The Paradox

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We go through hell searching for God-the Ultimate Truth.  We scavenge through churches, synagogues, study halls, temples, and mosques.  We travel abroad, leaning on walls, meditating on mountains, and ceaselessly praying in chapels.  We are relentless in encountering The Infinite.  Yet, every sincere man knows God eludes him.  Not because He isn’t there, but because in the final analysis God dwells in the last place man cares to search- within himself.  

The Art Left Behind

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I have to admit I was never a fan of Mac Miller.  But there was something about his recent passing that impacted me.  I guess, in some way, Mac Miller was a semblance, a representation of all the young men and women I had come to know over the past 13 years who had also fallen to the grips of addiction and as result went spiraling down to the harrowing end of an overdose.  Like the young rapper, many of the people I came across had artistic dispositions, possessed a unique way of looking at the world, and always expressed themselves via creative means of music and art.  Sometimes, they sang songs, poems, or played musical instruments in between therapeutic sessions.  Sometimes, I’d watch in amazement as the words rhythmically escaped their mouths, cigarette hanging out of the side of their lips, their tattooed arms bearing the faded healing needle marks flaying about with the sounds of the music.  These souls who I had come to know were soon gone, victims of drug dependency.  I could still remember the songs, the poems, the debates, the drawings many of them left behind.  It is this art, somehow clearly unfinished, that leaves behind a sense of bitterness and sorrow.  I can remember rationalizing their deaths as “a part of the disease” in the many community vigils… later, having to pull my car over succumbed by the crushing reality: Addiction is powerful…indiscriminate, and it takes the lives of young men and women who possess great potential. 

It has been through these individuals that I’ve confirmed there is something creative and divine about the addict.  The addict lives an expressive life, in a state of constant desperation to reunite with a greater reality- unfortunately, many times, the connection is an erroneous one, sought artificially through a substance.  Many addicts die in their relentless pursuit to be whole again, to be reunified with their source and relieved of their separateness.  Mac Miller and the 350 souls that die daily from drug related deaths in the US alone should remind us all that money, fame, and achievement alone does not grant us wholeness and that the ultimate source of fulfillment must be sought after to make recovery possible.  

Little Buddhas

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The traumatized psyche of a child contains a silver lining.  With time, love, and treatment, as the child enters adulthood, he or she with great skill and finesse will have an exceptional capacity of reaching high transcendental states through meditation or prayer.  These wounded souls have acquired this ability through the mechanism of dissociation- a detachment of psychological and environmental surroundings used to protect itself against further trauma.  Since meditation also requires a practice of detaching from the ego or thinking mind, these children would have already experienced and understood what most of us seek…less outside distractions and a more intimate connection with our internal world.  Perhaps, a further look into this matter will initiate a shift in which children who have been damaged by trauma can be made into “little Buddhas.”  

Laugh Out Loud

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What makes anything beautiful, what gives it life, is the experience it has had.  We stare at a certain painting and become mesmerized by something unexplainable-there is an emotion, a life, a story that it has lived.  This is the essence of all things worthwhile.  They are neither fabricated or desired.  Instead, these are the things that preserve us and provides a deeper connection to ourselves and the world around us.  To be fully in the moment entails a full participation and realization of the experience.  Experiencing moments where we are submerged in what’s occurring is the lifeblood of humanity.  A bellyaching laugh, a melancholic embrace, a joyful victory, an attentive posture-all provide the opportunity to make the most of our lives.  

Without the experience of participating in the moment, we lose an essential part of ourselves-a missing part that becomes excruciating to live with.  Before we turn to medicine to alleviate our instabilities and sorrows, let’s ask ourselves how much are we participating in the joy of living, and how much are we avoiding it through diluted means of connecting?  An emoji can never take the place of seeing a beautiful face smile.  An “lol” cannot doesn’t come close to shared laughter around a table of friends. And words types across a screen can never replace an invaluable embrace of a loved one in distress.  What makes anything beautiful is the loyal commitment to strive to engage in life as much as possible.  

