Sunday, January 31, 2010

Courageously Sober

"courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."
Originally uploaded by edgworthric

I went to an AA meeting that I've always enjoyed and haven't been to in many months. The occasion was to support a young woman who was telling her story; she is someone I am honored to call a real friend in this program. She is young enough to be my daughter and wise beyond her mid-twenty-something years. For the first time in her 1 year and a quarter term of sobriety, she invited her mother to hear her speak. You have to be pretty confident and comfortable in your own skin to give your parent a front row seat to your story of what happened and this is a testament to the kind of recovery program my friend has been working, which includes significant repairs to the relationship with her mother.

The loudest piece of her story that reverberated and echoed throughout the chambers of my being was this: toward the end of her drinking, suicide was the only solution she considered a viable option for dealing with the pain she carried and that now, in her sobriety, she is faced with significantly more pain AND joy AND fear AND love, recognizing that it is far more courageous to LIVE and be in this life sober than to want to annhilate the pain and end life cowardly through the escape hatch of alcohol.

I thought a lot about this after the meeting, on my drive home and as I had my dinner. In the decade of my drinking, I was riddled with fear. I did not have the capacity to face my life as it was. Anxiety consumed me. The illusion of alcohol was that it was strength-in-a-bottle. Some guys who shared tonight used the term: "liquid courage". Pouring that stuff down my throat was akin to putting a bag over my head; I was blinded to whatever was going on around me. There was nothing courageous about it. It was, in fact, the most cowardly thing I could do, short of digging a hole in the ground and burying myself in it to hide from the world. I could not bear the pain of what I perceived as being "wronged" in my life by everyone. Life was not safe; life was dangerous. Life was to be feared at every turn. Life could not be trusted. This is the truth of how it was for me.

Rumi says: "Don't turn away. Keep your gaze on the bandage place -- that is where the light enters you."

Light did sneak a peek through a small opening to illuminate my woundedness when I understood I needed to put down the bottle. Looking at my fearfulness directly, on the other hand, was not something I was ready or willing to do. I had a big toe in recovery. To take the big "cannonball" jump into the pool of AA was far too terrifying. I half-heartedly participated in group therapy and faked my way through to "graduating".

This cowardly lion did NOT want to see the Wizard behind the curtain. It was the easier, softer way to take the path of least resistance, in a totally different direction.

So, without the illusory shield of alcohol and no recovery tools on hand, how the hell was I engaged in life? Merging with and care-taking a partner and friends. Ignoring my needs and my inner voice. Dissociating and becoming paralyzed in the face of anything conflictual or fearful. Busying myself and staying in motion. Working incessantly. Battling insomnia. Pretending everything was ok and denying that anything wasn't ok.

There is nothing courageous about being abstinent when you are not willing to live soberly, I shared tonight at the meeting. Reflecting here is a reminder about what it is and what it is not to be courageously sober.

Being present to my both of my partners' parents dying a month apart felt courageous at the time; the truth is, I never stopped moving to really feel anything.

Leaving my former partner a few years ago seemed like it was courageous; it was, in fact, escaping and running from what I could no longer tolerate.

Ending 2 dating relationships seemed courageous because there were aspects about each of them that were no longer acceptable. I was not completely honest with either person and, in fact, avoided contact with both so as to not deal directly with what was hard in these relationships.

To walk into the doors of AA after a 16 plus year absence and admit I'm an alcoholic for the first time was no small feat. To face my fears of abandonment, the unknown, and all of the childhood terror that was locked behind closed doors for 4 decades of my life is an act of bravery. To examine with a fine tooth comb all of my character defects and to do multiple 4th steps as a result of my writing and sharing this blog with my intimate partner, my healer and my sponsor is one of the most courageous things I've ever done. And, to be willing to love fully and completely in the face of the absolute unknown, amid periods of separation and even no contact, with no guarantee of a happily-ever outcome is warrior-worthy (on both ends).

I am just coming to understand what it means to be in my life, courageously sober.

Putting our roots back into the Universe ...

A splash of color in winter
Originally uploaded by playzwifstonz

The miracle is not to walk on water;
but to walk on the earth in awareness.
~ Thich Naht Hanh

I made an intention this morning to awaken and begin the day with presence.

After being on my knees in conversation with G-d, I attended to all of my plants, ensuring they had enough moisture, and removing any dead leaves to make way for more growth, turning some of them in their pots so that the parts that had their backs to the light could now face the sun.

And then I decided I'd sit quietly, with my dog on my lap, and listen to Tara Brach. Her talk today, interestingly enough, was about turning to nature: our inner nature, the outer nature, and human nature. She entitled the talk: Downwind from Flowers -- based on a true story of a Tibetan man she cared for in hospice who could not tolerate the chemo and hospital treatment and literally put his cancer into remission, following in his Tibetan tradition, by sitting downwind from flowers and receiving the nutrients of their pollen at the height of spring. This was the way, he said, that we can receive the love of nature and open our hearts.

I really do understand the healing of nature because I have been the recipient of its power and its beauty. The photo above is one I took 2 weeks ago because I needed to be reminded that there was still "color" in the dead of winter -- we just have to be awake to it.

The basic Buddhist teaching is that we suffer because we FORGET who we are. And who we are is one with the earth, part of the flow of living beingness of the Universe. And when we get caught up in our ego, our thoughts, our need to control things -- our roots are in the air and we need to put them back into the Universe, to return to ourselves. This is the crux of what Tara's talk was about today.
And it reminded me of what my Kabbalistic teacher spoke to us about just one week ago in doing an exercise he calls "The Gods". That it is best practiced out in nature. And that we listen to our interior and to our bodies and we move toward the places we are drawn, that call to us. I am aware that when the weather is warm and I take my walks in the woods, I am most certainly moved to particular areas -- some filled with beauty and some that to the eye would seem ugly. I am understanding, from the practice of The Gods, that perhaps there is some sadness or some other aspect of human nature that might bring me to those places that do not have aesthetic beauty. I am looking forward to doing this with my full attention as Spring arrives.

Something from this talk today that really struck me: "We wouldn't criticize or judge ourselves or others so much, if we gave more loving attention to what is right here, right now in nature." Just this flower here. Just this bird chirping over there. Just this blade of grass coming up in front of me.

Now. Now. And Now.

I am aware that I spend a great deal of time in virtual reality. Lost in a trail of thoughts that can collect and build a story that can send me into a total tizzy and state of anxiety. And it is NOT reality !!!! If I do not come out of this trance and return to a state of presence, I can actually believe this virtual reality is the truth. To bring this into my awareness in this moment is startling and eye-opening.

I am also aware that when I am doing my AA program and when I am regularly doing my Kabbalistic practice, I am more here. I am paying attention to my inner nature and I am present to the outer nature of what is here. And I can notice and allow thoughts to go by or to even locate them and not have to do anything with them. They are just another "thing" that I give my attention to, nothing more. There is tremendous freedom in this.

I am aware that I have spent the majority of my life, both as a young person and as an adult in one of two states: lost in my head, consumed by thoughts that were riddled with self-deprecation and fear OR dissociated, disconnected and not present to anything that was remotely uncomfortable, unpleasant or had the potential to be painful. I had roots nowhere. I was not planted.

There was a great quote Tara offered at the end of her talk:
"Awakening is absolute cooperation with the inevitable."

She is talking about being fully in the flow of life, in the unfolding, in the mystery, in the unknown. This covers a wide spectrum from falling in love to being diagnosed with a terminal illness and everything in between. This is what we are taught in our Kabbalistic program. I am a toddler in terms of learning how to do this in my very adult body. And I am deeply grateful that I am no longer walking among the living dead, as a human zombie.

The world settled down is God.
God is the ground.

These two lines from the MAGI process remind me where I want to put my feet when I get out of bed each morning. And that I want to be planted in my life. To remember to put my roots back into the Universe.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Another look at worthiness ...

Stay away from me weirdo !!
Originally uploaded by

In my morning meeting today, a woman who I've come to know and respect shared an aspect of her history today that I was not aware of;  this piece of information, while painful for her, brought me great comfort and a different look at the old message of "I am not worth it."

She shared that today was the 20th birthday of the son that she gave away for adoption when she was 16 years old. And how she thinks of him and how hard it is at this particular anniversary to not be celebrating with him. She is aware that this was ultimately the best decision for him. She also knows that something worse could've occurred had she kept him, given the course of her drinking and drugging and the likelihood that he would have been removed from her as a result. Tearfully, she shared that she hopes he is happy in his life and that he's been well taken care of. She has a wish that she will get to reunite with him one day.

