Nothing Left to Lose

I stand every day in the space of Letting Go.

There is Nothing Left to Lose.

“It’s not that we have to get rid of the things we desire. The objects are not the problem. It is our attachment and our identification with what we crave that causes suffering. Tilopa, a wondering tenth-century yogi, sang, “It is not the outer objects that entangle us. It is the inner clinging that entangles us.”” – Lama Surya Das (83)

I call it my attachment bomb: “There is Nothing Left to Lose.” It is a bittersweet reminder that life has already taught me the hard lessons. This is why every day I wake up to knowing gratitude, humbly. This is the moment in life where I cease to live for dying and begin to truly live. There are two integral messages in the phrase “There is Nothing Left to Lose” which include: an implication that the speaker has lost a great deal believing fate cannot bring any greater suffering; and if this phrase is being said with conviction, then the speaker has unwittingly revealed weakness. For as long as I continue to live I will continue to find something in my life that is meaningful enough to lose.

Sometimes, the Universe decides to throw your own shit out the window without asking you first. This requires adaptation; to learn to live without those outer objects. You may not even know you were attached, that you identified in a way you became immersed in the object. And the object does not need to be a thing, that object may be another person you are co-dependent on; or a coping strategy where you feel anxiety and need to self-sooth by shopping for new shoes every time you go on another date. You begin to tell yourself you cannot live without new shoes for every first date, and since you find fault in every new person you meet, it seems you are buying new shoes every week!

The point is, once we start attaching ourselves to our lives in a way that turns what is meaningful, into what is an object that defines us, then we begin to experience suffering in a way that sneaks up unannounced and hits us square in the back. The entire experience is a story of living unaware, not present in the moment. In cases like my own, I was run over by a dump truck carrying my own burdens plus the burdens of my ex-husband, his family, my family, generational and past life trauma.

So now I drop the attachment bomb, “There is Nothing Left to Lose” because in one, grand monumental series of tragic events I lost every single attachment I did not even know I had.

Exposed, I stand in the space of Letting Go.

And mindfully, I am aware of what is priceless and what I fear most, and what attachments I am still clinging to because I am human. Maybe there is a thing called living in the present moment, and I figured out how it is done, but I am still afraid of losing what I have found. How do you surrender your purpose in life and still continue to recover and live your purpose – both at the same time? (Here – this is where I hope lessons on co-creative recovery might give me an answer).

“People who misinterpret the Buddha’s teachings often worry that if they rid themselves of craving, they will no longer be able to love or live with passion. Quite the opposite is true. We will still have our healthy desires, but now they won’t be contaminated and misdirected by insatiable craving.” – Lama Surya Das (83)

Recovering along the path of Letting Go, and the attachment bomb called, “There is Nothing Left to Lose” is like blowing balloons until you feel like you have no breath left, and then you realize they are just taking up space because the event you are celebrating occurred yesterday (while you were busy blowing the balloons). So you Let Go, popping the balloons. Clearing it all away and making a point to blow fewer balloons for the next event in the hope maybe you will make it in time to the next celebration.

I stand every day in the space of Letting Go.

SOURCE: Lama Surya Das. Awakening the Buddha within : eight steps to enlightenment, Tibetan wisdom for the Western world. Broadway Books, New York, 1998.

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Reflections of Self through Relationships

In Greek Mythology, Narcissus fell in love with his reflection, and as a result of his obsessive infatuation that was limited in scope, Narcissus eventually died never truly knowing what may have been buried deep inside. In this myth, he could not see the beauty of Echo, who loved him with a resonating passion and so he rejected her and the gods spate him by forcing him to fall in love with his surface reflection. His shadow self, if I were to take a guess, was his fear of not being beautiful enough to meet the expectations set by his father a god and his mother a nymph. This may also be why, as others threw themselves at him because of his beauty, he mindlessly responded with rejection and malice. His behaviour, and the consequences he experienced from his own behaviour, had everything to do with how he felt about himself (and all those who fruitlessly begged to be loved by him really gained nothing in their efforts because, well, there was nothing but a shallow reflection to hold onto). As he never learned to become self-aware he continually grasped at self-delusion. until he literally died of vanity.

