Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday Is My New Beginning

On April 17, 1987 I had my last drink. In 1987 April 17 was also Good Friday. This is a very symbolic day for me – my AA birthday; the beginning of the death of my ego; and Good Friday, the beginning of the Easter weekend. Rarely, however, since Easter is a floating date, does April 17 actually fall on Good Friday. This year is very, very close.
I am so very grateful to the God of my understanding who touched me with His answer to the prayer I prayed in abject desperation looking at my kitchen counter and Who provided me with the most addiction-knowledgeable physician in the Kaiser Permanente HMO. As I went to my first AA meeting, I experienced in that Fellowship His Love and Acceptance in a visceral way I had never known before. It began the transformation of my life that continues to this day.
In Chapter 9 of my book I discuss how difficult it is to verbalize spiritual transformation. As I tell my story in that chapter [How the Bible became the Bible, Infinity Publishing, 2007, (pp. 175ff)], I wrote of my Easter weekend in 1987: “…That weekend my attending physician told me that had she seen my blood workup without seeing me, she would have assumed I had recently arrived from Biafra, Bangladesh, or some other ravaged Third World country. ‘I cannot recall seeing potassium levels this low. Have you had a problem with muscle cramps—especially in your legs?’
“Involuntarily, I winced remembering what I could of the last six months. Three or four nights a week I would be forced awake by pain. I would down a jigger of vodka and in a cold sweat I would beat furiously on my calf muscle. But no matter what I did, I would watch it grow to the size of a softball while my foot twisted and contorted until it looked like a preserved bird’s claw. Lordy! Did that hurt!
“‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘I’ve had some problems with muscle cramps.’
 “… I still relish, most mornings, the simple fact of waking up, rather than coming to. I still feel overjoyed sipping my first cup of coffee and remembering last night’s conversation, rather than staring into a black void in my memory, forcing down some coffee laced with vodka, and hoping I wouldn’t gag.
“It’s hell to be dead inside and thinking all the while, ‘This is life!’ It’s hell trying to time your drunk so that you can just make it to bed before you pass out or fall over comatose on the couch embarrassing your daughter and her friends. It’s hell to dread answering the phone because it’ll be another bill collector. Or to let mail stack up, unopened, for weeks because it’s bills you can’t pay, or ‘deadbeat’ letters, or some other form of bad news.
“Bad news. ... Bad news. ... For me, plain and simple, that’s what reality had become—bad news. So I drank my vodka to avoid it, and I avoided it well. I avoided people. I avoided my children. I avoided bad news. I avoided all news. I avoided life. I avoided reality. I avoided everything except my vodka.”
I am a miracle. As of this writing, I haven’t had a drink in 27 years! My visceral sense of who I really am – an already-loved eternal spirit currently having a human experience – is still growing and maturing. My ego still reminds me, though, that it’s here, and when I succumb and follow its dictates, I get a form of the sinking self-loathing that I felt each morning while I was drinking. Sometimes I say to myself: “When will this horrible feeling ever leave me?” Then I remember that these feelings cause me to recall what it was like before sobriety and the sense of the Spiritual that AA promised would happen – IF I worked the Steps thoroughly and with genuine honesty. I believe what AA promises as a sense of the Spiritual and what A Course in Miracles (ACIM) discusses as a growing sense of Holy Encounter or Holy Instant are descriptions of the same transformative occurrence.
Today, I am so very grateful to the God of my understanding for always being there for me, for loving me and speaking to me through the acceptance and vocal chords of those in the Fellowship, as well as those that respond to these weekly messages.
So, I’m sending this message to you on this Good Friday rather than on Saturday evening or on Sunday, as I normally do.
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.
Don
#3 April, 2014

Copyright, 2014

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Living With Attachments To My Expected Outcomes

