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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Marijuana and Suicide

More scientific research showing the bad side of marijuana usage:
 
 
However, it may be more complicated... like the chicken and the egg.
 
Does the predisposition to usage have a natural link to suicide?  Are people using to marijuana to medicate the underlying problems which lead to suicide?  Or, is it the marijuana use which is solely responsible?
 
The deeper question which never really gets answered is why people would 'need' to get high every day.  It is the escape from 'reality' (the 'reality' of one's own mind, that is) which should be our main concern.
 
We need to teach people that their memories will be there when they get back from being high.  If there is a single message that we should be delivering to others, it is this.  Memories are inescapable... unless you get amnesia.  But then, you lose out on who you are.
 
I suppose we can say that we are failing to teach people who they are, largely because we can't agree on it ourselves in the age of the 'pluralistic' society.  We have made everything an uncertainty.
 
Thus we live in a constant flux, and our fears come to overwhelm us. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Understanding Happiness

Happiness is not an 'experience' in terms of an achievement, but rather a motion.  In physiological terms, it is about a series of brain chemical experiences that transition us from anticipation and excitement to satisfaction and relaxation.
 
This is why this article should be no surprise, though it might be for many:
 
 
The modern mind sees happiness as a achievement... a single event or experience.  But, it really isn't.  It is only by repeating the false image of happiness that we can ignore the truth that you don't get to happiness in a split-second. 
 
I think advertising usually plays into this because an ad would have to be far more complex in order to express happiness in that way.  Advertisers want to keep ads simple, because they know you won't spend time to get their messages.
 
Others do not want us to think about happiness too much because they are afraid that you might disagree with them.  They want a quick agreement and not too much focus on the reality of all the potentially contradicting evidence.  Most often, however, we do that to ourselves.  We want something so bad because we want to be happy but we are not willing to work at it.
 
Or, at least take the time for it.
 
In this day and age, we have lots more shots at being happy, or rather getting things we think will make us happy.  Look at all that you have around you right now.  Just think about the endless possibilities that the very computer you are using right now is offering you.
 
All you need is time... the one thing we seem to be running out of.
 
Your great-grandfather could have entertained himself with a pocket knife and a piece of wood.  Now, you have a power outage and almost instantly have a panic attack.  All he needed was daylight, but now look at all the things you need
 
A process takes time.  Take away the time, and there can be no process.  But, this also eliminates the potential for real happiness.
 
That's why drugs are so popular: you can get a quick fix of brain chemicals without having to work for it or spend any time really working towards happiness.  The clamor for marijuana legalization in America is not about 'free choice' as much as it is a desperate cry of despair: "We don't have the time or energy to be happy, so let us smoke pot!"
 
If you want to find happiness, then you have to work.  You also have to be realistic: happiness is not about controlling the process as much as adapting to it.  This is the second fallacy after happiness as a singular experience.  Most folks think that happiness is synonymous with control.
 
Look at powerful people.  Are they really happy?  Does their control bring real joy?
 
Most of the super-wealthy are generally unpleasant people.  In Hollywood, the old saying goes that the stars that aren't jerks are the ones that are depressed.  The only happy ones you encounter are the ones that stay outside the 'game' of power and influence.
 
Yet, we continually fill ourselves with the notion that we have to be in control and that happiness is about actualizing our expectations rather than enjoying the mystery of surprise.
 
I know that, in most cases, people are deeply disappointed in meeting me.  Generally speaking, I fail to live up to most people's expectations (especially my own).  They think they will be 'happy' meeting me (for what reason, I have no idea), and come away with... well, I'm not exactly sure.  Most folks don't call back with feedback.  Sometimes I am a jerk on purpose, because I test people who seem over-confident in their 'spirituality' (I will say that I have a highly-tuned 'BS-o-meter' that has rarely failed me, though I must say that I have failed it by ignoring its results on more than one occasion).
 
That's OK.  I don't make myself out to be anything other than a man with a blog and a short attention span.  I am not here to make anyone happy.  In fact, quite the opposite: what I write here is designed to take away 'happiness'... the false kind.  The cheap kind.  The delusional kind.
 
