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Express Yourself!

Back in January, Time Magazine published an article called New Ways to Think About Grief in which they described expression of emotion (versus repression) a myth in terms of recovering from grief.

I spent a bit of time mulling this over and my studies of hypnotherapy have me strongly disagreeing with the idea that holding it in is better. I do agree with the article in that merely talking about stuff doesn’t really help. Healing involves going beyond merely expressing something; it involves seeing the trauma in a new way.

I’d like to take a moment to burst some of my own myths. 🙂

Myth #1: Real Men Don’t Cry

This is a cultural tenet of Western society. It’s tempting to see men as being disconnected from their emotions, but the reality is quite different. Men feel things just as deeply as women, but whereas women are encouraged and expected to display their emotions, men are taught to suck it up and hold them in.

I’ve seen the “teaching” of this emotional repression countless times as parents admonish a crying boy that he’s “alright” and has “nothing to cry about”. The gall of such a supposition is frightening to me, as it shows the real emotional disconnection to be between the parent and child. Unfortunately, the message that the child receives is, “My feelings are not valid and my expression of them is undesirable”.

What a horrible thing to teach a child. Children should be encouraged to experience and release their feelings. As they grow older, they can then be led to express their feelings in constructive fashion. Obviously, this requires that the parent understands the processes involved. (More about those processes later.)

Myth #2: Anger Is Bad

A lot of us have had the concept of anger being bad hammered into us for years. As such, when we experience something that triggers anger within us, our ability to express and process it in a healthful way is neutered. Anger in and of itself isn’t bad. What is bad is anger that is carelessly directed and/or unleashed in a hurtful manner.

Myth #3: Children Should Be Seen And Not Heard

Oh, boy. What intolerant parent thought up this one? It’s amazing how many parents may not outwardly support this idea, but who all the same encourage kids to keep quiet, stay in their rooms and not “disturb” the peace of the family. Encouraging solitary quiet as the mainstay of a child’s upbringing only encourages said child to feel isolated.

It’s little wonder that so many kids feel misunderstood. If a kid isn’t encouraged to discuss what’s on his or her mind, how the heck is anyone supposed to understand what’s going on in there? It’s only when people have meaningful dialogue that understanding can happen.

The Path To Healing Is Twofold

Emotional healing is a two-stage affair. The first stage involves the immediate expression of feeling. (Note the use of the word feeling rather than emotion.) The second stage involves learning to perceive the trauma in a new way. Without one or the other, healing will be slow and/or incomplete.

The expression of pain, anger and/or grief in the immediacy of feeling it is of paramount importance. This is raw and unprocessed feeling, prior to our logical processing via thought. (Remember, emotion is feeling that has been processed by thought.) This gives voice to our experience and validates that experience as being both real and significant.

As I’ve written about before, while we should be encouraged to express ourselves, we also have a responsibility to not lash out. To that end, it’s incumbent upon us to ensure that whenever we experience anger, we do not lash out at others. While we should feel free to express our feelings, we ultimately have the responsibility to ensure that others are not injured in any way through the expression of those feelings.

The principle expression of feeling can go a long, long way to reducing the emotional footprint of the experience after the fact. By giving voice to what we experience, we very literally open our safety valve and reduce our emotional pressure. Subsequently, the memory of the trauma is reduced. Moreover, the perspective of the trauma itself is shifted. Because the initial pain was expressed and not repressed, the remaining pain is greatly reduced. Breaking down subsequent to a significant fight-or-flight response is a natural reaction in humans. It is to be encouraged and nurtured as a part of being a well-balanced individual. Even in dogs, the “shaking it off” after a fight is exactly the kind of Stage 1 expression that I’m writing about here. Dogs express their nervousness, fear, etc. in near-real time. Humans should learn to do the same.

The second expression of emotional healing involves learning to see the trauma from a fresh perspective. This stage is the very hallmark of hypnotherapy and Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP). If we have been unable to express Stage 1 feelings in a timely fashion, the ability for us to see our trauma from a fresh perspective (without help) is greatly diminished.

Seeing trauma from a non-traumatic perspective is an important part in all manner of emotional healing. Forgiveness, anger, terror and grief are all examples of areas where learning to shift our perception of the causal event can bring about sudden and complete healing. It can resolve all manner of issues, including addiction and alcoholism caused through feeling lack of self-esteem and self-worth.

Talk therapy is intended to encourage such a fresh perspective and it can be hugely helpful. Unfortunately, talk therapy tends to come into play long after the trauma has set in, and with the absence of any meaningful expression of feeling upon the occurrence of the initial event, healing is slow. Talk therapy can take years for the repetition to find its way past the critical factor and reprogram the subconscious to see the trauma in a new, non-traumatic way.

