Peeling the onion

When I peel an onion

I have to peel the onion one layer at a time.

At the beginning, the outer layer looks attractive and beautiful…. it can be golden, white, purple, yellow.   The onion looks full and healthy.

Then I start peeling more and more layers.  The first layer is the initial and basic concepts about life.

Religion, values, patriotism, family, professionalism….

all the ideas and concepts I started learning from early age.

Which, of course, are just ideas and concepts.

The more I peel these layers away, the more I peel away these ideas… which I also call illusions.

Because they are not in the here and now….  they are fabrications of my mind.

All the memories…. all the goals…. all the dreams… all these ideas keep me away from the present moment.

So I keep peeling away all those basic thoughts and ideas that I have been taught.

And, the same way that I peel and onion, and can irritate my eyes, they get watery, and I start crying,

The same way I feel when I peel away all of these ideas… the concept about religion, about my family,

my country… my culture… my hobbies…. my profession.  My… my…  my…

All of these ideas , which also implied ownership, are not based on reality, or the here and now. 

I peel away and I also start crying , because… they are just illusions.  They once made me  happy… secured.

But it was a temporary happiness… it was a superficial state of identity and belonging.

So I cry… because I feel sad….sad because I miss this false sense of security.

But I bravely keep peeling away, to see the reality of this existence…. which I call Life.

And when I finally reach the center of the onion…. what do I find there?

What is at the core of the onion? What is at the center of life when I peel off all of these ideas?

No more religion… no more patriotism… I don’t  belong anywhere … profession is just a title …. dreams are just imaginations … I don’t own anything … because it is all an illusion.

What do I have left, then?

Emptiness. 

That is what I have left… the emptiness of life.

Is this a sad conclusion?  Or is it just it ?

Simply being…. it is not good…. it is not bad.

It simply is.

 

 


I AM : The ultimate experience

I used to think that death was the greatest mystery of our existence. But I have learned that death can be explained easier than life. Death is mostly understood by the fact that it is the experience of transferring to another state of existence . Although what happens to our consciousness after death remains a huge mystery , the experience of death itself is as far as we can possibly go in our empirical and tangible world.  We can all understand that death is the end of our current existence as we know it.  Our bodies decompose and our minds , if they actually exist, enter the unknown.  We cannot begin to understand the unknown.
But what remains a huge mystery to me is not the end of existence , but existence itself.   The mere state of being aware.  And not only aware, but aware of ourselves.  Aware of the “I.”  The “self.”  How can we know what or who we really are?  How can each of us differentiate from other “I’s” or “selves.”? How can we even use the phrase “I am?
Religious scholars and teachers interpret the bible’s use of the phrase “I am” by referring it to God, or higher power.  It is used mostly to describe the eternal and “present” God.  It was written in the book of Exodus that when Moses asked God whom should he say sent him to liberate the Israelites from Egypt, God told him to tell Pharaoh that “I am” sent him (Exodus 3).  In the Gospel of John , Jesus also referred to himself as the “I am”.  Because of these references , scholars decided to associate the “I am” with the divine being or God . It is also agreed by most religions that God is omnipresent. He is everywhere. He is the eternal present.

In Buddhism , being in the present moment, or mindfulness, is one of its teachings to help avoid suffering.  To be aware of the present moment.  The here and now.  Is experiencing the here and now the same as experiencing God?  The “I am.” ?

Was God trying to teach Moses that He is the Eternal Present (“I am that I am”)?  Was Jesus teaching us that the resurrection (a new life) is in the eternal present, as opposed to in the future (“‘I am’ the resurrection”)?

But what exactly is the “I” or the “self.” Could it simply mean the “eternal presence” that we all ignore by focusing on the past and the future?
The present moment, or the here and now, is all we really have.   Everything else is a fabrication of our minds. We fool ourselves with the notion of reliving the past (remembering stories of past heroes and events) and anticipating the future ( maintaining hope and having goals ).  These mind created phenomena is what keeps us living an illusion, which then can turn into depression, anxiety, regrets, and fear.  We create our own heaven and hell in our own personal minds.  All of this while missing the here and now.

Is the “I” , the self, an illusion?  Are we truly individual beings?  Or are we connected as one big entity, while believing that we are separate beings?  And what about the phrase “I am?”  .

