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Internal Dialogue

One of the problems that can come with depression, anxiety, and isolation is the insane internal dialogue that develops. Let’s face it, living the majority of one’s days inside of your own head leads to some weird shit. And your internal dialogue can go haywire.
“I should really stop sitting here like this. I need to go outside. I mean, it’s beautiful out. Maybe I’ll go for a walk…”

A full hour passes, during which you have binge watched two more episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond, which you’ve already seen a half dozen times.

“I really should go out and walk around like the rest of the sheeple, pretending to enjoy the birds and half dead trees. Seriously! Don’t people understand that the reason the leaves are turning those colors is because they’re having the life choked out of them by the rest of the tree as it decides that they no longer need to live. It’s fucking barbaric! Maybe I can take in a few animals trying to eat their young too! Fuck this, I’m getting a drink.”

You get off the couch and go to the kitchen with the hopes of getting a beer.

“Shit! I only have 8 beers left, that’s not going to get me far, and it’s only 10:00 o’clock in the morning. I’ll be just drunk enough to get arrested by the time I need to go get more. I suppose I could just go now. But what if I see someone from work at the store and I’m buying beer this early? I guess I could drink the tequila I still have, there’s plenty of that. But it’s 10:00 o’clock! Who drinks tequila at 10:00 in the morning?!”

At this point your brain tells you that if you have a shot and a beer, you can make both last longer, and it’s more socially acceptable because there’s beer involved. 

A couple of hours and a more than a few drinks later, food becomes an issue.

“I need food. I can’t eat anymore pasta, I just can’t. I suppose I could go down to the Mayberry House of Pizza and get a chicken finger sandwich… But what if she’s there? We went there once together and she knows I go there. Maybe she still goes by there just to see what kind of loser I’ve become. I know she and her friends probably still sit around and laugh at me. God! I’m such an idiot! Why did I have to say that?!”

Mind you, that thing you said was pretty normal, and two years ago. But, you’re still fixated on it, because you’re sure she is. And so, you finish all of the beer, and most of the tequila in the house and start drunk dialing your ex, and that guy you used to work with years ago, because it seemed like you guys really seemed to hit it off. 

After 5 phone calls, 3 hang-ups, and the threat of a restraining order, you throw the phone against the wall and break it. You then scream into a pillow, and pass out on the couch. You wake up in the middle of the night with lines imprinted on one side of your face from that corduroy pillow, and no memory of why your phone is smashed and you can’t get it to turn on. 

I’m thinking you get my point. Solitude and isolation are not inherently bad, in and of themselves. But it’s obvious our minds are where all of the damage can come from. Why do you think people are more than willing to seek medications that can slow this kind of thinking down, or that magically increase the positivity of your mood, and the thoughts generated from it.

But, what did people do before these medicines existed? Are we more somehow genetically susceptible to this kind of mental deviation these days, or are we just less capable of dealing with it? What did people do before? Where did they turn to without our script-writing-pharma-gurus? If we look back to a time when we relied on an oral, rather than a written transfer of knowledge, did we have a ways we used to help each other when someone went off the rails for a little while?

Like religion, atheism comes with its own form of arrogance. Both are convinced that they are correct, and both are sure they can prove the other wrong. Our history is primarily defined by the periods of influence each has had on civilization. In many cities the struggle is demonstrated in the architecture of our major cities, cathedrals and cloisters on one side, sky scrapers and law firms on the other. Amazingly enough, all of it was built by the same kinds of humans, with the same capacity for intellect, and the correspondingly, the same propensities for neurosis or serenity. Every bit of it, from the massive structures, to our internal conditions, comes down to where, and if, we seek direct our minds.

But how do we direct something that seems to rule our days, and direct our thoughts? How can we take such a powerful part of us and bring it into accord with our higher self? How can we control it, rather than the other way around?

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Some Thoughts On Guns

I wrote the following essay one year ago yesterday

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Some thoughts on guns. (It’s not what you think)

I grew up in a home with guns, and I was taught respect for them. That respect was extended from the real ones to the fake one. Those who grew up in a responsible gun home know what those rules are, my job is not to go into them right now. Nevertheless, they are essential.

