OYM Ken Ijichi | Inner Fire

 

The medical paradigm and our materialistic reality deny the existence of the Soul Spirit. In this episode, Ken Ijichi, a guide of Inner Fire, shares his lived experience with Inner Fire and his shift from being a Seeker into a Guide. This introduction to the spiritual realm of healing brought him to the path of healing. Living in a world where everything moves so fast, isolating yourself from society and communing with nature helps reintroduce yourself to your “self.” Release yourself from the system trapping you and tune in to this inspiring episode with Ken as he shifts his energy to the solution that works.

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Navigating Difficult Lived Experiences And Connecting To Inner Fire With Ken Ijichi

Ken Ijichi is a nurse who has worked diligently in his career to help others. When he himself had a mental health challenge, he acquired lived experience of the difficulties of navigating through a system that just wants to treat symptoms with medications. He was lucky enough to get connected to Inner Fire in Vermont, and through his work at Inner Fire, his own personal work, he has decided to stay on and become a guide for others. Ken will tell us a little bit about his personal story and how he feels the work at Inner Fire is unique and exceptionally effective.

Ken, it’s delightful to see you face to face. Thanks for joining us.

Thanks so much for having me.

I was hoping you could tell us a little about your personal story, what brought you to Inner Fire, and how you ended up being a guide there.

I decided to go to nursing school in my late twenties. I already had my Business degree when I graduated from the University of Buffalo when I was 23. I was working a lot. I was in the corporate world. I was working for so many different companies. One of the longest companies I worked for was in the banking industry. I didn’t feel fulfilled. In my late twenties, I decided I needed to do something with my life. I want to help people. I saw working in finance would make me feel I’m helping people, but in reality, I didn’t feel like it. I didn’t feel like I was helping people. I decided I wanted to invest and become a registered nurse.

I went back to school at Erie Community College. I personally had an interaction with psychiatry when I was little. I moved to different schools and felt we needed to put more effort into psychiatry. It’s sad. When I was doing my psychiatric clinical at one of the big hospitals in the region, I was able to see what happens in the back and how they treat people, how I was taught to treat people, and how I was taught to talk to the patients. I felt it was very inhumane. It was not therapeutic. They taught me therapeutic communication. I was asking a lot of questions about that because I’m like, “What do you mean by therapeutic?”

Some people hear voices, and I had to be therapeutic. They were talking in a different way. I was questioning it a lot, and I was questioning one of the instructors. After a while, all my fellow students had already left. I was one of the last students to leave. I still wanted to know because I was there to learn. I was there to learn because I didn’t have a clear understanding yet. Maybe because I was asking too many questions, or maybe she didn’t like me, she came close to me, patted me on my shoulder, and asked me, “Ken, do you want to be in there?” “No. That’s what I saw.” She walked away from me.

When you say she asked you, “Do you want to be in there,” do you mean she was asking if you want to be a patient in the hospital?

Exactly. I felt like they were overmedicated, and they did have issues that we weren’t allowed to talk about in the open. In the facility, they didn’t have any meaningful work. They were staring at walls. There’s nothing to do in these hospitals, and food is processed food. It wasn’t therapeutic overall. That was one experience, one data point. I ran away from psychiatry. I became a registered nurse in the operating room after graduation. I passed NCLEX and became an operating room nurse. I saw I was helping and using my gift, helping people in a critical condition and stuff like that.

Somehow that didn’t fulfill me either. While doing this, I was doing a lot of crazy shifts like a lot of nurses do. They have amazing shifts, day shifts, night shifts, and overnight. Many nurses do that. I was part of the upcycle, too, as well. I was trying to make it work with caffeine, Red Bull, and many other things people use. When I started nursing school and learned about ADHD, I saw many of the symptoms because the symptoms matched my behavior. I got diagnosed with ADHD and started getting Ritalin and also Adderall too, as well as a student.

