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M(3),2017: From Your Mouth To God’s Ears

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A very happy Monday, and a happy President’s Day to my American readers!  I’m hoping you are having as beautiful a day as I am having.  It feels more like spring than it does late February in my neck of the woods!

Today’s reading was from Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, where we studied:


Step Eleven

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.


There was a great crowd this morning… just enough people that everyone had a chance to share, a nice mix of long-timers and those with a smaller amount of sober time, a group of regular attendees and those who were new to the meeting.

When I read this particular step, I break it down and look at prayer and meditation as two distinctly separate things, though I suppose in an ideal world they would be connected.  As for prayer, the chapter defines prayer perfectly:

Prayer is the raising of the heart and mind to God.  -pg. 102, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

My prayer life, or ritual of praying, has evolved quite a bit over the years, and I imagine will continue to do so for the rest of my life.  I am currently at a point where the bulk of my praying is conversational in nature… I talk to God, express gratitude, ask for intentions, in much the same way as I would talk to another human being.  I shared as much with the group this morning, and I wondered aloud if I am missing something important by not including more formal prayers in my daily practice.  I invited anyone in the group that might be willing to share with me the benefits they receive from praying in a more formal manner.

As is always the case, my fellow Monday meeting attendees did not disappoint.  Each person shared with me the various ways they pray, and how their prayer rituals help them.  Unsurprisingly, the list was a diverse one:

  • Morning prayers said immediately upon waking
  • Morning prayer said over coffee
  • Morning prayers said on the commute into work
  • Reading from a daily devotional book
  • Listening to Christian radio
  • Formal meditation
  • Yoga as a form of prayer
  • Chanting and singing prayer

Believe it or not, I’m not sure I listed them all!  In every case, the benefits received were the same, no matter what type of prayer is uttered:  a deeper relationship with one’s Higher Power.  In deepening the relationship, each person reports receiving a deeper sense of gratitude, a feeling of connection, and an overall sense of peace that, prior to a prayer life, had not been experienced.

Most important, not a single person could list a negative side effect to prayer.  There simply is no downside!  Even those who fall on the spectrum of agnosticism did not find a drawback in attempting to pray.

The group did not speak as much on the meditation piece, so it is hard to try to write a consensus.  Speaking for myself, and I know I’m repeating myself from past blog pieces, meditation is a practice I dearly wish to master.  Hell, I’d settle for being able to claim that I am half-assed meditator!  Sadly, I can make no such proclamation.  Here’s what I can say:  when I have been able to meditate on a regular basis, I am able to draw upon a reserve of calm that I don’t otherwise have.  That calm allows me to pause in stressful situations, and thoughtfully consider the best way to react.

Regular meditation also deepens my sense of gratitude, and allows me to be more present in my daily activities.

Finally, I feel a strong sense of accomplishment when I engage in a regular meditation practice.   Similar to when I exercise, I feel empowered by the regular practice of something I know is good for me mentally, spiritually and emotionally.

Maybe, just maybe, now that I’ve written all this out, the fire will be lit, and I will restart my meditation practice!

Today’s Miracle:

Writing a post when everyone is home from school/work.  Usually people around means I am anywhere but in front of the computer!

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M(3), 2/15/16: It Works If You Work It

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A meeting chock full of great thoughts and ideas, at least there was for this participant!  This morning we read from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and focused on Step Eleven:

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.

The chapter that covers this step talks in depth about the many benefits of prayer and meditation.  In addition, it discusses methods to overcome agnostic/atheistic mindsets, as well as easy pointers on how to get started praying and meditating.

The first person to share talked about how he almost walked out of his first meeting because it talked about prayer and meditation.  Agnostic by nature, he was sure that the end of the meeting would be asking for money and/or a signed contract.  When neither happened, and he realized that he was in charge of his conception of a Higher Power, he stuck around and followed the suggestions given to him.  Thirty-six years later, and he considers prayer to be an essential component of his daily life.  He knows prayer and meditation works because he’s experienced the positive effects.  He realized early on that he did not have to know how something works for it to work; therefore, he stopped questioning the mechanics behind the power of prayer.

His last point, and the one that stuck with me the most:  he has learned through his years in recovery that it is not enough to ask for something through prayer, then sit back and wait for it to arrive.  He must be a participant in the process, and do his part to make things happen.

