Trauma Survivors in Love (Part 1 of 3)

A disclaimer as I begin: I haven’t got “it” all figured out. I am not a poster child for the happily-in-love trauma survivor.

However, I have had time to reflect on my past relationships, and many of my clients are (or want to be) “trauma survivors in love.” I am grateful that they allow me to witness their relational journeys, and I am happy to share what I have learned from them.

So dear reader, are you a trauma survivor in love? Congrats! I am happy for you. And, my friend…you have got your work cut out! Let’s look at what a trauma survivor in love is up against.


What is trauma? Trauma is undigested experience that is stored in the body as contractions and implicit memories. Traumatic experiences are situations where either our life is at stake or we perceive it to be; or when we witness a threat to someone else’s life.

The definition of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) includes symptoms such as 1. the re-emergence of implicit memories in the form of intrusive sensations; 2. a tendency to avoid situations that remind us of the traumatic incident(s); 3. and ongoing hyperarousal (ie. hypervigilance, difficulty sleeping or concentrating).

Trauma survivors become “triggered” when our traumatic past is projected onto the present.


What are your brain and body doing when you become triggered? Those of us with PTSD need to know that we don’t have any choice about getting triggered. This is because the parts of the brain that create fight, flight orfreeze responses are designed to override the rest of the brain.

The main brain systems that are involved in trauma responses are the limbic brain system and the brain stem/reptile brain. The limbic system is the emotional brain that experiences danger, pleasure and pain. Your reptile brain (or brainstem) governs breathing, defecating, sleeping.

When we are not in a traumatic experience, we can access our pre-frontal cortex. This brain is capable of conscious, rational decision-making, empathy and observation.


Trauma Responses

Trauma responses involve three components of the limbic brain: the hypothalamus, the amygdala and the hippocampus. During a traumatic experience, the hypothalamus sends a visceral message to the amygdala: “something terrible is happening to me!”

As the message reaches the amygdala, it creates intense anxiety. The amygdala then tells the hippocampus “something scary is happening!” which causes the explicit memory function of the hippocampus to shut down. Now we have stopped consciously recording what is happening.

Our implicit memory continues to record events, but not in an organized or retrievable fashion. Instead, sensory input during traumatic events is stored in our bodies in disconnected fragments, like scattered jigsaw puzzle pieces.

The sensory fragments we collect during a traumatic event set the tone for getting “triggered” later.

Trigger Responses

We can become triggered days, months or even years after a traumatic experience. When we encounter smells, sounds (tones of voice), visuals (facial expressions) and behaviors that unconsciously remind us of some aspect of our past trauma, our amygdala decides the current situation is dangerous.

The amygdala’s fear message is carried by the hypothalamus to the brain stem. Suddenly the stakes are high! As the reptile brain roars into fight or flight mode, it shuts down the pre-frontal cortex’s ability to discern and respond appropriately to the present moment.

At this point, all we can do is what we have done before; feel what we felt before. We react and adapt just like we did before (usually some variation of fight, flight, freeze, appease or dissociate). We may repeat the stories we told ourselves before. That is PTSD in a nutshell.

During a trigger moment, the implicit memory floods us with unbearable sensations that are disconnected from the original traumatic event.  Disturbing sounds, smells, tastes, images and kinesthetic sensations arise, and with them, intense thoughts and emotions.

It is as if we are suddenly holding a random collection of those puzzle pieces. This experience is so vivid that we connect it to our present situation and try to make current meaning from it.

Lacking that original context, it is natural to blame our discomfort on the current environment. For example, if we feel sensations of terror or violation, we point at whoever is with us, and say to ourselves, “s/he is violating me. S/he is dangerous.”

If we are re-living a childhood moment of being controlled and helpless, we may say to ourselves, “My friend is trying to control me.”

Of course, there may be a grain of truth in our assessment. Maybe our friend isdisregarding our boundaries. Maybe they are trying to get their way. But our somatic response is extreme: life-or-death. If we were not being hijacked by implicit memory our response to the same situation might be mild hurt or annoyance.

Or we might be calm enough to able to say, “Hey, I told you I need you to ask me first,” or, “Please do not push me.” We might be able to start a dialogue. But with that sense of imminent danger flooding us, we lose perspective.


Let me give you an example of what this imposition of past trauma onto the present can look like in real life. Let’s say you are a passenger in a car traveling on a highway. A high wind buffets the car. Suddenly the car collides with another car. Your head is flung back and forward.

The amygdala’s alarm takes the hippocampus offline, so later on it will be difficult to remember what happened. Meanwhile, your implicit memory records it all.

After this accident, if you do not receive EMDR or some other trauma integration treatment, these implicit body-memories wait in the background, alert for similar kinds of danger.

Months later you are a passenger again, this time in a plane, seated by the wing. You can feel and hear the wind. Suddenly there is turbulence, and the plane starts bouncing.

With these three cues (being a passenger, windy conditions, bouncing) your implicit memory kicks in: You feel helpless; your neck and shoulders lock up to protect your head; dread fills you, and you start sweating; and you feel an urge to jump out of your seat and run.

The rest of the flight you are nervous, even after the turbulence ends. This seems strange, because before your car accident, air turbulence didn’t bother you. But now you cannot bear it.

Why is this? Your implicit memory is re-running and reliving the car crash, with its strain on your neck and a sense of imminent death.

That is how the implicit memory of single traumatic incident might be triggered by an unrelated event.


I just described what can happen after a one-time incident. Just imagine the impact of this hippocampus offline/implicit memory online situation in the case of early childhood traumas (poor attachment, neglect, physical, emotional or sexual abuse, witnessing domestic violence, etc.) on a child’s developing brain.

Children, adolescents and teens are also subject to racist, fat-phobic, transphobic or homophobic bullying or attacks. Imagine the impact of one or more of these repeated traumas experienced by a child for years on end.

None of the above traumas are one-time incidents—they are “complex traumas” which create deeply layered trauma responses.

Now add in the ancestral (and current) collective and institutional traumas that children with disabilities, female, queer, transgender and non-gender conforming children, adoptees, First Nations children, immigrant and refugee children of color, or Latino, Arab, Black, Asian, mixed race, Muslim, Sikh and Jewish children face or have faced directly or indirectly (through family or community members).

Such institutional traumas can include: inaccessible spaces and services, micro-aggressions, psychiatric and medical abuse, police brutality, deportation, incarceration, abductions, hate crimes, poverty, massacres, internment camps, foster care abuse, detention centers, drone attacks, war, political torture, and religious persecution.

These collective, cumulative traumas also fit the definition of complex traumas.

Collectively we are swimming in a great deal of relational trauma.

During these traumatic events, the meaning-making hippocampus is shut down, while our individual and collective body memories continue to record and store sensory input.

Unless we have the time, resources and compassionate space to process and digest these collective traumas, our implicit memories simmer beneath the surface, ready to pop out like jacks-in-the-box and throw us into fight, flight, freeze, appease and dissociate survival responses.


Most trauma survivors were traumatized within relationships. This means that any relationship can be a triggering context.

Complex childhood traumas disrupt not only our individual development, but our future relationships. We cannot avoid bringing our traumatic pasts into our romantic relationships.


A former partner of mine and I had horrible fights about her friends dropping by unannounced. She would “go with the flow” in these situations and drop whatever she was doing.

Decisions about long her friends stayed, or whether we shared a meal or the rest of the evening with them, were dependent on what our guests wanted. My partner rarely consulted me or set a boundary with her friends.

When I questioned her about it, I discovered she didn’t have a sense of choice in these situations. Sometimes even she was annoyed by the imposition of her friends! But she would shrug as if to say, “What can I do?” As for me, I was livid.

This conflict arose from personal and cultural differences. I am an introvert who grew up in a small WASP family; I need regular quiet and alone time at home, so I prefer to structure my time with others.

My partner was a go-with-the-flow extrovert from a large Irish Catholic family. Since we lived in a tiny house, the drop-in friends issue would inevitably be an area of potential compromise and conflict.

