Looking For a Heading

P1000824 copy

April 26, 2016

 

I’m not feeling nearly as energetic as I was during the first days of the diet. I’m still getting these moments of utter deflation, in which I also tend to feel hopeless and depressed. I suppose it could be because the most recent porn slip was less than two weeks ago. Two weeks is usually the point at which I start to feel like myself again.

Also, significantly, my mom is coming for a visit. She lives all the way across the country, so getting her out here is a bit of a hassle. She is also terrible with computers, so it usually falls to us to get her plane tickets. Even just writing about this makes me feel sluggish. This is something I definitely need to work with.

Last night I finally managed to arrange an airbnb apartment for her, which helps me to relax a little. I am in a constant struggle to have her be a part of our lives (especially important now that there is a kiddo), but also keep some space in the relationship. My mom is the kind of mother whose secret dream would probably be to have my wife and me move into her house on the East Coast with our children. She never remarried after my dad left, and instead has put 90% of her emotional eggs in my basket, something I have resented since before I was a teenager. I have actually spent most of my life trying to get as far away from her as possible, a strategy that just doesn’t work anymore, now that she is a grandmother and entering her early 70s. I want her to be a part of our son’s life, and I know that it is up to me to make sure that she is cared for as she continues to age.

One thing I definitely do not want to do is move back East. There is no work for my wife there, and it would be difficult for me to get licensed as a therapist. Also, I don’t have any friends there anymore, and I start to get depressed whenever I even think about going there for a trip, much less permanently.

We love living on the West Coast. We live in a beautiful city, near big water and mountains. We love to hike and kayak. We dream of raising our family with this outdoor lifestyle, retiring to a cabin near the ocean and spending our later years doing expedition kayaking.

But it’s expensive here. We have little in our bank accounts, and not much saved up for retirement. We have done some real estate investing in the past, but it is far too expensive for us to buy anything here, at least not in the city. We rent our apartment. We have discussed the possibility of buying something with my mom, (she would buy it, really, we would help to find it and perhaps do some work on it) but it would be a huge investment for her, and we don’t know for sure how permanent we are here. It’s expensive as it is for my mom to come out, making mortgage payments on a 300k apartment wouldn’t help. It feels more like stress than a great idea.

My wife and I lived in the Southwest for most of our marriage, and we still own a couple of houses and a couple of small apartments there. If we moved back, we could easily afford a bigger place for my mom. She could buy a medium sized house for the price of a tiny apartment here. Or she could move into one of our places. Or, after not too long, we would probably be able to afford another place and make sure it had a sizable casita for her in the back. It is just so much easier to live there.

My fear is that if we move back, all of our kayaking dreams will dry up. There’s no ocean in the desert. Maybe we could still work towards a future in which that would be possible, but it would be more difficult. I think I know my wife pretty well, and if we sell the kayak, it’s going to be a VERY long time before she’s going to be willing to try again.

For myself, I think the draw is increasingly back towards the Southwest. We will almost definitely stay here for at least the next two years, and that feels good to me. Also, my wife has her own reasons for wanting to stay, although I know she also dreams of the Southwest sometimes. I guess we’ll just have to see.

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Looking For a Heading

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

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

CRYING OUT FOR CONNECTION

February 16, 2016

 

Not sure where I’m going this morning. The writing has been feeling directionless lately—it just doesn’t seem to coalesce into anything. Whether I am going to focus on fiction or something else, I am feeling the need for a specific theme, a specific direction, something that could at least be compiled into a book or a blog or something. A blog about failed attempts at keeping away from Internet porn lacks appeal somehow. As much as I like the idea of the novel, I can’t seem to write more than a page at a time, and in very scattered form. I just can’t seem to get into it.

I finally ended up having to ask my wife to put a lock on my computer. We have done this before, to regulate the porn use, and it is becoming clear that I just can’t stay away from it on my own. Of course the lock isn’t a guarantee, but it makes it next to impossible to hide my use, or to hide my search terms, etc., which is highly motivating not to use.

I just can’t control myself. Even though most of my slips have been what you might call minor, I have started to slip at work, which is just bad news all around. And I can’t control it. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.

I told my wife that I wanted the block in order to stop myself from obsessing over the news, and this is partially true. But really it’s about the porn. God help me, I just don’t know what else to do.

