I was in a panic.
I was visiting a friend in Long Beach and afterwards, as I was heading back to my car, I realized that my car wasn’t where I had left it.
You see, two years earlier, my car had been towed. (I had parked it in a “no parking zone” by accident.) The experience had been oddly traumatic for me. In that moment, I had a panic attack. I even had to be talked through the experience with the help of my sister in order to calm me down and bring me back to peace.
I don’t know why, but the experience of having my car—this big huge expensive machine that I owned—suddenly taken from me felt wrong. It felt criminal. It made me feel as if the world was chaotic, unsafe, and totally against me.
I felt as if life didn’t love me, it was trying to thwart my every move, and as if I, personally, was an unstable, lonely, wretched human being.
In that moment, two years ago, it was hard for me to accept that the experience of getting towed is a very common one and that tons of people get towed everyday—especially in LA—and it’s really no big deal. You go to the tow yard, pay the fee, and get the car back.
But at that time, my view of life was still very myopic. It wasn’t for lack of maturity, it was for lack of proper perception. At the time, I believed that this very common event that happened to all types of people—all the time—was still somehow a very personal jab at me. I took the event very personally. It really hurt me. It made me feel scared, childish, and alone.
Flash forward to the present:
Today, at this moment, two years after my car had been towed and subsequently retrieved–AGAIN I find myself in the same situation: my car was gone.
I couldn’t believe this was happening to me for a second time!
I walked up and down the street several times, my nerves and anxiety growing by the second. I started to feel disoriented, panicked, fearful. (The same emotions I felt two years earlier when my car was towed for the first time.) I contemplated calling the police. Knocking on a nearby house asking a local for help. I felt so guilty and embarrassed that I didn’t want to get my family or friends involved for the second time—and there it was: I was feeling embarrassed, humiliated! Once again acting like a scared little child!
I was walking outside in the open air, down a residential street, and although there were no walls around me, it felt LIKE the walls were closing in around me. I felt dizzy, disoriented, sad, depressed, all kinds of emotions ran through me.
Suddenly it occurred to me that I was so tired of feeling this way.
I was sick and tired of feeling like a victim of circumstance. I really was.
I knew that having to get my car back after it had been towed was an annoying and frustrating ordeal I did not want to revisit, but I also knew that I hated the powerlessness and the fear the event was causing me. I knew that my car getting towed was a “bad” thing, but I really wanted the ability to not let that “bad thing” affect me anymore. I refused. I wanted peace. I wanted tranquility. I wanted the ease of knowing everything would be okay no matter what.
So, instead of calling the police and seeing if my car indeed had gotten towed (or worse: had been stolen), instead of knocking on a stranger door to see if they could assist me, I completely stopped myself in my tracks and headed toward the shore.
You see, I was parked in Long Beach near the actual beach the city was named after, and the street I was walking on eventually led me to the shore. I made my way to the end of the street, I reached the shore on the other side of the highway that served as a cross-section, and after I had walked for a few yards, I sat myself down on the sand facing the great Pacific Ocean.
Then, I closed my eyes and did something I had not done before in this type of situation: I asked myself to confront my internal world first before I dealt with the external reality.
This, I knew, was counterintuitive to most people: to most people facing this type of situation, it makes more sense to deal with the external reality first, and worry about your internal reality later, after the event passed.
But, as I told you, I was sick and tired of being a victim of circumstance. I also intuitively sensed that this event was trigging something in me I had not yet processed. You see, ever since my car got towed the first time, I always held the fear that it would happen again. More than once I had mistakenly thought my car had been towed, and I needed a close friend or family member to assure me that it had not been towed or stolen.
Right now, at this moment, it was happening again, and I knew that a recurring fear, such as this one, meant something much more than just this singular event.
So, as I said, there I sat on the beach, feeling stranded, alone, and humiliated. I was terrified, angry, depressed, and sad. I was confused, disoriented, and disappointed in myself. I felt childish. I felt… EUREKA!
As I explored all the emotions that flew through me, I began to investigate why it was that my car being stolen or towed caused such great internal turmoil for me. What did the car represent or symbolize in my life? And what did this symbol being suddenly taken from me remind me of?
And then it happened. I connected the dots.
All at once, it came to me: I understood the car being taken from me was symbolic of an event that occurred in my childhood that very much reflected the same type of experience of loss, fear, and powerlessness.
The connection seemed so simple and obvious and yet I realized I had to work through the emotions—I had to experience and investigate the emotional trigger—in order to arrive at the final solution.
It was the experience of life, not the mind-centered or thought-focused examination of life that finally freed me. I was able to grow through the emotions and not around them. I was able to become a better person from experiential knowledge and not book knowledge. I was able to breathe a sigh of relief by being, rather than doing. Feeling, rather than thinking.