Another gentleman with long-term sobriety shared his prayer life journey.  I was trying to calculate his years of sobriety by following the story; I got up to 34 years before I got confused.  Regardless of the actual number, suffice it to say he’s been sober a long time!  He considers his prayer life an unfolding story, one that has developed slowly over time, and one he imagines will continue to evolve as long as he’s alive.  He said he started the way most of us do… a daily prayer book that asks you to read something small each day.  He said for years that is what his prayer life involved… reading, with not a whole lot of engagement on his part.  Over time he noticed that quite often the reading for the day would correlate precisely to something that was troubling him.  From there he learned to participate more in the process, rather than by simply reading a daily paragraph.  Finally, through a series of chaotic events, he lost track of his prayer routine, and found himself out of sorts with no real reason as to why.  He went to a retreat where the leader posed the following question:

If you find yourself in a state of discontent with no discernible cause, think back… was there something you were habitually doing that you stopped?

Bingo!  He realized he was missing his time spent in prayer and meditation.  He went home, fished out his “little black book,” and now makes sure he stays in practice.

A few attendees shared of their struggles with making prayer and meditation part of their daily routine.  All recognize the benefits of such a practice, but, like any new habit, it can be a bumpy road getting started.

Finally, a friend of mine shared her thoughts on the subject of prayer and meditation.  She is sober about 2 1/2 years, but I know from spending time with her that acceptance of a Higher Power has been her biggest struggle.  Turns out she is actively working on this aspect of her recovery; she remarked that the shine is off the penny, so to speak, in terms of meeting attendance, step work, and the various readings.  She knows she needs a deeper connection in order to sustain her sobriety, and she is seeking spirituality to fill that need.

She said she is learning, through her research and reflection, that attachment is the origin of suffering.  In other words, if she is suffering, then she has an expectation of an outcome.  Either she is trying to control what happens, or she is trying prevent something from happening.

As she was speaking, I recalled a conversation I had with my husband not an hour before.  I was explaining to him the root cause of some internal angst I have been experiencing, and seeking his advice on how to proceed.  His suggestions were, at first blush, unimaginable, and I told him so, and my defense of my opinion.  His face has that look that tells me I need to stop and rewind, but I was unable to fully decipher what specifically I had said to cause his expression.

So I ask him to please just tell me what is causing the pained look, since I have tried to decipher with no success.  He considers for a moment, then says, “Everything you’ve said since we’ve started this discussion, from you thoughts about what is causing your discontent to your reaction to my advice… that’s all Old Josie talking.”

And it was a light bulb moment… every single moment of disquiet I have experienced with regard to this issue, every quick fix action I’ve taken, and every subsequent action to correct the quick fix… all seen through the lens of pre-recovery thinking.  It stopped me in my tracks.

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Whenever I have found myself in the past heading down the path of old thinking, my correction has always been to deepen my efforts at prayer and meditation.  So it was crazy enough that this step was the one we were discussing.  A coincidence that is never a coincidence.

But then to hear my friend describe in layman’s terms a basic tenet of Buddhist thinking in a way I could understand, a concept that applied so directly to the discussion I was having with my husband, was the breakthrough I needed.

Attachment to an outcome = suffering

Yep, that pretty much sums up in a nutshell the source of my suffering.

So I got the wake-up call I needed this morning.  Of course, like my friend above said, the wake-up call is not enough.  I need to be a participant in the process.  The good news is that you can start just where you are when it comes to prayer and meditation!

Today’s Miracle:

Coincidences-that-are-never coincidences will always be a miracle to me!

 

M(3), 11/9/15: Prayer is Talking, Meditation is Listening

Today was a slooowwww meeting…. the type of meeting that has you staring at the clock, and wondering if the battery has died.

Strange, really, because today we read a relatively long chapter from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve traditions, so there was less sharing time, rather than more.  Plus the step we covered,

Step 11:

Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, asking only for His will for us and the power to carry it out

is one that typically has people lined up to share their experiences with both prayer and meditation.  Not so today, which makes for a slightly uncomfortable meeting.  Well, uncomfortable for the chairperson, at least… nothing makes me squirm more than protracted silence in a meeting!

So I possibly talked longer than necessary about my experience with prayer and meditation, as it relates to both recovery and, well, just life itself.  Coming into recovery I has no fundamental issue with the concept of a Higher Power, or praying to a Higher Power, but I suppose I had significant skepticism that my Higher Power would listen or respond.  To my way of thinking at the time, I had prayed about a gazillion times for Him to help me stop drinking.  What makes my current prayers easier to hear than those in active addiction?

