Old Bags of Emotions, and What to Do With Them

black-toast-jute-bag-mediumWhen I was a 9 year old boy, in 1984, my father had a motorbike accident. It put him in a coma for many weeks, and he was on a life support system.

When he did finally come out of hospital, he’d suffered brain damage and also had several serious problems with his motor skills and physical abilities. He had to learn some of his words back, how to write, how to walk, how to use his hands and so on.

Now the details are a little fuzzy, as you might imagine from being that long ago. But there were some days there (maybe weeks; it doesn’t matter how long) where my mother had to go to work at the local supermarket, stacking shelves, and my sister was away.

So it was my job to look after daddy.

There wasn’t a huge amount to ‘do’ as such. Give him cups of tea. Help him eat occasionally. But the key thing was giving him his medicines. He was on a tight regime of drugs. He had about 9 or 10 different ones for different things. And they had to be given to him regularly. Perhaps every couple of hours.

The key thing was that if I didn’t give them to him in the right order he could die. He was entirely dependent on them in the early days after hospital.

Now, however long that lasted for, it was a huge responsibility for a 9 year old to take on. I remember making a sheet of paper with columns and rows on it showing which hour and which drugs, and carefully putting that sheet onto a coffee table next to his make-shift bed in the lounge, and laying out the drugs into the right table boxes so that I didn’t get confused as to which ones were next, and could make sure he got all of them in the right order with none of them missed.

Which I needed to do, because I found the instructions on all the little plastic bottles confusing, and when I was near him I got stressed. His language was foul. He would swear and shout. Not over anything important, and I realise now it was because he was in a lot of pain and confusion. But that was another aspect that was distressing.

His mother, my Grandmother, had offered to care for him at her house. But for some reason my mother refused. I wonder what the reasons for that were. I know that she wanted to ‘toughen me up’, but also she lost her father when she was young and I wonder now if something was repeating itself there for her.

Whatever the reasons were, that was the situation. And I had to deal with it. I could have said no, but I didn’t. I’d been given a job. I had to get it right. And if I got it wrong I could lose my dad. You could say, ‘I would kill him’, because that’s how it felt.

It’s something that I’ve recalled from time to time, and even had therapy about before. But this year, for some reason (possibly because he has now passed away), that memory came back to the surface. And I’ve realised for the first time that surrounding it is a whole bag of emotions.

The emotions in question are a bit like a sliding scale. At the low end of the scale I can just feel trapped and confused. So I have my little coping mechanisms to get me through the day; I check I’ve packed everything in my bag twice before I go out. I plan everything ahead, sometimes rehearsing business meetings days before they happen. And I turned into such a successful project manager that I ended up being the best one on the project management team. Go figure that! Good with detail, forgetting nothing.

Even at that level the modus operandi seems to be ‘preventing a catastrophe’. Enjoyment of my work doesn’t tend to come into it.

Then further up the scale the trapped and confused feelings get a little stronger. I’m great in a crisis (and my sister is, too). But if you give me something mundane to deal with I find it hard. I even remember my piano teacher saying that I found hard music scores easy, and easy music scores hard.

At the top of the scale the trapped and scared feelings reach a sort of climax. And whatever it is that triggers that ‘top of the scale’ the result is a desire to self harm. At the very worst, I start to plan to take my own life.

Whilst that state of mind, feeling suicidal, has only happened perhaps a handful of times in my life, it is a tendency I have and that I live with. So I have been working these last few months to understand where that tendency comes from, and how to make friends with it; how to be at peace with it and forgive it and so on.

I think it first happened when I was 16 and my mother died. She was a passenger on the back of my dad’s motorbike. So he was in hospital again after that accident. Whilst I don’t think I could say that I looked after him when he was convalescing that time, I did go back for a year to live with him. So he would phone my sister (who by that time was at university) to find out how to make omlettes. And I would re-cook the half-frozen pies he had cooked, and iron shirts for him, and I was there as a companion. I offered to stay instead of going away to uni, but he sweetly said, ‘go’.

But I think the second tragedy embedded something in my psyche, because I did want to take my own life then and it relates to a situation involving another motorbike accident, my dad in hospital, and coming out with problems and a stinky temper.