If you want to be happy, then let go and appreciate what God is giving you right now.  Take the time and savor the experience.  Stop whining about your plans.  They are probably stupid anyhow (most of mine are).
 
Happiness is a journey.  Ultimately it is a journey in God, with God, through God.  Enjoy it.
 

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Battle With the Mind

I'm going to go out on a limb here, so this may get messy.
 
 
Over the last few months, I've been working through the ramifications that one of my children has ADHD.  Right now, he's in his room fighting some kind of battle with aliens that will go on for hours.
 
His little mind races from thought to thought and image to image.  He's a good lad, but most of the values of today's schools don't include his.  Like his father, he's in for a long road of exile.
 
Many a night I have been unable to sleep because my head would not shut off.
 
I was always told that there had to be some deep, Freudian explanation for all those thoughts.  I searched high and low.  Never found it in most cases.  Yes, there were times when I knew EXACTLY why I was freaking out at 3am.  There were other times when I knew something was up, and eventually I learned the skill of soul-hunting.  The underlying cause would be brought out and addressed.
 
But, most of the time, it was just my head doing its thing.
 
No amount of inventorying or soul-searching or even cheap bourbon could triumph over the mind that simply won't stop.
 
What makes it worse is that not only is it many times unpleasant and counter-productive, but it has been popularly demonized.  Our recent flirtations with pop-Zen-Buddhism and the romantic notion of 'no mind' has made those of us that have race-car-engine imaginations feel like Cave Trolls.
 
I'm tired of it.  I am tired of people telling me that something is wrong with me... or my son. 
 
I can't fix him or me by 'trying harder' or saying more Jesus Prayers.  As a monk, I would fail.  If you want to call me a failed Christian because I can't stop my head from flitting from thought to thought (even though I desperately want it to stop), then go ahead.  I've been called worse.
 
No, my house isn't shaking with loud music.  In fact, I don't listen to much music at all.  It is too hard at times.  Most of the time, it is dead silent other than the sound of power tools.
 
What I have learned to do is not kick myself so hard for being distracted.  It is going to happen.  What I have also learned is that real peace lies beneath the thoughts and the distractions of the 'busy mind.'
 
I am never going to be able to master the Philokalia's demands that I roll my thoughts up into a ball and insert them into my heart.  My 'hands' aren't big enough, and I will just make more anyhow.  I will never know silence until it is given to me, because there is no natural way for me to stop my head.
 
It's over... I am done trying.  I pray amid the chaos, and I can only trust that far below is the stillness and tranquility that I have only had momentary glimpses of.  Though I want nothing more than that blessed silence, it is just one more thing that is outside of my grasp in this life.
 
So, I will continue to leave around a thousand half-done projects.  I will miss appointments or be late because I can't remember half the time where I am or what comes next (I am also dyslexic with numbers, and so dates and times befuddle me).  With all my best efforts, I will still disappoint those with high expectations, or even moderate expectations.
 
I will not feel bad anymore for being a failure.  It is my Cross, which means that it is also my gift.
 
 
 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Shame Is Your Friend II

Judging from the feedback, I think I need to clarify a bit more about what I am saying.
 
You can't be civilized, or spiritual, unless you first accept the notion of shame as beneficial.  It is necessary, and if you ditch it, you will pay the consequences.
 
So, what is shame?  Shame is the feeling that one has lost one's proper position in the world and broken the standards of one's relationships with others.  It is more than embarrassment over a misstep, but an acknowledgement that one has fundamentally failed to be what one is called to be.
 
Adam and Eve sense shame when they sinned.  Are you going to tell me they were too hard on themselves?
 
Many people these days struggle with their consciences because they know instinctively that they are called to something greater, yet the world calls them to depravity and accepting a low estate.  They are told that the easy way is the best way, and that a life of pleasure is better than a life of struggle leading to accomplishment.
 
They are told to ignore good and evil, and instead focus on what is desirable.  Sound like Adam and Eve?
 