And so, I had set of snazzy cap guns. I also had a little Daisy single pump BB gun. When we went shooting with my father we would use a .22 mostly. And as we proved our ability to be trusted, and to physically handle larger caliber weapons, we were allowed to do so while under supervision. I’m pretty sure I still have a bruise from the first time I was allowed to shoot a muzzle loader.

When I finally reached the age at which I was allowed to go hunting with my father, I got myself all oranged up, I was handed a 16 gauge shotgun and other essentials, and off we went.

At some point during that day it hit me what I was doing. I was only around 12 years old, I was carrying a powerful weapon and I was trying to kill something. It was an epiphany of sorts for me. I still love venison, but I never went hunting again.

I also didn’t write off guns. I had been brought up around them in such a way that I accepted that they were simply something that was in this world. Just like pencils and shovels. They are simply tools.

I do not like or dislike gun owners, nor do I feel either way about those who dislike guns. Everyone is entitled to their own position and feelings. As long as it’s theirs and theirs alone. But that’s where the problem starts.

What I do not like are organizations like the NRA who hide behind laws, assume a rigid public position, obfuscate the truth, and subtly dictate public opinion.

Here is a prime example: There is a saying the NRA are quite fond of that goes like this: “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people!” At its essence this saying is true. The insinuation being that a person bent on killing could just as easily do so with a shovel to the head, or a pencil in the jugular. The intent comes from the individual, the tool is inanimate without the person. People do the killing.

But there’s another saying that the NRA is fond of, and it’s somewhat different. This one says: “Guns save lives!”

Do you see the problem yet?

Guns can’t be credited with saving lives, but absolved of killing people at the same time. They are still just a tool. If someone with a gun saves a life, then that person just saved a life… they just happened to use a gun to do it. They could just have well done it with a can of pepper spray, or a well aimed Moe Howard poke to the eyes.

And so the truth is that people kill people. And it is also true that people save lives.

So what’s the real problem? It’s not the guns. It’s not the mental health system. It’s not the anti-gun movement. It’s not religious nuts. It’s money, and its politics. It’s fear, and it’s organizations like the NRA.

Gun sales skyrocket not by slick marketing campaigns like cars and snack foods do, they rise in relation to national fear. Notice what happens anytime a liberal gets in a seat of power… Rumors begin to circulate that they’re coming for your guns. This kind of campaign works particularly well via social media where it’s easy to hit the “Forward” button without having to check the facts. Look at what happened to gun sales when Barack Obama was elected President, there was an explosion in weapon and ammo sales! And yet, the president never said a word about guns or gun control for years. Yet social media was full of insinuations and rumors that this socialist black Muslim dictator was going to take your guns, your rights, and your freedom.

And the fear rose, as did the gun sales. All the while the Second Amendment remained untouched and unchallenged. And hunters and housewives could still get an AK-47.

If you mix that kind of fear and paranoia with firearms, things begin to get dangerous. And if you add in the lack of respect, education, and basic safety for those same weapons, well then you get a perfect storm for destruction. There’s only one component left for detonation.

The media. The media is the secret ingredient to America’s gun violence.

It’s the media that starts AND causes the chain reaction in a multitude of ways. It’s no secret that they judge a story’s level of importance with the saying “If it bleeds, it leads!” When a mass shooting occurs, it’s the media who race each other to be the first to air a retrospective on the killer: Name, Religion, Family, Upbringing… Make sure to zoom in on a sepia-tone shot of the killer with a look of defiance or hate on his face.

The focus on ratings has so blinded the entire industry that they now have to actually avoid the direct correlation between their “in depth” coverage of the killers and the rising tide of victims.

And so the problem starts with the money and gun sales. It gestates with the lobbying power that the NRA wields. Dripping in cash, they swat at naysayers with a rolled up copy of the Second Amendment. The problem, then gets fed and nurtured with the fiction and lies of social media. Only to emerge, fully formed, in all its complexities, as a single deadly act. Each facet of which is so unique and overwhelming that they alone are capable of producing and sustaining entire conversations, each one distracting the public in a thousand different directions.

All the while we struggle, argue, cry and fight, looking for the circle’s beginning that we’re sure is there somewhere.

