2008 Blog Post Revisited: About Bryon

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.”

Hemingway

I’m reading a wonderful book called “Will Yoga And Meditation Really Change My Life?” edited by Stephen Cope, an amazingly talented writer.

In this particular book, Mr. Cope has edited a compilation of personal stories from 25 of North America’s leading teachers of yoga and meditation.

I am thoroughly enjoying it to the point where I don’t want it to end and I highly recommend it to anyone who wishes to be inspired to bring yoga and meditation into their daily life.

One of the striking things about my experience of reading it is the contrast between what the various authors wrote about vs. their introductory biographies.

Of course the biographies have to do with their many accomplishments, education and various other facts, establishing their credibility.

In contrast, the text of what these impressive authors wrote about seems dissonant from their biographies.

What they wrote about was the profound and inspiring experiences of their personal growth and increasing identification with their inner life and spiritual being.

Biographies, by definition, are written in the third person. But in my limited exposure to the literary world, I have witnessed that many people’s “biographies,” though written in the third person, are actually written by the authors themselves, technically rendering the narrative an autobiography. O.K., no big deal, though.

As I read about the prestigious universities they attended, their international travel and the lofty accomplishments of these world class role models, I knew I was unable to match their stature. And so I caught myself thinking that I wasn’t as good as these folks because my resume’ couldn’t possibly compete with theirs. I began to feel inadequate, “less than.”

Next I became aware of my judgments about how they were missing the point by boasting about all their achievements while writing about such things as love being the main virtue in life, or being in the moment vs. doing. Clearly my ego kicked in and started running my show.

But reading one impressive biography after another as I’m digesting this amazing book, I’m inspired to write my own (auto) biography.

So I decided to stop taking myself so seriously and get playful with it. Once I massaged my ego and gave it an “at a boy,” I felt inspired to take a different tack with mine.

To start, I decided to write mine in the first person. Secondly I decided to take somewhat of a satirical approach (not a stretch for me).

Here’s how it goes:

(imagine a picture of me in laughter next to my “bio.”)

I am Bryon Sabatino, originally “Brian,” but in a radical gesture, changed the spelling of my first name in my twenties to show the world my uniqueness.

One of the most educational things I’ve ever done is hitch-hike across the United States and Canada throughout college. I took six years to get a bachelor’s degree because I kept changing my major.

I earned a masters degree in counseling at a non-prestigious university. I graduated with a 3.8 GPA. It would have been a 4.0, But Dr. Sandy Mazon arbitrarily (by his own admission) gave me a “B” in two of his classes because I constantly challenged his ways.

This was perhaps one of my greatest lessons in my entire graduate school experience because I realized the limitation of the value of grades. Earning the Masters Degree in general felt like what is referred to in yogic philosopy as an “empty successful accomplishment experience.” I thought when I finally earned a “MASTERS DEGREE” I would be somehow transformed personally by it, and that I would have mastered something. Nothing could have been further from the truth. I was still well entrenched in the belief that external things (like academic degrees) would make me happy. No one ever asked me what my GPA was after I graduated.

I am really glad I never pursued a Ph.D. It’s what I call the third degree burn.

I have worked as a counselor for my entire professional career. I am still passionate about assisting people in their pursuit of growth.

I am not known internationally, nationally or even statewide in Arizona. However, some people in the metropolitan Phoenix area know me. Some like me and some don’t.

I haven’t published any articles or authored any books. I haven’t founded any institutes, nor created or edited any magazines, professional journals or other publications.

I have never been on any committees, nor board of directors.

I have never aired on any radio or television shows.

I’ve never been a formal teacher of any kind, but I consider most everybody to be my teacher in one way or another. I’ve never belonged to any professional associations. I’ve never been a director of any academic or clinical setting. I have never lead any retreats or organized any conferences.

I am a perpetually enthusiastic student, and a slow learner (especially with technology). I have never won any academic or professional awards.

I enjoy anonymity, an introverted personality and bask in solitude for much of an average day, thinking deep thoughts, some of which I share with others individually and in small groups.

Most of what I know about psychotherapy did not result from graduate school, despite a few amazing teachers, whom I will never forget for their humanity more than their knowledge, including Dr. Mazon.

I enjoy humor and laugh at my own jokes way too often. Sometimes I’m the only one laughing.

