Growing up Catholic, I was taught that I was damned before I started. With Original Sin, all I had to do was be born to have committed a sin. The lay teachers and the nuns used anxiety and guilt as the motivator not to commit any more sins.
After setting myself free from the double binds of my Catholic upbringing of being damned if I did or didn’t, I found myself in another double bind, albeit more benign.
Trauma –> Drama –> Karma –> Dharma
If you want to live your dharma with any grace and ease, you need to heal your trauma.
What no one told me as a Catholic kid, or later in my development, was that how you survive trauma or stress is your set up for this progression. As a Catholic, committing fewer sins was the main goal. As a “spiritual but not religious” person, it was committing fewer actions that produce negative consequences.
As we all know, you need to work at changing your behavior, particularly when under stress. You do your formal practice. You get relaxed and centered. You set your intent to do your acts of kindness. Then life happens. Your computer gets a virus. Your car gets a flat right before you need to leave for work. You realize that you forgot to account for that large check you wrote, and your checking account will be overdrawn if you don’t get to the bank ASAP.
Once you get on the road, late to work, someone cuts you off, forcing you to slam on your brakes and sending adrenaline coursing through you. That meditation you did right after getting up might as well been a year ago. Your mind immediately goes to your fantasy of road rage. You imagine that car running into the garbage truck ahead of it.
All that good work to release yourself from your karma and live your dharma is driving down the road in that car heading to the garbage truck. If you weren’t upset before, you are now. Sure, you can remember reading things are meant to teach you, to be lessons in keeping your cool. But right now you want to strangle that author.
You could work harder, practice more, read more, take more workshops, go on more retreats, do more yoga. Yet you sense knowing more and practicing more is much like studying your manual for your computer that has the virus. You may understand better how the virus occurred. You may even read how you shouldn’t go to certain websites. No matter what you learn, you are still exposed to another possible virus infection.
You’re smart. You cheat. You get an antivirus program for your computer. You know that no matter how good you are, things happen. You stop treating the consequence and go for treating the cause.
The cause of much of your trauma to karma cycle lies in your trauma or stress. When in a state of stress, our physiology turns on our survival mechanism. When in perceived trauma or stress, we are hardwired to shut down relaxation activities for the survival activities of fight of flight. Over time, you develop coping mechanisms that are unconscious survival strategies. The good news is, they worked. You are alive. The bad news is, they keep working. Now, like a computer virus, when certain conditions are met, one of these mechanisms takes charge as if your life depended on it.
Release the trauma and stress. Bring down the chance of being triggered. Create a stronger and more resilient state of relaxation. Bring more joy into your life. Stop pushing the rock up the hill. Dissolve the rock.
Realize the automatic survival response is your priority. As long as your body or your unconscious mind experiences a situation as stressful, you are vulnerable to having your survival physiology take over. Over the years, what was meant to be a one-time behavior to survive your childhood stress is now your default behavior under any stress. Step out of the survival cage you created by releasing the stress in your physiology.
Don’t Go into Drama
The drama comes from your coping mechanisms becoming part of the Drama Triangle. To survive you became either a: victim, persecutor or rescuer. Go beyond an attempt to fix your default behavior. Release the need to be in one of these three roles. When you are feeling good, these actors are nowhere to be found.
To de-role from one of these three roles, start expressing what you feel and want in the moment. Sure, that can seem difficult after years of playing one or possibly all these roles. You won’t get it perfect—you don’t need to do it right all the time. Just speaking what you feel and action that interrupts a repeated behavior).
For example, your partner starts to complain about his work taking all his time, how tired he is, and how much responsibility he has. Rather than jump in to save him, just listen. Then ASK HIM what he wants. Rather than give him a solution or mother him, ask him questions that help him walk through how to get what he wants.
In helping him find a resolution, you are empowering him and teaching him and the relationship that the old pattern of the Drama Triangle has no place.
Don’t Produce Karma
We can’t remove all stress from our lives, but we can improve how we respond to it. Rewire your survival physiology so not to produce reactions that you don’t want. If you kept spraining your ankle because your shoe was worn out unevenly, you would replace the shoe. Replace your conditioned response to stress.
Many years ago, my business partner and I ran the largest Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction company in the country. We helped hundreds of super stressed-out, high- performers through teaching how to apply the simple skills of Mindfulness. We did that by teaching their bodies – more than minds – how to make a relaxed state their default existence.
First, you need to understand relaxation and increased performance is linked to a full breath. The secret to this shift is first learning how to breathe a relaxed breath where your belly, diaphragm, and chest move. With the intent to catch yourself being tense or not breathing, you start to realize you’re holding your shoulders or your breath. Then you get to apply your relaxed breathing in that moment. Doing that a few thousand times will transform your life; rather than living in survival, you’ll be living in the moment.
Live Your Dharma
Therapies or practices that are only mentally-oriented will not release your stress. Practicing deep mindfulness will allow you to release the physiological charge held in your body. When you feel your body kick in gear to run or fight, take a moment, then breathe and feel. You don’t need to stop what you are doing; you just need to stop how you are doing it. Give yourself more space than before to feel what’s happening. If you go deep, you may feel your body shake. That is good. Your body is discharging the old trauma/stress. You are healing.
You can be proactive and use somatic therapies that release chronic trauma/stress. Good Rolfing will relax the body to a point where much of the old trauma/stress is gone. Then there are people like Peter Levine, Ph.D., the developer of Somatic Experiencing, whom I studied with years ago. Peter and others discovered gentle yet powerful ways to discharge the built up physiology of stress or trauma and learn not recreate it
Release the physiology that keeps you in the loop of trauma-drama-karma so you can live your Dharma with grace and ease. That is how it should be.
 The belief that everything is causally linked allowing for spiritual or personal growth through learning from your actions.