Op-Ed

Metta Bhavana Meditation As A Silent Weapon Against Bipolar

Metta Bhavana Meditation As A Silent Weapon Against Bipolar By Michael Pytell

Living with bipolar and anxiety disorder you realize that your mental health consumes you. You constantly feel guilt and your self confidence fluctuates from soaring to crushing. At a certain point in my life I felt extremely selfish - I was constantly focused on my moods, and wrapped up with my overall stability that everything else slipped in the cracks beneath me. When I say everything, I mean everything. Bipolar was defining me and controlling this selfish behavior 24/7. There was a point in time where unnecessary stress was brought upon my personal life because of it including my marriage, college, and my job. 

I used meditation before as a source of relief from anxiety and bipolar, but I didn't really know what I was doing. All I knew was that I wanted to build off of it in a way to where I can put all of those selfish feelings behind me and focus on providing more love in my relationships. Upon a quick search I stumbled upon lovingkindness meditation: something called Metta Bhavana. After several months of practicing this form of meditation the results were clear. This form of meditation allows me to express feelings for all beings rather than just myself. I was able to clear my head and provide the loving feelings that my wife deserves. The word "metta" simply means love and "bhavana" means cultivation. There are five stages to metta bhavana and in each stage love is cultivated for a specific person and then finally for all beings you are aware of. Every person meditates differently, so I will spell out how I go about it. This can be performed in a traditional seated position, or lying down. 

Stage 1: This is the beginning to building up your metta. In stage one you focus on yourself only. Put on some relaxing music and breathe slowly and deeply. Once you feel relaxed, begin becoming aware of yourself and allow feelings of peace overcome you. Think positively and let these positive feelings expand into confidence. Take your time and ease into transitioning this strength and self confidence into love. At this point you begin stimulating metta for yourself. I like to picture myself dripping in gold while rays of light shine from every pore in my body. You really want to get that image in your head for deeper stimulation. Finally begin repeating the phrase in your head "may I be well, may I be happy". Do this for however long you please before moving onto the next (I do roughly 5-7 minutes per stage)

Stage 2: In the second stage you want to shift your focus from yourself to others. From here on out you will leave yourself behind and focus giving metta to everyone else. In stage two you want to think of a good friend. Picture this good friend and recall all of their good qualities and what makes them a good friend to you. Shift your metta to them and picture that light shining from your body going to their heart. Imagine them dripping in gold with so much love and positivity being spread to their core. Let these feelings grow on you and feel the connection between you and this good friend.

Stage 3: This spot is held for a neutral person. This is someone that you do not have strong feelings for, but someone that you also don't particularly dislike. I like to think of someone that I recently met- someone that I don't know much about. I picture this person and reflect on their humanity. They are included in my metta and I send tremendous love their way. The deep connection between yourself and someone that you don't even know is crucial here as it expands your emotions for others. 

Stage 4: Stage four gets interesting because here you want to think of someone that you actually dislike. This will be someone that you have bad feelings for; an enemy. The most important thing here is you cannot get caught up in any negative feelings towards them. Instead simply send your metta in their direction and reflect on their humanity. 

Stage 5: In the concluding stage, think about all four people together: yourself,  the good friend, the neutral person, and the enemy. Capture that metta and expand it further. I like to start small because here is where you need to begin reflecting on all beings we share the Earth with. You start with yourself and the three other people, and think about your next door neighbor. With each and every person as you expand out further and further, picture a ripple from a droplet of water. Those ripples are the feelings of metta you are throwing off to all you are aware of. After you picture your neighbor, think about your neighborhood. Expand further to your town, state, country, and finally worldwide. Feel yourself bursting with metta for all of those around you as you imagine the Earth dripping with gold and light shining out of its surface. Whenever you are ready, ease out of the meditative state and apply what you have learned to your daily life.


Dickotomy: Fitting Into Gay Culture

Dickotomy: Fitting Into Gay Culture

A certain dichotomy is developing over these past couple of weekends as I find myself in the midst of Fire Island rush hour on the Long Island Rail Road. Just this past weekend, for example, I left mid day Friday to head to Nassau County to visit my parents. In doing so I caught the extent of seer-sucking, aviator wearing homosexuals heading east towards Sayville. The gay man’s life has always seemed a bit fanciful to me, unobtainable even, something out of a movie that I was never able to achieve – which has always led me to feel a slight disconnect from the community. Somehow they have the time to work a job that allots them the freedom, luxury and finances for a Fire Island share; but also have the time to maintain a glamorous social life and participate in a gym routine that results in a perfectly sculpted body. I on the other hand can barely allocate funds that allot me the freedom to ride the MTA Subway system on a weekly basis, and despite rigorous efforts, still have the physique of a prepubescent girl.