I have practiced and shared the practice of meditation for over a decade. I have recently began practicing yoga. (I truly believe most people would benefit from it as well.)

I love to read and write prose and poetry for the pure joy of it. I enjoy my creativity and encouraging others to explore theirs. I become music when I hear it, and I can still taste colors even though I haven’t done acid since the 70’s.

I have no spiritual convictions and do not follow any particular religion, philosophy or psychological orientation.

I never made a good “employee,” which is why I am so grateful that I got laid off from Cigna in March of 2000 or I would never have gone into private practice. I never got the good parking spot they awarded employees of the month. I felt better about going home on time. I was only promoted twice in my life; once to a middle management position at McDonalds in high school, and the other at my first job out of graduate school at a psychiatric hospital that later got busted by “60 Minutes” for unethical admission practices.

Though middle age is mellowing me, I have been an adrenalin junky for most of my life, enjoying skydiving, scuba diving, mountain biking, skiing, whitewater rafting, soaring, hot air ballooning, backpacking.

I enjoy recycling.

I love to travel. The only bumper sticker I’ve ever had says “God bless the whole world, no exceptions.”

I will be 50 years old soon, and perhaps among the most important lessons I‘ve learned in my life experience so far are; bigger is not necessarily better, less is sometimes more, high profile isn’t, by it’s own virtue, more valuable, intelligence and competence are too narrowly defined in our culture, and probably the most important one, I am not my thoughts, my thoughts and my consciousness are different.

I’ve never been legally married, but have been “divorced” twice.

I live in Tempe, Arizona with my lovely girlfriend. She has a dog (in Virginia). Long story…

Interventions for Alcohol Addiction, Drug Addiction, Substance Abuse

“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.”

Seneca

Intervention is a structured meeting with a group of loved ones who come together in a caring and nonjudgmental manner to present their observations and concerns regarding an individual’s behavior. It is a firm, but gentle, kind and loving encounter, which minimizes the person’s defensiveness, offering them something positive to respond to, i.e. treatment for their addiction.

The process typically involves two or three preparatory sessions before the formal intervention. In theses sessions I will take you through the necessary steps of how to prepare for the intervention.

Goals:

Staying focused on the solution and making help available to the individual.

Moving the family / social system surrounding the individual out of a reactive mode, which is usually comprised of unconscious, habitual enabling patterns of behavior.

Focusing on family and friends to make changes in their response to the individual vs. attaching to the outcome of the intervention.

Changing the family / social dynamics independent of the individual’s decision whether or not to accept help. This requires acceptance ( not to be confused with apathy ) and a healthy detachment, which means to let go with love.

To set up an intervention, simply call the office 480/755-4016 or my cell # 480/221-1013.

Breathe, Listening, Yoga Inspiration for Healing Addiction

“I listen to the wind,

to the wind of my soul”

Cat Stevens

 

Socrates encouraged us to “know thyself.” But what does that really mean? And how do we achieve such knowledge in 21st century western culture?

I have come to learn experientially that yoga and meditation are among the most effective practices for self-discovery. They both intimately involve the breath – the wind of our soul.

When we breathe as if we’re really alive, we become inspired to be the architect of our own life.

But in a world consumed by consumerism and steeped in the myriad forms of imitating others we end up chasing the tail of “happiness” by accepting culturally imposed and ultimately dissatisfying life-styles. But truly knowing ourselves is no small order. And those who sustain a path of self-discovery know first hand the price tag is high.

Something as simple (but not easy) as a true relationship with our own breath reveals many things about our inner life that otherwise go largely ignored as we distract ourselves with constant external stimulus.

It may be easier in the short-term to stay unconscious and behave like a cultural lemming, but we do have a choice in the matter.

In the movie “The Matrix,” the character Neo was presented with the opportunity to make a conscious choice about whether to stay awake and face the reality of life or to go back into the world of deliberately fabricated delusion. We all make the same choice on a daily basis, though perhaps not as consciously as Neo.

There are probably hundreds of ways to listen to the wind of your soul. Cat Stevens goes on to say “I let my music take me where my heart wants to go.” Our job is to figure out our unique way of listening. There’s no correct formula that applies to everyone, or even the same person once and for all.

The variety of responses to breath work and meditation I hear from people never ceases to amaze me. For some of them it’s the first time they’ve ever sat quietly with themselves long enough to pass through the eye of the needle of their own being and glimpse the complexity of their inner landscape.

