The Mastery of Self: A Toltec Guide to Personal Freedom (2016)

Chapter Five

Spotting the Triggers
and Maneuvering the Traps

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UP UNTIL THIS POINT in this book, the information presented has been largely foundational. That's because in the process of becoming a Master of Self, one begins by understanding that we are dreaming, both on a personal and a collective level. Once the Dream is recognized, we turn our attention to those things that can make the Dream a nightmare, specifically domestication and attachment, which you'll remember are fueled by conditional love. We also learned that the antidote to the nightmare is unconditional love, and the key to accessing that type of love lies in forgiveness for others and ourselves.

But information alone doesn't make you a master. Applying the tools does, and this is where we will now turn our focus. As you live life, engaging and interacting with others rather than sitting alone in a cloistered monastery, you are sure to encounter many situations that have the potential to hook your attention and knock you off-balance. The Dream of the Planet is full of these types of traps, and falling into them pulls you out of your awareness and back into the fog and drama of the party.

One of the pillars of the Mastery of Self is learning to spot the triggers and maneuver the traps that are waiting to hook you, and nothing can help you more in this process than becoming aware of your emotions.

Understanding Your Emotions

Our emotions are wonderful tools. Being in touch with them allows us to experience life to the fullest. When we are aware, our emotions can teach us a variety of things. They can show us what we like and don't like, what's really important to us as opposed to what isn't, and they can provide a wonderful guide to discovering the work we are meant to do in the Dream of the Planet.

For instance, when you are faced with an important decision and you are unsure of which course of action to take, one thing that can help you is to focus on how you feel about the options presented instead of being consumed with the stories your narrators are spouting. As you get to know yourself better, this type of discernment becomes a very effective tool for recognizing what you really want. In popular vernacular, this would be referred to as “listening to your heart instead of your head,” but it's really the Mastery of Self in action.

Your emotions can also show you where you are still holding on to attachments and reveal any remaining fears and self-doubts from past domestications that you haven't yet released. Sometimes you won't even realize you have an attachment until an event triggers an emotional reaction in you. Anytime you feel a burst of anger, frustration, guilt, shame, or any number of other negative emotions, that's your cue to look within and see what is happening. Ask yourself questions like, Where is this feeling coming from? When have I experienced this before? What is the source of this feeling? Once you are aware of what's happening inside, you are able to calm yourself and stop the downward spiral before you lose control.

While anger is a common emotional reaction, it is by no means the only one. Shutting down, being defensive or passive-aggressiveness, feeling guilty or remorseful, or any unhelpful reactions in between are additional ways in which you can react emotionally and lose awareness of your Authentic Self.

Whether your tendency is to be consumed with anger and rage or to sulk silently in the corner, the underlying cause of all of these emotional reactions is always fear, the tool of conditional love. When fear overtakes you and sparks an emotional reaction, your attachments and domestications are now running the show, and unconditional love is cast to the wayside. Becoming a Master of Self is about noticing when you begin to have an emotional reaction and asking yourself immediately, “What am I afraid of?” The quicker you can identify and release the fear, the faster you become re-grounded in the Authentic Self.

Any emotional reaction you experience is yours, not anyone else's, and consequently it is here to teach you something about yourself. The Master of Self sees this as an opportunity to learn and grow, and in doing so you can deal with these emotions before they lead to an outburst that causes harm to your Personal Dream or the Dream of the Planet.

Conflict in the Dream of the Planet

Because there are over seven billion Personal Dreams happening concurrently in the Dream of the Planet, disagreements are inevitable. But these disagreements can also serve a very healthy purpose, as they challenge each of us to continually evolve our respective Personal Dreams. When one person, not to mention both parties, has an emotional reaction as a result of a disagreement, the possibility to see things from the point of view of the other closes, and conflict begins. An emotional reaction leaves you stuck, unable to move forward until you look more deeply at whatever the emotion is trying to tell you.

Every Master of Self—even those who have implemented these tools diligently for years—will come across certain people and situations that pose special challenges. These are the people who can really push your buttons, and dealing with them is likely to discharge an emotional reaction. While you may be able to avoid dramatic or anxiety-provoking people and situations in many instances, there will always be those moments when you can't walk away, when you just have to deal with the person or situation at hand right then.

