Sorry about the silence…

silence2

Greetings! Thanks for visiting.

I know that the books and blogs on blogging tell you to post with regularity. It’s part of building your online image. However, I recently stumbled across a rather novel definition of lying: “Talking as if you know something about which you really know nothing.” or something like that.

In that spirit, I’ve been slow to continue where I left off with my last post. I know I owe the readers here a discussion on spiritual warfare. When I started writing it, though, I realized that I’m missing a middle term. Like any good boy from the college I went to, when you’re lacking a middle term, you either figure it out or you have to admit a conclusion that you don’t want to.

So, in that light, I’ve decided to practice some warfare of my own in the effort of figuring something out. Please be patient. I’m still fully involved in the Dynamic. My life is amazing and my family wonderful. Or should I say, “My family is amazing and my life is wonderful.” You get the point.

Pray that I’ll figure this part out, or at least how to explain what I’m missing, and I’ll post as soon as I can. Pray for me and my lovely, glorious, amazing, and wonderful family.

Please take this time of my silence a an opportunity to visit my older posts and ask questions or share your experiences.

Peace!

solitude

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Stories of Hope

Since I shared about how bad things were, I thought it would be good to share about how good things are today. Know that things are not perfect: I’ve come to accept the fact that it’s good to enjoy the process — that although I have a definite end in mind, walking the path and enjoying the moment is a good thing, even amidst difficulties.

First off, it’s important to know that a fundamental part of the Dialectic is relationships, as I’ve said before. The most important relationship (after my relationship with the One, of course) is that with my lovely and glorious wife. She’s been my constant support and companion, quietly and constantly supporting and encouraging me.

I shared how not too many years ago, she was calling 911 for the deputies to come and take me away. Today, thanks be to God, that doesn’t happen, and it’s a very remote, if not nonexistent, possibility. Today we have disagreements, but we face them head on, do not resort to manipulative tactics or passive aggressive coping mechanisms, and clearly state what we need from each other.

From my perspective, I’ve seen my wife develop from a woman who was frequently afraid of me to a helpmate and companion who shares her heart with me and I with her. She’s grown in many ways, the foundational married relationship grows stronger, her emotional needs are being met by me, and it seems to me that she’s becoming much more of her own person.

On one occasion, I was giving a presentation for the National Alliance for Mental Illlness (NAMI) when someone asked me what my wife thought about my recovery. She happened to be in the back of the room at that presentation, so I said, “Ask her.” She willingly and energetically said, “He’s back to the man I married.” That’s high praise, I think, and I can say the same about her. During my dark days, it looked to me like she was frequently acting out of fear. I don’t see that in her today. She’s become much more self-confident, self-assure, and she’s regained her own poetic insight into life that attracted me way back in October of 1989 when we met.

My kids, too, are growing in a lot of ways. I rarely see fights among them. Certainly, they have their disputes, but they don’t fight and the level of rancor in the home is pretty minimal.

One particular story I’ll share was an interaction between me and my 18 year old son. We were both rather busy, at our computers in the same room in the house, and he asked me a question. Instead of asking him to wait until I was done, I gave him a half-hearted response. He asked for a clarification, I made some kind of observation of whatever, and we both began staccato sentences. About the same time we both turned to each other and almost in unison said, “This conversation is not working. It’s not worth it to get upset right now. Let’s talk when we’re both free.” Not the exact words, but I hope you get the point. Just a couple years before, had the same thing occurred, we’d have been yelling at each other. That’s progress.

Another time when we were all at table and a friend of mine was over for dinner, my youngest daughter spilled water on the table and it splashed on her older brother sitting next to her. A few years back, had that happened, the table would have erupted in shame and blame and a considerable amount of yelling.

In this instance, however, when the water spilled, two or three kids got up from the table and got some towels. The young man who got soaked stood up in surprise without any yelling, name-calling, or acrimony, and began to organize things on the table to localize the spill. In a matter of a few minutes the mess was cleaned up, the room was restored, and dinner continued.

After order had resumed, my friend said, “Wow.” I asked, “What does that mean?” And he said, “Let’s just say that the response from my kids had their youngest sister done that would not have been so charitable.”

