The following is taken from: McLaren, K. (2010). The Language of emotions: What your feelings are trying to tell you. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.
Also visit U-TUBE for an 8-minute video of McLaren talking about the function of anger, fear, sadness at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k1OX-OGmF38&feature=player_embedded
Page 33: Three Empathic Exercises
I’d like you to have a tangible experience of the empathic work we’ll be doing so that you can see how easy and comfortable it is to channel your emotions. Let’s start with a simple flow-inducing exercise. You can be sitting, standing, or lying down.
Please take a deep breath and fill up your chest and your belly so that you feel a little bit of tension – not too much, just a little. Hold your breath for a few seconds (count to three), and as you breathe out, make small, gentle spiraling movements with your hands, your arms, your feet, your legs, your neck, and your torso. Move your body in gentle, easy, relaxing ways.
Now, breathe in again, expand your chest and your belly until you feel a little bit of tension, hold for three seconds – and breathe out with a sigh as you spiral your arms and your legs and your neck. You can even hang your tongue out. Just let go. You’re a ragdoll. Let it go.
Now breathe normally and check in with yourself. If you feel a bit softer and calmer, and maybe even a little bit tired, thank the emotion that helped you release some of your tension and restore some of your flow: thank your sadness.
That’s what healthy, flowing sadness feels like, and that’s what it does – it helps you let go, and it helps you bring some flow back to your system. Each of the emotions has this free-flowing state that brings you specific gifts and tools. We’ve learned to identify emotions only when they move to an obvious mood state, but that’s not all they are. You don’t have to cry to be sad; you can just let go. Sadness is about releasing things and relaxing into yourself.
Take a moment to notice how aware you are of your body. Sadness is an internal emotion that brings you back to yourself and makes you aware of your interior state. And that’s why we tend to avoid sadness in our everyday lives. It’s not the right emotion to walk around with all the time because it doesn’t protect your boundaries, and it doesn’t make you focused and ready for action. That’s not its job – it’s not supposed to do those things. Sadness brings flow back to you, it calms you, and it helps you release uncomfortable things you’ve been grasping on to – like muscle tension, fatigue, lost hopes, or disappointments. Sadness helps you let go of things that aren’t working anyway. It’s important to use the skills your sadness brings you because it’s necessary to let go regularly – you know, before everything piles up into identifiable emotional distress, muscle pain, or misery. Maintaining your flow and letting go is an easy thing to do now that you know what sadness feels like.
Whenever you need to, you can consciously welcome your sadness and restore a sense of flow to your life by breathing in and gathering any tension, and then breathing out gently as you make spiraling movements with your body, shake yourself off, shimmy, yawn, or sigh (maybe when no one else is around). It’s that simple. To channel your sadness, you just relax and let go.
Page 35: Exercise 2
Now, let’s try something different. Thank your sadness for helping you let go and relax, and sit up straight. Open your eyes a bit, and smile as if you’re greeting a very good friend. You can even say, “Hi!” Stretch your arms out and stretch your torso, keep smiling and keep your eyes open, take a comfortable breath, and thank your happiness.
Thank your happiness for bringing the fun, and let’s try another empathic exercise. Fro this one, you’ll need a quiet place where you can sit or stand comfortably.
When you’ve found your quiet place, lean your body forward a little bit, and try to hear the quietest sound in your area. Keep your shoulders down and away from your ears; good posture helps your hearing. You can also open your mouth a little (relaxing your jaw creates more space in your ears) and gently move your head around as you pinpoint the quietest sound and filter out the more obvious ones. Keep your eyes open, but rely on your ears for now.
When you’ve located this quiet sound, hold still for a moment. Stand up if you are sitting and try to locate the sound with your eyes; then move toward it, recalibrating as you near the sound. Time may seem to slow down somewhat, your skin may feel more sensitive (almost as if it’s sensing the air around you), and your mind may clear itself of anything that isn’t related to your quiet sound. When you pinpoint the sound, thank the emotion that helped you find it. Thank your fear.
Surprising, isn’t it? Healthy and free-flowing fear is nothing more or less than your instincts and your intuition. When you need it to, your fear focuses you and all of your senses, it scans your environment and your stored memories, and it increases your ability to respond effectively to new or changing situations. When your fear flows nicely, you’ll feel focused, centered, capable, and agile. Thank your fear.
Your free-flowing fear brings you instincts, intuition, and focus. If you can bring your fear forward when you’re confused or upset, you can access the information you need to calmly figure out what’s going on; you don’t need to feel afraid to access the gifts your fear brings you. You can also access your fear when you’re unsure about what you should do or when you’re uncomfortable in your relationships. Fear helps you focus o your internal knowledge as it connects you to your surroundings.
Pg 46: What I have observed is that the emotions identify imbalance and then move from imbalance to understanding to resolution….if we allow them to flow naturally, they’ll contribute the energy and intelligence we need to work our way back out of that trouble—quickly, and without any unnecessary drama.
For instance, sadness in its mood state slows us down and makes us stop pretending that everything is all right….anger…riles us up and makes us stop pretending that we weren’t hurt or offended.
Pg 47: If you want to be able to rely on your physical skills when emotions arise, you’ve got to know how your emotions and your body interrelate.
If we subscribe to the false idea that being emotional is the opposite of being rational, we’ll set up an unfortunate fight inside of ourselves. The truth is that our emotions and our logic work together—or they should—in a healthy psyche.
Pg 48: I understand, of course, that by referring incorrectly to judgmentalism, spiritual teachers intend to denigrate name-calling and the tendency to place people or experiences into simplistic “right” or “wrong” categories.
Pg 49: Judgment, in its truest sense, simply tells you what a thing is and whether it works for you or not. Healthy judgment is a combination of your airy intellect and your watery emotions coming together to form a considered opinion….an internal decision-making process about what a thing is and whether it suits you or not. If you try to emote without thinking—without judging—you’ll fly off the handle. But if you try to judge without feeling your way through our decision, you won’t ever be able to decide. Thoughts and emotions are partners. They’re not enemies.
Pg 52: Many of us have had a vision of a different kind of life, of an opportunity off in the distance. This is an example of our fiery vision soaring beyond the present and into an alternate future. If we don’t know how to rely on the village of elements and intelligences inside us, that vision might never come to fruition; it might be relegated to the scrap heap of fantasies. However, if we allow our full selves to work freely, we can move decisively toward that vision and make it real. Our emotions can translate the vision into urges and feelings that can move themselves into the sphere of the body in the form of dreams and desires. If we honor our dreams and desires, rather than squelching them because we’re afraid or because they seem illogical, we can make day-to-day movements toward that vision….
But in a whole psyche, our logic will fully support our fiery visions with its ability to translate, plot, and plan.
Pg 53: We don’t seem to know how to feel deeply and think brilliantly at the same time, and we’re nearly incapable of connecting our emotional flow to our intellectual processes.
Pg 54: Nothing will be accomplished, because our bodies won’t be allowed to bring our thoughts into the world in visceral ways. …No true brilliance will ensue, either, because our visionary spirits won’t be allowed to help our minds observe the larger picture of where things come from and where they’ll eventually go….The psyche doesn’t function properly when the intellect is in charge; instead, it spins and whirls into endless planning, scheming, “what-if-ing,” and obsessing. This is the way most of us experience the intellect, but this is not a true or whole experience. An out-of-balance intellect does behave badly—it does create many problems—but it has no other opinions. You see, our airy, logical intelligences can’t balance our system all by themselves.
