Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Secured by the Lord in Association with the Faith

The LORD: secures justice for the oppressed [calling all to salvation], gives food to the hungry [communion]. The LORD sets prisoners free [crushing down death by death]; the LORD gives sight to the blind [wisdom]. The LORD raises up those who are bowed down [exalts the penitent]; the LORD loves the righteous [those who keep the statutes]. The LORD protects the stranger [catechumen], sustains the orphan [those without faith] and the widow [those who have lost faith], but thwarts the way of the wicked [anyone who would turn a chosen one away]. The LORD shall reign forever [King of Kings], your God, Zion, through all generations! Hallelujah! – Psalm 146:7-10

WE: compelled by our association with the Faith we must assist in the good work by feeding the hungry by nourishing the soul, freeing the prisoners through our corporate intercessory prayer, giving sight to those who are spiritually blind by admonishing one another in psalm and approaching righteousness in our own living, and growing God's church by welcoming the stranger (to the faith). We take from this life only what we invest in our spiritual relationship to God and to one another.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Personhood the Focus of Healing *

The primary distinction between Orthodox psychotherapy and secular therapies concerns itself with what is central to the human being to actualization and contentment. It very much is about perspective and is central to healing; as this distinction directly effects methodology. This understanding was undeniably the most crucial element in my clinical practice and the defining moment in my professional career.
      While both Orthodox psychotherapy and the human sciences are aimed at helping individuals how that assistance is operationalized however is pivotal. It is more then simply a nuanced or stylistic difference in approach or adaptation; it is critical in setting the trajectory and course.  Orthodox psychotherapy speaks to the human condition and experience which defines and identifies behavioral clusters and subjective reality in very different terms from the one dimensional and  mechanized determinism of modern medicine.  Diagnostics,  assessments and treatments are determined by key concepts based on the personhood of the individual.  Human sciences seek out flank intellectually metaphysical presuppositions and understanding regarding cause and effect while denying the deeper meaning to cause and purpose. While improving the quality of someones life may be a given for the modern counselor it may not be necessarily the best course for the Orthodox clinician based on deeper more pressing concerns dealing with the complexity of the person and not simply superficial comforts. 

Orthodox psychotherapy liberates both the practitioner and the participant from the modern mechanistic interpretation of the human condition with its pathology based underpinnings and trappings. There is a natural inclination to feel more at ease with Orthodox psychotherapy as a preferred treatment type because it embraces the totality of the person .  It is a more respectable approach to suffering demonstrating how spirituality transcends the materialists one sided endless questioning of 'subjects'  as if deciphering a code of what professionals have determined to be logical constants. Orthodox Christians are interested in asking the larger questions of purpose which defers the natural  inclination to shore up one's defenses to avert blame and guilt. This more user friendly holistic approach lends itself  to a more fulfilled existence and because this the process has been liberated from secular traditionalism.

      It is about more then simply reframing the sessions. It is about its mission and function. I hope to provide the language with which to assist Orthodox brothers and sisters the tools to explain what they already know to battle the rhetoric of the world. This birds eye view is a more liberating and empowering way of viewing your life. My professional work both in the privacy of the office and in more public settings like church halls has served as a way to encourage and build up truth seekers for the journey to reclaim our birthright (baptismal rebirth) as Orthodox Christians which has freed us from the bondage of zombie like living where humanistic impositions and limitations are banished. Together we raise the bar of expectation for wonderful things in your life.
      The fear of the unknown keeps people from getting want they want personally and professionally seeking the assurances of the sciences as the gold standard of knowledge. We accept worldly knowledge for illumination. It is a way of settling for what you 'know' out of a fear of wanting for more. Augment your skill set and your support system. Move through your fear learn more effective problem solving techniques. With each success your confidence and momentum will build.

