So What? Jack!

“So What? Jack!”

I’d like to share the story of a wonderful man by the name of “Jack”. I can’t help but break out in a huge warm grin every time I think of him.

“Jack” came to our program straight from an emergency psychiatric hospital. He had spent 6 weeks there trying to hold on to a very thin thread of life and, in some way, make sense of his suicide attempt.  He could not stop crying because he saw himself as a complete victim of life’s circumstances and the people in them.

“Jack” was raised on the East Coast, the fourth and last child of a hard working couple.   He shared that his parents were both highly educated teachers and expected nothing less from their children.  “Image” was an important thing to them.  So, when at a very early age, “Jack” realized he was gay, he began living his life in secret.  Homosexuality was not even an option for this African American son of two highly respected citizens.  And so a belief began – a belief that he could not be free to be himself.  Of course, to him, it was “a curse” bestowed upon him for some wrongdoing of his or his family. 

Throughout “Jack’s” life he met the bar of expectations he thought his parents wanted, becoming a well-known, well-respected dance teacher.  Romantic visions had long ago left his reality due to his thoughts about himself and what people expected of him. “Jack ” spent the first forty years of his life living in his own “great illusion”. Even when “Jack’s” mother pulled him aside and let him know she knew he was gay and gave him her full love and support to be himself, “Jack” continued to create and perpetuate a reality of feeling trapped by people and life. 

One day, he met a gentle, kindhearted man in a coffee shop.  This man seemed genuinely interested in who “Jack” was and his talents as a ballet teacher.  “Jack” was immediately attracted, but said nothing.  After all, he couldn’t see past his own belief system.  He made up a lot of things to justify his insecure beliefs about himself.  What he made up doesn’t matter, but how he felt when accessing these old, stale and all too familiar thoughts was awful. 

It turns out that life knew more than “Jack” and would not be stopped no matter how disconnected “Jack” was to his well-being.  This wonderful, kindhearted man that was now in his life, saw through “Jack’s” illusion and won his heart.  Over time he and “Jack” moved in together and lived life to the fullest.  “Jack” forgot all about his insecure thoughts and experienced bliss.  To “Jack” it still looked like it was his new love that made him happy, whole and free to be himself.

About two years ago, “Jack” and his partner received a phone call from his partners’ (“Jim”) ex – in laws. “Jack” wasn’t even aware that Jim was married once, but the news did not faze him.  He had gotten into the habit of creating happiness, hope and confidence.  The news was devastating to Jim.  His ex-wife had been killed in an automobile crash, leaving their two young sons alone.  Their grandparents were too old and ill to care for the rambunctious boys. 

Jim looked up at “Jack” and no words were necessary.  “Jack” simply said “yes”.  Within a week the young sons came to live with Jim and Jack.  They shared many, many happy days as fathers raising two happy, brilliant and adventurous boys.  Yes, they endured teasing and attitudes at school and in their neighborhood yet the two men and their sons seemed to be unaffected by all of this.  They were happy most of the time and you could not miss the genuine love shared by this family.  “Jack”, at last, thought he had found complete happiness.  The old insecure beliefs about himself that he was so used to creating were forgotten and replaced by confidence, love and a knowing that all was good in his realm.  Again, to “Jack” it was his new family that was creating this bliss. 

One day “Jack” returned home from work, whistling as usual and excited to tell his family about a play he had been asked to choreograph for an off Broadway show.  “Jack” was completely overwhelmed by his own joy and he could not wait to share the news with everyone.  He turned the doorknob and knew at once, something was not right.  There was no feeling of life coming from the house, no sounds…. nothing.  As “Jack ” stepped into his home, he saw his partner lying on the floor in a pool of blood and a gun in his hand.  “Jack” did not want to go any further, but knew he had to check on the boys.   He didn’t want to look in their quiet room, but made himself draw courage from “somewhere” and looked in.  The boys had been shot also.  It was determined that Jim had shot his boys and then shot himself.  There were no explanations and no note.   To say the least, “Jack” lived the next two weeks in shock and disbelief. 

The more he tried to find an answer to their deaths, the more confused and devastated he became. “Jack” truly believed he had no purpose and no value without his family. And, of course, he believed that life had left him a victim, again. To him, it was the three of them that fueled his creativity, his love and the rich feeling of his life.  He decided that he could not go on in life without the three things that “made” him happy.  Jack got into his car, drove onto the nearest freeway and began looking for the biggest concrete structure he could find.  When he spotted an overpass, he stepped down hard on the gas, reaching up to 70 mph before hitting the side of the overpass head on. 

“Jack” spent weeks in the hospital recovering from many broken bones and internal injuries.  “Jack’s” body healed quickly and doctors were amazed at his physical resiliency.  “Jack’s” state of mind was another matter.  He slipped deep into depression and suicidal ideas.  Next stop for “Jack” was a psychiatric hospital.  After stabilizing on anti-depressants, enough to at least function, “Jack” was sent to a homeless shelter for the mentally ill. 

