everything else. There is a wholeness to our observations and experiences.
I finished my death cleanse. Hundreds of books along with other objects of affection went on to new lives elsewhere. Most gifted, some recycled, a few tossed out. One antique typewriter sold to someone who collects them. I like the spaciousness. I don't miss anything. I have kept some objects sitting out as friends, companions on my journey. There’s my many bear fetishes from trips with my daughter that act like a bookmark to these memories. These fetishes hold a sacredness, a beauty that I more easily enjoy now because they stand out.
What do your objects say about you? What is the story of a cherished object? Explore that, write about that.
How did this object come to be? Write about that.
What do you remember truly seeing today? Write about what happened and what you saw.
"It is no secret. All power is one in source and end, I think. Years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man’s hand and the wisdom in a tree’s root: they all arise together. My name, and yours, and the true name of the sun, or a spring of water, or an unborn child, all are syllables of the great word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars. There is no other power. No other name." –Ursula K. Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea, taken from (a most wonderful book) Tao te Ching: Power for the Peaceful – by Lao Tzu (Author), Marc Mullinax
When we are habitual in our seeing of something we don't actually notice it. To explore something, to be curious about that thing you encounter, is to connect with it. To connect with one object in a true way is to connect with the story of that object. And all the stories connected to that story.
Everything has a story.
Our words too as objects may become too familiar, habitual. Conscious writing, whether it be for our personal explorations or for others to read, means we give purposeful attention to what we are writing about. If I am writing about hope, for example, what images, words and objects will bring hope alive within me and my readers? What details of emotions or symbols describe hope?
What is an object of hope, that expresses or reveals hope for you? Write about that.
Recall finding hope during a difficult time. Does an object of significance stand out? Remember that; Write about that.
Objects certainly hold metaphorical symbology in our writing, they may also have personality and deliver a message.
Christine DeSmet , a writing coach and author of several fiction mentions how objects play a central role in scenes and story. “Often, an object in any story becomes a spotlight for both the character and reader. The object draws our attention and we know it's important somehow. Objects lead the reader to a surprise or understanding that is deeper than life without the object. Effective writers choose objects carefully because they carry meanings such as hope, love, despair, loss, or happiness, to name a few examples. When a writer has trouble creating a character or finding depth, one question to ask is this: What does the character collect? Collections of objects say a lot about humans. The collection might be what's in your junk drawer in the kitchen, or what you have inside a valuable case in a prized spot in a family room or den. We all collect objects at some time or other in our lives because the objects signify something important about time, place, purpose, people, and our emotions connected to any of those aspects.” –Christine DeSmet, author and writing coach, was the director of the popular Write-by-the-Lake Writer's Workshop & Retreat, offered through University of Wisconsin-Madison Continuing Studies. She can be reached HERE.
What do you collect? Write a story about that. Or, do these objects seem to find and collect you?) Write about that.
“There are some four million different kinds of animals and plants in the world. Four million different solutions to the problems of staying alive.” David Attenborough
“And if the virality of the lovely poet Amanda Gorman, tells us anything, it is that we have been starved of beautiful inspiration these past few years.” (-taken from YES Magazine, Jan 28,2022) Click on Amanda's name to hear her recite the poem, "Earthwise."
In my relationships as a therapist and mentor, conversations often turn to this increasing hunger for inspiration. It’s as if enthusiasm and inspiration remain sequestered from our time in lockdown. The ongoing pandemic along with other environmental, social and personal crises make inspiration a challenge and an essential.
From my continued contemplation into friendship, I've discovered how the natural world offers a reliable companionship, a friendship abundant in inspiration and instruction. The Mulberry tree in my backyard has come to be a great friend and teacher on life as well as an inspiration for my writing. My spiritual friend and guide, Cat Greenstreet, who offers clearness conversations based on clearness committees, asked me what the Mulberry Tree teaches me about my writing project. The project I habitually avoided but wanted to finish. The project that held a lot of spiritual value for me, and I trust for others. Simply exploring this question resulted in movement. I recognized that I relied on being in the spring of my creative energy, you know, that intense enthusiasm and inspiration! I, like many, am abundant with plans and ideas at the beginning of things. To hold an expectation of such inspiration throughout any project (or relationship) is a huge obstacle. I wasted creative energy and years expecting that initial enthusiasm as I approached the half-way point of this writing project. So, when Cat asked me, what the Mulberry Tree teaches me about my project, I unearthed wisdom and inspiration buried deep within me. I recognized that I was at the “making jam” phase with this particular writing project. Making jam, after picking the berries, is a fall project. And, to make jam (get this writers!), I have to clear the kitchen and set up the jars and other cooking utensils first. Not the most exciting part of making jam, but necessary to reap the benefits. Which got me thinking how the fall’s making jam energy is much, much different than watching the tree blossom in spring or the harvesting of berries in summer. I rather enjoy the solitude and quite inspiration in making jam.
A deep sigh resounded throughout my body, a relief accompanied by joy. And action.
I know how to prepare the space for my writing, just as I know how to prepare the kitchen for making jam. In fact, this project is already fully written in a journal, (so much like having the berries in the bowl). Time to make space to make jam! Within a few days I was nearly finished with my project.
