A Welcomed Old Friend
Ask yourself, “What is my Why?” Inspiration comes in many forms. Getting inspired by something or someone gets our hearts and minds focused on a single subject. This is great practice for folks with scattered thoughts and lingering ADD. Early in recovery, it is hard to get excited about anything. Our brain receptors are a little fried from overuse. Furthermore, they’re locked into the same old habits, the same old grind, running the same old tricks. It’s easy, then, to feel lost, without direction or even an idea of who we really are. But as the clouds begin to dissipate and we get glimpses of who we were before all the headaches, inspiration becomes a welcomed old friend.
Now, waiting around to be inspired is a little presumptuous. You can insert any worn cliché or dead horse quote here you’d like, from Edison’s inspiration and perspiration to God helping those who help themselves. But there’s truth in those old chestnuts. I find when you take a step back and ask yourself, “Why?” the discovery begins. We begin to challenge ourselves and start to peel back the layers to get to the heart of things. Besides, inspiration can be cultivated and accentuated. Putting ourselves in new creative environments and surrounding ourselves with inspiring people helps propagate inspiration in our own lives.
Get Excited About Life
Recovery can sometimes feel like a fall into boredom and dullsville. But it doesn’t have to be. Finding ways to get excited about life begins as a practice and a routine. And it doesn’t have to be extravagant or an attempt to re-invent the wheel. But take it seriously, because you are re-inventing your life. Start exploring different cultures or music you’ve never listened to. Or you could learn a language or take a dance class. Engaging in these new pursuits and flights of inspiration help fill the void left in early recovery. Often times it is not just the compulsions that disappear, but an entire lifestyle and identity. Rebuilding this bedrock and filling this vacancy will require inspiration (and some footwork).
Engage, Create, and Share
Sharing what gets us personally excited is one way to help others find their spark for life. It’s one of the things we mean when we talk about community-based mental healthcare. Trying new things and experiences is another. This week let’s have discussions about what makes life so rich and inviting. What makes us want to engage and create? Let’s rediscover that zest for life that compulsive behavior extinguished. Let’s learn to love life again! Barn Life Recovery is the first treatment center in the state of California licensed to treat mental illness on an outpatient community-based level. If you’re feeling anxious, depressed, or just plain overwhelmed, please give us a call today.
“The Mind Is the Most Capricious of Insects…”
Hopefully after reading last week’s blog about hard work and making your way in the world, all of you were inspired to arise, take up thy beds, and walk. I figure this is the perfect time to talk about a phenomenon the Japanese call 三日坊主, or mikka bouzu. Mikka bouzu translates to “three-day monk” and it’s something we have all been guilty of at some point in our lives. For example, if you go to just about any gym in the country on January 2nd, you’ll find that it’s filled with three-day monks. Twelve-step meetings are also often full of three-day monks, as are recovery centers. Sometimes, three-day monks haven’t even reached puberty yet. Ballet and karate schools make serious bank off the parents of these young ascetics. Are you picking up what I’m putting down?
What Is a Three-Day Monk?
A three-day monk is someone who becomes intensely interested in something and goes hard in the paint for a few days (or weeks), but soon leaves it by the wayside and forgets all about it. Sound familiar? Don’t worry…we’ve all done it and that includes yours truly (ask me about my career as a cellist sometime.) We find a new toy, fall in love with it, wear it out, and watch it collect dust on our shelves or in the corner of the garage until our significant other finally tells us to throw it away. However, today is a new day and we don’t have to live that way anymore. I have a few concrete and manageable tips to keep your saffron robes looking fresh long after their 72-hour expiration date.
Set Some Manageable Goals
You want to learn Chinese. That’s awesome. It’s also a huge undertaking that you’re likely to get frustrated with quickly. That makes it very easy to give up. Instead of doing that, though, how about breaking the Herculean task of learning a new and difficult language into achievable sections. Download a language app and commit to completing one lesson a day. Sound too small? Don’t worry about that right now. Besides, you’ll learn a whole lot more Chinese if you get through a year of doing one lesson a day than if you do a hundred lessons in three days and give up.
Make It a Habit, Then Step It Up
You’ve completed that first lesson and I’m proud of you. But we’re going to sustain it this time. Try to set aside five minutes at the same time every day so you’re less likely to forget. It makes it even easier when you tie it in with an existing part of your routine, like right after brushing your teeth or eating dinner. What you’re trying to do is make it a habit. After you’ve gotten a week or two under your belt without missing days, start pushing yourself a little bit. You were doing one lesson a day – now make it two. Repeat the process.
Write. It. Out.
I can’t overstate the value of this one. We all have busy schedules and we all have things in life we’d like to accomplish. To help stay organized and on top of things, write your tasks down on paper and check them off as you go. Everything looks manageable when it’s on a page and there’s a small but very powerful feeling of accomplishment to be had every time you cross an item off. It’s also a great way to track your progress. This is why I recommend a small notebook instead of the Notes app on your phone.