      By identifying what you value you will prioritize more effectively and will learn true gratitude and inner peace.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Stay the Course

completing my third full marathon 26.2 miles
Life is replete with struggle, obstacles and even suffering. Often times the difficulty we face comes from our own doing or undoing. Disappointment and uncertainty bear an identifiable anguish that if left to grow can erode hope and confidence that a resolution is at hand. Understand that our Lord cautioned that we would have adversity and tribulation in this life but to take comfort that He (our Lord) has overcome the world.

Strife and anxiety can muddy the waters and cloud judgement. This can lead us off chasing red herrings and taking roundabouts delaying our arrival and even creating insurmountable obstacles by not learning or heeding lessons. Pride and self doubt are odd bed fellows. Humility, patience and faith will expand our vision, refine our judgment and determine the correct course. Enduring the process of healing and growing will yield unknowable blessings and solutions which sometimes are only perceptible after the fact.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Appropriation of Madness *

As a practicing orthodox psychotherapist the spiritual informs my assessment which best lends itself to a comprehensive and unified understanding of the person. It validates the human experience and the great frontier of the person's relationship with God and how it is connected with the development of the person. It is not about the appropriation of madness but about the healing of the person.

When dealing with the sensitive subject of mental illness it is necessary to proceed with care and caution. There is a schism between modern psychology/psychiatry and the church. Those afflicted with mental disorders have historically been criminalized, labeled deranged, dangerous and even idealized attributed as a creative or mystical genius.  Having a healthy and robust discussion on the healing and treatment of such varied conditions and misunderstood behaviors without casting dispersions on those who are afflicted is imperative. It also requires a consensus amongst practitioners as to what is the most effective approach. This is much more difficult to achieve then one might imagine because it requires an informed constituency with a well rounded education. Even a cursory appreciation and acquisition of basic knowledge in the areas of history, human development, psychiatry, metaphysics, sociology and patristics would be a vast improvement. Too often we find those of like mind intellectually stroking one another or disputing minutia which are irrelevant to the individual afflicted. 

How do we have a discussion or present a comprehensive detailed and beneficial position when in reality most espousing any such insight are seldom cognizant of the issue let alone conversant. 

Psychology has yet to agree on the most fundamental 'truths' of the field. Each school seems to hold contradictory positions on ontological causes and treatments for the mentally ill. They have all willing accepted discussing the condition in medical terms referring to behaviors clusters and mood fluctuations and cognitive distortions as symptoms indicative of an illness in a patient sometimes called a client. They tend to be more focused on treating the illness then the person. Most practitioners take an eclectic approach recognizing that rigid adherence to one philosophy is myopic and ineffectual. 

The Orthodox Church has had a long history of discussing the person as a complex being worthy of all dignity and respect. It has never seen the individual as willfully complicit in their condition even in the instances where demonic influence seems to be plausible. The church as aways had a comprehensive understanding of the person and understood that mental conditions may have biological origins, existential underpinnings, extreme narcissism and the saturation of the passions. The complex understanding of the human being postulated by the Orthodox church  is not reductionistic as psychiatry  and therefore is not needlessly one sided so problems facing an individual may have an organic cause but ultimately effect the spiritual state and functioning of the individual. Each area requiring intervention and healing. 

The Orthodox phronima does not seek to place blame and the afflicted person is understood as a fellow pilgrims and sojourners and in some cases as the wounded an unpleasant reality of spiritual warfare. The church is focused on the journey and purpose of the person with their person hood and not with merely masking or mitigating the individuals unwanted circumstance. The church and qualified practitioners understand it is about how we face and confront limitations and short comings that we find our peace. The Orthodox church sees before her the person who has a body, soul (psyche) and spirit (mind). 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Depressed, Despairing and the Grave

 Logosimi can snuff out all enthusiasm, will cast dispersions on our brother while casting a huge shadow of doubt.  True psychic pain, feels like sadness, desperation, ineptitude and loss.  

Moments become extended periods which result in years where we  feel cloaked in failure. There is a paranoia which affixes itself to the schema of the mind systematically and efficiently eats away at self-worth and confidence.

