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, May 1, 2007

Cultivating Bodhicitta

April 30th 10:50 pm

My 45th birthday is almost overwith and I haven't yet thought what it means to me. Will I be lucky like my grandmothers and live over 45 years more in relative health or will I disappear sooner? Either way may I live well from now on. May I appreciate each day and each night I live. May I do some good for someone else. May I strive to keep an open and lovingkind heart and mind. May I have faith in my ability to change for the better. May I never stop learning and sharing what I learn.

45 means I've survived some hellish experiences. 45 means I am settled in my middle age. There were times between the onset of psychosis at age 36 and now when I thought: "What a lousey way to enter middle age, in delusion, paranoia and humiliation, with no heart-to-heart friends, no lover, no children and no purpose in life." I can say gratefully that the delusions have faded, the paranoia and humiliation are gone. As for the rest I do not have them yet and I know full well it is up to me to seek them out. Despite everything, I really feel blessed. I have the love and support of my family and I have a home. I still spend much of my time alone but there's a difference now, I no longer feel desperately alone with tormenting voices. I can sit in peace and write or read or listen to audiobooks and music or watch a film and feel contentment. Now, thanks to people like you I feel like my life has some meaning. Your time is precious and yet you spend a little of it with me and that alone makes me feel like I'm a part of the human race. I have a memory from my last psychotic break. It was nighttime, pitch black outside, not even the sound of a car passing by and the voices told me all of humanity was gone and all that was left outside of my house was pure darkness and moving somewhere close by in that darkness was my nemesis who wanted to torture me. That was it, just this kind of blank horror that lay just outside my door with not a soul on earth to turn to. But now the darkness is no longer filled with menace and I feel like there are people I can turn to for help if and when I need it.

I think we all know about suffering and that is why it is so important to be respectful towards one another. Part of what got me through the worst of psychosis was this belief that most people are essentially good. Except for my relationship with Brendan, nearly all of the people I've met have been kind towards me and even Brendan had his moments of gentleness and good humor. I have been fortunate. But I know there are many people who suffer terribly at the hands of others. What can we do about the people who believe in their own right to be abusive towards others? Some people say kill them, torture them, some people say lock them up and throw away the key and others actually support them, seeking to gain personal power. But none of these "answers" ring true for me. The more desensitized a person is, the easier it is for them to abuse others (and themselves). Keeping the heart sensitive and responsive is keeping people from being abusive. The Buddhists call this cultivating bodhicitta, the awakened heart/mind. Jesus may have said to love your enemies but the Buddhists before him had several practices for actually doing this. The goal for a Buddhist is to feel lovingkindness for ALL beings. You start with lovingkindness towards yourself, then towards a friend, then towards a person you feel neutral towards and finally towards someone you do not like. You take it step by step gradually gaining the strength to direct your goodwill towards those you actively dislike. If you're not in conflict with any of the people around you, then you think of public figures you dislike and send a prayer out to them. I've sent goodwill and healing out to President Bush and Osama Bin Ladin. Not very often mind you but enough to feel that it makes a difference. My standard prayer goes like this: "May you be well, may you be safe, healthy, happy and useful." But when I say well I mean free of sickness. I see President Bush and Osama Bin Ladin as very sick individuals. When I wish them well, I wish them to be healed of their misperceptions and ill will. And if they become well, then so many others become well along with them.

But what good does good will do? Does it really change anything? For one, it changes the person who practices it. I'm nervous around the concept of karma but still I think I believe it: if you send out goodwill, goodwill will return to you. If you do a good deed, it will be done to you somewhere along the line. Softening the heart does not make you weak, on the contrary, I think it makes you stronger. For many people this goes against logic. Stronger means tougher, not softer. For some people this toughness has nothing to do with love but with justice and with others toughness has a lot to do with love.
So there's toughness for justice's sake and tough love. This kind of toughness may temporarily act as a make-shift solution but it doesn't get to the core of the problem. The Buddha said: "Hatred can never cease by hatred. Hatred can only cease by love. This is an eternal law."

May 1st

Ann Coulter, the notoriously conservative Republican writer, wrote a book last year called GODLESS: The Church of Liberalism which I am currently listening to as an audiobook. She is someone who would view the concept of lovingkindness and cultivating bodhicitta as more liberal propaganda and she would label and discard me and my views into her liberal losers trash can. I listen to her nonetheless because I want to understand her perspective. Engaging in discussions with only like minded people does not create an atmosphere of change. The hard part is crossing the political and cultural divide through listening, understanding and communication. This is the practice of lovingkindness, this is cultivating bodhicitta. Though I disagree with many of the things she says, I know Ms. Coulter has every right to speak her mind. Just as I have every right to speak mine or to listen to her or to disregard her. I value her in the sense that she gives me a window into a conservative Christian mind. She is obviously intelligent and has done a fair amount of research but her language reeks of her own brand of bias. Though a professed Christian she does not subscribe to Jesus' decree to love one's enemies, or to not murder or to not remain angry or to turn the other cheek in face of opposition. She is on the side of tough justice. And she is not alone. Many, many people also believe what she believes. Mercy is for losers. Lovingkindness is for wimps. More than that mercy and lovingkindness lead to a proliferation of criminals and terrorists.

But I do think much of her tirade against liberal attitudes has a lot to do with the very human instinct towards self-preservation. She wants to be protected from outside attack and protected from death. I think the reason she attacks liberals is because she sees them, in a very real way, as dangerous. But I really believe that fear is not a good motivation and that those who are fearful are not good judges. I know when I was with Brendan I was so scared of him sometimes that I wasn't able to calm down and be rational. And when I wasn't under attack I was in a defensive mode, anticipating future attack. That's one reason I didn't want a gun in the house because I was afraid that I would be irrational enough to use it to defend myself. But perhaps Ann Coulter would be inclined to say that using a gun to protect myself against my abusive boyfriend would be only logical. The problem was I didn't want to be responsible for another person's death. I didn't want that kind of power even if it meant that I would die. I wanted to revere life and not destroy it. We've come to take guns so for granted that we've stopped saying that human life is sacred. But not during any recorded history has there been a time of world peace, so perhaps it's not surprising that few people are willing to believe in the possibility of it. Instead fear is one of the great motivators for human action.

I think fear and anger are closely linked. What makes you afraid also on some level makes you angry. If you are attacked your initial reaction may be fear but often that fear turns into anger and acting out in response. But the amazing thing about love/compassion is that it neutralizes fear and anger. Yes, of course, if only a few people practice compassion daily, then the effect upon the world will be small but what if the majority of people changed their defensive and potentially aggressive stance to one of compassion? If you can't envision a better world from the safety of your home, how can you ever create it? For those who do practice compassion, be they Jewish, Christian, Muslim, HIndu or Buddhist, I do feel a sense of gratitude for I see them as being the glue that ultimately holds the world together. But, of course, Anne Coulter would probably see them as the opposite... Is it possible to compromise and reconcile?
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