A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Resolutions For Health In 2017

I quit smoking again just as it turned into the new year of 2017.  Four and a half days later I went to my doctor's appointment to hear the results of my recent blood test.  My blood sugar level was quite high and he said I would have to start taking a medication twice daily at meals for the next 3 months till I saw him again.  One reason why I readily agreed is that I've been having toe pain for the last 2-3 weeks.  Problems with feet and eyes are common especially in untreated diabetes and can lead to dire consequences such as amputations and blindness.  The doctor said the pain in my toes would probably clear up within 2 weeks.  I have been faithfully taking the medication twice a day for the last four days.  I still have pain in my toes and some tension in my fingers and a restlessness at night when I try to sleep.

My condition is a wake up call to take better care of myself.  I would like to follow more closely Dr. Joel Fuhrman's books on fighting or even eliminating diabetes.  He suggests a mostly vegan diet and I have been moving towards that.  I have been relying in part on a line of frozen foods called AMY'S but it is still processed and I think I'm going to stop buying it.  I have been including more salads and more green smoothies, but I need to branch out into cooking, particularly hearty soups.  All this requires shopping at least once a week for fresh fruits and vegetables.  It also requires food preparation and a clean kitchen.  I have a very dirty kitchen and I have to change that.

Despite the stress of finding out my blood sugar is too high, (which has led me to thoughts of affliction and mortality) I do not have the desire to smoke cigarettes.  That in itself is a miracle that makes me grateful.  I turn instead to my vape mods and to drinking water and to talking into my audio recorder or listening to audio programs.  I am consciously trying to turn to vaping when I feel the least touch of a desire to smoke.  I'm trying to transfer my tendency to be compulsive from the toxic cigarettes to the mostly non toxic (no nicotine) vaping.  It's working for me.  It is obviously breath oriented, even more so than cigarettes, and it soothes me.

It's been very cold here this past week and I have stayed indoors.  There is peace and quiet and safety in my home, the ever present company of my cats and moments of meditation and appreciation for my life.  I do shift into anxiety and depression, but I've been sitting with them knowing that they too will shift into something better.  I'm also learning that once I become aware of whatever negative thought pattern I'm in, I can go to work to re-direct myself towards basic bottom line acceptance of where I am at in the present moment.

I have struggled with voices that say that I should be doing more, helping people, implying that my small life is a selfish one.  Not harming others has been very important to me and I don't.  In some instances I help.  What I'm really trying to learn is how not to hurt myself.  Having quit smoking cigarettes is a huge step forward in this.  And now, so is diet and exercise.  What I've learned over the years of living with psychosis is that individuals placing top priority on taking care of themselves body, mind and spirit is the key to living in peace and the key to finding deep happiness.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Quiet Christmas Eve

Nothing festive this year.  No lights, no decorations, just a fake tree with nothing on it.  My parents are gone, my uncle lives in Chicago and my brother I will see tomorrow for a not very Christmasy meal of Chinese food at a Chinese restaurant in a nearby town.  We will probably exchange presents at my brother's house and then I will head home for another quiet night.  Tonight I will wrap presents for my brother and make up a batch of chocolate chip cookies.  The days of childhood and youth are long gone when Christmas had a special meaning, not anything religious, but just a time to come together as a family and eat a good home made meal.

I feel very different from my former selves.  One of the main changes in the last few years is that now I really do live in the present moment and there's a lot of peace in that kind of living.  My life is mostly solitary and yet I like my company.  I live simply without a lot of stress.  Depression and discontent do come but they are not the foundations of my life.  If anything they help to point out what I need to work on.  I used to rely on fantasy in my imagination and through films, books and music.  No more.  I still watch films, but more often than not it will be a documentary.  I still read books, but more often than not it will be nonfiction.  I still listen to music, but now it is so I can stretch and do some dance moves.  And then there are the songs that I create and sing for myself.  They are an emotional outlet for me.

My friend Sam said to me a couple of weeks ago when I mentioned that I had been working on some songs that what I needed was a band.  At first I dismissed the idea, but then it returned to me and I began thinking about it.  I asked the I Ching a few questions about it and the response was that it was a very good idea, but that I wasn't ready yet and had to prepare and practice first and just think about it.  So I've been thinking about it the last couple of days.  I live in a college town, so there are musicians around here.  Reaching out to any of them would be a big deal for me.  I really believe in the last 25 years that I have written some good songs and that my voice, with some practice, could be good enough if I had the courage to sing in front of people.  That's a big if for a reclusive person.

I most definitely am a singer/songwriter, but I am not much of a musician and that's why, if I chose to  embrace performing, I would need a band.  To be around a guitarist would be such a blessing to me.  I have spent very little time around any skilled musician, which is probably why I don't play well.  I think dedicated musicians are brilliant and inspiring.  In choosing to remain isolated I have cut myself off from experiencing and learning from musicians.  I have cut myself off from so much.  And I think I'm afraid of the intimacy of working with others and yet I also think that is just what I need.  I feel very humble but I can't let that form into insecurity, the kind of insecurity that would block me from reaching out.  I have to realize that I do have something to offer musicians both in my songs and in my voice and in myself.

