Handling Trauma through Non-creation

We all go through life as a series of events. Sometimes, events hurt us, some bless us in unforeseeable ways. Some of these events stay with us forever, as ‘inflection points’, points we realize changed our life, points at which we went through great emotional upheavals- positive or negative.

When we look at such powerful positive events, we begin to realize that if that event had not occurred, we would not be the people we are today. We feel over-blessed.

When we look back at powerful negative events, we realize those events shaped our belief systems for years to come, perhaps for our entire lives.

Positive events can be the birth of a child, a marriage, divorce (from an unhappy marriage), the entrance of new friendships, the loss of bad friendships, good advice, failures that guided you to eventually make the right decision, anything.

The above very same events – the birth of an (unwanted) child, an (unhappy) marriage, divorce (from an otherwise happy marriage), the entrance of new friendships (of poor quality), the loss of (apparently) bad friendships, good advice (that was never followed), failures that guided you (too late) to eventually make the right decision, can be highly negative too.

Trauma occurs when such powerful events impact our lives. Positive trauma is when we start living in “what if it had never happened” mode and negative trauma occurs when we start living in “if we had only listened to life better” mode. Both heat and cold can cause burns. Both positive and negative events can cause trauma.

So, when does trauma occur? It never occurs during the event, but always after the event, in our recollections. It is our recollections that make an event (positive or negative) unduly special in retrospect. We make those events momentous in our interpretation. And thus, trauma is how we see our past – the events themselves have little to do with it.

How, then, do we move on? How do we heal? We move on by realizing that had those events never occurred, we would never have known they were special, and we would never have attributed undue importance to them. Our attribution of importance causes trauma. When we start treating every event in life as …” normal”, we move on, we begin living in the present.

So, are no events special? Not really. Many events are special. But our mistake is not in considering some events special, but in ignoring all of the other events that built up to that “special” event.

The car accident that left you a cripple was bound to happen, building up from your parents ignoring your poor driving skills in the name of freedom, your friends encouraging you to drink on every small occasion to ward off the dumps, your exhilaration at your first salary making you splurge it on a car, your insecurities driving your eagerness to show off your driving to your girlfriend to get her approval, your inability to take care of yourself and be selfish enough to not drink and drive….all of these threads of space and time combine into a single knot at a strategic moment of time and space – we call this knot an event. The more threads that are involved in the knot, the more powerful the event becomes.

A small event having two threads- such as you missing your school bus, and you getting a lift from your neighbour give a you a positive glow, but are not powerful enough to have an impact.

Combine multiple threads such as, you missing your school bus, your neighbour giving you a lift, your neighbour stopping to buy something at the store, your school bus continuing on and arriving at school, your janitor having forgotten to wipe the floors, an illegal cigarette falling from the bus driver’s hand on the floor, the school section catching fire due to a chemical blaze and students perishing in the terrible event, and you arriving late to be among the few who escaped – that causes trauma.

When you have failed a few exams and get a job without any major issues, it barely makes an impact.

But when you have failed a few exams, are having domestic difficulties, health issues, a tough market, a competitive friends’ circle and get a job through struggle- the multi-threaded knot formed leaves an impact. We can consider even such a positive impact as trauma- a cold burn if you will.

So how indeed do we handle trauma? We handle it by realizing that every moment in our lives is building up to something bigger; every few years, many such threads are going to get stuck in a knot; realizing that after every knot, the threads separate again to form new separate knots, new traumas, new inflection points. If you live long enough, you will suffer many scars. But our scars come from rubbing our wounds. When you pick your scabs, you leave scars behind. Allow your wounds to heal, your acne to naturally go away, and your face and your life will emerge unspoiled, unscathed.

Let there be wounds, let there be events, but assign no special importance to any of them, for there are going to be a lot more just like them, and there have already been many such events before you were even born. Your birth could have been in a moving van in the middle of a cyclone, but you are not traumatized as you were never bothered about the event, just about being born.

Focus on every event in your life equally, assign no great importance to complexity, and you will learn from life, rather than being scarred by it. Our life is mirrored in our bodies. Our body and face structure mature as we advance beyond teenage, precisely because we allow life to shape our body. Our minds will also mature when we allow life to shape it. And when we stop resisting life’s expert scalpel, when we stop wriggling on life’s work-table and stay internally still, we allow life to do its best work and sculpt us into a thing of beauty that is free of inner scars.

Thus, by creating no trauma through our resistance, misinterpretations or attaching over-significance to events, we will live life untraumatized.

