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.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Wake Up Heart

Another week has gone by and I have continued with the meditation practice. I've also done a little walking meditation and some daily awareness/mindfulness practice. Those three meditation practices--sitting, walking and daily awareness--make up the core of the Buddhist course. To do all three of those practices is a daily/nightly discipline and I am slowly drawing them into my life. I never realized how important meditation practice is until now. Before it has been either take it or leave it (usually leave it...), but now I have to take it in order to do the coursework for this year long class (though I've heard some people take it over two to three years time). The question is will I commit to this lifestyle change or will I do it for a month or two and then stop? Right now, I have no idea, I can only approach it day by day, but I do find reading books on Buddhism and Buddhist practice helps to focus me. Through reflection on what I'm learning I become more aware both of Buddhist concepts (enlightenment, karma, samsara, etc...) and more awake. It's still off and on awakeness, but it's a start.

In under two weeks I will be heading down to New York City to meet up with my parents. I will be away a total of five days but two of those days (one going and one coming back) will be me sitting for six hours a stretch on a bus. I used to like to travel, but now I don't. I have become a homebody who gets anxious whenever I have to leave home. But I haven't been to NYC in several years and whenever I go I find myself wishing that I could live in the City again. This trip I want to continue with my meditation practice and that's going to be quite a challenge in itself. I'm not sure if I can pull it off, but if I can I think I will be calmer and more awake for the experience, happier.

More important than visiting NYC is seeing my parents. I only get to see them 2-3 times a year. They are in their 80s now and I will worry about them wandering around the City. I will probably spend a chunk of my time with them visiting museums and maybe going to the ballet. Being around them I will practice getting in touch with love and compassion, which is, according to Buddhists, a ripe time for cultivating bodhichitta or the awakened heart. In the coursebooks I'm reading getting in touch with your heart is stressed as a vital part of meditation. One of the reasons I'm drawn to Tibetan Buddhism is that I recognize that my heart is still numb, still partially frozen and the practice is about warming the heart and making it sensitive and responsive again. Pema Chodron has said many times that we all have this what she calls "soft spot" inside ourselves which I think is bodhichitta. It is open, tender, compassionate, wise. She also says that all the suffering in the world stems from people trying to protect their soft spot. In armoring our hearts we lose sensitivity and we become deadened or callous or cruel even.

Each time I was abused by Brendan, my heart began shutting down. What took it's place was intense distorting fear and suppressed anger. I had to deaden myself both to get through the relationship and to get out of it, but at what a cost! I haven't had a heart wrenching cry since before I left Brendan over 15 years ago. I associated that kind of crying with bodhichitta. When Brendan wasn't around and I got a chance to cry, I felt like a 4 year old kid who has been betrayed somehow for the first time by a loved one. My heart felt so young and pliable, so wide open, so innocent and rather beautiful and at the same time so very unhappy. Look at a young child crying deeply, he or she is absorbed, intense yet so open. I've been like that and you've been like that, just letting loose all the sadness in a shocked way. Like "How can this be happening to me?!"

It's what happens afterwards that is very important. After all that crying has settled down and your eyes are puffy and your nose is stuffed and you feel weak. That's the point where you are just existing with your tender heart, your awakened heart bodhichitta. So what do you do? You've been deeply hurt. You can either be accepting of it, soften, learn, open, start to grow up or you can get hard, angry, bottled up again, even revengeful. With Brendan I got hard and I got angry and I got numb. I blamed him instead of taking on my responsibility for helping to create the situation that I was in. It just was not all his fault and the fault he should have taken on and acknowledged but didn't gave me the excuse to lay all blame on him. I was abused, yes and he was in the wrong, but I played my part often out of ignorance and misery.

Anyway, my heart was scarred and I scarred my heart by shutting so far down. After I left Brendan I was still shut down and then I became deeply ill and shut down even more. But as I learned to take care of myself with therapy and medication and creativity I have been moving back in the direction of my heart. Now I can look at my wounded heart and say "What's up?" and "What can I do to help?" The pain that I feel, the suffering that comes up, is connected to bodhichitta, the soft spot and I am beginning to see this as true. Normally, I see pain as the enemy, but now I see pain as part of having a sensitive heart. Sensitivity can hurt, but it also can open up the world, rule out pain and you might be ruling out joy as well. And that's what I'm finding, that everything is intertwined rather than separate. That's what makes things so wonderful sometimes and so confusing.

We live in a culture of good guys and bad guys often ignoring that the so called "good" guys often act as immorally and as aggressively as the "bad" guys. The fact that good guys can act like bad guys and bad guys can act like good guys shows that life is not black and white. All of us, without exception, are a mixture of positive and negative impulses. The problem is we want to see ourselves as only positive and none of the negative. Even when we see and feel our negative qualities we want to deny them somehow, make less of them. And in some ways we should, should stop making such a big deal out of ourselves. But in other ways it is important to acknowledge that we have failings and limitations, not just acknowledge it but repeat it to others to let them know that they are not alone, that we are all in the same boat.

Too often I feel very separate from others and that's part of why I stay numb. I won't acknowledge that there are millions of people, maybe more, who feel what I feel. I've been trying to practice a little bit of the tonglen meditation which has you breath in pain and breath out healing or give away healing and pleasure. First you start with your own pain and then extend it to include the people you love, the people you feel neutral about and then the people you dislike or even hate. Ultimately you breath in everyones pain and breath out everyones healing, so you make that connection between your seemingly isolated pain and the pain of everyone else. In making that connection you build and deepen compassion.

I have a high mountain to climb and I'm somewhere near the bottom of it. The goal is to exchange my limited view of myself for a big view of everyone else and to be of some help to some of those others. But first I must gradually climb the mountain, pace myself, strengthen my heart.
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