Gratitude

One constant in my recovery has been gratitude. These days, I give thanks as I lie in bed at night for anything that I’m grateful for. In years past, this process was often very deliberate and structured. I made time to write out a gratitude list.

Writing was often important, because I needed the discipline of sitting and concentrating on why I was grateful. Early on, I had to be very concrete. I often listed body parts that worked well as reasons to be grateful: legs, hands, a strong heart, etc. It was so easy to spend time ruminating on what was wrong in my life. I needed these times to remember there was good, too.

Gradually, I could take my mind off what seems so elementary like health and find gratitude in what was around me. I was able to stop looking within and able to look outward and see the joy in life at large.

It really is a miracle just to be alive.

If you’re new to the idea of gratitude, it might be a good idea to start with very simple things. If you’re healthy, you may begin with the different areas of your health that are going well. If you work or volunteer, that might be a good place to start, too. Look around you. Can you be grateful for a place to live? Is today’s weather good?

Look at your relationships. Are some of them going very well? Remember to be grateful for those people close to you.

Do you have activities that bring a smile to your face? Think about those kinds of things. Put them on a gratitude list.

Being grateful has one goal: allowing us to realize the good we have in our lives.

Today, I’m most grateful that I get to be me.

Coming From a Place of Self-Love

I’ve had a reason to think about my love for myself the past couple of days. I was challenged in an online forum by another individual who was writing very mean-spirited things directed at me. Remarkably, I was unfazed. It did not register at all.

Suddenly, I realized I have come a long way. The reason I was unfazed is that the other person’s opinion of me truly did not matter. I read her insults, and they passed right through my consciousness without sticking to any particular place.

Two years ago, I would have been very hurt. Last year, I would have been angry. Right now, that person does not matter one iota. I am sitting in my chair actually enjoying my day.

This stranger’s opinion is meaningless, because I do not receive my sense of self-worth from any other human being breathing on the planet. I give my high sense of self-worth to myself, and no one can assail it.

I got here through meditation. Try it.

Being Selfish

One of the oddest things about life is that when we are very small, we have to be taught to share. It is stressed over and over again that we have to share with our playmates. We aren’t allowed to hoard all the toys or take all the food from the lunch counter.

Many of us spend a great many adult years unlearning this lesson. We have to learn a healthy way of being selfish.

I have spoken to many people in various forms of distress. One of my favorite suggestions is to do one nice thing for ourselves every day. These can be very simple. We can give ourselves a full minute of deep breathing. Taking a walk in the sunshine is another good way to be nice to ourselves. If it’s what we want, we could indulge in our favorite food. We get to decide how to be nice to ourselves.

Many of us are taught to always place others before ourselves. This is appropriate in many situations, but it’s not healthy at all times. There are many times we have to place our own needs above our neighbor’s.

It is popular to say that we have to love ourselves before we can love others. I used to disagree with that. I thought I needed to deny myself my own love. I thought I could love others while ignoring my own needs. I now see that I cannot give what I do not have.

Ultimately, doing one nice thing for ourselves each day is meant to lead us to loving ourselves continuously.

When I come from a place of self-love, I can reach out with more love than I ever imagined. I am capable of more compassion than I knew previously. Empathy is more genuine.

It’s possible that being selfish may be the best way to help each other.

New Frontiers

A few days ago, I thought I’d finished with all the transforming I needed in one lifetime. I was done. I was going to live with the imperfections, and I was going to be happy.

That lasted until I got too tired of the discomfort. Pain actually.

This morning in meditation, I opened my belly, and I began to pull out something that hurt. It turned out to be attached to a chain that would not let go of its anchor, so I dove down to find out how deep it went.

It was deep. Very deep.

I got right down to where a little, snarling childlike version of myself was protecting the end of the chain. I thanked the snarling child for doing his job. He protected me for many years by getting me the things that I wanted. I then explained to him that his work was done. I soothed him. He was quite surprised, but he settled down and released the end of the chain.

I picked up the chain, I took the boy’s hand, and we went up to the surface. I gave him to an angel, and I was released from the pain.

It left a void, and I invited light to fill it.

