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Recognizing Aloneness (States of Shock)

The Invisible Wall Which Prevents Us From Healing

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The Two Skills

I often tell people, healing wounds (and learning to love) requires only two skills: [1] knowing when you are in shock, and [2] knowing how to come out of shock.

Unfortunately, even when the people I tell are spiritual, loving and intelligent, most fail to recognize the true significance of this statement. Why? They tell me it sounds too simple. How can something as illusive and complex as healing wounds (or learning to love for that matter) depend on only two variables? My answer? This simplicity is what makes these two things so elusive.

Simple or not, people who master these two skills will have all they need to heal their wounds. These two skills, then, can be incredibly valuable. Obviously, no one can begin to master these two skills without first learning to recognize shock. The point of this article is to help people to begin the mastery process, by teaching them to recognize shock.

What is Shock?

What is shock? Let me start by offering a pragmatic definition: shock is an unanswered question you cannot stop asking. Here too, my answer may seem too simple; that is, until you begin to see what this looks like in real life.

Picture this. Imagine you are faced with an important decision. Your job wants to promote you into a much higher paying position. You have worked hard to get this offer. But now they tell you that in order to take this position, you must move to another state.

The thought of moving is painful. You grew up here. Moving would mean you and your family would have to leave behind many close friends. Your parents and your wife's parents live here. Moving would mean being unable to be there for them as they got older. It would also mean depriving your children of relationships with their grandparents. And what about your children's educations? Your children are happy in the schools they go to now; they like their teachers and they get good grades. Moving would mean disrupting their educations. Then, there is your wife's job. Your wife recently returned to work after years of being at home, and she told you only last week how she loves her new job. Moving would mean giving up this job. To top it off, your job has asked you to give them an answer by Monday, and today is Friday.

Most people, at some point in their lives, will face a similar situation, one wherein the answer they give will affect them and their loved ones for a good portion of their lives. Unfortunately, the majority will go into shock during these times and never even know it. Would you know it? For instance, if you were faced with this decision to move, would you go into shock?

If you are like most people, the answers are, yes, you would definitely go into shock, and, no, you would not know it. You would know you were struggling, though. Of course, at some point, you would probably seek input from family and friends. Or perhaps you might opt to go it alone, hoping to find the answer inside yourself. Regardless of how you approached it, however, your dilemma would be the same. Searching for the answer would only net you more questions.

Can you imagine trying to fall asleep with this on your mind? Here is where your struggle would intensify. And if you can picture yourself lying there, unable to let go, you will have you a good sense of what being in shock feels like. Being in shock feels like being caught in quicksand or getting lost in a heavy fog, only worse. In shock, you feel like the quicksand is inside of you. In reality, you are simply drowning in a sea of questions, each one leading you to more questions.

Now let me offer some more serious examples. What could be more serious? Questions which arise from peoples' painful life events, such as "did my father love me" or "why was I molested?" Here, the questions come from the aftermath of personal wounds, rather than from a difficult life decision. Even so, questions which stem from personal wounds also shape people's whole lives. How could they not? And like the question about moving, people faced with these kinds of questions also get caught up in a myriad of secondary questions, each of which only deepens their shock.

In the case of the first wound, people who question whether their fathers loved them or not will have a difficult time having relationships with men. How can I know when it is safe to trust a man? If I tell him I'm mad, will my anger push him away? Does he really mean it when he says he loves me? Did he treat me like he did because of something I did?

In a very real sense, these secondary questions exemplify an important truth about the relationship between shock and wounds. (Extremely) shocking experiences cause wounds. These wounds then prevent people from understanding parts of their lives and so, cause them to get lost in wounded questioning. Wounded questioning deepens their shock, and leads people to make wounded decisions. Finally, the aftermath of wounded decisions causes people to go into even more shock, which leaves them even more vulnerable to being wounded again.

In other words, peoples' wounds are simply areas of their lives in which they cannot experience life consciously. Without conscious access to these areas of their lives, they cannot help but make wounded decisions. Ultimately then, these wounds and the shock they create are what cause even very determined people to repeatedly struggle to find happiness and not know why.

People who were molested will also have their struggles. These struggles will range from having a hard time knowing when it is safe to have sex to just plain not being able to pick a loving partner. For some, even simple events like hugging will evoke painful questions about safety and motives. Thus, even when love is present, these questions can prevent people from experiencing it. This example highlights yet another aspect of nature of shock and wounds: even when people are in the presence of love, shock can prevent them from experiencing it.

These last two situations are, unfortunately, more common than most would imagine, and even briefly picturing yourself in either of these painful examples will quickly demonstrate what it is like to be in shock. Again, notice that shock can occur both from questions which stem from ordinary life decisions and from decisions based on personal wounds. In either case, though, being in shock feels the same. It feels like you are lost in a maze of endless proportions, one which grows larger with each step you take. In reality, you are simply lost in an endless sequence of painful questions.

