Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Woman in the Moon (Bathing my ego in moonlight)

moonlight in San Cataldo - Lecce, Salento, Italia
Originally uploaded by Piero Maraca Lecce

Beams of the
full moon
through the
window panes
like searchlights
from the heavens
leaving perfect
of illumination
on the floor

It is 2:35 am
and I am making
my way to the
and am pulled
by this divine
light show
and I crouch
my entire body
into a glowing
panel on the
granite tile

My ego
urges me
to stop
engaging in this
and complete
the mission
I arose to do

It is in this
the words
of my teacher's
passage literally
come to light:
"...the ego
doesn't see itself
as the beauty it
truly is.
Oh Reader !
Let yourself
heal into
Yourself ! "

I smile
curled into
my ball of
basking in
the light
and I say aloud
to my ego
I see you wanting
to protect me
from being
perceived as
nutty or a witch
and it's hard
when I stray
from routine
and your
need for

And I pull
my ego-self
into my
and we
let the sweet
beams wash
and cleanse

How tender
it is to be
all the while
bathing my ego
in moonlight ...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Life's Potholes ...

Pothole (Vertorama)
Originally uploaded by Panorama Paul

Pothole (noun) : A deep hole, produced by wear or weathering.
(Earth Science Dictionary)

Winter this year has been relentless. Just when we have dug out of one storm, another one follows, bringing its own set of challenges.
One very apparent part of the aftermath is the massive and plentiful potholes, like little landmines for unsuspecting car tires. They can be jolting and scary when you're driving at night and hadn't had one in clear sight.

Which led me to think about the potholes in life. What are the things that are the product of wear and tear, of weathering situations that produce unexpected pits or perhaps holes in the fabric of our being? Where do we suddenly get tripped up, sink down, get knocked off our center because of the dip in our own ground we didn't see, didn't choose to see, thought would go away ? Take this even further, how about those situations and people who are literal and figurative "potholes" , swallowing and consuming and trapping anything that crosses their path ?

For real life potholes, some are merely patched up. Others are left go until they become dangerous, impassable sinkholes that require extensive road repair. Others still are unnoticeable, out of harm's way, and never touched nor attempted to be fixed. Some keep causing damage and harm until, for those of us who have finally "learned our lesson the hard way", are much more careful and cautious, even taking a totally different route.

There are two parts of my program and my healing that come to mind in thinking about life's potholes: denial and present awareness. Interesting ... these two could actually be "nested" together : denial (ignoring, not choosing to be aware as a defense mechanism, asleep to) AND present awareness (choosing to see, to be with, to be awake to).

In denial, I will almost always hit the pothole. And do some damage along the way, until my "wheels" can no longer turn, just spin in place or burn rubber or go flat. I was a virtual pothole, in and of myself, when I drank. I swallowed up everything not nailed down and I was drowning in my own pitiful, bottomless hole. Until I had nowhere to go but up and out. The denial I lived throughout the course of my relationship with my ex was also trying to dodge the giant sinkhole that neither of us wanted to acknowledge that was smack in the middle of our relationship. And it got bigger and wider and deeper as we each went further into denial about the reality of what was happening.

Funny thing about potholes is this: they start out as small, eroded "dips" on the surface. In the language of my sponsor, these would be the "wrinkles" that we feel when something is not quite right about a situation or a relationship that we feel in our interior. Choosing to ignore the beginning formation of a pothole in my life will enable it to get bigger with more weathering. The more "storminess" in my relationships or my life situations, coupled with denial about what is occurring, and my potholes grow. Eventually, they can't be ignored because of the damage they've caused.

My character defects are little dips that I get tripped up on when my personal GPS is shut off.   The program and the Steps enable me to catch them much quicker.   The cool thing with them is that I have a connection to something better than AAA  or the city streets department:   I can get those defects steamrolled by the Big G.   Best equipment in town. 

