Sunday, October 12, 2014

RISE 2.0: A New Vision

Photo by Thomas Brown

Last month marked the two-year anniversary since the RISE bicycle adventure ended at the Chapel of Sacred Mirrors in Wappinger Falls, NY.  It’s been an interesting two years to say the least.  I find it fascinating how one’s perception of the world can change, not just by an experience, but also by processing the experience at a later time.  In my case, it has seemed like a much greater time. For me, the true processing didn’t begin until September of 2013, when I began the task of writing the book about our bicycle journey.
I am only a third of the way through the book, but it feels like I have relived the tour of 2012 a thousand times over.  Every new draft and chapter in every new chapter reveals a new perspective that I didn’t understand when I was in the “now” of experiencing any particular moment.  New revelations seem to burst into my consciousness faster than the previous one, and the rate in every new level of understanding is growing exponentially.  As I continue to write about the RISE adventure, the element that is changing the most is my understanding and articulation of the RISE Philosophy.
Zak and I conceived the idea of RISE from the suicides of our brothers.  As the organization and philosophy grew, we decided that art and creative expression are a powerful instrument in the healing process for people in the midst of grief.  Music and literature were initially the art forms that acted as an icebreaker in my relationship with Zak.  The founder of CoSM, Alex Grey and his book “The Mission of Art” heavily influenced the idea of the healing power of art.  The RISE slogan, which is still advertised on our website, became “Suicide Awareness and the Healing Power of Art”. 
The phrase was the trademark that defined the mission of RISE.  However, the idea of RISE is evolving, and much of the recent development I attribute to physical, meditative, and academic discipline I have been engaged in upon my return to Phoenix.  Cycling and Tai Chi have provided some physical outlets, while I make more time for studying Taoist philosophy and other modalities in self-awareness techniques.
I always hoped that RISE could be a universal tool that transcends beyond the suicide survivors community by incorporating every single person no matter what their life experience may be.  In order to do so, RISE needs to be as relevant a philosophy of healing transformation for those suffering from grief, as it would be for a newly graduated high school student seeking purpose in life.  After a year of learning the ebb and flow of my discipline in my new practice, I realized a universal theme that was emerging from all the literature, the Taoist research, and tai chi that could apply to anyone: self-awareness.
Self-awareness is the process in which someone can discover who they are and were (where) they came from, giving them an idea where they should go in terms of their future.  In other words, it can be a tool in discovering their bliss or purpose in life, and for those experience a dramatic trauma, it can be a tool for understanding the development of their grief.  The importance of being self aware helps you in the moment, learning how to be present, giving one the ability to be mindful of how they will react or respond to any given situation.
Once one begins to understand what makes them tick, the practice of self-awareness demands an individual to answer a very important question:  “Is this the person I want to be?”  Depending on the answer to this personal question, one may be on the precipice of dramatic transformation.  Ignorance is bliss, once one becomes aware of personality traits they deem problematic; ignoring the issue will only empower the repercussions of the unwanted behavior.
I acknowledge that the idea and practice of self-awareness is not an original idea that I conjured out of the ether.  It is an idea that is as old as human consciousness.  Personal discovery through self-awareness and an individual’s relationship to the world is a concept deeply connected to every religion and philosophy from the east to the west.  I maintain that the RISE philosophy is my interpretation based on all of my religious, philosophical, and as mythological influence from my time on this planet.

This isn’t to say that RISE is moving away from the idea that art has healing properties; in fact we are only adding to that original thought.  It has become clearer now, that in order to truly begin the path to recovery, one must take the leap of faith into a personal journey of self-awareness.  How someone goes about this process, is where his or her personal creativity comes into play.  The greatest quest any one of us will ever embark on is the one that goes inward.  RISE is the art and practice of self-awareness; it is a journey that will last a lifetime of constant rediscovery and refinement. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Dream

Painting by Raela Marie Villanueva
This poem, "The Dream" was inspired by a dream Raela had one week after her brother died.  In the dream, her brother came to Raela one last time to say goodbye.

The Dream

I had a dream of you the other night,
And in that dream everything was alright;
I dreamt that you were alive and well,
Was this dream real? I just can’t tell.

We hugged and laughed and talked for awhile,
I saw your face and your beautiful smile;
We were together just like before,
If it’s a dream and it’s real I want to dream more.

Please don’t go yet I have so much to say,
I want you to know before you go on your way;
Even though it’s a dream it’s so real to me,
Your beauty is all that I can see.

Your energy feels so pure and strong,
I feel as if I just don’t belong;
You radiate your light so true,
As the dream ends I grab onto you.

