God’s Love

May 2, 2016

I was lying in bed last night, and I started to think about the concept of God loving me. Right? It’s one thing to love God, but a whole order of magnitude larger to begin to accept that God loves me. To realize that all my spiritual practice, all my struggle and prayer and meditation and reading and contemplating is really just a way to realize that God loves me. Already. Completely. As I am. It’s that simple.

I’ve had people telling me this in different ways for years. It is actually an important part of the Buddhist tradition, although many Buddhists don’t talk about God, as such. There are Tibetan stories of sages meditating in caves for years, seeking enlightenment, only to realize that enlightenment has been seeking them. I was on a retreat with the spiritual teacher Adyashanti, and one of his students reported the experience of having the Universe bend back around and ask her: “…and who are YOU?” One of my own clients reported a similar experience. He said, “I spent so much of my life seeking God, but the amount of effort I put in was nothing compared to what I received from God.”

In a certain sense I think that Christians may have it a bit easier than Buddhists, in that many Christians seem to know intuitively that God loves them. It has been a much harder road for me. I remember the shock I had several years ago when I realized that the Universe is cognizant. It was like my reality turned inside out. Here I had thought I was this little ball of life in a vast sea of non-life, only to realize that I am just a tiny part of an infinite sea of Life.

When I practice, and pray, and take care of myself, love begins to shine through me. It shines through to my clients, to my family, to people on the street. There are times in my life when I just radiate love. I know this is Divine love. I don’t own it, I am just lucky enough to be the conduit through which it expresses itself.

But here’s the reversal I am trying to perceive, and it comes back to me lying in bed last night. I am starting to feel that all the good things that come to me are blessings. I am very accustomed to think that I am responsible for many of the good things in my life. You know: I’ve worked hard, I got myself into school, I have focused as much as possible on my spiritual practice. Effort leads to results.

I’m not sure that’s true, or at least not in a strictly linear sense. I’m beginning to think it’s more like the blessings are there all the time, pouring down upon me, and all the effort I make is just to open my eyes a tiny bit and see.

But it’s more than that. Somehow all the effort I am making is really God’s effort to reach me. God is moving towards me, not the other way around. He is calling me and has been my whole life. Every “positive” action I have performed has been an answer to that call, and every “negative” action a turning away. Not only does God already love me, I already know it, in that I can feel the effects of this turning towards/turning away. In fact, on some level I have lived my life according to that knowledge.

If only I weren’t so forgetful.

Comments?

 

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God’s Love

Meditation Issues

April 15, 2016

 

Not sure where I’m going today. Feeling a mix of things, patches of depression from the slip(s), and also periods of calm and wellbeing, especially since I asked my wife to put a block on the computer again. Perhaps the biggest source of agony around the slips is the thought that this will never stop, that I will never be free. Having the block on my computer helps me to feel safe at least for the time being: no matter how badly I want to, I will not be able to use.

Meditated for two hours yesterday. I’ve been working my way through a 200-hour Bodhisattva training. I started it last summer when I was on retreat, and it is a requirement for another retreat I’m hoping to do this summer. I partially love the practices, and partially hate them. I’m currently working on a practice designed to remove blockages from feeling the heart. It involves a visualization of the heart as a thousand-petaled lotus, as I breathe in, I’m supposed to visualize a petal beginning to open up, and as I exhale I’m supposed to visualize it relaxing open. There’s a bit more to it than this, but this is the body of the practice. I’m supposed to do it for an hour at a time. It drives me CRAZY. After about fifteen minutes I’m looking at my watch, stretching, checking out the scars on my arms and hands. I am usually a pretty patient meditator. I have done several month-long semi-silent retreats, and I generally like sitting meditation very much. But this practice just makes me so uncomfortable.

Partially, I just don’t like being told what to do. In ordinary sitting meditation the instruction is very simple, sit and watch what goes on in your mind and body, using the breath to anchor you if necessary.

In this meditation the instructions are explicit. I find myself getting angry. My heart doesn’t WANT to open, goddammit.