As I watched her intently as she shared this poignant story, my heart softened and expanded and warmed toward her and toward myself. And it was both personal and impersonal. I could feel the compassion and tenderness for her, for my biological mother, and for all mothers who come to this pivotal, heart-breaking decision. To allow a child to develop and grow and be nurtured inside of your body and, once they've been brought out of the womb, through the birth canal and into the world, to let them go and set them free and trust that this product of your flesh and blood and genes will be taken care of by another being, not connected to them at all in the way you were but who will raise them, hopefully, as if that didn't matter.

And as I've allowed all of this to swirl about in me over the past few hours, I've experienced a shift in this very old belief of my small, small self of "I am not worth it." To take another look today, through the eyes of a mother who came to this decision, enabled me to see the loving intention and the incredible value and worth in how that child is regarded in order to make a choice that is in the child's best interest. I was never able to truly look at my adoption in this way. My view about what transpired was from the place of my very hurt little one, whose mind only had the capacity to see this act as one in which she was given up on, given away, discarded, abandoned. The decision of my biological mother was never fully taken into account. It became all about me, from my "Woe is me" identity.

It feels so free-ing to be able to give voice to this and to really see with clearer eyes the WHOLE picture. What a gift from G-d to have this woman share today and to be a witness to her story.

I have been able to step away from this meeting today and hold, for the first time, a different message about my entrance into the world: "I was worth it." I was worth the carrying for 9 months, for the pain endured to bring me out of the womb, for ensuring that I would have the chance at a better life than perhaps I would have if I remained, and that I was worth letting go and entrusted to be cared for by other beings on this earth. This insight today is no longer from the 9 year old's place when she found out she was adopted and had to make it "special" in order to bear the shattering. Today, this insight is from a 47 year old adult who is willing to understand and have tenderness for the whole picture about her entrance into the world, no longer from a wounded story, just from the truth.

I am worth it.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Tossing about contenment ...

Wishful Thinking
Originally uploaded by Leah Johnston

I went to a 1p AA meeting today, as I have an event I am attending tonight and would not be able to go to my usual Fri evening meeting.

The meeting is one that is every day except Sunday and the format changes daily. Friday is a Grapevine discussion. The chair person chose a reading called "Slow Boat to Serenity". One of the author's statements that brought up a great deal of discussion in the meeting was that he found the word "serenity" a bit boring and that the word which better suited him was "contentment". It implied a "state of mind" in ANY situation as opposed to an ideal state to strive for or to accomplish -- like serenity -- as part of AA work.

This reading was received with mixed reviews in the room. I must also say that we were quite a mixed lot ourselves. White businessmen, 2 women, several retired African-American men, and two very clearly mentally ill folks who I've seen at other meetings and who are often in and out for the free coffee and cookies, yet 1 of the 2 stayed for the entire meeting.

A couple people preferred the word serenity and felt like it was the more appropriate word because of the fact that the Serenity Prayer is a part of nearly every AA meeting (some meetings use "The Lord's Prayer instead). Some people compared serenity to meditating and could not relate to it, while others felt like contentment felt like "settling for" and implied some form of not striving. I took all of this in and am still tossing about my own ideas of what it is that holds meaning, that is descriptive of how I want to be in my life.

I love the "feel" and the "texture" of the word serenity. There is a calmness, a peacefulness when I sit with this word. It is a state of being that is blissful to me. Like being in the "eye of the hurricane" -- chaos and fury and force all around and being in the center at a place of quiet stillness.

Contentment, on the other hand, is often how I feel in the reality of my life these days. It is not necessarily a "neutral" place, yet it is a place of no-drama. It feels like acceptance of life as it is. And here's where things begin to unravel a bit for me: there's an aspect of "contentment" that, for me, also feels like a "settling for" without striving. There are times when I want more than to just be content; in fact, there are a LOT of times when I don't want to be just content. Is this selfish? Is this not being accepting of where I am ? OR Is this desire? Is this passion ? Is this my inner fire ?

I want to find the balance of having serenity or contentment about the circumstances, whatever they are, of my life AND to also feel the spark of my aliveness that has me explore, finds me curious, allows me to dream and wish and to manifest. Perhaps this is a beautiful dilemma that I can bring into my Impersonal Movement practice -- yet it's not necessarily about contentment/discontentment. It feels more like no movement/movement. And the understanding that both are needed.

My current relationship is a prime example of this struggle. Of the last few months, there is both "no movement" in the relationship itself AND "movement" -- tremendous as a matter of fact -- of our individual selves in our individual healing paths. The no-movement of the relationship has been necessary for the movement of our individual healing journeys. One cannot exist without the other. And then, enters in my ego, my self will perhaps about contentment versus desire/longing/aliveness. My life here, alone, is content as it is. When I am in the physical presence of my love, I get to see what "more" there is possible than just "life as it is here". And then we return to our separate homes and lives, and it is back to sitting with contentment. And I don't sit well or still. I want MORE !!!!! My inner kid is stomping her feet ! So my wrestling is about finding the place of contentment in the no-movement AND in the individual movement AND in the desire/longing for more. All of these pieces are here.

"Versus" sends me straight into all-or-nothing thinking. This is when splitting happens. And then it's either THIS versus THAT.

This AND that AND this ... wow, the spaciousness and room !

Just having that awareness brings me serenity. Ahhhhhhhhh.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

One gift of Freedom

Meadow of Life (Ben Heine)
Originally uploaded by Ben Heine

Be ground,
Be crumbled,
so wildflowers will come up
where you are.
You've been stoney
for too many years,
try something different ...
~ Rumi

I have been working with the Kabbalistic practice of the MAGI process again this week in some very tender territory -- of which I am not yet ready to write about. After working through my statements today, I decided to listen to a Tara Brach podcast. It was the 1st in a 3 part series of the "Gifts to Freedom". Today's was on Forgiveness.

It was a talk that was timely beyond words and so fitting for where I am entering in the MAGI process. I could not stop crying the entire time I was listening. This is good. I can feel the opening of a gateway here.

The definition of Forgiveness that she offers here is not the typical one. It has nothing, truly, to do with having been harmed by another and forgiving their actions per se. She frames it from this place: it is letting go of our armouring, so we don't have to push anyone out of our hearts. It brings me back to the statement of my healer in my last session with her: "We defend, until we don't."
Tara points out that we cannot be free when our heart is armoured.

The piece that hit home for me from her talk was this:

"Unless there is mourning, there is no freedom."

There was a guided exercise at this point in which we were asked to think about situations in our life where we felt like a victim or wanted to blame and then posed this question to ourselves: "What would be here and what would I be feeling, if I dropped my story of blame?" The tears were pouring uncontrollably from my eyes at this point. I am aware that there is a layer of grief connected to a piece of work I did with a group of classmates from my Kabbalistic program last week that is here. It is centered around a very old message of "I am not worth it." I feel how this is still lingering, quietly woven into the fabric of my adult self and who I am in the world. There is fearfulness that is contained within this message in terms of my relationships and, below that, is deep grieving that has not yet been given its due for the little one who first felt the painful sting of those words inside her heart.

With my hand to my heart,
I say these words with as much tenderness as I can muster:
"Forgiven. Forgiven.
Help me let go of my armour
and open up to what is."

I want to feel the wildflowers growing all around me, from the inside-out. I want to bear feeling what is here, so I can truly be free.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pointed in the right direction ...

Orange Weather Vanes
Originally uploaded by Java Cafe

I cannot say this enough: when I am open to guidance and trust my inner compass, with G-d as the pointer, I always get exactly what I need.

Tonight, I arrived relatively early to my Tue night AA meeting. As a result, I was asked to read The Promises. It's my favorite reading and not all meetings do it and at my Tue night meeting, getting to read this is highly coveted and it's usually given to someone who arrives early ! When handed this document, what jumped out at me in BOLD print at top was this: 9th Step Promises. Number 9. I forgot that the Promises are part of Step 9. Today's date: 1/26 --
1+2+6=9 It is a 9 day. I am brought back to the message carried to me about this number and I sit up straighter and come to attention.

The last Tue of each month is a speaker meeting. Tonight's speaker is someone I know quite well and whose story I heard just once before, in the very early part of returning to the rooms, so I didn't remember much of it. He is someone who has a big presence and has been around for quite some time. He is very well respected and I always am drawn to what he shares.

Now here's the juicy part and why I completely understand that I needed to be here, at this time in my life, and hear his message:
his story is centered around dishonesty and not just any old run-of-the-mill lying or bullshitting -- dishonesty in relationship to money.
The difference between he and I, however, is that he came from tremendous wealth. He spoke about the message he grew up with about money: "Money is freedom and money solves everything."
I had utter chills to hear this guy talking about his messages about money after having done this piece of work so recently.

