I was mentally-emotionally broken. In 1979 I could no longer hold my self together. I stopped. I stopped at a stop sign. There was ‘evil’ in the car. I took off all my clothes, got out of the car and started running naked across a corn field trying to align my family and the planets to make things right and to prevent further disaster. From 1979 to 1996 I was in and out of hospitals and constantly medicated. I listened to, and tried to make work, the ideas told to me by the many therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists in my life. It was not working for me. I could not make their world my life.
In 1992 I set upon my own path. I began using a variety of mental-emotional rehabilitation exercises to control my manic-depressive symptoms. The difference now was I was going to use my emotions to guide my mental activities. If a thought felt emotionally-negative, I would do my best to modify it into something emotionally-positive or to discard it. If a thought felt emotionally-positive, I would make attempts to expand it and to dwell upon it. I would challenge my mental activities up to 20 to 30 times every day. The following are descriptions of the different rehabilitation techniques I used in my quest for mental-emotional well-being:
- Focusing on ‘that which is wanted’
I was first asked “What do you want?” in a group therapy session. In a way, I really didn’t know what that meant. Years later, I went to an Abraham-Hicks seminar (Ref: 07-a) and I was asked “What do you want?” But this time, the ideas of ‘I want’ and of what ‘I desire” were related to my emotions. I learned that when I mentally dwelled upon ‘that which I want’, I feel good. When I mentally contemplate the “lack of what I want”, I feel bad. Much later I wrote an evolutionary scientific basis for this correlation in “Emotional-Evolution”.
Feeling good or bad still didn’t have that much significance until I correlated the idea of feeling good with a healthier biochemical balance. Now feeling good meant I was ‘focusing on that which I wanted’ and feeling good also meant my biochemical balance was healthier. Learning to use my emotions to identify what I wanted and the lack of what I wanted became a significant part of my life. It was important to have wants and desires and to learn how to use my emotions to guide my mental activities. Mental activities include: (1) thoughts, ideas and what I am thinking, (2) dreams and imaginations (3) memories of people, places, things, and events and (4) sensory input, that is, what am I seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling.
Now when I had a negative emotion, I knew I was dwelling upon or focusing on something I didn’t want. Since I really, really wanted to improve my bio-chemical imbalance, which was my curse and cause of years of torture and suffering with mental illness, I worked hard to find the mental activities that brought about good feelings. At first, this meant finding mental activities around wants and desires that felt just ‘less bad’. Most of my days were intertwined with painful emotionally-negative thoughts and behaviors. But as the years went by, positive-emotions became a greater part of my life.
Going from depression to joy doesn’t really ever happen. Years have been spent building a huge emotionally negative vortex of depressing thoughts and behaviors. But within all my negative emotion, there were days where I would feel better. A good exercise to further emotionally-positive movement is the ‘focus wheel’. I first heard of this from a conversation I had with Esther Hicks of Abraham-Hicks around 1993 (Ref: 07-a).
To do a “focus wheel”, first take a sheet of paper and draw a circle in the middle that you can write in. Then draw around the outside of the center circle, 6 or 8 more circles to write in. Write down in the middle circle something you want or desire. If you read your object of desire that you wrote down and don’t feel good, go to the outside circles and write in something similar to the central idea that you do feel good about. The idea is to fill in the outer circles with ‘feel good’ statements that get closer and closer to the meaning and idea of the object-of-desire in the middle.
A note here about having objects-of-desire; these objects need not be actualized in real life to feel good. That is, the object of the game is to feel good and to promote mental-emotional health and well-being. Having objects of desire to dwell upon are one means to this end. Negative emotions would signify dwelling upon the lack of that which is wanted and desired. If an object-of-desire brings nothing but painful emotions, it is not its time.
