Monday, July 25, 2016

Feelings Are Not Facts – Unless You Want Them To Be

When I was an elementary school student – maybe 4th or 5th grade – my older brother and I went to see “The Thing from Another World,” with James Arness (Matt Dillon of ‘Gun Smoke’ fame) in his first role as the “Tbing.” It was scary to us. You have to remember this was in the early 1950s. As we walked home that evening, it was dark and the streets of Artesia, NM were dark and deserted. We tried to ignore our frightened feelings. We walked slowly. Tried to whistle while we walked. Slowly, however, we moved off the sidewalk and out into the empty streets. Then our pace began to pick up a little – just a little, then a little more. Finally, a cat (or something) rattled a trash can, and – boy howdy -  we were off like rockets. We raced all the way home.
Our anxiety over monsters and invisible boogey men had finally been responded to with our running bodies and suddenly the feelings we had had become facts. The faster we ran, the scareder we became.
I think each of you can identify with that phenomenon.
There are helpful emotions we all harbor. These can all be boiled down to emotions tied to Love or to Fear. Each emotion, however, is like a diamond having many light-catching facets. Love consists of the major sub-emotions of Acceptance, Joy, Peace, Compassion, Courageousness, Serenity, etc. Fear consists of Apathy, Guilt, Anger, Hate, Lust, Envy, Pride, etc. But each of these sub-emotions consists of a variety of fleeting feelings.
For example, the sub-emotion Acceptance consists of appreciation, balance, consideration, delight, elation, friendly, gentle, gracious, mellow, open, playful, tender and understanding. The sub-emotion Anger consists of being argumentative, defiant, frustrated, harsh, hostile, impatient, mad, mean, petulant, rude, spiteful, stern, vengeful, and willful.
These feelings are not factual – unless I want them to be. When I begin to voice these feelings to others and they begin to join in the conversation with me, slowly these fleeting feelings become facts.
I cannot (nor do I want to) control my major emotions. Nor can I control having fleeting feelings. I can, however, control the transition from feelings-as-non-facts to feelings-as-facts. I can do that by acknowledging to myself that I am feeling thus and thus and reassuring myself that these are instant, fleeting egoic feelings. I do not suppress them, nor do I give voice to them. When I give these feelings voice, I give them a certain kind of reality. Slowly I begin down a very slippery emotional slope – just like my brother and I did when we began picking up our pace until we were running headlong out of sheer terror.
When I control this transition from feelings-as-non-facts to feelings-as-facts, I am reminding myself that I am not a body nor am I what I think. I am an already-loved eternal spirit (my True Self) simply having a human experience. I am cared for. I am loved. I am whole. I am Light. I am at one with all other living creatures. I am at peace.

#4 Jul 2016
Copyright 2016

Friday, July 15, 2016

Anger Is The Public Face of Fear

In light of all that has happened in the last 10 days – Minnesota, Baton Rouge, Dallas, and now Nice, France – the statement that anger is the public face of fear is very apt. However, I have to admit to myself, that it is very difficult for me to see a “call for love” in the act of an angry person or religious zealot killing people.
A decade ago, I learned about a major shift in perception that was beginning to take place. People were saying that we were moving into the Age of Aquarius – the start of a 2,300-year cycle that would be governed by energy of the Feminine. We are coming out of a similar cycle that had been under the influence of Masculine energy. For the past 2,300 years we have been under the influence of the Age of Pisces. It has been estimated that this shift will take 50 or so years (ending about 2040) to transition. As this occurs, I was told, the old masculine energy – to protect its power, prestige, and way of governance – will not go quietly into the night. The seething underbelly of this masculine competitive energy (win/lose, abundance/lack) is fear. It is the fear of being left behind, of losing economic security, of losing power and influence, of becoming societal detritus, of becoming obsolete.
Perhaps, this may mean we will be moving from an economy based on competition to one based on cooperation. Perhaps, it will mean we are transforming from being homo sapiens to being homo noeticus. Perhaps, it will mean moving away from a social structure of separateness (Us versus Them) to one of perceived Oneness. Perhaps, it will be all of this.
This shifting from Masculine to Feminine energy and its attendant disruption may very well be what we’re seeing:
  • ·      ISIS and other fundamentalist Islamic groups making a last gasp effort to resurrect an out-dated image of literal Islamic rule;
  • ·      White male society making a last gasp effort to hold onto power and influence through political maneuvering or through organized hate groups by encouraging voter suppression, excessive gerrymandering, hoarding profits at all costs, and demeaning all people of color as well as all those of sparse economic status;
  • ·      Growing Protestant/Pentecostal extremism that has totally abandoned the Gospel of Love lived by Jesus for an Old Testament based biblical literalism that is almost indistinguishable from Islamic Sharia law – calling for the stoning, for example, of members of the LGBT community, abortion recipients/providers, prostitutes and other sexual “deviants,” and virtually treating all forms of poverty as if it were a sin to be condemned – the joining of capitalism, as an economic philosophy, with Christian ethics.