And, because money was free flowing and bought his way to anything and everything, he never learned how to have relationships to anything else. Money got him lots of stuff and he spoke of his deep emptiness and loneliness in spite of all the dough. His mother was the alcoholic in the family and the one who inherited the great wealth from her family. His father left when he was only a year old. He watched his mother disappear into her bedroom each night with a bottle of Scotch and the empty one would be outside of her door in the morning for the maid to dispose of. He was basically raised by the servants in the home.

By the time he reached college, he discovered booze and took to it fast and furiously, having been pre-disposed most likely genetically.
Soon after, he got into serious drugs and went into a steady spiral downhill. Before long, the money was beginning to dwindle. And this gets worse during his first decade of sobriety and this is what really hits home for me. He spoke about the griphold of dishonesty even after he put down the drink and how this further infected his unhealthy relationship with money. In this first decade of not drinking, he too showed up at meetings late and left early. He was simply doing the motions but not taking the actual steps. He experienced bankruptcy not once but twice during this period. He spoke of all the ways he juggled bills, dodged collectors and lied to creditors. And at the 10 year mark of his 24 year total years of sobriety thus far, he had to work a "real" program, focused on his dishonest relationship with money. I felt such a kinship to him as he spoke and a softening around my heart toward myself.

He identified some of the underlying conditions that I could relate to regarding his issues with money and the overall connection to his alcoholism. One condition was rigidity -- all-or-nothing thinking (how I related to this was what I've written about in terms of either experiencing a total sense of abundance or a total sense of lack/scarcity, not leaving room for "grey" which he also spoke about). Another condition was perfection and having the appearance of always being right, always in the know. Believing I needed to be perfect or right (or at least have the appearance) would then find me hiding and being dishonest about finances, if I was struggling, because to reveal this would be letting you see my imperfections, how I was "wrong", how I was irresponsible. The facade of "confidence" and being able to be independent and take care of things runs deep into my story. Lastly, he spoke about how money was no longer the "thing" that could save him, keep him at a particular "status", literally buy the illusion of happiness. Money, like the bottle, had to be given its place and he had to admit his powerlessness over it. Amen, brother. I was practically weeping in sheer relief of hearing someone who has walked this path before me and that I was absolutely not alone.

And then, just when I think the serendipity can't be any more profound ... nearly 8 other people from this favorite Tue night meeting of mine shared their own personal struggles with money that has gone hand-in-hand with their alcoholism. Several spoke of Debtors' Anonymous. Others spoke of seeking credit counseling. Still others spoke about how the Steps and principles of the AA program apply to money just as readily as they do to alcohol. Now, the tears are streaming down my face.

When the student is ready, the teacher appears. I had a whole financial faculty in this room.

I am filled with gratitude and hope tonight, having been pointed in the right direction ...

Empty and Full

Blind distortion.
Originally uploaded by Bashed

Over this past weekend, I attended the 2nd part of 3 in the series of a Kabbalistic practice, Impersonal Movement. We were introduced to several additions to the practice, one such piece involves the "nesting" of opposites, which gives rise to a "3rd thing". A very concrete example offered in class was this: there are heads and there are tails and there is something that results which is neither heads nor tails but "coin-ness". This nesting of opposites is fascinating, powerful work. It is at the core of the healings we do involving the opposing branches, sefirot, on the Tree of Life.

Since returning from the retreat weekend, I have done the practice twice and have allowed myself to hold a set of opposites that seem to be the most concrete (which was suggested to us) representation of a current "theme" in my life. What's been coming up for me is centered around lack/abundance; deprivation/nourishment; safety/danger, even known/unknown.

The pair I've "nested" over the past 2 days is empty and full. The "feeling" that comes up as the 3rd thing is hard to describe in words. It is a sensation that is neither empty nor full, yet it has hollow solidity. Like a clay pot's firmness in its walls and the echo-ing space inside.

It is a bit too soon to discern what this means for me in the reality of my life as I am working with the issues of money and its origins in how deprivation and witholding has appeared (and still does) in many forms throughout my history.

What I am aware of in this moment is this: I am not feeling "starved" and I do not have a need to seek "stuffing" myself either. In the not-so-distant past, when I was deep in "financial lack", I deprived myself of food, rest, other forms of self-care. I saw the places of "missing and longing and not enough" show up in the way I've viewed my relationships with others and to the world. The seeking to feel "full" , on the other hand, could take the form of spending frivously, having a packed social calendar, being immersed in tons of projects simultaneously. Neither of those extremes are here or are calling to me. I am contented with enough and not seeking more out of fear.
I feel like there is relationship in this to another significant pair: connection/aloneness.  There is also an association here with abandonment/belonging.  It's swirling in the background, not yet ready to surface completely.   

Unlike the old addage, I am not half empty nor half full.

I am glass-ness, the container that holds both empty and full and is much more than that.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Meditating on 9

Meditating on 9
Originally uploaded by playzwifstonz

There is something that has been working in me during the night and into this morning. It has to do with a message that was carried to me by a classmate in my Kabbalistic program at the end of our retreat yesterday. She approached me and said that she had a dream about me the night before and that there was a specific message: the number 9 has great significance and that I need to meditate on it.

This morning I was first moved to set up 9 candles in my meditation space, which is depicted above. The first things that came to me were these statements:
9 is the number of months that a child gestates and is birthed.
There is something about to be birthed in me.
It feels like this message that was carried to me was perhaps the seeds of my Future Self.
9 is the last primary number, so there's something about "completeness".

I then thought about numerology and how dates/years are assigned "life path" numbers when their digits are added up and then reduced to their lowest possible primary numbers (i.e. 1-9). My lifepath number is 8, based on calculating all of the digits in my day, month and year of birth. So, instead, I began to look at the number 9 lifepath years and a very powerful, specific theme in my life arose with each decade, confirming the presence of Future Self and how I have evolved,  been re-born,  been cultivated in my passion for what I do.

The year of my birth, 1962, was a 9 year (1+9+6+2 = 18; reduced to primary numbers, 1+8=9) This was a big WOW. It was this very year that I was given up for adoption.

The next 9 year was 1971. I turned 9 this year. It was in this year, in my birthday month, that my brother was conceived. It was this year that I was told that I was adopted. This has recently had powerful implications of the "turning point" this year held for me. It was a completion of any belief I held that my parents were my real parents. It was from this age on that I would quickly spiral in terms of having any real sense of identity and self.

The 9 year to follow this was 1980, when I turned 18. This is the year I applied to college, obtained a field hockey scholarship, and saw my "ticket to freedom" out of my parents' home. It was in the 9th month, Sept, that I entered college.

1989 is the next 9 year. This is the year I would say there was a strong presence of my Future Self. It was a "preparatory year" for major life-altering changes to come in the following year. It was when I heard the voice inside of me that said I needed to stop drinking. It was the year I did stop smoking, which took me 9 months. It was the year I began to peek in at gay bookstores and gay bars and I would then "come out" as a lesbian the following year.
This was the year I got my first "break" in entering the world of training/teaching. The seeds were being planted here for the work that is my passion today.

1998 is the next 9 year. This is the year I get accepted to grad school and enter the MSW program in the 9th month of that year. It is also in this very year that my then partner's first episodes of abusing substances occurs -- with pain killers. We take a trip that year to Yosemite and other parts of California with friends and it is disastrous because of how doped up my partner was for most of this vacation. My first contemplations of ending the relationship happen in this year and I push them away.

The most recent 9 year is 2007. This is the year I begin receiving Kabbalistic healings from my healer. This is the year I get my own place for the first time in 14 years, since ending the relationship with my ex. In the 9th month of this year, there is a pivotal, life-changing conversation with the now love-of-my-life. She approaches me to bridge the gap between us in our Kabbalistic program and I express the attraction and feelings I have had for her that has kept me at a distance. It is the beginning of a deep friendship where love enters in. Lastly, it is also in this 9th month of this year that I get my first opportunity to teach at the local Community college.

The 9th step in AA is about making direct amends.  I believe my money issues and the need for financial amends are right here.

The 9th line of the Kabbalistic MAGI process is:   The world will respond and signal.    This definitely calls me to attention and presence.

I am feeling the power of 9 in my life as I walk through these #9 years. I can feel the turning points, the "gestational" periods that have brought me to places of healing. The fact that last 4 of those #9 years were to prepare me for being a social work professor. A "home" that I have found in the classroom, something I have longed to do for the greater portion of my adult life.