However, our fights about unscheduled guests were “over the top,” partly because my implicit trauma memories were hijacking me. As an intimate abuse survivor with PTSD, it felt like life and death to me when my partner welcomed drop-ins.

I would feel invisible and violated. Hindsight suggests that these situations reminded me of childhood experiences of invasion.

This past trauma was evoked by the random drop-ins plus my partner’s passive decisions about who was in my space, and when.

My reactions were disproportionate, because my implicit memory identified these current situations as urgent. My body memories also categorized my partner as yet another “family member” like my mother, who had casually exposed me to danger and violation.

At this point my reptile brain would take over. Out of the reptile brain’s survival repertoire of fight, flight, freeze, appease, and dissociate, I would unobtrusively withdraw (freeze; flight) as much as I could from our visitors, or I would find an excuse to leave the house. Internally I was furious (fight), with my heart pounding and adrenaline running.


Now let’s add in my partner’s side of it, because it was not just my amygdala flipping out. My partner was also a relational trauma survivor.

In the anecdote I just told, I don’t know which of my partner’s implicit memories were called up by my reactive behaviors.

I only know that as my distress increased (and was registered by her body, since our animal bodies are constantly reading each other), she would increasingly attend to her guests needs but remain unaware of mine.

It was a perfect storm of mutual triggering.

My partner’s reptile brain reverted to an appease strategy with her guests, and a dissociate strategy in general, by pretending that everything was pleasant and okay, and by relating to me very one-dimensionally.

I in turn would hide my feelings as best as I could (freeze), which reinforced her reason to tune me out. After the guests were gone, I would physically return but remain remote, and she would continue to pretend that all was well.

Sooner or later we would have a terrible fight fueled by mutual resentment and blame.

The sort of dynamic I just described is to be expected for trauma survivors in love, except during the “honeymoon” phase of a relationship.

It can come as a rude shock when, three to six month into a romantic relationship when biochemical rose-colored glasses effect starts to fade.

After the honeymoon, that magical sense of mutual safety and understanding can vanish.


For a survivor of complex trauma, romantic love (or friendship, for that matter) is an extreme sport. Let me say that again: relationships are extreme sports for complex trauma survivors!

We could compare the complex trauma survivor embarking on a relationship to a novice mountain climber. If you decide to start mountain climbing with a partner, it is essential to:

  1. Understand what you are embarking on, including the risks and rewards;
  2. Practice resilience and strength-building routines;
  3. Build trust. Practice being each other’s allies;
  4. Gather safety equipment, safety protocols and a First Aid Kit;
  5. Gather support teams; don’t try to be each other’s only support!

This is the end of Part One of Trauma Survivors in Love. So far I have mostly covered Step 1).

In Parts Two and Three I will identify some of the rewards of being a trauma survivor couple (or triad, etc.) in love.

I will also break down Steps 2) to 5) of the extreme sports metaphor by offering specific examples of self-care and self-healing practices, emotional first aid, somatic safety and collaboration practices for partners, and tips for creating trauma healing support teams.

Thanks for reading. Please be gentle with you and your loved ones.

Thanks to Babette Rothschild, Denise Benson, Dan Seigel, Peter Levine for their trauma savvy wisdom.

Next Month: Trauma Survivors In Love Part II
If you would like to book a somatic coaching appointment with Dr. Vanissar Tarakali, you can find out more here.


Last month we looked at some embodied practices for befriending anger so that it can flow and be safely expressed.

Here are two more practices that incorporate somatic and intuitive awareness. If you like animals, you might find these practices appealing.

Befriend Your Anger-Animal: Method One
First, think of an animal that embodies ferociousness. Is it a shark, a scorpion, a panther,

or a hawk? Pick an animal that you feel affinity and respect for.

Is it a mama bear? A badger? It doesn’t have to be a big animal; any animal that fights or hunts will do.

Let’s say you have chosen a lynx. Your first task is to study the lynx thoroughly. Try to find a photograph of a lynx, and put it where you can look at it every day.

Research its habitat and habits. Find out how it gets food, how it mates and raises its young.

Now reflect on situations where lynx behave ferociously or violently. Usually these situations are of vital importance to that lynx’s life, such as needing to hunt for food, compete for a mate, or protect itself or its children.

Does it make sense to you that sometimes a lynx needs to be aggressive? What do you admire about lynx aggression?

Now think of that same lynx at rest or play. Even big cats groom one another; even bears sleep. In the same way, the fiercest lynx is only fierce when necessary.

The rest of the time it eats, sleeps, plays, mates, nurtures its young, basks in the sun or grooms.

If you are still feeling affinity with lynx, start imagining that the angry feelings in your body, your anger, are a lynx. Notice where your lynx resides.

Pay attention to its mood or posture. Is it curled up at the base of your spine? Is it stretching its paws out within your arms or legs?

Offer some appreciative attention to your anger-lynx. Assume that it has its own lynx-integrity and lynx-purpose.

Notice that your lynx’s ferocity is aroused when it perceives a threat*to you or someone you care about. Your anger-lynx is practical. Its behavior makes sense.

Just as a lynx’s menace is part of its wild beauty, in the same way, youranger is beautifully wild. Anger is not rational—it is not supposed to be! It is raw aliveness, pure lifeforce.

Let your wise anger-animal (lynx or otherwise) teach you. The wisdom of your anger-animal is your innate willingness to fight for yourself and protect others from harm.

Make a habit of checking in with your anger-animal. For example, when you feel angry you can say to yourself, “My anger-bear is growling! She is taking care of my loved ones, including me!” Or, “My anger-shark is alerting me that something is off.”

When you appreciate your self-protective anger on a regular basis, your body’s internal sense of safety increases.

You don’t need to wait until you are enraged to befriend your anger-animal. You can work with her subtler manifestations, such as mild irritation or impatience.

At this stage of practice, don’t worry about how you are expressing anger. For now, practice appreciating your anger-animal each day.

Steady practice will gradually shift your anger-animal’s state from tamped down to fully available.

Once your anger-animal feels more acknowledged and less neglected, at that point you will be ready to expand your repertoire of anger options.

Befriend Your Anger-Animal: Method Two
Here is another way to discover and work with the anger-animal metaphor. Pretend you are a

zoologist researching a fierce animal species.

Think about how many weeks or months you might sit quietly, patiently observing wildlife in the forest, desert or ocean.

Now pretend your body is the forest or ocean habitat, and that your body sensations are that fierce animal.

As a zoologist, you are committed to watch curiously for flashes of annoyance, sarcasm, anger or rage that show up in the body habitat.

When you notice these feelings, give them your attention: “There it is! I have sighted the animal I want to study!”

Now observe carefully: what are those feelings and sensations doing? Is there a sense of heat, lukewarmth, or a deep chill? Is there vibration or some other movement? What parts of your body are involved?

Can you detect the origin of the irritation or anger? Does it start in the throat, and then reach up into your jaw? Is it a sudden or gradual? Subtle or startling? Mischievous?

Stay curious and keep studying this fascinating anger-animal. When you feel angry or rageful, or when you are trying hard to not feel angry, where in the body do you feel the most sensation?

Are you clenching your butt? Are your teeth grinding? As you observe, you might want to take “field notes,” such as:

“I notice a fight pattern between the stomach and the throat: the stomach tries to push an angry roar up and out the throat, but the throat tightens up and pushes it down.”

Observe what is happening in your eyes, in your breath. Continue to watch yourself with scientific curiosity.

Eventually you will start to identify familiar patterns of posture and sensation that accompany the arising of irritation or anger.

Let your sensations take on a personality, a species. What animal species does this remind you of?

Discover what your anger-animal excels at. Hiding? Dodging? Pausing before striking a deadly blow?

Does it move like a scorpion? A rattlesnake? Or is it a fleeing octopus, leaving behind an inky, stinky cloud?

As you observe these behaviors, appreciate how sophisticated they are. How effective. If self-judgment comes up, remind yourself, “I am a zoologist studying this anger-animal.

I recommend doing this practice every day for a week or two and adding your observations to your “field notes.”