I could recount a lot of interesting and healthy interactions that I have with my family and others on a daily basis, however I think the accounts given above indicate that there is a possibility for healing and for the restoration of the relationships that are in the home.

As always, thanks for reading today. My next post will be on my other blog in a couple days about Spiritual Warfare, then back here for part two of Negativity. Peace and blessings in your life and in your Work!

What is Negativity?

negative-thoughts
My depiction of a person’s progress from negativity overwhelming and controlling one’s life through the transition phase where the person is waking up, to the experience of becoming a positive being where all of one’s perceptions are precise and become almost kaleidoscopic.

This is part one of what is likely the most important post so far. Of course, you’ll likely hear me say that later, so please be ready for that.

 

Our reader, Alise, asked me what life was like before I figured things out, woke up, and actually got out of bed. I’ll share a little bit about that here. Allow me, first off, to share with you that my whole endeavor is to help make the One’s mercy intelligible to you: The source as well as end of my waking up is the One — and I pray that I will always confess this reality.

My nature is to be fairly optimistic and energetic. I’m also an extrovert. During my dark days, life was especially difficult for me (and pretty much everyone around me) because I was pessimistic, lacked energy, and didn’t like talking to people. I was diagnosed as bipolar with psychotic features (2002) after my initial diagnosis of major anxiety and acute depression (1998).

I’m not confident about how much self revelation would be meaningful. I could tell stories or recount details, but I think that would be better conveyed within the context of things I want to illustrate during the course of future discussions. Suffice it to say, as a response to the people who have wondered about how bad things were, the following bullet points summarizing about twelve years of my life, punctuated by brief periods of lucidity:

  • I went for days and weeks without having a kind or generous thought: Everyone or everything around me was to blame for pretty much everything happening to me;
  • I was paranoid and suspicious of everyone’s intentions;
  • I reacted to external stimuli in anger, all the time, pretty much no matter what;
  • My longsuffering, beautiful, and glorious wife called 911 several times because of my violence and anger;
  • I was taken in handcuffs to the hospital for “evaluation” each time that the sheriff deputies came to my home;
  • I destroyed and later replaced many of the walls in my home;
  • I destroyed numerous pieces of furniture, some of them pretty nice;
  • Discipline towards my kids was, for the most part, punitive;
  • I had the presumption, a few times, to discipline or punish my wife;
  • At one time, we had some good-willed women from our church encouraging my wife to divorce me (saying things like, “Men like him don’t change. You need to protect yourself and your kids.”);
  • I went through two mandatory “domestic violence” classes offered by the County (I could say a lot about the circumstances precipitating these classes, but suffice it to say that I went to them because I was required to and I wasn’t graduated until after the second six-month cycle.); and
  • I always felt that I was the victim in each of the situations in which I demonstrated anger and was convinced that breaking things or yelling at people was the best thing that I could do in those situations. For years, I was never responsible for my actions.

I share these as bullet points to show the kind of power that negativity exerted in my life. It’s no small thing to say that, while today I recognize my own responsibility in all of these things, at the time I felt completely powerless and out of control. The important thing here is to see that I was really unhappy, my family was unhappy, and that I’m not that way any longer — Thanks be to God!

This is important to understand as well: I do not look back on these events with mournful regret. I’m sorry for my sins, yes. But, more importantly, I’m glad I am able to put my mistakes in context and I’m glad that I went through them. I do not stand with Lot’s wife who, when being led out of her city, looked back with regret.

What is Negativity in Mind and Heart?

Negativity here means those impressions, whether mental or emotional, that do not accord with the reality around us. Think here about St. Thomas’s definition of “truth” as the mind’s conformity to reality.

Another way of looking at it: Negative constructs of the mind or heart are those mental and emotional experiences that prevent me from interacting with reality in a healthy way. There are true emotions, it seems, and I would submit that a negative emotion is an inauthentic reflection of our experience at the present moment. A negative feeling is the inability to respond accurately to the now.

If I’m right, then, a negative emotion would be an emotion that did not promote a healthy experience of reality. Or, try this: A negative emotion is an experience of the heart that pushes me away from relationships, producing sickness, sadness, death, destruction, or the sword.

