Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Life Of The Spirit Is Solitary, Although I Experience My Existence In The Plural

One of the most often asked questions subscribers write to me is about some form of:
  • ·      How do I determine what to do with events or persons that I think are wrong?
  • ·      If my perception of this world is illusionary, why bother with anything?
  • ·      How do I learn how I’m to get upset with events or personalities that occur and still maintain my spiritual balance?  
  • ·      To maintain spiritual balance, do I simply remain oblivious to the events of the world?  Keep my spiritual head in the sand?
  • ·      My instinctive reaction/response is generally judgmental and I certainly don’t want to become my “own worst enemy” – that is, become as hateful and fearful and prejudiced as those I consider my opposition? 

I had quite a few responses to last week’s post about my spiritual reflections on the Zimmerman trial that were asking or arguing this very type of questioning.
These kinds of questions have always been very difficult for me to answer partly because these are questions I ask myself so often. I usually end up answering that we are to be IN this world without being OF this world. I truly believe this is a personal decision and the decision I make today, may not be applicable tomorrow. My decision will change, morph, and evolve. It is not a “once and done” decision.
A friend and subscriber sent me a copy of a recent article from the Unitarian Universalist UU World Magazine. It was an article in the Summer 2013 issue written by Rev. Victoria Safford, the pastor of the White Bear UU Church in Mahtomedi, MN. The article was entitled Bound in Covenants – Congregational Covenants are Declarations in Interdependence. She made the following statement, which resonated greatly with me:
… To what larger love, to what people-principles, values, and dreams shall we be committed? To whom, to what, are we accountable?...How do I decide which beautiful, clumsy, and imperfect institutions will carry and hold…. my ‘name, hand, and heart?’ The life of the spirit is solitary, but our answers to these questions call us to speak, call us to live, in the plural.
What a great statement: The life of the spirit is solitary, although I experience my existence in the plural.
I remembered the tale of a Scottish minister who visited an older man who had stopped coming to church. As the two men talked in front of the old man’s fireplace, the minister gently took the tongs and pulled a glowing ember from the fire and moved it a little ways onto the hearth. Slowly its glow began to dim. He moved the ember back towards the fire and it began to brighten. No words were said. The old man finally announced he got the message. He was in the congregation that week.
My spiritual journey is solitary, although I experience my existence in the plural.
This is very true of my association with Alcoholics Anonymous. I could not live without that group’s support. It is also true about my study group of A Course in Miracles. Both of these groups – and the level of trust I have in them to be as personally honest as possible – keep me grounded and help me keep my ego in check. The level of my serenity is directly proportional to my honest involvement in these 2 groups. I will always surrender my ego to the group, because without that communal support I will die – spiritually and, perhaps, physically.
AA members state this reality in several ways: A lack of serenity is directly proportional to the quality of a spiritual life. Or: Use the degree of your anxiety to measure your distance from God: The greater the anxiety, the greater the distance.
My spiritual journey and my spiritual realities are mine alone. I am not, however, a solitary being. While I am experiencing a human existence, I am not a solo act. I am in community with others – biologically, socially, occupationally, politically, and geographically.  I am an O’Dell. In short, I am a brother, a father, a husband, an uncle, a grateful member of Alcoholics Anonymous, a student of A Course in Miracles, a political progressive, a Texas-Tennessee-American, an independent consultant and author. I attempt to be as gentle and understanding with others as I am with myself. I seem always to be able to find a reason that explains away my behavior, attitudes, prejudices and judgments. So, I look for reasons that will explain away someone else’s behavior, attitudes, prejudices and judgments.
This approach to living is not very complicated: “Do unto others….” I find, however, this approach can be very disturbing and guilt-producing. Sometimes it can be an indication of my distance from God. Sometimes I can just wallow in non-spiritual self-pity. Sometimes I just try to keep counsel with myself, which generally produces rather disastrous results.
My spiritual journey is solitary, although I experience my existence in the plural.
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 July, 2013
Copyright, 2013

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Zimmerman Trial and My Spiritual Growth

