The One Skill We Hope to Pass On
We’ve gone over quite a bit of philosophy in our blog lately. However, those theories don’t mean much until we start to put them into practice. It is not our beliefs that make us who we are – our actions do. If there is one skill we hope to pass on to those we treat, it is the skill of meditation. This silent time with one’s self is pivotal. In fact, it sets the stage for all other discoveries, epiphanies, and successes we strive towards. How can we navigate cravings, obsessions and destructive thought patterns if we cannot endure our own company in silence for 5 minutes? How do we build a new life free from the bondage of addiction if we do not know who we are or what we want?
Time Spent Honestly
What is meditation? The answer is a lot less complicated than you’d imagine. Meditation is, in the beginning, time set aside and devoted to listening to that soft, still voice inside ourselves. Meditation is an act of revolt against distraction and delusion. It is time spent honestly. As we progress, the meditative state of mind encompasses all we do. No need to set time aside to meditate, because we will have achieved a perpetual “nowness” quality to our conscious lives.
Both Brains Working in Harmony
Barn Life Recovery makes it a point to treat the whole person as part of our approach. To that end, we want to get both brains working in harmony. Which two brains? One is obvious – your mind. The other is your gut. Our guts, namely our digestive system takes up a lot of real estate. And for good reason – its job is to fuel our bodies. Without it, all is lost. This constant supply of energy, however, needs guidance. This leadership comes from our minds. It guides the energy to where it is needed. Thoughts, dreams, hair, skin cells, bone, bone marrow, laughter and love all require energy. Our gut supplies it and our mind guides it. But what happens when our mind fails to do its job? It begins to misappropriate the energy our guts provide it. Thoughts and obsessions run wild. Neuroses set in. Only through mindful meditation practice can we attune these two brains and have them working in harmony.
A Variety of Techniques
At Barn Life Recovery, we explore various meditation techniques: from simple breathing patterns to active awareness practice to “nowness” integration. Even listening to others is a form of meditative practice. Groups are centered around the idea of self-mastery through non-action or wu wei (Chinese for no-mind) which is just a clever way to say spontaneous free actions and thoughts devoid of worry, second-guessing and hesitation. Armed with this newfound skill, our clients will have a huge advantage when dealing with daily struggles and challenges.
The Warrior (and Nemesis) Within
We are all heroes, though dormant sometimes. Waiting, many of us, for something or someone to rouse us from our slumber, to give us our holy quest and to aid us in defeating our deadliest foe. Vanquishing these monsters back into the darkness they sprang. Adversaries are easy to find. In fact, they usually take a form starkly similar to our own and are driven by a similar yet jilted force. That is where the Kraken and Minotaur make their nests. In the hard to reach places. Beyond what is much too uncomfortable for most people to uncover. But the hero finds the beasts and challenges them. Far from the known, betwixt within the brambles and twists. An unknown dragon stirs deep down within us. Once defeated literally all other foes pale in comparison. There is no greater tragedy than a hero split apart from himself. Torn between self and this darker, other self. Fighting to subdue what is within and make things whole again.
A Journey of Self-Discovery
We all, every one of us, have an innate destiny to be the hero of our own lives. Waking up and breaking through to a newer understanding of who we are and whom we choose to become, again and again. Sometimes the story ends badly. Too often, the warrior never reaches the point of defeating her nemesis. Many times, she gets lost in the labyrinth or the dark forest and is never seen or heard from again. Sometimes the hero takes the wrong advice and ends up lost before he ever had a chance to find out. However, sometimes, against insurmountable odds and uncanny turns, the hero looks deep within and vanquishes the darkness. Our wish, hope and practice at Barn Life Recovery is to improve the likelihood of this far too rare outcome. Everyone is the hero of their life. We are all on a journey of self-discovery and meaningfulness. Indeed, we all stand at the brink of transforming our lives forever.
What Makes a Hero?
The idea of heroes runs deep throughout every culture throughout the ages. Certain people stand out among the rest and accomplish deeds that far exceed the reach of more pedestrian folks. What makes a hero? Is it what they say that makes them different or what they do? Are they defined by their actions? What aspects or characteristics do most heroes share? Is there a way to cultivate heroic qualities in ourselves? Joseph Campbell is a good place to start when talking about the significance of heroes. Additionally, the world of Marvel and DC comics, who have created many of the modern day archetypes for superheroes, is a good place to explore.
Who were your first heroes?