The next #9 year is 2016. I will let myself feel and be curious about what "seeds" are now being planted. Where I am being led, what is my work ahead, what is in store for my life?. Is the message of 9 being carried because I am coming to a place of completion in some area OR am I instead, "conceiving" and preparing to birth something ? I will listen closely to the voice of my Future Self. And continue meditating on 9 ...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Wilderness in me ...

Gray Timber Wolf 16
Originally uploaded by Steve J T (feeling totally flickrd!)

THERE is a wolf in me … fangs pointed for tearing gashes … a red tongue for raw meat … and the hot lapping of blood—I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go.

There is a fox in me … a silver-gray fox … I sniff and guess … I pick things out of the wind and air … I nose in the dark night and take sleepers and eat them and hide the feathers … I circle and loop and double-cross.

There is a hog in me … a snout and a belly … a machinery for eating and grunting … a machinery for sleeping satisfied in the sun—I got this too from the wilderness and the wilderness will not let it go.

There is a fish in me … I know I came from saltblue water-gates … I scurried with shoals of herring … I blew waterspouts with porpoises … before land was … before the water went down … before Noah … before the first chapter of Genesis.

There is a baboon in me … clambering-clawed … dog-faced … yawping a galoot’s hunger … hairy under the armpits … here are the hawk-eyed hankering men … here are the blond and blue-eyed women … here they hide curled asleep waiting … ready to snarl and kill … ready to sing and give milk … waiting—I keep the baboon because the wilderness says so.

There is an eagle in me and a mockingbird … and the eagle flies among the Rocky Mountains of my dreams and fights among the Sierra crags of what I want … and the mockingbird warbles in the early forenoon before the dew is gone, warbles in the underbrush of my Chattanoogas of hope, gushes over the blue Ozark foothills of my wishes—And I got the eagle and the mockingbird from the wilderness.

O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie, inside my ribs, under my bony head, under my red-valve heart—and I got something else: it is a man-child heart, a woman-child heart: it is a father and mother and lover: it came from God-Knows-Where: it is going to God-Knows-Where—For I am the keeper of the zoo: I say yes and no: I sing and kill and work: I am a pal of the world: I came from the wilderness.

~ Carl Sandburg

I came across this poem today and, interestingly enough, it reminded me of something an AA member shared just this week in terms of gratitude for what was given to us by G-d: "We have been entrusted by G-d with this round ball of life he created, that revolves in perfect timing with these other round balls of light, the sun and the moon. How could we ever doubt that G-d cares about us, or that we are better than anyone or anything ... we are just animals that walk upright, no better than the small bug that G-d put here too out of love."

I needed to hear the words of this poem and the sharing of this AA member to remind myself of who I am and where I came from and my place among beings. The pure perfection of it all.

I got up quite early this morning. Perhaps that is because my dog was not here to interrupt my sleeping with her 4am pawing to go out and so I slept straight through until 6:30 and feel incredibly rested. After praying and making coffee, I knew I had plenty of time before '
the day's appointments to listen to a Tara Brach podcast. This one was on "Equanimity". It was one of the Divine Abodes of Buddhist teaching, along with Loving-Kindness, Compassion and Joy. She shares how this is the hardest of them all to master on a regular basis. Equanimity is about pure, loving, ego-less presence. In Kabbalistic work, it is operating from one of the "universes" known as Briah. Where there is not an identification with "self" but rather with the "One-ness" of All. For me, it also feels like the "state" of being during the practice of Impersonal Movement when we have done "Forgetting-Remembering" ... I can feel myself drop into this space of no longer feeling "me" , just a being-ness in the space itself.

One of the greatest barriers to achieving equanimity is the daily trance that we each fall into of reacting to people, situations and things. It is whenever we are in the place of "You/I/Life should be different". A tremendous moment of clarity and sinking in for me.
She spoke of that when we are willing to notice and be aware of this place of reactivity/trance, and offer what we are experiencing the attention of loving presence, then we are moving into equanimity.

I feel like I am having more than just glimpses of this. I am less inclined to be in trance and to stay in reactivity or to want to push unpleasantness away these days. I have much more of a willingness now to open my eyes and to even find compassion for myself or others in these places of fearfulness, anger, disappointment, frustration, greed, jealousy, defending, protecting.
These are the qualities in Carl Sandburg's poem of all of the animals that occupy his being.

Equanimity, I am understanding, is loving the wildnerness in me. It is being aware of when I want to hide in a cave or show my fangs or fly away or guard with my ferociousness. And just being tender toward the animal that I am at times and the loving human I know I can be.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Reflecting on 1 year ...

Originally uploaded by Fort Photo

Tonight I was asked to share my story at an AA meeting that is the same location as the Big Book meeting I attend on Monday nights. By no coincidence, this is my 1 year anniversary of returning to the rooms of AA. And that is how I opened up my story.

About 45 minutes before leaving for this meeting, I sat quietly and reflected on what is here. Thinking about the issues with money that I have been writing about as well as the progress I've been able to make in terms of recovery since last January. All of it significant.
I brought my Big Book with me, as I wanted to read my favorite passage from the story "Acceptance was the Answer". Other than that, it would be whatever arose and what needed to have a voice.

As I watched people come in, I was totally surprised to see 6 people from my home group which happens to be on Wednesday nights! It was like seeing family in a place you didn't expect them to be at. And then there were the regulars from the Mon night Big Book. A completely warm and welcoming room.

I did not share a single drunken story. What was more important were the "conditions" that I used alcohol to desecrate and destroy. I spoke about the distinct "stages" of where some of these "isms" originated, based on what I've been writing about here. The shattering at 9 years old about being adopted and the subsequent fears of abandonment, not having a sense of belonging. The rebellious 16 year old and the association of the early origins of using alcohol and wanting to numb, kill off and cut out anything that was too painful. And then my putting down the booze on that fateful and grateful Labor Day weekend 20 years ago and how I knew I was beaten down and far too terrified of winding up like my dad. I spoke of not working a program, dodging people, having the arrogance to believe I "graduated" from AA after group therapy and how this not having a sense of belonging from the time I was 9 reared its ugly head. How separating myself and isolating hurt me far more than the fact that I didn't pick up a drink. And without a program or a fellowship or a sponsor, the conditions at the bottom of the beer bottle were still very much alive and had fertile ground. I spoke of repeating the same pattern I watched in my own alcoholic family with my then partner. And my acting out -- in particular, my issues with money that were right here. And that these very issues were at the forefront when I came back to AA and even after a year of working a really good program, they are coming back around. I spoke of progress not perfection and how the Steps are not linear, but sometimes circular and sometimes like a ping pong ball -- we get bounced back and forth from one to another, depending on what we need to work on and what is here. I shared that I was deeply grateful to have the willingness and the courage to want to face these conditions that have been underground and part of my alcoholism; this is one of the gifts of the program. And that I count on the fellowship and those who've walked these steps before me with the hope that I too can offer this hope to those who come after me.

Each person's share afterwards touched me deeply in different ways, for different reasons. The person's share that impacted me the most is a man I see regularly whose honesty inspires me all the time. He said this (I'm paraphrasing) : " What I liked most about your message is that you didn't try to sell us or fool us that you have arrived to a solution. That even though you're going to meetings regularly and reading the literature and have a sponsor now, shit is still happening and you are dealing with it as part of your program. It's this kind of strength that gives me hope. Just because we don't drink, doesn't mean we got this all figured out." This touched me because he acknowledged my humanness. My imperfections. And that within both of these qualities are strength and hope. What I am working with right now in terms of money issues is not a reason to take a drink. Nor is it something that can be denied or ignored either. It is what is here for me and I have the incredible opportunity through my program and my Kabbalistic work to face it with grace.

On the 3rd Wed of the month, which was tonight, this meeting celebrates the anniversaries of its members and has cake afterwards. It was such a joy to hang out with folks and to meet some people for the first time and to hear how something I shared touched them in some way. One older man came up to me and said: "I remember you from the ______ mtg back in the day. You used to wear baseball caps and sit in the back." Yes, indeedy. And I thought I was doing such a good job of hiding. I gave him the hugest hug in appreciation for simply welcoming me back after all this time.

As I drove home under the clear, moonlit sky, I was rejuvenated. The heaviness of the load that I have been working with this week was lifted for a bit. It no longer felt so huge or so unmanageable that it could not be dealt with, 1 step and 1 day at a time. This has been an incredible, miraculous, life-affirming year. I have a place where I belong. I am connected to family -- both my immediate and these lovely souls that comprise the AA fellowship and my IKH community. I am not nearly as fearful as I used to be. I have more of myself now than I ever had before. I can speak more directly. I am rigorously honest. I talk with G-d all the time. My spiritual life is rich and has deepened. I know that anything and everything is possible and that I can also be in the place of complete unknown. I am better than I used to be and there is so much more that I am becoming.