And while I’ll never know the official answer, my best guess is the quality of the prayers, rather than the quantity.  When I hit my alcoholic bottom the prayer wasn’t urgent, with a time stamp on it… “God, help me out of this crisis and I’ll never drink again!”  There was no bargaining; I had no chips left to use.  There was nothing left but a hopeless sincerity:  I need help, I’m out of answers.

For whatever reason, it worked.  And continues to do so, in matters both large and small.

So prayer has been a regular part of my life for as long as I’ve been sober.  Meditation, not so much.  I’ve had small periods of maintaining a daily practice.  Regular readers probably remember I took a course on meditation, and got a heck of a lot out of it.  In fact, my longest stretch of daily meditation came right after completing that course.

Then summer came, and there went the practice.

I am now a few weeks into a short, but daily, meditation practice.  And while I’m not going to say I’ve been transformed, I can say I notice some distinct benefits.  Probably the main difference I notice is my ability to detach from the fun house that can be my thought process.  It doesn’t stop the craziness, but it most definitely slows it down.  More importantly, I am aware that the thoughts and feelings are not facts, and I can disengage from them, rather than allowing them to swallow me whole.

When that happens, my friends, it is a freaking miracle!


Other than my rambling about prayer and meditation, I was able to eke out a few pearls of wisdom from the various attendees:

One regular attendee also claims religious ministry as his profession.  He says there are a multitude of ways in which to practice both prayer and meditation; whatever works is a great way to go.  For him, prayer is talking to God, whereas meditation is listening for God’s answer.

Another regular had a very difficult time with the concept of prayer in early sobriety, but after trying it with a simple, “God, please keep me sober today,” he found himself a believer because of its effectiveness.  Thirty six sober years later, and he still prays that simple prayer daily!

A woman shared how difficult the practice of meditation continues to be for her.  She finds she has to concentrate so hard, the meditative quality seems to vanish!  She knows, though, when she even makes the effort, she is better able to slow her thoughts down for the rest of the day.

Finally, a gentleman raised his hand and shared he had relapsed a few weeks back, and is currently fighting his way back to comfortable sobriety.  He said the first things to go when he picked up a drink were prayer, meditation, and 12-step meetings.  His lapse lasted about 2 months, but the picture he painted of his emotional state during those two months was grim, the kind of wake-up call every recovering alcoholic needs to hear before they decide to pick a drink again.  Despite the hardship he enjoyed, his faith has not wavered:  he feels profound gratitude to be sitting back in the seat of a 12-step meeting again.  He believe he has been given a gift, and he is willing to do whatever it takes to stay sober.

As always, I am humbled and grateful when a person has the courage to share with all of us his story of relapse, for it gives the rest of us a reason to stay sober today.

Today’s Miracle:

After an excellent weekend of kids’ athletic triumphs (my son qualified for a NATIONAL cross-country meet!), I am reminded this morning how blessed I am to be sober, today and every day.

You Can’t Unring a Bell

“You’re being too hard on yourself.”

There was a time, really not that long ago, when the statement above would have been met with resistance on my part.  My instinctive response:  scoff and declare I was not hard enough on myself.

I know this because it is still the instinctive thought.

Had I taken the time to self-examine, the statement would have seemed complimentary in nature.  There is value in being hard on yourself.  It motivates you to achieve more, it alerts you when you are wading into morally ambiguous territory, and it prevents you from adopting that godawful victim mentality.

Possibly deeper still:  if you are hard enough on yourself, then anyone external being hard on you is likely not to hurt as badly.

All of this is conjecture, of course; introspection was not an activity I placed high on my list until the years following active addiction.  Now it seems I am questioning every thought and feeling I have.

And yes, some days the jury is out as to whether or not this is a good thing.

One rather startling revelation has come up in the past few weeks, so revolutionary that I feel compelled to write it out.  Through the endless self-examination and awareness of internal dialog, I have reluctantly concluded that perhaps I am more critical of myself than is necessary, certainly more than is effective.  This is not necessarily news.  What is the newsflash:  the Inner Critic manifests itself in a variety of ways, ways I would have previously defended to the death as virtuous.

It has been recently pointed out to me that in describing an event about which I’m feeling badly, I spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the other side of things.   It could be an argument with my husband, disappointment with my kids, hurt feelings with a family member.  No matter what the situation, I am compelled to state their case, project their feelings, or rationalize why I may be overdramatizing the situation.