Structure and Song
Now that we have a handle on some of the basic elements of ancient Chinese philosophy, let’s start to widen our scope to elements of the everyday world. We’ll begin by looking at a concept in weaving: warp and woof. The expression is often used as a metaphor for the underlying structure on which something is built or started. The warp and woof entangle, forming a web. The warp is the row of vertical strings on a loom that weavers weave first. These are the original framework fibers. Simply put, the warp is the structure. “Warp” in Chinese is written “Ching” as in the “I Ching” or the “Tao Te Ching”. Warp is what you tie all other parts to. Which brings us to woof. The woof makes it all sing. They are the notes between the bars. The woof holds all the magic and chaos as it weaves and swerves through the warp.
The Necessity of Framework
However, we still need to remember the significance of structure. The important first step of framework (warp) cannot be stressed here enough. Think about the bass line in a piece of music. That bass line usually carries the song. It is what the rest of the players start from and return to. The bass line is the pulse of the song. Same goes for the warp. It is the pulse of things. It sets a beat. With a steady rhythm, we can start riffing on and exploring and creating harmonies and expressing who we are. Without the warp? Just a lot of lovely noise. Constant aimless noise with no end and no frame. Without the woof the warp would just be rules, rules, rules. Things would get boring real, real fast. The two work together in an exquisite existential harmony. Providing exactly what the other cannot even imagine.
We’re going to shift gears here and start to relate these ideas to recovery. Starting a new life in recovery is not easy. Where do we begin? The desire to not drink is certainly not enough. We cannot start fresh in a life with a goal of “not” doing something. We want to DO things. Not not do things. Doesn’t even sound right. But what do we do? What happens first? Beginnings are rocky. 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. However, by setting principles first, like the warp, we can weave the life we wish.
A Tiny Green Sprout
However, due to the ideogrammatic nature of the Chinese language, chun has a few secret meanings too. Chun is the image of a tiny green sprout popping up from the ground. This sprout, that was a seed just a few days ago, had to undergo the daunting task of being born and then racing toward the sun and simultaneously grow roots to attach itself down and get water and also dodge any obstructions that may be in their way as they push 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 nothing. 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.
Principles and Goals
Now it’s time to tie it all together. At the beginning of things, basic principles (warp) come before specific goals (woof). 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. Otherwise, we put the woof before the warp and we all know what happens then.
“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, The Blind Assassin
What is a Delusion?
At Barn Life Recovery, we treat individuals with a wide range of mental health issues. One type is delusional disorder. Though delusional disorder is generally rare on its own, it can often be a symptom of certain types of substance abuse. This brings us to the question, “What is a delusion?” A delusion is a conviction to a belief which can persist in the presence of irrefutable evidence to the contrary. For example, it can manifest as a defense mechanism in order to cope with intense and uncomfortable situations. In fact, a delusion may protect an individual from harm initially, such as delusional thinking in an abusive relationship. Unfortunately, it will also support and maintain the maladaptive behavior. An individual can create delusions to maintain substance use without facing the responsibility imposed by negative consequences. Delusions can maintain dysfunctional family homeostasis in addition to manifesting and exacerbating codependency.
How Does Barn Life Recovery Assist These Individuals?
We must empathize with those that have manifested delusions as a way to cope. We must also assist clients with raising awareness about those delusions and discovering how they maintained unhealthy behaviors. Let us empower clients to break these chains and develop the courage to make decisions from truth and integrity.
There are several subtypes of delusional disorders and some of these include:
According to the DSM-IV-TR, these are the most common form of delusions in schizophrenia, where the person believes they are “being tormented, followed, sabotaged, tricked, spied on, or ridiculed
This is the fixed, false belief that one is being harmed or persecuted by a particular person or group of people. Paranoid delusions are known technically as a “persecutory delusion.”
This usually develops due to a fear that a spouse or partner is being unfaithful. While these doubts are baseless, they can cause severe damage to the relationship. The sufferer usually goes to great lengths to try and find evidence of their partner’s alleged “affairs” and may also resort to a third party such as a private detective to find such evidence. Studies show that this form of delusion is more common in men than in women. Morbid jealousy and pathological jealousy are also common names for this.
Erotomania or Delusion of Love
In this type, the patient is often firmly convinced that a person he or she is fixated upon is in love with them. This obsession leads to stalking, unnatural jealousy and rage when the object of their affection is seen with their spouse or partners. Additionally, erotomania often concerns a famous person or someone who is in a superior status and usually there is no contact between the patient and the victim, who has never encouraged the patient. De Clerambault’s Syndrome is another name for erotomaniac delusional disorder.
Somatic Delusional Disorder
In this disorder, a person believes wholeheartedly that something is wrong with them. This type of delusion may often lead to multiple consultations with physicians, surgical procedures, depression and even suicide. Some individuals may also develop tactile hallucinations and feel the sensation of insects or parasites crawling over their skin. Professionals call this monosymptomatic hypochondriacal psychosis and it forms part of somatic delusional disorder.