So, when they sense in the shame of their choices, they react with rage and, of course, denial.  After all, who wants to admit that one played right into the hands of one's enemies?
 
This is why poverty and social disorder always walk hand-in-hand with alcohol and drug abuse.  It takes the edge off of that shame that modern man experiences in the wee hours of the morning when he realizes that all of his decisions have led him away from beauty and honor.  The garment of his humanity is torn, and he has no needle to mend it with.
 
So, he drinks.  Or, he smokes.  Or, he shoots up.
 
Man oppresses man, but it requires cooperation.  You can oppress a man by taking away his honor at the point of a sword, but you can also take it away from him by promising 'paradise' if he would but bend his knees.
 
If you tell people that there is no shame in giving up one's dignity for the sake of pleasure, the average man will gladly do so... at first.  That is, right up until he notices that he sold his birthright for a bowl of soup.  Once he realizes that he has done so, he will likely drink and use... and perhaps strike out at the 'society' that took his dignity from him.
 
After all, there is no shame in the poor man who has struggled his whole life yet remained honest.  There is shame in the man who has kept himself poor by making bad decisions and refusing to learn from them.
 
There is shame in oppressing the poor, but the blame is to be shared with those who choose to be oppressed in exchange for a life of ease.
 
We cannot necessarily condemn society as if we are innocent, because we are part of society.  The moment you point fingers at someone else, you are saying they are somehow different from you.  Don't you realize that you and the people around you are embraced by the inseparable bonds of not only a common citizenship, but a common humanity?
 
What does this mean? 
 
It means that we all have to take our share of the blame, and our part of the solution.  Change happens when everyone makes the decision to change themselves rather than others.  Accept the shame as your own.  Then ask God for help.
 
A man who claims innocence is deceiving himself.  Look deep within yourself and ask, "Am I really acting like a free man every day?  Or, am I excusing my weaknesses by blaming others?"
 
Recovery means accepting the blame and the shame... and turning it over to God.  It means taking our poverty, both self-imposed and the result of theft, and asking God to handle it for us.  We stop looking for human will as the solution, and turn to the Creator, our Father in Heaven.
 
Accepting the reality of our shame is a powerfully spiritual moment.  It is an essential step in the path of holiness.
 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Shame Is Your Friend

When I was growing up, the emerging social narrative was that shame was bad.  Sure, shame has never really been all that good, but what the 1960s brought forth was the notion that the whole idea of shame should be eliminated.
 
Our modern age has come to where it is now by eliminating shame.  Sure, we feel shame all the time, but our society does not really impose it, particularly on our personal behavior.
 
For this reason, we have lost many of the guardrails that we once depended on to control our behavior when our own will alone was not sufficient to curtail our impulses.  How many times have we stopped doing something simply because we would feel ashamed for having to explain our actions to a loved one, or even a father confessor?
 
Shame can stop us from doing things without actually having to wear its horrid mantle. 
 
Adam and Eve did not have the prior experience of shame, which might have prevented them from eating the fruit, but then again, you can't get to that place of understanding shame unless you first taste it.  Our negative experiences growing up are supposed to shame us in small ways so that we are ready to avoid the larger shames.
 
But now, we are told there is no shame, and so people act out in ways that are simply stupid.  Five decades ago, a 'gangster' wore a fancy suit and tried to look 'respectable' while knowing that his ways of getting money were shameful.  Now, gang members dress like clowns, and celebrate their ignorance in music that kids gobble up with abandon.
 
Our children have lost their shame, and take nude pictures of themselves to send to their 'mates.'  Only later does the innate sense of shame come up, even after the 'liberated society' has told them that all sexual impulses must be immediately acted on.  As a result, we have kids that are emotional wrecks, and need marijuana and alcohol to cope.
 
Hence we have the 'party culture' of colleges and the drum-beat of marijuana legalization.  Being intoxicated has also lost its shame, and with it the safeguards against addiction have been ripped away.  Let's not forget something: alcoholism and the social acceptability of public drunkenness are linked.  Countries with tolerance for public intoxication tend to have more heavy drinkers, and thus more alcoholics.
 
