On Self-Medicating

david-lader-medsHow’s your relationship with your wife? What about your kids? How’s your relationship with yourself? Are you nurturing to those you love? Are you nurturing to yourself? What’s your relationship with sex? What’s your relationship with sleep? What’s your relationship with food?

For many of us, these can be very uncomfortable questions if we are willing to go beneath the surface even a little… There’s always room for improvement, new learning, and new awareness, and, in fact, there’s often room for lots of improvement…

While each of these various areas seems obviously distinct at a glance, how we specifically behave in regard to each certainly affects our relationships with all…  How can the way I treat my wife not affect the relationship I have with our children?  How can the relationship I have with my sexuality, sleep, and food not profoundly affect the relationship I have with others and myself?  There are certainly an infinite number of ways we can manipulate our own brain chemistry each day, and no two moments can be the same… While the notion isn’t profound, the remarkable range of possibilities for how we can exist seems grand and mysterious…

Contemporary mental health practitioners have various models to describe pathological human behavior. One such model is “addiction.” While the addiction model is only one of many, the addiction model’s parlance seems to be slowly and surely becoming ubiquitous. Mental health workers commonly refer to two categories of addiction – process addictions and substance addictions. Some typical process addictions involve problematic sex, spending, gambling, work, and eating behaviors.  Most people are already familiar with the concept of substance, or chemical, addictions.

david-lader-alcI’d like to consider the remarkably close relationship between process and chemical addictions.  How can we think that the food we consume doesn’t have a profound and systemic effect on our chemistry? How can we ignore the profound effect that our sexual behavior has on our entire being? How can we presume that the “hit” we get from certain gambling and spending behaviors doesn’t strongly impact our mood, our sleep, and, consequently, the relationships we have with ourselves and with those around us?

It’s nothing new to consider the remarkable impact that various chemicals can have on our lives – both positive and deleterious…  Certain modern psychotropic medications seem to have life changing, if not lifesaving capabilities.  Chemicals, illegal or otherwise, can make us feel better… When abused, however, no one would argue that the same chemicals destroy lives in short order.

So what do gambling, spending, sex, methamphetamines, caffeine, alcohol, and sleeping all have in common? They all affect our brain chemistry… One might easily argue that any of these could be used in a constructive fashion to our betterment, or any of these could lead to our demise. We all know how gambling can destroy lives, but what of those who choose to gamble on rare occasion as a form of responsible entertainment? We all know how irresponsible spending can be self-destructive, yet we must spend money in order to survive. Safe and emotionally intimate sexual behavior can do wonders for our physical and mental health, and there are countless ways that sexual behaviors can ruin our existence… Physicians often prescribe methamphetamines to help us out. Countless folks medicate themselves with the same drugs and die prematurely. You get the idea…

david lader rageWe can run away from our lives and hide in sleep… We can run away from our lives by hiding in our work… We can run away from our lives by hiding in our grandiosity… We can run away from our lives by falsely empowering ourselves when we rage… When we act out our anger in the form of raging, we are self-medicating – we’re changing our own brain chemistry, and this can easily become habit – and addiction.

So what is really at the core of all of these process and chemical addictions? Aside from the fact that chemical addictions affect our behaviors, and behavioral addictions affect our chemistry, why is it that running away from reality, so to speak, is an epidemic problem? How is it that being completely awake, “present,” and “in the moment” has become so intolerable that we have collectively chosen to over-medicate ourselves? When did living in this reality become so intolerable to so many people that “numb” became the norm?

david lader numbPerhaps the epidemic of our self-medicating society is a manifestation of our spiritual bankruptcy. It’s time to look inside of ourselves and stop judging others… Finding fault in others is child’s play. Considering our own character defects, and finding the willingness to grow and change, is where the real spiritual work is done. Finding the courage to ask for help and guidance, being a part of the solution and not “playing the victim,” serving others without any attachment to the outcome, recognizing and acknowledging the inherent value of others and ourselves, and not running or hiding from feelings is where the real spiritual work is done.

When I self-medicate and become numb, I don’t have to feel anger, pain, sadness, shame, loneliness, or guilt. The only problem with this is that I don’t get to feel joy or love either…

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On Tai Chi

david lader taiIn a recent article in the Huffington Post, tai chi is described as an ancient form of moving meditation that has numerous benefits to its countless practitioners. Interestingly, contemporary research seems to substantiate many of these claims, including tai chi’s ability to help prevent and fight disease, relieve stress and battle depression, improve flexibility and range of motion, and slow down the aging process.

In a sense, this is not profound news… Millions of people for thousands of years have been providing remarkable amounts of anecdotal evidence supporting the notion that any daily religious practice involving rhythm, meditation, breathing, stretching, and cardiorespiratory engagement is going to have profoundly beneficial results.

Perhaps this is old news – perhaps we’re a bit late to the party?

david lader latePerhaps the real question is not whether or not practicing tai chi, or any substantive and/or traditional martial art, is a worthwhile pursuit… Rather, we may want to look more closely at what is interfering with our willingness to get involved each day with a more responsible self-care regimen. What is it that interferes each day with our willingness to make time to nurture ourselves? How can we raise our consciousness in such a way as to be more present with our need to slow down, be more mindful, and get in touch with the basic aspects of who we really are? This is the conversation that I believe many of us are ready to have… This, ideally, is the information that needs to be flooding our blog space…

david lader exploreTai chi, in and of itself, is lovely… Tai chi, however, is simply one of literally countless daily religious practices that we can choose to engage in to find our way back to some degree of peace and serenity. The antiquity of tai chi, or anything, for that matter, does not ensure its usefulness and efficacy. While my own personal experience of practicing tai chi has been valuable and rewarding, there is always room for innovation, development, and improvement. In fact, as the founder and developer of my own moving meditation system, Warrior’s Dance, I’ve noticed that the creative and long-term process of exploration has been at least as valuable as the obvious daily benefits that I enjoy when I train with my students.

Tai chi must be the culmination of the exploration and inspired work of various martial arts students throughout history, and I would venture to guess that any one of these pioneers, could they speak to us today, would encourage us to maintain an open mind to the remarkable body of existing knowledge, learn from what has come before, and, at the same time, go within to find what is most useful and true for ourselves as we continue to evolve, explore, and create.

 

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