Published in the book, "The Heart of Healing," edited
by Dawson Church, 2004, Elite Books
Dorothy feels afraid and powerless, and she doesn’t
like it. Mean old Elmira Gulch is threatening to take away her
dog Toto, Dorothy’s closest friend and companion. Aunt Em
and Uncle Henry are too busy counting chicks to be bothered. Zeke
insists she be courageous, even though he’s afraid. Hunk
tells her to use her brains and gives her wise council while fumbling
every move he makes. Hickory is too self absorbed to care about
anything but himself. Despite Dorothy’s pleading, Aunt Em
cuts her off and scurries away, telling her to stop imagining
things and find a place where she won’t get into any trouble.
Elmira’s takes the dog away to be destroyed, but her selfish
plot is foiled by Toto’s quick escape. Dorothy feels she
has no choice but to run away from home.
Dorothy is desperate. She feels alone and frightened
in a dangerous, uncaring world, and she doesn’t want to
feel these very bad awful feelings. She decides to utilize one
of the most successful strategies for avoiding them: running away.
This is not only a classic children’s story, but also a
classic psychological stance we take toward our very bad awful
feelings. We will do anything – even create a completely
delusional world – in order to avoid feeling uncomfortable.
This is the insidious realm of disowned experience.
At age thirteen, while showing off for my father,
I dared a sequence of three flips on our backyard trampoline.
On the third flip, I opened my tuck too early and my forehead
hit the mat. My body continued its trajectory over me. I heard
a crunch and felt pressure and a twist of my neck as the back
of my head touched the middle of my back. My body lay still as
I went into shock, having come very close to snapping my spine
in two. Fortunately, my back was only traumatized, not broken.
I felt okay a few days later, although my enthusiasm for the trampoline
Nine years later, while attending the University
of Colorado in Boulder, I was chosen to participate in a demonstration
of Rolfing, a connective tissue body therapy also known as Structural
Integration. After stripping down to my underwear, I was led onto
the stage to stand next to the wrinkled, white-haired, 80-year
old grandmother and originator of the technique, Dr. Ida Rolf.
In front of her audience of 300 people, Dr. Rolf pointed to my
back and identified various imbalances in my posture. She then
asked, “How did you injure your back here?” Not if,
but how. Speaking into the microphone, I told the story of my
tangle with the trampoline. She then laid me down on a low massage
table and began pushing her strong hands, knuckles, and elbows
into my body, stretching my tissues and changing my structure
with each powerful move. I breathed deeply as each intense manipulation
opened something deep inside me. My body began to vibrate with
a subtle electric buzz, and my nose started to tingle. The tingling
sensation slowly spread to my entire face, head, and chest. Ida
slipped her fingers beneath my back and pushed up into a spot
below and between my shoulder blades.
A bolt of lightening shot through me, as if she
had plugged my toes into a 220V outlet. A fire rushed up my spine
and out my head. I remembered the entire trampoline accident as
if it was happening in that moment. Instead of going into shock
and feeling nothing, as had happened nine years before, I heard
the crackling sound of bones twisted in the wrong direction, and
felt the folding of my neck and upper back. I could feel my vertebrae
crunching into each other, and began to sob. The trauma that had
been stored in my body for nine years flooded through me. I curled
into a fetal position, crying as an injured child. Huge waves
of energy flowed through me, so powerful that I couldn’t
Ida covered me with a sheet and put a loving hand
on my shoulder. Between my sobs, she told the audience, “Those
of you who are therapists will recognize this as emotional trauma
release, normally coming after months and months of therapy.”
Opening my eyes for a moment, I saw hundreds of people staring
at me, mouths agape. “The hell with them,” I thought.
“I’m going to feel this fully. So what if I’m
crying in public.” It was not one of my most glorious moments
in front of an audience, but it was a glorious moment of release.
After that night, I felt more alive than I had felt in nine years.
Feelings in my body and my heart were more vivid than I could
ever remember. Had the trampoline trauma remained stored in my
tissues, it might have later turned into back problems, emotional
distance in my relationships, or disease somewhere in my body.
