Taming Fear, Taming Thoughts

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“My thoughts are not going to disappear, but I can develop a different relationship with them.” ~ Sharon Salzberg

I was thinking about the nature of fear the other day, wondering why last year I was triggered at times about my own trauma when dealing with the grief of facing my father’s death. Aren’t grief, trauma and fear all different emotions? Or all they all fear? A Course in Miracles (and other spiritual teachings) contend that all that is not love, is fear. So whether we are angry, depressed, grieving, or anxious – it’s all fear. I find this to be true, that when I follow the more obvious emotion deeper, to its core, I eventually end up at fear. And when I sit with one fear, other fears come up. Which led me to this conclusion:

“One fear begets other fears because it reminds us of our vulnerability.”

In dealing with my father’s death, I felt vulnerable. I felt powerless. I felt unable to cope. I felt like it was all so unfair. These are mirror emotions to how I felt after sexual assault. No wonder I was triggered. And all of these emotions are fear-based. Before you know it, once you allow yourself to fall into the thoughts of fear, your mind will offer you a buffet of all the times in your life you have felt afraid, vulnerable, powerless, angry. What will you choose today?

It can be so oddly comfortable there, swimming in fear, because we know these thoughts, we’ve been on this ride before. It doesn’t feel good, but it feels familiar. Past hurts, nightmarish images, ugly memories play on the screen of our mind. We know how to do this all too well. We often don’t know how to make it stop.

“Nothing brings suffering as does the untamed, uncontrolled, unattended and unrestrained mind. That mind brings great suffering.” ~ Buddha

As the Buddha says, this kind of thinking, fear-based and uncontrolled, brings great suffering. And God would not have us live there, in that state of suffering. God would have us move toward Love. The way out, then, is the opposite of what the Buddha describes. The way out is learning to control and tame our thoughts. The way out is to attend, with great care, the thoughts we allow to occupy our mind. The way out is to constantly return our thoughts to the Divine. How do we accomplish this? Through prayer, meditation, mindfulness and service.

“I cannot always control what goes on outside. But I can always control what goes on inside.” ~ Wayne Dyer

We truly have no control over what happens outside of us, around us, and the world at large. But we do, as Dr. Dyer says, have control over what goes on inside. So to control our thoughts, thereby reducing our fear, we must continually turn inward. Prayer, even for a moment, gives us a break from our spiraling thoughts. Start with a breath, an instant, and fill your mind with a brief prayer – God is love. All is God. God is love. All is God. Even this brief break in fear thoughts will start to calm you and distract your mind. Prayer opens the channel to God’s love. Spend as much time there as you can to quiet fear.

“Meditation isn’t really about getting rid of thoughts, it’s about changing the pattern of grasping onto things, which in our everyday experience is our thoughts,” ~ Pema Chodron

Meditation is a wonderful tool for taming our thoughts. Meditation has helped me by putting me in a state of openness to the thoughts of God, rather than my own thoughts. In meditation, my fear thoughts show up, but because I’m sitting in a state of Oneness, they don’t hold the same power and I let them go much more easily. Meditation also helps us see our thoughts as merely thoughts. The thoughts in our mind are all based on the past, so they have no real threat to us in the present. Let them stay in the past, floating through and out, while you sit in Love.

“Mindfulness helps you go home to the present.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Mindfulness is a beautiful tool for getting control of fear thoughts. As the Buddha said, unattended thoughts bring suffering. Attending to your thoughts and actions with complete mindfulness brings peace in that moment. The beauty of mindfulness is you can practice it anywhere at any time. We are often drawn to being mindful when spending time with someone whose end of life is near. We savor the time together, take mental pictures with our mind, and stay fully present with them when we are together. When we are mindful, we savor and treasure the present moment, staying in the moment. Fear thoughts, since they are based on the past, find no home when we are being mindful. It is a luxurious break from daily stress. A spa visit for your mind.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Lastly, service is a beautiful tool for taking us out of spiraling fear thoughts. When we are present for others, we cannot get lost in our own thinking. Service has been described as deceptively selfish, because we enter in with the intent of being there for others, but we come away feeling healed ourselves. There is such Divine beauty in sitting witness for someone else’s struggle. You will find God there, and your own devastating thoughts will recede as you find it in yourself to help someone else.