In a period of history where time is measured in nano-seconds and our attention spans have been studied and accommodated with just the right number of sound bites, I can’t even name all of the devices that snatch away the precious few potential moments of solitude and introspection in an ordinary day.

The response I get, by and large, after a formal meditation seems to have variations on the theme of relief. People say things like “I never thought I could do that.” The implication being they had no idea of their capacity to work so skillfully with their thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, mental imagery, inner dialogue, impulses, emotions, bodily sensations etc.

Scott Miller Ph.D., a master therapist and unknowing mentor of mine, wrote a book called “The Heroic Client.” I have the privilege of speaking with these heroes on a regular basis. In group recently, a young woman recovering from alcohol dependence said that she’s learning that “life is wider than a glass,” in reference to her feeling an ever increasing expansiveness of her life as it unfolds into a richly textured tapestry that she never imagined possible.

Whether or not she knew it, what she was referring to, at least in part, is a state of presence known through yoga philosophy and meditative discipline as “witness consciousness” or more simply put, mindfulness. It’s an amazing thing to experience yourself in a way that is so completely satisfying that there is no perceived need for anything outside of yourself to feel content, complete, whole.

Of course it’s not a “happily ever after” story. Like all of us, she experiences the full range of human emotion from excruciating pain to ecstatic pleasure. The point is she’s willing to face what ever comes up now instead of drowning it out with alcohol or the dozens of other ways we numb out.

Ideals are ideal, but when we genuinely listen to the wind of our soul in the real world of three-dimensional flesh and blood relationships, high-demanding careers, parenting, yard work, school, mortgages, taxes, etc., we don’t have to be so hard on ourselves when we stumble and fall down. We simply congratulate ourselves for exercising the courage to risk the pain of growing.

We can’t change something about ourselves until we admit that it exists and accept ourselves anyway – just as we are. Instead of judging ourselves, the invitation is to bring a compassionate sense of awareness to all of who we are, not just the parts we like, and skillfully sculpt what no longer serves us into something more useful for who we are becoming.

How do you listen to the wind of your soul???

Just be Yourself

“I’d rather be a fake somebody than a real nobody”

Line from the movie “The Talented Mr. Ripley”

 

As we go along from day to day, our ego’s are constantly comparing our insides to other people’s outsides, judging ourselves as better or worse than them. We all know the burdensome weight of self-doubt. And in good faith, we’ve all said it and heard it a thousand times: “Just be yourself.”

But we’re all effected by the power of commercialism which depends on our shame based identification as not being good enough the way we are in order to sell us goods and services we sometimes don’t really need; the right clothes, a bigger house, the right degree from the right institution, more technology, the right ideology, another partner, a better city, this car, that title. Of course the list goes on ad infinitum. We are so steeped in this cultural trance, we rarely ever realize it, any more than a fish realizes it’s in water.

One way out of our unconscious, habitual patterns of trying to live up to some unachievable, illusory goal is to ask ourselves a simple question:

“What can I do today that will truly matter in a hundred years?”

What would you do for free? Or better yet, what would you pay to do that would benefit this world long after you are gone. If nothing comes to mind right now, it’s a question worth pondering for as long as it takes, to even glimpse one facet of the answer, which will probably change over time anyway.

Once again I refer you to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book, “Wherever you go, there you are.” He goes into delicious detail about enjoying your unique place in the world in a chapter entitled “What is my job on the planet with a capital J?”

Ultimately we realize, in the words of Baron Baptiste, that “the prize is in the process.” And in making this important paradigm shift to focusing on the journey of our lives instead of some illusory destination, we also find that we would rather be our genuine selves, imperfectly, than a perfect imitation of someone else.

 

Challenges that shape us

“The struggle is the glory”

Line from the movie “The Ghost and the Darkness”

As the story goes: A girl found a cocoon for a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared. She sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force it’s body through the tiny hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and would go no further. Then she decided to help the butterfly.

She took a pair of scissors and snipped the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily. Something was strange. The butterfly had a swollen body and shriveled wings. The girl continued to watch the butterfly because she expected at any moment the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time.

Neither happened; in fact, the butterfly spent the rest of it’s short life crawling around with a swollen body and deformed wings. It was never able to fly.