A friend of a friend asked me the following last week: “Do you think Nirvana a place or a split second in time when clarity appears, leading to freedom to explore without constraint?”
I answered with: “I don't know that much about Hindu/Buddhist concepts of Nirvana, but I do not think it is a place. However, what I do think I know about Nirvana is that it may be very similar to A Course in Miracles (ACIM) concept of "Holy Instant." These are those special times when 2 (or more) people suddenly have a glimpse of each other that defies time and our individual perceptions. We truly "see" each other as already-loved eternal spirits. We "sense" our Oneness. We experience the "Christ" in each other. Time and differences simply disappear. According to ACIM, these occurrences or Holy Instants cannot be conjured up at will but happen at the behest of the Holy Spirit, who is responsible for altering our perception - from egoic to "real." If we could maintain this kind of awareness all the time, we would be just like Jesus the Christ.”
In short, a Holy Instant, according to ACIM, is not a once-and-done kind of thing. It is an on-going and growing sense of what reality truly is: Love, Acceptance, Oneness.
This friend of a friend then responded (and I use this with his permission) with a message about his personal spiritual journey ending with this quote from the Dalai Lama – well worth repeating here:
"This, then, is my true religion, my simple faith. In this sense, there is no need for Temple or Church; for Mosque or Synagogue; no need for complicated philosophy, doctrine, or dogma.
Our open heart, our own mind, is the Temple. The doctrine is Compassion.
Love for others and respect for their rights and dignity, no matter who or what they are; ultimately these are all we need.
So long as we practice these in our daily lives, then no matter if we are learned or unlearned, whether we believe in Buddha or God, or follow some other Religion or none at all, as long as we have Compassion for others and conduct ourselves with restraint, out of a sense of responsibility, there is no doubt we will be happy."  – His Holiness, The 14th Dalai Lama.
This quote is beautiful, concise, well-written and I couldn’t agree with it more. However, when it’s presented like this I find myself very vulnerable to falling into a trap – albeit a very sophisticated and subtle trap created by my ego. It has to do with my egoic mind and its perceptions and attachments.
Ahh! Yes. My good, old attachments to expected outcomes.
“…Compassion for others and conducting myself with restraint out of a sense of responsibility…” Boy! Can my ego get ahold of this! I have found myself cloaking my “compassion for others” as well as my “restraint out of a sense of responsibility” with a sense of martyrdom or altruism or other-centeredness. This lasts a while until my hopes are dashed and I am tired, frustrated, drained and angry. Why? Because lurking behind these noble intentions of mine are my pervasive sense of guilt (Isn’t this what I’m supposed to do?) and my implicit attachments to outcomes.
Sometimes these expectations or attachments are as simple as imagining God saying to me, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” or “I went out of my way to help, and look at what it got me. Nothing! I guess it’s true: No good deed goes unpunished.” or “These recipients of my altruism were supposed to be grateful and acknowledge my contribution. They never even noticed.” or “I did what I thought was right for them, and look at where it got me.” or “I just don’t understand why they don’t see the truth of what I’m trying to do for them. I can see their alcoholism, or addiction or codependence, and what I do has worked for me. Don’t they understand if they’d only start […fill in the blank …] their lives would become better – like mine has?”
All this stems from my egoic thinking. When I’m analytical, my ego uses my all-pervasive guilt to turn the Dalai Lama’s statements into a “task” for me to accomplish, not a lifestyle of happiness and gratitude to be expressed. That’s a pattern I have been fighting for a long time and probably will fight for years to come.
I’ve commented in these messages before how I spent years trying to “Shine my light.” Then I learned from a friend in ACIM that I should be trying to eliminate the dark curtains I’d drawn over my Self that prevented the light already within me from being seen. That’s a huge difference – trying to shine my light rather than allowing my light to shine.
The Dalai Lama’s message describes what it’s like to allow my light to shine. But, almost instinctively, I want to turn it into a goal I need to achieve. If I’m not vigilant, my ego will use my guilt to entrap me into operating out of a sense of martyrdom, altruism or other-centeredness. My attachments to outcomes, associated with these “goals,” always damn me.
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.
Don
#2 April, 2014
Copyright, 2014

