Just One Look Forum Archives
Recovery and Rehabilitation
I have talked about my first few years after the looking elsewhere, but to summarize, because it's important to where I am now: after 30 years, I was finished with the spiritual search, frustrated, angry and anxious. I gave up changing myself. In this state I happened on John and Carla's website. It looked like more of the same, perhaps more banal and simplistic than all the other spiritual appeals, but I must have made a go of the looking, actually followed John's instructions, and then forgot about it.
About four or five months later I went through a very bad patch. I was angry and anxious. I couldn't sleep, and thought I was going crazy. I somehow stumbled back onto John's site and read with amazement about the recovery period and gradually realized that this was happening to me. I had looked once, and with very little focus or hope, and started this powerful chain reaction of events and shifts in the ground I was standing on. It was difficult, but there was some comfort in knowing what was going on, even though I was still skeptical of all things 'transformative'. Somehow I hunkered down and decided to see where this thing goes.
Gradually things settled down and optimism returned, perhaps too much optimism at first because the road was still very rough and I still had the tendency to jump on the latest bandwagon and infuse things with magical thinking and meaning that was not supported by reality.....a strategy based in fear. In the intervening 3 1/2 years a lot has happened. I'll try to be measured and honest, although it's difficult to remember how things were.....in some ways not much different than now (same life) in other ways, worlds apart.
This incredible anger that sprang out of nowhere was the first to go. It must have been suppressed, latent anger from a long life of passivity and it broke out strongly in the recovery period. But it went fairly quickly, like a summer storm. I still had anger flare ups, but honestly, these days, I'm rarely angry, at least that long, smoldering type of anger that bursts out of nowhere into important relationships and strafs everything in sight. Now, when angry, it's a focused burst, that is quickly managed and burnt through and usually energizes rational action.
Anxiety was the next to go. During the recovery period my life long anxiety reached a fever pitch. I slept poorly and awoke in the middle of the night convinced that something terrible would happen ( terrible things were about to happen, but more on that later). I was choking on my anxiety, breathing was difficult, eating, sleeping were difficult. It was hard to focus on anything. In the middle of this, I remember having an odd thought, something along the lines of; well I've experienced this before (earlier in my life I had panic attacks, etc) and somehow survived.....this will probably pass soon. And it did. After several months the anxiety began to diminish. It has diminished to the point now, where things that used to put me into a literal hyperventilating panic, like public speaking and certain crowded social situations are only mildly anxiety provoking. Now I enjoy public speaking, tolerate crowded social situations much better, and don't obsess on things like every little physical ache and pain. There's still anxiety that swoops in for a visit, it's never far away, but I can breathe and manage that in most cases. The difference is that when anxiety sets off the alarm system to warn me of impending doom and danger, I do a quick evaluation of the situation and make a call. No danger here, things are okay, shut off the alarm.
Depression. Ah, my old black dog (to use William Styron's description). I think I was depressed and guilty in the womb. I can remember being surprised when my second grade teacher called on me by name in class. I thought I was invisible and she couldn't possibly remember my name from day to day. Depression was the last thing to go, and it is still going. It leaves, then comes back for its keys. Six months ago my mother died, then my wife's mother died, then both my daughters left home for college and living abroad. Before this I was on a roll, feeling the positive effects of the looking, dealing with my dying mother as well as could be expected, thinking that I had turned a corner with grace and maturity. Then the above happened, within three weeks, and depression and grief were back in the house. Through all this, despite feeling bad, there was equanimity. A sense that I couldn't really be touched by the suffering, although it was very real and the effects painful.
Since then my pleasure in life has slowly returned and anxiety and depression have not. I always thought that an end to the huge ball of anxiety would be pure bliss and calm. It's not. It's simply ordinary. It's just life coming at me in a straightforward manner and much less distorted than before. I have found that with the anxiety gone many things I did, in a rather ritualistic manner, are no longer necessary and stop due to lack of momentum. Most recently I stopped a 30-year coffee habit. Coffee somehow seemed to reinforce and amplify the fear, anger, and irritability. It also helped me focus and probably warded off the depression to a certain extent. I simply no longer need these effects. Other bad habits fell away and healthy habits replaced them. I enjoy Qi Gong in the mornings where I practice mindful movements and directed attention on my breathing and movements.
