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Consciousness and Triggers

Updated: Apr 14, 2023

Awakening to the places where our heart closes


I once took a class called Conscious Dying. The teacher's name was Dale Borghum. Dale was the Director of a retreat center for conscious dying in New Mexico called The Dying Center. He worked with Ram Dass, Stephen Levine and Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in the mid-70s who pioneered the conscious dying movement. His whole life was devoted to studying the death process.


I’m not sure why I was drawn to the class. It was unusual for me to be there, but I felt called to better understand the dying process and was very curious nonetheless. As we gathered in a group setting and class began Dale said, “I’m not particularly interested in dying. I’m interested in Awakening.” I suddenly realized why I was here. Me too, Dale! He went on to tell the following brief story gathered from enlightened gurus, the Tibetan culture, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and psychedelic exploration. The story goes…


Shortly after the time of death, you will be approached by a light that burns as bright as 10,000 suns. To the extent that you’re able to bear Unbearable Love, you will be able to walk into your death. Every place your heart closes, you will be shot back into another lifetime.


To the extent that you’re able to bear Unbearable Love, you will be able to walk into your death. Every place your heart closes, you will be shot back into another lifetime.


That’s it. That’s the whole story, but I think about this almost every day.


The good news is that we don’t have to wait until our death to practice. This is the process of Awakening. It’s the process of heart-opening and it’s the work of lifetimes. As we become awake or aware in our daily lives and conscious of the triggers that arise, we can start to call them what they are and soften into them; the places where our heart closes.


My three year old at 4pm when I’m tired and I just want him to stop. This is my trigger, a place where my heart closes. The person who says something that makes me uncomfortable. This is my trigger, a place where my heart closes. Unconscious reacting says, "He’s making me uncomfortable." Conscious behavior says, "This is triggering something that lives inside of me; be it anger, sadness, fear, shame. And now I have something I can investigate in my meditation, my yoga, my acupuncture, or my body work; my reactions, my emotions, and where do they live in my body."


When I start to make this shift life becomes a gift offering me opportunities to see where my heart is closed and how can I find peace in my body over and over again. And when I'm able to jump into the dance and receive these offerings without making it about judging or blaming the other for how I feel, I can love other people and let them be themselves without making their behavior wrong or worse, attacking their whole identity.


These moments of being triggered are the toughest of all to navigate because our adult or higher selves literally go offline, but as soon as I start to make the shift from blaming anyone outside of myself for how I feel or how I act, life becomes so much easier and there is so much more breathing room in my relationships. I do this with current events too. Current events are giving us the opportunity to discover what is unresolved INSIDE OF US. Unconsciousness looks at the world and says, "It’s a sad place." Now I'm stuck in a powerless narrative. Consciousness looks at the world and says, “This is arousing sadness in me, or this is arousing anger inside of me.” And this is where our practices become so important. “Where does it live in my body and how do I breathe into that and send love to that part of myself? Do I keep opening to it or do I shut down and push it away."


Once we become clear we can take action and move from a place of love and service. If we are reacting and moving from a place of being triggered, we are putting more fear into the world.


Always pause and go in, before you go out.


This is very much how I work in my acupuncture practice, guiding you to awareness of first the thoughts, then tracking them into the body, and finally addressing the place that’s still wounded. This is why I commit to the tender, tedious, and terrifying process of heart-opening, all of us together, no matter what comes.


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