Induced Delusional Disorder or Folie à Deux
This is a rare disorder where two people, who are usually in a close relationship, completely isolate from others physically and culturally and share the same delusional system of grandeur or persecution. For example, one of the partners may be the dominant personality who influences the weaker personality into adopting the delusion, in which case the psychosis mainly affects the dominant person with the other rapidly recovering once they separate from the primary.
Delusions of Grandeur
Someone might, for example, believe they are destined to be the leader of the world despite having no leadership experience and difficulties in interpersonal relationships. Persistence characterizes delusions of grandeur. They are not just moments of fantasy or hopes for the future. It is important to differentiate between delusions of grandeur and simple hopes for the future.
Symptoms of Delusion of Grandeur
The incubations of delusions of grandeur vary greatly in their content, but they are similar to one another in that they involve the persistent belief in one’s own grandiosity.
Here are a few common examples of delusions of grandeur:
- The belief that one has a special relationship with a supernatural entity. Cult leaders, for example, might believe they can communicate with a god or that they are a manifestation of a god on earth.
- The belief that one has a special relationship with a famous person or authority figure, such as the president.
- The belief that one has a unique destiny. These destinies often involve power, fame, fortune, or supernatural concepts.
The Vital Force Within Us All
Now that our previous blogs have introduced you to the Five Elements and the idea of yin and yang, it’s time to get acquainted with another fundamental concept of ancient Chinese philosophy: Qi. Qi is the pulse of the cosmos. It is the vital force within us all. Picture a bellows. A bellows is a material thing made of wood and metal. We use them to blow air onto a fire in order to stoke the flames. However, a bellows is useless until we force through it. Likewise, we are an empty vessel until the breath of life is blown through us. Most simply put, qi is another way of saying energy. But it is more than just energy. In the Chinese tradition, matter is also a component of qi. Chinese sages did not distinguish between matter and energy. To them, these phenomena are one in the same.
Matter into Energy and Back
Let’s analyze this idea a little more deeply. Matter is constantly transforming into energy (burning of fossil fuels) and energy is constantly turning into matter (the creation of life). Thoughts are energetic. So are emotions. We cannot dissect thoughts and emotions, put them under a microscope or hold them in our hands. Does this mean they do not exist? Quite the opposite, thoughts and emotions can be frighteningly real. They are felt deeply. Their existence is obvious to anyone with a central nervous system and a brain. To go a step further, as Franz Kafka put it so poignantly:
“By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently focused our attention upon.”
Kafka understands that thoughts become emotions and emotions create behaviors and behaviors create actions and action creates reaction. Added together, the quality of our thoughts determines the quality of our life and the quality of our character. The intangible is the mother of the tangible…and vice versa.
If you’re uncomfortable looking at this from an emotional point of view, not to worry. A more scientific perspective may resonate with Albert Einstein’s most famous equation:
E stands for energy (the unseen force). M stands for mass (a tangible, measurable piece of matter). C stands for the speed of light. The little 2 means squared or multiplied by itself. So, energy equals mass multiplied by the speed of light squared. This means that Einstein proved that energy and matter are two aspects of the same thing. Matter can turn into energy and energy can turn into matter.
Back to the Beginning
Whether you prefer a more objective or a more subjective approach, eventually you’re led to a perplexing question: where does all this qi come from? It comes from nowhere – it just is! It is matter on the verge of becoming energy and energy on the verge of becoming matter. The Chinese character for qi looks like this: 氣. In fact, this character is really two ideograms (an idea expressed in writing) put together. The small character on the bottom left that looks like an asterisk means fire 米. The rest of the character 气 means a kettle of rice or water. So, in earliest of times, this symbol for qi was the energy or steam that is produced when fire and water is combined. By taking two seemingly polar opposites and bringing them together, energy is produced.
Tying It All Together
It’s now time to fold qi back into yin, yang, and the elements and see how it affects our day-to-day lives. Fire is thought of as yang and water is thought of as yin. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the kidneys are thought to house these polar energies of fire and water and the union of these opposites gives rise to our vital energy, namely qi. Too much yang, fire, heat, activity and our system burns too hot depleting our water and causing stress and anxiety. Too much yin, water, cold and inactivity and our system runs too frigid causing depression, fatigue and low sex drive. On a grander scale, our physical bodies are fire, consuming and burning resources. We take in food and literally cook it inside ourselves. This is why we incorporate the cooling qualities of yin or water. It keeps the furnace burning at a reasonable temperature.
Some Unvarnished Truth
Nothing about what you are about to read is exciting. Life skills are not glamorous. However, they are the basic square root of all else that we do. By failing to grasp basic life skills, larger and more complicated tasks become unmanageable and unnecessarily complex. Life skills are our building blocks. Can you balance a checkbook? Can you open a bank account? Are you on time for your appointments? Can people depend on you? Do you keep your word? Are you able to feed yourself? Can you cook? Who decides for you when enough is enough? Did you get dressed today, or wander into the world in your pajamas still? What does that communicate?