It takes a deep, and mighty step of bravery to look so boldly into your reflection through the faces of your family, your friends and especially those you may not like to be around at all. Every person you meet is like a looking glass, a mirror. Yes, they shine with their own light or they glower with their own bitterness or rage. You have to understand, if how a person appears to you is a reflection of yourself, then how you appear to them is the same. The hard truth is, most people walk around unaware of how their beliefs and their fears are influencing the experiences they have in their relationships.

This is a skill that can be observed, and adapted to carefully over time. Learning the skill of observation through mindfulness, awareness of behaviours in response to the actions of people who carry various expectations; you may begin to notice that you relate to people differently because they seem to remind you of something you just can’t put your finger on. Maybe your mother makes you uncomfortable in public places, or you have a friend who seems jealous of other people and is always complaining that others have what she never gets to have. Yes, these people are their own persons, but where is your shadow self in it? If your mother makes you feel uncomfortable in public places, could it be that you already feel uncomfortable in public places, and your mother simply exposes this vulnerability? If you are annoyed by your friend’s jealousy, could it be that sometimes you are jealous and really wish you could get what you want – and become annoyed with yourself because you know jealousy is pointless – so are you are really annoyed with your friend, or with yourself? These are examples of how we might find ourselves by being aware of our responses to other people.

This is an important conversation because, as we learn to become more aware in our lives, we need to understand that relationships are essential in our personal growth. Relationships provide needed connection to others, for the benefit of everyone involved, while providing mirrors into the self. With eyes wide open, you may learn to relate to yourself better by learning to relate to the people who are in your life. This connection also helps those people we are connected to for the same reason; it is not purely a self-serving fantasy, and it is only fated for narcissism if there is no depth, or growth from that one person who demands the mirror to be pointed in their one direction at all times.

Do not fall for the illusion that social media, email, or online environments can substitute for interpersonal relationships. These methods may be useful in certain contexts, but without that one-on-one personal contact you do not get the opportunity to see your truth in another person’s response. There are times I really do not want to know, I am not ready for it, but I also know it’s inevitable. If I truly want a healthy relationship with the people I am closest to, I will honour them by paying attention, and being mindful of how I respond to them. If I am not ready to see the truth, or to face this particular challenge, the beauty therein lies that I have the right to set boundaries with other people. Boundaries permit interactions to occur but with gates and fences that establish rules to protect all parties, respectfully.

“We have a responsibility to care for this body and mind, the vessel that is carrying us through this human Life. Good boundaries aren’t so much about isolating the Me in each of us as they are about each of us doing our part to foster mutual respect throughout Humankind.” –Anne Wade, If We Are All One, Why Do We Need Personal Boundaries? 

It is through dialogue, that connections and relationships are formed. It is through dialogue that we speak our truth and in turn, through mindfulness we listen and pay attention to the relationships that occur. Accepting these reflections that go beyond the surface of what we see, is the active aspect of self-awareness that enables a deeper understanding of our behaviours, as well as an enriching empathy with others.

 

Creating Distance for Resolutions

What exactly are Those Mindful Parts? Why not these mindful parts? Briefly, included is a grammar lesson:  the word these is the plural form of the word this which refers to something very specific pertaining to the speaker; the word those is the plural form of the word that which takes the specific something for the speaker and creates distance. Distance is extremely important in mindfulness. The first lesson in coming back to the present moment instructs us to observe, and in order to observe we must create distance. I observe Mindfulness in all its Parts and accept Those tools, those actions that cultivate a daily healthy lifestyle permitting me to utilize those parts mindfully, to reach my goals of full recovery and an authentic life.

A New Year is a reminder that we always have a chance to try again, to create change in ourselves by forming resolutions that we may or may not commit to. There is always a part of us that needs to be “worked on”; and setting intentions to create movement, to change our behaviours, to form revolutions that give energy to one specific part of ourselves is a good place to begin. There is a caveat, though, to forming resolutions that create revolutions within oneself.  If you wish to revolutionize yourself, to create change, you will need to be fully present and aware.