I might have started maybe around 28 years old. At that time, it did help me read because until then, I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t read. I’m reading a paragraph, and I forget where I am. I thought I was stupid. When I took Adderall and Ritalin, I was able to read straight, and I was able to retain that information. I was starting to buy into this chemical model of the human body because it’s like, “I’m getting results. This must be true to a certain extent. I’m at least getting the benefits, so I need to use this until I can get there.”

Once I became a professional and started working, I was taking Adderall extended release at that point. On top of that, I was drinking Red Bulls and all these other coffee to keep up with the shift and everything. It eventually came to a breaking point. I had a manic episode. I got terminated from my work, and I started to see many different symptoms. Also, that’s when I started to experiment with cannabis too. Cannabis was very interesting to me because it initially gave me some space to be in touch with a different part of myself, which I haven’t been in touch with my emotional side for a longest time.

OYM Ken Ijichi | Inner Fire

Inner Fire: Cannabis was very interesting because it initially gave me some space to be in touch with different parts of myself, which I haven’t been in touch with my emotional side for the longest time.

 

Somehow this thing loosened something to be able to get out of my shell or my pattern of behavior. Initially, it did help me, but eventually, I got addicted to it and started to have bipolar symptoms. I was unemployed, and a psychiatrist did an assessment on me, and she diagnosed me as bipolar. I’m like, “We have a diagnosis. How can I go back to my previous level of functioning?” I have been functioning as a registered nurse for a long time. I was being able to do everything that nurses did, and I was able to keep up, but I was very neurotic. My attention was very intense.

OYM Ken Ijichi | Inner Fire

Inner Fire: You can’t keep doing what you’re doing because you become neurotic.

 

At the same time, I couldn’t sync in with other people who weren’t in my vibration per se or my level of excitement. It was very difficult for me to adjust to people’s different thoughts and everything like that. I couldn’t read even with pills and without pills too. I sought other doctors and psychiatrists, too, but they told me like, “You have to be on a pill for the rest of your life. That’s all we can give you. I’m sorry.” The nurse practitioner was crying with me because she was a nurse, and it was a Zoom call.

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There was also another nurse who was shadowing her because she was trying to be a nurse practitioner too, as well. There was three of us, all three of us being a nurse. We were crying because we realized it could happen to any of us. That nurse can be like me. We could easily switch places. This can happen to anybody. She was crying. “I’m sorry, this is the only thing I can offer.” That was devastating. At the time, I was trying to search on the internet, but I was mainly using Google to search what other alternatives were out there. I didn’t know how the tech industry is controlled by different entities and stuff like that.

I didn’t know the information was so manipulated and convoluted. I was in a bubble. Personally, I didn’t know anything about American politics. I’m a first-generation American. My parents came from Japan. There’s a huge American influence in the Japanese medical system and everything like that. My parents were born after World War II and were indoctrinated into essentially what the US model is. My parents think I went crazy. “Ken started to do drugs. That’s the reason he became like this.” No, there were other problems before that. It was a tipping point. I couldn’t take it anymore. The drug might have triggered it, but at the same time, there were other fundamental issues I had to deal with.

It was very difficult for me. For some type of fate, my sister was working for a philosophist in New York City. She knew my situation and that I didn’t want to take medication. She was talking to whoever listened to her. One of the persons who were able to listen was the person who does philosophist in this field. She was able to get informed by this upper echelon class of people in this country that, “We know about this. This is a resource that you should give.” She passed along this information to me.

One of them was Inner Fire. I checked out the website, and at the time, I couldn’t read that much. I looked at the price. It’s like, “That’s expensive.” Reading it a little bit, I didn’t understand it. The wording, I didn’t understand. It was foreign to me, which was surprising because I graduated from nursing school. I read medical papers. I can understand. I can follow along, but when I was reading Inner Fire’s thing, I was like, “What do you mean? You’re talking about soul spirit. Why are you talking about that?” I had no idea when it comes to that because our medical paradigm, our materialistic reality we live in, our system denies the existence of stuff like that.

They don’t talk about it like that. They don’t use language like that. When I saw Beatrice’s interview, she seemed she knew something that maybe somebody else didn’t. She was talking in a very sure way based on a certain set of rules that I might not understand, but it seemed that she knew something. I was very curious, and I paid the fee. I did the three-day visit. It was a very scary proposition, too, at the time for me to even acknowledge that something like this could help. It’s a huge implication because saying that, “Rich people know how to heal people,” and you have to do something different from the medical paradigm. This is the truth. My question is, why is the truth in such a remote area? Why isn’t the truth in the system? The insurance company, why don’t you pay for it or therapy that works?

You’re talking about art therapy, speech therapy, and movement-based therapy. Why doesn’t the insurance company pay that? Even trying to entertain the idea, the insurance company and medical system are not looking out for the well-being of the patient. That’s a scary proposition. I was out of options. I was like, “I got to look at all options. I had to look at everything. I had to widen my scope.” I came to Inner Fire. I was looking at it, and they were doing differencing in nature. The language they use here among people is very warm, gentle, and nurturing.

I felt like a kid in elementary school. Nice different teachers are around. They’re not like a staff member. They’re not here to monitor us or anything like that. They’re here to guide us. It was interesting. I was looking at this as a way to collect data for me because I needed data. I think I didn’t have enough data about how everything works. One of the things I paid attention to was that we did this morning walk every morning after breakfast. Back then, we used to go and walk and go to this where there are trees because we’re in a forest and stuff like that.

We go and find our own tree, and we touch it, or we can stand in front of it. You can have a dialogue. You can touch it and have a moment with the tree. That was something we did. I remember watching American TV. They were always making fun of tree huggers and stuff like that. I’m like, “Tree hugger, we make fun of them. Therefore, it’s not real. It’s funny because it doesn’t work.” That’s what the joke is about. That’s how I was programmed to look at it. I’m like, “This place is expensive. They wouldn’t do anything without reason.” I had to get into metaphysical things, like a grounding movement.

I saw the electromagnetic field of human being gets affected by these environments in these natural environments. It blew my mind. That’s one of the things. There are so many other things about how movement-based therapy helps, how music affects our consciousness, and how our emotional body works. It’s so interesting because when I was here for a three-day visit, I was doing all this therapy with them, and I was working the garden and stuff like that, doing this and that. This part of me was starting to split because there’s this part of me that’s trained, the registered nurse from school, I graduated within the past five years, and stuff like that.

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I’m like, “I have the most up-to-date information from the system.” This part of me is saying that these don’t work. That is what I learned. I have a cultural background. I’m a Japanese American, and also I have a Buddhist background. I’m like, “My people, the Japanese people, have been doing this for ages.” Japanese monks have been doing this for ages, something similar to this. At the same time, different spiritual sects around the world are doing this isolation from society, communion with nature, getting to know yourself, and getting into your body.

Shaolin temple is the famous one. A lot of people are saying, “They want to be strong.” No. It’s a meditation for them. It’s for them to become fully in their body. If you’re fully in the body, you should be able to do this movement exactly 100 times. A lot of people can do that because it’s meditation. A lot of people get distracted by this movie and stuff like that, but that’s what many of these monks and spirituality were meant to do. This definitely works, but there was this modern part of me saying, “This doesn’t work.”

Battles started to happen. After three days, I appreciated what I saw. I wanted to stay, but financially I couldn’t stay. I said, “Thank you to Beatrice and everybody here.” I decided to dig deeper. I had unemployment, which was a blessing. I bought a van and started to travel. I wouldn’t recommend this to everybody, but it was a plan that came to me. I’m like, “I have to do this because I have to get real data from real people.” Another thing I realized is that people are in this cocoon of their comfort zone. I was in my cocoon. I need to get information that’s outside of my cocoon.

I had to go somewhere because my immediate friends and family didn’t know anything about what was happening in the medical or pharmaceutical industries. I can’t ask Beatrice because I don’t know what information I need from her. I had to do a lot of my own digging, and I had to do footwork because my mind was so gone to the point that I couldn’t use the internet and information. I didn’t know the keyword and stuff like that.

I started a van life and interacted with the homeless population because I needed to see the other side. I need to collect more data because I was told certain things that many of the data I have is coming from the misconception that was fit to me by TV shows and news stations. I was starting to think that maybe I was missing a lot of information.

How long did you live in a van?

About a year. I went to different cities and towns. I was talking to a lot of addicts. I went to a lot of drug houses and stuff like that.

What brought you back to Inner Fire after that? At this point, you had spent three days at Inner Fire, then left, bought a van, and traveled for a year. You had a lot of various experiences with all kinds of people in homeless conditions and experimenting with drugs or having their own mental challenges. How did it bring you back to Inner Fire?

I went back to Beatrice. I tried so many different things. I found other people who wanted to heal. I was trying to create a community like Inner Fire, but in a homeless community, because I was able to get them to buy into this idea of if we create something together and be nice, kind, and gentle with each other, this can lead to healing. Doing that in the city with these drugs and other temptations was impossible. I was telling about all these experiences to Beatrice, and she was able to say maybe I could be eligible for a scholarship.

I applied, and I was trying to fundraise. At this point, my parents were not going to help me. It was too much money for them. Later that day, Beatrice emailed me and said I could come back to Inner Fire. It blew my mind. Something changed. I don’t know what it was. That’s how I got back to Inner Fire. Somehow, money came, and I was able to go back. I was able to learn a lot. I was able to come back to this level of consciousness where I can talk about this at a more regular pace of consciousness. I can talk to people. I can work with people.

How long did you stay at Inner Fire?

I stayed at Inner Fire for a year and a month.

When you were there, how many people were there and how many were guides?

They called the patients Seeker here. Maybe 5 or 6 might have been the max number we had at one point. Eventually, one person left, another person left, and I finally left. Staff-wise, I’m not so sure. Maybe 11, 12, or something like that we have at one time.

As guides?

Yes, that’s the guide. The guides are the people who are mainly here holding the space. They help with activities and cooking and all these day-to-day activities. They’re not the therapist, but they’re there to hold space if we need any help. They’re the main staff members. There were additional therapists doing different therapy, special dynamics, artistic, music, or whatever. That was separate.

OYM Ken Ijichi | Inner Fire

Inner Fire: The guides are the people mainly there holding the space. They help with activities, cooking, and all these daily activities.

 

Are you now back as a guide?

Yes. I’m working on getting my license transferred to Vermont, so I can be a nurse here as well.

What would you say has been one of the more healing or beneficial aspects of your year at Inner Fire for you personally?

Many of these therapeutic modalities did help, like artistic therapy and getting in touch with my emotion. It’s having that space to feel safe, to be able to express our emotional side. At least for me, because I was a hyper-masculine macho guy, I was not in touch with my feeling and could endure any pain. That’s the kind of person I was. I couldn’t believe how much out of touch I was with my feelings. I didn’t know that was contributing to many of the symptoms and pain I had internally. Having the nurturing space of being able to talk about our emotions, especially with other male guides, was very impactful for me because I never spent an extended time period with another male who was in touch with his feeling and was able to talk about it without shame and was able to cry without shame, who was also masculine.

I had never had that human being in front of me before. When I was able to be in that presence, that had a big impact on me. I felt safe that I could do it, too, because there were other guys doing it. I saw this guy who was masculine, but at the same time, he sang beautifully. I’m like, “Maybe I can sing too. It’s okay for me too. He’s not going to make fun of me. He sees that I’m trying, and it’s okay.” I can change my behavior because somebody else is doing this other behavior that’s not so commonly found in society. It’s very important. I felt that was very impactful for me.

Another thing is being able to talk about many tough issues that a lot of people are not informed about, like being able to talk to somebody like Beatrice, who is informed about the history of psychiatric care in this country and the pharmaceutical paradigm. She personally has seen in Europe how they were able to heal people. She saw firsthand how people were able to recover and reclaim their life without medication. It’s by being in her presence, talking to her, picking her brain, and me being able to give her this emotion that not many people can take, like anger and resentment towards the industry because I’m a part of the industry. I was perpetuating this paradigm. I felt so much anger toward myself when not being able to see it and toward other people too who are still perpetuating it.

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I felt like it was very therapeutic for me to talk to and be in the presence of somebody who understands all that, but despite that, she still can do her work and still help in the way that she can, and that doesn’t comply with the current existing paradigm. That was very powerful for me. Seeing this frail older lady standing up against a huge force gave me the courage that I could do the work too. I can get there, too, because I see this person do it. I looked around, but there weren’t that many people visibly who were like that. That gave me huge courage to change.

I greatly appreciate your willingness to share your story and work at Inner Fire. If you could take a breath or two, settle in, and think, what’s something that you wanted to share with our audience that you might not have mentioned yet or something you want to go back to and highlight? As we wrap up, what would you want to leave our audience with?

We might feel that, at the time, we are trapped in a system. For a long time, I saw I could change the system from the inside. This is something new I’m working on. When it comes to changing somebody, we cannot change somebody by presenting them with different information. They have to be open to the information and be willing to have the courage to change. When it comes to this big issue, if we want to make a difference, we have to seek other people who feel the same. There are people out there who have experienced the exact same thing. I’m grateful for people like you, Dr. Hayes, who gives a platform so that the story can go out and that other people can see there are people exactly like me facing the same issue.

There is an issue. There is a problem. That is a very important thing to do. Instead of trying to convince somebody who’s not willing to be convinced, we have to find other people who are not looking at the problem but looking at the solution because we have to keep on putting energy into the solution. We can’t keep looking at the problem and trying to fix it. Even though some people think that’s the same thing, in attitude, it isn’t when it comes to how we do it. We have to pay attention to where we put our energy.

I’m very grateful to be able to put my energy into a solution that does work. I hope there are other people out there who may still be working for the system, start putting effort, put their energy into a solution, find a solution, and see what they can do to be part of the solution. They might be challenged for that. They might have to do a lot of inner work. They might have to face many changes chaining them to the system. I hope they are willing to take that leap of faith and jump off and know that it will be taken care of because we are very strong as a group.

I don’t know if you know about Mad in America as a website, but that would be a wonderful place for you to share your story if you have any inclination to write about this as well. Robert Whitaker wrote a couple of books on mental health. Mad in America is one of the books he wrote. Another one was the Anatomy of an Epidemic, all about the psychotropic meds and how much they help, where and when, and how much they create problems on top of problems. That Mad in America website is where people like you can share their stories, stay abreast of changes happening, and coordinate with other people looking for solutions the way you’re talking about it. I want to thank you so much for joining us. I look forward to hearing how that your work there progresses as a guide at Inner Fire. Say hello to Beatrice for me.

Thank you so much.

Blessings.

Blessings to you. Thank you.

Ken Ijichi is a nurse who has worked diligently in his career to help others. When he himself had a mental health challenge, he acquired lived experience of the difficulties of navigating through a system that just wants to treat symptoms with medications. He was lucky enough to get connected to Inner Fire in Vermont, and through his work at Inner Fire, his own personal work, he has decided to stay on and become a guide for others. Ken will tell us a little bit about his personal story and how he feels the work at Inner Fire is unique and exceptionally effective.

 

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About Ken Ijichi

OYM Ken Ijichi | Inner FireKen is a nurse with “Lived Experience” with mental health challenges. He has spent a year at Inner Fire in Vermont as a “Seeker”, and now works there as a “Guide”.

 

 

 

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