Search This Blog

Monday, May 26, 2014

Does Wanting Cause Spiritual Illness?

In Tolle's '"A New Earth", I was introduced to the concept of wanting as the cause of spiritual illness. The idea seemed rather simplistic to me at first yet as I reflect back on it- the truth seems undeniable.

Let me offer two extreme and true examples.

I had an acquaintance once, a friend who through real estate investments- turned a hundred thousand dollars into about 10 million. This included a successful real estate business that his wife owned and operated. In fact, that business dominated the local market. One day, I saw my friend at the bank. We struck up a casual conversation. Reflecting on how well he had done financially over the course of our lives, I asked him when he was going to retire. Just sell out and go live the good life. I asked him if 10 million was enough and he replied, "I don't know. There are other things I want."

I remember that conversation well. In my world, 10 million dollars was an absolute fortune.

I also knew a man worth two or three times that. I was talking to him about his personal jet- a plane which he had just sold. I was curious. He was explaining his jet dilemma. Once he had purchased his jet, he had to pay for pilots, fuel, insurance, and storage. He said he never flied often enough to justify those expenses. And he added, no matter how big and fast any of his planes had been- he always wanted a bigger and faster one.

The problem with wanting is simple. It dominates our thoughts. As a culture, we are forever wanting bigger houses, nicer cars, more money. We want youthful appearances. We are bombarded with advertising which takes advantage of this giant flaw of ours. All of this wanting and coveting eventually flowers into a sort of insatiable greed that is never satiated. In turn, unsatiated wanting causes frustration and unmet expectations. It is the insanity of our culture. We are never satisfied.
At our worst we are never grateful, and perhaps even deeply depressed- when we don't get what we want. Or worse- when we don't get what we think we deserve or are entitled to.

This lack of gratitude for the gifts we do have- is exchanged for smoldering resentments and perhaps even jealousy- as we constantly want we don't have and we see others getting what we desire.

Several years ago, I was able to identify and diagnose this spiritual illness in myself. Today, I am incredibly grateful for the things I have. A little house, a car, a motorcycle. I am grateful for so many things- including my relationships. I don't really need anything else. I am very content.

As I was researching the "four noble truths" of Buddhism- my first stop at wiki- offered this. This was the exact same process I had found and applied- I was completely unaware that Buddhism teaches the very same process. I have included it here.

Illness, diagnosis, and cure

In the Buddhist tradition, the Buddha is often compared to a great physician, and his teachings are compared to medicine. The teachings on the four noble truths in particular are related to a medical diagnosis, as follows:[q]
  1. The truth of dukkha: identifying the illness and the nature of the illness (the diagnosis)
  2. The truth of origin: identifying the causes of the illness (the etiology)
  3. The truth of cessation: identifying a cure for the illness (the prognosis)
  4. The truth of the path: recommending a treatment for the illness that can bring about a cure (the prescription)
This analogy is said to emphasize the compassion of the Buddha—that he was motivated by the desire to relieve the suffering of beings.[44][46] It also emphasizes that the Buddha was presented as physician, or healer of the spirit, rather than as a meta-physician or someone who spoke of supernatural powers.[r] For example, Pico Iyer states: "The Buddha generally presented himself as more physician than metaphysician: if an arrow is sticking out of your side, he famously said, don’t argue about where it came from or who made it; just pull it out. You make your way to happiness not by fretting about it or trafficking in New Age affirmations, but simply by finding the cause of your suffering, and then attending to it, as any doctor (of mind or body) might do."[web 12]
Contemporary Buddhist teacher Tamara Engel also emphasizes the Buddha's reluctance to comment on metaphysical matters:[web 10]
The brilliance of this medical model is that the Buddha offers a complete spiritual path that does not depend on metaphysical speculation or belief—no speculation or belief about God. No leap of faith is required. The illness the Buddha refers to is a particular kind of suffering, and there is nothing metaphysical about it. We all experience it. In fact, it is said that the Buddha would never enter into a metaphysical discussion. He stated, “I teach one thing and one thing only. Suffering and the end of suffering.”
There are many examples both in the original suttas and in traditional and contemporary commentaries that compare the Buddha to a physician.[s]









 




Sunday, April 6, 2014

How I Repaired My Life- Epilogue

So what's in this for me?

Nothing. I simply wanted to show people that it is possible to get emotionally well and to be genuinely happy. It will require some commitment from you.

