For the next four weeks, I want to explore the difference between a TRUE spiritual experience and a trauma response. I am going to be diving deep into the work of Byron Katie, because I feel like her specific method as well as her personal story is a great example of what I am trying to express. This is not meant to be a 'hate' post on her, as I know she is simply doing what she feels is right and best for her. Let's explore what may be going on behind the scenes of her work, and how we can learn from her experience to enhance our own.
To Know God Is To Transcend Pain:
For as long as I have been alive, there has been this idea in the ‘spiritual’ world that to have an experience of ‘God’ is to transcend pain. To get out of suffering through having some sort of inner realization that everything is 'as it should be.' That 'truly spiritual' people don’t have negative thoughts or emotions and that transcendence is this state of seeing life as a kind of illusion that we no longer have an emotional attachment or connection to.
Many have taught that we need to become detached from desire - from wanting life to be different than it is in any way - and that THIS is the ultimate liberation - to be able to be in anything and find the peace/perfection/joy in it.
I have always felt that this wasn’t the whole picture, and that there was something more to be seen. I've noticed that most people who claim to be in this state came to it through some form of EXTREME stress/trauma, through an EXTREME ‘spiritual’ discipline of some sort or through interactions with plant medicines. This led me to question what was really going on in these people and what induced this ‘bliss/nothing is real or matters’ state.
The Byron Katie Mythos:
A PERFECT example of this is the story of Byron Katie. Her claim is that she was suffering deeply with depression and self hate - then one day she realized that when she was asleep, she didn’t feel badly. This led her to believe that it was only her THOUGHTS that were causing her pain, and that if she could just change all of the thoughts that were telling her that this or that experience was painful - miraculously the pain would go away. She created ‘The Work’ which consists of 4 questions that lead one to investigate the validity of what they are believing (not a bad thing in and of itself, to be clear we will talk about this more later) and a process of ‘turning your thoughts around’ - where you think your painful thought, such as “He abused me” and you ‘turn it around’ into ‘I abused him.' This turn around is meant to drive the 'responsibility' directly BACK to the individual doing the work, so that they can then 'liberate themselves' by 'letting go' of that painful belief - as that is where the pain ultimately came from, not the situation itself.
These are basic concepts - questioning your perception of reality and seeing where you may be perpetuating the suffering you feel has been forced upon you by another - and applying it in ways that I believe, are born of immaturity rather than being able to understand the complexities of what these kinds of tools can really do for us.
In my view, “The Work” by Byron Katie is the PERFECT illustration of what it looks like for THE WOUNDED INNER CHILD/CHILD PERSPECTIVE to ‘take responsibility’.
Remember, when we are children, we have NO CONTROL over our circumstances. When we are in pain, we don't have the capacity to understand WHY we are in pain, nor do we have the power to shift our circumstances in any meaningful way in order to remedy our pain. RIGHT FROM THE BEGINNING - none of us are taught that pain simply means we are living in a way that is out of sync with reality - and that the remedy is to figure out the cause and effect relationship between what we are doing/thinking and how this is leading to the painful outcome. Ie We aren't taught that life is a COMPLEX series of cause and effect events, that our perception DOES determine our ACTIONS and RESPONSES to life, as well as our UNDERSTANDING of the patterned OUTCOMES that we experience, and that life change towards joy requires that we ACCEPT reality for how it is so as to UNDERSTAND THE PATTERN AND STRUCTURE, and then work to change our way of being so that we can get a new, better outcome if that is what we desire. That pain is simply a result of breaking the self against reality, and that pleasure comes from learning and growth in general. Instead we are scolded, blamed, shamed, rescued, or otherwise shown that pain is something we can’t do anything about - because this is what our caregivers also believe/were taught.
When we are small children, we can’t make our caregivers change the foods they are feeding us if those foods are causing us pain and they don’t make that connection.
We can’t make them stop yelling at us when we are being a certain way that is true to us OR is true to our LEARNING PATH - where we need support and guidance in maturing.
We can’t ‘make them’ understand that the way we are behaving is coming from lack of awareness/pain/misunderstanding - getting them to help us understand our reality, our big emotions, our desires and how to get them met.
We don’t have the power to change our environment to make it more conducive to us learning, growing and thriving - ie. more pleasurable. We can’t make them meet our needs they don’t understand, and we can’t meet our own needs or teach ourselves how to figure out how to meet our own needs when they can’t.
We are pure victims to their state of awareness and consciousness - and if that awareness is lacking, we will suffer because of it.