Pg 56: …if you rely too heavily on your logical intellect, you won’t be able to make clear or whole judgments because your intellect can only work with the flat facts of the material presented to it. It can’t dive down into the feelings and nuances under the facts—not without your watery emotions it can’t. It also can’t soar above all the facts without your fiery vision, and it can’ make the facts useful and tangible without the help of your earthy body. When your logical intellect is isolated from the whole of your quaternity, it I less intelligent, less functional, and less wise.
Transporting information, skills, and energy—that’s the emotions’ job. The logical intellect has its own job; it translates, organizes, stores, and retrieves information. When the two can work together in your balanced psyche, you’ll become intelligent in deep and meaningful ways….Many of us have fallen into the trop of thinking that spirit and science, or logic and emotion, or physical life and spiritual life, are at odds with one another, but this is preposterous. None of our intelligences are at odds with one another, and none of the four elements are at odds with each other in the natural world. They’re only at odds in lopsided and confused human psyches. Mysteries and beauties abound in al parts of us, and true genius dances in the places where those parts intertwine.
Pg 61: Your emotions, if you allow them to move freely from one place to another, will be able to convey energy and information between your visionary spirit, your body, and your mind.
Pg 62: …balance inside you, a fifth element or a meta-intelligence—your intelligence about your intelligence—arises at the center of your psyche. This new element is called nature, wood, or ether in various wisdom traditions. Though none of your quadrants could exist without it, this central nature only truly flourishes with your four outer quadrants are in proper relationship with one another. This nature element becomes the new center of your self, soul, ego, or personality, which is no longer based upon one or two elements or intelligences alone.
Pg 65: the repudiation of whole elements or intelligences; and the absence of humor. These are warning signs I never ignore. My best advice for ou, if you want to live in harmony with your four elements, is to be rather quiet and circumspect about he changes you’re making. It’s best to just bless the heck out of unbalanced people and systems, take yourself out of their sphere of influence, and focus on your own inner work and your own emotions….
Pg 66: There is rich magnificence at the center of your resourced psyche, and there is deep connection to the world when you have a whole self from which to view it. At the beginning of the journey, though, you will experience loss—of relationships, of cherished but unworkable mindsets, and of your old sense of self. Understand that this loss has a purpose; it helps you realize that change is certainly occurring. If you can flow with the river of change, rather than try to grasp at your old moorings, you can turn this time of loss into a period of exquisite personal growth. However, let’s be clear that learning the language of emotions is not a normal or accepted transition in much of our culture. The emotions live in an element we don’t value and in intelligences we don’t exercise consciously. Therefore, entering the realm of the emotions means moving away from the status quo.
Pg 80: As we focus on what we might be seeking in our distraction of choice, we’re not looking for pathology – we’re trying to understand what we achieve with addictive substances and dissociative practices. These are powerful activities, and each brings a jolt of energy or a moment of blessed calm to our overwrought psyches. We have very good reasons fro turning to distractions and addictions; the key to transforming these distracting habits into awareness is in understanding why (and when) we need them. the idea that we can “just say no” is absurd: there’s no way any of us can say no to distractions and addictions until we fully understand why we say yes.
Pg 82: Smoking creates a smoke screen around the user – a seeming barrier against the world – but the false boundaries (and the physical deterioration that smoking causes) eventually break down smokers’ ability to set real boundaries. Smokers then become less able to deal with the world. Soon they must smoke on a schedule in order to anesthetize their jangled and unprotected psyches. But the pain isn’t truly addressed, the emotions don’t actually go away, the thoughts don’t subside permanently, and the world doesn’t stop turning.
Pg 83: The philosopher Baruch Spinoza wrote, “Suffering ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.” If that’s true – if clear understanding of our suffering leads to resolution – then using addictions and distractions to relieve our emotional suffering will actually cement it. If addictions and distractions artificially erase our difficulties and separate us from consciousness, that means they actually stop us from moving consciously through our suffering.
Pg 84: Distraction and dissociation can give us a blessed vacation from suffering, but if they become habits, they will make us incapable of dealing masterfully with that suffering….If you use any addictive, distracting, or dissociative practices, you don’t need to feel ashamed of yourself or quit cold turkey, but you should know what you’re doing with your distraction of choice and why you’re doing it. Bless yourself for keeping your life going in any way you could, and turn your awareness toward your addictions and distractions; they can pinpoint the areas where you’re most in need of support.
Pg 86: Let’s look at a real-life experience with a baby who won’t stop crying, no matter what we do. It’s hard to be there with all the noise and unhappiness. We make soothing sounds and try to alleviate the distress. We check for binding clothes, wet diapers, hunger or thirst, but the crying increases with the baby’s frustration. We shush the baby, we rock her, but she keeps crying, so we try to make her laugh. We find a toy. We get Mr. Bunny and make him do a dance. “Look at Mr. Bunny! Mr. Bunny hops on his head! Mr. Bunny’s funny! Let’s laugh with Mr. Bunny!” When the baby finally begins to laugh, we feel much better. Whatever was bothering the baby, well, that’s forgotten now, thank goodness. We have peace, and that’s what matters, right? However, what if we could say to the baby, “You feel really sad. Things are hard right now.” Usually, the baby will stop crying much faster if we just let her feel, if we just support her in the way she feels at that moment. I’ve found that even very young babies, if you support their feelings, will be able to calm themselves or make some movement toward the source of their problem. Crying can move discomfort into conscious awareness, even in young babies, and from that place of awareness, even young babies can communicate their true needs.
If we get in the way with jostling and distractions, the crying will probably stop, but the baby will have missed an important growth experience. She won’t have been able to let her feelings tell her what’s wrong, and she won’t have been able to make a conscious connection between her discomfort and an important issue inside her. What’s worse, we won’t have helped her strengthen her connection to her own water element, which means we’ll move further from our own water element as well. When we wave Mr. Bunny around, we stifle awareness in others, but we also dim our own awareness and become less able to deal with life as it is.
Unfortunately, that’s how we’ve set up our lives and our culture. If there’s trouble or pain somewhere we rarely sit with it and honor its truth. We rarely support the emotions or follow them from imbalance to understanding to resolution. Instead, we bring our some form of Mr. Bunny and terminate our discomfort. But in so doing, we multiply it into suffering that hurls us right out of our psyches. We don’t honor the discomfort or the trouble; we just distract the baby inside. We learn in this culture, form our earliest moments, that discomfort must not be allowed to run its course or inform us in any way – that anything is better than discomfort. Young or old, rich or poor, we all rely on distraction and avoidance as a matter of course; it’s the defining movement in our training and in our culture.
Pg 88: Distractions, addictions, and avoidance behaviors have become the norm at every possible level of our culture…the difficulty isn’t in breaking the specific habit or detoxifying from certain chemicals; it is in making a movement that is so very atypical….our culture-wide refusal to deal with discomfort has dropped all of us into suffering.
Pg 89: Our lust for distraction does not spring from the fountains of human knowledge; it comes directly from the heart of unhealed trauma….There is unparalleled information in the heart of trauma, not just from those of us who survived assault or abuse, but for our culture as a whole….there hasn’t been serious sociological or anthropological study of the effects traumatized people have on their culture….unrelieved trauma (especially in childhood) impacts our society at every level. How can we know that the vast majority of prostitutes, convicts, mental patients, addicts, and alcoholics survived childhood trauma without understanding that this mass of tortured humanity is trying to show us that trauma has an enormous influence on individuals, and through them, on our entire culture? Each one of us is intimately connected to trauma, either in our own lives or through the people closest to us…the behavior of the traumatized half of our population has a direct impact on how our society functions at every possible level.
