Sunday, June 12, 2022

Playing Small Does Not Serve the World

    One of the world's foremost experts in PTSD wrote: “If you feel safe & loved, your brain (is) specialized in exploration, play, & cooperation; if you are frightened & unwanted, it (is) specialized in managing feelings of fear & abandonment." Bessel Van Der Kolk. “The Body Keeps the Score. Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma.” Penguin Books, 2015.
    We immediately (incorrectly) assume that we're in the first "normal" group, and only a few war veterans & perhaps some severely traumatized first responders fit in the second "damaged" group. What proportion of your day do you feel anxious, needy, alone, uncomfortable COMPARED TO feeling light-hearted, carefree, adventurous, excitedly participating in group adventures? We can EITHER be afraid (hurt child) OR loving (wise elder) - our two basic 'ways of being' or 'operating systems,' - only ONE of which can be running at a time.
    Van Der Kolk writes that all of us have been exposed to a wide variety of traumas. The degree to which traumas have impacted our lives will clearly show by our dominant attitudes & moods. In Westernized societies like ours, I suspect very few of us grow up retaining a young child's innocent trust, feeling safe & loved, playing care-free and exploring the world with an open-hearted attitude towards all. 
    So most of us have endured sufficient direct & secondary trauma to have developed defenses against further injury: physical defenses - contracted, tight, stiff, tender muscles; emotional defenses - walled-off hardened heart, cynicism, suspiciousness, pessimism, fatalism, nihilism, anger, disgust; & mental defenses - left-hemisphere dominant, self-centered, narcissism, materialism. 
    Many of us are locked into this very constricted bleak worldview, so much so that it forms a sense of a very small 'self.' We're so emotionally bonded to this small sense of 'self' that when we're shown that we're so much more, it just makes us angrily defensive. This dark worldview draws our attention to, & magnifies everything that confirms, and away from, & trivializes anything that contradicts our dark, small worldview & self-concept.  
    As Anais Nin & others have said, we see things as we are. Our ego / left-hemisphere craves 'being right,' consistency & certainty, even if that means being stuck in misery. So it's incredibly easy to get stuck in despair & disgust - one just needs to become a CNN news junky. 
    It’s essential to remember that our disgust about past & ongoing human atrocities, no matter how justified our anger may feel, is nothing more than transient thoughts & emotions that are best “held lightly” with huge helpings of self-compassion & compassion for ALL
    One way to make some sense of this: A wise elder may disapprove of & be deeply saddened by her grandchild's criminal behavior, BUT nevertheless holds the child in safety & unconditional love (instead of hatred & vengeance) trusting that nurturing will bring about even his evolution (instead of giving up on a 'hopeless case' & 'throwing away the keys'). Our justice & prison system clearly need to evolve.
    “So long as one is merely on the surface of things, they are always imperfect, unsatisfactory, incomplete. Penetrate into the substance & everything is perfect, complete, whole.” Philip Kapleau. “The Zen of Living and Dying. A Practical and Spiritual Guide.” Shambhala, 1998.
    With practice, we can all gradually grow out of the fearful hurt child "fight, flight, freeze reaction" phase of life, and remember to mature back into, & re-assume our true nature the wise loving elder "tend & befriend" & "nurturing" phase. We progressively widen our circle of intimacy & nurturing, which happens naturally as we remember to reconnect with our true nature.
    And the practice boils down to simply noticing when we're once again in a dark place (mentally, emotionally, physically - usually in some combination), and 'sense' our way back to the light by 'deeply listening' (metaphorically speaking) for that within us that is always there, but is very, very subtle, with the characteristics of silence, stillness & peace. So effective meditation is very different than most of us imagined when we started.

    “As we sit quietly without any intention to change things or to have any particular experience we will begin to feel a sense of relaxation that deepens into a peaceful state as we progress. By letting go of wanting peace we begin to see that it is already here. It will be seen in time that all our attempts to get something simply clouds our awareness of what is already here.” Helen Hamilton. “Dissolving the Ego.” Balboa Press, 2021.

    There are excellent current guides to help us shift from chronic existential angst, frozen in anxiety, dread, sadness, hopelessness & meaninglessness into the process of awakening to our true nature. They all have many free youtube videos, as well as books & trainings programs:

    Helen Hamilton :
    Louise Kay :
    Eckhart Tolle :
    Adyashanti :
    Judith Blackstone :
    Stephan Bodian :
    Dorothy Hunt :
    Mooji :
    Be prepared to meet resistance to attempting this all-important shift, because
our dominant ego/left-hemisphere interprets it as an attack on our life! Much like when we were kids & someone called us a "bad name" & we felt as if we'd been seriously physically wounded. Especially at a "mature" stage in life, psychological rigidity tends to dominate - “Can’t teach old dogs new tricks.” BUT if we're interested in maturing / evolving, we know that we have to learn to become psychological flexible
    Be very kind & patient with yourself, as when teaching a 2-year old child or a 2-month old puppy. When training yourself, as with little children & puppies, our primary responsibility is to hold the 'student' in safety & unconditional love. 'Success' is the student feeling safe & loved, regardless of whether learning seems to be occurring at all, slowly or quickly. As per the top of the page, the absolute essential conditions for exploration, play, & cooperation are feeling safe & loved.
“In this choiceless, never ending flow of life
There is an infinite array of choices.
One alone brings happiness -
To love what is.” Dorothy Hunt
COLIBRI, art by Martina Hoffman
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