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.
Contemplation, Meditation…and Now What?
We’ve gone over contemplation and meditation in our previous blogs. But how do we translate the peace of mind we have learned on the cushion into our day-to-day lives? To illuminate the path, here is an example, one that should resonate particularly with those of us who have suffered from substance abuse issues. It happens a lot. We do something messed up and waste a bunch of your time and everyone else’s time. By the time we sober up to what we so exquisitely shattered, we quickly start to repair the damage. Like a cat who fell off the sill, we scramble to our feet as quickly as possible and hastily strut away with some salvaged grace, almost as if no calamity had transpired at all. In such a hurry to save face, coupled with the feeling of “getting on with it already,” we foolishly rush in where angels fear to tread.
Flowing With the Current
There may be a flow to things and a way of tuning into the language of this flow. A way to ally yourself with the very current that propels us all forward and back and around again. It is so easy to finally identify the source of discomfort and quickly fall into the trap of remedying it like, chop, chop c’mon right now. But discomforts are a timid sort of prey. If you spring too fast on them, you’ll spook them. Practicing stillness in the midst of change and confusion is a powerful tool. In no time, our discomforts will be eating from our hand and rolling in ecstasy at our feet. Not being in too much of a hurry has its benefits. There is a reason “stop and smell the roses” is a cliché. It’s because it’s true. Time and time again. We can be in such a hurry we brush past the sweet smells of bloom and then curse that too, too busy world for its foulness.
Letting Go of the Wheel
This week’s theme is about taking that sacred, quiet moment and keeping it for yourself. A small moment to just take it all in in one big gulp. If that sentence didn’t make sense, read it slower, especially between the two “ins”. Flowing with life infers letting go of the wheel for a little bit. Trusting in the celestial pacing of things. Try to identify moments in your life where “rushing in” to get involved – even with the most angelic of intentions – led to a uniquely worse set of circumstances, all thanks to you. Think back in life to the moments when one more play on the bench may have been the better bet. Instead of trying “to be” this week, let’s try “not to be.” Try not to be in a hurry to fix things. Practice listening and letting go with humility and awareness.
“If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” – Albert Einstein
Integral to Our Lives
Our recent blogs have dealt heavily with the idea of community and relationships. These concepts are essential to our healing and recovery. After all, no man is an island. Humans are social creatures. As humans, relationships are integral to just about every aspect of our lives. What has been the quality of those relationships? Early in life, we may have grown up in nuclear families, adoptive families, or institutions such as boarding homes or foster homes. Whatever the case, our family systems of origin have been our first experiences of learning to engage in relationships.
Family System Dynamics: A Lasting Impact
These early experiences are of utmost importance. Indeed, family system dynamics often have a lasting impact on the quality, types, and patterns of our future relationships. Maybe some relationships have been healthy and supportive. However, others have perhaps been a source of pain, mistrust, disappointment, and sadness. These relationships are a significant factor in the formation of our lenses of perception. If our relationships have been of a toxic origin, how do we change them? Furthermore, how do we become aware that “normal and expected” is often a formulated perception based upon familiarity even if toxic or volatile relationships are the norm?
Forging New Relationships with What We’ve Learned
In life, we will run into other people moving on their path. These people have developed their own relationship styles, systems, and strategies. In order to stop repeating toxic and maladaptive relationship patterns that maintain substance use disorders through codependency, enabling, resentments, inauthenticity, and manipulation, we must raise awareness of the dynamics we have learned from our early family experiences. Then we must learn the characteristics and techniques that lead to healthy relationship dynamics such as trust, respect, effective communication, authenticity and how to set healthy boundaries. As we move forward in life and as we meet the other people on their journeys, we have an opportunity to forge relationships that are made of denser and more reliable material.
From the Inner Realm to the Outer Realm
Last week, we began to move from the inner realm to the outer realm. From philosophy helping us to understand our place in the world to the idea of a community and how we interact with others. Those of us in recovery who have spent some time among the twelve-step community know that resentments can wield a terrible power. Fortunately, we have a weapon against resentments: forgiveness. Forgiveness is not giving up nor is it admitting defeat. Forgiveness is about taking power back and making a conscious decision to let go of resentments, pain, and anger.
The Power Resentments Have
Some people are not ready to forgive and rightly so. What about victims of sexual assault and violence as well as people who have suffered physical, emotional abuse and unearned shame? Is it not appropriate to feel rage due to events that have happened directly or indirectly to us? However, our suffering has the power to consume us. Suffering and resentments can control our entire worldview and biases. When we look objectively at how our resentments have power over us, we can see how we engage in belittling ourselves and in turn increase our own self-loathing. We can even convince ourselves we deserve it. Even worse, we can act upon anger and allow it to dominate our actions and perceptions of the world. However, forgiveness can begin the process of emotionally disconnecting ourselves from the events and pain that we have used to define us.
