"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.