It's been the better part of seven years since I unzipped my old life, stepped out, and found a new life. It probably took the better part of two years for me to make consistent and healthy decisions.

I think the hardest part of this past 7 years was resolving the amount of guilt that goes along with recognizing mistakes and taking responsibility for them. That's been pretty difficult for me at times. Ultimately, I have to simply accept that I did not know better at the time. I do now.

My life is calm and serene. I have never felt better. I am no longer enmeshed in crazy situations and relationships. I am grateful for everything that I have been blessed with- including clean socks.

I have restored the relationships with my family.

I spend a great deal of time working with others. I use those emotional items I enumerated in Part 4 on a daily basis. I try to help others understand those concepts and regain some sanity and control over their lives.

There are so many pitfalls and lies embedded in our culture that it's a wonder any of us are sane. There are literally thousands of ridiculous and untrue beliefs- beliefs that have us scurrying about non-stop- engaged in some mindless activity with every spare moment that we possess. 

Somewhere on this blog, I think, you can find some answers. Thank you for stopping by.

Brian








Friday, April 4, 2014

The Student Appears- How I Repaired My Life, Part 4

A series of miracles. 

Before I start in on this section, I think it is very important to make a big distinction.

In order to get emotionally healthy, an individual must actually make a commitment to resolve their issues. More specifically, you can't simply suppress your anger and superficially believe that you have resolved your anger issues because sooner or later they will come back. You can't simply go to a therapist and listen to what they have to say and somehow magically absorb what they tell you without application, commitment, or work.

You must be willing to end your emotional misery- permanently. That is going to take some effort on your part. If you are unwilling to do that- the problem may not be serious enough for you or perhaps you actually enjoy some feeling of misery. Stuffing emotions, listening to therapists, or swilling alcohol cannot fix us long term. I know because I tried those things. So I think we must diagnose and actually resolve our issues with solutions that make sense to us. I cannot overstate the importance of this enough.

In the fall of 2007, this student was ready. I packed my Jeep and headed for New Orleans. My first room mate in New Orleans had been arranged by a mutual friend. He was a horrible drunk- just out of his 4th rehab and drinking. I could barely tolerate this guy. As I tried to stay sober that first month- this dude was drinking every morning, beating his dog, continually referring to his black co-workers as niggers (they beat the hell out of him one night and he got fired) and stealing from me. One night, he showed up with a deer's head that he had cut off a road killed carcass. I was in awe at the amount of turmoil and chaos this guy brought with him.

I'm not sure I have ever seen anyone more emotionally sick. Like something out of a Dickens novel, I think this dude was placed in my life at that very moment to show me how bad things could get. Within weeks, I had moved out and found a much nicer place a few blocks away.

I had been sober 33 days when I walked into my first AA meeting, Nov 12. I listened. I was astounded and awestruck by one thing. People actually told the truth about how self absorbed and sick they had become. In many cases, they went into great detail. I had never heard that blend of honesty and humility anywhere. People also talked about solutions to their emotional problems. I knew almost immediately that many of the solutions I needed were here.

The first of many miracles were about to take place.

Each morning, I would get up and walk to a coffee shop on Magazine St. to write. In the afternoon, I would walk on the levees, play golf, read, or play cards at Harrah's downtown. One day while playing cards, I struck up a conversation with a woman that I had never seen before. We had a lot in common. She told me she was reading a fascinating little book called "The Four Agreements." She said it was about smoke, mirrors, and light and that she had only read 20 pages. This is the only information she conveyed to me. I actually wrote the title down on a napkin.

Now I have to tell you that I have spent thousands upon thousands of hours at poker tables. I have never received a book review by a fellow poker player. For reasons unknown to me, the next morning I walked into a bookstore near the coffee shop and bought this book. I took it home later that day and read it. About 3-4 hours worth. It changed my life almost immediately. I didn't actually read this book- I absorbed it. I instantly recognized that I had broken agreement 2 all of my life. I took everything personally. I read that chapter over and over, until I finally realized that people do in fact- act on their own personal instincts. They are all acting out some script inside their heads and not only do I not know what that is- it is never personal. Often they do what they do, irrespective of who or what is around them.

