Thoughts to Emotions to Attitudes to…
Habits start off innocently enough. Maybe a drink to calm rattled nerves or forgetting in order to blur out a traumatic past. A whole pizza when work was a nightmare. Exercise when stress rears its head. The way you drive to work. A normal day. Call them patterns. Automatic responses or triggered actions. They grow into hard patterns or ruts. It’s not easy to break a pattern. But what were they before they were habits? They likely begin as thoughts. These thoughts trigger emotions. Emotions stack up to build attitudes. Attitudes toward the world, people, yourself, etc. Attitudes are like temporary personalities. They are often situational, changing and varying across time. Attitudes become habits. And habits can be very, very dangerous or extremely good for you.
Replacing the Bad with Good
This week we will focus on how habits are formed. We will also study ways we can break bad habits and replace them with good ones. Often, people identify habits as bad and cease to engage in them. But they fail to replace them with something new. This often results in falling back into the same routines. Ceasing a habit and not replacing it leaves a void in us that is hard to fill. We will look at new scientific breakthroughs that can help guide us in forming new habits from the ashes of our old ones. One of psychotherapy’s chief aims is to help people alter the way they perceive things so that they may augment their behaviors and benefit from this change.
Time, Patience, and Practice
Some may even dare to suggest that patterns and habits may be what drives addiction and many mental disorders. For example, a small habit that may harm us may be to avoid conflict. Maybe standing up to tyranny makes you scared so you developed a response where you shrink and disappear when faced with conflict. Over time, this can manifest as depression and feelings of worthlessness or extreme rage. What would happen if you broke this pattern and stood your ground firm when pressured into conflict? What if you stood up to authority or oppression? It would affect your mental health in a positive way, I would wager. You certainly would not feel depressed as a result of rising to a conflict and meeting a challenge head-on. But learning this new habit takes time, patience and practice. It is a skill that is cultivated via repetition.
It Takes a Village…
This week Barn Life Recovery is helping our students to identify bad habits, as defined by them. We will aid them in rooting it out and replacing it with a self-defined good habit. During the week we can help remind students about their new desired patterns and help them get back into it if they falter. Habit formation takes time. And a community to reinforce it. We have both. Barn Life Recovery is the first treatment center in the state of California licensed to treat mental illness on an outpatient, community-based level. If you are depressed, anxious, or just plain overwhelmed, give us a call today and learn to love life again!
A Powerful Tool for Change
Rebellion and Defiance are ideas that are very near and dear to many, but not all. Are you a rebel without a cause or a rebel without a clue? Are you rebelling solely for conflict? Rebellion is a societal tool, a tool of great power. A tool for change. Furthermore, if used correctly it can be a primary tool in the creation of freedom. Once we can identify the entities that drain us of personal power and the influences that we cling to out of familiarity and fear of change, what is the next step? How do we push the boundaries of our life? What do we do to push through the purgatory of the unknown and uncomfortable change? A powerful option can be rebellion.
Rebellion Against Illusion, Deception, Delusion, and Prejudice
Rebel against the negative voices in your head that have convinced you that you are a freak, that you are weak, that you are not valuable, that you are pathetic. Rebel. Defy. But take caution: make sure you do not rebel against those that share your road, your cause, and your intention. A spark of truth and a fire of defiance against illusion, deception, delusion and prejudice have the power to ignite a movement. Hopefully a movement within yourself first and foremost. Begin with your journey that started when you decided to contemplate your own power. Look to those around you that are also “waking up.” Join them on the road to rebelling against what keeps your spirit and freedom bound.
Breaking Out of the Cycle
A first step is to question all authority. Take note that I did not say challenge all authority. We must learn to differentiate between authority that is there to help from the authority that benefits from your indifference and fear to change. While in recovery, it is easy and commonplace to identify our treatment team as the enemy and many of us have been in institutions where that is the truth. However, challenge your own authority and question whether your rebellion and resistance are well placed or misplaced. Are the people that are trying to help you benefitting from your pain? Or are they challenging you to face the pain that keeps you stuck in a vicious cycle? With rebellion there is risk. To become vulnerable and walk with courage takes risk. You know where you came from but do you really know what is possible? You may never find out if you choose the familiar haunts and negative self-talk that keep you stuck in your own private hell of monotony and “same ol’ same ol’.”
Rebel and choose to take responsibility for your life. As best as you can, choose responsibility for yourself and to hell with the barriers and limits. If you stare at limitations for too long, the risk of complacency will hook you back into the mundane and harmful familiar. Why don’t you deserve a good life? If you can answer this, then you have identified a target to rebel against. Rebel against the mundane. Seek to find out mentors that are examples of change and success through action. Find those that choose to not compromise integrity to corruption and allow their examples to guide you to your own successes.
Time for a Change
Take an honest look at those around you, those in the world or those that have passed. Look at the inspiration and beauty. Look to what gets you excited and motivated. Many will automatically hear the malicious internal voice of negative criticism and judgment telling you that your ideas are stupid or unattainable. If you never take a journey towards the possible, your future is already woven and it will be the same place of doubt, fear, pain, and sorrow you already know too well. Isn’t time for a change? Look around for strength in the brothers and sisters that are also fighting for good change and rebel with them. Don’t settle for defeat. What’s the point? If you can answer this question, then you have identified another target to rebel against.
The Choice Is Ours
As children, we learn to obey and behave simply because we are told to do so. This can leave us feeling as if we have no choice. As adults, we have more power in the direction our lives move. While some situations and circumstances beyond our control can have an impact on us, we do have control over how we react. Although choices could be severely limited due to the consequences of our past actions, we still have choice. Unfortunately, it can be easy to fall into the role of victim. A role in which we look outside at the cause of problems. How does this happen? Why do we walk away from a path of empowerment and authenticity and toward blame and victimhood?
Poor Self-Image and the Will of Others
There are many of us that seek professional help as the options in our lives seem to have become so limited that we can no longer see our own brightness, our own power, and our own freedom. Furthermore, our lack of self-worth can lead us to give of ourselves to those we think are important only to realize that we have been taken advantage of. Because we view ourselves as inferior, incomplete or desperate, we compromise ourselves to the whim and will of others, especially falling victim to seductive tones. However, to discover our own intrinsic powers requires a journey. Often that journey leads us to those that can act as our guides and mirrors. How can we discriminate those that would intend us harm from those that intend to help us discover our own true power?
Kings, Queens, and Tyrants
We often hold the archetype of kings and queens as an otherworldly reality. However, we overlook the power that these archetypes can have in our lives. What makes a good king or queen? Many people correlate a kingly position of power with a heavy dose of narcissism. This has mainly to do with the history of tyrants that have ruled out of fear. You can easily identify a tyrant through their use of fear-mongering and demonizing. A tyrant will ALWAYS have someone or something to blame, to fight, to kill or to destroy. Furthermore, a tyrant will always demand loyalty and threaten a penalty if it isn’t given to them. It is the only thing that gives them some comfort in their own paranoid head. A tyrant never understands the value or the cost of true loyalty. They expect it like a baby expects to be fed.
Empowerment and the Responsibility of Rule
If we look truthfully at the role of power and if we want to be good, then we must identify and take on the responsibility of rule. A just and true queen or king has the priority of the people over themselves. They are dedicated to a transcendental commitment, born of empathy and understanding. A commitment and dedication to a cause that is greater than themselves. A devotion to goodness and to the wellbeing of others. To seek personal power is to also recognize it in others and the main rule of the king or queen is to bless the people. A true queen will motivate the people to shine bright – not for the sole pleasure of the ruler but for all within the kingdom.
Taking Our Inventory
What positions of power in your life have been sapping your energy? Or what negative thought cycles have you continued to feed that allow you to settle for your current predicament or worse? What fears bolt you to the ground, make you heavy and allow the rot of self-doubt to drain your personal freedom? Conversely, what personal power and strength do you know? What makes you hope, even if just a little? Is there excitement can you muster to engage in your own responsibility? To make your life manifest instead of allowing life to manifest situations for you? What empowerment do you need to conquer your own doubts and begin to make undeniable change in your life, change that matters to you? This blog is to get you to start increasing awareness of your own capabilities, to start embracing empowerment, and to identify what really is holding you back in the role of victim. This is your life and ultimately only you can change it.
A Welcomed Old Friend
Ask yourself, “What is my Why?” Inspiration comes in many forms. Getting inspired by something or someone gets our hearts and minds focused on a single subject. This is great practice for folks with scattered thoughts and lingering ADD. Early in recovery, it is hard to get excited about anything. Our brain receptors are a little fried from overuse. Furthermore, they’re locked into the same old habits, the same old grind, running the same old tricks. It’s easy, then, to feel lost, without direction or even an idea of who we really are. But as the clouds begin to dissipate and we get glimpses of who we were before all the headaches, inspiration becomes a welcomed old friend.
