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Urban Connect is an information hub dedicated to sharing resources related to Yoga, Buddhism, and Psychology, and exploring the connections of these subjects, for the purpose of promoting personal growth and healing. The site also targets how these subjects relate to under-served urban communities and the adversities they encounter.

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On Generosity

Erica Saccente

Today is celebrated as a day to give thanks. I am truly fortunate to have countless blessings in my life, and for this, I am grateful.

A spirit of gratitude naturally lends itself towards generosity and compassion. I reflect on how these qualities were naturally abundant in me as a child and young adult. The passage of time, impact of stress, multiple assaults of heartbreak, and nearly 12 years of living in the face-paced, ambitious, and at times, self-centered way of life in NYC have all contributed to a closing of my heart. This pains me deeply. I long to live my life meaningfully, with an open and compassionate heart.

This morning I was struck with guilt and regret at my own conditioned, selfish behavior. While I was waiting for my train at Penn Station, on my way to spend a day with my loving family where we will eat indulgently, a man approached me and said, “Hello. I am in need of a dollar”. I replied, “I’m sorry”. He said, “You’re sorry?” and walked away.

This happens all the time in NYC, but there was something different about this time. There was something different about this man. I’ve been thinking about it since. I’m trying not to get consumed by my own guilt (to which I am prone) and instead focus on learning from the situation. This fellow human expressed to me his need, a need I could have helped him with, but didn’t. I know it is not easy to ask a stranger for money. Just imagine doing so yourself. It can invoke a sense of shame or embarrassment. Anger and disappointment may arise when repeatedly rejected. And yet, he acted with courage and asked for help.

Afterwards, I spent time wishing him well and hoping he finds the dollar he needs. I asked for a future opportunity to help someone in need, and I contemplated why I reacted that way, especially since I was feeling charitable. I remembered how much more generous I was before moving to NYC. Over time, you realize you cannot give a dollar to everyone in need - sadly, the need is too great in this city of striking wealth inequality. I went from giving a dollar to everyone that asked to always saying no. I know that I cannot fulfill the needs of everyone living in poverty, but I can approach each situation anew. Rather than reflexively saying no, I can take the time to evaluate the uniqueness of each situation, as well as how I’m feeling and how able I am to give in that moment. And then I can decide, rather than reacting out of prior conditioning. This is true freedom.

So, in the spirit of gratitude, generosity, compassion, and freedom, I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving.

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Exercise Can Help Your Addiction Recovery

Erica Saccente

Written By: Adam Cook

When you’re recovering from addiction, your body is going through a lot of changes. You have to relearn how to deal with life without the use of drugs or alcohol, and that is an extremely difficult challenge. One way that might help is by adding exercise.

One of the ways that drugs and alcohol make a person feel “good” is by producing endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are naturally occurring molecules in the body that are similar to morphine and function to transmit signals in the brain. They are produced during exercise, excitement, pain, love and sexual activity. They are similar to opiates in their abilities to reduce pain and produce a feeling of well-being. The great thing about endorphins is that you can get them just by exercising, and they are totally safe.

While a “runner’s high” from endorphins isn’t going to replace the high an addict is used to, it certainly can make a person feel much better. People in recovery often suffer from depression, which can be eased by endorphins.

People who exercise are less likely to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. Epidemiological studies show that exercise and drug abuse are inversely related, meaning that when one is stronger, the other is weaker. So, if you work hard at exercise, your drug or alcohol abuse will diminish. But if you start using drugs, your exercise will diminish -- which is the opposite of your recovery goals.

Another issue that often occurs during recovery is the resurgence of anger issues. Exercise has a beneficial effect on anger, as well. Stress physiologist Dr. Nathaniel Thom has studied the effects of exercise on stress and anger issues. He said, "exercise, even a single bout of it, can have a robust prophylactic effect" against the buildup of anger. While physiologists are still trying to determine the roots of anger, he suggests that if you find yourself in a situation where you might be stressed and worried about an angry outburst, go for a run first.

While exercise alone will not fix your addiction issues, it can certainly help when added to your recovery treatment. If you haven’t exercised in a long time, you might want to begin slowly and build up to more serious exercise.