While there may be true emotions or false emotions, considerations of truth and falsehood are, especially at the early stages of this process, distractions. Recall, gentle reader, that I’m Catholic, and I fully condemn the doctrines of relativism. However, we’re dealing with practical matters here  and manifestations of an illness of the soul. My experience is that it is more helpful to reflect on our thoughts and emotions as being either healthy or unhealthy, effective or ineffective — rather than good or bad, true or false.

The First Person in our Illustration

Let’s turn, now, to the illustration at the top of this page. In the first image, we see a person with shapes in the head and in the chest. The two portions, head and chest, represent mind and heart. Essential to my theory is the notion that there are in reality, two kinds of knowledge that we must deal with: Knowledge of the head and knowledge of the heart.

Let’s lay down the following notions. We can argue to them later if sufficient comments ask for that, but for now, it seems to me that my ideas are not inconsistent.

  1. It seems that the human person is capable of “knowing” things from external stimuli;
  2. I call sensibles those things that we perceive on whatever level;
  3. Sensibles that are perceived and processed in the mind are intellectual;
  4. Sensibles that are perceived and processed by the heart are feelings;
  5. When I use the word “feelings” here, I do not mean the sensations that are merely physical such as heat and cold;
  6. “Color” and “shape” are used by me figuratively. A triangle may have three sides, but it’s known more in contradistinction to the square or circle by not being a quadrilateral or round;
  7. We’re generally not taught from our youth to distinguish the source or cause of our feelings, but we have plenty of lessons about objects;
  8. An “impression” can be a thought or feeling, depending upon whether it resolves in the mind or the heart;
  9. Perfect natural knowledge happens when there is rectitude of the mind and of the heart and results in peace;
  10. Fasting is essential to discovering right thinking and right feeling;
  11. The highest form of knowledge is unction, or what Saint Thomas called unctio. It is the least discussed and it comes about as the result of a life lived well and cannot be sought for its own sake. Unction is the source of that knowledge that allows martyrs to stand before tyrants and grant them clemency. While unction is a divine gift and I will not deny the capriciousness of the One, I believe that unction can only come about in one who is fasting and unction is always accompanied by a profound sense of peace;
  12. Poetry, while being intellectually vague, can (at times) convey truth to the heart more effectively than discourse or:

    Words may seem to tie us down
    When not displayed as verse.
    Impressions that once did make me frown
    In poesy slay the hearse.

  13. The Evil One inverts all kinds of knowledge in order to confuse us.

When negativity dominates, we perceive reality in smudges and indistinctly. Impressions of reality come to us filtered through negative paradigms in the mind or filtered by our emotions of the heart. Forgive me here, as I am intentionally choosing not to define my words too carefully. I’d ask my Thomist friends to view this as a dialectical argument, not as a propter quid.

negative-two-close
Close up of the image, above.

So the first person in the progression illustrated on this page is correctly sensing something. But the impressions are not understood or interpreted correctly. For whatever reason (We’ll call it the filter of negativity) our persona sees not only shapes, but colors unclearly. The shapes and colors represent different kinds of sensibles.

Mental sensibles include abstractions from things we perceive with our eyes, ears, taste, touch, etc. (Abstractions happen in the mind — direct sensing happens in the body. Few of us actually “feel” a sensation when we see something, while few of us have a clear notion of varying degrees of heat when we feel cold.) Mental sensibles include images of the mind that are conveyed with words by other people. Anything that is perceived by the senses and acted upon by the mind producing thoughts is, for my purposes, a mental sensible.

Emotional sensibles are things we perceive with another kind of knowing, what I call a knowledge of the heart. We’ve all experienced these in a variety of ways. I’m convinced that sometimes they are appropriate and other times not. But suffice it to say that when we’re perceiving reality by a negative filter on the heart, everything is terrible. Depression and the demon of acedia strikes here. We feel bad all the time.

Just like in the mental distortions, there are real things that are perceived. So, too, in the emotional distortions, those real things are being filtered so that their “color” and “shape” are not accurate, i.e. do not conform to reality. Hence, in the first picture, the shapes are not equilateral and the colors are dull. Moreover, the shapes do not have an order with respect to each other.