Traveling on the paths of my life now with present awareness enables me to see and feel the ripples in the road a lot earlier. I can't and won't ignore the bumps and the wrinkles on the terrain of my life. Conversely, I am aware too that bad weather is part of life and that there will be some erosion that is out of my control. This is where I have the opportunity to either do some good mending of the hole or that I make a conscious choice to go around it or take a completely different route. The Serenity Prayer offers me the guidance to do this.

My issues around finances are about the creation of a pothole that I chose to ignore when it was only a dip. Each bill and each tax payment and each frivolous expense made the hole of debt grow bigger. And now I am in the process of very slow, tedious patchwork repair. Bill by bill, small payment by small payment. And yet, there is now something quite fulfilling about getting my hands dirty and being awake to what it will take to fill and mend the hole. It's no longer something I can or want to avoid.

I understand that I will still encounter storms and rocky weather in my life. Some potholes, even if small, are possible in spite of my best efforts. I may occasionally trip yet it is less likely I will sink. And, more importantly, I will be a much more awake traveler on the path, no longer asleep at the wheel.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Another sparrow found by God ...

Little sparrow
Originally uploaded by visiblejoy

"It is said that God knows when every sparrow falls. But I'll tell you a greater truth still: God searches for each sparrow, because each sparrow is holy."
~ Jason Shulman

These profound statements of my Kabbalistic teacher are part of one of his "seed passages" in the Instruction Manual for Receiving God. This particular passage is about needing only conscious awareness -- in our embracing ourselves, without judgment -- to feel God.

I have sat with this passage now for 3 days. The first two, feeling the words swirl around dizzily in me, unable to write, because of the vastness and bigness of what I felt inside and around me. What Jason is offering here is also what Bill W and Dr. Bob must have experienced in the way they were able to feel God and his messages in order to write the Steps and the teachings of Alcoholics Anonymous. In Kabbalistic teaching, we learn that every longing, desire, yearning, aching, reaching, seeking is our wanting to be whole. And in our wanting to be whole, we are attempting to feel and be in relationship with God in some fashion.

What has rocked my interior and my world by this passage is that I had always believed you had to be seen and seated in a particular way in order to experience God. To be worthy of God's love and attention. That this ordinary little sparrow that I am would have to work hard to achieve this kind of contact -- reserved for very spiritual, holy people who practiced in deep meditation, with certain rituals. As a child, sitting and daydreaming in my church pew next to my mother, I didn't feel a connection to God at all. I was terrified of what I perceived God to be. After all, his son was depicted so graphically, hung up, nailed to a cross, because he died for our sins. And if I was to be considered "good" and worthy of God's love, what was I being asked to do ? It felt scary and unattainable. Besides, I was so confused by the mixed messages: if I sit here in this house of worship and am considered a "child of God" but when I leave and go to my house and I hear the names my father calls me and now I feel bad and ugly inside, who am I to believe ??

I have to repeat Jason's words again: "God searches for each sparrow, because each sparrow is holy".

This brings me into the throws of the bottom of my alcoholism. I was a sparrow unable to fly. I would just hop around the ground, searching for scraps. On the morning that I would decide that I alcohol would never touch my lips again, I was soiled in piss and shaking and trembling and completely broken. Why didn't I pour that vodka into the orange juice as I had done for countless mornings in order to get through the day? What call did I finally answer that morning that I could not hear or did not want to hear on other mornings ? I have to believe that God searched for this pitiful sparrow. To grasp that even in that moment of brokenness, God would consider me holy is a very hard thing to swallow -- even now. And yet, I know that this is the truth, beyond a shadow of a doubt. When I think about those men from the shelter that moved me to tears on Monday night, the ones who were eating out of trash and living among rats, and God found these cast-away sparrows too. And seeing them through my own God-self lenses on Monday night made them beautiful and holy to me.