Now, waiting around to be inspired is a little presumptuous. You can insert any worn cliché or dead horse quote here you’d like, from Edison’s inspiration and perspiration to God helping those who help themselves. But there’s truth in those old chestnuts. I find when you take a step back and ask yourself, “Why?” the discovery begins. We begin to challenge ourselves and start to peel back the layers to get to the heart of things. Besides, inspiration can be cultivated and accentuated. Putting ourselves in new creative environments and surrounding ourselves with inspiring people helps propagate inspiration in our own lives.
Get Excited About Life
Recovery can sometimes feel like a fall into boredom and dullsville. But it doesn’t have to be. Finding ways to get excited about life begins as a practice and a routine. And it doesn’t have to be extravagant or an attempt to re-invent the wheel. But take it seriously, because you are re-inventing your life. Start exploring different cultures or music you’ve never listened to. Or you could learn a language or take a dance class. Engaging in these new pursuits and flights of inspiration help fill the void left in early recovery. Often times it is not just the compulsions that disappear, but an entire lifestyle and identity. Rebuilding this bedrock and filling this vacancy will require inspiration (and some footwork).
Engage, Create, and Share
Sharing what gets us personally excited is one way to help others find their spark for life. It’s one of the things we mean when we talk about community-based mental healthcare. Trying new things and experiences is another. This week let’s have discussions about what makes life so rich and inviting. What makes us want to engage and create? Let’s rediscover that zest for life that compulsive behavior extinguished. Let’s learn to love life again! Barn Life Recovery is the first treatment center in the state of California licensed to treat mental illness on an outpatient community-based level. If you’re feeling anxious, depressed, or just plain overwhelmed, please give us a call today.
The Sound of One Hand Clapping
Ask a person “What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word, ‘Zen?'” Most people will respond with ideas about an imperturbable state of calm. However, if you ask them about the second thing, they may reply,” Isn’t it the sound of one hand clapping or something?” This person is remembering part of a Zen koan. Furthermore, they’re actually probably a little closer to the heart of Zen with this answer. This week at Barn Life Recovery, we are working with koans. These tools can grant us a greater understanding of ourselves and the world around us. But what exactly are koans? And how can they help us?
Empty Your Cup
A famous master, Lao-tzu, once said, “Understanding only goes as far as that which it can understand.” Put another way “Ya don’t know what ya don’t know.” As soon as we think we know something, then we become rigid and unresponsive. You know the famous phrase: “For the beginner, there are many possibilities, but for the expert, there are few.” Maintaining a mind of “not knowing” allows us to respond to situations with openness, freshness, and joy. This is where koans come in. Koans – sometimes called spiritual puzzles – pose questions or situations we can’t answer or understand using logic, and thus force us to go beyond the mind. Koans can be stories, poems or phrases. They convey a direct feeling rather than an intellectual idea.
Working With Koans
In practice, a student is assigned a koan by a teacher or master. The teacher will ask, “What is the color of wind?” or “What is your original face before you were born?” The student is then expected to “live with” and meditate upon the question for some time before returning with the “answer.” If these questions sound like nonsense to you, you’re partially right. Remember, koans work to push us beyond logic toward a realm of feeling and intuition. William Blake was working with koans when he wrote about the Sick Rose, as was Denis Johnson in his stories about fringe characters in the Midwest. This week, we are assigning koans to our clients and seeing what they come up with. The beauty of this technique is that the interpretations are endless and we are ready to uncover truth around every corner.
Barn Life Recovery is the first treatment center in the state of California licensed to treat mental illness on an outpatient community-based level. If you are feeling depressed, anxious, or just plain overwhelmed, please consider giving us a call. Our admissions specialists are standing by to offer a free consultation. Learn to love life again.
“The Mind Is the Most Capricious of Insects…”
Hopefully after reading last week’s blog about hard work and making your way in the world, all of you were inspired to arise, take up thy beds, and walk. I figure this is the perfect time to talk about a phenomenon the Japanese call 三日坊主, or mikka bouzu. Mikka bouzu translates to “three-day monk” and it’s something we have all been guilty of at some point in our lives. For example, if you go to just about any gym in the country on January 2nd, you’ll find that it’s filled with three-day monks. Twelve-step meetings are also often full of three-day monks, as are recovery centers. Sometimes, three-day monks haven’t even reached puberty yet. Ballet and karate schools make serious bank off the parents of these young ascetics. Are you picking up what I’m putting down?
What Is a Three-Day Monk?
A three-day monk is someone who becomes intensely interested in something and goes hard in the paint for a few days (or weeks), but soon leaves it by the wayside and forgets all about it. Sound familiar? Don’t worry…we’ve all done it and that includes yours truly (ask me about my career as a cellist sometime.) We find a new toy, fall in love with it, wear it out, and watch it collect dust on our shelves or in the corner of the garage until our significant other finally tells us to throw it away. However, today is a new day and we don’t have to live that way anymore. I have a few concrete and manageable tips to keep your saffron robes looking fresh long after their 72-hour expiration date.
Set Some Manageable Goals
You want to learn Chinese. That’s awesome. It’s also a huge undertaking that you’re likely to get frustrated with quickly. That makes it very easy to give up. Instead of doing that, though, how about breaking the Herculean task of learning a new and difficult language into achievable sections. Download a language app and commit to completing one lesson a day. Sound too small? Don’t worry about that right now. Besides, you’ll learn a whole lot more Chinese if you get through a year of doing one lesson a day than if you do a hundred lessons in three days and give up.
Make It a Habit, Then Step It Up
You’ve completed that first lesson and I’m proud of you. But we’re going to sustain it this time. Try to set aside five minutes at the same time every day so you’re less likely to forget. It makes it even easier when you tie it in with an existing part of your routine, like right after brushing your teeth or eating dinner. What you’re trying to do is make it a habit. After you’ve gotten a week or two under your belt without missing days, start pushing yourself a little bit. You were doing one lesson a day – now make it two. Repeat the process.
Write. It. Out.
I can’t overstate the value of this one. We all have busy schedules and we all have things in life we’d like to accomplish. To help stay organized and on top of things, write your tasks down on paper and check them off as you go. Everything looks manageable when it’s on a page and there’s a small but very powerful feeling of accomplishment to be had every time you cross an item off. It’s also a great way to track your progress. This is why I recommend a small notebook instead of the Notes app on your phone.
Show Up and Remember to Have Fun
The two simplest rules are, of course, the most important. Whether it’s five minutes a day to learn a language, an hour a day at the piano, three hours a week at the gym…those sweet plans you worked out for yourself aren’t going to matter if you don’t show up and put in the effort. And a way to keep yourself showing up is to remember that you’re doing this because you want to. If your Chinese lessons are getting a little dry and boring, switch it up and watch an old Shaw Brothers movie (36th Chamber of Shaolin and Five Deadly Venoms are two excellent choices.) Turn the subtitles off and see how many words you can pick out. Remind yourself that this is fun!
Barn Life Recovery is the first treatment center in the state of California licensed to treat mental illness on an outpatient community-based level. And we don’t merely treat mental health issues – we remind our clients that life is fun and show them how to find that spark of joy again. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, depression, or just life in general, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Give us a call today and love life again!
A Common Mistake
Gong Fu or Kung Fu (功夫) literally means “energy/hard work, time/patience.” It is commonly misunderstood to mean a particular style of martial art, but it actually refers to anything that takes a large amount of time, patience, and energy to accomplish. For example, if someone is learning to play the piano that is their kung fu because it will require a lot of time and energy to become proficient in that art. The concept of kung fu applies to the martial arts as well, but in the West, we tend to assume it is exclusively a martial arts term or a particular style of martial arts and it is not.
“That’s really interesting, Mathew, but what’s the point? What are you trying to tell us?” you’re probably saying right about now. And I’m glad you asked.
The World Is But A Canvas…
What I’m trying to say is, “Make your way.” Please notice how I did not say discover your way or find your way or seek your way. I said: make your way. Make it. Create it. This world seems to take equal parts pleasure in creating and destroying. For something new to emerge, something else needs to evaporate. Appearing and disappearing. So to create this new path in which you will travel with contentment and satisfaction you must first dismantle your old way of living. Only makes sense. We can’t walk two paths at the same time. Time, as most of us perceive it, is moving constantly in a singular direction. Living a life walking two different paths would necessitate 2 of you. Psychologically this happens in the form of a mental split. The psyche either stands at the crossroads unwilling to choose a course or it desires to choose both courses at the same time. Both choices usher in a litany of material impossibilities. However, from a thinking perspective, we are literally stuck – out of synch.
