After discussing vasanas (our old upsets from the past) by email with Gabrielle, I asked her if she would contribute an article on her method, as a psychotherapist, of working what what she called “trances.” When a vasana is triggered, we do go into automatic behavior and act as if entranced. So “trances,” it seems to me, is a good way of approaching the subject of our unfinished business.
Her way of working with them is, in my terms, cognitive, the way in fact that my wife also prefers to work with them. There are many ways to work with them. And I consider that the more ways we have or know about the better we’ll do in being the clean-up committee for Earth.
A wise and wonderful Teacher once told his students back in the 80’s: “You are the clean-up committee for Earth”. At the time, I imagined that our job was custodial. Yes, Earth has been trashed, and someone has to do the dirty work of cleaning things up.
I can do that. I’ll recycle, be more mindful with my energy usage, pick up trash on the sidewalk etc, etc. Then, all hell broke loose in my life and I realized I was destined to clean up more than physical garbage. There was one traumatic incident after another, and initially I felt quite victimized. That was part of my garbage. I’m not a victim, but that was the way I saw things based on my previous conditioning [or karma]. That needed to be cleaned up, and no one could do it but me.
As the years have gone by, I continue to reflect on the metaphor of the cleanup committee. I believe that’s what many Lightworkers/Starseeds are here for. We came to clean up our unresolved issues because we can, because we volunteered, because through the ages we, as a collective, have unwittingly made a mess, and because Earth now needs to be returned to her pristine state. Here’s the challenge: the mess exists not only in the physical, but in our energetic, emotional, mental and spiritual bodies. Whew….that’s quite a job! In my opinion, it also happens to be the most important work on the planet.
We’re running out of time, and someone has to do the clean up of our unfinished business. Yes, our collective unfinished business. Could cutting through our personal, internal struggles be the key to breaking through humanity’s ancient outworn patterns? If we’re all connected, cleaning up those Vasanas in our personal lives could have the additional effect of cleaning up the “dross” of our collective aberrant patterns and energies. You know….the patterns of power over, warring, conflict, impoverishment, victimization, etc. Perhaps the war without is caused by an unresolved war within. Perhaps our job is to be spiritual warrior/custodians. As we effectively battle our internal demons, we might just be cleaning up more than our own mess!
The question is: how do we go about the job of working with the numerous emotional charges we feel on a daily basis? Left to our own devices, we generally respond to triggers/upsets in our life the way we always have. We feel angry, anxious, frustrated, paralyzed, confused, overwhelmed, apathetic, sad, depressed, abandoned, greedy, impatient, judgmental, arrogant etc., etc. The list is endless and depends on the situation and our conditioned response to it. For the most part, we think those feelings are justified. They are compelling and feel very real. They also cause us to suffer.
This is why some say that working with our emotional nature is the last frontier. It takes a great deal of spiritual maturity to tackle the complicated arena of our feeling states because of the tremendous charge they carry.
Moreover, when we’re triggered, we often forget what we’ve come to know about handling these tricky situations. How can that happen? All that study, meditation, therapy, journaling, processing, and reflection go out the window! We get caught in a familiar funk and don’t know why.
Often, that causes us to feel like a failure, but this is simply part of the human experience. We all do this. Regardless of the trigger or unresolved issue, we fall into a sort of pit, feel one of many heavy feelings, and have a tough time remembering what we can do to climb back out as we regain our sense of equanimity. In short, we go into an automatic, unconscious state and often find ourselves in another mess.
In my work, we call these things “trances”. Life sails along until something happens with which we still have a charge. The trigger brings up the energy of an old unresolved issue so strongly that we fall into a “trance” or hypnotic state of paralysis, or anger, or fear or [name an emotional state connected to the issue].
We’ve a fraction of a second to recognize what’s happening before we’re deep into the heaviness….and it feels very real. We temporarily forget our hard-won skills because we’re literally in a trance. In that trance we feel and think, and possibly do what we’ve done before….as if hypnotized. This is a version of Freud’s repetition compulsion.
Why do we do this? Simply put, the constant suffering eventually brings something to our awareness. We don’t want to suffer any more and realize we need to approach the issue differently. We want to gain some mastery instead of being whipped around by our thoughts and feelings.
The light of observation, and some increased awareness can begin to change the habit. Unfortunately, most of us have to slog through repetitive patterns for decades, if not lifetimes, before we find another way to respond.
Fortunately, there are many approaches to shifting these recurring patterns. Taking a few deep breaths is always a good start. That tends to create a gap in the charge, and we can always use the extra oxygen. Then we can observe what is going on in our bodies.
