The Hero and Villian in You

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A great example of the character transformation process in the individual can best be demonstrated in the stories and movies of the superhero protagonist.  I watched a trailer last week of the movie, Venom.  Within the three minute peak, there was an accurate depiction of the process of the emergence that takes place during an essential change of personal character.  In the trailer, the main character is a weak, plain, uptight soft spoken man in his mid 30s. He appears to be a pushover who gets lost in the overwhelming surroundings of circumstances and people.  There seems to be an untold process underway that screams a necessary change must take place within the personality of the person or the character will never emancipate himself from the grips of passivity and victimization.  This change manifests itself into the unexpected “repossessing of the soul” in the form of an indestructible god-like serpent that strives to take complete control of the character’s actions.  In the clip, giant tentacles involuntarily break loose from the protagonist’s body, pummeling and subduing the “bad guys.”  Through it all, the character demonstrates a loss of control, helplessly pleading to the entity within for a share in control, to which the monster replies something like “we do what we want, is that a deal?”  I have to admit that I haven’t watched the movie, but I can take a chance of predicting that the weak character progressively comes to terms with the unknown monster within him, he learns to live with it, possibly destroying or integrating it into his weaker known traits, and utilizes “the shadow” to conquer the opposing evil in the external world.  

The process of transformation often takes place in multidimensional phases, sometimes occurring with or without our knowledge- but our knowledge greatly influences the kind of path it takes.  First, there is an unrecognized knowledge of the dark powerful traits of our personality.  We carry through life wearing a mask (the persona) and living by shoulds or over-identifying with passivity or timidness.  Then, the suppression of the powerful impulses emerge into waking consciousness seeking existence due to constant repression.  These are the unidentified parts often taking a primitive form of expression and can create many disturbances and chaos in daily life.  This is where destructive behaviors form.  These forms have the ability to annihilate the individual without proper integration into awareness. Lastly, given the level of insight and willingness, the individual confronts the shadow, becomes knowledgeable of its tricks, intentions, and desires, and through effort and self reflection properly merges the shadow into the light of awareness.  Without this awareness and work, the shadow becomes a fully independent, overpowering force calling the shots in the host’s life.  

This process which takes place in the human psyche is as real and evident as the external world.  A suppressed shadow will seek expression with or without consent of the individual.  It is better to perceive and confront a lurking enemy than to pretend he is not there at all.  Embracing these monsters inside of us enables us to properly handle the monsters without.  

A Place Worth Visiting

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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.  

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

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