A Place Worth Visiting

Awakening 1

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.

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.”  

Shattered

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We talk too much, often expressing what we think we desire rather than taking time to listen to ourselves… it’s no wonder we fluctuate between anxiety and depression.  Our default focus tends to be on the anxiety producing concerns of what others are thinking or doing, on what should be or could be, and on what appears as the accepting consensus.  All the while, the depressed soul withers from its unattended cries of purpose, identity, needs, and passions.  It’s hard to explain this to the disquieted person.  It seems it has become easier to increase dosages and wait in line for a prescription than to address the pressing matter of who we really are, what living is really about, and how to live according to our individual purpose.  We live in a sedated society, medicated by detached practitioners who themselves, through ignorance, evade the    real issues and causes of anxiety, depression, addiction, and other ailments.

Anxiety, Depression: Signs of Spiritual Anemia

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The soul requires your attention.  If it’s depression or anxiety we experience, before we seek to medicate, we need to ask ourselves how much time are we spending nourishing our souls.  While we may spend time balancing the physical and social aspects  of our lives, the soul may remain neglected signaling ‘hunger’ through the pangs of restlessness and melancholy.  Often, someone who is experiencing a generalized form of anxiety or depression will discover that little time has been vested in soul-enriching activities that restore emotional and spiritual balance.  So before a discussion on medications takes place, an exploration of wellness activities should be discovered.  These may include:  

Meditate

Meditation has been proven to significantly reduce anxiety.  In fact, there is research proving that meditation is just as effective as prescribed medications in managing anxiety.

Read

Reading increases awareness and can help improve the ability to understand what is going on within you.  It also helps with shifting focus away from what you are experiencing to being in tune with the plot and characters of the story.  

Laugh

Laughing or even the act of smiling releases pleasure creating chemicals in the brain, giving off a sense of well-being.  Engaging in content or with people that make you laugh is a sure way to combat the imbalance of ‘feel good’ neutrotransmitters in the brain of those suffering with depression and/or anxiety.  

Many times, our moods are worsened by overthinking or catastrophizing.  A “keep it simple” approach in which we spend time devoted to the deeper part of ourselves is important as a starting point to manage our moods before reassessing and exploring further solutions.  

7 Billion OD’d

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Addiction pertains to all of us.  Though the problem may not be substances or compulsions, the condition of addiction is universal and we all experience it to some degree.  Every time we turn away from what is true, what is good, what is just, what is virtuous- we take another “hit” in favor of what seems gratifying.  While it may seem harmless-to look away or evade your responsibility-it erodes the soul and gradually removes us from our nature of loving, caring, feeling, uniting, connecting, etc.  Being unable to face the reality that we are living in contrary to our nature, we continue to turn away, drifting further into pleasures and distractions until anxiety, or depression, or crisis signals us to take action.  Recovery is a return to the fundamental aspects of being a person… it is the state of answering life’s questions with action of what is good for the world and what is my responsibility in this given moment.  Recovery limits or all together turns away from distractions and pleasures that get in the way of this responsibility.  

Bottom and Birth

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I’ve come to realize that at the core of every relapse, underneath the distress and volatility of each craving, there is a sincere and desperate cry for reality… a reality tht lives out love, wisdom, and truth in its purest form.

All the rituals and practices of the major organized religions cannot parallel the moment a person hits rock bottom. There are no scripts, no pretensions, no rehearsed utterances…just a man or woman bearing their soul, pleading for healing, for answers- sending their cry into the void in hopes that Something or Someone will come.  It’s miraculous to watch.  You’ll never see someone as connected to their natural state as that.  It’s similar to watching the miracle of birth.  Being able to be a part of moments like this, I’ve discovered that there is something greater than ourselves watching over Its creation and I’m convinced loves us.

Smile Through Storms

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“Pick me up and throw me where you will.  Wherever I land I shall keep the god within me happy…” -Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

I’ve heard many stories from people in recovery dealing with obstacles, some so severe I wondered how they were managing to stay clean and sober.  Some had lost their homes to foreclosure.  Some were laid off from work.  And some had even lost children to illness.  In every account, the same statement reappeared at the end of each share, “But I didn’t drink” or “I didn’t pick up”… “no matter what.”  These people were living proof that something profound had taken place within, a spiritual awakening.  Though the external reality of their lives were constant and difficult, there was a wise and directing consciousness beneath what they presented. This consciousness was impenetrable- although their lives were shaken, they were far from broken.  

Recovery is spiritual awareness.   People become aware of the divinity within and make a decision to honor it on a daily basis.  Outside circumstances such as death, divorce, and financial problems cannot influence the spiritual life within.  Many people in AA refer to this idea as the “98 Burn”, a statement made on page 98 of the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book text which states “job or no job, wife or no wife…burn the idea into the consciousness of every man that he can get well regardless of anyone.”  While our world may be shaken or everything seems to be crumbling down around us, we must acknowledge the god inside us, unfazed, smiling, and always willing to direct us towards the next step.  Stability, healing, and recovery depend not on what happens to us but on the reckoning and daily practice of honoring the divine life within. 

Stir

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Periodically, I like to meditate on a couple of things that help restore and elicit a sense of gratitude.  It constitutes a period of contemplation evoking powerful emotions of joy and a state of thankfulness.  First, I think of a difficult or frightening moment in the past I eventually overcame.  I think of how, by great fortune, I was spared of the worst possible outcome of the event.  For example, I once slammed on the breaks right on time in traffic avoiding a fatal collision with an 18 wheeler.  Or I was called to cover a different unit on the day I was scheduled to see a patient who had been caught with a shank in his cell.  On both such occasions, I was spared and I didn’t have to be.  Many people die everyday from such unfortunate occurrences.  I like to think that the time I’m given beyond these moments are added bonuses that I should embrace and do as much as I can with the “complimentary hours.”  

The second thing I contemplate on is recalling all the people I’ve known, both directly and indirectly, who are battling or have battled serious life conditions such as terminal and chronic illnesses, addiction, severe mental health issues, homelessness, incarceration, abuse, and other forms of prolonged suffering.  I think of how if there is a universal good that exists in the world then perhaps these people serve a great purpose.  Perhaps, through divine wisdom they are the ones chosen to bear it for now so that I won’t have to.  

As macabre and dark as it can appear, surprisingly these two exercises cultivate a genuine kind of gratitude where the effects are  immediately felt.  Suddenly, the coffee tastes fresh, people become more loving, and the possibilities endless.  

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