Life skills are diverse and all over the map. Basic ones seem to elude many of us the most. Think about this. You are in an interview situation and you stand up suddenly and walk out of the room. In your mind, you have to go to the bathroom. However, the interviewer would be perplexed and offended that you just walked out. It sends the wrong message regardless of what your true intention was. Life skill: let people know, communicate.
Punctuality is an important life skill.
Making your words mean something.
Being truthful and impeccable.
Honoring the perspectives of others.
Establishing personal boundaries and limits.
The last two are vital. If you have no idea what your limits are, you are lost. If you fail to discipline your actions and words, society will do it for you, in the form of prison, mental institutions, the military, or poverty. It is only through personal and chosen discipline that we find freedom and spontaneity! Imposed discipline manifests as tyranny and slavery.
Life skills are very much like tactics in chess. You do not need a master plan if you are tactically sound. Being tactically sound means practicing basic life skills. Let’s try to work towards cultivating life skills this week.
The Supreme Ultimate Reality
During our discussions of the Five Elements over the past couple weeks we have made a few mentions of the concepts of Yin and Yang, as well as Tai Chi. This week we’re going to look a little more closely at these fundamentals and how they relate to our lives.
The above symbol of yin and yang is actually called Tai Chi. Tai Chi means “the supreme ultimate reality.”
There is also a concept called Wu Chi. Wu Chi looks like this:
It is just an empty circle, void, meaningless. Wu chi also comes to represent chaos or non-order or the inconceivable. It is only when this wu chi divides itself into two distinguishable poles (yin and yang) do we derive meaning, form and order
The Etymology of Yin and Yang
We gain some valuable insights into yin and yang when we examine the etymology of the words. For example, we write Yin in classical Chinese like this: 阴. We write Yang like this: 阳. The Chinese characters yin and yang are both comprised of two separate characters. The character yin has the character for moon 月 in it. The character of yang has the character of sun 日 in it. This gives us an important clue into what these two words are meant to signify. When literally translated, yin means “the shady side of the hill.” Yang means “the sunny side of the hill.” We associate the yin side, or shady side, with things that are at rest, introverted, calm, receptive, passive, cold and dark. We associate the yang side, or sunny side, with activity, extroversion, excitement, unrest, creativity, chaos, action, heat and light.
An Alliance of Energies
At first glance, it might seem tempting to prefer the yang side of things. However, it needs to be said that these two opposites depend upon each other. They need each other to define their very existence. All things are relationships. What is up without down? Though our culture puts a high emphasis on activity and action, without rest and calm we will get ill and burnout. Furthermore, what does a picture of a black bear at night drawn on a black piece of paper look like? Nothing. However, if we put that picture on a white piece of paper we know instantly what it is. In other words, we need a concept of a hard day so we can appreciate a good day. We live in a world of opposites joined together inexplicably in a great mysterious union. This forms a mutual alliance between these two seemingly opposed energies.
Breaking Down the Binaries
To see yin and yang as a type of binary structure is missing the point entirely. Yin and yang are not a duality. By duality, we refer to the way Western Culture and the English language creates a kind of opposing duality in one’s mind. Things are always good or bad, up and down, pretty or ugly, happy or sad. However, the Chinese constructed their language differently. All seemingly opposite phenomena are really different sides to the same thing. Day and night are always dependent upon each other to give the other meaning. You cannot have saints unless you have sinners. These seemingly opposing things are really united, inexplicably. Trying to live a life only on one side of this balanced equation is a formula for disaster and disease. Flowing within this inherent structure that comprises the phenomena of existence is a useful piece of advice.
Keep It Simple
As we grow, our consciousness begins to expand and subdivide in an effort to categorize our experiences. However, we should remember that everything is yin and yang. The linear mind longs to move forward – bigger, better, faster. This leads to only more confusion. Man is overworked. He builds a computer to lessen his load. However, with the spare time now available, he works harder, makes more progress, and gets tired again. A newer, better computer is invented…and on it goes. The solution is to move toward the beginning. Stop making complexity where there is none. Life is simple, easy and free for the giving. All that we need to do is step into the dark forest and realizing that there is no path, we make a path where one never existed. This is the adventure that, in effect, IS life, traveling a path rich with surprise, mystery, suffering, and joy.
