On Sobriety Challenges…

Please consider this, that the point of removing vice is to get clearer about your core being.

I’m not talking about your core physical being, I’m talking about your core existential being, your spiritual self.

What’s the opportunity of getting sober?

Inspired by this article on vice.com, I was moved to express a more complete consideration of giving up vices.

The exercise that can be played with is noticing the filters that are added, or not, with various substances. Spending weeks, months, or years using alcohol on a regular basis, and fundamentally alter your perceptions and your interpretations. Same is true with any mind altering substance or process. Sex, overworking, gambling, are all processes that alter your mentality, and whether that’s past an unreality threshold is up to you to decide (though it’s highly recommended to consider this with a healthy, objective advocate).

It’s up to you to determine whether or not that affect is beneficial to your life or not, but a period of sobriety can give you a chance to compare and contrast how to affect you. The same as with any other substance or process, take work versus vacation as a simple example as well, and compare and contrast the difference of your being in each of those different activities.

A greater, more fulfilling payoff

It seems to be trendy and exciting to simply remove vices, but the opportunity presented is much greater than just getting through a 90-day challenge of not partaking.

Thus, I propose a distinction between “sobriety” and “recovery”. In recent personal research, I found numerous alternatives to AA being listed as “Top XX Ways To Get Sober”, but the distinction with AA is that a fundamental part of the process was to reconsider how we were moving through the world, what type of character we were living with.

My time of sobriety was the most transformative of my life, and I can only wish others to experience the same depth of transformation that I had, or that I’ve seen in others that have seriously explored sobriety, or more specifically, recovery.

What are your biases towards “mental health”?

When you hear, or think of, the term “mental health” (or “mental illness”), do you jump to conclusions, or do you have a simple attitude of “all mental illness is bad”?

When I was diagnosed with clinical depression, I didn’t really know what to think at first. It was a shock, it was something I had to sit with and let sink in. I couldn’t easily see how my actions, behaviors, and choices were symptomatic of clinical depression.

It took some time, but I was struggling already, and if this got me a step closer towards not feeling so crappy about myself and about life, then I was going to investigate this as open-mindedly as I could.

How severe are mental disorders?

I had this thought, recently, that mental illnesses and disorders come in all shapes and sizes. My depression, in hindsight, was like a really bad case of pneumonia, stubborn, took me down hard at times, but in the end, was curable or manageable.

There are plenty of disorders or illnesses that are far more severe, but in the end, it’s a matter of seeing it as clearly as possible, and choosing the most effective way of managing/treating it. It’s likely not always as easy as taking a pill, that wasn’t true for me, and sometimes it’s difficult/impossible to treat all the manifestations of a disorder. Also, there are times when multiple disorders are in play, and they have to be broken down to understand what symptoms are manifest from which disorder.

But, in the end, with patience, care, and healthy support, most everyone I’ve ever known with mental disorders/illnesses has been able to treat or manage their condition(s) well, and able to live fulfilling lives.

How does this relate to spirituality?

Our perceptions and interpretations can be grossly distorted by mental illnesses and disorders. It could be as simple as affecting how we hear things, or what thoughts they bring up.

“With our minds, we make the world”, is a Buddhist adage, and if we’re contemplating distorted perceptions or thoughts, then our emotional responses will be affected, as well as our world view. You can imagine that our thoughts about ourselves would be affected as well, and this can impact our self esteem, self image; anything egoic, really.

So, from my experience, part of getting clearer in our spiritual path is to humbly and honestly consider our mental health.

The Takeway

Like I started, it’s important to have a more educated attitude towards the scope of mental disorders, to not simply lump them all as one-size-fits-all, which it terribly dehumanizing and causes nothing but harm.

Just like you would care for your biology with a regular physical exam, do the same for your mental well being. Find someone you trust, someone that has a breadth of education and experience, to be able to give you some healthy, honest feedback. You might simply get a clean bill of health, or you might become informed about something you couldn’t see objectively.