- The Art Appreciation and Reframing
The territory of Wisconsin has strong ties with European countries and ethnic groups like Germans, Swiss and Scandinavians. Our grade school was called Norway Grove. A common first grade question is “What is your nationality?” When we asked our dad that question he said “We are German, English, and part Indian and Negro.” He would frequently add any other racial group if the discussion warranted. Our first lesson from him about cultural appreciation was to not depreciate other ethnicities or races. Similarly, in a person, I could look at what I didn’t like or at what I do like. To appreciate a person means to find something of value within them and focus upon that. Or, to appreciate a situation means to find something of value within the situation and bring it forward. It means to make the effort to dwell upon some emotionally-positive aspect of a person, place, or event. “This rain means we can’t go for our walk, but this rain is good for the farmers.” The subject matter doesn’t change. It hasn’t stopped raining, but the rain’s positive attribute is brought forward and the emotional state improves.
We had some raspberry plants on the farm. Sometimes, after popping a nice ripe berry, right off the plant, we would crunch into a bug. My mother’s comment about the whole affair was….“Protein”. “Reframing” a subject or event means to step back from the emotionally-negative subject of a discussion and to take a more general view. Instead of looking at the overwhelming task of ‘my whole house is a mess’, reframe the massive task of cleaning the whole house into a practical task of cleaning one room or one corner, or even to start with a drawer. A rose is a very beautiful flower, but if you only focus on the thorns, it is an entirely different plant. The idea of reframing a subject changes the aura or feeling around an event. “We may have lost the game, but we learned something valuable that will make us better.” “I may have gone through years of crippling manic-depressive illness but I learned a path out of mental illness that I can share with others.”
Listing the positive attributes of people, places or events requires the work and effort needed to use one’s emotions to guide one’s focus from the emotionally negative aspects to the emotionally positive aspects. But once these positive attributes are identified and they become the first in a series of thoughts, the following actions and events will become healthier. New habits into emotionally-positive mental activities are being developed. Remember, the primary goal in these exercises is to bring about the health and well-being that comes with feeling good. A ‘reality’ of beauty and marvel exists but it can easily become hidden and lost behind the hardships of depression. Appreciating the beauty in nature is a wonderful method to extricate one’s self out of the harsh ‘realities’ of a negative world.
It was night and we were standing around a bonfire. Our group leader gave us each a small quartz crystal to hold in our hand as he was giving us a pep talk, something about personal power. I was focused upon the fire and the dug out path. In a few moments the path was going to be a hot bed of coals and embers. When my moment of truth came he said “Wait, the hot coals were not hot enough” and a new batch of brightly glowing and flaming hot coals were being spread out before me. My quartz crystal is a touch stone reminding me that I did a fire-walk that night.
Any object can be a reminder of an emotionally positive moment. Pictures are very common keepsakes. But an object or even a certain smell can quickly bring back memories of a painful life. A certain amount of selective recalling is healthy. All of the techniques presented here are tools I learned to used, and still use to this day, to develop healthier habits of thought.
I never really went to school my 7th grade year. My dad felt his family needed a broader education. He sold all the livestock on the farm, built a camper and with 4 children, an Irish Setter in the back and with my parents in front and we took off for points west. We spent two months touring the western National Parks, three months camping along Mexico’s Pacific coast, and then we went to Colorado for a month of skiing. This adventure into appreciation proved to be a valuable touch stone in my difficult years in the future.
Emotions have an evolved purpose. Negative emotions are indications of your bio-chemistry going out of balance. Appreciation of people, places and events is a wonderful way of activating emotionally positive mental activities. At a very young age, I was with my dad at night. He looked up at the stars and said “I wonder what is behind the stars?” My mind went blank but I was in a mixed state of awe, appreciation, and bewilderment. What do you mean something ‘behind the stars’?
The sense of mystery of being alive, on a planet floating in space among billions of stars should never be lost. We are beings that see, hear, and feel. But what we see ‘out there’ are actually bio-chemical nerve impulses inside the brain. The day after my fire-walk, I mistakenly left my crystal on a friend’s fireplace mantle. I was now on my way back to college and it was gone. Six months later I was getting up for class when I looked down at my bedside table. There was my crystal.