What the girl, in her naïve kindness and haste did not understand, was that the restricting cocoon and the effort required for the butterfly to get through the small opening of the cocoon are nature’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into it’s wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved it’s freedom from the cocoon. Sometimes challenges are exactly what we need in our life.

Life is often times difficult, but that’s O.K. Because there is value in embracing difficulty, meeting it as a worthy teacher. Our job is to greet difficulty at the door, listen to what it has to say, what lessons it has to teach us.

Disciplining ourselves through difficulty is a form of self love. In order to have self-esteem, we have to use esteem-able actions. If a challenge really is too difficult, it’s O.K. to back off, slow down, even stop for awhile. This is a legitimate way of taking care of ourselves. But we must make sure it really is too difficult and not just the habit of the ego telling us it’s too difficult.

If we never encountered challenges and obstacles, we wouldn’t grow into our strength and power. So let’s be grateful for difficulty. If we don’t flush out our excuses, complaints and our blaming, we will become them.

Based on a true story, the movie “The Ghost and the Darkness” powerfully demonstrates the need for us to negotiate our fear to move on with our life. In this particular story, a number of people exercise their courage to hunt two man-eating lions who were terrorizing an African village. But our story is not all that different. True, most of us don’t fret the loss of life and limb on a daily basis, but we nevertheless get paralyzed by our fears, which are often based on the phantom “lions” of our minds. If it’s not the latest horror story in the daily news, it’s our own imagination telling us that we’re never going to make it for one reason or another. So we stop trying. And in our inertia we become trapped in what Dr. Seuss called “Oh The Places You’d Go:”

Do you dare stay out, do you dare go in?

How much can you lose, how much can you win?

And if you go in, should you turn left or right?

Or right and ¾ , maybe not quite.
You can get so confused that you’ve started to race down a long wiggle road at a break necked pace. And grind on for miles across weirdish wild space, headed, I fear, towards a most useless place. The waiting place, for people just waiting. Waiting for a train to go, for a bus to come, or a plane to go, or mail to come, or the rain to go, or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow, or waiting around for a “yes’ or a ‘no.’ Or a string of pearls and a pair of pants, or a wig with curls, or another chance…”

So we don’t just wait until something’s not difficult or not frightening before we proceed. We bridge the gap between ourselves and the unknown by doing the next right thing. We take the next step; and in so doing, create the path we’ve been waiting for someone to point us towards. There is no way to courage, only the way of courage.

No one is more equipped than anyone else to take the leap of faith required to get through the next day. It’s just a decision we make on a moment to moment basis.

What are you going to do?

Change is constant

 

“Turn and face the strain; ch, ch, changes.”

David Bowie

 

In group recently someone spontaneously defined the term, inertia as close to the dictionary definition as I have ever heard.

According to Webster, inertia means “Passiveness; inactivity; sluggishness; the property of matter by which it retains its state of rest or of uniform straight-line motion so long as no external cause acts to change that state.”

“But I am doing things…” is the typical cry. O.K., but it’s not just the content; that is, what we’re doing, it’s also the structural process or mentality – the how, in which we’re doing it that matters at least as much.

Pema Chodron is a prolific writer of how to get unstuck. Read all of her books. Or read just one of her books for the rest of your life. She says things like “you can’t change one process with the same process.” That is to say that if we’re stuck in a certain pattern; be it cognitive, behavioral, emotional, relational, or as is usually the case, all of the above, we can’t change that pattern with the same pattern. If nothing changes, nothing changes. We can’t just change the “what” of our lives; we have to change the “how.”

And here’s the hard part; no one can tell us how to do it because it’s different for everybody. I refer you to the posting below called “The Butterfly Effect,” where the point is made that our on-going efforts (vs. the short-term result of any one particular effort) are the most important part. Because growth is a process, not a destination. We become addicted to struggle and attached to results and miss the all important point of the “how” we’re doing whatever it is that we’re doing.

If we always do what we’ve always done, we’re always going to get what we’ve always got. If we approach personal growth with the same self-critical style that we’ve always used, we’re not going to experience much lasting or satisfying change.

