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.
Man envies every least deserving thing. He strives and dies for the things that should always be allocated at the background of reality. The promotion, the size of his home, his bank account, the attention given by others, where his kids go to school, where he dines and gathers- all take center stage and consume the pathway to his purpose. And nature which seeks to teach him how to live, how to be happy, is altogether ignored, kicked away like an orphan who incessantly begs for loose change and crumbs. He seldom ponders the trees that show him how to weather the inevitable storms, to stand strong through the turbulence, to accept harmoniously the place it’s been given, and to fall gracefully when it is time. It’s tragic that we often fall prey to the erroneous escapes of life’s struggles-the pill, the powder, the bottle, the dollar, the relationship, etc- through self medication and yet, often ignore the guiding example of nature. Nature stands still, stoically, through both the pleasant moments and drudgery of existence. It doesn’t rebel nor complain about what should or could be… it stands and exists in perfect harmony with what is and what has been given. If you’ve run out of answers, if there’s no more ways to escape left in you, switch your focus to bringing nature and life center stage and lessen your priorities on those things that hinder.
When we want to express our most profound sentiments, our rawest emotions, dreams, fears, or opinions in any given moment on any given circumstance, but fail to do so, we commit the greatest offense to the self. When we’re filled with a passionate idea but bite the tongue out of fear of being criticized or oppressed, it is the equivalency of self-mutilation-a denial of our unique creativity. In attempting to gain acceptance we lose the part of ourselves that earnestly seeks authenticity, the part of ourselves that yearns to find its place in the world. In turn, our vibrancy is diminished and our confidence withers. It is better to be daring and speak one’s mind risking ridicule and ostracism than to keep silent to appease the masses. The former you can quickly recover from, but the latter creates irreparable damage to the soul.
We fall into trances…asking what seems to be broad existential questions regarding meaning and purpose. A man in dire straits who engages in self reflection may at some point ask himself “why is this happening to me?” If he would just remain still he would discover that he need not go far externally or into his mental faculties to find the answer. Most times he snaps out of his contemplation due to desperation and attempts to find the answer from the outside, missing the chance of finding the answer right there in front of him. The answer he seeks can most times be found within his question. So if he asks “why is this happening to me?”, the correct answer will likely be “why, this is happening to me!” Though we may find it unlikely or even quite a strange response, it is one of the few answers that will prompt him to action. Another matter to take note of is if the one asking the question already possesses the answer during or prior to asking, it is essentIal to ponder who is it that does the asking. Surely, it is the same one who answers. This points to the strong likelihood that divine guidance resides inside man.
Darkness shines the greatest light. It is the ultraviolet lamp that exposes what we’re really made of within. It reveals our “guts” and weighs our values, faith, and spirit on the scale of reality. Difficulties bring out our presuppositions and biases, it is the tested method by which our true nature is brought to our attention- to ignore or change. To seize the opportunity of changing or denying what is revealed makes the difference between spiritual freedom and captivity.
We all pray. The act of communing with a Higher Power is as an innate survival mechanism as any bodily function. Just as our bodies depend on the involuntary process of breathing, our mind depends on prayer for the survival of the spirit. You may say “but I don’t pray.” We all pray, perhaps not in the way we define as prayer. When the mind communes with a higher part of itself in order to seek answers dormant in our awareness, we are praying. We may do this with words, songs, cries, thoughts, or even understanding. If all things spiritual originate from within, then prayer is the projection, the outward demonstration of an inner dealing by which the mind orients itself and gains purpose. We shouldn’t look for prayer as a part of a ritual that fulfills some kind of religious obligation, but as the guiding system that provides direction towards our highest good. In prayer, the pious and atheist find answers to common problems. Whether visible prayer is part of our daily lives or not, we all pray ceaselessly.
I often emphasize the present moment as a way to get clients away from the worries of tomorrow and the misfortunes of yesterday. However, sometimes there’s too much pain in the present to tell anyone to be mindful of the “now.” Sometimes, there’s too much pain to paint anyone a pretty picture… it invalidates the experience and you render yourself useless no matter how good your intentions may be. Any variation of getting people to look on the bright side of their circumstances can broaden the gap of what stands between their surrounding darkness and hope.
A person who has lost the will to live cannot be coerced to reframe or alter the narrative of the crisis. The crisis, be it the loss of freedom, a child, an illness, or abuse, is remedied through a rigorous validation and honesty. Both the sufferer and helper must bring forth an honesty of the situation that conveys the present reality for what it is- painful and seemingly intolerable. Yet, the future must always be accounted for with just as much honesty and responsibility as the present. While the moment may prove harsh, the future provides an infinite amount of possibilities-hope reigns abundantly in the future- hope of less pain and more peace, hope of reconciling the worst acts, the healing of deep wounds, the regaining of freedom, and the refining of one’s character made possible by difficult times.
“I know you won’t understand but in my lifetime I’ve seen the most beautiful thing life has to offer. I’ve seen the priceless battle of broken people creatively changing and overcoming toxic patterns. So beautiful and it’s costs me nothing” -Unknown
They say when the student is ready, the teacher appears. I believe everyone we encounter is our greatest teacher. The world serves as a mirror in which through experiences and interactions we learn more about the undesirable parts of ourselves we tend to overlook. The people we dislike or disagree with often reveal the characteristics within us we need to change. I’ve often become easily hurt at the indifference and aloofness of others, later taking an honest inventory of my own indifferences, that fearful part that would rather avoid social responsibility. There are people who just won’t change, a world that just won’t relent, and many breaks we just can’t catch… and yet they are all so charitable in giving us the knowledge of what needs to change within us. The world is a vast educational platform and its people are the mentors by which we discover who we want or don’t want to be. Most of us have been hurt beyond reconciliation by the people we love most. But if there’s any good that comes of it, may it be discovering parts of ourselves in others that we vow to change and never repeat.
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.
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.”