Friday, February 5, 2016

Please Don’t ‘Should’ On Me

During a Sunday service in our Saint Augustine New Thought congregation I heard a creative duo sing a great song. The lyrics were wonderful. I do not know whether they were singing an established song or wrote the lyrics themselves. I cannot remember the words, except for the refrain: “I Don’t ‘should’ on you. Please don’t ‘should’ on me.”
When I used to counsel congregants, I would often state: If I could remove two words from the English language, I would remove “should” and “ought.” Both words convey a twenty-twenty hindsight coupled with judgment and guilt. Both words bring the focus of the conversation from the present to the past as if it’s a predictor of the future. But what about NOW?
Well, NOW gets lost in the shuffle.
That’s kinda what I was going through as I reviewed my life while going through the memorabilia I had collected. I wrote a little about that last week [Msg-4-Jan-2016; Memories Of A Past That Is No Longer There]. I shared that experience in an AA meeting this week. The meeting topic was about acceptance, which was very appropriate for me. One principal story in the Big Book, is entitled “Acceptance Was The Answer” and that was quoted very often during the meeting. I have reproduced that below.
 “… After I had been around A.A. for seven months, tapering off alcohol and pills, not finding the program working very well, I was finally able to say, “Okay, God. It is true that I—of all people, strange as it may seem, and even though I didn’t give my permission—really, really am an alcoholic of sorts. And it’s all right with me. Now, what am I going to do about it?” When I stopped living in the problem and began living in the answer, the problem went away. From that moment on, I have not had a single compulsion to drink.
“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation—some fact of my life —unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.
“Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” He forgot to mention that I was the chief critic. I was always able to see the flaw in every person, every situation. And I was always glad to point it out, because I knew you wanted perfection, just as I did. A.A. and acceptance have taught me that there is a bit of good in the worst of us and a bit of bad in the best of us; that we are all children of God and we each have a right to be here. When I complain about me or about you, I am complaining about God’s handiwork. I am saying that I know better than God.[Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services Inc., 2001, pp. 416-7]]
That passage is one of the most quoted from all of AA’s stories. It is critical to my sobriety and serenity. The problem is always within me. I was taught – and now firmly believe – that I either profit materially or learn a lesson from everything I do or that happens to me. Either way it is a positive outcome. Without that thought guiding me, I quickly regress into a huge pity-pot and relish holding court from my king-baby chair as the premier critic of the universe.
Wallowing in self-pity, I am in a state of anger, resentment, and discontent. That is the exact opposite of what my spiritual progress has allowed me to glimpse: peace, joy, serenity and love.
For me it always boils down to being in my thoughts all by myself. I’m reminded of another quote common among AA old-timers: "Your mind is like a bad neighborhood - don't go in there alone."
But I still do sometimes – until the pain and discontent get too great. Then I remember – “Donnie, you’ve been in a bad neighborhood all by yourself. All about you is fear, anger, resentment, hate. Go to a meeting and talk about it.”
It always works for me.
I remember that I was taught I’m as sick as my secrets. If I feel ashamed or embarrassed about sharing in a meeting, then I’ll find someone I can confide in privately. The longer I’m active in AA, however, the less I find myself being embarrassed by being honest.
That’s why I compose and send these weekly messages to you. It allows me to simply share who I am – as I grow and as I stumble.
When I am speaking/thinking lots and lots of “should” thoughts – whether directed at myself or outwardly – I know instinctively that I am in a “bad neighborhood” and I am not happy and serene.
I get out of there as quickly as I can!
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.
Don
#1 Feb 2016

