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Are "Keys" the Same as "Triggers?"

On the Evils of "Sum-ism"

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On 3/13/00, Anne wrote and asked me

When you are speaking of "keys"....... they are the same as triggers, yes?

and I wrote back . . .


No, "keys" are not what is commonly known as "triggers," nor are they what many people call "buttons," nor are they what people refer to as "issues," nor are they what is commonly called, "your stuff."

In fact, unlike any of these things, keys very much resemble the cues stage hypnotists program into people (post hypnotic suggestions), except that with stage hypnotism, a hypnotist implants a person with a benign cue, where in the case of keys, the experience of suddenly being overwhelmed during a painful life event programs a person with a powerful and invisible key, some previously ordinary and innocuous slice of a life event which gets connected internally to whatever pain the person had been experiencing in that moment.

Said another way, because keys reprogram the meaning of ordinary life events, in particular, because they cause us to go into shock, they injure and wound our ability to consciously experience love in some specific scene of life. Thus, keys are anything but benign.

How exactly do we get programmed to respond to keys? Think of it as similar to the way the suddenly blinding light of a flash bulb can causes our eyes to be programmed with a suddenly blinding image only in the case of keys, this blinding image is permanently programmed into us, even when the symptoms have long disappeared.

In fact, if you were to witness a powerful enough flash bulb, even if for only a second, these usually temporary symptoms could also be permanent (could also wound you.) Afterwards, then, this wound would prevent you from ever again enjoying your picture being taken with a flash camera, as you would either stare blankly at the camera or you would refuse to allow your picture to be taken perhaps saying, "I hate having my picture taken." (Looking directly at a sunspot even for an instant would similarly cause a permanent wound.)

Now, again, using the hypnotist metaphor, could a hypnotist plant a generalization in someone and have it be a hypnotic cue? Perhaps. But to be honest, my own training and experience with hypnotism tells me that the more precise the cue, there more powerfully the person will respond to it. So, if you (as a hypnotist) told people they would feel scared if they heard talking behind them, people would respond much differently than if they told them they would feel very scared if they heard a man with a low gravely voice yell, "come in here." In fact, it is obvious that the second, more specific cue would have a much more powerful effect. (Not surprisingly, when some people read this last sentence, they actually get keyed just by imagining this scene.)

Keys being different from triggers, then, are different in the same way that the general cues of a "hypnotist" are different from triggers. Keys (and hypnotists' cues) are always specific. They are always exact, precise, instantaneously extracted slices of peoples' life experiences. Triggers, on the other hand, are like mentally generated generalized guesses as to what the injury is and how it occurred.

A trigger from early childhood? This concept is too general to help in any way except as a starting point. On the first day of school in kindergarten when you walked into the classroom and heard the teacher in a green and plaid dress yell at you to hurry and sit down: this scene is very specific; therefore, this experience can be a key. In fact, this experience actually was a key for one of my clients.

Yet another metaphor for the difference between triggers and keys would be to imagine you had stomach pain and that you had been told you needed an operation. The first surgeon you speak to tells you he has to operate in such a way as to surgically cut out the whole area around the pain. The second surgeon you call tells you he can use microsurgery to remove only the precise area which is injured. Which are you going to choose?

Addressing triggers (addressing issues or diagnoses) is like radical surgery. An example of this would be; "I should just stay away from all men and my problems would be gone." Addressing keys on the other hand (doing emergence) is like doing microsurgery. An example would be becoming able to see your father's eyes consciously while picturing him shouting "stupid" at you at age three. Thus, while peoples' pain is often generalized, the actual causes of pain are always specific.

Now, this surgery metaphor becomes even more meaningful when you realize how many people actually attempt to heal their hurts by doing this exact thing; they try to cut out entire, generalized areas of their life experiences, such as when people refuse to have romantic relationships, or when they eliminate all situations wherein they may have to deal with children or with money. Or not having sex other than in the missionary position after just having been married on a Thursday when the moon was full and the Pope slept well the night before because he ate garlic on his pasta the day and it made him happy!

Now, to finally answer your question about triggers and keys more directly; no, keys are not anything like triggers, because keys are analogous to hypnotic cues; very specific slices of life experience to which people unconsciously respond each and every time they re-experience this frame of their life, even if only in their internal life experience (dreams, day dreams, a single moment of a letter or phone call, etc.)

Further, because keys are only single frames from peoples' life experience, like trying to see a specific frame of a movie while the film is running, people never even realize they have keys let alone consciously recognize them or how they connect to their suffering.

More important, though, even knowing keys theoretically exist still heals nothing at all, just as cutting out whole parts of peoples' lives heal nothing. Knowing a key exists in a general sense is like knowing a certain movie has a single scratched frame in it somewhere. Would knowing the scratch exists repair the film?