I don’t want to wake for the end is near,
Your voice is all that I can hear;
I wake from my slumber the dream is gone,
I rise to meet the early dawn.

Written by Raela Marie Villanueva

For Jr. 8/7/74 – 3/30/97

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Saturday, September 6, 2014


Lisa McDonald

Today (Thursday, September 4th, 2014) marks 2 years since the passing of my wife, Lisa. Even though 2yrs is just a drop in the bucket of time....thanks to SOS I have learned a lot. Though my views/knowledge may be infantile in the growth stimulated by her death...This is what I have learned so far.

1. She did not do this because she was selfish (If she would've had a choice, this is NOT what she would've chosen for herself or our children)

2. I can no-longer beat myself up with the should've, would've, could'ves. (Even though I like to think the properly placed hug, "I Love You", advice or consult would've stopped this...and may have stopped it a hundred times before...without her seeking the help she needed this was inevitable)

3. My children and I were blessed to have had all the time we did get with her and the things we learned from her are priceless. (It feels better to focus on all the life we got to live with her and smile than it is to focus on how much life she is no longer sharing with us and feeling torn up)

4. She wanted us to LIVE....she only wanted HER exit not ours. In her mind of the moment she believed she was unburdening us of her problems (sad I know), But she wanted us to live and share in joy that she assumed she could no longer feel or provide.

5 People around me do not know how to deal with Survivors...a lot of foot in mouth that requires forgiveness or requires a friendship adjustment.

6. My children and I are no longer the same people we were.

7. I cannot control other peoples actions...only the amount of involvement they have in my life.

8. EVERYONE is an expert of grief...except for those who are going through it.

9. I had to learn to be empathetic to other peoples problems....I know their problems do not have the depth or darkness that my grief journey holds and in turn I thank God that they do not or cannot feel that depth...that makes me happy. ("Be kind for everyone you meet is experiencing a hard struggle).

10. You will NEVER get over grief, you can only go directly through it. (Head first with tears in my eyes, a golf ball in my throat, and misplaced laughter)

This is my journey and everyone else's is different, as different as the people we have all lost to suicide...yet as I go to more and more meetings I realize a lot of our travel is super similar, just like our loved ones had their They were smart (really smart), always had a good heart, a smile for everyone and they each left a huge hole that has become our job to fill with LOVE (it hopefully drips on others).

Thank you for letting me express myself...and thank you for the people in my group who allow me to share my own twisted view of grief... you all mean the world to me...whether a first timer or old timer. SOS has made my insanity seem sane.

-  Charles McDonald

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What's in a Vision?

Photo by Thomas Brown

"If the world is saved, it will be saved because the people living in it have a new vision."
        - B

What does one do after an epic journey?  That had been the question nagging me since November 2012, a relentless idea that couldn’t go away.  There was always the intention to evolve RISE into something that lived and grew beyond the tour.  We began the journey to ride in honor of the brothers we lost to suicide for suicide awareness, but I always felt there was more to the mission.  I just always failed at articulating a philosophy.  Finishing the tour didn’t end with a hand delivered instruction manual laying out a definitive RISE philosophy, nor a full explanation of the next step.

      Looking back now, I can admit that my return to Phoenix and the ending of the tour seemed extremely anticlimactic.  I can’t tell you what I expected, but outside of a few beers and simple conversations over dinner with a few friends.  I didn’t feel as if I had ever left.  Maybe I was anticipating a pay off at the end of the journey, something tangible that I could hold.  Instead, I returned to a world that continued on just fine without me, and why shouldn’t it?  I guess it would have been nice to have RISE invited into a joint venture, offers for assistance, perhaps job opportunities. Nothing of that nature was ever entertained.  It seems the pay off I was looking for ended up being the experience itself? 

I learned a lot on the road.  There were things I agreed with and of course, many things I disagreed with.  While saving all of the nuances for a different blog post, I can say that what I disagreed with, in a nutshell, was vision.  I can say that what I disagreed with was vision, whether it was vision of the future or vision of the fundamental cause of mental illness, depression and the outcome of suicide. It seemed like the range of what people were looking at and for, was much too shallow; a constant tunnel vision that prohibited people from looking outside of the subject of suicide.

In the 37 years of experience on this planet, I’ve come to believe that everything is connected to everything.  Though I will admit that this belief system opens up an entire new arena of problems.  Furthermore, I must concede to the truth that the same issues I disagreed with on the road were now keeping me stagnant; I had lost my vision.  No wonder I wasn’t bombarded with offers from outsiders to partner or engage RISE.  Without a vision, what are people to follow or ally with?  How does one direct or inspire without a vision? 

