Tag Archives: society

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?


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.




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….

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.

How Stupid Can You Be?

Have you ever wondered how stupid you can be?  You haven’t?  I hope  you don’t take offense while reading this post.  But I challenge you to be honest with yourself for a moment.

The dictionary defines “stupid” as : slow of mind; given to unintelligent decisions or acts;  acting in an unintelligent or careless manner; irresponsible;  dulled in feeling or sensation; marked by or resulting from unreasoned thinking or acting.

I am paraphrasing this definition as follows: Living and defining Life without reflection. 

  I encourage you to think about all the times that you made decisions without thinking much about it.  How many times have you accepted claims at face value simply because they “sounded good”?   Or simply because it did not require much thought or reflection? How often have you taken for granted and blindly believed all the stupidity that people say  and claim?  And I am not talking simply about being developmentally challenged, or mathematically challenged, or not knowing how to spell properly based on what the modern English language dictates.  No.  I am really talking about a holistic way of being stupid.
For example, I recently heard on the news about how excited people are about the new Pope.  One devoted person told a reporter : “I used to not go to church anymore.  But now that we have a Pope from Latin America, I am excited about going back to church!”  How stupid can this person be? Does going to church depend on whether or not you like the leader of your church? Or does it depend on whatever calling you believe you have in this life? I also read numerous posts from various blogs that show certainty about what Life is about.  This type of thinking is dangerous, ignorant, and stupid.
I acknowledge I have been stupid myself many times in my life.  I have believed a lot of claims about what I should do and what I should believe in.  I have accepted the notion that we live in this life for selfish reasons that truly serve our  self-serving agenda, such as being prosperous, following a specific religious doctrine, traveling the world, having children,   or earning a career.  Don’t misunderstand me, I still think all of these things are good (except the religious one). But they don’t define Life itself.
I want to share a few quotes about Stupidity.  Here you go:
“You’re hopeless! What arrogant stupidity! You say, ‘If someone makes a promise with his fingers crossed, that’s nothing; but if he swears with his hand on the Bible, that’s serious.’ What ignorance! Does the leather on the Bible carry more weight than the skin on your hands?” Matthew 23:16
“Jesus replied, “You, too? Are you being willfully stupid? Don’t you know that anything that is swallowed works its way through the intestines and is finally defecated? But what comes out of the mouth gets its start in the heart. It’s from the heart that we vomit up evil arguments, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, lies, and cussing. ” Matthew 15:16

“We are in danger of destroying ourselves by our greed and stupidity. We cannot remain looking inwards at ourselves on a small and increasingly polluted and overcrowded planet.” Stephen Hawking.

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Egotism is the anesthetic that dulls the pain of stupidity.”  Frank Leahy.

I invite you.  I challenge you. I plead you to seriously reflect on what Life is really about,
and resist the tendency to adopt a superficial, and selfish approach that poisons our minds, hearts, and souls.
How do you choose to define Life? Are you using a stupid definition without reflecting and simply following someone else’s convenient definition?
Your level of stupidity will depend on your answer to this question.

Would you do these things…?

Would you insult a Priest or a clergy for their hypocrisy ?

Would you consider choosing non-relative friends over your parents and siblings ?

Have you thought of telling leaders on their abuse of power?

Could you call your friends “evil”, “ignorant”, or “unfaithful” in their face ?

Would you insult authority figures like the mayor or governor, by calling them derogatory names?

How about calling them “ignorant, liars, manipulators, and self-righteous” in public?

Do you rather not wash your hands, face, and fixing your hair before going in public?

Would you tell your friends not to defend themselves in an event of an assault?

Will you cut down your orange or apple tree and burn it because it did not have any fruit when you expected it?

Would you violently cast out the cash register or owner of a store because of their unfair business?

Would you oppose capital punishment and the right to bare arms?

Would you do these things…?

Jesus did.

And the church adamantly defends him for doing so.

