Saturday, April 26, 2014

Comprehending The Force Of My Ego

From: Dennis Lehane, Shutter Island, Harper Torch / HarperCollins Publishers, 2003, pp. 278-9.
Speaking of a hurricane that had really devastated Shutter Island, the home of an institution for the criminally insane, the warden said to a U.S. Marshal investigating a missing inmate: “Did you enjoy God’s latest gift?” the warden said. Teddy [the Marshal] looked at the man … “I’m sorry?”
“God’s gift,” the warden said and his arm swept the torn grounds. “His violence. When I first came downstairs in my home [on the island] and saw the tree in my living room, it reached toward me like a divine hand. Not literally, of course. But figuratively, it stretched. God loves violence. You understand that, don’t you?”
“No,” Teddy said. “I don’t.”
“Why else would there be so much of it? It comes out of us. It is what we do more naturally than we breathe. We wage war. We burn sacrifices. We pillage and tear at the flesh of our brothers. We fill great fields with our stinking dead. And why? To show Him that we’ve learned from His example….”
Teddy watched the man’s hand stroking the binding of the small book he pressed to his abdomen. [The warden] smiled and his teeth were yellow.
“God gives us earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes. He gives us mountains that spew fire onto our heads. Oceans that swallow ships. He gives us nature, and in nature is a smiling killer. He gives us disease so that in our death we believe He gave us orifices only so that we could feel our life bleed out of them. He gave us lust and fury and greed and our filthy hearts. So that we could wage violence in His honor. There is no moral order as pure as this storm we’ve seen. There is no moral order at all. There is only this – can my violence conquer yours?”
“…I’m not violent,” Teddy said.
The warden spit on the ground near their feet. “You’re as violent as they come. I know, because I’m as violent as they come. Don’t embarrass me. If the constraints of society were removed, and I was all that stood between you and a meal, you’d crack my skull with a rock and eat my meaty parts.”
What a grizzly description of life on earth! Yet, that is what I’ve been taught; what you’ve been taught; what the whole human race has been taught; what we’ve all been taught for so many thousands of generations that we believe this to be a terribly awful – but real – description of our “dog-eat-dog” world.
Now, I don’t think many of us would describe this world the way the warden did. It’s truly gruesome.  But the overall “picture” he presents is a portrait of what we’ve been taught – it’s a dangerous world, filled with dangerous people, just waiting to pounce on us for some possession of ours, or to get some advantage over us, or to get theirs before we do, or to satisfy some desire to get even with us, or to remove us as a potential threat to them.
Regardless of how mild or heinous we describe it, that’s the world of our ego: A world of fear, anger, hate, lust, resentment, revenge, envy, and greed.
But it’s all a dream – albeit a very bad dream. Perhaps it’s better described as a nightmare. It is a world each of us create by the way we look at it. It’s simply our perception. Change our perception and the world changes. I’ve experienced this at times, and it’s an amazing miracle. As I’ve learned – and shared in these messages – if we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change. 
But it seems so daunting. The world seems so violent and fearful. That attitude makes me want to quit before I begin. But that’s my perception again – my ego raising its head presenting me with this task to change the world. My “task” is not to fix the world by simply changing the way I look at it. I am simply to be willing to NOT listen to what I think and to be willing to let the Holy Spirit give me another way of looking at things or people. I need to keep the focus only on me and my thoughts. I need to be willing to think differently. I need to be willing to ask for a different way of perceiving. That’s all. He’ll take it from there.
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 April, 2014

Copyright, 2014

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.
#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.
#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. [] 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.
#1 April, 2014

Copyright, 2014