Show Up and Remember to Have Fun
The two simplest rules are, of course, the most important. Whether it’s five minutes a day to learn a language, an hour a day at the piano, three hours a week at the gym…those sweet plans you worked out for yourself aren’t going to matter if you don’t show up and put in the effort. And a way to keep yourself showing up is to remember that you’re doing this because you want to. If your Chinese lessons are getting a little dry and boring, switch it up and watch an old Shaw Brothers movie (36th Chamber of Shaolin and Five Deadly Venoms are two excellent choices.) Turn the subtitles off and see how many words you can pick out. Remind yourself that this is fun!
Barn Life Recovery is the first treatment center in the state of California licensed to treat mental illness on an outpatient community-based level. And we don’t merely treat mental health issues – we remind our clients that life is fun and show them how to find that spark of joy again. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, depression, or just life in general, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Give us a call today and love life again!
A Common Mistake
Gong Fu or Kung Fu (功夫) literally means “energy/hard work, time/patience.” It is commonly misunderstood to mean a particular style of martial art, but it actually refers to anything that takes a large amount of time, patience, and energy to accomplish. For example, if someone is learning to play the piano that is their kung fu because it will require a lot of time and energy to become proficient in that art. The concept of kung fu applies to the martial arts as well, but in the West, we tend to assume it is exclusively a martial arts term or a particular style of martial arts and it is not.
“That’s really interesting, Mathew, but what’s the point? What are you trying to tell us?” you’re probably saying right about now. And I’m glad you asked.
The World Is But A Canvas…
What I’m trying to say is, “Make your way.” Please notice how I did not say discover your way or find your way or seek your way. I said: make your way. Make it. Create it. This world seems to take equal parts pleasure in creating and destroying. For something new to emerge, something else needs to evaporate. Appearing and disappearing. So to create this new path in which you will travel with contentment and satisfaction you must first dismantle your old way of living. Only makes sense. We can’t walk two paths at the same time. Time, as most of us perceive it, is moving constantly in a singular direction. Living a life walking two different paths would necessitate 2 of you. Psychologically this happens in the form of a mental split. The psyche either stands at the crossroads unwilling to choose a course or it desires to choose both courses at the same time. Both choices usher in a litany of material impossibilities. However, from a thinking perspective, we are literally stuck – out of synch.
Contentment In All Of This
This is the important part. Either path is the same. The path makes no difference nor cares to label itself one way or the other. By my choice and my willingness to move forward singularly and assuredly, that path is mine alone and it is ever-evolving and growing grander and richer and more satisfying with each step we move forward. Every path is filled with pain and pleasure and ups and downs and there is contentment in all of this when enlightenment strikes you. It seems to favor decisively moving singular targets that walk decisively singular paths. Blah blah blah. So what does that mean or prove?
The Flutter Of A Butterfly’s Wing
Understanding what was just explained is not enough. Believing it to be true is not enough either. Although it does shorten the process slightly. Practicing as if it were true seems to be the action that gets the wheels turning. In other words, behaving as if it were true. It is empowering to practice as if you could dramatically alter the course of your life with a mere one step in a particular direction. Any direction. You can live any life you can imagine, or at higher levels, I suspect, live an unimaginable life. No need to plan out each step. Just keep moving forward.
The World Moves Either Way
A Chinese sifu once said that if you are not moving forward, you are moving backward. The idea that you can stand static still and neither move up or down is really a slower version of moving backward. Getting stuck mentally or emotionally in the past whilst your physical body moves uncompromisingly forward in time causes an existential paradox. Do you realize how much mental strain and internal resources it takes to keep you running counter to the flow of the entire universe? Either you choose one or not choose one. Either way, you made a choice. Decisions made by indecision are still, guess what, decisions. Good and bad are only labels we apply to things based on our preferences, agendas and points of interest. The words themselves mean nothing. They are a choice you decide to apply to situations, people, places or things that you believe do you harm or at the very least, not in line with your preference.
Don’t Let Your Farmer Become a Garbage Collector
There is a person you will never meet in this very present moment. Though you feel their nearness always and you may even catch a whiff here and there of their scent, or even a fleeting glimpse, they and you will never meet eyes. You will always be intimate strangers. In fact, he will be the sum of all your nowness. It’s hard to show kindness and respect when the object of your kindness and respect is your future self. Your future self is like the friendly farmer who harvests all the experiences (seeds) you set into motion in the present. Sorry future friendly-farmer-self. There are no apples to harvest because I planted oranges instead. Or, I planted nothing. All I did was make your farm empty and overgrown with regrets and missed opportunities. Then your future farmer has no time to farm because he has to deal with the garbage you left for him everywhere. Your farmer is now a garbage collector. Are you satisfied?
