The Lost Medicine of Art

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Art, in all its genuineness, is the most despised talent.  Conformists have always attempted to censor or obliterate it all together.  Men tend to despise what they cannot control and make subservient to their needs and agendas and so they will attempt, in every manner psychological, physical, or political, to suppress it.  The art form at its purest is the antithesis of rigidity and the sheep-minded.  Art stands alone, its origins stem from beyond human awareness and only manifests itself in the act of creation of the artist.  The art form defies all logic and presupposed manners of rational thought, and yet communicates in unexplainable ways our deepest yearnings and curiosities.  It transcends worlds and reminds us of a universal state of being we have somehow been severed from.  Art is freedom.  Raw, independent, unconscious, deep, pure, unrestrained, stoic, and childlike.  Art is the barefooted mistress, unveiling, slinging her hijab towards her oppressors.  It is the baby, breaking free from the bottle, taking the militant crawl towards the kitchen for a handful of ham, toothless and all.  Art is the free-minded man that questions the herd-imposed beliefs of his peers, at the expense of being ostracized.  Except art, in all its omnipotence and truth, unfazed and certain, will part its victims unscathed.  While poems may burn and statues fall, art laughs, dances away, and takes its residence elsewhere.  

Art is the epitome of freedom.  It seeks artists.  It’s not reserved for a selected few, but to the daring and courageous who will set out to explore the realm of the infinite.  We often resonate with its various forms because it is a part of who we are, our native universal language.  Suppressing art out of conformity, rigidity, and fear creates diseased individuals and societies where the imprisoned idea transforms into untamed monsters. More on this next time…

The Problem of Anger

2b0f816b-0376-4d85-bfc6-5095b070150eAnger is the emotion by which all life depends.  Everything we create has its source in the emotions of passion and rage.  The great artists of history never abandoned feelings of anger in their work.  Instead, they used it as fuel-an indication that something of great importance had be created.  The intensity of anger keeps the fire burning when we set out on a particulate project and, if properly embraced, ensures it is carried out to its finish.   It’s common today for many of us to take on a negative view of anger, that it is something to be avoided and indicates something may be inherently wrong with us if we experience it.  It is exactly this belief, of a need to suppress anger, that creates disorder and violence.  Many young men I’ve worked with tend to be emotionally-repressed. They are afraid of their own anger and as a result behave in passive aggressive ways, showing their anger in subtle but destructive tendencies.  They find that their avoidance of anger has deadened their quality of life and halted the creative process.  Once the emotion of anger has been reintegrated, the person is able to create, to formulate, to take on the daring task of leaving one’s mark in the world.  

Anger is a dualistic power.  It can be used to destroy or create.  For this reason, it is a primary emotion, not something underlining another emotion.  An emotional state of frustration can well be telling us something must be created and you are the one chosen to do it, and it will tug at you endlessly until it its demands are obliged.  We cannot afford to overlook something so natural and evident in everyday life.  

The Truth of Passivity

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Passivity can often be masked as a proud portrayal of humility or spiritual surrender.   We must often take note of the origins of stagnation, disinterest, and even our rationalizations for not taking steps towards our personal goals.  The greatest enemy of progress is not to be found outside of ourselves but within the ignored segments of the psyche.  We may find reasons for our lack of execution of a particular task within the immediate environment, but these are only projections or excuses for our own resistances.  The environment as a blockade to progress only becomes a relief, a deflection for taking responsibility for the abandonment of our life goals.  It is much easier to attribute a lack of time for not working on a project than to face the suppressed reality that we fear stepping into the unknown world of creativity- it is the fear of our own potential that must be dealt with daily, many times from moment to moment.  