When I first met “Jack” I was touched by the depth of sadness someone can endure after experiencing such a loss and still have the ability to continue on.  For a week I just let him talk and share his experience of loss.  Every once in a while there would be an opportune moment to point out how amazed I was at his ability to go on and give life another try.  Mostly, I just listened to him.  My profound experience of listening quietly to this gentle, loving and extremely talented man touched me for evermore.  I saw beyond his sadness, beyond the “evidence” he had created about always being a victim of his circumstances to his innately wise, humorous and beautiful human being.  All that mattered at this time is that I KNEW this.  It would be quite some time before “Jack” KNEW. 

“Jack” would attend my 3 Principles  class at the program and heckle almost everything anyone said.  When I began talking about how we all create our own experience in life, I thought “Jack” might have to be transported back to the hospital.  He was so angry with me.  He would say things like, “How in the heck would you know about loss and grief? You just don’t understand what I have been through all of my life.”   This was not the time to begin teaching the Principles, the feeling was not there, and so I waited and just spent the rest of the class checking in with everyone. 

As the group checked in and each person spoke, I could see by the expression on “Jack’s” face that he was realizing he was not the only one in the room that was experiencing loss.  As he listened to one woman talk about noticing when she spent a lot of time going over in her mind the day of her Mothers’ death, she would experience extreme sadness and loss.  Then, she had times when she wouldn’t be thinking about that day at all. She would be completely in the moment and she would fell a little better.  I asked her “how did that happen?”  She replied, “I just noticed that when I give any of my thoughts some attention, I feel exactly the way I am thinking.”   All this woman had done was realize where her feelings (happy or sad) were coming from. 

“Jack” chimed in at this point, “Yeah, it all comes from life treating you like dirt.”  The woman said quietly “If I believe that, then yes, it will become my experience, but I’ve seen that I can either feel gypped by life or extremely grateful I had this person in my life.  When I create gratitude, I can see the entire experience I had with my Mother, the happy times…. not just the day she died.”  For the first time “Jack” asked, “How do you do that?  I’ve tried to change how I think about this, but it’s not working.”  She then asked him, “If you ordered vanilla ice cream and got chocolate by mistake, would you or could you change that chocolate to vanilla?”  “Jack ” replied,  “Of course not. I’d get rid of the chocolate and order vanilla”.  Silence….”Jack” had a brief “ah-ha” moment. Then he began to talk about how not thinking about his tragedy would mean he didn’t care or wasn’t grieving enough.  The woman then said, “Where did that come from?”…. Silence….”Jack” replied “From how I thought.”

I sat down and let this very wise woman teach.  She began to explain that she thought I had just fallen off the Pollyanna cart when I first told her that Thought was her ability to create…anything in her mind.  However, she was feeling so awful that she was willing to listen. She went on to say that she learned Consciousness was her ability to experience or feel anything created by thought.  And Mind, well, she didn’t quite understand, but she knew it was the life in everything and even Jack at this moment was connected to wisdom beyond both of their understanding. They just needed faith in that right now just like they have faith in their heart beating on it’s own.  It just does. 

As days passed “Jack” would come into my office and share with me how he’d notice he was “Doing it again, going over in his mind that day.” He would then feel himself slipping into sadness.  All I said to him was “WOW! Once you’ve noticed where your sadness is coming from, you’re back into the moment, welcome back!” 

Over time Jack began to notice when he was feeling bad. He began to look inside for the source of his experience instead of looking at what was happening outside.  Some days he would forget this, as most of us do.  One particular day stands out.  Jack was in a very low mood and began to slip back into his old thoughts about being a victim of life.  He brought up everything negative he could think of in his past.  It occurred to me to ask, “So what?”  Jack stopped. At first he was angry, then he began to smile.  “So what?” he repeated.  “That brought me back into the moment.  I have no answer to “so what?”  I can’t think of a thing.”  I replied “Good, now you can consider creating something new, if you want.”  Jack said to me later at that moment he realized that his view of himself was made up by him, made up via these Principles. He either used these gifts to create a new view of his life or misused them to re-create the same experience over and over again.  “AND” he giggled, “it isn’t even happening anymore it’s the past…it’s gone.” 

Thus the nickname of So-what Jack was born.  On many occasions, I could hear him out in the hallway talking with a new client and sharing his epiphany of “so what?”  In shelter life, clients become very focused on their past or what someone said or did to them years ago that they believe changed their life from happy to fearful.  Add the label of “mental illness” to their beliefs about themselves and you have  human beings who think and act as if they are broken.

Words cannot describe how alive they become when someone simply points out it was their mental health and wisdom they utilized to survive living on the streets.  They’ll look kind of crooked at me and then realize for themselves that YEAH, I was “using” my wisdom to survive.  Having someone point out their mental health, abilities and wisdom is something new for these clients.  They love it.  It takes a lot of patience, listening and building rapport to help them quiet enough in their heads to even be open to learning about The Principles

Our “So What Jack” is now off anti-depressants, living in his own apartment and attending City College. He participates in evening study groups and right now enjoys just living in the moment.  He’s not sure what direction he wants to take yet concerning his life but he has some time and funding to decide.  He continues to catch himself slipping into thoughts about that devastating day, but today he doesn’t add any more to it. He can simply just miss his partner and two beautiful sons and not slip over the edge.  He simply accepts the fact that he’s caught up right now in thoughts of the past and is mindful to take good care of himself until he shifts.  Just knowing he will shift and his experience is temporary has changed his life.

– Jack’s 3 Principles Counselor