Realizing your True Self- Understanding the Meaning of Surrender

One of the hardest or shall I say most difficult concepts to understand in spirituality is surrender.

Most people view surrender as just giving up their life’s duties and trusting it all to God or Life or Nature or the name they prefer for a higher power. Surrender is not abdication of your responsibilities. Which brings us to the next question- who are you responsible for? And equally importantly, who are you responsible to?

We are born with our bodies and minds. Some of us are born intelligent, some of us not so. I shall be straightforward here, but it takes intelligence to know you are intelligent, but a far greater intelligence to know you are not the most intelligent. Only an intelligent person can know how dumb he or she is, how little he/ she knows. It is therefore easy to get caught up in an appreciation of our intelligence, for who better can appreciate the vastness, diversity and uniqueness of our intelligence than ourselves? Some of us are given parents who constantly point out how intelligent we are, in school and college – this adds to our misconception that our intelligence is ours – that our intelligence belongs to us.

Let us go into this delusion further and see where it leads us.

Intelligence is not just about our minds but about our bodies too. A beautiful woman is born with a body that is ‘intelligent’ enough to realize the power of attractiveness. Her looks help open doors to jobs, relationships and networks that others may find more difficult to access. This is no less true for an intelligent man, but given the role of biology as it plays out, a man may likely create or pursue a persona of power, as compared to a persona of vulnerability and trust that a woman may pursue. Again, all of us are both male and female to varying extents and a woman can rely on her masculine side to obtain power as much as a man can rely on charm (his feminine side) to get ahead. So, we see that our bodies are intelligent too, not just our minds.

Our protagonists above are often ignorant of this fact and attribute this intelligence to themselves. They begin taking credit for all of their social and professional success and thanks to magazines that idolize success, social media that encourages likes and shares, this is not difficult. This goes on until they age. Death comes to us all, not just in bodily form (where we leave our bodies) but also to our minds (say we get Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s). Sometimes, our minds simply age, our memories begin to fade, our hands are not that steady any more, our skin begins to wrinkle. We rush to combat these through medication, Botox and any other boosters we can lay our hands on. But over time, skin that is Botoxed begins to harden into ugliness, minds that are ‘boosted’ through drugs begin to atrophy into rigidity.

Our creativity begins to decline, whether we fight death or not. The only difference is, when we do not fight death, our bodies and minds age gracefully – our bodies become softer and warmer to look at (our grandparents?), our minds become less ambitious and easier to live with once they are free of ambition. In short, surrender to death makes us beautiful, makes our journey worthwhile. Fighting death brings to the surface the ugliness that we so desperately seek to hide.

Does surrender to death make us less ugly, less unattractive? Hardly. Just as milk boils and releases cream, our bodies release beauty to balance our ugliness as we age. But putting a lid on boiling milk, we only cause spillage and a mess, and lose our appetite for the vey milk that we boil. Then we can ask, if we are boiling milk and see it as an analogy to aging and the fight against death, who is boiling us- our bodies and minds? We realize the presence of something outside us, or perhaps inside us that seems to have the master control over our lives. This realization is one part of surrender.

We can take this a step further – for if death is indeed releasing us from our bodies and minds by an act of God, surely the same God had attached us to our minds and bodies during birth. This takes us to the natural questions – what do we mean by ‘us’? What is this ‘us’ that our bodies and minds are being attached to at birth, and what is this ‘us’ that our bodies and minds are being detached from upon death? It is to be noted here that we see our minds as separate from ourselves, our we would never use phrases like ‘my mind is not working today’ or ‘my legs are troubling me lately’. Clearly, we subconsciously realize that is something else separate within us, beyond our bodies and minds, beyond our physical power and intellect. We can call this our soul, our deepest true self, our primal self.

Different religions make an attempt to describe this – Hinduism tries to help you realize the existence of your soul through renunciation – giving up possessions, wealth, eventually your food, air and the body itself. During this process, you come to realize that however much you give up, something inside you refuses to die – that is your soul. Christians are shown this path through Jesus dying on the cross – Jesus decided to show a path rather than giving too many steps like the Hindus – he has essentially said ‘Try out death for yourself, and you will see what doesn’t die’. Now, death here does not mean suicide, but the experiencing death in the form of loss of our families, relationships, jobs, careers, possessions and the like. Any loss feels like death – it pains us, rips our heart apart. As the Buddhists say, when something is dying, let it die. If your job is being taken away from you despite your best efforts, let go. If your marriage is failing despite all you are doing, let it go. Let things die around you.

