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I’ve got a personal story and a powerful metaphor to share with you this week.
A couple months ago, after unpacking the RV from our last trip, I had a big soft sided box shaped laundry basket out in the living room that I had been using to bring loads back into the house, but just hadn’t put away yet.
In case you didn’t know already, we have two fur-baby chihuahua’s who are the loves of our lives… but who bark. Because they’re chihuahua’s! Anyway, they’re not too bad, but they do like to bark when my son comes in and out, which is a LOT, or when anyone comes near the door (which isn’t a lot) but it was driving me nuts.
One day, in an exhausted moment, I decided to try something. If they barked excessively I picked them up and put them (gently) in the laundry basket and said “No bark! you wanna go in this bag box?”. And then I would walk away until they were quiet and then bring them out, which was usually less than a minute or two.
The theory was, they don’t want to be separated from us, and they would get it that if they continue this behavior they can’t be with us when they do.
I only did this a couple of times, and literally the next day when they started to bark and I said “no bark. Do you want to go in the bag box?” Our beloved Juni ran OVER to the laundry basket and attempted to put HERSELF in it!! 😱😭😭😭💔
I immediately said “AWWWWW!!!” and started cry-laughing because I instantly recognized the HUGE METAPHOR and symbolism here. And, because I felt like an absolute ass hole.
It had taken our sweet innocent girl a total of ONE DAY to learn that when she did something that was perfectly natural for her to do (speak up about something she see’s or hears), and it displeased me, she put HERSELF in the bag box. Just like I, and so many of us, have learned to do too!
This was the pavlovian dog response, right before my eyes, but in a way that totally hit home like it never had before.
We have all learned and absorbed from our childhood that when we did or said or asked for something natural to us, that others didn’t like, we got punished and/or there was a withdrawal of love until we straightened out (and behaved how they wanted us to instead).
It was the expected consequence. And in time, we learned to punish ourselves before anyone else even had to. I mean, that was the whole point of that tactic, so of course! Using fear to get people to stay in line.
So now, we put OURSELVES in the bag box.
Before anyone does or says anything.
This is how it plays out as an adult: we do something that feels good or right to us for our life and business, or we speak up (bark) and allow ourselves to be heard or seen more, and something cowers inside us and awaits the pain and punishment. And we wonder where that comes from!
We wonder why we feel totally raw inside and like we are going to get in big trouble after we make a move in our own direction!
But as adults, that pain is usually no longer coming from an authority figure, it’s just a wave of old emotional patterning and pain that instantly and automatically arises around doing anything that is not purely about making someone else happy with us.
What I realized when I saw June do this was that this was old unconscious programming in me that has learned to teach through fear instead of love. To teach by withdrawing love, instead of teaching WITH love somehow.
In my childhood if you did something that displeased someone, you got the silent treatment and got iced out. They didn’t yell or scream, they shut down and were passive aggressive. And you were left wondering what you did wrong, but knowing for sure you were obviously the one who did something wrong here, because otherwise they wouldn’t be being like this.
Now that doesn’t mean that’s how it ACTUALLY WAS, but that’s how I interpreted and experienced it as a kid (and as a young adult… and a grown ass adult).
To this day, if someone uses a period instead of an exclamation point or a heart emoji in their comments or replies to me, I start to assume I’ve done something wrong and they’re mad at me! It’s totally ABSURD and I know better now, but that Pavlovian response still rises in my nervous system anyway, even though I know better, just like it did back then.
I run and put myself in the bag box. It’s on auto-pilot.
And because I expected experiences like that, I got them in plenty of other ways!! Like going to middle school certain days to find the group of girls I was friends with suddenly were icing me out for no apparent reason and would not tell me why. Of course they did! I expected that treatment. And of course they only learned to dish out that treatment from also having received it in their own homes.
In reality other people, and our families, are always just dealing with their own feelings and their own patterns in the only way they know how to at the time. They’re dealign with their own Pavlovian responses. And then we internalize those responses based on what story our mind tells us about it.
The story my mind told about it, is that silence or lack of enthusiasm means disapproval and that someone is upset with you. But you don’t get to know why unless you ask, but you’re not gonna ask, because you’re afraid of all that passive aggressive anger you so CLEARLY feel is coming at you.