The Cost Of Creativity

The Cost Of Creativity

Recently I started reading Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York, which is a collection of Joan Didion inspired personal essays written by writers who came to New York for great opportunities, fell in love with the city and found success within it, but soon found that the city’s exceptional effulgence couldn’t make up for the pressure and despair that goes along with trying to survive in it. Then they moved to some obscurely located environment like Oregon. As a New York writer this theme was bound to resonate within me and at first I came to find that the book was a bit of a creative deterrent, because even though the writers do find success in New York, their success can’t sustain their struggle for survival. Each anecdote is like a New York writer’s worst nightmare: Struggling creative soul comes to the big city to chase their dream, and even after becoming an accomplished writer and obtaining that dream, they still find an inevitability in having to leave the city they’ve grown to feel so passionately about because not even an accomplished writer can make it in this city – that’s just how tough it is. I just think the message is so dangerous, and makes me wonder about all of the writers who aren’t even accomplished? Where do we move? Or do we just kill ourselves? Sure, it’s refreshing to hear the truth; that not everyone makes it here, and even the ones that do make it here still struggle and so sometimes the inevitable answer is to pack up and leave. But to hear it 28 times in a row, recycled and reused, and to hear little remorse from each writer, well that can just be very discouraging to a twenty-something writer, exhausting even.

Increasing Doses of Adderall

A Narrative By Brandon Beckelheimer

Well my name is Brandon Beckelheimer. I'm 21 years old. And I have been prescribed at least 19 different medications for mental health related reasons. I have been diagnosed with virtually every major disorder. Doctors have been unable to decide what my main problem is. One told me I have mere ADHD. Another one says it is major depressive disorder combined with generalized anxiety disorder. Another says it is bipolar disorder, whose antipsychotic treatment nearly had the opposite effect...

One doctor suggested my problem is Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder, which is different from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). OCPD is a disorder of the personality that doesn't include the fear of something going horribly wrong all the time. It's defined as "preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, excessive attention to details, mental and interpersonal control, and a need for power over one's environment, at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency." Absolutely NOT me.

Point in case, even medically trained doctors really have no clue what they're doing. To dabble with a field as ethereal as the mind is a large undertaking. Consciousness is a subjective reality. I imagine the experience of consciousness in another form as a means of leisurely pleasure. In other words, I create 'imaginary friends' who I know absolutely do NOT exist except within my own consciousness. However, that does not stop me from being able to create a figure that apparently comes to life and adapts its own traits. I talk to them. I pretend they are real. I do this out of a desire to communicate with my own unconscious mind. When asked if he believes in God, famous Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung responded that "anytime someone says God, they are truly referring the unconscious."

I'm intrigued by many things, but what most intrigues me is psychology of consciousness. This includes animals, even the ones which rely on mere instinct. Is instinct something that we don't rely on? Are we not merely a response to the previous stimulus? Does Free Will exist, and is the mind truly in our control?

Along with this, I play volleyball competitively. I graduated with an athletic scholarship out of high school with a volleyball scholarship to one of the top ranked teams in the nation. I was so excited to go there, but when I took Adderall to help me with my AP exam, I was doomed. I found a way to get this absolutely addicting and euphoric drug prescribed to me by using the excuse that I have ADHD, and then I took it with me to college. I was living in a dorm, shut away in my room mostly, burying my body in pills, 6-7 in a day sometimes. I was finishing each bottle within a week and waiting three weeks for my parents to ship the next bottle. I lived through this state of heavy binge-ing followed by three week crash and managed to survive my first semester of college with a 3.5 GPA, making me eligible to play on the team.

The second semester I increased my dosage. Then came the collapse. I did not go to class beyond the first week. I attended every volleyball practice as normal, knowing my coaches wouldn't know about the condition of my grades. I quit the team a month before the season was to end, with intentions of signing to play with another school. I signed with another school, and never showed up. Instead I buried myself in my bedroom, zombifying myself with Adderall binges with a laptop as company for intense research.

During this time, which lasted for quite a while, I discovered the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. It is a personality test rooted in the work of Jung which reveals key insights to the processes of the human mind. So I discovered my type (ENFP) and studied it fervently, almost as if I was trying to find myself in another man's book.

Next came my discovery of the Enneagram of Personality. This was like a paradigm shift of understanding to me about how the Universe works. This subject goes into such depth about the human mind that it can be used to transcend your self. Mental health issues often correlate to Enneagram of Personality, as described by Claudio Naranjo in his book Character and Neurosis. He also explains what the purpose of his research: 

"The broadest distinction in the body of Fourth Way Psychology that I seek to outline, is between 'essence' and 'personality -between the real being and the conditioned being with which we ordinarily identify; between the greater and the lesser mind. Where Gurdjieff spoke of personality, Ichazo spoke of ego-more in line with recent usage (ego trip, ego death, ego transcendence, and so on) than with the meaning given to 'ego' in today's ego psychology. The distinction is similar to that proposed today by Winnicott between the 'real self' and the 'false self,' yet it may be misleading to speak of essence, soul, true self or atman as if the reference were something fixed and identifiable. Rather than speak of essence as a thing, then, we should think of it as a process, an ego-less, unobscured, and free manner of functioning of the integrated human wholeness."