In the second image, however, the shapes appear brighter and they have become ordered around a central location within the heart and mind. Note the process is not finished and many people stop here because it is comfortable to do so.

We’ll have to end here. I hope you see how destructive the filter of negativity really is. I also wanted to broaden your understanding of what negativity means. Until next time, then, please grant me the gift of thoughtful comments. Peace and blessings to you all!

 

Grace Builds on Nature

grace and nature

Fundamental to our thesis is the notion that the One (God, the Creator, whatever you want to name Being-as-such) has placed in nature all the good things that we need in order to be happy, healthy, and live a noble life. The problem we encounter is how to live in alignment with the nature that the One has given us.

Our experience, moreover, is that it’s hard to live a life that is truly faithful to the best instincts we have. Here’s where we need grace: the help of the One. No matter your religious or spiritual background, I think this word is appropriate and for our purposes it simply means any help that the One gives us. Grace is fundamental to the thesis of the Dynamic.

Many Christians will tell you that there’s a specific formula for asking for God’s help. While I don’t deny that some formulae are better than others in this regard, it’s important from the outset to say that my experience shows only two things necessary for asking the One’s help. I’ve seen it transform lives and know it works: Internal receptivity to Grace and asking for it.

Put another way, two acts of the human will can open the floodgates of Grace from the One: An internal disposition to receive the One’s help and engaging the will to request it. Since the Dynamic is experiential, I invite you to try this along with me. Join me whether you are at home, in the car, at the bus station, sitting in class waiting for your teacher, in the place where you are reading this now, all you need is to say:

“Oh, Divine Essence, I am receptive to your grace. Help me in my life and manifest your will to me.”

“Oh One, Being-as-Such, give me your Grace.”

If you’ve been raised in the Christian tradition, try this:

“Most Holy and Blessed Trinity, I am receptive to your Grace. Grant that I may know you better and do your Will.”

Make up your own words. The essential thing is that when we show ourselves open to the One’s grace. We will receive it. It’s good to ask for the One’s help frequently during the day. In the end, you will find a continual disposition of receptivity to Grace is the most effective way of implementing the help that the One gives you.

Purpose in Nature

A proper understanding of nature is important in the Dynamic. Christians can visit St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans to see how the One has placed purpose in nature that is intelligible to man’s eye. It’s important to recognize that, whatever your religious tradition, the fact that there is purpose in nature is paramount. When we recognize that there is purpose in nature, we can respond appropriately to nature, i.e. we can treat things according to their own proper sense of what they are, not just what we can do with them.

If you’re not a Christian, I invite you to appeal to the spiritual doctrine found in many cultures who were able to maintain contact with nature without worshiping it. The Native Americans had a deep sense of their being united to nature and fulfilling a proper role within nature that is very close to authentic Christian stewardship. I contend that Native Americans had a very good natural religion, not pantheism. My sense is that those who call Native American spirituality pantheistic have missed the boat. They come from a perspective of Modernity where there are no natural “hidden” causes within things discernible to the human mind.

Aristotle, too, was not a pantheist. I’ve seen Evangelical Christian writers who condemn Aristotle for “worshiping” nature. See the A Beka curriculum published by Pensacola Christian College for an amazing diatribe against the “noble pagans” who found meaning in nature without worshiping nature. But I digress…

If we are able to separate ourselves from the Modern propensity to want to control nature and, instead, see that within the natures of things themselves proper ends do exist, we can find a place within nature to fulfill our own role that honors other things and does not seek to merely use them.

I loved James Cameron’s movie Avatar (2009). (Not the anime Airbender, but the science fiction movie.) In this movie, an indigenous people on an alien world struggles against Modernity as people from Earth try to rape their planet. When the main character, Jake, a man from Earth has his consciousness placed into a fabricated facsimile of a native (the Na’vi) of the planet, he is castigated by one of the local Na’vi after Jake kills an animal.

In this movie, the local doesn’t condemn the killing as such, but rather the manner in which the animal is killed and the attitude of Jake. In my understanding, Jake acts as the dominating conqueror who uses his power for the sake of subjugation. He is coming from the Earth mindset as one who is not a steward of nature, but a thug.