Of Thy Peace

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Inside every person is the built in desire for salvation.  This need is two-fold: we want to save and be saved.  Children and adults long to encounter or become the heroes of society.  We look deep within and ponder the possibilities of saving those in great need, and we await to be relieved of our problems-to a time where our troubles will all make sense.  But rarely is the meaning of heroes, salvation, and reconciliation ever explained.  We entertain, fantasize, and pray of attaining qualities of heroship but when the process of attaining begins to happen, we give it up. This is because the character building of usefulness doesn’t come in light and power- it comes in struggles and suffering.  It comes in understanding the human condition and being able to navigate through the negative aspects of life and the mind. A person who doesn’t understand the map of insanity…of depravity, cannot save a lost soul trapped in the trenches of the underworld.  Both would be lost and consumed by the darkness.  A person that wishes to be used effectively must understand that his reward is in rescuing others, but the price is knowing first hand the atrocities that imprison them.  

If you’re struggling with something too deep to express, have you considered you may be in a process of preparation to one day help a few or perhaps many people?  Remember, the greatest heroes in history were not those with crowns but carried wounds for the sake of being used in a purposeful way.  

Waking Up

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All things fall apart.  And all things can fall into place.  It all changes when we wake up, when we recognize our reality is happening to us and that this reality must be lived out responsibly.  “It’s a game, a joke, a role” we may say, but the game (life) continues.  Our happiness is not determined by manipulating the order of the game, our happiness is determined by our level of awareness and harmony we align with its laws.  Your role in the game may be one of success or one of lack, but spite of that, your existence validates you are an essential player.  You have been welcomed into the game with a key role to play.  Your awareness of this fact helps you strategize and play the game more effectively.  A realization dawns on us:  the game is ours and everything in it is happening for us.  Reality- the game- is much sweeter when we have finally awakened to it.  

On Emptiness and Difficulty

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Often, in times of solitude and reflection I think about past impactful events of my career as a counselor.  My mind wanders through the corridors of a crisis unit where the majority of our patients had a history of multiple suicide attempts.  There were people there who had experienced the worst kinds of acts-abuse on every level, witnessing first hand tragic losses of close friends and family, and sudden abrupt life changes such as financial loss and divorce.  Many of the people I encountered possessed a common characteristic- they were immobilized by their pain and were unable to focus on anything outside of the now prevailing emptiness that pervaded their lives.  Any forms of therapeutic interventions or words of encouragement were lost in the void.  One thing I came to understand:  depression at its peak can paralyze a person, both on the physical and cognitive levels.  Remedying emptiness and difficulty then requires more than persuasion of changing perspective or acquiring tools to cope- it requires a journey further into the experience of despair where light is found through, not away, from the problem.  

Uncovering Reality

Healing takes place when we are able to sit with reality as it is.  When pain is immense it produces a numbness that a person may not even be aware of how they are feeling.  A process of uncovering emotions through validation and recognition of feelings provides us with a sense of belonging and security.  Identifying feelings gives a person the ability of observing their lives from a higher perspective.  The act of observing provides a space between experiencing pain and “paralysis” where finding ways to persevere becomes possible. The sufferer finds freedom in understanding that although they are in emotional pain, they are also capable of observing and becoming participants of their own experience.  People gradually move away from the all consuming thought “I’m in pain” to “I am aware, this is happening to me.”  

Authenticity 

Difficulties can be the means by which we discard what matters most.  All one needs to ask to reach an effective conclusion is “what is this difficulty teaching me?” Perhaps the things we placed so much time and value on really didn’t hold any weight in our crisis.  Sometimes, it takes a significant life event to learn that our time and energy was spent on falsehoods that contributed greatly to the nagging pangs of emptiness.  The moments of crisis are the opportunities by which we get in contact with reality- we discard the fake and commit our lives to what is true.  This is evident in people who have experienced and overcome crisis.  They emanate authenticity and have a zero tolerance for anything that portrays hypocrisy and deception.  These people have learned the principle of impermanence- that things and people are unpredictable and fleeting.  In this, there is great freedom. 

Universality 

It is sometimes a game changer when we realize that tragedy is tragedy only when it manifests itself in our lives.  However, tragedy occurs daily.  I cannot think of a single individual who has not experienced the death of a loved one or not experienced a loss of some kind.  Pain and emptiness may initially draw us more inwardly, but can also give us the chance to notice that difficulty and feelings of emptiness are universal.  On some level, we have all experienced a loss and many have been able to overcome the resulting darkness and go on to live healthy and productive lives.  If we occasionally gaze our eyes outwardly during crisis, we’ll find the comfort in knowing that we are not alone in our suffering and we will eventually get through it.  

