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.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Meaning & Purpose

Karen in her blog post "Suicidal" writes of her unhappiness, a unhappiness that led her to think again of suicide. Further on in the entry she writes about how her therapist said that from the first day he met her he knew her life had meaning and purpose. She questioned the validity of that statement when she learned that he felt the same thing for all of his patients. After I read the entry, I asked myself if I thought my life had meaning and purpose. In response I felt unsure and lost. I thought, certainly my life must have some meaning, but as to purpose I could only get the image of me scrambling after different pastimes, shifting from one to another. Then I thought of what I was learning about Buddha Nature, that all of our essential natures are like a Buddha, good, free, wise and pure. Certainly amidst all of that we can all say with confidence that our lives have meaning and purpose. Enlightenment is available for everyone, there are no exceptions. Karen's therapist is just voicing that belief to her. And when I think of Karen, who I have had the pleasure of corresponding with, I think, of course she has meaning and purpose. She is a vital, sensitive, intelligent woman and she offers a lot to whomever she meets.

I'm glad she brought up this idea of meaning and purpose because lately I have been getting anxious, mainly about going to NYC to visit with my parents. When I get anxious I no longer believe my life has meaning and purpose, it just has fears and worries. But I've been working with it by doing meditation, which includes just sitting with the discomfort and staying open. When I do that with a certain amount of patience, I feel a shift into being mode. I sit with what is without trying to change it and when I accept where I'm at there is a further shift into a sense of release. At that point I am awake and aware, but I'm not thinking, I'm just being like a small animal in the wild listening to the sounds of the night. The thoughts do return, as they always will, but the point is to extend the gaps between thoughts and rest there. We tend to ignore the preciousness of those gaps. Within the gaps there is no right and wrong, no pressure. You are awake, you are aware, but there are no words and no need of words. Words are tools to express our connectedness with the world around us, but they are not an end in themselves. What is the end (and the beginning) is in those wordless gaps, the experience itself, life. So often we are lost in our imaginations, our hopes and fears and yet we can tap into the quiet of the present moment at any time. Even now, try it, just stop reading and look up and out; look and don't think, feel what it feels like. You don't have to be thinking, talking, writing to be acutely aware. You can just be, anytime you choose.

The truth is that we generally don't choose to just be and when we do just exist, we feel guilty that we're not doing something. And the chatter in our heads tell us it is so important to engage in thinking and worrying, when it is an illusion. It is self hating to say that we are not meaningful when we are just sitting or walking and meditating. To exist is to have meaning because our awareness and our minds and our bodies are quite miraculous. When I look around my living room or look outside at the countryside, I feel the meaning everywhere, in the walls and books and cats and trees and birds and insects. And what is everywhere is also in me, we are all made of the same stuff. Buddha Nature.

It is clear to me there is meaning but purpose is a more elusive concept. What's the purpose in just existing? And yet, I know there is a purpose. If you've ever loved someone who became very sick or crippled, you know that that person had great meaning and that their just existing was purpose enough. Each of us has a spirit, whether you are religious or not. We interact with people's spirits daily. Most of my friends are online friends, but I have no doubt that I am interacting with a living spirit every time I exchange an email. Precious stuff. So it is worthwhile just to exist, the hard part is convincing yourself of this. But every time you just sit there and let go into a meditative state, you affirm that idea, that it is okay to let go and be. To be is to be full of meaning, to be full of meaning is to have a purpose.

Buddhists would say that the purpose of life is to cultivate lovingkindness and compassion for all sentient beings. First you must start with yourself and then extend it farther and farther out. I hold back, afraid to let my heart get its feeling back, afraid of being hurt, but in holding back I am hurt already. The healing comes from letting go and acknowledging that we are not alone; we're all interconnected. I have trouble with this as well, especially since I live alone and spend much of my time at home. It's the sound of the cars passing by my house that remind me that I am not alone on earth. Years ago I began a praying practice. I pray for the people in the cars each time they pass by. I say to myself: "May you be well, safe, healthy, happy, useful. May you find happiness and the root of happiness." Without even knowing it I have prayed many times for my neighbors (most of whom I have never met and don't know), my teachers, the police, community members all. I have thought, too, that I have prayed for violent people and people who are being abused or people who are addicted, all just casually passing by my house. I wish everyone well equally and it is a pleasure to do that. Goodwill is very potent as well as joyful. I feel better when I send out good wishes to loved ones and strangers alike.

The goodwill I have to have now, is towards myself when I get anxious. I've been experimenting with smiling when I'm feeling particularly worried or negative. I got this idea from the Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh who often encourages people to include smiling as part of their meditation/mindfulness practice. I also say aloud the Lojong slogans: "Always maintain only a joyful mind." and "Be grateful to everyone." It's quite a challenge to quietly smile to yourself when you are not feeling well, but it also opens you up, adds a touch of relaxation to a tense situation. One of the points is to not do things the way you always do them. Another slogan is "Don't be so predictable." So smile when you want to frown and if you tend to feel depressed sitting in one spot, choose another. Change of attitude, change of location, change of activity or change into non activity. I've heard that the definition of insanity is doing things the way you always do them and expecting different results. And it is hard to change. I know I cling to my comfort spots even when they are not so comfortable. That's why small changes are the best to start with like including smiling in my life more and more.


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