With the healthful expression of our initial feelings, however, the ability for an individual to process his or her residual emotions in a healthy manner are well and truly in place. After all, did cavemen have group therapy sessions? Maybe so, but I tend to think not. Human beings evolved to process their fight-or-flight experiences efficiently and without much need for outside intervention or assistance. A well-timed hug, kiss and a, “Boy, you’re sure lucky that sabre-tooth tiger grabbed Bork instead of you,” went a long way to getting our healthy survivor over the experience and on to enjoy another day. It might have been unfortunate for Bork, but our happy survivor of the tiger assault gained the ability to see his survival from a place of gratitude. And having screamed and flailed in abject terror at the time of the attack, he was emotionally well-placed to see the attack as nothing personal and just a fact of life.

The example is somewhat tongue in cheek, I agree, but the premise remains valid: When we learn to view our trauma from a new way, we can disarm the emotional charge and move forward through the rest of our healing in relative ease.

The good news is that even when you’ve been denied the ability to express your initial feeling, you have the capacity to help yourself through the second stage even on your own. The trick is that you have to want to get past your anger, guilt, fear or other burden. You have to be willing to see the events in a new way. The latter is especially important, as without a willingness to see an event in a new way, e.g., incest, it’s virtually impossible to move outside the realm of triggered fight-or-flight response and forward to forgiveness and understanding.

In my articles that discuss shenpa, I have often written of cultivating the observer. This aspect of being aware of your thoughts can be a huge help in assisting us on our path toward seeing that new perspective and aligning with it. As we recognize our triggers, we can become in control of them and guide our reactions and, therefore, thoughts toward healing instead of being trapped in the purgatory of trauma.

Love to you all,

trane

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14 Comments
  1. Trane, I hope you’re writing a book. If not, please consider it. You have a talent & a message. Huggz…Ali

    • Ali, thank you for the sweet, affirming words. I’ve come to strongly believe in the message of Living Intentionally and, yes, I do intend to put together a book. It’ll be fun to get picked up and go through the editing process. 😉

  2. I benefited from reading your article above especially from both ideas, namely, first feeling how you feel in the beginning and expressing that raw feeling; and secondly learning how to look at what happened as in “the cult of the observer”.

    I’d like to switch slightly from your words above to ask about consciousness. Does emotion accompany all consciousness? Can you have consciousness without emotion? Does all emotion only result from conscious thought?

    Lyn

    • Hi, Lyn.

      Make that “cultivating the observer,” as in developing. I’m not sure that cults are a great idea. Kidding! I’m kidding. 😉 😀

      It’s my belief that consciousness is the baseline of all existence. God consciousness, i.e., omniscience, would be the sum total of all consciousness in the universe. Each of us are particles or bubbles of consciousness born of the One. We are not separate from this fabric of consciousness, but we have evolved to have a limited ability to experience it. Our ability to understand our place in the Oneness is similar to that of an individual cell in the human body understanding its place in the body; one can be aware, but whether the one can have equal consciousness as the One is subject for great, and wonderful, debate.

      That’s the long answer. The short answer is, yes, consciousness exists apart from thought. Consciousness exists as the foremost expression of Being. Thoughts are triggered by the experiences (feelings) of consciousness. Thoughts about feelings result in emotions.

      It’s fair to say that any “normal” human being will experience emotion along with all consciousness because, as far as I know, there’s really no way for us to switch off so completely that we would have no thought. Some forms of meditation strive for a state of no-mind (non-thought), but whether such a state is possible is subject for yet more great, and wonderful, debate. My meditation tends to enjoy a rather steady stream of mental chatter. 🙂

      I think a difficulty in discussing the topic may be in the use of the word “consciousness” itself. The English language is rather lax in its definitions of the term, and even psychology and hypnotherapy literature cannot seem to find agreement. It’s tempting to ascribe conscious thought to mean wakeful thought, but, of course, any of us can affirm that emotion plays a major role in dreams. As such, it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact wording that conveys strict meaning. At least, I have trouble finding it. 🙂

      I think the simplest way of describing existence, at least from our dimensional perspective is:

      * I am (the elemental Being)
      * I feel (the elemental Experience)
      * I emote (the result of feeling processed by thought)

      Once we depart this mortal plane and return completely to our experience as non-physical beings, I believe we’ll still emote because we’ll still be experiencing something; we’ll just be experiencing in different dimensions via different “sensory” pathways.

      trane

  3. Deep waters I know …”consciousness is the baseline of all existence”.. mmm My question above was a little more centred on emotions and how we have and when .. but if we combine the topics of consciousness, existence, emotions and thought .. allow me to ramble a little {grin}.