Sometimes, we must treat our worldly mind like a toddler and simply distract it. When our thoughts feel like a broken record we can “move the needle” with these tools – prayer, meditation, mindfulness and service. We can tame the fears because we can tame our thoughts. What will you choose today?


“The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind.” ~ Caroline Myss

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

2/19/2018

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Being In the Love

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“Be loving and kind. Call everyone to your table of kindness.”

~Ma Jaya

In a meditation not too long ago, I was trying to just stay open and not have an agenda, but secretly hoping I might feel some presence or connection with my father, who had recently passed on. As I became aware of that thought and sought to let it go, trying to return to a connection to God, this thought floated into my consciousness, “Be in the Love.”

Sometimes we get messages and guidance we don’t understand. This one was immediately crystal clear for me – Be in the Love, for that is where your father is. Be in the Love, for that is where your comfort lies. Be in the Love, for that is where you will find hope. Sit in the presence of Love.

Such a direct and beautiful reminder to constantly bring ourselves into Love in order to feel and reflect God’s Love.

And how soon we forget. I’m learning and trying and meditating and seeking like so many. And we are, after all, spiritual beings having a human experience! So we are tested in how we love and who we love. I have been struggling with this in the face of so much going on in the world regarding political and sexual misconduct. I’ve been harsh and judgmental and truly hateful toward these people. How do we look at these people and feel Love?

I don’t know the answer! I’m struggling with it! But I suspect it’s very similar to the reason we forgive others. Because we keep ourselves in chains if we don’t. Every time I withhold Love, I’m separating myself from God.

Ouch.

So I have to find ways to Love (or at the very least not hate) so I may draw closer to God. It sounds selfish, but the more we all expand and spread God’s Love, the better for all beings.

“Remember – we are not the light; we are simply the lightbulbs. Our job is to remain screwed in.”  ~ Desmond Tutu

How do we stay “screwed in” when we have so many distractions tempting us to withhold our Love and react in judgment? I think the answer lies in compassion. I often see horrible deeds done on the news, whether in war or everyday insanity, and I think, “My God, what must this person’s life be like for them to act like that or do those things?” And just that little sliver of compassion helps me to feel moved to pray for them. We pray for those that are hurt, but we know the one who committed the act needs prayer as well.

Scarlett Lewis, who lost her small son Jesse in the tragedy at Sandy Hook, said this about the shooter, “The reason I say Adam Lanza’s name is because I think it’s vitally important we remember that he was a human being too. And he was in a tremendous amount of pain.” She found her way to forgiveness through compassion. She’s choosing to Be in the Love. Her strength and wisdom are beyond inspiring.

“As you dissolve into Love, your ego fades. You’re not thinking about Loving; you’re being Love, radiating like the Sun.”  ~ Ram Dass

I want to Be in the Love. I want to radiate like the Sun! So I’m going to keep trying, every day, to screw in my lightbulb to the Source or light and Love, by turning toward compassion instead of judgment. Compassion, I truly believe, will guide us to Love. And Love will take us Home every time.

Be in the Love.

Be in the Love.

Be in the Love.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

January 15, 2018

THE PRESSURE TO SEEM “NORMAL”

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“In most of our human relationships, we spend much of our time reassuring each other that our costumes of identity are on straight.”   ~ Ram Dass

Here we are again – holiday season. Time to show up at the family table and be “normal.” As survivors of trauma, we can often feel an unspoken pressure to join in at the holidays and pretend we are just fine. I truly hope you are just fine this holiday season, but for those who are not, read on.

