Monday, January 30, 2012

The Power of Ritual & Mental Illness

Psychologists have long been confounded by the power of rituals. The more scientific chaps within the field, often proclaim that rituals work in a way similar to how placebos work. You think the pill will help you, and so it does.

This leaves people wondering how much of any disease and how much of any cure is seated in the brain's perception of reality. I think it was Neitzche who said that " we don't see the world as it is. We see the world as we are." If we see the placebo, or the ritual as a cure, then it will probably do us some good. If we don't, it probably won't.

I've conducted and partaken in rituals with mixed results. I don't know many things for certain, but I do know that I can trust my instinct. My gut always knows when something sketchy is going on.

I'm wary of people who hold no spiritual beliefs, and equally wary of people who do hold religious beliefs fervently without any visible evolution in their process. If I've learned one thing in life- I've learned that the truth is fluid, like flowing liquid.

I listened to an anthropologist speak today. He had a unique take on mental illness. " One way of explaining mental illness is to say ' this person is sick. Another way of explaining mental illness," he said, " is to simply say this is just another type of person who will have a different place in society." He reminded listeners that in America, the mentally ill are isolated and often locked away. " Other cultures, simply don't do that" he said. It made me feel ashamed. We certainly can do a lot better.

I've noticed changes in myself since being here. I have a profound need to be in nature, to be around animals, to listen to people. I'm drawn to silence. Capitalism makes me uneasy. Society moves in polarity to my natural inclinations, and I keep pushing back- resisting. I think J.D. Salinger summed up human nature when he noted that if you have better suitcases than your roommate, the average person is going to constantly and begrudgingly remember this. In my opinion, the better among us have no suitcases at all :)

I'm not ready to believe that all miracles are hoaxes. There is something about that which I am unable to accept.

I don't subscribe to "all or nothing" fallacies either. Something is usually a little of this and a little of that. If you think of the human brain as a cake, 1 cup of rotted flour can ruin the whole thing. And there are still so many ingredients that we can't quite quantify. The anatomy of the soul is up for grabs. In 100 years we'll probably be able to make humans in a lab, from scratch. We'll probably be able to purposefully insert certain illnesses and traits with the stroke of a computer key. It might even happen within my lifetime.

For now though, there is something to be said for connecting with the earth and the land. There is something to be said for tradition and repetitions which root you to a place. For Ness and I, that tradition is Shabbas dinner. And then there are the simple things like kissing Jack on the forehead, and singing to him at bath-time.

I have real issue with scientists who believe that mental illness can never be healed, but can only go into remission. As with anything else in life, I think it just depends on the person. I've known plenty of people in their 40's who have had one...and only one episode of depression which never returned. I've known others who have ping-ponged their entire lives. I think it also depends on the life you are living. When your life is full of stressors and pain, that depression is likely to always be only an arm's length away and your life will probably re-affirm your depressive tendencies. If your life is filled with happiness and joy, the depression might be a little harder to reach. It might be a a football field away, versus within reach, right there on your shelf.

That is why I see value in spiritual practice.

There is something to be said for diving face-first into the abyss. Some of us can't help ourselves. For some of us, we have to seek the meaning of life. Some people suffer- and this creates a hunger to know why. Why do we suffer?

Buddhists say that we suffer because of desire. Christians say that we suffer because of original sin.

Regardless, suffering cannot be avoided in this life. So the best we can do is to prepare our minds to deal with the inevitable. The suffering will come regardless of if we want it to or not. The suffering will always show up to the party.

For some people, the solution is to stay drunk all day long. For some people the answer is to meditate all day long.

Therapists claim that one of these coping skills is maladaptive, and that is the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy mind.

I remember going through an experience with a dear friend a few years ago. My friend told me, " I hope you realize that you've built a prison with thick concrete walls around yourself for protection, and now you're starving inside and you can't get out"

My walls were made from patterns in certain interpersonal relationship. I loved someone I had no business on earth even giving the time of day. It was like throwing myself into a blade, and then asking why I was bleeding, and then going back and throwing myself into the blade again..over and over and over...without ever putting 2 and 2 together.

One of my favorite quotes notes that no one else can make you pure or impure. According to the guru, everyone will stain his or her own soul for himself and every man must make himself clean again.

We're all walking our own path.

It's very easy to be judgmental. In my last post, I mentioned my aunt and grandmother, and I arrived at the conclusion today that I'm really saddened by what they did. When I think of their behavior it stings, it aches my heart. I just don't see the point. But even weirder, I don't see the cause. I mean, do they have inferiority complexes that run so deep that they have to go out and crash someone's funeral? What kind of person gains satisfaction or self-worth from doing such a thing?