I’ve heard lots of arguments since the George Zimmerman trial. I’m sure you have as well. “It’s a travesty of justice!” “It’s a fair upholding of the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law.” “It’s racism at its institutional ugliest.” “It’s not racist.” “Zimmerman is a hero.” “Zimmerman is the poster child for aggravated confrontation, protected by Florida Law.”
Passions are indeed very high. My passions were very aroused.
What I don’t hear about very much is compassion and frustration: Compassion for the Martin family; Frustration at the level of tolerated violence we have grown accustom to in the USA.
I don’t hear much about how our judicial system doesn’t appear to be working. In fact I heard that if every qualified issue actually went to a trial-by-jury, our judicial system would simply collapse. The system relies on brokered plea-bargains. Felonies are pled to misdemeanors and the innocent accept a guilty verdict on a misdemeanor rather than risk going to trial with a Public Defender, who has virtually no resources, for a lawyer.
What has happened to our country? To us? That simple question is too complicated for me to address here. However, I was made aware of a partial reminder to me (hopefully, to you too) of my attitudes and perceptions concerning this issue.
At an AA meeting several made oblique references to the trial’s verdict as they shared. It wasn’t very pretty. Funny? Yes, in a macabre way – but not very pretty.
As those folks shared, I was reminded that we close each meeting with the Lord’s Prayer – one of whose lines state: “…Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us….” Since I was upset at the callous reaction of the political right, I thought to myself, “When I say this part of the prayer, I’ll be asking for the universe to treat me with the same prejudice, lack of respect, tolerance or acceptance that I have been dishing out. Is that what I really want?”
Forgive us as we forgive. Is that what I really want?
I think this is a very appropriate question – in this situation – for all of us on our spiritual path. How I confront people, with whom I virtually disagree with on almost everything, is how I am praying for me to be held accountable. Isn’t that what I’m really praying for?
Is that what I really want? It’s as if I were praying: “Dear God (or Universe, or Higher Power) please judge me with the same lack of compassion, tolerance and acceptance I have shown those whom I find so appalling. Oh! I almost forgot. God, also please evaluate me with the same indifference, prejudice and lack of respect that I have judged those with whom I disagree.
In an article for CNN, Race, bias and the Zimmerman jury, Richard Gabriel recently wrote: “… There is a well-known principle in social psychology called ingroup-outgroup bias, which is the tendency to judge members of your own group more favorably and others more harshly. This has been followed by a great deal of recent research on "implicit bias" -- a subconscious negative association that we automatically attribute to others. Both of these cognitive blind spots are dangerous because they run in the background of our minds, all day long, outside our awareness…. So, we are all suspicious of "The Other" -- in this case, the young man in a hoodie in the rain. Whether that figure comes in the form of a black teenager, a gay co-worker, the Muslim neighbor, the overweight teacher, the barista with the tattoos and piercings, or, yes, even the gun owner, we all have biases. And yet most of us will never admit we have them, placing our own Gandhi-like bias-free self-image on a pillar of fairness and equity. But the truth is, the more we deny we have biases, the more we broaden and deepen those prejudices.” [(CNN) -- Richard Gabriel is the president of the American Society of Trial Consultants Foundation and president of Decision Analysis, a national trial consulting company.]
As I said, passions are very high. My passion is very high. Why is it these right-wing pundits seem to relish stoking the fires of fear, anger, and outright hatred? Observing their television pontificating, I found myself stoking the fires that make me extremely afraid, angry, and full of disgust.
I’m not very different am I?
Damn – Now that’s a very unwelcome thought!
However, that thought is very sobering.
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 July, 2013
Copyright, 2013

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Relief and Recovery: If It’s 30-Miles In, It’s 30-Miles Out

