Saturday, May 21, 2016

Connecting Spirituality And “Hitting Bottom”

There are two tenets of Alcoholics Anonymous that have proven to be very true for me: 1) No one can declare me to be addicted to alcohol but me; 2) There is no definitive description of what “hitting bottom” means; that, too, is up to me to define.
However, for someone to define these two tenets for themselves is the singular starting point for anyone wanting to recover from.….whatever. It is what is summed up in the first of AA’s Twelve Steps: Admitting to powerlessness to alter an addiction and owning up to a current life that is unmanageable. In short, honestly saying to oneself: “I can’t….
·      Stop drinking,
·      Stop my focus on anything but the dark and negative,
·      Stop gambling,
·      Stop my addiction to the rush and thrill of sexual escapades,
·      Stop my cravings for sugar/sweets,
·      Stop waking up each morning full of dread and self-loathing,
·      Stop living each day, regardless of what has happened or not happened, scared and worried or feeling exasperated, frustrated and disappointed,
·      Stop needing to “escape” my life via the emotional highs I reach as I immerse myself in my congregation’s orchestrated weekly performances,
·      Stop my insane gossiping about everyone I meet – knowing that to focus on them is simply my way of not focusing on myself, which just might be why my life is out of control. 
I believe it takes some form of “hitting bottom” for us to say in desperation “I can’t….” and really wanting to live life differently; to say “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired and I can’t continue anymore. But, I don’t really know what to do”
I have been reading Richard Rohr’s book “Falling Upward – Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life” [Jossey-Bass, 2011]. He doesn’t use the specific words, “hitting bottom,” but often that’s what he is talking about. The first half of life is largely concerned about surviving successfully. We all try to establish an identity, a home, relationships, friends, community and security. As he puts it: “…building a proper platform for our only life.” [p. xiv].
Rohr defines the second half of life as “the task within the task.” He also calls it “what we are really doing when we are doing what we are doing.” [p. xiv] The second half is when we begin to pay attention, and seek integrity precisely in that task within the task that we begin to move from the first to the second half of our own lives. Integrity largely has to do with … a growing honesty about our actual motives. … Most often we don’t pay attention to that inner task until we have had some kind of fall or failure in our outer tasks. This pattern is invariably true for reasons I have yet to fathom…. Those failings and fallings must be there for a purpose, a purpose that neither culture nor church has fully understood.” [p. xv]
We in AA call this “hitting our bottom.” I have not heard this term in the New Testament or in A Course in Miracles (ACIM), but I would like to think that Jesus would call this pattern of falling/failing an unmistakable collapse of our egoic thinking, which leaves us – even if only temporarily – open to the whispers of the Holy Spirit suggesting to us a different way of perceiving and living life.
Did God, as I understand God, cause me to stumble and fall, just so He could pick me up? No! I caused my fall all by myself, and I no longer know how or where to stand up. By honestly admitting “I cannot do this anymore” I have opened myself up to a dimension – which had always been there, but remained unseen by me – that changed my life.
Just like the young man, who went off to college and then the military, and returned home amazed at how his father had matured during his absence. It was not his father who had changed. His 8+ years away from home had slowly altered his perception of life and he was “seeing” his father in a new light.
Don
#4 May 2016

