It was so… so… traumatic, I just CAN’T move on!
Some time ago, I was interviewed on a radio show called “Pain Tamers,” a show run by a woman named Helen Dearman. She’d had several back surgeries, and I believe she was due for number 10 just a bit after we talked.
One of the concepts she presented is one that I have worked with a lot since I talked with her. She said that she used to go in to see her doctors and when they asked her what her level of pain was, on a scale of one to 10, she would report that maybe she was feeling a five or six or even an eight.
Then she would turn to her doctor and say,
She reported that most of the doctors were quite puzzled by this idea. She’d say, “My pain level might be an eight but my suffering level is only a two.”
Her point was that there is a difference between pain and suffering, and I want to talk about that as we look at traumas. I’d like to suggest that there is a parallel between:
- pain and trauma, and between
- suffering and being a victim.
Here’s what I mean.
“This is going to be really, really hard to come back from…”
There’s no question that in every life, stuff happens. Some of the stuff that happens is really, really uncomfortable. Some of it even qualifies as a full-blown trauma.
It’s important to recognize that my goal here is never to diminish or negate the traumatic experiences that you have experienced. However, healing and moving on requires one thing.
What can go on is imagining (and suffering over) this past event.
If you think about it, this is something that we talk about a lot here. We believe that our life exists as discrete moments — we talk about being present — and that presence is moment by moment. This is especially important to remember when were thinking about trauma or pain.
What usually happens for many of us is that we begin to look at our suffering stories, and we turn them into something of an idol. In other words, it becomes a part of our identity, and at the point that this happens, we become the victims of our own stories.
It’s almost as if we become addicted to our stories. It’s the only way we see ourselves.
And then a new situation happens that is only slightly related to that original event (or it may not even be related to it at all) and we’re away to the races. We see an endless string of incidents.
Our stories seem to override both our present experience and our common sense. We see ourselves in a certain way, and as we’ve said many times in the past,
we fit our experience to the story we’re telling ourselves.
So if we see ourselves as a victim of some sort, then it only stands to reason that as things happen to us, we may choose to see ourselves again and again as victims.
It’s an odd one. Things were going along as nice as you please, and a new situation happens, and we look at it, and we scare ourselves.
I describe this as how it’s like we are filming our lives, on videotape, in our heads. Each videotape contains certain kinds of data. So we might have a data tape about women, and a data tape about men, and we might have a data tape about dating and relating. We have a data tape about sex, and a data tape about work experiences.
Now, some have a trauma tape that says, “I’m the poor helpless victim of past abuse of some sort.” When something new happens that might perhaps be better categorized as, “How I choose to relate to men or women,” or “How I do relationships,” or, “What’s happening at work,” instead that experience gets tacked onto the end of the trauma tape.
I’ve seen this happen more often than I can tell you.
It’s a pretty scary phenomenon. For example, someone will be having a discussion at work, and the discussion turns into something of an argument, and before you know it, the experience is being tacked on to the “My dad never understood me!” tape. The person then begins to relate to the person at work as if that person were the father.
If you can take a step back from this you can see how inappropriate and wasteful of our time and energy such an approach is. All of a sudden, here we are (again!) upsetting and scaring ourselves now over something that happened in the distant past. And because we’ve added the experience onto the tape of “All the men who have ever treated me wrong,” we end up feeling really, really bad over something that has absolutely nothing to do with the original trauma.
In other words, and in keeping with our theme, we are clinging to the story we are telling ourselves about past trauma, and then trying to convince all and sundry of how hard done by we are, what a victim we are, and how it “just keeps happening.”
When I point this out to my clients, there is often a tendency to want to defend the errant beliefs. And it’s a defense of a peculiar kind. Their minds go back to the initial trauma, and then they attempt to persuade me that the old trauma is real.
What I am puzzled about is how it applies to the current situation.
In other words, I’m trying to get them to see that clinging to the story is what is keeping them in their present state of suffering. There is no past, so all suffering is here-and-now suffering.
Yet, they are so committed to the story that they are incapable of seeing that the current situation is always an event in and of itself.
It won’t surprise you that I think
the solution is self-examination.
What does “The Watcher” watch,
and who does the watching?
Thinking that somehow the whole world is going to co-operate in a “Don’t make me a victim” exercise is silly in the extreme. Instead, this is the perfect place to create what I call “The Watcher” — you can read about this here.
A “Watcher” is a part of our mind that “simply watches” the activities of our minds. In Buddhism the watcher is a really important characteristic of “no-mind” — and something that takes time to develop.
That being said, it is essential to create one — if we want to stay in the moment.
The idea is that we need a part of our minds that objectively watches what we are thinking, where we are going, and how we are interpreting our reality.
We establish this characteristic of mind —this “Watcher”—and from there, are able to better understand the games our mind plays — and from there, to begin undoing trauma’s knots.
Here are five ways to set this up:
This, really, is how the game is played out. As with all of the articles in this series, the way past clinging is through letting go, and the only place we can let go is in the here-and-now. So, ultimately, everything I write about, and everything I explain, has to do with being present.
If you allow yourself to think about it, if you are present, there are no stories. All there is, is presence.I am experiencing my experience. If I find myself commenting on my experience, I am no longer having the experience. I’ve journeyed up, ever again, into my head. Up there, there is no reality—there are just stories, interpretations, judgments, and suffering.
The way out is to stop giving energy to story making, and instead to give all of my energy to experiencing experience. This will seem a little weird until you get it, yet as you get it, you begin to taste freedom.
Ram Dass said it best. “Be Here Now.” Your “Watcher” is the key to beginning the process of living moment to moment. Day to day. No stories. No attachments. Just here.
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