Dads back then…well, it was normal for them to be distant. To let the mother deal with the children. He had been traditional out of necessity in that sense before 1984. And sometimes out of wanting to (he didn’t spend many weekends with the kids). But after 1984 even when he was around he was violent, angry, quick-tempered, foul mouthed. It was hard to love him. And after the later accident he wouldn’t help himself or listen to the advice of others; he didn’t forgive himself. Perhaps on one level he didn’t want to live either. Survivor’s guilt.

When I was 21 and came out as gay I also felt suicidal then. Perhaps the triggers there were religious, but it doesn’t matter what the triggers were; I felt trapped, I wanted an escape route because there was a task I was dealing with here (this time within myself) that felt too hard to deal with. And if I didn’t get the pills in the right order (figuratively speaking) then there’d be a ‘catastrophe’.

And then again when I was about 23 or 24. I cut ties with the church community I’d been introduced to at age of 4. And I hated myself for that. So I felt trapped again. And then again in May 2013 (I had to just check the year in my calendar because I forget important dates) when Dad died, dealing with things after that I got suicidal again.

I’ve been out of work for anxiety and depression twice now. This time round, this year, it was for something different. The ‘breakthrough’ was about many things, but what surfaced was this old bag of emotions; where they came from, what to do with them. What triggers them.

So now when I feel stressed or trapped or confused or like I need to escape, I see that this is because of those 9 year old feelings. And even just seeing that much helps.

It creates distance from them; there is the 9 year old. And here is me now. And the 9 year old deals with things that way because that’s all a 9 year old can do. But I’m not that little boy, so I have different choices now. I can choose a different response to the situation.

I can tell people ‘can you tell me how I might fit that in?’, because I don’t have to take everything on and ‘save it’.

I can observe the self-loathing, curling up inside, fearful 9 year old response and say, ‘I love you, I forgive you, I’m here for you’.

Screen Shot 2015-08-16 at 10.39.44Perhaps I can’t be entirely at peace and present with the present moment of ‘Now’ in such situations (wherever they feature on that ‘scale’) quite yet. But the grip of those emotions is loosening. My modus operandi is changing.

Shortly after the latest spell out of work I realised that the name people give to children who go through this kind of thing these days is ‘child carer’. So I was telling all my buddies ‘I was a child carer’ in the hope perhaps that they’d help me understand some of all this. They couldn’t, of course. And even if they could, it wasn’t theirs to do. And I remember saying to my husband, ‘I could run a half marathon for this child carer charity! What do you think?’, and he said, ‘I think you’re still caring for your dad there.’

So here is me now, not caring for my Dad because he’s gone. And I have already been such a great success in my life because he didn’t die that time. I kept him alive with my effort and my care. So here is me now caring for myself, loving myself, nurturing myself, and knowing it is needed.

(If you are reading this, and do want to help young carers, you could donate to CarersUK or another charity for child carers where you live.)

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I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. (Ho’oponopono)

The following is a translation of an excerpt of ‘Ho’oponopono’ by Dr Luc Bodin, translated from the French by my Aunt.

‘My research conducted me after my medical training to look at ‘la medeceine energetique’. On researching the undeniable results obtained by that energy. I decided to study quantum physics. …all the atomic particles that make up our world are composed of infinitesimal waves of energy that vibrate like a chord and each chord vibrates on its own frequency like the different notes produced by a violin. Its these notes that compose our universe.’

‘Human thoughts are nothing more than information carried on a wave. There is Russian research that has established that thoughts are capable of affecting and transforming matter. So this theory of waves explains that all the universe is linked together. …There are allusions to God, or divinity. Divinity in us. All religions have the same ‘essence’ or the same ‘vibration’ in that sense. Words only indicate simply the presence of an element superior to us; an element that is situated above our manifest dimension…

‘When I started to study Ho’oponopono I realised it amplified the theories of quantum physics. Our interior and our exterior are one, and it is easy to see that we create our own world.’

Ho’oponopono is a wonderful tool that does not need long hours of study. You do not need a master guru or scientist. The technique is of childish simplicity and curiously if we listen to our intuition we sense within ourselves that the way is just.

