Archive for category Step Work

Get a life…

Thomas Merton, Trappist Monk 1915 - 1968The spiritual life is first of all a life. It is not merely something to be known and studied, it is to be lived.

- Thomas Merton

Sure, I had heard about spirituality and living a spiritual life but I paid little attention to it. What could it possibly have to do with me? What could it do for me that I couldn’t do for myself? As the consequences of my addictive behaviors grew and swept away everything I thought I had accomplished I felt a deep hopelessness and despair. I truly understood the phrase ‘incomprehensible demoralization’, used in the book, Alcoholics Anonymous. The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous provided me with the tools to begin living this spiritual life which is the solution to my problem.

The 12 Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous is a spiritual program of action, not a program of study or discussion. Going to meetings and talking about recovery is not sufficient. The spiritual principles I experience when working Steps 1 – 9 must continue to be put into action in Steps 10 – 12. This is a daily process of being present in each moment in a spiritual way. My humility, gratitude, tolerance and love exist only in this moment, not yesterday and not tomorrow but right here, right now. Contrary to a sometimes misunderstood term used in AA these are not spiritual tools laid at my feet to be used when times are tough. They become part of me, of who I am, to be used in every and all aspects of my life. They are my life; my spiritual life.

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Service

“I sought my soul, but my soul I could not see. I sought my God, but my God eluded me. I sought my brother and I found all three …”

- Martin Luther King, Jr.

The results of a scientific, 10 year study recently published in a special issue of the journal ‘Substance Abuse’ finds that recovering alcoholics who help others in 12-Step programs furthers their own time sober, consideration for others, step-work and long term meeting attendance. Wow! No sh*t? More than 10 years ago an AA speaker named Don P., from Denver, CO said that if you wanted to get closer to God, get closer to his children. This idea is well known to any newcomer with a sponsor. It is the foundation for the AA program of recovery. Throughout the book it is suggested that the reason we work the steps is to have a spiritual experience which allows for an entire psychic change. Being spiritually fit we are able to help others. By helping others we enlarge our spiritual life. This is a design for living that works.

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Watch

“Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment and fear.”

- Alcoholics Anonymous, page 84.

With that simple sentence, the book Alcoholics Anonymous begins our instructions for Step 10. This is the ‘design for living’ that allows us to find contentment in our life without drinking. Nearly 2,000 years ago early Christians living in the deserts of Egypt, the Desert Fathers, discovered the same thing. “Pay attention to yourself!” Having faced our reality honestly in Step 1, we admitted our problem (lack of power). In Step 2 we came to believe there was a solution (more power). In Step 3 we made a commitment to give this solution a chance by making a decision to live a spiritual life. These last two steps arise from the desperation of finally realizing just how dire our situation is. Without help we are lost. In Steps 4 – 9 we learn the skills necessary to practice our ‘design for living’: With the help of our sponsor and our faith in a Higher Power we fearlessly make an inventory of character defects and the faulty attitudes and beliefs that have driven our actions for a lifetime. We become willing to be transformed by asking for help in removing these shortcomings. We humbly go to those we had harmed and do what we can to fix our mistakes.

Having begun the process of removing those things that block us from living in the Spirit we continue to use these tools daily as we walk through life. Not just at night. We need to remain present to our lives and pay attention to our thoughts, our attitudes, our emotions and our actions as we go. It is difficult. The patterns we have developed during our life are often deeply ingrained. So we practice, knowing that we will make mistakes. Eventually, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, things change. These practices become our new way of life. They become part of who we are and intuitive. We discover that living a spiritual life is as simple as paying attention.

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The Rainmaker

 

A Chinese village is besieged by drought and unless there is rain quite quickly, the village is going to starve to death. They have tried everything they know. They have tried all their local people so they finally decide to send for the famous rainmaker.  The great rainmaker is summoned from a very great distance; he consents to come. He comes to the village and he asks immediately: Please build me a straw hut outside the village and give me enough food and water for five days … and don’t disturb me! They do this quickly. The little hut is built and he disappears into it and on the fourth day it rains, just in time to save the village.

The villagers went to the hut, they drag the rainmaker out of the hut blinking into the light, give him his fee and pour all of the gifts that they can upon him. An enormous outpouring of gratitude for he has indeed saved the village.

One man came to him and said: How do you do it? What is the ceremony that you do that makes it rain? The rainmaker said: Oh! You must understand … you see when I came to your village, I was so out of sorts inside myself that I had to put things right inside myself and I never got to the rainmaking ceremony.

