“Love must be learned, and learned again and again; there is no end to it. Hate needs no instruction, but only waits to be provoked.” Katherine Anne Porter

Feeling the love yet? I’m not. At least not yet. I should never look at the news first thing in the morning; there’s nothing but war and bloodshed, and seniors getting ripped off by con artists… The drive in to work isn’t much better as I’m battling it out with all the morons on the road. I was late getting to the office, but I managed to slip in unnoticed, trying to keep a low profile.

I was feeling resentful, irritable and stressed; this is a good indication that I’ve drifted off into an illusion, a place that exists only in my head. Once again, I came to the realization that I am not present, in the moment, here and now. I was in a place where I feel powerless… and the only response for an addict who’s feeling powerless is to ‘act out.’ (Not a good place.)

There is always a void when I slip into the fantasy of fear and hate. And there is only one way to fill the void: Love and gratitude.

The fear and hate (resentment, irritability and stress) don’t need any instruction. Hate is like a default setting that kicks in when I’ve failed to choose another setting. Fear seems to be hardwired into our brains; every time we face a challenge or a change fear kicks in so effortlessly. I don’t think I have to explain…

But love – which is our true and authentic self – requires teaching and training, encouragement and support. Call it what you will, fear and hate seems easier than love and gratitude. Recognizing this reality (and accepting it, as well) frees me up so I can make a free choice to love and be grateful.

I don’t have to remain in the ‘default setting’ of fear and hate when I can freely choose to be in the moment – full of acceptance and gratitude. These two words help to define my concept of love. I can fill the empty void of fear with a different kind of energy: Gratitude. This is something my partner (thank you, Evi) has demonstrated to me over the many years we have been together.

I have enlisted in the “Gratitude Training Program” offered by my Higher Power. It requires at least 10 minutes a day of being perfectly present and fully engaged in the practice of gratitude. It is difficult to do, but each subsequent day gets easier. And it is making a huge difference – especially when it comes to my addiction.

Gratitude is a practice that helps fill the spiritual void in my heart with the positive energy of love. This ‘present moment’ is where I can find my authentic self and enjoy Love’s energy.

You can learn to love by practicing gratitude in this present moment.

“A mighty flame follows a tiny spark.” Dante

I’m feeling quite insignificant today. Small and unimportant, like I don’t matter. Let’s face it; what have I done in this life that has amounted to much? Who have I influenced in my life? I feel as though what I do doesn’t make a bit of difference.

These thoughts never fail to depress and discourage me. They’re the same thoughts and feelings that accompanied my addiction. I became more isolated in my addiction as each day passed. And since it didn’t matter to others what I did or said, then I chose to “medicate.” Besides, my addiction wasn’t hurting anyone… was it?

At the beginning I didn’t have a clue how my addiction would affect the people around me, especially the ones I knew and loved. It wasn’t until I was deep into it and I ‘bottomed out’ that it occurred to me what was happening. This addiction was indeed having a profound effect on my family and friends.

My absenteeism and chronic lateness played a factor. (I was quite isolated.) Mood swings and explosive anger was another. Turning a good marriage into a bad one was the ultimate display of how my addiction affected others.

The ripple effect of a tiny act can have great repercussions for good and ill. I just have to look back and remember what happened. Even the smallest and seemingly insignificant acts of selfishness created a huge amount of chaos in my life and my family.

If my negative acts can have such a strong impact what might a positive decision make in my world?

My feeling of insignificance today is the same one that accompanied my fall into addiction. It’s a lie I tell myself. “I am nothing, and what I do amounts to nothing.” What a load of crap! Where do these thoughts come from?

The truth is: I am not insignificant and my actions do matter. And I can have a positive effect on others when I choose to do good. A simple act of kindness can influence another which could turn their world around and impact and entire community.

I just have to remember the courageous act of an elderly black woman who dared to sit at the front of the bus when the local community required that she move to the back. It not only challenged the status quo, it started an entire movement for black people in the American south.

You are significant. What you say and do is of great importance to us all. You have the potential for great good in the world.

Does “letting go” mean I have to forgive?

I don’t have a favorite slogan that I repeat to myself, but if I did… it would probably be “Let go, and let God.” I like this slogan because it points to some important steps in the program. One of them is forgiveness.

The actual word ‘forgiveness’ isn’t used in any of the 12 steps, but it is implied. After we’ve taken our inventory in the fourth step, we confess it in the fifth. Following confession, we ask for forgiveness. This is step 6 and 7. “We humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.”