Often there is a tightening in some part….our throat, chest, gut or head may contract or otherwise give us a clue that something is awry. In our intellectually-focused culture, we tend to ignore these sensations or suppress our awareness of them. Instead, we could say…. “Hey, thanks for the information. It appears that I am about to fall down the rabbit hole of…. [fill in the trance du jour]”
This is where we can change the pattern and break the trance. We can now bring our awareness or observation to what the mind is doing. Why? Because it was a thought that triggered the feeling that takes us tumbling down that familiar hole….and we’re really tired of that place!
I know that it seems as if the feeling just came up, but actually there was a way of thinking about the challenging situation that triggered the feeling to begin with. It only took a fraction of a second to go from thought to feeling, but the thought came first. Think about it.
Another deep breath, and we could start the process of inquiry. We get curious. Some possible approaches: “Wow…that’s interesting. I feel that I could easily slip into an old pattern here [anger, shame, fear, guilt etc.] I wonder why I’m seeing things this way. Could I see this situation differently? Is there another way to frame this? Do I need to take this personally? Can I let it go? Is this situation worth getting upset about? Would going down that hole serve me? Would it serve the people around me? Do I really want to get swallowed up and suffer again? I know it feels familiar, justified, even tempting…perhaps juicy, but what if I took a step back and looked at this another way?”
This simple process interrupts the mind’s habitual pattern, and it gives you a chance to access your higher consciousness. Then you might have the awareness to see things from the perspective of your Essential Nature or Higher Self. In the case of human relationships, we could realize that the folks who triggered us are probably playing out their karma, and we have the option of either responding from our karma…. or our Essence. If we fall into the trance, usually one person’s karma meets another’s karma and then we’ve another mess.
Instead, we can glimpse the possibility that something needs to be cleaned up in our unconscious….its a piece of our unfinished business, our old baggage. After all, we’re the one that has the charge….someone else in the same situation may not be troubled at all.
So let’s look at an example of a minor trigger but a common trance. [It’s easier to start this process with things that have less of a charge] I got a call between appointments today that my hair stylist was running at least half an hour late. My day was packed with clients, appointments and chores and the first thought was that I wouldn’t be able to fit everything in, or that I might be late for something.
Then, I noticed a tightness in my gut…fear, anxiety, and frustration came up. I felt a little heat and noticed some anger…. Crap, she always runs late [her karma] and I thought I had factored that in. I had a choice. I could go with the fear and anger, make my lovely friend wrong and feel victimized, or I could come from Essence, breathe and let it go. Not so easy….my ego-mind wanted to hang on to the feelings and drag me into a juicy trance. I could see it coming, so I worked with it.
A few deep breaths…..“Why am I seeing things this way? It’s only a half hour. You can make some calls and change times if you have to. These things have a way of working out. I love Patty and I don’t want to make her wrong. She does the best she can and at least she called. This isn’t personal and you aren’t a victim. It doesn’t serve me or our relationship to get upset over this. If I fall into the trance of anger it’s only going to cause me to suffer, and I don’t want to suffer. It’s a beautiful day….I’ll go out and enjoy that extra half hour and trust that things will work out.”
So I did and they did. This whole process only took a few minutes. I then had a chance to experience a beautiful fall day, got my hair cut, got to the next appointment on time and got my chores done. I ended my day feeling good about everything and wasn’t carrying around any more baggage….no messes this time.
Yes, this is a very simple example, and some folks might not have had any charge at all. We’re all different….we all have our own unique constellation of issues that drive our trances. What matters is that we stop feeding them. What matters is that we don’t give them any energy.
In the moment of an upset, there is a possibility to become conscious and responsible for our reaction. We can breathe deeply, notice the feeling, step back from the usual response and ask some questions. We can look at the trigger ask ourselves if it is time to take out the trash. Most importantly, we can be compassionate with ourselves because this work is not easy, and we may need a lot of practice before we’re proficient at trash removal.
We’ve accepted a big clean up job and we simply need to take it one step at a time. The process of cutting through these trances takes mindfulness, patience, and gentleness among many other things. It took a long time for these habits to develop, and it will take a while to unravel them. There are many other ways to work with them, so if the above doesn’t work, there are more options. Here’s another: Show up, pay attention, do your best and let go of the outcome.
“The Tibetan mystic, Terton Sogyal, said that he was not really impressed by someone who could turn the floor into the ceiling or fire into water. A real miracle, he said, was if someone could liberate just one negative emotion.” (The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.)
That is certainly another way of looking at the difficulty we face. Let’s give ourselves some credit here. Perhaps being part of the clean up committee is also about working miracles.