Pg 91: Unintentional Shamans: “trouble in the emotional realm” unhealed trauma,…You probably learned from them, as we all do, to distract yourself, deny your feelings, and avoid your pain; therefore, we must address trauma before we can successfully enter the emotional realm….as panic, rage, despair, and the suicidal urge. These intense emotions tend to arise after dissociative trauma (especially if you have very active mirror neurons). You can also be traumatized emotionally when important people yell at or insult you, or when you’re embarrassed in front of others. …if you can deal with and approach all of your emotions without dissociating, distracting yourself, or avoiding them.
Pg 92: Traditional therapy is often useful in addressing the mental and emotional components of trauma, but it can be less successful in addressing the boundary damage and the tendency toward dissociation. …the damage that results from any kind of trauma – molestation, beatings, emotional cruelty, painful surgeries or hospitalizations, or even frightening dental work – is remarkably similar and remarkably common. I had to expand my understanding of trauma to include the vast population of dissociated, emotionally disconnected, and mentally overwrought people I began to see.
Pg 93: I also saw that trauma survivors tend to affect the people around them; they tended to create an atmosphere that provoked dissociation and avoidance behaviors in their circle of friends and family. Some trauma survivors did this by unconsciously visiting traumas (emotional or physical) on the people around them, but some did it merely by being emotionally unavailable in their relationships (which sent the people around them into discomfort and avoidance behaviors). I saw that dissociated and distracted people tended not to support integration and awareness in the people around them; they often created a ripple effect of distraction and unconsciousness in their environments.
An example of this ripple effect can be seen in early scholastic environments, where children who are learning to shut down their empathy (which requires powerful avoidance behaviors) are driven to create an emotionally dangerous environment of ridicule and threats….traumatic and dissociative behaviors are almost always contagious….Dissociated people often have poor boundaries, and they tend not to be aware of boundaries in others, which makes them somewhat hazardous, emotionally and socially.
Pg 96: Remember that “suffering ceases to be suffering as soon as we’ve formed a clear and precise picture of it.”
Pg 97: Because repressers avoid, distract, and dissociate as a matter of course, they destabilize their own lives and the lives of the people around them. Repressers don’t support consciousness inside themselves; consequently, their lives and relationships tend not to support full consciousness either.
We run away from the sensations in our bodies that ask us to viscerally feel the trauma again because we don’t understand that certain aspects of traumatic flashbacks can heal us (but only if we approach them in the correct way).
Pg 98: The third response to trauma is to channel it from within an awakened psyche, to enter it consciously, to dive into the emotions, the thoughts, the visions, and the sensations – and to turn the trauma on its ear.
I had already seen firsthand that the lingering symptoms of trauma could indeed be healed with dissociation was understood as a rupture between body and spirit.
Pg 99: In response to this nearly universal trouble in the psyche, humans have for many centuries nurtured religious doctrines, spiritual teachings, scholastic systems, medical and psychological modalities, and socialization structures that, in essence, support and encourage dissociation, distraction, imbalance, and emotional illiteracy. The separation between body and spirit, the overemphasis on small parts of the intellect and the dishonoring of the emotions, these behaviors and mindsets aren’t restricted to one culture or one set of doctrines. Severe intrapersonal resourcelessness and the inability to restore focus and health after traumatic incidents exist throughout most world cultures.
Pg 100: I studied tribal wisdom, mythology, Jungian interpretations of myths and dreams, shadow work, trauma-healing practices, and anything else I could find. These all led me back to the assertion made by mythologist Michael Meade about childhood sexual trauma: that it is an initiation done at the wrong time, by the wrong person, in the wrong way, with the wrong intent, on the wrong person – but it is an initiation nevertheless. Just like a tribal initiation, childhood sexual trauma creates a separation from the regular world and a wounding that changes the initiate forever.
Pg 102: Stage Three: Being Welcomed as an Initiated Person
Tribal stage three is the celebration, during which the entire tribe recognizes the new person and welcomes him or her as an initiated and valued member of the tribe. The initiate does not return home as the same person; expectations change, responsibilities shift, and a new life begins. Sadly, in trauma there is no stage three; there is no welcoming back for trauma survivors. Traumatic initiations are usually performed in secret or are an established part of the shadow life of the family or the neighborhood. There is no one to tell the trauma victim that he or she has survived a deathlike ordeal and has come out the other side as a new being. There is no conscious acknowledgment of the sudden end of childhood or normalcy, and there is certainly no celebration.
Pg 103: Tribal knowledge says that if stage three is not completed (for whatever reason), the initiate must cycle through the first two stages of initiation once again. Initiation is a three-stage process that does not conclude until all three stages have been completed. I have found that the psyche concurs with tribal wisdom on this point. The rule in the human psyche seems to be that stages one and two of trauma will be repeated until stage three occurs. Suffering ceases to be suffering only after we have formed a clear and precise picture of it, and that clarity only occurs in stage three.
Pg 104: In noninitiatory cultures where unfinished trauma reigns, the psyche will revisit stages one and two in whatever way it can – by repressing the trauma and re-creating it in the inner world, or by expressing the trauma and re-creating it for others. The trauma will be kept alive because the initiation ritual will still be in progress. When there is no welcoming and no validation of the life-altering ordeal that has been survived, there will be no possibility of exiting the traumatic initiation.
Pg 105: As a result, the criminal underclass becomes a powerful tribe of its own, one that supports and exploits trauma survivors at the very same time.
Pg 107: The first task in restoring your wholeness is to reintegrate yourself. This reintegration is a form of self-welcoming that paves the way for the blessed movement into stage three….When your psyche is reintegrated and all of your resources return to your psyche, trauma ceases to be trauma; instead, it becomes a portal through which you pass on your way to wholeness.
When we left our indigenous tribes, we gained much in the way of individual freedom, but we lost much of our understanding of the necessity of ceremony and initiation, and we forgot that our souls still require initiations, rituals, and ceremonial woundings so that we might grow into whole and conscious individuals.
The remembrance of the sacred aspects of the first two stages of initiation has left our conscious minds, but our profound need for the first two stages has never faded.
Pg 108: this movement toward integration is empowering because it addresses the central issue of trauma, which is surprisingly not the pain or the horror of the incident, but the lingering sense of powerlessness and disconnection that results from not being able to move to stage three…Trauma survivors can do much to become less disturbed and more functional, but true healing requires a fully resourced psyche in which the body and spirit communicate freely, and the multiple intelligences and all of the emotions are welcomed and honored….When the psyche is integrated, the body can awaken and contribute its memories, abilities, and knowledge to the process, while the emotions can help relieve and ameliorate the pains, symptoms, and behaviors the body brings to consciousness.
Pg 109: When we’re whole, we can see the traumatic avoidance, distraction, and dissociation form the basis for most people’s lives.
We become able to take a meaningful position in the world, not in spite of our wounds, but because of them.
Pg 110: Though it may seem backward, I have found my greatest belief in humans and my clearest vision of joy through the work I have been honored to share with survivors of dissociative trauma.
The End Will Be Beautiful
It is because an action has not been completed that it is vile. When we cycle unconsciously through the dismal first and second stages of unrelieved trauma, our actions are vile – not because we’re vile or life is vile, but simply because we don’t move to completion. When we don’t know of the third stage, all we can see is the vileness of trauma.
Pg 111: My experience is that taking the opposite path – of diving directly into the trauma from within a fully resourced psyche – helps people not only to heal, but to enter fully into the most profound currents of life.
Pg 112: When we can complete the act begun in trauma – however vile it may have been – the end will be beautiful….Our emotions transport us to stage three. With their help, we can make the profound journey into a visceral understanding of the troubles – and the beauties – of our human culture.
Pg 113: If we’re aware enough to listen to them—if our attention is focused and our minds are centered—our emotions will be able to contribute exactly what we need to move into and then out of any trouble imaginable.