Every event needlessly becomes a litmus test of  God's interest and concern, our perceived ability, credibility and self-worth. Ironically most 'events' do not confirm or deny, correspond or correlate  whatever with our real or imagined internal or cosmic struggle.

This artificial testing ground become fertile soil for insecurity, self-doubt, dissatisfaction, isolation and rejection. Anticipatory anxiety feeds the beast stealing even moments of reprieve which later only seem to mock hope. Feelings of dejection snowball and anxiety flourishes. By definition anxiety is a free floating fear which has no root, is irrational,  having  no place and yet expelling it from the garden of our hearts is virtually impossible.

We become the Emperor with our 'new clothes'. Rashly discarding our competence, confidence and unique skill set for neurosis which  is keenly aware of the snickering, murmuring and ridicule. We become darkened and sullied, devoid of skill and without accolades.

Depression and its older brother despair are not as we are intended to be. The Light of Christ will illumine us all drawing us like lepers from the caves. We need not remain in the cemetery with our memories of regret or pain; as such we are worst off then the dead who at least are freed from the shackles of worldly cares. They are freed from the spiritual paralysis which we seem to cleave as we focus on this world, this body, this pain.  

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Schism

What is unavoidable is that modern notions of human evolution and the advancement of mankind impose a view of the psychological makeup of the person to the exclusion of the metaphysical and the spiritual component of man essentially as a non entity. It  devalues existential questions as concessions that the psychology professional or theory much indulge because of the backwardness of clients.  I have had quite enough, as has many, this  criticism of the holy fathers without  an understanding of  the application of  their teachings.  This modern intellectualism which is readily outspoken dismissing and discounting the teachings found in our patristic treasures can hardly claim to have a conversant grasp of the wisdom neither in theory or in practice.

Modern man is torn between what he knows is at the core of his being what he experienced from before his birth perhaps that his relationship to his creator is wholly personal and unique. Many of the those experiences in which the person was focused primarily on the more inward experiences and eventually as during the person’s awakening in early childhood are imprinted on the soul which never forgets.  The self has bore witness to the Creator and this forward thinking society wishes to discount and deny such realities. As growing individuals our pre linguistic memory or visceral memory gets usurped and re-framed in more culturally acceptable norms.  The young child during their formative and years is told to put away childish things and is co opted to see ones relationship to God and creation akin to fairy tales of Brothers Grimm.  This new and improved self concept is cemented to the psyche with a linguistic prowess and the birth of the implicit memory begins a new era for the individual. The schism within the self between what is known in the subconscious of the person and the indoctrination and reprogramming of the youth is fertile ground for the fractured state of the human condition. This is further compounded by sociological and scientific claims which demean any inclination toward the unseen or any faith based initiative.  Many psychology services wish to extinguish magical thinking of their clients to a more independent and mechanized view of himself and the cosmos.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Vocabulary 101

Vocab 101

These are the basics the terms we embrace and which should be understood so that we can infuse our understanding with correct or orthodox understanding. This is not so that it can be put behind us but so that we may live more fully our praxis.

Ascesis: It is so called man's effort as well as the method he uses to pass through the three stages of the spiritual life: purification of heart, illumination of the nous and theosis. Since this is achieved through the commandments of Christ, ascesis is man's struggle to keep the commandments of Christ. Thus ascesis is connected with the keeping of the commandments and the healing of man.

Discernment (diakrisis): A spiritual gift through which one discerns the inner states. It is not a sharpness of mind but the energy of the grace of God. It is a gift which pertains to the pure nous. It is mainly the ability to distinguish between uncreated and created things; between the energy of God and the energy of the devil but also between the energies of God and the psychophysical energies of man. Thus, one distinguishes emotional states from spiritual experiences.

Disciple (hypotactikos): In the narrow sense of the word it means the monk who obeys a Gerondas so that he gets healed and acquires theosis in the grace of God. In the wide sense of the word “disciple” means every Christian who receives spiritual guidance by his spiritual father.