‘With the principle to repeat in our environment anything that does not go well, any suffering or disharmony.. from there you have to say that any disharmony is the reflection of our interior suffering coming from our past memories, and the key the solution consists simply to send love, pardon to the memory…in order for it to disperse by enchantment. It appears to be too simple to be true.’

‘It is sufficient only to try it. Once the problem diminishes our reality is profoundly transformed. Ho’oponopono shows us that we live in a reflection of our internal reality; everyone creates their own reality like an artist creates a canvas. We are capable to create within ourselves paradise or hell depending on our reaction to our memories.’

‘Memories never go on vacation or retire unless you retire them. “I love you” dear memories. I am grateful for the opportunity to free all of you, and me. (“I love you” can be repeated quietly again and again.) “Thank you” – This process can be used with or in place of “I love you”. As with “I love you”, it can be repeated. …There are simply four statements that you say in order:

I love you.

I’m sorry.

Please forgive me.

Thank you.

When we experiment with Ho’oponopono, we see results in our life and are never the same again.”

After the grave

When all that is left is past pain. When all the real healing and recovery has been achieved, and is a thing of the past and not today. That is when a fresh challenge comes.

The previous challenges; how to cope with today, how to unlearn thought-patterns emergent of a damaged mind, how to let go of negative thoughts, how to choose rational thoughts over irrational ones, are gone. What is left more than anything is then simply choice.

Choice to stay content with things as they are, or choice to use what has been learnt through the expensive and difficult process of dying and finding life, of breaking down, through, and back up.

But to use what has been learnt requires a willingness to go into previously uncharted territory in one’s inner life and in the experience of life in general. To choose to allow new thought patterns to develop. To let go of favourite negative thoughts and allow new modes of behaviour and analysis.

For me, this is met with a great reluctance on a subconscious level. Perhaps because past pain is known, and being known provides a certain level of preceived comfort. Which is, of course, silly. Pain can never comfort.

So the choice is there. Finally, the opportunity arises to let go of all that I have been through, and apply the learning – pioneering a new way of being in the world.

There is only really one answer. Yes. I will let go of the past. I will let go of negative ‘comfort places’. I will brave a new world in my soul. And the cosmos is there to greet me already.

When rising from the grave is completed, there is simply new living to do.

Paradoxical wholeness

It turns out wholeness is a paradox; one that others have written about. On the one hand I have the tools and skills I’ve developed for myself through recognised psychology procedures. Tools to enable the residual developments of my healthy ego that were lacking in my upbringing.

Here, it is my skills and abilities for dealing with the world that are under scrutiny. Noy my ego in the sense of self-identity, although new identifications and attachments do emerge all the time as part of this work.

On the other hand, the task of spiritual wondering is to overcome and transcend the ego; the self with attachments and conditioning. So on the one hand I am doing work to improve the conditioning or conditions of my ego (my, if you like, programmed patterns for dealing with reality) – and on the other hand I am doing work to transcend identification with that ‘new self’ or emerging self and instead recognise self as both that emerging self and also my psychological and physical components that are unchanging, and also my unbounded spiritual self that is beyond definition and overflowing with possibility and potential.

Others have also already said that this appears to be, but is not, a paradox. It is the ego’s need to identify or attach to regular patterns of the conditioned self that gets in the way of spiritual growth; not the patterns of the conditioned self, in and of themselves.

The spiritual growth feeds into the psychological growth and change; it is the increased awareness that sheds light on which conditioned patterns need to change. I’d even say that it is the increased awareness that allows space for that transformation to take place in effect. A sense of greater calm and peace from which better responses always flow.

And the psychological growth feeds into the spiritual growth too; without it I would not be functioning so well, so would have less room and time for spiritual work.

Nobody can become Nirvanic overnight. Moments of ‘Om’ are moments until they are not moments any more. Until then, the conditioned self benefits from work in these two ways.

Enlightenment is not a bubble

My Aunt visits me regularly. We like to go out for coffees and lunches sometimes. It was she who introduced me to Eckhart Tolle, and it was Eckhart Tolle’s writings which led me to a ‘sudden awakening’. I am indebted to her; she is a skillful bodhisattva!