So I'm working on committing to practicing my songs.  I realized quickly that I needed two things - a small tascam digital recorder to record my new song ideas and a much better amplifier.  I already have a digital recorder that I use as my audio journal but the sound quality is not good enough.  The reason I need the tascam recorder is that I make up my lyrics while playing chords on the guitar, but often I don't record my ideas on my portastudio and then I will sometimes take the lyrics and put different chords to them in effect making a different song.  So I lose a lot in the process because I forget what I came up with in the first place.  As for the amplifier, the one I have is just a $50 amp and it puts out poor sound quality, plus I have a cheap dynamic microphone and that just makes it worse.

I've ordered a $299 Fender amplifier, neither super cheap nor very expensive, good enough for my music room or maybe a coffee house (if I get that far).  I need to hear myself and I think this amp will do the trick for me and help me to train my voice better.  Sometimes I get loud, but then I'm plugged into my portastudio with the headphones on and that's a very different experience, maybe a little too safe and insular.  I need to not be afraid to get loud and I also need to learn about the dynamics of singing through a microphone and amplifier.

I've got the whole Winter to work on this and I'm grateful for this project.  It comes at a good time for me because I've been wandering aimlessly since I came out of the Jesus delusion.  Will I have the courage to go looking for local musicians in the Spring?  I just don't know yet.  But strengthening my skills is not a waste of time.  I knew years ago in my 30s that I felt a deep connection to singing and songwriting.  Back then I performed for myself and it felt strong and right, even though I was still sick from having been in an abusive/love addicted relationship.  When I went into acute psychosis I lost the ability to sing and write songs and that was hard, but I didn't give up.  I returned to singing and songwriting about ten years ago.

I've only got as far as posting some of my songs on the internet, but never have I worked with others as a songwriter/singer.  I have a strong feeling that I will have to collaborate if I do find a few musicians willing to work with me.  I don't know about song structure, about adding instruments, about basic recording techniques, about setting up mics or about performing.  I don't know a lot.  And except for a couple of times with my ex boyfriend, I have not sung with others and know little about harmonizing.  But maybe I'll be lucky enough to connect with someone who not only plays, but sings.  That would be truly great.

Working with others, that's still a tough thing for me.  I know me and I know that I would be very open about my life and my life experiences with those I might work with.  I am 54 years old and I still suffer from mental illness, but I do have some talent and I have been stable for a couple of years now.  And once committed to a group I believe I have the capacity to work hard and give it a chance. So 2017 is just around the corner.  Maybe this year I will connect with others who share my interest in making music.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Prayer On The Wind

Prayer On The Wind

You are in the shadows,
You are hard to see,
Pulled away from the sunlight
By the shade of the trees.

The wind today is strong,
It rustles the leaves.
You are in a corner
Fallen to your knees.

Send a prayer out on the wind.
Let it circulate the world
And return to you again
Changed by the pattern of souls
That it touched
As you grew older.

Don't let the sorrow and the pain
Control how you move in the world.
The sunlight is for everyone.
The sunlight is for everyone.

There is no problem
Too great that cannot be solved.
Patience and work will bolster your resolve
To work all this through
To work all this through.

Send a prayer out on the wind.
Let it circulate the world
And return to you again
Changed by the pattern of souls
That it touched
As you grow older.

I just wrote these lyrics for the man in my mind who is suffering.  His suffering is symbolic to me of all the many men who are suffering now, having been abused and having turned towards abuse but who are hurting because of it all.  I think many men in our culture take on the role of everything being just okay, no problems, when inside they are feeling some despair.  This becomes the standard pattern of living a dual life of outer and inner.  I have the honor of witnessing some of the inner world of this man.  I want him to know that he is not alone.  The sunlight is for everyone, but it requires stepping out of the shadows.  It requires having some faith in the goodness of self and the goodness of others.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Spiritual Practice Inside And Out

Winter begins early around here, usually around Thanksgiving.  We've gotten a lot of snow and temperatures have been low and I've been inside my house for over three days.  I managed to detach from the Jesus delusion.  It's been a particularly stubborn delusion and whenever I come out of it I dip into some depression.  I've heard this is a typical reaction for people who suffer from psychotic disorders which makes sense.  You go up too high and then you swing down low once you realize that your position is really (and always has been) humble.  But truly humble is a good place to be because that is the reality for all of us here on earth.  It's so easy to lose sight of the fact that we are merely animals on one of many habitable planets.  Especially hard for those of us who either swing towards delusions of grandeur or who are in positions of power over other human animals.