When this pattern was first pointed out to me, I dismissed it as a non-pattern.  When the pattern became too obvious to dismiss, I was defensive, indignant even.  This shows my extreme sense of justice, I proclaimed self-righteously.   I am a better person for considering all sides, aren’t I?

And then, the question I can’t un-hear:  but if you’re spending all your time understanding and appreciating the perspective and feelings of everyone else, then when are you understanding and appreciating your own?

Every once in a while I am asked a question that makes my brain fall silent.  Even now, and this is a few weeks later, I think of that question and I mentally blank.  Which always, without fail, means I’ve got shift in perspective coming.

So if considering all sides of the problem, all the possible scenarios, all the feelings and thoughts of everyone involved is not the way to go, then what the heck is?  Apparently, the answer is to relate the story, and end with how I feel.  Period.  No explanations, no rationalizations, no justifications.

Even, especially, if I am relating the story to myself:

I feel (fill in the blank), and then refrain from rationalizing the feeling away.

And then, apparently, I am to feel the feelings.  Oh, how hard it is to keep the eyes from rolling.

Feel the feelings.  Does that sound as inane to the rest of the world as it does to me?  Except, ever since discovering this pattern, I have attempted to take the advice.  And found it almost a physical impossibility.  I will clamp my mouth shut, then open it to say, “But I realize that…”  The closest I have come is to say, “I want to say…, but I’m supposed to just say how I’m feeling, so I feel…”

So now I’m in the really annoying stage of criticizing myself for criticizing myself.  Exhausting to read?  Imagine living it!

At this point someone might be thinking, “How does someone get a few years into sobriety and not learn how to feel her feelings?

I suppose comparing post-recovery life to pre-recovery life, I have made progress with understanding, acknowledging, and even communicating feelings.  For example, in the earliest days of sobriety, I needed one of those smiley face charts to even figure out what I was feeling.  So there’s been progress in the years since.

What is the endpoint, I demand?  Let’s say I figure all this out, and feel my feelings, what then?  Do I live happily ever after?

No such luck.  What is supposed to happen is a greater sense of peace, of calm, of self-worth.  Learning to identify, process, and resolve internal “situations” will create room for positive things like happiness, gratitude, and joy.

Or so I’m told.  To say that I am in the experimental phase of this (the world “bullshit” has rolled around through my head several times while writing this post) would be an understatement.

And how does one get started on this magical process?  The first step, one in which I am deeply entrenched at the moment, is developing awareness.  Every time the negative inner voice speaks up, I take note of what is being said and how it makes me feel.  In case you’re interested, my heart picks up a few beats, and there is a small clenching in my stomach.

Now, here is a critical part:  don’t get impatient.  Don’t criticize the critic!  Just take note, become curious, detach as much as possible:

“How interesting is it that you feel anxious about something, but you’re trying to convince yourself why you are wrong for feeling this way?”

Fascinating… you are angry about a situation, but at the same time worried that you will upset someone with your anger?”

“Isn’t that curious that you just walked by the mirror and told yourself how fat you are?”

It sounds preposterous, I know.  But I will say the few times I’ve successfully done this, I usually laugh, and it does seem to break some pattern.  I suppose time and practice will tell if there are long-term benefits.

From there… to tell you the truth, I’m not sure.  Since I’ve really only gotten as far as awareness, I can’t say for sure what’s next.  I find myself pointing out when I’m doing the things I shouldn’t be doing, like making excuses for my feelings.  Perhaps that’s another step on the ladder.

In terms of a step-by-step guide to feeling the feelings… well, I’m working on it.  So far I’ve learned a few on the “What Not to Do” list:

  1. Open a bag of chips
  2. Binge watch a Netflix series
  3. Name your feelings, then talk yourself out of them

I’ve gotten back into the practice of meditating again.  This was no one’s suggestion but my own, because I find that even a small daily practice of sitting still and being mindful tends to increase my ability to detach from my thoughts.

Like most things, it is a work in progress.  I am a work in progress.  We’ll see if all this awareness results in a peaceful, yogi-like existence, or I wind up talking to the walls…

Today’s Miracle:

This post has been rolling around in my head for weeks; the miracle will be, if you are reading, then I have actually published it!

M(3), 5/11/15: Does Anyone Claim to be a “Phone Person?”

You’ve heard uttered, “I’m not much of a phone person.”  I’m just wondering if the reverse is true, does someone make the claim that they are, in fact, a phone person?