But, the loss of shame also drives man to countless other sins.
 
The point I am driving at is that we all need to regrow a sense of shame.  The survival of society, and our own sanity, depends upon our ability to readily acknowledge that our actions are or are not shameful, and then act accordingly.  Because, I will tell you this: no amount of social pep talks about being 'freed' from the constraints of traditional morality is enough to overcome the inner voice that tells us that what we are doing is wrong.
 
Right and wrong, good and evil... these are things deeply coded within our spirit.
 
Sure, you can come up with some tribe in the middle of jungle-nowhere that does all the things you want to do... but are you will to go live in their thatched-hut village to see how they deal with that reality?  No, you won't because you know that you really don't want the whole context.
 
All societies have their shortcomings, and thus their own shames that the 'medicate' by compensating in some other way.  Our temptation is to avoid change by compensating somehow, usually by overacting in some other 'virtue.'
 
Sobriety is about coming to grips with our own shame, not trying to deny it.  We all have things to be ashamed of, and what we ought to do is bear those shames with humility rather than indulging our egos by denying the shame is there.
 
Once we embrace our shame, then we are no longer dominated by it.  We know that we are not perfect and have failed to live up to what is good.  When it is no longer denied, then we can accept the price of our shame and move forward from it.  We can repent, and then begin to be healed.
 
It is not an overnight process, but as with most shames, the power of it wears off over time.  For example, how many people will look at an old prisoner serving a sentence for a murder in his youth and say, "Well, he has done his time."  When the blood was still wet, you would not have had such sentiments.  You certainly would not think this way if he continued to murder and assault people in prison.  But, if he repented, you be more likely to forgive him his shameful state of being a murderer.  The label does not go away, but the path of repentance can change weight of it.
 
So for us all, our shame becomes more bearable with time and good conduct.  It cannot be forgotten, nor should it.  Our past shames keep us from acquiring new ones like a Xenophora snail:


Avoid new shames, but more especially realize that the shames you have will help you remain honest and humble before God and your fellow man.
 

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Screaming Mimi

I think we all have (those of us here reading a 'blog' on the internet, that is), at one point or another, gotten into heated exchange with someone on the internet.  Recently, I got involved in a discussion, and it became pretty obvious that the participants were more into indulging their feelings than actually engaging the issue at hand.
 
Having better things to do than tilting windmills, I left the thread.  I have had to teach myself to walk away from fruitless activities despite whatever my feelings tell me.  Sure, I know I could win (ah, the simply joys of over-self-confidence), but why expend the energy? 
 
Why do we argue and fight over politics and social matters?  Have any of these internet debates changed anything?
 
Yes and no.
 
If we are arguing about changing others, then we are really barking up the wrong tree.  Changing other people's minds is always a bad idea.  Just in case you are wondering why I would say that, let me ask you this:
 
Do you like commercials?  They are out there to change your mind and sell you on a product.
 
You don't like them, just as much as you don't like being bossed around, particularly by someone who is annoyed with you and has a 38-foot-long list of your past sins and inadequacies.  These harangues are enough to drive you to drink... or, in most cases, just dig your heels in further.
 
Manipulating others is always a stupid idea.
 
Of course, as will so much in the Post-modernist era, you can change the word 'commercial' to 'education,' and you have the latest fad in control-words.  You need to be 'educated,' which means you need me to boss you around.  Here, let me help you.
 
The principles of both Christianity and addiction recovery both rest on the simple idea that the only person I can change is myself.  Even when I am being wronged, the problem starts and ends with me.  After all, my misery is my misery.  If I am being made miserable, who's fault is that.
 
Someone else, of course! 
 
Sure, you can come up with a million examples of people who cannot escape those who harm them, but the question isn't really about being harmed or not, but what you do with that harm.  Does it make you better, or more broken?  If you say the latter, then the spiritual path is about turning that brokenness over to God and being changed and perfected.
 
You'll never achieve inner peace so long as it is dependent on other human beings.  Or, even cats.  It does not work that way.
 