More Than Crumbs

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Who stole the cookie from the jar?
Well…
You did.
Now let’s talk about honesty.  Honesty, and not in the religious moral sense (going to a bad place of lying), but in the sense of integrity. The sense that if you can be honest with yourself and with the values you’ve learned along the way then you can start to grow.

Therapy can be tough, while it implies that a client will be honest, so does the therapist. And while I believe everyone lies at some point in some form, it’s difficult when you are in the therapy room.

On one side, you don’t want to express your darkest secrets and on the other hand you don’t want to tell the client you are thinking about lunch.

There are different schools of thought on change and behaviors. But I think the common idea starts with admitting to yourself (being honest) that there is something you can change or alter. Then you can begin the process of moving forward.

Integrity is not easy.  It’s not easy in therapy or off the couch. But like anything, as you practice you can find yourself satisfying your own path in life instead of walking another person’s path.

Honesty isn’t always the best policy, but if you want to stop stealing cookies, be honest with yourself. If not, steal as many cookies as you want, but don’t tell the therapist you want to change or it’s someone else’s fault you’re getting fat.

Quote from Bill Ward, drummer of Black Sababth:

During the question-and-answer portion of the evening, an audience member asked Ward what advice he’d give someone who was going through a rough time. He responded: “If you believe in a higher power or if you believe in God, then I would suggest that you go to God and see if you can find some solutions. If you don’t believe in God, then try to be as honest with yourself as you possibly can…When I’ve chosen the light of God or self-honesty, my own misery has brought me to a solution. My own pain, my own sadness has brought me to a place of surrender, so I’ll surrender to the truth anyway and go, ‘You know what? I need to talk to somebody about this.’ Try not to be alone with your own pain. Try to find someone you can trust your pain with. It’s really important that we communally share what’s going on with each other… Otherwise, we’re going to be walking around in a very sorrowful place.”

Noah Goldberg, MSW, RCSWI

Deprivation and Gratitude

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In jail food is a high commodity- the currency that defines an inmate’s status.  Due to the scarcity and restricted variety, the accessibility of food is based on the level of outside support or cunning ability to persuade or take from others.  Food is prisoner’s gold.  It is no wonder the the amount of bricks (sandwiches) or dollars in a commissary account greatly impacts the mood and mental health of the inmate.  Jail is similar to outside society where power and status are of great value, except in jail, possession and rank is brought to the forefront due to scarcity and deprivation.  It was here that I learned deprivation is not necessarily a bad thing.  As a matter of fact, it may be beneficial. 

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned was in simply observing an inmate eat an orange.  He was given an extra orange for lunch by a correctional officer.  He looked at it and held it alternately with both hands.  It was the same way a jeweler would handle an expensive gold necklace or a miner would examine a diamond.  He smiled, peeled it slowly, separated it into pieces, laid it into a paper napkin, smiled again, and finally began to eat it.  There was a level of gratitude in the process that I had never witnessed before. The inmate and his gold, an orange, submerged completely in the moment-something most of take for granted because we become accustomed to always having.  And this applies to most things- our friendships, family, love, our possessions, our health, internal and external freedoms, etc. I have to admit, there was a sense of envy as I watched someone appreciate the very little, grasping to the moment, touching every bit of the orange from its outer texture to the sweetness of taste.  I couldn’t remember the last time I had appreciated the little things, the many that I had take for granted. Because of deprivation, this inmate was given the gift of gratitude in which he could touch life and experience the moment at its fullest vitality.  He was alive and free.  “Who are the real prisoners?”, I asked myself.  Most of us have plenty and yet most of us never experience a genuine level of gratitude for what we have.  We’re taught to write a gratitude list or recite a few affirmations to boost our levels of gratitude but rarely is it suggested to reach out to a life who is far more deprived than we are.  This is the best way to acquire gratitude- to learn it from those who have less.  Often, it’s those that suffer greatly that touch life the deepest.  It’s those who are deprived that can relish and appreciate without reservation when they finally attain something.  Watch and learn through them, because if it’s anything that we more fortunate individuals lack, it might just be the greatest commodity of all- Gratitude. 

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