No one I personally know, although by action I absolutely know people who are “phone people.”  Now I’m going to have to ask them if they considered themselves “phone people.”  I’ll let you know what they say.

What, you may be pondering, is the point of this rambling about the phone, and phone people (this expression is starting to make me giggle, good thing only the dog can hear me)?  More importantly, what does it have to do with sobriety, recovery, and/or my Monday morning meeting?

Glad you asked!  The chapter covered in this week’s literature selection (the book is Living Sober) is entitled “Making Use of Telephone Therapy.”

The chapter eloquently describes the reluctance with which many a newcomer to the 12-step program embraces the idea of calling someone instead of drinking.  The notion here is not to pull out the yellow pages and start dialing.  It’s not even to call up your Mom or your best friend.  Rather, call someone who’s been in your shoes, who understands the feelings that come along with early sobriety, and sharing with them what is going on with you.  In most cases, the simple act of uttering the words “I want to drink, and here is what’s going on (fill in the blank),” is enough to dispel the urge to drink.

The chapter selection falls into the category “entirely selfish decision that winds up being good for the whole group.”  Maybe not the whole group (14 in all), but a good many of them stated that the topic was one they needed to hear.

It’s selfish on my end, because I am seeking the answer to the very whiny question, “But WHY do I have to call every single day?!?”  This is in response to the directive issued by my new and incredibly awesome sponsor that I call her.  Every.  Single.  Day.  No exceptions.

People who know me personally are gasping in horror and whispering, “Holy shit!  Her head is about to explode!”

Obviously, I am one of those people who have uttered the earlier expression I mentioned.

Your mind can be arguing two ways at this point:

1.  What’s the big deal?  If your sponsor says call, just call

or

2.  You’ve got over 3 years of sobriety, why on Earth would you need to call someone every single day?

Clearly I am in the second camp, and therefore I selected this reading to gather real world advice from my comrades in the Monday morning meeting.  Of the 14 present, 6 have more than 25 years sober, and another 5 have between 2 and 10 years sober, so a wide range of experience to uncover the hidden mysteries of the phone.

Yes, in case you’re wondering, my sponsor was present.  And yes, she now clearly understands my position on this directive!

The answers I received really surprised me, although they shouldn’t have, since my crazy mindset is generally shared by lots of people in the rooms of the 12-step fellowship.  Most shared that they experience the same anxiety in picking up the phone as I described, and most are reluctant to continue the practice much once over the hump of early sobriety.  Some admitted it was ego at play:  I’ve got this sobriety situation handled, I don’t need the help.  Some are reluctant to impose on others.  One person received bad one-on-one advice and is now hesitant to get involved personally with fellow 12-steppers. One long-timer said he never used the phone before, and now he feels like “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

I could relate to all of the above (with the exception of receiving bad advice, that’s never happened to me).

I got the final answer I was seeking, unsurprisingly, from my sponsor herself.  She remembers well feeling that phone calls are unnecessary.  She had double the sober time I did, in fact, when her sponsor insisted that she make the daily phone call to check-in.  She had the usual litany of objections:  but I am not fighting the urge to drink!  I don’t have time for a daily phone call!  I will have nothing to talk about!

The answer she received:  it’s not about whether or not you want to drink, it’s about claiming your sobriety and acknowledging you can’t do it alone.  If you don’t have the time or inclination to do this simple task on a daily basis, then how important is your sobriety?

Last Monday, when my sponsor issued this directive my immediate response (after groaning):  can I start tomorrow since I’m physically speaking with you right now?

Today, after the meeting, I said, “I’ll be calling you later to claim my sobriety!”

Today’s Miracle:

That I’ll be calling my sponsor later to claim my sobriety!

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The second class in my meditation series is tonight, and I can report that I’ve meditated each day last week!

Yoga Challenge: Check!

Very, VERY similar to the set-up from last Wednesday!

I am going to do my level best to keep this post short, it seems the last several have read like novellas!

At the beginning of April I challenged myself to participate in a yoga class.  You might be asking either one or both of the following questions:

1.  Why?

2.  Why is this challenging in the first place?

Before I answer those questions, let’s set the record straight as to what are the purported benefits of regular yoga practice:

  • increases flexibility
  • builds muscle strength
  • calms the mind
  • improves concentration
  • promotes patience
  • betters bone health
  • increases blood flow
  • boosts immunity
  • drops blood pressure
  • improves balance
  • promotes deeper sleep
  • increases self-esteem

To name but a few.  Plus several of my wise and trusted fellow bloggers write persuasively of how well yoga and meditation deepen the commitment to/enrich the experience of sobriety.