We in the Western world have 'educated' the @#$%& out of ourselves, and to what end?  We are still miserable... and spoiled rotten.  Worse yet, we think we are smarter than everyone else, because we have such awesome forms of manipulation, like 'marketing' and 'education.'
 
I think the reason we fight so much these days is that we are so bombarded with 'marketing' and 'education' that we can barely hold onto our beliefs for a short time before someone comes and says, "Here, now it is time to believe this!"
 
That's why I feel sorry for students these days, who have to go to class after class with professors who feel it is absolutely necessary that students agree with everything they believe, and either dump their own ideas or get graded down.  pretty soon, all you have is either an irrational clinging to whatever ideas one has or a form of cynical relativism that makes your utterly logic-proof.
 
It is like Velcro: it wears out the more you attach things and then pull them apart.  If you keep bombarding people with new opinions and ideas, then pull them off and attach more, pretty soon the connection gets looser and looser.  So, eventually, things just fall off... or you turn to duct tape.
 
I think the Screaming Mimi I encountered had a bad case of ductaepitis.  What she wasn't able to process was that she will never get anywhere in life demanding other people change.  So, she had to resort to schoolyard taunts and insults.  I almost wanted to say, "Hey, lady, I've been called worse.  Could you please work a bit harder?"  But, I didn't want to further embarrass my friend for having lousy companions.  That includes me.
 
Since we no longer believe anything, we believe everything, or nothing at all.  Our rage comes with our own fears that we might actually have bound ourselves up to the wrong ideas, and so we protect them with fire rather than logic.
 
Thus, we miss the big picture: the only thing I can change is myself.
 
If I want people to treat me different, then I have to do a few things.  First, I have to see what it is that people are reacting to in me, and see if I have the ability to change it.  In order to do that, I have to drop my fear and anger over the other and see the world with his eyes.  Sure, he may be crazy, but few people are totally mad.  Ask yourself what it is that this person is reacting to.  Then ask yourself it is worth holding onto it and getting static for it.
 
I'll give you a case in point: I had a parishioner who was an ex-felon who had really turned his life around.  He was on the straight-and-narrow... but the police were constantly pulling him over and harassing him.
 
My advice: tuck your shirt in, grow your hair out, and stop dressing like a gang member.  I told him that as long as he dressed that way, he was going to get in trouble.  There wasn't anything he could do about his gang tattoos, but his appearance was under his control.  We live in an era with more than just togas... he has a choice about how to dress.
 
(NB - As a guy who wears a cassock, I really don't want to hear about how hard it is to dress in a way where people might make fun of you.)
 
To help him out, I went with him to the police station to intercede.  What happened next was astonishing: the policeman pointed out that he was, right there, wearing clothes that matched the colors of his old gang, and he was driving their 'vehicle of choice.'
 
Long story short- a month went by, and he came to church with a big smile on his face... no problems with the police!  Why?  because he was humble enough to sell the car and change his clothes.  Suddenly, the police didn't even recognize him anymore!
 
He was living the principles of the program, and it paid off.
 
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
 
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely 
happy with Him forever in the next.
I think all of us, including my friend the Screaming Mimi, would feel a lot better if we took this to heart, rather than all the anger and strife of the world.
 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Suicide and Substance Abuse

The English-speaking world has been awash in news about the suicide death of comedian Robin Williams.  It certainly is a tragedy, as are all deaths.  It strikes more of us because so many people have felt affinity for the characters he portrayed over the years, particularly the one called 'Robin Williams.'
 
I would post some of his stand-up where he talks about drugs and alcohol, but he uses a lot of bad language that would upset some readers, so I'll leave it to you to find them.  He certainly was no advocate.
 
What is clear is that he 'medicated' his suffering with alcohol and drugs like so many of us do.  Just prior to his death, he made arrangements (according to one report) to return to a rehabilitation facility.  What he was taking prior to his death won't be known for several weeks.
 