Forgiveness: A Personal Statement
Forgiveness is not about forgetting or even making a statement that what happened to create the resentment is acceptable. It is about making a personal statement that one does not want to be emotionally controlled by the events, memories and perception of self that resentments create. There are many ways to forgive. However, the least helpful is giving the terrible advice of “Just let this go.” Well, how? How do people “let go” how do people forgive?
How Do We Let It Go?
For some it is a mere acknowledging that the incident(s) occurred, facing the emotions that arise and stating forgiveness. Others need rituals or prayer to assist in maintaining the intention of forgiveness. Unfortanutely, though, forgiveness can act like the tide of the ocean or the changing moon. Our resentments can creep back in, even after we have made the conscious decision to forgive. In this case, one needs to repeat the action of forgiveness. We take a little more power back until the resentment has eventually been drained and the individual is free from that resentment.
It is our job to help foster forgiveness However, it is not our job to push someone to forgive when they are not ready. Those individuals may still need to be further defined or come to a better understanding. Perhaps they need to acknowledge lessons to be learned from the experience before they become willing and ready to forgive. Even if that lesson is to realize how much damage and influence these resentments have had in our lives. Only then we can pose the question “Are you ready to let this go?”
One of the Few Constants
This week here at Barn Life Recovery, we are taking some time to explore and understand groups. This topic should be of particular importance to those of us who are here to work through substance abuse issues. Whether we are a part of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or other twelve steps programs, or whether we find another path to recovery, a constant remains when it comes to successfully overcoming addiction. We need to re-establish our sense of community.
Existing in Shadows
Take a moment to reflect on how we were living when we were using drugs or drinking to excess. It’s a lonely life. It seems each way we turn, everyone is further and further away. Seemingly impenetrable walls are built. We begin to exist in shadows. Friends loved spending time with us tire of our shady antics and don’t return our texts. The families that love us can no longer bear to watch while we kill ourselves. Soon, the only people who see us are the dealers and the liquor store clerks. And to deal with the loneliness, we spiral even deeper into the cycle of addiction. Addiction creates and thrives upon isolation. Stepping out of that darkness and finding our place among others is the means to end that cycle.
A Closed Circuit
Picture the addicted mind as a closed circuit. Brains have an incredible capacity for change, but it isn’t something they like to do. Even “normal” brains. They fear change and will do everything they can to maintain the status quo. For example, try to remember what it was like the last time you tried to start a new habit. Maybe it was trying to get into an exercise routine. Think of all the excuses your brain came up with: “I didn’t get enough sleep last night; it will be a wasted workout.” “My knee just doesn’t feel right today.” “If I go to the gym, I won’t make it back in time for my favorite show.” How many of those excuses were legitimate? Most were easily worked around, I’d bet. Now if that’s a normal mind trying to create a positive habit, think of the addicted mind protecting its relationship with a substance it’s dependent upon.
The Bigger Picture
If our addicted minds have hard-wired themselves into a loop of destruction, what hope is there for us? How are we supposed to break out of that? We start by building connections. When it comes to our addictions, reason and rationality have left us. We can’t even trust ourselves anymore. Fortunately, others do not see us in the same way we see ourselves. They have a perspective from outside the loop. When it comes to us, they can see the bigger picture where we cannot. So we go to those we admire and ask if we can learn from them. We find others who have been through similar situations and ask for their help.
Our Place in a Community
In the beginning, we will most likely find that we have a lot of work to do. This is to be expected. We’re restructuring our minds, after all, rediscovering who we were before addiction, getting rid of junk we picked up along the way. Soon though, a new member joins the group, someone who reminds us of how we were during the bad times. And they come to us for help, so we show them what we’ve learned. We are now a part of a community. We are part of something bigger than ourselves. This is that spiritual aspect that so many in the recovery community talk about. This is spirituality for the front lines. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, co-occurring disorders, or other mental health issues, please consider reaching out to Barn Life Recovery today. We would be honored to have you as part of our community.
An Elusive State
Hopefully, after reading our blog on meditation, a number of you went out and tried some sitting on your own. Like we’ve mentioned, meditation is the one skill that we hope to pass on to everyone we treat. However, if you did spend some time meditating, you no doubt know the following statement is true: The contemplative state of mind is elusive. The mind does what it does without ceasing. It is a seemingly endless narrative of thoughts and ideas that materialize into actions and effects. The contemplative state of mind is a mind that is content with just viewing or watching the cerebrations (workings) of the mind itself. We reach this state of contemplation when all other attempts at grasping, and understanding, and making sense of, and ponderings, and musings, and unravelings, and thinking are exhausted. When we arrive at the conclusion that thinking and not thinking will resolve anything. When action and non-action bring about no change. This “stumped” feeling where all you have left is to just sit and watch and wait, is contemplation.
Contemplation From the Tower
Again, it is helpful to look at the etymologies of words for a deeper understanding of them. Kuan is the Chinese word for contemplation. It also means “view.” The old Chinese character for this idea is a tower. From the tower, we command a view of all that surrounds us. By sitting and watching from a height, we gain direct understanding of the innate order and laws of nature. Allying with this force is a skill we hope to cultivate in the people we have committed to help.
