“Where would I find enough leather
To cover the entire surface of the earth?
But with leather soles beneath my feet,
It’s as if the whole world has been covered.”
~ Shantideva, Buddhist Scholar
Some years ago the well known healer Caroline Myss wrote about woundology. It was information that probably didn’t really expand beyond the circle of people who have been drawn to the healing arts but times have changed and everybody is aware of their wounds. These days articles even have ‘Trigger Warnings’, that basically mean that the article may hook into a group of people’s personal wounds and perhaps they should avoid reading.
There’s a divide between the two concepts I have shared so far. Trigger warnings attempt to make the world smoother and Shantideva suggests taking personal responsibility. he suggests you make changes to yourself. You should wear shoes. You do not go and try and make sure nothing in the world can ever push your trigger again - ‘cover the world with leather’.
Many healers and spiritual teachers will advocate for personal responsibility. This is very wise. What you take responsibility for will build your personal power. It does not really matter if the other person is an asshole or if the situation is completely unfair. If you take responsibility for yourself in the situation, you will build power. This is especially true if you have been struck right in the place of your personal wounding. In other words if you have been triggered. In fact there is no way of healing your wounds without having your wounds triggered. This does not mean you have to read every article with a trigger warning but it probably does mean becoming familiar with your wound, the reactive patterns that emerge from it and creating enough space to find another way to respond.
One of the things that tends to come up in resistance to the idea of taking personal responsibility is that systems of oppression need to be dismantled. This is very true. A very extreme example of misalignment in being told to take personal responsibility was invoked in an article that I read recently. A whole community of people who had been living in government sponsored housing had their housing taken away by the same government. To deal with the situation several coaches were employed to help the ex-residents, now homeless. This is kind of crazy and disgusting both on the part of the government who thought this was appropriate and the coaches who took this likely well paying government work. It is possible that some of the victims would have benefitted from that kind of approach when they lived in the housing but at the moment they are kicked onto the street, coaching them to feel better is a slap in the face.
Oppressive systems do need to be dismantled and someone who has learned to take responsibility is very likely to be much more effective at dismantling than someone who is in reactivity to their wound. When our wounds get triggered we may fall into a kind of depression, or feel anxious or angry. None of those internal states is particularly useful to anyone who is trying to do something in the world. Sometimes we might gather with those we mistakingly call allies in a group around our collective wound. We will empathise with each other in that situation. Your pain is similar to my pain, we feel. But we do not heal. We feed each others anger and pain.
To heal we need insight and wisdom. And the truth is both of those are to be found inside of us when we are willing to be with our wounds. When we allow the full emotional power of our wounds to emerge while not losing our shit we begin to heal our wounds. When we become familiar with our wounds and begin to take care of ourselves in our wounded places begin to become wise. If we read Maya Angelo's poetry or Bell Hooks prose we can get a sense the wisdom that arises when we are willing to be with our wounds.
When we are lost in our wounds, anyone who looks like our oppressor becomes a screen onto which we can project the tyrant who created our wounds. And even if they are quite unlike our oppressor we alienate them and very likely evoke a reaction which confirms our suspicion that they are in fact one of our oppressors. When we are willing to take responsibility for our wounds and we hold back from projecting them onto others by interrupting our reactivity we can create the opposite situation in our lives. By interrupting our own internal reactions and finding new ways we make space for things to work out in a different way for ourselves. That is a magical moment for us personally and initiates us into a space where we can actually start to work on collective systems of oppression.