Copyright 2016

Friday, January 29, 2016

Memories Of A Past That Is No Longer There

With the snow, ice and bitter cold this past week, I took the opportunity to go through several banker boxes of personal memorabilia and divvy it up between my two children and those items I truly wanted to keep.
I thought it might take me a couple of hours.
The memories have been boxed and mailed. But there was a lot of sadness that resurfaced. There were smiles at old photos of myself – especially in graduate school, where I looked like I was all of 14 years old: All my hair; Dark brown rather than white; No mustache. Thin and trim.
There were pictures of old girlfriends, my initial AA family, the children when they were young and still thought I hung the moon, my siblings and cousins. Lots of smiles and “Oh my god! I didn’t know I kept that!” There were sad moments, too, of people no longer here. There were sweet letters from my son, who no longer talks to me, and Father’s Day cards from my daughter proclaiming me to be the best father she’s ever had.
Lumps in my throat. Teary eyes. Smiles. Prideful remembrances. Yes, and some “Holy Shits!”
Two days later – not two hours! – I was pretty much done.
But I must say, as well, I do feel relieved and lightened. My two children are over and almost over fifty now. It was time.
However, as I reminisced I was also reminded of the frailty of my memory(ies). A Course in Miracles (ACIM) teaches me that the only absolute thing I can say about the past is that it is no longer here. The only reality is NOW. Even when I do think of past events or people, those memories are occurring in my NOW. Just by thinking of them brings them to the forefront (the NOW) of my consciousness. Even though I choose to deal with these memories rather than be in the moment, it is always NOW.
Of course I can elect to ponder over an old painful memory and decide to “re-wallow” in its pain and shame – which fills my NOW with – YEP – pain and shame. Or joy. Or indifference. Whatever. And as certain as I am of the truth of many of my memories, all I need to do is share them with my siblings, cousins, or old friends and suddenly the veracity I had ascribed to those memories is sorely thrown into doubt. “That’s interesting, Don. I don’t remember it that way.” Or “Gee, Don, I don’t remember that at all. Are you sure that happened?”
So, why do I want to relive these “suspect” memories? Why do I prefer them to NOW – the place where the Voice for God wants to meet me?
Felix (my egoic self) wants me to live in his perceived illusionary world of duality (right/wrong. good/bad, smart/dumb, correct/stupid, etc.), separateness, attack, vengeance, justification, resentment, anger and fear. Felix, you must understand, firmly believes in the bumper sticker wisdom that proclaims: “If you aren’t scared and worried, you’re not paying attention.” In short, Felix enjoys fear – it makes him feel alive, in control, and truly aware of this dangerous world he perceives. Without this there’s no reason for Felix to be. There’s no need for him to be. That thought scares him to death. Trust me, my Felix is not going to go away quietly into the night.
The NOW, where I meet the Holy Spirit or the Voice for God, has no past. I meet Him when I still my mind. I meet Him when I am quiet. My quiet mind is where each day or each moment is a fresh beginning. It is where I can ask my Spirit Guide to aid me in answering questions and pointing me in the right direction for all my decisions. This is explained in Chapter 30 (The New Beginning) Section 1 (Rules for Decision).
The Voice for God spells out 7 distinct steps for inviting a new beginning (excerpted below):
(1) The outlook starts with this: Today I will make no decisions by myself.
(2) Throughout the day, at any time you think of it and have a quiet moment for reflection, tell yourself again the kind of day you want; the feelings you would have, the things you want to happen to you, and the things you would experience, and say: If I make no decisions by myself, this is the day that will be given me.
(3) Remember once again the day you want, and recognize that something has occurred that is not part of it. Then realize that you have asked a question by yourself, and must have set an answer in your terms. Then say: I have no question. I forgot what to decide. This cancels out the terms that you have set, and lets the answer show you what the question must have really been.
(4) If you are so unwilling to receive you cannot even let your question go, you can begin to change your mind with this: At least I can decide I do not like what I feel now.
(5) Having decided that you do not like the way you feel, what could be easier than to continue with: And so I hope I have been wrong.
(6) This tiny grain of wisdom will suffice to take you further. You are not coerced, but merely hope to get a thing you want. And you can say in perfect honesty: I want another way to look at this.
(7) This final step is but acknowledgement of lack of opposition to be helped. It is a statement of an open mind, not certain yet, but willing to be shown: Perhaps there is another way to look at this. What can I lose by asking? Thus you now can ask a question that makes sense, and so the answer will make sense as well. Nor will you fight against it, for you see that it is you who will be helped by it.
I hope this helps you as it has me.
By the way, from last week’s message, I got my driveway clean as a whistle and my wife’s sugar cream pie was “jus’ plum wunnerful.” I skipped the popcorn, however.
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.
Don
#4 Jan 2016
Copyright 2016