Take for example, the story of a woman who wants to quit smoking. Every year, maybe twice in some years, she has tried to quit. Sometimes she quits for one month or two, but at some point she buys another pack. What is the point of trying again and again? Why try different methods of quitting? Why bother making revolutionary statements to quit for good, to set definite intentions with the expectation to be a non-smoker at the end of the story, only to weaken and let one more in. You see, this story was a revolution, an ongoing saga where the woman only learned to be fully aware of her intentional return to nicotine addiction after repeated attempts at quitting. Being mindful of the process, this woman realized that she chose to continue smoking because it was the last part of her clinging to illness. If she quits smoking then she commits to wellness. In order to learn this, the woman needed to cycle through the story, failing at her attempts over and over again. She needed to be present and aware during her failures, to gain insight that allowed her to change her intentions regarding her health. Now, she can let go of her attachments to illness and learn to face the real fear, living a healthy life.

Sometimes we create stories and live in illusions that feed the behaviour that we so desperately want to change.  In order to change those behaviours we need to step back and observe them, give them distance and observe those parts. Distance changes perspective, and whether we fail or succeed in committing to resolutions, mindfulness teaches us how to be honest with ourselves. How to let go of those illusions, those attachments that are part of the revolution we aspire for.

Good luck to all in the New Year!

The Identity Line

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a complicated illness that is designed to articulate the malfunctioning of personality components that often are triggered by trauma, and may be pre-disposed to by genetics. BPD is similar to Bipolar in the sense that there are swings of high and low. But these swings are different. The pendulum is not just emotional, and it does not swing in any predictable fashion. It is cause and effect, a Greek war where Zeus lashes thunder in fury over a minor injury to the ego. Self-compassion does not live naturally in an identity where life is lived in black or white, good or evil.

Now imagine this again as a pendulum that swings a person’s identity around either the “Good” person or the “Bad” person. We all have judgements about ourselves, and a healthy psyche will use their consistent values and beliefs as a compass, a guide to ensure they are acting in accordance with their identity. Imagine that compass as an invisible line connecting a person to the earth, a fixed point the pendulum knows where to swing back to when it is pushed in one direction or the next. That invisible line is what you believe in, what you know instinctively is true, and is your personal law in determining how you will respond to life experience. A person with BPD may not be able to see that they even have a line, they are unaware of it to the point that it seems as impossible as someone saying it is literally “raining cats and dogs”. A person with BPD swings erratically on the pendulum of identity, with very little magnetism to hold it still long enough to find out what that identity line even looks like.

Observing a friend experiencing BPD crisis, as this person loses the tender cord he created to keep him steady, I found myself looking into a mirror of my own past behaviours. I was scared of him, which in turn made me scared of myself for how can I not empathize in a space I am so well versed in? I was remorseful; this was the first time I saw BPD from a healthy space. I grieved for having been the person to do this to my family and friends, which nearly put me on the pendulum of being a bad person for having this illness to begin with.

And I was grateful. I am grateful for this mental illness. No person can question the integrity of someone who makes iron out of thin air. I can say now, with conviction that I know who I am. There is no medication to cure Borderline Personality Disorder. It takes honesty, therapy, mindfulness, time, support and very difficult, painful self-work. I know that invisible identity line connecting me to this earth in the most intimate way imaginable because I had to fight. I survived the dark night of the soul.

I have travelled the globe, bare feet along scorching hot desert sand. I have mindfully traversed this planet called my psyche until I found my home. Home is one’s true identity, and like an archaeologist discovering the Holy Grail, I found what I believe in and rehearse it as a mantra to remind myself that I have a personal law I can swing back to when life pushes me over:

What is Necessary
What is Honest
What is Kind.

As I carefully validated the experiences my friend disclosed, I forgave myself. It was a necessary journey I needed to take in order to find my identity line.

What more could I discover? There was more, and it was even more startling, courageous, and terrifying to see…

I am the same person I was when it began. I changed only in ways that help me live as a better person, in accordance with the values that make me who I am, who I was to begin with. The people who support me know this; and simply walk along beside me, waiting for me to discover what they already know. I am the same person I came to this earth as, the person I was before trauma tested me; only now I have the gift of conviction.

How to Care for Mental Illness Over the Holidays

Tenderly, I hold my own heart in my own hands. It is safe to do this now, my hands are not going to hurt me and I am secure in this changing, unstable world. Especially now; because I am brave enough to hold my own heart in my hands.

Trauma is such a personal experience, but if I were to define one particular truth about trauma, it is that when trauma occurs the heart must close in on itself like a flower in the night. As delicate as a flower, and then ironclad in its resolve to survive, the heart develops a poisonous, steely defensive mechanism. Survival mode causes the heart to slowly die from within as it refuses to open even though the sun continues to rise. The heart, without the sun, lives in a darkness that cannot receive kindness any more than it can pass it on.