What do we do, then?
First we must ask God, genuinely, for a willingness to understand that the fear we think we see is merely our own fears being reflected back at us. It is always an “inside” job. We need to allow our inner light of peace, unity, and serenity to shine brightly in the midst of all this fear. We allow this light to shine by seeing ourselves in ALL of humanity – forgiving ourselves for our misperception and forgiving all those whom we have perceived as being hateful, bitter and wrong – the Others, the Enemy. Lastly, we need to remember, as ACIM teaches, each thought we have – no matter how tiny and fleeting nor how huge and seemingly permanent – is either contributing to our egoic perception of the reality of fear or to the True Reality of the Love of God, as we understand Him.
Once we are willing to change ourselves, the rest is up to God.
We need to be prepared to quell the morbid attention we pay to our own fearful thoughts. The attention I pay to my egoic thoughts is something I must acknowledge and ask for help to change. This is my responsibility alone. It is also yours.

#3 Jul 2016

Copyright 2016

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The World of Separateness, Death and of Being Right

Following an AA meeting several months ago, a good friend in the Program asked me to stay a bit. He told me one of the people he was currently sponsoring just went back out and resumed his drinking. He went on to tell me how difficult it was to communicate with his sponsee.
“He says he’s very spiritual and quotes Bible verses to me all the time. He says he prays to Jesus a lot in addition to reading the Bible, and so he believes he’s very spiritual. I have tried to explain to him that if he’s developed a true spirituality in the AA Program, the desire to drink will be lifted. What do I do?”
I told my friend there is a huge difference between being spiritual and being religious. Being religious is all about believing in the rituals, practices, cognitive beliefs, and the magical words of the Bible – or the Quran or the Tanakh. Because my friend regularly attends a Big Book meeting, I went on to provide my friend with an analogy.
“You’ve been to Big Book meetings before, haven’t you?”
“It’s as if,” I commented, “we had a group of non-AA folks stand outside the room and observe our Big Book meeting. What would they see? They’d watch each of us read a paragraph of one of the stories of recovery in the Big Book  (Alcoholics Anonymous, AA World Service) and then go back around the table offering some comments. These watchers might go on, perhaps, and conclude: ‘Hey, we could do that. We could get some friends together and read a story and make comments on what the story talked about. That way we won’t become alcoholics.’ We both know that wouldn’t work, don’t we?”
“It’s not what we do.”
“That’s right. It’s not what we do. When we are commenting on the stories, we are not making observations about what the story-teller said. We are commenting about the similarities of our own experiences with the experiences of the writer. As each of us tell our very unique story, triggered by the story in the Big Book, we all understand that, as unique as each of our stories is, they are all the same story. We are not sharing our ideas about the words of the story-teller. We are simply sharing our unique version of the same story. All of our stories are unique, but all of our stories say the same thing.”
This is what I tried to deal with in my book, How the Bible became the Bible. We read the Bible not to intellectually dissect the words of the author – as if the words are something super-natural. We read the words of the author and find ourselves understanding the experience the author was writing about. We, too, have had that experience and, although we might express it uniquely and differently (because of our different culture, mores, values, and timeframe), it is the same story. We do not read from a letter written by the Apostle Paul to cogitate over his wording. We read one of his letters to understand the marvelous mystery that he had experienced and was now wrestling with as to how to express that reality in words. We would comment on the marvelous mysteries we’ve experienced, and usually we would find it equally difficult to express in words.
A Course in Miracles (ACIM) states that to communicate these kinds of experiences is simply beyond words. That’s why I love the introduction to the Course:
This is a course in miracles. It is a required course. Only the time you take it is voluntary. Free will does not mean that you can establish the curriculum. It means only that you can elect what you want to take at a given time. The course does not aim at teaching the meaning of love, for that is beyond what can be taught. It does aim, however, at removing the blocks [my egoic perceptions] to the awareness of love’s presence, which is your natural inheritance. The opposite of love is fear, but what is all-encompassing can have no opposite.
This course can therefore be summed up very simply in this way: Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God.
ACIM is a course in “undoing” and removing my ego thought-system of duality. It’s a course in mind training. Collectively, we are the Son of God, and when the Holy Spirit changes our perception, we can live in a community of love and acceptance. To live in the womb of an accepting community will transform each of us. This is what AA has done for me. A place, wherever I find a meeting, that allows me to be just as I am – honestly. It is a place where I am accepted. [Being accepted is a more meaningful synonym for love for me.]  AA’s Program is not about memorizing the words or stories of the Big Book. It is to work the Twelve Steps in absolute honesty. It is to turn my life and will over to the care of God, as I understand God, by working Steps 4-12 for the rest of my life.  Doing this, I underwent a spiritual transformation. To quote the Big Book – or to memorize and quote the Bible – is to remain in my ego thought-system of duality, sin and separateness, both from others and from God.
When I drank I was in that world of separateness and it was a world of death. When I fall back into my ego thought-system of the “rightness” of my perceived sense of reality, I fall back into that same world of death. I want, now, to be happy and peaceful, not right. Perhaps that’s why so many fundamentalist Christians (or Moslems or Jews) seem always to be so angry, resentful, irritated and frustrated.

#2 Jul 2016

Copyright 2016

Monday, July 4, 2016

Personal Liberty and Freedom Are Different Things

It is July Fourth weekend here in the U.S. 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 29 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 (or Atonement) is the work of the Holy Spirit.
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 “intellectually knowing” these 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 rights 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. My freedom comes, not when I become my own little island, but when my society grows and thrives. I work to make that happen, just as I work to make AA and ACIM a reality.

#1 Jul 2016
Copyright 2016