Why wouldn’t they do the same for the rest of us today?

(Mathew 5:39, 23:13,  15:1-2, 15, 16:23, 18:21, 21:18, Luke 13:32)

What is Happiness ?

A lady who dreams of spending time with family who lives hundreds of miles away.  She is delusional about her family coming to visit her. She is disoriented and paranoid.  She relies on medication to remain fully functional.

A drug addict who gets excited for simply receiving extra food during the holidays. He has no family members to spend time with.  He sometimes sells food and medicine to support his drug addiction.

A man who prefers to spend time by himself on Christmas. He is depressed and actively psychotic. He is sometimes suicidal.   He has an elderly mother who no longer can visit him as she used to.
These are just a few examples of the suffering that surrounds us on a daily basis.  We complain about every little thing that happens to us, but forget about  the people who dream of having the basic things in life such as food and shelter.  How unappreciative can we be?  How much more are we going to ignore our suffering neighbor?  We remain fixated on what would make us happy, and disregard the needs of the “least of these”.

We tell each other “Happy Holidays!”, “Happy New Year!”, but are we really wishing each other happiness of are we simply being polite?  Are we happy when we receive the Christmas gifts, or simply being spoiled? Do we care about other’s basic needs or about our desires and wants?  The truth is, all we really care about is our own comfort and self indulging behavior.  Let’s admit it.

We don’t know what happiness really is.   We rarely think about the ones who need real happiness in their lives, not because they have less money, dirty clothes, or fewer friends, but because they have nothing at all.

Do you know what it’s like to have nothing at all?  Ask a homeless person.    Ask a severe mentally ill person.  Ask an orphan.  They will surely educate us on what happiness really means.  They would say happiness would be something like a hot meal.  Or a warm bath.  Or spending one hour with distant family members.  Or having a clear mind without hallucinations or delusions for 30 minutes.  This is what happiness really is.

Unless we are starving, freezing, depressed, petrified, or in unbearable pain, we will never appreciate what happiness really is.

Learn from Children

Children learn by asking questions. They are curious about the world.  They actually make me think about the things that I usually take for granted.  For instance, my children ask questions like: “What makes it rain?” , “Who is in charge of our country?” and “How does a GPS know where we are…?”

In the same way, we learn by asking, questioning, researching, wondering.

If we do not, we will be stagnated in an immature state of mind and spirit.  We would continue to be immersed in our own selfish and superficial way of life.  We would continue to be bombarded with what the media tells us: be strong , be the best, have more, do more, exalt  the self, defend the ego….  We will be trapped in our own convenient worlds.  It would be like going back to our fetus position and continue to be fed by the umbilical cord of the ego.

We will  not learn to love, to care, or to forgive, because life would be all about feeling comfortable.

We enjoy to glorify ourselves through sports, businesses, politics, patriotism, religion, etc.  We eagerly try to exalt ourselves to a level higher than what we really are.  We like to pretend we are the best.  We like to believe we live in the best country, follow the right religion, eat the best food, and believe the right principles.  We enjoy pretending to be better than the other person, because it is the easiest way to fight our insecurities. But we are truly the last if we think this way.

The truth is, we are insignificant beings, yet we are important and worthwhile.

What we need to do is stand back, look at the big picture, and begin to learn and ask questions, because we don’t know everything, just like children do.

Like Mother Teresa once said, I would like to help other people of different points of view be better in what they believe and do, such as helping the Muslim be a better Muslim, a Christian be a better Christian, a Buddhist be a better Buddhist, and a Hindu be a better Hindu.  We can still learn from each other, in spite of some differences.

Instead of competing and comparing, we should share and assist.  Instead of being content with what we pretend we know,  we should be willing to continue to learn.  Instead of wanting to figure out the mysteries of life  and prematurely  reaching a conclusion with a simple doctrine, we should be brave enough to continue to explore and strive for more understanding.

Just like children do.