Isolation

Isolation is tool, much like a hammer. And like a hammer, it’s only called for in one case out of a hundred (also people are apt to reach for it before any other tool). Why even those who aren’t mechanically inclined have a hammer standing by, just in case they need to fix something. However, isolation, like a hammer, is also a tool you should never use on yourself… It’s a bad idea. Even people who love isolating when they’re upset will advise you: Never, ever do it!

Isolation shouldn’t be confused with solitude either. To me isolation denotes self-sequestering for the purposes of emotionally withdrawing from as many things as possible. Whereas solitude, while also self-imposed, is usually sought for much heathier reasons. Solitude speaks of retreats, walks in the woods, or just getting away from it all. Isolation, on the other hand, is emotionally and physically withdrawing from the world out of pain, misery, and self-absorption. When we isolate, we like to think of ourselves as brave little monks, single-handedly battling with our inner demons, not some clinical depressive subsisting on pizza and fruit punch in a back room somewhere. To me, the difference completely lies in our inner condition when we choose to leave the company of others. A while ago I tried to capture my thoughts in a far more succinct method than blogging on it, so I wrote it in haiku. Why? Because I could. I’m not sure whether or not it works for you, but I liked it well enough that I’m going to put it in here:

lonely emotions
becomes solitude with work
on the internal

Like many of the other reactions we have to negative emotions when they crop up, isolation has its uses. But also like those other reactions, they can be harmful when allowed to dominate the landscape of our emotional reactions. The mind contains great power. It gives us the power to create art, and comprehend science. It can be a valuable companion, giving us sound advice and insight when it’s behaving, but if it’s not finely tuned it can cause great damage.

During the 19th Century when railroads were king, the steam engine was the work horse. The power that drove these engines were their massive boilers. A boiler would build up so much pressure, that when harnessed, it could pull the engine, the cars, and their entire contents over mountains. The trick was, of course, keeping the power harnessed and under control. Because that same power, if not controlled, had the ability to completely destroy the very same engine that it was meant to serve (see above photo).

The mind is essentially the same way. Most of us can barely grasp how powerful the mind is because we live so closely with it, that we actually think it is who we are, rather than it really just being one part of us. And when the mind is not tethered or controlled, and it’s allowed to go anywhere, do anything, and say whatever the hell it wants… it is capable of great damage.

When kept in isolation, the mind only has one target, us. And while sometimes it may seem as if we’re concentrating on secondary targets (sample of actual internal dialogue: “I’ll show them! They can’t treat me like this!”), in fact what’s really happening is that our mind is pulling us back into another internal battle, simply meant to elevate our ego. The part of the mind that tells us there is a separate “me” does so because it believes its job is to help me feel more unique than those other people. Notice I didn’t say that we are better than them, just that it wants to make us think we are unique from them, we are separate. And when we feel separate from the rules that guide others, then they need not apply to us. It’s as if we are subconsciously saying to ourselves, “I am better than you, and therefore I can’t do what’s expected of me.”, or maybe, “I am worse than you, and therefore I can’t do what’s expected of me either.” And so, we isolate. And while we isolate, we reinforce the walls that we’ve built to surround us and protect us from others. We see the pain coming from their actions and words, but in reality, it comes from our own reactions to the things we find objectionable. Suffering is an emotional hell that we construct, and it is built using the worst fears we have about ourselves.

And when (if) we finally emerge from our self-imposed prison, and begin to talk to one person who don’t hate entirely, we realize how starved we have been for human contact. In time, we may also see that not only do we function better when we are around others, but we also see that our lives take on meaning. And meaning begins to emerge in our lives when we start to lose that intense focus we’ve had on ourselves and begin to point it back out at the world. And it’s this absence of self-centered focus that reveals the final evidence that we are not alone. We are not unique. We are not an individual. We are part of something much larger, and if we are willing to learn what, we need never go back into isolation.

By my count I find at least three questions I’ve left unanswered. They are: How do we tune our mind? How do you tether a mind? How do we learn that we are part of something much larger? Since the answers to those come from future blog posts in this series, before closing I will let someone much wiser than I give you some idea where we are headed. 