I’m going to let you off the hook.

The Ram Dass quote above is so true, isn’t it? We all present these costumes of identity to each other, but when trauma has touched our lives, the costumes change, don’t they? And as profoundly as our friends and family know, deeply know, that trauma has changed us, they still want us to show up and be “normal.” Why?

It’s human nature. Partly, they want to be reassured that the human spirit is unshakeable, that we are strong, that we are “going to get through this.” Partly, they miss us. The old us. The lighter version, the lighter person we used to be. They want a glimpse of that smile, that smirk, maybe the smart-ass humor that indicates you’re still there. They want to feel better about what you’ve been through.

But it’s not your job to make them feel better. It’s your job to heal your trauma in the manner and at the speed that is right for you. So this holiday, give yourself permission to show up and be what is “normal” for you right now.

I remember the first Christmas after I was assaulted. I lived a constant mixture of contradictory emotions: one minute I wanted to do the traditional things and be with family, the next I wanted to do everything differently and be left alone. I would feel profound gratitude swell in my heart only to plunge into hopelessness in the next moment. That was my “normal.” And I remember feeling the pressure to put on a good face and pretend nothing had changed, when everything had.

Hopefully, you will have some time this holiday with people who allow you to be where you are in your healing. And for those who want us to appear “normal” we need to give them a break too. They may not have ever had to walk this path either, and truly don’t know what to do.

“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never how amazing you can be.”   ~ Maya Angelou                                                      

I also remember, as I look around at the holidays, that most people I know have been touched by trauma in some form. Veterans of wars, sexual assault survivors, child abuse survivors, people touched by sudden and traumatic grief. We are all presenting our version of “normal.” We are all doing the best we can. We are human.

The best news about “normal” is how incredibly fluid it is. We always have the capacity to create a new normal, to re-invent ourselves, our beliefs, our attitudes, and become something more than we ever thought possible. And wherever we’re at in our healing, whatever is “normal” right now is perfect in the eyes of the Divine.

So this holiday, give yourself permission to be “normal.” Life is a giant Come As You Are party – Let Go and Let God.

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” ~ Buddha

You Are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

Dec. 19, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DISARMING TRIGGERS

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 “Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.” – Dalai Lama

Thanks, Dalai Lama. I’ll keep that in mind.

Recently, I’ve been having a hard time with this concept. Suddenly, certain triggers seem to be everywhere, almost impossible to avoid. And survivors of trauma know that avoiding triggers is not the answer, because if you don’t deal with this one, another one will come along, until you deal with it.

So what do we do? What do we do when we are faced with a trigger on a daily basis? I’ve seen so many examples of this; whether it’s someone in the news, a new supervisor who makes you uncomfortable, a new co-worker who resembles someone from your past, a new neighbor with domestic violence issues or who likes to set off fireworks – how do we deal with new and frequent triggers?

The answer is that we deal with daily triggers the same way we deal with intermittent ones, but with more diligence and compassion for ourselves.

First of all, most triggers are not there intending to be a trigger. It, or they, are just existing in the world, in their own sense of reality, being what they are. We are experiencing it as a trigger. We are assigning fear and panic to it. In most instances, a person or thing is not intending to trigger you, but you are triggered by it. It is not their fault, nor is it yours; it just is.

For me, I have to shift this into a state of spiritual opportunity, or anxiety sets in rather quickly. When I’m triggered, I experience the fear and panic, the anger and rage. Then I must step out of this linear reality, examine my own projection, and replace it with a new thought.

I also have to be willing to make this shift. Sometimes I’m not. Recently, I’ve been rather enjoying my rage, and I got stuck there. I had to find a way to stop raging at the trigger without letting it off the hook. This is the spiritual conundrum isn’t it?

Sometimes we have what we feel is rather justified anger, coupled with a notion that anger is not spiritual. But it is! Everything is spiritual.