This is the reason recovery cannot begin until you are able to touch your own heart, with compassion. The ability to be compassionate with oneself begins not with trying to touch your own heart because someone told you to do it, rather it begins with security. A homeless heart will not recover unless it finds a home.

Holidays have begun, and those of us filled with gratitude and spirit want to extend love out to the world. Let’s fill the world with peace and happiness, singing carols and spreading delight. While it is fulfilling to think that sharing spirit with those whose hearts are closed may miraculously open their hearts once again, the reality is when your heart is homeless, any light shined in is blinding. This blindness makes one who is suffering from trauma feel threatened, not loved, and in my own case (as I cannot speak for everyone) I became more isolated, and more likely triggered. This is the first holiday in six years I am able to participate in the spirit of giving.

So how can we give to those who might not be willing to receive? What I needed was to feel secure, to feel safe. The people who truly supported me were the people who validated my experiences, my perceptions and my emotions just as I was experiencing them. The people I trusted, were NOT the people who: gave me a bible, ear-marked with life changing quotes; told me what I “should” or “should not” do in response to what I had to say; or used guilt by reminding me that I have children, I must be “selfish” to be thinking like this.

Notice, how in every one of those cases, well-intentioned people took their own ideas of how to solve the “problem”, as though there was a problem to be solved. A homeless heart does not receive “well-intentioned” kindness from others, and in fact the truth may be that a homeless heart is not a problem to be solved, but the first step along a path of transformation. To feel secure, a heart needs to know that it is safe to take down its defensive mechanisms. A homeless heart needs to know that when it reaches out there will be warmth and nourishment on the other side, and that what it has to offer will be accepted just as it is. Security with other people means those who I trust most accept me as I am. If what I said sounded irrational, they accepted the experience, my perceptions in the moment, as valid. If it is real to me, it is valid. My supports nourished me by ensuring my environment was safe: friends cooked meals for me (not just told me to eat), supports helped me create my own strategies to ensure I took care of my daily needs and then would follow up, and when real threats occurred, real people stepped up to ensure I was safe.

Real actions are real gifts, those that raise another being by teaching their hearts that the world is safe. Once I felt safe, once I felt as though my own hands could take care of my own body, mind and soul, then I was able to touch my own heart.

 

How does one live with OCD? The answer is simple, from the heart. And how does one live from the heart? The answer is clear, through compassion — Fighting the Fire: Living with OCD

 

Recovery begins when you are finally able to be compassionate with yourself, to hold your own heart and be willing to stay with it even through the fear. Like a compass needle, putting the red in the bed as they say while navigating over rough terrain, your heart is the most sincere direction that will take you where you need to go.

Now that I hold my own heart, I can see color and texture and light, it is no longer blinding. Now that I hold my own heart, I am ready to receive the spirit of the holidays, and ready to give. I hope this advice will serve you well in caring for mental illness over the holiday season.

Fighting the Fire: Living with OCD

How does one live with OCD? The answer is simple, from the heart. And how does one live from the heart? The answer is clear, through compassion.

As I put together a lesson on mindful listening, I must also be mindful of the voices in my own head. OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) is fear. From a detached perspective, the voices of fear ooze and cringe in black, sticky tar. Once fear leaks into my neurological network it takes the shape of the trickster, the dualistic monster of myth who holds up a mirror and chuckles at the resulting self-electrocution response. You would think I would develop a permanent tic, but no, that is just fear speaking in its sharp, spiked tongue.

In trying to cure OCD, ever the paradox exists. One can only fight fear through exposure to the experience that triggers the fear response.  Experiencing the fear again, even if done correctly with all the safety measures, is not what cures the fear. Fighting fire with fire only feeds the fire! And yet, one would say throw water on it. What is fear’s antidote? Hope, I believe. Only in a dualistic framework, my demon holding up the mirror is just as smart as I, and he knows just as well as I do that Hope is naive. Hope is the extreme opposite of Fear and both are naively searching for security, reassurance and resolution. That is why when my demon holds up the mirror, I am forced to work through the complexities of my fear trying to find a path in this forest of hope, and the more I search the more the demon wins by turning any hope back into fear.

