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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.

 

 

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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….


Love, sadness, and regret: A weekend with my father

My Dad at the beach

My Dad at the beach

 

I spent this past weekend with my father after not seeing him for three years. It was definitely an unforgettable experience.   It was a weekend full of love and happiness, but also sadness and regret.  I was obviously happy because I got to see my father one more time before he departs this earth.   I love my father dearly and I wish he continues to enjoy life as much as possible during his last years.   But it was also a sad experience because I saw how deteriorating and frail my father has become.   He now walks with a limp, and is extremely forgetful.

We went to the beach, to the park, and the old pharmacy where he used to work at.  He saw a lot of old friends whom he has not seen for a while (he stays in his house most of the time).  I visited several places where I grew up as a kid.  We played pool together, visited my aunt, and ate a lot of tropical food.  It was a neat experience.  I returned home after spending the weekend with my father.  It was a sad farewell.

This might have been the last time I see him on this earth.  But I think I have learned to accept this possibility.  In addition to this, my father expressed to me how regretful he is for divorcing my mother.  We were sitting at his dinning room table and he softly said “I love you very much…”  I don’t remember my father being so affectionate . He then added, “I also love your brothers ..” I responded by telling him I love him as well.  Then he uttered the following words which will forever break my heart.  He said: “I wish I had never divorced your mother.”

This was a great lesson for me.  If I let my selfish nature dictate my life to the point of dividing my family through separation and divorce,   I will regret it later in life.   I am not saying that my parents were necessarily selfish, but they were definitely not happy in their marriage and decided to end their unhappy marriage with divorce.  Maybe they should have never married in the first place, but they did and they faced the consequence of their decision.  Maybe all of this was meant to be so that we can learn a lesson in this life.  I don’t know for sure.  All I know is that my father has reached a time in his life where he has concluded that he made a mistake, and he is paying the price today.

I don’t want to repeat the same mistake.  I don’t want to make decisions in my life  and regret them later.   My hope is to remain close to my immediate family and to avoid breaking the bond that I have with them.  But I understand that life is full of decisions that may or may not  be the best ones.  Who decides which decisions are good or not?  How will I ever know the consequences of my decisions?

 


Alone: A reflection of myself

Today I received another bad news at work. A co-worker is resigning- my assistant.  I work as a supervisor at a psychiatric and rehab program.  I have been working in this facility for three years now.   There is only one co-worker left , out of 12, who is from the original group.  And for some reason, I start thinking that people are leaving me, and not the work itself.

I am trying to fight the thoughts of “abandonment” and “loneliness.”  After reflecting for a while, I think this is my main issue.  I feel as if these experiences bring up the reminder about the possibility of being alone.   It is weird because I tend to prefer to be alone in many situations.  I am not a social person and crowds are not my favorite places to be.   My tendency is to remain isolated in my own happy world; what many people consider an introvert person.   But at the same time, this isolation is what I want to avoid.   And when people resign in my work place, I have to fight the idea that I am being betrayed… abandoned…. and left alone.
In my early personal life, I experienced several changes of living arrangements,  as a result of moving from one place to another.  My family moved a total of 17 times in my childhood.  And every time it happened, I would have to adjust to new a environment.   New peers.  New house.  New neighborhood.  New school.  It was also a way to keep me from settling and growing roots.  I could not develop strong friendships.   As a result, I think I developed a strong sense of insecurity.  When I engage in arguments with my wife, I tend to feel extremely anxious.   And I wonder if it is because of these same thoughts of being alone.

This may explain why I still struggle with feelings of betrayal and abandonment, which can be manifested in the present time.  But at the same time, I am cognitively aware that it is not necessarily “bad” to be alone.  It can be a moment of reflection and peace.  I enjoy reflecting and meditating.  But these feelings of “abandonment” and “betrayal” are often present.

I am actually glad I am reflecting on this, since I also believe that by thinking more about it, I may be able to deal with it better, observe it, and move on.


r E li G i O n

Most of us have our own religions. We don’t have to believe in a deity in order to practice a religion. It could be manifested through patriotism by adhering to patriotic rituals such as saluting the national flag.  We can practice religion through sports by painting our faces and cheering during a sports event.  We can also practice religion through politics by attending a political rally and through entertainment by attending music concerts.

The dictionary defines religion as follows:

1.

    a. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe.
     b. A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.
2. The life or condition of a person in a religious order.
3. A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.
4. A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.
The fourth definition reflects more what I am describing in this post. But I am going to take a step further here.

Notice that the word RELIGION has the word EGO in it (r E li G i O n) , which may explain why it is basically the manifestation of our Egos (tongue in cheek).  But seriously speaking, Religion (of any kind) simply nourishes our Egos by making us feel superior, protected, and invincible.

Any kind of religion is an attempt to make us feel better and superior.  It is a desperate way of deceiving the real self from the hard and true nature of our fragile existence.  We tend to feel inferior to other more powerful and greater entities, such as authority figures and natural phenomena.  So we prefer to deceive ourselves by assuming a greater role than what we truly are, such as calling ourselves professionals, wealthy, experts, and intelligent.

Our different kinds of religion can also give us a sense of protection from our volatile state of existence.  It temporary relieves us from being prone to pain and ultimately death.  It keeps us from being ridiculed and marginalized.  We do this by armoring ourselves with rituals, citizenship, drugs, and fashion.  It provides a false sense of security fueled by fantasy.

All sorts of religion can also make us feel invincible. It helps us feel unstoppable through identification with a sports team, political party, culture, and race.  It provides a sense of immortality.  This “eternal identity” is also manifested through family traditions.

But there is hope.  We can still free ourselves from the deception of the different religions that keep our egos nourished.  It is through the difficult process of emptiness.  It is scary to refrain from protecting our egos through any kind of religion described above.  But I believe it is possible.  We have to accept the fact that we our finite beings and will eventually die.  So, I invite you to take my challenge and start living life without relying on feeding the falsified ego.  Surrender to suffering and embrace it.  Practice mindfulness, surrendering, and being in the present moment.


We Need to Stop ….

 

Sometimes we simply need to stop.

Occasionally we need to pause….

Once in a while, we need to slow down and breath … deeply.

Wait instead of rush.

Decelerate instead of accelerate.

Observe instead of look.

Relax instead of tense.

Forgive instead of retaliate.

Smile instead of smirk.

Let go instead of hold on.

Walk  instead of run.

Be poor in spirit instead of rich.

Pacify instead of fight.

Simplify instead of complicate.

Balance instead of go to extremes.

Accept instead of deny.

Weaken instead of strengthen.

Be instead of pretend.

Sometimes we need to acknowledge that everything ends.

Occasionally we need to accept our limitations.

And simply be who we really are….