The question then becomes, Can you engage without being drawn back into the drama of the party? Can you stay grounded in your Authentic Self and show the other person respect? As a Master of Self who wants to maintain control of his or her will and have unconditional love for all in the Dream of the Planet, you can stay balanced much more easily if you find out why this person has the unique ability to provoke a reaction in you. Think about it. Of all the people in the entire world, this person can push your buttons maybe better than anybody else. This is a very special gift they are offering you, and freedom awaits as soon as you can find out why that is. In my experience, the root can often be traced to one of three things (and sometimes more than one simultaneously). Let's look at those now.

1. Prior domestication. It's possible that the person or situation provokes a deep memory of someone attempting to domesticate you and you resisting. Even if you can't fully remember the event, your subconscious or deep memory is making the connection. As a result, your perception of the current situation is skewed by the domestication of the past. You are seeing this person as a potential threat, and your conscious or unconscious mind has labeled them as such, even if you don't realize it.

If you can connect the dots and see that the reason this person bothers you is based on a past experience rather than the current situation, you have begun to eliminate their power to upset you, putting your will back into your control. With the knowledge of the memory or similar situation that the person is activating in you, you can work toward forgiving and releasing the trauma caused by the past domesticator and see the current situation in a new light, no longer obscured by the shadow of your past. Often just the association with the past begins to free you from the torment of the present situation, thus removing its power over you and absolving it as a potential trigger.

2. Mirroring. Everyone is our mirror, and our reflection of things we don't like about ourselves is most vivid in those who have the same qualities. In other words, you may see a piece of yourself in this other person even if you don't realize it. This truth may come as a surprise to some of you, and your initial reaction may be to disagree. But I invite you to look deeper. Whatever characteristic you see in another that you don't like is often a characteristic you see in some degree in yourself. For instance, if you catch someone in a lie and that bothers you greatly, can you find a time in your past where you have also been a liar? If you find yourself complaining about the shortcomings of your friends, notice how many of those complaints could also apply to you. This can be a hard truth to swallow at first, but it is also a useful tool to dissolve any negative internal reaction that occurs when dealing with someone else, because it allows you to see him or her as yourself.

3. Attachment. When you encounter someone who has an uncanny ability to provoke a reaction in you, it may be because you have an attachment to a belief that you feel needs to be defended, and you view this other person as a threat to that belief. When you are very attached to your beliefs, conflicts are almost certain to arise.

While some beliefs may need defending, especially when they involve the physical well-being of yourself or someone else, these are typically not the ones we find ourselves in conflict over. There is a big difference between defending a belief that protects your physical being and a belief that simply supports a position your ego holds dear. Knowing the difference between the two, as well as your commitment to respecting another's right to believe differently than you, is a way to release your attachment to a belief grounded in egotism and view the other person's viewpoint with respect.

Putting the Mastery of Self into Action

The next time you are in a situation and you begin to feel angry, defensive, guilty, sad, or anything similar arising, the first step is to spot the emotion. Admit it exists, and accept that these feelings are inside you. Just identifying, admitting, and accepting the feelings often has a calming effect and begins the process of releasing them. The next questions to ask yourself are:

·        What is this emotion here to show you?

·        What fears are the words or actions of another activating inside you?

·        What are you trying to control, and why?

In most cases, the answer will fall into the category of past domestication, mirroring, or attachments.

A Master of Self recognizes that any negative emotions that are arising are really a gift, an opportunity for discovery, as no one else is responsible for your emotional reactions except you. This last sentence bears repeating: No one else is responsible for your emotional reactions except you. Others can say and do anything they like, but what happens inside you is only the result of what you are thinking and feeling.

Sometimes you may find yourself in a situation where you have a negative emotion that you can't immediately identify the origin of, and even when you can, you are not able to release it because you can feel the emotion building. In those cases, restrain yourself from doing or saying anything at that moment if that is an option. Then remove yourself from the situation until you have more clarity. Let no one tell you that being a Master of Self does not involve willpower, as in certain situations exercising restraint may require all the willpower you have.

In some instances, taking a break may not be possible, and you find yourself face-to-face with a person or thing that is causing an emotional reaction to rise up inside you, and you decide to deal with the situation immediately as it presents itself. This is when respect and unconditional love come into play. Through the power of your will, remember that the other person is worthy of your respect, which is not to take responsibility for their will by trying to impose your own will upon them—even if you disagree with their position. Remember that this person is seeing the world through their own point of view, domesticated or not. By maintaining respect and unconditional love for the other person, you can remain calm in the moment and speak your truth with love.