Contentment In All Of This
This is the important part. Either path is the same. The path makes no difference nor cares to label itself one way or the other. By my choice and my willingness to move forward singularly and assuredly, that path is mine alone and it is ever-evolving and growing grander and richer and more satisfying with each step we move forward. Every path is filled with pain and pleasure and ups and downs and there is contentment in all of this when enlightenment strikes you. It seems to favor decisively moving singular targets that walk decisively singular paths. Blah blah blah. So what does that mean or prove?
The Flutter Of A Butterfly’s Wing
Understanding what was just explained is not enough. Believing it to be true is not enough either. Although it does shorten the process slightly. Practicing as if it were true seems to be the action that gets the wheels turning. In other words, behaving as if it were true. It is empowering to practice as if you could dramatically alter the course of your life with a mere one step in a particular direction. Any direction. You can live any life you can imagine, or at higher levels, I suspect, live an unimaginable life. No need to plan out each step. Just keep moving forward.
The World Moves Either Way
A Chinese sifu once said that if you are not moving forward, you are moving backward. The idea that you can stand static still and neither move up or down is really a slower version of moving backward. Getting stuck mentally or emotionally in the past whilst your physical body moves uncompromisingly forward in time causes an existential paradox. Do you realize how much mental strain and internal resources it takes to keep you running counter to the flow of the entire universe? Either you choose one or not choose one. Either way, you made a choice. Decisions made by indecision are still, guess what, decisions. Good and bad are only labels we apply to things based on our preferences, agendas and points of interest. The words themselves mean nothing. They are a choice you decide to apply to situations, people, places or things that you believe do you harm or at the very least, not in line with your preference.
The Brink of Upheaval
Have you ever been in a situation faced with an important challenge that felt insurmountable by your usual methods of coping and problem solving? Into every life flows crisis. Every breath rides on the brink of upheaval. Every human beat of a heart holds within it a turning point, a crossroads. A time, when the “old way” or the “comfortable way” or even maybe the “only way” we know, is threatened. Threatened and challenged and possibly found to be unusable. What once was our key to our future has become a useless artifact of a past once perfectly fitted.
Who Holds the Key?
They can take so many forms: You catch your husband cheating on you or you make a vow to stay with someone through thick and thin. You have a week to live or you’re gonna be a new daddy. Or maybe you got fired or ran out of money. What you thought was true is not. What you thought was not, is. These are cataclysmic crisis situations. At these crossroads, we must make a choice. Continue to use old ways and methods that are no longer working? Or, I shudder to speak it, change…our…ways. Ouch, no thanks. Most times I would rather blame outside forces who are conspiring against me than admit that I myself may need a course correction. Hubris will get you every damn time. However, these are sacred, life-altering times these so-called incipient moments of crisis.
Crisis As Opportunity
This week we will crack open our moments of crisis. We will train ourselves to view these moments as opportunities to find new paths we never saw before. Most know about the Chinese word for crisis and how some people say it means “danger” plus “opportunity.” Here are my 2 cents: Wei (危) means “danger.” Ji (机) means “a point of juncture. Danger is easy to grasp. Danger means something that is potentially harmful, risky or not preferred. It is mysterious and requires your full undivided attention if you wish to go unscathed. A juncture is where two things join and generally seems to be risky business. So much can go wrong…or right. Any union can be challenging and fraught with difficulties. When two become one and that one is, at the same time, a product of what came before, and yet, at the same time, new and altogether itself!
Welcome the New
What two things are coming together in the Chinese idea of crisis? That’s right, you and your new way of dealing with your life! You and a new way of thinking. You and a revised method of living. Loving your life again and in new ways never fathomed before. This is a crisis on a monumental level. Your olds ways have admittedly failed. But not all of you has failed. Just certain ideas and behaviors have betrayed our true futures. A new method can be learned and applied. It will be dangerous and difficult. However, if we “refuse to let a good crisis go to waste” as Winston Churchill quipped once, we will reap the inevitable boons. We may even learn, like an ancient master, to (dare I say?) welcome crisis. Welcoming crisis? Audacity! Yes. Believe this. Points of juncture are inherently dangerous. They are also inherently rewarding.
Crisis Is a Blessing
There is an image in Zen Buddhism involving yanas. A yana is a vehicle. A way to get from one place of understanding to another place of understanding. You find yourself on an unhappy shore in a land of confusion and sorrow. You see across the water, a new land! A land of clarity and joy. You must get there. But how? You construct a yana. In this case, a boat. With tremendous effort, you row yourself to the other shore and find yourself on the beaches of your desired goal. Clarity and joy abound. You walk off into this new world…carrying your boat on your back. Food for thought: Crisis is derived from a Greek word which is spelled krisis. It means “decision.” That is what a crisis forces, a choice. Crisis is a blessing. It opens your mind up to new understandings and new possibilities to explore.
A Quick History
Count up the number of therapeutic modalities currently used in psychotherapy worldwide and they probably number in the hundreds. The psychiatrist Irvin Yalom would say that all psychotherapeutic modalities must inevitably deal with the Four Existential Givens of life. On the other hand, behavioral therapists might say all modalities deal with our behavioral responses to stimuli. The founder of Stoicism, Zeno of Citium, first derived this idea in 3rd Century BC Athens. Later Stoic Epictetus spread this idea further, stating, “It is not events that disturb us, it is our responses to them.” This notion inspired the entirety of what is now called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Freud would have said the influence of unconscious drives can explain all human behavior. Furthermore, bringing such drives to consciousness for the purpose of working with them adaptively is the purpose of therapy.
A Point of Departure
In the 1950s the psychiatrist Eric Berne, who trained for years in classical Freudian psychoanalysis, became dissatisfied with Freud’s focus on the individual in therapy. As a result, he began to develop a way of working with human behavior that involved analyzing social interactions. In this, Berne was part of a leading edge of therapists in the mid-20th century who were focusing on relational therapy, or more formally, Intersubjective Analysis. This is a fancy way of saying that humans are relational and therefore understanding those around us and being understood by others become primary drivers of human emotional health, growth, and change. It was, in fact, out of this movement toward relationships that the discipline of Marriage and Family Therapy was born. Even Freud recognized that our family relationships are crucial influences on our emotional health, as is the state of our various other relationships, particularly our intimate relationships.
Transactional Analysis: Three Basic States
Berne used a number of ideas from traditional psychoanalysis to organize Transactional Analysis. He postulated that all humans think, feel and behave out of three basic ego states: Parent, Adult, and Child. Depending on the given situation a human finds themselves in, and depending on that human’s relative state of emotional maturity, she or he will function adaptively in one of these three ego states or a fluid, blended state. Difficulties arise when the ego state I’m operating from does not really fit the situation I’m in.
Other Key Concepts of Transactional Analysis
I can’t adequately summarize Transactional Analysis briefly, but beyond the idea of the three Ego States as the building blocks of personality, it involves some other key concepts:
- Script: A story we have learned and internalized about ourselves. Negative stories about ourselves or others tend to result in dysfunctional social outcomes. The script itself tends to be out of our conscious awareness.
- Games: We all have our scripts and with them, we engage in various “games” that generally involve winners and losers. Games in Transactional Analysis have been defined thus: “a series of duplex transactions which leads to a ‘switch’ and a well-defined, predictable ‘payoff’ that justifies a not-OK, or discounted (less-than) position.” In a transactional game we act out our internalized script and things go well for a little while. Ee receive the “strokes” we expect to get from acting out our script instead of being vulnerable and authentic, until things inevitably go south – the “switch” – and then we get the “payoff.”
- Strokes: The pleasant or familiar thoughts and feelings we receive from playing out our social games with our internalized scripts.
- Switch: The moment when our internalized script’s utility breaks down. This is usually when the script prevents us from expressing our authentic identity in that moment. We begin to feel sad, confused and angry.
- Payoff: The usual, expected result of our game, wherein we end up feeling a loser, or less-than.
Autonomy and Authenticity
The mature, ideal goal for any game in Transactional Analysis is “I’m-OK/You’re-OK.” That is, we both “win.” This results only when all the processes outlined above are within conscious awareness, which is the point of TA therapy. Naturally, this can take a while. We all have many scripts we have internalized from childhood or adolescence which are often quite dysfunctional. More generally the goal of transactional analysis is autonomy. In other words, awareness, spontaneity, and the capacity for intimacy. In achieving autonomy people have the capacity to make new decisions thereby empowering themselves and altering the course of their lives. This week at Barn Life Recovery, we are discussing the building blocks of TA therapy with our clients. What games do we play to live out our scripts and avoid authenticity and true intimacy? How do we do this? How does doing this make us feel?