Then go back and read over your notes, looking for patterns.

The more familiar you are with this interesting anger-animal, the more awareness and choice you can access when you need to express your feelings or correct boundary violations.

Befriending Anger is a Process


Undoing your habitual anger patterns and developing new ones requires patience, playfulness and imagination.

The good news is that repeated practice WILL shift things.

Repeated practice over time is how we grow and change; indeed it is how we developed our original anger patterns in the first place.

Once you have befriended your anger; once you feel a sense of agency and dignity about your own anger, then you will be in good position to decide your next steps.

You can plan ahead and rehearse (using repeated practice over time) how you want to respond to people who cross your boundaries.

You can practice re-negotiating old boundaries, or making new choices.

These next steps will propel a new virtuous cycle of anger-agency:

As you witness yourself setting clear, firm boundaries with others, your body will increasingly trust its ability to stand up for itself. This embodied confidence will reduce your need to get angry.

Appropriate anger is the birthright of every animal, and every human animal. Wishing you well on your journey of anger reclamation!

*Your body-mind’s perception of threat may be a mis-perception, especially if your past trauma reactions are triggered by the current situation. However, for the purpose of building your anger options repertoire, you do not need to “prove” whether or not the danger you perceive is real or a projection;  right now your task is to practice claiming and working with your anger.

Special note: If you are currently struggling to manage violent outbursts, please consult with a
therapist, clinician or clergy before trying the practices I have shared.

While I hope this article will increase your insight and self-compassion, neither this article nor the practices I have shared are meant to replace therapy, anger management programs or community-based transformative justice support.

For the sake of you and your loved ones, don’t go it alone. Get some community support.


What Is Anger?

Anger is the emotion we feel when a boundary has been crossed. Once the violation is corrected and respect restored, anger is no longer necessary.

Like every emotion, anger has a beginning, middle and end. We can observe this cycle in babies or animals. They feel anger, express it and move on to another feeling.

Physiologically, each cycle of anger arousal lasts about 20 minutes. We are not rational in this fight-or-flight state; our pre-frontal cortex is shut down.

So it’s not a good time to make decisions or come to an understanding with someone. It isa good time to vent and be empathized with.

Anger is an integral part of our life force energy. As is the case with all of our emotions, we are meant to feel angry, acknowledge our anger, and either express it or take action to restore our boundary.

If no action is necessary, we can simply watch anger arise and dissolve.

However, if we have been taught that anger is wrong or dangerous, or that we will be punished if we express it, then our natural flow of anger is disrupted. We may start habitually stifling our anger.

Unacknowledged, stored up anger can cause health problems, or lead to abrupt explosions of rage that damage our relationships.

If we want to access choice when we feel anger, then we can make friends with it. Befriending our anger opens up more emotional ease and options.

I will soon share some befriending anger practices, but first, let’s look at what we are up against.

Obstacles to Letting Anger Flow
Early Trauma

Fighting comes naturally to us mammals. It is one of the brain stem’s five survival strategies. But when we are hurt by people with more physical or social power than us, fighting is not an option.

Instead we resort to freezing, fleeing, placating or dissociating. We learn to push down our anger to avoid punishment or escalation of abuse.

Our physical bodies learn muscular patterns that suppress our anger and hold back angry words, growls or yells.

With repeated practice, stuffing down anger becomes an automatic way of holding our jaws, clenching our stomachs, tightening our throats, and unclenching our fists.

We may learn to drop our eyes, and suppress tantrums (stopping our feet from stamping, our arms from waving) and make ourselves small. We may take shallow breaths so that we feel less anger, less urgency to express it.

At this point we have developed a reliable trauma survival strategy to fit our particular situation. Once these muscular holding patterns are deeply embodied, they are difficult to change.

Later in life, when we try to practice new ways of being with anger, we may meet with fear and reluctance. Our body is still terrified of the consequences we faced in the past.

Structural Oppression

Of course, in the case of the collective trauma we call “oppression,” the consequences we fear s are not in the past—they are current. For example, it is common knowledge that Black, Latino and First Nations people are disproportionately vulnerable to police violence, because of the implicit and explicit racism.

For many people of color, even using assertive body language– much less angry body language–in the presence of police officers can be deadly. So the ability to tightly control body language and conceal feelings of anger or rage is an essential racism survival strategy.

A key part of the trauma healing process involves creating safe contexts to express our long-held-back anger in new ways.

On a somatic level, reclaiming the anger stored in our bodies means getting our dignity back, and taking a stand for ourselves and our community.

Violence in Your History

Another obstacle to letting anger flow in our bodies is a history of physical or emotional violence. Maybe we have been a victim of or a witness to violence. Maybe we have harmed others with violent outbursts.*

Because of these dangerous associations, our feelings of anger may trigger a swift self-censoring fear. “I don’t want to get angry the way my parents/abuser did. The way I used to do.”

If we haven’t had appropriate, non-violent ways of expressing anger modeled for us (the media rarely offers such models!), we may believe our only choice is to contract our muscles, or use food, drugs or busyness to anesthetize it.

Despite these obstacles, it is entirely possible to expand our anger repertoire.

However, we need to work gently and patiently with any embodied obstacles or current limitations if we want to change our relationship to anger.

These obstacles, founded in real lived experiences, deserve our respect.

Building Your Anger Options Repertoire
The following practices can “prime the pump” and convince us that it is safe to feel anger.
These practices can also help give our animal body the satisfaction of correcting a boundary


Satisfaction does not require confronting the people who have crossed our boundaries (although this is one option). Certainly somatic satisfaction can involve feeling “heard” and respected by others.

But even feeling “heard” and taken seriously by yourself can convince your body that it has done its job.


Finger holds can help us to welcome and regulate anger and other difficult emotions. The method is simple: wrap the fingers of one hand around the middle finger of the other hand, hugging it gently.

Relax, breathe, and feel your sensations.  Notice if this practice is a yes, no or maybe for your body. You can do this for as long or short as you like.

An explanation of fingerholds can be found here:

Anger Sing-Along

Do you have a favorite angry song you like to listen to? How about a sing-along? Play the song, and sing (or yell) along with it as intensely as you can. Then see how you feel.

Once when I was grieving a terrible loss (rage being one component of grief), I found myself playing the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give It Away” over and over, singing and stomp-dancing along.

Sometimes I felt energized; sometimes I ended up crying hard and then finding stillness. Somehow this song matched the anger and sadness I was feeling; it helped me survive those first difficult days and weeks.

Ani DiFranco’s “I Could Be the Million (That You Never Made)” has also worked for me. What about you? What songs meet your anger where it is?

Breathing Out Sounds

Breathe in deeply. As you breathe out, let the exhalation turn into a long growl, snarl or hissing sound. Repeat this at least 3 times.

Find out which sound satisfies your body. Check in after you have hissed or roared a few times—is your body a bit more relaxed?

Silent Scream

Take a deep breath in, and then, engaging your whole body (ie. eyes bulging, arms flung wide, fists clenched, etc) open your mouth and scream silently. Make it a huge scream–imagine you are filling the room (or the building, or block, or planet!) with your rage.

After you have done one scream, check in with your sensations—are you a bit more present in your body? Do you feel some relief? Is this practice a yes, no or maybe for you? If your body feels safe, try doing one or two more screams, and then rest.

Controlled Tantrum

Many of us had to stifle rage when we were toddlers. This practice allows your body to have a safe, contained tantrum. Start by lying down on a bed or wide, well padded mat. Start this practice in “slo mo.”

Slowly clench your fist, lift your forearm and then drop it, letting your fist hit the pad–slowly! Repeat this with your other fist, alternately pounding the mat (gently), one fist at a time.

Now, still in “slow mo,” bend one knee and, keeping your heel on the mat the whole time, straighten your leg while pushing your heel forward. Feel the friction of your heel against the mat.

Once your leg is fully extended, pull your knee back up and repeat with the other heel and leg. Now put it all together: pound the floor with alternate fists as you thrust forward with alternate heels.