Two key components of changing the “how” vs. just the “what” are awareness and compassion. If we bring a quality of compassion to an awareness of the parts of ourselves that we’re not proud of, only then will we be able to continue looking at those parts. And only then will we be able to do something different with them. By accepting ourselves just the way we are, literally right here and now in this very moment, only then can we come out of our habitual, unconscious self-defeating patterns.

On the contrary, if we continue to judge, blame, criticize or berate ourselves; thinking that we’re going to whip ourselves into shape, then all we’re doing is training ourselves to stop looking at those parts. This is because all the self-hatred creates even more shame and we just try to put it behind us,forget about it, deny it, pretend it’s not there, pick ourselves up by our boot straps, suck it up, man up, cowboy up, etc. And so we remain stuck in habitual, unconscious patterns and wonder “Why is this happening to me.”

If we can stay with it, keep showing up for ourselves, keep looking at the parts of our personality that we don’t care for, only then can we break out of our self-defeating cycle. Because once we’re aware of something about ourselves, we don’t have to come from that place any longer. There is the part of ourselves that we don’t like. And then there is the part of ourselves that is aware of the part of ourselves that we don’t like. We can start to identify more with the part that is aware than the part that we don’t like.

This awarenes avails us the opportunity to begin to loosen the knot of mistaken identity; the belief that we are our thoughts; we are our emotions, we are our behaviors, we are the parts of ourselves that we don’t like, etc.

But we’re so afraid to accept ourselves the way we are because we think that we’ll only further indulge in our faults if we accept them. But acceptance isn’t a passive process, it’s active. By accepting something about ourselves, we are availing ourselves to an opportunity for change. When we criticize or refuse to accept something about ourselves, it doesn’t make it go away. On the contrary, self-judgment just shoves the “junk” down into the basement of our minds and perpetuates our habitual, unconscious pattern of living.

“How do you know this is true?” asks John, one of the folks in group who keeps me sharp. I reply, “I know it’s true from personal experience, but don’t take my word for it, try it out yourself. If it’s not true for you, throw it away.”

Often times in group, a dynamic happens that I call “skeet shooting.” This is when one group member sucks one or more other group members into doing their work for them. It goes something like this:

Someone says something like “O.K., then what should I do?”

This is so seductive because we all love to give advice because we think we know how to live someone else’ life better than they do; ignoring the fact that people rarely follow advice, given or received. Also ignoring the fact that the advice we’re giving is usually something we need to be doing in our own lives.

In knee-jerk reaction, others start offering ideas, like propelling skeet into the air. In turn, the person begins shooting them down, one at a time with the likes of; “yes but…” or “I’ve tried that already and it doesn’t work,” or a hundred variations on the theme.

Just picture it in your mind; the one with the gun yells “pull.” Then you see the skeet flying through the air. The next thing you hear is the thunder of the shotgun. And then you see the image of the skeet exploding in a million pieces if it’s a hit. Other wise it just follows it’s trajectory into the horizon.

The fact of the matter is that we have to do our own work. We must take radical responsibility for our lives. We must never give up the process of self-discovery; pursuing what does work for us as individuals. The most important thing we’ll ever do in life is take responsibility for ourselves and courageously face the present moments of our lives one at a time.

Forgiveness as part of healing

“I Want Burning”

Rumi

Last night in group we were talking about the power of choice and how difficult it can be to take responsibility for our choices.

The conversation evolved to include making the choice of whether or not to forgive. There is great power and responsibility associated with our decision whether or not to forgive someone else or ourselves.

Like everything else in life, forgiveness is just an invitation; an opportunity to let go of malignant resentments for mistakes we’ve made in hurting others or the deeds of others which have harmed us.

But forgiveness is a tricky thing. And many people decide to not forgive when they don’t even know what it means.

The widespread misinterpretation of forgiveness is that it requires condoning what we’ve done or what others have done to us. And while forgiveness does involve acceptance (and here’s the tricky part), we must understand the paradoxical nature of acceptance before we can skillfully practice it.

Acceptance simply means that we acknowledge the reality of what has happened. That does not, however, equate with agreeing that what happened was o.k.

Genuine forgiveness involves feeling the pain of the consequences of the behaviors of ourselves or others. We accept the pain not because we like it, but because it’s already there. And since it’s already there, we accept the fact, go through it, and, in this way, genuinely move away from it. But this is difficult work. We would much rather “just put it behind us” without having to go through it.