People have been theorizing about death and suicide, or rather 'theologizing' about Mr. Williams' eternal damnation.  Should he get a 'cloud' or a 'lake of fire'?  Honestly, I find it all so stupid I can barely bring myself to discuss it, but I will for the saner among us.  There are some who are simply too anxious to fill hell, while others deny the fact that hell exists to begin with.
 
Some say hell is of man's own making.  This is true in more than one way.  Hell is not suffering per se, but a peculiar kind.  It is one of regret and sorrow and shame that cannot be quenched.  Drugs and alcohol can give such a sufferer a brief respite from such suffering, but in the end he is shoved back into the furnace by sobriety and tolerance.  The escape is always brief, and often with a cost.
 
Yet, there are those who's brains impose on them the most intolerable suffering, worse than any cancer 3rd-degree burn.  They are tormented even when they have done nothing wrong.  Mr. Williams travelled with the USO and offered his talents to many charities.  He sought to do good, and yet the heavy burden of an organic condition left him despairing.
 
We know that some men are born with no conscience, and so we should be open to the idea that others are born with too much.  We know now about 'Sensory Integration Disorders' that leave some people over-sensitive to physical stimulation, while others are left under-stimulated.  One can't stand the touch of even the softest fabric, and the other has to run head-first into a wall to feel anything at all.
 
Christians have not done very well addressing the imbalance between the over-sensitive and the under-sensitive when it comes to the conscience.  We don't have a handy set of fatwas from Jesus Christ specifically penalizing various sins.  There are broad categories:
 
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Co 6:9-11)
 
How about those who have been washed, and yet still conduct ourselves in such ways?
 
Does anyone claim to be above all sin, and immune to temptation?  Are any of you willing to say that sin no longer tugs at your heartstrings, and that you live utterly without it?
 
The sad fact of the matter is that all of us, each day, commit suicide when we sin.  We are busy killing ourselves in a way just as absolute as what Mr. Williams did.  We murder our own selves with sinful thoughts and perverse ideas, not to mention when we act out.  When we hate others and condemn them, what does God say about those who condemn?
 
"Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."  (Mt 7:1-5)
 
Can any of us stand above our brethren?  It sure seems like it these days.  'No, I would never do that!' says the man who has not been tested.
 
If you have not been pushed by life to the very edge, if you have not experienced that horrendous weight of the conscience tormented, then you hardly can say that you would not do what Mr. Williams has done.  This is why people who survive real torture and imprisonment are almost always the most merciful.  They know that something else, rather than the 'self-will,' kept them from going over the edge.
 
For too many so-called 'Christians,' all they offer is self-will.  They are also mostly decadent and untested.  Almost none of them have had in life anything worse than a fender-bender accident or a C+ on a term paper or a terminally-ill grandparent.  They exude the self-confidence of a third-grader while walking around in adult's body.  It is disgusting in its own way, just as much as the disease-wracked crack-whore or the underwear-lounging, basement-dwelling gamer.
 
I liken this misplaced confidence to a college freshman who decides he's going to lecture a Iraq/Afghanistan vet on combat... based on his extensive experience with "Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare."  If you have not experienced the real thing, then you shut up and listen.
 
It is perverse to boil all of Christian theology down to the force of self-will, just as it is perverse to say that Mr. Williams committed suicide any more than any of us do each day.  We are all dying.  Our sins are killing us... just a bit slower than the belt around Mr. Williams' neck.  We pace ourselves, and thus grant ourselves the indulgence of denial.
 
"'Tis but a flesh wound!"
 
We are eating ourselves to death, and mating ourselves to death, and drinking ourselves to death, and medicating ourselves to death... because to not feel is to die.  We suffer and so we avoid suffering rather than taking on what is killing us.
 
How do you take on a mind that is hard-wired to destroy you?
 
If Mr. Williams has no excuse, then neither do we.  If he has no hope of God's mercy, than neither should we.  How can we expect pardon for our own self-murder when we refuse to believe that God will have compassion on Mr. Williams?
 
I would say that we who are not merciful are in worse trouble.  We are already dead.  That's why our consciences no longer bother us enough to look at Mr. Williams and see someone not unlike us.
 
When you stop being empathetic, you have lost both God and life itself.