Copyright 2016

Friday, May 13, 2016

Form, Content and the Holy Spirit

I was, again, reminded of just how much life there is in a creek. There are microscopic, few-celled, and larger (but still very small) organisms there. There are also tadpoles, frogs, crayfish and ducks that make this their home. There is organic muck that feeds small-celled plant life and algae. The few-celled live off the microscopic plant life and single celled organisms. Larger insects live off the few-celled. Tadpoles live of the larvae of the larger insects. Frogs live off the insects and some of the tadpoles. Ducks and crows eat the smaller frogs. It’s a natural cycle.
Life (with a capital “L”) was revered by all indigenous cultures. All Life, including human, was respected. There was no hierarchy of valued Life. Life was Life. Most called Life some form of “Spirit.” Regardless, Life was eternal, revered, and respected. These “primitive” people understood the natural cycle of Life and lived within that cycle. They understood that Life was eternal, simply changing its form as it migrated from death to rebirth to death again: Insects to tadpoles to frogs to poop and carcass to plants and algae to insects.…..
Life itself hadn’t gone anywhere. Only its form had changed. I recognized that Truth all over again as I was in the creek. A Course in Miracles (ACIM) considers this to be a significant learning exercise for each of us – namely, to begin understanding the difference between form and content.
As Robert Perry describes in the Glossary of Terms from A Course in Miracles [Circle Publishing, 2005]: Form and Content – “Two aspects possessed by things in this world; the shape (form) something takes – the words, images, or behavior it is clothed in – and the essential meaning (content) which that form is meant to communicate. The ego disregards content, believing that the form is the content, the form is the meaning…. It thinks that problems are matters of form and that the solution lies in changing the form. The Holy Spirit sees the form as neutral, as inherently meaningless and content-free. Because His only concern is the content, He will adapt form to suit the need…. We must realize that what will save us is not a change in form but a change in content – a change in the meaning we see in things.”
To change the meaning I see in things, events, situations, or people, I need the Holy Spirit. It is beyond my capability to forcefully will myself – by myself – to see things with the meaning seen by the Holy Spirit. As I wrote in my book, How the Bible became the Bible [Infinity Publishing, 2007, ISBN 978-007414-2993-3], much of the biblical writings are attempts by people as they tried to describe the power of God or their transformation via Jesus using very inadequate human words. Many now believe the Truth of only the words, themselves, rather than identifying with the transformations that have occurred in their own lives – which is beyond description or explanation. In short, biblical literalists are relying on the written form [words] of scripture rather than the content [their own and the writers’ transformations].
From the Text of ACIM [14.X.7-8]: 7. The only judgment involved is the … division into two categories; one of love, and the other the call for love. [This requires the Holy Spirit because] You cannot safely make this division, for you are much too confused either to recognize love, or to believe that everything else is nothing but a call for love. You are too bound to form, and not to content. What you consider content is not content at all. It is merely form, and nothing else. For you do not respond to what a brother really offers you, but only to [your] particular perception of his offering by which the ego judges it.
8. The ego is incapable of understanding content, and is totally unconcerned with it. To the ego, if the form is acceptable the content must be. Otherwise it will attack the form. If you believe you understand something of the "dynamics" of the ego, let me assure you that you understand nothing of it. For of yourself you could not understand it. The study of the ego is not the study of the mind. In fact, the ego enjoys studying itself, and thoroughly approves the undertakings of students who would "analyze" it, thus approving its importance. Yet they but study form with meaningless content.…
The cycle of Life: Dead insects and plant life to soil to vegetation to deer to me and, eventually, back to soil again. Life doesn’t stop. Its content is eternal. It simply changes its form. I need this constant reminder from nature to help me stay on track. Perhaps, some day, I will be able to discern my reliance on form rather than content without the prodding of natural cycles. Perhaps I will be able to routinely ask the Holy Spirit to help me see things as either an act of Love or a call for Love.
As I stated last week, “I have to understand, on a visceral level, who the “Me” or “I” really is when I am speaking or thinking. The “I” that says to myself, “I really need a newer, more reliable car” is a different “I” than the one that says to my Holy Spirit, “I can’t do this anymore. Help me perceive things the way You see them.”
Don
#3 May 2016