And I will keep coming back. It works if you work it.

The money game

337/365: The Big Money
Originally uploaded by DavidDMuir

Day 3 of the MAGI process about understanding and healing my issues with money and the role it's played in my life.

My first awareness of the impact of money on me is around age 10. I do not have the kinds of things that the other kids have in school. My grandmother sews clothes for me. I am not "cool". My cousins of my mom's sisters' families have lots of stuff that I don't have. My mother frequently says "no" at stores or "We don't have the money for that." In my little scheming head, I will find a way. I get a paper route for a year. Have a German Shepherd almost bite me and get frightened and quit. Shortly after, I am selling Christmas cards door-to-door. I earn things the more I sell. I learn to be VERY charming. I get a chemistry set. I get a Magician's kit. I get a mini greenhouse. Lots of stuff.

The message: "Money gets you things you want when you are told you cannot have them."

As I enter my early teens, I babysit. This gets me cash. I go regularly to fast food places and buy lunches at school and snacks and Wacky Pack cards and other junk. In the summer, I can buy stuff at the public pool when I am swimming with friends. And, if I did enough babysitting, I treat them to stuff. Now, I get to "fit in" with the cool girls.

The message: "Money buys you friends' approval and acceptance."
My people pleasing origins are partially fueled by this very belief.

At 15 going on 16, I am aware that I want to go to college. My father specifically tells me this: "Well miss smarty-pants, if you want to go to college, you will pay your way." I am at war with him at this stage of my life and out to prove him wrong and on a mission to get the hell out of my house and make something of myself. I land a job at McDonald's. I work an insane amount of hours for a high school student. On weekends when my friends are socializing and having fun, I am working round-the-clock. They come through the drive-through window on Friday nights after sports events, high and drunk, and I am giving them big bags full of French fries for free. I am riding my bike at 4am on Saturday and Sunday mornings to be the "opener" , sometimes doing double-shifts if someone calls out. I am getting my first "real" money in the form of paychecks. I am putting them into the bank for college and watching them grow. From hundreds to a thousand and more. While I am resentful at my parents for missing out on all the fun, I am secretly delighting in seeing my way out.

The message: "Money is power and it is freedom."

I arrive at college. I have taken out student loans and am using what I have saved for dorm and meals costs and other expenses. My dorm is across from the student bookstore. I fritter away money on useless things and am buying friends all kinds of stuff. I treat people to take out food. I buy booze. Lots of it. By the end of the first year, I have spent up my money. I work my ass off in the summer in between at 2 fast food places and quickly build up my savings. I spend it up before the Fall semester ends. I bounce my first checks. I make up stories to tell my mother about added school expenses and she sends me periodic checks. They get drunk and eaten away. By my 3rd year at college, I realize I need to get a job there to keep up with my partying expenses. I land a job at a local hoagie shop. This is my ticket. I make good money. I give away hoagies galore to drunk friends. And as my alcoholism grows, I start stealing money from the register to support my habit. A twenty here, a twenty there. I walk to the bar after work and buy rounds of beers and show off. I continue doing this for almost 2 years! Until my senior year, when I am totally drunk during my Friday evening shift and someone from the community who came in to get a hoagie reports me to the owner. She arrives there as I am attempting to wash dishes -- cold water and no soap -- and tells me to go home. And to not come back. My free ride is gone. More lies to mom and made up expenses for a made up internship in psychology. A couple checks come and they are totally drunk up.

The message: "You need money to support your habit. You will do anything to get money. Money is a survival tool."

I graduate from college, barely. As soon as I get home to my parents, I am looking at the classifieds. Must get out of here, be able to drink and drug like I want and make money. I land a job as a live-in supervisor of a group home within 1 week. They will cover my housing (an attached garage apt), my phone, my food, my utilities! This is utopia. My alcoholism soars as I am enabled to not be responsible for any expenses other than a car and personal items. I begin to acquire credit cards. LOTS of them. I am buying clothes like nobody's business. I am treating friends to concerts and limo's to concerts all on credit. I am spending like there's no tomorrow. I am a big shot in my own mind. And I want more. I get a part-time bartending job. Cash and tips. I discover cocaine. Most of my bartending money goes up my nose.

The message: "Money makes you feel on top of the world. It makes you larger than life."

A college friend wants me to move to the city I live in now as she needs a roommate. I want to please her and I have this lofty sense of life and that I can afford to do this. I am soon hit with the reality of rent, utilities and other expenses. I stop making car payments to support my drinking habit. My car is repossessed and I don't understand why. I am scrambling to pay bills. I am in total credit card debt.  I take money from clients' petty cash and fudge receipts. And at the same time am drowning in debt.   I leave this living situation to get a cheaper place downtown where I can walk to work. I default on my student loan. I am eating tuna, rice cakes and peanut butter so I can drink. I have given up the drugs only because I can't afford them. My mother steps in because she receives the notice about the student loan and some of the credit cards at our home address. She makes me get a consolidated debt loan and pay off every last bill. She is furious with me and I am deeply ashamed. This is when the thoughts begin to enter my mind that I must stop drinking. My life is completely unmanageable. I have hit an all-time low. I start trying to control my drinking and still have binges when I have access to friends' booze or when they are treating me. I realize I need to get a job that pays more money. I turn on my charm and convince the training director at the agency I am working to let me into the department even though I have no experience. He does. I am making considerably more. And I am drinking it up just as quickly. From here, I get a training opportunity from a grant-funded program that is going to pay me one lump sum. I believe I've died and gone to heaven. Never had this much money at one shot in my life. I don't pay taxes on it like I am pre-warned to do. I pay my bills in advance and hit my total bottom in terms of drinking. It is at the end of this grant and at the end of my money that I get sober.

The message: "Money appears like it can save you, but it can't."

Newly sober, I am contacted by my old training director for an opportunity to go into the corporate world as a training coordinator. The money is beyond what ever was possible in human services. I clean up good and put on my best facade. I am offered the position.
I am paying bills, paying off debt and even get a gym membership. I believe I've arrived. After 2 years, I decide I want to return to human services and go to a former agency and get a training director position. The salary, however, is much lower than what I'd been making and I do it anyway. I meet my then partner shortly after. I am a big spender with her and suddenly I am struggling with bills again. We move in together and combine our accounts. I am hit with the unpaid tax bill from my grant-funded job, with major penalties and interest. This is a huge point of contention with my then partner and I. I pay it off though, slowly but surely. She criticizes me for being irresponsible. This issue is used against me many times. I get fired up enough inside to get raises and make more. I am watching a 401 K plan grow and grow. I am getting back on my feet and in good graces. From this confident place, I want to start my own business doing training and behavior therapy. I use some of my 401 K to do this. It is slow and I start to make money. And more money. And more than I ever had in my life. We go from better and better rental apartments to finally purchasing a home. I use the rest of my 401 K for the downpayment and now have nothing in savings. I work more and more hours and she works less and less. It is during this time that her father is diagnosed with cancer. She wants to be with him during treatment and not work. I agree. I work insane hours. And we live well. Her mother dies and her father dies and she inherits their home. We rent our former home to a friend. We take out a 2nd mortgage on her parents' home and fix it up fabulously. She is still not working and I am working like a dog so that we can live a particular lifestyle. We travel a lot. We each have nice cars. I am paying for everything. And then she begins drinking. More and more and more. And I am working more and more and more.

The message: "Money can buy you status and lots of things. It cannot buy you happiness."

As her drinking fully progresses, I start acting out and so does she. She is tapping into the home equity line for booze money. I am buying clothes and meals out and coffee and you name it. We are each deeply unhappy. I make a decision to end the relationship and leave. I live with a friend, minimal rent. Out of guilt and obligation, I continue to pay all of the expenses for several more months until we go to mediation. I enter my Kabbalistic program. I get my own apartment. I live fairly meagerly at first. And I am tired. I don't want to work like I did. I don't make as much as I once did and still have lots of previous expenses. I neglect the taxes, for 2 years. It catches up with me last year and I am forced to go to my mother for help. This is the time I re-enter AA. I pay off the tax bills and adjust my spending habits for a brief time and then return to being lax again.

The message:  "Money is cunning, baffling, powerful.  It is not a game to play with.  You will not win."