The Child's Version Of Pain Management: Where We Learn Codependency
Through this, in an attempt to try to make things better for ourselves, we will learn to see and address our pain in one of three ways:
- Being in pain will turn into ‘guilt and shame:' If we are rejected, scapegoated, blamed, shamed or made to feel that our pain is causing our caregivers to suffer, we will take on the idea that our pain is OUR FAULT and that there is SOMETHING FUNDAMENTALLY WRONG WITH US that we are in pain. We do this because again, we are the only thing we have control over as small children, and thus ‘taking responsibility’ from a child perspective is to accept blame and shame. To accept fault and assume that it is US that is broken. We do this as a method of empowerment AND as a way to spare us from having to see the truth that would be far too traumatic - that those we depend upon for EVERYTHING don’t have all the answers. Can’t save us from our pain. We make our pain mean that WE are messed up and this is where the roots of us being fundamentally bad when we experience pain come from. This is often done with the help of our caregivers if they took to shaming, blaming, scapegoating or otherwise looking to make us feel badly about our pain and reaction to that pain OR if our caregivers display how much our pain is hurting THEM - leaving us with the empathic guilt that our pain is causing those we love and depend on most to suffer. This turns us in to adults who tend to be hypervigilant about our pain - looking to hide it or dumb it down. Looking to blame ourselves as soon as we start feeling it, asking ourselves ‘what’s wrong with me? What did I do wrong? How is this going to make others feel/reject me?' This is where we develop ways of coping and suppressing our pain with addictions, numbing and stimulating behaviors or becoming people pleasers/over givers at the expense of ourselves - we learned that love comes from being ‘good’ and that being in pain or expressing pain is to be faulty and to have love go away.
- Being in pain will turn into blame, projection and manipulation: Next, if we are abandoned/ignored in our pain, if we are made to feel that our caregivers can help us ‘sometimes’ but not other times, if we are not taken seriously or are otherwise minimized in our pain, we will generally turn into beings who believe that MANIPULATION is the only way to get our wants and needs satisfied. We will learn that we have to change our behavior in some way to coerce our caregivers into caring for us - because crying out or expressing pain doesn’t work. We learn to sneak around, we learn power plays, we learn ‘if I behave this way, they will reward me with this thing’ - becoming less and less ourselves and more and more a person who changes to try to get our needs met. Again this will be overt or covert - we may become the ‘aggressive’ type that manipulates forcefully looking to OVERPOWER others as a way of getting our needs met, or we will be COVERT, turning into someone who sneakily manipulates/plays the victim, constantly seeks to be in control of those through subtle means. We learn to project, blame, and externalize our pain - making it ‘their fault’ and then as adults we go about overtly or covertly living lives of constant EXTERNALIZING of our pain, looking to change/fix/alter those AROUND US any time we feel pain. We don’t look to change ourselves fundamentally, only to ACT in a way that gets us what we think we want or need at the time - but the onus always falls on ‘the other’ to be different before we can feel better.
- We become the perpetual victim: Finally, we may have been both abandoned and abused in our pain, or shown that our caregivers weren’t ever able to save us - thus taking on a world view that there IS NO ANSWER to pain. That if we feel pain or get stuck somewhere - that’s it. If fate doesn’t intervene, if someone around us doesn’t have the answer - we’re screwed. If we were never taught how to problem solve, if we never witnessed those around us problem solving (only seeing that those around us who were in pain got worse and worse over time, things were swept under the rug or denied, but ultimately that which was bad just stayed bad forever) or if we never grew into people who learned to problem solve for ourselves, we will take on the perspective that pain is a permanent thing that you can’t do anything about. We will become adults who believe in rescuers coming to save us, who NEED to believe in that, because without it we are lost in hopelessness. We will be stuck in a life where we simply feel all the pain of having needs/pain we don’t understand or know how to get met, and this causes us to feel that the world at large is cruel and against us, and that our pain is something we will simply have for the rest of our lives. Saying I have NO power over the external world, and thus I make it ALL about myself/my perception. I ignore that which I can’t process/feel I don’t know how to change, and focus ONLY on that which I want to see/that makes me feel safe in my world. This is how a child who has no control over their pain and no way of understanding life has to cope with what befalls them.
This invalidation of our pain/needs, this never ending loop of feeling ill at ease and then working to ‘solve’ the issue via trying to fix ourselves, blame others or feeling that we are simply powerless to ever make anything better, causes deep trauma. This is something humanity has yet to realize about ourselves.
I will see you next week for Part Two!