Pay close attention to your sensations, so that you are truly “in” your experience. Once you know how to do this practice without hurting yourself, feel free to speed it up or slow it down.

It Takes Time
Restoring a natural flow of anger takes time: time to build a sense of safety; time for our bodies
to re-learn how to “do” anger. If you are just starting out on your anger expression journey, a
whispered “no” may be all your body can handle.


If punching the floor makes you worry you will lose control, then slow it down or turn it down. For example, try punching the floor just once or twice, and then taking a break. Or punch the floor several times, but gently.

You can modify the intensity of any anger practice by doing it for shorter periods of time or reducing the number of repetitions. And remember, less is always more: it is best to start out with modest expressions of anger, and check in frequently, asking yourself: “Am I still okay?” “Have I harmed anyone?”

Then, use your senses to find out the answer: “Am I still breathing?” “Are my limbs intact?” Next, you can look around the room: and find out: “Is anyone hurt? Is anyone mad at me?”

Once your body is reassured that all is well, try to express a little more anger.

Respect your animal body’s pace. If you start where you are and do what you can, you will gradually build your body’s capacity to tolerate feeling and expressing anger. Your confidence and self-trust will increase.

*If you are currently struggling to manage violent outbursts, please consult with a therapist, clinician or clergy before trying the practices I have shared.

While I hope this article will increase your insight and self-compassion, neither this article nor the practices I have shared are meant to replace therapy, anger management programs or community-based transformative justice support.

For the sake of you and your loved ones, don’t go it alone. Get some community support.

Next Month: Befriending Anger & Rage Part II: Discovering Your Anger Animal

Party With the Parrots & Heal With the Hawks

scritch oo

Would you like to host a Taken Under Wing House Party?

It’s like a Tupperware party, but with Bird Essences. 

You and your guests will sample the 17 Bird Essences while Dr. Tarakali and the Advisory Birds share intuitive insights and wise, silly stories.


Bird Essences are potent tinctures (made with channeled bird energy, brandy and spring water) designed to enhance your wellness routines and spiritual practices.

Each Bird Essence activates subtle, steady shifts in your energy body. Our irreverent bird allies are eager to teach us new ways to play and transform. You can read the essence descriptions here.

Find out more at or (510) five-nine-four-6812.

Doorways to Liberation

I love liberation.
I have sought out liberation in all its forms for as long as I can remember.

I love relative liberation. Earthly liberation. Oh, I have not actually met it. Nor has anyone I know.

But I have longed for and ardently pursued social justice all my life; I believe in liberation for all oppressed beings.

That all may live in safety and sufficiency, free to express, create and contribute, each according to their nature.

Captured by Fanny Lou Hamer’s words, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

Captured by Green Tara’s outstretched foot, ready to leap into the relative world to end the suffering of beings.

I love absolute liberation. Liberation from duality. To be free from hope and fear.

Unfettered by the constricted vantage point of “me,” the star of my ongoing soap opera.

Captured by the Bodhisattva vow to remain on the earthly wheel of rebirth until all beings are free.

Captured by the Heart Sutra, which declares, “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form, form is none other than emptiness, emptiness is none other than form.”

And, “Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone completely beyond, oh great awakening!”

When I recite the Heart Sutra, I tear up. Just the title of Franklin Merrell-Wolff’s book, The Philosophy of Consciousness Without an Object makes me happy.

Absolute liberation is what I intuited at age seventeen, when I wrote, “Deep screams of hearts breaking, sorrow of generations compel me—I must not drown, I must find a way.”

Relative and absolute liberation are intertwined. Today I reflect upon absolute liberation.

Although absolute liberation is ineffable and unknowable, sometimes we get glimpses.

I have been blessed with glimpses now and again. When I stumble upon the absolute and lose myself in it, it spits me out again like Pacific waves that suck you in and toss you out.

Liberation is sublime and fleeting.
“I” keep forgetting about it.

Or I remember and wait hungrily for the next doorway to liberation. I grope for a doorknob for days, weeks, months, years, decades…

Suddenly the door opens, and I am swept through it. Small me absorbed into vastness. Identities temporarily (or permanently) melt.


The third of Zen Buddhism’s Four Great Vows declares: “The Dharma gates are boundless—I vow to open them.”

Those boundless doors to liberation include the natural world; contemplative practices, love—romantic and otherwise; loss, death; and suffering. And many more.

Places of natural beauty can open the door. Desert skies, lakes, oceans, snowy mountains, and lush forests.

Prayer, contemplation or meditation can open the door.


Sometimes love opens the door.

Agenda-less love. Romantic love. New parent love. Critter love.

I was 29 when I fell in forbidden, impossible love. Prophetic dreams and unlikely events threw us together. Loss was certain, imminent. Yet I gave myself utterly, drunk on our summer rain: each time we made love, the skies opened and drenched the earth with heaven’s music. We felt our flesh radiate blessings to all beings in every dimension.

Love can be a little death; great love can be a great death. When my lover left me, my life disintegrated: my home, job, friendships, name and identity fell away. I was propelled thousands of miles into a new life.



Sometimes loss opens the door. Or a series of losses.

In 2011, my mother died and my dearest friend broke up with me.

In 2012, I lost Tigger, my bird-friend of nine years, and my home of twelve years.

In 2013, Tigger’s mate also passed. I was birdless for the first time in fourteen years. Gone all those sweet call and response whistles that are integral to life with birds.

No more trills of reassurance and belonging: “Are you there? I am here.” “Is all well? All is well.” 


2014 was loss on steroids.

In February I brought a special needs baby bird home; he died soon after we bonded.

An April bike accident stole my health and motivation for months.

In summer, my certain refuge–the lake I swam at daily–was closed by toxic algae.

By September I had let another baby parrot crawl into my heart. She died in October.  [Thank goodness for her sister Zee, who chose to live, to live with me.]

And in 2015, sleep became elusive, hard-won.


So much loss, year after year.

The friction of loss can bring glimpses of non-duality. We rub up against fundamental questions like:

How do I go on when the one I love is gone?

Who am I without my narcissistic mom? So much of what I am is the daughter who resented her, who defended against her.

Who am I without my bird-friends? So much of what I am is the woman who shares her life with birds.

Who am I without a lake to swim in?  So much of what I am is the one immersed in the lake, who flies beside ducks and turtles.

Who am I without the certainty of sleep? So much of what I used to be was rested.

What happens to identities stripped of their physical objects?

What is a swimmer with no lake? A motherless child?  A sleeper who cannot sleep?

What is left of me when the parent, the beloved, the lake, the certainty of sleep are gone?

What remains of this consciousness I call “me?”



Sometimes death opens the door. Dissolution can release us from a particular form.

I have written elsewhere of how the deaths of two of my bird companions loosened my ordinary, subject-object consciousness a little.

When my mother died, I went through many changes. The most surprising change was my relief that she was beyond my protection. Nothing could hurt her anymore.

Like a hidden vault opening, I remembered as a child, silently agreeing to protect her from

my suffering. To shield her from how much she had harmed me.

Now relief flooded me; a long-held exhalation rushing out. Permission to be thoroughly angry at her. On the spot I wrote a song called “Vampire Mom.”

I sang that song over and over in the days that followed, melting a glacier of grief and rage.

That momentum carried me “beyond, completely beyond” my mother’s daughter. My mother and I were finally free from that messed up dynamic.

Much more of my aliveness became available to me after that. Including, strange to say (since I did not seek it), forgiveness for my mom. A sense of peace about her.


Sometimes suffering opens the door.

Sometimes you suffer unbearably, endlessly from some absurd, arbitrary torment, or ridiculous injustice. Then, finally it’s over. Or maybe it continues. It doesn’t matter, because you have crossed the threshold.

Did that grit-storm sand down your soul? Somehow, you’ve let go. Horror is redeemed as you find yourself standing, relieved and grateful.

“Gone beyond, gone completely beyond” is not just an expression. Liberation is a movement beyond reactivity, the breeze that melts our resentment.

Liberation allows us, no matter why or how much we have suffered, to choose how we meet life.