Why am I still fighting personal attitudes and issues I thought I had already dealt with? I know the answer to that question and I don’t like to hear it. Let me explain.
While I was still drinking, and whenever I was full of a generalized dread or simply felt uptight, nervous, worried, insecure or ill-at-ease, I relied on the almost instant feeling of relief that came from my first couple of drinks. Although I never used pot or drugs, it was the same for drugs as it was for alcohol – at least those in Narcotics Anonymous have told me.
I convinced myself the “hit” from alcohol allowed me to “live in the Now.” It was almost magical.. It didn’t matter what was causing my nervousness – my drinking could put everything else out of my mind for a while. Many times the “Now” I thought I was entering was to focus on a mindless sitcom on TV. Sometimes it was fixing dinner. Sometimes it was running an errand. Sometimes it was to allow me to fall to sleep. It was a horrible mental ruse.
Well, what was causing my nervousness or my dread? Sometimes it was my children’s emotional needs or their homework. Sometimes it was paying my bills or reviewing my (generally bleak) financial situation. Sometimes it was feeling lonely for female companionship. Sometimes it was my work. Many times it was nothing in particular. In short, sometimes the reality behind my nervousness or dread was truly important to deal with, sometimes it wasn’t.
However, the reality behind my sense of dread wasn’t the issue for me. It didn’t matter what the cause was – the singular important issue was to eliminate it. That was what was important. Dealing with that was what took precedent – over virtually everything: the needs of my kids, my health, my bills, and my life.
Of course, after some 15-18 years of using booze to eliminate any of these feelings of discomfort, the alcohol itself suddenly became the issue. The normalcy of my drinking didn’t work. I could drink just a little and almost pass out. Sometimes I could drink a whole lot with virtually no physical effect. It was erratic. It had become unreliable. In fact, it prolonged my nervousness by complicating my drinking. [Of course, now I understand I was dealing with symptoms of alcohol withdrawal in addition to my general angst. I didn’t know that when it was happening.]
There is a reality in the Program of Alcoholics Anonymous that understands what I’ve tried to describe: “There is a difference between ‘relief’ and ‘recovery.’ Coming to a meeting will provide short-term temporary relief from the desire to take a drink. Recovery, however, comes when we work the Program – i.e., refusing to drink, working the Twelve Steps, sharing honestly with our sponsors and at meetings, following suggestions, doing service work, and keeping ourselves involved with other recovering alcoholics.” Much the same concept can be said for codependency or overall spiritual growth.
This reality is often summarized: “If you got lost walking 30 miles into the wilderness, it’s probably going to take you 30 miles to walk out.”
But, I say: “Forget the 30 years. I want out now! I want the dread […or control issues, or life-complications, or constant bad relationships, or …] to stop now!”
But it doesn’t work that way in AA. It doesn’t work that way in life. It doesn’t work that way in growing along a spiritual path.
My spiritual path, ignited by the acceptance I found in the Program, has taken on a twisting, winding course. I actually began to experience the reality that lay behind Christian dogma, not just intellectually understanding it. I was never enamored with the dogma, itself, but I always wished I had the confidence and certainty that those folks who could spout the dogma seemed to have. But I had never experienced feeling accepted by them. So, I looked in alternative places for this spirituality. I went to Unity churches. I went to spiritualist groups. I went to holistic healers. I went to Church of Religious Science (not to be confused with Scientology) congregations. At each step of the way I learned, wrestled, grew, and out-grew.  I wrote my book, How the Bible became the Bible [ISBN: 978-0-7414-2993-3]. I wanted to try to synthesize my intellectual knowledge of dogma and theology with the transforming experience of the Power of Love and Acceptance I had known in AA. From that beginning, and with the encouragement of friends, my initial focus shifted simply to tell the story of how the Bible came to be and present the humanness of its writers.
As I wrote, I continued to explore and experience spirituality in all its “flavors,” including Kabbalah and Sufi writings. Finally I ended up with a small study group of A Course in Miracles (ACIM). That has really hit the spot for me. All the pieces I’ve toyed with have come to roost in the message of ACIM. It simply makes sense – viscerally – to me. Its focus is on the real problem I’ve always had spiritually: ME!
But it shows me how I can get out of me – beyond me. It shows me the faulty nature of my perceptions. It tells me how to alter my erroneous view of the world – by telling me that correction of my perception is not my job. It’s the job of the Holy Spirit. All I need to do is ask for a different way of looking at things. It tells me I’m not a human who has an eternal soul that Jesus can save if I let Him. Rather, it tells me I’m an already-loved spirit currently having a temporary human experience.
Isn’t that a “badda-boom badda-bing kind of thing. Then you’re done?” Nope. It’s a lifetime of learning, practicing, growing. But my ego wants to grab on to these simple truths and take over. It says to me constantly: “Okay. I get it. I understand. I’ll take it from here. ”
So, once again I’m faced with my reality – a 30-mile walk out of the wilderness.
Just as the Program of AA has provided me guidance in my journey to sobriety as well as a taste of spirituality, I now have, albeit on a different level, a Guide to gently lead me forward in an inward sort of way. I could not have allowed this Guide in my life had it not been for the positive effect of AA.  I could not have allowed this Guide in my life had it not been for Unity, Religious Science, holistic teachers, and alternative spiritual traditions.
Where alcohol provided me a temporary quick fix for nervousness and dread, my spiritual journey, including AA, has provided – slowly – the peace of mind and serenity that I’ve always wanted. I’m a very lucky guy.
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 July, 2013
Copyright, 2013