- Acts of kindness
I woke up with Enya nibbling my lip. She wanted something. I had two cockatiels, Enya and Yani. I would frequently fall asleep on our couch and wake up with Enya on my chest and Yani on my upraised knee. When I got them, they were flightless and could only climb around in and around their cage. Over a period of a few months and countless crash landings, they were gracefully flying around the apartment with the ceiling fan as one of their favorite hangouts. I was unemployed and living in a very “foreign” city called El Paso. They were my buddies. Playing and taking care of them was one of my higher moments during that very confusing time period.
A healthy life style means to live – and to act from – an emotionally-positive place. An emotionally-positive action taken outside the mind develops a touch stone into a healthy lifestyle. One method to bring up the emotions of a positive life style is to do ‘acts of kindness’. This extends the mental exercise of appreciation outward and into the world and begins the unveiling of a new life of well-being and kindness. A kind act may be as simple as petting a dog or a cat, smiling at a waiter or waitress, cleaning a room or washing a car or teaching a bird how to fly. The feelings of a kind act toward others makes the reality of an emotionally-positive world more real and is a great contrast to an emotionally-negative world that I was trying to leave behind.
Sometimes I found that reframing was just plain too difficult. Many times I would continue to fixate on a subject of angst that was just too unyielding to remold into a better feeling accord. It was time to step away from the subject and ‘go to a movie’. The object here was to radically change my focus and to completely distract my mind and its current unproductive activities onto something else. I would go to a movie, read a book, go for a bike ride, or take a walk in the park. If I found my emotions were feeling better then the distraction was working. Later, the subject of angst can be re-approached with a clearer head.
A common societal ritual of going to a bar for a few drinks especially with friends can be a very effective means of distraction. For six years, when I was teaching shop at Dominican H.S., I was one of the first to Friday’s happy hour. I was probably lucky that when I drank too much, my hangovers were just way too painful. They were a constant deterrent to getting drunk. Much too often, this distraction, or that of other drugs or even medications, can become the final solution and the subject of angst is never re-approached and resolved.
A job can be a good distraction. But it wasn’t until my last job before retirement as a mechanical engineer that I understood this. My work had always been part of my problem. Now that I have retired from actually having an enjoyable working environment, I can’t believe, but I understand, the years I ‘wasted’ doing something I disliked. Feeling good about my vocational work was never a high priority. It should have been. Ironically now that I am retired, I place a lot of value on the words ‘find a way to enjoy your job or get a new job’. I am very thankful that I found a positive work experience for my final 10 ears of employment. Perhaps my healing allowed me to find this more positive life experience.
My first experience in meditation was at the Deer Park Buddhist Center and Monastery in Oregon, WI. My curiosity was aroused from reading “The Third Eye”, by Lobang Rompa. I went and attended an open house. We gathered in a room and sat down on the floor and “we” meditated. It was a very difficult experience for me. My mind was too active. I hadn’t the vaguest notion of what my mind was supposed to be doing. I kept from squirming around for about 45min and finally we were given the ‘all clear’ signal.
I have since practiced meditation on my own. Dwelling upon the movement of a candle flame, following my breathing and at times I listened to guided meditations that directed my thoughts into a variety of adventures. There is much written on meditation and the internet is full of meditative activities. For the purpose of mental-emotional well-being, the goal is to follow your emotional guidance into a world of peace and harmony. Your emotions tell you the success of your meditation activity. If you are feeling better, you are headed in a more healthy state of being. If you are feeling worse, your bio-chemistry is going more out-of-balance.