Here are some tips to get started:

  1. Figure out why you want to exercise -- Of course, you want to get fit. But why? Because it will help you with recovery. Because it will make you feel better. Because you deserve to take care of yourself. Because you want to play with your kids. Really think about all the important reasons. They’ll help you when times are tough.

  2. Decide what you like -- Perhaps you used to play tennis and would like to get back into it. If you’d like to become a runner, start with walking and build up to it. Maybe shoot hoops with friends.

  3. Just get started -- Right now, it might be a feat to walk to the end of the block and back. That’s OK. Just try. The distance and stamina will come later. Exercise physiologists like Kelly Drew of the American College of Sports Medicine, suggest doing 20 minutes of exercise three times a week. From there, increase duration until you can get to 30 minutes, and on up from there.

  4. Get a buddy -- Having someone to hold you accountable is a great way to make sure you meet your goals. Find a friend who wants to exercise and can do it on your level. Sometimes, just walking and talking can be a great stress reliever. Your friend could be someone else in recovery or just someone who is willing to be a friend. If it’s someone new, you might forge a great friendship out of it.

  5. Try different things -- You might despise the treadmill or really abhor lifting weights. But there are tons of other things. Changing your routine keeps you from getting bored and helps challenge your muscles.
     

Whatever you do, talk to your doctor first about what you are capable of. Check with him or her about injuries or limitations. Your doctor will be able to recommend a safe and helpful program for you.

 

** This article was written by contributor Adam Cook. Please check out his comprehensive website, which offers a variety of helpful resources and information on addiction and mental health: Addictionhub.org **

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Drug and Alcohol Addiction: When and How to Reach Out for Help

Erica Saccente

Written By: Adam Cook

Drug and alcohol addictions can cause a great deal of stress not only for the individual experiencing the addiction, but for that person's loved ones as well. Conquering these addictions can be difficult, but success is possible with determination, support, and the appropriate resources.

Addiction impacts all types of families around the world

Addiction, whether it be related to alcohol or drugs, affects millions of people in the U.S. People of any age, socioeconomic status, gender, or race can be impacted, and it can be challenging to find a lasting path to sobriety. There is often a stigma associated with addiction, and by the time someone can acknowledge that they need help, key relationships may well have been substantially damaged, making the process of working toward recovery all the more difficult.

How does one know when it is time to reach out for help in addressing a drug or alcohol addiction? The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. notes that some signs of addiction include a change in appearance, a loss of interest in regular activities, taking serious risks that are out of character, a loss of control, secrecy, and the development of relationship issues. If there is a history of addiction in the family, that should be taken into consideration as well.

In addition to the signs of addiction like secrecy and lifestyle changes, there can be numerous physical signs as well. Those facing alcohol addictions may commonly experience blackouts or withdrawal symptoms, mood swings, and escalating usage to try to feel “normal”.

Accepting that it is time to confront addiction issues can be a major challenge, as denial is common. However, there are a large number of resources available that can help those struggling with an addiction, and their loved ones, cope and face what comes next.

There is help available for those dealing with addiction issues

The site Drug Free shares that there is help available for those facing a drug or alcohol problem, or those whose family members or loved ones are in the midst of an addiction crisis. They have a helpline available at 1-855-DRUGFREE, and they have numerous resources and suggestions listed on their website. Sometimes connecting with someone via a helpline or online resource provides the support needed, but oftentimes people turn to various types of treatment options to tackle their issues.

Choosing a rehabilitation program can be daunting, as the options may feel overwhelming, and deciding that this type of treatment is necessary forces one to consider many difficult questions. Overcoming a drug or alcohol addiction is complex and having an expert involved is key in safely navigating the withdrawal, cravings, and challenges that could lead to relapse. People often find that inpatient treatment is what works best for them, but there are numerous types of rehabilitation options available.

Families and loved ones can find support as well

Families and friends often find that they need support during this time as well, and there are support groups and resources specifically designed to help those who are dealing with an alcohol or drug addiction of a loved one. Al-Alon and Nar-Anon are well-known resources, and the Recovery site lists a number of books that may be helpful as well.