Self-Examination Vs. Idle Brooding
How is contemplation beneficial to those of us in some type of recovery? It is important to be aware of the effects we create in the world. The right sort of self-examination consists not in idle brooding over oneself but in examining the effects one produces. In other words, what is our offering to the world? What do our actions and non-actions create in the world around us? What do we produce? Only by watching ourselves closely can we discover the end results of our actions and thoughts. And adjust them accordingly.
Life is very short. Please investigate it closely. Retreatment means to put things down, to set things aside for a moment and pay closer attention to the details, the seams, the parts that fit together to make the whole of us. Retreatment is a breaking away from the fast pace race and a refocusing on the subtleties of the journey. It is a surrender to our peace of mind. When we break away from low forces and regain our unique perspective, that is retreatment. When we put down our opinions, situations and circumstances and return again to our true natures, we embrace the practice of retreatment. – Mathew W. Carver
Filling the Gap
The struggle is real. Current mental health services can feel like swimming lessons while you’re drowning. Retreatment offers a more buoyant and long term approach. When on retreat, we seek time to rest and recovery so that we may rejuvenate and repurpose ourselves. This takes time. Unfortunately, the modern mental health treatment world exists with a vast chasm between services and very little time. People suffering are either seen once a week by a mental health professional or sent to a mental hospital for treatment. Retreatment at Barn Life Recovery fills this gap.
Long Term Healing Solutions
Barn Life Recovery is the first fully licensed, community-based, private Retreatment Center in California. We offer long term healing solutions for those who want to place their mental health first. Barn Life provides services in a retreat-like setting where patients can learn and practice new skills on the path of recovery and change. Our Retreatment Services last 30-120 days and offer patients a fully immersive wrap-around experience. We offer vocational therapy, life skills counseling and community support as well as individualized intensive therapy sessions bolstered by action therapy practice, which puts these new skills to the test in a safe and nurturing atmosphere.
Disappointment is Inescapable
The theme this week here at Barn Life Recovery is disappointment. Though many of us do whatever we can to avoid it, disappointment in life is inescapable. Most of the disappointments we experience are a result of the expectations and projections we put upon the world around us, as well as our illusions and delusions about ourselves. However, once we learn this, disappointment becomes a fertile ground in which to grow. With that in mind, we would like to share this lengthy quote from poet and philosopher of the corporate world, David Whyte. (The original quote is in italics. The inserted headings and commentary are ours.)
An Agency for Transformation
Disappointment is inescapable but necessary; a misunderstood mercy and when approached properly, an agency for transformation and the hidden, underground, engine of trust and generosity in a human life. The attempt to create a life devoid of disappointment is the attempt to avoid the vulnerabilities that make the conversations of life real, moving, and life-like; it is the attempt to avoid our own necessary and merciful heartbreak. To be disappointed is to reassess our self and our inner world, and to be called to the larger foundational reality that lies beyond any false self we had only projected upon the outer world.
When we try to avoid disappointment, we are only cheating ourselves. In fact, heartbreak in life is a great teacher. These are the moments in which we truly learn who we are.
The Greater Pattern of Existence
What we call disappointment may be just the first stage in our emancipation into the next greater pattern of existence. To be disappointed is to reappraise not only reality itself but our foundational relationship to the pattern of events places and people that surround us, and which, until we were properly disappointed, we had misinterpreted and misunderstood; disappointment is the first, fruitful foundation of genuine heartbreak from which we risk ourselves in a marriage, in a work, in a friendship, or with life itself.
Disappointment brings reality into focus. Illusions fall away and we come face to face with what truly is. We develop a new relationship with reality. This is the fertile ground for our new life.
The measure of our courage is the measure of our willingness to embrace disappointment, to turn towards it rather than away, the understanding that every real conversation of life involves having our hearts broken somewhere along the onward way and that there is no sincere path we can follow where we will not be fully and immeasurably let down and brought to earth, and where what initially looks like a betrayal, eventually puts real ground under our feet.
We need to be brave enough to meet heartbreak head-on. Disappointment is not something to fear. It is something towards which to walk.
A Friend to Transformation
Disappointment is a friend to transformation, a call to both accuracy and generosity in the assessment of our self and others, a test of sincerity and a catalyst of resilience. Disappointment is just the initial meeting with the frontier of an evolving life, an invitation to reality, which we expected to be one particular way and turns out to be another, often something more difficult, more overwhelming and strangely, more rewarding.
Life is always evolving. Disappointment teaches us to be supple enough to meet it honestly. Without it, resilience does not exist and we do not grow.
If you or someone you love is struggling with mental health issues, please give us a call today. Barn Life Recovery specializes in treating diagnoses such as PTSD, substance abuse, anxiety, depression, and more. We have made a commitment to providing our clients with the tools to meet life head-on. Let us help you earn to love life again.
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.