I have often encountered people that must make a definite change for the sake of their well-being, as continuing on in a particular behavior will inevitably lead to destruction, and have found that underlining their interpretations, they are profoundly terrified of their highest potential.  It is not a fear of failure that keeps us in misery but rather it’s a fear of what we can possibly become if we took initiative and pledged to set out to accomplish what we desire.  We may hide behind a passive life and settle for mediocrity but in many cases this can prove fatal.  People thrive from striving, competing, and improving themselves.  Giving ourselves excuses to continue hiding behind messages of “accepting one’s lot” or success equates trouble and evil, is a deliberate sedation of truth and life.  A patient I once treated who had a history of multiple overdoses, often victimized as a child, also victimized herself as an adult.  She once decided to leave treatment, telling the staff she did not care about her recovery or her life in general.  With tears in her eyes, and words that disarmed the staff with pity and shock, I looked into depths of her being and said “of course you don’t care, it serves you well… if you did care then you’d have to look honestly inside yourself and see what’s wrong, take responsibility towards improving your life and making something of your existence.  It’s so much easier to not care, your addiction loves that you don’t care because if you did you’d probably become someone you’d love and care about, and in turn people would be drawn to you and love you.”  She was able to digest my words without running away and thankfully continued her treatment.  It’s so much easier to live a passive life but it’s also the hardest and cruelest thing we can do to ourselves. We destruct under the guise of meekness and never discover the hero inside of us.  Keeping our “excuses” for not taking responsibility within our awareness can be frightening and overwhelming, but once we commit to doing so and carrying on, we will prove to ourselves we are more powerful than we could have ever imagined.  

The Hero and Villian in You

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A great example of the character transformation process in the individual can best be demonstrated in the stories and movies of the superhero protagonist.  I watched a trailer last week of the movie, Venom.  Within the three minute peak, there was an accurate depiction of the process of the emergence that takes place during an essential change of personal character.  In the trailer, the main character is a weak, plain, uptight soft spoken man in his mid 30s. He appears to be a pushover who gets lost in the overwhelming surroundings of circumstances and people.  There seems to be an untold process underway that screams a necessary change must take place within the personality of the person or the character will never emancipate himself from the grips of passivity and victimization.  This change manifests itself into the unexpected “repossessing of the soul” in the form of an indestructible god-like serpent that strives to take complete control of the character’s actions.  In the clip, giant tentacles involuntarily break loose from the protagonist’s body, pummeling and subduing the “bad guys.”  Through it all, the character demonstrates a loss of control, helplessly pleading to the entity within for a share in control, to which the monster replies something like “we do what we want, is that a deal?”  I have to admit that I haven’t watched the movie, but I can take a chance of predicting that the weak character progressively comes to terms with the unknown monster within him, he learns to live with it, possibly destroying or integrating it into his weaker known traits, and utilizes “the shadow” to conquer the opposing evil in the external world.  

The process of transformation often takes place in multidimensional phases, sometimes occurring with or without our knowledge- but our knowledge greatly influences the kind of path it takes.  First, there is an unrecognized knowledge of the dark powerful traits of our personality.  We carry through life wearing a mask (the persona) and living by shoulds or over-identifying with passivity or timidness.  Then, the suppression of the powerful impulses emerge into waking consciousness seeking existence due to constant repression.  These are the unidentified parts often taking a primitive form of expression and can create many disturbances and chaos in daily life.  This is where destructive behaviors form.  These forms have the ability to annihilate the individual without proper integration into awareness. Lastly, given the level of insight and willingness, the individual confronts the shadow, becomes knowledgeable of its tricks, intentions, and desires, and through effort and self reflection properly merges the shadow into the light of awareness.  Without this awareness and work, the shadow becomes a fully independent, overpowering force calling the shots in the host’s life.  

This process which takes place in the human psyche is as real and evident as the external world.  A suppressed shadow will seek expression with or without consent of the individual.  It is better to perceive and confront a lurking enemy than to pretend he is not there at all.  Embracing these monsters inside of us enables us to properly handle the monsters without.  

A Place Worth Visiting

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Any form of personal distress warrants an attentive and honest review of our lives.  Perhaps, there is something in our character that has been put off for so long that we’re unable to make the connection between a defective trait and a present situation.  Perhaps, the tendency to ignore the elephant in the room is the root cause of chronic anxiety.  One thing is certain- our problems grow in proportion to the degree we ignore or suppress them.  Whether we try to suppress or medicate reality, the shadows remain and they lurk between the realm of the unconscious, feeding and growing off their neglect until they have grown to the point of inevitable crisis.   When investigating sudden mental breakdowns or intense crisis in individuals we find that they are rarely abrupt and random.  They are the byproducts of an accumulation of piled up suppressed and unattended problems in the individual.  The infant shadows that were thrown into the basement of the mind have now grown into gigantic beasts.  They break out of the hidden parts of a person, seeking validation and expression, only by now they are much harder to control and wreak havoc in the outer and inner life.  This reality plays itself in the idiom “what we fail to bring to the light, multiples in the dark.”