As this realization dawned me, all my emotions cleared out. A peace and calm came over me. I was tranquil. I felt safe. I felt okay. I felt at ease.
Once I had reached that state, at once I felt more capable: I felt more like an adult, more confident, more strong. Suddenly my reality wasn’t so dramatic anymore. It was a neutral occurrence that I realized could easily be resolved and dealt with. I made a clear decision that I would return one last time to investigate the matter and make sure I had not parked my car in a different location, before I called the police.
I got up from my seat on the beach more confident, more prepared, more level-headed than before and made my way back down the street from where I came from. As I walked down the street, it occurred to me to check an area of the neighborhood I had not explored. I walked past the highway onto the other side, and reached the next neighborhood over to see if I had parked my car there and had just forgotten.
As I made my way over to the other neighborhood, lo and behold, a wave of excitement rushed through me and I realized that yes, in fact, I had parked my car in this location and I had just forgotten that I had.
Within a minute or so, I saw my black Toyota exactly where I had left it.
It turns out the theory that initially drove me to approach this situation differently was spot on: I had created a huge drama out of nothing.
What a relief.
How To Use The Challenging Events In Your Life to Help You Grow
It may seem simple to you, but this event had a profound effect on my life.
In that moment, I realized that my external reality was in fact only a reflection of my internal reality. That the outer storm I saw was really only an illusion. The real storm was inside me and it was calling me to pay attention to it.
The external event acted as a trigger.
Emotional triggers are events, people or things that revert one back to recalling, or re-experiencing, past traumas. Emotional triggers could be as simple as a fear of walking up the stairs because you fell down a flight of stairs once as a kid and busted your ankle, or as deep as a fear of driving because you lost a love one in a drunk driving accident.
Triggers are often seen as bad things. Occurrences that have us facing complex, deep emotions that we would much rather ignore or forget. But the truth is that emotional triggers are our helpers: they remind us that we are still carrying the baggage of past traumas we have yet to heal completely. They remind us that we are not fully living our life because we are using outdated coping mechanisms that restrict us and keep us stuck and afraid.
Emotional triggers are something that EVERY SINGLE HUMAN BEING experiences because, unfortunately, many of us have suffered through some sort of trauma in our lives. Whether it is the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a broken heart, or a collective trauma like 9/11, all of us suffer from some sort of trauma. And those traumas, when ignored and left unhealed, often revisit our lives through these emotional triggers that aren’t real in and of themselves but serve to remind us of something deep inside of us that we dare not look at.
In my opinion emotional triggers, instead of seeking to make us suffer more, are actually inviting us deeper into the healing process—deeper into the truth of life.
Emotional Triggers Examined
Triggers are very scary things and they often come baked into each life challenge we face.
Emotional triggers are also very close to us and very familiar. If we examine them closer, emotional triggers may reveal to us that certain people, events, and places seem to keep recurring in our lives for a reason. We may ask ourselves, for instance, why we keep revisiting these same people, these same events, these same worn-out and tired old archetypes and occurrences that seem to only cause us more and more stress and anxiety.
When an emotional trigger reveals itself to us, we must have the courage to ask ourselves:
Is there something deep inside of me that I have not yet healed? How convinced am I that a fearful, evil world actually exists? Or maybe it is just in my imagination? What if the world is actually incredibly peaceful, loving and calm but it is I who is creating the thunderstorms all around me?
The Pathway To Integration
When trauma is truly healed, the emotional triggers will disappear.
An event, person or thing that, in the past, would cause us great anxiety suddenly doesn’t even phase us anymore. We are neutral to it. This means that the emotional trigger is no longer present because there is no longer any emotion that can be triggered. It has been tossed out.
From the point of view of our spiritual core essence, one can view emotional triggers as playing the part of engaging us in deep, long-lasting, fundamentally consciousness-raising spiritual growth. From our spirit-center, we can view and recognize emotional triggers as a good thing not as a bad thing.
On the other hand, if we view emotional triggers from the point of view of our mind or heart’s perspective, we could never—and will never—see emotional triggers as being good or beneficial at all. In fact, our mind and our heart can only see emotional triggers as being dangerous to their survival. This is why we often repress such triggers and ignore them and why the only way to deal with emotional triggers is to become aware of them—that is, look at these triggers from the point of view of our spirit—it is only when we do that that we can attain true healing.
The spirit understands that it exists in this life to grow, to change, to become better and it sees such emotionally-triggering events and people as being a challenge rather than something that is “bad.”
Today’s Courage Exercise
Today, before you deal with an external reality that is deeply troubling you, try to fix what is inside of you first.
When you do this, you may find that the outer reality will shift in accordance with your new inner, more peaceful, world.
Recognize that this is what you came on this earth to do: to grow spiritually. All challenges are not solely for the mind, the body, or the heart, in fact, they are all serving the singular purpose of growing and shaping the spirit.