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Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Sunday, January 09, 2005

From Scott Sonnon

This was posted on Scott's wonderful RMAX forum.  He's a phenomenal martial artist who is in a constant state of evolution...
by Scott Sonnon

Guilt is learned. We are not burdened broken or ill by nature. Guilt is a legacy, hazed unknowingly by our predecessors generation after generation.

Early in life, most people are their most impressionable. The reason is that the amygdala, and its emotional imprinting develops prior to the 'higher' functions of the neocortex, the tangle masses of grey matter - the seat of reason and thought.

As a result, early childhood trauma is not 'rationally' understood, and can lead to extreme behavioral compensations and manifestations later in life, requiring the help of therapy to recover. Or in the case of RMAX, learning how to view life with joy through play with patience through compassion.

I felt extremely burdened by guilt as a child. Through whatever vagaries of my family dynamic, I began to suffer the three poisons to personal transformation: blame, entitlement and self-righteousness.

This is how I see the situation now upon reflection; not how I saw it during it, and not even how I understood it until recently...

Emotion Grows Before Thought

As a child, our 'higher order' brain - our neocortex - isn't yet developed... though our amygdala - our emotional brain is. This means that strongly emotional events - such as abuse (or a rich childhood of exuberant love!) imprints strongly and dominates our world view, until through whatever circumstances or therapy we are able to understand why we harbor the viewpoints we do. Typically, I have been told and read that it is only after 25 years of age that we are fully concrete in our cerebral development that we are able to evaluate our personhood (and hence childhood.)

Well, as a child of abuse, my emotional brain learned the following both by direct education and by indirect inference: the traumatic events were my fault, I didn't deserve better, and I was wrong for thinking otherwise.

A child views the world with a brain open and raw. Some people nuture that emotional infancy, while others take a post hole digger and chew up the interior with wanton abandon.

When a child is treated with disdain, neglect or cruelty, the child learns emotionally. I learned that it was my fault, that I didn't deserve better, and that I was wrong no matter what I said. As a child, we can't rationalize; we can't understand the REASON that this is happening... and so, being egocentric (as children must be!) we take all of that within ourselves, and it imprints... indelibly. Yes, you can overwrite it with joy, play, compassion and patience, but it is never gone, and is a lifetime of work for the adult version of the abused child. I've turned my life to service of healing others very much in order to heal myself as well.

The 3 Poisons

As the abused child ages into adolescence, what tools has he been left with? I'll tell you. The same tools which were used to poison the child's emotional growth. Some will recognize these three poisons immediately:
blame, entitlement and self-righteousness.

As an adolescent, I didn't understand why I blamed others for any discomfort I experienced. I didn't understand why I felt entitled to what I wanted. And I didn't understand why I felt like I had to win every argument or dispute. My adolescent brain just broiled with fire! I blamed everyone else; I felt entitled to whatever I wanted; and I felt self-righteous in any conflict I encountered.

I learned blame, entitlement and self-righteousness, because they were the outward projection of the inwardly projected tools of abuse which a child learns as: you are to blame, you don't deserve better, and you are in the wrong.

I work every day to overwrite those 3 poisons. And they appear in the most cunning and insidious forms, like the righteous indignation at someone stealing my work, like feeling entitled to my 'personal' time when I have very sincere requests for help in my 'inbox', like feeling like it's someone's fault that they can't follow the simple instructions I gave them. Very sneakily these poisons seep into our blood, like vampire bats who nibble just below the elbow of the calf to go unnoticed, yet feed... and infect.

The Doctrine of Guiltlessness

But I do not feel I am a victim... because I strive to embrace guiltlessness. Guiltlessness is a doctrine which holds all conflict to be a product of ignorance. If people would realize that they are innately divine creatures of light, there would be no conflict. We must remind them; I must remind myself; You must remind me... = Tribe.

Then there is no defensiveness, no guilt, no ego. Guiltlessness is the antidote to the 3 poisons of blame, entitlement and self-righteousness which are each illusions created by fear stored in the amygdala. And since the amygdala can learn, we can use the higher functions of the brain (in the neocortex frontal lobes) to overwrite trauma through exuberant play and compassionate patience, and thus lift us up through the areas we are 'bound'.