“Enlightenment, for a wave in the ocean, is the moment the wave realizes it is water. When we realize, we are not separate, but a part of the huge ocean of everything, we become enlightened. We realize this through practice, and we remain awake and aware of this through more practice.”  – Thich Nhat Hanh

The Dark Tunnel


If you or someone close to you has ever experienced depression, then you know it’s not a joke. And I’m not talking about just a bad mood or a bout of the blues here. No, I’m talking about that debilitating 1,000-pound cloak of self-loathing and uselessness that settles down for a long, long stay. So, if you, or someone you love has experienced it, then you know it’s a very real, very powerful thing. You also know that it can destroy anyone, or anything, in its path.

At best, your relationships can suffer. Unfortunately, many of them just fall apart and end. Even the best of friends can only take so much before they have to save themselves. It’s not what they want to do. But since their sense of self-preservation is so much healthier than the sufferer’s, they want to help, but regrettably, end up having to save themselves.

Jobs are, at best, difficult to hold down. Sometimes if you are lucky enough to have a job that doesn’t require you to interact with too many people, you can hide for a while. But, because the lack of motivation gets stacked higher and higher with layers of bland apathy, even the most essential jobs begin to feel menial and pointless. And of course, none of this is good for long-term employment.

Sleep is either a constant friend that offers hours of relief and seclusion, protecting you like a fur-lined leather cloak with outfacing spikes. Or, if you are really cursed, sleep becomes a fleeting joke. A whispered promise of escape that is always just out of reach, waving to you from the far banks of some distant river.

And then there’s always the food problem. For many, there’s really no point to eating since they don’t have anything remotely resembling an appetite anyway, even for their most favorite dishes. And with that, of course, comes the weight loss, the ill-fitting clothes, and the omnipresent questions about your well-being. That is, unless you are the type who gets their comfort from food, and lots of it. For those, a normal serving size doesn’t exist. The only question they have is, “How much you got?” This self-imposed-prison is all around them. It lurks in the daily nourishment we take for granted. For them though, food is like a rogue tiger – large, fierce, powerful, and stealthy. And fighting against it only seems to prolong the inevitable.

And the thing is, this kind of depression doesn’t lift on its own, and it can hit almost out of nowhere. I say almost because I firmly believe that if you dig deep enough, with enough tools, you are bound to find a source… or even many sources.

For whatever reason though, we depressives actually seek to make things worse for ourselves. We begin listening to sad, depressing, or angry music. We keep our feelings to ourselves, our noble goal is to try not to spread our mood to others. Yet, even by those very same actions, we reveal to everyone precisely what our mood is. And then of course, someone reaches out to help… and if we even bother to acknowledge their offer, it’s only to turn it down. But when no one offers, we’re offended and sullen.

Even though there are probably a number of ways to get out of this deep funk, by virtue of our thoughts, actions, and body language, we almost guarantee that the only thing that will help us, sits squarely on our own shoulders. And that, is both a blessing and a curse.

There are ways though. Stay in touch for some posts on solutions, very soon. 

Saṃsāra

When I originally set out to write this blog I did so knowing that it would never be done on any regular schedule. I also knew it shouldn’t be singular in its scope. One of the reasons I refused to be bound by those kinds of boundaries was because I saw the problems I have had with structure when I had started other blogs, or when I wrote for various publications with deadlines. And one thing had become crystal clear to me from those experiences: Being locked into a single topic, or timetable is the quickest way to destroy creativity. Inspiration can’t be shoehorned into a schedule. In fact, inspiration was to be The Middle Way’s only guiding principle.

My mistake began when I selfishly assumed that since this is my blog, I could write about whatever the hell I wanted to. And while that’s true to some extent, there’s an inherent problem with that assumption. The cycle of the written word isn’t complete until it has been read, therefore the writer is no more important than the reader in this format.

And so, The Middle Way suddenly took a sharp left turn, and went political for a while. The problem is that when people subscribe to a blog that professes to be focused on spiritual principles and the path of least resistance, they probably didn’t do so hoping to see if someone figured out a way to make politics a means to that end. Not to mention there’s no shortage of political bloggers in this world, so my adding to the vitriol instead of offering a solution was nothing short of base treachery. For that, I feel I owe many of my readers an apology.

Most of us spend our days in Saṃsāra without being aware of it. Once we begin to seek enlightenment, we find that our suffering is at its most palpable just prior to our awakening. For myself, I find that when my mind is finally able to break the surface, only then am I able to observe out of what destructive cycles I had been reacting.