I’ve been trying to work with trust: trusting that the instructions are valid, trusting that this is designed to help me, I guess in a big sense trusting my teacher and the lineage I study in. Also trusting myself, that I can do it, that I will know to stop if it isn’t right.

It’s a tough balance. My instinct says STOP, and I’m hesitant to give that instinct up entirely (as I should be!). I need to care for and trust my own heart before I trust anyone or anything else. This is given some credence in light off how I felt after doing the meditation. I felt very spacey and uncertain. Usually I feel clear and grounded after I sit.

There’s something to this. I do have to trust that the meditation is a valid practice. I trust my teacher very deeply, both because of how he presents himself and the teachings, and also because of the quality of his students. I trust the lineage because it has never steered me wrong. Usually my heart is in perfect alignment with both what my teacher says and what the lineage has to say. That’s why he’s my teacher.

So my guess is that something else is going on. It may be that I’m doing the practice wrong. I know I can get a bit aggressive with stuff (especially myself), and perhaps I am putting too much will or force behind this meditation. There is a kind of feeling of cranking my heart open, which I’m pretty sure isn’t right. Although powerful, most Buddhist practices I am familiar with require a light touch. You can’t brutalize yourself into enlightenment.

Meditation Issues

COMPASSION

 Arbus 3

 

March 10, 2016

 

To be compassionate (or more accurately, to be compassion itself), is to identify with the field in which all experience arises.

 

Mesmerized by the myriad variety of appearance,
Mad with hope and fear,
Beings roam the endless wastes of samsara.
So that they may find relief
In the luminosity and boundless space of their own true nature,
I generate immeasurable loving-kindness and compassion,
Sympathetic joy and equanimity,
The very heart of bodhicitta.

 

When I left the house this morning I had a strong feeling of something being unfinished. I get this a lot. Partially, I think it’s the fact that I am an unfinished person, not really a “me” at all. A collection of parts. A collection of more-or-less consciously adopted identities. Therapist. Father. Husband. Man. When I leave the house I leave one set of identities and sometimes there’s a break, I’m walking down the sidewalk and I have not yet taken on another set. Sometimes I fill that space with an identity as well, “The Depressed Person,” for example, or “The Nice Guy” who always chats with the elderly gentleman smoking in front of his building.

But it is all so unsatisfying. Sometimes these identities may not fit very well. Sometimes I don’t feel “nice,” and to stop and chat is a chore. I don’t know how to be true to myself in that moment. I feel so distanced from myself. I feel so distanced from the heart of my life. That is the unfinished feeling.

You see I don’t mind that my life is composed of parts. That’s natural and normal. I can’t talk to my seventeen-month-old the same way I talk to my wife or one of my clients. But what’s at the heart of it? What’s at the heart of me?  Is it really only memory that ties the whole thing together?

If so, I think I’m okay with that. It doesn’t bother me much that I may not exist. It’s been going on my whole life, this ever-changing slideshow of identities, and the existential terror I might expect to feel hasn’t shown itself yet.

What does not feel okay is the lack of perspective.

I was looking at a book of photographs by Diane Arbus the other night. She was fascinated by the moment when “the mask slips,” when the face of what is really going on shows through the face a person presents to the world. She saw the hidden despair of people very clearly, and photographed it with  precision and compassion.

Arbus 1

Diane Arbus committed suicide, and I am not particularly surprised. As is true for all of us, the despair she saw in the world mirrored the despair she must have felt herself. In spite of her famous quote that “It’s impossible to get out of your skin into somebody else’s…. That somebody else’s tragedy is not the same as your own;” the larger picture is that some of us feel the world’s pain very acutely.

I actually wonder if it is that sense of separation that makes life so very painful. It is not inherently painful to flow from one identity to the next to the next, it is the jarring effect of feeling that one should be feeling something other than what one feels, or BEING something other than what one is, in the moment. This could be as small as “I should be happy right now,” and as big as “Wait, I was supposed to be a famous actor by now. What am I doing working at Denny’s?” or “How did I end up in this alley with a needle in my arm?” Or, for that matter, “How is it that I am a porn addict? I’m not supposed to be that.”

