The purpose of life…oooh!
Separateness on a macro level and on the individual level is an illusion, and our life’s work is fully embracing the wholeness and oneness within and without.
The goal of all inner work is the integration of disparate parts (e.g., light/dark, good/evil, corporate/hippie, intense/chill, conscious/unconscious) to return to our natural state of wholeness. On a macro level, we all come from ONE, whether you see that from a science physics perspective (everything is comprised of atoms) or a spiritual viewpoint (universal consciousness). [I believe science and spirituality are just two languages describing phenomenon we can’t fully understand and that is beyond our control.] Many religions, philosophies, and spiritualities around the world have similar concepts and metaphors…Jesus made from God in Christianity, state of pure consciousness in om, samadhi in yoga.
How this plays out is that we are often trying to integrate past trauma that we banished a long time ago when we couldn’t handle the intensity of it. These traumas usually happen before the age of 7…think about how traumatic it can be to go from 9 months of a 24/7 all-you-can-eat-buffet in a placential hot tub to an unresponsive world where you’re often hungry, wet, cold, and lonely. It’s so overwhelming that we block it out and sweep it under the rug. And our goal as adults is to uncover that trauma and re-integrate it into ourselves. Sounds easy, right? But here is the challenge:
- Before we are aged 7, our verbal skills haven’t fully developed yet so these memories are usually not encoded in our conscious memory, which means we can’t talk about it in traditional talk psychotherapy.
- Instead, the trauma is encoded in our non-verbal unconscious, which has no sense of time. (Have you ever been triggered and had an emotional or physical reaction that is totally out of proportion? To your unconscious, you’re a 5 year-old again and the last 30 years haven’t happened…)
- Like Newtonian law, we need a similarly traumatic experience in the present to resurface the past trauma.
So, how do we find and resurface the past trauma?
You don’t have to worry, because:
- Your unconscious and the universe will conspire to re-enact or re-create past trauma. Have you or a friend ever said something like “I don’t know why I keep dating the same type of person…,” “I keep having these same issues at work/home/in friendships…?” If you look at your life as an observer, your biggest traumas and dramas make so much sense.
- You don’t need to know where your past trauma came from, because:
- Trauma might not come from one experience, person, or place and can’t be pinpointed
- You don’t need to know where the trauma came from to be able to integrate it
- You will know you have resurfaced past trauma when:
- You have an out-of-proportion reaction
- You “can’t believe this is happening” to you
- You have a visceral fear or aversion to a certain situation and are doing everything possible to avoid something
Okay, shit, I’ve definitely resurfaced some sort of past trauma. Now, how do I integrate it?
- Pretty simple. You let the emotions surface and flow through you without trying to suppress/judge or overthink/rationalize them. This can be challenging, and it can be helpful to have a therapist to hold the space for you and explore different modalities to let the emotions flow
- The beautiful thing is you don’t have to deal with it right now, because if you don’t integrate it this time, it’ll come back, likely much louder and pronounced the next time.
As an example, my past trauma with my ex-best friend makes total sense:
- One of my past traumas is clearly fear of abandonment and rejection. I know this, because I have a lot of anxiety about FOMO and mutual friends becoming closer and will go through incredible lengths to avoid the pain of feeling abandoned or rejected (e.g., overscheduling my social calendar, manipulating people and situations, intense aversion, etc.)
- I entered into a codependent relationship where my fear of abandonment and rejection were intensely high
- My greatest fears came to fruition: my best friend rejected/abandoned me in a big way, mutual friends became closer than to me, missed out on social events
- I’ve integrated the pain and fear through therapy, feeling the range of emotions (sadness, shame, anger – a lot of anger right now, fear, joy, freedom, self-righteousness, self-love) without judgment, meditation, and physical exertion.
- I’ve also let the unresolved/unintegrated trauma remain, accepting that the process is endless and that the real purpose of life is not to integrate everything but embrace this constant process
More on levels of consciousness…
Consciousness is the mental processes of perceiving our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual signals, which are innumerable, lying beneath consciousness (ie the iceberg analog). In the last few years, I’ve become fascinated with the challenge of bringing more of the unconscious layers into the conscious layers through harvesting and diving techniques.
Diving into the depths below the surface of consciousness: psychedelics, lucid dreaming, sensory deprivation, hypnosis, yoga nidra
Harvesting from above the surface: dream interpretations, active imagination, eidetic meditation, mindfulness, embodiment (mindfulness of body), tremoring
Digging into dream interpretations
Dreams and active imagination are main channels for our unconscious to communicate with our conscious. Several things to keep in mind:
- The unconscious is not an “other,” but an equally important part of you as the conscious
- The more the conscious listens (e.g., through dream interpretations and active imagination), the more/better the unconscious communicates
- The unconscious’s communicates with the conscious in images, not verbal or rational language. It is less about prescriptive demands but more about the current state of things
- These images often come from the day’s activities, because these images are most readily available (like how the aliens come in the form of Jodie Foster’s father on Contact)
- The main and simple principle behind dream interpretations is that everything in your dreams from the characters to the color of the walls represents some part of you, so only you can be the decoder for your dreams. Paradoxically, you also have a lot of blind spots in your psyche, so it can be helpful to have someone else help you interpret your own dreams
- Active imagination can also help you continue your dreams and access your unconscious. It can seem like you’re making it up, but that is exactly the point. Out of the infinite thoughts/images that could surface, only certain ones do…and where do they come from? Your unconscious!
As I’ve entered into another nomadic chapter in this no plan plan lifestyle, I struggle with these limiting beliefs:
That I don’t deserve to live this life I’ve created.
That I don’t deserve to be this happy and free.
That I should do more to make a positive impact on the world, especially given my privileges.
That I have failed in some way by not having a more traditional life, by not having a partner or kids.
That I’m afraid to die and it’s not okay.
And these beliefs are countered by other beliefs:
That I deserve to be happy and live the life I want to lead by the pure fact of being a human.
That I am enough and love myself unconditionally whether I am changing the world or with partners or kids.
That I will die and it’s okay to be afraid.
It’s not about adopting one list of beliefs over the other but allowing the space for both to exist, welcoming the ugly darkness in as much as the beautiful light, and loving myself unconditionally (even when I can’t on the day-to-day level).
I’ve been reading a lot of dystopic novels…Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam trilogy, All the Wrong Todays…and it’s easy to get cynical about the deleterious role technology and humans have had on the earth, but it’s actually made me more grateful for the beauty that exists today. It has helped me to more greatly appreciate the preciousness of time and space we have in this lifetime, also more freedom to explore across dimensions of time and space within the human psyche, the internal landscape of the conscious and unconscious as expansive as the external unfurling of the limitless universe. The milk of our galaxy splashed across the deep night sky, twinkling lights alluding to grand celestialities, just as our consciousness can only approximate that which is beyond through blunt tools – though the exploration is the point.
Technology has also made boredom extinct. Case in point: I’m writing this on a long bus ride from El Calafate to El Chalten instead of getting bored staring out the window.