Here, then, are shock's essential features. All people, no matter how smart or spiritual, are vulnerable to shock. This is simply a facet of human nature. All people enter shock the same way: they get trapped in a single, primary question which they cannot stop asking. Then, since being in shock prevents people from finding an answer, and since being in shock is painful, people try to escape these traps by asking secondary questions. Unfortunately, asking these secondary questions only deepens the shock, and people soon find themselves lost in a labyrinth of unanswered questions. In the end, it is this labyrinth of unanswered questions which prevents people from finding answers. It is also what keeps people from experiencing love. Thus, even when the love people seek is right in front of them, being in shock prevents them from experiencing it. People literally experience the lack of love at the times they need love the most.

Shock as a Sense of Detachment from Life

Now let me offer a second, more precise definition of shock: shock is any significant detachment from the current life experience. Unfortunately, this definition can be a bit difficult to understand. Why? Because the concept of the current life experience can be somewhat hard to grasp, and because sensing one's own level of detachment can be even more difficult to do.

What life events are you currently experiencing? If you answered that you are reading these words, then you may be partially correct. But maybe not. How conscious are you that you are actually reading? Reading as a current life experience means picturing what the words portray in the same moment as you read them. Is this what you are currently doing? Are you picturing what you are reading?

In all probability, your current life experience would more accurately be described as the experience of verbal translation, since few, if any, will be picturing me saying the words. Add to this the probability that what I am now saying is generating more questions than it is answering and you begin to see the problem. In all likelihood, then, unless you are currently entranced by these words; meaning, unless you are now totally engrossed in what you are picturing, then your current life experience is probably divided between taking in my words, trying to understand what they mean, comparing this meaning to what you already know, and trying to determine if this meaning has value. Throw in the fact that, at some point, you will probably be distracted by thoughts like doing laundry or paying bills, and things get even more complex. Here, then, is a brief look at how hard it can be to define your current life experience.

The point is, your current life experience is whatever you are currently experiencing consciously, and unless you are currently meditating or in a hypnotic trace, determining what your current life experience is can be incredibly hard. Can you learn to do it? Absolutely. But realize this skill is the essence of what people learn in meditation. Do not worry. Learning this skill is much easier than you have been led to believe, and learning it does not have to take you a lifetime.

What about the detachment part of the definition? Try now being conscious of whatever you are currently doing; meaning, try to picture yourself reading and at the same time, try to picture the meaning of what you are reading, all the while trying to picture yourself comparing this meaning to what you already know, and at the same time, try to picture yourself trying to see if any of this meaning has value to you; if you can do all these things and at the same time, try to sense how conscious you are, then you will quickly see how difficult it is to sense detachment. In fact, even trying to follow what I just said may cause some people to experience detachment. Please know I did this on purpose, as experiencing detachment is the only way to learn to recognize it.

Would you like to become even more aware of your current level of detachment? Try this. Try noticing the way your body feels at the places it contacts your chair. While doing this, notice  the temperature of your breath as it goes in and out. At the same time, try being aware each time you blink your eyes, while also noticing any sounds taking place around you. Now, ask yourself, how many of these things were you aware of before I asked you these questions.

Any one of these experiences could have been your current life experience, but only if you were conscious of it in the moment it occurred. This is the point. The degree to which you are aware of your current life activity, including the degree to which you are aware of what your current thoughts and feelings mean, is the degree to which you are conscious. Conversely, the degree to which you are unaware of your current life activity, including the degree to which you are unaware of what your current thoughts and feelings mean, is the degree to which you are detached.

Actually, the easiest way to sense your level of detachment is to try to picture your current life activity. The degree to which you cannot picture your current life activity indicates how detached you currently are. Conversely, the degree to which you can picture your current life activity is the degree to which you are conscious.

The point here is that there is a direct relationship between the degree to which you can picture your current life activity and the degree to which you are conscious. In reality, these two things are both facets of the same thing. Moreover, the degree to which you cannot picture your current life activity is the degree to which you are in shock. These two things are also facets of the same thing.

Equally important is the idea that one's current life activity is rarely one's current life experience. One's current life activity is what one is actually doing in the here and now, whether that be breathing, thinking, feeling, or doing. One's current life experience is whatever one is conscious of in the here and now, meaning, whatever one can currently picture. The idea here is simply that it is natural for human beings to have their current life experience take place mostly in times other than in the present. Why care? Because healing (and learning to love) is possible only in the current life experience.

The Continuum of Shock

Admittedly, these two concepts, the current life experience and one's level of detachment, can be difficult to grasp. One way to overcome this difficulty is to learn to recognize other peoples' shock responses, specifically, their initial responses. By initial responses, I mean peoples' internal responses.

Begin by knowing that all shock responses can be placed somewhere on a continuum from total blankness to extreme overreaction. Let's start with the right end of this line. Here are peoples' extreme overreactions, most of which they will never act on. These overreactions include things like the impulse to kill someone, something which seriously frightened people commonly experience. For instance, people often feel such urges when they get cut off on a busy highway. More often, though, they are responding to something trivial, such as a grouchy spouse's words or an over-tired child's whining. Were these people not in shock, they might whine right back and then laugh at the whole thing. In fact, two year olds frequently do this very thing when they get furious at their parents one moment and an instant later (when they come out of shock), laugh and give them a hug.