    I like the comments on the “Oneness” and sharing consciousness of it with everyone .. even if only perhaps limited insight into the whole thing. It gives the idea of belonging to something .. as in a whole, as in a collective consciousness …

    I notice you tend to identify thought with emotion. I have a feeling that I can be unhappy or happy without actually thinking about it. It is a feeling that rises up within me without thought. So I’m thinking that emotions are not necessarily connected to thought.

    I also think you can have thoughts without emotions … you can concentrate on thinking something through or reading up on something without experiencing any emotions during that period of time.

    Perhaps “emotions give rise to feelings” and “feelings give rise to thoughts” is a better sequence??

    The “I am, I feel, I emote” is reminiscent of Descartes “I think therefore I am” .. and if you follow that line of thinking to 20th century philosophy you arrive at J P Sartre who said “I am therefore I think” [no kidding] and to explore solipsism v existentialism. I wonder whether today’s mantra of NOW by Eckhart Tolle isn’t a development from both these earlier mantras about existence and when and how we exist.

    It is a ramble. I’ll understand if it is too wacky to consider replying to!!! Sometimes just “voicing” thoughts can help to clarify them.
    Lyn

    • Hi, Lyn.

      Deep waters, indeed. I do think that the answer as given was wholly relevant. It’s a complex and broad problem domain. 🙂

      I definitely identify thought with emotion. Our existence has three basic components: consciousness, experience and thought. Experience directly creates feelings. Thought about experience and feelings creates emotions. I can’t see how one can be happy or unhappy, angry, sad or any other emotion without having a causal relationship between those emotions and some preceding experience. Would you elucidate?

      I think at first blush, it’s appears possible to think without emotion, but I don’t think so. We are by our very nature emotional beings. I can read a tech manual. It can be interesting or boring. Those are both emotions. I can’t imagine engaging in any pastime whatsoever and being completely disconnected from any sense of enjoyment or disinterest at all.

      Emotions do eventually give rise to feelings, but that’s because of the physiological responses that we experience after the fact. In the beginning, there is just the experience. For example, if you get punched in the arm by your sister, your initial experience is possibly that of physical shock, if not even pain, depending on the force of impact. Subsequent to that, you process the event. Depending on the context, you may giggle and take a playful swing back, spray her with the garden hose or, if you’ve processed this and perceived it to be a hurtful attack, you may respond by means of retribution.

      All of those responses are choices born of your thought processes. All of your emotions come by virtue of how you choose to view the experience. Perspective and context is everything! The experience is what it is, period, a punch in the arm. How you choose to interpret the experience, however, is paramount to how you subsequently react to it.

      Feelings absolutely give rise to thoughts. 100% bang on the money.

      I’m not sure that “I think therefore I am” is so much in line with how I’ve presented consciousness, experience and emotion. Descartes was proving the existence of man through the power of thought. My purpose is to simply lay out the roadmap from consciousness to emotion. The mid-point there is the commonality of experience/feeling. I think in this context, experience and feeling can be used interchangeably.

      Not a wacky reply at all. As always, Lyn, it’s been a pleasure.

      trane

  4. “consciousness, experience and thought = existence} .. lots more to think through … thank you!

    On the subject of existence Descartes thought he was proving the existence of man by reasoning that “I think therefore I am” however he wasn’t proving man’s existance at all because he had to ASSUME that he thought. He didn’t and couldn’t bridge the gap in the logic of the argument with an assumption. Similarly Sartre’s attempt with “I am” was an assumption at the beginning that he existed and also therefore not valid. It wasn’t until Sartre worked out that he couldn’t exist on his own [solipsism] without reference to others that he arrived at existentialism and the idea that others around him verified his existence that he started to make any logical sense. So that because other people around him recognised him as a person he went on to believe that he did exist.

    Tolle .. seems to assume that we think because we are capable of thinking .. and therefore we exist. He is more concerned with limiting people’s thoughts to the present. He doesn’t allow for the power of the subconscious mind to subvert every single thing in his NOW program.

    Following the philosophy of thought through some of these people [from the 17th century to present] is interesting because each ones builds on something which was proposed before. So these are attempts to prove our existence by reference to ourselves or to others or to the fact that we think.