So that should answer the first question.  As to question 2, since millions of people take yoga classes every day (a non-scientific figure, mind you, but I imagine it’s a fair enough guess), what’s the big deal?  Just buy a Groupon and take a class!

Not so simple, if you are as self-conscious as I am with physical things such as an exercise class.  I was terrified!

But a series of coincidences-that-aren’t-really-coincidences came up, and a yoga and meditation center opened up not five minutes from my house, and I knew I had to put my insecurities aside and give this a shot.  It took 29 days to muster up the courage (and clear the schedule of kid sports), and it took wrangling my husband to come with me (partially as support, partially because I feel like he could use some of these benefits as well), but on Wednesday, April 29th, I took my first Svaroopa yoga class.  And please don’t ask to pronounce that name.  How did it go?

Well, I’m no expert, but I’d say it went pretty well!  First, the teacher was very kind.  She had compassion for my nervousness, and took time to explain what would happen in the 90 minute class, and answered my 802 questions patiently.

I feel accomplished for completing the class; specifically, completing each of the poses she taught us.  Possibly the biggest fear I had going in was either:

  • not being able to do something at all, or, worse yet
  • trying to do something and getting stuck in a position permanently

So it felt great being able to do it all, the same as everybody else.

I also felt fairly relaxed when I left, almost as if I had had a massage.

There were a few downsides, most of which would probably go away if I committed to practicing yoga regularly:

  1. Soreness:  I had a terrible neck ache and butt ache for a few days following.  I’m certain I overstretched something, but still, ouch!
  2. Fear of embarrassment:  Alright, I’m just going to be real here.  I was paranoid about passing gas while in some of the postures, and that terror kept me from being fully present in the experience.  I’m not quite sure how to correct that one (eat nothing for 12 hours before class?  Or just let one rip and accept the embarrassment?)
  3. Preoccupation with getting the posture correct:  At times I was so concerned about my posture I missed the opportunity to enjoy the moment.  Again this con would likely go away with practice.

So there you have it.  The question becomes:  will I go back?  I definitely would do it again, though I’m unsure if I’m willing to pay the price this particular studio is charging.  I may try several studios in the area, as I’m sure most would offer a free trial class.

However… I have a bonus story to add-on to the yoga experience:

In leaving I took note of a meditation class that was starting up the following week (this past Monday), and my husband surprised me with an early Mother’s Day present by signing me up for it!  I went Monday night for 2 hours, learned all sorts of interesting techniques, got to connect with a group of like-minded people, and successfully meditated for 20 minutes. And that was just class one, I still have 2 more to go!  Our homework was to repeat the practice each day, and so far I have been able to successfully complete 20 minutes of meditation at home.  It is incredible how much personal instruction has improved my ability, and I am only 4 days into the new practice.  The gift that will keep on giving!

Today’s Miracle:

The incredible group over at addiction.com included me again in an article.  Check it out, and the rest of the website!

http://www.addiction.com/9655/what-i-wish-id-known-when-i-first-got-sober/

M(3), 11/17: See God in the Response, Not the Disaster

My Monday morning meeting had a wonderfully large turnout (15) on a day that almost demands one to stay inside due to cold, dreary, pouring rain.   I hope the weather is better wherever you may be in the world!

This week’s literature selection came from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and covered the topic of Step Eleven in our 12-step program:

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.

In essence, the chapter’s purpose is to describe to a newcomer what prayer and meditation are, why they are important to cultivate in our lives, and the benefits that are derived from the implementation of these practices.  This is one of those chapters that applies to the whole of the human race, not just those of us who identify as alcoholics.

I am fortunate to have held a belief in the existence of God prior to joining my 12-step program; therefore, when it was suggested that I start each day, on my knees, in prayer, I did not balk, and have continued the practice to present day.  The ease with which I was able to incorporate prayer into my life is not universally true, as many who join our Fellowship consider themselves atheists and agnostics.  For them, step eleven is another hurdle to jump, but the good news is that many who came before them have successfully cleared the hurdle, and provide practical ideas to make it easier.

Meditation, on the other hand, is a practice with which I struggle mightily.  I have written, on numerous occasion, about my battle to control the monkey mind that slips into high gear at the mere mention of the word “meditation.”  And although I firmly believe in the benefits, and although I have had some limited success with practicing it, for some reason I have failed to make this part of my daily routine.