Maybe I was burnt out and just needed to rest, which is probably true, although it was more that I was overwhelmed with information from the experience and I needed time to process.  After bouncing from one corner of the country to the next for eight and a half months, suddenly becoming sedentary and working a day job can be quite jarring in its self.  I had so much more going on in my head that needed to be processed: the tour, how I had changed, what to do next, and on top of it all I began a long distance relationship.   With everything I was doing, how could I process?  I was overwhelmed with far too much mental and physical stimulation.  It wasn’t till seven months after tour that I was able to accept that I was finally home.

I guess it was the obvious step that I needed to make before I could move on.  RISE was an important life event for me, but it was far more than a bike ride.  Before the tour even began I knew it was going to frame the way I walk through the world, perhaps for the rest of my life.  By the time I accepted that I was once again a part of the Phoenix society, I was already well into the outline of the book I wanted to write and was finally ready to begin the steps of putting it together.  Still, I was no closer to articulating and crafting a vision of RISE.

Rather than beat my head against the wall, I decided it was best to begin writing the book and trust in the process that I would find a place for RISE in my world, if not the world at large.  The writing is a process and as it has been going well, from the beginning, I knew it wouldn’t be enough.  I still had the pressing feeling of needing to articulate the purpose of RISE.  I finally realized that having a vision wasn’t for the sake of informing any following of supporters we may have picked up, but more so for my own understanding.

Along with my writing, I began researching subjects that had inspired the idea of RISE.  I began going back to my library as well as finding new sources of reading material.  I wasn’t just reading to pass the time, I was reading with purpose.  Over the next year, I have finally begun to make sense in my own mind what I want to achieve for myself.  While this is an ever-evolving process, the ever-changing sum is the ever-adapting philosophy that is RISE.

     Perhaps some people just fall into their future without direction or the help of a road map.  In no way am I so fortunate.  I was in need of a vision in order to direct my purpose and thus the purpose of RISE.  Though I didn’t want to box myself in or anyone else that may feel they resonated with what I was producing.  Any vision that I would be comfortable with needed the freedom to adapt to any experience and situation, not being confined by ridged dogmatic law.  Nonetheless I required a vision, a horizon to set my eyes on.  Less than two years since I finished the tour and returned home, finally, I have a vision I trust, understand, and believe in.  Where it goes from here, I leave to fate.

  To learn more about R.I.S.E go to the website at
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Friday, January 3, 2014

Claudia Marie

Hi.  My name is Cathie.  When I was 9, my mother shot herself.  She committed suicide.  She left us.  I was the oldest, my sister was 7 and my brother was 2 months.  I remember thinking she killed herself because of me.  She knew my father was molesting me and she left me.  I was the oldest.  I had to be the mother to my younger brother and sister, unless someone in the family stepped up and took care of us. 

An aunt came to stay with us.  She brought 5 of my cousins.  No one explained what was going on.  No one asked us how we were.  No one hugged us and assured us that everything would be okay. 

We were not allowed to grieve.  No one talked about her afterwards.  It was almost as if she just hadn't existed.  Another aunt took in my brother, to them he was now their child.  My sister and I went to live with my father's mother. 

My grandmother was the not grandmotherly type.  She didn't explain anything, she didn't hug us.  When my mom died, all the love I'd known was gone.  I lost my first love.  I have a hole in my heart that will never be filled; regardless of how much love I have in my life.  In my life, I love her more.

I'd made a promise to myself that I wouldn't do the same, I wouldn't leave my brother, who I felt very close and protective over.  As a teen, I was so depressed.  I became withdrawn from the family.  They didn't know how to talk to me, they just wanted to send me away.  They didn't understand me, and never tried.  I swallowed a lot of those feelings.  I would hold a knife to my wrist, wanting to end the pain, but couldn't because of my brother.

My second semester in college wasn't going so well.  I was not prepared for real life.  One day, I just decided I was going to kill myself.  I went to get my paycheck cashed and sleeping pills.  I stopped at McDonald's and got a chicken sandwich combo.  As I was eating that meal, I was crying and taking those pills.  Nothing was going to stop me!

When I didn't feel anything happening, I went to get another box of sleeping pills. I swallowed a total of 32 sleeping pills that day.  I arrived home and puked.  Then I went to lay down on my bed.  I remember seeing ants and spiders all over the place.  I sprayed them with bug spray.  It all seemed like a dream. 

I told 2 people at the time that I attempted to end my life.  One was my brother, when he was old enough to understand better.  I made another promise that I never would.  This time, I also made a promise to myself.