Insanity is indeed doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

While I realize that I literally just did a 4th Step about money,  Step 1 still needs repeating: I admit I am powerless over money and that my life has become unmanageable. This is where I begin.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

There is a Solution

Storm Surf: Of Man and Nature
Originally uploaded by gcquinn

"When you know you are the ocean, you are not afraid of the waves."
~ Tara Brach

2 days of the MAGI process and a decision to once again face the reality of my money problems and I am sucked directly into the undertow. One of my unpaid hospital bills is now approaching collection. A less-than-understanding person on the other end of the phone warned me of the matter being given to a lawyer. I hear the 2nd line of the MAGI process: "Admit to danger." A check was written and mailed out early this afternoon. As a result, I had to come "clean" with my healer and cancel our session this week. The money designated for the healing was now gone. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is no longer a viable option.

At my AA meeting tonight, we read: "There is a Solution" from the Big Book. If there was ever a time I really needed to hear this, tonight was it.

"Sickies in front. Shut up and Listen." This is exactly what I did.

Whenever it was applicable during the reading, I substituted the word "money" for alcohol. This was powerful for me. More continues to be revealed. One piece that came to light for me is this:
when I am in a position of having plenty of money (or the illusion that I do), I actually experience a "high". I thought about how I feel when I see a wad of twenties in my wallet. Not unlike how I felt when my fridge was stocked with beer. Or what it feels like to drive to stores where I know I'm going to freely make purchases without a care or worry. There's a "rush" , an exhuberance, a thrill. And, just as the alcoholic who is trying to "control" their drinking or making an attempt to quit, when I am being watchful of spending or when I understand, like now, that I cannot spend like I have been and don't have the money, I become restless, irritable and discontent. I actually feel "itchy". In the past couple days, I've driven by the coffeeshop or the bookstore or other places where I like to buy things and I get the same kind of urge and "craving" that I did when I first got sober and would go by my favorite dive bars or liquor stores.
My relationship with money is like my relationship with alcohol: it is not normal and it is unhealthy for me when I abuse my privilege of having it.

Here's the lines that really hit home with me tonight: "Some drinkers have excuses with which they are satisfied part of the time. But in their hearts they really do not know why they do it. Once this malady has a real hold, they are baffled a lot. There is the obsession that somehow, someday they will beat the game." Wow.
This describes quite accurately both my alcoholic behavior and my money problem. I can rationalize a zillion reasons for spending and why and how I have this piece of work coming in that will cover this bill that is not paid ... this is indeed a game I play with myself, to not take in the totality of what I owe or how I am spending. I sometimes put certain bills, like the hospital co-pays, facing downward in the checkbook, so as to "trick" myself and not have to actually look at them! And, as stated above, "once the malady has a real hold ..." -- there's this "no turning back" place I get to where I am just on a roll with either ignoring bills I don't deem important or urgent OR with freely spending, like going out for meals, coffee and I completely lose sight of the big picture.

And now that I am regularly attending meetings, doing my healing practice regularly, there is a gnawing inside that I can no longer push away or ignore. It is the turbulence of the waves of my interior, the pull that you feel at your feet when a big one is coming and is going to crash and do some destruction. It is no coincidence that I've been working with the Tara Brach quote at the beginning of this entry; the piece that requires my greatest attention is to have a healthy respect for the danger of the waves AND to know that what I am made of and capable of is vast and expansive and connected to All and to G-d. Every time I stray from knowing I am the ocean (forgetting my connection and being separated), I am in actuality feeling the individual currents that much more strongly and they seem larger and overwhelming to manage.

I shared what I am experiencing with a trusted friend in this meeting. I adore this man and he is intense and always has something right-on-the-mark to say. His response to me was this: "You need to adopt an attitude of gratitude. For EVERY single thing you have. Your breath. Your ability to walk. Every item in your home. That you can put your keys into a car and go places. When you take these things for granted, you will drift into a place of lack rather than a place of abundance." These words went straight in. Part of the "solution" is the fellowship. That each of us carries a message of strength and hope to another member. This is what was done for me tonight. A person for whom the problem had been solved laid the spiritual toolkit that is spoken of in this chapter right before my feet. All I have to do is pick it up and use it.

It's back to basics for me. One day at a time. Get on my knees morning and night. Talk to my sponsor. Make meetings. Practice these principles in all my affairs. If I can apply this to alcohol, I can apply this to the way I use money. Or any other of the "isms".

There is a solution.

G-d Singing

Winchester Cathedral Chancel
Originally uploaded by neilalderney123

This morning, I sat prayerfully with the 38 steps of the MAGI process.

The particular "lines" that spoke to me were these 3:

"Listen to the language of sounds: beats, rhythms, drums, birds especially"
"The world will signal and respond"
"The world settled down is God"

As I read the line "The world will signal and respond", my phone beeped to indicate I had an email. I didn't look at it then, but just smiled at the interesting timing. Once I completed the exercise, I viewed that email. It was a link from NPR that a new album was being streamed - for free - from my favorite artist of all-time, Patty Griffin. The album is called "Downtown Church". I have been listening to her ever since. I don't think there was ever more exquisite synchronicity with the MAGI lines and the music I am hearing than this. The write up about this album is that Patty is working through her relationship with faith and religion on this album. It has a deep gospel feel, like G-d is singing right through her. It is like no other album she's ever done. I have sat, intently, taking in each beat, rhythm, drum and her voice, that of a songbird. I am in no rush. I am not moved to "fix" anything or figure out or scheme in terms of the financial issues that I am working with. Right now, I just need "to be".

The world settled down is G-d.

And he is singing the sweetest songs through a little spitfire of a woman.

My head is bobbin, my feet are tappin, and my heart is growin and glowin.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Facing unmanageability ...

Originally uploaded by nickwheeleroz

Many AA's as they are approaching their anniversary time often remark about how the conditions that brought them into the rooms in the 1st place show up at this time. It was 1 yr ago this week that I returned to AA, after a 16.5 yr absence. One of the major "conditions" that was up for me at that time was financial turmoil, specifically 2 years worth of major tax debt. As I approach this anniversary time, this condition is indeed here. Not to the extent it was a year ago, but a pattern being repeated nonetheless.

This issue was front and center for me when I sat down this morning to do a particular practice from my Kabbalistic work that is called the MAGI process. It is not as important to go into the details of what it is but rather to capture what it reveals.

What led me to working with this issue of finances at this time were the following thoughts/statements:
- robbing from Peter to pay Paul
- self-deception
- tricking myself
- wanting to live comfortably
- living beyond my means
- resistance
- believing it will magically go away
- justifying, rationalizing
- But I pay all of my monthly bills, aren't I decent ?
- bargaining
- all will be taken care of, don't worry and, the converse ...
- lack, scarcity, "not enough"  can be scary,  so hold on to what you got

Chest tightens.  Lump in throat.  Shaky.  Punch in lower gut.  Breathing rapid.  

The reality is that I have accumulated more financial issues. Not major, but not paid off either. In being responsible for my health, I got a number of tests and my mammogram, etc... My insurance doesn't cover all of this, so I have a number of unpaid hospital co-pays looming. My 2007 city tax bill was "missed" in last yr's clean up and I have a large bill awaiting to be paid, with penalities and interest. I only made half of what I normally do during the month of December and am now just above water. Lastly, when I had my clutch replaced and then had to pay another garage for the 1st garage's botched work, I tapped out a huge chunk of my savings for my last quarter's taxes. I feel like I just made a confession to a financial priest !

So, in this MAGI process, the statement that arose for me to work with is as follows: "I want to be responsible, honest, and in integrity managing my finances/bills/taxes, accepting that what I have is enough and the wisdom to know what I can't afford." (has a little Serenity prayer edge to it, I realize)

And then there are 38 statements which you work with, 1 at a time, from this issue/problem. To really sit with each statement is very powerful, sometimes anxiety-producing, and, quite illuminating.

What arose for me during this exercise:
- I did not, in fact, respect the "danger" of letting certain financial matters go unattended and repeated a pattern
- "Getting away with"  is no longer a viable option.
- the fact that my mother always tried to model budgeting and good money management and she's always been the "bail out" person for all of us. There is much to learn from her and her thriftiness.
- my impulsivity about plans and what "feels good" in the moment has to be balanced out with wisdom and responsible behavior
- my dog is a reminder that I am a responsible parent/adult. I neglected her dental care for quite awhile until this past yr because of not wanting such a big expense. My own teeth are in need of care and repair and I find myself doing the same thing ... this needs to be a priority. It doesn't disappear and I can't wish it away.
- If only I could have ... If I just do ... If I could make ... unfinished sentences that hang in mid-air.
- I need to talk to my enemies again. Shake hands with the collectors and tax agencies and accountants.
- it takes diligence and commitment and responsibility to truly be debt-free; it is not something given.
- I can actually be content and even happy with very little.
- To withhold from those I owe is not being useful to G-d or my fellows. It is greedy and selfish.
- I will not be saved by my Goddess cards or my tarot deck or rubbing stones. It is honest work in real time with real people.
- Stop figuring out and scheming.
- Touch the ground often, that is where G-d is. Don't pray for money, pray for the courage to do the next right thing.
- I help the world experience goodness and safety when I am honest and responsible with my finances. People's jobs, their livelihood and their businesses depend on me for this.