That simple chapter changed my life forever. I quit taking things personally. To this day, I do not. I've had people ridicule me, nearly kill me, belittle and berate me, and very rarely have I responded to any of that madness in an angry way. I have made a couple of calculated verbal attacks to stop and prevent further maliciousness. I realize and accept that people must make others feel bad to make themselves feel better or superior. It is a spiritual sickness- part of the insanity of the planet and it is an illness that I had for 46 years.

By the spring of 2008, I had managed to string nearly 6 months of sobriety together and I was feeling better than I had ever felt- I was smelling flowers and salt air, paying attention to people, fully enjoying my life. I was still battling 2 or 3 day skirmishes with depression when one evening- a gal during a speaker meeting began talking about depression. What she said floored me.

She said that whenever she was depressed she found that she was missing the following things. Someone to love, something useful to do, or something to look forward to. Anytime she was feeling two, or perhaps all three of those things were occurring in her life simultaneously, she would find herself in a bout of depression.

I did not hear another thing she said. I instantly played back my own tapes. Was that true? Were those things missing in my life during times of depression? I have to say that her explanation was undeniably true for me. To this day, I can instantly recognize or more purposefully avoid small bouts of depression. When I feel the slide- I instantly schedule a vacation or something else to look forward to- which takes my mind off of me. Not thinking about me is another miracle.  

I should also mention here that there are 100 shades of depression. Mine does not tend to be debilitating nor do I compare my episodes of depression to other, more serious cases. So I consider myself lucky. Others may be worse off.

Gratitude was another miracle. I had never been grateful for anything in my life. I practiced an "entitled" mentality. This mentality is so common in our culture that I often hear healthy, good looking, educated and wealthy people- whining about their lives like they are victims. When I hear or see this- I stay humble by remembering that I was once exactly the same way or worse. This is always a reminder to me- of how it was. Gratitude is a miracle for me. Whenever I feel any self pity- I call on my my new found sense of gratitude to extinguish it.

I did a lot of reading in 2007-2008.

I had a friend refer Tolle's, "A New Earth" to me. If the "Four Agreements" changed my life- "A New Earth" became grad school. Not only was I able to identify my false sense of self or ego- but I actually harnessed and diminished my ego somewhat. Trust me when I say- my giant ego needed a lot of diminishing. That was another miracle. 

Somewhere near the 6 month mark, I began to compile a list of instructions that I carried out each day. There were 12 things on my particular list. I would meditate for 5 minutes and then go over my list. I did this every day- by doing this not only was I emotionally prepared for whatever came my way on any given day- but I could respond in such a way that I did not feel shame, or guilt, or anger. To this day, when someone fires a torpedo at me- I very often simply watch it cruise by. I do not launch counter offensives or even defend myself because confrontations always end the same way. With anger, shame, and guilt. I don't choose to live my life feeling anger, guilt, and shame.

I compare it to arguing with atheists. The outcome is determined long before the arguing begins.

So what I'm going to do is give you the list that I used and went over everyday (after I meditated for 5 minutes) for about a year.

1. I will not drink no matter what.
2. I will not take anything personally- nor will I intervene or offer opinions to other people. People are free to live and act as they choose. What they do is none of my business.
3. I will not act on my first impulse. It is almost always wrong.
4. I will keep my expectations of others at a minimum. People fail. That's what they do.
5. I've made mistakes. I will no longer beat myself up or feel guilty because of them.
6. I will practice unconditional acceptance. I'm not going to fight un-winnable battles.
7. I am grateful for the things I have- I refuse to feel pity for the things I don't have.
8. If I cannot accept people, I am free to remove them from my life without feeling guilty.
9. People make time for the things that are important to them. Never forget this.
10. Quit judging people including yourself. Good or bad. You don't know anything about anybody anyway.
11. My ego and fear (false self) are my biggest problems. Do you want to be happy or right?
12. You are responsible for all of the problems or happiness in your life. You are never a victim.

Each day I went over this list, sometimes I added things. I made an emotional commitment to change my life. I was committed and dedicated to resolving my issues. Yours may be different.

It took a long time, about two years, to fully assimilate this list into my life. I had setbacks and made mistakes. Every once in awhile I would lose my temper. So the system wasn't foolproof but I will say this- my life improved dramatically. The proof that this is working is in the marked change in the way others see you and respond to you. I think people are genuinely happy to see me now. That certainly wasn't the case in 2007.

Often but not always, I actually think and care about other people. That is a miracle. 