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Living With Fear

A reader asked me the following: “You keep referring to Fear as our basic negative emotion. I have always thought that anger, resentment, guilt, and self-preservation were the primary emotions we had to fight. Will you please comment?”
Another good question. Thank you.
In Alcoholics Anonymous I learned that fear stood for Future Events Appearing Real. That’s always been a good definition for me. In A Course In Miracles (ACIM) I also learned that all my future apprehension and dread came from reliving my selective memory of perceived past events. I was just bring my remembered past into the present and treating it as an absolute fact that colored my present – my Now. I also have learned that fear underlies all my negative emotions.
Michael Z. [http://www.thewisdomoftherooms.com] commented on his experience dealing with his emotions without the anesthetic effect of alcohol. “… Chief among these [emotions] were my feelings of dread and fear, which manifested themselves first as anger, and then as rage. It wasn’t until I completed my fear inventory that I began to understand that the reason I was so angry was because I was so full of fear.”
From Robert Perry, [Glossary of Terms from A Course In Miracles, Circle Publishing, 2005, pp. 32-3] writing about Fear: “[Fear is] The experience of being attacked. [It is} the single emotion of the ego, the emotion of separation. Fear is a recoil into separation, away from a perceived source of danger…. Rather than being the initial cause of other emotions, fear is the end result of a chain of emotions and contains implicit within it all the emotions of the chain: First, we feel anger, which is expressed in attack. Then we feel guilt, for we interpret our attack as [self-centered preservation – and, if really religious, will call this “sin”]. Then we fear the punishment and death our guilt says we deserve. Out of our fear, we attack in [perceived] self-defense, and the chain starts over. Fear is the ego’s goal and its essence. The ego must cause fear to perpetuate itself….”
Behind every negative emotion lies FEAR!
Whether it’s anger, resentment, disappointment, not-getting-my-share, guilt, rationalization, vulnerability, worry, or apprehension, behind each of these feelings is FEAR. If I could impress upon each of us one exercise that could begin to liberate us, I would suggest we train ourselves (through repetition} to say to ourselves: “Behind this emotion is FEAR. Instead of attacking or blaming someone or something “out there” for “making me feel this way,” I will ask myself: ‘What am I fearful of? What’s really going on? Why am I frightened?”
Trying to teach myself this, with the help of friends in AA and ACIM, is where I am right now – and have been for a year or so. Sometimes it’s difficult to focus my mind on what’s truly happening within me. I want to blame. I want to rationalize my feelings of [whatever] as being fully justified. I want to convince myself – and God? – that it’s normal and understandable to feel this way.
But it isn’t normal and understandable to feel this way. Fear is our perception in our self-created “dream” world. Love and Acceptance and a knowing of Oneness is the only true reality. So, acceptance-love-oneness is the opposite of fear – and, of course, the death of the ego.
When operating from my ego, I am always on the alert. I am watching for – and expecting – an attack from “out there.” To relax and go with the flow means I’m allowing myself to be very vulnerable and I will be taken advantage of. Others are also wary of me, fearful that I will take something from them or take more than my share and they will suffer. Because I believe they’re wary, I must be wary. I must always keep my defenses up and be prepared to strike when their defenses are down. It’s a constant mental/emotional boxing match. One small slip-up and – BAM! – I’ve been had. They won. I lost.
That style of living is really, really, tiring. It’s exhausting. To live from my egoic mind, which I thought was normal, forces me to live in a constant state of fight-or-flight. My body and my hormones are running constantly at full-speed. I am in a continual state of stress – and my physical health will reflect that. Living like this is abnormal!
Toward the end of my drinking, I had to have alcohol in my system 24 hours a day in order to feel normal. Every 4 hours or so, day or night, without a drink would bring on cramps, sweats, and shaking. It was withdrawal, although I didn’t know that at the time. All the while it never dawned on me that to live like that was very, very abnormal. When I was truly sick and tired of being sick and tired, I finally gave up – saying to my kitchen counter, “I can’t go on like this. I can’t do this anymore.” That very honest confession over 25 years ago was the beginning of my journey to sobriety, health, and my current spiritual development.  
You don’t have to be an alcoholic to be “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” If I am tired of living the way I’ve been living, the only change I need to make is to be willing to allow the Holy spirit to move me from a perception of lack, worry, anger, resentment and that fundamental, onerous belief that I always must be prepared to ward off the dangers of the dog-eat-dog world I believe we live in. If I am willing, the Holy Spirit will gently move me to a perception of Love/Acceptance/Oneness which will bring me the peace the Christ promised: “Peace is my parting gift to you, my own peace, such as the world [of ego] cannot give. Set your troubled hearts at rest, and banish your fears….” (John, 14: 27) This has happened to me. It can happen for you, too.
That’s what I want. That’s why I look for the fear that lies behind the faces of all my varying negative emotions. And my fear is always there.
I hope this helps.
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.
Don
#1 April, 2014

Copyright, 2014

Saturday, March 29, 2014

It’s Always An Inside Job

This has not been a good week, so this will be a short message.
Coming home from the chiropractor this afternoon, this little ditty played in my mind:
Sciatica’s acting up.
Vet had to see the pup.
Computer’s on the fritz.
Spirituality’s hit a glitch.
Ah, well – what the hell –
 Problem’s have been kept at bay, but
There’ll be no enlightened message today.
There is a passage in AA’s Big Book that states that the quality of one’s serenity is directly proportional to one’s spiritual state. If my spiritual state is strong, my serenity is stable. If the quality of my serenity is in the toilet, so is my spiritual state.
The “quality” of my world is dependent on how I look at it. So, it’s always an inside job. If my anger, frustration, competing needs, and resentment all conspire to upset my serenity, I need to focus only on me and my spirituality. No longer can I bitch, whine, groan and moan: “Why is the world ganging up on me? What have I done to deserve this?”
Sometimes, like this week, I just hate the reality of that Big Book truism. I might as well, while I’m at it, hate the force of gravity. But that’s not going to do me much good, either.
It’s always an inside job.
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.
Don
#5 March, 2014
Copyright, 2014