Copyright 2016

Friday, May 6, 2016

My Thoughts About Me, Myself and I

I have learned, during the past several years to imagine my thoughts as leaves floating on a stream.  Having a wet weather creek that runs through our property has helped me with this imagery. “Oh! Here comes one. Watch it float by. Oh! Here comes another one. It’s floating by as well. Look at this big yellow one. Wow, look at that orange one! Have a nice day, leaves.”
I recently heard a similar idea in an AA meeting: “The thoughts running through my head are like trains coming in and out of Grand Central Station. The trains come in, pause, and leave for somewhere else. Just because I see these trains come and go does not mean that I have to hop on and ride each one of them.”
I have thoughts that seem to come from nowhere. They stay with me until another thought – also coming from nowhere – takes its place. It is constant. Relentless. Unending. Like the leaves in my stream. But, I don’t have to grab one, bring it back, chew on it and make it my Now. But, often I do. That act disrupts my serenity.
I learned in AA that my thoughts, if taken seriously and acted upon, may very well  lead me to conclude I can have one, little drink. Just every once in a while. It won’t hurt me. I don’t have to tell anyone. Old-timers told me – “Your thoughts and your feelings are not REAL things. They are not reliable. They can change in an instant. They are very, very fickle and they don’t give a damn about you. Alcohol is a disease – cunning, baffling and powerful. So, Donnie, don’t drink today, pray, go to a meeting, share honestly and help someone. Do not listen to or act on your thoughts until you check it out with another person. Do this just for today, and remember, the rest of your life is none of your business.”
A Course in Miracles (ACIM) tells me much the same thing. Early in my study of the Course, I summarized important (to me) concepts from the first 30 Lessons in the Workbook for Students. I put this summary on one page of text as a quick “cheat sheet” for myself. This one-pager opens with:
My mind is preoccupied with past thoughts. I see nothing as it is now.   "The one wholly true thought I can hold about the past is that it is not here."
“Since I see only the past, my thoughts do not mean anything; I am upset because I am seeing something that is not there; my thoughts are merely images I have made. I only see what I am looking for. If my mind is preoccupied with the past – and all thoughts about the past are thoughts or images about illusions, and all I see is a projection of my thoughts – where does that leave what I am "seeing?" Nowhere! I am seeing reflections of my memories of an image or illusion. When I am picturing the past or anticipating the future, my mind is actually blank, because it is not thinking. It is only remembering my memories of an illusion.
“This idea totally engulfs my Ego in fear – if all that my Ego is showing me is meaningless, then I (and my illusionary world) are meaningless. My only option is to let God define my world and me. That is even more scary! It feels more "natural" to make my own meaning – with myself and my concerns at the center. If I let God make my meaning, then I have to believe that I, and all the things I value and fought for (including those things I believe are right and just), might be lost.
“This reality scares the bejeezus out of me, which puts me in a state of fear, rationalization, defensiveness, justification, projection, or disbelief – tools I use to protect "my" world. When I use these "tools," I am feeling like a victim/potential-victim/victor, all of which means that I am vulnerable and open to attack – believing what I see is true reality! Using my own past experience/learning to guide me is to continue to make my own meaning out of the world. By not doing this allows my Spirit Guide to speak to me and take His rightful place in my awareness.”
Today, when aware of my thoughts, it is critically important that I do not give them the weight of truth for me. Certainly, I have learned not to act on these thoughts, but, more importantly, not to give voice to them either. I try not to suppress my thoughts or feelings. But to begin talking about them – and hearing my own voice state them – seems to give those thoughts more power and substance. At least, in my mind, if I recognize these egoic thoughts for what they are, I have the opportunity to simply say to them: “Have a nice day. Bye.”
Then, I need do nothing except to still my mind by focusing on hearing the whispers of my Holy Spirit rather than all my egoic voices. I can remember I am not my body – nor am I my thoughts. I am an already-loved eternal spirit currently having a human experience.
As I stated last week, “I have to understand, on a visceral level, who the “Me” or “I” really is when I am speaking or thinking. The “I” that says to myself, “I really need a newer, more reliable car” is a different “I” than the one that says to my Holy Spirit, “I can’t do this anymore. Help me perceive things the way You see them.”
Don
#2 May 2016

Copyright 2016

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Me, Myself, I and the Holy Spirit

I have titled this message “Me, Myself, and I,” none of which I really am. I am an already-loved eternal spirit that is One with the Holy Spirit.
I have written many times in many ways about how I perceive events, situations and people – all outside of me – as the cause of my discomfort or stress. If “they” would only act better, be more considerate, or be truly aware of what I was telling them, then I would not be so upset. If our political situation were more “grown-up,” I wouldn’t be in such a state of anger or irritation. If that dumb-ass hadn’t tried to cut me off, I wouldn’t have had to swerve which tipped my coffee over, ruined the papers in the passenger seat and “made” me late for my appointment.
Rationally, of course, sitting in my office at my laptop, I intellectually know that events and situations “outside” of me are not what cause my distress. I know that people do not cause me distress.
That intellectual knowledge? Well, lotta good that does me.
I am also intellectually aware that trying to “fix” my external environment will no bring me peace, serenity, and joy. More money won’t. More clothes won’t. A different AA Group won’t. A newer car won’t. More Republicans in office won’t – nor will more Democrats.
That intellectual awareness? Well, lotta good that does me, too.
I have to understand, on a visceral level, who the “Me” or “I” really is when I am speaking or thinking. The “I” that says to myself, “I really need a newer, more reliable car” is a different “I” than the one that says to my Holy Spirit, “I can’t do this anymore. Help “me” perceive things the way You see them.”
I am beginning to be able to discern the subtle difference between my egoic “I,” who I call Felix, and the real, inner Donnie, my True Self, who both asks for guidance and is getting better at tuning in to hear the whispers of the Holy Spirit amidst the din of all Felix’s voices.
That’s a start for me. It DOES do me a lotta good.
I have learned in AA that 99% of my discomfort, irritation, anger and fear comes from trying to control people, places or things. That’s why the Serenity Prayer focuses on asking for the wisdom to know the difference between what I can and cannot change. And when I think about it the only thing I can really change is my attitude and subsequent actions.
I was recently reminded of another AA saying that I had forgotten about. It makes the same point I’m making here, but from the flip side. It’s a thought you may want to ponder this week:
"If I'm not the problem, there is no solution."
As I stated last week: “This means to me that everything is always internal. “I” am always the issue. Trying to control external events, people, or situations is futile, frustrating, exasperating, and disappointing. That is not a picture of peace and serenity.
“It’s always internal!”
Strive for control over your experience of the events/situations/people of your life – not control over the events/situations/people themselves.
Don
#1 May 2016

Copyright 2016