I understand that the world is often cruel, and for some people this instills a hatred against life. Some people become infected with this anger and they use this sense of entitlement to justify every shitty thing they do...but people like my wife don't. Some people can still carry on with love in their hearts, and they can be compassionate and kind.

That is the kind of person I want to be.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Difficult Choices: Death & Divorce

I didn't know my Uncle James very well. I was the flower girl at his wedding, and he picked me up in his strong arms a few times, but aside from that I don't remember him. I don't even have stories about James that I could share. When I think of his face, when I strain to remember his presence in my past, I see only a blur. It's as if my James file has been emptied out in my brain.

My Aunt married James many years ago- 20 something years, to give you a ballpark. Shortly after the wedding, something happened and he really did vanish from the family. No one talked about him, no one saw him. No one even mentioned that James had ever existed. My aunt appeared to move along as if she had divorced James, and all of us assumed that she did.

When he died, we learned otherwise.

They never got a divorce.

When my father told me that James had died and that he never formally divorced my aunt- I curtly mentioned that it sounded like a legal nightmare. As far as I know, he hadn't been with my Aunt in years, and he'd been with his girlfriend for over 13 years.

I was surprised when my dad told me that my aunt was going to the funeral. The marriage was decades ago, and as far as I know James and my Aunt had moved on with their separate lives long ago.

My Aunt and grandmother attended the funeral. My Aunt took the flag that was presented by the armed servicemen for James' army time. There were only four chairs graveside and my grandmother took one of those seats, telling others " I'm James' mother-in-law"...

All of this left me with mixed feelings. For my aunt- it was a matter of status and pride. She and James never divorced, and so she flew in for the funeral and quickly fit into the place of his wife.

My aunt kept saying that James' girlfriend knew he was married, and that this is what happens when you date a married man- even if the marriage was years ago and the "husband and wife" are living over 3,000 miles apart.

Yet, I can't help thinking that they were married only in name. She lived in Colorado- he lived in Baltimore.

My grandmother and aunt seem to think that this is the natural order of things. The wife gets everything ( even if she hasn't seen her husband in 20 years) and mistresses simply do not exist.

Maybe in the 50's. Maybe in the old world.

I can just imagine my Aunt, strolling into the funeral home with the class of Jacki-O, following all the upper-class protocol- treating James' girlfriend like a nonentity. Like a mistress and nothing more.

I can't say what was right or wrong in this case...

but my mind keeps going back to the girlfriend of 13 years- the woman who lost a man that she loved. My family gipped the girlfriend out of her seat.

The woman who was a current fixture in James' life came out of this with no recognition or support. I didn't know James, but I can't imagine why he would have wanted that.

The moral of the story.... make your wishes legal, make your wishes known...and if you are no longer with someone- divorce them.

James' benefits and death insurance etc will all go to my aunt. His girlfriend of 13 years will get nothing.

I think it's sad...and I really hope that this is what James wanted.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Little Redheaded Prince

Our First Children's Book is Dedicated to Our Children with Love.

When I met my little prince- he was bouncing around with his underwear on his head. He has a laugh like no other and a singing voice that just makes my heart melt. The little redhead stole my heart in a flash. He is amazingly intelligent, and always offers a witty comment with a sly smile. He has made practical joking into an art form.

He's a lot like I am- musical, emotional, compassionate...confused with the way the world works.

" Why can't I just stay with you" " I thought you would be able to fix everything immediately"... and neither of us know what to say.

We can't talk about the custody case with him, and we wouldn't anyway... it wouldn't fix things.

The little redhead wants to be an adult now, wants to be included in adult discussions and decisions- but we want him to be a child, a very happy child.

He says things which concern me. He says things which turn my stomach over and evoke every protective mothering instinct I have. The things he says make me want to cradle him, to kiss the psychological wounds, to hold him until he stills. I want him to feel safe in the world.

My son is like an unfinished painting, right now...and I find myself praying that he can find his way out the catacombs of confusion (and possibly depression) and back into the light of childhood. " Do not let anger rest within your heart" is my mantra for him. " You can be angry, but you have to move through your anger and come out on the other side."

" Does X hate you? I think X hates you mom.." " Everytime you call X goes postal"

If you were small again, I would cover your eyes and ears.

He reminds me of the child in the book " The Little Prince", asking questions about the various planets. And right now he is in orbit, sailing through the black silent sky, searching for a foothold.

I do not want him to have a hard life. I do not want him to have to question and doubt the people that love him. I want the people that love him to be unified.