Looks are Deceiving…..the Many Faces of Love

Loook at all these happy faces....a backpack trip I led on Cumberland Island
Look at all these lovely faces….a backpack trip I led on Cumberland Island

Facing our Truth?

Years ago I remember finishing an incredible backpacking trip in the Slickrock Creek Wilderness in North Carolina. Stopping at the first available convenience store so the group of us could stuff our faces with junk, I felt rather greedy and ashamed of our wealth in this sparse country.  As I was making my way back to our van, I was struck by the unsightliness of a woman entering the store. It was as if 1/2 of her face had been blown off. The sight of her face stayed with me, and for a few moments I was dumbfounded, and needed to gather myself. Part of me that was grateful that I did not have to deal with her directly. Now I know that in practicing mindfulness I would have been better equip to understand my feelings at the end of this trip.

In Buddhist psychology we are taught to face the truth of our own experience and be honest with ourselves……what this mind of ours is truly up to. I judge. We judge. And I am skeptical about those who say they do not. I wonder if they lack insight. As human beings we have a tendency to judge others often based on superficial information. We are superimposing our narratives upon the circumstances. Telling a story like that to others would have left me feeling all the more shamed and flawed. One story I sometimes share is about how much of a phony I feel to be sometimes. But being mindful-reflecting on my self- has helped me accept and begin to change those unwholesome parts of myself.

We identify with our face and others faces. I do not recognize my friend Bill as his legs, or introduce myself as my arms. We connect or disconnect with our faces. So when I see Bill, I already have my story of what Bill is about. Although the amount that I truly know about him is minuscule, I have filled in the blanks about who he is. An interesting way to practice is to be mindful of faces…take them all in.

We recognize something in every face that we see. People that we love, family friends, lovers this is a very pleasant feeling. We have very pleasant stories about the ones that we love. This is where we have imposed a perception upon the sensory data. When I see our child Lenora a pleasant sensation arises. A warm, agreeable, and heart felt connection. If I see a child that has caused my daughter some pain an unpleasant sensation arises. This perceptual process can lead to dissonance, a non attractive, not safe feeling. Disconnected, averse, distant, unfriendly. And there are those that we find neither pleasant nor unpleasant, invisible, non remarkable, and we may become indifferent, and the mind will become slothful, lazy. In some of these situations, we may try make some sense of the situation, and we fit some dialogue on top of that.  Age, culture, class, and gender has a lot to do with it. The problem is that the mind is deluded when it is becomes indifferent.  Recent research finds that neglect is worse that sexual abuse. Sometimes it seems as though the more unaware we are, the more checked out we are, and the more indifferent we become.

However all three perceptions are lacking….pleasant towards my daughter, unpleasant towards the alleged enemy, indifference towards the  non remarkable person. We sense that we are jumping to conclusions based on incomplete information, and that we really don’t want to make judgements, or assumptions- we really want to give all a fair shot. But sometimes in this frenetic, grasping society we often go to the default mode which has to do with aversion or checking out entirely.

These relationship impairments often lead to dissatisfaction, angst, and emptiness. We are coming to find in the interpersonal neurobiology of Daniel Siegel, and beginning with the attachment therapy of John Bowlby, that our sense of self is created in relationships.

Attachment research is now holding out that our entire concept of self is formulated through relationships. Those who did not have stable warm attached relationships as infants and toddlers, or were subject to trauma at some point in their life,  are likely to have a non attached worldview. Also subject to attachment issues are folks that have addictions, depression or anxiety. Their brains are not integrated; different parts of the brain, particularly the middle prefrontal cortex,  are not entirely wired together.

Mindfulness practice has been shown to lead to integration, wiring the brains’ different sections back together. This gives validation to the notion that spiritual communities and fellowship aid in developing a more healthy; and complete; mind and body.

“I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.”

Mother Teresa

As spiritual or psychological practitioners we need to have some faith and confidence that we are full of love. And that others are full of love also. What gets in the way is our own sense of woundedness, in other words non integration. This is truth for me. I see this when I am consciously connective, warm, intimate, loving. When I feel closed, cold, disconnected, I feel a lack of love, aversion, disgust and there could be a host of other unpleasant descriptors. So when we interact with others, we recognize the disconnect and accept the disconnect with mindfulness. The best place is to accept this within the body. Can I notice the sensations? What are the sensations like? Hard versus soft, hot versus cold, moving versus still etc. Then can I hold this in a space of mindfulness and equanimity? One of the most important tenets of parents who are securely attached is that they are comfortable in their own skin. So what we do is to notice and accept the unpleasant phenomena and create a loving response.

Several years ago I was counseling a young man from a local high school. As is so often the case, I would walk this person to the park and do our session there. My client was aghast when I would freely and happily say hello to anyone who happened in our path. His question was “Why are you doing that”  My response was “to not do that makes no sense!”.