Life without the context of fear is a little hard to get used to. I have to be somewhat careful, as fear was an inhibitor, therefore I can be a little more uninhibited in my language, etc. The great thing is that less fear means more energy to engage with life. There is more focus and less time spent on irrelevant rumination. I get things done for the most part. There is a greater degree of what the positive psychologist call 'flow'. Flow is to become immersed in one's actions with an intense focus and with a diminished awareness of the passage of time. It is not necessarily a blissful state, but rather a state of absorption in life and in one's activity. Flow happens more and more. I am in the moment, present, aware, calm and ready to respond to life. Anxiety, fear, depression stop flow and distance one from the stream of life.
Surprisingly, I still have some skepticism about the looking. Sometimes I think all the changes are just maturation, growing older and wiser. Then I think for a moment of how utterly miserable I was for much of my life and I see the beauty and the quiet unfolding of the looking. I sometimes think I should be 'enlightened', which was a goal for most of my life. Surprisingly, and as John predicted, I have lost interest in spiritual attainment and the constant thinking about--forum perusing obsession with all things spiritual. It seems it was a by product of my fear, this constant looking for an ideal state... being better. I'm mostly satisfied with the present these days. There is no 'better' or ideal, in fact wishing for it, looking for it, takes one further from life as it flows through us.
The transformation resulting from the looking has been real in my life. It has unfolded slowly and has been difficult. But at some point, the slow, steady changes have become beautiful and surprising rather than excruciating. Hang in there. The momentum of fear takes awhile to change and shift in a positive direction. But it did for me and I look forward to the ever evolving, quiet transformation of the fear-free life.
Thanks, Jack. I resonate with much of your post, particularly your notes on "enlightenment," a quest that, happily, no longer torments me. It's like no longer hearing an inner voice on a loop, accompanied by New Age Jazz, with the guise of utility. It certainly served its purpose, like Ramana's analogy of using a thorn to remove a thorn.
I'm thankful that John clarified that which is necessary to extricate oneself from unnecessary suffering. That he designated the exact spot to apply the thorn. In my case, I had to look at myself thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of times. Or, at least, that's what I did. Daily, for hours, for years, on top of years of meditation, prior to finding John. Maybe looking just once would have done the trick for me.
I'm very happy about John's new emphasis on attention practice. A version of that certainly made the recovery period relatively painless. Anyway, thanks again for your post.
Wow thanks Jack... What a wonderful support this report offers. You have a gift for detailing the progression of the recovery and your words are very loving and compassionate.
Today I am struggling with old feelings of guilt, remorse, shame related to my daughter and not being there for her during her adolescence. (She's writing a book about her life and I support her 100 % but she's pretty rough on me... Gulp!) At the time I was sitting in an ashram in India totally self-absorbed and desperate to 'find myself' or find enlightenment or eternal peace etc. and as David says, perhaps looking just once may have done the trick. Certainly the fallout would not have been so devastating as it was in my case.
Now I too feel, as you say, "a sense that I couldn't really be touched by the suffering, although it was very real and the effects painful." It feels now like a gentle compassion for that person I was and for us all really.
You're welcome David and Maureen. I enjoyed your response as well. David, I looked quite a lot after that first look, I'm rather compulsive that way. When I was in my Christian phase, early in life, I was 'saved' over and over, just to make sure.....I also meditated for hours a day for years. It still puzzles me how I tried almost everything spiritual, yet did not stumble upon self inquiry similar to John's method. The simplicity is stunning and elegant.
Surprisingly, Maureen, I was never one for regrets, despite all the neurotic craziness going on in other areas. I now regret not looking earlier in my life, although that would not have been possible. I find it hard to stick with negativity these day, my mind just doesn't stay there. I certainly have negative and anxious thoughts and feelings, but I can't sustain them for very long. In the past my anxiety about everything was laser like in its intensity, duration, and focus. Once in awhile something will grab me, like the situation you describe and I can't let it go. I know this when I wake up in the middle and can't sleep for hours. This still happens on occasion, but usually I can reactive constructively. It sounds like you are able to be constructive in your responses to the guilt and shame.
I think under everything was this desire to be perfect. I still have this desire, call it enlightenment or whatever, but now see myself as very imperfect. And I'm more comfortable with my imperfections. There's the relief.....I no longer beat myself up for not attaining a high standard, which is ridiculous if you think about it for very long.
Thanks for your responses.
Jack, thank you very much for your report.
It's well articulated and I recognize myself in much of it. When comparing with my experiences, I see many similarities.
It's also about 3 and half years for me now, and I was depressed, too. I still get depressed on occasion, especially on holidays and weekends, when a feeling of loneliness and disconnection strikes. I'm not worried about that as much anymore, though. I get very angry occasionally, and I often can't tell why exactly.