Taking Care of Our Future Selves
This week we are going to practice showing love and respect for our future selves. By doing small things, itty-bitty routines, and tiny baby step advances, we gain momentum. Momentum that will carry and propel us into the realm of our future selves. Of course, when we arrive at our future it will no longer be the future. It will be now, but this isn’t a sci-fi movie and we don’t have time to goof around. Know this, our future selves will cheer us and write songs about us and look back fondly at the “past-you-self” that has made all this future contentedness happen.
Start Small, But Start Now
Start small. What would you like to have happen in the future? What small things can I do now to work toward that vision of the future?
Sample Student: Well, Matt, I would like very much to not go to jail when I go home.
Matt: Super idea. Jail is depressing. Have you alerted your PO that you have left the state but are receiving mental health treatment and look forward to rehabilitating yourself?
Sample Student: No, I have not done that.
Matt: Then your future self is a garbage collector. How does that make you feel?
Sample Student: Poorly.
Matt: Yes, your future self also feels poorly. Let me help you call your PO and get things rolling in the right direction.
Sample Student: Gee whiz, that’d be swell!
We Are Worth It
The ability to connect to the present moment and shape it in a way that makes a future version of yourself grateful, is asking a lot. It depends on you loving yourself enough to do something about it. This week we will learn that our future selves are worth it and what we can do in the present to ensure that our future selves will be grateful for our sacrifices.
Barn Life Recovery is the first treatment center in the state of California licensed to treat mental illness on an outpatient community-based level. We specialize in mild to moderately severe mental illness, co-occurring disorders and addiction. If you or someone you love is struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, or if you’re feeling overwhelmed and need some help refocusing, please don’t hesitate to give us a call today.
Primitive Emotional Defenses
One of the ways that people avoid taking responsibility for their role in their own pain is what I call the BPs – blame and projection.
Projection and projective identification are very common, and very primitive emotional defenses. That is, I use projection to defend myself against certain emotions I may feel, or certain qualities I may possess or certain desires I may have which I may find deeply painful. So painful, in fact, that I cannot possibly tolerate them inside myself. I must split them off from my conscious awareness and experience these things in another person. This person is usually someone close to me but not always. In general, the closer someone is to me emotionally, or the closer I WANT them to be, the more likely it is that I will unconsciously project upon them. I can then hate or fear those feelings, desires or qualities in the other person rather than myself.
If You Spot It…
It is from this very human process that novelist Hermann Hesse derived his famous aphorism. He wrote, “If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.” Notice how that reads. Hesse could not have created a more succinct description of projection. The sole modification to make here is that in projection, it’s too often true that the thing we hate in another is not actually PRESENT in another. We have put that quality or emotion there to avoid it in ourselves.
Cue the Projection
It’s worth noting that very often if we are projecting something into another so that we can experience it in them, they may not quite get the unconscious message. In this case, we will unconsciously CUE them to act out the projection. This way we can experience the projection fully outside of ourselves. A simple example: I am very angry, but when I was a child, anger not allowed in my family, so I find the experience very painful and frightening. Thus, I project my anger into my partner so I can accuse them of being angry. Except, my partner isn’t quite playing along so I have to cue them to play by provoking them to anger. If you think about it carefully, this is a common experience for many people.
Why Would We Do This?
We engage in this behavior for at least two reasons. First, because It’s plausibly far less painful to experience our unwanted feelings, desires, or qualities in another person, where we can hate them or fear them in relative emotional safety than it is to experience those same things inside ourselves. Second, because human beings are inherently social creatures – no human does very well emotionally in isolation – projection is a rather obvious way for one person to help out another: if we accept someone’s projection, we are helping them in their effort to split off a part of themselves they cannot tolerate. We allow them to hate that part of themselves in us and thus we do them a very large emotional favor.
A Tormenting Inner Experience
Here is one powerful illustration of the first reason. In his book People of the Lie, M. Scott Peck proposed that many sudden, unexplained suicides might well be caused by a person, usually deeply–but not necessarily obviously–emotionally disturbed, by some means, getting in full contact with the dark, unwanted chaos of their inner experience, and that contact is so painful such a person immediately ends their own life. If we are willing to stipulate to the possible existence of such people, it is easy to imagine them projecting constantly, in a desperate attempt to be rid of so much tormenting inner experience. If it comes to pass that such people do contact their inner experience directly, the pain of that would be so severe that death as soon as possible would seem the only solution.
The Polarized Couple
The second reason we do this grows out of our common yearning for harmony. If someone is feeling bad because of their inner experience, as social creatures we naturally want to relieve that someone of their suffering. This reason for projection and accepting projections has all the markers of an evolutionary adaptation. We can see it perhaps most clearly in what Jung called the “Wounded Couple” or the “Polarized Couple.” In the Polarized Couple, the intimate partners have each split off unwanted, unacceptable parts-of-themselves that complement and are accepted by one another. For example, we may see an intimate couple where one person owns all the aggression and competence in the relationship, and the other person owns all the warmth and vulnerability. If you think about it, you’ve probably seen this quite a bit. Additionally, this kind of couple may be reinforced in their mutual projections by societal gender stereotypes.