When I use the phrase “I am”, what can I use after it to accurately describe the self?  I am human?  I am a person?  I am a body?  What is being human, person, or body?  I am a parent.  I am a patriot.  I am a writer.  Which one of these are true?

None of the above.   Since they are all fabrications of the mind.  They are all identities that I use to attempt to create the nature of the self.  And while I write this post in this blog, I still keep using the word “I” as if it means something.  Or someone.  What is it?

Furthermore, saying ” We are ” or “They are ” can be questionable.  Not everybody will agree with whatever characteristic you give to a group of individuals.  But when it comes to identifying with the “I”, how can you question your individual present?

In its purest form , I am is simply I am . Nothing else… No other addition can make it more true . It is simply identifying myself with the present moment.  With the eternal present.

I am is the ultimate mystery.
The ultimate experience .


Lost Minds: Serving people with mental illness

I have been planning to share a short journal I started months ago that describes my experience as a  mental health counselor.  I work at a P.A.C.T. (Programs of Assertive Community Treatment) which serves people with severe and persistent mental illness, such as schizophrenia and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).  The program staff  visits these individuals and provide psychiatric and rehab services to help them prevent hospitalization.  I have learned, in the three and a half years I have worked here, some aspects of these people’s lives.

Why am I sharing this with my readers?  Well, because serving this population fits perfectly (I think) with the Kingdom of Heaven.  People diagnosed with a mental illness, particularly schizophrenia, are usually marginalized and discriminated.  Only a selected few are willing to work closely with these people.   They are the “least of these” that Jesus talked about as well.  They are trapped in their own paranoid and delusional minds.   They are ignored, ridiculed, and avoided.  They are Lost Minds.

Here it goes:

October 2013    Yesterday, I visited David.  I saw him walking down the street ,claiming that he didn’t know where he was going but he complained of people calling him names. He was obviously having auditory hallucinations. He states he doesn’t have any friends and does not want to spend time with others .  David complains of pain on his neck and does not want to eat because he wants to lose weight.  His thoughts are concrete , just like a child.

Today I visited Mary for medicine observation.  We need to observe her take her daily medication to ensure she is compliant.   She opened the door to my surprise. She has a history of not answering the door or the phone when we call her. I could sense a strong body odor.  She sat down on the front porch while I talked to her. I reminded her about appointment with psychiatrist but she tried to avoid meeting with psychiatrist by saying that she had to submit a job application in the afternoon but then she said she would meet with the doctor. She tends to say she is busy or cleaning up as an excuse. She has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, paranoid type, and has auditory hallucinations on a daily basis. The “voices” started when she was in her late teens.
About a year ago Mary began to act more bizarre by not answering her door, acting more guarded, not letting staff come inside, and exhibiting poor hygiene.  She also lost significant weight, and we suspected that she was not taking her medication. We consulted among the PACT team members and decided to start observing Mary take her medication on a daily basis to ensure she was compliant. She reluctantly agreed. However , her sister called the PACT office and shared concern about Mary acting “weird”.  When the sister visited Mary one time, she saw a pile of trash in Mary’s kitchen. She reported that Mary was hoarding trash for unknown reasons.  Sister also said Mary did not have enough food and found hamburger wrapping paper with leftover food in it and the kitchen sink was clogged and filled with dirty water.  The sister said she offered to help do grocery shopping and cleaning up the trash, but Mary declined.  I visited Mary one time and assertively invited myself inside the apartment. I found exactly what the sister described.  I opened her refrigerator and it was almost empty. The pile of trash in the kitchen was about three feet high, and it included a microwave. When I asked Mary what was going on, she replied “I am cleaning up… ” which did not make sense.  I also offered to help her clean up and transport her to do grocery shopping, but she adamantly declined. I  warned her that if she does not clean the pile and buy some food, the PACT team will have to admit her in the hospital for an evaluation.  She managed to resolve the situation but her personal hygiene continued to be a problem.  She has also thrown away furniture because she has been “cleaning up.”  She still does not answer her door every time we visit her but she has been compliant most of the time.

