You feel something in your life is not as it should be. You want to heal. Myriads of approaches are at your disposal. You try some of them and obtain some impressive results. You want to go deeper and you engage in more challenging work, but at some point, your drive slows down, your energy abates and either you settle into a comforting routine or abandon the project altogether.
This seems to be a generalized pattern among seekers of personal growth or healing, as if there were a qualitatively different, more challenging territory defended by an invisible wall.
In fact, there is. Working at certain levels requires specialized knowledge, more commitment, more courage and a peculiar combination of talents. It ceases to be just something we add to the demands of surviving in order to enhance the quality of our lives. It becomes a way of living. It alters everything else we do.
Or — we turn back and move on to other hobbies.
I will use a word that may seem out of place here: professionalism. By it I don’t mean you should do nothing until you are fully trained — in fact, what you are reading is the outline of a training program. What I mean is an attitude of ownership, a willingness to take responsibility for the learning process and all the outcomes. An apprentice is already a professional, while a brilliant dilettante is still a dilettante. I believe we need to bring to this the mindset of an apprentice — patient, persistent, humble, with a view to the long term.
If you are already very good at something, you can bring with you this sense of competence and confidence and expand it into a new territory.
In this page, I try to define what I mean by the heavy stuff. I chose this vague, colloquial expression intentionally. By its nature, the subject is difficult to approach, and even more difficult to outline with precision. It is as if this territory were surrounded by a repellent force field or by razor wire and guard dogs. Among other things I will attempt to find the causes for this and for the inherent trickiness of advanced healing work.
To this end, I must use a variety of languages, some of which may not obviously relate to healing.
TOWARDS A DEFINITION
The heavy stuff is traumas, injuries, acts of violence, surgeries, torture, serious abuse, attempted murders and for those healers who work on other lives, completed murders too. It is any moment when a threat to survival was perceived, whether actual or imagined. It is any moment of overwhelm, horror, terror, panic, utter helplessness, chaos, physical or mental agony, despair, apathy, pretended death, unconsciousness or coma.
Unconsciousness from surgical anesthesia counts as much as that from assault or accident. The anesthetic works by being a poison that makes it necessary for you — the being, the awareness — to leave temporarily.
I am not qualified to talk about the brain. The knowledge I present here is based on intuition, not science. Yet the triune model of the brain is a convenient way to classify experiences according to the depth of their impact on the psyche. In that model, there are three concentric layers. The outermost or neocortex is where our ability to think, make distinctions and conscious decisions resides. The next layer, or limbic brain, controls emotions and interactions with others. The innermost core, usually called reptilian brain, is about essential biological functions, survival and threats to it.
These separations should not be seen as absolute. For example, experiences of loss technically are part of the limbic brain, but they can easily affect us and cause symptoms at the level of the reptilian brain, particularly with the loss of someone we perceive as a needed ally for survival. And we are all familiar with the ways our conscious thoughts can affect our mood and emotional tone. There are many interconnections, but this model can still be of some help in the complicated task on defining what we are working on.
It is also worth noting that sexuality and all experiences linked to sexual energy are recorded at the core level. Survival through reproduction appears to be as important to us as survival as an individual organism — often more important. This includes the care of children and therefore incidents pertaining to the cohesion of the family unit. From the viewpoint of the child, infant or fetus that we all were, any negative experience or situation connected with our mother or caretaker or with the stability of the care system we depend on is recorded at the core level. Later, as adult family members and parents, we will automatically experience those types of situations at that level too.
Thus we need to expand the definition of the heavy stuff to include not only the heavy incidents themselves, but even relatively light imprints that are thematically related to survival concerns. An example might help.
Let’s say your parents were immigrants who had to struggle to get by financially. You grew up in a solid and loving family which has always cared for you and supported you, but a background current of mild anxiety about the future was present in the family culture as far back as you can remember. This anxiety became a part of your personality, causing behaviors and feelings that you wish you could get rid of. For example, you find yourself worrying when there is no rational reason for it. Or you make decisions that do not fit your objective situation.
If you decide to do some work to erase that tendency, you will need to access the survival-oriented part of your being, the so-called reptilian brain. There are many techniques in existence to do that. The system I offer here was created to deal with much heavier material and it is not at all the only path available to you. But the vibrational level at which those unwanted manifestations get triggered is the same as what a PTSD victim has to contend with, for instance.
In other words, I define the heavy stuff experientially, by its aura, or vibrational frequency, or energetic signature. With this definition, anyone should be able to find useable content here, even though I was born into the narrower category of the deeply wounded — those for whom going through a perfectly ordinary day takes a lot of work.