I feel naked yet not ashamed.

I return to Step 1.

I ask for G-d's help.

And eat humble pie for awhile.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The path IS the way ...

A road to nowhere
Originally uploaded by playzwifstonz

The photo here is of the alleyway I walked my dog on yesterday, where we discovered the chair. A sweet conversation with my love today about this experience helped me to understand more fully, as she gently observed and noted, that being on this path yesterday and the experience with the chair IS the way -- of "being here"-- and not a road leading up to something or some place but rather the walk, the path itself, the taking in of the chair is what is here, the place where I can discover and uncover and explore and learn about myself. I do not have to travel TO anywhere for understanding more about myself; each moment, every step, every pausing to glance or be still are all part of the way.

By nature, I am a seeker of things. I want to learn about this concept or that strategy or this intervention or their way of communicating or this type of spritual practice, etc... Seeking outside of myself, toward something will have me missing the very thing that I need to know and learn that is right here in front of me. In the seeking, just as the path, IS the way.

In the Kabbalistic practice of Impersonal Movement, it is the ultimate in being with what is right here. The movement is not a going outward toward anything but a "being with" . And in this space, there is not a concept of actual physical space nor time for me. Entering into this space requires a practice called "Forgetting-Remembering" . Upon doing this piece of the practice, I transcend and am transported to my being-ness and oneness,  not a separate self ... connected to a vast, expansive WHOLE, the Universe, G-d (this is the Impersonal part) and also I can visit with the intricate strands of my personal being, all of the things that to date comprise the whole of me, including my history and my story lines and my identities and my reactions and my defenses and my qualities and my beauty. And I can even touch the seeds of possibility of me-ness planted by my Future Self. For some of my fellow travelers, this is an uncomfortable and scary place to be, something to be avoided and pushed away. For me, it is about being in the purest sense of "home" that I can describe and yet it is not something that can be captured in a tangible way. In this space, there is just "being". And maybe this familiarity of "home" is because of my experience of entering this world in darkness. Not bonded with my biological mother and not knowing where I was for the 1st 9 months until I was adopted. I would venture to guess that my existence was in this place of just "being". And from that state (and not being able to make sense of it at such an early age,  so I reckon it was full of terror) , all of my earliest anxieties and neuroses were formulated. And it has taken 47 years to unravel and unwind them.

Being here, right on this path, is the way. It is being at home in me. It is being at home with G-d. It is being home. It is just being.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Saying YES to what is here ...

A seat with a view
Originally uploaded by playzwifstonz

Today was the mildest winter day we've had in quite awhile. I took my dog for a really long walk this afternoon. I decided to take my camera, just in case there was something that caught my eye. The pic posted here was an actual sight, not staged, along an alleyway that we traveled down. The chair was quite worn, yet appeared as though, perhaps, someone nearby might actually sit in it from time to time. From outward appearances, it is an odd place for a chair. It was clearly not something that was to be discarded, as it was situated far off the road, away from where people put things for the trash truck to pick up.

As I continued to walk with my dog, I thought more about that chair and who occupied it and what did they think about and when did they sit there and what did they like to view. As I was in this stream of thinking, I was brought back to the podcast I listened to the night before by Tara Brach. It was about JOY. Her definition was one that I really took in, as it was not what we most typically think of or have been conditioned to believe about joy. Joy does not equate to happiness. Rather, joy includes happiness and it also includes sorrow and gratitude and pain and a host of other emotions. Joy, she says, is a feeling state of being REAL and saying YES to what is here. To do this, awakens and opens and widens our heart to life.

So ... back to the chair. Anyone walking by this would probably regard it as junk, something that was put there because the owner was too lazy. I returned to the definition of joy and put that chair along the alleyway in a different light. To sit there, metaphorically, is to be both real and to say YES to what is here. The chair is open to anyone who wants to take a rest or to contemplate or to ponder something in the sparce woods that surrounds it. Walking by the chair and simply saying YES to it, its presence, no longer finds me judging its being there or its worn out condition.   Playing this out in my "real" life,  when I am present to what is in my life, without judging it and just allowing it to be there,  then I make room for joy.  This made me very aware of how often judgments come up in my head about my actions or it's not ok to feel this or have this fear or anything related to my imperfections and when I am in this tornado of self-criticism,  then I do not make any room for joy.    And maybe that is why I took the photo in the first place ... I was drawn to it. And the more I look at the photo as I type, the more joyful I feel about having the experience of witnessing it and capturing it in a picture.

And I have thought more about this and the idea of realness and saying YES to what is here as the day went on. The exercise from the podcast was to sit still, close our eyes, and literally say YES to every single thought, emotion, situation that is here for each of us.
I decided to do that this evening after being inspired by the chair experience. The things I can recall that I said YES to, include:
- sitting alone on a Saturday night
- enjoying an incredible piece of salmon and a great salad for dinner
- a minor toothache
- neck pain from swimming today
- longing to hear the voice of my love
- work that still needs to be done on curricula
- the adorableness of my dog as she holds her bone in her paws
- the uncertainty of my future
- sadness about the tragedy in Haiti and hearing the pain in my AA friend's voice as she shared today about her father going there as part of a rescue mission
- hanging up a fairie over my bed that was given to me by students from my summer course who I had lunch with today

When I finished saying YES to all of these things, any anxiety that had been there or tightness or tension had dissipated quite a bit. And I did feel an expansiveness around my heart. It is very powerful to say YES to everything that is here. It brings me back to the AA passage on acceptance. And living life on life's terms.

When I don't say YES to what is here, to my life, then I am trying to take my will back. Which reminds me of this great demonstration that was part of a guy's share last night at a new AA meeting I attended. We read Step 3 and then the floor was open for discussion. This guy next to me stands up and puts his hand up for all of us to see that it is a tightly clenched fist. He says: "This is what taking your will back looks like and there's no room in here for anything to be received" And then, he stretches his arm out, opening his hand widely and raising it up and says: "This is what it looks like when you turn your will over to God. You are letting him know that you are open to receiving anything and everything that is here".

Who knew that I could find my joy today from simply opening my hand to G-d ? Or from a seemingly discarded worn-out chair in the woods ?


Friday, January 15, 2010

Living with Compassion

Child living near Stung MeanChey Garbage Dump Cambodia - Has a sponsor now
Originally uploaded by

During this week, I have been diligently working with not just the idea of "compassion" but how to really live and practice it in my daily life.

This movement has been inspired by listening to Tara Brach, reading Pema Chodron, and really taking in the words to my favorite passage in AA's Big Book, from the story "Acceptance was the Answer" (which was just read last night at a meeting and it was given to me by a woman from the same meeting at Christmas -- on a lovely typed "bookmark"-- that I posted right next to my bathroom sink and read daily).

Here is the passage: "Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation - some fact of my life - unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God's world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I would not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes."

What I am discovering this week is that as I allow my heart to open toward 1 person, situation, or even aspect of myself where it had been previously closed, I can actually feel the widening and the room for more people, situations and aspects of myself to receive tender attention from my heart, from this place of compassion.

This was very apparent in the following situation that literally just happened this morning when I was giving a workshop at a community residence. About 1/2 hr into the workshop, a resident at the home where I was doing the training, began to interrupt and get loud and gain certain staff's attention. I could feel the impatience and irritation in the room among the staff and within me. I would normally have little tolerance for this and consider this individual "disruptive" and want someone to take action to remove her. In pausing, and really taking her in and what she was seeking from us in her actions, I realized that here we all were, in HER home, and she was looking to simply belong. From this place in me, I invited her to sit and join us. I was the recipient of many disapproving looks and rolling eyes. And I remained steadfast in what my heart was asking me to find room for. She got so excited about this invitation and found herself a seat on the sofa right next to a staff member. As I continued on with the topic, I broke down some of the concepts so she could understand them and I asked questions directly of her so she could participate. Her responses and her answers blew most of the room away. She understood much more than had ever been expected of her. It was clear that she was thriving in this learning atmosphere and felt a "part of", rather than a "cast out". We even had a discussion about not using the label "client" and she shared that she wants to be treated "just like us". Much to everyone's surprise, the inclusion of her in this training added so much more to the topic and the discussions.

The really interesting thing was this: when she had listened to as much as she wanted to and "had enough" , she quietly excused herself and went into another room to watch T.V. There were no other interruptions.