The founder of depth analytical psychology, Carl Jung proposed the idea that the unconscious and conscious function as a regulatory system, much like the human body.  If the body becomes too cold, given it is in decent health, its regulatory system will work to raise the temperature at attempts of bringing it back to balance.  The mind will function in like manner, in which the contents of both the conscious and unconscious function as complimentary and compensating systems.  An avoidance and ignorance of who we are, the suppression of difficult truths, will always create a breakout of the ignored content- often times in undesirable and hideous ways.  For example, a consciously persistent tendency to look at oneself and the world in a one-sided manner of perfection often produces feelings of terror and anxiety stemming from the hidden parts of the mind, many times so overwhelmingly powerful that it results in destructive behaviors such as eating disorders and substance abuse.  There are many examples of this sort in people that have grown up in “perfectionistic” families or in homes where open communication was not encouraged.  One-sidedness, where the shadowy and unfavored parts of our reality are ignored can lead to the involuntary emancipation of their exaggerated opposites.  It is not difficult to understand this concept, once we examine our fears and anxieties and line them up with the more formidable and essential truths we consciously avoid.  The trait of seeking control, for example, may play itself out in the irrational and disproportionate phobia of ants.

So, what are we to do about such a problem?  How do we know what we may not even be aware of if chronic avoidance has led to genuine forgetting?  The first step is going beyond any form of political correctness and gentle honesty.  It is a willing commitment to confront the undesirable reality of our darkest parts in order to appropriately integrate them into our conscious waking lives.  It is the daunting and necessary step of being brutally honest with the “inner dragons” and “demons” of our nature and the willingness to fight hand in sword and seeing what or who emerges on the other side.  It’s through this journey where we find who we really are, a journey that parts from the light into the deepest trenches of our defects.  It’s the place where we take off the masks, stop looking at the atrocities of the world with such astonishment because we understand the horrors live inside of us as well.  It’s knowing that history and the present with its most ingenious occurrences as well as its malevolence has a home in the human heart.  It’s “Know Thyself and To Thine Own Self Be True” and emerging from such a reality fully awakened.

The Open Door

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If there is a struggle of any kind at this time that overwhelms you, ask yourself two things:  what does it mean? and where is it leading me?  Our minds are inclined to believe that it’s only through light and bliss that we’ll obtain freedom.  But, by now we should know this is utter and complete bull****.  We find the invaluable in the darkness, we obtain the diamond through clawing our way out of the dung hill.  It’s the place that we often put off from approaching but it’s the only way towards realization and balance.  Living a one sided life in which the primary focus is positive thinking  is a denial and rupture of the human condition. The reality is life is brutal filled with battles for us to engage and conquer.  Every one has a battle to overcome but you cannot overcome what you don’t know what you’re fighting.  The denial of our wounds only makes them worse.  It’s necessary to stare down those dark places in our lives, take a stand, and be willing to enter through the dark corridors of our being.  This is how authentic character is built.  Deciding to put fear aside and face reality, face our wounds, is the emancipating and heroic act of escaping the prison of stagnation.  It’s marks the beginning of character.  It’s the only way we come to realize how powerful we are. 

Running

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More often than not we will find that our discontent with outer reality is a reflection of the neglected and unresolved yearnings of our soul.  Our displeasure with some aspect of our career often points to a conflict or unresolved dilemma of our life’s purpose;  a pattern of problems with particular types of people mirrors a hidden and ugly quality we would rather not face in ourselves;  or a preoccupation with trivial fears and phobias may be set off by failing to surrender to a greater internal battle.  A failure to engage in deep psychological work to find the origin of such external distress that really arises from within tends to lead us in an illusory path of seeking relief.  We may habitually change jobs, partners, places of residence, religions, friends, etc- all at an attempt to be released from the debilitating internal struggle of psychological conflicts that most times erroneously reflect external circumstances, people, and events.  These attempts prove to be futile in the long run as the person may seek release through extreme escape behaviors of severe isolation and compulsive habits.  When we perceive there is no where to turn to, when life gets incredibly uncomfortable to bear, the result is the beginning of addictive behavior.  Addiction is a desperate attempt to find release from external and internal conflict when resolution cannot be found- it is the mind’s most resourceful way of getting free from a build up of psychological madness that threatens to obliterate the little comfort that is left.

