A Future of Hope and Improvement
A lady looks into the mirror seeing her reflection smiling back. A man sits by the fire and reflects on the years that have passed and cannot be relived. The still lake holds the reflection of the moon on her surface. The idea of reflection is multilayered. Thinking about things that have happened in the past (reflecting on their deeds) and the bouncing off of light/heat from a surface (a reflection in the mirror) are to name just a few. As we move into another new year, we say goodbye to the past and welcome a future of hope and improvement.
The Path of Renewal and Recovery
Reflecting back on the choices we have made in the past year, we gain a more rounded view of the time and the effects our choices have brought. Making better choices is important while walking this path of renewal and recovery. Our actions should be a reflection of our thoughts and our thoughts should reflect our actions. But we must reflect on these past outcomes before we can alter our future choices.
Taking Inventory of the Past
The most common celebrations of ancient times involved reflection and revolved around the harvest festivals of autumn. Perhaps it was out of fear and reverence. After all, the days grew darker and shorter, and the natural world began to die away. It was an important time because what was done in earnest during this time laid the seeds for the spring to come in the future. This is the meaning of reflection: take inventory of the past to reinvigorate the seeds of the future.
Improving Our World and Ourselves
The Chinese offer us another image of reflection encapsulated in the teachings of the I Ching. In China, a large platform elevated into the sky was used as a lookout, glimpsing both ahead and behind. As we know, if you are high up, you can see far. However, there is a cost to being able to see behind and ahead. The cost is that everyone can see you better as well. Thus, the only way that we can improve our world is to improve ourselves. The only way to lead others in a positive way is to reflect deeply on our own lives and make an impact there. Obtain a better view and look within.
Barn Life Recovery is the first treatment center in the state of California with a license to treat mental illness on an outpatient community-based level. At our holistic facility in Orange County, our Barn Life staff encourage tried and true healing practices within an idyllic setting. If you’re feeling anxious, depressed, or just plain overwhelmed, please consider giving us a call. Our staff is ready to answer any questions you might have and begin the admissions process. Call now and start to love life again!
Why Does Freedom Cost So Much?
Freedom has always had a cost and always will if any people have the intention to harm or demonize others or actively work to oppress and confuse or take actions to subjugate and hold dominion over people and their feelings. Entitlement can be a delusion that twists people’s expectations into demanding freedom for nothing. Why does freedom cost so much? Because we still attend and respond to fear in a way that dominates us implicitly and explicitly. We still allow the use of power to keep us in fear. Furthermore, those that wield it toxically might attempt to manipulate those around them so that their thinking becomes limited and actions become limited.
Fear and Prejudice
When we do not fight for freedom, work for freedom, or pay for freedom, life becomes choked. Influences from toxic discourses offer us familiar fear so we do not challenge it. It appears to us as a toxic authority figure that demands our assimilation. It plays on the fear of retaliation which acts as an unfortunately effective leash and muzzle. Fear and prejudice backed by authority offer us comfort in the forms of promises and alluring gifts. It then becomes painful and undesirable to question and challenge oppressive influences.
Barriers to Freedom
To understand freedom is to understand what keeps us from it. Fear and hatred are the oppressive dominant discourses that demand that freedom be paid. For nations, the price has been centuries of struggle, warfare, and bloodshed. For those of us that live in a nation of “freedom,” why then do we create barriers of fear and judgments and spit poison at those that do not wish any harm whatsoever? Is our own disgust and fear of ourselves so strong that we attempt to find identity through the degradation of others? With this level of intense projection, there also must exist delusion and ignorance or both.
Full of Bias and Judgment
When we buy into this toxic preaching – whether it’s broadcasted through the TV, perpetuated by friends or handed down through generations by family – we close off and become more rigid in our thinking. Sometimes it’s so rigid that we begin to actively act in ways that close off our own freedoms. The herd or mob now controls and influences us. One could argue that the most difficult fight for freedom lies within your own bias, prejudice, judgment, and worldview. When we are oppressed in our own minds we can be kept away from the freedom and blessing of diversity, the freedom of exploring cultures, and the freedom to be true to ourselves. When we are full of bias and judgment and feel as if others should not have the same freedoms as us, what is that if not letting fear and cowardice rule us? This is not freedom.
The Path to Freedom
The path to freedom starts with awareness and the ability to challenge one’s own bias, prejudice, and fear. These actions will bring the necessary awareness to be able to question the authorities that govern our societies. We can also question and challenge those negative voices of judgment and fear-fueled worldviews that keep us trapped from our own values and morals free from hypocrisy. It continues with the choice to behave and earn discipline through actions and perseverance. The path to is wide once we have the capacity to challenge our own biases, fears, and prejudices. It becomes manifest when we engage in the discipline and task to continually fight those external and internal struggles that beckon us to make decisions – not from freedom but from familiarity and fear.