Facing and handling a drug or alcohol addiction is not an easy process and getting started may be the most difficult step for many people. However, numerous resources are available both in local communities and online that can provide support and guidance to those coping with an addiction as well as to their loved ones.

** This article was written by contributor Adam Cook. Please check out his comprehensive website, which offers a variety of helpful resources and information on addiction and mental health: Addictionhub.org **

 

[Image by lechenie-narkomanii/Pixabay]

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On Presence

Erica Saccente

All my friend ever wanted was my presence

because that is the ultimate way to give love. 

I hope my friend understands that my lack of presence wasn't about him

so much as it was about me and my habitual tendency to disembody and dissociate  

when feelings or situations become overwhelming. 

I'm on a lifelong quest to overcome this conditioning  

(perhaps we all are). 

I'm on a mission to be present with myself and others as much as possible, 

which basically means

being a beacon of Love for myself and others

and courageously facing Truth that comes from all directions

including the Truth that hurts  

and the Truth that liberates

and sometimes, those Truths are the same. 

 

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Frozen Tears

Erica Saccente

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A patient recently told me that he feels like he needs to cry, but the tears won't come out. It reminded me of an earlier time in my life when I had this same experience. I referred to it as having "frozen tears". I have since dethawed my tears, and I can now cry when I need to (for the most part). Caretakers, culture, and society often teach us when we're young to hold back our tears. This may be because our caregivers aren't able to tolerate our distress; it may leave them feeling helpless or anxious. They may tell us, "Aw, don't cry". In other cases, we are taught that tears are for the weak. This might be especially so for men who are frequently given the message that crying is "for girls" and is not "manly". Hearing these messages in different forms over time can lead to a "freezing" of tears. We become so contricted and afraid to express or even feel our vulnerability. We guard against others and might even cut ourselves off from our own pain.

I was struck one day during my personal period of frozen tears when a patient with chronic schizohrenia living in a state facility abruptly asked me, "Who taught you not to cry?" It dawned on me that I had not cried in ages, even though I sometimes really needed to. By deepening my emotional self-awareness through my yoga practice and work with a psychotherapist, I was over time able to reconnect with my vulnerability and become more comfortable with crying. I must say I remain guarded around others; I usually cry when I'm by myself. There is a lot of conditioning to be unlearned, and it is a work in progress.

I admire one of my close friends who releases her tears when she needs to. She does not allow that emotional energy to fester and wreak havoc on her body and mind. I believe it takes a lot of courage to cry, and especially to cry around other people. My patients almost always apologize for crying in my office, and I let them know it's okay to cry. I try to hold a safe space for them and let it be known that I can tolerate their pain.

The vagus nerve is one of the cranial nerves that plays a vital role in regulating many bodily systems, including cardiac and digestive functions. It is a key player in the stress response. Stimulating the vagus nerve is thought to be an important part of reducing stress, initiating relaxation, and re-regulating many of the body's functions. This can be done through yoga, breathing techniques, vagal nerve stimulation, and several other methods. I recently read that the vagus nerve is also stimulated by laughing and weeping. And so, crying is actually good for you! Given its reported stimulation of the vagus nerve, it literally has the power to alter your physiology by activating your parasympathetic nervous system, which will induce a sense of relaxation and calm. Experientially, I know this to be true as I usually feel a sense of calm relief after a good cry.

So remember, it's okay to cry, despite all the messages you may have received in your lifetime.