Friday, January 22, 2016

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

Here I sit this afternoon watching a snowstorm do it’s business on Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau. It’s a cold, gray Friday and the sky is dumping a mix of drizzle and sleet amidst mostly snow. Sometimes the snowflakes are quarter-sized, some times much smaller. When the flakes are large and floating downward like autumn leaves it is very beautiful, quiet and serene. The smell of a snowstorm is very distinct to me. The crunch of the snow under foot is comforting and deadens the typical noise of the surrounding hardwood forest that is our backyard, where the deer and squirrels move silently as they search for something edible. I feel sorry for them and want to run out and give them a healthy granola bar or some other snack.
I just finished yesterday with cleaning up after Wednesday’s storm. So, as I sit here, I am thinking of the difficulty and mess that’ll be involved in cleaning up the walks and driveway tomorrow.
But that’s not living in the NOW, is it?
What’s wrong with me – worrying about tomorrow rather than living today? What’s wrong with planning? Anticipating? Preparing? Do these mental activities interfere with my spiritual development? Am I “giving in” to some temptations of my fleshly body or am I simply spiritually weak?
Then I remember the old Buddhist saying about the difference between the enlightened and the unenlightened: “Before enlightenment, I arose in the morning and went out to carry water and chop wood. After enlightenment, I arose in the morning and went out to carry water and chop wood.” Enlightenment is an inward spiritual reality of “content” and has nothing to do with external worldly “form.” 
I comprehend that I can look upon a terrible worldly tragedy, not with my physical eyes that see form, but with spiritual eyes of true vision. I can see tragedy and still be filled with love, peace, joy and serenity. But, I still attempt to apply spiritual content to the physical world of form. Whenever I do that it gets me into trouble. It can spin me into states of anxiety, depression, self-judgment, and virtually any negative emotional state other than serenity, love, joy and peace.
I can, generally, get out of a bluish funk by concentrating on gratitude. That has been somewhat working for me today. I am grateful that I’m in my home, warm and toasty.  I am grateful for our dog, Beau, who is fascinated with snow. He doesn’t like its coldness between his pads, but he’s fascinated nevertheless. I am grateful for the smell wafting from our kitchen. My wife is experimenting with a Midwestern sugar cream pie. She’s not very pleased with the result, but I thoroughly enjoy eating her ”mistakes.” I’ll relish that tonight. I am grateful for the opportunity to go to an AA meeting this weekend. Being surrounded by folks of all stripes, who accept me as I am, does more for my positive state of mind than anything I can imagine.
So, I’ll continue to sit in my study, and gaze out the windows at the swirling, fluffy flakes as they make their way to take up residence on our property.
And ….
I’ll let tomorrow’s snow shoveling take care of itself – tomorrow.
Now, I think I’ll go make a big bowl of popcorn and start a new novel.
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.

Don
#3 Jan 2016

Copyright 2016

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Let Go! Let Go! Let Go!

There is a quote that states: "God can't give you anything new until you let go of the old." How true that is for me.
I remember in college taking sociology/psychology courses as part of my minor (my major was history). One of the psychology observations was following some monkeys who were being trapped for sale to zoos all over the world. Natives would place glass jars in tree forks with nuts, fruits and seeds inside. The monkeys would ease their paws inside the jar grab a handful of goodies, but couldn’t withdraw their hands without opening their fists – which meant they’d have to drop all the food. In that mental quandary, the monkeys would hold on to the food – and the jar – which meant they couldn’t climb into the upper limbs of the trees. Humans would finally drop a net over them for capture. It was simple and the monkeys remained unhurt.
It was quite a painful vision watching the monkeys trying to make up their minds – scared, hungry and greedy all at the same time. These are all very primal emotions for monkeys – and for me, as well. [Maybe that says a lot about me!]
Now, realistically, I don’t make a habit out of foraging for nuts, fruits or seeds. So, I don’t think I’d have a problem letting go of those items – especially if there’s an Arby’s a block away. And I don’t really have much of an issue with hanging on to “things” I have acquired. But I do have a real issue letting go of outdated ideas, such as duality, lack, fear of changes to my values and my routines, letting go of – according to me – right or correct notions I feel I must always justify and defend, which always leaves me angry and disturbed. 
These ideas keep me stuck in cerebral places that keep me in mental positions of justifying, protecting, explaining, educating, defending, or debating.  While mowing or painting or repairing some item around the house, I will have silent and imaginary conversations with Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump or Paul Ryan eloquently explaining the error of their ways and providing the enlightened views I espouse. I think to myself, “If someone really understood things as I do, there would be no way for them to think any differently than I.”
This, of course, keeps my mind so occupied with my own loud voices I cannot hear the whispers of the Holy Spirit. This is precisely why Felix – my egoic mind – does this. The last thing in the world Felix wants is for me to truly hear what my higher mind might learn from the Holy Spirit.
But all I have to do is be willing to listen for a different voice or to be open to a different idea and to be honest about how all my old ideas are not really making me very happy or peaceful. Rather, hanging on to these ideas keeps me agitated, worried, nervous, and fearful.
A case in point: We have already begun receiving year-end statements of investments, annuities, interest paid or earned that I file for use in preparing tax information for my accountant. We got a statement from an annuity that I misread. I thought it was saying it had not grown at all during 2015, yet the fee had remained unchanged. I panicked. So, here I was, running around the house with my hair on fire, exclaiming: “We’re going to end up in the poor house! For 10 days each month we’re going to have to eat dog food on crackers to stretch our budget. We’ll never take another real vacation. OMG! What’re we going to do!
This attachment and the instant, very unpleasant reaction it initiated, taught me how easy it is to fall back to my egoic perceptions. It taught me how these perceptions do not bring peace, calm and joy. They bring fear, panic and dread. To let go of them I need help, which the Holy Spirit will provide. If I am simply willing to listen for his quiet whispers and be open to the guidance and possibilities He provides He will do the rest. I intuitively know this is true.
So why did I forget this truth? Even though I am a work in progress I forgot to stop, take a breath, and quiet Felix’s voices. I forgot to be willing. I have not sinned.  I have just made an error that I can correct by making a different choice.
From a member of AA’s Fellowship: 
Oh how I love to hang on to what I think I know…. But because I had hit a bottom, I was also willing to try something new.
“That willingness was the crack in my personality through which God's energy and grace entered. I was taught that with willingness comes surrender, and one by one I began peeling back the layers of the onion that were my old ideas. As I uncovered, discovered, and discarded them, God gave me new ways of looking at, thinking about and acting in my life. Slowly, a new man was being born….
“When I become stuck or unhappy these days, I now know to pray for the willingness to let go so God can give me something new. “ [Michael Z at: http://www.thewisdomoftherooms.com.]
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.