But the bottom line, for me, with regard to step eleven:  no matter what form my conscious contact with God takes, be it morning prayer, mid-day “pulse checks,” meditation attempts or evening inventories, the results are invariably the same:  the answer to the questions I am seeking lies in looking outward, rather than inward.  In other words, what can I do to help another?  The possibilities are endless:  I can reach out to the still suffering alcoholic, I can help a friend or family member in need, I can assist the person in front of me in the supermarket line, I can drive with patience, rather than with road rage.  The point is my focus is on helping others, rather than myself, and it is in this shift from self-centered thinking to a more benevolent thought process that I find my peace and serenity.

From my share a regular attendee, one with decades of sobriety, remarked that he remembers well my struggle with meditation (hmmm… perhaps I am a bit repetitive?!?).  He said he learned very early in sobriety the simplest definition of prayer and meditation is the one he carries with him to this day:

Prayer is talking to God

Meditation is listening to God

So, to him, when he is saying a formal prayer like the Prayer to St. Francis (Make me a channel of thy peace prayer), he is praying.  When he studies the prayer, and breaks it down line by line and figures out what that would look like in his life, he is meditating.   This particular attendee happens to be a priest, so I take his suggestions on prayer and meditation very seriously!

I absolutely love this idea, because it is something I put into practice pretty regularly:  I see something profound, or wise, and I try to see how I can apply it to my life.  If this is a way of meditating, I’ll take it!

Other people focused on the idea of meditation as being present in whatever you are doing; consciously appreciating your present situation.  You can meditate doing just about anything:  walking, cleaning, washing the dishes.  I informed that friend that I had a sinkful of meditation waiting for me at home!

A gentleman new to my meeting but sober since 1981 said that throughout his sobriety, every time he got into a funk, it was because he failed to work on his conscious contact with God.  Each time, he said, his ego got in the way and he became complacent in his prayer and meditation practices, and each time he wound up feeling down and out for no discernible reason.

Finally, a woman who considers herself agnostic is able to practice prayer and meditation by virtue of science: there have been many studies which prove measurable benefits of meditation, mindfulness, and incorporating spirituality into one’s life.  She is unable to refute the results, so why not try to improve her own life?  When she struggles with the concept of God, she remembers the expression I used in the title of this post:  see God in the response, not the disaster.  Rather than focus on the question, “Why would a God allow bad things to happen to good people,” my friend instead focuses on the caring and compassionate response to the tragedies, or disasters, or hard times.

Today’s Miracle:

The blessing of being allowed to absorb the collective wisdom of these Monday meetings, plus the added blessing of being allowed to share them with you!

Monday Meeting Miracles: 11/18

I need to come up with a new way of saying that my Monday meeting was fantastic, because I fear I’m getting repetitive.  It was fantastic, 12 people, it seems these days that even when a regular attendee does not show up, I will have a newcomer to take his or her place.  Here’s what was cool about today’s meeting.  It is the third Monday of the month, which means a reading from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.  Because it is November, we read the chapter dedicated to Step Eleven:  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.  Of course I know this is what we are going to be reading, and so I have been considering how I am faring with this step in my everyday life, and I find that I am comfortable with the prayer portion of the step, but still feeling very weak in the meditation part.  I have written about my struggles with meditation several times in the past, and I don’t feel as if I have progressed very far in this department.

Back to the meeting.  I am contemplating what I will be sharing, and I am focusing on what I can say about my struggles with meditation, and a car pulls into the parking lot that I do not recognize.  Out of the car steps a gentleman I have not seen in at least 6 months, maybe more, named Brian.  And, of course, it is always so wonderful to reconnect with someone you have not seen in a while, but here’s what is amazing:  the last I saw Brian he was attempting to start a meeting in the same club house I run my meeting.  And that meeting was to be a moving meditation meeting. He wound up shutting down the meeting due to a lack of participation, but how fortuitous is it that as I am gearing up to talk about my lack of progress in meditation, he drives into the parking lot!

So of course I needed to share this serendipity with him and the other early birds to the meeting, and we had a fascinating discussion about the benefits and practical application of meditation in everyday life.  It turns out that two other early birds are well-read on the subject, and I was able to learn so much from them in the 20 minutes before the meeting even started!