This disconnect creates resistance, and the resistance creates more disconnect. I have clients who have no idea who they are or what they want, in the big sense or in the moment, because they are so convinced that they “should” be something else. More manly, thinner, happier, better.

I think the way out of the disconnect has to do with compassion. That’s the bridge. While my tragedy is my tragedy, and my clients’ tragedies are their own, the pain we feel is all part of the world’s pain. My thwarted ambition only exists because the concept of ambition exists in the world, as well as the concept that ambition might not be fulfilled. A client’s struggle with gender identity is rooted in the confluence of human biology and public opinion, both of which exist in the world, and of which we all partake, whether we want to or not. Grief comes from loss, which is a part of life. Obviously loss may fall more heavily on one person more than another, but it is a part of all of our experience.

Junger Mann mit Lockenwicklern zu Hause in der West 20th Street, N.Y.C., 1966

The Buddha’s journey to enlightenment began when he first perceived the basic and profound sufferings of the world: sickness, old age and death. Although he was raised in a palace, he understood that there are no walls that can keep these sufferings out. They are a part of all of us, they flow through us, and they will take us all in the end.

Compassion means being willing to take up our share of the sufferings of the world. The nasty little secret, hidden in the wording of the Bodhisattva vow, is that our share of the world’s suffering is, in fact, the whole thing. This seems monumental, unbelievable and unbearable, but there is another secret as well: WE ARE ALREADY FEELING IT.

The Bodhisattva vow, or any commitment to compassion, is really just a symbol and a commitment to feel what we are already feeling. We already feel the pain of the homeless person, of the addict, of the abused child. We feel the pain of a bird with a broken wing, even of a fly caught in a spider’s web. This is why we walk past with our gaze averted. It is too painful to look.

Compassion involves being willing to look. But not just to look, also to invite. “Hello, I see that you are in pain. What’s that like for you?”

Even if there is nothing we can “do,” sometimes the most helpful thing we can offer is our presence. I have a client who is dying of multiple debilitating health issues, and there is absolutely nothing I can do to help him overcome his problems. He’s dying. He’s in pain. What can I do? But I meet with him every week, and we chat about his present and his past, and sometimes about movies and books and politics and culture. We share space, we share time. And, because I care deeply about this man, we also share his pain. That helps. I know it helps because he keeps coming back.

Arbus 2

I have often said that love is acceptance. When we love conventionally, we accept the parts we like and reject the parts that don’t suit us. When we love unconditionally, we accept unconditionally. Compassion is a form of love that strives to accept unconditionally. Acceptance is larger than pain. Acceptance is the field in which pain can express itself fully. To identify with acceptance, to be compassionate (or more accurately, to be compassion itself) is to identify with the field in which all experience arises. In this place, there is no difference between the pain you experience and the pain I experience. Together, we can hold them both.

 

All Photos © Diane Arbus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COMPASSION

TO SERVE AND PROTECT

mahakala
March 10, 2016

 

I am having trouble finding my voice. Am I an addict or an expert? Well, both. I am an expert on addiction, inasmuch as I have studied it in school, read about it extensively, and helped many addicts to stabilize and a few to quit for good. I am also an expert in that I know addiction inside and out from my own experience. But then there is this odd thing that I can’t say that I have overcome addiction: I know very well that there is no guarantee I will not use again. This knowledge helps to keep me safe, it helps me to be careful. But that is not enough. I am still stumbling through the dark.

It is very hard to come from a place of weakness which is also a place of wisdom and strength. I want to be able to write very frankly about the soft, frightened animal that lives in my heart. And not just the sweet and vulnerable parts. I also want to be able to write about the times when, out of fear, the animal attacks: teeth and claws and sometimes it’s me that gets hurt but sometimes it’s someone else. My wife, a stranger, my little boy.

In these moments I am a monster, but I think that’s the thing. We are all monsters sometimes. We hurt with violence, we hurt with neglect. We are passive-aggressive. All of us. If it doesn’t come out in our personal lives it comes out in how we vote, or how we do business. How we care about the environment or other people. We close off our hearts to others and that makes us monsters. This is true of almost everyone. When there is an exception to this, we generally know that person’s name, like Jesus or Buddha.