Saturday, July 6, 2013

I Can Easily Slide Down A Slippery Slope On My ‘But’

My aunt, bless her heart, is 98. She will complain about something and I will suggest a simple course of action for her. She’ll thank me and then – with a “but…”  – proceed to tell me why it doesn’t apply to her. Normally, I would attribute this to her advanced age, but she’s been this way for as long as I have known her. She always has an excuse. “Auntie, if you want to go to church and can’t drive, why don’t you call one of your friends and ask for a ride? It’s all right. Older, single women ask us for rides all the time.” She’ll reply, “I know people who do that, Donnie, but I couldn’t do that because my friend is married (…or a maiden lady, …or a widower, …or, or, or).”  Most of her excuses I never have understood. However, she sticks to them.
I’ve had people in AA for whom I was their temporary sponsor. I’d suggest things to them based on how those suggestions were given me and had helped my recovery. Many typical responses were: “Thank you, Don, but my situation is a little different. [I’m a woman, older, younger, not managerial….] so you just don’t understand.”
From Michael Z, Wisdom of the Rooms ( Before recovery, I was full of excuses.…The bottom line was that I could always place the blame outside of myself…. “My sponsor told me that when making an amend or an apology, I was to focus strictly on my part, ask if there were any other wrongs I was unaware of, and then ask what I could do to make things better. "You've done enough damage," I can still hear him tell me. ‘Whatever you do - Don't ruin your apology with an excuse.’"
I’m pretty good – very good, actually – at finding ways to blame others, situations, or events for perceived “wrongs” in my life.  You cannot become as good a practicing alcoholic as I was without learning to place blame anywhere I could, except, of course, at my own feet.
However, I do believe that behind all the “buts” in the world is the common misconception that we’re all unique. We’re not unique! We are distinct, but not unique. Ask any health care professional where your liver is. They’ll point to your middle right side. Each person. All the time. No exceptions. We’re each distinct. Not unique.
I thought I was not like everybody else, and I fought that a long, long time – mostly during my drinking years. Rules applied to everyone else, but not me. Strategies worked for everyone else, but not for me because my situation was different. Divorces worked better for others than for me. On and on.
In AA I learned how much better my life became when I simply did what it was suggested that I do… followed the rules like everybody else… paid my bills and adjusted my belt accordingly… kept interested parties informed of progress (or lack of progress)… kept my car maintained rather than driving on bald tires, with paper-thin brakes and wipers that were scratching my windshield. Mostly, by doing these things, I learned that it’s not bad simply being one of the herd. In fact it was quite unstressful. Now I relish that. I’m not special or unique. I’m just normal – a normal recovering alcoholic with a growing awareness of a spirituality that has become the glue that holds me together.  
I really liked studying A Course in Miracles (ACIM) – one class a week. Then, after two years, I decided to do the daily lessons, which were strongly suggested from the start. So, I asked myself – why didn’t I do these from the onset, as I was encouraged to do? I’m still a slow learner, I guess. As I have done these lessons, the vibrancy of the Course has begun to come alive: It comes pretty easily to me now to tell myself:
  • ·      “I’m never upset for the reason I think” (Lesson 5), which makes me remember AA’s Fourth Step and to focus on what’s really going on inside me.
  • ·      “I see only the past. My mind is preoccupied with past thoughts. I see nothing as it is now” (Lessons 7,8,9) and I realize that was then and this is Now.
  • ·      “I am determined to see things differently” (Lesson 21) and I ask the Holy Spirit to open my eyes truly.

In short, when I’ve gotten off my “but,” my life has turned around. Sometimes it happens slowly – although many, many times the turnaround happens very, very quickly.
How about you?
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 July, 2013
Copyright, 2013