    So there are many thoughts on existence. Today “consciousness” is a fascinating subject which meanders all over the place. Do you have any books you can recommend? The plasticity of the brain is fascinating. Yes I have a copy of “How the Brain Changes itself”. The deeper meanings of consciousness are fascinating .. how it works, how the subconscious works, the neurological ramifications of thought and feeling on actions, – I’m not so interested in the social side of this as with the philosophy of thought and understanding how we fit in to the world as tiny particles with limited understanding of the Oneness we live in. In other words, as you put it so aptly, “consciousness as the foremost expression of being”.

    I haven’t replied to some of your remarks because it could get too dragged out. I see I’m wrong in some of the assumptions/thoughts/comments I made.

    Lyn

  5. Hi, Lyn.

    My trouble with Sartre is that if one begins their exploration of their own consciousness as being an extension of God consciousness, one cannot help but move “upstream” until God would need other Gods to see God as, well, God. This construct fails. With Descartes and the view that only the self can be known to exist, I dislike this simply from the perspective that it invalidates our perceptions (aside from self). I feel it to be presumptive that any one would purport to be capable of truly evaluating an entire species’ capacity to understand reality. 🙂

    A great book to read is Steven Pinker’s How The Mind Works. It’s a superb read that covers a wide range of behaviours and reasoning. You might not always agree with him, but he always serves food for thought.

  6. Trane I don’t recall Sartre ever being concerned about god/God. He was committed to leftist politics, interested in the dynamics of social groups. The themes he explored in his writings are the primacy of individual existence, human freedom and the lack of objective values – all of which are themes of existentialism.

    ‘Being and Nothingness’, his major work, is primarily an analysis of consciousness [which he described as ‘being for itself’]. By this time he had done away with the “how I exist” question and moved on to assert that “existence precedes essence”. We exist first and the self that we subsequently become is a construct that is built and rebuilt out of experiences and behaviour. It follows from his ideas that the self is something which can be changed and can be reconstructed even if it wasn’t easy to choose a course of action which is out of character with the fundamental “project” of the self.

    Thanks for the book reference which I will chase up. I am open to anyone’s ideas as long as I can understand them!!! [grin] I am presently reading Marion Woodman’s ‘The Pregnant Virgin’. She is a Jungian therapist to Jungian therapists and it’s about psychological transformation and absolutely fascinating.

    Love these discussions. Do you know that there are websites elsewhere which charge for this sort of thing? They download an article and describe it as a “free” article! I said I would like to challenge all three of their core beliefs on which they were writing courses and they thanked me for my participation [very big grin]. Why would anyone want to pay to read something which is freely available in the world and on which subject they may very well be wrong?

    I know that you would like a contribution for your time here .. and I will make one down the track. At the moment I’m not “finsec” as the saying goes [financially secure]!!!

    Cheers
    Lyn

    • G’day, Lyn! Greetings to you Down Under from here in the Land of the Rising Sun. 🙂

      My point about Sartre is that if one is to say that we don’t exist until validated by others, the construct fails under certain contexts. My personal assumption is that since I am born of the One, so, too, must my consciousness. If I cannot be validated without recognition by others, it stands that that from which I was birthed would have to follow the same validation from its peers. This is a problem, if only metaphysical or theological in nature.

      For me, the most fundamental way I view the universe is that its most basic essence is consciousness. It is from this consciousness that all energy and matter in the universe springs forth. And given the fractal expression seen so often throughout nature, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to discover down the road that the veins of dark energy and dark matter that create links across the cosmic microwave background are the neurons of our universe. And that would make galaxies the synapses. Which, if we’re keeping track, means that the universe itself is a life form.

      Of course, the “peer” validation does become possible if physics is indeed correct and we live in a multiverse. Which creates a whole new rabbit hole. Or is that a black hole? 😉

      I don’t want people to feel pressured to donate. I’m still figuring out the whole thing of trying to make Living Intentionally a full-time gig. My current consulting gig will end in about three years, though, so if I’m going to make a full-time living out of Living Intentionally, I’ll have to ensure that I put in the time to grow it accordingly.

      Part of that right now is the alternative healing work. That’s going very well, except that full-time IT consulting gets in the way of being able to expand that. We’ll see how it goes, though. There’s no question that the happier I am, the more opportunities to grow in all the ways I want will appear in front of me.

      Sweet! 🙂

      trane

  7. http://www.2think.org/htmw_review.shtml I found this review of Steven Pinker’s book “How the Mind Works” you referred to above which seems to be from an evolutionary/biological point of view.

    I don’t think it matters too much about how people get to their arguments eg. Sartre. Like me they are plain wrong on some things. The important bits are the ones we can make sense of even if that means ignoring how they arrived at their ideas!!