If we see life as glorious only when everything is perfect and untroubling, then we’ll be totally inadequate to the process of living in the real world; we’ll actually be traumatized by the turbulence of life itself.
Instead of pathologizing each of the uncomfortable or miserable symptoms of unhealed trauma (the rages and panics, the flashbacks, the self- or other-abuse, the nightmares, the depressions, the eating disorders, and so on), we can listen closely to each one. We can understand that healing cannot occur until the original wound has been addressed to the satisfaction of the soul. From this knowledge, we’ll understand that a dissociated person’s panicky sense of danger all around is factual rather than pathological, because a person without a good connection to his or her body is endangered in every waking moment.
With a full-bodied understanding of the situation, we don’t attempt to erase those disruptive responses; instead, we’ll follow their tracks to the heart of the trouble. When we can do that, the symptoms will decrease naturally, because they will have been heard and attended to in a fully resourced way. We’ll be able to break the trancelike cycling between stages one and two and move decidedly and triumphantly to stage three.
This beautiful movement is not any kind of avoidance technique. It is also not an antiseptic or dainty process; it’s an oceanic, fiery, muddy, windblown process that creates not mere survivors, but fully initiated soul warriors.
Pg 115: Together, anger and fear set the container or sacred space from which we can retrieve our honorable, intuitive, resilient core selves. When anger arises, whether it takes the form of rage, fury, hatred, envy, jealousy, apathy, or shame, it signals that real healing is underway. The channeling task for any of these angers is to use their intensity to restore the boundary around the psyche and create a sacred ritual space in which true healing can occur.
Pg 116: When anger and fear are allowed to come forward and create the psyche’s container, all emotional work (and indeed all healing) can proceed.
Pg 118: In practice, anger and forgiveness actually work together (and often at the same time) in any real healing process.
You can’t move to forgiveness until your emotions move you consciously through stages one and two, because your emotions are the only thing in your psyche that can move energies, memories, and imbalances into your awareness.
If your pain is tucked very deeply into your unconscious (as traumas usually are), only strong and urgent emotions will be able to dislodge it. Therefore, the movement to the true forgiveness available in stage three often requires not just anger, but rage and fury; not just fear, but terror and panic; not just sadness, but despair and suicidal urges. Real forgiveness is not a dainty or delicate process—it’s a visceral and deeply emotive awakening from a trancelike state. It is, in essence, a return from the dead. Real, foundational forgiveness is a messy, loud, thrashing process of coming back from death into life. It looks on an empathic level like those animals I helped heal as a child. There’s shaking, kicking, grunting, trembling, and spitting—and then it’s done.
Real forgiveness isn’t a polite and teary gesture, made with a bowed head and demurely folded hands. Real forgiveness would never, ever say, “I see that you were doing the best you knew how, and I forgive you.” No! Real forgiveness has an entirely different take on the subject. Real forgiveness does not make excuses for other people’s improper behavior. Real forgiveness does not tell itself that everyone always does the best they know how, because that’s preposterous. Do you always do your best? Do I? Of course not! We all make mistakes, and we all do things we’re not proud of. Real forgiveness knows this; it doesn’t set itself up as an advocate for the tormentors in your life. It doesn’t make excuses for the disruptive behavior of other—because that sort of nonsense only increases your cycling between stages one and two. Real forgiveness says, “I see that you were doing what worked for you at the time, but it never, ever worked for me!”
When that real movement has been made, real forgiveness raises you up off the ground, wipes off the spit, pulls the twigs out of your hair, and testifies, “You can’t hurt me anymore! It’s over and I’m free! You have no power in my life!”
When your anger-supported boundaries are restored again, forgiveness will be as easy as falling off a log. Forgiveness naturally follows the honorable restoration of your sense of self. Anger and forgiveness are not opposing forces; they are completely equal partners in the true healing of your soul.
When we rush to forgiveness, we lose our connection to our original wounds.
First, we might forgive after a bout of properly channeled fury, and we’ll get our boundaries back—our authentic and honored anger will help us rediscover our strength and separateness.
Pg 123: Love isn’t the opposite of fear or anger or any other emotions. Love is much, much deeper than that.
Pg 124: For some people, love is merely adoration, which is a form of good shadow projection. These people find the person who best typifies their unlived shadow material—good and bad—and live in a sort of trance with them. Though I wouldn’t call that sad game “love,” it’s what passes for love in many relationships: you find someone who can act out your unlived material, attach yourself to them, and enter into a haunted carnival ride of moods and desires. When the projections fall and you see your adoration target for who he or she truly is, you become disillusioned and try to reattach your projections, or even seek another person to project onto. But that’s not love, because real love doesn’t play games with other people’s souls, and it doesn’t depend upon what you can project onto your partner or what you can get out of the relationship. Real love is a prayer and a deathless promise: an unwavering dedication to the soul of your loved one and to the soul of the world. Emotions and desires can come and go as they please, and circumstances can change in startling ways, but real love never wavers. Real love endures all emotions, and it survives trauma, betrayal, divorce, and even death.
Pg 126: Remember, you can wear tracks in your brain by the way you learn to express your emotions; you can actually teach your brain to fall into depressions or rages or anxieties if you’re not careful. Additionally, chemical imbalances can trigger repetitive emotional states, and early childhood trauma can lead to lifelong anxieties and depressions as well. Therapy, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medications can be tremendously helpful; there is help available to all of us now. And there will still be work for you to do with all of your emotions whether you’re on mediations or not. Please make sure you’re safe, comfortable, and well-cared-for before you begin.
Pg 127: We don’t merely imagine our grounding and boundaries; we actually become able to feel them, talk with the, argue with them, and work with them effortlessly.
Pg 128: When I examine the idea of being here now through a quaternal lens, I see that each of us already owns something that can only be here now: our bodies. Our minds and spirits can be just about anywhere, while our emotions are often ignored or trapped in the amber of unexamined issues, but our bodies can only be here now. Our bodies cannot move backward into the past, and they cannot run into the future; our bodies can only live in the present moment. Therefore, if we can center our attention in our bodies, we’ll be here now. It’s as simple as that.
Pg 130: Imagine your breath and that light moving down and away from you, as if you’re reaching down under the ground with a very long pole. Feel your grounding cord moving ever downward until it reaches the center of the earth, however that looks to you. Anchor your cord in some way; you can imagine your cord connected to the center of the earth on a lighted chain with an anchor, you can see it as the roots of a tree that wrap themselves around the center of the planet, or you can imagine a bright waterfall that creates a pool at the center of the earth. Any image that works for you is the correct image. Keep breathing normally.
Pg 131: Here’s an exercise that utilizes your free-flowing fear and sadness: Focus yourself and breathe normally. Feel the connection between your body and the center of the earth and bring your calm focus to bear on your interior state right now. If you’ve got any tension, confusion, or emotional upset inside you, breathe into that area and envelop it with your breath. Gather the tension, breathe it downward, and let it slide down into the ground. Try that again. Breathe into your area of tension (wherever it is), gather that tension, and exhale it down and into the ground. Let the tension ground away from you, and sense the relief your body feels when you let things go. If you need help, move your hands down your body and your legs, and describe grounding to your body in a literal way. Maintain your calm focus, and let your body tell you when it feels done. When you use your sadness and fear together, you won’t release too much or exhaust yourself; your fear will help you remain focused and alert. Use this technique as often as you like; grounding helps you release tension consciously.