The feeling of being invisible you describe was striking. It's exactly what I felt. And I still do. I'm sometimes startled when someone addresses me. Like I wasn't there. I don't seem to be able to take my person as a real being, as imagine others are. There's a feeling of not really being much of a person.
Then there's this another feeling of not being a person and I don't see how these are related. I saw personality as something substantial and solid before, as being me. Not so now. Now it seems to be a collection of traits drawing from genetics and environment and cause and effect, and is kind of outside of me. My operating system in this world. I don't feel like a person in essence. I'm more the feeling of me, solid but insubstantial. There's more of disconnection between the two now.
When comparing the looking, I never looked very much. I lost my interest in it fairly soon. I was never obsessed about it. I still get the urge to look sometimes, but it doesn't happen often. I was a little bit worried about getting it right at first, but that soon passed.
I'm encoureaged to read that you lost your coffee habit.
My lifelong habit is sugary foods which pacify me. It flares up occasionally and still has a strong hold on me. It might have lessened a little bit but it worries me some. I've been learning about health hazards of sugar recently and watched the new documentary Fed Up yesterday, which is about the obesity epidemic and sugar's role in it especially. I have no weight issues, but it slowly poisons your body in other ways. It's a quite scary substance, and I think it affects some people's brains easier than others. But if the recovery eventually weans oneself off from reliance on pacifying drugs, then I have hope. I think it has been the case with alcohol, too, in some report earlier? I'm thinking about how much of effort I should devote to detox myself from it, or should I just wait for it to go by itself? At times I sort of trust that it will go, but with how much effort from my part...
The other day I tried to paint again after many years. I've just realized now that the feeling of disappointment and frustration at my clumsy efforts was quite absent afterwards. Or much weaker at least. It used to be paralyzing. Perfection or nothing was (is) my motto, in just about everything. Perhaps I will be able to paint again...Imperfection, everything being a project under construction, developing, messy, partly unfocused, ever somewhat incomplete seems to be how things are. I see that could be my subject in painting, too, among other things. But perfectionism seems to be deeply embedded in me.
I don't observe much pleasure coming back yet. No bliss. Things dropping off, sure, and that peculiar feeling I can sometimes sense, of standing on solid ground now. Like that proverbial wheel in the cart was no longer off center. But it's still a cart ride. I often feel I'd prefer a Bentley with all the bells and whistles and a smooth tarmac (some version of enlightenment and ideal state) but according to John and many others here this apparently loses it's appeal over the actual.
What's the deal with skepticism? It's still there for me, too. I wonder if it's natural and healthy? Will I find myself completely convinced at some future point, I don't know. Somehow skepticism and conviction seem to co-exist.
Jack, thank you for writing this report. I feel almost that it is my mind you are talking about . I recognize this healing process you are describing very well. It is really interesting and confirming to see that no matter our individual life's and minds, the recovery process has an underlying mechanical structure that is the same for all of us. Great news for you Jack and for all of us .
I have also thought about summarizing the years of recovery. And now with the inspiration from you and others who have done the same I think I will start working on that. I think it is a really great thing to do for oneself and for the help of others here. It gives perspective and understanding for everyone.
Nice to have you here Jack...
Thanks Niklas and Seppo. I appreciate your responses and feedback. You both mention themes and commonalities, which I find interesting. I like your description of how you view yourself, Seppo. While it's not my experience, I get what you are saying. I also have an addiction to sugary and fatty foods. I simply have to stay away from them and I feel significantly better. I believe the natural intelligence John talks about guides us to instinctively take care of ourselves. There's a massive amount of good info out there about health and nutrition. I feel like I'm better able to navigate through it and find what I need to recover vitality. I think a lot of engagement with life is getting rid of habits that numb us and distance us from life. These habits can take a long time to fall away from my experience and the reports of others.
Thanks again for your responses, they enliven my understanding and sense of community.
It can be hard work to stay away from addictive habits, especially when it comes to food, because you have to eat in any case. It would be nice if this would happen on its own, but I guess it's useful to give it a nudge and try. You can back off if it becomes too stressful and try again later. In fact, I've already tried once this year. It started on its own, but soon collapsed. I've been keen on health issues and diet since teenager, but it used to be quite neurotic at times. But on the other hand I get momentary excitement out of the prospect of learning to live better, and all the possibilities. Or maybe it's kind of just observing what happens, and will happen in the future while recovery deepens and goes on.