Alcoholics Anonymous states on page 64 states, “When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.” My life runs much smoother and events seem to happen as they are supposed to when I am spiritually aligned with my Higher Power, all without any additional effort on  my part. In this story the rainmaker travels to the village and  feels he is not aligned with the Tao. He spends 3 or 4 days in meditation to align himself and events seem to happen as they should…it rains. This occurs without additional effort by the rainmaker as he never gets to the rainmaking ceremony. 

This was a favorite story of Carl Jung, the famous psychiatrist. He saw it as an example of his theory of Synchronicity which is the study of meaningful coincidences, or acausal relationships. I have experienced these meaningful coincidences throughout my recovery. Many others have as well. I hear them referred to as “God Shots” in meetings. Amazingly and against all odds the right person seemingly appears out of nowhere to help when no one else can. Or events occur in a highly unlikely pattern to present you with exactly what you need. The person you haven’t thought of in 10 years bumps into you at Walmart with a message of hope only he/she could deliver.

I accept these unlikely occurrences as part of my recovery and a testament to the fact that there is more to life than I understand. I’ll let greater minds than mine, like Dr. Jung’s, to try and figure it out with theories and experiments. I’ll just keep doing the best I can to stay in alignment with my Higher Power’s will and let it rain if it is supposed to.

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The Power of Secrets

 

Keeping secrets feeds shame into the addictive cycle and maintains the conditions that lead to relapse and acting out. The power of secrets fades when they are shared with trusted others. For me this began with Step 5 in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous. It continues with building my trust in others through participation in the lives of those I love and care about. By sharing my experiences, my shaming secrets, with others I was able to turn my shame into an asset and realize one of the most powerful promises in Alcoholics Anonymous:

“No matter how far down the scale we have gone we will see how our experience can benefit others.” – Alcoholics Anonymous pg 84. Read the rest of this entry »

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Believe in Order to Understand

St. Anselm of Cantebury lived c. 1033 – 1109. The spiritual journey starts with belief, not with understanding.

Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this too I believe, that unless I first believe, I shall not understand.

- St. Anselm of Cantebury

Ok. It does kind of remind me of, ‘How much wood can a woodchuck chuck…” Nonetheless, I can relate to the point he is trying to make which is the spiritual life doesn’t begin with a complete understanding of God or the meaning of a spiritual life. It begins with faith and a willingness to believe. Very consistent with my  2nd Step experience. 

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Ellie Wiesel on Gratitude

Ellie Wiesel is a Buchenwald concentration camp survivor, writer and Nobel Peace Prize winner. In the photo he is in the second row, 7th from the left. This quote is from his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.

No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night.

We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering; not to share them would mean to betray them. Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately.

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Service

a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.

Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

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Find Yourself

a quote from Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.

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Making Amends

During my active addiction I harmed many people. Even when my intentions were noble my actions were self-centered and self-seeking. “…we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate”, as Alcoholics Anonymous so clearly states on page 62. The guilt and the shame of my actions blocked me from accessing the Higher Power I needed to maintain my sobriety. Step 9 asks that I humble myself in the eyes of God and my fellows and set matters straight.

Making an amends is more than saying, “I’m sorry.” I have said that many times but it was never followed by any action on my part and nothing ever changed. I burdened my loved ones with the harm I had done them. I needed to do what I could to clear the air between us. I can’t undo what I have done but I can admit my wrongs and try to set matters straight. I can’t change how people may feel but I can take responsibility for what I have done.

After speaking with my sponsor about the amends I follow a simple process:

  1. I tell the person I had harmed that I would like to speak to them and ask if they would meet with me.
  2. I tell the person that I am changing the way I live my life. I don’t usually say that I am trying to live a spiritual life but that may be desirable in some situations.
  3. I tell them that an important part of this change is to try and set right the wrongs I have done.
  4. I recount the ways I have harmed them.
  5. I ask them if I have left anything out and then shut up. I don’t argue or challenge their recollection of the events. I allow them to say what they need to say. I can only free myself from the guilt and shame by allowing them to unburden themselves.
  6. I thank them for sharing their feelings with me. They may have been wanting to tell me these things for a long time but felt they couldn’t or that I wouldn’t listen. It may have been difficult for them to finally trust me enough to share these thoughts.
  7. I ask them how I can set these matters straight. What amends can I make? Practicing the spiritual principles of recovery changes how I act and react to life. The demonstration of these principles is how I put these amends into action. Some people may make unreasonable demands. I am nobody’s doormat just because I’m in recovery and taking responsibility for the harm I’ve done. I must be committed, though, to setting things straight and do what I am able.

There are some amends that I have yet to make and some that I may never be able to make. I have a willingness to make amends to all I have harmed and will be ready if and when the opportunity presents itself.

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