Shedding that victim stance is waking from a nightmare. Our gaze widens out into spaciousness and generosity, a new way of being that is audacious and exhilarating.



You have probably noticed that most of the doorways I describe are difficult doorways.

Perhaps there is more to say about struggle than ease. Perhaps I require a lot of pressure to crack open.

But there are myriad small, subtle doorways beckoning to us in each moment. A sweet gaze. Sunlight on water. A difficult truth revealed. A baby, of any species, surrendered in sleep.

Many doors to liberation. Never the same door twice.

“No,” he said, “I don’t think it will be any good trying to go back through the wardrobe door to get the coats. You won’t get into Narnia again by that route. Nor would the coats be much use by now if you did!

Eh? What’s that? Yes, of course you’ll get back to Narnia again someday…But don’t go trying to use the same route twice. Indeed, don’t try to get there at all. It’ll happen when you’re not looking for it.”

~C.S. Lewis, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Bird Energy Medicine Playshop

Bird Medicine for Healing & Transformation

When: Tuesday, September 29: 7-9 pmscritch ooWhere: Rockridge, North Oakland

Dr. Tarakali’s lifelong relationship with birds recently took a surprising turn. She was inspired (badgered, actually) by her bird friends (the “Bird of Directors” or “Advisory Birds”) to create 16 essence tinctures called Taken Under Wing.

Like Rescue Remedy, bird essences are energy medicine, in this case the channeled energy of specific birds, including parrots, owls and raptors.

Each Taken Under Wing tincture embodies a unique aspect of avian wisdom that the birds are eager to share with humans (and other beings) to support healing and transformation.

The 16 essences include Nourishing Partnership, Slow Down, Badass Female, Agency-in-Disability, Altar Eagle, Hunter-Healer (to enhance healing insight), Liberation Beyond Form, Good Death, Preening, Adorable Owl, Taken Under Wing (for mentoring), and others.

Zee HH

In this playshop Dr. Tarakali and the Advisory Birds will share intuitive insights and anecdotes, while guests sample the essences and experience bird energy medicine.

If you like, Dr. Tarakali and the “Advisory Birds” will recommend an appropriate essence for your temperament and situation.

Space is limited
Playshop Cost: $20

To register, contact Dr. Tarakali at
or (510) 594-6812

Sacred Disruptions

Kali, the Sacred Disruptor

Kali Ma is showing up in my life again.

Kali is the ferocious Hindu deity of illuminating darkness; a destroyer of illusions. Her ruthless compassion cuts through our obliviousness to how things really are.

On the spiritual path, Kali uses shake-ups and transformations to destroy subject-object consciousness and restore our intimacy with all things. Her path to liberation is swift and challenging.

Kali Ma can also represent a fierce advocacy for justice, as demonstrated by an amazing art installation projected onto the Empire State Building.

I came across these images right in between a difficult confrontation with my landlord, and a silent meditation retreat with my teacher.

When my landlord refused to honor his legal and ethical responsibilities to his tenants, I spoke up, even though I was frightened of repercussions. He yelled at me, calling me a “pain in the ass” for insisting that he listen and take action.

At the retreat my teacher invoked Kali several times. He explained that we need to open to her in order to awaken; that more of us need to embody her:

“We do not have many (Kali-style) teachers who can destroy our positive and negative storylines; lack of self-interest is required. A true guru will destroy the things inside you that veil your consciousness.”

This destroyer role is not only for teachers. Any of us can drop our self-interested fear and embody Kali when we or our people are in danger. Or when ”other” peoples and beings are harmed. Sometimes we need to shake things up and wake people up. Sometimes we need to fight.

Being a Disruptor

I had to fight at the retreat. I have some life-threatening food allergies. The host organization for the retreat forbids any outside food, and refuses to post the ingredients of the meals they provide. A double-bind for those of us with food allergies.

I explained this to the retreat administrators before the retreat. After much back and forth, they promised that the host organization would post a notice at any meal where my allergens were present, so that I could safely avoid them. I would still be out of luck if I could not eat the meal, but it was something.

This promise was retracted at the retreat. We were told that we would have to use handwritten signs (it was a silent retreat) to find out the ingredients of each meal.

We were told, “you will just have to work with it,” the implication being that this would be part of our spiritual practice. Then the food coordinator said to me, “I know how you feel, I have food sensitivities too.”

I pointed out that they had broken their promise to advocate for those of us with allergies, and had put the onus on each of us to protect ourselves.

She frowned as I spoke my truth. She obviously expected me to accept this ridiculous situation—and her acquiescence to it–with grace. Was this her idea of non-attachment? What nonsense.

She and the other retreat organizers expected us to sacrifice our basic safety and/or nourishment, and to silently find out each meal’s ingredients from the ever-changing kitchen staff roster.

They expected us to potentially forego some meals. Why should I sacrifice the truth to make her feel comfortable? She ought to feel uncomfortable about abandoning those of us with food allergies.

I walked away, muttering to myself with a mixture of self-righteousness and matter-of-fact anger. The food coordinator also had food sensitivities, yet she clearly expected me to “suck it up.”

So I made up a story about her. It could well be a projection on my part. Pure fiction. But, I have known plenty of WASP (white anglo saxon protestant) women like her, like me, who do fit my story.

White women who were taught as little girls to never make waves; to always be “good” girls. Not unruly, never disruptive. To keep the adults comfortable.

A Reflection

To white girls like I was, to white women like me, and to any other readers who have had to “suck it up” for someone else’s comfort, I offer this reflection:

Have you ever?

Have you ever been marginalized and betrayed? Asked to sacrifice your basic needs?

Have you ever been expected to act like everything is okay, as if you are content to be overlooked and abandoned?

Have you been expected to act like a pious, gracious, “good girl” while others dismissed your need to be alive or safe or fed, to express yourself, be cuddled, or have alone time, or space to daydream?

Probably all of us have. Being overlooked is a quintessential childhood experience. Even more so for girl children, trans children, poor children, children of color, children with disabilities.

When you had needs that did not fit the family or community or dominant institutions status quo. When you were called “weird” or “high maintenance.” When grown-ups decided you were “other.”

Those grown-ups looked at you, then through you. In their eyes you were a nuisance, a danger. A disruption of the familiar. They abandoned you. They made it clear: no exceptions, no accommodations will be made for you.

You were expected to accept your own sacrifice. To shut up, smile and make nice.

Fast forward to adulthood, long after you had internalized those messages: fit in; “suck it up;” don’t expect special treatment.

A Reparative Re-do Exercise

Now I am asking you to do a “re-do.”

Find a friend (or use a journal as your listening “friend”) and try out this practice:

Set aside 20-30 minutes for each of you. Choose who will speak and who will listen for this round.

It’s time for you to tell your story. Call up one of those times (either in childhood or more recently) when you were expected to roll with it as others rolled over you.

As your partner listens, express the feelings and sensations that you had at the time. You may feel grief or rage. You may feel your longing to be seen and loved. Do not hold back! This time you get to be heard and seen.

For now, don’t make excuses for those grown-ups or those who had power over you. This is your time, your space.

Your partner’s role is to ground themselves and receive your truth; to midwive your memories and realizations, to be moved by your long-untold story.

Feel the sensations in your body as you tell them how you were just trying to be, and instead were silenced, ignored or punished. If you feel like clenching your fists, stomping your feet, yelling or crying, go ahead.

Feel your spine lengthening as you take your dignity back.

Now imagine the child that you were back then being encouraged to speak up. Imagine yourself offering those grown-ups an amazing opportunity to open their hearts and widen their vision.

Imagine them freed from the limitations imposed on them by their caregivers. As they listen to you, they stop expecting you to sacrifice yourself. They are liberated, too.

Then switch roles.

After you both have had a turn, debrief your experience, sharing any insights or new self-commitments you are ready to make.  Thank one another.

This practice is one way to reclaim our disavowed outrage, our childhood grief at having to sacrifice our health or safety or dignity to placate oblivious adults.