There is a process to which I adhere, for taking Softwork and applying this to relationships, not just in the filial micro-tribe, but also in the corporate world of negotiations, so there's a connection to the RMAX moral imperative of

The Four Steps of Service

Don't misunderstand from reading the following that I am some infallible guru. I am not an enlightened being, but a mere moral monkey striving to be better. I find myself backing out of arguments, throwing my corpse back on the shores of this process; only to temporarily lapse in awareness to find myself knee-deep again. I honestly don't know if there will ever be a time in my life where I shall truly remain pristine and composed through all things. Maybe that's not what life holds for we who are not enlightened creatures. But I can say that this method continues to rescue my life daily, creating emotional oasis to what would otherwise be skin biting storms of arguments with others and with myself.

These following steps help me actively apply guiltlessness, so that I do not wrongly accept blame, disempower myself and doubt my righteous intent; and so I do not blame others, wrongly feel entitled and self-righteous. And it's not just some verbal judo, because morality can't be compartmentalized, I've found. It's the underpinning doctrine of my martial art - very concretely ostensible in the physical drills of Softwork.

There are four steps in resolving conflict and creating confluence which we perform in Softwork (at the next Softwork workshop these will be more overtly discussed):

1. Pacify: to listen/sense clearly, appreciate, and accept
2. Empower: to support, acknowledge, credit and enrich
3. Magnitize: to compromise, to be aware of resources naturally returned to us by empowering and pacifying and use them towards confluence (and only towards confluence!)
4. Resolve: to be able without ego to say "no" or "yes" definitely; to destroy that which is floundering, superfluous and cancerous.
These steps are followed without ego, without 'wanting to win' and with the notion of 'care'. As I said in Softwork, there are no opponents, only partners in life. We practice this in training so that we can begin to apply this to all of our life.

I could demonstrate very, very easily in movement, structure, breathing these four steps. Those people at Softwork experienced it themselves and did tremendously. The martial art is just a micro of the macro. I discovered that if you learn how to resolve conflict in the most feral and emotionally toxic area - the extreme urgency of fighting - that you can apply this internal wisdom to any area of your life... though to be honest, remaining calm and composed in the face of a public biochemical toddler tantrum, laughing at the ego of my embarassment, and the silliness of my frustration, is a daily lesson. I may not be a rapid-learning moral monkey, but I'm persistent. 

I did not create these steps, for they are a universal truth. For instance, this is represented in the Buddhist
Mahakala with his four weapons (medicine filled skull = pacification, crooked knife = empowerment, magnitizing = sword, resolve = trident - three prongs killing the 3 poisons of anger, greed and delusion). However, I have applied these to physical fitness, martial art and conflict management in a way that was uniquely beneficial to me.

We can perform these in physical examples using breathing, movement and structure integration. We can demonstrate this in 'mock' slow-mo (Softwork) physical attacks, slow enough to be uncomfortable, but manageable for the everyday person non-martial artists with zero experience. We do this a few times with the right exuberant attitude and we begin to overwrite the amygdala's storage of trauma, thus unhinging the primal protective reflex, and creating new, spontaneous, enthusiastic approaches to conflict experienced within Tribe and Service. Then we can assign storylines to groups to roleplay verbal examples of conflict management to see how these physical examples now impact verbal conflict - the irrate employer, spouse, friend, etc.

This is how I've dealt with my past. I thank God for what I experienced. I thank God that I have been given the opportunity to cast aside some ignorance in this life. And I thank God that I have been given the blessed gift of sharing what I have learned with others, so that they may not go through the terrorizing solitude and persecution I felt as a child, or at least have a chance to discharge the fear that they stored from the traumatic experiences of their lives.

Play Together,

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Thanks so much for posting this. Having only recently discovered Scott's work, I am voraciously eating up all I can. He is as insightful as they come.

If I may, I'd like to share this little story about the man who has most influenced my practice, Godfrey Devereux.

I was attending a small retreat, which he was leading, and one person asked, "Who or what, in your estimation, is God?"

He replied, "God is love."

Being the inquisitive bunch we were, we could hardly let him get away with such a cliche answer, so we asked the begged question, "What then, is love?"

His answer - "Love is the state in which you can live without blame or guilt."

Much of my life's practice has been based on that idea.

Peace ...