The staff all remarked afterwards about what they learned about this resident and what she is capable of. It was incredible to witness this young woman be seen and included and really feel her heart's longing to be amongst others as an equal, where she felt a true sense of belonging.

When I got up to leave, this young woman came over to thank me and gave me a hug. Tears welled up in me from the genuine gratitude I felt from her. And for my own heart's calling out to me to make room for 1 more.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

No More Hiding ...

No Place to Hide
Originally uploaded by OneEyedJax-catching up..slow connection

I have enough distance now from my healing lunch interaction with my mom and sister and niece to be able to write about the tenderness and the incredible connection shared among 3 generations of women in our family that were bound in information we each held in captivity related to my father's passing.

The conversation at lunch had been focused on my sister and I's concerns about our brother and how he was repeating the patterns of retreat and withholding and disconnect from his own children that we experienced directly from our father. And how our brother is still young and he has time to make a difference in his children's lives in terms of how he connects and interacts with them.

From this, the conversation had shifted to our father and my sister bringing up how she recently went to our father's grave and how she talks to him. And that her recent "talk" at his tombstone was to ask if he thought she was a good parent. All of us at the table, naturally, reassured her that indeed she has been an amazing mother. And then, my sister shared that she knew in the week or two before my father died that he perhaps was getting ready to die because of a couple of interactions she had with him, that were "unusual". He had made it a point to insist that she gain custody of her children when she was leaving an abusive marriage. He told her that it would be important for her to do this and checked up on her a couple of days later about it. This would be very uncharacteristic for our father, who basically removed himself from most aspects of "family", particularly involving his only 2 grandchildren at that time. He thrown my sister out of the house when she was pregnant at 18 with her son and never really warmed up to them, nor in his role as their grandfather. My sister's regular visits to the cemetary to speak with him made me realize how much she is still grieving and how she has always wanted to "prove her worthiness" to him, as he judged her harshly. I can feel these broken places in my sister and felt so much compassion sitting across the table from her.

After her sharing, I opened up and spoke about my last interaction with my father when I was visting to go to a music festival with my ex, with whom I had only been involved at that time for 6 months. And, I had not yet "come out". My mother had made it a point to show me the wedding section of the paper, as she often did in my 20's, so I could see how another person from my high school had gotten married and, underneath that, was her "hint hint" about my not having filled my heterosexual womanly duties yet. My father, in response to hearing her, was animated and even defended me (this would be a first) that "this was not going to be the life I would have" (his words). On my drive home from that last time seeing him alive, my ex and I spoke at length that this was my father's way of acknowledging that he "knew" about the truth of me, my lifestyle and sexual orientation. He died 6 days after this interaction.

My niece, who was only 3 years old at the time of his passing, shared that she wished she had gotten to know him, even though she thought that he was "mean" and perhaps didn't like her. What has always hit her hard is the fact that our father died on my niece's birthday. This day for she and my sister has always been bittersweet.

Then, mom spoke up. There was a tremor in her voice and I could tell that she was about to reveal something painful. She tearfully shared with us that 2 weeks before he died, in a drunken stupor one night, he badgered her with this question: "Do you still love me?" She told us that she could not answer "yes" because that was not the truth. She would not answer him until she could no longer take his persistence and aggressiveness. She finally said to him: "I do care about you. And that is all." She believed for quite some time, having never uttered this, that her response caused him to "let go" and give up any hope and that perhaps this is why he died when he did. She does not feel that way now and we all agreed that the timing of his death was just right and it was a huge turning point for all of us, particularly mom and our brother, to finally have relief and freedom.

In this moment of my mother sharing what she did, everything came full circle in terms of the healing work I've been doing about our relationship. Her courage to stay in integrity and to not give a false answer to her husband was an act that I did not believe she was capable of. And had I confronted her 2 months back without claiming all of the voices of my "little one", I would have missed out on this exquisite opportunity to see my mother in a different light. In an act of bravery.

And the best part of this lunch was that 3 generations of women in our family sat together, talking about the ghastly reality of who our father was and the tender, truthful interactions that we each had with him before he died. And my niece could witness what it is like to speak from your heart, without shame or judgment, and the openness and the love that was here among us. And that perhaps, one day, she will model this and carry this onto her children and so on.

We agreed that a monthly "girls' lunch" is in order. From this point on in our family, there will be no more hiding.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Loving Kindness Meditations

Heart in my Hand
Originally uploaded by sandra..

May I accept my life just as it is.

May I feel the goodness that is here in my being.

May I always know gratitude.

May you feel my love.

May you know the beauty of who you are.

May you touch your tender heart.

May every being sense their belonging.

May every being know connection.

May every being feel peace.




Hard life I
Originally uploaded by A Parisian woman lost in KL

This morning
when I got on my knees
to talk to G-d
I was naked
without clothes
without a lit candle
trusting that
my own light
was prayer-worthy.

Asking that G-d
should have all
of me,
the good and bad
when I am just
in my skin
and bones
no covering,
nothing to protect
nor hide behind
is to truly

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Turning arrows into petals ...

Lotus Flower - IMGP7600
Originally uploaded by Bahman Farzad

How did the rose ever
open its heart
to give to this world
all its beauty?
It felt the
encouragement of
light against its
otherwise we all
too frightened.
~ Hafiz

On the way to have lunch with my mother today, I listened to Tara Brach. Her talk was the second part of the Trance of Fear, with an emphasis on how to take true refuge, leaning into the fear. The core of Buddhist teachings is that “Suffering is optional” and that awareness and attention is the antidote. The key piece of her lecture was that all that was needed to take true refuge was simply to wake up and be present to our fear.

“When resistance is gone, so are the demons.” She tells of a well-known myth about the Buddha who sat with his greatest fear, in the form of an evil presence. It was said that the Buddha had arrows and rocks and other things thrown at him in an attack and still he remained. And that in the staying, the arrows turned to petals and he was found under the infamous Bodhi tree, covered in luscious flowers. The “teaching” in this parable is that to sit with our greatest fear, which is often perceived and not based in reality, is to recognize it, invite it in, and a tremendous softening happens. This is what brings us to acceptance and ultimately, where love conquers.

This talk today has helped me deepen my awareness and tenderness for myself as I have been walking the path coming face-to-face with some of my greatest fears. One that I had not written about at length has to do with my current relationship. And how the fear of loss and abandonment had kept both myself and my partner hostage. And I became aware today how I also created another false refuge in the illusory security of this place of anticipating and waiting. And how, when I have allowed myself more spontaneity to be in the flow and in the stream of my life, it is no longer about “waiting for her”, but rather it is just a “being here” and trusting that if our relationship is meant to be, then it will happen in this “being here”, moment by moment, and not in the place of waiting. There is incredible roominess and spaciousness in saying this aloud here on the page. And, delving underneath the surface of this and really being with the fear that had existed for me previously about this relationship, it came down to these basic things: “I cannot bear the hurt of loving and losing”; “What if I she does not want this/can't do this?” and “ Will I be able to live without her?” To understand the trappings of this kind of fear is so powerful because it allows me to really lean into the fear and also know that I am not bound or imprisoned by it. I am free to love fully and often and deeply in each moment. To be fearless in love is to know that these fears exist, not just for me but for many people, and that I will choose to love anyway. It brings me to a place of feeling absolute compassion – for myself, for my partner and the humanity of all those who have ever loved in this way or perhaps were too afraid to take the risk because of these very fears.

An exercise that Tara had her audience do on this talk, which I actually did in the car, was to pose the question to your fear: "What do you want from me?" And then place your hand on your heart and let the fear know that you accept that it is here. I wept during this exercise ... from the sheer tenderness that arose. My fear simply wants me to let it have a place, to not push it away as I always have in the past. Tara spoke about how those of us that are willing to do work with our fears are actually learning "spiritual re-parenting" and I thought about how the concept of "mothering" has been so up for me and how doing this with my little one and my rebellious one has really put me in direct contact with the fears that originated at these ages.

This piece of work today has been so incredibly healing and touching. I feel so much more in life today than I did the day before. It brought me into more intimate connection with my mom and my sister and my niece at lunch today, with an incredibly powerful discussion that ensued about my father, his passing and other pieces that each of us held that were never shared. And my niece got to see these generations of women who came before her engaged in a painful topic, talking openly and courageously. And when I got home, there was a message from my niece on my Facebook page to simply tell me that she loves me. The truth that comes with connection so outweighs that of hiding because of fear.

A day like today is a reminder of the rewards of just showing up in my life. Of working a program of recovery, as cited in The Promises. Of continuing to want to pursue wholeness and being in truth and in life. Of turning arrows into petals...