Saturday, March 22, 2014

My Name is Mr. Duality

[From Michael Z. [http://www.thewisdomoftherooms.com] “Last week my business website was hacked, my site was taken down, and my account was suspended. For hours, while I lost revenue and customers, I pleaded, begged and threatened my hosting company's technical support…. After it was all over, I was a wreck. Later that evening I wondered why I hadn't brought God into it and why I hadn't worked my program.
“What I realized is that fear is still the chief activator of my character defects, and prime among them is fear of losing something I have or of not getting what I demand…. Thankfully everything was resolved in a few hours, but for a while I was alone and spiritually vulnerable.
 “As I reflect back on the experience, I'm amazed by how quickly I can abandon my program when I'm in fear [or anger]…. I know that alcoholism is cunning, baffling and powerful, and I'm constantly reminded that I must remain vigilant. Because even after all my time in recovery, there are some days when I say, ‘What program?’ ‘God who?’"
His message reminded me of the power of Fear. We all get fearful, and we’re seeing a lot of it now, mostly focused on politics. Both political parties use fear, usually to make a point or to exaggerate their strengths or their opponent’s apparent weakness. But the rancor of its use by the extreme conservative wing of the GOP (which the moderate Republicans refuse to tamp down) is particularly despicable – it’s purposeful, intentional, fear designed to scare older folks, fundamental Christians, and especially white men. I remember the ridiculous hysteria a year or so ago: “Don’t ratify the international treaty (based on U.S. law) that benefits the handicapped, because U.N. troops will ‘invade’ our classrooms.” U.S. senators even picked up this argument and defeated the motion to ratify. It was utterly amazing to witness how fearful senators were of their perceived ultra-conservative voter base.
The corollary to fear is anger. The two go hand-in-glove. There are many private ads now airing that are simply promoting fear and anger just for the sake of maintaining a level of fear and anger in their targeted populace.
For example, these ads use false claims and paid actors to discredit the Affordable Care Act – not that it’s perfect as it is – but all these ad-funders do is try to scare the crap out of me, make me so angry over it ‘til I’m ready to explode, and then I say to myself: “Well, what is their alternative?” I hear nothing about that. If the ad-funders don’t like ObamaCare and want it to go away – what are they proposing instead? “Pardon me, I’m listening but I haven’t yet heard your reply.”
The use of fear and anger as a motivator for political purposes is – well awful. No wonder discontent, frustration, trust in state and federal elected officials, as well as trust in business executives, has gone into the toilet.
A subscriber and friend pointed me to a book by Michael Kimmel, professor of sociology and gender studies at Stony Brook University of New York.  His book: Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era (Nation Books, Perseus Books Group, 2012). Men are terribly frightened (Kimmel calls it rage) and frustrated watching all their time-honored entitlements begin to crumble. For centuries white men have had an entire world that has been skewed to their favor. Consequently, they want to fight all entitlements to anyone but themselves – black, brown, red and Asian minorities, women, LGBT and immigrants.  In their minds, any entitlement to another means less entitlement to them. Fear, lack, anger, frustration, resentment. I hate to mention this, but, as far as I know, these are not typical family values – until recently.
As a white male, I understand all that. However, this message is not really focused on white males. What I’m referencing is the wealthy intelligent people (and their snappy PR agencies) that are purposefully fanning the flames of that fear and anger for no other purpose than to advance their political agenda. They want to keep these men scared and angry so they’ll vote for conservatives and, thus, promote a political agenda designed to wed federal and state governments with the business community. Although they will preach free enterprise, they really want nothing of the sort. They want to be the driving force of government in order to have the power to expand their empires with the full, faith, credit and power of the government behind them. But, you say, “I didn’t think business likes government interference.” They don’t like government interference unless it favors them. They want interference if it cripples their competition or provides multitudes of corporate entitlements in the form of tax advantages, government subsidies or contracts, or limited corporate liability.
So I have to ask myself, “Donnie, how are you dealing with fear?”  I try to deal with it with honesty, fairness, and integrity. If I can do that, there is nothing to hide, no “political or personal points” to make. When I see these ads or read internet communications, I try to say to myself and the ad-funders: “You’re not going to scare me. However, I will admit that if were as fearful as you, I might want to spread fear as well.” That doesn’t always work, but it does help me to keep the focus on myself and on the fact that I am really not that different from the ad-funders. That, in itself, is rather disconcerting – but honest – to say the least.
The one thing both AA and A Course in Miracles (ACIM) have taught me is that when it comes to finding serenity, peace, happiness, acceptance and love – the opposite of fear, lack, anger, frustration, and resentment – it’s always an inside job.
How I look at the world determines how the world looks to me.
I received a poem from a friend and subscriber that sums all this up. She called the poem: “Thy Name.” 
How do you
Bow
To a Master,
Profess love for
God,
Publicly
Act like a
Saint,
   Then
Fight with
Your neighbor,
Belittle your son?
Duality is
Thy name.

Jeanette Zanghi, 2014 (reprinted with permission)
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.

Don
#4 March, 2014
Copyright, 2014