While we are at it, let’s reclaim our quirks, special needs, gifts, and inborn vocations that were/still are our beauty and our power. Your uniqueness lives in your bones, the same bones that hold your shape.

When I Have My Own Back I Am Okay With You Having Yours
I have found that practices like this one increase my capacity to tolerate others’ rage at
injustice and accept the necessary disruptions of “business as usual” that are core to
social justice work.


Finding my own dignified, dissenting voice has shifted some of that infamous “white

into appreciation for collective wake up calls by groups like
These wake up calls are ferociously loving invitations to grow our courage and authentic

belonging: “Join the human family—join us in healing ancient injustices.”

These invitations deserve to be met with a robust presence that is willing to be changed.

To access this robustness, I need to know I will fight for me! I need to know I have my

own back, that I will insist that my needs are acknowledged.

Knowing I will fight for myself has given me more internal room, more relaxed spacious

room to welcome disruptions of my business as usual, my status quo.

And you need to know that you will fight for you.

But it is not just about fighting. It’s also about grieving. We must have room to grieve

having been sacrificed and abandoned. Grief brings business as usual to a standstill. As it

(As it must if this planet is to survive. People with disabilities, forgotten people,

“disposable” people, island people, walruses and bees are screaming, wailing, pounding

at the smug, violent, oblivious corporate culture to STOP. Stop killing us all.)

Reclaiming our willingness to fight and grieve for ourselves enables more resilient

responses to sacred disruptions, whether by activists, tenants or children.

Knowing you have your own back helps you to recognize the “calling in” within “calling out.”

Sacred Disruptions Make Us Uncomfortable

A class mate of mine was upset with me one day for asking the class to treat me in a

different way than the established class norm. I had asked the group to ask me for my
consent before giving me advice or assessments. He was offended that I wanted “special


After our teacher encouraged him to dig deeper, it turned out his family and culture had
required him to sacrifice beloved parts of himself in order to belong. Anything else would

have been seen as “disloyal.” So he took my request as a rejection of him and the group.

As often happens when someone disrupts the status quo, some classmates initially

judged and blamed me for making them uncomfortable.

Our teacher then pointed out that “everyone has special needs; everyone can benefit
when someone opens up the possibility that we can ask for what we need.”

Such “special treatment” is not special at all, but is appropriately responsive to each

individual’s unique strengths and limitations.

My teacher told me that my request was vulnerable and courageous, and had opened up

space for others to ask for what they needed.

My “inner child” was touched to receive appreciation for being disruptive (!) and taking

care of myself. Wow. The class’s intense response to my request sparked a profound and

lively discussion.

Receiving Sacred Disruptions

So now, I entreat you and myself: do not dismiss those who are different. Slow down,

listen to them. Allow yourself to be changed by them.

People with food sensitivities who need some TLC, people in wheelchairs who want to

attend, trans people who want to “pass” but cannot.


You are—or soon will be—different too. You will fall ill, you will age, you will lose your

money or your home, or your best friend will commit suicide.

You will be different, and you will need special consideration/accommodation. You will

need it and you will either demand it and insist on being seen,


you will follow the old script, “suck it up,” and sacrifice yourself. You will accept the

notion that your difference is an imposition, a nuisance. That you are on your own.

Your secret resentment will insist that others “suck it up” too. You had to. How dare they

ask for more?

And the cycle continues.

Oh no I say! You are NOT on your own. None of us is. Each of us who cries out to be seen,
whether in a harsh or trembling voice, opens the circle for ALL of us to be seen. In this

way you redeem us.

Following Kali Ma’s Lead

If you already know you are different, if you’ve never been allowed to forget even for a

second that you don’t belong, I’m asking you to love yourself and your difference. Love
your humanness that does not fit the status quo.

Please do NOT sacrifice yourself! Instead grieve for yourself. Fight for yourself! Fuel your

fight with love. Tenacious, ferocious love.

A love that knows you deserve care and consideration; knows that the people who you

disrupt deserve to expand their hearts to include difference. Your loving insistence is a

gift to them, their compassion wake up call.

Persist. Don’t wear yourself out, don’t do it all by yourself, but persist. Pray, play and
persist. For the sake of all beings, do not let others dehumanize you. Let your love for

yourself, just as you are, be ferocious and patient.

Ferocious like Kali Ma, whose outrage transforms injustice. Unlike the deities I was

taught to worship as a child, Kali does not sacrifice herself, or her children.

We are here to wake up our neighbors’ empathy and love. That is what “love thy neighbor

as thyself” means to me now–to be a sacred disrupter.

So yes, Mr. Landlord, I proudly accept your name for me. I AM a pain in the ass. I gladly

follow Kali Ma’s lead.
Click here to find out more about Vanissar Tarakali’s coaching and teaching work.


Last month I quoted Jesus from The Gospel According to Thomas, where he says:

“If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you.
If you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you.”

I talked about the ruptured relationships and social injustices that can occur when we fail to “bring forth” the fears and biases hidden within ourselves and the dominant culture.

I also shared the concept of Alaya or “storehouse consciousness.” Alaya is like an ocean of unconscious kleshas (mental states that cloud the mind) that are individual, ancestral and collective. These below-the-radar thoughts, intentions and implicit biases shape our behavior.

When we are triggered, our kleshas abruptly emerge as thoughtless or cruel actions. Since most of us want to see ourselves as a “good” person at all costs, it is common to instantly forget these actions.

My own father exemplified this dynamic. He would abuse me late at night, then express caring and concern for me during daylight hours.

This instant-amnesia prevents us from making amends or changing our behavior, whereas unearthing our kleshas supports choice and agency.

Below I share some principles and practices to quicken this unearthing process, this “evil twin” taming process, for the sake of personal wellbeing, relational healing and social justice.

How To Unearth & Tame Your Evil Twin(s): Principles


Principle 1: Unearthing Takes a Lot of Energy

Some of the most helpful changes I have made in my life started with painful realizations that arose during a silent meditation retreat, where I had enough time–and more importantly, energy–for something new to emerge.

Make no mistake, self-archeology takes enormous energy. Retreat allows me to lean on the collective energy of a group that is focused on waking up, and on the steady energy of my teacher, who holds and encourages, goads and invites.

The retreat structure, which includes specific roles, schedules and collective meals, means I expend less energy than usual on logistics. The silence allows me to release the ordinary social interactions that consume so much energy. Every bit of that freed up energy is needed for practice.

Within this retreat container, profound excavations are possible. Some of the material I have discovered in myself while on retreat is so unthinkable, so unacceptable to my surface personality that I cannot keep it in my awareness unless I write it down. I cling to my pen and journal for dear life.

This, plus the sangha, teachings, silence and my teacher’s presence, ground me enough that I can stay with it, breathing, writing, crying, shaking, doula-ing this alarming newborn into daylight.

Principle 2: Unearthing Takes Curiosity and Compassion

As we saw last month, Anam Thubten suggests “inviting our hidden thoughts to tea.” This welcoming host attitude can prevent shame, and that’s a good thing, because that emotional *zing!* of shame distracts us from noticing our harmful thoughts and behaviors.

To gaze steadily at our evil twins requires curious and compassionate eyes.

Compassion develops our capacity to face and feel what we dread being or becoming. Curiosity helps us ask, “What makes me so fearful that I lash out?” Or, “Why does self-righteousness feel so intoxicating?”

If we cannot feel it–all of it–then we have no toehold to change it. Our evil twins will continue to ambush us and destroy what we care about.

Principle 3: Unearthing Takes Patience and Persistence

Potent *aha* moments do not happen everyday; they are sandwiched between mundane awareness practice. Transformation arises from “dojo style” learning, where you practice the same thing over and over, throughout your life.

We need to regularly set time and energy aside in order to keep evolving.

Even when *ahas* arrive, we tend to forget them. So we need reminders. We likely will have to encounter the same material again and again before can integrate that *aha* into daily life.

An Unearthing Story

Once near the end of a grueling week-long retreat, I encountered a particularly hard-to-grasp, hard-to-stay-with knot of kleshas. I needed to employ all three principles of big energy, curiosity/compassion and patience/persistence to process the experience.

