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.
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
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.
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 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.