The female of the humanoid Na’vi, Neytiri, explains to Jake that the animal he killed had no need to die. It was Jake’s own stupidity and selfishness that caused him to disturb the animal’s habitat. In a later scene, when it is considered by the Na’vi necessary to kill an animal for food (to my recollection), Neytiri spends some time with the beast thanking it for providing them with food and placing the context of her actions within the full experience of what she sees as her “place” in the world.

We’ll talk about Modernity again in the context of the Dialetic, but I’d like to invite you to consider that we’ve neglected or lost a decent sense of Nature as a good in and of itself. We forgotten our place within the world as stewards, guardians, servant leaders. The notion of dominion over nature has been perverted to mean power over things. If my sense about mental illness is right, those of us having psychotic episodes are reacting to the terrible evils that have been brought about by denying purpose in nature.

So, then, if Grace builds on Nature, we have an obligation to perfect our natures within Nature. My contention is that insofar as we fail to become a part of the natural order, we frustrate the flow of Grace. If this is true, then, insofar as we have a humble submission to the notion of nature and our place within the Cosmic Dance, we will be able to revel in the splendor of the generosity and mercy of the One, who holds us in being by a dynamic act of love, within Nature.

This is why the graphic on our prior post has a quote from St. Irenaeus: “The glory of God is man fully alive.” We are missing out on the fullness of life. Our endeavor is to discover that. Please ask the Grace of the One on this writer and on all of those who struggle to make sense of their own sufferings. Peace and blessings in your Work!

The Dynamic: Part One

dynamic

As we discussed in our last post, there’s a dialectic of the heart and it’s not important for us to figure out what happens first. I hope my Aristotelian and Thomist friends will forgive me, but I’m knowing by a kind of unctio here and it’s important to let the river flow.

In the wheel at the top of the image in this post, three phrases have primacy, although mental discipline is paramount and unites the three. Mental discipline consists primarily in not allowing any negative thoughts.

I’m convinced that negative thoughts happen, to some degree, because we have broken relationships. Hence, the next necessary component to emotional wholeness is having healthy relationships. In an ideal scenario, these relationships would happen within our homes and families. But, in reality, we can make our own temporary families as we move into healing. Once we’ve healed, our job will be to embrace our fractured families and see if they want to be pulled out of the mud.

The third, equally important, component to the Dynamic is spiritual warfare. If I’m right about all of this, it’s important to recall that the Evil One exists and that he’s trying to get one over on you. So, recall what Saint James said:

Submit yourselves, therefore, to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
James 4:7

He’s pretty clear: Submit to God, resist the devil. Wow! It sounds so easy that I missed it for many, many years. Submit to God, resist the devil. It works!

Before explaining the five items below the radiant wheel, I want to emphasize how important mental discipline is: Believe in the promises of Scripture. We’re in warfare and the King has given us specific instructions. He’s counting on you to do your part. I had a vision once where the end of the world was put off for 1,000 years because one saint woke up from his slumber and changed the world. You could be that saint!

After casting out the demons, exercise supreme mental discipline. Never allow yourself to think ill of anyone. That doesn’t mean that you don’t make accurate judgments. Is it wrong to kill? Of course! But that’s not a negative thought. The negative thought comes in when you say, “That killer ought to go to Hell.” Our dear sweet and blessed Savior is very clear when He tells us not to judge. Again, we should avoid evil, but not condemn anyone. This is essential.

I beg of you, gentle reader, to enter a place of peace and surrender. Trust in our Dear Lord and His Blessed Mother. It’s no accident that I waited until the Feast of the Sacred Heart to post this. I owe everything I have to Jesus, and with Him, I am co-owner of the Universe.

Pray for me as I stumble along my path in the Work. More will be revealed to us if we journey together. Comments are important! I want to learn from you, too! Peace and blessings.

First steps to getting off the meds

Over the 15 or so years that I was on the meds, I was pretty faithful to taking them on a daily basis. I was religious about getting refills and actually looked forward to visiting my pharmacist two or three times a month. I made friends with the staff, joking around and talking about drugs and life. I wasn’t that guy who didn’t take his meds. Let’s be clear about this.