March 2013   Ronald has a history of admissions to the state hospital and the jail.  He is diagnosed with paranoid Schizophrenia and cocaine dependence.  He has a history of accusing others, including the PACT team, of poisoning him , stealing his money, and breaking into his trailer. He threatens to kill some of his family members. He has talked about owning big companies , having surgeries where his organs have been removed , and having supernatural powers . He is one of the most severe cases of mental illness I have worked with. He was recently arrested and placed in jail for continuing to threat family members. He has been on conditional release which grants him the opportunity to live in the community if he complies with treatment . However , Ronald does not always remain calm and is often verbally belligerent and hostile towards staff and some family members.
I visited Ronald at the jail a few weeks later . He insisted that he was “poisoned ” and that his family “cut him up and shot him several times. ” I decided to confront and dispute his thoughts, but he became increasingly irritable and defensive.  He finally stood up and walked away.  The psychologist who evaluated Ronald submitted a letter indicating that given the recent history of threats and paranoia, Ronald is recommended to go to the state hospital.  And so the cycle continues.

May 2014   Today I visited Anthony who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and cocaine dependence.  He admits to drug use but does not have the motivation to quit.  He lives in a dirty motel room.  He has roaches crawling everywhere and it has a lot of smoke from the cigarettes.  He talks about going to war, which did not happen, and being shot.  He only gets $10 a week from his payee, because if he gets anymore money he will use it for drugs.  I am supposed to transport him every week to cash his social security check.  But many times he uses the $10 to pay back one of his “friends.” So he often has very little food and goes out on the street to panhandle.

September 29th, 2014    Today I visited Robert.   He is currently struggling with the anniversary of his marriage with his deceased wife. He has cravings of drinking alcohol so that he can numb the pain that he feels for spending one more year without his wife.  He suffers from panic attacks and depression.   He tries to avoid large crowds.  His best friend is a little kitten that he owns, which gives him comfort during difficult days.

I also visited Will, who lives in an apartment that has numerous things around the living room and dining room which represents his mental status.   He suffers from disorganized thinking and substance abuse. He may also be suffering from dementia.  Having a counseling session with Will is almost impossible. He does not follow a logical conversation , since he jumps from one topic to another.  He also smokes marijuana.

December 11th, 2014     Today I visited Anthony again at the state hospital … He looks physically healthy, but exhibited some delusions. He wants to return to the community , and smoke cigarettes.  He said he will not smoke marijuana but I don’t believe so.  He does not have contact with his family .  He has no friends… He has no place to call home.  His mother died about 14 years ago… She appeared to have been his whole life.   Now he has nothing , except the hospital and the staff.  After this visit, he went back to eat lunch.   He was sitting by himself at a small table . What kind of life is this ? It is sad to see him like this.  What if he was my brother .. My friend… My cousin? Does his father ever think about him?

What am I going to think about this person’s life situation? He is doing fine? He is suffering? He has an addiction that is consuming him? He is just another worthless life?  Or is he a unique human being that needs help?  Lots of help….


McMass: Would you like fries with that sermon?

I thought I would share this interesting link about a church that plans to build a McDonalds in its facility to attract more church members.

http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2014/11/28/businessman-wants-to-build-mcdonalds-in-church/?intcmp=latestnews

The church is experiencing a decrease in its attendance.  I wonder why.

So… what do they decide to do then?  Do they pray harder for the “lost souls?” Do they start a campaign to reach out to the “least of these?” Or do they revise how they have been reflecting God’s message and try to be more spiritual and Christ-like?  If you think it may have been one of the above, you are completely wrong.

They are raising funds to put a McDonald’s franchise inside a place of worship.  Can you believe this?

Can I have fries with that order of holy burger, please?  Can I have holy water to drink?

“It’s time for churches to engage with entrepreneurship,” writes the group on its IndieGoGo site. “By combining a church and a McDonald’s we can create a self-sustaining, community-engaged, popular church, and an unparalleled McDonald’s restaurant.

It claims that, in the United States alone, three million people leave the church.  You can include me in that statistic.  So they think of combining church with McDonalds.  After all, this particular restaurant “brings communities together.”  So why not have a church use this company to help bring its community together as well?  I mean, who needs prayer and Bible studies, when you can have McMass?

What are they going to think of next?  DisneyMass?