Addiction personifies a universal problem.  Society is on the go and yet so stagnant, so fast paced and yet ridden with a melancholic disposition.  We are going no where fast, tending to problems erroneously or superficially, fatally ignoring the cries of our psychological lives.  The end result always being a series of temporary departures from reality where our lives and structure remain unchanged.  Perhaps its time to reckon that we have missed the mark, that we’ve been looking for answers in all the wrong places and as long as we continue in the same direction, we won’t find peace but a disruption, or even worse, an obliteration of life.

Healing begins when we are tired, when we stop to say there is something wrong here, and perhaps it’s within me.  Facing oneself honestly is painful-the mirror doesn’t change to our opposing responses or sensibilities.  However, it is only through the undertaking of swallowing hard truth about ourselves and deciding to take action is when the possibility of a better life is made apparent.

Shaman, Shamania

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Our ancestors sought answers by journeying far and wide, seeking spiritual leaders for guidance and answers to life’s most pressing issues.  Many times, they sacrificed their lives in order to listen to the wise counsel of the healer, the devoted shaman.  The shaman was the median between the gods and the people.  He would summon spirits through deep contemplation and rituals, receiving divine life saving knowledge from beyond.  The shaman wore clothing that distinctly separated himself from the community, wore specific painting designs on his face, chanted freely towards the spirits in language unknown to the laymen, and danced in a convulsive like fashion.  Among those that sought out the shaman was a universal understanding that this process was the way of attaining help, direction, and insight into specific issues.  This understanding was ingrained in those that came before us and is a part of our present day make-up.  The chanting shaman is a representation of hope, renewal, and rebirth.  The outcome of seeking these “medicine men” was always one of healing, or at least a consolation of some kind.  

Fast forward present day, the most influential form of entertainment is heavily populated with shaman-like artist drawing in millions of young men and women, who as many of us, are seeking genuine and concise answers to life’s most essential questions.  The “medicine man” effect lures in crowds through senseless chants, tattooed faces, belligerent dances, strange smoke, lanky bare chested men receiving their share of the gold from their performance-and those eager to find answers, while entertained- come empty and leave empty.    

By far, this art form is extremely damaging to the psyche because it taps into the human drive of seeking truth and direction.  While we have moved away from the primitive days of climbing mountains for divine wisdom to climbing stages at an attempt for the same, the result of the latter creates psychological and social decay.  The messages we wholeheartedly yearn have been completely distorted into those that promote violence, hedonism, drug use, promiscuity, addiction, objectification of women, the breakdown of family and community, and the devaluation of morality.  We must all stop to ask ourselves what effect the shift from “knowledge from above” to “f*** b******, get money” has on our youth.  

There is no doubt that such senseless music and artists should be banned from our society.  More importantly though, and more effectively, it would benefit the individual and society to carefully filter content that resembles anything that promotes social garbage and deceptively disguises itself in the images of the “wise old men” of the past.  

Turn

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Society demands the addict to “stop” yet has no real grasp on what recovery means to begin with.  To a lesser degree, we all play out escape behaviors, saturating ourselves with unreality and ideals, falling into the traps of fabricated definitions of humanity.  Yet we demand the addict to stop and do everything wrong to make him stop because the addiction, although more or less in all of us, is more visible in the drug addict.  The remedy for any addiction is reality, a reality that questions one’s purpose, what the world is, and who or what created us— and in turn live according to such questions.  But as long as we turn away from reality, we turn towards addiction and enable others to continue the path of a diluted and destructive existence. 

4 Words

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Shuffling papers, meeting with clients, crisis interventions, meetings, family contacts, documentation…Getting busy, staying busy, feeling productive.  And then a shadow emerges out of a corridor, a half-broken figure, contorted, confused and healing- to thank you but you can’t remember for what… a smile and then you remember you only placed your hand on his shoulder and uttered four words.  The smile is reciprocated and you realize that this whole time you’ve been busy with nothing and the most productive thing you’ll ever do is tell someone “I’m here for you.”  

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