Sunday, March 25, 2012

If You Spot It, You got it.

During the first year I was getting sober my sponsor would tell me – over and over –words I just shuddered to hear. I was going to AA meetings 6-7 times each week. They were reasonably large meetings, the smallest being maybe 20+ members of the Fellowship. Listening to that many people week after week upped the odds that there would be people I just didn’t like – people who just seemed to rub me the wrong way from the very beginning. From the “git go,” as they would say in West Texas, where I grew up.
Following a meeting, I would mention, “so-and-so just irritates me,” or  “there’s just something about Henry that gets on my nerves,” or “Every time Johnny starts to share I just have to grit my teeth.” My sponsor would give me a knowing look and tell me, “Well, Donnie, what is it in them that reminds you of something you’re hiding from yourself?”  God, I hated that observation!
If I argued with him, my sponsor would gently remind me of the Twelfth Tradition: “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.” He would often elaborate by telling stories on himself of incidents where someone who grated on his nerves said exactly what he needed to hear at that meeting. Had he tuned them out, he would have missed the message his Higher Power wanted him to hear that day.
I learned, screaming, whining and clawing, to listen very closely to those I just didn’t like very much. It was hard for me to admit but most of the time what they shared was exactly what I needed to hear. Principles before personalities – the spiritual foundation of the Fellowship. At least I began to understand there was a reason for the Twelfth Tradition. Namely, I wasn’t the first to experience this (often) irritating truism. I wasn’t all that unique after all. I was just one of the herd – a run-of-the-mill alcoholic.
Psychologists talk a lot about the defense mechanism of Projection. So does A Course in Miracles (ACIM).  We project out attitudes/behaviors on those around us, then castigate and blame them for having those characteristics. This process saves us from having to face these behaviors in ourselves.
In a companion Glossary of Terms, ACIM describes projection in this way: We try to externalize an idea from our mind onto our perceived external world so the idea now appears to be objectively real with an independent power over us. People, especially, are animated by our own thoughts, which we cannot admit are truly inside of us. We prefer to see people as outside of us and acting on us. This description of Projection is a “… reversal of the commonsense belief that our perception is caused from without. External objects seem to be sending information through our senses to our brains, seemingly causing our perception of them. Yet our perceptions are caused internally. Over time we build up beliefs about reality. These beliefs guide our attention causing our eyes to search for those things that fit our pre-existing categories. Once we find these things, our beliefs guide our interpretation of them, and these interpretations are our perception. Our perceptions are thus projections of our beliefs, through the means of selective attention and subjective interpretation. As a result, what we see is simply a mirror, a reflection of our state of mind.” Robert Perry, Glossary of Terms from A Course in Miracles, 2nd Edition, Circle Publishing, 2005, p.83.
My former mother-in-law had a phobia about bird feathers, especially chicken feathers. She’d scream in fear at the sight of them. As a child she was terrified by the flapping flurry after disturbing a bunch of roosting chickens. My only surviving aunt, 97 years old, has an uncontrollable fear of water – baths, showers, lakes and oceans. This stems from a time, as a child, when her brothers held her under water too long for comfort. It terrified her. In both of these simplistic examples it is very clear that the perceptions of these women were actually their internal interpretation of pre-existing attitudes – about feathers or about water.
I remember a song from the 1940s Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. The musical dealt with the perceived horror of interracial love and marriage – in this case a relationship between a white man and a Polynesian woman. In the lyrics of one of the songs was the refrain, “…You’ve got to be taught to hate.” That happens to all of us about everything. We are taught our beliefs about reality. Those beliefs guide our attention to what we perceive and how we interpret our perceptions. And that’s the “external world” we convince ourselves is reality. The Course says quite simply: It’s insane.
AA (as the Fellowship always seems to do!) has a much simpler way of stating all this:  “If you spot it, you got it.”
By the way, I still abhor coming face-to-face with this reality.
Thanks for listening again this week. As always – with my blessing – please share this message with your friends, family and acquaintances.

#4 March, 2012

No comments:

Post a Comment