Dispassion (apatheia): The soul has three powers aspects, that is: the intelligent power, the appetitive and the irascible power. The last two constitute what is called the passible aspect of the soul. Dispassion, then, is not the mortification of the passible aspect of the soul but its transfiguration. Generally, when all the powers of the soul turn to God and are directed to Him we have the state of dispassion.

Ecstasy (ekstasis): It is not the “going–out” of the soul from the body but it is the detachment of the nous from the reason and the surrounding world and its return to the heart. It is not a respite of the energies of the soul and intellect but it is a respite of physical energies like sleeping, eating etc.

Imagination – Phantasy: The covering of the noetic energy of the soul. It is an after–the–Fall phaenomenon. It is an energy of the soul which covers the nous and darkens it. The ascetic endeavour consists in purifying the nous from the energy of imagination–phantasy.

Gerondas: The priest or monk who has been healed by the grace of God and helps effectively his spiritual children –disciples– to be healed, that is to go through the purification of heart, the illumination of nous and to attain to theosis divinization.

Heart: The spiritual centre of man's being. It is the do main which is manifested through ascesis in grace and within which God Himself is manifested. It is also called the centre of the powers–energies of the soul (intelligent power, appetitive and irascible power).

Hesychia: The peace of the heart, the undisturbed state of the nous, the liberation of heart from the thoughts (logismoi), from the passions and the influence of the environment; it is the dwelling in God. Hesychia is the only way for man to attain to theosis. External quietness is helpful so that man can reach the noetic hesychia. A hesychast is one who struggles to achieve the returning of the nous back into the heart, following a specific method.

Illumination: When all thoughts–logismoi come out of the heart the nous returns within it and the prayer operates unceasingly. This is called illumination of the nous. Thus the illumination of the nous is closely connected with noetic prayer.

Knowledge (gnosis): It is neither the intellectual engagement with God nor the knowledge of the reason about God but it is the personal experience of God. The knowledge of God is closely connected with the theoria (vision) of the uncreated Light. This knowledge is beyond any other created knowledge. It is achieved through man's theosis. Theosis is man's communion and union with God. And it is this union which engenders knowledge of God, which is of a higher order than and above any other human knowledge.

Mourning (penthos): Deep sorrow of the soul. The mourning according to God is an energy of the divine grace and is closely linked with repentance, weeping, tears. It is called gladdening sorrow because it does not cause any psychological anomaly but it brings inner peace and man's yearning to adjust his life to the commandments of Christ.

Noetic Prayer: The prayer which is done with the nous. When the nous is liberated from its enslavement to reason, to the passions and the surrounding world and returns from its distraction within the heart, then noetic prayer starts. Thus noetic prayer is done with the nous within the heart, whereas the prayer of the intellect is done within the reason.

Nous: The word has various uses in Patristic teaching. It indicates either the soul or the heart or even an energy of the soul. Yet, the nous is mainly the eye of the soul; the purest part of the soul; the highest attention. It is also called noetic energy and it is not identified with reason.

Passion: The last stage of the development of sin. The stages of sin are: provocation through the thoughts, joining, assent, desire, action and passion. Passion is a repeated action which dominates man. In ascetic theology the movement of the powers of the soul contrary to nature is called passion.

Pleasure: The pleasure that man feels enjoying an object, an idea etc. There is sensual pleasure and spiritual pleasure corresponding to the body and soul accordingly. The pleasure which derives from God is connected with peace whereas the pleasure which derives from sin and the devil causes disturbance. Also, a pleasure which causes pain and guilt comes from the devil and is connected with the passions.

Practical Man- Praxis: Praxis is the struggle to purify one's heart and that is the first stage of spiritual life. Practical man is one who struggles to purify his heart. In patristic theology the practical man is also called a breeder because he tries to tame his passions, which are like animals.