This is an example of how screwed up  today’s church is.  They notice that they are losing members, so they start acting “in the flesh.”  Instead of focusing more on the spiritual, they think more about raising millions of dollars to buy a franchise.  Instead of thinking about how to send the message of love and compassion that God brought through Jesus, they think about how to attract people with burgers and fries.

Am I the only one embarrassed about this?  And we wonder why people, particularly skeptics, criticize today’s church.

What would Jesus do if he walks inside one of these McMass projects?  Would he throw out all the McDonald’s staff who work in the church, like he did at the temple in Jerusalem 2000 years ago?

“I’m loving it.”

You can see the full story on the Indie GoGo website  here.  http://igg.me/at/mcmass/x 

 

 

 


To Seek or not to Seek…?

Here is a dichotomy in my mind…

I can remain calm , through acceptance, self denial, and simplicity.  This will include being satisfied with what is, and refusing to desire so to avoid suffering.

 

Or I can live this life seeking for meaning through prayer, reflection, reading, and studying.  Being unsatisfied and wanting more in life, but feeling hopeful and maintaining faith that I will find more satisfaction .

I can let life continue to be without necessarily trying to “find ” God , or live by trying to discover who and what God is and hoping that a divine intervention will come.

What would be the correct path? I can decide to remain calm and accept life as it is, meditating and simply being.  I can do  this by being aware of the present moment.  Living in the here and now.  I can also remain calm by refraining from desiring and wanting.  Happiness would then be wanting what I already have.  Being a minimalist.  Believing that less in more.  Letting things pass through me… letting go…. without resistance… without judgment.  And experiencing peace.

But I am suddenly aware of the injustice of life.  I am aware of wars… hunger… terrorism …. and famine.  I then become more sensitive to the “evils” that poison this world.   I  start feeling anger…. frustration…. and disgust.   And then  I am motivated again to fight for justice and peace.

Which means I cannot just be. I have to move and do something.  So the question remains: Should I seek justice and peace?  Or should I simply be and accept?  Should I turn the other cheek, or fight for equality and justice? Should I remain calm, let go and let God…  or should I stand up and take action?

Blessed are the poor in spirit… but also are the ones who fight for justice.  Blessed are the meek, the ones who mourn,  and the peace makers… but also the ones who reveal the hypocrites, give to the poor, and speak the truth.

Maybe there is a time for everything.  A time to fight, and a time to make peace.   A time to speak, and a time to remain silent.

Perhaps we are called to act and not act according to the circumstances.  According to the needs at the moment.  But who decides?

Maybe it does not have to be a dichotomy, but a more fluid, mixed approach of seeking and not seeking according to our calling.

 


Just Wondering….

I have been wondering lately:
Is my desire to know God triggered by my fear of being alone?
Do I insist in finding and knowing God more because I don’t want to face an existential desperation?
When I tend to feel a desire to read some portions of the Bible, is it just mere curiosity?
When I sense some enthusiasm when I listen to some Christian music and I shed a tear, is it a simple inspirational, emotional experience, or some true supernatural intervention?
My previous post talks about my willingness to be “tuned it” to God.
Am I being hypocritical by saying I am trying to listen, but at the same time I am doubting and scrutinizing every inspiration I feel regarding the divine?
Is God truly speaking to me…?
And if so, why am I not being more receptive and, instead, I start questioning more?
I am either an undisciplined student and a stubborn, defiant child… or a mere skeptic and an ambitious explorer who does not satisfy with the possibility of the supernatural.

I honestly don’t know what to think. Perhaps I am thinking too much, and not trusting enough.
Perhaps I need to quiet down my questioning thoughts, and simply be.

After all, what am I but a single being, among billions of beings in a tiny planet revolving around a massive star?  And this star is among billions and billions of others stars in a seemingly endless universe.  Why would I be so important?

What is the “self” anyways?  What makes me distinct (and similar) from other beings?  How do I know that this consciousness that I experience, which allows me to perceive “reality,” is the only consciousness I will ever experience?

See?  I can’t stop questioning and wondering about these things.

Just Wondering….


