Trigger Warnings

Warning: This blog post contains ideas and covers topics that some people may find distressing. Worse still, that’s kind of the point…

Over the years, I’ve been given notice at the start of many a movie on TV warning me that I was about to spend the next 90 minutes or so subjected to mild language and content of a violent or sexual nature. Since that was usually part of my rationale for watching those movies, I never paid much attention to the warnings.

As my own books and blogs have gotten more popular over the years and my audience has gotten more diverse, people have started to complain about elements of content and style they disapprove of. In approximate order of volume of complaint, some readers seemingly dislike:

  • When I use “adult language”
  • When I talk about “God”
  • When I don’t talk about “God”
  • When the “God” I talk about doesn’t sound like the “God” they like
  • When I use “adult language” in the same sentence that I talk about “God”

In fact, the only two pieces of advice I was given before delivering my TEDx talk, Why Aren’t We Awesomer?, were to not swear and not mention God. Which is why I was somewhat horrified that within the first minute of the talk, I heard the following sentence come out of my mouth:

“Given everything that we know about psychology and the human mind, given thousands of years of spiritual teachings, and life experience, and the advances in medicine, and the deeper understanding of the brain, why is it that some days we can get up in the morning and feel touched and inspired by the hand of God, and other mornings, we can’t be inspired to take a shit?”Click To Tweet

Much as the stubborn kid in me wants to tell everyone to grow up, I can feel my petulance overriding my compassion and I resist the urge. I’ve never once set out to deliberately upset people, strategically or otherwise. So I do often include a “trigger warning” about adult language now when I share my content. But if I were to write a really honest trigger warning, it would probably read something like this:

Warning:  This blog post contains ideas and covers topics that some people may find distressing. Worse still, that’s kind of the point…

You either know how your mind works or you don’t. If you do, you know that you’re fundamentally OK and your occasional upset is a function of the energy of Thought taking form and passing through your mind in the moment as part of the larger divine unfolding.

If you don’t, you might think that words can hurt you – that sticks and stones may break your bones but names (words) are the real source of pain and suffering in our world. And it really does look like that. It looks like what someone else says can cause our distress, or evoke fear, or trigger a past trauma. But the hyper-realistic special effects department of our own consciousness is still a special effects department. It’s still part of a world of make believe. Our experience of life is being created moment by moment from the inside-out via the principles of Mind, Consciousness, and Thought. We’re living in the feeling of our thinking, not the feeling of our world.

And I’m no different. There are times where I read a bad review of one of my products or a harsh email from a self-appointed critic and I think myself into a frenzy, all the while blaming everything but my own thoughts for my experience of upset. But no matter how much it looks to me like they’re the cause of my distress – that their mean words “triggered” me – at a deeper level I know that can’t be true. Experience only works one way – from inside to out – from formless to form – from thought to experience.

I can even get quite sophisticated in my delusion and convince myself that but for their words, I wouldn’t be having the thinking I’m suffering from. If they hadn’t said it, I wouldn’t be thinking about it. So sure, I’m living in the feeling of my thinking, but my thinking is triggered by the world around me, so effectively, the world is still to blame for not devoting itself to making me happy.

And yet… if I already “know” something is going to trigger me, that “knowing” can only be made of thought – thoughts of a remembered past projected into an imagined future. So in order to be worried about being triggered, I have to already be thinking that certain words, phrases, images, or scenarios have the power to create my experience. And thought is so powerful that once I’ve imbued those words, phrases, images, or scenarios with power, they seem really powerful to me.

It works something like this:

  1. I have a thought-created experience of suffering that seems to be related to an external circumstance.
  2. Every time I think about that thing, I associate the feelings of suffering with the thing, not my thoughts.
  3. I start looking out for that thing lest it “trigger” my suffering again in the future.
  4. Each time I see the thing I think causes my suffering, I suffer.

If I know how the mind works – that we’re living in an experience of the divine energy of Thought taking form moment by moment – I see that I’m suffering from my own unrecognized thinking, not some attributed external cause. I also know that Thought is an infinite variable – a fluid energy that can take on a thousand different forms in any moment. I recognize that I’m only ever one thought away from a completely different experience, and that recognition gives me hope and is the basis of my innate and irrepressible resilience.

It’s easier to get up again than to never fall down. It’s easier to recover than to never feel hurt. And it’s easier to live in the world as it is, knowing that my experience will change moment by moment regardless of what’s going on around me, than to try to get the world to conform to my own insecure notions of how I need it to behave for me to feel OK.

In short, every time I feel “triggered”, it’s an opportunity to wake up to how the mind actually works and how actual reality is being created. That doesn’t (to my mind) mean that anyone needs to go around deliberately upsetting people and then justifying it by saying “that’s just your thinking”. Compassion, kindness, and care make the world go round and are the biggest source of hope for humanity.

It just means that we don’t need to be so scared that the words of others can do us harm. And that frees us up to meet people beyond their words – to feel their hearts – and to enjoy the love that surrounds us, connects us, fills us up, and makes us all fathers and sons and mothers and daughters and brothers and sisters in a family nearly seven billion strong.

With all my love,