Purification (Katharsis): Purification refers mainly to the soul. In patristic theology the term “katharsis" –purification– is employed to denote three states. The first one is the rejection of all thoughts (logismoi) from the heart. The thoughts-logismoi are so called because they must be in the reason (in Greek: logiki- logismoi). The second state is the ascetic effort so that the powers of the soul, intelligent, appetitive, irascible move in accordance with nature and above nature –which means they must turn towards God– and not contrary to nature. The third state is the ascetic method by means of which man reaches from selfish love to unselfish love.

Reason (logiki): The power of the soul through which we perceive the surrounding world and we develop our relation with it. We aquire experience of God by means of the nous and we formulate this experience, when required, by means of reason, in so far as it is attainable.

Remembrance of Death: It is not just the feeling that the end of our biological existence will come but the feeling of mortality –the garments of the flesh that man wore after the Fall. The remembrance of death is activated by the grace of God and creates desire for repentance. Remembrance of death is also the experience of the loss of the grace of God.

Remembrance of God: The incessant remembrance of the name of God. It is not just calling God to mind but it is a state attained through the purified nous. It is achieved and expressed by means of noetic prayer.

Sin: In theological terms sin is the darkening of the nous. When the nous goes away from the heart and ceases having remembrance of God and is distracted to creation through the senses, then it commits sin. This distraction is manifested in actions which are, thus, called sin. Sin starts with assent and evolves to desire, action and passion.

Slothfulness (acedia): The spiritual paralysis of the powers of the soul. It is this state during which there is an absolute indifference to prayer and fasting and, in general, an inertia about the keeping of the commandments of the gospel. Since man is a psychophysical being, spiritual slothfulness is reflected in the body too. It is a psychophysical weakness and slackness. A psychophysical paralysis.

Sorrow: The inner pain of the soul. There is sorrow ac cording to God and sorrow according to the world. The former creates spiritual inspiration, that is it moves within an atmosphere of hope in God and urges man to spiritual struggle. It gives great strength and energy. Sorrow according to the world leads man to despair and to a psychophysical paralysis.

Theology - Theologian: Theology is the knowledge of God. It is not a result of studying books or exercising the reason; it is on the one hand a fruit of the knowledge of God and of the personal experience of Him; on the other hand it is the way which leads to the healing of man and the knowledge of God. A theologian is one who has passed through the purification of heart to the illumination of the nous and to theosis. Thus, he has acquired the knowledge of God and speaks about Him in an authentic way. A theologian can be even called one who accepts the experience of the saints, not having himself a personal experience of God. “He whose prayer is pure is a theologian”.

Theoria -Theoretical Man: Theoria is the vision of the glory of God. Theoria is identified with the vision of the uncreated Light, the uncreated energy of God, with the union of man with God, with mans theosis. Thus, theoria, vision and theosis are closely connected. Theoria has various degrees. There is illumination, vision of God and constant vision (for hours, days, weeks, even months). Noetic prayer is the first stage of theoria. Theoretical man is one who is at this stage. In patristic theology the theoretical man is characterised as the shepherd of the sheep.

Theosis - Divinization: It is the participation in the uncreated grace of God. Theosis is identified and connected with the theoria (vision) of the uncreated Light. It is called theosis in grace because it is attained through the energy of the divine grace. It is a cooperation of God with man, since God is He Who operates and man is he who cooperates.

Thoughts - Logismoi: The thoughts which are connected with images as well as with the various stimulations originating from the senses and the imagination. The thoughts logismoi evolve to sin through the stages of desire, action and passion. They are called logismoi because they act in the reason (logiki).

Uncreated Light: It is the energy of God which can be seen as Light many times. This energy of God is the glory of divinity. It is called uncreated Light because it is divine and thus, uncreated. It is not the energy of a created being.

Watchfulness (nepsis): Spiritual alertness, constant attentiveness and readiness so that the thought won't progress from the reason and enter into the heart. It is only the nous that must be within the heart and not the thoughts-logismoi. This spiritual alertness is called nepsis.