The Couple Vs. a Healthy Person
As a single social unit, the couple may be highly effective in life. They own each other’s projections and protect each other from deeply painful inner feelings or qualities. This is, in certain ways, a highly functional unconscious arrangement for a couple to make, to own each other’s split off qualities. Problems arise here though. If you think about it, such a couple is going through life as a WHOLE, SINGLE person might. A healthy human does NOT unconsciously split off unacceptable aspects-of-self. An emotionally healthy person surfaces painful inner experiences and takes responsibility for them. Emotionally healthy people address them, work through them, and INTEGRATE all aspects of self into a powerful whole. This is the life-work of a conscious person.
Projection in the Workplace
If we look at how projection works in more general social and professional situations, consider the phrase at many workplaces “we’re a family.” This is, in a way, classic projection. Work is not a family. Ever. But I may identify my father or mother in my supervisor, I may ascribe to my supervisor all the good and bad qualities of my parent. I may identify siblings in co-workers. I may identify my other family members in people I work with. This is all too common, and it’s often a recipe for disaster. Because, of course, my boss is NOT my parent, nor are my co-workers my siblings. But if I’m projecting qualities of those people onto my co-workers, I may well be assuming qualities in those co-workers that do not, in fact, exist.
The Therapeutic Alliance
Projection is often at work in the therapeutic alliance. As the therapist and client move closer to each other, inevitably, as a result of the alliance, the client or the therapist might well start to project inner parts-of-self onto the other. This can turn into a serious problem if the therapist is unconsciously projecting onto the client, or accepting projections from the client without realizing it. Projection in the therapeutic alliance can also be a great opportunity to co-create change if the therapist can accept or decline the client’s projections in a pro-therapeutic way.
Some Projection Homework
This week, explore the problems and possibilities of projection and projective identification. Do we come from families in which there was a lot of projection? How do we then carry that through the world? What kinds of projections do we send or receive? How might we project our inner experience outward, into others, and experience it there, where it’s easier and safer to do so? Can we become more acutely aware of our inner world, and thus begin to take back all parts of ourselves in service of becoming more emotionally intelligent and healthy and effective in the world?
Awareness and the Inner Experience
There is an inverse correlation between being aware of and knowing my inner experience and my projecting. If I am thoroughly aware of my inner experience at all times, I will very seldom project anything outward. This is because I am owning all parts of myself. The bad with the good. The painful and the pleasant. That which may shame me and that which makes me feel valuable. If my inner experience is chaotic, or I have very little ability to know my inner experience–because I simply haven’t learned to how to know it–I will do a LOT of projecting, as a way to make sense of my existence and/or avoid emotional confusion and pain. How well do we know our inner experience? Do we have ways of knowing it? Or is that entire process a mystery?
Training Ourselves to Accept What Is
Acceptance is a simple enough idea but can be a challenge to master in practice. This week, we consider just what it means to accept, and how we might train ourselves to accept what is. Buddhism (and certain other spiritual practices) teach that if we do not accept what IS in our life now, we suffer. Another way to think about this is that when we suffer, we are, in essence, resisting what is in our life now. So in this formulation, all suffering results from some form of inner or outer resistance to what is.
The Serenity Prayer
The Serenity Prayer is yet another clear statement of this idea:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
It is in the serenity of acceptance that we find both the courage to change what we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. That wisdom eludes us without the serenity of acceptance.
Acceptance Vs. Resistance
Similarly, another way to think about acceptance and resistance is to imagine that we have arrived at a place and time in our lives when we are, in some sense, lost. Resistance to what is in our lives now is a form of being lost. Imagine being lost in the physical world. If I struggle against such a fact, if I am, say, lost in deep woods, I may never come out again. But if I sit quietly, and accept that I am truly lost, I may begin to see things differently. Once I stop resisting that I am lost, I may begin to see ways to become “un-lost.” I may see a path through the underbrush. I may hear sounds that lead me to safety. I may discover a great deal once I have accepted that I am lost and that struggling against that fact is useless.
A State of Openness and Receptiveness
Acceptance is thus not at all simply giving up to what is. Rather, it is a state of openness and receptiveness to what is happening to me now, and also a receptiveness and openness to what might be immanent – but not now obvious – in my current life-situation. Once we reach acceptance, the static of resistance fades and we can see and hear more clearly. We are also more likely to find inner peace more consistently if we can accept what is. So this week, where and what is our resistance? How does it manifest in our lives? What are we resisting now? What would it be like to accept what is instead of resisting it?