Flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, images, voices, nightmares – this is the everyday reality of someone healing their history of trauma and attachment. It’s a painful experience.
Triggers cloud and obliterate hope making life hard to bear. Hard because they are so often and they feel unrelenting. These triggered moments spiral into darkness and suffering. It’s easy to feel, “This is too much. I can’t do it.”
Buried under all this triggered experience is the nascent wish for to feel better, to feel whole, to feel solid and sure.
As dark and painful as being in the suffering is there is something more compelling and profound — holding on to the often tiny, fragile beacon of hope. The wish that It can get better.
Of all the many skills I have learned and taught over the years there are two fundamental skills to all of them.
The first is mindfulness, being able to notice what’s there and being able to focus on what you want instead of what is happening to you.
Being able to notice, witness, observe what arises, what is happening is an essential tool.
More important, though, is being able to focus. It’s one powerful practice you can use to conquer triggers and get out of their physiological loop.
When we concentrate on something everything else fades to the background — just like the photo of the daisy.
The amazing thing about any trigger is that it comes upon us creating a reality so real, so compelling that it’s hard to “get” that it’s a trigger, that it’s so undigested material arising.
It doesn’t feel like “undigested material” – it’s real.
I remember a moment in my own healing, although I don’t remember what triggered me. What I do remember is walking feeling this, whatever it was, pushing on me, obscuring my vision. I knew where I was and what I was doing but some part of me was observing how utterly difficult it was to sort out the here and now from the intrusions.
That day I walked and walked and walked. After years of meditation there was an almost automatic, albeit difficult to notice focusing going on. I started saying to myself, “I’m here now. I’m here now. I’m walking. “
Those years of meditation helped me intensify my focus, narrowing my field. Doing that I noticed the triggered “noise” subsiding, my vision starting to clear, the tension in my body starting to ease.
When we’re overwhelmed by the volume that comes from being triggered it’s really hard to hold on knowing that things change, that you won’t be stuck in the trigger forever.
Yet, it’s true.
Training yourself to focus, to concentrate on where you want to go, and learning to intensify your focus so you don’t get sidetracked by the noise will help you remember your true nature, that you are more than the hurt, the grief, and the suffering that comes from trauma.
Try taking some time every day to practice training your mind to focus. You can try focusing on a phrase or a sound. Use something neutral to be the object of your attention.
One of my favorite practices is to offer a blessing to someone neutral. I often do this while I am waiting in line at the grocery store or sitting in my car behind the garbage trucks on the way to work. (Cultivating patience is a virtue! And I continue to work at it.)
Think of some phrase that doesn’t carry much charge for you. It might be as simple as “May you be okay today,” or one of the classic loving kindness phrases, “May you be happy. May you be at peace.”
Say the words to yourself and extend the energy of the blessing to whoever is in front of you. Offer them the intent of the phrase. If you find thoughts intruding try heightening your attention, noticing more details about the person or the sound or the image. You don’t have to do this for long. Try it and see what happens inside you.
Of course, if you find yourself getting negatively activated, stop. If it persists shift your attention to something relaxing and enjoyable. Never push yourself to do anything that doesn’t feel right or good to you.
There’s no failure with any of this. Whatever moments you do are laying the foundation for more. The memory will be there. Each moment of reinforcing a positive state will balance and counteract the legacy of suffering.