Tuned in: Testing God once again

There is an interesting blog titled “A Year Without God” which caught my attention a few months ago. It is a provocative blog that describes a former Adventist pastor deciding to live a year as if God did not exist .   He says in one of his posts titled “Where I stand: a six-month report” that he does not believe in God because of lack of empirical evidence.  These are his exact words :

I don’t see how there is any empirical, scientific evidence for God’s existence.I don’t see any evidence for any recognizable pattern of God’s interaction in the world. I don’t think the Bible records anything more than ancient people’s search for the divine.”  (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/yearwithoutgod/)

This is a  powerful and bold statement regarding the possible existence or non-existence of an all powerful being.   Although I understand his point of view, I also tend to be cautious and vigilant about any conclusions I make about that which possibly created my mind in the first place.  I sometimes ask myself :  Can the cartoon character conclude that there is no cartoonist?  Can the painting prove that there is no such thing as a painter?  I cannot reach such a bold conclusion if I am not capable of fully understanding what the universe is all about and what other people are perceiving and experiencing.  It is true that we may not be able to “prove” the existence of God by using physical evidence that only our five senses can detect.  But do we have only five senses?

Having said this, I am currently in a position in my life where I felt the need to get on my knees and plead for an answer.  I have been evolving in my spiritual journey, from being a catholic, to a pentecostal fundamentalist, to a more liberal reflective Christian.    For the past two to three years, I have gradually distant myself from the traditional Christian faith.  I chose to liberate myself from living a fundamental religious lifestyle, and adopt a more liberal and inclusive approach.   I have learned a lot from other faiths and traditions in this journey of mine.  You can read more about this spiritual journey in the following posts:  Spiritual Roller coaster,  Is this all there is to Life?, Am I Losing Faith?, Embarrassed by the Church, How NOT to be a Good Christian,  Religiously Correct. 

I am not ashamed to say this, because I also believe that doubt and skepticism can be utilized to learn more about the true nature of my existence, and also about God, as I am capable of understanding Him.

To make a long story short, I recently encountered trouble in my immediate family and felt desperate about it.  More doubts came to my mind, but this time it was about the approach I have been taking in the last year.  I started wondering if this “God business” was actually a bad thing to walk away from.  The concept of hell, salvation through faith alone,  the “forgiveness” of sins, the Holy Trinity, and the divinity of Jesus Christ were a few of many questionable doctrines that simply became too mystical for me to accept and believe any longer.  But right now I am looking past these doubts and allowing God to work on me.  I still have my doubts, but my recent experience in life has been like a a bucket of ice water spilled on my face.  I needed to wake up.

 

So I started to pray, like I have not done in months.  I humbled myself against my rational and intellectual nature, and started to talk to this “invisible” and “distant” God out of desperation.  I often criticized the act of prayer as a manipulative way of getting God to do what I want, which you can read more in the post “Why pray?.”  But I felt like a vegetarian craving for a hamburger in the middle of a desert.

I also started posting and sharing messages in a Christian forum and started reading an inspirational Christian book as well.  As I read some of the pages, my rational mind kept saying to myself:  “be careful…. don’t fall into the religious trap…. you know it is just superstitious….. this is only religious fanaticism… fairy tales.”

But my personal family ordeal was pulling me away from my rational mind, and towards the “unknown” of spiritual life.  I craved for answers.  So I decided to give God another chance.  I blindly got to my knees and plead for my heart to be transformed.  Instead of blaming others and expecting circumstances to change, I accepted the challenge of opening my heart again and let “God” do whatever needed to be done.  I was basically “testing God.”  I remember praying : “you want my attention?…. you got it!”  I cried like a baby.   I remember saying, “I don’t have a lot of faith… but I am here pleading, just in case you are listening!”

I then came across this other wonderful blog titled “Isaiah 53:5 Project” where it has a recent post called “God is calling, Pick up the Phone” The author described a time when he decided to open up to the possibility of God’s call:

” Since I couldn’t escape thinking about the possibility of God or continue to ignore His constant calls I finally, and reluctantly, “answered the phone”.

 

This post helped me realize that God may be “calling me.”   I have asked God if He is listening.  This post asked me if I have been listening to God.  The answer is probably NO.  Like the prodigal son, who walked away from his father, but returned after he has been starving to death.    I still have my doubts.  But that is ok.  I don’t believe God expects me to know everything for certain in order to grow spiritually.   Christianity may still not have all the answers, but I am willing to learn.  I am willing to listen.

I am tuned in.