So Winter is here and I'm moving inward and staying home more often.  It's a time of greater reflection.  On some levels I'm quite content.  I have food, shelter, heat, water, cats for company, a functioning car, a healthy spine and the ability to move, my five senses and a lot more.  I feel blessed.  And the discomfort I feel off and on throughout the day is a blessing, too.  It spurs me to seek out the truth, especially about myself.  Discomfort in necessary for spiritual development.  There would be no reason to change for the better without it.

Lately I've been realizing that I don't know what a truly healthy way of living would be.  I have done a lot of studying about mental illness (and I include the study of addiction in this), but not a lot of study about definitions of health.  I do have some sense of it.  Learning new ways to reduce stress in life is very important.  Stress is a big factor in mental illness.  It seems as if we are guided in this culture to take on more and more responsibilities - serious relationships, children, education (and debts), career, owning a home, etc....  It is mind boggling to me what people choose to do with their lives before they've even dealt with and resolved the issues generated from their childhood and youth with their families and communities.

There is a trend happening here with people choosing to be single, choosing to spend more time with themselves and not tangled up in relationships.  I think this is a good thing because it guides individuals towards self reflection and taking care of themselves.  They keep the focus on themselves instead of on codependency with others.  This is especially important with those of us who suffer from addictions.  The solutions to our problems are not out there somewhere, but inside of us.  Connections to others, healthy friends, healthy support groups, therapists and counselors, supportive family members are all very important, but the first step starts inside.  Individuals facing themselves nakedly and honestly.

Too many people who are very involved in codependent relationships with each other and their children are very afraid to be alone.  They don't believe that they can find happiness within themselves.  They are always looking outside of themselves to family, friends, lovers, work and their children.  It's clear to me that that approach does not work and leaves our personal unhappiness intact.    What's needed is privacy, a room of one's own, a pad and pen or a computer and word processing program.  There are two questions to ask:  What's right in my life?  What's wrong in my life?  It's important to start with what's right and if you really look at it there is a lot right in you and around you, but you have to focus on it and value it.  We tend to overlook the obvious such as our ability to breath and move, to feel and think, to have food, water and shelter.  All these things put us in a very precious position.  It is a position of freedom, the freedom to grow emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

Make a practice of not overlooking the obvious.  Don't take your life and your abilities for granted.  When you value all the elements of your life from good health to a good cup of coffee or tea to a good night's sleep, you change your viewpoint from a sense of deprivation to a sense of abundance.  Placing value on your experiences is a practice of gratitude regardless of whether you believe in some kind of Higher Power or not.  Once you have established this spiritual practice, you can then go to work on the question - What's wrong with my life?  After you've written a gratitude list, make a grievance list.  Once you've got the list, take each item separately on a new page and dig deeper.  Ask questions such as, when have I felt like this before?  You will find that many of your grievances stem back to childhood and adolescence.

We all get to the point where our youth ends and adulthood begins, no matter how hard you resist it.  When this happens our memories of childhood and youth submerge into our unconscious or subconscious.  We forget our beginnings and that is where we begin to go astray.  Unresolved relationships with family and friends still get played out in present day relationships.  The cycle of illness continues without any conscious choice.  Self awareness is the only thing that will begin to get us to detach from our patterns.  Sitting down with yourself in a room of your own, in privacy, and making simple lists is how to regain awareness of where you started and what happened and where you are now.  No matter how disjointed life can seem, life is continuous.  There is a logic to how you got to this place in time and inside the logic there is a lot of personal meaning.

Discovering meaning in your life through becoming aware of the patterns in your life is very satisfying.  That's the hook into health.  But again, it requires the daily practice of you facing yourself and getting honest.  The problems you face now are being faced by countless other people who have lived inside dysfunctional families and have encountered and been ensnared by addictions of all sorts.  You are not alone.  Help is more available now than it was in the past with computers, therapy and self help groups.  The telephone alone is a godsend.  Reaching out is a key to health, but so is reaching inward and doing the work every day.  Both practices, reaching inward and reaching outward, are spiritual practices, the spiritual practice and necessity of taking care of ourselves.

Friday, November 11, 2016

What Jesus Said

I haven't written in this blog for about a month and a half mainly because when I consulted the I Ching about the blog it said that I should take a break from it and work on spiritual development.  I was also encouraged to commit to consulting the I Ching regularly for the  next 6 months, which will get me through the winter.   Soon after I committed to these two things I got sick with the flu and was sick with it for around 3 and a half weeks.  Mistakenly thinking that I was contagious all that time, I stopped seeing my therapist, brother and friends while the sickness took its course.  During that time I consulted the I Ching, sometimes several times a day, and took a course at Hilary Barrett's site I Ching With Clarity about how to consult and interpret the I Ching.   I learned a lot in a short time.  I continued with my spiritual routine of taking my medications, thanking God, praying for myself and everyone I could think of, reading support literature aloud, calling the Sex & Love Addicts Anonymous Inspiration Line, listening and leaving a share after the end of the message.  By the end of the 3 weeks I was wiped out and suffering from too much isolation.  I began to have some psychotic symptoms.

