Finding love and finding meaning, the human reasons to keep going

buddhaWhen we entered the temple last week we were told that we couldn’t go into the Hondo because a family was grieving and we’d have to enter in a little while.

Later we learned that it was actually the family of that young woman , Natsumi Kogawa, from Japan who had gone missing in September. Her body was found on the grounds of that mansion on Davie Street in Vancouver’s West End. They had come from Japan to plan her memorial service. It’s impossible to comprehend the sad reality that her family is now facing.

All I could think of was the excitement this young woman surely felt in coming to Vancouver, in improving her English. In thinking about all the new friends and experiences she imagined having before stepping onto the plane from Japan, and how unlikely it was that something like whatever transpired and that led to her death would happen to her here. 

As my attention focused back on the room, I wondered what had motivated all my fellow students to take an introduction to Buddhism course. I wanted to know their real motivation, deep inside, not the sanitized reason they shared about being interested in Buddhism and wanting to learn more.

For myself the past few years have all been about seeking, some people might say to my detriment. They would say that I just need to find a way to accept my life where I’m at. But I think I’ve finally recognized that it goes against my temperament to ever be satisfied for lengthy periods of time if things just stay the same and if I know I could be doing so much more, and I can’t seem to make that work where I’m at.  Isn’t that what “life” is about – experiences and moving through change?

Some things haven’t worked out, in fact, sometimes it feels like nothing has worked out very well in the past few years, and with  Salt Spring as the contrast where everything just felt like it was seamless and worked out with ease and little effort, the opposite has been a shock, another disappointment, an ongoing frustration and endless questioning about what I’m missing that surely must be right in front of me. 

On the other hand, the trying to make things work have led to the meeting of many people I wouldn’t have otherwise met and learning, and yet, I’m missing the key ingredients it seems: love in the way I feel I need it or would like to share it (which may be the problem and I’m smart enough to recognize that)  and meaning.

Zen Buddhism was the topic on our last week given by Reverend Michael Newton of Mountain Rain Zen Community at 2016 Wall Street and a professor in religious studies at SFU.

There were two things that really stood out for me from his words. The first was about how when we wake up from the stories we’ve been telling ourselves, stories that others have told about us since we were children that may or may not reflect who we really are, and we let go of those stories from the past, we can begin to step into the beautiful, clear presence, that’s the essence of Zen.

Each person according to their past and their uniqueness finds unique truths and that is why the truth cannot be told. Someone else cannot tell you your truth. You must find it within. Truth comes from your own experiences, your own practice.

That really resonated with me in the moment because I feel that looking around, looking at others isn’t giving me the answers I need, isn’t showing me my own very personal path. Their answers, their way of living, is not mine. So it requires that I get to the heart of what matters as my own very personal truth about my own life.

Yesterday as I was driving to a friend’s place to hear about her recent trip to Morocco, I was lucky to catch a radio show, Meaningful Man, on CBC Sunday Morning. It was about Viktor Frankl, the former Holocaust survivor, a brilliant man, and the author of  the book, Man’s Search for Meaning, a book that apparently poured out of him in nine days, and one that he had to dictate into a recorder to capture the manic stream of thoughts.

Today on Twitter, I’ve learned that Oct. 10th is World Mental Health Day, and I think some of the ideas spoken within the above documentary have the potential to bring comfort, or at least food for thought, to anyone who is struggling.  Please set aside about 50 minutes to listen to it.

Ghomeshi: Canada’s Shakespearean Tragedy

 

tragedyOne thing is certain. Whenever there is a “he said/she said” situation as we have seen in the Ghomeshi nightmare, the shit has hit the fan and somebody’s version of the truth has taken a detour into some nebulous land of denial or outright lying to themselves and/or to others.

When I was much younger, I found myself in two separate “he said/she said” situations. I’m not sure what that says about me. Maybe it says I was particularly attractive then even though I didn’t realize it, then, to the degree of the reality. Maybe it says I was particularly lonely and desperate, my vulnerability practically flashing neon. Maybe it says boys will be boys except it’s an excuse that’s no longer acceptable and you will get smacked down, rightly so, if you use it as your pitiful defense in the 21st century.

One of my “he said/she said” situations ended up in a labour arbitration which, in hindsight, was absolutely the wrong venue for any kind of real honest to goodness dialogue to occur. I was the key witness as a client of the therapist who was denying what I had to say about his actions in the form of a complaint letter. The labour arbitration had nothing to do with me except my letter had initiated the chain of events. The arbitration was between a union and a hospital. I had nothing to gain, except the inner strength that builds from speaking my truth in front of others in much the same way the Truth and Reconciliation hearings may have been powerful for some residential school victims/survivors.

The person I was complaining about – a counsellor in a small town – was fired. He grieved. When I wrote the complaint letter, I didn’t realize he was in a union.  My personal journals were subpoenaed. I experienced a lot of anxiety and depression and confusion and years of being focused on something that I could never come to terms with. In a 50-page decision, issued almost two years after the arbitration, the arbitrator upheld this person’s firing. He did not get his job back and the ineffectual rules related to counselling in B.C. did not prevent him from counselling others via self employment.