The responsibility to attain and maintain freedom is ours. Begin the path with awareness. What fears, prejudices and biases are so stout in your life as to make you rigid and a prisoner of your worldviews? Where did your prejudice and bias come from? How was it transmitted to you? If you can identify this then ask yourself if these are the views you hold because you believe in it or did you come to believe it because you were saturated by toxic influences. Are your actions congruent to the respect for others’ freedom as well as understanding the sanctity and sacredness of your own potential freedom?
Who Is This Self?
Self-improvement seems like a good idea, at first blush. Who doesn’t want to improve? However, have we stopped to think about who or what this “self” is that desires improvement? This self you call you. Are you the sum total of remembered events or a narrative story in which you are the star? Are you the voices in your head? This week I really want us to look closer at what we mean by self-improvement.
A Left-Brain Construct
How can we improve upon a self that is really just a construct of our left brain. Look it up. The left brain is notorious for cooking up all kinds of stories about who we are and what we should be. Scientists have referred to the left brain as the Interpreter. Tests have concluded that it is the left brain’s function to create order, meaning and a linear storyline of who we are. What we forgot to mention to everyone is that YOU are not your left brain. In fact, you are not even the voices in your head at all. Ancient mystics and now modern science agree, the essential YOU is the space or venue in which these thoughts and ideas come to play. Look up studies by Dr. Michael Gazzaniga regarding the left brain. Explore the writings of Eckhart Tolle, Ram Dass and Alan Watts. The idea of self is a fascinating topic that we only rarely scratch beyond the surface.
Letting Go of the Obsession
What we want to show our students is that self-improvement is ungraspable until you let go. Stopping addictions are impossible to do by trying not to do something: do not drink, do not overeat, do not smoke, do not seek out dysfunctional relationships. There is no quicker way to do something than to promise yourself you will never do it again. It is only by letting go of the obsession that we find freedom.
Doing That Which You Enjoy
Ironically, that which eludes us will curl up by our feet and surrender if only we would stop chasing our own tails. Instead of self-improvement, seek stillness and silence. Self-improvement is a byproduct of doing that which you enjoy. It happens spontaneously. It never happens by design or because you try desperately to make it so. Go try to fall in love or try to find contentment. Go searching for peace of mind. None will be found because you cannot find what you always had from the start.
Barn Life Recovery is the first treatment center in the state of California with a license to treat mental illness on an outpatient community-based level. At our holistic facility in Orange County, our Barn Life staff, within an idyllic setting, encourage tried and true healing practices vis-a-vis Tai Chi, synthetic-free psychology, relapse prevention, martial arts, and meditation through our Orange County intensive outpatient program and day program. If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, give us a call today and start to love life again!
A Time to Give Thanks
It’s the time of year when families all over the country are getting together once again. We look to give thanks and enjoy the year’s harvest as well as each others’ company. In honor of Thanksgiving, we are exploring gratitude this week at Barn Life Recovery. With this in our minds, we turn once again to one of our favorites, David Whyte. Some of you may remember Mr. Whyte from a blog we did on disappointment back in March or so. Here are his thoughts on gratitude from his book, Consolations. We hope you enjoy them.
An A Priori State of Attention
Whyte writes: “Gratitude is not a passive response to something we have been given, gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us. [It] is not necessarily something that is shown after the event, it is the deep, a priori state of attention that shows we understand and are equal to the gifted nature of life.”
He adds that “[g]ratitude is the understanding that many millions of things come together and live together and mesh together and breathe together in order for us to take even one more breath of air, that the underlying gift of life and incarnation as a living participating human being is privilege; that we are miraculously part of something rather than nothing. Even if that something is temporarily pain or despair, we inhabit a living world, with real faces, real voices, laughter, the color blue, the green of fields, the freshness of a cold wind, or the tawny hue of a winter landscape.”
The Full Miraculous Essenitality
He continues: “To see the full miraculous essentiality of the color blue is to be grateful with no necessity for a word of thanks”. Whyte is talking about experiencing the essence of something here without adding our own baggage or preconceptions. “To see fully, the beauty of a daughter’s face is to be fully grateful without having to seek a God to thank him. To sit among friends and strangers, hearing many voices, strange opinions,” he expands here to promote connection. Whyte goes on, “to intuit inner lives beneath surface lives, to inhabit many worlds at once in this world, to be a someone amongst all other someone’s, and therefore to make a conversation without saying a word, is to deepen our sense of presence and therefore our natural sense of thankfulness that everything happens both with us and without us, that we are participants and witness all at once.”
Participation and Witness
“Thankfulness finds its full measure in generosity of presence, both through participation and witness. We sit at the table as part of every other person’s world while making our own world without will or effort, this is what Is extraordinary and gifted, this is the essence of gratefulness, seeing to the heart of privilege. Thanksgiving happens when our sense of presence meets all other presences. Being unappreciative might mean we are simply not paying attention.”