Pg 132: Grounding is the opposite of dissociation; when I was a dissociator and I felt discomfort in my body, I’d lift away and leave my body behind. I did nothing whatsoever with the discomfort—I just flew away. With grounding, I listen to my body, I help it deal with discomfort or upsetting things, and I take charge of the situation. I don’t just run away and leave my body to deal with discomfort all by itself. When I ground myself, I integrate the village inside me. Grounding is also an excellent way to connect yourself to the world around you. Grounding certainly heals you, but it can also heal your relationships, your family, and your community by making you more conscious of yourself, your thoughts, your feelings, your behavior, and your environment. When you can ground your tension and any intense emotions, you won’t need to blast other people or repress everything and become flattened.
Pg 134: As you become more skilled at staying present, you’ll begin to notice how many people are un-centered, ungrounded, and unaware—and how hard it is to maintain your focus amid all the commotion.
Pg 135: Defining Your Boundaries
Please seat yourself comfortably and ground and focus yourself, if you can (if not, it’s okay). Now stand up, and reach your arms straight out to either side of you (if you cannot use your arms in this way, please use your imagination). Imagine that your fingertips are touching the edges of a lighted bubble that encompasses your private, personal space. Reach your arms out in front of you, and then raise them above your head. Feel how far your personal boundary is from your body. It should be an arm’s length away from you at all points—in front of you, behind you, on either side of you, above you, and even underneath you. When you can imagine this area all the way around you, drop your arms and let them relax.
Close your eyes if you need to and imagine that this oval bubble, which is around and above you and even underneath the floor, is now lit up in a bright neon color. Choose a very bright and lively color (if you can’t visualize, imagine a clear sound or a distinct movement at this distance from your body). Make your boundary quite obvious in whatever way you can. This is all you need to do to define your personal boundary—it’s a very simple exercise. Feel yourself standing inside this oval bubble, as if you’re a yolk standing firmly inside the protective eggshell of your own boundary.
As you sense your boundary around yourself, get back into your calm focus if you can, and ask yourself: “Do I claim this much room in the world?” As you connect with your brightly lit boundary, ask yourself if it’s normal to feel completely in control of this area around your body. For most of us, the answer is absolutely not! For most of us, our personal boundary is our skin itself; we don’t live as distinct people who have enough room to live and breathe fully.
Remember this as you work with your boundary. You may feel frustrated at first because you may not know, psychologically speaking, how to maintain a proper boundary or take your own place in the world. Don’t feel alone in this, because it’s a situation we all face. Nevertheless, you have your personal space, and you have a right to it. In fact, it’s the area your brain identifies as yours, even if you didn’t know it existed before today. Now that you do know, get acquainted wit your personal boundary. Get a feeling of having some space in the world, of knowing where you begin and end, and of having some privacy.
Now thank the emotions that helped you create your personal boundary. Thank your free-flowing anger and our shame. Anger helps you observe and respond to boundary violations coming from the exterior world, and shame helps you observe and avid boundary violations that may come from your interior world.
Pg 137: What I notice when I have a good boundary is that I can experience other people as themselves instead of needing to control or change them.
Pg 139: You can let your moods tell you about the condition of your personal boundary—and by delving into each of your emotions (as we’ll do in Part II), you’ll be able to understand and heal your boundary. Soon you’ll be able to understand and heal your boundary. Soon you’ll be able to maintain your personal boundary in skilled and focused ways, rather than creating emergency boundaries with moods or distractions.
Pg 140: As you become more acquainted with focusing your awareness and protecting your personal territory, you may notice certain situations or relationships that tend to knock you out of your center. Pay attention. Don’t berate yourself or feel as if you’re losing your skills. In most cases, you’re simply responding to dissociation or distraction in the people around you. It’s natural (because we’re social primates) to unconsciously mimic the behavior of others. Beyond that, though, dissociation is understood at some deep level in the psyche to be a sacred movement into initiation.
I’ve noticed that we drop our boundaries and dissociate not just to conform, but also to create a kind of ceremonial boundary around the dissociated people in our lives. It’s as if we unconsciously move to the dissociated position of stages one and two to comfort or aid the dissociated people around us.
Pg 141: If you can stay focused and defined, you’ll create sacred space in a new way, by providing dissociated people with a model of integration.
Your brightly defined boundary should be in place at all times, wherever you go, because it can be likened to the skin of your proprioceptive body. You wouldn’t allow the skin on your physical body to wither or degrade; you need it to protect your organs, glands, hones, and muscles. The same is true for your boundary: you should keep it healthy because it protects and envelops your personal territory and the village inside you.
Pg 142: the emphatic practice of burning contracts supports your equilibrium by allowing you to separate yourself form behaviors and attitudes that destabilize you. This practice helps you envision your behaviors and attitudes as tendencies, rather than concrete certainties. When you’re grounded, focused, and well-defined, you can view your behaviors not as life sentences, but as inclinations you can choose to support or release, depending on your intentions. If you’ve got trouble with certain emotions, you can burn your behavioral contracts with those emotions and restore your emotional flow. If you’re unhappy with a distracted or addicted behavior, you can burn your contracts with it and free yourself from its clutches. …Emotions move energy and information, and the practice of burning contracts relies on the movement, energy, and healing intention inside each of your emotions.
Pg 143: When you can get these behaviors, relationships, and ideas out in front of you, you can begin to individuate from them. In this sacred space, you can see yourself not as a victim, but as an upright individual who decides to act, relate, or behave in certain ways—and who can decide to act and behave differently.
Pg 144: This parchment embodies the contract you’ve forged with this behavior, belief, attitude, or relationship. Roll this contract tightly, so the material inside can’t be seen or heard any longer; in this way, it becomes less powerful immediately.
You can blast it with anger, strike it with fear, engulf it with sadness, or use your depressive energy to create a funeral pyre. Your emotions will provide the exact intensity you need to destroy the contract and set yourself free.
Instead of haphazardly expressing your emotions at the outer world (or haphazardly repressing them back into your inner world), this process helps you work with each of your emotional reactions.
Pg 145: If you can remain upright and conscious during periods of emotional upwelling, your emotions will help you end your suffering by allowing you to form a clear and precise picture of your suffering. If you don’t honor your emotions—if you hurl them outward or shove them inward—you’ll never understand what’s going on in your life.
Pg 147: …taking regular time out to complain, both to “de-steam” and to get a clearer understanding of whatever it is that’s holding you back.
Though (Barbara Sher) suggests finding a complaining partner, I’ve modified the practice, because there are very few people in this world who can deal with the amount of complaining I can produce. Most people are so uncomfortable in their own skin that they can’t let me be uncomfortable in mine: they want to stop me, fix me, or help me see the world in a peppier light (which is just another form of repression if I’m in a foul mood)…Now every time I lose all faith or come up against impossible obstacles, I can whine, moan, kvetch, and reinvigorate myself with the grim truth of what I’m experiencing….This practice doesn’t bring me down; it lifts me up because it clears all the complaints out of my system and restores my flow.
Pg 148: When you’ve found your perfect complaining site, let yourself go, and give a voice to your dejected, hopeless, sarcastic, nasty, bratty self. Bring dark humor out of the shadows and really whine and swear about the frustrations, stupidities, impossibilities, and absurdities of your situation…it breaks through stagnation and repression and lets ou tell it like it is—without repercussions. You restore your flow again, the truth is told again, the decks are cleared, and you get an important time-out.
Pg 149: When you don’t pay attention to the difficulties of trying to live a conscious life in a sea of distractions, the conscious life becomes less and less appealing, and the distractions start calling to you and shimmering seductively. If you only make time or work, and you never make time for play and rest, or for kvetching, moaning, whining, and complaining, your psyche will become flat and barren. Your flow will evaporate, you’ll deteriorate into perfectionism, and you’ll have no fun at all. Many parts of you will demand a vacation from all your striving and perfection, and that’s when distractions will start to loom. Conscious complaining gives a voice to your struggles, and in so doing, it restores your flow, your energy, your sense of humor, and your hope. It sounds contradictory, but you just can’t be happy unless you complain.
