Thursday, December 5, 2013
I love the way the beginning of Step Twelve is worded, “Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps…” It doesn’t say, “If you have a spiritual awakening.” It’s a downright promise. If I work the steps, I will have something resembling a spiritual experience. There’s a direct causal relationship between the two, and you know how much I love things I can count on and control! I’ve never had one of those burning bush experiences, where the skies open and I suddenly see the light, nor do I expect I will. I’m far too cynical and stubborn for that type of sudden epiphany. My spiritual awakening has been the slow and stealthy version, the kind that creeps in the back door and settles into my psyche at the kitchen table while I read my literature, listen to shares, and work the steps of the program. It is only when I look backwards in time at how it used to be that I can see how much light has crept in.
So how does one carry the message, once the transformation begins? It seems that each of us carries the message in as individual a way as the spiritual awakenings we have. Some have carried the message to me by sharing their stories with vulnerable honesty, proving to me once again that the earth does not crack open when we expose our flaws. Some have carried the message to me with their laughter, showing me that humor is still possible if we let it be, despite the nightmares we sometimes share. I remember back when I couldn’t imagine how to connect with anything resembling a higher power, when I was privileged to meet a very quiet woman used to come to my home group and read beautiful words of gratitude from her journal. Whenever she read, something in her soft and vulnerable voice made me feel like a witness to a secret prayer, a direct line between her and her higher power, and it helped me begin listening for the sound my own spiritual center.
We never know which frequency we may be able to hear on any given day, nor are we aware of exactly whom we may reach in our own peculiar way. Not everyone will be tuned in when we think they are. But if we have one little tidbit of experience, strength, or hope that gets through to a newcomer fresh off the bus, or an old timer suffering through an issue, then we have done our part to open the door ever so slightly to the recovery of another. We have an opportunity to return the blessing and pay it forward.
© Copyright 2013 al-anon journal
Photo credit: www.iStockphoto.com/01-23-10 © Sashkinw
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
“Sometimes the greatest growth comes through pain, but it’s not the pain that helps me grow, it’s my response to it.” Courage to Change Nov 25th
This month marks my fifth year in Al-anon. I have changed enormously in those five years, into a saner, quieter person than I was before, but it’s been a slow and stubborn road for me. I thought being smart would help me move more quickly through these steps, but in fact the opposite is true. My ego has actually impeded my progress, because there’s a secret to this game. In order to see things in a whole new light, you have to be willing to throw away the old light bulbs, no matter how bright they are.
So pain has become my greatest teacher, because it has helped me come to know myself and face that stubbornness head on. It helps me see reality for what it is, not what I want it to be. Pain has a tendency to bring a kind of undeniable clarity to a situation. In that clarity comes acceptance, in acceptance comes surrender and when I surrender my will I am able to see myself as one flawed human amongst many, all of whom are connected with one fragile tendril of compassion, our spirituality.
Step One, Step Two, Step Three. Magic.
I know now that most of my pain comes from my holding onto a version of reality that simply isn’t true. When I’m in my will, it’s me against the world. I want the universe to behave a certain way and inevitably when it doesn’t, I suffer. I try to control it and I hold on to my version for dear life. It’s not that god, or the universe, or another person, is trying to hurt me in order to teach me a lesson. It’s simply that I don’t accept things that don’t go my way. The pain is caused in the holding on. So now when I feel that way, I can say, “Stop. Take a look at this. Here’s yet another thing you haven’t let go of.” Pain tells me where to apply the crowbar on my will in order to release its grip on my future.
Today, when I find myself in a relationship that is difficult for me, my response is different. I might be disappointed, angry, even resentful, and yet still feel intense love and compassion for the other person. First, I'll catch myself scrambling to “do” something in order to relieve the pain I feel, all of which just seems to trigger more pain and disappointment. But then that clarity kicks in, I stop and ask myself, "What am you holding onto that isn’t true?"
Sometimes the people we love simply can't be there for us. They may be so lost in their own disease that being near them feels like we're standing too close to a burning flame. With alcoholics, there always seems to be a flame. Its hypnotic at times, but reaching out to it has a tendency to burn. It's not hard to find ourselves smack in the middle of an impossibly screwed up situation where we have to make choices that feel like our guts are being ripped out. It feels like that because we love them, deeply, no matter how badly we may have been burned. Turns out the love isn’t conditional, but the relationships might be.