The Comfort of Order
Order is the words. Organized. Defined. Always there when they are needed. Words are concrete. Unchanging. Predictable. And things that are predictable are comfortable: like the location of your bed, the place where you keep your food, where your money is kept, where your favorite people live, your name. A comfy, old sweater. Then, of course, we define these words using what? Other words. We use words to define words. However, if that is the case, what was the first word? We will get to that. Order is a fundamental principle that is vital to our lives. Indeed, making order out of a mess is what some would claim is the highest of human aspirations. In fact, some say it is our duty as humans to establish and protect the order. They are correct. Mostly.
The Challenge of Chaos
Chaos is the emptiness between the words. The white space. The limitless void of the unknown where the first and original cry or utterance likely emerged. I suspect that first word was a yelp or a growl. Who knows? These first words define themselves by their very sound: like BOOM, SPLAT, CRASH. We all understand a GROWL or a YELP regardless if there is a dictionary handy. Chaos is ALL that we do not know. The dark, scary places where order has not yet found its calling or form. All that crashes down on us, pulls the rug out from under us, breaks our heart and plants a curve ball right on the side of your head. Chaos challenges us and forces us to learn something new. To make the chaos more known. More understood. More like order. But there is always more chaos. It surrounds us daily scheming new accidents for us to make meaning of. Have you ever daydreamed while driving about closing your hands and taking your hands off the wheel? Odds are you are not suicidal. That is just the call of chaos. We need some adventure in our lives.
Finding the Middle Ground
These two personalities, of order and chaos, have opposed each other since time out of mind. As balanced human beings, we ideally straddle the middle ground with a foot in each camp. The line that separates order from the chaos. The borderlands. No man’s land. The place where known and unknown converge. The wild west. The Final Frontier. Tijuana. Chinatown. That weird bar in Star Wars. Casablanca. OZ. We love border towns. There is always a sense of wildness and freedom there. Possibility and danger. Adventure! Surprisingly, it is the place we find ourselves every day. On the path between what we know and guard and what we do not know and fear.
The Cosmic Dance of Destruction and Birth
The ancient Taoists call this phenomenon Tai Chi. The white-eyed black snake eating the black-eyed white snake who is eating the white-eyed black snake, etc. etc. for all time. Order and chaos in a cosmic dance of destruction and birth. Some people know this symbol as yin and yang. Some cling to the ordered principle and shun the chaos. Unfortunately, this leads to boredom, submission, arrogance and eventual annihilation at the hands of barbarians. Some cling to chaos and shun order. Similarly, this leads to feeling overwhelmed with no sense of where you are or where you are going. These diverging principles of light and dark rely on each other for meaning. It is not one or the other. It is both.The call of adventure into the unknown is bewitching and fun. The comfort of the Shire by a warm fire is also alluring and needed.
Start Small and Stand Proud
That being said, this week we are going to stand proudly in the borderlands, firmly on that squiggly line separating yin and yang, and reach a hand into chaos and a hand into order. Think about an aspect of your life that is chaotic and beyond your control. Start small. Then, using the community and mentors, scheme ways on how you may make that chaos into order. By doing this small exercise and raising the stakes little by little as we go, tackling larger and larger chaoses, we will become masters of calm order and high adventure.
I hope we find this week that there is no shortage of wild to tame. And nothing too tame that it couldn’t hold up to a healthy injection of the unknown.
Expounding Upon the Five Elements
Last week we introduced the Five Elements during a thought experiment and discussion on living harmoniously. We received enough questions that we thought it would be a good idea to go over the Elements in a little more detail here. The Chinese Five Elements are also referred to as the five phases, the five transformations, the five manifestations or the five agents of change. The Five Elements represent patterns of movement which support, nurture, unite, control, divide and destroy one another.
The Five Elements are:
The purpose of the Five Elements is not to pigeon-hole anyone into a certain type or label. It is important to remember that no one is exclusively one element. Everyone is a rich, complex blend of ALL Five Elements. The goal is to recognize our natural elemental persuasions and use that wisdom to guide us through all of life’s many permutations, phases and cycles. However, the goal is NOT to balance all the elements within ourselves. Instead, the point is to cultivate certain elements during certain times of our lives. To be appropriate to the situation and to adapt to an ever-evolving landscape is the value of understanding the Five Elements.
Yin and Yang
There is some overlap between the Elements and the modern taiji diagram, or “yin yang” symbol as it’s known in popular culture. Firstly, Wood and Fire are considered yang elements. Next, we consider Metal and Water to be yin elements. Finally, Earth holds the middle ground and is where the yin and yang elements overlap, mingle, embrace, shove and fight. Each Element corresponds with an archetype, which is a basic, generalized kind of person. For example, if we think about the captain of the football team, a similar mental image pops into our collective brains. If we think about a cheerleader, a clear image emerges in our minds. Class clown, nerd, mamma’s boy, all are modern day archetypes. The famed Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Gustav Jung primarily pioneered these standardized snapshots. The Five Elements are likely the oldest of such archetypes!