We do this work in ordinary ways; talking about it with trustworthy people, journal writing, sometimes just sitting there feeling the feelings. This kind of work is simple, but not easy.

It’s often said that we are each, our own worst critic. This harsh self-judgment can be the direct result of not forgiving ourselves, of not letting go of the consequences of our fallibility.

Then we often jump to another erroneous conclusion; that if we forgive, then we’re merely giving ourselves or others permission to continue hurtful behaviors. Nothing could be further from the truth.

On the contrary; the unconscious, habitual behaviors of ourselves and others that cause pain can only change in the light of compassionate awareness. If we insist on continually judging ourselves and others harshly, we only train ourselves to stop looking at the very parts of our personalities that need our constructive discipline.

Sometimes the outcome of the most powerful example of forgiveness is to terminate the relationship with whomever we’ve harmed or have been harmed by.

In the movie “White Oleander,” Michelle Pfeiffer’s character demonstrates the ultimate expression of forgiveness, which is love. Without ruining the ending of the movie, suffice it to say that the fullest expression of love at times can be about letting go; letting go of that which you never had control over, letting go of the illusion of control. But before we can let go of the illusion, we must be willing to become disillusioned. In this culture disillusionment is regarded with a negative connotation. On the contrary; though it involves unpleasant feelings, disillusionment yields quite positive personal growth.

But we cannot express our full potential of love without opening our hearts. And opening our hearts leaves us vulnerable. And when we’re unwilling to make ourselves vulnerable, we shut down and close off in myriad ways. We become hardened like iron.

However, if we choose to make ourselves vulnerable to the heat of life with safe people in safe places, we become malleable; and like molten iron, we can change and shape ourselves into something new. This is what the twelfth century mystic poet, Rumi spoke of when he said “I want burning.”

So forgiveness is not an intellectual event; something that the mind or ego achieves at one point in time. Forgiveness is much richer than that. It is an emotional process; something that occurs over time through an open heart. We open our hearts over and over again, everyday, day after day, with great compassion, as if we are doing it for the first time, every time. This is called “beginners mind.” And we all begin our lives over again every morning we wake up, both literally and figuratively.

Don’t mistake forgiveness with naiveté. An open heart does not mean we behave foolishly, bearing our vulnerability when it’s unsafe to do so. Accordingly, don’t mistake gentleness and kindness for weakness. A true warrior can defend herself or himself when necessary. In historical times, true warriors weren’t given their weapons until they knew how to dance properly. This insured a balanced psyche which prevented in-discrete or unconscious destructive behaviors.

This is what differentiates authentic power from force. Personal power comes from the heart. Force comes from the ego and is often destructive.

To authentically forgive is to let go of our addiction to struggle. We certainly have the right to choose not to forgive. But then to complain about and dwell upon that which we consciously or unconsciously hold onto leaves us in the realm of unnecessary, even unreasonable suffering. Life brings enough legitimate pain to us all without compounding it with a self-defeating attitude.

An intellectual understanding alone, merely shows us to the doorway of forgiveness. It is our decision to walk through the threshold, without guarantees, that has the potential to liberate us.

Life is an invitation; an opportunity to keep our hearts open, to keep showing up for ourselves through the eternal present moment of our lives, the only time we ever have the chance to engage our real power.

In his poem “Self Portrait,” David Whyte sums up the power of forgiveness when he says:

… I want to know if you are prepared to live in the world with its harsh need to change you…

…I want to know if you know how to melt into that fierce heat of living, falling toward the center of your longing…

…I want to know if you are willing to live, day by day, with the consequence of love and the bitter unwanted passion of sure defeat….

The importance of Gratitude in Drug and Alcohol Addiction Recovery

From time to time, we all get naively caught up in the belief that there is a certain way to happiness; that, once achieved, will carry us for ever more. Actually the more we chase happiness in this manner, as if it were a commodity, the more it eludes and evades us.

The nature of true happiness has more to do with our attitude than with our circumstances. So rather than looking for the way to happiness, we might better spend our time and energy learning about the way of happiness.

The way of happiness is truly an art form, which involves choosing a life-style that actively seeks and creates meaningful and fulfilling experiences. In this paradigm shift, happiness is experienced as an emerging phenomena, that is to say that it ebbs and flows. Our challenge is to learn how to surf the waves of it as it comes and goes, going with the flow of it, not trying to push away or hold onto anything.