I uncovered an unexpected, ancient, deeply rooted aversion to being in a human body. A disgust at being exiled on this planet. An anguished, arrogant refusal to be confined in material reality.

The experience was so intense it was frightening; the information almost too painful to receive. And ironic, since I am someone who encourages folks to “befriend your body, trust your body, be with it as it is.”

It was a shock for me to uncover within my own alaya such revulsion and contempt for the limitations of bodies. To find within myself such a huge NO to Life.

I had to work hard to stay with this and suspend my disbelief that I was harboring such attitudes, but once I was able to just be with it, I had a memory of “me” becoming form as I was conceived. This memory was traumatic.

I remembered thinking, “Why would anyone want to return to this quicksand swamp, where horrific things happen everywhere to everyone throughout their lives?”

This reclamation-process was not fun. It was hard work. Yet it stretched me in a positive way. I felt an empathy and tenderness for us matter-bound humans that remains with me and enriches my work with people.

And I have noticed that since that experience, I am inhabiting my body more fully, and enjoying this earthly life more and more. Embracing that contemptuous “evil twin” has relaxed its grip on me.

How to Unearth & Tame Your Evil Twin(s): Practices*


Setting Intentions

Intentions are powerful tone-setting practices. You can link your declared intentions to something or someone you care about. Here are some intention examples:

  • Set the intention to gradually and steadily unearth the attitudes and fears that lie within you.
  • Each day, choose to take responsibility for your thoughts and emotions.
  • Establish a host attitude, and welcome your hidden negative beliefs to come to the surface.
  • Give yourself permission to feel taboo feelings, think taboo thoughts, and commit yourself to bear witness to them. 
  • Make a commitment to honor and express your unearthed kleshas without harming anyone, including yourself. Embracing and celebrating kleshas sucks the poison out of them. (Check out the final practice in this list.) 

Body Scans

1) Take time each day to sit or lie quietly and scan your body with your breath. When you find places where your breath catches, keep your attention there, breathing gently until the “catch” softens. You can also hum into the catches until they soften.

2) Scan your body for areas of muscular tightness; notice the sensations in these areas. Silently say “yes” to the contractions, thank them for their efforts, and move on. You can also hum into the contractions until they soften.


According to Anam Thubten, “calm abiding” meditation enables us to become aware of our concealed, deeply rooted tendencies.

Other Somatic Practices

1) TRE or Trauma Release Exercises are designed to heal trauma stored in the body without needing to talk about or mentally revisit the trauma. What a relief to be able to bypass our thinking mind!

I have found that these exercises also release other energies stored in the body, and I suspect this practice has the potential to unearth deeply rooted fears and negative beliefs.

You can learn TRE from this DVD:

2) Project whatever is emerging onto an object in the room. (I often use my ficus tree; she doesn’t mind.) Start with your back turned to it, and very, very gradually, start turning towards it, as if you are about to look at it directly. All the while, feel your sensations.

If it becomes too intense, pause and feel your sensations. Give yourself permission to stop the practice at any point.                            

Continue the practice if it feels okay, stopping at any point(s) it becomes too much. You may or may not end up directly facing what is emerging the first few times you do this.  Do not pressure yourself to “arrive.”What you discover during the practice is far more important than“completing” it.If what is emerging feels too big or scary, you might want to wait and have a friend or therapist with you when you do this.

Practices to Try When Something Barely Bearable Emerges

1) Self talk can be helpful. You can tell yourself:

  • Whatever emerges is my lifeforce—it is me. I am therefore big enough to meet it.
  • This emerging form is–at its heart–neutral energy, however camouflaged or misshapen it has become. I can learn how to move this energy through or out of my body.
  • 2) Practice compassionately holding and soothing yourself and your sensations until you get really good at it. (You might imagine a bigger-than-you version of you is embracing your body/mind.)
  • Then, use this practice when you have a strong aversion to what is emerging. For example, you could compassionately “hold” the part of you that is saying, “No! This cannot be so! I despise it!” or, “No! This cannot be in me or of me!”
  • 3) Try to externalize and express whatever is emerging. Get it outside of you, and give it all the room it needs by singing, dancing, drawing, journal writing, screaming silently, humming.
  • Make sounds or movements that match your internal experience or sensations. Or make a collage of one or more of your “evil twins,” and have fun with it! Externalizing and expressing can be both grounding and illuminating.

*Special Note: If you are struggling with mental health challenges right now, or struggling every day just to survive or stay grounded, it is probably not the appropriate time to invite hidden kleshas to emerge.

It is wise to wait until your life has stabilized and you have steady, reliable support. I recommend that you consult with your therapist, psychiatrist or spiritual advisor before you engage the intentions and practices I have described.

Much gratitude to Phyllis Pay, Denise Benson, Anam Thubten, and my courageous clients, who continually teach me.
To schedule an in person or remote appointment with Dr. Tarakali, go to www.vanissar. com


scritch oo


Dr. Tarakali’s lifelong relationship with birds recently took a surprising turn. She was inspired (badgered, actually) by her bird friends (the “Bird of Directors” or “Advisory Birds”) to create 17 essence tinctures called Taken Under Wing.

Similar to Rescue Remedy, bird essences are energy medicine, in this case the channeled energy of specific birds, including parrots, owls and raptors.

Each Taken Under Wing  tincture embodies a unique aspect of avian wisdom that the bird friends are eager to share with humans (and other beings) to support healing and transformation.



The 17 essences (made from bird essences, 80% spring water, and 20% raspberry or pear infused brandy) include: 

Nourishing Partnership (parrot medicine): for balanced, reciprocal relationships.

Slow Down (eagle medicine): for grounding that embodies vast expansiveness into vast depths.

Bad-ass Female (hawk medicine): for unapologetic, relaxed, ferocious feminine power (for all genders).

Agency-in-Disability (parrot medicine): to access agency/joy within circumstances of chronic pain, illness or disability.

Altar Eagle: for moving back and forth seamlessly between ordinary life/tasks and visionary, big picture activities and experiences.

Hunter-Healer (owl medicine):  for healers and self-healers, enhances the ability to gently and precisely discern subtle wounds and root sources of trauma and illness.

Liberation Beyond Form (parrot medicine): support to release old identities and ways of being after the death of a loved one or the dissolution of a familiar relationship, job, home, etc.

Good Death (parrot medicine): for a loving, connected dying process that unfolds on your terms.

Preening (parrot & raptor medicine): for meditation, re-aligning body/mind/spirit with your nature and the universe, bestowing blessings with your presence.

Adorable Owl: allowing yourself to be adored; radiant self-love that invites others to experience their adorableness.

Taken Under Wing (parrot medicine): for healthy, evolving mentor/mentee and parent/child relationships.

Healer’s Friend (Combination formula: Hunter Healer and Altar Eagle): support for healers of all kinds to do profound, visionary and grounded work.


The remaining 5 essences embody the personality and wisdom of birds that Dr. Tarakali was blessed to live with and who are now “Advisory Birds”:

Joshi (dusky lory medicine)

A passionate, playful fiery-orange parrot who always threw his whole self into Life, with nothing held back, living each moment to the fullest.

Kiwi Honeybee (green parakeet medicine)

A wise, dignified and cheerful teacher with excellent boundaries and an extraordinary ability to influence beings and shape events for the benefit of all.

Tigger Meringue (yellow parakeet medicine)

A sunlight-and-lemon bird with a big warm, exquisitely gentle presence. He was always open-hearted, generously bestowing love or singing and hopping for joy.

Snow Lion  (white & lapis parakeet medicine)

An athletic, adventurous, persistent and courageous beauty, with snowy white and lapis feathers. She always faced the places that scared her and never, ever gave up.

Powa (turquoise parakeet medicine)

A dreamy baby bird who loved long, warm cuddles as much as he loved shooting through the cosmos like a comet. An excellent ally for psychic work.


If you would like to try out some of the essences, contact Dr. Vanissar Tarakali at (510) 594-6812 or email

Dr. Tarakali’s website is here.


