Self-Improvement: Letting Go

Self-Improvement: Letting Go

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!

Gratitude: Generosity of Presence

Gratitude: Generosity of Presence

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!

Joy and Sorrow: Riding the Carousel

Joy and Sorrow: Riding the Carousel

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!

Koans: Keys to a Greater Truth

Koans: Keys to a Greater Truth

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.

Mikka Bouzu: the Three-Day Monk

Mikka Bouzu: the Three-Day Monk

“The Mind Is the Most Capricious of Insects…”

Hopefully after reading last week’s blog about hard work and making your way in the world, all of you were inspired to arise, take up thy beds, and walk. I figure this is the perfect time to talk about a phenomenon the Japanese call 三日坊主, or mikka bouzu. Mikka bouzu translates to “three-day monk” and it’s something we have all been guilty of at some point in our lives. For example, if you go to just about any gym in the country on January 2nd, you’ll find that it’s filled with three-day monks. Twelve-step meetings are also often full of three-day monks, as are recovery centers. Sometimes, three-day monks haven’t even reached puberty yet. Ballet and karate schools make serious bank off the parents of these young ascetics. Are you picking up what I’m putting down?

What Is a Three-Day Monk?

A three-day monk is someone who becomes intensely interested in something and goes hard in the paint for a few days (or weeks), but soon leaves it by the wayside and forgets all about it. Sound familiar? Don’t worry…we’ve all done it and that includes yours truly (ask me about my career as a cellist sometime.) We find a new toy, fall in love with it, wear it out, and watch it collect dust on our shelves or in the corner of the garage until our significant other finally tells us to throw it away. However, today is a new day and we don’t have to live that way anymore. I have a few concrete and manageable tips to keep your saffron robes looking fresh long after their 72-hour expiration date.

Set Some Manageable Goals

You want to learn Chinese. That’s awesome. It’s also a huge undertaking that you’re likely to get frustrated with quickly. That makes it very easy to give up. Instead of doing that, though, how about breaking the Herculean task of learning a new and difficult language into achievable sections. Download a language app and commit to completing one lesson a day. Sound too small? Don’t worry about that right now. Besides, you’ll learn a whole lot more Chinese if you get through a year of doing one lesson a day than if you do a hundred lessons in three days and give up.

Make It a Habit, Then Step It Up

You’ve completed that first lesson and I’m proud of you. But we’re going to sustain it this time. Try to set aside five minutes at the same time every day so you’re less likely to forget. It makes it even easier when you tie it in with an existing part of your routine, like right after brushing your teeth or eating dinner. What you’re trying to do is make it a habit. After you’ve gotten a week or two under your belt without missing days, start pushing yourself a little bit. You were doing one lesson a day – now make it two. Repeat the process.

Write. It. Out.

I can’t overstate the value of this one. We all have busy schedules and we all have things in life we’d like to accomplish. To help stay organized and on top of things, write your tasks down on paper and check them off as you go. Everything looks manageable when it’s on a page and there’s a small but very powerful feeling of accomplishment to be had every time you cross an item off. It’s also a great way to track your progress. This is why I recommend a small notebook instead of the Notes app on your phone.

Show Up and Remember to Have Fun

The two simplest rules are, of course, the most important. Whether it’s five minutes a day to learn a language, an hour a day at the piano, three hours a week at the gym…those sweet plans you worked out for yourself aren’t going to matter if you don’t show up and put in the effort. And a way to keep yourself showing up is to remember that you’re doing this because you want to. If your Chinese lessons are getting a little dry and boring, switch it up and watch an old Shaw Brothers movie (36th Chamber of Shaolin and Five Deadly Venoms are two excellent choices.) Turn the subtitles off and see how many words you can pick out. Remind yourself that this is fun!

Barn Life Recovery is the first treatment center in the state of California licensed to treat mental illness on an outpatient community-based level.  And we don’t merely treat mental health issues – we remind our clients that life is fun and show them how to find that spark of joy again. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, depression, or just life in general, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Give us a call today and love life again!

The Choice to Make Your Way

The Choice to Make Your Way

A Common Mistake

Gong Fu or Kung Fu (功夫) literally means “energy/hard work, time/patience.” It is commonly misunderstood to mean a particular style of martial art, but it actually refers to anything that takes a large amount of time, patience, and energy to accomplish. For example, if someone is learning to play the piano that is their kung fu because it will require a lot of time and energy to become proficient in that art. The concept of kung fu applies to the martial arts as well, but in the West, we tend to assume it is exclusively a martial arts term or a particular style of martial arts and it is not.
“That’s really interesting, Mathew, but what’s the point? What are you trying to tell us?” you’re probably saying right about now. And I’m glad you asked.

The World Is But A Canvas…

What I’m trying to say is, “Make your way.” Please notice how I did not say discover your way or find your way or seek your way. I said: make your way. Make it. Create it. This world seems to take equal parts pleasure in creating and destroying. For something new to emerge, something else needs to evaporate. Appearing and disappearing. So to create this new path in which you will travel with contentment and satisfaction you must first dismantle your old way of living. Only makes sense. We can’t walk two paths at the same time. Time, as most of us perceive it, is moving constantly in a singular direction. Living a life walking two different paths would necessitate 2 of you. Psychologically this happens in the form of a mental split. The psyche either stands at the crossroads unwilling to choose a course or it desires to choose both courses at the same time. Both choices usher in a litany of material impossibilities. However, from a thinking perspective, we are literally stuck – out of synch.

Contentment In All Of This

This is the important part. Either path is the same. The path makes no difference nor cares to label itself one way or the other. By my choice and my willingness to move forward singularly and assuredly, that path is mine alone and it is ever-evolving and growing grander and richer and more satisfying with each step we move forward. Every path is filled with pain and pleasure and ups and downs and there is contentment in all of this when enlightenment strikes you. It seems to favor decisively moving singular targets that walk decisively singular paths. Blah blah blah. So what does that mean or prove?

The Flutter Of A Butterfly’s Wing

Understanding what was just explained is not enough. Believing it to be true is not enough either. Although it does shorten the process slightly. Practicing as if it were true seems to be the action that gets the wheels turning. In other words, behaving as if it were true. It is empowering to practice as if you could dramatically alter the course of your life with a mere one step in a particular direction. Any direction. You can live any life you can imagine, or at higher levels, I suspect, live an unimaginable life. No need to plan out each step. Just keep moving forward.

The World Moves Either Way

A Chinese sifu once said that if you are not moving forward, you are moving backward. The idea that you can stand static still and neither move up or down is really a slower version of moving backward. Getting stuck mentally or emotionally in the past whilst your physical body moves uncompromisingly forward in time causes an existential paradox. Do you realize how much mental strain and internal resources it takes to keep you running counter to the flow of the entire universe? Either you choose one or not choose one. Either way, you made a choice. Decisions made by indecision are still, guess what, decisions. Good and bad are only labels we apply to things based on our preferences, agendas and points of interest. The words themselves mean nothing. They are a choice you decide to apply to situations, people, places or things that you believe do you harm or at the very least, not in line with your preference.