Consciously finding the exact, single damaged frame is the only way to repair the film, Likewise, consciously witnessing the exact, single frame of life, the exact moment in which you were injured or in other words, consciously witnessing the key, is the ONLY way to heal. Further, this idea is true for all wounds, no matter what part of you the symptoms manifest in (regardless of whether the symptoms are psychological, spiritual, emotional, or physical.)

Anne also wrote:

I have a trigger; I have been trying to use that Cycle of Three you spoke of, and I have not been able to figure it out... There are several I speak with regularly. There is one though, who I wish to keep speaking with, because his writings are very powerful. It is like... I can feel his energy in them. He leaves his psychic imprint on the words he writes. But there is a price to this. It is triggering something in me. All the time I begin to speak with him in about 5 minutes, I am angry! He also has the uncanny knack of being able to push the buttons in me.

and I wrote back . . .

Yes, Anne, you are being keyed. And this is how you can begin to heal:

Because you can reliably repeat the scene in which you are being keyed (being online and having it occur reliably over and over in the first few minutes), you have a good chance you will be able to zero in on the exact frame in your life which has been causing your suffering. After all (and this is the good news), the key is definitely present in the scenes which you describe.

In a very real sense, then, you are being drawn to a person who, unlike most others, can show you exactly where you are unable to experience love; meaning, a person who can show you exactly where your ability to love is BLocked. In other words, you are being drawn to this person because you need be keyed in order to find the injury itself, or what I call, the "BLock."

Can you notice now how keys, including yours here, are really just the pointers to the "dead zones" which exist in all of us; the places in us all in which we can not experience love.

So now, how do you find the key or keys?

(Read sloooooooowly, now) You start by remembering that the keys are always literal cues, never general concepts. (BTW, if you were very, very aware of your state of consciousness during this last instant, the one in which you just read this last sentence, you would, in all likelihood, have noticed you either went blank for a single frame or felt some slight discomfort; this is detachment; shock; and is true even if you can repeat the all words back. Please set this idea, that of learning to identify shock in yourself, aside for now, though. You have too much on your plate already.)

Now take a breath, please. Now allow me explain the idea I just presented, that keys are never  general, always specific.

An example would be, some people say that they can get triggered by men who are absent. This idea is never true, since the actual key is always literally a snippet form the persons' life experience. It is a single frame from the movie of their life experience, never a whole scene.

In a sense, then, a key simply causes people to experientially return to what I lovingly call, "the scene of the crime," although this return occurs in an exact single frame of the film, and in the same frame each and every time, similar to how a scratched frame of a movie would show up in the same exact place each and every time the film was played.

So what is a key and how is a key specific? A key can be witnessing a bald man; who happens in this particular instant, distracted and so, in a sense, absent; who is in his early forties, and who is scratching his left ear while he talk on a white multi-line wall phone with red buttons, while you also hear a woman's voice sounding over an intercom call you to the manager's office (keys are complex and yet precise, aren't they?)

More important, because they are so specific; in effect, because keys are literally the contents or details of a single slice of your life experience; keys can not be something like simply witnessing a bald man, or hearing a voice come over an intercom, or seeing a person on the phone.

Many present day therapies make this error all the time. Many present day therapies even teach that you must look for some way to generalize peoples' symptoms and then, you must tell them they have these generalized problems, calling them issues or triggers or buttons and such. (In professional jargon, these generalizations are also called, "diagnoses.")

In the case above, then, such therapies might say the person's problem is that he or she has issues with phones, or with intercoms, or with bald men, or even worse, with men in general.

None of these generalizations even helps people to heal and actually, these generalizations actually lead people farther and farther away from the very place they need to be in, in order to heal; people need to literally re-experience the exact, literal, single slice of a life event in which their fuses originally blew abruptly as they witnessed this key, and this time, they need to experience it consciously.

Later, Anne wrote:

I do not know exactly what I am trying to ask you Stephen... maybe... 2 things... how do I figure out what the trigger(s) is (are).... and.. how do I find it back.. that I can do this work I do without needing to be fully integrated? To me integrated mean.. being aware of them, and what is being said and done. Mostly, I think I am. When I am online, especially with a certain few people, some sort of stress is being evoked, and I can't put my finger on it. I am asking you as a peer-colleague, not to be my online guru or therapist!!! Ack...... I do not know if this even makes any sense to you! but, I shall send it anyway!! :)

and I wrote back . . .

Anne, don't worry about the therapist "boundary" thing with me. I am pretty conscious of what my limits are, and of what the limits in being a loving being are, meaning, what would exceed these limits.