The problem is, as an adult, my mind projects this onto all kinds of situations where that is NOT happening at all!
Like thinking someone is mad at me when they are just dealing with their own feelings and it has absolutely nothing to do with me! Or like taking peoples feelings on, even when maybe it DOES have something to do with me, but is still not my responsibility to fix for them (especially if they don’t come to me to talk about whatever that is, if that’s what they need.)
My sweet Juniper Rose putting herself in the bag box after literally ONE DAY of me doing that gave me a whole new level of compassion and understanding for the YEARS of conditioning we have experienced in our lives around this, and the way our subconscious mind absolutely runs us, whether we’re aware of it or not.
This is why you might always find yourself saying “Why am I feeling like this?! I know better than this already!!” — it’s because your conscious mind DOES know better, but your unconscious and subconscious, does not. Not YET.
But don’t worry! Just as we learned to put ourselves in the bag box, we can learn to put ourselves OUT of the bag box. We can learn to have peace in our bodies, minds and lives, and to do the things that feel most natural and good to us, without the fear and shame that seems to come with that.
It’s an unlearning though… which means, it takes time.
It is deeply ingrained, yes, but the only thing we need to do to heal it is bring AWARENESS to it, to give it space, and to bring love and compassion to it when we are aware of it. The more we are aware of it, the more it starts to unravel on its own.
No matter HOW many times you see it repeat, you just bring more conscious awareness to it, and what happens is this:
We are all learning all the time. We are all growing, and all on our own unique soul journey, but we share and reflect our unconsciousness to eachother on the regular, and it can be really painful to notice that!
But don’t despair! And don’t be hard on yourself. And don’t feel overwhelmed here. I know it sounds like a lot, but it’s not as complicated as it sounds.
All that is required is more conscious presence and awareness of what’s happening in the moment, and more love and compassion for YOURSELF around those things, because that automatically and naturally results in more compassion for others. You can’t have true compassion for them, until you have it for you.
So needless to say, I put away the bag box.
Actually, I replaced the bag box with a soft sided suitcase that I laid flat on the floor by the couch… which allowed them to jump up onto the couch and over to my work chair and back down again on their own whenever they wanted. Which in turn made them feel more secure and loved, and resulted in a probably 90% reduction in the barking!
They still occasionally bark, but it’s like a few barks, instead of an incessant horrific bark-a-thon. Just like how when we shut our own voices down, they get saved up and come out sideways in a breakdown or a rampage!
But this is what I mean about magic!!! In this example, the obstacle and the pain BECAME the cure. (the bag box became the step up). As soon as there was awareness, change ensued by itself as if by magic!
I didn’t even mean to create the stair at first, the suitcase moved because I put away the bag box, and when it did Juni used it to jump up, I noticed she liked that, and so I made them a better one. The awareness of the pain led to the cure all on its own.
They felt more connected and more free as a result, and the excess barking resolved itself – my mind had no idea how to make that happen! I couldn’t see that option when I was still punishing MYSELF, and using fear as a motivator on myself. But I didn’t need to.
I worked from the inside out, and the outside re-arranged itself in that magical way it always does. I didn’t see it coming. One day I just looked up and noticed that things have changed.
I think it’s important to note that we HAVE stairs and a ramp for them in the house, I just didn’t have one up out here where I write and work. Which is another powerful metaphor about how often times, we have the resources and solutions we need right in front of us, but we simply cannot see them until our awareness has expanded and something’s healed in us… and suddenly we connect the dots.
So… where are you putting yourself in the bag box, my friend? Wherever that is, just start bringing more awareness and love to it, all the rest will sort itself out in due time. Your body and soul knows how to heal itself.
P.S. I’d like to clarify that this story and share is NOT a commentary on the merits of learning by punishment vs. reward. NOR is it a shaming of those methods. I am not saying one is superior to the other, I am saying that both exist, both are effective in their own ways and to their own ends, and each being gets to choose for themselves how they want to learn, and how they want to teach. I get to choose what feels right and true to me, and I respect others right to choose what feels right and true to them. I have done a lot of both methods in my life. And as much as I have thought myself stupid and naive for thinking love can be effective, I personally choose that direction for myself and my life now. It is hard to trust it, but I’m doing so. And the more I’ve allowed myself that freedom, the less ‘punishing’ my life has felt, and the love just grows every day.