We can use everything that occurs to show us where we are asleep and how we can wake up completely, utterly, without reservation.” – Pema Chodron

This beautiful quote from Pema Chodron is the ultimate in spiritual thinking. Using everything that occurs, absolutely everything, as our teacher, as that which will lead us to our true nature, that will lead us to the Divine, is the answer to every question.

Letting our triggers show us where we are still asleep can be seen as a gift. In her book, When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron advises seeing what arises in our lives as enlightened wisdom. We do not know what we need next on our spiritual path, only Spirit does. Trust in this. If triggers have come up, if you are struggling with it daily, turn it over to God. The reason for it, and the healing of it, will come to you.

When we need to disarm a trigger, here are some steps you may find helpful.

Breathe – Stopping the gut reaction with a large intake and exhale can help.

Follow the fear – Ask yourself what about this person or situation is triggering fear or anger in you. (This is assuming the trigger is not the original source of your trauma!) Journaling about this can be helpful.

Step into neutral – Once you’ve identified the trigger, shift your mind into neutral. Try to see the person or event from an objective place. They are not “a” trigger, they are “your” trigger.

Ask for Guidance – Ask God to help you understand this trigger, what you are to learn from it, and bring you to a place of healing.

This is not to say that there are not times we need to make changes in our lives. Sometimes a daily trigger is just too much for us. It depends on the trigger, the source trauma, our support network, and where we are in our healing process. Take care of yourself and follow your instinct. Don’t stay in an uncomfortable situation – ever.

As I said, I’m struggling with this right now as well. Some days I’m good at it, some days I give in to anger and fear. It’s a PROCESS. All I know, as I look back on what are now decades of dealing with trauma, that triggers, anger and fear will not win. Constantly turning to the Divine has always saved me, and always will.

A Course in Miracles: Lesson 69:

“Because your grievances are hiding the light of the world in you, everyone stands in darkness, and you beside him. But as the veil of your grievances is lifted, you are released with him. Share your salvation now with him who stood beside you when you were in hell. He is your brother in the light of the world that saves you both.”

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

December 6, 2016

 

This is Your Brain on God

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“We expand what we focus on.” ~ Wayne Dyer

Healing trauma can feel so overwhelming. Good days and bad. Doing the work but not feeling better when we want to. Annoying friends and bloggers telling us to pray. Pray about it. What a bunch of mumbo-jumbo!

It’s not just mumbo-jumbo. Science is now proving that not only does trauma significantly change the brain, but so do prayer and meditation. New research is constantly studying the neuroplasticity of the brain, the ability of the adult brain to change and adapt.

Without getting too technical about parts of the brain, etc. suffice it to say that trauma definitely affects brain function. Brain researcher Viatcheslav Wlassoff, PhD, says this; “It is no use telling them to ‘get over’ it because PTSD fundamentally changes the brain’s structure and alters its functionalities.” In fact, new research in imaging is allowing the diagnosis of PTSD with PET scans, because the changes in the brain are indeed observable.

If you are a trauma survivor, you are probably already aware of this. Your thinking, reactions, and processing of information is different. Your brain has been rewired to some form of protection mode, and God knows we need this. However, functioning long term in this mode is unhelpful and unhealthy.

As science continues to expand in its understanding of the effect of trauma on the brain, so will the treatments available. According to Alexander Neumeister, MD who researches the brain and PTSD, “People with cancer have a variety of different treatment options available based on the type of cancer that they have. We aim to do the same thing in psychiatry. We’re deconstructing PTSD symptoms, linking them to different brain dysfunction, and then developing treatments that target those symptoms.”

There is so much hope on the horizon for the treatment of trauma. But there is also new evidence that we can do simple daily actions that will help our brains recover.

This is where the mumbo-jumbo comes in. God. Yes, focusing on the Divine, prayer, and meditation, will connect new synapses in your brain that will heal, or at least diminish the strength of the changes trauma has created. And science is proving it.