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Transforming Trauma: Anneke Lucas' Inspirational Story

Erica Saccente

Anneke Lucas is a Registered Yoga Teacher, founder of Liberation Prison Yoga, trauma survivor, and an inspirational figure. She was sold by her mother into a pedophile ring led by powerful politicians and aristocrats in her native Belgium, at the age of 6, and she endured repeated acts of sexual and physical abuse, amongst other traumatic atrocities. She eventually escaped to the United States, and began her process of healing and recovery through yoga practice and psychotherapy. In 2014, she founded the Liberation Prison Yoga non-profit organization, which brings trauma-informed yoga to incarcerated women and men, prison staff, and others whose lives are impacted by incarceration. She has a deep understanding of the psychological effects of trauma, the reasons why abusive behavior can be perpetuated into an unconscious cycle of transgenerational trauma, as well as profound spiritual Truths. Her story is a stellar example of Sutra 2.1 of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras: Tapas Svadhyaya Ishwara Panidhana Kriya Yoga; Accepting pain as help for purification, study, and surrender to the Supreme Being constitute Yoga in practice. I highly recommend the following video and podcasts:

Watch a brief documentary about her life

Listen to her story (this interview goes deeply into her childhood trauma)

Another interview about her story

(Please be advised that the second two hyperlinks do feature graphic content and might be upsetting to some listeners.)

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Be the Change That You Wish To See in the World

Erica Saccente

Of all places, I had an enlightening experience in a public bathroom the other night. After using the toilet, I went to the sink to wash my hands. Another woman was finishing up her hand washing as I approached the double sink. As I washed my hands, she dried hers, and then she left the bathroom. I finished washing, and then turned to my right to grab a paper towel to dry my hands.

Pushing the lever of a paper towel holder with clean, wet hands is one of these unpleasant, though inconsequential, experiences we have on a regular basis in the modern world. This is especially so when the paper towel holder is high up on the wall, as this particular one was, because the water from your hands has a way of splashing all over you. There is also the hygienic concern because you have to touch the contaminated plastic lever with your freshly cleaned hands.

Well, when I turned to the paper towel holder, I found that the woman who just left the bathroom had already pulled down a piece of paper towel for me to use. Wow, I thought, how kind and considerate! I dried my hands with the gifted piece of paper towel, and then did the same thing for whoever would wash their hands after me. I thought of the phrase, “pay it forward”, and I felt delighted that I might also bring another person a moment of happiness. And then, another quote came to mind: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”.

Mahatma Gandhi was the ultimate exemplar of his famous statement, and while he did this on a much grander scale, I think he must have also meant it for the seemingly small things. Rather than becoming judgmental of others and developing hatred for the things he did not agree with, he performed actions that he wished for other people to adopt. Rather than fighting physically against Britain to free colonial India, he practiced nonviolent civil disobedience. Rather than judging poor Indian villagers for leaving their excrement on the ground, he dug holes and buried their excrement himself, until the villagers modeled themselves after him. He taught others through example, and there were myriad other instances of his venerable actions.

Getting back to the paper towels, ultimately it is not such a big deal if we have to use our clean, wet hands to push a lever to get a paper towel to dry off our hands. However, if it is something that bothers us, rather than feeling frustrated and thinking negative thoughts every time we have this experience, we can simply start doing for others what we wish others would do for us – pull down a piece of paper towel for the next person! Perhaps your actions will influence the minds of others, and increasingly more people will start doing this for each other. There are of course many other ways we could execute this lesson in our lives. It’s not about fashioning a seamless life with no unplesantries, but rather being for others and the world the change, no matter how big or small, we wish to see.

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The Truth of Suffering: An Encounter with School Children

Erica Saccente

I walked to work this morning in the usual self-protective mode; the one that operates with an alienated sense of self and thinks I am the most important person, and the world should cater to me and my needs. Two children slowed their walk in front of me, forcing me to slow my speed by an inconsequential amount. Immediately, I noticed my irritated reaction: “Ugh, these kids, would they just get out of my way. How annoying and inconsiderate of them. I’m trying to get to work.” These types of thoughts arise habitually, and I have frequently allowed them the power to warp my mood and experience of the world. This time, I caught the reaction almost simultaneously to its arising, and then I noticed the tendency for guilt and shame to ensue: “Gosh, I’m such a terrible person, how awful of me to react in this way towards these kids that are just trying to get to school.” The trouble with these emotions is that if overly identified with they can lead to a chronic sense of feeling badly about oneself. We might also unknowingly repress or deny such emotional reactions, which can lead to a host of destructive outcomes. As I walked away, I reflected on my mental image of the children I had just seen; it appeared to be an older brother holding his sister’s hand. They were wearing backpacks, suggesting they were on their way to school. The boy was holding something up to his face that could have been an ice pack, implying he may have been hurting in some way. As I detached from my typical self-protective mode, as well as from feelings of guilt and shame, I was able to feel my heart expanding for the kids. These two children are no less important than I am. I felt compassion arising for them; hoping that the boy’s possible injury he may have been icing heals quickly, and I acknowledged his apparent devotion to his duty of making sure he and his little sister get to school safely. It’s really not a big deal if I’m delayed a fraction of a second on my walk to work, and actually, crossing paths with these children has just as much power to bring love and joy into my day as to make me feel frustrated. It’s a matter of infusing wisdom and mindfulness into our lives so that we can consciously choose love and expansion over anger and shrinking into a small, separated sense of self.

