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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.