I accept that I can’t do anything to change the people I love. Sometimes I just get to witness their struggle, up close and personal, acknowledging that it's not my fire to fight. And sometimes I get clear enough to surrender, and stand in the truth that the relationship I want so desperately to have with them is not attainable, at least not today. Clarity. And it’s from that delicate, raw, vulnerable, and flawed place that I can start to build my version of reality again, whatever that looks like.
That’s the enormous difference in my response to pain these days. Do I start from a place of righteous willfulness to change things – me against the world, like the Amazing Human Doing? Or do I start from a place of compassionate acceptance – one fragile human being trying to work through life with other fragile human beings? Something tells me the results will be radically different, but I suppose that remains to be seen.
© Copyright 2013 al-anon journal
Photo credit: www.iStockphoto.com/04-17-10 © almir1968
Monday, November 4, 2013
Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out. Al-Anon Step Eleven
When I was a girl (and I’m going to date myself here), my family gathered around the black and white television set on Sunday evenings to watch family programming like The Ed Sullivan Show and The Wonderful World of Disney. My little brother was the designated TV monitor because he had special powers. He’d dial up the proper channel (there were only 12), and then fidget with the rabbit ears on top of the set to get the reception just right.
There were many days when we just couldn’t get the fuzzies out of the picture. If my brother pushed one of the rabbit ears to one side and the picture cleared up, mom would yell, “That’s it, don’t move!” But as soon as he let go, snow again. On more than one occasion the poor kid was forced to keep one finger on the antenna through the entire program because that was the only way we could see Walt deliver our weekly dose of family entertainment. Watching television in those days took some preparation and concentration, because if you missed something, there was no rewind button. It was simply gone. So we took care of any potential distractions ahead of time and paid attention to nothing but the show when the time came.
Today, we have high definition programming. We can rewind to catch the things we missed when we were checking our email or feeding the dog. We DVR our favorite shows so that we can watch them when they are convenient for us, not necessarily when they’re aired. “Save until room is needed”. And if our connection to the universe via internet is dropped for more than five minutes, we break out in a rash. But we are so bombarded with connection, flexibility, and multitasking that we don’t pay attention to any of it for more than five minutes at a time. If we did, our heads would implode.
Somehow, I allowed my connection with a higher power to be thrown into the pot with all the other distractions. In the midst of my busy life, I developed a kind of spiritual ADD, a restless inability to pay attention to the big stuff. Instead of arranging my life around a regular spiritual practice, I pressed the “Save until room is needed” button and tried to put it off until I had time. But my DVR was always full and eventually, it was crowded out and lost.
Developing a conscious contact with god is not something that can be done while multitasking my way through life. It’s something that requires sitting down with a singular purpose, putting my finger on the rabbit ears, and paying close attention to the programming. I can’t press the pause button to go make popcorn, raise a child, or finish one more deadline at work, because if I do, it will simply disappear.
Just like our weekly dose of Walt, a conscious contact with god requires that I tune in when it’s being aired, not when it’s convenient for me. I have to make the effort to connect every single day, so that my life works around the practices that feed me, not the other way around. When I tune in, I learn, I’m focused, I’m connected. When I don’t, I get lost in my distracted little life. So it’s one finger on the rabbit ears each and every morning for the clearest reception I can muster on any given day, and if I’m patient enough, the snow will clear and I will learn something new.
© Copyright 2013 al-anon journal
Photo Credit: www.iStockphoto.com/02-01-11 © jgroup
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
“…I generally get back what I put out.” Courage to Change - Oct 28th
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how disconnected I feel on a human level sometimes. I can be standing in a room full of friends and still feel alone, invisible in the crowd, like someone who doesn’t belong. It’s occurred to me that this may happen because maybe I’m not perceived as a warm person. Maybe I’m always struggling too much to be in charge. Maybe I’m too busy taking everyone’s temperature to actually interact with them. On an intellectual level, I know that my thoughts aren’t an accurate reflection of how others feel about me, but somehow, I have a hard time buying that in my gut. So, I committed myself to working on this little issue, sitting in that uncomfortable feeling, and trying to find a way to turn it around.
That being said, yesterday’s Courage to Change passage (October 28th) was very timely because it caused me to look at this particular issue in a whole different light. I’ve been thinking that I feel closed off from others because maybe I’m not someone others would choose to interact with. The distance is their choice, not mine. But today it occurred to me that maybe it’s the other way around, maybe my choices are the ones that have created the distance. After all people don’t open up and try to interact with something that’s closed by nature.