Perhaps one of our most powerful tools in the way of happiness is gratitude. According to Dr. Robert Johnson, medical director of Sierra Tucson, as we focus on our passions, saying “yes” to something so completely, that the all the “no‘s” fade away, we generate a sense of gratitude that is so powerful that it’s contagious.

Focusing on what we’re passionate about is incompatible with being unhappy. We need to see ourselves through the lens of transition vs. impairment or illness. Otherwise we’re always involved in seeking symptomatic solutions vs. fundamental solutions. We’ll never be free of imperfection, so we stop looking for a problem-free life. Instead we look for and focus on the good. Where the mind goes, energy flows.

Dr. Johnson goes on to say that passion is the engine that drives change. We must focus on our gifts and strengths. We need to coach ourselves and seek coaching form other for personal development, not just performance. Anxiety and depression integrated leads to power. True transformation leads to an inner sense of joy, not just increased productivity. Healing often occurs in the service of others. “Soul Joy,” as he describes it is when we are so plugged in, that we’re fully released to do what we’re meant to do. It’s an intention to offer all of who we are; our gifts as well as our vulnerability.

If we actually realized all that we can be grateful for in any given moment, we would be immediately and appropriately humbled. So on this Thanksgiving Day, lets all take a moment and make real the power of gratitude in our lives and it will automatically improve the quality of the lives of those around us.

Writing Poetry, Journaling for healing

In life, we are all faced with the challenge of finding something we are so passionate about that we do it for the pure joy of it, something that brings out the fullest expression of who we are. Whatever it is, we focus on the process of doing it, not the product.

In this spirit, I write poetry, prose or whatever you want to call it. In this case I write about writing:

 

Writing

I want to write

The way the sun kisses the ocean

At the end of the day,

Inevitably, colorfully,

Expanding my consciousness

Through the mysterious process

Of blindly puzzling words together,

Like mosaic tiles,

Taking on a life of their own.

I want to write

Like the cool gentle breeze

Caressing my skin this morning,

Whispering love’s satisfaction in my ear.

Write with the quality of the afternoon rain,

Soothing the souls of all who bear witness,

Purely by virtue of it’s natural presence,

The calming sounds, nourishing moisture.

Writing,

The way lovers hold hands,

Fingers laced,

Without narration,

Connects my soul, if only for a moment,

To it’s source of boundless joy.

The leaves of the aspen trees,

Dancing in the wind,

High in their alpine glory

Know such joy,

And shout it out to anyone who will listen.

 

Recently, upon awakening from a nightmare at three O‘Clock in the morning, I found this poem flowing from my pen. I share it because it reminds me of the sacrifice involved for all of us in our respective journeys, and how our creativity can help us sculpt our lives into works of art:

 

 

The Hunter and the Prey

 

The one true threshold

Is when you are faced with an impossible decision,

Forced to make a choice

Where there are no survivors.

You don’t go backward

Or forward

And you can’t stay where you are.

You are invited into your ever expanding self,

A sad evolution away from naiveté

Betraying your deepest longings.

But you walk through the bittersweet doorway

Of your own demise,

Alone,

In the dark,

Knowing this decision will render you

Forever more, unrecognizable to everyone

But your creator,

Who is the only one who knows

Exactly what’s been taking you so long,

Only to find

That you are not just the hunter,

But also the prey.

So you walk away from the carcass

Of the imposter of your old self

And into the great unknowable mystery

Of your rugged and sure sense of identity.

There is no greater sacrifice

Than to let go of everything you ever thought you were

And finally,

For the greatest good of all concerned

To become your one true self.

 

What dogs can teach us about Addiction Recovery

Recently I welcomed a ten-week old puppy into my life. What a trip! He has endless, gyroscopic and mischievous energy. Because everything from his perspective is a delightful chew toy, he requires my full, undivided and constant attention as he frolics and plays. Puppy time seems to unfold in nano seconds. I can’t realistically expect to be doing anything else as he romps around. So, of course, he is one of the important teachers in my life on how to truly live in the present moment.

Why does virtually everyone seem to light up at the sight of a puppy? Because no matter what else is going on, the instant we make contact, we are immediately drawn into the present moment. But why does it take the glowing energy of a pup, or a rainbow, or whatever grabs our attention to do this? Because we are compulsively identified with our habitual and often unconscious thinking patterns. To be unconsciously identified with our thoughts means that we don’t even know that we are lost in our own thoughts.