In the foundational teaching of Buddhism, the Four Noble Truths, the first truth is that of suffering and the second illuminates the causes of suffering. The three poisons, ignorance of our true nature, attachment/clinging, and aversion/anger, are understood to be the roots of suffering. In my encounter with the children, my initial reaction was the result of an ignorant perception of myself – believing that I am a separate being that exists independently of everything else. This deluded view causes us to feel the need to cling to that which appears to bring pleasure and to resist that which seems to be unpleasant. The run in with the children initially felt irritating because they seemed to interfere with my desire for a smooth commute to work. However, when I widen the lens of my perception and illuminate my view with Truth, I am able to see that I do not exist independently of those children and I am no more important than they are. This helps me lessen the grip of needing everything to go smoothly and not be so averse to supposed obstacles that arise. Actually, the children’s slowing their walk in front of me was not the obstacle, but rather the anger that could have taken hold of my mind had I allowed it to.

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On Disappointment

Erica Saccente

Spiritual practice involves integrating the teachings into daily life. One of the seven points in Chekawa’s Lojong or Mind Training practice (within the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism) encapsulates this idea: Turn adversity into advantage; use it as the path (to enlightenment). Difficulty and stress will inevitably arise. How can we use spiritual principles to help us cope with the presenting challenge?

Recently, I found myself dwelling in the den of disappointment. I know this feeling intimately, and as I lay in bed awake when I ordinarily would be sleeping, I responded in a spiritually informed way. Rather than severing myself from the emotion and being swept away by harmful thought patterns that lead to anger, self-righteousness, a sense of hurt pride, rejection, and to potentially unnecessary plans on how to protect myself in the future, I allowed the energy of the disappointment to course throughout my being and stayed with the arising physical sensations. I let myself cry when the energy moved in that direction. All the while I remained with my breath. I used the rising and falling of my abdomen as an anchor to steady me amongst the waves of emotion, sensation, and thoughts. (It is important to note that the harmful thoughts did arise, but I tried not to allow myself to get caught in their web. I remained aware of the types of thoughts that were arising and tried not to identify with them.)

Once the energy of the disappointment settled, I arose out of bed, picked up my latest translation and commentary of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and read. A couple of pages into my reading, I auspiciously came across a passage on disappointment. The teaching was that we cannot feel disappointed if we do not first create expectations. “When there is no appointment made, there can be no disappointment.” (Carrera, 2006, p. 25) What a wake-up call! All these years, I have been assuming other people are the problem. I have solidified self-protective thoughts making them part of my storyline; “People can’t be trusted, they will inevitably let me down”, “People don’t understand me or my needs”, “It is unsafe to open myself to others because they are going to hurt me”. While there have been people in my life that have not understood my needs, that have lied to me, and that have hurt me, it is also true that I have allowed my mind free reign to fantasize about how a certain person will respond to me and how relationships and other situations will turn out. As dreamers and worriers know, on some level you start to believe things will occur in reality the way they occur in your mind. Expectations are created, leading to disappointment when the situation does not turn out as hoped. A subjective reality that exists only in our mind and is based solely on inner dialogue and not on objective reality is known as vikalpa (in Sanskrit), and it is one of the five vrittis, or mental modifications (most simply: the process of how the mind tries to make sense of its experience). The vrittis can be painful or painless, and yoga is defined as the cessation of these mental modifications. To summarize, our imagination can lead to suffering when we create new realities in our mind, believe those realities will come into being (make an appointment), and then feel disappointed by failed expectations and frustrated desires.     