My goal is to unify the existing structures and psychological models to form an Equation of the Psyche that can be used to describe the aspect of a person's behavior, desires, needs, wants, fears, motivations, essentially their "I". I'm pretty far away from where I want to be, but know I will survive in the end. The key to life is just to live and that's enough to be grateful for.

Body Envy

By Nicholas Byrne

There are times in my life where I lose all minor self-confidence and feel like a Danny Tanner in a world full of Uncle Jesses. One of these times was today at the gym. During “arm day” I thought I was beginning to see some progress – until I walked past a couple of 6’2” homosexuals with watermelons for biceps. Both were sporting a barely there tank top and high top Adidas, and I couldn’t help but to mentally regress back to my emaciated teenage self in comparison. They evoked the cool, testosteronic seniors in high school, and I was just the feeble freshman. As I creepily gawked at them from a far my incessant fear that I’ll never be as big as some of the other men out there, or even come close to, reinstated itself. As I looked at their arms, and then looked down at mine I couldn’t help but wonder, what if I’ll always have tennis balls for biceps despite my rigorous and meticulous efforts?

Normally, I would self-sooth by noticing that the men I’m comparing myself to are a few years older than me, if not older. I’ve been using this comparative technique since I started working out. When I was 20 and if I saw someone in better shape than myself I concluded that they had to be at least 28. When I was 22 they had to be at least 32. It was usually true, they usually were older, and that gave me the false security that in time I too could be as muscular as them. I convinced myself that they had been working out longer than me, or perhaps when I got to be their age my metabolism would slow down or one day I would just wake up and be massive – like a second puberty would take place. This proved to be effective up until today.

When I walked past the 2 men I over heard one of them ask the other how old he was. When I heard the response I almost tripped over my own feet. He was 23 – merely just a fetus, but a fetus with bulging biceps and engorged pectorals. As the news penetrated through my ears I realized that there was a foil in my plan. I had become older than the muscle Gods that I so enviously worship. I became overwhelmingly consumed with questions and concerns: What if I’ll always be 6-feet-tall and 155 pounds? What if I never get as big as them? What if this is my physical limit? I took a glance in the mirror and couldn’t help but to identify with that little boy in Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” music video. Alone in his bedroom trying so desperately to be something he’s not. (See above for extremely specific pop culture reference)

It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, no. I know there are people out there who have to battle much more difficult and life altering challenges than this. But when I’m constantly met with the gay community desiring “masc” or “masculine” or “straight-acting” ideologies, I can’t help but to feel like I fall short to their expectations, and to the narcissist in me, that is the worst thing in the world.

In terms of expectations I’m not just speaking sexually, but also socially. And not just in the gay community, but in society in general. As I find myself knee-deep in my mid-20s I can’t help but to still feel like a teenager. Sure, I’m immature, lazy and I’ve been coddled since the day I was born, and I’m sure these characteristics promote this embryonic frame of mind, but physically I don’t always feel like a “man,” because physically I don’t fit the societal expectation of what a “man” should look like.

I would kill to know what it feels like to be able to walk around with MUSCLES – to know what it feels like to fill out a shirt, not because it’s a size too small, but because I have the body for it. To walk into a room or down the street and feel like a man, to evoke unsolicited intimidation amongst those whose gaze I come across. And although I’ve made progress since my high school days, lately I can’t help but to fear that I’ve reached my physical plateau. That I’ll never reach my goal, because for my physical body type, it just isn’t possible. And today, as I walked past the 23-year-old who exemplified everything that is “manly” I couldn’t help but to feel like a sub par boy in comparison.

:(

I remember during my childhood *NSYNC had debuted a wonderful little love ballad entitled, God Must Have Spent. I must have been 8 at the time and I remember thinking, if God spends extra time perfecting other people, is it plausible to assume that sometimes he does a rush job on others? Like if he takes the time out for this one girl, perhaps with me, for example, he just kind of threw a bunch of ideas together and set me out for delivery. It was the only way I could account for my bulbous head, twig-like arms, hollow bird-like bones, high-pitched voice and zombie hands. It’s as if he blindly reached into a grab bag of physical features and then he said, “Voila, I’m done!”