Hopefully natural intelligence will come to the fore when the neurotic falls away. It's no longer a project to save myself as much as it used to be. My body will die and probably get sick before that, anyway. The stress of trying your best in less when it becomes clearer that your behavior is not directly under your control but is rather a play of forces much like weather is, for example.
I've also been keen on many other kinds of issues to make the world better, concentrating mainly on what's going wrong and solutions to those particular issues. Environmental destruction, war, economic inequality, political corruption, the issues with reductionist and mechanical worldview, my perception of esthetic degradation, lack of beauty in built environment and art (which hits me quite hard).
It's exciting to see new theories emerging to steer us to a better direction and new potential solutions, too. I've spent some time learning about those. I've been asked by friends to start writing about my views and what I've learned, sharing various ideas people propose, as a layman, but they've been written about a lot already, and there has been a new view coming about in my mind concerning all this; they (the bad stuff) are actions and consequences of the diseased mind, or the context of fear. Nothing will fundamentally change unless it's gone. So the motivation behind this search and interest might change or weaken, the point of ruminating about all the different details of what is going wrong become less important. On the other hand, I guess it could be written from the perspective of the new context for the mind and the cause of inward looking to change humanity.
The view that there's one cause for all the evils of humanity, as well as a simple solution, has been there for a long time in various schools of thought and religions. If this is it, if it has now been articulated clearly and the healing is easily initiated in every individual mind, then that is obviously what is worth writing about. What of all the implications? What kind world picture emerges from this? There are many interesting things about this. My mind is kind of anxious to figure out what kind action and worldview comes out this, in me as well as what seems to logically follow in the larger context. But I'm not sure if I'm wise enough for the task, or even recovered enough.
Seppo, thanks for another fascinating post. I also don't know where this is going either, nor do I have firm enough footing, and so can't address your larger questions other than to speculate. It seems that once we get beyond ourselves, the petty/narcissistic manner in which we live our lives, then we can think about these larger issues and devote our energies to helping the world. I feel like I'm still in the throes of adjustment to life without the context of fear. I really can't seem to find an equilibrium or a healthy continuity that allows me to get outside of my self and, not just think, but act on these larger issues, like John and Carla are doing with their work. I believe that an important way to help the world is to clear ourselves of fear and dysfunctional habits which contribute to the chaos around us. In my work with kids with learning and mental health issues, this can be very discouraging as I tend to absorb some of their negative emotional states. Some days, like today, feel like two steps back rather than moving forward.
As John has said, who knows what new ideas and patterns of living could emerge in a society unhampered by fear, and I agree, it's exciting to contemplate.
Jack, thank you for commenting. I guess these larger questions are speculative at this point. As something fundamental shifts in our minds, there must be patterns emerging as to what kind of view on various issues emerges.
For example, the view that we don't have direct power over what we think and feel is not so clear in general, or to many people. Does this clarity emerge out of looking and recovery, even if you don't read what John says about things? It didn't used to be so clear to me. Also, humanity as one creature, in a way. It could be that this is natural intelligence in action, when the obscuring fog of fear has departed, which makes us sharp. The twisting influence of wanting to believe one thing over another is gone. These views can be debated in detail, but perhaps there is a 'solution space', a group of outcomes, that emerges from looking, which is different from our current one.
Jack, I think we all get beyond our selves at times. I'm not sure that there will be a point when suddenly one becomes perfectly selfless in one's actions. Besides, when the deed of looking is done, the rest is history. Everyday life should slowly cease to generate more havoc and dysfunctional behavior. Also, witness your occupation; helping kids with troubles. Isn't that selflessness?
I think one should go with one's natural inclinations. Even in a field such as art, there's room to be selfless, so to speak. When the goodness of heart emerges, all of it is for humanity. I was struck yesterday when reading on criticism of Modernism in architecture, how architect Christopher Alexander said that precisely that goodness of heart is what is needed in designing new buildings. The corruption of mind has seeped into every human activity, and it can be valuable to analyze and state where you find it, and the possible solutions, too. But it's no use if there is a factor that generates it all over again in different guise.