Steps 8 and 9 require that we make amends: We forgive others and ask for their forgiveness. This can only follow steps 6 and 7. Forgiving others flows naturally from our receiving forgiveness.

Today I feel resentful to someone at work. They don’t know I feel this way because I haven’t taken any action. My resentment toward them probably has more to do with me than it does them. However, it leaves me with a choice:

Will I hang on to it, or let it go?

This isn’t an intellectual decision. I already know the right answer! It’s a question of willingness. I know how to let go, but will I? And that’s an emotional decision that isn’t easy to make. I’ve read a lot of books, talked to a lot of people, and gone to a lot of meetings… and yet I still find this kind of decision difficult.

That’s because these decisions are made at an emotional level. There are no guarantees that I will make the right decision. None. This thing about correct decision making is not a slam dunk: Sometimes the ball rolls around the hoop several times before passing through the basket – or not.

Forgiveness (letting go) is to recovery as oxygen is to the air we breathe. There are no ‘ifs’ in forgiveness. Putting conditions on our ability to forgive will bring the whole process to a screeching halt. And we will ‘suffocate’ as a result.

If I am to continue in recovery, I must learn to forgive. Today, I need to let it go; hand it over to my Higher Power. “Let go and let God.” With God’s help I can let go.

“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood,” Marie Curie

When I began recovery and started to work the steps, I got bogged down at step four. What had started with enthusiasm soon became my favorite thing to avoid. I made up all kinds of excuses why I couldn’t finish that step. It started out with, “It’s too hard.” Then I began to tell myself, “I don’t have the time. That gave way to, “I don’t need to do this step.” And finally, “I have no interest in doing step four.”

Excuses were plentiful, and I found no difficulty coming up with them. I had to somehow rationalize my avoidance, my procrastination. But there was something that lurked beneath the surface: Fear.

Fear is not a bad thing, mind you. It sure comes in handy when you’re crossing the street or handling a knife. But it serves no purpose whatsoever when it prevents me from moving forward with something that is good and necessary like the 12-Step program.

So, what am I afraid of? I think (for me) it’s getting back to that ‘perfectionist’ thing.

I want everything to be perfect. But I’m afraid I’ll screw up, or that I’ll leave something out that’s really important. Most of the time I’m afraid I’ll get started, and then lose my momentum over time. And that has a great deal to do with my own lack of confidence. Let’s face it: Trying to do everything perfectly is completely intimidating. I don’t even want to try because I know I will not succeed. Of course I won’t succeed. It’s impossible; perfection simply doesn’t exist.

Is there a solution to procrastination? Well, it depends what is causing it. In my case, perfectionism – an illusion or fairytale I bought into when I was a kid – was the cause. It required that I simply be aware of this train of thought, and put a stop to it by taking action. Usually the inertia that builds up is broken with the first step. Instead of asking, “Why?” I have learned to ask “How?” When I dumb it down to something simple and doable, I can usually get started. If however I am unwilling to try step four, I review step three by renewing my commitment to my Higher Power.

There seems to be four steps to moving past procrastination in recovery:

1) Be aware of your train of thought, and your illusions about perfectionism
2) Simplify; stop intimidating yourself with what is complicated (dumb it down)
3) Ask for help by maintaining conscious contact with your Higher Power.
4) Take action by using baby steps until you have gained some momentum.

The program works if you work it; and you’re worth it!

“If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” G. K. Chesterton

Okay, I’ll admit it. I procrastinate. It’s not that I want to put things off; I just do. Like this blog post, for instance. I was supposed to start this a week ago. The desire to bring it to pass was certainly there – right from the get go. But I put it off. And for what?

I think I have an attitude of perfectionism. Even today I feel it lingering as I considered what to post. It’s got to be perfect, you know… as if ‘perfection’ actually existed. There remains this fantasy in my head that something perfect exists out there and I must keep looking until I find it. It’s enough to give me writer’s block! And all creativity is brought to a halt just because I spend my time looking for something ‘perfect’ to say.

Today I am grateful to my Higher Power for the realization that there is never going to be the perfect time, or place, or the perfect idea… or the perfect blog post. It’s very liberating to realize that perfection doesn’t really exist. Oh, I suppose it exists in my mind (along with a whole host of other illusions and fantasies.) But as I look around I realize that there is nothing perfect.

