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, January 9, 2011

Good Day

A couple of photographs from the Christmas holiday at my parents' apartment...

The portrait of Pema is only moderately good because it's the first portrait I've painted in months if not a year.  I painted it before I visited my parents in Florida and have it hanging on my living room wall behind my couch where I can see her when I meditate.

Today was a good day because last night was a good night, but before last night I was feeling that shut down isolated feeling.  I've been staying home due to the snowy weather for over a week now with no contact with other human beings.  Why was last night good?  Simply because I allowed myself to enjoy an episode of Saturday Night Live from December 1975 (with Richard Pryor and Gil Scott-Heron as musical guest) and to enjoy an old 1940 black and white film of Pride and Prejudice.  Why was this special?  Don't most people watch TV and DVDs?  Probably, but not me.  I haven't had satellite TV for maybe a couple of years now and I don't often watch DVDs though I like to.  I don't often watch DVDs, though I have access to many of them through my brother who is a collector, because I become anxious when I have to choose something to watch.  I get overwhelmed by the choices and worry that such and such a DVD will be too violent or negative for me to watch.  I also feel guilty about just relaxing and enjoying myself.  Lately, most of what I've been doing is studying Buddhist books and audiobooks, taking notes, reflecting, trying to meditate.  I enjoy doing that, but it's all a bit serious and I start to worry that I'm not a good enough person because I'm not helping enough people.

Pema Chodron has said that the greatest obstacle for Westerners on the Buddhist path is self-denigration or, in other words, putting yourself down.  I don't mean to do that, but ultimately I do.  Last night after I watched the DVDs I felt some liberation from my isolation, if only vicariously from watching other human beings acting.  I realized that I had given myself permission to be happy in a way that I hadn't done all week long.  In fact, I have unwittingly told myself that I have to be and act a certain way before I can be happy.  I've said to myself that I have to be a deeply compassionate person who helps others, a sort of bodhisattva in training before I can enjoy the fruits of my altruism.  Now, almost by chance, I am coming to understand that I should strive to always enjoy my life, through thick and thin, and that in enjoying this precious life I can become of more benefit to myself and others.

Buddhist teachers regularly say that all human beings have one thing in common -- they all want to be happy.  Pema Chodron's main teacher Chogyam Trungpa first taught that the basis for having compassion for others is to first practice deeply lovingkindness towards yourself.  It's taken me a while to get to this point, to just see that it is okay to pursue my own happiness each day and that the happier that I am, the more of a benefit I can be to others in the long run.  I have thought before that I am very fortunate.  I have food and shelter and a loving family, a few friends and a bunch of cats and a wide range of creative activities to partake of -- art, music, books, writing, etc...  

Studying Buddhism has put my life in a better perspective.  I feel more able to accept myself in my small capacity to do good.  When I was acutely ill I was under the delusional perspective that I was some special person.  Once I entered recovery that feeling that I had to be some special person lingered if only unconsciously.  I've had thoughts more recently that I should aspire to be a Buddhist nun, a bodhisattva.  Before that I thought I would become a published writer.  Before that I thought I was supposed to be a paid artist.  Before that some kind of famous singer-songwriter.  But the reality is that I am almost 50 years old and I am not meant to be particularly accomplished at anything.  This is a relief; it takes the pressure off me to be who I am, a small piece in a large and complex puzzle.  I am grateful that I am not special because if I were I wouldn't be able to handle the attention and pressure I would receive.  I am also in very good company with most of the rest of humanity.

But the delusional feeling that I need to be special can creep back into me and so I remain vigilant, more vigilant now than I have been in the past.  My new focus is to do what makes me happy and stop anxiously censoring my activities.  New mantra = have fun Kate.  There have been stories of angels who have become human and who savor each moment with all of their senses. I'd like to be like them, rejoicing in what's good. There is so much misery in the world, but with the right focus I can lessen that misery by becoming a happy person and encouraging others to do the same.  The trick is to count your blessings, especially during the tougher times.  The other trick is to rejoice when things are going well.  Today things went well because I've had a shift in my overall perspective.
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