There are too many good quotes about truth to share in a timely fashion. However, two of my favorites are:
“There are three sides to every story: yours, mine and the truth.” – Robert Evans, filmmaker
“Three things shine before the world and cannot be hidden. They are the moon, the sun, and the truth.” – usually attributed to the Buddha in a paraphrased version
The sort of “truth” we will be exploring this week will pertain to inner truth. The truth about who you are and how you shape your reality based on this inner truth. The Greek word for “truth” is aletheia. This word means literally to “un-hide” or “hiding nothing.” It conveys the thought that truth is always there, always open and available for all to see, with nothing being hidden or obscured.
Chung Fu: Three Images of Inner Truth
In Chinese philosophy “Chung Fu” or Inner Truth relates to three different images or ideas. One is the wind blowing over the lake stirring the surface. When the wind disrupts the surface of the water, we see ripples. These ripples are a physical manifestation of the wind’s effect on the water. This unsettled water expresses the visible effects of the invisible. Inner truth is like the wind in this example. What we feel to be our truth will manifest itself in the “agreed upon” real world.
Over-Brooding and Under-Brooding
The second image is of a baby bird being held down by its mother’s foot. This expresses the idea of brooding. Brooding in this sense means how a mother bird cares over her young. Some mama birds over-brood their babies and the hatchling grows too large for the nest and falls out before learning to fly. On the other hand, under-brood and you miss the hints and clues. Correct brooding means actively listening to what another person is expressing. In fact, paying close attention to something or someone is how one broods. The baby chick will give the signals, while the mother only needs to have the desire to be aware. In order to care for the flightless hatchling, the mother listens closely and reads the signs honestly.
Opening Your Heart
The third idea is listening to others. This last image offers clear instructions on how to practice inner truth. Receiving what others say and do with an open heart. Attacking people with YOUR preconceived plans and opinions is never the path to inner truth. Only by paying close attention to the stirrings of others can you find open-heartedness. An open heart allows inner truth to penetrate just like light and heat warm an egg and “quickens” it into a living thing. That empty space in the egg is key. Inner truth is also an empty space in you that fills with interest and compassion in others. Furthermore, the source of a person’s strength lies not in herself but in her relation of that self to other people.
The Fragrance of Orchids
Remember the three sides to every story quote? “There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth.” Well, there is more to that quote that always gets left out for some reason. The next two sentences read, “And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each differently.”
Life leads the thoughtful man on a path of many windings.
Now the course is checked, now it runs straight again.
Here winged thoughts may pour freely forth in words,
There the heavy burden of knowledge must be shut away in silence.
But when two people are at one in their inmost hearts,
They shatter even the strength of iron or of bronze.
And when two people understand each other in their inmost hearts,
Their words are sweet and strong, like the fragrance of orchids.
– Ta Chuan
Don’t Let Your Farmer Become a Garbage Collector
There is a person you will never meet in this very present moment. Though you feel their nearness always and you may even catch a whiff here and there of their scent, or even a fleeting glimpse, they and you will never meet eyes. You will always be intimate strangers. In fact, he will be the sum of all your nowness. It’s hard to show kindness and respect when the object of your kindness and respect is your future self. Your future self is like the friendly farmer who harvests all the experiences (seeds) you set into motion in the present. Sorry future friendly-farmer-self. There are no apples to harvest because I planted oranges instead. Or, I planted nothing. All I did was make your farm empty and overgrown with regrets and missed opportunities. Then your future farmer has no time to farm because he has to deal with the garbage you left for him everywhere. Your farmer is now a garbage collector. Are you satisfied?
Taking Care of Our Future Selves
This week we are going to practice showing love and respect for our future selves. By doing small things, itty-bitty routines, and tiny baby step advances, we gain momentum. Momentum that will carry and propel us into the realm of our future selves. Of course, when we arrive at our future it will no longer be the future. It will be now, but this isn’t a sci-fi movie and we don’t have time to goof around. Know this, our future selves will cheer us and write songs about us and look back fondly at the “past-you-self” that has made all this future contentedness happen.
Start Small, But Start Now
Start small. What would you like to have happen in the future? What small things can I do now to work toward that vision of the future?
Sample Student: Well, Matt, I would like very much to not go to jail when I go home.
Matt: Super idea. Jail is depressing. Have you alerted your PO that you have left the state but are receiving mental health treatment and look forward to rehabilitating yourself?
Sample Student: No, I have not done that.
Matt: Then your future self is a garbage collector. How does that make you feel?
Sample Student: Poorly.
Matt: Yes, your future self also feels poorly. Let me help you call your PO and get things rolling in the right direction.
Sample Student: Gee whiz, that’d be swell!
We Are Worth It
The ability to connect to the present moment and shape it in a way that makes a future version of yourself grateful, is asking a lot. It depends on you loving yourself enough to do something about it. This week we will learn that our future selves are worth it and what we can do in the present to ensure that our future selves will be grateful for our sacrifices.
Barn Life Recovery is the first treatment center in the state of California licensed to treat mental illness on an outpatient community-based level. We specialize in mild to moderately severe mental illness, co-occurring disorders and addiction. If you or someone you love is struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, or if you’re feeling overwhelmed and need some help refocusing, please don’t hesitate to give us a call today.
Joy and Chaos
No doubt you’ve seen, or experienced for yourself, the state of limerence. The chaotic, sometimes even terrifying thoughts and feelings. The often irrational, even crazy behaviors. And most of all, the abject despair when our feelings of attraction are not returned. All of this is part of the limerence experience. Limerence is a precise term defined by, essentially, one crucial aspect of in-love/infatuation/romantic attraction: the psychological aspect. Psychologist Dorothy Tennov coined the term for her 1979 book, Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love. It describes a concept that had grown out of her work in the mid-1960s, when she interviewed over 500 people on the topic of love. Tennov described this state of being as involuntary. However, it is, in fact, only involuntary insofar as the limerent person is unaware of what is driving them.
The Origins of Limerence
I would like to suggest evolutionary biology as the basis of limerence. Limerence promotes the possibility of procreation. It almost always brought a child as a result in the days before widespread family-planning resources. One hundred thousand years ago there were plenty of ways for humans to perish. Therefore, it was crucial for the survival of children that both parents stuck around. However, at about 3-7 years into a limerent relationship, the dopamine cycle responsible for limerence begins to drift back toward normal. Procreation achieved, with a child of an age to survive, the people in this limerent pair-bond begin to re-enter reality. They begin to see each other as who they really are, instead of as distorted fantasies of someone who will assuage or satisfy all inner needs – the emotional trick evolutionary biology plays on us to get us to commit to pair-bonding and procreation in the first place.
From Dopamine to Serotonin
Once the dopamine cycle fades, the serotonin/oxytocin cycle takes over. These endorphins foster feelings of contentment, trust, and groundedness. Very different from the rush of pleasure and terror fostered by the dopamine cycle. The reality is that dopamine cycles and serotonin cycles cause very different feelings that do not, in fact, go together much. At this point, people in a limerent bond have a choice to make. They can leave the bond to find another limerent experience involving a strong dopamine hit to the brain’s reward centers. Or, they can refocus their emotional and intellectual attention on their current partner with the goal of knowing them for who they really are. This can be a challenge, as many of us have discovered. The reward for doing it, though, is substantial. It offers a peaceful, contented relationship that allows for and fosters the emotional growth of both partners.
This week, Barn Life Recovery explores limerence with our clients. If limerence fosters procreation for the purpose of raising a child to survival age, the serotonin cycle that comes after supports an intimate environment between partners fostering emotional growth and maturation and far deeper feelings of attachment. We explore the various irrational and emotionally questionable aspects of limerence: the fantasies, the intense highs and lows, the deep unhappiness limerence can cause. How might we become much more aware of the state of limerence? How can we become aware enough to manage these forces that drive us, and instead be the driver instead of the driven?
Barn Life Recovery is the first treatment center in the state of California licensed to treat mental illness on an outpatient community-based level. We specialize in mild to moderately severe mental illness, co-occurring disorders and addiction. If you or someone you love is struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, or if you’re feeling overwhelmed and need some help refocusing, please don’t hesitate to give us a call today.
Primitive Emotional Defenses
One of the ways that people avoid taking responsibility for their role in their own pain is what I call the BPs – blame and projection.
Projection and projective identification are very common, and very primitive emotional defenses. That is, I use projection to defend myself against certain emotions I may feel, or certain qualities I may possess or certain desires I may have which I may find deeply painful. So painful, in fact, that I cannot possibly tolerate them inside myself. I must split them off from my conscious awareness and experience these things in another person. This person is usually someone close to me but not always. In general, the closer someone is to me emotionally, or the closer I WANT them to be, the more likely it is that I will unconsciously project upon them. I can then hate or fear those feelings, desires or qualities in the other person rather than myself.