First of all, the reality I embrace on a daily basis is that I am telepathically connected to another human being who suffers from multiple personality disorder as a result of severe sexual abuse who does not want to have contact with me.  I also believe that this connection is created by some other intelligent species, a species that is committed to helping human beings learn to take care of themselves first so that they can rise to the level of health where they can take on more responsibility and help others and the earth, the earth which appears to be dying.  I am fully aware that for most people my beliefs only serve to confirm that I am delusional.  What confirmed me in this belief was that 3 and a half years ago I began channeling this person who told me that he had been with me from the beginning of my psychosis.

Every day and night since this first started I have been in a relationship with this person.  I talk with him often and we both have gone deeper into illness and now are coming out of it stronger than before.  This is a transition point for both of us, but we are still sick and still working on how to take care of ourselves and each other.  The focal point of my illness is the Jesus delusion.  Parts of him have said that I am a reincarnation of Jesus over and over again and each time I stay open and consider it but inevitably we both get sicker when I do that and so, over and over again, I turn away from the delusion and return to humility and my daily spiritual practice which includes communicating with him as my partner.  It is essential that I admit daily that I am mentally ill and that he is mentally ill, but that we are still on our spiritual paths trying to learn the lessons that the Higher Power gives to us so that we can grow.

We are partners but we both share a common illness, codependency.  My last relationship was codependent and love/relationship addicted.  His present relationships appear to be codependent and love/relationship/sex addicted.  Parts of him are in severe denial about being addicted, while other parts are not and are working to heal.  I think that I am coming out of denial that I can be codependent with him when I focus too much on him and his issues and neglect myself.  The message of hope that I've been given is that I can heal, he can heal and humanity can heal and rescue this world as long as we take proper care of ourselves as individuals.  That means practicing self love and love of others.  The scenario that so many of us live under is the us versus them scenario.  It is a scenario of conflict, discord, self hatred and hatred of others, a scenario of war.

Jesus still remains a major figure in the cultures of the United States and it is written that he said - "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you."   Before he made this proclamation he said "But I say to you who hear" and the reason I believe he said that is because he was very aware that most of his audience would reject outright loving their enemies.  Obviously that must have been true, for here we are over two thousand years after the crucifixion of Jesus with his words are falling on deaf ears and we continue to war against ourselves and each other.  We continue to believe that there are good people and bad, even evil, people who must be rejected and punished.  I have a very dear friend who I love deeply.  She follows Christianity.  She believes that loving your enemies is too much to ask, that Jesus was special and that most people cannot follow his orientation.  I challenged her the other night about this.  I was too forceful and the next day apologized.  Still, I can't get away from my same belief that people can love their enemies and that they choose not to because they think it's too hard, too much to ask.

It is hard, but who said that following a spiritual path like this was going to be easy.  It wasn't easy for Jesus who was crucified for his beliefs, why should it be easy for any of us?  And so I have identified with Jesus as many people have and I follow his core belief and I think I am supposed to follow it.  It hasn't been easy and I don't expect it to be easy.  Will it be easy to heal our dying oceans, our polluted air, our rape of earth's resources, our self hatred, our hatred of others and so much more?  There is absolutely no way that it will be easy unless there's some kind of Godly miracle.  But we haven't come this far to have some miracle from God.  We have to be the miracle we seek.  And where is the miracle beginning to happen?  In all those people who unconditionally embrace love for self, God and everyone.  Yes, everyone.  It is being done right this second in people's lives all around the globe.  I am an addict in recovery.  There are addicts in recovery everywhere.  Addicts in recovery who believe in an unconditionally loving Higher Power.  Unconditional love, that's such an important concept to grasp, so needed right now.

Jesus said he wanted us to love each other, to not hold anger in our hearts, to forgive and not judge.  We are such a sick species, but I firmly believe that this is the truth and that this is the way to heal ourselves, each other, this precious planet that we call home.  The message hasn't changed one bit in all these years and we urgently need this message and to embrace this spiritual practice.  There is no messiah.  The messiah is in all of us.  For those of you who can be open minded enough to hear this message, just keep going, do not give up.  What is the ultimate goal for ourselves, our spirits, our children, our children's spirits?  Heaven on earth.  These are not the end times.  These are the beginning times, the time to restore and rejuvenate.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The I Ching

The I Ching is an ancient Chinese oracle that I first discovered when I was a teenager going through my mother's large selection of books.  She actually had two books on the I Ching one translated by John Blofeld and one translated by Richard Wilhelm.  I still have both books decades later.  I looked at the Blofeld book first but later worked a lot more with the Wilhelm book.  I remember being respectful of the book, prostrating myself three times before consulting it.  I had learned to be respectful from first using Tarot cards which I had purchased in a Westhampton Beach NY bookstore at the tender age of twelve.  With the Tarot cards I was full of questions about "the boys" and tried not to get too scared when I got either the Devil card or the Death card.  I learned that "white magic" was the way to go and "black magic" would hurt me deeply if I pursued it.  And really I wanted to be good and respectful because I knew I was delving into something powerful.