    Descartes was still working and thinking in a time when God’s existence was very important and he believed that mind and body are distinct substances. The 20th century was an attempt by many to free themselves from this mind/body problem he raised.

    William James has a chapter on consciousness which he characterises as “the stream of thought” which he said was in a constant state of flux. He concluded in Principles of Psychology that consciousness is the “I” as opposed to the “me” AND free will.

    Lots of 20th century writers such as Virginia Wolfe to William Faulkner picked up these ideas of “stream of consciousness” and used them in their writing of novels, characters were not described in the novels except by their words and you needed to identify their characteristics in the novel to understand who was talking.

    When you start looking at how ideas on body/mind/soul including thought, feeling and emotion and arriving at consciousness as the bedrock .. occurred well you start to get a picture of an ongoing journey.

    This is without mentioning any of the psychologists, neurologists, jurists and numerous others working along a spiritual pathway towards some sort of centred reasoning which is acceptable to them [and for us, something which is acceptable to us]. So the whole thing is very wide.

    Lyn

    • Hi, Lyn.

      Thanks for sharing the review. That is, indeed, the book that I intended and, yes, it definitely discusses things from a biological/evolutionary standpoint. I like that, as I can see no separation between spirit, consciousness and body. I, of course, assume that evolution of the species coincides with evolution of the spirit that expresses its physical form within said species. (And, boy, does that open up yet another can o’ worms.)

      The reviewer of the book, I thought, did a reasonably good job. I did get caught on a few comments. For example, he wrote that it was folly to find a function for the colour of blood, which is kind of putting a myopic view on the reality that blood has its colour because of its composition, which in turn has an easily defined function. And his comment about the absurdity of describing the adaptionistic purpose behind the beauty of birdsong? Uhm. For starters, the “beauty” of birdsong is a subjective matter. It’s a pretty gross assumption to expect all life to agree that birdsong is beautiful. As for its function, it again, is obvious. *shrug*

      Those sorts of things catch my attention. 🙂

      The journey is vast. And the beauty of it is we can choose where we go, the vistas we see and the lessons we learn along the way.

      Love, Light and Laughter,

      trane

  8. Sometimes I wish I had been born having learned these lessons already so I could move on to something else.

    Consciousness has to be the most important single topic in the world … at least for me and those who wish to understand why we are here and whether there is any purpose to being here. It is so very wide that it attracts many different groups of scholars/students/professions etc. and each has something to say.

    I hope you continue to work with this subject across different areas .. if only to give a little more context to it.

    Lyn

    • Hi, Lyn.

      A long time ago, I used to think that I was born 10-15 years too late because I had such a strong resonance with the ’60s. I have since come to realize that I am here at the right time. All the stuff I’m learning and all the stuff I’m teaching are all perfectly timed.

      In any moment, we are exactly who we need to be and are exactly where we need to be.

      Some time ago, I came to the conclusion that the universe was a living being and that all the elements contained therein were the bits and pieces it needed to Be. Instantly, that put my existence into sharp relief. My experiences reflected by and learned from my consciousness and spiritual essence all contribute to the greater knowing of my Source.

      This might seem to be an odd conclusion to which to come, but I was drawn to this idea by the fact that all matter we see in the universe comes together in increasingly complex organizations. We talk a lot of just Being, but Being doesn’t mean that we remain static. All of creation seems driven to become something greater than itself. It doesn’t matter at what level of granularity you look, either; you always find movement toward increasingly complex organizations.

      We see it in elementary subparticles joining to become bigger things. New particles are born that interact upward and upward. Elements become molecules, molecules engage in chemical reactions. Reactions create new chemicals. Amino acids formed the basis of life as we know it. Proteins, carbohydrates and more all formed until the complex organization we’ve come to call an amoeba came to light – and life.

      Upward and upward it spirals. An individual person is an organization of trillions of disparate cells living in attempted harmony. We humans are attempting the same sort of harmony on a scale of billions. And upward we reach toward the cosmos, where we have billions of planets orbiting billions of suns orbiting around the black hole in the centre of our galaxy. And beyond that we have billions of galaxies all moving through the space that itself, as far as we know, may be in a state of expansion for all eternity. Becoming something greater.

      And in all of this lay the baseline of consciousness that was either caused by or perhaps even the cause OF the Big Bang.

      The universe is evolving, whether mainstream science wants to put it in such terms or not. Yes, I’m a quack and this is metaphysics and what I’ve proposed wouldn’t stand up to scientific reasoning. Yet, at least. And I don’t care. 🙂 I see the fractal behaviour in nature and it just makes sense to me that we’re little snapshots of the bigger picture.

      Did that complicate things? 😉

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