The kindness of this blog's readers has given me courage enough to post an article I wrote years ago. It was a starting place for me, which no one wanted to publish, although everyone said it was valuable. It wasn't Buddhist enough for somme Buddhist publications, and I do not know American Psychiatric Notation, so the Psych Journals wouldn't print it. Obviously, it isn't about dolls, though dolls have played a major part in my healing, as an adult. I am much more together now than when I wrote this article, with a great reduction in the number of "parts" or "inner people".
This article has no graphic details, but many people will disagree with different parts of it. Anyway, here it is.
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Buddhism, Multiplicity, and Disability: Methods That Help
by Lynn Cicada
One of the things no one wants to think about is that little paragraph in the back of psychology or social work textbooks which states that disabled children are more likely to be abused and
neglected than their non-disabled counterparts. But life has offered me no choice other than to
think of it. I am totally blind, and have lost half of my hearing. As a result of prolonged abuse
by family members and abuse/neglect by persons at the state school for the blind, (attended for
the best part of 14 years,) I now have what used to be called Polyfragmented Multiple
Personality Disorder. It is now called DID.
A number of therapists have advised me to “meditate.” What all of them had in mind was a calming non-structured meditation. Every time I tried, it only provided voices in my head
another chance to flood my mind with their clammor and sensations. Or, they quarreled, fought,
and threatened bodily harm to one another. This was not helpful. I have spoken to another
Buddhist multiple who also benefits more from structured meditation practice and to 2 formerly
Christian multiples, , who finds unstructured meditation useless. One finds it to be a free space
for creating new alters ( separated parts of the mind, sometimes called “parts or people”) to
handle whatever problems are occurring at the time. The other simply “zones out” and “loses
time”, (wakes up not knowing what was just happening or where she is now.) As the Insight
Meditation teacher Jack Kornfield says in his,”Meditations With Heart”, it wasn’t the mental
patients he worked with who needed meditation. They needed connections: to themselves, to
their bodies, and to the outside world. It was the clinicians, working with them all day long,
who got the most benefit from meditation.
What is helpful are differing kinds of structured meditations. With my in and out
breaths I might silently recite some of the many phrases suggested by Zen Master Thich Naht
Han like, “mountain, solid,” or “There is space, I am free.” There are many other such phrases,
to be used for the qualities needed at a given time. Now I can produce a mind calming effect,
while staying with a stressful situation by repeating them silently, in rhythm with breathing. Next comes
imagining what it would be or is like to feel those things I am saying. Such feelings are rare in
my life, but are becoming more common as I practice. While practicing, I can keep my mind
mostly free of terror, even in the midst of a conflict. This, for me, is invaluable progress.
Other structured techniques include: counting breaths, and starting over when my mind runs
away, holding my breath, then breathing in and out very slowly as it seems that “internal
dialogue” stops with breathing, , chanting traditional mantras, but inserting the names of others
or myself, as they or I need help, drumming and singing, or playing a “Singing Bowl”.
Playing the Singing Bowl seems to focus all or many of my “inner people” together and
concentrate energy. While playing the Singing Bowl I am aware of no thoughts. It seems that
everyone inside me is listening. Some “Inner people” are helped by using the Singing Bowl,
with care and moderation, to unblock areas of the body holding repressed strong emotions or
conflicts. I place it gently on such an area, while lying on my back with a straight spine, and tap
or play it. After such a “treatment” upset feelings are likely to emerge to be vented, and I try to
make time for this to happen. As the Singing Bowl is very powerful, it is probably best to use it
to treat oneself only with the advise of a qualified teacher.
Simply learning to allow one's self to stop and breathe in a stressfull situation is helpful. Walking meditation is also helpful, as it connects breathing, thinking, and movement.