Another of the vrittis is right knowledge, or pramana, which can be ascertained by three sources, one of which is inference, or anumana. An inference is a conclusion based on presenting evidence. As a way to attain right knowledge, inference is only reliable when our analysis is logical and involves accurate recall and assessment of the situation. That means that inferences are not trustworthy when made before having all the information, or when polluted by fears and biases based on the past. This is most likely to happen when we are feeling: “The impatience to experience something we think will bring us pleasure” (Carrera, 2006, p. 26), or “The anxiety to avoid that which we think will bring us pain” (Carrera, 2006, p. 26). Both of these feelings were present for me in the early morning that I was feeling disappointed. I desired to spend more time with a person that had previously brought me pleasure. I craved more pleasure, and thus wanted to spend more time with this person, who I was falsely accrediting as the source of my previous happiness. I was also fearful that he might eventually cause me pain, which I ended up bringing upon myself through my emotional reactions.

In addition to these feelings, I was also influenced by the past. It is important to discern what reactions are arising because of past conditions; our memory is a helpful but potentially dangerous tool. A current day situation may remind us of a painful situation from the past. Our self-protective mode gets triggered, and we may feel like the original situation is happening again, thereby having even more intense emotional reactions than we might otherwise have had to the current situation. The implications of this could be toxic; we might get into arguments with people, blame others unjustly, cut off relationships that don’t really warrant that response. While it is important to learn from past experiences and not to make the same mistakes, it is also important to distinguish what is actually happening now versus what happened then. When we are able to do this, it empowers us to respond sensibly to the current situation.

In this case, I had been fantasizing for weeks about how things would go with this person with whom I had previously enjoyed spending time. When things didn’t turn out the way I hoped, I felt disappointed because my expectations weren’t met, and I began to come up with faulty inferences about him and the situation. The statements I was telling myself were formulated without having all necessary information and were tainted by past conditions and current fears. At some point, I was able to interrupt the habitual reaction and instead use my spiritual practice to ground me and broaden my perspective. As a result, I did not dig further into the groove that holds the belief that people are essentially untrustworthy and disappointing, which is a samskara or mental impression that leads to a sense of disconnection and isolation, which leads to further suffering. I realized that I need to be careful about what I create in my mind and honest with myself about whether or not I am basing my reactions on right knowledge. We have the power to prevent future suffering, but we must gain control of our unruly minds. I also realized that in the case of interpersonal interactions, it can be useful to ask for honesty. The other person may or may not give us their truth – if they do, it can make things simpler because we won’t feel the need to figure them out in our own mind (usually with faulty analysis), and if they don’t, we can use that as information in our reasoning process.  

References

Carrera, J. (2006). Inside the yoga sutras: A comprehensive sourcebook for the study and practice of Patanjali’s yoga sutras. Virginia: Integral Yoga Publications.

Chekawa, Y.D. (2009). Transforming the mind in seven points: New Kadam root text. (J. Loizzo, Trans.) New York, NY: Nalanda Institute For Contemplative Science.

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Reevaluate the intention underlying your spiritual journey

Erica Saccente

it's about love and heart, not ego and mind. we need to come to the path out of a deep yearning for truth and love, not because of ego. yes, it appeals to the romantic storyline you have for yourself and your life, but if your intention is ego-based, the results will not be rooted in the heart. it's easy these days, with the trending of yoga and meditation, with the enormity of books and internet resources, to enter the path from an intellectual, ego-based place. it is okay if the journey starts here, but it must evolve into a heart-centered practice for true transformation. seek the truth from a place of love, a yearning for love, not because it seems cool to be a buddhist or yogi. something attracts you to these practices, but now you must go deeper. start seeking and practicing from the heart, dear one.