I realize that in my moments of healing over these past couple of years, I have felt closer to God the more that I have embraced all of the parts of me, even those parts that I wanted to cut out and throw out. The judgments still show up, yet are less and less over time. When I have been able to tend to my smaller selves in their places of great fear and despair, I know that God is right there helping me to hold them. When I have laid on my floor, wailing and snot running down my face, and asked for God's help, that there is holiness in that space. Every time I say the 3rd Step or 7th step prayers in the morning and I am turning my will over and asking that God shall "have all of me,  the good and the bad",  I am entering a place of conscious contact with myself and with God.   Talking aloud to God in the shower, in the car, in the kitchen, laying in bed at night or on my knees, I sometimes feel nothing or I feel this overwhelming presence and I have to trust that no matter what the actual experience of feeling is, God is here.

I have spent a great deal of my life believing I was a lost, abandoned, unloved sparrow. And It took many attempts at flying and falling down and getting back up again to understand that God has always been here. It was only when I viewed myself as separate from God that I was lost, abandoned, unloved. It is an entirely different story when I understand that God searched for me. Searched for each one of us. To take the magnitude of this in ... the tears keep coming and coming. And my heart swells and swells.

One of my favorite singer-songwriters, Patty Griffin, wrote a song that moves me so deeply, called: "Top of the World". When I've seen her in concert, she introduces this song by saying that it is in the voice of a man who has died and is looking back on his life with regret, wishing to have developed a relationship with God, with the people in his life. I am grateful in this moment to know that this kind of regret will NOT be my experience.

Cause everyone's singing
we just wanna be heard
disappearing every day
without so much as a word,
somehow ...

Gonna grab hold
of that little songbird
take her for a ride
to the top of the world
right now ...

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bottom of the barrel ...

Originally uploaded by chrismaverick

There is a well-known meeting in my area, which I attended this evening for the first time; it has an atypical AA format, created by a now deceased long-time member. This meeting is centered around the chairperson calling on primarily newcomers to come to the front of the room, asking them questions related to their sobriety; some questions are confrontational while other questions are along the lines of what is known in the world of social work as "motivational interviewing" ... related to the stages of change someone is in and how things are working for them.

The meeting is held at a local university. The bulk of the participants, on the other hand, are bussed in from a rehab/shelter in a very rough part of the city. When you've landed here, you are at the bottom of the barrel, no where else to go but to look up for some light and a little hope. There are regular AA meetings held at this shelter everyday, but on Monday nights, it is a "field trip" for the newcomers to this meeting. Many of these guys have only a few days of clean and sober time. Some have been living on the streets or holed up in abandoned houses. Others have had countless relapses, kicked out of half-way houses, families' homes, and other shelters. A few have done prison time and began using once they were released and this is where they finally landed. For many of these guys, this place is the end of the line.

If there was ever a meeting to keep one sober and to keep things "green", this IS the one. I have many "I nevers" from my alcoholic days that I never want to achieve; these guys have done all of them and more that I hadn't even dreamed up. I listened with the hairs standing up on my arms and on the back of my neckline at their responses to the questions and the brief sharing of the horrorifying places this disease took them to: rat-infested crack houses; eating out of trash cans; alcohol-induced comas; multiple jail sentences; revolving shelter doors; botched suicide attempts; being chased through alleys; looking at the end of a gun barrel.

Each person standing before us was the epitome of humility. Prideful men filled with tears and shame. They want everything that each of us wants or is lucky enough to have: to be cared about by family, by their daughters and sons; to know they are loved; to be free of the cravings and urges and obsessions; to live a normal life; to be a proud and contributing member of society.
Their lives took twists and turns that for some of us in the room, we were merely just a few more drinks away from, that's all.

At the end of the meeting, I talked to a number of these guys before they got on the bus, back to their plywood beds and propane heaters. There were lots of hugs and handshakes and deep expressions of gratitude as our eyes met. Encouraging words were exchanged and "Keep coming back" echoing around the room. These guys want another chance at life. Many spoke about this being their last one.

Never have I had deeper appreciation than when I walked out the doors of that university hall and knew I was walking to a car that was going to transport me to a home with heat and a cozy bed and food in my refrigerator. These are the kinds of things I could easily take for granted. I will look at these "luxuries" in a completely different way after meeting these men tonight and when I get on my knees, I will be sure to express a sincere, heartfelt thank you for all that I have. My sobriety can be fulfilled from this place; I do not have to be at the bottom of the barrel.