“Each One of Us Is a Brain…and an Athlete…and a Basket Case…”
Now we have some unpacking to do. We will peel back several layers of detail for each Element: from the season it is associated with, to the internal body organ it represents, to the chemicals/substances most likely abused by each. Bear in mind, these are generalizations. No one person fits into a single elemental category. The human experience is far too rich and varied. Humanity defies any simple categorization. We all change and our dominant Element changes with us. This is not a hard science. Wandering with the Five Elements is more akin to poetry. Knowledge of it gives each of us a new flavor to ponder, a different perspective to consider and a fresh scent to tickle our senses and stimulate our minds. The human condition is lavish and textured.
How We Walk Our Path
We mentioned “wandering” earlier. There is a much-misunderstood concept in Eastern thought regarding “wandering.” It was said by a youthful, old man once that a good traveler has not set a destination. They just wander. When our hearts are pure and we love our own company, no matter where we go, we will find success, friendship and open arms. This is what is meant by being a good traveler. We have no preconceived notions, no expectations and no resentment. The destination is the same for all. We all arrive at the same mysterious end. It is the quality of how we walk our path toward the mystery that has meaning. There are so many ways to live a life. Additionally, there are so many ways to love and be loved, so many stones that need un-turning and so many mountains that cannot be turned no matter how hard we try. Try anyway. Indeed, try with every ounce of vigor and passion you possess.
The Whirlwind and the Rapture
All of it is waiting there for us. Like ironic, warm-hearted Sirens beckoning us to the shore, but instead of rocky harbors and false hopes, a calm port and a warm embrace awaits us. Certain things can only have significance in the current moment. Dancing, wandering and compassion are only meaningful as they exist right now, in the present. To dance we only dance. Good dancers are immersed in the moment; enthralled in the whirlwind and the rapture. A devilish, English philosopher with an infectious laugh once said that dancing has no goal in mind, no destination. We just dance for the sake of dancing.
Compassion Is Wealth
This is exactly the same mindset we should bring to our wandering. In wandering, we accept the moment as it is, with no regret; completely unedited and raw. Whatever crosses our path, we accept it, for we crossed its path too! When the road leads to odd places and strange faces, we welcome both with an open heart. Compassion is the greatest of human emotions. To have compassion for another means we suffer their pain with them. We join them in their suffering and take a bit of it ourselves so that they can breathe a little easier knowing they are not alone. “We are here with you,” whispers the compassionate. Compassion does not stand across the room empathizing from a safe distance. It is right there with us, holding our hand as we plunge into the bitter suffering that always, always, always leads us to rebirth, joy and sweet redemption. This is what it means to be truly human.
We just wander. Compassion is wealth. Join the dance.
“In separateness lies the world’s greatest misery;
in compassion lies the world’s true strength.”
― Siddhārtha Gautama
It Starts with Sleep
Mental health starts simply. The first easy 3 things to consider are:
- Quality of Rest/Sleep
- Access to Quality Food
- Serotonin-Friendly Postures
The first two are obvious. If a mentally ill person cannot get enough rest, they will function poorly. In fact, if a mentally healthy person cannot get consistent rest, they TOO will function poorly. Life’s stresses and challenges are hard enough as it is, but when you are sleepy – because the neighbor was blasting music all night, or your roommate is a vampire, or you live in a submarine-like condition with four people to a room in bunk beds – these life pressures become debilitating and create more stress and more discomfort.
Premium Fuel Only
Access to quality food is also a
proven, necessary component of a life on the mend. A steady diet of fresh
fruit, vegetables and leans fats have been proven to help improve outcomes for
the mentally ill and the mentally healthy. A diet of energy drinks and
Hot Cheetos, with a pizza and a Lean Cuisine thrown in here and there, is not a
recipe for happiness or health.
Which brings us to Serotonin-Friendly
Postures. Huh? For a more detailed
explanation of serotonin-friendly postures, check out Ted Talks or read some
Jordan E. Peterson books. For our purposes, we will only glean this rich
and satisfying topic. When you stand up
straight with your shoulders back and head up, you will feel better.
Serotonin is a neural chemical that makes life bearable and nice. It helps you deal with stress and anxiety. It settles your nerves and makes you feel a
“oneness” with the world. When you carry your posture properly, whether
you feel good or not, you will feel better very quickly. Being upright and alert signals to your body
to release this chemical. Certain foods
like milk, turkey and green peas help increase this effect by adding 5HTP into
your system. 5HTP is a precursor to serotonin (happy) and melatonin
Bringing It All Together
Proper sleep and healthy posture combined with proper diet and we have a proven combination for improvement and success. Slumped shoulders, skulking body language and lowered heads all communicate to the outside world that you are a victim or ill-intentioned. And victims generally continue to be victimized by savvy predators and ill-intended victimizers. It is like waving a flag announcing you are in a weakened state. Even if you ARE a victim and have been victimized, carrying yourself in a victimized manner isn’t going to make anything any better. In fact, it will get worse. So let’s try to take a tip from Mr. Peterson and his lobsters (google it) and start preparing for change and success by eating better, sleeping better and moving our bodies through space in a way that signals calm strength and courage, even in the face of uncertainty and suffering.