But probably the most helpful technique I have found is the Tibetan practice of Tong-len. If you aren’t familiar with this practice I would recommend “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advise for
Difficult Times” by Anne Pema Chodron, as well as her other books and recordings. His
Holiness, the Dalai Lama also describes this practice in “The Art of Happiness,” written with
psychiatrist Howard C. Cutler. Tong-len can be used to help in many ways. We multiples can
learn that many “normal” seeming people are motivated by the same terrors and rages which
beset us, though maybe to a lesser degree. This can help in overcoming feelings of isolation and
alienation. I have felt not a part of the human race for most of my life. And though I still often
feel little connection to others, Tonglen has helped me begin connecting with one individual at a
time, a little at a time.
Tonglen has helped me most with my own internal “people.” When one of them threatens to
harm me or another I can breathe in his/her rage and fear. I say so silently on an in breath.
Then, picture coming from inside my own center those things I wish to give that internal “self”
instead. With my out breath I can whisper, chant, or think, of the healing thing which is needed.
There is a Tibetan idea that one can grow from making friends with demons. my own inner
torturers become much less “demonic” when the time is taken to care for them in this way.
I try not to supress them, another important Buddhist idea, but listen to them and share their pain
when they are ready to vent it, rather than allowing them to harm the body we all inhabit, or
Speaking of internal “demons” (or split off parts of the personality) the practice of Chod, as
taught by Tsultrim Allione has also been of help. Though I find it hard to concentrate long
enough to get through her guided meditations, I have found them very beneficial, when I can do
so. Her audio book, “Cutting Through Fear” has been of much aid.
I think it beneficial to become familiar with the principles of Buddhism, such as the Four Noble
Truths, and the Eight-Fold Path, and with basic meditation practice and posture before going on
to practices such as Tonglen or Chod. I am very glad to have read other books first and to have
been in a Sangha for two years before discovering these more advanced practices. My Sangha
does not know how hard it is to attend, or that I am a multiple.
A book which helps me when I get discouraged is Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s “Shambhalah,
the Sacred Path of the Warrior.” I am not very good at the mostly unstructured kind of
meditation recommended in this book, but have received from it an alternate view of myself and
my place between Earth and Heaven. This view says I am good enough, as I am and is thus quite
different from some of the experiences I have undergone in therapy, having a psychiatric
diagnosis attached to my name,and in living as a person with disabilities. I do not understand
the idea of “magic” discussed in this book. But the book helps maintain my determination to
work at coping with, rather than running from, terror,a major part of the lives of every person I
have met who is multiple.
Another vital concept is what I call “overness.” Maybe a person doesn’t get this concept until
he/she is able. The kind of abuse which creates multiplicity leaves such a strong imprint on so
many facets of a person that it can be nearly impossible to believe that the past is over.
Strangely, no therapist ever talked with me about this. I lived (and sometimes still do) in a
horrible time warp of the past and they all seemed to have assumed that I believed in a leniar
time line, as they did. Not so. Once something truly brutal happens to a
person or a people, that person or group of people always live with the knowledge that it can
happen again! This is especially true if a traumatic time lasts for years. I always know it can
reoccur, in a way which someone who hasn’t been there does not.
I had been thinking about the ideas of relaxing, opening up more to the world, and forgiving my
abusers, all somewhat alien ideas to practice, though they sounded good. But how can you do
any of these things if the past is not definitely over? Sometimes I think therapists put carts
before horses in this way. After all, it is much more comfortable to talk of forgiveness than of
torture and continuing terror.
In listening to an audio recording of “The Art of Happiness” I came upon a chapter about
forgiveness. His Holiness said that one reason we could let go of the past was that it was over.
For some reason, possibly just right timing, this idea took hold and I ran with it as follows. Yes,
evil, painful, and cruel chances can befall me again. But it is not so likely now that I am adult.
It is at least impossible for the exact same rotten things to recurr. Why? Because I am
working hard at changing myself. I am not the same “people” I was as a child, teenager, or even
as a young adult. I am stronger, more associated, and very stubbornly determined to do all
possible to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself.
Though it doesn’t feel real, it is true that some of my abusers are dead. Some live in other cities.
I am learning what constitutes abuse and how to avoid it before it begins. So even if I were
to be abused again, the circumstances would be different. I am working to change and grow
all the time, and would not react the same ways as in the past. But therapists need to know that
adulthood and body size make little difference in protecting one’s self from abuse without a
true sense of “overness” of the past and the knowledge that one is growing and changing.
