Undoing Trauma’s Knots

  1. Nothing to Cling To
  2. Clinging to People
  3. Unstuffing from Stuff
  4. The handy dandy 5 step plan to cure what ails you
  5. Real Relating
  6. No-Body Home
  7. Undoing Trauma’s Knots
  8. Non-Habitual Living and Being
  9. Healing the Mind — Body Split
  10. Ideological Foolishness
A New Series—On Clinging
clinging

Trauma Dramas

monkey

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,

“Are you interested in my level of suffering?”

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.

Stuff Happens”

terror

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.

You must learn that trauma is one real moment in time. Thus, a trauma does not go on.
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.

sad kid“Something tells me I’ll be stuck on this for life…”

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.

Each time we experience something new, it gets tacked onto the end of one of those tapes. When we recall the new event, the rest of the tape plays, too.

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.

I have no doubt that their recollection of the original situation is fairly accurate.
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.

buddha

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:

1. Monitor your body
ropes
“Tied up in knots?
Me?”

It’ll come as no surprise to you that the first step in this process is to become aware of what’s going on in your body.

In almost all cases, you’ll find that there’s some part of your body that tightens up when you’re going into suffering / victimization mode. You’ll find that your stomach gets queasy. Your neck gets tight, or perhaps you feel pain in your lower back. It is important for you to discover for yourself where in your body you hold stress. Then, as you imagine this character called “The Watcher,” give this character permission to continually monitor these parts of your body. The idea is that the quicker you can notice that you’re tightening up, the quicker you will notice that you are torturing yourself. And as you notice, you can have a breath and take a step back.


2. Review your stories

The whole point of paying attention to your body is to notice that something is up—and nine times out of 10, the “what’s up” is that your present experience is being linked to a past, traumatic story. What is really weird is that the story often wins out over reality.

It’s important that you take a look at the stories you tell yourself. It’s not about whether the stories are true. This is an exercise in deciding whether the stories are helpful.

I’ve always had this odd little story floating around in the back of my mind. When I’m really having a bad day, I tend to think that I have no friends. Darbella will start snickering and will say, “Nobody loves you, everybody hates you, time to go into the backyard and eat a worm.”

This story gets in my way and I’m miserable. And it’s my story. Some days I even want to stick to it. That’s when I need to give myself a shake, turn my attention to what I want as opposed to what I don’t want, and invent a new story.


3. Contextualize your stories

The reason these stories have so much power is that we let them be. They go on and on, without our permission, rattling around in our heads, and making us miserable. (Now of course, I know that “I make me” miserable; it’s always an inside job.)

The important piece is that we challenge the stories.
If we just leave them alone, they’ll run our lives until we die.

So, examine your stories, and as you do, listen to them with a new pair of ears. Pretend that you’re hearing the story for the first time. Be sympathetic. Listen to yourself carefully, and then give yourself permission to understand that the story is just a story and is not relevant to the moment. Have a breath and let it go.

Now, clearly, you’re going to have to do this a lot. These stories don’t just disappear, and the more energy you have given to them in the past, the harder they are to dislodge. So be patient and cut yourself some slack. As you listen to dispassionately to the stories you tell yourselves, and as you drop the stories into new contextual frames, you’ll find that gradually, moment by moment, the stories lose impact.


4. Reduce your suffering
scary

Yes, your suffering is under your control. Always has been, even when you didn’t know it.

Remember, the initial situation is equivalent to physical pain, and the drama you are in the middle of now is self-created suffering. In many respects, the two have absolutely nothing to do with each other.

Once you’re able to see this clearly, you can separate the two events even more. You do this by bringing your focus only to the current moment and to the suffering you’re creating for yourself. Breathe. Breathe again.

Allow your “Watcher” to comment about what’s really going on right now. Differentiate between your stories and reality. This conscious breaking of the chain between past and “NOW” is the essential ingredient in reducing your suffering. Allow your attention to simply be on the present moment, and then upon what you choose to do next. This is not a judgment about the past, or about its validity. It’s a firm, conscious, and authentic choice to stay in the moment.


5. Your new story is “I have no story.”

Ultimately, our goal is to get to the point were we really don’t need to tell ourselves stories. At one level, this is an unrealistic goal.

Meditators, for example, know the impossibility and the futility of trying to stop the little voices in their heads. With experience, they discover that it is possible to bring their attention back to the breath, or whatever else they are focusing on.

In other words, it is completely within our power to dictate where our minds go, but it’s only possible if we’re willing to stay present.

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.


Spice Up Your Lovemaking
sex around the house

I’ve been reading and recommending Michael Webb’s e‑books for years. His newest is called “Sex All Around the House.” This book actually has some fantastic and exciting ideas you can use to spice up any lovemaking, no matter how fiery it already is. And best of all, because toys are so expensive, you’ll save lots of money (and lots of embarrassment) by using the items you already have around the house.

Read more here



Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

2 thoughts on “Undoing Trauma’s Knots”

  1. Hi Wayne, I just found this…a few years late but it was so nice to read what you wrote. Thank you! I ended up having 11 back surgeries and I’ve just had my first book published. The title is familiar, PainTamers. Hope you are doing well. Feel free to email back
    Helen

    Reply

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