I know this sounds superficial and overly simple. Yes, it is. But we need to start the journey of healing somewhere, and if you do not look the part or feel the part, it will likely never happen. The more complex and challenging steps will never be realized because you will be too tired, stressed out, malnourished and advertising to be mistreated by abusive opportunists.
Take away: Sleep tight.
Sit up straight. Have breakfast and meet us on the battlefield.
There is a war brewing and only you can make the difference.
A Neglected Temple
Let’s try a thought experiment to illustrate a point concerning the way we treat our bodies. We’ll begin by imagining that our body is a house. We’ll also pretend that we care nothing for this house. We do not love it. In fact, we believe we do not even own it. We only rent it from some faceless landlord. Furthermore, we neglect the home, we abuse it, and we hate being there. We have no problem inviting strangers in to pass the time. They notice that we do not care about the house, so they neglect and abuse it, too. Before long we realize that we have taken up residence in a body that we no longer recognize. We have allowed a sacred space to become overgrown with the weeds of addiction and despair. Drugs, alcohol and destructive relationships become welcome distractions from the true underlying problems.
Our Holy Palace
This is an awful, dystopian way to view our bodies. However, we can also look at the other side of this coin. In this vision, we love our home. We own it, outright. It is all ours. Because it is all ours, we take care of it. We do not allow anything to enter that will harm the peaceful environment. Strangers are welcomed in only after we remind them they are entering a temple. We no longer view ourselves as a cheap rental to be abused and disregarded. This is a key point and one that may be meditated upon often. Though the physical body may be attacked and damaged, our spirit always remains intact – provided we guard it like a temple. Once we learn how to protect and nurture our internal sacred space, other people’s actions become irrelevant to our own. We become the masters of ourselves.
The Five Elements
The question then becomes “How do we best take care of
this sacred space?” One way is by studying and practicing the Chinese
philosophy of the Five Elements. The Five Elements are a tool. Knowledge of
them helps us to be masters of ourselves. They help us to recognize and stifle
destructive habits and tendencies before they grow out of control. Only then,
once we have weeded and tended our garden can we help others create their own
gardens. The proof of a good gardener is in their garden. The proof of a great
teacher is in the quality of their students. The Five Elements are an ancient
way Chinese sages saw the world. It is a relationship between different kinds
of energy or QI and how those energies relate to one another. The Five Elements
can be used to better understand our world and our places within it.
We Are Nature
We often hear about the need to take care of the natural
world. While it’s admirable to want to preserve our green space, this outlook
is wrong-headed. Human beings are a natural resource. We are products of nature
share the same energies as nature. In fact…we are nature! The principles that
govern nature also govern human beings. Understanding and maximizing those natural
tendencies is paramount. Round pegs do not fit into square holes. Try as we
may, it will never work. Often we are forced into roles we cannot assume.
Instead of maximizing our natural gifts, we sometimes adopt a “one way fits
all” philosophy. This is a catastrophic error. People are not machines. On the
contrary, we are organic and flexible. The Five Elements teach us how to grow a
garden, not how to build a machine. The Elements teach us how to cultivate a healthy
and happy self.
Once we start to find that organic harmony within ourselves,
we can begin to bring it to others. Working harmoniously with others is a gift.
Especially in a company or team setting. If an executive cannot co-exist,
thrive and inspire his people, what good is that executive? Intelligence,
cleverness, shrewdness, handsomeness – these all fall to the wayside. If we
cannot work in a balanced harmony with ourselves and with others, then we
cannot make music, we make only noise. Each person’s unique note needs to be
organized in such a way that music and harmony abound. Not just noise and
chaos. Life is relationships. Without human interaction, we have nothing. But
first we have to love our own company. We are only lonely when we don’t like the
company of ourselves. No thing and no one can live in a vacuum.
Part of a Glorious Oneness
Having harmonious relationships with others means making an
effort to understand someone and to see things from their perspective. To know
a person, we must know the environment in which that person exists. To
understand a footstep we must understand first what the ground is and its
natural relationship to the myriad things that are placed upon it. All things
are a combination of other things. This provides the texture of our reality. We
are not separate from anything. We are part of a glorious oneness that seeps
into every nook and cranny of our existence. When one of us is strong, we are
all strong. When one of us weeps, we all weep. When one of us laughs, we all
laugh. There is nothing worse than believing the lie that we are alone. We have
never been alone, and never will be.
