Saturday, December 16, 2006

Not Talking to God

The eleventh step suggests that we seek "through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God" and that is, perhaps, not as obvious a thing as it seems. The second part of that step mentions knowing God’s will for us.

Hearing all this stuff in the early days, I once asked Joe Kelly how I could know what God’s will was for me and he just smiled and replied, "When you want to know, you’ll know." I asked if God would tell me and he shook his head and repeated what he had said, adding "You won’t be in any doubt."
It was a bit frustrating to me at the time because I felt that he was being deliberately obscure and I didn’t understand what he was getting at.

Sometimes I’m a little slow, but I get there eventually.

Prayer and meditation are different things to different people. Each of us has to explore and find the way that works for us. I cannot tell another person how they should perform this daily discipline. I can only share what works for me, and that is best summed up in three short stories.

There is a line from the bible that has always seemed to me to have great power, and when I say always I mean since long before I stopped drinking. Long before I had any real conscious contact with God this line impacted me whenever I heard it. I don’t know where it is in the bible and I don’t really care. I use that line today as a nexus for meditation. It goes,

Be still and know that I am God.

When I lived in Tucson there was a column in the daily paper written by a Benedictine monk. I read that column exactly once the whole time I lived there, and I don’t remember what it was actually about or why I read it the one time I did, but in it I was given this,

Prayer is not something I do, but rather prayer is something that God causes to happen within me when I am still.

Then there is a story about a reporter and Mother Teresa that I like. The reporter asked Mother Teresa how often she prayed.
"I always pray," she replied, "I’m never not praying."
The reporter asked her what she said when she prayed.
"I don’t say anything when I pray," she replied. "I just listen."
The reporter asked, if she was just listening, what did God say.
"God doesn’t say anything either." she replied. "God listens too."
The reporter, baffled, didn’t even know what to ask next.
"If I need to explain that," Mother Teresa said, seeing the reporter's confusion, "you won’t understand the explanation."

She sounds like Joe Kelly.

We are told that prayer has great power, and I do not doubt that. But for me prayer alone does not establish an ongoing conscious contact with God until I add stillness, until I stop talking and listen. The more carefully I listen, the more I realize that listening is all I really need to do.

Mother Teresa and Joe Kelly planted that seed.

There is a joke about God saying something to the effect of "It must be 7AM, here come all those alcoholics with their 24-hour books."

I am not mocking the practice of daily morning meditation, nor do I mock any method or usage of that discipline. Quite the opposite. I start each day with a period of formal meditation whenever I reasonably can. There are times that a "fast start" for a doctor’s appointment, to catch a plane or something similar mitigates against my usual morning discipline, and when that happens it does not by any means ruin, or even disturb my day.

Morning session or not, I meditate throughout the day as frequently as opportunity presents, at length when possible, sometimes only a minute or so, taking myself away from the noise of my surrounding and being still, being entirely focused on listening. Allowing God to create prayer within me.

More important, for me, is to use the meditation to create an art of listening that I can maintain as a constant state of my being. So that I can be, like Mother Teresa, never not praying. Always listening.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Expectations Exceeded

"If I do not ask God for things, if I rather ask for direction and strength and I focus on what I am putting into life rather than on what I am getting out of it, then God gives to me things that are better than anything I would have thought to ask for."

That was given to me by a man named John C. many years ago, and I have to tell you it has proven to be absolutely consistent with my experience.

When I started on this journey into sobriety I didn’t know what to expect. What it has given me has not only exceeded whatever expectations I might have had, it has given me things I would never have thought to want, would never have known were desirable.

When I was a kid I always wanted an electric train, and one Christmas my dad gave me a locomotive kit. Not the electric train I wanted, but a kit to be built. I was actually disappointed that I couldn’t put it on the track and run it but it helped when he said he would help me build the kit.

Fifty years later, though no longer active in model railroading, I still have that locomotive that my dad helped me with, the first model that I ever built. It is a treasure that I will not part with. And I still have a passion for building models: trains, cars, ships, planes…

Dad knew me, you see. He heard what I said, but he knew what would really work for me and he provided it. It turned out to be a better gift than what I had asked for.

If we focus on our wants we often live lives of frustration and disappointment. When we "take charge" and get what we want, we may have gotten in the way of God providing us with something that would have served us better. When we let go God tends to provide us with what really works for us rather than what we think we want.

"..God gives to me things that are better than anything I would have thought to ask for."

Saturday, October 21, 2006

On Becoming Fearless

Arianna Huffington has a book out with the same title as this post. It’s about going through life consumed by fear and overcoming that issue, learning to live confidently. I haven’t read it yet, but I plan to because that is a subject dear to my heart.