Safety is a prerequisite for this sense of “overness” to develop.
Forgiveness, I have been told for years, is crucial to healing. But no one really defined it in a
way which made sense. Zen Master Thich Naht Han suggests imagining one’s abusers as
vulnerable children who were themselves abused. This helped some. But I have not
abused others or done the things my family did, even when tempted. Some have suggested
feeling warm, compassionate, and fuzzy things, then giving these feelings to my abusers. I don’t
have a good idea how to feel warm and fuzzy things toward myself or anyone else. Some
suggested remembering the death of Jesus on the cross and that He took my pain. First, if He
took it, why do I still feel it? Second, Jesus’ death was used as a weapon of guilt against me
ever since I can remember. Third, how can I forgive things still burried deep inside?
What I have learned is that for me, forgiveness is a process, rather than a single act. It began as
an act of my will, I chose to forgive my abusers because it felt right. Then when I
could feel it, I would pray that the suffering of my family would decrease, and that if they had
any willingness for healing, that willingness should increase.
For a long time, I stayed at this stage, until a very personal experience changed it.
All of my life, as a disabled person, certain Christians have felt free to judge me, assuming that
I must have sinned grievously, to be so disabled. Some “new age” Buddhists have asked me
about the hideous karmic debt accumulated in my past, due to my present disabilities. Though I
think such judgements are not good for their karma, and believe that disabled people may come
as teachers and for many reasons, I stopped being angry and fighting these ideas one day.
Dispite the cruelty of these judgmental people, I asked myself, “What if they are right? How would I feel?”
When I looked at all the pain in my life, the abuse itself, extreme difficulties with sexuality,
drinking, drugs, loneliness, illness, and wondering where I could stay, it was overwhelming.
Then I added the open insults in the streets, churches, restaurants, (I was the first blind person in
my ruralarea to do many things with the aid of a dog guide) it was unbearable. There was also
humiliating discrimination in housing, education, and employment. Adding up the general
categories of misery in my life, made it unendurable! Then when I asked, “How would I feel if I
made another suffer this much, or even half this much?” All I could do was cry and say “I’m
I still think it wrong to judge others on the basis of disability,or for any other basic circumstance
of life in which a person finds themselves. This judging is cruel, hurtful, and usually done out of fear on the part of the judge. But whatever happened in the past, the fact that I might have brought that amount of suffering into the world, (and if one believes in many incarnations, we all probably have,) shed a new light on my past.
I saw my family as suffering people who had themselves been forced through miserable
childhoods. They had passed their pain onto me. If they were not healed, they and I would just
come back and pass it out all over again, or live again as victims. I saw brutality in and toward
family members back through history, from the forced expulsion of most of the Cherokee Nation
from their homes in the 1830's and through the Civil War. The amount of suffering was
crushing and appalling. All I could do was cry and pray that my abusers be reborn to loving
parents who would give them a chance to grow up whole, or that they would find their ways to
“Pure Lands”, after death. I chose to forgive them, and that for
my part, they should walk free of any negative karmic debt they had accumulated in their dealings with me.
Having nearly always turned my violence inward, I had not been forced to face the idea that I
too am capable of causing suffering and thus am culpable in this world. When others, who did
not know me, laid on the guilt, it only built my resistance to this notion. Note: this is one of the
effects of prejudice. If a multiple has caused obvious harm compassion and a “middle way” of
balanced input about the need for a behavioral change now, the multiple’s strengths, and his/her
disorder is honest and helpful. The truth doesn’t have to be spoken cruelly, it is often painful
enough to hear. Most of us multiples at least have “parts” which hate ourselves and have no
self-esteem. For me it’s a chronic problem. Acceptance by others, my wish to try and forgive,
and time alone to think about it were what helped. One admits one’s faults and failures more
readily in a safe compassionate environment than in a hostile, accusing one. But anything can
be used as one’s Path.