If You Spot It…
It is from this very human process that novelist Hermann Hesse derived his famous aphorism. He wrote, “If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.” Notice how that reads. Hesse could not have created a more succinct description of projection. The sole modification to make here is that in projection, it’s too often true that the thing we hate in another is not actually PRESENT in another. We have put that quality or emotion there to avoid it in ourselves.
Cue the Projection
It’s worth noting that very often if we are projecting something into another so that we can experience it in them, they may not quite get the unconscious message. In this case, we will unconsciously CUE them to act out the projection. This way we can experience the projection fully outside of ourselves. A simple example: I am very angry, but when I was a child, anger not allowed in my family, so I find the experience very painful and frightening. Thus, I project my anger into my partner so I can accuse them of being angry. Except, my partner isn’t quite playing along so I have to cue them to play by provoking them to anger. If you think about it carefully, this is a common experience for many people.
Why Would We Do This?
We engage in this behavior for at least two reasons. First, because It’s plausibly far less painful to experience our unwanted feelings, desires, or qualities in another person, where we can hate them or fear them in relative emotional safety than it is to experience those same things inside ourselves. Second, because human beings are inherently social creatures – no human does very well emotionally in isolation – projection is a rather obvious way for one person to help out another: if we accept someone’s projection, we are helping them in their effort to split off a part of themselves they cannot tolerate. We allow them to hate that part of themselves in us and thus we do them a very large emotional favor.
A Tormenting Inner Experience
Here is one powerful illustration of the first reason. In his book People of the Lie, M. Scott Peck proposed that many sudden, unexplained suicides might well be caused by a person, usually deeply–but not necessarily obviously–emotionally disturbed, by some means, getting in full contact with the dark, unwanted chaos of their inner experience, and that contact is so painful such a person immediately ends their own life. If we are willing to stipulate to the possible existence of such people, it is easy to imagine them projecting constantly, in a desperate attempt to be rid of so much tormenting inner experience. If it comes to pass that such people do contact their inner experience directly, the pain of that would be so severe that death as soon as possible would seem the only solution.
The Polarized Couple
The second reason we do this grows out of our common yearning for harmony. If someone is feeling bad because of their inner experience, as social creatures we naturally want to relieve that someone of their suffering. This reason for projection and accepting projections has all the markers of an evolutionary adaptation. We can see it perhaps most clearly in what Jung called the “Wounded Couple” or the “Polarized Couple.” In the Polarized Couple, the intimate partners have each split off unwanted, unacceptable parts-of-themselves that complement and are accepted by one another. For example, we may see an intimate couple where one person owns all the aggression and competence in the relationship, and the other person owns all the warmth and vulnerability. If you think about it, you’ve probably seen this quite a bit. Additionally, this kind of couple may be reinforced in their mutual projections by societal gender stereotypes.
The Couple Vs. a Healthy Person
As a single social unit, the couple may be highly effective in life. They own each other’s projections and protect each other from deeply painful inner feelings or qualities. This is, in certain ways, a highly functional unconscious arrangement for a couple to make, to own each other’s split off qualities. Problems arise here though. If you think about it, such a couple is going through life as a WHOLE, SINGLE person might. A healthy human does NOT unconsciously split off unacceptable aspects-of-self. An emotionally healthy person surfaces painful inner experiences and takes responsibility for them. Emotionally healthy people address them, work through them, and INTEGRATE all aspects of self into a powerful whole. This is the life-work of a conscious person.
Projection in the Workplace
If we look at how projection works in more general social and professional situations, consider the phrase at many workplaces “we’re a family.” This is, in a way, classic projection. Work is not a family. Ever. But I may identify my father or mother in my supervisor, I may ascribe to my supervisor all the good and bad qualities of my parent. I may identify siblings in co-workers. I may identify my other family members in people I work with. This is all too common, and it’s often a recipe for disaster. Because, of course, my boss is NOT my parent, nor are my co-workers my siblings. But if I’m projecting qualities of those people onto my co-workers, I may well be assuming qualities in those co-workers that do not, in fact, exist.
The Therapeutic Alliance
Projection is often at work in the therapeutic alliance. As the therapist and client move closer to each other, inevitably, as a result of the alliance, the client or the therapist might well start to project inner parts-of-self onto the other. This can turn into a serious problem if the therapist is unconsciously projecting onto the client, or accepting projections from the client without realizing it. Projection in the therapeutic alliance can also be a great opportunity to co-create change if the therapist can accept or decline the client’s projections in a pro-therapeutic way.
Some Projection Homework
This week, explore the problems and possibilities of projection and projective identification. Do we come from families in which there was a lot of projection? How do we then carry that through the world? What kinds of projections do we send or receive? How might we project our inner experience outward, into others, and experience it there, where it’s easier and safer to do so? Can we become more acutely aware of our inner world, and thus begin to take back all parts of ourselves in service of becoming more emotionally intelligent and healthy and effective in the world?
Awareness and the Inner Experience
There is an inverse correlation between being aware of and knowing my inner experience and my projecting. If I am thoroughly aware of my inner experience at all times, I will very seldom project anything outward. This is because I am owning all parts of myself. The bad with the good. The painful and the pleasant. That which may shame me and that which makes me feel valuable. If my inner experience is chaotic, or I have very little ability to know my inner experience–because I simply haven’t learned to how to know it–I will do a LOT of projecting, as a way to make sense of my existence and/or avoid emotional confusion and pain. How well do we know our inner experience? Do we have ways of knowing it? Or is that entire process a mystery?
Forgiving Too Easily
“Change is the end result of all true learning.” ~Leo Buscaglia
Forgiveness is a tricky business, enough so that we want to expand on our blog from early April. This week an interesting essay by Annette Roberts from Tiny Buddha leads us through the problem of forgiveness. I want to quote a bit from the essay and comment as we explore further the road Roberts has walked toward, around, and beyond forgiveness. Roberts describes her life in childhood, and forgiveness came easily in her family:
“When people were hurtful or insulting or inconsiderate, I didn’t take it too personally and didn’t hold grudges. I tried to see it from their perspective; I just assumed whatever they did had nothing to do with me or they had things going on in their life. Or I assumed they were trying their best at the time.”
Roberts is describing a very common problem with forgiveness. As she develops her essay, she describes a life in which she forgives FAR too easily. Or, maybe more accurately, far too quickly. Roberts bounces through life, forgiving people right, left and center, without ever really thinking much about what she is doing.
The Danger of Forgiving Too Soon
It develops that as a young adult Roberts ended up in court on a misdemeanor charge. Surprisingly, she had violated a restraining order against her taken out by an ex-boyfriend. She pinched the ex-boyfriend during a fight and now she was in trouble for it. She relates the all-too-common story of a bad relationship gone very wrong. In doing so, she realizes something profoundly important: she had been forgiving her ex, and many other people in her life, far too easily. She had been forgiving them BEFORE she had fully felt and integrated the injury these people had done to her. This includes the righteous anger she would have felt toward them for that injury. Her ex-boyfriend had hurt her in many ways but she had just “forgiven” all of it. She didn’t take the time to feel her anger toward him deeply, down where she lived.
Carrying the Weight
Forgiveness is important because without it we end up carrying around a lot of weight that doesn’t do us much good. At the same time, forgiving too soon, too easily, also leaves us with a weight, the weight of unaddressed, unfelt anger and hurt. When we don’t forgive at all, we nurse our rage and hurt. Furthermore, when we forgive too easily we IGNORE our rage and hurt, trying to act as if it is no longer there.
Roberts comes to an insightful realization from this:
“Forgiveness—expected and given willy-nilly—if it is too easy, that can mean you can miss the lesson.
It can mean you don’t make the change.
You don’t up your game, you don’t alter the gear, you don’t recognize the necessity for more effort, more time, more learning, changed behavior—either from yourself or someone else. You go back to doing the same thing over and over again; staying stuck in the same habit, the same place. You don’t grow; you stagnate [and] continue unhelpful habits.
If someone hurts you or you hurt them, and it changes nothing about either of you or your relationship, you or they are likely to be hurt again. Pain can help to figure out what went wrong, what boundary was crossed.
Easy forgiveness can sometimes mean you put yourself back in the way of the bus that just mowed you down, making yourself vulnerable to disrespect from yourself and others—bullies, people who take advantage of you.”
Make the Change
She points out that easy forgiveness is, essentially, an act of laziness. If we forgive without feeling the pain of hurt first, and effectively, we are never really forced to learn the lesson, never forced to make the CHANGE. If the experience of being hurt or injured in some way by another person, and the experience of forgiving them is not significant work, then there is no learning and no change. THAT becomes the lost opportunity of hurt and forgiveness. Read the entire essay, it’s worth your time. This week, explore the complex nature of forgiveness. There is little doubt that emotional problems can be exacerbated by a confused relationship with forgiveness, and someone with a substance use problem is almost certainly slogging through a disorienting swamp of forgiveness and being forgiven.