I allowed myself to have the quiet inspiration that goes with transcribing the journal notes (the berries in the bowl), onto the page (into the jars). I let go of all expectations of excited enthusiasm and beginner’s thrills and let myself settle into the next stage and experiences of the creative process. I heard the cans “pop” as they set (the click of the keys as the words dropped onto the computer page); then I put them all on the shelf (published the project in full,) to let myself and future readers enjoy my labor of love.
What natural phenomena can teach you about your creative project? Contemplate that; write about that. Take some time to sit with, photograph and gleam some enthusiasm from this friend.
What season is your project in? Notice that. Write where you are.
How can you set up the space for you to be quietly inspired by your ideas and work?
"It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living." –David Attenborough, Watch the free PBS Series on The Green Planet for some beautiful inspiration. Episode 2: Water Worlds reveals how underwater plants talk to one another.
My next blog is about The Beauty of Objects and how they inspire both writer and reader. I’ve invited my friend and exceptional writing coach Christine DeSmet to share some needed wisdom on objects in story.
For quite awhile now I described myself as being on a bridge from what my life was to what lies ahead. A few weeks ago I shared in a clearness committee session that I see a full and active life behind me. Then, when I looked ahead I saw only a long clear path through a vast blue emptiness. I decided to be at the center of this overpass with consciousness, curiosity and kindness.
Then Roe VS Wade was overturned.
Being undecided now felt inconvenient and ill-timed. To remain mindfully on the bridge, waiting to see what might appear was no longer the best use of my life energy. This news of Roe versus Wade being overturned, although anticipated, ignited an urgency in me to take action. Specific action that would be of service at this difficult juncture in our shared story. A difficult juncture that has no clear or present end.
This call to action to be of service in a specific way was, as it turns out, what I have always been here to do.
Just like you I hold gifts, interests and ideas that are inherent. Being kind to a stranger, being generous when you have little or a lot to share, finishing that collection of poems, speaking an endangered language, writing letters, restoring prairies, rescuing stray cats, reaching out, finishing that space in your home to create art -- all are ways to do the work in the world we are meant to do. When we open our hearts and listen (sometimes with a help of others), we find that what we love has always loved us and is ready to be expressed through us. Sometimes this something is a surprising stranger, sometimes this something is an old welcomed friend. There is nothing to figure out, or force, or to chase down. And waiting on the bridge watching the world pass below me, is not the needed response at this time either.
Adding to the sanity of the world, healing from what harms us, bringing forth the beauty for others to enjoy, has always been about opening up from within. Then once we open to that idea or quality or project and it is revealed to us, we must keep a strong connection to our inner resource so we can continue to do our beauty-work in the world (and not be destroyed or stopped).
It's that simple. Listen to that inner teacher; act on what she reveals.
To make the simple easy we need just a few things to get from here, to there.
Learn to listen. Spend time in the natural world. Read poetry. Meditate and contemplate. Have a regular practice of contemplation. Journal. Take the inner journey through the labyrinth. Have ways to explore your inner landscape with a keen and compassionate ear. Write a letter to your self from your Inner Teacher, have the letter start: Dear (your name), This is what I want you to know. Repeat that line instead of stopping to think. Keep moving the pen until you fill up one page (or more). Something will come and it's okay (and quite poetic) if it is between many lines of this is what I want you to know.
Work with what you have and who you already are. Play with the choices you have already made. Explore them more deeply. Practice painting or writing. What keeps returning to you? Write about that. Dogs that need rescuing? Stray children who need respite care? Smooth broken glass that wants to be part of a mosaic? Your grandchildren? A lyric for a song? A desire to help save sea turtles? Making jam to sell at a local market?
Your life up to now holds everything you need to discover what's next. Be who you already are.
Gather together. Gather to do the inner work and to play, to explore, to discover and to celebrate. When we gather together in safe, dynamic circles we discover how to best express and manifest in the world. My upcoming Yearlong circle: World into Word & Action applies wisdom from my pervious books and work, from clearness committee explorations to decades of working with people in transformative circles. This yearlong adventure is a way for you to open up to your inner teacher and to discover what you need to know now to move forward.
This was what struck me from within when hearing the news about Roe vs Wade. I was called to offer another yearlong circle to help others cross their bridge, to move through fear, to get out of your own way. My call to action is to help you listen for and respond to your inner knowings and callings.
Be more deeply engaged in the world with me and 12 other journeyers. Open up more to your inherent wisdom with a circle of friends. It's time to share your gift, finish that project, discover further your personal creative intentions and to fulfill them. To further become who you already and truly are. Anyone who knows that this is the place for you but lacks financial resources will not be turned away. People in transition, people healing from trauma, those of you who are on the front lines, those who cannot pay in full or lack funds, there is a place for you here. Contact me for your free 20-minute zoom consultation: HERE.
The journey together starts October, 2022. Click HERE for more information.
Where do you want to be in a year from now? Write about that.
Today, I face forward on the bridge where people of various genders and shapes, familiar and unknown trees, creatures of all kinds are ready to greet me and to start up a new dance. A dance of engagement and lasting beauty.
A final helpful note. There is no way for this to lead me astray. I can't be disappointed or felt I made a mistake if no one shows up for this great plan of mine. What I know, with utter certainty, is that to listen and act on this choice will lead me to exactly where I need to be; where I can best serve others and dance.