When you let things die around you, you master death. For now, death instead of being a force acting against you becomes a tool that helps you wash away the old and ring in the new. Death is a shower; death is a bath with soap and shampoo after a day in the sewers. Death cleans you. You begin to make friends with Death, you embrace change.

You then realize, Death is not always available at your command. True- you can kill things on your own through divorce, a job resignation or a yard sale of unwanted property. But often, Death comes calling when you are not ready or have asked for it. Who has asked Death to come to you? Who decided you needed a shower for you were stinking from not having taken a bath for years? Just like you can’t control when it rains, you also can’t control when Death decides you need a cleansing shower. Death is God in disguise, cleansing you, closing doors you no longer need, opening doors you don’t have the courage or foresight to open on your own. Death is your best friend, and sometimes Birth (of the wrong relationships, jobs, families or friends) can be your worst enemy. You realize you trust Death. This is surrender.

We now reach the next level of questioning – how do I know what I should do, and what I should trust to God in the forms of Birth and Death? You will never know – think of God as your boss who never interferes in your work but allows you complete freedom to make a mess of things at the office. He/she steps in only when you are messing up in the wrong way. Messing things up is perfectly fine as we now understand, for if we are going off path, we experience corrections in our life by either getting things added to our life or removed from our life. So, if we need to allow God to be our boss, we need to allow things to be added or removed. Let us remember, Death is our best friend, not the friends we talk to everyday. If Death decides to remove our friends because you want to marry someone against their wishes, let it be. If Death decides to allow you to start your own company by sacking you from your job, let it be. Therefore, the only way Death can be our friend is through keeping our other relationships on earth ‘loose’. We call this detachment, best explained in Buddhism. Detachment is what helps us prioritize the main relationship in our life, with God, allowing him to do his work. God does his work anyway – the difference is whether you accept his (her) decisions with understanding or you accept his/ her decisions kicking and screaming. Accepting God’s decisions comes through understanding- this understanding reduces our suffering when Death comes knocking. This is surrender.

We now come to the final part of surrender. If we decide surrender is the only way to live, it becomes a religion and cult, rather than a philosophical guide. Our ultimate act should be surrendering surrender itself. Do not accept surrender as the true way, do not force others to surrender – instead surrender yourself to their lack of knowledge. Do not force yourself to accept or apply this article, you are free to surrender this article too.

Thus, as its final parting gift, surrender teaches you that the only person you can control, the only person you can make decisions for regarding surrender is yourself. No one else. By allowing you to surrender everything, including surrender itself, it leaves you with the greatest gift of all- complete, personal freedom of the soul.

From False Wounds to True Healing

How to know if you have healed (enough)

Image by 6155856 from Pixabay

Many people begin healing their pain by seeking wisdom, understanding themselves better, and accepting themselves. But their journey never ends. A person traumatized by an event continues to work on his/her trauma all through life. A depressed person embarks on a never-ending search for the perfect state of non-depression. I find this approach doomed to failure.

Healing is an imperfect process. Healing begins with recognizing our incompleteness and ends when we are comfortable with that incompleteness. Once healed, we continue to remain incomplete. Healing does not remove problems from our life — it merely helps us:

  • Move away from our problems (not everything can be solved)
  • Resolve and change things to a new state (resolve or restart)
Image by Zuckerschneggle from Pixabay, Author’s edits

The reason some people never heal is because they evaluate their healing in a flawed manner.

Healing is not always repair, it can be choosing a more natural state

We are works in progress. As we grow, we leave parts of ourselves behind. When we find that we have ‘lost’ a part of ourselves in healing, we believe we are still unhealed, which can be a mistake.

Children lose milk teeth so they can grow permanent ones. Babies give up soft skin and flexible joints so they can grow sturdy, muscular ones. Having milk teeth or soft joints are not wounds to be healed, they are just different states. Healing does not always mean advancing to a higher version of your previous self, it may just require shifting yourself to a new, more natural state.

Don’t evaluate your healing against someone with a different wound

Everyone is on a different life path with their own challenges. Everyone is working on healing wounds that serve as crutches they need to shake off. It does not make sense to compare yourself, a person struggling with math, to a person who is natural at math and struggles with poor communication. You might be a financially poor person with a healthy life- it would be incorrect to compare yourself to a rich person who relies on drugs and caffeine to work 20 hours a day. Since there is no one out there with the exact wounds you have, comparison doesn’t help.