“Be silent, only the hand of God can remove the burdens of your heart.” ~ Rumi

Richard Davidson, PhD, at the University of Wisconsin, claims we can change the brain with training and practice. He’s proven that the thinking brain connects to the emotional brain, so our thoughts can indeed influence our feelings and change how we react to certain stimuli. Quieting our thoughts also has a profound impact. In one study on people meditating for 30 minutes a day Davidson reported, “Just two month’s practice among rank amateurs led to a systematic change in both the brain as well as the immune system in more positive directions.”

Dr. Andrew Newberg, author of “How God Changes Your Brain” says prayer can absolutely heal. His new field, called neurotheology, studies the effect of religious and spiritual experiences on the brain. He has scanned the brains of Buddhist monks and Franciscan nuns. He found that in deep meditation or prayer, the part of our brains engaged in focus light up, while the part engaged in organizing sensory information goes dark. When this part, the parietal lobes calm down, our sense of self diminishes (in a good way) as we feel more oneness.

We’re fascinated by the words, but where we meet is in the silence behind them.” ~ Ram Dass

For people with faith, this research is not a surprise so much as a validation of what we already feel. Focusing on the Divine, prayer, and meditation lead us to feel more whole and healed. For people without faith, this is wonderful scientific evidence that meditation and mindfulness can truly help heal the brain that has suffered trauma. Focusing on the breath, closing your eyes, trying to empty your mind each day will speed your healing.

Whatever our beliefs, knowing that our brains are plastic and capable of change brings hope. Knowing that God and prayer truly do change the wiring of our brain means that we have the tools to begin and extend our healing any time, anywhere.

Knowing that science and the Divine are working together for our benefit is astonishing.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

October 5, 2016

Note: I do not suggest that spirituality alone can heal trauma or PTSD. I merely suggest that restoring your faith, and finding a spiritual practice, can enhance effective therapy and assist in post-traumatic growth.

 

 

 

THE VALUE OF ANGER

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I have not lost faith in God. I have moments of anger and protest. Sometimes I’ve been closer to him for that reason.” – Elie Wiesel

Trauma, PTSD, and traumatic grief are breeding grounds for anger. Our sense of unfairness, our indignation at being victimized, our outrage at the victimization of those we love is a fertile field for growing and maintaining anger. And rightly so. We should be angry – to a point.

I believe that anger is a necessary part of our healing process. Without it, we can find ourselves stuck, or it can rear its head at a seemingly unrelated matter. One of the most profound quotes on this I ever read was in a book called Women, Anger and Depression, by Lois Frankel. “Anger turned inward is depression.” I had to spend a lot of time with that thought. Anger and depression seemed like opposite feelings to me. How could they be the same?

Survivors of trauma often suffer from depression. The reasons are obvious, but look at the relationship of anger to depression. If indeed anger turned inward in depression, who has more right to claim this emotion than us? Childhood abuse, domestic violence, rape, veterans of war, people who have suffered traumatic acts of nature, been in serious accidents, and slogged through grief: what do we have in common? We are angry. And we were often silenced in the midst of our trauma. So the anger became stuck, as it had no release. We are often like the radiator of an overheating car. If we allow the anger to fester, it will turn to disease. But if we can lovingly and safely find a way to let it out, it can be one of our most useful tools for healing.

                        “The cure for pain is in the pain.”   ~ Rumi

I am blessed to live in Hawaii and recently took a trip to the Big Island, where a lava flow is currently entering the sea. I felt strongly compelled to go and witness this up close, so I took a sunrise boat tour to see the lava up close. I was not prepared for the feelings that overtook me.

The lava flow on this particular morning was a mile wide stretch along the coast. Pockets of fiery lava burst from freshly formed rock, steam spewing forth as it came in contact with ocean water. As I viewed the lava flow, I was filled with such reverence. There is something so primal about seeing new land being created before your eyes. I felt perfectly in tune with God, with nature, with Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess, and with a knowing that I have no words for.