Barn Life Recovery would like to wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving. If you or someone you love is struggling with mental health issues, please don’t hesitate to give us a call today. Whether it’s depression, anxiety, or just overwhelming feelings, Barn Life is here for you. We have been where you are now and we’re ready to help. Our staff is standing by to guide you through the admissions process and help you with any questions. It’s not too late to love life again!
Ups and Downs
This week we’d like to take some time to examine joy and sorrow. These two feelings seem to lie on either end of the emotional spectrum. They go by other names, too: manic depression, bipolar disorder, or the downplayed colloquialism, ups and downs. We all have joyous days and sorrowful days but if we oscillate between joy and sorrow too quickly and too often, it is often considered an issue. An issue that has a special name and medical code. An issue to be considered. But how?
A Badge of (Dubious) Honor
Joy is easy to experience. So is the mania for the most part. “Busy, busy, busy” is almost a badge of honor in this culture. To not be busy would imply laziness or disinterest. Ask someone how they are doing today and you will more often than not hear the breathless reply, “busy!” This is either a polite way to say that chit-chatting with me is a waste of your time or you want me to know you are an ambitious, go-getter. Either way, I think I’ll pass. High time we embraced depression and sadness, and those languid, lovely summer afternoons with nothing to do.
An Opportunity to Learn
I often think about how Lao Tzu would respond to the question, “How are you today?” Likely by pointing to the spot in the sky where the moon will soon be. Or perhaps he would give a ubiquitous “Oh fair to middlin’!” He most certainly would not say “busy busy busy.” Alas, we digress and wander off the path. Folks generally have no issue with manically joyous behaviors and feelings. It is the polar opposite that troubles them. However, is anything truly gained or discovered when we are happy? To be honest, depression and sorrow have taught me more about myself, compassion, and the suffering of others far more than joy has revealed. Being present at the moment with joy is as easy as falling off a log. Takes no effort at all. But sadness? Yikes, that is brutal. Being sad immediately makes one think “I need to stop being sad!”. Alas, rejecting the present moment, with all its clues and cries, is unwise.
The Human Condition
The math is simple. High highs = low lows. Higher highs = lower lows. At some point, you have to ask yourself, “Do I want to ride the carousel or the roller coaster?” This week we will delve into our passions and depressions. The heat of joy and the cold chill of depression. We will practice being present and engaged with both. Feeling intense emotions is not a sickness or mental disorder. It is the human condition. Avoiding our intense emotions or worse, editing them, IS a mental disorder.
Barn Life Recovery is the first treatment center in the state of California with a license to treat mental illness on an outpatient community-based level. We specialize in mild to moderately severe mental illness, co-occurring disorders and addiction. If you’re feeling anxious, depressed, or just plain overwhelmed, please give us a call today and start loving life again!
The Sound of One Hand Clapping
Ask a person “What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word, ‘Zen?'” Most people will respond with ideas about an imperturbable state of calm. However, if you ask them about the second thing, they may reply,” Isn’t it the sound of one hand clapping or something?” This person is remembering part of a Zen koan. Furthermore, they’re actually probably a little closer to the heart of Zen with this answer. This week at Barn Life Recovery, we are working with koans. These tools can grant us a greater understanding of ourselves and the world around us. But what exactly are koans? And how can they help us?
Empty Your Cup
A famous master, Lao-tzu, once said, “Understanding only goes as far as that which it can understand.” Put another way “Ya don’t know what ya don’t know.” As soon as we think we know something, then we become rigid and unresponsive. You know the famous phrase: “For the beginner, there are many possibilities, but for the expert, there are few.” Maintaining a mind of “not knowing” allows us to respond to situations with openness, freshness, and joy. This is where koans come in. Koans – sometimes called spiritual puzzles – pose questions or situations we can’t answer or understand using logic, and thus force us to go beyond the mind. Koans can be stories, poems or phrases. They convey a direct feeling rather than an intellectual idea.
Working With Koans
In practice, a student is assigned a koan by a teacher or master. The teacher will ask, “What is the color of wind?” or “What is your original face before you were born?” The student is then expected to “live with” and meditate upon the question for some time before returning with the “answer.” If these questions sound like nonsense to you, you’re partially right. Remember, koans work to push us beyond logic toward a realm of feeling and intuition. William Blake was working with koans when he wrote about the Sick Rose, as was Denis Johnson in his stories about fringe characters in the Midwest. This week, we are assigning koans to our clients and seeing what they come up with. The beauty of this technique is that the interpretations are endless and we are ready to uncover truth around every corner.
Barn Life Recovery is the first treatment center in the state of California licensed to treat mental illness on an outpatient community-based level. If you are feeling depressed, anxious, or just plain overwhelmed, please consider giving us a call. Our admissions specialists are standing by to offer a free consultation. Learn to love life again.