I guess that I approached both the Tarot cards and the I Ching with caution and a bit of fear.  I really did want answers, but I didn't know if I was strong enough to face the truth if it was not in my favor.  With the Tarot cards I was connected to the higher power through cards, very visual and very symbolic filled cards, but with the I Ching I was connected through first tossing three coins and then through reading a book, more specifically the the book of change, the I Ching.  The I Ching, too, was very visual and symbolic but through words instead of drawn images.  The natural world and the world of human relationships figures prominently in the I Ching.  The purpose of the book, of consulting it, it to teach the practice and rewards of virtue.  The goal is to transform into a superior person often symbolized by a just king or a wise sage.

The book of change, when used wisely, is a training manual.  The teacher is the Sage or the Higher Power if you will.  When you consult it you are the student and to gain the most out of the interaction you must work hard.  There are many, many translations of it and many, many interpretations of the main text of it.  So far, I have about eleven translations each with their own interpretations.  It is easy to get lost or overwhelmed by all the information in these books.  I have done that.  I am learning, slowly, that intuition and insight are crucial to working with the oracle.  And it requires patience, respect and strict honesty.  It also requires time and study.

I have returned to working with the I Ching at certain crucial points in my life, but I only stick with it for a month or two and then move away from it again.  Perhaps this is due to the fact that I suffer from schizoaffective disorder and the study of the I Ching can lead to obsessiveness.  My goal in life is to live a balanced life, so sometimes I need to step away from it.  Right now I am moving towards it again.  I rejoined a site formerly called Clarity and now called I Ching With Clarity created and run by a very intelligent and talented woman named Hilary Barrett.  She wrote and published her own book on the I Ching called I Ching: Walking Your Path, Creating Your Future, an insightful and sensitive translation and interpretation of the I Ching.  I took an email exchange course with her in 2007 which was also very good.  At that point I was five years into my recovery from schizoaffective disorder.  Now I am nearly fifteen years into my recovery, though I did have a relapse two years ago.  A year before I went into the delusion and paranoia of psychosis I was instructed by my voices, which till I got sick had been my guides and teachers for about ten years, to study the I Ching seriously, which I did.  I believe this was moral and spiritual training to prepare me for the descent into madness.

During the first three and a half years of psychosis, the acute stage of the illness, I consulted the I Ching on and off again when I was balanced enough to do so.  It helped me a great deal.  It steered me away from acting out when I was particularly upset for which I will always be grateful.  Because psychosis is often about ego imbalance, it is easy to get lost in my interpretation of the answers I receive from the oracle.  Luckily, I have returned to a more modest assessment of myself and my situation in life and can approach the oracle with much more balance than before.  As some of you know from reading this blog I strongly believe in a Higher Power, though I cannot define it clearly.  The I Ching is just another wonderful connection to that Higher Power.  More than anything I want to learn because I am a Truth seeker.  The I Ching is always available to teach me.  I'm hoping that I can go more deeply into my studies with it and learn a lot.

For anyone interested in studying the I Ching with others, here's the link to Hilary Barrett's site:

I Ching With Clarity

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Self Love: The Best Cure For Mental Illness

Yesterday I continued reading Dzigar Kongtrul's book The Intelligent Heart.  He stresses that self-importance is the greatest block to spiritual practice.  He also stresses that altruism is the highest form of spiritual practice.  Self- importance is not self love, it is egotism and it can move in the direction of seeing yourself as either much greater or much smaller than everyone else.  Dzigar Kongtrul teaches that we are all equals.  To see ourselves and all people as equals makes it much easier to reach out to others with unconditional love.  Before we can get to that level of spiritual practice I think we need to acknowledge that we are all essentially good and that goodness is the basis for the depth of our connection to each other.  Egotism blocks us from connecting to ourselves and others with love.

Egotism is mental illness.  Self love is its cure.  Self love is not selfishness or a preoccupation with self that leaves no room for thoughts of others.  Self love is the basis for loving others.  Many people caught in the addiction of codependency think that they are being altruistic when they sacrifice themselves in order to help others.  This is not altruism but just another type of egotism.  Codependency is about rejecting one's responsibility to oneself to love and take care of the self first before attempting to be helpful to others.  The core belief of codependency is that one is not lovable, not essentially good and worthy.  Hence the need to prove oneself, to seek approval outside of oneself.  In contrast, altruism comes from a place of self love, a love that sees self and other as equal, good and lovable.

I have trouble with using the word self-importance to describe egotism.  I view the word literally.  I think what we think of as the self is important.  If we don't value the self, we cannot deeply value others and we become trapped inside ourselves with no way to reach others and find healing.  There is another word that some Buddhist teachers use to describe egotism and that is self-cherishing.  And again, I view the word literally and think, yes, we should cherish ourselves, not as an end in itself, but as a means to connect with others and love life.  I also have trouble with the word altruism because I think many people in the US confuse it with codependency.