When very bad awful things happen, whether by
threat, stress, injury or disease, the nerves send signals to
the brain and the surrounding tissues to indicate something is
wrong. We experience most of these signals as pain. In the case
of emotional stress or trauma, we usually experience it as overwhelming,
and something we cannot handle. Dorothy felt it as panic and the
associated need to escape. These feelings are the result of a
chain of hundreds of thousands of chemical and electrical events,
including those that stimulate repair of damage. Pain is an important
signal to receive and welcome, but we don’t always receive
the message. We don’t like to be uncomfortable, and we don’t
like pain, whether physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual.
We resist it. We seek to dull it, or extinguish it completely.
We intellectualize it away by labeling or analyzing. We try to
fix it, desperately seeking change or solutions. We may try to
ignore it by distracting ourselves, or push ahead with what needs
to be done. We may suffer silently, enduring it, or we may talk
endlessly to others about it. We sometimes use alcohol or drugs
to numb ourselves out. We rely on our favorite addictions of choice
– for some it is food, for others sex, TV, or work. We will
do anything to resist the pain, even to our detriment. But whatever
we resist will somehow persist. We will experience it eventually,
sooner or later, one way or the other.
Dorothy went so far as to get hit on the head
(getting injured or creating a bigger problem is another convenient
way to avoid unpleasant feelings) and entered a shamanic journey
involving tiny people she could tower over, an emerald city with
infinite delights, and vivid manifestations of her many sub-personalities:
an simple con-man portraying himself as a powerful wizard, a lion
with no courage but much false bravado, an empty kettle with no
heart and a steely personality, and a stuffed doll with little
brain but lots of bright ideas. In her magical land over the rainbow,
Dorothy became the subject of everyone’s attention instead
of being ignored and unseen.
What would have happened if instead she had stayed
home and dealt with her feelings? Had Dorothy lived through the
1990s, receiving the benefit of psychotherapy and the human potential
movement, she might have sat down with her family to express how
frustrated, afraid and unloved she felt. Auntie Em, Uncle Henry,
and each of the farm hands would hold her close, telling her she
was truly loved. Someone would remind her that adults get busy,
and sometimes forget to show their love. Children misinterpret
this, believing they are unloved or unlovable, and feel neglected
or abandoned. (Unfortunately, this is also true of many adults.)
Each member of her family would promise to do better, and someone
would remind her to ask for what she wanted. “Feel your
feelings as they come up,” they would tell her, “and
tell us all your feelings honestly.” The story would be
much shorter and far less interesting, of course, because Dorothy
never would have left home or stumbled into Oz.
Six years after my near-naked on-stage demonstration
of emotional trauma release, a young man who was traveling with
me pulled out a gun, aimed at my head, and shot me – four
times. I had learned by this time that any resistance to an experience
only delays, and often exacerbates, suffering. The first bullet
felt like a baseball bat to the top of my head, shocking me into
a state of hyper-awareness. When I realized my companion intended
to kill me, I decided to face my death with presence and courage.
I relaxed, determined to die well, fully awake to whatever might
The absence of resistance saved my life. My relaxation
was so deep that the fourth bullet pushed my head to the side,
allowing the bullet to glance off at an angle. Resistance in the
form of fear or anger would have locked up my neck; that counter-force
may well have allowed the bullet to shatter my skull. I not only
survived, but as Dorothy did, received my own initiation into
another world. The full story, “A Shot In The Light,”
can be found in the international bestseller, I Thought My Father
Was God… and Other True Tales from NPR’s National
Story Project (Henry Holt, 2001), and in the film, “The
Kindness of Strangers,” directed by Claudia Myers. Both
may be viewed on www.EverydayAwakening.com.
Whenever we experience a trauma, shock, or injury,
the natural response is to contract inward to protect ourselves.
When the difficulty is over and the body has recovered, we should
ideally return to an open, relaxed posture. Cats and dogs demonstrate
this natural principle: when they get hurt or injured, they first
shake themselves or jump around, discharging the energy generated
by the trauma. They then stop eating, curl up, and rest or sleep
for extended periods of time. After their body has healed, they
return to their natural feline or canine behavior. Humans, however,
have the option of disowning their experience.
The most severe shocks and traumas – especially
repeated or sustained traumas such as sexual or emotional abuse,
or the experience of life-or-death conflicts such as war –
cause the temporary contraction to become permanent. The body
is unable to relax back into trust and openness. A defensive posture
becomes a fixed way of life. The holding pattern becomes protective
body armor against a dangerous world.
Some holding patterns are necessary, like a cast
that allows a broken bone to heal. But after the healing occurs,
holding patterns that get stuck in the system act to restrict
the flow of energy (including healing energy) in our body. Disease
often results. Much of the work of healing involves returning
to past experiences that have been avoided in order to re-experience
them, or perhaps to experience them fully for the first time.
Body-centered therapies such as Rolfing, Bioenergetics, and Holotropic
Breathwork can release the protective armor, allowing the natural
flow of breath and movement to return. Psychotherapy aims at the
same principle, targeting the release of emotions and memories,
and the establishment of new patterns of behavior.
An even more effective method of release is to
eliminate the beliefs and resisted experiences that created the
persistent condition in the first place. In the programs I teach,
Everyday Awakening™ and The Avatar® Course, we use a
wide variety of methods to root out unhealthy core beliefs and
dissolve them, replacing them with more positive beliefs that
will create our preferred reality. Dorothy’s core beliefs
included “Nobody cares about me,” which created very
bad awful feelings. She was released from her colorful delusion
by creating a new belief, “There’s no place like home.”
We have two choices when faced with unpleasant
experiences: we can experience them very intensely for a short
amount of time, or we can experience them subtly in the background
for a long period of time. But experience them we must. If we
put up enough resistance, another experience just like it will
come our way. (Dorothy had numerous encounters with the Wicked
Witch, a projection of her own shadow – her disowned feelings
of being out of control, being angry about it, and the willingness
to do anything in order to get back in control.) Distancing or
disowning reality only delays our confrontation with the inevitable.
Running away from a threat or a bad feeling prevents a full encounter
with what we fear, but as Dorothy demonstrated in Oz, experiences
tend to repeat themselves in our lives until we face them fully.
When we do finally confront the dark force we’ve been avoiding,
we tap into inner resources we didn’t know we had. Our character
is tested, and we find our courage, intelligence, and heart. Our
greatest fears are often dispatched with nothing more potent than
facing the naked truth. As very bad, awful and scary as they seem,
witches and goblins that have prevented us from achieving our
goals are dissolved by a splash of water: the willingness to experience
We have been given a simple, glorious and important
assignment by the Creator: EXPERIENCE EVERYTHING that comes. You
were given the gift of human birth in order to have your own set
of unique experiences. Your job is to act as a nerve ending and
give full attention and appreciation to your experiences. I like
to believe that our experiences travel up the chain of being into
the Infinite Mind of the Creator. When we dull, deaden, or numb
our input signals, we cut off the flow of this information. If
the information can’t get through, it will wait in the background
as an annoying little signal until it has the opportunity to be
experienced fully. It’s like the memory buffer on your printer
which blinks a little light to let you know that it has stored
the pages you sent. It waits patiently until you give it the attention
it needs, replenishing its supply of paper so it can finish the
Why would a benevolent God have given us the ability
to experience a wide variety of feelings and then have us avoid
them? To the Great Mystery, all experiences are interesting! This
includes the very bad awful experiences of pain, trauma, injury,
loss, tragedy, sickness, and death. The Infinite Mind does not
have a human heart or human preferences. It wants to experience
everything, and is always creating new possibilities (along with
its many old favorites such as suffering, pain, joy, sadness,
But humans have human hearts, and we have strong
preferences. We resist approximately half of all our experiences
– the difficult and uncomfortable ones. We believe that
pain is bad. We believe that we shouldn’t be uncomfortable.