How does one live with OCD? We step outside the ego all together. We step outside the illusions, the fantasy, the forest of hope, and find the Buddha’s middle path. Mindful Listening is objectively noticing the story, without judging or attaching it to the self/ego. When the speaker is outside of oneself, we can manage this by keeping a physical distance, an emotional distance, but still paying attention and observing the story being told. Sometimes it is hard, but empathy for others allows us to filter through our heart when the story plays on the heartstrings.

What do I do when the speaker is inside of me? This monster is tricky, and it is not as easy to separate oneself from oneself. Yet the theory is the same, it implies applying empathy and compassion. It means writing it out, expressing it, talking it, dancing it, singing it, screaming it, painting it, going to the gyming it … out – out – out!

I think what I have been trying to do all of this time is to fix my many faces of mental illnesses; to find a cure. But to get aboard the joy stream, I need to be living in the joy. This means, I am working toward living in the joy, being swept into its stream. All the crap that sticks like tar and makes me believe I have many faces of mental illness – well, if I can remember to filter it through my heart then my heart will act as malware and block out the hackers.

And if I succeed at living in the joy stream, there will be nothing left behind to feed that fire called fear.

Opportunity, Rescuers Connect

After discovering the power of connection, the necessity of it really, I am hyper-aware of how this functions in other parts of my life. In the previous post, I spoke of Co-Creative Recovery, and yes, I am living in a space of recovery. Just because I have gained self-confidence I was unaware I had, does not mean I am walking around free of the diagnosis written in my medical files, or free of the triggers that make me slip on thin ice. In facing my fears, in doing the work to recover, I inadvertently healed the part of myself I used to identify as a victim. Suddenly, I am working toward the exact opposite in a very real and tangible capacity; as I train to volunteer in ground search and rescue.

How did I find myself suddenly in the position where I must hold myself accountable for training that will potentially save a life? The process to get to this stage was carefully considered every step of the way, knowing three things:  the work is volunteer, so long as I am honest with myself, I can step back if I am unable to respond; second, I have a great deal of insight into my capabilities, and triggers; and third, I have learned that real-life heroes all carry their own traumas, and even then, they are still more than capable of serving. Maybe it is the accountability for self that helped draw me out from the depths of self-victimization; but this past weekend, as I really tried to see the power of connection in a more authoritative environment, I realized that real-life rescuers are not heroes all by themselves. They train as teams, they work as teams, and they keep themselves accountable for training by bringing in their family, friends, and other support systems. That’s the trick: victims are only victims until they learn how to connect. Rescue workers, are inherently aware that connection is the key that opens understanding of truth; enabling them to be accountable for themselves, so they can come and rescue you.

While I am working through recovery, I see with more profound clarity both the irony and the implications of this. Not long ago, I was swimming in the deep, dark trenches of depression. It took a team of medical personnel, family and friends; and quite a few years of persistent, resilient, hot hard work to pull me up and out. A few who became closest, stepped out of their comfort zones, and took extra measures to make sure I stayed alive. I had fallen as far as it gets, and it took a team to rescue me. Co-creative work is team work, even when they are not all in the same room at the same time, their efforts still build on each other and very slowly I climbed.

Now I see the other side. I find myself looking at the team around me, and see how I am part of co-creative recovery of a different sort. The work I am training for is more physical in nature, which means someday I will be actively saving another life from the darkness below. It will take persistence, resilience and the ability to operate as part of a team.

Connection is far more valuable than just a word on this page, it is something that each of us must work for; in a world that sees only Heroes and Villains, black and white, I see another way. Yes there are Victims (I was one), but there are those who are recovering (and in training, as I am), and then there are Rescuers, those Heroes already trained.

To paraphrase from my previous post on Connection, Recovering Truth, “The moment the participants started to connect and share, was the moment I felt the opportunity for creative change to begin.When participants actively connect and share, to build on solutions and encourage each other, challenge each other to create change; in this opportunity, truth is recovered. This truth is not judged, it is accepted because as long as we recover our truth, then we know what we are accountable for, what we need to train for.

Funny…this karma.

 

*** Please note, training to volunteer as a responder is not necessary to choose to become the “rescuer”. Any time you willingly set aside your self-interests to assist another person, be it volunteer work, or setting aside your thoughts so you can simply listen to a friend without judgement; these are “rescuer” activities as well. My story is not the only one.