Pg 150: Most positive affirmations elevate verbal-intellectual statements above emotional truths and bodily realities. In essence you’re telling yourself how to feel instead of feeling the way you feel.
Pg 151: Positive thinking is helpful when it’s true, just as “negative” thinking is helpful when it’s true.
True emotional health isn’t an unmoving and unchangeable sense of slap-happiness—it is your ability to flow and respond uniquely to each of your emotions (and each of our elements) in turn.
Support your real self, your emotional truth, your intellectual agility, and the factual conditions of your whole life by setting aside regular conscious-complaining time. You can even make it into a kind of meditative practice. Conscious complaining will restore your flow, refocus your attention, revitalize your psyche, and release your happiness, laughter, and joy in natural and healing ways. Flow is the key!
Pg 154: When you bring your awareness to these activities, you can decide how you want them to fit into your whole life. If they seem to loom over you, or if your life is imbalanced by them, skip back to the chapter on addictions and see what you might be seeking in these entertainments. Or burn your contracts with these activities and see what messages your emotions have about them. You have skills now; you can bring awareness to anything you do, and make changes if you want to.
Pg 155: Any change in our psyche alerts the opposing force of stasis, which is the part of you that values tradition, normalcy, and the status quo.
If a change benefits you, you probably like change, but if it doesn’t, you may see change as troublesome. If you’re happy with the way things are, you probably love stasis, but if you’re desperate for change, you might see stasis as a tormentor. Regardless of your momentary preferences, however, both change and stasis are equal participants in any real movement.
We’re so group-centered that we know what to say, what to ware, what to own, and how to act—but we don’t know how we feel or what our inner voices are saying.
If you can breathe with your struggles (rather than fight them) and welcome their presence, you’ll be able to glide through any discomfort.
If these skills bring forward very unsettled feelings, however—if you feel fearful, enraged, or very displaced—take a break, especially if you’ve got trauma in your past or you’re healing from addiction or dissociation. These skills (because they bring all pats of you back home again) signal to your psyche that a certain level of safety has been attained. In some cases, that signal will prompt your psyche to begin pouring forth memories, feelings, flashbacks, and issues because it wants you to figure them out as quickly as possible. This is an excellent movement, but it can be startling if you don’t expect it (and if you don’t have all your skills in place).
Pg 156: Know that you’re completely in charge of this process. You can pick and choose among these skills, create your own versions of them, or ignore them if they feel unnecessary. Listen to yourself, make room for the voice of your stasis, and make your changes at you own pace. You’re in charge.
If you created an oceanfront sanctuary inside our boundary, but it suddenly changes into a crystal cave or a rustic cabin (or disappears altogether), pay attention; your psyche speaks clearly through such images. In fact, pay attention to changes in any of your skills; your psyche will use them to communicate empathically about your deepest issues. Don’t fight the changes. Instead, use all of your faculties to decipher the images your psyche transmits. If you can’t make heads or tails of the situation intellectually, bring forth your emotional skills, your physical ability to grapple with issues, or your fiery vision in order to gain perspective.
Pg 157: Your body should move freely, your mind should think and plan without restraints, your visionary spirit should dream and meander to its heart’s desire, and your emotions should react and respond authentically. When you can nurture this sort of freedom in your psyche, you won’t require repression, unskilled expression, distraction, avoidance, or dissociation because you’ll be able to flow with and moderate your elements properly.
And remember that your goal is wholeness—not perfection, but wholeness. This means you’ll be brilliant and stupid, solemn and ridiculous, brave and cowardly, beautiful and ugly, hardworking and lazy, and so on into infinity. This practice welcomes all of your elements and intelligences, and gives you a solid foundation from which to function in the world as it actually is.
Pg 159: Embracing Your Emotions
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows
who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
Still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thoughts, the shame, the malice,
Meet them at the door laughing,
And invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.
Pg 161: Emotions move under, over, and through each other in a healthy psyche, and they hide behind or crush each other in an unhealthy one. Therefore, this practice requires emotional agility—not because the emotions are inherently dangerous or hard to understand, but because emotions flow and change constantly while they relate to you and to one another in unique and event-specific ways.
Emotional agility does not come from cataloging and manipulating your emotions, but from attuning yourself to their continuous flow and realizing that all emotions are present in our every waking and sleeping moment.
The primary rule of emotional flow is this: all emotions are true. All emotions tell the absolute truth, either about the specific situation that brought the emotion into play, or about some area of the psyche.
This doesn’t mean that all emotions are right or that you should take their word for everything! Some emotions can make you want to beat the living daylights out of people, while others can drag you into hell or make you feel intense hatred for yourself. Some of your emotional reactions can display prejudices you didn’t know you had, while others can make you lust after things that would damage you; therefore, you don’t just follow your emotions like a brainless fool. However, you must understand that your emotions are true. Your task is to welcome that truth and support your emotional flow by bringing a full village of perspectives to each of your emotions.
Pg 163: Common knowledge says that wading into your emotions is inadvisable because you might not get back out. For instance, if you start crying, you’ll never stop, or if you let yourself get angry, you’ll take everyone out in a blaze of gunfire, or if you really feel your depression, you’ll kill yourself. However, when you wade consciously and purposefully into your emotions, the exact opposite is true. If you give yourself over to crying, your sadness will move through you and cleanse your soul; then the crying will stop on its own, and you’ll be rejuvenated. If you channel your honest anger appropriately, it won’t hurt anyone. In fact, the strongly honorable qualities inside anger will restore our boundaries and protect you and everyone around you. Similarly, if you truly welcome your depression, it will sow you amazing, life-changing things about why your energy has gone away.
In some emotional states, you may feel as if you’re getting in way over your head. If so, remember the scuba divers who orient themselves by following their air bubbles to the surface.
Pg 164: Let your thoughts bring you up and out of the currents of emotion if you get overwhelmed—but know that your intellect can’t address your emotions all by itself.
Remember that the mantra for any emotion is, “This too shall pass.” Healthy emotions flow.
…yawning, stretching, vocalizing quietly, or shaking off when you have the privacy to do so. You can easily support your intellectual flow by allowing your mind to plan, organize, and scheme freely, or by bringing mental tasks like puzzle-solving, math games, or wordplay into your life.
When your fire element is activated, you’ll find meaning everywhere—on the bumper sticker of the car ahead of you, in phrases that pop out of songs or magazines, or sightings of wildlife, or in snippets of overheard conversations.
Pg 165: Allow your emotion to come forward, without repressing it or expressing it all over the place. If it’s very intense, or trapped in an unresolving feedback loop, engage your intellect and ask the correct questions for that emotion. Or bring your body into play and physically describe the shape of the emotion, its color (if it has one), its temperature, and is movement pattern.
Then you can use your healing sklls to focus and ground yourself, intensify your boundary definition, burn your contracts if your emotion is trapped in a feedback loop, or rejuvenate yourself if your struggles with your emotion have destabilized or exhausted you.
I like to complain, move around, and destroy entrapping contracts at the same time: “Here’s the way I think I have to act—BAM! And here’s the horse it rode in on—KAPOW! Things are hard, and I’m tired of striving! Life really stinks right now! “Boom!” I have fun with the process and laugh a lot. Then I can get back to work, take a nap, or go out and play with a new attitude and fresh vitality. Conscious complaining is marvelous.
