Thursday, April 30, 2015

Living In The Now – An Illustration

I’m not proficient enough to discuss what living in the “real” spiritual NOW means. I can only relate to one of the principle maxims expressed by AA old-timers: One Day At A Time. This is linked inexorably to the truism that I cannot get drunk today if I don’t take a drink today. I just need to get through today by going through today by doing as best I can – without a drink.
After a meeting at my AA home group this week I discussed with a trusted and respected member of the Fellowship the idea of “one day at a time.” As we were talking, I was reminded of an after-meeting discussion I had with a commercial pilot when I was about 6-months sober. It, too, was about one day at a time. He told me how he flew a commercial airliner. He said he really didn’t fly the plane according to his registered flight plan. He said the FAA controlled the flight plan and his air space.
His plane was assigned a space – he called it a shoebox – that was about 2 miles long, 1 mile wide and ½ mile thick. His job, as the pilot, was to simply keep his plane centered within that “box.” As the whole box moved, he moved. If he just kept his plane within that box, it would arrive at the destination airport safely. The only time he was truly flying the plane was during take-off, landing and if an emergency occurred.
He went on to say that’s how he used the principle of one day at a time: Just do the right thing today as best you can (including not taking that first drink and using the Twelve Steps), and yesterday and tomorrow will take care of themselves. Then he laughed and stated: “I’ve learned that most of the things I think about my life are none of my business.”
After about two years of sobriety, I built a scale model of Colvin Run Mill, a historic site in Virginia’s Fairfax County. It was an early 19th Century mill with two-grinding stones. It was large and had very steep stairs that many elderly and small children simply could not negotiate. I was a docent there and was asked if I could build a model of how the gears worked so those who couldn’t tour the whole building could still get a “feel” for the entirety of the engineering that went into making the mill operate.
I said I’d try, but I couldn’t make a model of the gears that were in proportion but still strong enough to have a guest “operate” the mill by turning a crank. So I decided to make a scale model. The powers-that-be agreed.
I spent over 500 hours drawing and building the parts of the mill. There were no architectural drawings of the mill. I had to create my own. It was at a scale of ¼ inch equals 1 foot. It was a cut-away model. Much of the front was missing so people could see the water wheel, gears, axles and grinding stones. It was fun. Many weekends I spent in my spare room cutting, trimming, sanding, and fitting together all the tools, equipment, grinding wheels, gears, chutes, and bins that comprised the original mill.
At one point I realized that I must have made a mistake because a vertical shaft, that went to one of the grinding stones, was going to run right through a 12x14 inch beam that was one of the upper floor joists. I couldn’t get into the mill to double-check my measurements because it was some holiday. So, I notched one side of my beam to allow the vertical shaft to pass. The next weekend, I checked that problem in the mill. The beam there was also notched – but on the other side! I was a very happy camper. I had experienced the exact same issue that the restorers had experienced – although we had notched opposite sides of the beam. The manager of the restoration confirmed that was exactly what had happened.
At a county award ceremony I was presented with an ornate certificate of appreciation. I was asked how I managed to stay focused for so long. I told the audience how I simply worked on my model – doing the best I could – One Day At A Time. By doing each piece (AKA “day”) as well I could, the whole seemed to take care of itself.
Earlier, as I was making some notes for my acceptance remarks, I had recalled the words of the pilot. It was his message all over again. Stay in the box. Stay in the day. That was the message of the pilot. That was the story of my model. That has been the story of my life for the past 28 years of sobriety in the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.
I repeat – when I take care of each day the year takes care of itself. I don't drink. I ask for help - especially from the Holy Spirit.
I’m certainly not perfect. Sometimes I really do want to harbor my anger, frustration and self-pity, so I can focus on anything but today, because these feelings are comfortable and familiar, and they make me feel special and unique. But I do know that if I allow my attention, energy and internal conversation to focus on thoughts that contain words such as should, ought, would, or could, then I am not focused on today. If I am not focused on today – what is right in front of me – then I am not living as I have learned to live.
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 May 2015
Copyright 2015

PS: Although I thought I’d be back in time to publish a message last week, it didn’t happen. For those of you that inquired, thank you for your concern.

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