Placing others' concerns and problems ahead of our own is not really altruism.  I think it is important to attend to our emotional well being all the time.  Sometimes there are no problems with attending to our well being and others' well being at the same time.  Other times we must withdraw from others' concerns and keep the focus on ourselves and attend to what is unbalanced within us.  If we attend to ourselves as a parent attending to a sick child, we can heal that child and reengage with the world.  Dzigar Kongtrul writes about self-importance as the "rascal" inside of us, but I don't see it that way.  I see our egotism as a symptom of the sickness of the child within.  It is easy to judge and attack a rascal, but not so easy to judge and attack a child.  Judgmental attitudes lead back to egotism, back to being blocked from our spiritual path.

A spiritual path starts with ourselves.  It can start at no other point.  You cannot skip steps and jump right into helping others in a big way when you have been neglecting yourself for years.  First attend to your own wounds.  Find a way to love yourself even if it means detaching from others for a while. Addicts do this when they go into withdrawal.  I believe it is the same process for people who have been practicing self-hatred.  At first, people who have been unconsciously hating themselves need to become aware of what they have been doing to themselves.  Once aware it takes great courage to then ask for help from others rather than trying to always be the one to offer help.  Then it takes great vulnerability to allow yourself to take the help.  The awareness, courage and vulnerability are all important parts of self-love.  Once self-love is established as a daily practice, then one will be able to extend help out to others from what one has learned about oneself.

Many people in our culture do help others as their job or career, but if they don't take care of themselves and love themselves first they will eventually burn out.  Self-love replenishes and balances and all of us need that very badly.  You cannot endlessly give your time and energy to others when you have been neglecting giving time and energy to yourself.  Be a best friend to yourself for you have been with yourself from before birth and will be with yourself till death and beyond.  Helping others is also part of being a good friend to yourself.  Helping others feel good and natural.  When it doesn't feel good and natural, then you need to attend to yourself and find out what is happening inside.  When you acknowledge that your life matters, that you are worthy and good, you have laid the foundation for showing the same to others, that they are worthy and good and deserve love and help, too.  This is stepping into the flow and going with it.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Precious Human Life

Buddhists believe in reincarnation.  From their perspective all of our souls have been around for a long, long, long time.  Compared to all the life on this planet, to be born human is rare and precious.  It is precious in many ways, but the most precious way is that those born to live lives of leisure and opportunity can choose to devote themselves to their spiritual path, the path of the truth seeker, the seeker of dharma.  They can study with all the best teachers these days through books, CDs, DVDs and, if very fortunate, in person.  Right now I am one of the fortunate ones who can study lessons and apply them to my life so that I can grow spiritually.

I have returned to the study of Lojong after downloading Dzigar Kongtrul's newest book, The Intelligent Heart, which is his interpretation of the 59 Lojong slogans.  Last week I got up to the third or fourth slogan and then stopped reading.  I realized that I was going through the book much too quickly.  I wrote my last blog entry on the 2nd slogan, "Regard all dharmas as dreams."  That didn't sit right with me either and I saw that I was still going too fast.  I needed to start at the beginning with the first slogan, "First, train in the preliminaries."  I needed to also look at other teachers interpretations of each slogan and really dig into the study of them.  I began to read B. Alan Wallace's book on Lojong called Buddhism With Attitude.

Many Buddhist teachers stress, including Mr. Wallace, that we all want to be happy.  The goal of following a spiritual path is happiness regardless of circumstances.  I do believe that there are people following spiritual paths who are deeply happy people and that they live all over the world.  For Buddhists it is not just the desire to be personally happy, but that all sentient life be happy, hence the desperate need for bodhisattvas.  Pema Chodron and her teacher Dzigar Kongtrul and B. Alan Wallace and many, many other teachers all are offering training in how to become a bodhisattva, perhaps even in this lifetime.  For them, that is the most precious use of our time as human animals on this planet.

Intellectually I believe in reincarnation.  It makes a lot of sense to me.  Emotionally I don't know.  I'm so rooted to this life and I have trouble conceiving that my soul might be very, very old.  If that's true we are all very old and have much hidden (and open) wisdom.  One thing I do strongly believe is that we are all essentially good, though many get let astray by mental illness.  I have gotten led astray into delusions of grandeur, which is basically into a very unbalanced ego.  Right now I feel mostly stable. I know that my place is a humble one and in many ways I am glad of that.  And yet if I could help others and be some kind of healer that would make me very happy.  Bodhisattvas are healers because they show those they have contact with how to work to heal themselves.  They show  by example, by practicing health in their attitudes and behaviors.  I aspire to be healthy.