Will I ever quit judging people? Of course not- however I am completely aware that this is an insane and destructive behavior. Fortunately, I have considerably diminished my propensity to judge others.

I had three really weird things happen to me. I realized I could no longer engage in my former profession of judging others as I was gaining tremendous tolerance and understanding. There would be no going back- I couldn't be happy doing that any longer. I was beginning to find a power greater than myself and my fear of death was diminishing.

I was also becoming spiritually calm. Some people call it being comfortable in your own skin.

I have one other piece to write. I am hoping to have that up next week.









Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Jumping Off Point- How I Repaired My Life, Part 3

Today, I thought I'd start with a couple of explanations that I think should be inserted somewhere.

I don't promote this blog. The reason is- is that it is intensely personal. I don't link it anywhere and very rarely do I tell anyone about it.

If you are here, chances are you arrived here in some roundabout way.

Secondly, there is no value in telling half truths. Half truths are half lies. In my examination of my life, I came to believe that every one of us is taught to omit the truth and to resist self disclosure. I observed this behavior in virtually every one that I have ever gotten to know. People simply cannot disclose things that are embarrassing to them, things that may open them to ridicule, or things that might cause others to judge them in a negative light. I understand all of that.

The problem of course- is that nobody learns anything from that. When somebody tells me a half truth, I learn nothing other than the speaker is one of millions of people who are essentially dishonest. That's what we call it- isn't it? When people fail to tell the whole truth- we say that is dishonest. Why then is our entire culture geared to that level of dishonesty? Clearly it is culturally acceptable- in fact it is expected.

I am going to try and be as honest as possible. I cannot possibly cover every detail; however I will talk about things that are relevant or pertinent to this discussion.

People fail. It is a fear of being judged and diminished which keeps people from telling the truth. That fear is so overwhelming and pervasive that it penetrates our culture at every level. You will find many blogs of mine on this very site- that talk about fear. Fear is the single greatest motivator on the planet. Fear moves us. Fear has killed millions upon millions of people in every culture. We abort children because we fear the ramifications of their birth. And we say that is acceptable. Fear is the root of all evil. I am absolutely convinced of it. That is the insanity of the planet. 

So I have to overcome that fear to tell you it's alright to be human. It's ok to fail. It's ok to not feel like you fit in. You don't have to fit in. 

To say anything of value- I must tell the truth. A complete truth. That is as honest as I can be. The only thing I am qualified to tell the truth about is my life and observations. Everything else is simply an opinion and a potential half truth or lie.We have all heard lies- so it is the truth that is becoming rare.

The Growth Years 22-46

I became a full time police officer in in January of 1983. I was a jailer. One of the guys I worked with was a huge drinker and we became good friends. I think in a way, and I am certainly not claiming victim status here, he recruited me. We drank a lot together. He died, smoking and drinking, at the ripe old age of 44 with throat cancer. His life and death- had a dramatic impact on me. I have always thought his life was an undiagnosed case of bipolar disorder which he interrupted with nightly bouts of blackout drinking.

It never dawned on me back then that people drink to change the way they feel. When people don't feel good about themselves, when they are flooded with shame or guilt, when they believe they don't fit in- and can't stop the judging voices in their heads- they alter their conscious state. They pull the plug on their brain. I did that too. At 22- I had a good start on a serious drinking problem. I am not prepared to say that I was a full blown alcoholic at 21 or 22, but I was well on my way.

Law enforcement is a noble profession. I owe a great deal to law enforcement. It forced me to plot a straight and narrow course for my life. I didn't always obey the law- particularly when it came to rural speed limits or a few other traffic related sins- but for the most part I tried to be as honest and law abiding as I could be. A good cop. After a year or so I landed a job in patrol.

In terms of addictive habits- habits which change the way you feel- I had at least three of them. I used tobacco products regularly and heavily,  I drank light to moderately most of the time and generally every day, and I also gambled on the weekends.

I saw absolutely nothing wrong with any of that. I remember thinking, "this is who I am." This is what I do. I never had any kind of intervening force come into my life and say these things are indicators of a larger, underlying issue. 

I want to talk a little bit about self promotion here. I have seen some fantastic self promoters in my lifetime. Some of these are people that would have you believe that they somehow can walk on water. They never miss a chance to overtly or subtly promote themselves. It is part of their life plan to rise to the top and usually, make more money. There are other people who are simply good people. They don't overtly self promote- because they are pretty squared away to begin with. I think that many people fall in between these two types- somewhere. Unfortunately, I tended to be more of a self promoter although I desperately wanted to just be a good person. The truth is and was- I was simply incapable of pulling that off. I didn't know how to be a good person. I simply lacked the spiritual tools.