We resist these very bad awful feelings, pushing them away, dulling
our senses, anesthetizing ourselves with our own version of the
field of poppies enchanted by the Wicked Witch. The poppies of
today are everywhere – as close as the nearest rack of convenience
store snacks or the infinite distractions of the web and cable
TV. They put us to sleep, separating us from our own (often uncomfortable)
direct experience. Every disowned or refused experience, however,
persists until experienced. Everything we resist does persist.
If you have a persisting condition that you prefer
not to have, including pain, disease, unworkable relationships,
a bad financial situation, etc., there is something you are resisting.
This is not to say there aren’t things physically wrong
with your body, brain or circumstances. Physical manifestations
are the expression of our resistance. How do you know when you’ve
stopped resisting? The rule is simple: When you experience something
fully, it will change or disappear completely. If you’re
still experiencing something you don’t like, there is more
work to do.
If you wish to make a change, ask yourself these
– What experience or feeling am I successfully avoiding
by having this condition persist?
– What is the payoff I get from having this exact condition?
– What beliefs do I have that could create a condition like
– What beliefs would create the scenario I would rather
– Am I willing to change my beliefs?
Curiously, God would not have given us the ability
to resist our experiences if she didn’t want us to use it
from time to time. Persistence keeps things in existence. Rocks
resist erosion, so mountains last for millions of years. Life-forms
resist being destroyed, so we avoid dangerous situations and survive.
We cannot change a condition we dislike unless
we first take off the resistance to that condition. When the Wizard
gave Dorothy and her crew the assignment to retrieve the broom
of the Wicked Witch of the West, they resisted the idea and believed
it impossible. But they then accepted the fact that it was the
only route home. Here is a handy trick: If you have a persisting
condition (a pain, problem, disease, difficulty, etc.), begin
by intensifying your resistance. Fight off what you don’t
like. Keep it away with all your strength. Consciously ignore
it and deny that it belongs to you. Push it as far away from you
as you can possibly push it. Do all of this consciously, by choice,
rather than automatically and subconsciously, which is what you
have been doing.
When you are good and tired of what that resistance
has created in your life, become willing to experience your resistance
fully. Feel your resistance to the condition. Allow it to be there.
Appreciate it as one more gift from God. Experience it, and glory
in it. The cycle of resistance will be completed, and it can move
When you feel your resistance lift, become willing
to experience whatever you have been resisting. If you didn’t
want to feel the pain, let the pain in, and feel it fully. Let
the discomfort come through the door like a welcomed guest. Offer
it a cup of tea and appreciate it for what it is. If you have
a disease, even a terminal one, appreciate it as part of God’s
plan, as part of your plan for your life. If there is persistent
pain, open your arms to it and thank the Creator for this experience,
sending it on to the Infinite Mind of God, since that is your
role as a nerve ending – to experience and send the signal
on to Source. Breathe into it. Breathe through it. Pain has a
role, just as pleasure does. It is a signal that something is
out of balance, dangerous, or beyond the edge of our safe limits.
The body needs this signal in order to know how to heal. Receive
this gift willingly, and let it play the role it is designed to
play – prompting growth and healing.
The Persian poet Jalaluddin Rumi gave us similar
advice nearly 800 years ago:
This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and attend them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows who violently sweep your
house empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably. They may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice –
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a
guide from beyond.
Welcome difficulty. Learn the alchemy True Human
the moment you accept what troubles you’ve been given, the
Welcome difficulty as a familiar comrade. Joke
with torment brought by the Friend.
Sorrows are the rags of old clothes and jackets that serve to
cover, and then are taken off.
That undressing, and the beautiful naked body
underneath, is the sweetness that comes
All pain is growing pain when received and welcomed fully. This
is true for emotional pain – those very bad awful feelings
– as well as physical pain, intellectual angst, and spiritual
crisis. Appreciate the gift, welcome it, and it will move through
you more easily. Deny it, or resist it, and it will stick with
you forever – or until you accept it as your gift and learn
its lesson. Miracles can, and do happen. We can go home again
– to our bodies, to our aliveness, and to the full range
of our experience – recognizing finally that there really
is no place like home.
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