And it’s that that realization that lead me to this post. Because, awake or asleep, there’s one thing I know for sure. Going forward, most of us are going to need ways to accept the things we can’t change, to courage and presence of mind to change the things we can, and the knowledge and compassion to know the difference.

An environment under attack

If you’re losing your shit about the executive order that Trump signed to dismantle the environmental protections that are currently in place, don’t be. It was presented by the administration as if he destroyed things with the stroke of a pen, but all he did was “order it done”, and here’s why that’s different (and good for those who oppose him).

What Trump signed is just another executive order. The fact is that, all he is ordering is the dismantling of many pieces of well crafted legislation. There is a very good chance that as long as people continue to battle this the same way they did his “Muslim Ban”, then he will have just as much luck as he did with that mess… which is to say NONE (or at the most, very little).

Each piece of this will be fought out on legal grounds, based on their merits and not on Trump’s wishes. It could take as long as a year for this to go through the whole process, during which most of (possibly all of) the standing legislation will be upheld… if people continue to fight!

Now if the time to start fighting, do not give up.

The Andy Scale Goes National

The Republican Party has learned little from the people. They are still trying to figure out how they ended up with Donald Trump as they’re leader. But, obviously they are willing to go with it for now, since they can use it to push their agenda through for a little while. 

The Democratic Party, on the other hand, seems to have learned… well, about the same.

After a crushing defeat in the 2016 elections that left the country with an unstable megalomanic in charge, and after having been caught with their pants down for rigging the primaries in favor of an unpopular establishment candidate over an extremely popular independent, they have shown once again, that they can veer even further off course.

Having your party chair step down mid-election, because she was exposed for rigging the primaries, is bad. Having your vice-chair leave mid-election so she could ethically back the popular independent, leaves an ethics drain at the top. And then to have your interim-chair involved in a scandal about leaking debate questions to the “preferred” candidate, reinforced people’s concerns. 

Now the DNC has elected a new chair. It wasn’t the chairperson that Bernie Sanders backed. Nope, they went with the party loyalist again. Showing that, what Click and Clack proved was correct. Behold! The Andy Scale can now be used to efficiently rate the United States Government!

“Posit the question: Do two people who don’t know what they are talking about know more or less than one person who doesn’t know what he’s talking about?

Amazingly enough, you proved that even in a case where one person might know nothing about a subject, it is possible for two people to know even less!
One person will only go so far out on a limb in his construction of deeply hypothetical structures, and will often end with a shrug or a raising of hands to indicate the dismissability of his particular take on a subject. With two people, the intricacies, the gives and takes, the wherefores and why-nots, can become a veritable pas-de-deux of breathtaking speculation, interwoven in such a way that apologies or gestures of doubt are rendered unnecessary.”

Srinivas Kuchibhotla

When Srinivas Kuchibhotla was shot the other day, it was by an angry, drunken American man, screaming “Get out of my Country!” While this story has been in the news somewhat, it’s not a headline. Trump skipping the Correspondence Dinner is, but not a white guy murdering an immigrant. But, let me ask you this, do you honestly think if the roles were reversed that it wouldn’t be a HUGE headline?

Apparently Mr. Kuchibhotl’s wife was concerned about staying in America too, because of the surge in violence lately. But he assured her by saying “Good thing happen in America!”  By most definitions, this sounds like the kind of immigrant you want coming in your country, even by conservative standards.

In fact, Donald Trump has repeatedly talked about attracting these very kinds of immigrants!  “People that love us and want to love our country and will end up loving our country are allowed in.”, Trump croons. It seems like Srinivas Kuchibhotla was exactly this kind of guy Trump asked for. And he was murdered for it.

And now, the very same President won’t call this a hate crime. He won’t even consider the possibility that his own stance on immigration contributed to the killing at all.

The Shell Game Continues…


Step 1: Announce plans for increased support of state’s rights.

Step 2: Reverse government’s position on for-profit prisons

Step 3: Essentially announce plans to fill for-profit prisons with non-violent drug offenders who are acting legally within their own state

Step 4: Forget the news cycles are so close together than a 4 year old can see the pattern