My goal is not to be perfect, or to give up my teeth and claws. I still need them. My goal is to allow my heart to remain open. Open to the wounded animal inside of myself, and open to the angry, bloody, selfish, gentle, generous, enlightened, infantile beings around me. If this is possible, then that which is monstrous within me begins to fulfill its true purpose, which is to protect.

TO SERVE AND PROTECT

CONFESSIONS OF A CLINICAL COUNSELOR

February 18, 2016

 

Looking back over my entries for the past several months, it seems pretty clear that this has been a hard winter for me. It is difficult to say whether it has been a hard winter because of the multiple slips back into addiction, or whether the multiple slips back into addiction have been symptomatic of just how rough it has been. Probably both. In any case there is a definite, discernible downward arc to my interior state. As I look back at some of my earlier entries, I remember that I really was in a much better state last fall than I have been in for most of the winter. Also interesting that my very second entry was about a slip, since I had not used pornography for quite some time when I began the blog.

I remember once reading an interview with the Dalai Lama in which he said that a person should not judge their progress in meditation based on day-to-day experience, or week-to-week, or even month-to-month. Progress in meditation can really only be judged based on years of experience. Meditation is all about the long view. (And, ironically, about nothing else but the present moment!)

I am arriving at a point where I am most likely going to take this blog live pretty soon, and interestingly, this is also coinciding with taking a step back and looking at my journey for the past several months.

I had originally conceived the blog as a sort of “recovery journal,” but as slip followed slip followed slip, I realized that this model just wasn’t helpful. Yes, I am in recovery, in that I work with my addiction on a regular basis, and do everything in my power to mitigate its negative effects.

But it isn’t working. This journal isn’t going to help anyone to stay away from Internet porn. I have no good example to set, no deep internal struggles that lead to complete transformations in which I no longer need to use. I can’t show you the way because I can’t find it myself.

Earlier this week, I wrote about how a blog about failed attempts to keep away from porn “lacks appeal.” And it’s true, it is no fun to just watch someone crash again and again. But maybe that is not what this blog is about. Maybe that’s not what it’s for. In a deeper sense, maybe that’s not what my life is about, what my life is for. Yes, I struggle with Internet porn. But a recovering (or not recovering) addict is certainly not all that I am.

Perhaps the most striking thing I notice in reading back over my past entries is, in fact, my own humanness shining through. I actually don’t care that much about the porn stuff, I just see a struggling guy in a lot of pain. Porn just happens to be one of the places I’m stuck.

I had originally planned to give the blog a title related to recovery, but earlier this week I thought of a new and better title: “Confessions of a Clinical Counselor.” Probably an even better title would be “Confessions of a Human Being,” but that’s a bit too general, and an important part of the point of this blog is the psychotherapeutic perspective. I also like “Confessions,” both because it is an accurate description, and because it evokes the spiritual aspect of revealing one’s soul to others.

CONFESSIONS OF A CLINICAL COUNSELOR

INTENTION IS EVERYTHING

February 3, 2016
Nisargadatta_Maharaj
Be aware of being conscious and seek the source of consciousness. That is all. Very little can be conveyed in words. It is the doing as I tell you that will bring light, not my telling you. The means do not matter much; it is the desire, the urge, the earnestness that count.  –Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

 

I think I mentioned that I have two deeply suicidal clients right now, both of whom have major physical compromises. I can understand where both are coming from but feel that I have little to offer. It comes down in some ways to meaning. Suffering is more bearable if one can see meaning in it. If not, it is just suffering. I pass in and out of my ability to see meaning in things. The more I am driven by reactive instinct and pattern, in other words the more I try to escape the painful parts of life the more meaningless everything seems. The more I accept that reality is what it is, even up to the bitter end, even within the most insane circumstances, the more I am at peace. This is in large part Byron Katie’s message. But how do I translate or convey that to someone who does not share my belief system, who believes that this is “all there is,” who is stuck in blame instead of acceptance? And it’s not like I’m totally committed myself—I mean I am human and I spend a lot of my time wishing to be dead, wishing to be away. And I dodge into addictions of all sorts, and escapes and fantasies. I think I’m getting it about the only way to really help is to find liberation oneself…

One thing I do believe or do see is that the parts of me that are more or less liberated, or at least which have been freed up can definitely help others to at least approach a freer or more liberated life in those regards. I do help. But I am at a loss to help people with a certain kind of closed-ness, or a certain type/amount of pain.