The most enjoyable and exciting meditation I did was as a group effort. We called it “synergy meditation” as the energy of the participants came together into one co-creative event. Depending on the size of the group we would use chairs and sit in patterns that made up concentric circles. After quieting ourselves we would visualize “connections” to the earth and sky and to persons across the circle. Then at random, participants would volunteer and convey to the rest of the group what they perceived and a story would develop, something like this: I see a forest. There is a deer in the forest. He is going up a path. The path is leading up a mountain. There is a flat area on the mountain top. A cloud is coming by. I am being picked up by the cloud. We are traveling a long distance. I see the Sphinx. There is a door on the left paw of the Sphinx. We are going through the door down a stairway. We are going into a room underground between the paws. I see a library with lots of people looking at scrolls……
Meditations are healthful activities that may also serve as distractions whose function is also to quiet the mind. Some meditations, like focusing on one’s breathing or on a spot on one’s forehead, work on slowly eliminating the thought processes. The key to ‘no mind’ is to not latch on or fixate upon a thought but to allow a thought to pass through the mind. More mentally-active, guided meditations are where someone is leading the thought process.
These methods of calming the mind and ‘emptying it of thought’ are a means to allow more emotionally positive thoughts to replace the old. A person will feel better because mental activity has been removed from the subject of angst, but the real fruit of this labor comes when new, more emotionally-positive thoughts are allowed to grow and prosper. It is necessary to quiet the mind to allow room for these new mental activities to sprout.
The Native Americans have a way of challenging a person’s mental ability to remain at peace. I attended two sweat lodges run by the Chippewa of the upper Midwest and one sweat lodge run by the Apache of the desert Southwest. As the steam of the water spread on the hot coals throughout the inside the sweat lodge, rather than maintaining my composure I could only do my best to maintain an appearance of calm tranquility.
- Moving Meditations
Even more active meditations that involve the body are yoga and tai-chi. Running, biking, and rowing are activities that may also have the meditative quality of leaving the turbulent mind behind. Monitoring the emotional state is the key to effectiveness of any meditation. Around 1994 my fist wife and I were learning Sufi Dances of Universal Peace from a Sufi at the Unity Church in El Paso, TX. The absolute highlight of this experience was when we went to White Sands National Monument in New Mexico on a full moon night to dance our dance of universal peace on top of a brilliantly white sand dune. This dancing brought a great sense of peace and well-being. This activity redirected my awareness off of a very active emotionally-negative mental state. I have had classes in folk dancing, jazz and ballet. But before this I never appreciated the mental-emotional health benefits of redirecting my focus onto something emotionally-positive. I was learning to take an active roll in my mental-emotional state of being. I could appreciate that I was taking steps towards mental-emotional wellness.
Also around this time I started taking a class in Tai Chi. My teacher and the Dali Lama had the same Buddhist instructor. Now, almost twenty years later, I can’t remember their names. I was still very ill. The class opened up with breathing exercises similar to that found in meditation. We would visualize0 the movement of air in and out of our bodies. Our breathing was accompanied with synchronized hand and arm movements. The actual movement in Tai Chi is very graceful and calming. My mental focus on my performance removed my consciousness from my tempestuous mind and into the world of Chi. (Refer: 07-b)
While going to college I became involved with a Hindu family and acquaintances from Trinidad. It all started with my infatuation with a young woman. The next year I moved into one of the houses they rented. It was a community living style where we all pitched in with the food and cooking. I was a vegetarian that year and attended their Hindu religious services that were performed in our living room. One of the renters was a Hindu Priest. He also ran a class in yoga where I learned different poses. At times, I would have a quieter mind as my focus of attention moved away from the mental quagmire of my illness.
I include yoga as a moving-meditation group, because it takes a person from form to form. The significance of yoga for mental-emotional well-being is that like other meditation activities, it helps remove consciousness from the tempestuous mind and into a quieter mind where emotionally-positive mental activities may become fertile and grow.
