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.  

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. 

Addictive Nature

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It’s surreal to think of how a thing, a substance, sometimes so small, sometimes invisible or pleasantly deceptive to the human eye can utterly destroy a life.  Sometimes, these things appear to be beautiful in their rawest form.  A swaying cocoa plant or a vibrant poppy add beauty to the fields they inhabit.  It’s astonishing and at the same time unfathomable to accept the reality that these beautiful ornaments of nature-once they are separated from their original form and ingested-have the capacity to enslave and obliterate a person on every conceivable level.  

I think of these beautiful intricacies of nature in their true essence…I think of the lives that were once whole and later became separated from themselves and the world because of addiction.  This helps me understand that there is an objective and guiding principle pervading all living things:  Nature and people thrive and are at their most beautiful in their wholeness, and this should never be tampered with…

We All Pray

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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.  

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.”  

One More Minute

6FDFFC5A-353A-4434-B334-D79955346131I remember as a child before going to sleep, I’d turn the lights off and dash straight for the bed.  I’d strain my eyes open, desperately seeking light- that minute of waiting felt like an eternity.  I’d initially feel a sense of dread staring into the nothingness of the air, nothing could be seen beyond the opaqueness of the night.  In that minute I’d think, “there is nothing, I am nothing.” I was small, consumed by a great void.  This terrorized me.  But as the  minute passed, the darkness faded.  Small rays of light dispersed through the room and I’d begin to see.  I could see myself. I was put together.  I wasn’t so small after all.  I could look at my surroundings…my hands, and smile.  The wonderful realization about this process was coming to understand later that no matter how dark I had perceived my surroundings to be, the light was always there, waiting for me to grasp it.  I just had to hold on and patiently trust it would show up.  

On a psychological and emotional level, we lose precious souls because it becomes too dark within.  A moment of despair can feel like an eternity where light never comes.  We desperately look around.  We become restless. We feel small.  We say we’re nothing or nothing matters.  But the night is only temporary, it was only a reaction to a sudden change we needed to adjust to. The light is coming.  It has come.  You are awake… you look at yourself.  You’re not so small.  As a matter of fact, you’re pretty f****** beautiful.  You love yourself more, and best of all, you’ve learned to love the night.  

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. 

Of Angels and Shadows

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The worst sickness in mental health is not classified as an illness.  It is rare in contemporary psych literature and discussions.  I would go as far to say that the majority of us are unknowingly suffering from it.  Yet, when we closely examine the effects of this problem we find that it is correlated with all self-injurious, suicidal, and addictive behavior.  These three problems contain the common theme of self-loathing-a self loathing that is perpetuated by the cunning and deadly  state of denial.  But it isn’t a denial of the actual behaviors that are my concern. It’s the denial of something deeper that evolves out of a mainstream consciousness that people are entirely good and that “badness” is an external mysterious force that selects only a small percentage of us.  Wrong!  The reality of human nature is that within it there is both good and evil and to exclusively attribute one to who we are is to deny our exact nature.  People are good, but they are also inherently flawed and capable of evil.  The goal is to live responsibly with these two natures.  However, the majority point of view tends to deny this fact and what results is a perpetuation of symptoms and high risk behaviors.  When we deny who we are and do not embrace our wholeness we become imprisoned by what we should be.  When the evil or flawed nature arises, on a subconscious level, we experience discomfort, anxiety, and self loathing.  The battle of suppression begins, often to intolerable heights leading to self-harm behaviors such as self-mutilation, addiction, and suicide.  When we internalize the lie that man is good and that’s all that he SHOULD be,  a frantic self-loathing society emerges-addicts use, cutters cut, and the hopeless attempt to nullify themselves into oblivion.

Imagine if we began to break the chains of internalized messages of what we should be and began to embrace what is- who we really are. When people fully acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses-their goodness and flaws- they are prone to inflict love rather than pain on themselves and others.  I believe it’s time we awaken to the reality of the all encompassing duality of good and bad.  

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