I want to write about self-ignorance.
Self-ignorance is ordinary and potentially destructive:

Ordinary because we all harbor unknown beliefs and attitudes; Potentially destructive because this unexplored territory is filled with landmines.

I believe Jesus is talking about self-ignorance in The Gospel According to Thomas, where he says:

“If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you.”

I am prone to self-ignorance as much as anyone, but the first time I identified its destructive power, it was at work in someone else. A few months after my mother died in 2011, my dear friend of 25 years—a consistently supportive, compassionate friend–dropped me.

My friend Risa (as I will call her), had taught me to embrace human complexity and contradiction.

But now she accused me of falsely grieving the loss of my mother. With eloquent zeal, she wrote to me, “We have always hated our mothers! You cannot be suffering her loss. You are either lying or deluding yourself.” She demanded that I admit that I was not in pain about my mother’s death.

I hadn’t known what to expect from the grieving process, but now that I was in it, I let it unfold without censorship. I told Risa this. I wrote to her that, as far as I could tell, the root-shaking fear and sadness was real.

I asked her to respect that I was being authentic, and doing what I needed to do.  In her (final) response to me, she said it was time for us to part ways. She refused any further contact.

Wow. I did not know this ruthless, judgmental Risa. It was as if a stranger had hijacked her.

Whatever was going on with her made her willing to lose our precious shared history. And so I met the destroyer aspect of self-ignorance.

I now know that when we come up against something that is intolerable to feel, we will do anything to avoid feeling it—anything. Even discard a longstanding friendship.

Somehow my response to my mother’s death caused Risa to feel something she couldn’t tolerate. She had to get rid of me.

I lost my mom and my close friend that year. Ironically, Risa made certain that I had something “authentic” to grieve about.

Something similar happened recently with a beloved neighbor. I was dealing with a crisis, and she took it personally. For her, my crisis was “too close to home.” She was terrified that my misfortune would rub off, even though this was extremely unlikely.

She showed up at my door on the second day of my crisis.
I was exhausted and overwhelmed, wondering if I could endure the marathon of challenges before me. In this vulnerable state I opened the door to my kind neighbor.

But my kind neighbor launched into a tirade of righteous scolding. She blamed my crisis on my “irresponsible” actions and pronounced our friendship at risk. She said, “This is a dealbreaker.”

Her words struck me down. She did not seem to notice me crouching on the floor, trying not to faint.

Where was my empathic, helpful neighbor? Who was this mean stranger? Nothing in her manner conveyed even the most basic recognition of my humanity or situation.

She finished condemning me and left.

I deliberately avoided my neighbor after that. I was trying to protect my heart and save my emotional energy for the difficult weeks ahead.

Eventually I ran into her, and she said she had missed me, and hoped that our friendship could “get back to normal” once my crisis was resolved. She did not apologize for her tirade, nor she did she offer any comfort or assistance.

I blurted out my doubts that our friendship could ever go back to what it was; her words had hurt my feelings so terribly. She seemed confused to hear this. Offended. As if she had no memory of how cruel she had been.

is true that my kind neighbor did not deserve my mistrust. But my cruel neighbor did.

Thinking of her as two personas, Kind Neighbor and her evil twin, Cruel Neighbor, helped me make sense of her behavior.

What do I mean by evil twin?
I mean what Jesus meant when he said: “If you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you.”

Destroy you, or your relationships.

Given the right stimulus, such as being profoundly triggered, your deeply buried fears and beliefs can erupt in harmful actions.

Afterwards, if you are invested in seeing yourself as a “good person” at all costs, you will likely minimize or forget how you acted (or failed to act). That hidden version of you will slip back into the shadows until the next time.

In this sense, we all have evil twins.

We can reclaim and re-purpose our evil twins.

It is in the best interest of ourselves and everyone around us to practice acknowledging, feeling and owning the hidden aspects of ourselves.

The kind of “owning” that I recommend is not the same as solidifying oneself into a static identity of an “evil” or “good” person. Although the expression “evil twin” sounds like the name for a “real” persona, I mean it half humorously.

I believe we are fluid, uncategorizeable beings. And we are choiceful beings. We can set the intention to bring what is unconscious into consciousness to minimize harm to ourselves and others.


If you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you can be dangerous and even deadly. This holds true for communities as well as individuals.

I will speak now of my own white community/communities.
The majority of white people in North America live racially segregated lives.

This segregation prevents most white communities from witnessing firsthand the predictable, brutal treatment by police of Black and brown people. “Business as usual” policing of Black and brown people looks like habitual disrespect and disruption,torture and murder.

Police “business as usual” for white people looks very different. My experience is typical for a white woman. While I do not feel at ease with the police, my lived experience has not led me to expect that the police will gun me down if I reach for my wallet or run away. There is a vast gulf between white andBlack (and Native American and Latino) communities’ direct experience with police departments.

This combination of structural segregation and starkly different treatment by police disconnects white communities from communities of color. This double disconnect feeds the collective white self-ignorance about how our own privileged treatment co-arises with the mistreatment of Black people and people of color.

As James Baldwin wrote in 1963 in The Fire Next Time:   “Whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves.”

Thus we see the white consensus mind throughout North America has been expressing outrage over (a minority of) protesters’ vandalism and property damage, instead of outrage over the severing of a Black man’s spine, or the taking of a Black life.

If you are invested in seeing yourself as a good person at all costs, you tend to disavow or forget your unkind actions. If we are invested in seeing the justice system that serves the white community as benevolent at all costs, we tend to overlook the casual cruelty inflicted by police on communities of color. Instead, we blame the victim. White folks like me habitually turn our backs on what is being done in our name, and allow brutality to carry on in our collective shadow.

If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you.

Black activists and their allies in Ferguson, Baltimore, Oakland and other places are bringing forth what is within the North American policing system.

These activists are bringing into the light the hidden (hidden only to white people) everyday police attitudes-in-action that demean and destroy people of African descent. This consciousness raising is a profound gift to all of us. Bringing forth what is within our communities will save us.

Implicit Bias

Implicit bias is another aspect of self-ignorance. Implicit bias means unconsciously harboring bias and stereotypes against a stigmatized group, such as women, Black people, people with disabilities, etc.

I find implicit racial bias in myself. It pops out of me at the slightest stimulus—for example, if I am in public, and I see a Black person I do not know, I often catch myself checking to see if my wallet is zipped.

Implicit bias is inculcated in childhood. When I was around age seven my father told me that my Ugandan friend Aggie, who was staying with my family, was a liar and a cheat.

As adults we have the power to act out implicit bias in harmful ways, some of us by how we teach students or treat patients, and some of us by how we wield a badge, taser and gun. Some of us present biased news stories.

Bringing forth the implicit racial bias that is within white communities is a life and death matter. What can we do about it?

My Buddhist teacher, Anam Thubten describes something similar to implicit bias: “There is a whole ocean of thoughts and intentions below our awareness that influences our actions and words. In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, this “ocean” is called Alaya, or storehouse consciousness.

According to Anam Thubten, the remedy for these hidden motivations is meditation. Indeed, the whole purpose of meditation is to become aware of our concealed, deeply rooted tendencies.

As Anam Thubten says, we need to “Invite our hidden thoughts to tea.”

There is some scientific evidence that mindfulness can transform implicit racial bias.

Dealing with that ocean of hidden tendencies is a lifelong, perhaps many lifetimes long process. We cannot expect to catch all of it.

Anam Thubten explains that the “storehouse consciousness” is vast, like an iceberg of unconscious kleshas (mental states that cloud the mind) that are individual, ancestral and collective. Kleshas are meant to be unearthed, acknowledged and digested.

This long-term process of inquiry and purification requires enormous compassion, patience and humor. But we can do our best, and begin now. The stakes are too high not to.

Next month I will share some tools to quicken this unearthing process, for the sake of personal and relational healing and social justice.

You can schedule a somatic and intuitive coaching appointment or find out more about Dr. Vanissar Tarakali at