What I have just described is a kind of guided visualization. I use it a great deal, and I get very good benefits from it. I’m able to help myself with very simple techniques. It’s really startling how much pain I’ve been able to release using guided visualization. I recommend meditation to anyone who thinks they can’t help themselves. I’ve been meditating for many years, decades actually. It works, and it does not have to be difficult.

I’m still going to revel in my humanity.

I Can Only Be Me

I’ve had a rough few weeks. I experienced hypo-mania, which I haven’t had for quite a number of years. It was very uncomfortable. I’ve been recuperating. I’ve meditated quite a bit, and it helps enormously. It really does bring me a lot of healing energy.

My psychiatrist said something that made me pause. He told me not to be a hero. I wanted to return to a full schedule of work, and he pointed out the importance of taking time to heal.

I’ve been talking to myself a lot about what I’m experiencing. It’s a way of integrating the situation and allowing it to be what it is and then healing it. I realized I have many very great expectations of myself.

I made a decision.

I allow myself to be flawed. I allow myself to be perfectly human.

I do not need to change any more or to somehow develop and reach toward perfection. I get to be me with all my un-whole-ness.

I am living my life, and I will not apologize for my glorious humanity.

I am not perfect, and I am perfectly happy with that.

Meditation

I meditate every morning. It is without a doubt the single most important thing I do.

There is a lot of myth and misunderstanding surrounding meditation. I think the first myth is that to meditate correctly, you have to empty your mind. I don’t, but I have achieved remarkable effects with meditation even though I still have a series of thoughts flitting across my consciousness. Another myth is that one must sit cross legged. I sit on a stool. I think the most damaging myth may be that meditation is only for saints. We can all benefit from even short amounts of meditation done regularly.

I began meditating more than thirty years ago. It was never regular. I went for many months meditating daily, and then I took a break. I’m not sure how many years now it’s been a morning habit, but that’s what it has become. It is my morning start.

The first thing I would like to tell all is that meditation does not have to be long. Most mornings, I meditate for only ten or fifteen minutes. In that time, I gain great focus that gives me an unshakably calm center that I carry through the day.

I am going to take you through the steps I use in meditation. You can build your own steps. There are only a few things that are perhaps required. The necessities are first to sit with the back erect but the body is relaxed. Second, breathe evenly. The final necessity is something that comes with a bit of time. It is the ability to allow thoughts their space, observe them, but to remain detached from them. What I’m trying to say is that we give thoughts their space, but we do not invest our selves in those thoughts. Perhaps this third point will become easier to understand as we look at my steps of mediation.

I have a special stool that I use for meditation. My first step is to sit on it. I adjust myself, until I feel comfortable. My feet are firmly on the floor, and my back is erect. My head is erect, too.

I close my eyes. There are some meditation traditions that teach to keep the eyes open. I taught myself how to meditate, and closed came naturally. I’m also coming to this with a mental illness, so I need as little distraction as possible.

I relax. I have been meditating for many decades, so this is almost instantaneous now. If you’re new, you can start with your toes and relax your entire body as you go up to your head. Do it slowly, one area at a time. However, keep your back erect with your head firmly in line with your back. It will sound like a paradox, but it’s possible to do that and remain relaxed.

I breathe evenly. Sometimes, I begin by breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth. This is cleansing. Once I’m breathing evenly and it feels right, I take in a long breath counting to eight as I do. I also count to eight on the exhale.

I make a connection. This step works for me. It came naturally to me, but it is not part of any formal meditative tradition. I connect myself to the Earth by imagining a cord of red light from Earth’s center to me. I imagine a cord of white light connecting me to the Universe/Heaven. I am where those two meet.

I clear myself of any attachments I may have made. Again, this works for me. You get to decide what your meditation is going to be like. I imagine that I have layers of energy stuck on me. I make a cut from my head to my feet in these layers of energy, and I ask angels to peel them off. It’s slow, but I feel lighter when it’s done. I’m in the habit of doing this a second time very close to my body. I like to think I’m removing the layers of my own thoughts that I cling to.

Now, I breathe with focus. It is at this time that I really focus on my breathing. I try to concentrate on how the air is entering my nose. I also concentrate on how my belly and my chest may be moving. I continue breathing, and I continue focusing.

