Tag Archives: suffering

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 .

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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….


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.

 


Is God Listening?

Is God listening? I have been struggling with a difficult issue that has brought me to tears. I have not been religious for more than two years. Meaning, I have ceased to pray, go to a religious institution, or read the Bible. I don’t even believe God interferes with everyday life. However, I am currently experiencing a high level of anxiety and sadness, to the point of crying out of desperation to God. I am actually doing what I have criticized and labeled as “irrational” and “self-centered.” Praying to God only when in need of something or out of despair.

Could it be that, because of my lack of faith and religious abandonment, that God is “teaching me” a lesson? Wouldn’t this mean that God is not merciful? Or could it be that God is helping me be closer to Him through this tribulation? Could there be another way to get closer to God instead of through suffering? Is this what finding the true God is about? I hope someone can give me some insight, since I am struggling with the idea of begging to God just because I wish circumstances to be different.  I don’t want to feel that I am trying to “manipulate” God into allowing things to be my way.   I have also prayed that, if it is not His will, to help me accept whatever happens.  I have been writing in forums and sharing with other bloggers as well, in hopes to find some answers.

I just want to be fair and not pray out of convenience.  But I fear that I may be talking to empty space.  Don’t know for sure.   I will try to keep an open mind and see if this difficult experience helps me to grow spiritually…. or not.

And if you want and believe so…. please pray for me as well.  Thanks.


Let’s just Be

Being is a scary state of existence.  It is a challenge to experience acceptance.

Acceptance is a hard pill to swallow.  Resistance is more common, but damaging. Why is it damaging? Because it leads us to suffering, tension, and self-deception.  Resistance creates hatred, anger, and conflict.

Resistance is manifested when we judge and discriminate.  It also happens when we avoid, ignore, and ridicule.  Resistance also takes place when we pray and wish for a convenient circumstance.

But simply being and surrendering to what is, leads to peace and joy.  It is not easy.  That is why I also call it the “narrow path” and our “salvation.”

It is equal to denying the self.  It is the same as living in the moment.  It is also being one with the universe.

Being is wanting what we already have, which leads to joy. It is not convenient.  It does not indulge.  It is far from satisfying our desires.  It is rather peace and joy.

So when I am hungry, I will embrace it.  When I feel discomfort, I will observe it.   When loved ones are lost, I will nourish the memories.  When I see unfairness and abuse, I will acknowledge its pain and suffer with the victim.  Almost as if I am turning the other cheek.

When others judge me and criticize me, I will accept it, learn from it,  and prevent from doing the same to others.  When others show contempt and hatred towards me, I will remain calm and wish them well.  The same as loving my enemies.

It is not natural or pleasant.  But it brings peace and joy.

So I challenge you.  I plead you.  Don’t resist life’s uncomfortable circumstances. Don’t judge or criticize.  Accept and observe.

Let’s just Be.

 


Why Pray?

In my personal experience, I have noticed that prayer is not as great as I thought it was. I hardly pray anymore, not because I don’t believe that there is someone listening. I don’t pray as much because I lost faith in the act of praying itself. It simply does not seem to do much of a difference.
I mainly perceived it as a way to beg God to give me what I want.  Isn’t that what most people think of prayer these days? And if I don’t get what I want, then I must accept it as God’s will. But then, why ask for something as if God is a “vending machine”? Isn’t God supposed to be in control? Then why add more to his “control” by asking him to do certain things “my way”?
I was taught that prayer is composed of four parts: adoration, penitence, petition, and thanksgiving:

Adoration would be recognizing God’s greatness and power. It is all around us.  When I look at the stars, the mountains, a baby, and people’s charities, I see God’s manifestation on earth.  Now, why do I need to emphasize it even more by telling God about his greatness?  Doesn’t he already know?  Don’t I already acknowledge it by respecting each human being, admiring the stars, and taking care of the environment? I think by me living the greatness of God’s creation is the same as  “praying without ceasing.” I would not necessarily have to reserve a time specifically to acknowledge God’s greatness, if I live it on a daily basis.

Penitence is recognizing our sins and asking for forgiveness.  If I am already a believer, doesn’t that mean that I have already been forgiven? We are taught that Jesus died for all of our sins 2000 years ago, so why continue to ask for forgiveness? Some would say that we continue to sin, so we need to recognize our faults, even though we are forgiven.  But at the same time, no matter how much I sin, Jesus’ sacrifice should be enough to make me righteous, right? Or is it that we suspect that what Jesus did was not enough and, therefore, we need to make sure we are free from guilt through penitence?