I can’t say all of my childhood was affected by my unique features, it wasn’t until the age of 12 or so, early adolescence, that others and I began to really keen in on what was going on with my body. Even today, when I describe myself sometimes I reflect back on that self-description and can’t help but to notice that it’s as if I’m describing a mutant. It’s like I’m a mutant, without any of the cool aspects of being a mutant. No superpower, just physical characteristics that clearly label me in society as “abnormal looking.”

When I was in junior high school I began to get made fun of due to my scrawny physique. It’s one thing to be a female and be tall and skinny, but it can be different for a male. Not only was I skinny, I was pathetically puny. People used to call me bulimia boy (not the most creative name, but I gave them credit for attempting alliteration.) During this time I once over heard my Aunt Jackie talking to my mother about dieting. She reprimanded my mother for eating before bed which is when I learned that the later you eat, the more weight you retain. So 12-year-old me concluded that if I ate right before bed, I would cut down on physical activity after eating, and hopefully not burn off as many calories.

Not only would I eat, I would binge, and not only would I binge, I would cringe binge. Cringe binge is when you binge on cringe worthy “food” items. Raw eggs because Rocky did it, and who didn’t want a body like that? I would consume up to 6 raw eggs in a sitting. I wouldn’t even whisk them; I would just swallow them whole. I could literally feel them go down my throat, whole yoke, by whole yoke, sliding through my esophagus. I would eat spoonfuls of mayonnaise for it’s high fat content, and stuff myself with slices amongst slices of wonder bread. There was no rhyme to the reason, just mass consumption of anything fatty or high in protein. Next was usually a half a jar of peanut butter, as long as it wasn’t chunky, because even during this desperate time I still upheld that standard. Raw egg and mayonnaise by the spoonful was tolerable, but chunky peanut butter? Unfathomable. My plan then was to always just go to bed, not move, just go to bed and let it all set in. However, every now and then I would vomit it all up. Not on purpose, it was never self-induced – just involuntarily, my stomach would naturally reject my buffet-concoction. As it came out from my stomach and into the toilet bowl I felt like a failure. All of that time and energy spent on ingesting awful foods, and for what?

When that failed, another ploy to bulk up was to just wear layers of shirts. I remember wearing 3 Han’s t-shirts under everything in order to create the illusion of mass beneath my clothing. This only lasted for one winter, until springtime came, and I realized I was sweating profusely more than I was fooling anyone that I had gained weight.

After years of trying to fit in during junior high school and high school, and infinite attempts to appear “straight” or to bulk-up, I thought “coming out” and moving to New York City was going to be one of the biggest reliefs of my life. No more cringe bingeing and no more multiple layers of t-shirts, I could just exist. I thought I was going to be met with such camaraderie and brotherhood within the gay community. I thought for once I would be able to be comfortable in my own body. Yet, I still found myself trying to appear to be “straight looking,” I still felt the awkward high school desperation of trying to fit in and impress other people, perhaps even more so. Because in high school the jocks hung out with the jocks, and if you were good at a certain sport or you were able to crush a beer can against your forehead, or have sex with a bunch of girls, you were in. But no one ever said you had to do those things. Where as in the adult gay community people out right tell you that you have to be straight acting, or you have to be masculine. Of course this brings up the question of what defines “straight acting” and “gay acting” and “masculine” and “effeminate,” but based on what society has deemed “masculine,” I just don’t fit the bill, physically.

With this pressure I soon realized that in order to fit in I was going to have to change something. As I got older, like early 20s older, I still didn’t begin to grow into my body. So that’s when I began working out, viciously. It seems unfair that there are certain individuals who can go to the gym and within a week they have muscles, due to their natural mass or the frame of their body. However, I can spend 6 days a week in the gym, eat my weight in synthetic protein powder, and just barely border on passing as a normally built young manI spent 4 years of my life trying to be accepted amongst the jocks in my high school locker room, and now almost 8 years later, I find myself doing the same thing except now the locker room is located in the East Village and we’re adults.

Although it’s hard for me to feel like a “man” or even identify as “manly” because I still look and feel so boy-like, I have to accept that there’s a possibility that I might not ever be 185 pounds of pure muscle. And although not reaching that goal may not be perceived as “masculine” and my body type might not translate to “straight,” I know I’m just going to have to accept that, and be proud of the strides and progress that I’ve made thus far. I’ll continue to work out, and I’ll continue to participate in a healthy lifestyle, but I can’t continue to feel like any less of a man due to my natural physique or due to the pressures of the community that I live in. And even though at times I may feel like a Danny Tanner in comparison to all of the Uncle Jesse’s out there, I can seek comfort in the irrefutable facts that Danny Tanner was funny, and personable, and kept a really, really clean home.

Read more of Nicholas' work here and follow him on isntagram @nicholasjulianb