Had I discovered them earlier- I would have moved mountains.

After 7 or 8 years, I was promoted by our new Chief to Sergeant. My ego, my false sense of self, began to blossom. My ego didn't primarily manifest itself into some superior sense of self but that was certainly part of my ego development. I became very critical and judgmental of other people. I began to resent people, many of them people who worked in other areas of the criminal justice system. I particularly disliked lawyers and the county sheriff. The circumstances for why I resented these folks are not particularly important- what is important is that I had no method of removing those resentments. Instead of diminishing in scope- my resentments grew larger. I began to accumulate several resentments. I was frustrated and angry at other people because I believed they were dishonest and that somehow I was morally superior.

Of course, that was not true. I practiced my own brand of dishonesty and I was not morally superior. However, my false sense of self or ego, adamantly believed that I was.

I did do a lot of good things. But I think emotionally, my problems just swamped and overwhelmed the good things in my life.

I was promoted to Captain a few years later. My resentments grew. I tried to bottle them up but they spilled out in casual conversation. My marriage suffered, my drinking got worse, and so did my depression. I had no spiritual solution for any of that. I was completely self absorbed but I bottled up most of it. In 2000, they promoted me to Chief.

The first couple of years were tolerable. A couple of years in- the city got a new Mayor. I saw her as one of the most nasty, critical, self absorbed people I had ever met. Of course my feelings for her found their way back to her and she in turn retaliated which kicked off a 5 year war. She tried everything she could do to get rid of me.

It's not important who was right or wrong. I figured that out years later. That Mayor was like an ignition switch. I am actually grateful for her now. My issue, once again, was that I had the same problem with the Mayor that I had had with all of the other resentments I had accumulated over the years. I simply did not know how I kept getting them or how to emotionally dispose of them. I simply lacked the skills. In fact, I did not know that such skills were available.

So those five years were terrible. I was a spiritual wreck. I was depressed constantly, I could not sleep, I drank heavily, and my health deteriorated. My marriage was on the rocks with several separations and an affair. I was racked with guilt and despair. I was hyper vigilant, extremely critical, combative, angry, and distrusting. By the time 2007 rolled around, I was in the midst of a complete physical and mental meltdown. I weighed 300 pounds. My doctor lectured me on my drinking. When my divorce was made final in May that year- I had had enough. I quit.

In July, I hopped on my motorcycle and toured the entire U.S. It was the trip of a lifetime. When I got home two months later, my last remaining friend and I had a falling out and my girlfriend had left for parts unknown and was with someone else. I think if I had owned a dog, he would have left me for the dog catcher.

That level of depression and spiritual sickness is what some of us refer to as the jumping off point. For two weeks I didn't eat, I didn't shower, I didn't go outside. All I did was drink and wallow in self pity, anger, and blame everyone but me. One beautiful fall evening, I sat in a park like setting and for the first and only time in my life- I contemplated killing myself. I also contemplated killing a few of my "perceived enemies." That night, I eventually drank myself to sleep. It was Oct 8. Oddly enough, I had no idea that Oct 8, 2007, would be the last day that I ever drank. I still don't know that it will be.

The next morning I hopped in my convertible, head throbbing, and headed for Las Vegas. At the last second, I changed my mind and headed for my girlfriend's place in Santa Barbara where I confronted her. I decided that evening, after speaking with her, that my drinking days were over.

I had no idea what was about to happen to me. Let's just say, I believe in miracles. I've got two more parts to write. I should have the next one up by Apr. 6.   



















  

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I'm Back

I can't believe I've been gone 7 months. Wow.

I had every intention of finishing this series about what happened to me...last fall. I was just getting to the good part and then...ugh.

I missed a couple of emails and I apologize for not returning them promptly. I cannot believe time travels so quickly- it's like someone threw a fast forward switch.

So I am going to start writing here again.

In a world full of wars, infighting, mansion sized egos, religious zealots and atheists, political animosity, class warfare, inflation, and outright thievery...we have to make time for some spiritual sanity.

Sometimes I focus on the wrong things. Sometimes I get back on track. Please stay tuned.