May G-d hold each and every one of those men nearly and dearly.

In response to willingness ...

Originally uploaded by _ØяAcLә_

Before I went to bed last night and when I rose this morning, I was aware that a chest cold of some sort is underground, brewing. I woke up today with the chills. In my prayers, I asked G-d for strength to be able to facilitate a day long workshop today and for extra support if I am struggling. I turned over my will and asked G-d to show me what the plan was for me today. I also did my Buddhist tonglens, asking to be free of suffering for myself, for select people in my life, for neutral people, for those who oppose me, and then for every living being. I was entering this day, even though not feeling in my best self, having a willingness to be of service to my fellow beings.

As I got in my car to begin my commute to the workshop, my cell phone rang. The call was from the agency where the workshop was to be held. They had to cancel, as they had a conflict and forgot to notify me sooner. I was informed that because of this inconvenience, I would be able to bill them for the total amount of the training fee. I turned my car around and thanked G-d out loud for this unexpected gift.

I feel like what transpired this morning was in response to just having willingness. It is not about getting over or getting out of something, but rather it is about getting exactly what I needed today. My intention was to be in service in the best way possible, including my underlying cold symptoms. A number of years back, I would've made the impending cold the "thing" and I would've likely canceled the training, never having a conversation with G-d about the support I would need OR I would've created a made-up excuse for why I couldn't do the training and then scrambled to see if I could re-schedule it really quickly so I didn't lose out on the money but could duck out on having to "show up" for work today,  but instead take the stage elsewhere -- an actor starring in the drama of sickness.

I returned to my knees when I got back in my apartment this morning. I am deeply grateful to have this opportunity to take it slow and easy and rest if I need to.  I am planning to practice using this statistical software program that has been intimidating me for the past bunch of weeks, which I will eventually need to demonstrate with my students.   There is also a fantastic Dan Brown novel awaiting me,  The Lost Symbol,  which was given to me by my sponsor and I began with great enthusiasm last night.

Today, I have been given a gift to be in service to myself, so that I can be in even better service to others in the coming days, weeks. I will not take this for granted.

Thank you, G-d/Universe for your kind response to my willingness.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Just another bozo on the bus

the bus ride
Originally uploaded by a nameless yeast

I went to a new meeting this morning. This was a planned decision.
I am coming to recognize that an area where I attend a lot of meetings has the same people in these rooms, sharing the same kinds of things, telling the same stories. More so, I have watched the formation of cliques and even gossiping and there seems to be much attention given to who is there rather than what is the message. This is not true for all of these meetings, all of the time or with all of the people YET it is happening enough that I wanted to make a positive change in order to keep my program both fresh and solid. There's a saying: "Stick with the winners." The first friend I made in AA is very much a winner. And the meeting I attended this morning is one he raves about and has recommended to me for nearly a year. He most definitely knows what he's talking about.

My friend happened to be chairing today's meeting. It is a topic discussion format, chosen by the chair. On the heels of last night's fantastic topic, my friend speaks today about humiliity. From the perspective of Step Seven. He speaks about the balancing act he constantly struggles with in terms of wanting to be humble AND, if he speaks too much about his humbleness, then is he really demonstrating humility or is he wanting his ego fed ? What a fabulous dilemma to pose to us. It was clear that we all got the distinction between humiliation and humility, but what many of us shared was, from the viewpoint of Step Seven, how hard it is to let go of those all-too-familiar character defects and, furthermore, might it just be about the willingness, because quite often those defects return or are not fully removed or are only removed temporarily.

For me,  as I do the 7th step prayer every morning,  I ask G-d to remove those defects which are not of use to my fellow beings AND I also ask that,  if there are defects which could be transformed into strengths or that could be useful,  that I would like G-d's help in doing that.    Sometimes,  I have specific defects in mind that I am well aware are a hinderance or are blocking me from fully being in relationship to others,  to life and that I want to give them over to G-d.   My sponsor actually suggested awhile ago that I literally put my hands out and offer them "up"  in an actual gesture.    I love doing that because it feels like an action step,  rather than just lip service.    There are other times,  however,  that I am not ready to let go of a defect because I want to understand its presence here or what purpose it seems to be serving and so I ask for G-d's help in "letting it be here or have a voice"  (a strategy I learned from another beloved traveler on this path AND from my healer).     Interestingly enough,   I am aware in this moment that several defects have really dissipated,  only showing up as tiny ripples in my ocean,  passing through and blending in with life's currents.   One such defect is needing to make excuses.   Another one is pretending.    They hardly surface much any more.      Even fear of abandonment and self-pity are occasional waves now,   and not the tsunamis they once were. 
What a miracle !

There were many wonderful perspectives offered about how people viewed humility in this meeting, including:

- recognizing when the ego wants its say and being able to shut up
- wanting to be top dog and knowing it's ok to be just a dog
- catching yourself trying to seek approval and knowing you don't need it
- always doing the next right thing, in every moment
- allowing our small selves to have their place and their voice without having to cut them out
- being tenderhearted toward our defects, even asking G-d to help them be transformed, if they could be useful
- accepting others exactly where they are without the need to correct them or prove them wrong in order to be right
- taking refuge in meetings and knowing there's always more to learn from others, understanding that we've not "graduated"
- knowing that just as "happiness" can be here and then pass, "bad moods" can also be here and will pass too
- stopping yourself from doing or saying something that comes from a place of wanting to control another or a situation and, instead, offering it to G-d.

And, my personal favorite share about humility from this meeting:
"Knowing you're just another bozo on the bus".    Fantastic.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Loneliness/Solitude: Depends on what view you take

Solitude : Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.
Originally uploaded by AgniMax

I stumbled upon this photo as I prepared to write tonight. I was drawn to it because of the subject that arose in a Step meeting I attended this evening. It was Step 5. The person who took this photo attached it with a wonderful quote, keeping in alignment with my Kabbalistic work in terms of "nesting opposites" :

"Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self."

I went to a meeting that I've only been to once before and I recalled how much I loved the intimacy of it. And the fact that it's a Step meeting. Shortly after arriving, I was asked to chair. What this involves is being the reader of the entire Step and then commenting on it before opening up the floor for sharing. I hadn't read this Step in quite some time. I felt so present and engaged as the reader and a particular aspect of this Step jumped out more so than before and was a "theme" of sorts for our meeting.

These lines were the ones that were very loud: "What are we likely to receive from Step Five ? For one thing, we shall get rid of that terrible sense of isolation we've always had. Almost without exception, alcoholics are tortured by loneliness."

This Step involves admitting to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs, after compiling our Step 4 list. It is about no longer keeping secrets, telling lies. It is also about not hiding behind a bottle or any other type of barrier. To share what we've buried so deeply (and shamefully at times) with another person who can understand and who is safe moves us from a place of humiliation to that of humility. There is no more fooling ourselves or others. It's about getting real and getting honest.

The sharing tonight in the meeting was very much centered around loneliness/isolation/keeping secrets. A number of us did not get sponsors at the start of our sobriety for this very reason. I am very aware now that I didn't seek a sponsor because I was not ready or willing to unlock that closet full of shame. And, I was in a place of self-delusion, which is mentioned in this Step; I had the idea that I could go at this alone and that I didn't need anyone to help me, including G-d. Many folks also spoke about being ok with doing Step 4, because it is done as a solitary self-appraisal, but making the next move toward Step 5 was where they were halted or where they wanted to skim over the sordid details swiftly and painlessly.