This experience and the change which came from it were mostly one of mind. I could not
sustain the emotional awareness of my own pain and the experience has not worked its way into
all of my disconnected “people” who hold feelings. My resolution to choose freedom from karmic debt for my abusers wavers. But things have begun to change. I have begun
wondering how to feel better about myself, since this life is mine to live now and not my former
abuser’s. There have also been “self-hate attacks” during which I wished to harm myself and
through refusing to do so, have realized that the one I really wanted to hurt was a specific
abuser. I would let that picture live in my mind for a few moments, not holding onto it, but
acknowledging its truth. Then it went away. When you get tired enough of a specific mental
habit or behavior you can stop it. Following any decision to do so, life will present you with
very many opportunities to put your decision into practice or not. I began stopping a hidden self-
mutilation by forcing myself to tell the same person each time I did it. I hated the feelings of
shame these confessions provoked, even though the other person did not shame me. Also, I
began realizing that most of my behaviors of mind and some of body were simply distractions to
keep barriers between inner “people” up so I did not have to face awful feelings or
My allowing violent mental pictures to emerge may sound contradictory to forgiveness. But when I was desperately busy trying to hold together a tolerable self-image, (while truly believing I was only damage left behind by abuse) I couldn’t get angry. Getting mad, I thought, made me just like my abusers. It seemed better to harm myself, as the rage had to go somewhere. Yet, if they walk free of their karmic debts to me, it becomes my job to stop focusing on them and deal with my own feelings. So I must find ways to accept my hatred and channel it into paths which don’t harm others. This is all still new and not quite clear, but I hope sharing it may help someone else begin the process of disconnecting from the past. The teachings of Zen Master
Thich Naht Han on “embracing our anger” have helped me as has Tonglen. I also found aid
from the chapter of “The Art of Happiness” which deals with self-hate. The practice of “Single
pointed concentration” described in “An Open Heart” by His Holiness the Dalai Lama was helpful as well, because it put a positive image into my mind which occasionally pops up spontaneously now, when I need encouragement.
As a Buddhist multiple I don’t need much convincing about the suffering of existence or its
impermanent nature. What I hope will help Buddhists as well as multiples of other faiths or no
faith are focussing, calming, self-accepting, and associative practices. For me these are: 1.
Structured, rather than non-structured meditation; including walking meditation, which brings
one’s body into association with breathing and thinking. 2. Physical activities which are
repeated and involve a number of senses, such as drumming, singing or chanting, hearing what is
sung or chanted, the use of incense, playing the Singing Bowl and using it to unlock blocks, and
slightly altered (no pun intended) forms of prayer which involve chanting, breathing, and
thinking to include current people and situations. 3. A program of brief daily physical exercise
combined with focused breathing. Brief exercise periods are easier for all of us to do than
lengthy ones. This may be especially true for multiples who have difficulty concentrating. 4.
The beginning of a true sense of “Overness” of the past, 5. Doing Tonglen for myself/selves and
others, 6. The practice of Chod, and concepts derived from other Buddhist books. I deliberately study the most helpful concepts whenever I become
aware that a new “group of inner people” is out, so that all of me eventually becomes familiar
with them. This means a lot of study!
Finally, you must choose, usually with the will, not with feelings, whether or not to walk toward
the path to forgiveness of others and yourself/selves. Admitting where you really are with this
issue is necessary. You cannot force it and neither can your therapist. You can only be as
willing as you are able and look for opportunities when you honestly want to forgive. Starting
with something small may help. It does not mean going back into an abusive situation. This equals what Anne Pema Chodron calls "idiot compassion" and
would only create more suffering, not less. Remember, the purpose of forgiveness is the relief
of terrible suffering. It may not be safe to tell your abusers you have chosen to forgive them.
But you will know and it will help in freeing you to deal with your own feelings. Forgiveness
and self-love are the only things of which I know to help in changing patterns of violence,
whether we turn violence inward or outward. If one believes in reincarnation,then forgiveness
and compassion may be the only things we can do to help our abusers to break their violent
patterns as well. These qualities may also help in breaking strong emotional bonds to them for
May this writing benefit all multiples and those who wish to help us.