Here’s the thing though: I also know that I am able to help people to the degree that they wish to be helped and to the degree that they have faith that they CAN be helped. People no doubt met the Buddha and went away disappointed, or met Jesus and decided to nail him to a cross.

But there’s this other level of interiority/exteriority… the wisdom in me seeks the wisdom in others. We are attracted to one another. People who really don’t want to change tend to leave me pretty quickly, because my primary energy and purpose (at least with regards to work) has to do with helping people to change. It seems like the least I can do is to cultivate that energy, that wisdom, so this is as accessible to as many people as possible as much of the time as possible. I’m not sure, but it often seems to me that my clients get worse when I am in a worse state, and they tend to experience major shifts when my heart is very open and I am alert. And, interestingly, not just in session but also just in their lives in general. My energy continues to affect them. At least it appears that way to me.

There is also a layer of this being something that I may have little or no control over… Who knows when I am going to feel better vs. worse, when I am going to have the energy and motivation to overcome my addictive tendencies, how to have any control or even sway over the way the sea of my life and moods works.

I think then it comes down to intentionality. Nisargadatta Maharaj states over and over that intention is everything, and one of the things I have been working on with many of my clients has been intention. It just seems to be a way to move energy, to have and state and thus clarify an intention. That’s what prayer is all about, presumably what mantras are for. I come back again and again to the understanding that this blog is about intention, it is a way to begin moving the energy in the right direction. I am not perfect, I get stuck. But my life radiates and sings when my intention is good. Intention is everything.

INTENTION IS EVERYTHING

BURNOUT

December 9, 2015

 

Had an almost fight with my wife last night about the call I was supposed to make yesterday.

I’m in rough shape, falling apart. Not sure if writing is going to help, not sure if it’s supposed to. I was so spacey yesterday, I just fumbled through my first couple of sessions, pretty sure I lost a client. He may have been on his way out anyway. Not sure.

Starting to realize that I am on the crispy edges of burnout. Compassion fatigue. I’ve been working a lot, caring for the kid by myself two days a week, and really just getting one day with my wife to both do all the erranding and get in any fun we might want to have. There have been a couple of parties, we had friends over for dinner a couple of weekends ago, but there hasn’t been any real leisure time for a couple of months. I am starting to get a bit of “I don’t care about you or your problems,” which is obviously a problem if you job is to help people with their problems. My patience is running out. The nanny was five or six minutes late this morning, the kiddo was just clinging to me and crying, and I just felt so irritable. I didn’t have anything to give.

I already know this, but it also reinforces how important it is to take time for myself and to not overbook myself at work. I, you, we, people, are not capable of being fully present, of accessing their full potential for compassion if their systems are overloaded.

I’m not quite sure how to deal with this. I have two weeks to go before I get a little holiday and my work schedule changes. Trungpa used to advise his students to “lean into it”: when the situation just seems like too much you lean into it, don’t resist, use it as the path and as an opportunity to see what you’re capable of. I know from experience that this doesn’t work as a long-term approach. After a while it just seems like you get stuck in a pattern of overworking which, from a spiritual perspective, is a form of laziness.

I just went through my calendar and blocked off any free sessions that I could in order to give myself a little bit of a break.

Not sure I’m going to get any more insight than that, this morning.

Oh wait, one more thing.

Got to be extra careful with the porn this weekend. The desire to escape is strong, the pressure is on. Feeling very under-resourced. Whole body is in fight/flight. Got to keep up on the prayer, see if I can get a little exercise. I need to do things to remind me that I am bigger than this very tight squeeze of time. Get a little fresh air into the system, open things up. Maybe I can talk to my dear friend and spiritual companion Sophia today. Even if not in person, maybe we can have a chat. I’m just gonna put that out there.

 

 

BURNOUT