Other common overreactions include suddenly threatening to quit a job, feeling sudden impulses to break something, and having sudden urges to verbally mistreat a loved one. If you experience sudden impulses like these, then you are on the right side of the shock continuum; overreaction.

A more precise way of defining this end of the continuum would be to say it is simply the experience of conscious suffering. I sometimes call this experience masculine shock. Here, I use the word masculine in the Eastern sense of the word, meaning it is outwardly directed energy. In the case of shock, masculine energy causes people to suddenly be thrust off balance; in effect, it is the sudden experience of suffering. Please do not see this as a negative reflection on men or maleness, but rather, the word masculine merely refers to the direction the energy takes; it moves outward.

As you might guess, the complement of masculine shock is, of course, feminine shock. Here we are looking at the left end of the shock continuum. Again, I use the term feminine in the Eastern sense of the word, which is that it is simply any inwardly directed energy; in other words, any receptive energy. Thus, when you are on left side of the shock continuum, the experience is one of suddenly collapsing inwardly into a place of nothingness or nonexistence, or in other words, the sudden experience of emptiness.

Please note that both types of shock are moves away from balance. By this I mean they are moves away from the center of the continuum, which is the place in which people experience equal proportions of both outwardly and inwardly moving energies. In other words, shock moves people away from the place wherein they can consciously experience both masculine and feminine energies, flowing freely back and forth. This is important because this center is the only place in which people can heal their wounds.

I realize these ideas may seem a little deep and perhaps, nebulous. Here again, please do not worry. Becoming conscious of one's overreactions is a relatively easy thing to do, especially if you begin by learning to recognize other peoples' overreactions. After all, at this end of the continuum, your task is simply to learn to recognize peoples' conscious suffering.

As for learning to recognize the events at the other end of the continuum, the events which I call moments of blankness or under-reactions, the process here is only slightly more difficult. People suffer here as well, but all too often, they experience this end of the continuum as relief from suffering. The experience of blankness is not relief from suffering. It is the experience of nonexistence; in effect, feeling meaningless. In extreme cases, this experience is the essence of what drives people toward alcoholism and suicide. In any event, your task here is to learn to recognize people's unconscious suffering.

Learning to Recognize When Others are in Shock

As I said, the easiest way to learn to recognize shock is to learn to recognize it in others. What is the best way to begin this process? The best way to begin is by observing people's eyes.

Intense overreactions will most often appear as intensely violating energies emanating from the person's eyes, as if their eyes were emitting laser beams on a mission to seek and destroy. Admittedly, learning to watch these emissions can be difficult at first. Why? Because most people, by nature, will respond to such emissions by trying to avoid being caught in the beams; in a sense, they will try to avoid being seen as the target. This means people will tend to look away at the very times when they could best learn to see these responses. If this happens to you, be easy on yourself. As I said, most human beings are, by nature, inclined to look away.

Moreover, when most people witness these responses, they, too, go into shock, a reaction which very much resembles the experience of being a deer caught in a car's headlights. These under-reactions are the natural response to witnessing such emissions and are themselves, examples of feminine shock. At other times, the observer's response will more resemble that of the observed person, and I call these responses, sympathetic overreactions. Please note that sympathetic overreactions are always the evidence that the observer shares a similar wound with the observed person. They are also examples of masculine shock.

Observing blankness in others can initially be somewhat easier to endure, but consciously observing this condition for anything more than a brief instant will also cause most people to go into shock. Here, the observer's responses will vary as well, from sympathetic blankness, which is the natural reaction here, to feeling mad at the person or afraid of them. Again, reactions of the later type are overreactions, and reactions of the previous type are under-reactions. Please note that since seeing a person zone out does not in and of itself constitute violence, if you respond here with any significant degree of fear or anger, in all likelihood, you, yourself, were, at one time, wounded by someone who was experiencing blankness when they wounded you. Of course, the ultimate evidence for this is an observer's sympathetic blankness, which always indicates a similar wound in the observer.

Learning to Recognize When You Yourself are in Shock

When you have learned to recognize shock in others, you will have laid the groundwork to recognize your own shock. Even so, many people will still find it difficult to recognize when they have gone into shock. Here, a good way to improve your skills would be for you to ask someone you trust to let you know when they see you go into shock. Ask them to describe what you look like, your whole appearance. You also might ask them to describe what they, themselves, are experiencing as they observe you; any thoughts and feelings they get in response to your shock.

Obviously, these exercises can potentially deepen any relationship, and one's ability to be vulnerable during them will greatly affect the outcomes. Even more important, though, is the ability to suspend blame, both while in shock and while witnessing others in shock. This ability is actually the key ingredient in learning to love and in healing one's wounds. These simple exercises, then, can be used to generate the essential ingredients with which people can learn to love and heal their wounds.

Finally, please have faith that, with the smallest amount of genuine love, you, too, can learn to recognize and use shock as a tool to heal your wounds. And to learn to love.

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(Quick Summary on Recognizing Shock)