There will never be the perfect time to begin anything; the time to begin is now.

When I began recovery and started to work the steps, I got bogged down at step four. What had started with enthusiasm soon became my favorite thing to avoid. I made up all kinds of excuses why I couldn’t finish that step. It started out with, “It’s too hard.” Then I began to tell myself, “I don’t have the time. That gave way to, “I don’t need to do this step” And finally, “I have no interest in doing step four.”

Excuses were plentiful, and I found no difficulty coming up with them. I had to somehow rationalize my avoidance, my procrastination. But there was something that lurked beneath the surface: Fear.

Fear is not a bad thing, mind you. It sure comes in handy when you’re crossing the street or handling a sharp knife. But it serves no purpose whatsoever when it prevents me from moving forward with something that is good and necessary like the 12-Step program.

If I work the Steps I will recover; I need never fear that I won’t make it. I trust the program, and I trust my Higher Power. I am learning to love the way God loves. And this love gives me the courage to continue my journey. I may not be recovering ‘perfectly’ but I am recovering!

You are not perfect, nor will you ever be perfect. But you will recover if you work the Steps… and you’re worth it!

 

What lies hidden can hurt you…

Were you around during the construction of the Titanic? Me neither. We know there was a lot of hype that surrounded its maiden voyage… words like “indestructible” and “unsinkable.”

But this mighty ocean-going vessel never made it across the Atlantic. Not once.

Do we blame the engineers? The captain? The iceberg?

I don’t know. Perhaps the false idea that it was “unbreakable” caused this tragic incident. A sort of “don’t worry, we’ll be fine” attitude led to its demise…

Not knowing – or caring – what lies beneath the surface can set us up for a fall. And when we collapse, we could take a lot of people with us…

Thinking you are indestructible will set you up for a collision with the iceberg of hidden beliefs. There are ‘hidden’ beliefs just below the surface, beneath the level of your awareness. But just because you are unaware of them, doesn’t mean they don’t influence how you think and feel.

In fact, you have beliefs that have directed your life since you were a small child.

What are some of your hidden beliefs? Here are a few of my own:

· “I am unworthy”
· “I am not good enough”

Now, I don’t walk around thinking to myself, “I am worthless.” It’s my actions that betray my beliefs. I try to imagine what I want to do with my life. But I don’t make the necessary effort to get where I want to go. It is my actions that betray the belief “I don’t deserve it… I am unworthy.”

Your recovery depends on a growing awareness of your hidden beliefs that lie just below the surface. They’re the “iceberg” that can sink your ship before it has reached its destination.

Wake up!

Before we pursue the topic of mindfulness, let’s see what mindfulness is not. We’ll call it mindlessness.

Mindlessness: A funny story

My wife was shopping at Winners the other day. When she got to the checkout counter, she handed the cashier her new credit card. The cashier looked at it and handed it back to her, asking that she sign it immediately. So she signed her credit card in front of the cashier and handed it back. After running her card through the machine successfully, the cashier asked my wife to sign the credit receipt – which she did, of course.  At that point, the cashier compared the signature on the card with the signature on the receipt… needless to say, they matched!

We do mindless things all the time. Like driving a car. A few years ago we (my family and I) moved to another town nearby. But after work, I often found myself pulling into the driveway of our old house! It took me a few times to get it right.

This is mindlessness. And it has everything to do with a conditioned mind. If you don’t practice mindfulness, you will default to mindlessness…

Our minds are malleable, like plastic. Over the years, our minds have been conditioned by parents and teachers. We’ve also been exposed to the media, trained by all of its various forms of advertising and news-making.

In fact, the ‘mind’ is a conditioned phenomenon. Which is to say: Our minds are the product of our environment. Habitual thinking forms the mind, setting it up to receive more of the same. An unexamined thought life will generate more thinking that is governed by habit and inattention.

Mindlessness (the default setting) causes us to suffer. When we remain unaware of our thought patterns, we are held captive in a room controlled by our false beliefs. As long as we remain unaware of these false beliefs, they have control over our lives. If you suffer emotionally it’s because of your mindless adherence to your false beliefs.

Are we going to remain powerless over our emotional suffering? I hope not! Is there a way we can awaken from our mindless slumber?

Next week we’ll talk about mindfulness, and how we can learn to wake up to the false beliefs that cause us to suffer.