Now, when a meeting is that interesting and it hasn’t even started yet, you know it’s only going to get better, and it did not disappoint.  The other attendees had just as great things to share, both on meditation, and step eleven in general.  Here are some of my take-aways:

  • Meditation is a process, and therefore takes time, patience, and practice; the results are cumulative.  The goal is not for a white-light moment; rather, it is a slow and steady shift in perception that, over time, leads to a substantive increase in peace and serenity
  • It is beneficial to establish a routine:  create a spot in your home that brings you peace, and intend for that spot to be a place where you will meditate daily
  • Meditation is about the absence of judgment.  So whatever comes into your mind, let it come in and go out, negatively judging it will only lead to resistance in meditation
  • Keep it simple.  Forget about all the fancy clothes, incense, music, and whatever else is associated with meditation.  Be still, be quiet, focus on breathing in and out.  Keep that up, and you will find yourself meditating as surely as those in the cloistered monasteries all over the world!

… At least that was what I was told.  I committed to the group that I would designate a spot (which I have), and I will attempt to sit quietly in that spot for a few minutes each day, and see what happens.  I am still toying with the time of day to do this, but for now I will try different times to see what yields the best results.  I am hopeful that this new information will help me to make some serious progress, and I will check in at some point and let you know how it goes!

Today’s Miracle:

An absolutely gorgeous day on the East Coast, warm weather that is unheard of in mid-November.  I will appreciate it while I can!

The Steps in Everyday Living: Part Eleven

Step Eleven:  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.

Alright, we are in the home stretch!  That is what I thought when I got to this step while going through them, and that is what I think as I am writing this series.  Recovery-wise, Step 11 works in conjunction with step 10, and so are typically done simultaneously.  The way Step 10 is a mini-step 4, Step 11 is a mini-step 3 (Turned our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him).

Here’s the logistics of Step 11:  In the morning, say your prayers, and make sure to ask God to direct your thoughts and actions so that you may better serve His will.  This is important, because it is so easy to revert to self-will, asking for what we want, demanding what we think should happen.  So getting in the proper mindset, right up front, is important.  Next, take a minute to review your day, what’s on the to-do list, and what decisions need to be made.  Ask God for help with the decisions, and take some time to meditate.  Remember, praying is asking for God’s help, meditating is listening for His answer.  Conclude with a prayer asking to be free from self-will, since it is something that pops up again and again.

Throughout the day, when faced with anxiety or indecision, pause, and ask God for guidance, help, direction.  Turn the problem over to Him, and have confidence that He will handle it.

At the end of the day, take a moment and reflect on what you’ve done, both good and bad.  There are many different checklists available that you can use, if you find that sort of thing helpful,  but the idea is:  what did you do well?  what could you have done better?  what amends need to be made tomorrow?   Ask for forgiveness for the failings, thank Him for the successes, and pray for direction in determining any corrective actions that might be taken tomorrow.

This sounds like a lot of stuff, but in reality, each of these steps take but moments of each day, and I can tell you, make an absolute world of difference in the quality of my life.

I can’t say enough about how this step helps in everyday living.  The minute I feel out of sorts, I make it a point to shoot up a quick prayer and ask for His help.  Just that very small act almost invariably lifts whatever burden I am carrying off my shoulders, and I can breathe easier.  When I make the effort to clue in to my surroundings, I find He answers even more than I have asked of Him!

Sought Through Prayer and Meditation, Part II

Your mind is your instrument.  Learn to be its master and not its slave.

 This is a follow-up to last week’s post regarding meditation.  To briefly recap, I was given the idea that prayer is talking to God, and meditation is listening to what He has to say to you.

So, since I am attempting to be all about practicing what I preach, I decided to formally give meditation a try.  That attempt, for the record, will be filed away under the category entitled Epic Fail.  I guess I never really thought about just how difficult it would be to simply quiet the mind.  If I think my mind runs a mile a minute under normal circumstances, then it goes into overdrive when I consciously attempt to slow it down.  When I finally gave up, I decided that this is step 11 for a reason, and that I will get there when I get there.

But then I had a few conversations about the subject of meditation, and I realized I am not alone in this difficulty.  When I did a little research into the subject, I discovered that “monkey mind” is one of the biggest obstacles to successful meditation.  So how to overcome this obstacle?  Simple practice.  Keep trying and (apparently) it will get easier.  I wish I could say I know this for a fact to be true… I don’t, but I hope to be able to post differently in the near future.  I suppose it is similar to exercise, the more you do it, the easier it gets.

My Dad had a great expression for moments like this one, and I guess I need to apply it here:  I’m not going to learn any younger! 

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