Imagine walking down a street, where you find two houses. On one side is a house with a closed door and drawn shades, quiet and protected. On the other side is a home with its windows open, curtains flapping in the wind, and the smell of muffins wafting from the open front door. Closed and unknown vs. warm and inviting. It’s not hard to figure out which door you would approach. There’s no judgment about the occupants of the first house, it’s just a simple no brainer that we are drawn to open spaces instead of closed, and of course the home-made muffins are a slam dunk if you want company.
When I think about my part in feeling isolated, I know that my door is usually closed. I’m one of those quiet protective types, safer by myself with my books and my writing than I am in an open conversation. I feel isolated mostly because I send the message that I want it that way. I get back what I put out.
That’s why the rooms of Al-Anon are so important to me. They are my practice ground. I open up to the fellowship I find there. I get vulnerable in meetings and with my sponsor. And even in such an accepting environment, I have still felt isolated – so I know it’s me who raises the barrier. Fortunately, I’m learning to kick myself in the backside and open the door. I bake some muffins and invite people over. And it’s getting better.
It seems like everything I focus on these days is about softening my hard and rigid edges. I’m practicing interacting more with others instead of isolating. I’m practicing softening my ego enough to allow my higher power a chance to seep in. And I’m focusing on letting go enough to allow things to pass through me instead of holding on for dear life. All of this requires melting the outer shell that I’ve used to protect myself for as long as I can remember. So I’m drawing back the shades, opening the windows and letting in a good healthy breeze from the outside. It feels vulnerable to me, but ever so refreshing. I’ve even got some muffins in the oven, can you smell them outside yet?
© Copyright 2013 al-anon journal
Photo credit: www.iStockphoto.com/08-02-10 © swinnerrr
Sunday, October 20, 2013
I’m a doer, a controller, a person well trained to operate from a place of ego, not faith. When I came into this program, I had literally no idea how I was going to bridge the enormous spiritual gap I saw between those who comfortably spoke of a higher power and cynical old me. But I was desperate, so I listened.
Ever since I abandoned the concept of the God I was raised with, I have struggled to re-define my concept of spirituality. I am a writer, someone who relys on words to articulate complex ideas and topics, but since coming into the rooms, I have had a very hard time articulating my understanding of a higher power to others. I seem to have a comfortable understanding of it, but when I try to share it, it feels like I’m trying to explain a new color to a blind man. What words work in that kind of situation? Our perception of color, or spirituality is so personal, so deeply internal, that it is nearly impossible to convey with words.
In a step study meeting last month, I was challenged to use a different tool to explore my concept of a higher power. Instead of using words, I was asked to paint it. Right. Being radically color challenged, I resisted at first, but eventually I forced myself just to get something down on paper. No judgement about the painting. If it made no sense, then I could blame my woefully inadequate art skills! But a funny thing happened. I had to come at it from another angle and suddenly, my struggle with it made so much more sense.
Being the cynical agnostic that I am, I was spending all my energy trying to hone in on an acceptable definition of higher power for myself. I wanted words to describe the color I saw to others (how’s that for some ego?). But as I tried to paint those, I realized that defining my higher power wasn’t the issue at all. I can’t articulate god any better than I can paint it. But what I can do is notice how I interact with it, and with my own spirituality. How do I foster it and plug in on a daily basis?
In my painting, I explored the concept of being porous, of allowing the molecules that make up what I consider to be “me” with the molecules of everything around me. Somehow softening the edges that keep me separated from you, from nature, from my higher power. Thinking of it that way is still a bit esoteric, I know, but somehow it worked for me as it played out in my little painting. And I’ve been marinating in it all month now.
What I learned is this. When I’m in trouble, I scramble, and do things that cut me off from others and from my own spirituality. I put up boundaries. I become tight and closed off. I hold on. And all those things I do actually cause me more pain that if I were just able to lean into the trouble, to stay open and connected to (here it comes) a power greater than myself – whatever that is. When I engage in this, I separate myself from others and those boundaries create tension. It is only when I drop the defenses, relax the muscles, become porous, that I am able to connect in any meaningful way with healing, with my spirituality, with a power greater than myself, with you.
It takes so much more strength to let go than to hold tight and scramble. Instead of running from pain, I’m learning to stay put, lean in, be gentle and compassionate with myself, but brave. I’m trying to learn how to stay right where my feet are, as uncomfortable as that gets sometimes, and just be open. Porous. Connected to the part of myself that is limitless, instead of limiting. I have no words for this color, but I can tell you how it makes me feel. Awake, vibrant, and peaceful.
Photo credit: www.iStockphoto.com/cosmin4000