Ever since I can remember I was pretty much consumed by fear. I’m not talking about the pulse pounding, heart in your throat, “Oh shit we’re all going to die” kind of fear. Actually, in those situations I’ve always done okay. I’m talking about the “I don’t think I can do this,” or “they aren’t going to like me,” or “they’re going to find out I’m a fake” or (perhaps the most corrosive) “she doesn’t really love me and is going to leave” kind of fear.

Pretty much everything I thought or did was driven by this pervasive, destructive fear, and the result was not pretty. It turned me inward and created a self-centered, arrogant, angry person. The fear of being alone caused a grasping attempt at control that created the very loneliness that I feared. It was an endless downward spiral of alcohol-fueled self destruction. At the root of it was the relentless fear that ate at me every waking moment.

I embarked on the solution more than twenty years ago when I began the journey into sobriety. Faith and fear cannot coexist, and in the spiritual environment in which I learned to live sober they understood my fear and showed me the steps to shed the fear and replace it with faith and trust.

Several years ago I experienced the first of several health issues when I had a series of strokes. Small ones, but cause for concern because the doctors could not figure out what was causing them. They still don’t know. Then my heart experienced severe arrhythmia’s, caused by emphysema that I’ve had for more than twenty years. That has been partially, but only partially, corrected by a surgery. Then I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

Thanks to excellent foresight and hard work on my wife’s part, I have excellent health insurance. All of these conditions are being controlled very nicely at this point, and the doctors tell us that the Parkinson’s is not the dread disease that it once was. But clearly the future is likely to hold challenges. We would be kidding ourselves to think otherwise.

What has been missing throughout this adventure, and remains missing today, is any element of fear. Is that weird, or what? All those years of living fearfully without reason and now, with health issues that actually are a threat, and I am living fearlessly. It’s not like I’ve dealt with any fear, it simply has not arisen.

Now, it may be that I have simply lost my mind. I’m not the one to provide any kind of authoritative evaluation of that. When you lose your mind you don’t miss it because you don’t have anything to miss it with. But my wife says I’m pretty much together at this point (she makes allowance for the fact that I served in submarines, and we are all a little bit “off”), so we’ll rule out the lost mind hypothesis.

There are, I believe, two things that contribute to my lack of fear today. I don’t yet know how Arianna Huffington does it, but here’s my formula.

The first is that whatever my health conditions may do to me in the future is just that, in the future, and through the disciplines I have learned in the journey into sobriety I have become quite good at living in the present. I make whatever preparations for tomorrow that are within my power, and then I let go and live in today. That is more easily said than done, but I’ve been practicing it for a couple of dozen years and by the time I really needed it I had gotten quite good at actually doing it.

The other, and more important, reason is that I have a sure and certain knowledge that there is a power greater than myself that will provide the guidance and strength to see me through whatever may happen. That knowledge came to me through the same mechanisms that led me to sobriety and taught me to live one day at a time. It did not happen all at once, no “burning bush” moment, but by the time I really needed that knowledge it was there.

The side effects of sobriety. Nothing ever happens by chance.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Sharing the Road

Sometimes a minor life experience can be a major lesson in living life.

When I worked in North County part of my drive to work was a two-lane, winding road, about ten miles, where it was mostly double yellow line – no passing. Every so often there was a sort of turn-out where one could move aside and let another car past, and it was my habit to do that whenever someone who was driving faster than I was caught up with me.

Some drivers went slower than I did and they usually made use of those turnouts to let me by. We all cohabited on that road quite comfortably. Well, there was an occasional speeder and once in a while a wreck, but…

One afternoon on my way home I caught up with a guy driving a jeep and followed along awaiting an opportunity to pass. He seemed to feel that I was following too closely and started tapping his brakes and giving me gestures to tell me that I was “number one,” all of which I thought was rather silly. I didn’t think I was all that close, maybe two car lengths at 25 mph, and I wanted to be close enough that I would be able to use a passing opportunity when it arose.

When we got to one of the turn-outs he didn’t use it, forcing me to continue following him. He also continued to make gestures, waving and making “pushing” signs, tapping his brakes, flipping me off, etc. The more frantically he attempted to get me to move away from him, and the more turnouts we passed without him allowing me to pass, the more amused I became.

Do I need to tell you I did not increase my distance?

By the time we got to the end of that road he was practically foaming at the mouth and I was actually laughing out loud. There had been numerous opportunities for him to get me “off of his tail” by allowing me to pass, but he had failed utterly in his efforts to “do it his way.”