Again, the quick-check question to ask yourself before you speak is this: is what I am about to say coming from me or from my domesticated beliefs? If your statement is trying to impose a condition on the other, then I encourage you to look within and find new words. If you are coming from a place of awareness, whatever words come out of your mouth will be the right ones. Remember, coming from a place of unconditional love does not mean we say things that the other person will agree with or enjoy, but in those moments we remember that we cannot control the other person's perception or reaction; we only have control over ourselves.

Sometimes exiting the situation and not returning is the best option to avoid further conflict. When the other person no longer respects you, they will try to subjugate you to their will. To maintain respect for yourself, it is often wise to walk away before your emotions take over and you do or say something you will later regret. Exiting like this is not running from your problems or emotions, but rather a prudent decision rooted in self-care, as engaging further wouldn't be helpful for either party. A martial arts master will tell you that your mind is your most powerful weapon and your first line of defense. It takes discipline to use a fist to defend your physical body and not be tempted to become the tyrant of aggression. Always be aware of what lies on the other side of self-respect.

The alternative to the above is to allow your emotions to control you, and to lash out in anger, overreact with defensiveness, or anywhere in between. At that moment you are drawn back into the drama of the party, lost in the smoke and fog again. The result of this type of behavior is always the same; you create suffering for yourself and others in the Dream of the Planet.

Modern Triggers

The modern world presents some interesting new ways to trigger emotional reactions. I imagine that most of you reading this are familiar with social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc., as well as text messaging. Social media and text messaging have connected us in a way that we have never seen before in the Dream of the Planet. While social media can help us stay in touch with those we have a bond with, it has also become fertile ground for emotional reactions to digital conversations, and consequently social media sites sometimes seem more like an emotional minefield than an electronic playground.

The good news is that this technology gives you another valuable tool for self-exploration, as you can notice the assumptions that you make about others. In other words, since you can't see the facial expressions or the body language of someone when they post something on social media or send a text message, your mind's first reaction is to often make an assumption of their meaning through your projection of their intention. In this way, you can fill in the blank by projecting an emotion onto a comment, post, or message that was maybe not intended by the person who wrote it. Social media and text messaging allow you to notice what emotions you project or assume are intended by the other person, and investigate what internal domestications and attachments are at the source of your assumptions.

Remember, being a Master of Self does not mean we are robots without feelings, or that we never take the bait and react emotionally. But when you give away control of your will via an emotional reaction instead of a conscious response, practicing these tools allows you to recover quickly. Acknowledging that you feel anger, jealousy, resentment, sadness, and such allows you to see the truth of how you feel right now. The realization can take just a second or a night's tossing and turning in bed, but the downward spiral ends the moment you surrender to the truth. When you find the true source of the emotion (usually some prior domestication or current attachment), you can use that knowledge as an instrument of transformation.

Every time you fall into a trap and react instead of respond, ask yourself, What am I afraid of? Once you know this, you can look deeper to find out where the fear comes from. Emotional reactions will always pop up and have power over you until you deal with the unresolved fears that hide underneath. The good news is that once you find out what you are afraid of and release that fear, the situation no longer has power over you.

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Resolving Conflicts

In the Dream of the Planet, people will often not act the way you want them to, or the way you think they should. They will not always agree with your ideas or your beliefs. This begs the question, how do you react when others don't behave the way you'd like them to? Do you try to impose your will and subjugate them to your point of view? Or are you able to step back and respect their point of view?

This exercise will help you find out. To begin, think of any recent conflict you've had with another person. This could be something that happened at home, work, school, etc.—any instance where you and someone else had opposing viewpoints. Briefly write down the conflict on a sheet of paper. Then answer the following questions:

·        In this conflict, what belief were you trying to subjugate the other person to? (This is not an evaluation of whether a belief is “right” or “wrong”; the purpose is to become aware of what the belief is.)

·        Do you know where this belief came from?

·        Is this a belief you want to maintain? There are no right or wrong answers here. It's fine if the belief is true for you, and it's fine if it's not; the point is to know so that you don't continue to fight for a belief you no longer believe in, as this is domestication in action.

