Our conditioning or karma (cause and effect) comes from our family of origin, life experiences, environment, cultural background, teachers, and even ancestral trauma. We’re conditioned to have preferences, to want certain situations to arise over others, to pursue fame or wealth, spirituality or love. Most of us derive our entire sense of self from this conditioning. We’re told and taught who we are, what is good/bad, worthy/unworthy, lovable/unlovable. This ALL creates a false sense of self. Whether we see the world as a beautiful place or a threatening place is entirely due to our conditioning.
“If everything within ourselves and the world is constantly changing, how do we make a decision that we will be able to live with in the next moment?”
Going to South America several years ago to participate in an Ayahuasca ceremony was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. While working in the field of psychiatry for most of my career, I've learned about and been exposed to many different healing modalities. None of them can quite hold a candle to what can happen using psychedelics as a catalyst. I’ve witnessed it transform countless others’ lives just like it did my own.
Just when we thought the state of our mental health couldn't get any worse, the world was blindsided by Covid-19. People are more desperate now than ever to find healing, connection, and community. Most people will never have the opportunity to go to South America and sit with a traditional Shaman. How can we make this more accessible for more people here in our community in New Orleans? Can we share plant medicines that have been used for thousands of years in South America right here in New Orleans? How do we modify or make these ancient rituals and ceremonies apropos for people living here in this city in this time period?
Sometimes I have clients ask me if staying in the present moment means we won’t have any motivation to actually plan and accomplish anything. We will inevitably have thoughts of the past and future and there is nothing wrong with finding those thoughts enjoyable. Planning for a future is necessary unless you're a monk living in a cave. Having dates on the calendar, projects to complete and vacations to take is part of our life experience. Looking forward to things that we’re planning to do can be a source of happiness and enjoyment. If you’re going to take a vacation with your friends, it makes sense to put it on the calendar early and plan for it and derive whatever pleasure you can in the planning and looking forward to it. Where mindfulness comes in is in the moments in life where there is no reason to think about the future or the past, especially if it involves worry and regret.
What does Integration mean? Integration is taking an experience, an epiphany, an insight, a new skill, a new awareness about yourself and integrating it into every aspect of your life. This means your home life, your work life, your relationships, how you think and “be” in the world. When you integrate you become embodied.
I went to Ecuador in Feb 2016 and wrote the following account of my experience 10 months later. I don't know why today, 4 years later, it occurs to me to post this. Maybe it will be helpful to someone.
Infinity can’t be described but it can be experienced. This is because language is a construct of duality. Infinity is a concept that is difficult to wrap your mind around, but once you experience it, either through meditation or other means, you then understand that it can’t be contained, that it just is and that we are part of it. In this experiencing, we become less identified with our ego and these physical bodies that we currently occupy.
There is a stigma around psychedelics because of cultural conditioning, but they have been used for thousands of years. Writings of the Veda in Hinduism, evidently the oldest religious text, refers to the fundamental nature of reality in connection with “soma” - a psychedelic plant. It also talks about Enlightenment - about uncovering the true nature of the self.
Trauma informs our perception of the world. All of our experiences are viewed and interpreted from this lens. Everyone has some form of trauma in their history. You can’t really escape it as a human being, but by practicing and therefore being more aware of how energy moves through our bodies, we can learn to cope with the sensation of fear when it arises.
“The dream is the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens into that primeval cosmic night that was soul long before there was a conscious ego and will be soul far beyond what a conscious ego could ever reach.”
- C. G. Jung
Most talk therapy places emphasis on the capacity of the cognitive rational brain to conquer our irrational survival brain. Neuroscience has helped us understand that you can’t talk yourself out of being in love, or being angry, or disliking particular people, because these are not rational processes, and reason has a limited capacity to override these more primitive survival issues. Instead of relying on reason, we need to rely on connection to our body, mastery of our body, safety of our body, and finding peace in our body.
Chakra is sanskrit for wheel or circle. It is a spinning energy vortex interacting with various physiological and neurological systems in the body. The entire universe is made of energy, and we are no different. There are seven main chakras, or energy centers which align the spine, starting from the base of the spine through the crown of the head. When our energy centers are out of balance, our prana doesn’t flow well. Since mind, body, soul, and spirit are intimately connected, awareness of an imbalance in any area is important in keeping your energy flowing.
