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.

Monday, January 27, 2014

On Death & Ignorance

My mother has been dead for a little over three weeks and my brother and I have spent the last two weeks staying with my father.  We will return home on Thursday.  My father is in mourning, but I am very glad to report that he is not devastated.  I don't think he is just going to give up; I believe he will continue and adjust to being on his own.  His friends here at this retirement community have been very kind and plan to invite him to dinner after we leave.  I have been gently encouraging him to engage in social activities and not spend all of his time in his apartment.  He appears to be willing to try and that is all that I ask of him, to keep trying.  I am glad that I have been here for him in his environment, but I also know I must return home.  I will continue to stay in closer touch with him, but I cannot live his life for him.  He must find the courage and the will to live and find enjoyment in his life.

Perhaps it is because I believe my mother's spirit lives on in some unknown dimension that I, too, am not devastated.  I am changing with the change and accepting the loss.  I am determined to continue living with as much appreciation for my life and for those still living.  I have lived through devastation several times in my life so far and this does not come close to that experience.  My mother was eighty five when she died and lived a very good life.  I celebrate her life and am in awe at the mystery hidden within death.  I see death as a transformation and not as a final, solemn ending.  I believe too many people get caught up in the horror of the dying process and in the shock of the sudden absence of a living presence.  And some do not like to encounter other people's deaths because it reminds them of their own mortality.  I don't feel this way.  To me there is meaning everywhere, be it in life or in death. I believe that there is a bigger and wonderful picture that includes us all.

I have learned several valuable lessons from Tibetan Buddhism.  They make a point of preparing for death in life through various meditation practices.  I would like to follow them and prepare now for my turn to pass out of this life and into I know not what.  One thing I do know for sure, I do not want to live the rest of my life in fear.  When my time comes, I want to let go into it and not resist.  I want to go with the flow wherever it leads me.  I consider this the joyful approach to death.  If one takes away the horror and fear, one is left with peace.  Peace is what I want most within myself, in my interaction with others and in the world we all live in.  I do think that so much of the pain we feel is self created and even glorified in so many of the stories we tell ourselves or read about or watch in films.  The deaths of characters make for high drama, for a kind of sick entertainment.  Personally I think we spoon feed ourselves a lot of bullshit.  And this basis of bullshit, this essential distortion makes so many of us walk around in a delusion believing that the negative assessment is the TRUTH when it is only lies we tell ourselves to justify our reactions and our lifestyles.

I've seen people blaming other people or their concept of "God" for all the ills in the world.  I've done some of this myself, but as I age I see that all this does is to contribute to the problems we face.  The blame game is a cop out.  It separates us when we need to unite for peace on earth.  Death is a fact of life on this planet, but, for now, so is regeneration.  And what exactly is death?  Does anyone really know?  Change your view on death and you change your world view; you change your spirit.  I stay open to the view that death is a portal into the unknown.  Within the unknown there is magic.  There's magic in the universe.  See how small you really are, but how valuable, too, and how each of us has a place in this seemingly unending puzzle.

What I'm suggesting is that our concepts of death are actually misconceptions.  I am also saying that many of our concepts of life are also misconceptions.  We live inside bubbles, dreams and we are all very stubborn.  We think we know.  We gather up knowledge to block out our fundamental insecurity and common ignorance.  Really, how can you sum up a life?  Why do you want to reduce a beautiful tapestry to one single thread?  Yes, I know some things about my own life because I exist within it. That's as close as I get to knowledge.  But it is still only partial knowledge and it will always be truer to say that mostly I do not know.  From the stance of not knowing, you stay in a beginners' mind and that is an open, receptive and, to me, a very beautiful mind.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Memorial Essay

This is the short essay I wrote and then read at the memorial gathering we had for my mother:

Ellen Mary Irving Kiernan, 1928 to 2014.  My mother.  Her name means light and she was an incredible light to our small family and to the people she met and touched.  She was an exceptionally bright woman all the way through from her childhood to her old age.  That innate intelligence shown brightly in her keen curiosity in the world around her.  She watched, she listened, she read and reflected, she talked and she created.  She was a vibrant woman, an honest woman, a good woman.  I am so proud of her.

She grew up as a child during the Great Depression in New York City in the Bronx.  Her family was small, just her mother, father and brother and like so many others of the time, they did not have much money.  She wore home made clothing made by her mother, but longed for fine store bought clothes and shoes.  When she was a bit older and she went to work, she saved her money to do just that.  In this way, she followed her father, who also had fine taste in good quality clothing.

But her focus as a child and young adult was not clothing so much as school.  She excelled at her school work and was a hard act to follow for her younger brother, Bob, though he, too, was very, very bright.  Their parents were good about taking advantage of all that the great city of New York had to offer.  They went to museums and parks and beaches.  Mom and her brother soaked it all up.  By the time my mother was five years old she progressed from a serious envy of her cute little brother that her mother adored to becoming his friend and protector.  They loved to read, listen to music and play outside and as they grew up together they bonded as a team and stood up from time to time to their parents, especially their father, who could be unjustly critical and tough.