Thoughts come. I may remember a conversation I had on the phone, or I may think about a task I have to do that day. Here’s what I’ve learned about thoughts: I cannot turn them off. Here’s another thing I’ve learned: I no longer try to turn them off. I allow them to do their work. I allow them to have their space and time. But I do not attach myself to them.

In our normal waking life, we experience events, and we assign emotions to accompany our experiences. Let’s think of driving in heavy traffic. There are many things to be aware of all at the same time, and there are many emotions that accompany all that awareness. There are the rude drivers around us, and there are the kind ones, too. Our reactions to those other drivers represent our attachments to our own feelings. We remind ourselves we are alive by living in the midst of a continuous stream of emotions.

In meditation, I have learned to allow my thoughts to have their space, but I do not choose to attach an emotion to any given thought. I am detached.

That lesson was not quick, and I must relearn it often. Many times when I meditate, a thought about an experience will arise that I have strong feelings about, and the emotions come.

Here again, I do not try to stop the emotions. I give them their space. I allow them to exist. I do not fight the discomfort. Instead, I pay very close attention to the place where the emotions are living. Is the discomfort about the difficult experience in my belly or my chest or my throat or my head? Is it somewhere outside me?

I picture the difficult discomfort. I give it shape or motion. Sometimes it’s a black sludge in my belly. Sometimes it’s a swirling column of air like a tornado in my torso. Sometimes it’s a heavy cube in my head. I let the discomfort tell me what shape it has. I allow it to come to me.

Now, I call on angels again to come remove the discomfort and fill the space it leaves with light. They do it every time. The discomfort may return, but I can ask for it to be removed each and every time. There is no limit on how many times I can ask for assistance. It is limitless. This helps me feel very light and clear.

After a bout of discomfort, I return to focusing on my breathing. I again focus on how the air enters my nose and my expanding belly and chest and then on the falling belly and chest and the air leaving my nose. There is no limit to how many times my focus wanders and returns. I am not failing when my focus wanders. I am not doing it wrong, if I have to return to my focus a thousand times during ten minutes of sitting.

If you are sitting with your back and head erect and if you are attempting to focus on your breathing, you cannot fail. With just those few necessities, you cannot fail.

I hope these words help.

Here, I go to My Happy Place. You can read about it here. That’s an old entry, and My Happy Place has evolved, but it’s still relevant. It’s important for me to mention that guided visualization is a type of meditation that I used for a very long time especially during periods when my mind simply would not be quiet in any meaningful way. My Happy Place gives me great comfort after all these years. If you want to create your own Happy Place, you get to decide what it looks like.

You are in charge of how you want your recovery to go. Meditation is a vital part of mine. Perhaps it could help you, too.

How to Help Your Friend with Mental Illness

I am very grateful for my friends. I am very open about my mental illness. Being open works for me, but there are many people who choose to keep it quiet.

If you have a friend who confides their mental illness to you, I hope you will be grateful for the trust they place in you. There is a great deal of stigma against the mentally ill and mental illness in general. When we disclose to people, we are being brave.

If your friend discloses to you, ask them how they want you to help. Listen to their ideas. Most of the time, we only want someone to understand our situation and why we may appear a little “off” at times. We are each unique, and we will each want different things from our friends.

It is safe for me to say there is one thing we never want from our friends: medical advice, no matter how innocuous it may seem to you. We take our medical advice from our doctors, and it sometimes takes us many years to begin to trust them. I’m sure our friends don’t want to endanger that trust.

It’s possible that a person with mental illness but with little understanding of their illness may react inadvisedly to news from a friend that perhaps the only thing wrong is a vitamin deficiency. This person may leap at the thought they can be cured with simple supplements and cease taking their important medicines for their mental illness.

Stopping taking medicine can have disastrous effects when the symptoms of the illness return. The symptoms can be difficult to reverse, and they can sometimes lead to terrible consequences. They can even be fatal.

We need our friends. You are important to us. Vital, actually. We are often quite isolated. Listen to us when we talk. Tell us we are heard. Hug us. Let us know we are not alone.

That’s all we really need.