Sometimes it feels like all of our worst thoughts about ourselves are true. However, feeling negative about ourselves has nothing to do with who we actually are. This is evidenced by people who by all accounts are beautiful human beings, but who feel ugly and worthless.
Amy awoke from an afternoon nap on the sofa to a stranger’s face staring down at her. Before she could utter a sound, he gagged her, raped her, and left her for dead. When Amy found the strength to crawl to her neighbor’s apartment, she had to explain who she was, having been beaten beyond recognition. Over the next several years, Amy would attempt to regain control of her life. However, the fear and anguish she experienced on a daily basis would keep her from finishing college, having the family she always dreamed of, or even being able to live on her own. Amy is one of millions of Americans who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after experiences such as sexual assault, combat, or responding to violent emergencies.
The superego is often equated with “conscience.” This is unfortunate, since the guidance of the early superego is often unreliable, being based on unreasonable notions of right and wrong that were learned from our parents. Though these may have been appropriate for a child, frequently they are no longer useful for us as adults.
Our human life occupies a very small space in this vast universe. Sometimes we think we need to do or be something special to make our lives meaningful - achieve success, have lots of unique experiences, identify with a specific religion...it’s not true. It’s the little things in life that give it meaning. Laughter, good conversation, delicious food, great sex, a beautiful sunset, a good movie, a cold beer on a hot day, watching your children play, or that feeling you get when you have helped another human being in need.
Photo: Liquid Bloom Album Cover
Mystical experiences can allow us to feel an oceanic state of oneness, a connectedness to others, to the planet, and to ourselves in ways that we may not normally experience. However, afterward it can leave us feeling even more isolated and lonely in comparison.
Anxiety is a slow evolving trait that was useful to human beings at some point but is no longer as necessary now that lions aren’t lurking around the corner. We are dealing with a natural defense process that needs to be witnessed and acknowledged rather than fought against and discouraged. Anxiety skews our perceptions, making us believe that everything is very serious, dramatic, even life-threatening.
It might seem that the person you want to become has to do with how other people see you. How others see you actually has more to do with how you feel about yourself. What we experience in our life is a mirror to what is happening inside of us. Our thoughts and beliefs directly influence how our lives unfold.
As human beings, our core struggle is that we want things to be different than they actually are. Neurotic struggle is our continued effort to resist what is happening. We want to be happy; we don’t want pain; we want to feel good; we don’t want heartbreak.
There is an unavoidable, tragic aspect to life. We all suffer. We experience the loss of a loved one, we feel physical and emotional pain, loneliness, and longing, just to name a few. The good news is that we have the ability to relieve our suffering, because suffering is a state of mind.
Falling in love can feel like we have become possessed, like we have drunk a magic potion, or been stung by Cupid’s bow. We project ideals onto our partner. We think they are the kindest, most generous, most wonderful being in the world. We direct a passion towards them that feels intoxicating. This is our passion for discovering our inner being, our essence. This passion is superimposed over our external partner. In our search for wholeness we love another human being because we are “in love with being in love”.
Negative emotions are not bad. There is actually no such thing as a bad emotion. Emotions are all just sensations that course through our body. We judge things in our mind. Our ego says something is bad and our thoughts cloud the truth.
More and more, we are reading about the way gut health is directly related to mental and physical health.
When you think of yoga, what words come to mind? If they are stretching, flexibility, and strength, you might feel discouraged if you can't even reach your toes. Five years ago, I had trouble touching my toes - in fact, some mornings putting on my shoes was a struggle due to back pain.
For centuries, philosophers have been intrigued by the search for the self. Is there an individual self who is experiencing things; making decisions; thinking thoughts? And what does the self consist of?
I love stories. I heard this story the other night, and although I don’t know how accurate it is, I loved it for the way it made me feel. It’s a story about how the poet Rumi met his teacher.
I write about human behavior, meditation, body awareness, and a variety of other things that pique my interest.