Pg 166: As we go into deeper territory with the emotions, I don’t want you to take my word for anything or shut down any part of yourself as you read. What I’d like is for you to sty focused within your unrepeatable whole self, where you can make your own decisions about each of the emotions you encounter. If an emotion just won’t move or respond to you, or if certain emotional states re repetitive and troubling, reach out for help.
We’re both empaths; my information doesn’t outrank yours!
Protection and Restoration
Includes Rage, Fury, and the Healing of Trauma
Honor – conviction – Proper Boundaries
– Protection of yourself and others – Healthy detachment
THE INTERNAL QUESTIONS
What must be protected: What must be restored?
SIGNS OF OBSTRUCTION
Repressive: Enmeshment, self-abandonment, apathy, depression, boundary loss
Expressive: Cycling rages that create harsh boundaries;
Hatred and prejudice; isolation
Channel the fiery intensity of anger into your boundary instead
of repressing it or exploding with it—then speak your truth or
make your correcting actions. This will reset your boundaries in
healthy ways, which will protect you and your relationships.
If I were to personify anger, I would describe it as a mix between a stalwart castle sentry and an ancient sage. Anger sets your boundaries by walking the perimeter of your soul and keeping an eye on you, the people around you, and your environment. If your boundaries are broken (through the insensitivity of others or in any other way), anger comes forward to restore your sense of strength and separateness. The questions for anger are: “What must be protected?” and “What must be restored?” Both protection and restoration can occur quickly when you move anger’s heated intensity into your imaginal boundary. This gives you something immediate and honorable to do with your anger. With the intensity of anger, you can reset your boundary and restore your sense of self. All by itself, this simple movement will address your anger and circumvent any need for internal or external violence, because you boundary will be properly restored. When you’re fortified in this way, your ferocity will recede naturally, which will allow you to speak and act from a position of strength, rather than from brutality or passivity.
If you instead repress our anger, you’ll be unable to restore your boundary because you won’t have the energy you need to protect yourself: therefore, further damage will inevitably follow the initial affront. If you choose to dishonorably express your anger at the person who offended against you, your boundary will be dangerously unguarded, just as it would be if your castle sentry left his post and went out on a rampage. When your anger is used as a weapon and your territory is left without a sentry, your psyche will have to put more anger into the situation. If you habitually express your anger, you’ll end up expressing this new infusion of anger as well, and you’ll break your boundary (and the boundaries of others) even further. This is how escalating rages and furies get started—the problem doesn’t come from the essential energy of anger, but from the unskilled and dishonorable use of anger when it arises.
When your anger flows freely, you won’t even know it’s there; it will simply help you maintain your boundaries, your inner convictions, and your healthy detachment. Free-flowing anger will allow you to laugh compassionately at yourself and set your boundary mercifully because both actions arise from the inner strength and honorable self-definition anger imparts. When your anger is not allowed its natural flow, you’ll have trouble setting and maintaining your boundary, you’ll tend to dishonor or enmesh with others, and our self-image will be imperiled by your reliance on the capricious opinions of the outside world….Because there is usually a layer of emotion right under anger, anger is often misrepresented as a secondhand emotion, which leads people to view it as unimportant or counterfeit. This is a dangerous mistake.
….Healthy anger sets your boundary and helps you engage more effectively because it allows you to relate authentically and respectfully. When you have an awakened connection to your anger and a clear sense of your own boundary, you’ll be able to honor boundaries and individuality in others; therefore, your relationships won’t be based on power struggles, projections, or enmeshment. However, if you don’t have access to your vital, boundary-defining anger, you’ll be undifferentiated, certainly, but you’ll also be dangerous to the people around you. If you repress your anger, you’ll endanger others by creating a passive and poorly defined boundary that will lead you to enmesh yourself in their lives. And if you dishonorably express your anger, you’ll create an imposing, fear-inducing boundary that will degrade the stability of everyone around you. When you can instead channel this noble emotion properly, you’ll be able to maintain your boundary—and protect the boundaries of others—with honor.
Why We’re Not all One
Many people think that if we could just shed our sense of entitlement or separateness and accept that we’re all one, then peace would surely result, and anger would vanish. This idea seems logical at first, but if you sit with it awhile, you’ll see that it doesn’t come from empathic intelligence. It depicts boundaries and self-preservation as impediments to peace and relatedness—when both are actually prerequisites for peace and relatedness. You cannot relate coherently to another person if you don’t know who you are (or where you begin and end), just as you cannot nurture peace or honor the needs of others until you understand and meet your own needs. The idea that we’re all one, though it seems fine at first glace, proves to be deeply flawed when you look at it with all of our intelligences.
When we drop our vital, anger-supported boundaries and ignore our individual needs and wishes, we become spectacularly unprotected (we lose the “skin” of our psyches). This then sets off a chain reaction of emotional disturbance and psychological instability. I’ve noticed that when people try to maintain such a self-abandoning position, they often fall into cycles of depression (which often arise when you lose your connection to your healthy anger and your individuality) or anxiety (which arises when you lose your instincts). When anger is driven into the shadow by the “all one” mindset, turmoil results. It has to, because when the psyche is unprotected, anger becomes incredibly necessary, and if anger is continually forced into the shadows, it can only erupt in shadowy ways.
…Anger comes forward not simply to protect you, but also to give you the strength you need to meet your opponent honorably during conflict. This is a crucial point – when people are allowed to offend against you without consequence (though this may seem to be a compassionate way to deal with improver behavior), they will be just as damaged by the exchange as you are. Certainly, your own boundary and dignity will be injured in the attack, but if you don nothing – if you say nothing – you’ll also ensure your attacker’s descent into abusiveness and isolation by refusing to honor the conflict that has presented itself for healing. If you refuse to engage with people when they behave improperly, you dishonor them and the relationship. When you repress your anger, you degrade your own sense of boundaries and honor, certainly, but you also disrespect your opponent and ignore the uncomfortable truth of the situation. This has a devastating effect, because when you refuse to address your genuine emotions, you invite discord and deception into each of your relationships and every area of your life.
Apathy and Boredom
The Mask for Anger
Detachment – Boundary-setting – Separation – Taking a time-out
THE INTERNALS QUESTIONS
What is being avoided? What must be made conscious?
SIGNS OF OBSTRUCTION
Monotonous indifference, impassivity,
Or distractibility that halts creative action
Honor your need to be separate and detached
without taking yourself out of commission.
Use the anger beneath apathy to reset your boundaries
in healthy ways.
Repression in any emotion causes trouble throughout your psyche, but anger is so vital to your health that repressing it actually brings up a specific state in response. This “masking” state of apathy (or boredom) arises when you’re unable or unwilling to deal with your true anger. Apathy is not an emotion, but it does protect you. However, since it stems from repression, it can lead to trouble if you’re not aware of it. It’s fine to feel apathetic, but it’s important to know what’s happening in your emotional realm when apathy appears. In unmasking apathy, you’ll learn about the anger trapped within it (and how that entrapment is sometimes a helpful thing), and how to support yourself in addressing the rue angers beneath your mask.
When you don’t have the time, energy, or ability to work with your anger properly – when you don’t protect your boundary or the boundaries of others, when you feel unable to speak out against the injustices you see, and when you feel incapable of affecting our surroundings, you’ll often fall into the masking state of apathy (also known as boredom). In a masking state, you cover up your inner truths with a protective attitude that can distance you from uncomfortable situations. Apathy squelches emotions by affecting an “I don’t care; I can’t be bothered; whatever” attitude. Apathy seeks distractions such as TV, fun food (as opposed to nourishment), new loves, travel, money, shopping, instant fame, instant meaning, and a quick and easy way out. Apathy is a dissociated state, usually related to being stuck in the wrong environment for your needs. Because it masks emotion, though, apathy is powerless; it longs for change, but it doesn’t have the emotional agility to make conscious change happen.
