Live Like a Mighty River—Deep Wisdom from Poet Ted Hughes

Here, my friends, is a letter that is worth reading. Click on the quote below to read the entire letter. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.

Don’t Postpone Joy

Fuck celiac disease. I mean really. I think I have it, but I have to wait until the end of the month for a doctor to stick a scope down my throat and through my stomach to view my small intestine and take some tissue samples to confirm the diagnosis. Other than that, my symptom correlation is stupidly amazing:

  • Eat wheat, get migraine.
  • Eat wheat, get vertigo.
  • Eat wheat, get diarrhea and cramps.
  • Severe anemia.
  • Severe muscle aches and spasms.
  • Drink beer, get migraine.
  • History of miscarriages and giving birth prematurely.
  • History of anemia.
  • Previous diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Don’t eat wheat, feel a whole lot better.

Apparently, it will take a while for my intestines to repair, but at least my gut has a fighting chance now. After several weeks of coping with reactive depression, I’m starting to feel better. It is what it is. I am doing what I need to do to take care of myself because I’m worth it. Suicidal ideations notwithstanding.

I bought a guitar. She’s beautiful. I’m learning to play her and then I can play and sing. Doesn’t matter that I can’t eat gluten. I can still enjoy my life. I can still make beauty. I refuse to postpone joy.

what does healing look like?

Someone recently asked me about if I still have repercussions or trauma difficulties in relationship to my abuse experiences. [If you don’t know my history, I lived through some pretty horrific childhood abuse.] They shared what they were going through and it got me thinking about the process of healing and how we can feel so stuck. This is part of what I replied:

If I understand you correctly, it’s like you’re looking down (visually) on yourself and see yourself going in circles, back to the same old ground that you were sure you had covered and dealt with before. Seeing things that way is extremely discouraging.

Consider another perspective. Instead of looking from above and seeing yourself going in circles, see yourself from the side, climbing a crystal-clear spiral staircase. From above, you are going in circles, but from the side it becomes clear that you are rising above your past, covering that same old ground from a higher place each and every time. That’s what healing from abuse is like.

I wish I could tell you about the secret elevator to the top where you get off and everything is heavenly and perfect, but I’d be a liar. We must climb the staircase, one step at a time, and no one can do it for us. But you know all this. :)

And we do, we do know all of this. But we forget and we need to get quiet again, to still the waters so our inner wisdom can bubble to the surface. When we’re thrashing around like a drowning person, the pond of inner wisdom is chaotic and we are apt to miss our wisest self responding. And I say ‘we’ on purpose—this is my crap too. This is exactly what I try to remind myself of when I’m thrashing around.

It’s human to suffer. The Buddha taught us that as the very first principle: the First Noble Truth. We can’t beat ourselves up for suffering, for being human. Well, actually we can and do, which becomes the source of even more suffering. The work is to recognize when we’re thrashing about, accept where we are (radical acceptance!), and let the storm of emotion wash over and through us. Then, from that place, ask what would be the most effective thing to do. It’s really cool: we always know the answer when we let ourselves.

thoughts do not create karma

A zen master once said “Thinking ‘I want to punch you in the nose’ creates the same karma as punching the person in the nose.”

That zen master was wrong.

Why? Because karma is the law of cause and effect. A thought is not a cause and therefore does not have an effect. What is a cause? Making a choice is a cause that creates an effect.

So, choosing to feed the thought “I want to punch you in the nose” creates karma. Choosing to see that thought and let it go creates different karma. It is our choice of how to deal with the thought that creates the karma, not the thought itself.

So quit judging yourself for having yukky thoughts. Please.

locomotive breath

I’ve been thinking about the nature of addiction lately, and how it relates to mental illness and the urge to violence. Drugs, many of them anyway, serve to curb/diminish/push away the urge to violence that arises in us.

Not just the urge, but that feeling of losing ourselves in our violent urges. The feeling that tells you “if I start hitting something, I won’t be able to stop.” That feeling is a feeling that no one wants to feel, so we do whatever we can to push it away. No, wait, that is also too simplistic.

We are afraid that if we allow our violent feelings out, they will take over. We know that being violent is wrong (in addition to all the other judgments we put on it), so we act by whatever means necessary to prevent our violence from taking over. When we don’t know what else to do, suppressing these urges with drugs becomes necessary.

So, if I suppress these urges with cannabis or if I suppress these urges with Prozac, what’s the difference? Am I addicted to Prozac if I take it every day to prevent the thoughts of violence? What if the violence is directed towards myself? How many people feel suicidal and are given antidepressants on a daily basis? Are they addicted?

The author of a recent memoir recalls his teenage friend, Jeffrey Dahmer, showing up for class in high school drunk and “reeking of alcohol”. It is obvious to him, in retrospect, that Dahmer was doing his utmost to suppress his urges towards violence. He was, in a word, self-medicating.

Ultimately, Dahmer’s attempt at self-medication failed. He then made a choice: he could have sought further help or he could give in to those urges. The fact that he could not control those urges does not negate the fact that he had a choice, as do we all.

Medicating these urges away, whether the medication be prescribed or self-prescribed, is not enough to solve the problem. We need to learn how to deal with these feelings as they arise. Only then will we be free of the need to medicate our urges into oblivion.

Whether our urges to violence are directed at ourselves, our children, or random strangers matters not. We must meet ourselves with compassion and acceptance. Our thoughts are not who we are. Thoughts arise and dissipate, yet we remain. It is only when we choose to act on those thoughts that we create karma. Thinking “I want to punch you in the nose” does not create the same karma as punching a person in the nose. Yet we must see the thought for what it is: “I want to punch someone in the nose. That is a violent thought.” It is easy to then allow ourselves to get caught up in the why of the thing. “I want to punch them because they were mean to me” is usually what we think. But this is not the truth. We need to look deeper. Often, we want to strike out because we feel hurt and something, somewhere, has taught us that striking out is how to deal with feeling hurt.

What’s the answer? Feeling hurt is how to deal with feeling hurt. Violence is another drug that we use to avoid feeling. This is why self-harm goes along with post-traumatic stress. We will do anything to avoid feeling the pain that is inside, including hurting ourselves or those we love.

Learning how to feel that which we fear most, allowing it to arise, be, and diminish as it must is the real medicine. Drugs, legal and otherwise, are a crutch. Crutches allow us to walk when we are still injured—they are neither good nor bad. But they are not helpful if we insist on using them instead of healing the real problem. They are then a symptom of the real problem.

The real problem is learning to accept our feelings as they are, without judgment. They are what they are, it is what it is. We are not our feelings or thoughts. When we step back and watch ourselves and our feelings, who is watching? The solution is awareness and acceptance.

When our feelings and thoughts are barrelling down at us like an out-of-control locomotive, we need to see the train without getting on board. So simple. Not so easy. Yet necessary if we don’t want to live our lives on an out-of-control train.