Archive for category The Life of Brian

That’s the Rub

polished“If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished?”

-Rumi

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This reminds me of a quote from Thomas Merton’s autobiography, the Seven Storey Mountain, “The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most.”

Avoiding the uncomfortable is my natural response to difficult situations. I am learning that just because I feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean something is ‘wrong’. Every uncomfortable feeling I have doesn’t need to be ‘fixed’. Sometimes I just feel down or disappointed. I have found I need to sit in that space and embrace my emotions, the positive and the negative. They come and go. What am I to learn from the experience? That is how I reduce the suffering and how I become more ‘polished’.

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Just a Thought

thoughtsFor much of my life I have overachieved thinking that success in the material world would finally quiet that inner-voice telling me I’m a fraud and not good enough. During my recovery from alcoholism and addiction I have worked hard to remove the character defects that block me from my higher power. I have made great strides in accepting the consequences of my past destructive behaviors and using them as an asset to help others. I pay attention to myself. When these character defects again begin to affect my spiritual balance I have simple but effective spiritual tools from the program of Alcoholics Anonymous to help right the ship.

But ego and self-centeredness do not go quietly into the night. The same thoughts and doubts I had about myself  are now emerging as thoughts and doubts about my recovery. I find intrusive thoughts about my self-worth and my value to others invading my day. These thoughts are a persistent announcement that I’m not working an honest program or I’m not thoroughly following the path described in the book Alcoholics Anonymous. A lost job or a failed relationship can be used as a bludgeon by my doubts to hammer home these faulty beliefs. My ego tries to portray these events as further proof that the doubts I’ve long held about myself and my recovery are true.

How do I protect myself from the poison I create in my mind?  Straining desperately to achieve preconceived spiritual ideals will only lead to disappointment and falling short and more ammunition for my ego driven self. What I’ve discovered through the hard experience of previous battles is that acceptance is the answer. By accepting myself as I am I have a solid foundation from which to build protection against these destructive thoughts. The 7th Step prayer helps me stay centered with my higher power. Knowing I am accepted by God allows me to accept myself.

Like a peacock spreading its feathers to appear bigger and more powerful than it really is these ego generated thoughts only appear to be strong and convincing. However, they are only thoughts and I long ago learned not to believe everything I think. If I choose I can recognize them when they appear but allow them to pass by without attaching myself to them. They do not define who I am. I do not have to give them the power to drive my actions.

As much as I may care for others I also have to accept that they will not always feel the same. Rejection is difficult for everyone. I can’t allow disappointments in my relationships with others to be the fuel that fires destructive thoughts about my self-worth. The thoughts of others are no more powerful than my own thoughts. Acceptance by God, acceptance by myself and allowing thoughts to pass without assigning them more power than they deserve are the tools I use to weather the storms of everyday life.

 

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Owning My Story

“Embracing ourodinr vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.”

- Brene Brown

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 I’ve learned powerful lessons from both my mistakes and successes.  With God’s help and the guidance I’ve received from Alcoholics Anonymous and its members I am a different man today than I was when I began my recovery. Alcoholics Anonymous promises that “No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our  experience can benefit others.” I have realized this promise. I have used my experience to help others. Yet there are  parts of my story that  can still cause me great shame. If I am to love fully, truly belong and experience the joy God intended for all of us I can’t allow my shame to block me from connecting with others. Brave action takes  courage because there is the risk of failure. I must have the courage to face the possibility of failure and rejection. It is only with vulnerability that I  connect deeply with others. I will not allow my shame to block me from love and belonging and joy. These are the ultimate promises of a spiritual life. 

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Angels on the Path

face-in-the-crowdI have found a Power in recovery that helps me grow towards being who I was intended to be. It is rarely an easy journey. There are constant challenges. The path is uncertain and I don’t always recognize its landmarks. It is easy to detour into a maze built of ego and self-will. Fortunately I do not walk alone. There are Angels on the path to guide me.

If I soften my heart the Angels guide me toward change. Anyone I encounter can be an Angel. Synchronicity seems to place them on my path when their lesson is needed the most. When the student is ready, the teacher arrives. It is up to me see them. I must be present and aware. I must be ready to learn. Willingness and open-mindedness are essential to allowing the Angels on the path to touch my life. It is through them that I realize my purpose and effect the changes in my life that keep me on the path of discovery and spiritual growth. It is through them that I realize the Power that connects us all.

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The Race Is Over

Healing_Shame_Medium-845x565Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it.

- Brene Brown

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I didn’t always like who I was or how I acted. I wanted to stop my drinking and drug use. It was not who I wanted to be but despite my best intentions I continued harming myself and those I loved. I tried to ignore the obsessive thoughts that drove my destructive behaviors but they were a persistent and overpowering siren song. I inevitably dashed myself on the rocks of another drunk. I justified my actions as being caused by circumstances. I made solemn oaths to change. I rationalized the harm I caused as doing the best I could in a difficult situation. I told myself that I had learned my lesson. With a firm resolve and an increased self knowledge from previous mistakes I was certain it wouldn’t happen again. It always did. Each failure to control my behaviors reinforced the core belief that I was somehow faulty, simply not as good as those around me. I ran from my story. I was a powerless and tragic character actor in my own story heading towards a predictable end everyone could see but myself.