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It’s almost impossible to see living lava and not think of anger. It is everything we associate with anger: red, fiery, hot, unpredictable, passionate and explosive. Lava is often destructive as well.

However this lava, as it encounters water and cools, becomes new land. As its old form burns away, the new form takes shape. As the fire surrenders to the water, it finds a new purpose.

So it is with us. For anyone with PTSD, any survivor of trauma, we have a right to our anger, but we must lay it down at some point. Anger can be a motivator, but once it propels us out of depression, we must let it go. Like the primal lava, it cannot be useful to us until it is cooled. Then, and only then, can we build upon it.

“The true hero is one who conquers his own anger and hatred.” ~ Dalai Lama

We are entitled to our anger. But we are obligated as spiritual beings to heal it and let it go. Humanity needs us to keep reaching for love, forgiveness and peace of mind.

Ask the Divine today to show you how to use your anger, how to find the value in it, and how to let it go. Carl Jung said, “What we resists, persists.” So dig deep, gather your angels, and turn your anger into something new, something useful.

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

9/1/2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

LOVING ACCEPTANCE

“To feel the Love of God within you is to see the world anew, shining in innocence, alive with hope, and blessed with perfect charity and love.” – A Course in Miracles, lesson 189

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I am still beloved. I believe this down to my core. No matter what I may have done or been or survived, the love of God for me is constant. I know God has been there through every trauma, and will be there always. This kind of faith doesn’t come easily, and perhaps you are not there yet. But know that it is true. God sees you perfectly, and God see you perfect.

I can accept this. I can accept that God sees me this way. God is, after all, God. The Divine is Love that is all encompassing and beyond our understanding.

My difficulty is seeing myself the way God sees me.

Does this resonate with you as well? You have a spiritual practice, you’ve survived trauma, you pray and meditate and turn everything over to the Divine – but still, still you judge yourself, withholding from yourself the very thing you need: love and acceptance.

I do it all the time. I’m still learning and trying and growing and becoming. But I know that this step is critical for healing.

When we withhold loving acceptance from ourselves, we set ourselves up for continuous disappointment. We set ourselves up for depression, anxiety and addiction. Seeing ourselves as God sees us leads us out of this cycle.

How do you start? I had to start with others. For a long time, I wasn’t at ease within myself, both because of the trauma I had been through, but also because I regularly withheld love from myself. With a strong desire to heal and change this, I started by trying to see others as God sees them.

This requires such vigilance on our thoughts! We are conditioned from a very young age to make judgments about the people around us based on their appearance, their words and their actions. When we consciously practice looking on others with love, we start to see their innocence. We begin to glimpse what God sees. We grow in compassion and understanding for others.

You are a creature of Divine Love connected at all times to Source. Divine Love is when you see God in everyone and everything you encounter.” – Dr. Wayne Dyer

Non-judgment is a muscle that needs constant exercise. Left idle, it will grow fat cells and spread. Like exercise, it probably doesn’t come naturally to us, so we have to be vigilant and dedicated. And like exercise, it is worth it, for it can be your path to self-acceptance.

Through continuous practice of non-judgment of others, I found it easier to forgive and love myself. I began to see myself as God sees me more frequently. This is a tool for healing that grows stronger the more I practice it. The less I judge others, the less I judge myself.

For some, the path to self-acceptance may start within you and then extend to others. This is also a valid path. And who’s to say you can’t walk both paths at once? There are many paths to seeing yourself as the love of God. The path doesn’t matter, what matters is the dedication to the path and to healing.

Give love to yourself today. Give yourself the gift of seeing through God’s holy eyes. See those around you with those eyes. Look within and truly see your glorious light of Love.

You, yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”                 Buddha

You are Still Beloved.

Victoria McGee

05/15/2016