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Lions Roar : November 2017
at times so expansive, would narrow. He would describe how energized and relentless his mind was, and how much energy he struggled to quell or chan- nel productively. Subtle stressors could trigger a mood shift: a too-itchy sweater, socializing late in the evening, time zone travel, changes in daylight, or unusual diet. A vague incoherent darkness under- lay the mania. For two decades, formal Buddhist practice anchored Michael. The struc- ture of forms helped him. The timer, the bows, the incense, the chants, unchanging and predictable. The safety of the container was very real for him; lack of form could trigger an ungrounded state where his expansive mind could venture too far from the limits of body, life, and family. Michael sought psychiatric help and meds after years of resisting them. He had avoided the bipolar label for as long The news of his accident ripped open the seamless continuity of our life. In the moment police came to my door to rush me to the hospital, all of my reference points flew out of grasp. Everything was instant and raw and without bones. But in a certain way, I may have been less shocked than many others. He was accidentally poisoned in an attempt to self-medicate with street drugs. I knew Michael was at risk. He lived with bipolar disorder his whole life. Bipolar disorder is characterized by an oscillation between normalcy, mania, and depression. Michael experienced major downs a few times a year, and oth- erwise would rapidly cycle between nor- mal and manic states. Mania appeared as sudden irritability, impulsivity, and a narrowing of perspective. I would first see it in his face. He could not articulate the experience easily; his awareness, as he could, which delayed treatment. He hoped to heal himself through prac- tice. This is an all too common theme in yoga and dharma worlds: If you practice deeply enough, you will heal, and if you don’t heal, your practice or something in you is flawed. But meditation is not a panacea, and can even be counter- productive for people with severe chal- lenges. Michael’s practice was deep, but he began to unravel. His already fluid mind became more destabilized by meditation. Finally, he turned to psychiatry. Bal- ancing meds was a dance. He wrote once that his practice was a mix of studying the great Zen philosopher Dogen and learning everything he could about lithium. He had to be flexible about what deep practice looked like. He sat as much as felt supportive to him. Some- times ten or twenty minutes was his limit. In the worst times, he needed to Bodhgaya India Visit our website to learn more about how you can help transform a child and their families life today! BodhiTreeEducationalFoundation.org Since 2009 the Bodhi Tree Educational Foundation has been in Bodhgaya India helping thousands of children and their families in poor underserved villages live healthier and more fulfilling lives. We bring quality education and proper healthcare along with family and community support programs to those that need it most. BODHI TREE Educational Foundation We are an organization committed to helping improve the lives of children and their families living in poverty. LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2017 24 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE