Sunday, April 12, 2015

I Want To Feel Better – But Without Changing

One of my AA resources is a weekly post from Michael Z.  This last week he said this: “Before recovery, I did a lot of things to feel better. I moved, changed jobs, girlfriends, cars… took up yoga, joined a gym – the list is endless. While these things worked briefly, inevitably I would be left feeling that giant hole inside me….
“When I entered recovery, I had the same initial relief as when I had tried other new ways to distract myself. After a while though, it, too, began to wear off…. I met with my sponsor, and he told me I was feeling this way because I was resisting and refusing to change. ‘But I’m sober!’ I told him. Yeah, but you’re still trying to do things your way. Until you surrender and really work the steps, you’ll just be the same old you – only you’ll be miserable and sober this time.” [Wisdom of The Rooms,]
One of the principle tenets of A course in Miracles (ACIM) is it is a course in mind training. That doesn’t mean it’s brainwashing. It means that I am an already-loved eternal spirit that exists as a part of the Mind of God. It means I have tremendous power to create what I think. Our physical bodies are the result of our egoic thoughts that the physical is truly real. As long as I harbor thoughts based on my belief in my separateness and specialness, I will create and perceive a “reality” that supports those thoughts. With the help of the Holy Spirit, if I train my mind to think in different ways, I will perceive my universe – and myself – differently. I will perceive through the eyes of my True Self.
I have all these thoughts and all these thoughts about my thoughts. My ACIM mind training is not to shut off all these thoughts. It is training simply to not pay attention to them. It is training to listen for God’s whispers. All my egoic thoughts (or mind chatter) are always loud and clear. My spiritual whispers are just that – whispers. Listening for these whispers takes training.
When I was a young parent with small children I could be listening to a football game on the radio while my wife would be talking to me. At the same time I might be making some notes for a potential sermon. However, I could discern a cry from one of the children – and tell if is was a temper-tantrum cry, an I’m hurt cry, an I’m bored cry, or a hungry cry. Clearly a hurting cry needed immediate attention. The others could wait for a while. How did I learn that? I have no idea, but I did. So did you. It’s the same in terms of listening for whispers.
But, it all takes work, and I work at it. It doesn’t come easily. I do resist doing it sometimes because I know it will negate all these thoughts I really want to pay attention to. I really do want to harbor my anger or self-pity, because they are comfortable and familiar feelings, and they make me feel special.
So I work at focusing on the whispers. I do this by working the daily lessons in the Workbook For Students. I try to work at training my mind the way I worked AA’s suggested program of recovery – primarily the twelve steps. I changed when I did that. I wasn’t always aware of the changes, but it was happening.
When I was maybe 9-months sober, I hired a senior programmer analyst to head up several projects under my purview. I had worked with him before on another contract while I was still drinking. So, here we are several years later – but he is working for me not with me. After resolving a problem with one of his clients, he asked if we could go to lunch together  - he had something he wanted to discuss. Since we both brown-bagged, we found a quiet, sunny spot on Washington’s Mall, in view of the nation’s capital.
He remembered working with me and how aloof and distant I was. He told me that today he was seeing a totally different person inside my same old body. How did that happen? I told him of my association with AA and my working hard to maintain my sobriety. But the feedback I got from him was invaluable. I had changed! And it was noticeable. Although I was not really aware of it, he noticed that I was a new person. What a great afternoon that was!
Although these messages are mostly for me, thanks for listening. As always – feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.
#2 April 2015
Copyright 2015

PS: There will be no message next week.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Personal Liberty and Freedom Are Two Different Things

I have discussed many times how my recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous has been predicated on my ability to see a little of myself in virtually everyone’s story. It is this sense of identity and connectedness that allows me to know I’m accepted in these rooms. Also, it is critically necessary for me to be in this frame of mind for me to hear my Higher Power speak to me through their vocal chords. It is some form of spiritual unity or oneness that is “just there.” I can’t explain it in much more depth because it is a reality that I sense and know – yet is beyond rational or intellectual verbiage.
Much the same can be said for my participation in A Course In Miracles (ACIM). Here, however, I am hearing words from the Text, the Workbook for Students or from the Manual for Teachers that discusses the reality of what I’ve experienced in my 27 years of recovery in AA. If I change my mind about how I perceive things or, over time, my outlook changes, then my universe changes. I cannot explain it, but it happens. I cannot trick it into happening, because my thoughts of perceiving differently must be genuine. Nonetheless, it happens. I know it. I have experienced it. ACIM states this spiritual change of perception is the miracle of Love.
However, there is a subtle temptation to manipulate this reality. Understanding how AA works and being able to conjure up empathy when listening to someone in a meeting might provide a short-term sense of relief – but it will not provide a lasting recovery. In ACIM, to study enough to acquire a cerebral understanding of the principle tenets of the book will not provide an experiential “knowing” of the reality of changed perception. In short, just “knowing” the programs doesn’t seem to do very much. It’s all about working the programs. In AA it’s working the steps with a sponsor; in ACIM it’s working the daily lessons in the Workbook for Students.
Without my individual work these programs don’t do very much. As mentioned, they may provide some fleeting relief but not long-term peace and serenity.
This same distinction may be applicable to some of the political rancor infecting our country today. There is a very vital movement to re-establish a sense of personal liberty. The clarion calls of this movement are captured in catch-phrases such as: Return to the Constitution; Get the government off my back; Re-establish a smaller government – let private business do the job; Get rid of business regulations; Don’t take my guns away; Get our government back to reflecting our core (usually fundamentalist Christian) values; The tree of liberty is watered with blood; Reducing taxes will solve most of our problems; and so forth.
I have talked with folks espousing this rhetoric. They are very vocal, fearful, angry, and energized, to say the least. But quite often they are confusing a sense of personal liberty with the constitutional idea of democratic freedom. Personal liberty, for them, is a kind of benevolent anarchy. They will be responsible for themselves, thank you very much, and will offer help to those who need it. However, if the “needy” are racially, culturally, religiously, or sexually different – then perhaps no assistance will be forthcoming. They reserve the right to help who they want when they want. That is their right. That is what their personal liberty means. There is not much in the way of an apparent recognition of social oneness.
Personal liberty was important as our country expanded westward and individuals had to rely on themselves and a few neighbors, perhaps, to deal with calamity, outlaws, disease, natural disasters, etc. They were self-reliant because they had to be. But we no longer live in that world – nor can we return to it – the world of pony express and stagecoaches to take and deliver goods and mail, no medical services to speak of, no public safety, no structured educational process.
The constitutional idea of democratic freedom is based on my commitment to voluntarily relinquish some of my personal freedom in this or that area of my life in order to preserve my oneness in the social structure as a whole. I relinquish my personal freedom as I vote and abide by the will of the majority and then work to make that will work. The bumper sticker wisdom – Freedom Isn’t Free – is true and not just because of the military. It isn’t free because I work to give up my right in many areas in order for my society to thrive. If it thrives, I can thrive. If it doesn’t, I can’t.
I am not an island unto myself. I am just a small thread in the fabric of society. My work is to dedicate myself to improve the whole social structure. Much of that work requires me to subjugate myself to the health of the whole.
Personal liberty is not to become my own little island. My freedom comes when my society grows and thrives. I work to make that happen, just as I work to make AA and ACIM a reality.
Although these messages are mostly for me, thanks for listening. As always – feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.
#1 April 2015

Copyright 2015

Friday, March 27, 2015

My Memory Is Not My Friend

As you have heard me discuss lately, this last 4 weeks of our winter has been hard for me – physically, financially, and emotionally. As is my habit, I immediately rely on learned behavior to deal with non-working blower motors on our heating/cooling system, with non-responsive repair people or manufacturers, with warranty companies and their excessive “fine print” that explains why my situation is not covered. Most of the time things work out. Some times they don’t.
In any case I find myself forgetting to simply deal with what is in front of me – the NOW that’s facing me. It may not make much of a difference in the final outcome, but it leaves my focus on the existing situation rather than on  (1) the situation itself, (2) the surfacing emotions – frustrations, angers, irritabilities – from a remembered similar situation, (3) my response to reliving those surfacing emotions, and (4) trying to “fix” those remembered past situations through my attempts to deal with the present crisis. Trying to deal with all 4 of these issues is much more unmanageable than simply dealing with #1.
One of my earliest learning experiences when beginning my study of A Course in Miracles (ACIM) was to comprehend that I can no longer use my past experiences to guide me. I really understood that to use my past experience is simply to relive that past all over again. If it was a good experience, well, that’s nice. If it was a horrible experience, then I’m reliving and “re-enjoying” that awfulness once more. But, in either case, I’m not living NOW. I’m shutting the door on the possibility that the Holy Spirit can use me in this situation to allow my love to help transform the encounter. He can’t use me because I’m no longer there. I’m too busy reliving the event that exists in my head.  I will continue to shut Him out because my belief is that my memory is replaying more of a reality than the true reality that is staring me in the face.
But the reality I think I’m replaying is not accurate. It is a selective, edited, supportive rendition of the past I created to support the image I have of myself.  I have a story I tell myself to explain myself to me. It’s my ego. It has created this magical movie that has cast me as the “unsung” hero of the story.
A while ago I asked you to test this out. The next time you get together with family or old high school buddies, recall a common incident and your recollection of it – what was important, what you learned, what stands out for you. You will hear some tell you they have no memory of that at all. Others will tell you different interpretations of that same event. Quite a few of you responded over the next month to verify that experience indeed happened to you.
In a novel I’m currently reading – “O” Is For Outlaw by Sue Grafton, Henry Holt, 1999 – the heroine states: “... I was ready to go through the box of memorabilia, though I half dreaded what I would find. So much of the past is encapsulated in the odds and ends. Most of us discard more information about ourselves than we ever care to preserve. Our recollection of the past is not simply distorted by our faulty perception of events remembered but skewed by those forgotten. The memory is like orbiting twin stars, one visible, one dark, the trajectory of what‘s evident forever affected by the gravity of what’s concealed.” [pp. 24-25]
I love the way Grafton compared memory to twin stars – visible and dark. It is a wonderful depiction of how my memory seems to work.
Long before I was aware of ACIM, I was dealing with my sponsor in AA over issues of respecting my past but moving on beyond it. My superior at work had been out of town on an extended work duty, and I had been having issues with my boss’s boss about how I was handling a difficult government client. This client was the Inspector General of a cabinet-level federal agency. One day I returned to my office after visiting another agency. My secretary rushed in with an urgent message from my boss’s boss to contact him immediately. My initial thought was very fearful. Had this difficult client called him with a complaint about me? Was I about to be fired? Demoted? Then I remembered what my sponsor had told me about dealing with my past. He had said that many times he had feared punishment from superiors only to discover he was really reliving difficult times he had had with his father.
So, I breathed in a long breath and told myself, “You are not being called to the principal’s office, nor are you being confronted by your angry father. Just call and go see your Senior Vice President.” I did just that and heard him tell me he had just visited this difficult client and had been reamed out. The client had told him – in effect – to mind his own business. The client stated he had some issues with me, but we had developed an honest and positive working relationship and, most importantly, he trusted me.
I had stopped letting the emotions of other bad experiences color the present. I simply dealt with what was in front of me.
Now, when I find myself with my perceived ineffective contractors, the only way I can correct this is to state: "I am <angry, worried, disappointed, etc.> at/because <name, situation> but I am only reacting to a world whose meaning I created from a selective memory of my past. I am determined to really see! I am neither the victim nor the victor. I do not know what anything, including this situation, means, so I do not know how to respond to it. And I will not use my own past learning as the light to guide me.” So, I ask – “I really no longer want this; Help me to see another way of looking at this situation."
Then I still my mind and listen for the message of my Spirit Guide!
Although these messages are mostly for me, thanks for listening. As always – feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.
#5 March 2015
Copyright 2015

Saturday, March 21, 2015

My Body Is Not My Self

This has been a rough week for my little body. The weather in East Tennessee has been less than wonderful – cloudy, rainy, chilly, overcast. It’s a great time to catch up on pre-spring in-house honey-dos as well as outdoor yard and garden chores. So that’s what I was doing most of the week.  On Tuesday, while re-grouting some tile, I rolled on my side and heard one of my floating ribs crack and pop. It still hurts, but there’s no bruising or discoloration – so I know nothing is cracked or broken and no cartilage has been torn. It is just painful.
On Wednesday, I cleaned our wooden deck from accumulated mildew. The deck is in the shade virtually all winter. The mildew is as predictable as daffodils in the early spring. I use a hand brush and a bowl of ammonia or bleach (Clorox) water. It was very stubborn this year, so I decided to mix a little Clorox with the mostly ammonia water. I know that a Clorox/ammonia mixture will give off chlorine gas and is very dangerous in small, enclosed places – like showers and bathrooms. But I was outdoors, there was a light breeze and the deck is about 5 feet off the ground – chlorine gas is very heavy and sinks. It worked on the mildew like a champ – but the chlorine gas also worked on me – snorting, coughing, and making the skin on my hands become very sensitive. So much for being so very smart!
So, here I am – a sore rib and still dealing with the residue of chlorine gas inhalation.  After 48 hours my hands still smelled like a public swimming pool. But I’ve learned that it is difficult to think of my Self without my body. Afterall, I am not my body nor am I what I generally think. I am an already-loved eternal spirit that is a part of the Mind of God. That’s hard to keep in mind when my body is hurting and keeps itself front and center.
In ACIM’s Workbook for Students, the explanation for the body is clearly spelled out in Lesson 72, “Holding grievances is an attack on God’s plan for salvation.” As you read this please remember that “grievances” are having upsets, frustrations, being angry, condemning, having judgments/opinions, relishing self-pity, having expectations, trying to be in control, fighting to be right. In short, having a grievance is being angry at the reality I seem to see because it does not support my desire for separation and specialness.
From the initial paragraphs of Lesson 72 (bolding is my emphasis):
1 While we have recognized that the ego's plan for salvation is the opposite of God's, we have not yet emphasized that it is an active attack on His plan, and a deliberate attempt to destroy it. In the attack, God is assigned the attributes, which are actually associated with the ego, while the ego appears to take on the attributes of God.
2 The ego's fundamental wish is to replace God. In fact, the ego is the physical embodiment of that wish. For it is that wish that seems to surround the mind with a body, keeping it separate and alone, and unable to reach other minds except through the body that was made to imprison it. The limit on communication cannot be the best means to expand communication. Yet the ego would have you believe that it is.
3 Although the attempt to keep the limitations that a body would impose is obvious here, it is perhaps not so apparent why holding grievances is an attack on God's plan for salvation. But let us consider the kinds of things you are apt to hold grievances for. Are they not always associated with something a body does? A person says something you do not like. He does something that displeases you. He "betrays" his hostile thoughts in his behavior.
4 You are not dealing here with what the person is. On the contrary, you are exclusively concerned with what he does in a body. You are doing more than failing to help in freeing him from the body's limitations. You are actively trying to hold him to it by confusing it with him, and judging them as one. Herein is God attacked, for if His Son is only a body, so must He be as well. A creator wholly unlike his creation is inconceivable.
5 If God is a body, what must His plan for salvation be? What could it be but death? In trying to present Himself as the Author of life and not of death, He is a liar and a deceiver, full of false promises and offering illusions in place of truth. The body's apparent reality makes this view of God quite convincing. In fact, if the body were real, it would be difficult indeed to escape this conclusion. And every grievance that you hold insists that the body is real. It overlooks entirely what your brother is. It reinforces your belief that he is a body, and condemns him for it. And it asserts that his salvation must be death, projecting this attack onto God, and holding Him responsible for it….
7 This is the universal belief of the world you see. Some hate the body and try to hurt and humiliate it. Others love the body and try to glorify and exalt it. But while the body stands at the center of your concept of yourself, you are attacking God’s plan for salvation and holding your grievances against Him and His creation, that you may not hear the Voice of truth and welcome It as Friend….
9 The light of truth is in us, where it was placed by God. It is the body that is outside us and is not our concern. To be without a body is to be in our natural state. To recognize the light of truth in us is to recognize ourselves as we are…..
Although these messages are mostly for me, thanks for listening. As always – feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.
#4 March 2015

Copyright 2015

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Twigs And Thoughts: What A Life!

East Tennessee is still recovering and cleaning up after a horrendous two weeks of snow, ice, rain, more ice and high winds. I have cleaned up most of the downed tree limbs (only one entire tree, fortunately) and general mess on our property. Most limbs were about 15 to 20 feet long and about the size of my thigh where they broke off from the trunk.
First I dragged and pulled the stuff together in four area of our yard. Then I waited until more rain had come and gone. Then I was able to use my chain saw to cut the smaller limbs off and saw up the bigger stuff into fireplace-sized pieces. After stacking this up, I was left with all the twisted, interconnected, and intertwined smaller branches. Those have been awful to remove and grind up in my chipper. I’ll grab a branch and a pencil-lead-sized twig at the end of a 40-lb, branch will get entwined with anther similar twig from another set of branches. Those two little twigs will hang on to each other until I am trying to pull 150 lbs. of limbs while balancing on one foot and holding onto my chain saw and my nippers.
It’s amazing how resilient these cute, little twigs can be.
Once I just stopped and screamed. Once I simply laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of the whole situation. Most of the time I’d just smile as I took my nippers to one of these twigs, saying quietly, “Take that, you little shit.”
But these intertwined and interconnected limbs reminded me of my thought process. One thought gets introduced to another, which is tied to a third, and the next thing I know my mind is off in places so far removed from the task at hand, it’s amazing. “How did I end up thinking about this?” I’d wonder. I had started off thinking about the limbs, then moved on to politicians and their shifting political gamesmanship, and ended up standing there angry about biblical literalists as well as Islamic fundamentalists. How did that happen?
I realized that my thoughts were being driven by my emotions. One “frustration” emotion-thought will lead to another and then to a “resentful” emotion-thought, which will lead to another and on to an “exasperated” emotion and its related memories and thoughts. It reminded me of that adage, “Whenever you mentally take a trip down memory lane you’ll find yourself in dangerous territory.”
But – and this is the important observation I made – this is the ego mind I use to navigate my self through life! No wonder I can get myself into such a tizzy – especially over the little things – like twigs, not downed limbs. I’ve heard in AA meetings: It’s not the bears that will chase you out of the woods. It’s the mosquitoes.
From A Course In Miracles, Workbook for Students, Lesson 71.2,3: “The ego’s plan for salvation [finding happiness, being at peace, being centered, being fulfilled] centers around holding grievances [having upsets, frustrations, being angry, condemning, having judgments/opinions, relishing self-pity, having expectations, trying to be in control, fighting to be right]. It maintains that, if someone else spoke or acted differently, if some external circumstance or event were changed, you would be saved. Thus, the source of salvation is constantly perceived as outside yourself. Each grievance you hold is a declaration, an assertion in which you believe, that says, ‘If this were different, I would be saved.’ The change of mind necessary for salvation is thus demanded of everyone and everything except yourself.
“The role assigned to your own mind in this plan, then, is simply to determine what, other than itself, must change if you are to be saved [finding happiness, being at peace, being centered, being fulfilled]….This fruitless search will continue, for the illusion persists that, although this hope has failed before, there is still grounds for hope in other places and in other things. Another person [including an out-there-somewhere God] will yet serve better; another situation will yet offer success.”
How can I escape this? Let God’s plan for my salvation go to work for me. What is His plan for me? To be happy. To be joyous, To be free. To be forgiving. To allow my defects, guilt and fear to be removed so the light within me (which has always been there) can shine. The Holy Spirit will then use me to become the Light of the world.
How do I turn my life over? By being still. By training my mind to quiet itself and to learn to listen – not to the raucous voices of my twig-like ego – but to the whispers of the Holy Spirit. By asking God to reveal His plan for me – asking what He would have me do, where He would have me go, and what He would have me say and to whom. And then simply listen for His whispers. [Lesson 71.9]
Although these messages are mostly for me, thanks for listening. As always – feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.
#3 March 2015

Copyright 2015