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.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Faith: The Bigger Picture

The truth cannot be contained within a scientific theory, though many people take comfort in the belief that it can.  Then again, many people also take comfort in a belief in faith which demands no tangible proofs.  I place myself somewhere in the middle, or perhaps I should say that some scientific facts form the groundwork for an exploration beyond the facts.  The material world and the spiritual world are not divorced in my world view.

It is human nature to struggle with not knowing.  The biggest struggle we face is coming to terms with our own mortality.  We commonly accept that we will die, but we don’t know when and often don’t know how.  The danger in being alive is that there is always the chance of physical injury or illness or, worse, death itself.  If we walk through our lives preoccupied with this shadow, we rob ourselves of the joys contained within life.  And so, even the most committed atheist, who relies heavily on the truth in facts, must walk out the door carrying inside himself, or herself, a degree of faith.

What can we do in this place of not knowing, this place of faith where we suspend the knowledge that we will die and place in its stead the belief that we will continue to live?  We commit to living moment by moment, day after day.  I think all of us, without exception, put our faith in something larger than ourselves be it the world we live in and our encounters with other people and places and experiences or a faith in some kind of higher power watching over us and guiding us through all our encounters.  We do not exist only for ourselves, but in relation to the world outside our physical bodies.  Even at our earliest physical beginnings, we were in a relationship with our mothers.  We have never been in isolation.

The biggest mystery is not death, the supposed end point of existence, that implacable, unknowable experience.  The mystery is within our spirits, that is our everyday lives and process of living.  We live without a memory of our conception or our birth and so we don’t really know where we come from. We don’t understand the fundamental elements of how or why we came into being on this planet. We’ve learned some facts about the means of sexual reproduction for human animals, but the facts leave out so much and can’t reveal the precise moment we began to exists as a life force.

What does it mean to exist as a life force?  It is more than just blood being pumped by our heart into our organs, animating ourselves to continue breath by breath.  Our life force is contained within our awareness.  So much of our bodily functions are involuntary and accomplished without awareness, our hearts pumping, our breath in and out, the digestion of the food we eat.  It’s as if our bodies are on automatic pilot thereby allowing us either to rest in, or be restless within, our consciousness.  Our consciousness is greater than our bodies and has more in common with the space around us, the intangible, the vast, something with nothing to hold onto.

And so, with so much freedom we get frightened by the power of all the choices we can make and do make, with the present and potential consequences of our actions.  Beyond our instinct for self-preservation, the fight or flight reaction to negative stimuli, we have the ability to rise above our reactions by learning to pause and reflect, to take stock of our present lives and our pasts.  We rely heavily on memory, but because we all have lived such rich lives with so many moments, so many thoughts and feelings, only some memories get recorded.  There is a process of selection or editing out the parts of our lives that are not essential to our underlying spirit, the thing that motivates us to keep on going.  Our experience is too vast for us to be in conscious control of just what we remember and what we don’t remember.

This leads us back to the mystery of our spirits.  What is this unconscious self that selects what to store and what to release into the flow of our ever flowing lives?  I truly do not believe that our selections are haphazard, but how do we know what is essential to know, and remember, when we proceed so often not knowing the deeper nature of our thought processes.  Something within us does know that our lives have this greater meaning, even when we are so very doubtful about ourselves.  This inner self is not so easily explained away by scientists and psychologists.  We can talk about the effects of neurotransmitters and label our psyches as divided into superego, ego and id, but we truly do not know the origins of this mystery.

This mystery leads us right back to faith and to sitting with a sometimes uncomfortable mixture of knowing and not knowing.  People are deluded when they affirm that they do not have faith.  Whenever we take something for granted we have faith, faith in our lives, faith that the sun will rise the next day, faith that the world is turning.  Whenever we reach out for a greater understanding of our lives and the meaning within it, we have faith.  Faith allows us to open up instead of shut down.  Those people caught within severe depression struggle desperately with a lack of faith and so they shut down and they shut down some more until they are cornered within their minds and left unbalanced, left hurting so badly that they turn to various escapes, including suicide.

What do they or any of us have left to work with?  Our awareness which is greater than our minds. You can sit somewhere in silence with no thoughts and be so very aware of all the details of your environment, be very much alive because of your awareness.  When you sit with your awareness you can feel the life force all around you.  The beautiful simplicity of our awareness often is contrasted with the misdirected complexity of our thoughts.  Thoughts can point the way to underlying truths, but they can just as easily direct us into accepting lies.  The fact is we learn through misunderstanding except when we persist in cherishing falseness.  Some people cherish falseness because they are, as yet, ignorant and other people cherish falseness as a means of disguising themselves and/or taking advantage of other people and situations.

All of us have lied consciously to others and unconsciously to ourselves.  We are probably the only potentially insincere species on this planet.  We are not always what we seem.  Because we have this great power to deceive and manipulate, we rely heavily on our false thoughts to motivate us to continue in the deceptions.  We play a serious game with our lives and others' lives.   The problem with believing in lies and lying is that it produces delusional thinking within individuals and worse, the acceptance of illusion over reality for the general populace.

When delusional thinking takes hold within people and spreads into a collective of people, true awareness becomes obscured.  Prejudices and lies partially color every culture on the globe.  And so conflict is born over and over again and a seemingly unending need to inevitably find scape goats.  It is an illusion that we can find justice through blaming and condemning others.  Justice can only be found through an unprejudiced awareness using thoughts to seek out truth rather than using thoughts to hide the truth or only partially convey the greater truth.  Good intentions towards all beings really does count, just as negative intentions really do distort reality and cause great harm to harmless beings.

In order cultivate good intentions towards everyone, you have to get very, very honest.  Those hardest hit by distorted thinking and compulsive actions are addicts.  Addicts move into recovery when they acknowledge that their intentions towards themselves and others are not good intentions, but rather self-serving and self-destructive.  If they can get honest about that and if they can hold onto that realization, they can begin the recovery process of deconstructing the lies that they’ve been living under for so long.  As the distortions in their thought processes begin to clear up, they naturally find that their intentions towards themselves and others returns to health.  Health reinforces the positive and the positive is non harming.

I know some addicts struggle with 12 step programs because so much of the program asks each individual to either reach for a belief in a higher power or deepen the faith they already have.  Faith demands surrender and surrender for many of us is a scary concept and a scarier practice.  Faith also requires that you believe in the essential goodness in life and in everyone.  Faith allows room for a bigger picture to emerge, one greater than our individual stories.  As I said earlier, I believe we all have faith to a greater or lesser extent; it’s how we get through our days and nights when things get rough. As we rely on it, we also take it for granted.  The gift of facing one’s addiction is that one stops taking faith for granted.  Faith becomes a rich and rewarding way of approaching life with openness, honesty and dignity.  I have found in my practice that when I have faith in others higher self and tell them so, that they relax, open, and in return have faith in me too.  A supportive bond gets created, the basis rests in trust and trust allows people to live together in harmony while facing the continuing challenges of daily life.