In the end, it’s about optimal health, so that you can live your life as fully as you desire.

Blessings!

If not for Enlightenment, then for a marshmallow?

Is competing against monkeys inspiring to you? Perhaps you’ve said to yourself, “if a monkey can do it, then I can!” Well, here’s something to step up to.

According to Philippens and Vanwersch (link), in their studies to test “neurofeedback and other brain-training treatments for epilepsy or ADHD”, they were able to coax monkeys to deliberately replicate the brain activity of meditation, resulting in the monkeys looking “restful [with] focus.”

“The monkeys may not realise that they are changing their brain activity, but it does show that they can consciously change their mood or state of mind,” says Philippens, and the monkeys were rewarded marshmallows for this behavior.

So, my question to you is: do you really believe that attaining a meditative state is difficult for you? I’d be happy to send marshmallows to you if that’d help inspire you. Or, perhaps you could gain results by staring at this monkey…

In all seriousness, the point of this post is that there are some things we can choose to do for ourselves, and some we can’t. A recent dialog on Facebook brought up the fact that, with the exception of people with untreated mental illnesses or mood disorders, attitudes are chosen; they are not involuntary, imposed on us by some other will besides our own. We can choose to be optimistic fearful, or ambivalent.

We can also choose our behavior, and there are countless benefits to slowing down our thinking, to becoming more aware and present; key benefits from building a practice of meditation.

You can always “act as if”. Like the old saying goes, “monkey see, monkey do.”

The Basics: Thus Spake Zarathustra (Happy New Year 2013!)

I love re-watching great movies as I get older. So much to behold and learn. It reminds me of a simple truth…

There are Truths.

A teacher of mine made me aware of the fact that there are some things in life that are true, regardless of time or circumstance. Once I became willing to believe that, and became willing to learn from others, I started seeing the truth (sic) in that statement.

For much of my life, I was a skeptic; and over time while living with those lenses on, I became a cynic. In hindsight, I see that as grossly self-indulgent, insisting life conform to the way I expected it to look. Thankfully, the unsustainability of that worldview bore itself out by bringing me to my proverbial knees, presenting me with one of my first unassailable truths, that I can’t control my entire world.

I had reached my bottom.

In the past eight years, I’ve come to appreciate an endless source of beauty and peace from that acknowledgement, and I’ve been able to recover much of what I had lost in all that time. There’s a lightness of being that is freely available when one is humble towards what they have power over, and what they don’t. Recognizing, and choosing that, is often a moment-to-moment playground of opportunity.

While there are infinite sources of innovation and creativity, which we see spring around us every day (especially thanks to the Internet), there are these Truths (with a capital “T”) that make themselves available to us. We can choose to live them or not; even become champions, insisting and defending them against apathy and confusion.

If you’re seeking truth for yourself, I encourage you to talk about it openly. While there are individuals that would try to take advantage of innocence, given enough open-mindedness, willingness, and honesty, you’ll be sure to recognize what feels Right for you.

Here’s to another amazing year ahead, 2013. I hope you are able to see the abundance of opportunities available to you, and I hope you relish the experiences you choose.

My Appreciation for Father’s Day 2012

It’s my niece’s upcoming wedding that compels me to write about this. On this sleepless early morning of Father’s Day 2012, I recall my brother being “brotherly” when I was a teen; trying to make me appreciate the sense of compound interest, being fiscally intelligent and responsible.

“Jeez, yeah, I get it, Cal…”, which I did in a conceptual way, being a smart kid. Regretfully, my smart ass side didn’t _appreciate_ it, didn’t appreciate _him_.