Her father died when she was in her mid 40s and when I was 12 years old.  I didn’t get the chance to know him as a young adult and my mother was mostly unwilling to talk about her relationship with him growing up.  Whatever unresolved conflict she had with her father, she always maintained that he was a hardworking, responsible man who loved his wife.  Still, it was obvious to me that he left his mark on Mom and helped to cultivate some core aspects of her personality.  Whatever critical attitudes he took with his daughter, it was clear that he was very proud of her intelligence and skill.  It is because he prodded and challenged her to excel at her school work that she worked even harder.  She learned to assert her point of view in an honest, direct and intelligent way and came to value her mind and her unique spirit.  Most likely she suffered because, like any young person, she needed love and kindness from her father more than criticism, but she endured and she got stronger.

It is my feeling that my mother was at her happiest living here at Cypress Cove in the last 15 years.  She no longer had the responsibility of caring for her children or her mother and my father’s mother and so she was free to live in a way that was most comfortable for her.  The pace of her life was relaxed and she bonded more closely with my father.  Her favorite spot in their apartment was looking out the windows of the living room.  She loved the view looking out over the water and watching the wide array of birds with her binoculars.  She also loved all her thriving house plants and never failed to take care of them.  In my mind’s eye I still see her reading, writing, singing, talking to others with such a cheerful attitude and walking the grounds.  She had this uplifting energy about her that was motivated by a keen curiosity and an innate kindness towards others.  She never failed to do her part to help out.

She taught me from childhood to be very honest, polite and tolerant of others.  I think I valued her direct, intelligent honesty most of all.  She did not lie; she did not manipulate me.  She always stated her opinion and perspective plainly and she continued to be respectful of me even when she disagreed with me.  And when I made poor choices and got into trouble, she was there for me, as was my father, and provided a safe haven for me to stay in when I needed it.  She was not just my mother, she was my friend.  But it was this strict adherence to honesty that came to define me and my personality as well.  She passed on this ability to have the courage to be honest with myself and others and that has saved me on numerous occasions and has given me a foundation of joy from which to work.

My mother was an atheist, as is her brother Bob and my father, but I am not.  I’m the only one in our family who believes that there is some kind of higher power or higher order that is involved with the life on this planet.  I truly believe that my mother’s spirit continues in some way and that she is just continuing on her journey somewhere out of my reach.  I will miss her and I will never forget her.  I feel truly blessed by the time we spent together.  May you be well Mom.   May you find happiness and the root of happiness.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Adam & Eve

Adam & Eve

Why was Adam scared of Eve?
Why did he point his finger at her
In front of God?
Why did he make her the guardian
Of the Fall
And tell their children that
She could not be trusted
At all?

What did he learn
When he tasted the apple
From the Tree of Knowledge in Eden?
How did he see
The world around him
And this woman
Beside him?

Maybe they didn’t have enough time
Before the Fall, before the Fall
Time to get to know each other
In Friendship without all this pressure

The pressure of knowledge,
The pressure of pain,
The pressure of seeing
That they were not exactly the same.

Why was God is such a hurry?
Why did he take so little time to work it out?
Why did he test his creatures
Before they were ready?
Why did he seal them into their fate
So completely?

Play Song

Monday, January 6, 2014

Song: "Down"


Take a few steps back                
And soak up the view.                          
Look for the path                              
That winds down the mountain.          
Down, down, down, go down.   (x2)          

To see the view from the valley  
Where the farmers till their soil    
To get your hands all dirty      
In the freedom of the toil.    
Go down, down, down, go down.  (x2)    

It’s too high up here    
And I can’t fly down.    
I’ve seen what I came to see,  
I have looked all around    
And I’ve carried my heart with me
Through the journey        
And now there’s no where else to go  
But down.    

Put one step in front of the other    
Hold fast to your heart    
Keep it together  
You can work your way down
Through any kind of weather  
And once you hit bottom,    
It will get better and better.  

Go down.      

Play Song

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Rest In Peace Mom

A song for my Mother on the day of her death.    Click Here.

Mother, Mother

You have died
The only mother
I've ever had.
You lived a good, long life;
You were a mother and a wife
And a friend,
A friend to me.

You'll live on
In my heart and beyond.
You've made your mark
On this earth
When you put your loved ones first
When you walked the extra mile
Now all I see is your bright smile.

Mother, mother
You have died,
Now you're on the other side
And that mystery
Awaits us all,
But we know in our spirits
That we're more than ashes and dust.

Mother, mother
You'll live on
In my heart
And beyond.