[To be honest, though, genuine calls for help like yours are at times hard for me, not because I can not see my limits, but rather because I am still, after five years of trying to find the words, unable most times to convey the real meaning of what I have discovered.]

Believe it or not, then, everything you have asked for there is in the story you read; "No Decaf." At the same time, though, I know you have not recognized the importance of what is there because you are still asking what it is.

What prevents you from seeing the importance in the story? Shock. Thus, trying to find the importance in the story ( and likewise, trying to find a key) is like trying to find an object in one of those puzzle scenes in the back of a Highlights Magazine (the ever present kid's magazine in most dentists' waiting rooms) wherein a trumpet is hidden in the lines of a tree trunk. So, the more you look for the meaning in my words, the more you simply get a brain freeze; meaning, the more you go into shock. Worse yet, the harder you try, the further into shock you go.

THIS PROBLEM IS NOT YOUR FAULT. Also, there is so much well intended but totally false and useless information around that for you to pick through what you know and to compare it to what you read in my words is next to impossible except in a moment of great openness (which is possible, none the less.)

In any event, there are many things which can make it hard to get the meaning in my words.

All this aside, though, what would help you TO BEGIN to understand would be for you to read my article on Learning to Recognizing Shock, in the theory section on my site. Then, after reading it, ask Larry to help you to learn what he has learned, and at the same time, reread the article.

Why this sequence and why this topic first? To be honest, the Cycle of Three which you have been trying to do is effective only after you have learned, at least in a rudimentary sense, to recognize when you are experiencing the instants I call "shock" and by "shock," I mean any significant moment of detachment from your current life experience, no matter how small and seemingly trivial, and regardless of whether it is primarily mental, or emotional, or both.

Did you zone out for an instant when you read this last sentence? You were in mental and or emotional shock (you were detached from your physical world and or spiritual world life experience.)

Can you recall the exact words someone said to you but have no feelings about them? Then you experienced these words in some degree of emotional shock.

Did you sit in a classroom and understand little of what was said? Then you were in mental shock most of the time there.

Did you "forget" where you put your keys (no pun intended)? Then you were in shock when you put them down (MEANING, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS FORGETTING. We remember what we experience consciously. We do not remember what we experienced in shock. Thus, forgetting is never peoples' fault.)

Anne, although these ideas may seem simple, simplicity does not make them easy to understand. If you don't believe me, try grasping all of the implications of the following simple phrase which single-handedly changed all of physics in the Twentieth Century; e=mc2.

Thus, despite being simple, phrases like this one "twist peoples' heads up in knots"; yet one more way to describe the experience of being in shock.

This is the problem, then. And the more people "think" (notice it is only "think") they understand, the less they consciously experience the concepts.

An even are descriptive way to envision this shock is to picture the two energetic and expressive parts of yourself, your head and your heart, riding on a seesaw. When the head is higher (and thus, has a higher view), the heart is lower (and thus, sees less.) The exact same thing is also true in reverse. When the heart is fully up and see "all," the head is fully down and see "little."

Now for a moment, let me use this metaphor as a way to teach you about a few truths about what you and most others call "wounds."

In this seesaw scene, then, what you call "wounds" would be represented by a brick wall which would directly obscure your view, the view you need to see in order to heal. This wall is something like the legendary (but nonexistent) "wall" people are said to build around their wounds. (Even though it's non existent though, let me go with this wall thing anyway; it feels real to most people.)

Let's say, now, that the seesaw pivot height was such that when the head's side was fully up, your mind could see over the wall and so, could picture the hurt area. Of course, this would also mean that when the heart's side was fully up, the heart could also see over the wall and could experience the hurt area.

Now, how would you heal this hurt area of your life if you were living on a seesaw? And keep in mind (and heart), your head and heart are the two managing partners of your life. Further, remember that they each have very different opinions about what is important in life, and about what is needed to resolve problems.

Each, in its own way, then, is an expert in its own area of life. But since there are two areas of life, both partners must be present in order to for you to make changes. In other words, changes can only happen when both partners agree to change (You may heard this one in another context or two <g>.)

Now, in this situation, what would you have to do in order to heal your hurt?

Obviously, the only way to heal your hurt here would be to get the OK from both partners. In order to do this, then, you would have to build a new, more elevated pivot on which to rest the seesaw. Then, both partners would have to get back on the seesaw and at the same time, they would need other peoples' help in that they would have to have people standing on each end who would then lift both ends of the seesaw up evenly.

Only then could both the head and heart see over the wall and see the whole picture. Only then, would the partners be able to come to an agreement as to how to heal the hurt. Only then would they (and you) be in a position to heal your wound.