·        How did you treat the other person when they didn't agree with you? Did you respect their point of view, or did you try to coerce them into seeing things your way?

·        What do you think the other person's belief is? Can you see another perspective on this same situation? Can you see how the other person's belief is true for them?

·        How do you want to act the next time a conflict like this arises? Is there a way you can engage with the other person, be true to yourself, and not try to change or subjugate the other person?

As a Master of Self, you know avoiding all conflict is impossible, so when conflicts arise, your job is to look within, see what is true for you in the moment, and find a way to honor your own beliefs while simultaneously respecting the choices and beliefs of others. Return to this exercise whenever you experience a conflict with another person.

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The Transformative Power of Listening

The following exercise will help you stay grounded and in touch with your emotions. The focus is on listening to the people in your life who have different beliefs and values than you.

Find someone you are close to and ask them a question on a topic you know you disagree on. Then listen. This is not the place for you to share your own opinions. Just listen. Ask the person to expand on their opinion without challenging or belittling it, and as they speak be sure to do the following:

Look at the person's body language as they speak. Notice how their facial expressions and mannerisms change when they are simply trying to share their opinion versus persuade or convert you. How do you feel as they move between sharing knowledge and persuading? Can you feel the difference within yourself? This is where your reactions to the topic stem from—not their words, but from within.

Try to understand where they are coming from. As you listen, keep in mind that they likely have an experience or domestication that colors their worldview. Instead of seeing their view as wrong, try to see where it comes from, and understand their attachments. After all, it does not matter if you are right.

Listen without planning your reply. Try to hear what the person is saying without thinking of a reply. If you put your attention on your reply as they are talking, then you are not really listening. By not formulating a response, you are better able to listen without your projection getting in the way.

Express your opinion only after the person has finished talking, and only if they ask. First let the person know that you value their point of view. Next, identify and summarize any points that you may agree on. Doing so is a sign of respect and lets the other know they were heard, and may set the stage for them to show you respect in return. Last, offer your perspective with respect.

Notice your own attachments. Finally, use this exercise as a way to listen and perceive the world from a different point of view, whether you agree with it or not, and notice if your own attachments are clouding your view. In other words, could this person be right about any of their points?

Feel your emotions. Notice any negative emotions that come up for you while you are listening. For instance, do you experience fear? Anger? Sadness? What is the source of these emotions? If these emotions arise for you, finding their origin is where you will find your gift.

If you practice this exercise with your family and friends, it will help you engage others with respect and maintain awareness of your emotions as you do so. If family is too much, then practice with your outer circle of friends and work your way toward your inner circle. Not only will this help you foster respect for others, but you will become more aware of the beliefs and attachments that guide your Personal Dream. You may also become more open to those who are different than you or who share a different worldview, moving toward acceptance of all others without biases or conditions.

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Controlling Your Will

When an emotional reaction starts inside you, not taking the bait and falling into the trap may require all the willpower you have. This Toltec exercise is designed to not only strengthen your will but also calm your mind in the process.

Find a chair with a straight back where you can sit with your knees at a ninety-degree angle. Choose a safe place where you will not be disturbed, and set a timer for five minutes.

Close your eyes. Focus on your breath. Do not move for those five minutes—not even to scratch your nose or to shift into a more comfortable position. If you move, restart the timer. Do not give in to the temptation to say yes to moving any part of your body.

The point of this exercise is to see how strong your will is by keeping your body still. As you are able to reach that time, increase that time if you would like, working your way up to fifteen or even thirty minutes. But before increasing the time, consider adding this element to the exercise.

Repeat all of the previous steps, but as you sit, imagine yourself alone on a beach, with nothing but the sand, the water, and the sun. Now it's time to run. Imagine yourself running, feeling the sand, the water, and the cool beach air. As your mind fills with this image, you may find yourself wanting to also move your body. Choose to keep it still without pulling yourself out of your exercise. If you get hooked by a chain of thought that takes you away from the beach, or if you move any part of your body, restart the timer and begin again, and again until you can go the full five or fifteen minutes continuously. As you will likely find, strengthening the will of your mind is more difficult than the will of your body.

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Both of these exercises can help strengthen your will so you can make a conscious choice in situations where you would previously have reacted emotionally. In the next chapter we will take a closer look at all the choices you make, so you can determine if they are a result of your free will or a habit formed by your domestication and attachments.