Wounds are to be judged by your perception, not others’

Let me give an unusual example- many decades back, there was an influx of literature on abuse in the media. Upon reading this, many men and women re-evaluated their childhoods and accused their parents of childhood abuse. When they had been children, they had never felt it as abuse (they had accepted it as normal), but when they grew up, they evaluated their own childhoods through others’ eyes and ‘discovered’ wounds that they ‘should have suffered from’. As present day adults, they were well-settled, but in the process of educating themselves, they decided to feel wounded.

Move towards self-awareness, but beware of self-delusion. Education should help you evaluate your life through your eyes, not through others’.

True wounds exist in the present, false wounds exist in the past

Going back to the example above, the adults in the story were happy and settled. If they had suffered trauma, it would have been justified to revisit past wounds. However, as happy adults, the only reason they revisited their past was to validate their education and new self-awareness. This is a perfect example of ‘the idle mind becoming a devil’s workshop’. Since they had no specific problems in their life, they could not use their education to solve genuine problems. So they used their new-found knowledge to find ‘false’ problems to solve, creating a lot of suffering for themselves and others.

Others can project their wounds onto you

A good example of this is seen among over-cautious parents. A child who got bored in class 20 years ago got a scolding and a lecture. After around say, 4–5 years, the child actually found something he/she was interested in and did well at school.

Today, ‘educated’ parents rush their children to therapy, where they are diagnosed quickly with ADHD and given enough drugs to kill an elephant. The drugs don’t actually improve the kid, they shut down the ‘boredom-inducing system’ and also what remains of the child’s creativity. People are afraid to leave kids to their own devices any more, these kids are treated with their parents’ devices.

Bringing up children is partly a waiting game — the child has to grow at its own pace. When parents become impatient, they encounter fear and anxiety. When their child doesn’t grow fast enough to soothe their fears, they project it onto their children and label their kids as disabled.

We see this in relationships and marriages too. It was natural for people to be different a few years ago, it was natural for couples to fight. One partner usually became a more flexible partner, and the other a less-flexible directional one (irrespective of gender). This flexibility differed by area based on each partner’s strengths. Today, with both partners being told that they need to agree or divide everything perfectly, they ‘project’ wounds of relationship abuse onto each other. They rush to pre-marital and post-marriage therapy.

A bully at high school tripping you down the corridor is a high school grudge, it need not become post-traumatic stress syndrome. Being bored with grammar does not mean ADHD, it might mean you need to take a creative writing class. Fighting all the time does not mean your partner is abusing you, it might just mean you are incompatible. A new mother wanting to be alone with her baby might mean just that, not post-partum depression.

I am not commenting here on the validity or seriousness of psychological disorders. But psychology is becoming a bit like selling soap. You might need to bathe just once a day, but by showing you ads where microbes keep crawling all over your skin each time you shake hands or kiss, you are trained to use and buy more soap…or mouthwash. By constantly showing you examples of how you are doomed to unhappiness unless every single thing in your life is perfect, you are urged towards finding new problems and more therapy. With healing becoming a business, wounds become reduced to ‘creating a need in the market’.

If we don’t learn to be patient with ourselves and others, we shall continue to discover new wounds. As long as we search for proof that we have (completely) healed, we shall never heal. A healed person is not complete, he/she has discarded those wounds that serve them no more, and chosen the wounds that he/she can handle. Once you can handle a part of yourself, it ceases to be a wound.

When you rely on someone outside you — it might be your friends, a role-model, your parents, your spouse…anyone, to understand why you are flawed, you create false wounds. These false wounds can never be healed because they aren’t your wounds, they belong to someone else. True wounds are found through introspection, not through comparison.

Emotions are natural — both the ups and downs. The moment you divide emotions into ‘good’ and ‘bad’, you create wounds. The only way to be constantly, everlastingly happy is keep yourself pumped up through drugs and alcohol or by going insane. For everyone else, it is normal for emotions to go through a down cycle to help the body recharge. This down cycle is not a wound — it is how we remain physiologically and mentally stable.

It is okay to be happy and unwounded. Others’ discomfort with who we are does not mean we are flawed or wounded. We need to judge our happiness and pain by our own standards, not those of society. We will find your deepest joy when we see pain and obstacles as challenges to help us grow, not as wounds that need constant healing.

This article is related to my earlier post:

View at Medium.com

Remember How to Heal, But be More Forgetful

I find many struggling with pain, filling their lives with suffering. It is time to remember that every wound contains within itself the ability to heal. Humor helps.

Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash

You are a baby, you have just begun crawling. You are excited- you can crawl, you can CRAWL! You give your parents a big toothless smile and accelerate towards them at the (mind-boggling) speed of 2 miles/hour. Increasing velocity, increasing….increasing…and BANG! (Where did that chair come from?) Of course, you have an in-built program to handle just such a situation

1. Begin phase 1- cry: keep checking to see if strange man or woman notices

2. Gradually increase crying volume till your feet magically leave the ground

3. Allow strangers to say random words in unknown language

4. Go to sleep, forget about it

5. Wake up the next day, ready to bump head (or boneless knee) once again

Fast forward a few years. You are 13. You trip down a set of stairs.

1. You rub your butt. Your head is filled with humiliation, your ears with your friends’ laughter

2. Your friends decide to record this for all posterity with their mobile phones

3. You laugh along with them, making a mental note to yourself to keep your mobile phone handy to capture the instant they fall

4. You forget about your butt. You remember your mobile phone.

You are middle-aged. It is a complex world. Charts and figures astound you, people overwhelm you, your body has decided that it doesn’t like that much beer or street food after all. You read news of world catastrophes, poverty and misery. People keep telling you that if you are (or look) happy, it is sinful and selfish. You need to keep worrying to prove to society that you are compassionate.

Your significant other dumps you. You lose your job…

1. You can’t take it anymore, you (decide to) feel whammied

2. You are unable to cope with the situation- the (painful) scene keeps replaying inside your head

3. You are unable to forget- you rush to your (mini?) bar

4. You fall into a stupor, hoping you don’t get up for some time

5. You get up, wonder why you drank so much

6. You actually remember why you drank so much, and you realize…Your. Life. Is. Ruined. Forever.

7. You research online. You seek therapy. You self-medicate.

8. You decide you will never forget this. You decide to never recover.

9. You realize you need to learn how to heal

Babies heal. Adults forget that they were babies once.

You don’t need to learn how to heal. You have simply forgotten. Healing is like your Windows OS (sorry Mac users) pre-loaded into a corner of your laptop’s hard drive. If your laptop goes crazy, you do a factory reset, a system restore and presto, your laptop’s as good as new. You need to do just that to heal- a system recovery. You need to go back into your past to heal your present, but there is no need to stay there.

So, how do you heal yourself?

1. Stop worrying about getting hurt. You will get hurt. There are tables and chairs everywhere, but how will you know where they are without bumping your (soft 1 year old) head once in a way? Next time, you will be careful. You will handle that table when you are ready- you will DESTROY that table the day you turn 2 or 5 or whatever (you don’t know to count yet, anyway). Until then, the table had better watch out. You can’t stop crawling just because mommy or the table said so. You can’t stop living just because life says so.

2. When you get hurt, scream away. Not that loudly (society is watching), but at least inside your head. Use a few swear words, forget about being a gentleman or lady. That way, people watching you will also become traumatized at your behavior and reach out to you for therapy. If someone wants to comfort you, grant them that privilege. If you want to be alone and laugh it off, that’s perfectly fine. Get it out of your system. Life punched your tire, allow it to inflate back with a pop.

3. Make a mental note to learn about what hurt you. If someone is bullying you, learn to stand up for yourself. If someone dumped you, stop carrying them around in your head. In fact, dump them back (mentally, not on the phone- that might be silly). If you got fired, search for a new job…but learn why you got fired to ensure you don’t end up that way again.

4. Keep rubbing your butt where it hurts. Yes, it will hurt for a while, but one day when you are watching Netflix or reading something on Medium, you will forget all about it (there you go, I just reminded you to rub it again).

5. Focus on better things. Most people who try to heal try very hard to forget pain. You can’t forget pain, you can only deprioritize it till it no longer figures in your todo list (crap, I forgot to heal my pain today, but no time- gotta rush). When you have other things filling up your life, you will have little time to remember when and where you got hurt. Remember that time when you rubbed your hand or finger, wondering where you bumped it because you can’t recollect? That’s exactly what I am talking about. Positive focus and a bad memory are two sides of the same coin.

That is all that healing is, in a nutshell. Just don’t keep picking at the scabs or you will end up having a scar- let nature take care of things. Remember how to heal, but the moment you decide to heal- develop a bad memory.

Four steps…Pick yourself up, analyze and forget the incident (you have better things to think about), forget the pain (you have better things to feel)…but remember the lesson (to make sure your future is better than your pa ** — sorry, really can’t recall that last word).