From Unknowing to Knowing
If “unknowing” leads us to non-judgment, then “knowing” leads us to judgment. If we think we know something, we start judging everything and everyone around us in the light of our “knowing.” Our “knowing” or “certainty” coupled with the inevitable judging that goes with them always leads to suffering. The Buddha said that “a day spent judging another is a painful day. A day spent judging yourself is a painful day.” Conversely, time spent unknowing, in non-judgment, may lead to a cessation of suffering.
Judgment Closes Doors
Knowing may involve an opening up to new possibility, but more often knowing takes the form of a certainty that closes doors and makes our world smaller rather than larger. What is a judgment that always accompanies certainty? It is a decision we make about the inherent nature or quality of communication, a thing, or a person. It is a decision of right or wrong, bad or good. An assumption. Judgment always has, or is part of, some agenda. What if we were able to drop all of that, and let things be as they are? What then?
Criticism = Judgment + Demand
Probably one of the most personally corrosive things to emerge from a state of knowing and its judgments is criticism. What is criticism? Well, it is an essentially emotional statement that contains a judgment and a demand. All criticism is made of these two things, although often the judgment and demand are camouflaged in some way. It’s also worth remembering that self-criticism, while occasionally useful, is more often as corrosive to our progress and growth as any criticism we might make of another person.
Converting Criticism into Effective Communication
A plain, albeit relatively mild, criticism might sound like this:
“I really wish you would wash the dishes every day. You are such a slob for not doing it!”
The demand: wash the dishes. The judgment: you’re a slob. Simple enough. Think about how it works as effective communication, though. Not well, most of the time. Inevitably the object of this communication will become defensive, even hostile and my criticism of them will not only be an abject failure in achieving my goal – consistent washing of the dishes – it will likely make things worse between us. A better way: dispense with the criticism and do something different. More effective communication might be: “When you don’t wash the dishes I feel angry, sad and dismissed.” I talk about myself, not about the potential object of my criticism. This seems simple enough but it can also be quite powerful in getting my partner, say, to actually listen to what I’m saying, and is less likely to provoke defensiveness or a fight.
So how do we experience our “knowings” and the judgments that follow from them? Is judging pleasant or unpleasant? How does constantly judging everything and everyone help or hurt us? M. Scott Peck once observed that “The quality of our judgments determines the quality of our lives.” While this is true, it’s crucial that we are all deeply aware of our inner experience driving our judgments and how we can communicate our judgments in a way that they can actually be heard and considered seriously. This week, explore judgment in all its manifestations and what it might be like to judge less and observe more, including judging ourselves. Does more judgment really result in more suffering? Is the converse true? Consider if judgment and criticism make us more distant from other people, more alone, or if less judgment and criticism bring us closer to others and to ourselves.
“Not-Knowing” Vs. Certainty
The concept or idea of “not-knowing” has a long history in spiritual teaching, going back thousands of years. In fact, Buddhism, Taoism, Neoplatonism and the mystic or esoteric teachings of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam all consider the state of “not-knowing” as crucially important to a useful spiritual practice. Of course there are versions of all these religions that value and idealize “certainty” or “knowing” very highly, perhaps higher than anything else – evangelical Christianity and certain sects of Islam come to mind, and there are others – as a way of understanding existence to the point of violently imposing that understanding upon others. In these understandings or epistemologies, “certainty” becomes a method of domination. Furthermore, certainty also becomes a version of hubris. The ancient Greeks were well aware of the dangers of hubris, going back over 2500 years.
An Empty Cup
Conversely, esoteric teachings of these same major religious traditions hold not-knowing or unknowing very highly. A useful entrance into this notion comes from Zen Buddhism. A famous Koan tells of a wandering Student who encounters a spiritual Master in the woods. The following conversation ensues:
Master: “Where are you going?”
Student: “My pilgrimage is aimless.”
Master: “What is the substance or matter of your pilgrimage, what do you seek?”
Student: “I don’t know.”
Master: “Ah. Not-knowing is most intimate.”
Unknowing Is Just Right
Marc Lesser gives an excellent interpretation of this Koan:
The response, “I don’t know” feels radically honest. What do we really know about ourselves, our experience, our world? He’s not trying to say something wise or impressive. Maybe he expects some guidance or advice.
Instead, he receives a gift: “Not knowing is most intimate.” Not knowing is just right. Perhaps what he was looking for, he had all along, only he didn’t know it.
The word intimacy in the Zen world is a way of speaking about awakening or enlightenment. I much prefer the word intimacy. Awakening and enlightenment imply some special state of mind, some kind of mystical experience, far removed from our day-to-day lives. We might think that awakening or enlightenment will somehow remove us from our daily struggles and problems. Intimacy brings us closer, to ourselves, to others, to our problems.
Knowing can be an obstacle, can even be our enemy. Our knowing can limit our vision. Much like the famous illusion/image of a woman’s face – that some people see as an old woman, other’s see as a young woman. We think we know … How can others see something so different? Isn’t this how much of life is?
This moment – this person, this illness, this opportunity, this pain or beauty – what is it? … How can we not be caught or limited by what we think we know?
With not knowing, I am open, ready, willing to learn, to be surprised. I can see and hear others beyond my own ideas. Though my experience and knowledge are important, they can get in the way. When I let go of my own ideas, I can be present, humble. When I am humble, I am not afraid. I can enter this moment, engaged, moved, open – intimate.
A Lovely Paradox
Additionally, an example comes from esoteric teachings of early Christian mystics. The article in Wikipedia about this 14th-century anonymous text is worth reading:
The Cloud of Unknowing (Middle English: The Cloude of Unknowing) is an anonymous work of Christian mysticism written in Middle English in the latter half of the 14th century. The text is a spiritual guide on contemplative prayer in the late Middle Ages. The underlying message of this work suggests that the way to know God is to abandon consideration of God’s particular activities and attributes, and be courageous enough to surrender one’s mind and ego to the realm of “unknowing”, at which point one may begin to glimpse the nature of God.
There is a lovely paradox at the heart of this text: only by entering a state of unknowing can we begin to know God, however you may conceive that vision.
Putting It Into Practice
So, this week, consider all that ways that unknowing might be useful to us. How might unknowing inform the decisions we make about the course of our lives? How might unknowing be a place to begin a process of developing greater awareness of reality and all that is contained there? Unknowing leaves all doors open, all options available. Certainty closes doors and limits our perspective. Notice also how Not-knowing and Acceptance intertwine with each other. Only through a process of acceptance may I enter the Cloud of Unknowing and from there begin to dispel that cloud and allow awareness to build into my perceptions.
Training Ourselves to Accept What Is
Acceptance is a simple enough idea but can be a challenge to master in practice. This week, we consider just what it means to accept, and how we might train ourselves to accept what is. Buddhism (and certain other spiritual practices) teach that if we do not accept what IS in our life now, we suffer. Another way to think about this is that when we suffer, we are, in essence, resisting what is in our life now. So in this formulation, all suffering results from some form of inner or outer resistance to what is.
The Serenity Prayer
The Serenity Prayer is yet another clear statement of this idea:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
It is in the serenity of acceptance that we find both the courage to change what we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. That wisdom eludes us without the serenity of acceptance.
Acceptance Vs. Resistance
Similarly, another way to think about acceptance and resistance is to imagine that we have arrived at a place and time in our lives when we are, in some sense, lost. Resistance to what is in our lives now is a form of being lost. Imagine being lost in the physical world. If I struggle against such a fact, if I am, say, lost in deep woods, I may never come out again. But if I sit quietly, and accept that I am truly lost, I may begin to see things differently. Once I stop resisting that I am lost, I may begin to see ways to become “un-lost.” I may see a path through the underbrush. I may hear sounds that lead me to safety. I may discover a great deal once I have accepted that I am lost and that struggling against that fact is useless.
A State of Openness and Receptiveness
Acceptance is thus not at all simply giving up to what is. Rather, it is a state of openness and receptiveness to what is happening to me now, and also a receptiveness and openness to what might be immanent – but not now obvious – in my current life-situation. Once we reach acceptance, the static of resistance fades and we can see and hear more clearly. We are also more likely to find inner peace more consistently if we can accept what is. So this week, where and what is our resistance? How does it manifest in our lives? What are we resisting now? What would it be like to accept what is instead of resisting it?
Breaking the Cycle
The time we spend in active addiction is all about destruction. Burning it all down. We burn through our stash and then we burn bridges while we look to replenish it and start the cycle over again. We destroy our good health, our relationships with family and friends, the trust others have in us, opportunities…the list goes on. And whatever the specifics concerning the roots of our addictions are, this impulse toward destruction is almost always the manifestation of unhealthy coping mechanisms. So while we’re trying to figure out those aforementioned roots and what to do about them, we also need to start learning some healthy ways to cope. Luckily, art therapy can help with this on both fronts.
