Triggers

Updated: Oct 8, 2020


Living in this masked world, I can hide half my face. I remind myself no one can see when I wonder if there’s food in my teeth or how my facial scar looks. I feel relief in the hidden.


I remember standing in line at the post office in a pre-Covid time when I walked up to the counter. The male postal worker was pleasant and I carried out my business. A whole scenario of negotiating stamps and an exchange of money. It looked easy.


A whole other world was taking place hidden inside at the same time. The postal worker’s mouth was shaped in a way that reminded me of my brother. His teeth and gums made my stomach ache. When he laughed I felt dirty. When he looked me in the eyes, I wanted to run. He reminded me of my brother.


I was triggered with a memory from my past I don’t totally understand. I do know my brother was 9 years older than I and had some major social problems. He hurt me physically and emotionally. I was not safe around him. We lived together in our family for a decade or more before he left for college, and many experiences became part of my memory. None of them were positive.


When I sit five feet from a TV screen, I can easily explain to anyone asking what the movie is about that I’m watching. I have a perspective with a context. If I were to scooch right up to the TV and smoosh my eye against the TV screen, I can’t see anything and feel lost to what’s happening. Such is life on the spiritual path. When I feel lost, I’m on the right path. (this metaphor is taken from a Matt Kahn teaching.)


Every day I discern and decide, whether it’s a next step or a meal. I have goals and tasks and each one has a list of steps to take. I choose to do the steps from beginning to end in order to achieve the desired outcome. Every step has an intention attached to it. I prioritize. I assess. I meet my body needs. I list my responsibilities and carry them out as best I can. Twenty-four hours holds a lot of discerning, deciding, prioritizing and completing. Life demands my presence.


I imagine a human on this path of life meeting their daily demands they have lined up. Then I add to that human a huge sack full of guilt from their past that’s heavy and bulky with stories of misplaced responsibility. This human picks it up and heaves it over their shoulder. Then I add a whole lot of hurt the human experienced as a child in the shape of a long slithering snake that the human picks up and winds around their neck and torso letting the tail of fear and pain drag behind them. Moving about in their world is difficult, heaving and dragging all the past along with the daily demands of the present.


I have a deep desire in this life to feel whole and happy, not a compartmentalized happy. I want my inner child to take my adult hand and work together. To meet this desire, I have learned to watch and listen as I live my life. There are clues everywhere of what to address next. I must be gentle, otherwise I can’t see the flags.


I’ve observed a lot of wagging red flags. I address them one by one. I know to ask: What’s going on here? What am I feeling? What do I need? It takes courage to look closer. It’s much easier to experience a trigger and point a blaming finger. Then I block out the learning. But no worries, life will provide another flag.


When I am triggered, it’s easy for me to step on the soapbox and berate myself for reacting. I’ve learned to surrender in these times until my perspective returns and I see a clearer picture. This deep desire for peace of mind is closer as I befriend my inner child and my adult knowing we walk this path together. Triggers will occur again. I accept that fact.

EVERY DOG’S STORY by Mary Oliver, from Dog Songs

I have a bed, my very own. It’s just my size. And sometimes I like to sleep alone with dreams inside my eyes. But sometimes dreams are dark and wild and creepy and I wake and am afraid, though I don’t know why. But I’m no longer sleepy and too slowly the hours go by. So I climb on the bed where the light of the moon is shining on your face and I know it will be morning soon. Everybody needs a safe place.