While living with the Hindu family I also ran every morning. I tried, but I never could achieve the ‘runners high’. My mind never quieted down to allow the peace of ‘no mind’ to come through. But I can see how running, rowing, cycling and other repetitive motion sports can be mentally-emotionally very healthful. Any time the tempestuous mind is at rest, healthy and more emotionally-positive mental activities can move in. The key was for me to listen to my emotional guidance and to feel for emotionally-positive movement.
Sports provide a wonderful opportunity to develop mental-emotional harmony within the chaos and spectacle of athletic competition. I wrestled in high school. I was unbeatable in practice. But when it came to competition, my mental-emotional state went to pieces. My nervousness was my greatest competition and it always won, even if the final score favored me. In later years when I was practicing the 5 Shaolin animal forms taught by a Buddhist Monk, I learned that indeed my true “enemy” was within. As a high school an assistant wrestling coach I failed to impart this type of thinking to my students. Any opportunity to develop their mental-emotional harmony was lost and buried deeper into their utmost desire to win. (Ref: 07-c)
Organized sports within the educational curriculum provide a great opportunity to promote mental health and well-being. Mental and physical aptitude, health and well-being are dependent on the athlete’s desire and ability to enhance their bio-chemical balance which is a function of their emotional state which is a function of their mental activities. And it is those conscious mental activities that are within the scope and range of influence by the athlete, coach, and sports psychologist. I hope these opportunities will be realized and promoted in the future by our educational professionals. Where an athlete’s sporting career is limited, his whole life will benefit from the skills and knowledge he developed to use his emotional guidance.
- Hobbies, Music and the Arts
Music can provide an opportunity to bypass confused and convoluted mental activities and to provide a direct link into the inner harmonies of well-being. Music can also promote agitation, anxiety, nervousness and apprehension. Yearly Academy Awards for best score and best song attest to this. During my years of teaching high school, I devoted time to learning and playing the guitar. It brought me a sense of peace and connection to a more harmonious consciousness. I used music as a refuge from the calamitous world of teaching and my mental illness.
My mother and father imparted their love of skiing, canoeing, camping, picnicking and sailing. Through out the year, each season offered a different opportunity to take a break from the hectic life of farming. Only years later would I appreciate the significance and importance of consciously taking steps to feel better. And only years later did I realize that I was taught that doing activities that I enjoyed was a reward. I was paying room and board by the age of 10. I believed my true worth and value came from hard and dedicated labor. I didn’t understand the importance of finding joy in my vocational activities until 40 years later.
This discussion is about bringing an individual and societal awareness of the mental-emotional health and well-being and the healing affects of hobbies, music and the arts. These activities provide a wonderful tool for the promotion and maintenance of mental-emotional health. These health properties are greatly enhanced with a conscious awareness of the correlation between emotions, mental activities and the individual’s bio-chemical balance.
- Stop going there
Even now, to this day, the remembrance of my manic episodes is painful. I only tread there very carefully and deliberately. There are many events throughout my life that are best left alone as I can find no other way out of their quagmire. Sometimes a subject should be left alone until it can be transformed into something more freeing. My interaction with the El Paso police and treatment within their judicial system is an experience I only now have been sharing. That was over twenty years ago.
Maybe a subject is so vast and unyielding that the only solution is just to ‘not go there’. There is no solution or view point or aspect that elicits positive emotions. Avoidance may not be ‘how I was brought up’ or ‘politically correct’ but it may be important for a person’s health and well-being. “That is not your problem” may be the best advice a therapist can give for developing a patient’s health. There is an important lesson here in valuing personal health and well-being and the role of the personal emotional guidance system over the values imposed by society and others. For example, dwelling upon and fixating on world hunger can become overwhelming. If a person isn’t able to take such a subject and dwell upon the good they can do, perhaps it is a subject for that person to put aside until they are stronger.