How Art Therapy Works
For those of you who haven’t participated in an art therapy session, I’ll give a quick rundown of how it works. An art therapist will give a topic or assignment to a group, something along the lines of “paint how you are feeling today” or “draw a picture that represents freedom.” After everyone has had a chance to finish their work, we go around and discuss each piece, hearing from each artist. The group offers feedback, but no judgment: the purpose is to give audience to the artist and let them express themselves.
The Benefits of Art Therapy
The benefits of art therapy are numerous. For one thing, it addresses that destructive impulse head on. Rather than burning anything down, we are now taking time to create something. It also gives the artist a new voice to express themselves. This often leads to the articulation of things that would normally remain unsaid. Furthermore, a Drexel University study revealed that making art increases blood flow to the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain responsible for regulating emotions, thoughts, and actions. Scientists believe that there is a correlation between an underdeveloped or damaged prefrontal cortex and addiction. Art therapy, then, helps strengthen this part of the brain.
Barn Art Life
Art therapy is one of the many services we offer here at Barn Life Recovery, along with Tai Chi, meditation, martial arts, and more. In fact, we are now sharing (with our artists’ permission, of course) some of the art that has been created in our therapy groups. You can check it out here and be sure to come back as we’ll be updating it regularly.
Barn Life Recovery is the first treatment center in the state of California licensed to treat mental illness on an outpatient community-based level. We specialize in mild to moderately severe mental illness, co-occurring disorders and addiction. We accept calls 24/7 at (949)229-6853.
As fans won’t let us forget, the wildly successful Game of Thrones recently came to its conclusion. And as the media won’t let us forget, Kit Harington, the actor who played Jon Snow in the series, checked into a wellness retreat in Connecticut sometime in May after the show had finished taping. An unnamed friend of the actor told Page Six that “The end of ‘GoT’ really hit Kit hard … He realized ‘this is it — this is the end’, it was something they had all worked so hard on for so many years. He had a moment of, what next? He’s in the clinic predominantly for stress and exhaustion and also alcohol.”
We’re All People
It’s easy to forget sometimes that there are real people behind the characters, especially when we’ve watched these characters interact and grow over the course of 8 years. And while it’s tempting to say something like, “Aww, these people are rich…what kind of problems could they possibly have?”, the truth is that mental health is something that affects us all. It is certainly easier to be less stressed out when you don’t have money issues, but with the big checks and the fame comes an entirely new set of problems. Think about the huge backlash and negative fan response that arose after the final episode aired and then imagine working on that show and having to face the world afterward. A pretty frightening proposition.
Similarities Instead of Differences
Instead of thinking about the differences between Kit Harington and the average person, start to think about the similarities. In doing so, you’ll start to learn something about the nature of trauma and traumatic experiences. A stressful job. An impending termination of employment. Saying goodbye to friends and co-workers you’ve been around for the past 8 years. The feelings of emptiness that are bound to be a part of that situation. Being overwhelmed by the prospect of filling that emptiness. Honestly, it’s a little surprising that we don’t hear more stories like Mr. Harington’s after popular series finales. And I also know that if more people were willing to be open, honest, and accepting of mental health issues, we absolutely would.
Retreat and Re-Center
We are very happy to hear that Kit Harington is being proactive and taking care of his mental wellness. The Page Six article mentions that Harington is “undergoing psychological coaching, practicing mindful meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy to combat stress and deal with negative emotions.” These just a few of the services that we offer at Barn Life Recovery. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues, or if you need to take a step back and re-center, give us a call today.
Answering the Call of Self-Mastery
Let go of whom you’ve become and grasp what you can be.
What does it mean to live up to one’s fullest potential and highest conceivable good?
Life is constant change and if you float with it, the sailing is much, much smoother.
Inspired by Lao Tzu, the librarian sage priest of ancient, idyllic China, the ideas above express an invitation to answer the call of Self-Mastery. Mastery of one’s own “self” is a twist of words. The self, as we all think about it, is formless. Our concepts of our selves’ are more of “a feeling” or a “kind of sense” of who we are as individual people. When people call your name and you respond, a “self” somewhere in your mind wakes up and sends a message to your tongue. “Yes?” Your self responds. Self is a storm up in your head all over the place.
How Does One “Master” Something?
So, ok, how do we master something as formless as a self? It’s just an idea. Let that simmer a second or two, we will come back to it. Let’s ask a different question. How does one “master” something?
Ever see The Matrix? There is a scene where Neo, the main character, is quite literally “downloaded” entire styles of Martial Arts as well as complex languages and all other sorts of information and knowledge, with the push of a button. ZCHWERP! Done. You are a master, my son, in less that 2 seconds! Please exit through the gift shop! Huh, uh we wish mastery was that easy. I mean what would be the best way to make mastery a little easier and better and more…marketable? Shorten the amount of time it takes! Bingo, but wait a second, if we shorten the time it takes to master something doesn’t that contradict the definition of mastery? What is the definition of “master” since I just brought it up? As it turns out, there are a bunch:
A master is an original thing of which copies are made. Like a master key or a master file.
A master can also mean something that controls something else. Like a master cylinder or the master ring that controls all others.
To master can also mean to exhibit control over another person. Like a lord of a kingdom or a master of a ship.
One can master a skill by repeating it like a master carpenter or a master artist.
Time Is the Secret
Mastery seems to imply an ability to utilize something at the highest possible level of skill. Time affords us this blessing. Only time can provide us the moments we need to improve upon our selves. A therapist or martial arts master cannot whisper into someone’s ear the secret word and whoosh they are transformed. There is no secret code or secret knowledge that will transform you in the moment. Save but one. Time is the secret. Keep doing it and you will master it.
Wanna know how to get good at something? Do it.
What about how to be great? Do it more.
Wanna know how to be a master? Do it over and over and over.
Time seems to be the secret sauce here. To master something is to learn it thoroughly. Repeated exposures. Repetitions. Familiar ground.
The Real Meaning of Kung Fu
I swear, and I am biased toward all things Asian, but the Chinese always come up with the best words for this stuff. They call it kung fu. Most of us think this means martial arts. It doesn’t. It means “an accumulation of time and effort.” That’s it. Self-mastery in a nutshell. Time combined with where you place your effort. Where do you place your effort and what do you do all day? Do you repeat certain things day after day? What sort of stuff happens to you all day? What do you engage in and what do you seek? Which part of the day are you most happy and which parts are the worst?
Self-Mastery Is The Highest Calling You Can Aspire To
Having a clear sense of how your time in a day is spent is VERY, VERY important. It will add up to who you are. Your self. And that self will be the self we are referring to when we say self-mastery. You become an expert of you. You know you like the back of your hand. To be a master of self is the highest calling you can aspire to. Exploring who you are, what you like, what you love, what you live for, what you would die for, what you will do whether people pay you to do it or not. What do you do when no one is looking? What do you do when no one will know? One person will always know. You. Serving that master will never end poorly. All of your experiences…boons. Every moment…treasures.
“Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason, mastery demands all of a person.” – Albert Einstein
Weaving In and Out
We like to play with threads here at Barn Life Recovery, which should have been evident from our Warp and Woof blog a while back. At the moment, we’ve been weaving with a couple of threads. The first one traces our steps through our inner world. The second concerns the people who surround us. This blog entwines the two as it deals with selfishness.
Selfishness: A Working Definition
To be selfish is to be inconsiderate of others. A selfish individual is primarily focused on personal profit or pleasure of any kind regardless of the impact on others. This behavior stems from ignorance of others and/or an intentional disregard of others. We call this self-absorbed and self-seeking behavior, respectively. It also includes a focus of how situations, environments, and events directly impact or are impacted by the individual (egocentrism), a focus on the importance of self, and a sense of superiority over others regardless of truth (egomania, i.e. narcissism).
The Roots of the Problem
Children often start developing empathy as early as age two and can soon begin to exhibit an understanding of empathy. They acknowledge that other people have thoughts and feelings of their own. Humans can naturally regulate empathy through competent parenting and healthy socialization. So, what happens? Why do people become selfish, self-absorbed, egocentric and narcissistic? A child brought up with excess often learn that they can get what they want through demands, which leads to entitlement. A selfish individual becomes limited in perception. This person is concerned with how much can be taken without sharing and how to give as little as possible back. Selfishness also manifests due to insecurity. This can develop from a myriad of sources such as an unstable home, abuse, mistrust, and a lack of development of empathy.
A Selfish Program?