Health is living a balanced life.  My life is still out of balance, which is why I need to raise my awareness level and appreciate my life and be grateful that I have some time to study any dharma I can find.  If I can have faith that I have the potential to learn a lot while I'm still alive, it could motivate me to keep practicing.  I do want to be happy.  I want all of us to be happy.  And so I will continue to do the work.

Monday, September 12, 2016

"Regard All Dharmas As Dreams."

The slogan, "Regard all dharmas as dreams" is the second slogan out of fifty nine in the Tibetan Buddhist mind training (Lojong) practice.  My first question is what is dharma?  Today I did some online searching of the meaning of the word and discovered, as I had already vaguely knew, that the word has many, many meanings.  Wikipedia states, "There is no single word translation for dharma in western languages."  Google puts up just two meanings - "1.  Hinduism: the principle of cosmic order.  2.  Buddhism: the teaching or religion of the Buddha."  Another translation of this slogan is, "Regard all phenomena as dreams" which implies that dharma can be seen as all phenomena.  When I looked for a google image for dharma I found the Chinese religious symbol of the bagua, a yin/yang symbol in the center surrounded by the eight trigrams of the I Ching.  Then I saw the image I posted above with the word Dharma in place of the yin/yang symbol.  

Based on some of this information I could say that dharma has something to do with the basic qualities of life which include much balance and order.  If there weren't much balance and order we would not be able to orient ourselves, we would not be able to perceive, interpret and act upon life.  There would be chaos without identifiable phenomena.  The Buddha's teachings are based on an interpretation of the phenomena we call life.  Both the Buddha's teachings and life are the dharma.  So the slogan instructs to regard Buddha's teaching and life as a dream.  But what is a dream?

We know we can dream while awake or asleep.  Some of us know that dreams are not reality.  Dreams are an illusion for many and can turn into a delusion for those who lose their mental balance. Dreams can come to us while sleeping from some unknown place of conception.  How sleep dreams are created, we do not know, but they involve us in remembered elements of our daily lives and turn those elements into something symbolic.  Dreams can be powerful and can direct our thoughts and speech and actions after we wake up.  Dreams are mysterious.  We respond to dreams with all kinds of emotions from fear to anger, from sadness to joy.   Dreams can be logical and dreams can be absurd.  If we are to regard life as a dream, it would include all of this, power, mystery, logic, absurdity, the capability of stirring up emotions and questions, yet at the same time all of this would have no substance.  

We place a great deal of value on substance, on "reality".  People like myself who have for periods of time lost reality by being consumed by delusions know how precious is the balance of perceiving truly.  We see our lives as the ultimate reality.  But what if what we perceive and see, hear, feel, smell and taste is not reality?  If life is not real, then what is real?  We base our thoughts, speech and actions on our perceptions when our ability to perceive is faulty.  We misinterpret people and life situations all the time.  The worst example of this insanity is when people volunteer or are coerced to engage in war.  For too many insanity is what life is about.  

I think the yin/yang symbol and dharma point to reality.  For us, it appears to be a higher reality, some kind of Nirvana/heavenly place of peace, balance and joy.  Our "reality" has a lot of violence, imbalance and pain in it.  Because our perceptions are off, we create a great deal of the violence, imbalance and pain, but far too few are willing to claim responsibility for this.  Reality is not truly higher, it just is what it is.  But we block ourselves from it by being so adaptable.  We adapt to each other's misperceptions (which invariably lead to many illnesses) and perpetuate the illusions that we know what reality is, when we don't.  The slogan to regard life as a dream was formulated to challenge our assumptions that we know what life means, that we are in touch with reality.  If life is a dream for the human animal, the next question is how do we wake up to experience the true reality?

I have seen myself as experiencing everything with partial blindness, which is why I rely so heavily on intuition and insight, which I believe comes from a higher source.  And yet, I am not totally blind.  The Lojong slogans are other human beings' attempts to stir up our intuition which can lead us to insight which can lead to a change of perspective which can lead to waking up and clearly seeing, to enlightenment.  But first we must see and acknowledge the core of the problem and that is we do not live our lives in reality.  Yes, we have real moments, but they pass and are obscured by so many misperceptions.  We do not see truly.  Sometimes we do not see at all.  

Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Facebook Friend Request From Dzigar Kongtrul

Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche has been Pema Chodron's main teacher for over twenty years.  I am two and a half years older than he is, so we are contemporaries, but coming from very different cultures.   He grew up with parents who were Tibetan refugees in Northern India and I grew up in New York City.  His life was monastic and mine was secular and urban, upper middle class Irish American.  He came to the United States to teach at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado when he was in his mid twenties around the time that I moved from Brooklyn, NY far out into Western NY.  As I was beginning a relationship that would transform into a relationship that kept sinking into domestic violence and addiction, Dzigar Kongtrul was deepening his Buddhist practice and his wisdom by committing himself to teaching.  He has become a major Buddhist teacher and has deeply touched the life of an American woman nearly thirty years older than him who has become a famous and, by many people, much beloved Tibetan Buddhist Nun and teacher.