So, thoughts of me sitting on a branch of the family tree: frankly, at times, I feel _somewhat_ alone (me and Sarah); Dad’s dead, Calvin’s dead. I’m clearly _not_ alone: I have a healthy and loving relationship with my Mom (after we cleared up decade’s-long misunderstandings); a clean and healthy relationship with Sarah’s mom, too; a very quiet relation with my step-daughter; loving relations with my distant cousins and step-mother; a loving-albeit-distant relation with my nieces and nephews (all four of them); and a vibrant, loving “family” of community brothers and sisters.

Yeah, it feels good to think of us all as being all one big family here on Earth. I truly hold that to be close to my heart, yet I see and feel the reality of it. I do share deep devotion and commitment with certain friends, but not with all my friends. Most are wonderfully close, very intimate (we are very vulnerable with one another; even some I’ve never met in person), and many will I expect last the rest of my lifetime; my heartfelt gratitude to those who, this past decade, showed me how to have healthy relationships.

But when I turn towards what I feel emanating in waves from my nieces and nephews of my (deceased) brother’s family (two women, the second about to marry, their kids and spouses, and a young man in my nephew), I sense a strong core of deep, intense love, and I can’t help but attribute that to the sense of family that my brother and his wife built. As many of you know, there’s an intangible thing that comes so freely between siblings and many family members, that sense of commitment and devotion because “they’re blood”.

To be clear, I’m not thinking about myself here. For whatever reason, I’m introduced to many people who have far less than I do. My point is this…

Value one another, especially those that you might seem to get “for free”. For one thing, like with my brother and father, they may leave this life far too soon. For another, that _thing_ that you have with your loved ones, if you _know_ what I’m talking about, cherish it, work at it, build it up, and don’t let it wilt, wither, and die. Those bonds of commitment and devotion did not come out of thin air; they came from persistent choices, day-in-and-day-out, from some one, some couple, some group.

Please, if you choose to, pay attention to it, love it, learn about it, figure it out, and live it heartily.

There’s more work to be done

I’m torn… I’ve just read several articles of horrendously unfathomable behavior, and I feel compelled to share, yet I don’t want to forward them directly.

It’s not that I want to share the behaviors, but rather I want to expose the “illness” that we, as a race, still struggle with. Yet, I know I can’t cure the world, thus I look to be available for those people that want to improve their lives.

Well, that’s my aim for now.

It’s an extraordinary thing to me, a person ready to make a change. As I’ve mentioned before, there are three things required: H-O-W — Honesty, Open-mindedness, and Willingness.

I could argue that everyone is already skilled at using “willingness” each day. We comfortably choose our clothes and food using those elements; we make countless choices that are effortless because we’re so willing.

Honesty with ourselves can be tricky. We give ourselves “guilty pleasures”, so there’s honesty in that. We are often truthful with others, yet we’re biologically wired to be dishonest. We tell lies, some of them “white”, for various reasons. People will most likely call themselves honest, yet there’s often an internal dialog that considers just how honest they need to be in various circumstances.

People often deny fleeting thoughts and emotions for higher values; while there’s honesty in living with integrity, we sometimes turn away from parts of ourselves without full acceptance of what they are and what they represent in us. Some refer to that as our “shadow selves”, our “dark side”.

How open-minded are people usually? Trying a new kind of food can be distasteful, or simple out of the question. What’s it like to consider a new political view, or reframe a spiritual belief?

And willingness? I’ve been wondering lately about “the gift of desperation”. I’ve dreamt of finding a way to instill the willingness that people get when “reaching bottom”. Funny, I see it often portrayed in TV, characters absolutely willing to turn on a dime and do such outrageous things. Since shows are scripted, it’s easy to put a character in dire circumstances, easy to show them make ruthless choices, easy to avoid any costly consequences. Does that work against people watching? Does that set up a challenging inner dialog when real life comes up; knowing that things can’t ever be as carefree as they are in the movies, does that keep people from being willing to dare?

Like I said, my mind’s reeling at the moment. The articles I read were as of this date, so if you’re feeling macabre, you can look at some headlines from today. You might want to reach for your comfort food or teddy bear first, though.

Time for work.