The idea of selfishness can also come from a black or white perception which easily becomes muddled. Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step groups often use the phrase, “A.A./N.A. is a selfish program.” What this means is that there is a primary focus on a recovering individual who goes through a process of intense learning of self-awareness and personal responsibilities. This path requires a focus on self in order to be a better individual through actions that reflect adherence to a transpersonal commitment. These actions also include how an individual can utilize their strengths and experiences to be of service to others. This creates a loop of meaning which includes the importance of fellowship and consideration of others. So are these programs truly “selfish?” No, this course of action looks much more like self-care.
To challenge selfishness, we assist our clients in differentiating self-care from selfishness. As past or current patterns of selfishness come to awareness, we help to raise our clients’ perspectives to also account for how their actions will impact others. Furthermore, through empowerment, we encourage them to take advantage of their choices to engage in actions that reflect integrity. This includes learning to set healthy and assertive boundaries which allow for a healthy and sober lifestyle. By challenging underlying issues which allow for selfishness to occur, we can find the courage to become vulnerable and to pursue genuine and authentic relationships. This can open realities to discover the value in the compassion and company of others.
The Old Nourishes the New
Last week we explored beginnings. This week we prepare for the end.
Some say that to start something new, you must first “let go” of what has become familiar. A new perspective sprouts from an old perspective. Like fertilizer, the old way nourishes the new way. Note: endings and beginnings are interchangeable points on the same circle. All beginnings are endings and all endings become new beginnings. Something new always sprouts from something decayed. It lives, comes to an end, and gives way to something new. It is no surprise that the Hindu goddess Kali is given credit as the great destroyer and the great creator. She is lovingly referred to as the Dark Mother and in the wake of utter annihilation, new possibilities spring forth. Kali provides liberation or release, called moksha in Hindu, from old ways and old thinking. Though liberation sounds liberating, most of us shun the crucial step that precedes it: uncertainty and fear.
Doing the Unstuck
Identifying habits and behaviors that merit an end is the first step. To make it a bit easier, we may even begin to think about some new habits and behaviors that get us excited about the forthcoming change. Endings are a little easier when something inspiring is in the near future. But look out, our old friend FEAR usually rears his scary head at this time. Fear of letting go or of change. Fear of a future that may be worse than now. What if my ending begets a difficult new beginning? These fears are a good starting point. Fear leaves us stuck. Helping clients get “unstuck” is the goal. Replacing fear with trust. Trust in ourselves. Trust in a future that we can look forward to despite the growing pains that come with change.
The Appointed Time
Kali literally means “appointed time” in Sanskrit. The appointed time is the time we select to make a change, to engage in the process of ending and beginning and to flow with this current of time. Preparing for this appointed time is our goal this week. The appointed time of our endings and new beginnings. That time is now.
Rocky Starts and Face-plants
Beginnings are rocky. In fact, beginnings are beset by difficulties. Easy beginnings are not beginnings at all by our definition. Want proof? From the ordeal of birth to those first unsteady steps to taking off the training wheels – there is nothing easy or amusing at birth. It’s bloody serious business entering the world. Not for the squeamish at all. Learning to walk ends in a high-speed bumbling face-plant most attempts (graceful and lovely are not adjectives that spring to mind). Riding a bike for the first time free is as amazing of a feeling as one could ask for. However, it’s often followed by a very abrupt and high-friction situation no one asked for. Riding a bike, in the beginning, is about as unsafe as you can be, perched up off the ground on two shaky wheels downhill…then the rock you never saw becomes starkly noticeable as you face-plant (remember walking?) into the pavement. A familiar feeling, the face-plant.
New Beginnings Are Not Without Hardships
The Chinese have a word we do not have. It’s called “chun.” Chun means “difficulties in the beginning.” Make special note to the fact that “difficulties” has an “s” at the end. There is not just one difficulty lurking ominously for the beginner, but many. So many. Makes a fellow not want to try new things, that’s for certain.
Chun’s Indomitable Spirit
Chun has a few secret meanings too. Chun is the image of a tiny green sprout popping up from the ground. This sprout was a seed just a few days ago and had to undergo the daunting task of being born. Now it is racing toward the sun whilst simultaneously grow roots to attach itself down to get water. Furthermore, the sprout has to dodge any obstructions that may be in its way as it pushes upward. But the sprout won’t know about the obstacle part until he gets there…and that’s just way the cookie crumbles. All that effort to get born could be all for nuttin’. Blam, obstacle. However, chun is not deterred by these obstacles. Chun just grows slowly and keeps moving around, over, or through the obstacle. One way or another. This is an old word with lots of secrets.
Bringing It Together
In closing, in the beginning of things, basic principles come before specific goals. We cannot head off in a direction before we establish our principles for heading off in the first place. Our principles are what we believe and practice. Once we have established our principles then we discuss goals and plans. So, the beginning is about setting up what we practice. Who we are. Which is never easy. Then goals. Then freedom.
“Beginnings are sudden, but also insidious. They creep up on you sideways, they keep to the shadows, they lurk unrecognized. Then, later, they spring.”
– Margaret Atwood
Moving from How to Why
In previous blogs, we offered some techniques for dealing with some of the things life throws our way. From flowing to forgiveness, and from meditation to contemplation, these are strategies offer a path to a better way of life. However, these posts speak to the question of how to live life. This week, we want to address the why. What is the point in learning how to live if you don’t feel like you have something to live for? It is impossible to live a positive life if we just aimlessly wander through it. Inevitably, we need to address our search for meaning.
The Search for Meaning is a War
Meaning in our lives is a hard-fought spoil of war. The war rages between what others have deemed “meaningful” in your life and what the essential “you” has deemed meaningful. Often times, burdened by the meaning of others, we all trudge onto the field of life in a search for meaning of our own choosing. It is a search for something that “matters” to us. Something worth living for and fighting for. Something that makes each day a crusade to manifest what matters most to us. We are not settling. We are actively seeking.
Existence Precedes Essence
A clue in our search for meaning lies in what we do. A famous French philosopher once said that “existence precedes essence.” In other words, there is nothing extrinsic to us that will define us. Only our actions define us and it is through our actions that we find meaning. Poets find meaning in words and fashioning them to say what cannot be said. Similarly, the compassionate find meaning in helping others. Hedonists find pleasure in all that there is to enjoy and more. On the other hand, ascetics derive joy from less and less. To these folks, the meaning is found in reduction.
Get Out and Explore
The search for meaning and finding a meaningful path are essential to our development as human beings. This week at Barn Life, we are exploring all different kinds of meaningful lifestyles. The sky is truly the limit. There are endless examples of lives well lived. There are examples throughout history and right in our own backyards. People who have found their purpose and calling are everywhere if we look. This week we will open our senses to allow for the world to work its magic on us. Try on new hats. Go someplace different. Talk to someone you never talk to. Lift up a rock and see what’s underneath. Peel back the layers. The clues for a meaningful life are everywhere. The menu is full. Order something. Try it.
Looking at the Big Picture
The word, “holistic,” is misused. This week, we are going to bring it all back home. Bring it back down to the grassroots, to its intended meaning and purpose. Note, you can also write “holistic” as “wholistic,” even though your spell checker may not agree. The alternative spelling gives us a much better clue as to the meaning of this misunderstood word. Holism is where the idea of holistic comes from in the first place. It is a philosophy that states that the parts that make up a whole are interdependent and contribute to the whole in a way that is more valuable than the individual parts. “How” the parts connect becomes the important question. The relationship between the parts. Keep in mind, each part cannot be understood separately from the whole. All parts are interrelated thus we must consider all parts.
Treatment or Bureaucracy?
For example, a person reports they have a shortness of breath. The family doctor sends them to a pulmonary specialist. The lung doctor only looks at the lungs. However, he sees that an inflamed liver is pushing on the lungs. Since he is not a liver doctor he refers his patient to a liver specialist. The liver specialist then discovers that the liver inflammation is due to excessive alcohol consumption. He then refers the patient to a substance abuse specialist who discovers that the reason the patient drinks alcohol excessively is that he is severely depressed. So, he refers him to a depression specialist. And so on and so on the drudgery lumbers forward…
A Holistic Approach Supports True Healing
A wholistic approach to this issue considers all these factors and contributing forces…simultaneously. Each issue creates a chain reaction that creates another series of chain reactions. How these chain reactions communicate and relate to one another is what wholistic care is all about. If we isolate a component and only fixate on that singular component, it is like giving a free house to a homeless person. As you wash your hands and pat yourself on the back for “fixing” the issue of homelessness, you cannot help but realize that there is still a potential learning disability, trauma, mental illness, addiction and or a host of other issues that contribute and overlap to the overall identified problem, which is homelessness. Buying them a house does not remedy the issue. Only looking at each issue and how it relates to the next can we gain the insight that necessitates and supports true healing and change.