The Process of Decline and Renewal
The idea of rebirth is ancient. Indeed, throughout time immemorial, myths and legends speak of man’s process of birth, death, and rebirth into a new life. But why is this process of appearance, decline, and renewal so firmly etched on our conscious and unconscious thoughts? The list of gods and demi-gods who have traveled the path of rebirth are as countless as the stars. To name a few: the Phoenix, Osiris, Baldr, Adonis, Dionysus, Attis, Vayu, Quetzalcoatl, Tammuz, Shiva, Persephone, Izanami, Ishtar, and on and on.
An Opportunity for Personal Growth
It is vital to view this concept of rebirth through the lens of non-literal interpretation. In fact, reading these death/rebirth stories and myths as literal events can be dangerous and vexing. However, we can choose to view them with the same sensibilities as Carl Jung or Joseph Campbell. When we do, a whole world of personal growth, psychoanalysis, and psychology opens up. It is like voices from long ago sharing secrets that have endured centuries yet teeter on the precipice of forgotten knowledge.
Embracing the Present Moment
All of us experience death and rebirth. Letting go of addiction is a small death yet carving out a new life free from bondage is a grand rebirth. Experiencing trauma feels like something has died. However, leaving these traumas on the altars of the past (where they belong) is an embrace of the present moment. Relationships die, only to be replaced by new experiences of connection and love.
A Breath of Fresh Air
These cycles are something we all deal with on a daily basis. However, by drawing up these old stories from this inexhaustible well, we can reach new levels of understanding ourselves, thereby quenching our enduring thirst. The cycles of birth and death are all around us. This becomes all the more poignant for someone in early recovery who is in the process of reinventing themselves, starting over, and putting their pasts behind them. Indeed, they are breathing fresh air into an old pattern of suffocation and stagnation.
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. For example, we offer Tai Chi, synthetic-free psychology, relapse prevention, martial arts, meditation, and more. It’s all at our Orange County intensive outpatient program and day program. If someone you know is struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, give us a call today. Start to love life again!
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!
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.
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.
There are too many good quotes about truth to share in a timely fashion. However, two of my favorites are:
“There are three sides to every story: yours, mine and the truth.” – Robert Evans, filmmaker
“Three things shine before the world and cannot be hidden. They are the moon, the sun, and the truth.” – usually attributed to the Buddha in a paraphrased version
The sort of “truth” we will be exploring this week will pertain to inner truth. The truth about who you are and how you shape your reality based on this inner truth. The Greek word for “truth” is aletheia. This word means literally to “un-hide” or “hiding nothing.” It conveys the thought that truth is always there, always open and available for all to see, with nothing being hidden or obscured.
Chung Fu: Three Images of Inner Truth
In Chinese philosophy “Chung Fu” or Inner Truth relates to three different images or ideas. One is the wind blowing over the lake stirring the surface. When the wind disrupts the surface of the water, we see ripples. These ripples are a physical manifestation of the wind’s effect on the water. This unsettled water expresses the visible effects of the invisible. Inner truth is like the wind in this example. What we feel to be our truth will manifest itself in the “agreed upon” real world.
Over-Brooding and Under-Brooding
The second image is of a baby bird being held down by its mother’s foot. This expresses the idea of brooding. Brooding in this sense means how a mother bird cares over her young. Some mama birds over-brood their babies and the hatchling grows too large for the nest and falls out before learning to fly. On the other hand, under-brood and you miss the hints and clues. Correct brooding means actively listening to what another person is expressing. In fact, paying close attention to something or someone is how one broods. The baby chick will give the signals, while the mother only needs to have the desire to be aware. In order to care for the flightless hatchling, the mother listens closely and reads the signs honestly.
Opening Your Heart
The third idea is listening to others. This last image offers clear instructions on how to practice inner truth. Receiving what others say and do with an open heart. Attacking people with YOUR preconceived plans and opinions is never the path to inner truth. Only by paying close attention to the stirrings of others can you find open-heartedness. An open heart allows inner truth to penetrate just like light and heat warm an egg and “quickens” it into a living thing. That empty space in the egg is key. Inner truth is also an empty space in you that fills with interest and compassion in others. Furthermore, the source of a person’s strength lies not in herself but in her relation of that self to other people.
The Fragrance of Orchids
Remember the three sides to every story quote? “There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth.” Well, there is more to that quote that always gets left out for some reason. The next two sentences read, “And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each differently.”
Life leads the thoughtful man on a path of many windings.
Now the course is checked, now it runs straight again.
Here winged thoughts may pour freely forth in words,
There the heavy burden of knowledge must be shut away in silence.
But when two people are at one in their inmost hearts,
They shatter even the strength of iron or of bronze.
And when two people understand each other in their inmost hearts,
Their words are sweet and strong, like the fragrance of orchids.
– Ta Chuan
From Unknowing to Knowing
If “unknowing” leads us to non-judgment, then “knowing” leads us to judgment. If we think we know something, we start judging everything and everyone around us in the light of our “knowing.” Our “knowing” or “certainty” coupled with the inevitable judging that goes with them always leads to suffering. The Buddha said that “a day spent judging another is a painful day. A day spent judging yourself is a painful day.” Conversely, time spent unknowing, in non-judgment, may lead to a cessation of suffering.
Judgment Closes Doors
Knowing may involve an opening up to new possibility, but more often knowing takes the form of a certainty that closes doors and makes our world smaller rather than larger. What is a judgment that always accompanies certainty? It is a decision we make about the inherent nature or quality of communication, a thing, or a person. It is a decision of right or wrong, bad or good. An assumption. Judgment always has, or is part of, some agenda. What if we were able to drop all of that, and let things be as they are? What then?
Criticism = Judgment + Demand
Probably one of the most personally corrosive things to emerge from a state of knowing and its judgments is criticism. What is criticism? Well, it is an essentially emotional statement that contains a judgment and a demand. All criticism is made of these two things, although often the judgment and demand are camouflaged in some way. It’s also worth remembering that self-criticism, while occasionally useful, is more often as corrosive to our progress and growth as any criticism we might make of another person.
Converting Criticism into Effective Communication
A plain, albeit relatively mild, criticism might sound like this:
“I really wish you would wash the dishes every day. You are such a slob for not doing it!”
The demand: wash the dishes. The judgment: you’re a slob. Simple enough. Think about how it works as effective communication, though. Not well, most of the time. Inevitably the object of this communication will become defensive, even hostile and my criticism of them will not only be an abject failure in achieving my goal – consistent washing of the dishes – it will likely make things worse between us. A better way: dispense with the criticism and do something different. More effective communication might be: “When you don’t wash the dishes I feel angry, sad and dismissed.” I talk about myself, not about the potential object of my criticism. This seems simple enough but it can also be quite powerful in getting my partner, say, to actually listen to what I’m saying, and is less likely to provoke defensiveness or a fight.
So how do we experience our “knowings” and the judgments that follow from them? Is judging pleasant or unpleasant? How does constantly judging everything and everyone help or hurt us? M. Scott Peck once observed that “The quality of our judgments determines the quality of our lives.” While this is true, it’s crucial that we are all deeply aware of our inner experience driving our judgments and how we can communicate our judgments in a way that they can actually be heard and considered seriously. This week, explore judgment in all its manifestations and what it might be like to judge less and observe more, including judging ourselves. Does more judgment really result in more suffering? Is the converse true? Consider if judgment and criticism make us more distant from other people, more alone, or if less judgment and criticism bring us closer to others and to ourselves.