The weather is starting to warm up a little bit. Yesterday was rainy and miserable, but at the same time there was more light in the sky than there has been. I could see it glowing through the mist, which made the day seem less oppressive.

I spent most of the morning reading over past entries, and it seems to me that the real villain here is depression as much as addiction. The two are certainly intertwined, and when I give into addiction it tends to lead to depression. But over and over again I read my entries about being in a fog, being tired, being suicidal. Depression is partly physiological and partly psychological, and I think I become more inclined towards psychological depression when I am physically exhausted. Weirdly, having a child and working full time seem to bring about that state fairly often.

But there is also grace peeking through.

Interestingly, I just decided to switch seats, and at around the same moment the sun came out, shining right on me as I write this. The sun helps me to feel better. It feels like hope, and Spring. My life is certainly a mixed pattern of light. I am not a sunshine person, but the light has always shown through. There has always been love, even if the only love I could fathom has been the love of expression. I have cried out, and there is something in that. I was trying to connect with something, and now the connection is there, more often than not. I hear others crying. I connect with their pain.

It is strange that we seem to suffer due to a lack of connection. Being embodied makes our connection imperfect at best, there is always this feeling of separation, for God, from each other. That’s what being embodied IS. And so we cry out. And the cry is for connection, and we connect in our pain. We are finding our way back to unity. We are finding our way back to Ourselves.

CRYING OUT FOR CONNECTION

FEVER BREAK

February 9, 2016

 

I had another fever-break type moment yesterday. My wife went out and was pruning some grapes behind our building and I was lying in bed trying to take a nap. It was a beautiful day, warm, blue sky and little fluffy clouds and golden sunlight, a real mid-February treat of a day. The kiddo was napping.

So I was lying in bed and it just came over me, this overwhelming feeling of wanting to die. I heard the neighbor yelling at his kids, and it just felt like life was hell. I knew life isn’t only hell, but I was also aware that my experience of life is that it is hell, and it just washed over me, wave after wave of wanting to die. Feelings so intense that I actually feared for my physical wellbeing… if I had had a gun available I don’t know if I could have resisted using it. It was almost like an epileptic fit, in that it really did come in sort-of spasms, just powering through me as I lay in bed and looked up at the blue sky and the branches etched in sunlight.

And then after about half an hour it was gone. I got up and started cleaning the house. I can’t say I was exactly happy after that, but I also wasn’t afraid that I was going to leap into traffic.

It was still a bit of a rough evening, my back was killing me and I was exhausted, and the kiddo is getting into a very, how shall I say, assertive phase of his development. He wants what he wants and he DOES NOT WANT what he doesn’t want. But I watched a yoga video after he went to sleep and my back feels better than it has in months.

More good influence, please.

Thanks.

FEVER BREAK

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

WANTING TO DIE, WANTING TO LIVE

January 27, 2016

 

Feeling moderately shitty this week. Still sick with a cold. Kiddo was much better this morning with the nanny, almost didn’t cry at all. Don’t like to use the name in vain, but thank God.

Seeing a client today who WANTS TO DIE. All caps not because this is shocking or surprising, but because of the intensity with which he wants it. In fact I have two clients right now who want to die, and for similar reasons. Both have serious chronic health issues, both are in pain all the time. Both are unable to be what they see as productive. For both of them, the health issues are serious enough that they might just “not wake up” one morning.

I have another client who recently came out of cancer treatment, was declared in the clear, and now needs to go back in for surgery. I have another client whose two brothers both died of drug overdoses, he found out about the most recent one earlier this week.

Death, the imminence of death, and feelings of wanting to die are very present right now.

On a certain level I have felt that I have “cred” in this arena, in that I have dealt very intimately with the desire to die, and I have taken it perhaps further than most people. During some particularly dark times, I used to take a knife with me to the bath, in order to explore exactly what it is that keeps me going when I want to die so badly. I wanted to give myself full permission and means to end my life, because the logic was, “It’s okay to do it if it feels right.” So far it has never felt right.

When I looked very deeply into why, sitting there in the bathtub, what I came up with was that my body didn’t want to die. As much as my mind and nervous system wanted the pain to end, my body was still very much alive, and wanted to continue living. It would be an act of violence to take my own life. I would have to kill something innocent, which is my physical form. And I couldn’t bring myself to do that.

WANTING TO DIE, WANTING TO LIVE