Petition is the most interesting aspect of prayer.  We ask for things we want.  We ask for good health, stability, wisdom, and a lot more.  We sometimes ask in desperation when circumstances are difficult and extreme.  And when we receive what we prayed for, then we praise God even more and become more joyful (and religious).  When we don’t, then we are taught to accept it as God’s will and justify it by saying that “God is mysterious.” But then this puts God in a difficult situation, because it is almost like expecting God to meet our needs and demands, as if He works for us, even though we were created by Him.  It seems as if God owes us things.

I have heard many people deny the existence of God simply because he did not stop hundreds of children from starving to death, or did not prevent so many wars, or allowed the innocent to suffer from diseases.  And, because God did not meet our standards of what “God should do”, then we conclude He must not exist, or he is evil.  Petition is the most self-centered part of prayer.  It makes us almost like spoiled children who demand immediate gratification from the heavenly Father.

Thanksgiving is perhaps the part of prayer that makes more sense to me. It is simply the act of  appreciating what we have.  Instead of asking and begging for what we don’t have, like in petition, we give thanks for those things we already have.  I define true happiness as wanting what I already have, which is what thanksgiving is about.  Personally, I think we should do a lot more Thanksgiving, than Adoration, Penitence, or Petition.

So, rather than doing Adoration, I rather “live” Adoration by respecting God’s creation and living one day at a time.   Rather than doing Penitence, I rather accept my faults and ask others to forgive me and forgive as well.  Rather than expecting God to provide what I want, my way, and in my terms, I rather be content with what I have so that I can experience true happiness. And I will continue to give Thanks to God, for giving me what I already have, which is sufficient for me to survive so that I live a full life.


Does Atheism cause depression?

I was talking to a person today who stated that he believes that “atheism causes depression.”  And I have been wondering if this is the case or not.  Does the act of not believing there is a God or a divine being cause people to feel hopeless about life?  Does it create a sense of meaninglessness?   I think it is important to start considering the correlation between the existence of God and our level of happiness.  I started wondering also if believing in a divine being is necessary in order for humans to have hope and meaning in life.

Is the concept of God a way for us humans to desperately decrease the chaos that invade our minds if we would not have this belief?  Does believing in God help us to feel safe, worthy, and meaningful?  If this would be the sole reason that we choose to believe, is there a way to feel safe, worthy, and meaningful without the concept of God? Do we even need to feel happy in order to have meaning?  Do we need meaning to live a worthy life? Do we need life to be worthy?

I think few people will doubt that humans are complex beings who strive for purpose and have aspirations.  We develop organized systems called societies that help us to live productive lives.  We are not like the other beings we call animals and plants.  We can be creative, ambitious, merciful, and entertaining.  We can definitely destroy and kill each other, but we can rebuild and forgive.  Where did all these special attributes we don’t share with other living beings come from?  Are we just a pure accidental chance that happens to evolve out of nothingness?  Or could we have developed these characteristics from a higher being?

This brings me back to the basic question of “What or who is God?”  I do not believe God is the humanly figure that sits on a golden celestial throne up in heaven punishing sinners and protecting the loyal believers.  God is much more than what our limited human minds can even imagine.

Can we imagine forgiving those who hurt us?  Can we imagine loving those who hate us? Can we think of how we can serve the hungry, the sick, and the naked when we have our own problems to solve? Can we ponder on how to give the criminal another chance to contribute to society, the addict another opportunity to be sober, and the cheater a chance to be honest?  If we can, then we can imagine the characteristics of God.

The person I referred to at the beginning of this post used to be an atheist at one point in his life.  So he surely has some personal experience and knowledge about the nature of atheism.  I understand that the unbelief in a God implies that this universe must be an accident.  It is a random set of particles that happen to interact in such a way that it triggered molecules and chemical reactions that caused the beginning of life.  This life evolved somehow to ultimately create consciousness and, thus, human lives.  But it was all an accident and random chance.  According to atheism, we have no purpose and meaning.  We just exist without a reason.

And I wonder, does having no meaning and reason lead to depression?  We may think we can create our own reason and meaning.  But then what?  What good is it to create my own interpretation of life and then cease to exist forever?  Living with atheism would be almost like a dead end.  There would be no designed cause for my existence, and no ever lasting effect as a result of my existence.  Sounds depressing?

The atheist  may disagree with the idea of living in depression.   He or she may also be in denial.  All I know is that life must have a meaning and a purpose in order to be worthwhile.   Otherwise, our existence would truly be meaningless, no matter how much we try to convince ourselves we are worth something.