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Finding a Path to Freedom from Emotional Pain

Overcoming recurrent painful patterns.

Key points

  • Trauma in early life can lead to recurrent and painful patterns.
  • Practices from Buddhist and Western psychology can help a person cope with long-standing, recurrent, painful patterns of hurt.
  • Mindfulness rooted in effortless awareness can lead to freedom from recurrent painful patterns.

Personal hang-ups and over-reactions can occasionally throw us for a loop and even sabotage important relationships and projects. They often escape a person’s understanding and control and force them to endure their problems, leaving them increasingly insecure.

My own long-standing painful patterns, which I’ve had since childhood, inspired me to become a clinical psychologist. I hoped to find a way through for myself and for my patients. Psychotherapy and mindfulness, compassion, and awareness meditation practices have helped me find a measure of peace and freedom during the last four decades.

I found that working with painful patterns is especially necessary in these times, as many of our old painful patterns are getting triggered by current difficult circumstances in our country and our world. Uncertainty, trauma, danger, and divisiveness are frequently unearthing our own woundedness and fears.

I have come to call these constellations LRPPs (pronounced: lurps) or long-standing, recurrent, painful patterns of hurt. A person’s early experiences, especially the painful ones, predispose them to a heightened sensitivity to certain problems and react to them in self-defeating ways. Being insecure and self-preoccupied in this way keeps people from fulfilling their purpose and from applying themselves meaningfully.

In my work as a psychologist and meditation teacher, I have witnessed these patterns of heartbreak and pain. The psychoanalyst C. G. Jung called this kind of hurtful configuration a complex—a core pattern of emotions, perceptions, and wishes originating in early life and organized around a common theme.

In Buddhist psychology, the Sanskrit word for this ancient formation is samskara—a psychological or karmic impression left in the deeper structure of a person’s psyche by a behavior, experience, or intention.

Over the years, I have learned that these obstacles can become opportunities when I bring awareness, understanding, and choice to such recurring, painful challenges. My own LRPPs have been a doorway to a new kind of wisdom, to an opening of the heart. By looking at their own old wounds—identifying them, taking them on, and addressing them—a person can find healing and meaning.

Drawing on Buddhism and Western psychology, I have experimented to discover which practices and approaches are particularly helpful in loosening the grip of LRPPs. Since I began studying mindfulness in a Sri Lankan monastery in 1980, my practice has expanded and transformed. In addition to mindfulness that looks at the moment-by-moment aspects of what is happening, I introduce a particular practice of mindfulness that is rooted in the limitless, knowing field of effortless awareness. I call this practice deep mindfulness. It is especially helpful in freeing us from the tenacious, contracted quality of these primal entanglements.

In the posts to come, I will introduce what LRPPs are and how we can understand their nature. The more deeply we understand our inner workings, the greater the wisdom and tenderness we develop, which are necessary for healing.

In 12 steps, I introduce several practices that allow a person to free themselves from an LRPP's claws gradually. At first, a person needs to learn how to recognize that they have been “LRPPed.” With self-compassion, they can look at themselves honestly, while compassion for others and forgiveness can help a person untangle difficulties in their relationship. Practices around intention give a personal perspective and vision.

Learning to work through being triggered allows a person to stay present, even when there is an urge to react. It will enable a person to feel grief and sorrow deeply, rather than trying to avoid or push away painful feelings, helping resolve their LRPPs. Engaging in service makes it possible to transcend entanglement and agony and to regain their confidence and trust in themselves. These twelve steps and 35 practices help those who have felt discouraged, paralyzed, and filled with self-loathing, when finding themselves repeatedly entangled in such pain-loops. Then freedom becomes possible.

References

C. G. Jung, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, vol. 8 of Collected Works of C.G. Jung, trans. R. F. C. Hull (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969).

Bessel Van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma (New York: Penguin Books, 2015).

Jack Kornfield, The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology (New York: Bantam Books, 2008),

Daniel Brown, keynote, 2017 Positive Peace Conference, October 31, 2017, YouTube video, 25:04, www.youtube.com/ watch=72C2PRKZ3oo.

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