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, April 6, 2010

Higher Powers

I have been consulting the I Ching these last couple of weeks. For those of you who don't know, the I Ching is an ancient Chinese divination method. It is based on the symbolic interplay of yin and yang. Normally one divines with either yarrow sticks or three coins, but in this computer age I have found I can just as effectively divine online. It's all about the meaning in chance or rather that things that happen by chance sometimes (or even often) contain meaning. Now this might sound like an inappropriate activity for someone who suffers from schizophrenia, but I have found it to be helpful even in times of acute psychosis. Because the basic premise is that life is about change, hence the name of the book-- The Book of Changes, it is more about an Eastern view of philosophy than about fortune telling. The impressions I get about the present or the near future are all conditional. Nothing is fixed in stone and every thought or action, be it positive or negative, will have its own short term or long term effect on one's life situation. So a predicted negative outcome can be changed into a positive outcome and visa-versa depending on the choices made.

The I Ching offers a moral philosophy to follow. I remember that I was guided by my voices a year before I became acutely psychotic to study the I Ching. I bought a book called A Guide To The I Ching by Carol Anthony. I have since found that the author's interpretation is rather unusual. She sees those who consult the I Ching as students and the responses given by the I Ching as those given by "The Sage". In pressing this idea of a student/sage relationship, she encourages the view of going on a moral/spiritual journey. When I finally succumbed to delusions and paranoia I continued to consult the I Ching. I was trying to follow a spiritual path and for a while the I Ching guided me to be humble and to refrain from acting out. This was a good thing. Eventually the delusions became too strong and veered far away from Eastern ideas and into Christian ideas and symbols. Even in my deluded state that was very odd to me because I was not a Christian and was trying to embrace both the I Ching and Buddhism. But that is the nature of severe mental illness, it takes you to places strange and unfamiliar and turns your world upside down.

During the acute stages of my illness I would return briefly to the I Ching and now, years later, I still come back to it from time to time. I do so because I respect the philosophy I have found in it, one of modesty, patience, perseverance, receptivity. But it is not an easy thing to interpret the I Ching. Like most people who take it seriously, I have quite a few books on it, each with their own interpretations. And so, in order to get something from the experience of divination and study, I have to stay very honest and trust my intuition. That's the challenge of it. The Chinese believe in something they call wu-wei which translates as "going with the flow". If you're willful and controlling, you do not go with the flow and you run into problems, but if you stop resisting and let go into the present moment, you can find a certain balance even in hard times.

Of course, divination requires that you believe in a higher power, some wise seemingly supernatural entity that is actually willing to interact with you. Though I am not a Christian and come from a family of atheists and agnostics, I do believe in a higher power. My family would say that this is egocentric thinking because why (and how) would a higher power actually interact with me, let alone all the people on earth. I really don't know how, though there have been times when I would have liked to know. I just know that even without all the religious training that most people get, I have had the feeling that something greater than myself did exist and was involved in all life. It's a mystery. But, I also believe that the voices that I still hear from time to time are not merely the result of a chemical imbalance, though that certainly factors into the situation. I realize that many people take comfort in the idea that severe mental illness is the result of chemical imbalances and not a matter of personal failing or failure in parenting and this is a big step in the right direction. But I am hear to say, from time to time, that that is not the whole story. There is a spiritual side to this story.

And so I believe in a higher power and I believe that when I consult the I Ching that I am communing with something wiser than myself. But I still have to do the work of living my life, of trying to be good. I still have to decide when it is okay to act and when it is better to not act or even retreat. All of this requires a certain moral decision making process. Recently I have slowly started to get in touch with people from my past and last week I sent a letter and my 1990s CD to someone I knew in my 20s. He was a friend and a lover, but I have not had contact with him for 20 years and so I consulted the I Ching. I also consulted the I Ching about my past and present songs. The response was generally positive, but ultimately I had to decide for myself whether I wanted to reach out. I decided to give it a try. I knew my intentions were good and that I would be okay if he chose not to take me up on my offer of online friendship. I'm so used to not reaching out which is why I know so few people. But I'm at a point in my life where I'm starting to feel better than I have in a long time and so I'm more willing to fall flat on my face and more able to pick myself up, dust myself off, change my course and continue on.
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