But even though I was able to make friends with the pharmacy staff, I always felt a kind of shame that I was there. I never shared this with any of my therapists, but had I, it seems to me that they would have tried to assuage my feelings of being less than human.

Did I say “less than human”?

The entire time that I was on the meds, I really didn’t feel like I’d been liberated by them. But that was the point, right? That I’d take these meds and they would make me feel “normal” — whatever that means?

So I dutifully took my meds, all the while feeling bad about them; my support network of family, friends, health professionals, and even priests telling me that I had a chemical imbalance. And all the while, I knew that it was a bad idea.

But the meds did help somewhat. They did help me deal with my feelings a bit so that I could deal with reality somewhat, but I wasn’t fully alive. And, insofar as I wasn’t fully alive, I wasn’t human. Here is an important topic of investigation in its own right, but not for this post: namely, my thought that folks who are taking meds tend to feel less than human.

Relationships

While I was on the meds, I did engage in some pretty good and very dynamic therapy. I did a lot of CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and other things, and I tried to stay faithful to my prayer life. As time progressed, I repaired relationships with my family and made healthier friendships. And I prayed more.

The main thing that was going on was building healthy relationships: With God and with others. Over the course of time, I was dealing with other people better and making deeper connections with them. It’s interesting to note that it wasn’t my immediate family who first benefited from my dedication to relationships, but those I met in groups and outside the home.

I think that if someone had guided me along, I may have made much better progress. But the reality is that I was (am?) a pretty proud and stubborn fellow, so I’m not sure that would have worked for me. I think I hadn’t suffered enough to learn how to make things work. I’m one of those guys that needs to figure things out on my own.

So if you’re thinking of going off your meds. Take the long view: It’s possible, but have a good plan. First, work on your relationship with God, and then work on your relationships with others. Repair the emotional damage you’ve done in the home, and work on keeping only those friends who are healthy.

As a practical consideration, make your life positive. We’ll talk more about that in the next post. Peace and blessings on your journey!

 

 

 

 

Why am I a Canary in a Coal Mine?

artist-canary-in-coal-mine

The title of this blog allows me to self-identify with a movie that proposes those diagnosed with a mental illness are not really medically ill at all. The thesis of the movie is that our struggles with life are not unusual nor are they abnormal. In fact, when pressed further, it’s those folks that do not feel sick at the modern project who may be ill.

The movie condenses the experiences of several people who had a diagnosis of a mental illness but didn’t respond to the “medications” they were prescribed. After months or years of struggling to conform to the “ideal” of what “normal” people look like, the people featured in the movie realized that they were going through a spiritual crisis, gave up their meds, and wrapped themselves in a loving community where they found healing by being themselves.

I’m not a relativist. I don’t buy into some of the things the movie seems to propose, but the underlying thesis needs to be examined closely.

What is the Coalmine?

I interpret the Coalmine as modern society. The relative number of “mad” or “insane” or “mentally ill” people in the world has steadily increased for a few centuries. The coal mine is a type of modern society that has abstracted itself from nature and promoted an industrialized, technological model for society that is truly sick. More about that elsewhere.

Why am I a Canary?

As of this post, I can’t answer that question definitively. The best that I can offer is that it’s somehow part of God’s plan that some folks just don’t “fit in” and I’m one of them. Since I was small, I’ve seen the world differently than most. I see things in terms of human and divine relationships. I’ve always had a deep spirituality (along with my deep religion) and when I try to “conform” to what I identify as the modern project, I show signs of being clinical.

Why is this Movie Hopeful?

This movie is the first project that I’ve seen that shows other people with a diagnosed mental illness are not sick. While I don’t agree with some of the choices made by participants in the movie, I find hope in the movie’s articulation of the radical notion that those who are identified by their families and the medical community as “sick” or “ill” or whatever are, in fact, in a spiritual crisis.

I’m going to this movie again tonight and on Wednesday so that I can participate in the discussion and see what other people have experienced. I’m also beginning research on the “Hearing Voices Movement”, an international support system for those who have experienced what medical professionals call visual and auditory hallucinations. I’ll be posting updates here in the future.

Share your comments and your stories by commenting, below. Peace and blessings to you!