So there is a responsibility with this truth (Dhamma.) How fortunate one is to be exposed to this incredible truth, and have the energy to continue to practice living in this truth. We have the opportunity to have a huge impact on our friends and families, the community and the world through this precious truth.  We can recondition our habitual responses to self and others, and create a more loving world for all.

“Reverence, humility, contentment, gratitude and hearing the good Dhamma, this is the best good luck”

The Buddha

Help for Families of Addicts, Part I

Andy Quinn 2014Just the word “addict” makes us cringe! Then to think that our child or husband may be an addict is certainly unsettling, even devastating. Despite our best efforts at convincing, controlling and cajoling the addict to quit they keep on. And despite all the tragic events and difficulties they just keep on. Truly we are baffled and most of us in the helping professions have been confused and frustrated by trying to help these people.

So what can you do? I tell folks  that if you are going to cure addiction you have to understand the addict. There are a lot of myths about addiction, that if held onto, can actually can contribute to the problem. Even mental health professionals are still working  on outdated models of assisting families and their loved ones. The culture that we live in devalues asking for assistance,  the idea of helping one another.. Having addiction in the family can cause family members to feel shame. These dynamics can cause families to isolate and control, desperately trying to help in ineffective ways. This can lead to increased shame and more acting out by not just the addict but by family members themselves. So misguided, misinformed methods make things worse!

Most of us are going  to be traumatized by the substance using of our loved one. Susan Johnson, an attachment theorist that developed Emotional Focus Therapy, defined trauma  as a psychological wound that leaves us feeling helpless and hopeless. This is how spouses and parents of addicts often feel. When human beings are traumatized, physically, emotionally,  mentally, the mind contracts to a form of tunnel vision. Our assessment of the situation is inaccurate and our reaction is off the mark. We will spin  into anxiety  and shame and become controlling and reactive. We are often  reliving  some of the same trauma from our childhood. I would not trust such a mind for solid decision making.

Lenora gardener

This sense of losing  everything important, the trauma, reinforces a need to isolate. The isolation will reinforce, make stronger the anxiety around having substance abuse in the family. Our American culture values “being strong,” and devalues being vulnerable. Paradoxically what we are typically running from is fear…..”what will people say? (when they find out my son is an addict)”  or “what does it feel like to me to have no control?” So in a round about way it takes courage to face the pain, and relief that I do not have  to have all the answers.

Working with professionals and support groups like Al Anon leads to the most important part of helping the addict….getting help for yourself. Research consistently confirms that people are happier when they have loving relationships and talk about their problems. So getting help for yourself stabilizes the mind. Once the mind is stable, it can become more malleable, flexible to entertain new concepts about the nature of addiction. The open mind will also become more intuitive about how to help my particular addict. This openness can also be conducive to loving our addict, a powerful force in getting better.

We learn to soften toward the addict when we understand that their destructive behavior has to do with impaired neurological functioning, that may have been genetic or due to childhood experiences. Family members learn that their loved one is not of sound mind, their mind so impaired that they can not control their use. Families can learn that the addicted person is suffering, and deserves compassion like we all do. So the first step in getting help for our addict is to begin the process of understanding, forgiving and loving our addict.

by Andy Quinn

Twelve-Point Inspection Checklist for Relationships

In the summertime, many of us take to the road and travel by car. We are bound for New Orleans, Wisconsin, New England, California or my home state, Florida. With car travel imminent, a lot of folks take their cars to the mechanic to get a check up- just to make sure their cars are road-worthy. A good twelve point car inspection can make all the difference between enjoying the ride, or spending precious vacation time waiting for repairs.

We maintain our cars, bodies, houses, gardens, tools, gear and even careers.

But if I say you must also inspect and maintain your marriage, what do you think? “I have to take her out for a meal” “I need to get some more attractive sleep clothes” “I could be nicer to my partner”. Many of us will holler “I already cook for her/let him go camping/clean the house/ bring home the paycheck!” This is comparable to saying “I already put gas in the car, what more do you expect me to do?!”

Continue reading Twelve-Point Inspection Checklist for Relationships

Relationship Repair

In the 1970’s the band Three Dog Night sang “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do. Two can be as bad as one, it’s the loneliest number since the number one.” Whether you are pretty good friends but the romance has gone out of your relationship; or you’re not able to get through a week without a painful argument; or you’re so mad at each other it’s like living in a deep freeze; or you feel like two ships passing in the night… you’re wondering “Where is the Love” (Black Eye’d Peas)?”

We can help you with regaining the stability and warmth you long for, often even if the other partner is not interested in the counseling process. We can offer you many tools for improving your relationship, such as better communication skills, regaining that sexual spark, addressing compulsions that are destructive to your partnership, figuring out how to parent, co-parent, step-parent, etc. It can be amazing how what can seem like an impossible problem can begin to resolve with the smallest changes in Your behavior (even if you are sure it’s your partner’s fault).