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Premature Death of the Mentally Ill; Perhaps Preventable With Yoga and Meditative Practices

Erica Saccente

I came across some startling statistics today. People living with serious mental illness die an average of 25 years earlier than the general population, in the United States. The majority of these premature deaths are caused by cardiovascular disease. Fifty percent of people in New York State taking psychotropic medications and receiving Medicaid are taking antipsychotic medications, which are infamous for their effects on metabolic impairment, including elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity, all of which can lead to cardiovascular disease. This suggests that psychotropic medications taken by people living with a psychiatric disorder are contributing to a shortened life span amongst this population. Of course, there are other influential factors, but the facts are alarming. Yoga and meditation have been shown to decrease things like blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as help with weight loss, stress reduction, and controlling blood sugar. Thus, they are practices that could help lessen the damage done by psychotropic medications used to alleviate symptoms. There are some research studies to this effect, as well as some others underway. It seems to be an important direction for researchers to explore, and in the meantime, individuals can incorporate these practices on their own and assess for any changes in their metabolic function and cardiovascular health. If you are a mental health consumer, talk to your provider about any related concerns. And, if you are a psychiatric provider or know someone taking these types of medications, please consider and share this important information! 

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Forgiveness Is A Path To Freedom

Erica Saccente

Angelina Jolie starring in Disney's Maleficent.

Angelina Jolie starring in Disney's Maleficent.

Forgiveness is only possible if you have the courage to embrace the pain that underlies the anger and hatred you feel towards your perpetrator. To me, this was the central lesson taught by Disney’s Maleficent, a captivating spin on Disney’s classic, Sleeping Beauty. As a child, Maleficent was free-spirited, loving, and playful. She was brave, but also kind and righteous. Her big, warm eyes glowed with a wise innocence, as she flew freely in her peaceful land. Maleficent fell in love with Stephan, a young boy who claimed to offer her “true love’s kiss”. However, he was eventually overcome with greed and betrayed Maleficent by stealing her sustenance, meaning that which gave her support, strength, and freedom. His desire to prove his own worth, which was rooted in the ignorant belief that we are all separate and need to boost our own sense of ego so that we can falsely believe we are “better than” others, led him to harm someone he pretended to love. Stephan was an unlikeable character throughout the movie, largely because he never took responsibility for his unskillful actions and the harm he caused others. Instead, he blamed his fate on Maleficent, became paranoid and fixated on seeking revenge. He was so full of anger and hatred that he could not even acknowledge the ultimate safety and well being of his daughter, which is what he was supposedly trying to avenge in the first place. His inability to touch his own pain, loss, and guilt made it impossible to forgive, and eventually led him to his death. On the other hand, Maleficent was well liked throughout the movie, even during her period of darkness. It was evident that her “evil” actions arose from a profound sadness and hardening of the heart. She was deeply hurt; first by the betrayal of someone she loved, and second, by the loss of her freedom. No longer able to fly, she was missing the thing she loved most, and her heart was confined. Ironically, Stephan’s daughter, Aurora, was able to free her heart once again. Aurora must have reminded Maleficent of her own true nature, the youthful, free-spirited, playful girl who was loved by the friends of the forest. Through watching Aurora’s innocence and feeling her tenderness, Maleficent was able to come alive once again. She was able to find forgiveness. While it is true that she fought, viciously at times, and killed when she needed to, she did this to protect what was precious to her and on behalf of what was right. Maleficent was able to acknowledge the harm she had caused, took responsibility for her unskillful actions, and corrected them. This allowed her to rediscover peace, happiness, and love. This is another valuable lesson demonstrated in the movie; if you do not take responsibility for your own unskillful actions, you will go on blaming the other, and the resulting anger, hatred, and desire for revenge will not allow you to forgive or feel peaceful or happy. Each of us has been hurt by another; can you be with the sadness, the suffering, and the loss? Can you take responsibility for your own actions, when you have caused someone else to hurt; can you be with the guilt and the pain? From there, you can begin to let go of the anger, hatred, and desire for revenge. You can reclaim your true self, your freedom, and your strength by finding forgiveness for self and other. This will lead you closer to peace, happiness, and freedom.

 

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