All these years later, I’m glad that the arbitrator made the right decision and fired him. The more I truly understand the therapeutic relationship between counsellor and client, the more I recognize his actions as beyond comprehension and the more I recognize how unethical and inexplicable (read stupid) his actions were.  He crossed a boundary that’s there for all the right reasons. He may have been a good counsellor (for other people). He also made the biggest mistake (we can only hope) of his career, and then, even worse,  he had the audacity to lie about it to try and save face and his livelihood.  Apparently he was a bad liar.

I found out later that during the arbitration, this person had a long list of character witnesses. That part was laughable to me. Needing a lot of character witnesses has to be a sure sign of needing to cover your ass.

But here’s the thing. Why do people who have never been in these types of scenarios have such trouble understanding that human beings are complex? They can be president and still be ruled by their biological urges. They can be a fantastic dad and have feelings for someone that make them act in ways that are beyond stupid and damaging – to themselves and to others. Why are we so quickly willing to forget Jung’s shadow side, a side that lurks in all of us, in some, darker and more evil than most of the rest of us can comprehend?

I completely understand why these women did not come forward. I see all the outdated male/female power dynamics that continue to support the context for this type of scenario to greater and lesser degrees.

But I am left with the questions of why?

Why would this fabulously talented man, Jian Ghomeshi, allegedly act in this way towards women? Our overwhelming blame on social media, without any curiosity seems too Lord of the Flies like. I think curiosity would be so much more interesting. Why does that creepy teddy bear reference immediately make me picture him as a child? What do we know about his childhood? Did something happen to him as a child? Was he abused? I do not believe that anyone acts the way these women have described for no reason, even if that reason is invisible and socially unacceptable, and having just written that, I am in no way defending him.

But I’ll go out on a limb and admit that I am wondering about his mental state at this point in time having plunged from his perch of fame to what surely must be the depths of private hell in this most Shakespearean of ways.

Or is he just ranting, privately ensconced somewhere, unable to take one ounce of responsibility? I wonder.

It would appear that he needs some major psychiatric help.

These women need accountability.

I hope they all get what they need.

Expanding End-of-Life rationales

whiteflowerYesterday, as I often do first thing in the morning, I was listening to The Current on CBC and the show just happened to be about euthanasia, specifically about the laws in Belgium as they related to medically-assisted death. Now, I admit, listening to that topic is probably not the best way to start a dark, grey, rainy January morning but what can I say? I just turn on the radio and life (and death) streams out.

I was horrified to hear the tragic story of this 64-year-old woman who opted for euthanasia in April 2012 after suffering from chronic depression for years. Her son found out about her decision, the day after her medically-assisted death.    And in Belgium, where she resided, it’s legal for someone to opt for medically-assisted death in response to a chronic physical or psychological illness.

Now, in Belgium, they have just extended medically-assisted death for children who are in unbearable pain from a terminal illness and with the consent of their parents and doctors.

As The Current highlighted, Quebec is in the process of debating Bill 52 which would legalize medically-assisted dying.

Oregon is the state you want to live in, if you are determined to control your end of life in the U.S.A.

I think anyone who has experienced depression and recovered from it might agree about how bad an idea it is that chronic depression be included as a legal reason to end your life. Being in the bowels of a depression with seemingly no end in sight is an incredibly painful experience. The mind is altered during a serious depression. It’s not a time when decision-making based on an assessment clouded by depression is to be trusted. The very nature of depression creates a lessening, if not outright loss, of hope which can mean less than objective insights into the possibilities for recovery or a belief that life will and can be different.  2013photos_flower

I have known two friends who committed suicide and I have watched my mother be taken off dialysis and wait for her body to shut down naturally, lying in the corner of a horrible four-bed hospital room for more than three weeks.  The three weeks it took for her body’s systems to stop seemed anything but compassionate to me.  After two years on dialysis, and at 84 years of age, she’d had enough and opted out. She rejected the treatment that could prolong her life; a life she deemed no longer worth living because of the treatment.

I often wondered to myself how a doctor’s compliance with a patient’s wishes to stop dialysis is more acceptable than a medically-assisted death that’s more active. My mother’s decision was an active one that was questioned more than once to be certain she understood the consequences of her choice in the same way, I assume, a person would be questioned in an active medically-assisted death.

In Belgium, the legislation apparently refers to active and passive euthanasia.   It seems to me that doctors and nurses are continually faced with choices and decisions that require them and their patients to participate in passive euthanasia.

It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I listened to a 90-year-old friend speak about why it’s important that death, regardless of circumstances, be allowed to descend upon its own time that I began to waiver in my own belief in end-of-life choice.

Should there be a difference between chronic physical and psychological conditions when it comes to having the right to choose to end your life? If so, what are the differences?