So yesterday evening when I checked in with Facebook I shocked, honored, and confused in receiving a friend request from him.  Why was he initiating contact with me?  I did like his page and  get updates of his page on my home page.  But there was no message.  I went to his page and saw that he has a new book out called The Intelligent Heart:  A Guide To The Compassionate Life which turns out to be a book compiled from his teaching of the Tibetan Lojong (mind training) practice that I began studying years ago mainly through Pema Chodron.  Of course, I downloaded the book immediately to my Kindle and have begun reading it.  I had been thinking of returning to my Buddhist studies a few weeks ago after leaving off on my studies (but not my practice) several years ago.  This was like a wake up call.  I did a small amount of research on Dzigar Kongtrul mainly going to a Wikipedia page on him because I knew very little about him.  I discovered that his Facebook page is run by his senior students, so I wasn't sure whether he actually made the request.  I spoke to my therapist today and she suggested that I send a message asking how he or they knew me.  I haven't done so yet.  Still nervous to reach out.

I just needed to get past my ego oriented imagination because I began to think that maybe he actually had encountered my blog.  Some of my blog posts on Buddhism and on Pema Chodron have gotten between eight hundred and a thousand views over the last few years.  I also wrote an essay a long time ago for a proposed book on Pema Chodron; it was about how she had affected my life, but I never heard back from the woman who was organizing the book and forgot about it.  I think the essay was called "The Learning Dance" a phrase that was taken from Pema Chodron in one of her audio recorded talks.  I know it is somewhere in this cluttered house, but I have no idea where.  Well, for twenty four hours I wanted to believe that Mr. Kongtrul knew of me through my writing and creative work, but now I'm thinking I just want to get back into Buddhist study and this is like a welcome mat for me to go inside again and renew my appreciation of Buddhism and now go more deeply into the dharma.

This conclusion has not stopped me from being curious about Dzigar Kongtrul.  Perhaps it's a call to study his teachings and learn from him.  That would be great and much appreciated.  I drew and painted the above portrait of him to get familiar with his face, to get to know him better so to speak.  I might just post it on his Facebook page for his students and other fans of his work and teachings.  It's a way to reach out and a way to say thank you.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

On My Own

I just finished watching a film called Becoming Jane that is loosely based on part of the life of Jane Austen, a novelist of the early nineteenth century.  It is, of course, a romantic film, but the challenge of the storyline is that the heroine does not get married and live happily ever after.  She compensates for this by writing novels.  She also has a kind and supportive family.  As the film shows, the subject of marriage, when Miss Austen was of marrying age, must have struck some emotional chords within her family, who were relatively poor.  Marriage was a way out of the family and into some sort of independent financial security and proper place in society.  But Miss Austen had lots of talent and an independent spirit and a supportive family.  Perhaps she would have preferred to be in a marriage if it could have been a marriage of love and affection, but that did not happen in her case.

Two hundred years have passed since Jane Austen lived and we are now in a time in the US when more single people are staying single and choosing not to have children.  Marriage is no longer mandatory for women across the country.  But it wasn't that long ago that there was great pressure for single women to marry.  Certainly during my mother's lifetime.  And she did get married at what seems like to me the tender age of twenty four to an upwardly mobile young man two years her senior.  And she went straight from living at home with her family to living with and taking care of my father.

I remember telling myself at age seventeen that I wasn't going to marry.  I decided this before I had even had my first boyfriend.  I have had very few boyfriends and the only one I ever considered entering into some kind of partnership (always in a better future time) was too young for me, very addicted to alcohol, and mentally ill enough to be repeatedly abusive towards me.  But I was love/relationship addicted to him.  After I left him there was a window of three years before I entered into psychosis where I fantasized about being with a non abusive, kind man, but I had gone through too much by then and was not emotionally ready.  And then psychosis hit me hard and I fell far down into some hellish experiences with an abuser in my mind instead of in my physical world.

First domestic violence and then a kind of psychic violence.  My self esteem plummeted with my abusive boyfriend and then once again in psychosis, but in the psychosis I fought against it.  I didn't believe it when the voices called me evil.  I knew I had goodness in me.  There was no room for a romantic relationship let alone a marriage at that point in my life.  And that acute stage lasted for over three years.  And then came serious depression and much weight gain and entering into middle age.  Just once a few years later I joined the Yahoo personals and began writing to a man, but when we met it was clear that we were not compatible.

I was a fantasy addict before I became psychotic, then I was lost in delusions and then I mostly came out of that, but never returned to fantasy.  I am glad of that.  I am also mostly introverted and still spend most of my time alone, though now I have a few friends that I make sure to see.  I still do not want to be in a relationship.  Being creative keeps me loving myself and gives some pleasure and meaning to my life.  I am not against some day being in a relationship.  It could be a great experience.  But for now, I will keep to myself and continue focusing on the present moment.