(Can Hearing Words Wounds Us?)
I tell this story to make a very important point, one which is central to the idea of emergence. This idea is that the meaning of the events we experience in life is rarely, if ever, what causes our suffering. By this, I mean that when we suffer, most times, all that is happening is that we are experiencing what to others is simply an ordinary life event, but for us, it is something which has somehow become charged. In a very real sense, these ordinary events; these "keys"; hearing a certain word or words or witnessing a certain ordinary scene; have become hypnotically associated to a painful experience. Once hypnotically associated, we respond to them like "painful" post hypnotic suggestions.
Why can't we see these connections, though? Shock. The minute we experience one of these "keys," we go into shock, and while in shock, we consciously experience little if any of the event. Thus, even if we work hard to educate ourselves about these "issues," and even if we make great efforts to improve our spiritual conditions, because we go into shock, we literally become blind to the very connections we need to see in order to heal.
Again, I tell this story, then, because it is such an obvious example of an ordinary event which causes someone to suffer. In this story, the ordinary event was simply hearing a certain rather common word, one which despite its ordinary nature was causing a very spiritual man to react with pain. As for the beginning, this story, like many of my stories, begins with a conversation I was having.
The "Bad" Reviews
My good friend Richard and I had been having one of our usual deep discussions when he interrupted me and said he was seriously struggling with something. Richard has had a number of articles published in prestigious journals and had recently submitted yet another one for publication. He told me he was very upset because the article he had just submitted had been rejected. He then denied that it was the rejection that was bothering him and said it was more the way the rejection letter had been worded. To say the least, I was skeptical.
Richard then went on to tell me that he had actually received three rejection letters, one from the editor, and two from the magazine's peer reviewers. He said it was one of the peer reviewer's letters that had upset him. To myself, I thought, "rejection hurts no matter who you pin it on, and from the way you are reacting, you must have a serious wound around being rejected."
I then asked him if he had the letter. He answered "no" but added that he remembered the part that had hurt him. Again, I was skeptical, but what the heck. As he told it to me, I wrote it down.
In total, there were only nine words. The nine words were, "I found this paper to be especially rambling and confusing."
As I considered how I might have felt if I was told those words, I could certainly understand his being upset by this remark. Clearly, though, Richard said he felt beyond "upset." We decided to try to do an emergence.
Looking For the Key
Using techniques I had previously taught Richard, I began by having him bring himself consciously back into the present. It actually took Richard a few minutes to do this, but finally, when he was able to remain fully present in the room, we began to look for the key.
I started by saying to him, "Monitor your reaction as I say this phrase." I then used seven of the nine words I had written down and said to him, "I found this paper to be confusing."
As you might guess, despite my having left out two of the words, I expected him to at least react a little. But I was wrong. In fact, he reported no negative reaction at all. No shock. No anger. Nothing. Further, when I looked into his eyes, I could see he was telling the truth; he was still very present and conscious. At this point, I was confused to say the least.
I then tried saying the line to him again, this time using a second variation of the words he had given me. I said, "I found this paper to be rambling."
When I asked this time, Richard reported a very minor reaction, so I concluded that the word "rambling" did have a slight charge for him. But again, he had felt nothing compared to the pain he had felt when he first told me the whole sentence. So far, the words I had said to Richard had definitely not keyed him.
After reminding Richard to once again make himself fully conscious in the room, I said to him, "I found this paper to be confusing and rambling." This time, I had used all but one of the words he had given me. Here again, though, Richard reported feeling fine and being fully present; that he had experienced no negative reactions or pain of any kind. Where was the pain coming from? At this point, I was quite intrigued. And confused.
Finally, I said to Richard, "I found this paper to be especially confusing" and there it was. This time, it was obvious that Richard had experienced a strong reaction to what I had said to him. When I asked him what he had experienced, he reported intense anger, combined with blankness and confusion, and also an intense desire to defend himself to me.
What was going on? Was it the word "especially" that was causing his pain? How could it be, though? In and of itself, the word "especially" means nothing negative. Yet, Richard was reacting to it just the same.
At this point, I saw Richard's response to the word "especially" as illogical, to say the least. I had never conscious witnessed this kind of reaction to a seemingly neutral word like "especially" and so, I, like most people I know, I considered Richard's reaction to hearing these words to be a response to the "meaning" of the word or words. Clearly, it seemed impossible that such an innocuous word could be causing Richard to react so strongly. But if not the word "especially," what then was causing Richard's reaction? I needed to examine this whole thing further.
I started again at the beginning, by asking Richard to once more pull himself out of shock and to again become fully present in the room. Here again, I got the very same results as the first time. Actually, Richard had improved a little in that he had had no reaction to the word "rambling" this time. But despite his knowing exactly what I was about to say, when he heard the sentence with the word "especially" in it, he still reacted just as strongly.
Then, I tried it a third time. Here again, the results repeated; Richard experienced a painful response only when I said the word "especially" and to nothing else.
Finally, after going through the whole sequence yet once more, and after getting the same outcomes yet again, I decided to try something different. I then asked Richard to once more pull himself out of shock and to again become fully present in the room. Then I said to him, "I found this paper to be especially good."
Can you guess how he reacted? I think not. So what was his reaction? Incredibly, he had the same intensely negative reaction when he heard this sentence as when he had heard the sentence which included the seemingly negative words: "confusing" and "rambling." Yet, even without these words, he still reported feeling angry, confused, blank, and a strong desire to defend himself to me!
Richard Finally Experiences the Love Present!
I waited a moment for him to process what had happened and to come back into the room. Then asked him if he had heard what I had just said. Shaking off the shock, he thought for a moment, then immediately responded with, "Oh, God. You said, "good." I heard the word, but it did not register."
Why did it not "register?" It did not register because Richard had been going into shock when he heard me say the word, "especially." Because he was in shock, he literally had experienced none of the meaning of the words which came after the word, "especially." Yet, he was able, after this emergence, to recall hearing me say those words, so he had taken the words in.
However, although he had taken in all of the words, in effect, because he had gone into shock on hearing the rod, "especially," he had consciously experienced only those words before the word "especially." Those I said after especially, in effect, had meant nothing to Richard because Richard (and anyone else, while they are in shock) was literally unable to assign a meaning to what he had heard. The outcome? In Richard's case, he literally missed the "good" in what I had said.
I continued, then, to work on this key with Richard and had him simply try to hear me say the word "especially" a few more times, all the while having him work on staying present. In minutes, he was able to hear me say the word with no charge whatsoever. Whatever pain had been originally been bonded to the word "especially" was now gone.
Finally, Richard began to tell me how he was finally beginning to realize what keys actually were, and that he could understand why I had been telling him that keys resembled hypnotists' cues more than therapists' concepts.
After we discussed this for a while, he told me with tears in his eyes how much he loved me. Obviously, it was a very touching moment for both of us. And a very educational event for me as well.