My Aunt thinks that enlightenment is like a bubble. If you have found this enlightenment bubble, then it does not matter what happens to you each day; you could have a bad run-in with a boss, a disagreement with a family member, someone could light your fuse, but you would remember your bubble and you would remove yourself from your immediate wish to feel all of those strong emotions. Instead you would replace them with calm, serenity, critical distance, and some compassion for yourself and for the other.

At least, I think this is how her bubble works; I am only guessing that this is what she means. However, I am cautious to regard enlightenment as a bubble. To be enlightened is to go deeper into our centres of pain – the relationships and the places that give us pain and suffering and grief – fully and deeply into them, so that we can understand all that there is to be understood about that pain and suffering, and from there we can start to release the energy of that suffering around that relationship or area and start to think more positively about it. This is the only way to be released from the perpetual cycles of suffering we are in; the network of suffering that is the human condition.

Considering that enlightenment is a bubble invites me to pretend that there is no pain or suffering. This is true; suffering is an illusion. But this is also not true; I cannot know for myself that I have foregone all suffering until I have gone into each area of my suffering fully and snuffed it out. Pretending that there is no suffering when I have not gone into the suffering and out the other side, in every area of my life, is not enlightenment. It is an emulation of nirvana, but it is not nirvana. It is looking for a shortcut that does not exist!

Enlightenment is more like a burning fire consuming all illusion until there is no illusion left. When all illusion is gone, there is just a calm glow radiating warmth and light. Which is best? A fire? Or a bubble? A bubble will feel nice today, but tomorrow when it pops the floodgates of pain and suffering will be open again. A fire will feel difficult to handle today, but tomorrow there will be less pain and suffering than there was today.

There is no healing process

There is no such thing as a healing ‘process’.

There is whole, or not whole.

When I am calm, centred, and have that natural sense of deep inner peace and stillness that every being can feel, that is wholeness. All of my pain, all of my problems, are vanished. There is no further to go. No retreat, no course, no therapy program could take me to this point of wholeness any better.

This does not mean that to have found some kind of spiritual experiential awakening means to have become a whole person. There might not be a healing process, but there is a process of integration.

Integrating that awesome peace into every area of life and every relationship is a craft that I have only just started on.

Why does the distinction matter? Surely there is not much in it. Healing process / integration process. Same thing?

Not the same. I have been to too many religious retreats and programs where the implication is that healing or personal wholeness from all previous damage is just one more step away – always just over the horizon.

If you look at it like a healing process, you may never know what healing feels like. All that it invites is for you to feel more and more sorrow for yourself.

Better to experience being a whole person first-hand – even if only for a few moments each day – and allow that light, joy, energy in through the window of your body and your mind, relationships, and all aspects of life, a little more each day.

This is upside-down to the way the world thinks. It is not in the interests of people who run churches or healing programs to teach that wholeness is already there, ready and waiting, for you to discover; that it starts with stopping processing; that our life journeys start best with discovering that we are divine amazing creatures already, and end with integrating that discovery into who we are and how we live. That is too much like being a graduate before you have studied the course. So how will the teacher get his pay?

A greedy teacher may be preventing you from discovering the truth for yourself.

If You See the Buddha on the Road

If you see the Buddha on the road, you must kill him,
If you see the Buddha on the road, you must kill him,
He’s no guide, he’s no god; even blind, he’s no guide dog,
You must kill him.

If you see the Buddha on the road, keep looking,
If you see the Buddha on the road, keep looking,
If it’s him you want to see, you’ll be looking constanty,
Keep looking.

If you see the Buddha on the road, keep walking,
If you see the Buddha on the road, keep walking,
Walk enough, he’ll fall behind, but will that give you peace of mind?
Keep walking.

If you see the Buddha on the road, unlucky,
If you see the Buddha on the road, unlucky,
Means you’ve got more miles to go; yards of fast and years of slow,
Unlucky, man.

(This is a song based on the title of a book ‘If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him! The Pilgrimage of Psychotherapy Patients’, the soto zen tradition of speaking in riddles, and the great North American slide guitar tradition.)