Don
#2 Jan 2016

Copyright 2016

Friday, January 8, 2016

Peace In Spite Of Terrorists, Fear And Bumper Stickers

I have written before about the only REAL thing I can do in my illusionary world of my perception is to think loving thoughts and allow loving actions to follow naturally.  It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?
It isn’t.
How can I think loving thoughts in the face of the fear that is all around me: Newscasts and Web postings that are full of fear mongering politicians? Terror attacks on our and foreign soil? Hateful speech voiced by folks in line with me at a grocery store? Vile, angry messages on bumper stickers?
I try to enter a personal state of peace by having loving thoughts – but it doesn’t work. I truly understand that the opposite of love is fear. I comprehend that each of my thoughts is either contributing to the ocean of love or the sea of fear. So, I try (through sheer will-power and mental discipline/determination) to think thoughts grounded in love. But I’m still upset and angry, which is simply a nice way of saying “I’m still in fear.” Then I realize my errors: I’M the one trying to think loving thoughts. I’M looking for MY peace in MY egoic world of form to occur as the result of MY determined, willful loving thoughts.
How’s that working? As I said, it doesn’t work for me.
These two issues – My egoic Felix trying to be good enough to be loving and My attempts, through force of will, to change the physical world around me. Both of these issues mean, of course, that I believe that the key to my peacefulness is for me to change the world because of my forced love. What an insane idea!
I know my peace comes from the inside out, not from the outside in. So why do I continue this insane path? The simple answer? It’s all Felix knows what to do.
As Beverly Hutchinson McNeff states in the Jan/Feb 2016 issue of The Holy Encounter magazine [Miracle Distribution Center, Anaheim CA, p.12 – www.miraclecenter.org]:
“How do we escape this lonely, suffering world? How do we change our minds? How do we experience freedom and the gifts of God? It does not come by our denying the world or condemning ourselves for the choices we have made….
“We will never find freedom [or peace or love] by turning off the television, not reading the newspaper, or running away from painful relationships, but neither does it come to us by beating ourselves up for the choices we have made or staying in an abusive environment. Healing comes as we gently take responsibility and remind ourselves there is another way, and our realization that we do not know how to find this ‘other way,’ This not-knowing phase will allow the Answer God has given us, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to show us a healing solution in every challenge. The Holy Spirit only needs our willingness…in such a way that we feel His peace and value it more than our suffering. Problems will still come to us, but through His Vision we will see only the loving acts or the calls for love, and our desire will be to answer in like form.”
When I am agitated, fearful, angry, or frustrated, I only need to still my mind. I need to be only a little willing to allow the Holy Spirit to show me another way of looking at things. I need only to acknowledge that I no longer want fear nor its offspring, anger and hate. I need only to acknowledge that I want peace – the peace that is beyond understanding – and I want love.
In short - I need do virtually nothing. 
A new way of looking at things comes from the Holy Spirit – not from my intellectual processes and my cognitive discipline. The subsequent sense of peace comes from my experiencing the resulting perception that the Spirit has provided. He does the work. I merely have to be willing to allow Him the tiny opportunity to change my perception.
I still do not understand why that is – sometimes – so hard for me to do. I am glad I’m a work in progress rather than an example of perfect spirituality.
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.
Happy New [and peaceful!] Year.
Don
#1 Jan 2016

Copyright 2016