In addition to my amusement I was grateful for the moment, for I realized it had solidified for me an important lesson.

If I try to secure my comfort zone by controlling the behavior of others I am doomed to a life of frustration, anger and disappointment. When I simply “share the road” with others, life is really good.

That seems too simple to be valid, but it really does work. It not only works, it is an absolute monster of a stress reliever. It’s effective in the workplace, in social settings, and even in dealing within a homeowners association (where it’s often really essential in order to maintain any shred of sanity).

It works in my marriage too, although it does require that we sometimes work together on how that “road share” is going to be accomplished. It is important for me to remember that we are talking together about how we are going to share the road, and that me telling my wife what I need from her is only one small part of the discussion, that it's not about me getting her to change her behavior to make me comfortable.

Sharing the road. It’s not just for cars.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Power of Faith

Joe said to me once, “Believing in God is easy. I can do that with the thinking part of my mind. Trusting God is harder, because trusting God requires faith.” I asked him how I could get that faith and he smiled. “I would suggest,” he said, “that you ask God to give you that gift.”

You see, faith is not something that we can do for ourselves. We cannot think ourselves into it, create it with discipline, or have it by wearing the team shirt. Faith comes by being in the company of those who have faith and allowing that faith to flow into us through them.

That company might be a twelve-step group, or a church or whatever. The source of faith is ultimately God and the people through whom we receive it are but the instruments.

And faith has great power.

I was channel surfing one night many years ago and don’t know why I stopped to watch this preacher, I never watch that sort of thing on television. This guy had a kind of cheerful expression, though, and looked like he was enjoying himself.

He was talking about faith and asked, “What is faith?” Answering himself he went on “Webster,” he said “defines faith as ‘belief without proof’.” He then got a puzzled look and allowed as how that didn’t tell him much about faith. “What role does faith play in my life?” he went on, “What does it do for me?”

He took out a bible in which he had marked passages and turned to one of them. He named the book, chapter and verse and then quoted,

“Faith makes us certain of realities we do not see.”

That powerful statement has been a guide for me from that day to this, and I have quoted it often.

The guidance and direction that God offers to me on a daily basis, the strength to live my life, are realities. They are not figures of speech. They are not metaphors that are written in books to make me feel good. I cannot see them or touch them but they are realities, and it is faith that makes me certain of them.

Certain not only in the sense that I know they are there now, but certain in the sense that I know I can rely on them, I can trust that they will be there tomorrow.

Certainty that says that with guidance and strength from God as my constant companions I can live my life free from fear.

That is the power that faith has.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Introducing Myself

As implied by the text below my profile, I have been sober a bit over twenty-four years. That's not a big deal, it just means that I haven't taken a drink and I haven't died. I've done it one day at a time just like everybody else. In the early years the "taking a drink" part was a close call a few times, and the past few years the "dying" part has been a little too close for comfort once or twice with emphysema, heart problems, strokes and a couple other issues.

But I'm still here, giving joy to some people and headaches to others. Some people are glad about that, some disappointed, but few are ambivalent. I'm not the kind of guy about whom people tend to be ambivalent. One friend told me the reason I'm not dead yet is that I'm not bad enough to go to Hell, but God doesn't want me in Heaven stirring the place up with a stick.

I have been known, you see, to voice opinions on this and that. I have also learned, these past two dozen years, that mine is not the only opinion, and that my opinion may very well be wrong. But, as another friend told me, "You sometimes tick people off, Bill, but you tend to make them think."

That, however, is for another time and another place; giving voice to opinion is not really my purpose here. Some opinions may creep in, but my purpose here is to share the joy that I have experienced in the spiritual growth that has been, for me, the process of recovery from alcoholism.

Someone asked me once about the "spiritual part" of the program of recovery, but for me there is no "spiritual part." My take is that recovery is a process of spiritual growth, and the closer one becomes to God and his fellow man the farther away one moves from alcohol. Recovery is not about drinking or not drinking, it's about learning to live. It's about shedding an old life and embracing a new one. It's about becoming a different person. Joe once told me "I don't want you to learn how to deal with your alcohol problem, I want you to become a person who doesn't have an alcohol problem." If you don't understand the difference, perhaps we can shed some light on that as we travel on this journey together.

I'll say this once. The program of recovery in which I gained sobriety is Alcoholics Anonymous, and I sincerely believe that I would not be sober without that body and its members. That said, this blog is not about AA and I do not speak with any authority for or about that organization. I will not say whether or not I am still a member of AA, and you will not see any references in this blog to meetings of that organization or any other.

Welcome. I don't know where we're going, but we're on our way.