If your apathy is allowed to flow freely in your psyche, you’ll let yourself take small vacations from focus and industriousness – you’ll be able to daydream, detach yourself with diversions or comfort foods every now and then, or plop yourself in front fo the tube or a mindless book when you need a break. You won’t fight your movement into distractions by throwing yourself into overwork or hyper vigilance. If you welcome your apathy, it will move on quickly, but if you inhibit it (or wallow in it), you’ll plummet into imbalance. Here’s how to maintain your equilibrium around your need to detach yourself and take a time out.
The Message in Apathy
Apathy often masks anger and depression, both of which arise in response to inappropriate environments and degraded boundaries. You can see apathy trying to slap a boundary together—trying to define itself with material possessions, addictions and distractions, sarcasm, or perfect-world scenarios. Apathy points to a loss of boundaries, and to a distinct and urgent need for change, but it does so in an ineffectual and distractible way. Apathy chatters and gripes all day, but it doesn’t ever accomplish anything. Conscious complaining, then, is an excellent antidote for apathy because it takes powerless griping and turns it into an intentional and defined practice.
Apathy and boredom can serve important functions in many situations where effective action cannot be undertaken. Adolescents, for instance, whose lives are controlled by schools and parents just as if they were still toddlers, are often plagued by apathy. Since we no longer have rituals for the complex transitions of adolescence, we don’t notice or honor the ascent into adulthood, nor do we honor the individual who’s trying to emerge. The human trapped in adolescence is ripe for ongoing bouts of boredom and apathy; she’s in an environment too small for her soul, and she can do nothing but wait until trudging, stubborn, endless time sets her free. Apathy helps to mask and staunch the incredible angers within her—angers that might incinerate the only home she has. Therefore, in our incredibly unaware culture, boredom in teenagers can be seen as a good thing.
Apathy and boredom in adults is another story altogether. Boredom is a sign of becoming a product or a victim of your environment, instead of an active and aware participant. Boredom in adults (who have choices and options teenagers can’t even imagine) is often a sign of emotional repression, avoidance, and dissociation. However, this is no reason to consider apathy and boredom as entirely odious things. We need the masking state of apathy if we’re unbalanced or dissociated and can’t use our emotions properly, and many of us use apathy to provide the flow that should come from our emotions. For some of us, apathy and the distractions it requires are the only things that can get us from one place to the next. We get bored with one job and take another; we tire of one relationship and grab on to someone else; we trudge away at work to get enough money to buy this perfect car or take that perfect vacation; we survive. We don’t understand ourselves, and we don’t live full lives, but our apathy keeps us going and provides a certain shielding from our deep issues (and the deep issues in our culture). The mindless activities apathy and boredom require can even protect us from falling into the true depressions and anxieties that underlie many distracted and dissociated behaviors.
We struggle against our natural depressions and anxieties with incredible amounts of boredom-relieving stimuli – most of us have instant, in-home access to TVs, phones, music, and computers. We can be tuned-in to noise, other people, or trivial information twenty-four hours a day. There’s no longer any socially approved time for rest, quit, contemplation, or privacy because we’ve created a world that doesn’t have room for that. We scrabble around for money, housing, and relationships; we obsess about our health, our appearance, and our families; we attempt to heal ourselves or others in what often seems a futile race against the ravages of time; and we have very little peace. People as preoccupied and stimulated as we are certainly aren’t going to drop into a meditative or contemplative mood when we slow down; we’ll either collapse into fitful sleep or fall into deep depression and anxiety about all that we haven’t got, don’t know, or didn’t do. So instead of slowing down, we surf the Net, turn on the TV, or use our favorite addiction or distraction to ignore our need for rest (or our squashed emotions and dreams) in order to keep all of our balls in the air.
Apathy masks our true selves and gets us through the inanities of modern life. It helps us believe that another car, the right lover, a different job, or the perfect slice of pie will cure us. Apathy lets us be shallow, and sometimes that’s all we can manage. Sometimes, all we can do is mask our true feelings and stay on the surface with our meaningless activities. Our emotionally deadening culture makes us believe that deep empathic living is impossible, as if true feelings or brilliant visions would slow us down unnecessarily or prevent us from meeting the rent, raising the kids, or turning the thankless crank. That’s not true, of course, but the overriding message in our culture tells us that we can’t stop to feel or dream because we have to keep moving. In response, we become highly distractible automatons. This next practice can help us become living, breathing human beings again.
The Practice for Apathy
It’s important to make distinctions between apathy that arises from your unwillingness to rest and apathy that arises from your inability to set boundaries and channel your anger appropriately. Here’s how to tell the difference. If you’re filled with apathy right now, honor it, but feed it with a deeper version of what it wants. Take the reins and become its master, instead of letting it pull you around by the nose. For instance, if your apathy wants a perfect lover, work on making yourself a valuable love partner instead of passively waiting for some super person to appear. If your apathy wants a better house, a better car, a better body, or a better wardrobe, put your best critical energy into your current house, car, body, or wardrobe, and make those things better right now. If you begin to act consciously and deepen the demands of your apathy, you’ll be able to unearth your true issues. If your apathy is a response to your refusal to rest, this practice will uncover your fatigue and probably some sadness or depression. Please set your boundary strongly, ground yourself, and replenish yourself by performing your rejuvenation practice as often as you can for a few days (and, of course, rest!). Also, have yourself checked for a sleep disorder; they are amazingly prevalent and astonishingly under-diagnosed. If these suggestions don’t relieve your fatigue, or if you drop into depression, please skip forward to the practice for depression…
If your apathy is a mask for anger, this practice will bring your anger forward. You might feel indignant, perturbed, open to attack, or trapped in your current surroundings. Please skip back to the anger chapter, set your boundary strongly, burn your contracts ferociously, and protect yourself with the information and intensity your anger brings forward. If apathy and boredom are habits for you, you may need to perform this practice a few times before you break the cycle – but the cycle will end when you bring your full awareness to it.
It is important to listen to our apathy but not to follow its demands mindlessly, because mindless action only invites more mindless action. Break the cycle mindfully by answering your apathy and boredom in conscious and honorable ways, but remember that both apathy and boredom act as tourniquets or shut-off valves for your anger and your energy when you’re not in a position to effect change. If you’re truly unable to affect your surroundings, let your apathy be, and simply deepen your responses to its demands. …
However, if you can effect change, but you’ve been hiding from your responsibilities and diminishing your boundary in the masked state of apathy, please focus and ground yourself. Ask the questions for apathy: “What is being avoided?” and “What must be made conscious?” Listen to your answers, peer out from under the mask of apathy, and find out what you’re really feeling.
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If I were to capture all the valuable stuff from here through the end of the book, I would virtually have to type the whole book, and I don’t think that would be a good idea. I’m recognizing a personal boundary here. If you are interested, I would strongly encourage you to get a copy of this book. Chapters that follow include:
- Guilt and Shame (Restoring Integrity) [this includes toxic shame]
- Hatred (The Profound Mirror)
- Fear (Intuition and Action)
- Confusion (the Mask for Fear)
- Jealousy and Envy (Relational Radar)
- Panic and Terror (Frozen Fire)
- Sadness (Release and Rejuvenation)
- Grief (the Deep River of the Soul)
- Depression (Ingenious Stagnation)
- Suicidal Urges (The Darkness Before Dawn)
- Happiness (Amusement and Anticipation)
- Contentment (Appreciation and Recognition)
- Joy (Affinity and Communion)
- Stress and Resistance (Understanding Emotional Physics)
Maybe I’ll see you at the bookstore!