My first encounter with a puppy involves instant, two-way, unconditional love and conscious contact. He totally accepts me and I totally accept him. It’s like a surprise party of acceptance. Since we all want to love and be loved, we have a lot to learn from such wise creatures. Their wisdom seems to come, in large part, from their relative lack of ego, the part of the mind that, among other things, constantly projects into the illusion of the past (holding onto a grudge, for example) and the future (worrying, the most common form of meditation).

In his beautiful book about meditation and yogic breathing techniques called “A Path with Heart,” Jack Kornfield says “For some, the task of coming back to the breath a thousand or ten thousand times in meditation may seem boring or even of questionable importance. But how many times have we gone away from the reality of our life? Perhaps a million or ten million times. If we wish to awaken, we have to find our way back here with our full being, our full attention… In this way, meditation is very much like training a puppy. You put the puppy down and say, “Stay.” Does the puppy listen? It gets up and runs away. You sit the puppy back down again. “Stay.” And the puppy runs away over and over again. Sometimes the puppy jumps up, runs over and pees in the corner, or makes some other mess. Our minds are much the same as the puppy, only they create even bigger messes. In training the mind, or the puppy, we have to start over and over again.”

So can we, too, learn to bring the same quality of acceptance to ourselves, with all our strengths and weaknesses, as we do with a puppy. Whenever we catch our mind “chewing” on something, we can gently, kindly, compassionately remind ourselves to say “sit, stay…stay…stay.” This does not mean we try to push thoughts out of our mind. Nor does it mean that we allow ourselves to indulge in thoughts, beliefs and attitudes. It means we simply observe and detach, noticing the difference between the observed and the observer.

Every time I catch myself saying “no, don’t chew on that; don’t scratch that, down boy, let’s go potty, heal, don’t bite,” I try, as best I can, to remember that I’m talking to myself at least as much as him. This teaches me to be mindful of what ever my gyroscopic mind is “chewing on” or “scratching at” in the moment. In this way, we can cultivate our unending practice of using our mind like a tool instead of unconsciously allowing it to use us. Our minds use us when we are identified with our thinking. That is to say that we are thinking and don’t even know we are thinking. We are thinking to the exclusion of being present with our experience of the here and now of the ordinary moments of our everyday lives. It’s like letting the dog lead you during a walk vs. you taking the lead.

The most courageous thing we’ll ever do in our lives is to be present with our own experience, moment by moment, non-judgmentally, accepting life on life’s terms. Even when, or especially when we don’t like what’s happening; even when we are actively working to grow and change. This is paradoxical. Paradox is confusing at first, but powerful when we authentically embrace it. Paradox means something that is seemingly self-contradictory. “How can I accept something and work at changing it at the same time,” the astute student of life will ask. By simply (but not easily) being willing to stay present with your experience; knowing that everything is impermanent, everything is in a constant state of flux. By observing it with sincere intention and without judgment, it will change of its own accord. Not in some naïve, magical way, but rather because acceptance frees us up to do the next right thing from a non-frantic posture, without attachment to the outcome.

We’re all masters at criticism of ourselves and other people, situations etc. The degree to which we’re critical of things outside ourselves often reflects the degree to which we’re being critical of ourselves. But criticism, sometimes even “constructive” criticism, only brings about temporary change. Because criticism keeps us caught up in the loop of diminishing self esteem which only leads to behaviors we don’t aspire towards. When we bring compassionate awareness to ourselves, especially the parts we don’t like or accept, only then can the power of paradox gently set us down in the land of quality and lasting growth.

 

Self-Discovery Questions

 

 

What is your mind currently “chewing on?”

How can you make more conscious contact with your own thoughts, emotions, behaviors and relationships with others?

How can you practice meditation in the following ordinary moments of your everyday life?:

Awakening first thing in the morning

Showering, dressing for the day

Eating meals

Driving

On the phone

Responding (vs. reacting) to what other people do or say, or don’t do, or don’t say.

What are you currently criticizing yourself and/or others about?

How can you bring one degree of acceptance to your current situation?

Are you willing to re-begin “ten-thousand times” cultivating a sense of awareness of yourself and bring about change through the paradox of