For many the story ends there. For me, however, I was given a solution. It was a gift from a man who couldn’t keep it to himself for fear of losing it. He asked no more of me than to be honest, open minded and willing to help others as he had helped me. He showed me what he had done and how his life had changed. I made a decision. I wrote my story down and shared it with him and a Power much greater than both of us. I learned to trust in this Power and to ask for its help. I did my best to make right the harm I had done. Somewhere along this new path I opened the door of my shame and faced the darkness within. I owned my story and it lost its power. I have finally stopped running.

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Spiritual Pride

Don P. was member of Alcoholics Anonymous from Aurora, CO. He died on March 20, 2005 with over 37 years sobriety. You can listen to Don by going to the Speaker tab.

  “This isn’t about me demonstrating for God what I can do;

its about God demonstrating through me what He can do.”

- Don P.

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I was raised to believe that if I wanted something it was up to me alone to get it. Naturally, I accepted the credit for my accomplishments. All too often, however, when things went wrong I could always point somewhere else as the reason for my failure. This two-sided coin of credit and blame was an example of my self-centered pride; the arrogance of my ego. When I began my recovery I committed myself to learning how to live a spiritual life. I did a 4th & 5th Step to identify my character defects. I did Steps 6 & 7, asking God to remove the things that block from from His love. What I failed to see was that some of my character defects hid themselves in a cloak of spirituality. The arrogant pride of my ego followed me into recovery. My “spiritual pride”  began to take credit for “earning” God’s grace. Look what I have done! When my self-centeredness showed itself and I returned to my old behaviors, it wasn’t me it was my “addict” as if someone else was responsible. It was the same two-sided coin of credit and blame. With the help of my friends in recovery and plenty of prayer I am learning to see these spiritual defects. I am finding that the acceptance of my imperfection isn’t a coin flip. Practicing honesty, humility and gratitude isn’t a gamble. It’s a sure thing.

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A New Pair of Eyes

buddhaeyes“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

- Marcel Proust

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Everyday I see the same things and think the same thoughts. I’ve done it this way and thought that way for years. These thoughts and attitudes become the unassailable truths of my existence.  When I seek growth I read book after book looking for the new idea that I’m missing only to reject it because it conflicts with what I think I already know. What if these unassailable truths I’ve developed over time are actually the distorted perceptions of life that block me from seeing something new; seeing life as it really is? I can’t allow the things I think I know to prevent me from learning the things I need to know. I can look at the world around me with new eyes. I can practice a Beginner’s Mind and set aside everything I think I know so that I can have a new experience with the truth. After all, some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely.

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Pick Yourself Up

alfredWhy do we fall sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up. – Alfred Pennyworth

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It has taken me time to accept that life’s difficulties are not a form of punishment sent my way by a karmic God. If my spiritual health is waning life’s challenges can easily push me into self-pity, frustration and resentment. I have heard from several sources that we are obligated to continue experiencing these destructive feelings until we ‘learn to pick ourselves up’. The more times I face these emotional time-bombs and safely defuse them the more able I am to face them next time. Eventually, with willingness, honesty and open-mindedness, I learn that life isn’t against me and the karmic God is my own creation with no more power than I have. Life has knocked me down many times. With recovery, faith and a divine grace I am getting up and getting better.

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Thinking Differently

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.

- Albert Einstein

How can I start thinking differently? The book, Alcoholics Anonymous, has much to say about this issue: “Therefore, the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than his body.” (page 23) If the problem is my mind, what is the solution?  In the Doctor’s Opinion, Dr. Silkworth says that the alcoholic must experience “…an entire psychic change…”. Dr. Carl Jung, an early supporter of Alcoholics Anonymous and one of the world’s most famous psychiatrists, said that this type of psychic change most often occurs with a spiritual awakening, or spiritual experience. So, the main problem is my mind. The solution is an entire psychic change through a spiritual experience. How then do I bring about this spiritual experience? Again, from the book, Alcoholics Anonymous: “Well, that’s exactly what this book is about.” (page 45) and: “12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps…” (page 60). The purpose of working the steps outlined in the book Alcoholics Anonymous is to create a spiritual awakening, cause an entire psychic change and allow us to beginning thinking differently. This is exactly what has worked for me. It was essential to my recovery and continues to be the foundation of my continued sobriety.

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Uncertainty is Certain

“He explained to me, with great emphasis, that every question possessed a power that was lost in the answer… Man comes closer to God through the questions he asks Him, he liked to say.”

- Excerpt from ‘Night” by Elie Wiesel

“Computers are useless. They only give you answers.”

- Pablo Picaso

I’ve always felt the necessity to know. I believed that if I had enough answers I could then ensure that my needs would be met. The fear that I wouldn’t get what I needed to be happy drove me to become controlling and manipulative. If I just controlled everything around me I would finally feel safe. But then the unexpected would happen and the fragile sense of security would disappear to be replaced again with fear. I would try even harder to control the uncontrollable. I believed the power I sought was in the answers. This was a damaging and hurtful cycle which left my spirit parched. It isolated me from those I tried to love.

 A large part of my spiritual growth has been letting go of the need to know. I don’t and can’t know God’s will but I can seek it with willingness and an open mind. I don’t and can’t know what the day will bring but I can greet it with curiosity, interest and acceptance. I can allow pain into my life like an old friend who’m I’ve known too long but still visits me anyway, always leaving behind an unexpected gift if I look for it. I can trust that an opened mind and heart will receive the grace of gratitude and acceptance even when I don’t see them on the horizon. The ocean often seems large and dangerous, my boat small. Fear recedes when I have faith that all I need are questions. The faith that only in questions lies the power I seek.

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