- Having Compassion for Self
“Give yourself the same compassion you give to others and stop using your own mind to beat yourself up. Do theses thoughts feel good? If not, let us work together and find a way to stop this self-inflicting torture.” I attribute these words to Sharon, my therapist in El Paso. I realized that my thoughts were a source of anguish, but somehow her words helped me take a little step outside myself to do something about it. Many people can bring up compassion for a person who is having a difficult time, but they fail to feel the same compassion for themselves. This takes practice and it well-worth the effort, e.g., catch yourself being to hard on yourself and then try to think of the compassion you would have for someone else.
- Using Religious Ideals
There are many aspects of the religions of the world that pertain to easing the mind of its burdens. There are the Sufi dances of peace, there are the Hindu practices of “yoga” which means ‘union with God’, and there are the Buddhist meditations for “enlightenment” to reach “Nirvana” and the cessation of suffering. Religious practices can be explored with patients who are so inclined. Personal emotional awareness and wisdom is important because within religion are also ideas and beliefs that, rather than bringing about an experience of “salvation” and peace, bring about more hell on earth.
In western traditions, “Let go and let God” or “trust in Allah” are just a couple examples of how religious beliefs can be used to bring about emotionally-positive mental activities. The subject of forgiveness may be about someone and their transgressions, but forgiveness is, more importantly, by and for the injured. Forgiving someone is an act of letting go of a past life experience so that a new life may begin. Forgiveness is a way for a person to move on with their life so that they may be “reborn” into a better existence.
Other words of comfort may include:
1) “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be”. Lao Tzu (brainyquote.com)
2) “May God console you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem (Ha’makom yenahem etkhem betokh she’ar avelei Tziyonvi’Yerushalayim).” (myjewishlearning.com)
3) “Sadness is the heart telling you to find Allah. Depression is not listening to your heart. Comfort is remembering Allah is always there.” Yahya Adel Ibrahim (islamicquotesdb.com)
4) “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want…” Psalm 23 (King James Bible)
5) “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” Confucius (goodreads.com)
6) “There is no path to happiness: happiness is the path.” Gautama Buddha (quoteideas.com)
- The What-If game
I had an idea, what if my emotions correlate with my bio-chemistry? I was standing in our apartment’s hallway in El Paso, TX. What if my emotions are telling me something of my bio-chemical balance? The idea swirled around in my head. What if by feeling better, my bio-chemistry would be better? For some 13years I had been told that the only solution to my mental illness was medications and that this was a lifetime illness. I will be taking medications the rest of my life. What if, by listening to my emotions, I could change all that? What if my doctors were wrong? What if I could get well?
In the late ‘80’s while reading about different religious and metaphysical ideas from around the world, I would play the ‘what if’ game. What if this idea were true, what would that mean? I had no ‘proof’ of validity, but if I were to take the position that if it was true, what would that mean? Where would this new perspective on ‘reality’ take me? And the game would go on. Because I accepted a new position as ‘true’, then, new ideas of ‘reality’ would come to me. What if this new perspective is valid? I have no ‘proof’ of its validity, but what if I accept this new platform as a ‘true’ reality, where would this lead me?
The ‘realities’ presupposed within the metaphysics of the Far East and within the Americas’ Indigenous people may simply not have been compatible with my own western philosophical and religious upbringing. Years ago, my consumption within the ‘what if’ game may have contributed to my mania, but I was going to follow through the process again. The ‘what if’ game took the idea of a correlation between my emotions and bio-chemistry and brought a new reality of hope and possibilities. I was dying. The despair and anguish within me was consuming what life I had left. What if I was wrong? What if my emotions did not correlate with my bio-chemistry? What if the psychiatric profession was right? Then there was nothing to live for anymore. A future of medications, doctors, and hospitals as a solution to my depression and mania was no longer viable.
(07-b) A description of Chi can be found on:
(07-c) Cognitive-Emotional Therapy: Emotions Regulating Cognition, Section 07, Emotional Wisdom, by Andrew Jackson
(07-d) American Foundation for Suicide Prevention