ANATOMY OF TRAUMA
This will be a challenge to my limited skill with the English language and I apologize if at times the discussion feels dense. I don’t know of any way around that.
Experiences in that ‘perceived threat to survival’ zone are unlike other experiences. They do not get filed as ordinary memory files. They carry a charge, an energy that attracts and repels attention at the same time. This simultaneous attraction/repulsion could be called the root of craziness.
It attracts because it was important. Survival was at stake, and since I survived, it must contain important information about survival. The state of extreme arousal (more on this later) that accompanies these situations flags them, makes them stand out from other recordings. When a situation approximates their content — danger, overwhelm, etc. — they get called up and their content takes over from the temporarily disabled conscious mind.
Here L. Ron Hubbard’s model of the reactive mind comes handy. The reactive mind is a moronic mechanism with the intelligence of a panicked, trapped animal, but equipped with the power to throw the organism into all kinds of states unrelated to its present situation. Any situation that reduces the power of my conscious control center (neocortex) can unleash it.
At the same time, these past events are inaccessible during ordinary living. They may to a large extent control our experience of life, but, like tinted glasses worn all day long, they remain invisible. They parallel fairly well the unconscious of more conventional schools of psychology. Why are they hidden if they were so intense and special? Because — and that’s the repulsion part of the polarity — we have a shutdown mechanism comparable to fuses or circuit breakers, designed to protect us from their full intensity. The organism remembers the state of terror, agony or helplessness and, quite sanely, doesn’t want to go back there. Yet those recordings seem, from experimental observation, to have an autonomous power to interfere with our conscious lives.
To understand this paradox, the work of another investigator, Peter Levine, was useful to me. Levine’s background is dual: animal ethology and the study of the human nervous system. He noticed that animals in the wild, when their life is immediately threatened, go into pretended death. They freeze — the third ‘f’ in ‘fight, flight or freeze.’ If the threat goes away, they ‘shake off’ the energy from the apathetic state of pretended death and resume their lives without being further affected. Researchers have actually observed a big shudder in animals who have just narrowly escaped death.
For Levine, trauma symptoms are caused by our inability to ‘shake it off’ as completely as a gazelle who almost got eaten by a lion — and I would expand the indictment to include neurosis and just about any kind of limitation.
The freeze state is a third option in descending order. First there is fight, corresponding roughly to the emotion of anger. Then flight, linked to fear, and finally freeze, linked to terror, paralysis and helplessness. It is the lowest of the three in terms of inner state and of survival potential, but it is still a state of extremely high arousal. At that stage the arousal cannot be expressed — because survival dictates immobility — and it becomes toxic to the organism.
Healing, then, would be the completion of an unfinished biological cycle of arousal/de-arousal. If steps are not taken to release the frozen energy of those moments, dysfunction begins.
This correlates well with Hubbard’s concept of charge. Whether or not his use of an electronic metaphor holds up at the cellular level, the word conveys the same meaning of held energy. In his therapy system an improved galvanic skin response device is used to locate those areas where unreleased energy is held, for example by reading lists of words and watching the needle’s behavior.
In my practice, I have just learned to sense inner resistance around a thought, topic or other stimulus. I believe the sustained practice of meditation and deep introspection combined with intentional journeying with entheogens eventually makes the use of a device redundant. The teacher plant plays the part of the unsentimental therapist who cannot be bribed or manipulated to let you off the hook when you get near a heavy area.
Without that ruthless coach, our brilliant ability to avoid mental and emotional discomfort would win out every time.
In scientology, that part is played by the device and its operator, the auditor. (Note: I am not a scientologist, but the founder’s thinking and writing have definitely been useful to my healing quest.)
For more on learning to feel resistance and to pendulate between resistance and yielding, see the section on feeling exercises.
So the imprint of a heavy incident or pattern of incidents carries a double energy field: the energy of importance (attraction) and the energy of danger (repulsion). When two energy flows are in continuous opposition, a stasis results. An energetic ‘ridge’ begins to form. Eventually, it can solidify into persistent reactive patterns, physical symptoms and other disabilities.
‘Personality’ forms by aggregating our resistance to all the things we are not willing to experience. A being who would never have experienced any trauma or serious challenge would have no boundaries and would be unable to operate in society.
From a radical healing perspective, it could be said that even permanent personality traits are a sign of craziness. An ideal state of mental health would include not only the ability to respond freely, without compulsion, to any situation, but even the ability to be anyone as needed.
Hence another definition of the heavy stuff: if opening it up opens you up, if the work feels like a challenge to your habitual modus operandi in the world, you are dealing with it.