The point to this story is, healing holistically is the only way to heal, and by "holism," I mean that in order to heal something, you must address all the parts of the injury (both the physical body and spiritual body) SIMULTANEOUSLY. In fact, this "simultaneous" idea is the main truth buried in the word, "holism." Yet, rarely will you ever see it written of or spoken about.

Now realize, even those who claim to heal holistically do not actually practice what I just have stated except serendipitously. What they do practice is what I call "SUM-ISM" ("sum," as pronounced in the mathematical idea of a sum, ... then "ism.") People who believe in and or practice "sumism" attempt to heal peoples' hurts by addressing the individual parts of people in separate moments, believing that as long as they address all of the parts of the person, that they will heal the person.

Try doing this with an injured butterfly, one whose wings have been injured. Sum-ism says you can remove the butterflies wings one at a time then "fix" the injuries, then put them back on and the butterfly will then be healed.

First of all, the butterfly will go into shock in the instant the wings are removed, maybe into the ultimate shock; death. Second, there is no way to remove the wings without causing further injury to the butterfly.

At best, then, all you accomplish by practicing sum-ism is that you would the butterfly's (or person's) symptoms in the area in which they first existed, only to see new symptoms manifest in a different area (in this case, in the wing joints.)

People never realize that the act of separating the wings from the butterfly more often than not kills the butterfly (if not completely, then often spiritually), or if not kills then simply causes the symptoms to appear in a different site.

People, who attempt to heal their heads and hearts separately, even when they thoroughly address both parts in the same single session, can not heal either. Most times, all they accomplish is they move their symptoms around, often to a different life area.

Mostly, then, what these people experience is exactly analogous to what the head and heart on the seesaw would experience; at times, they "think" they understand what is causing their suffering and at times others, they "feel" the hurt of what is causing them to suffer. Rarely if ever, though, do they know to try to do both simultaneously except in some experiential therapies and even then, it happens only by coincidence.

Thus, this false idea, the idea of "sum-ism," is one of the main errors we make and one of the main ways we prevent ourselves from healing, despite the great sincerity these efforts often involve, and even when these efforts later enable people to become expert in discussing these situations (no criticism intended here, Anne.) In this later case, then, all that happens is these poor people become more able to pass to others the same useless information they themselves have used to move around and to mask their own symptoms.

The worst part of all of this, though, is that people can invest lifetimes in their efforts to understand their hurts and to eliminate their symptoms and in fact, be so close to healing the whole time. Yet, because they never realize AND take advantage of the fact that their symptoms are like the little flags on a golf course green which point out where the holes are, they fail to see the value in these keys and so, miss going to the very place they need to go to heal.

Masking or moving around or eliminating symptoms is not healing. Healing always involves permanent gains in consciousness and in the ability to effortlessly love in a previously painful area o life.

Again, the point here is, even if the head and heart both experience times in which they can see the hurt area; times when they can see over the BLock; this BLock or wall will prevent the whole person from seeing the hurt area with both eyes at once (meaning, seeing with the mind and heart together.)

More important, this lack of holistic experience will actually prevent the person from healing this hurt area because in order to heal, people must see the hurt area with both eyes simultaneously (they need the simultaneous energies of both experts in order to heal.) Anything less and healing can not occur. Not because they do not deserve this healing. This is just how this place is designed.

Translated into English, people who do not get the whole, or more accurately, the holistic picture, can not heal no matter how hard they try and not matter how many efforts they make.

How can you get the whole picture? The first step is to learn to recognize when you are missing parts of either picture, or when you are only seeing parts of one or the other picture; in other words, learn to recognize when you are, to some degree, either mentally or emotionally detached or both.

Realize, now, that these three conditions can come and go in an instant. Unfortunately, the thing you must do here in order to see it all; in order to heal; is you must see completely in an exact single instant of your past life experience. This idea is always true, without exception.

Healing, then, is simply being conscious with both head and heart simultaneously during the brief time it takes for you to relive that painful moment from your past, the one in which you got startled and simply transitioned ABRUPTLY from the state of hyperawareness (the state of hypnotic trance) to the state of being detached (the state of shock).

Thus, despite how painful the whole event was, it was this moment and only this moment that actually programmed you with a key. And only by consciously reliving this moment and only this moment can unprogram this key. Miss this instant consciously and you miss the opportunity to heal.

Now please, do not worry as to whether you can actually accomplish this or not. The Universe never builds a wall without a way to see over it, regardless of how difficult this may be to imagine at times. Thus, even for you, Anne, the task is doable, and your courage will carry you through.

I have to run. Know that Larry [a mutual friend of mine and Anne's] IS capable of helping you (and you can tell him I said this), given you ask him specific enough questions (more of the holism / sum-ism idea).

God bless,


(To know more about Sum-ism and Holism)

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