Less Is More
The twelve-steppers have a saying that goes, “Let go and let God.” If you’re getting hung up on the G-word in the second part of that saying, don’t fret…we’re here to take a look at the first half. Sometimes doing nothing and getting out of our own way is the best source of action. Most likely you are traveling this path of sobriety because of the things you “do.” It is the action you take that has led you here. By learning how to do less or nothing at all, we will gain a huge advantage against addictive thoughts and behaviors.
Adapt and Improvise
Those who suffer from addiction also suffer from delusions about control. Control is an idea. It is a bedtime story. It is a warm fuzzy blanket that lets us feel brave and secure from the monsters under the bed. However, control does not exist. It is a figment of our imaginations. Don’t take our word for it though. Try to control every aspect of your day. Try to control other people. I think you will soon see, as we did, that control is exhausting, frustrating and fruitless. To live happy, successful lives, we need to learn to let go. We need to adapt and change rather than try to control. Control is not a useful tool in recovery. In contrast, flexibility, adaptability, detachment and meditation ARE useful tools and we will learn how to use them like a master carpenter.
Be Here Now
In one sense and at its roots, addiction can be thought of as the refusal to accept the present moment. It is an attempt to mold the now into something it isn’t. In other words, an attempt to control it. Addicts have a very hard time being fully present in the moment. Now, if your present moment is pleasant, like getting a massage, we have no problem being present fully. It’s when the now is unpleasant that we seek a reversal of this feeling or a way to suppress it. Drugs work marvelously well in this regard. They change the present moment immediately. They are an instant replacement of the now. However, the duration is short and the cost of this solution is very high. We are searching for a long term, low-cost method in dealing with the present and our place within it.
The name Carl Jung is familiar to many members of
Alcoholics Anonymous, including its founder, Bill Wilson. Jung proposed that
the yearning for addictive substances is really a yearning for communion with
the higher self or spirit. In essence, he thought of alcoholics as people
desperate to have a spiritual experience and only through a process of
spiritual enlightenment could the addict emerge as a new person free from the
bondage of addiction. He often referred to alcoholics/addicts as “frustrated
A New Sheriff in Town
Addiction begins when we throw away our free will and turn it over to our substances of choice. They become our ruler. We want to encourage you to revolt against this dictator. We encourage you to stage a coup in your own mind and elect a new leader. The new leader’s aim will be to spread love, compassion and well-being. Like a good king, this will be the new leader’s aim.
Walking with Clarity and Focus
Focused and at ease. This is how we handle the trials and tribulations of life. Modern living is slowly but surely bringing attention to mental wellness into the forefront. However, it is just as surely exacerbating mental health issues. For example, multi-tasking has become the norm, quickening the pace and multiplying the stresses of life. Unfortunately, for a person who struggles with mental health issues, it can often be too much to bear. However, we revitalize lives by calmly and peacefully putting the pieces back together. Clarity and focus replace anger and unease. Barn Life Recovery was created to help put the pieces back together one breath at a time. We draw upon Oriental Healing Methods that have transformed people’s lives since before the words stress, bipolar, or PTSD existed. These methods, along with cutting-edge, modern mental health treatment, Barn Life Recovery addresses the entire continuum of recovery care.
Best of Both Worlds
Barn Life Recovery is a ground-breaking, community-based, mental health treatment program designed to get to the root of mental health issues and bring joy and presence back into our clients’ lives. Our patients get the best of both worlds as progressive modern mental health therapy is coupled with ancient healing modalities of the Far East. Our philosophy has one aim in mind: to manifest and nurture an environment in which our residents can have a unique personal awakening. We believe that through our suffering we are encouraged to turn inward and focus on what truly matters in our lives. Through these ashes of anguish, we are reborn as spiritual beings walking a path not toward joy and freedom but a path of joy and freedom. Free from the bondage of self.
Rediscovering and Rebuilding Your Self
In addition to modern modalities such as cognitive and
dialectic behavioral therapies, Barn Life Recovery’s holistic program includes a
spiritual component. Eastern philosophical studies as well as meditation, Tai
Chi, Qi Gong, Martial Arts, Yoga, Chinese Herbal Therapy, and Reiki help propel
clients into a life of serenity, peace and enlightenment. Enlightenment is a
word often associated with eastern philosophy yet widely misunderstood in
American culture. Enlightenment means liberation from one’s self. It means that
we have realized that something has gone wrong and we vow to bring this wrong
back into balance and harmony. This is a state of enlightenment. The active
participation in rebuilding of one’s self. You have always had the ability to
create a future vastly different from that which past events would predict.