THE THINGS WE DID
There is a special category of heavy stuff that requires its own approach: the harmful things that we did — sins, crimes, overts, transgressions and so on. Many have noted that what we have done is often more effective at reducing our aliveness than what has been done to us.
Here it is important to maintain a pragmatic, non-judgmental stance. It is so easy, around this topic, to build a moralizing system based on shame and guilt. Institutional religions come to mind, of course, and often our harshest condemning and punishing is of ourselves. We have no interest in that. We are looking for what works in making life itself work. Judging self or others actually functions as a kind of fixative — it prevents change.
So does avoiding responsibility, by the way.
It seems that we have a deeply wired-in, perhaps biological, justice system that makes us limit our own lives as compensation for our past destructive behavior. I have found this quite hard to observe without bringing any cultural bias into the observation. It is different from religious or moralistic guilt, but it agrees with the Buddhist claim that we are decent and sane at our core.
An indirect confirmation of its existence can be found in the striking similarities between the atonement procedures of cultures throughout the world. There seem to be a number of steps, done in a specific order, that work in freeing ourselves from the things we’ve done. The variations are small and the sense of process flow is identical.
If you feel like clicking away at this point, I understand why. This area of human life has been fraught with hypocrisy and used for the domination and exploitation of others for literally millennia.
Please stay. I am only trying to present information that I found practical and usable in my life, when trying to deal with difficult issues. God knows I am not superior to anyone who may be reading these words.
Here is my version of the steps, followed by a few clarifying comments.
1. Acknowledge. “I did this and it was harmful.”
2. Repent, regret, cry even.
3. Ask for forgiveness.
4. Promise not to do it again.
5. Promise to do everything in your power to repair the damage.
6. Accept forgiveness. Forgive yourself.
7. Resume living.
1. Acknowledge to whom? To God, to yourself, to your Self, to your Teacher, to the Universe. That is not so important. From a strictly secular, psychological point of view, honesty with yourself is the goal here.
The question of acknowledging to the victim, when it is not yourself, would require a separate study. Often it could cause further confusion and is not appropriate. When in doubt, practice this as a private healing process. You could write a letter to the victim, but do not send it unless you are 100% clear that it will help both of you.
2. You must feel it for it to work. Postures and gestures don’t work here.
3. This has almost nothing to do with formulaic apologies as a social lubricant. Here asking God works much better than asking the specific person.
4. Easier said than done. We are largely creatures of habit and good resolutions rarely work. But this can interrupt the ‘drift’ and initiate a practice of being more present and mindful. It cannot, however, replace showing up at every moment.
5. Sometimes it doesn’t amount to much, but even with people who are no longer in the body, relationships can improve.
6. This is by far the most difficult step. Our tendency to judge and condemn ourselves is often an out-of-control and raging force. I speak from experience. Here working with entheogens in a focused and prayerful way can help open up this well of dense, dark negativity.
It should also be noted that this cannot be done out of order. Some people go around creating messes in their relationships, and when called on it, they will flip back, “oh, I forgive myself.” That doesn’t work. It means “fuck you,” not “I am willing to be whole and happy.” The previous steps must come first.
7. This process will benefit you only if performed 100%, and thoroughness takes practice. If it doesn’t feel arduous, you probably won’t get much gain from it.
To underline the importance of this part of the work, I would like to share a recent experience.
I am a pretty decent and responsible member of society, most of the time. I try to respect everyone and I seek to make useful contributions to others. As a result, I feel relatively calm and serene in daily life.
The other day, while trying to get out of a tight and awkward parking space outside a supermarket, I scratched the body of a parked car. First I thought I should wait for the owner or at least leave a note on the windshield. Then a dark and evil force took over. I thought about the cost of auto body work, about the fact that I was a foreigner with an accent in a small, insular village. I kind of panicked about the possible consequences and I left. I fled the scene of the crime.
The hours that followed amazed me. I found myself way down, in a mentally constricted, painful, endarkened condition, far away from my usually spacious sense of self. It felt like I wasn’t the same person. That single gesture of hiding and avoiding responsibility caused a revolution in my consciousness, and it lasted a couple of days.
I am sharing this to illustrate the value of atonement work. Doing it will free up a lot of awareness that will be needed in the other dimensions of healing. Not doing it will, quite simply, keep you down regardless of the energy and skill you employ to improve your life in other ways.
I haven’t seen that car again. It was one of those situations where the opportunity to be a good citizen was there, and then it was gone.
Some incidents are both — things we did and things that were done to us: suicides, suicide attempts, self-druggings, self-mutilations, abortions and abortion attempts. From the technical point of view of healing, they need to be addressed in both ways with distinct procedures.
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