I know the guidelines here at the forum discourage us from talking about other gurus and teachers, but as another example on the change of perspective, I sometimes find myself thinking about what Krishnamurti used to say and write about things, as I still receive newsletters from Brockwood Park in UK where I spent two years. I think that he struggled mightily to articulate what he saw and felt, and he was visibly frustrated many times at his inability to convey his meaning. This is clear on many occasions when you watch his speeches and conversations on video. But now I have a clear new view on the issues he raised, and the answer is both more mundane and concrete than it was. He opposed religious thinking and groups, but he was still stuck in spiritual world. He tried to find new language with physicist David Bohm, but it didn't become any clearer what comes to concrete course of action. The whole thing is wrapped in larger than life-terminology, but from my current view I can see what he was trying to say and where he went wrong. And does it matter if I derived my view from John, or if it would have unfolded naturally from looking and recovery? I'm not sure. It all makes better sense now. The best theory is the one that casts clearest light to the whole variety of issues and is generally the simplest. Also, I can't argue with the change that is taking place in my mind.
I hope you all excuse me for my long-winded philosophizing and speculation which might not be of much practical use, but this is also something that seems to happen in me at this point in the process. Or perhaps it's a personality trait. All the same, I find myself at times quite excited about the change and the prospects of all this. Or, it could be just general excitement about life and the stuff one is interested in.
In my case, I become rather less interested in categorizing, philosophizing. If anything, I am probalbly more "egoistic". I only act when I feel comfortable and at ease, and I do not let myself be pressured into doing things.
Cytex, I've noticed the tendency to be less pressured, too. Egoistic is not the right word for it. More like self confident, perhaps? Or maybe just seeing the silly game and not participating in it. Or seeing what's important and what's not.
Categorizing and philosophizing comes from the newness and excitement on this process, and from the skepticism, too. Or it could be a tendency left over from the old and is fading. Hard to tell. But it feels more like learning about this, mapping out the implications. It is kind of peripheral, or optional, not in any way essential to recovery.
I appreciate all your comments. I don't know anywhere else where this type of conversation is taking place. And especially not with people in my life. I feel so much moves and changes in me. I think about a lot of the same things you all write about but I tend not to write them down as I feel somewhat inadequate to express myself clearly. I'm learning about that too and its more and more fun to try and participate than stay on the sidelines. At the same time it seems the bottom line is we all have a growing realization that it all derives from the fear of life and how it has affected our personalities so it's an exciting conversation. Mine is a personality that is totally 'feeling 'based. I was totally addicted to sugar which derived from emotional eating since childhood. So much fear and anxiety and the solution was to eat sugar, sugar, sugar, a sweet short-lived moment of pleasure and numbness... then guilt, weird feelings in the body and brain. I have an immediate, strong physiological and psychological reaction to sugar. Definitely depression, self-pity and very negative thinking. For years I've tried all kinds of diets, fasting, etc. etc. It takes time but the looking has been the key to releasing that underlying anxiety that started me down that road in the first place. Waves of feeling for sweet arise but are short-lived and It's wonderful to get up in the morning with a clear head and energy to play in life.
Yes, Seppo, I also welcome the new tendency to be less pressured. The categorizing and philosophizing brings the limitation that it can distract from the impressions of life that never cease. To process these intelligently, philosophizing does not help. On the other hand it may just be fun, and it can also help to spot fear-based behavior in others.
I am glad that you participate Maureen. Please continue with that.. And yes, our community is really amazing. It is a place where fear free reactions and experiences can be tested and developed. Just imagine when that process gets it hold on the larger community. Take care!
No need for excuses Seppo. I think it is a natural process to, from where we are now, look at where things have gone wrong before.
Agreed Niklas, keep it coming Maureen! I too am addicted to sugar and even with the roots of it pulled, fear & anxiety, there continues to be a basic addictive urge. I also agree that there is much clarity without it.
I had this thought about philosophizing that if there is something interesting happening here which can be put into words, it can draw interest from philosophically inclined. Similarly, how this relates to religion, mental and physical health etc. I think the point of view on life that emerges here might have relevancy at just about every field eventually , as it overturns the foundation of your orientation in life, in a way. I guess I'm just wondering about the enormity of this. Which is also very un-noticeable and everyday, at the same time.
As a update to food addiction issue discussed above, I've been living sugarless (the sweetest food being apples and oranges) for nearly three weeks now. It still feels a bit weird. There's a kind of empty spot. It has become slightly easier during the last week or so.
After looking at me, the you before looking may be passing unnoticed because you do not disappear--just fear. So who or what could possibly remain after fear but you--yes you the one still with all your thoughts or not. Who do you think me is after the fear? You. But now it is simply ok to be a you--whatever you are altogether.
This is a great thread. Appreciate you all sharing your experiences and insight.
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