“Mindfulness”

Everyone has a ‘map’ of reality. Do you know what I mean?

A map is something we use to help us navigate through a certain area. It represents the territory using lines to symbolize roads and rivers and dots to indicate cities and towns.

Your ‘map’ of reality is very useful. It’s how you navigate through life. It helps you remember how to get dressed in the morning. Without it you wouldn’t be able to drive your car or use your cell phone. I play guitar, and without my ‘map’ I would have to relearn the instrument every day.

This map also contains the ideals, beliefs and assumptions that help us make decisions.  Your mind is conditioned. It has adopted certain beliefs – assumptions – about things you may or may not understand.

But some of these beliefs don’t serve us very well. These are the hidden values, the unconscious agendas, that hold us back. They produce the thoughts that lead to unhappiness, bitterness, resentment, anger and depression – emotions that surface almost involuntarily.

Do we need to be limited by these unconscious beliefs that have control over our emotional life?

No – not if we’re willing to learn how to become aware of them. For there is a way in which we can become more aware; and if more aware, then better able to make better choices. And that way is by practicing mindfulness.

We are going to spend the next few weeks taking a look at mindfulness. We’re going to explore this thing called ‘map of reality’ and see how mindfulness can help us bring to our awareness the hidden things that hold us back.

Hopefully, we will learn how to make better progress in recovery.

 

Let God be your ‘Source’

Who is your Higher Power? Someone who is bigger? Stronger? Smarter? Wiser?

I call my Higher Power ‘God.’ I’ve come to define God as the Creator – the Universal Mind behind the created order.

It has been said that God is Love. I believe this goes way beyond our concept of “warm and fuzzy.” This divine Love is the creative Desire that brought our world into being. Love is the energy that fills the universe because Creative Love is the reason it is there in the first place.

But you may say, “This world is not full of love. This world is a scary place where I feel insecure and afraid to face the new day.” Even though you may feel this way, your belief is not based on truth.

If you are going to let go, you are going to need to believe that God exists, that God is Love, and that God – your Higher Power – is the one who brought this world into being.

And it seems reasonable to also accept the fact that this universe is a friendly place – created in Love. Your Higher Power is indeed your Source. And you need to let go, and let God be your Source!

If you have done step three of the 12 Step program, you have given yourself over to the care of God. In other words, you have made a conscious decision to let God meet your needs.

No longer are you going to take what you think you need. That’s how you got into addiction in the first place. Instead, you have decided to let God take care of you. Isn’t this what the spiritual awakening is all about – making a shift in our perspective by letting God take the rightful place as the Source of all you need and want?

You were created in Love, and you need this Love. Addiction will only cut you off from the Source of Love. Continually letting go and letting God will keep you connected to the One who has what you need.

Let God be your Source.

The Power of Surrender

I still remember the day when I learned to wind surf. The day was perfect. A warm sun shone brightly in the blue sky as a gentle breeze rippled the surface of the sparkling lake.

Although it seemed to be an impossible task, I’d seen others do it – so I persisted. But no matter how tightly I clutched the sail I was mercilessly blown off the board and into the lake.

Over and over, I got back up only to be blown off my unstable perch. Without a doubt, I spent more time in the water than on the board before I got the ‘hang’ of it.

As I look back, I realize that I was fighting the wind (the force). Of course, I was no match for this formidable ‘foe’ – wrestling with the power of the wind was getting me nowhere.

It wasn’t until I gave up trying to ‘teach’ the wind what I wanted, and learned how to respect this mighty force that I stopped thinking it was my foe and allowed it to become my friend. My ally! When I gave up resisting and surrendered to the wind’s force, I was then able to windsurf successfully – and stay high and dry!

There is a certain order to this Universe in which we live. The power that holds everything together is clearly seen in this divine order of things. As addicts we resist ‘what is’ and live in direct conflict with the order of the Universe. Consequently, we enter into chaos and suffering. But if we align ourselves with this order – if we surrender to the power of the Universe – we will experience this same power in our lives.

As addicts we lived in direct conflict with Higher Power and the order of the Universe. And our lives became more and more chaotic, spinning out of control. When we made the decision to hand over our will to God and let go of the addiction, we began to align ourselves with this power – Higher Power!

Step 11 shows us how to continually seek to live our lives in total surrender to the divine order of things. Knowing the will of God (the order of things) and nurturing our desire to live in accordance with it (surrender to God’s will) brings us power to actually live it.