My Step 5 was done after 18.5 years of abstinence, newly entering real recovery. I was very anxious and yet eager to do this Step. The timing was also aligned with where I was in my Kabbalistic healing work as well. I had enough of myself to do this Step without fear that I would shrink from shame or be too embarrassed or be judged. I purposely chose another lesbian with good sobriety and who I considered trustworthy. I had not yet sought out my current sponsor. At that time, my sponsor was an older male and he knew in his infinite wisdom that I needed to find a female to do this Step with and he prodded me to "get this done, kid !" And he was right, because I was ripe and it was time and waiting any longer would find me withdrawing and perhaps isolating and skipping this Step entirely.

Now, back to that nested pair: loneliness/solitude. It is clear, especially after discussing this Step tonight, that to not do this work of being in relationship with another human being and coming "clean" and acknowledging my wrongs, my defects, my secrets, my transgressions would result in loneliness. I know for a fact that this is true because I lived it for 13 plus years or more. Not doing Step work or being an active member of AA found me in the facade of partnership and a home life and a happy "marriage" and the truth was -- I was deeply lonely. And, historically, managing on my own has been deeply ingrained from a very early age. My loneliness, however, had been primarily about overwhelming fear to be in reality and in truth with myself, with other beings, in life period. During these lonely years, my distorted thinking found me believing that others constantly abandoned me and that I was simply flawed, unlovable. The truth is that I did not show up in relationships and I pushed others away from this fearful, self-pitying place. My loneliness was my own creation and doing.

Solitude, on the other hand, is something I am coming to treasure and savor. Working the Steps and being in the fellowship of AA and my Kabbalistic community and showing up more fully in my relationships and my life has been a gateway to appreciating me, discovering who I am and what I like and even being more accepting of my defects and quirks and things that make me squirm about myself. In solitude, I am not lonely nor do I isolate. It is in this place that I actually can feel richer and stronger and wider connection to everyone and everything that is in my life. This is a beautiful discovery.

I realized that within the quote for this photo is another nested pair of opposites that I had been working with: empty (poverty) and full (richness). To experience loneliness is to feel emptiness; to experience solitude is to feel fullness. A nesting within a nesting.

And I would venture to bet, there are infinitely more ...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Knowing who we are ...

♫ YO Yo yo, there's no place like a green penthouse... so i told the genie i wanted to be well hung. ^o^ ♫ nah... wildlife from singapore♫
Originally uploaded by bocavermelha-l.b.

"Knowing who you are is not a mystical thing but a matter of experience, acceptance, honesty, and compassion. It is knowing you are small and selfish, greedy and angry, great, creative, tenderhearted, and caring."
~ Jason Shulman

I have sat with this passage for 2 days. It is working in me and it is alive and it is validating and full of possibility and it allows me so much more tenderness toward myself.

In knowing who I am as it is defined in this passage and in my writing, I am learning that:

Quan Yin who I aspire to be can be be angry.

My anger sometimes feels justified, from a place of a victim, or it feels out of control or it feels like it is an incredible release, leading me to a gateway to being more settled down.

My little one can be scared while living inside and getting nurtured by the adult me.

My smaller selves want to be heard and seen and complimented and loved. Sometimes they just want attention. They can feel left out or hurt easily. They can be ultra-sensitive, quick to tantrum. They are also sweet and tender and I can't help but want to cuddle them.

In my adult self, I am learning about being in the background - not hidden, just not seeking attention -- and how I can be present and seen and felt from that place.

In my adult self, I am learning to not personalize the lashing out of others. I am able to see their small selves and feel compassion. Sometimes, I don't. In those situations, my small self wants to smack the crap out of them or get very hurt.

I am learning more to trust what I know and to be in integrity. That my interior is wise and I can listen to its voice and be guided in the right direction. I am much less dependent on the outside to tell me about who I am or what my value is or how I should be in the world.

Sometimes, I still want the applause. But most of the time, I am just fine without it.

I may be selfish about how and with whom I want to spend my time and then, at other times, I make room for generosity.

My selfishness can sneak up on me. Suddenly I find myself withholding or making an excuse and I realize it is because I believe something will be taken away from me.

Sometimes I just want _____ NOW. Sometimes I have patience that is lasting and expansive and even surprises me.

I do have moments of self-pity. I used to have lasting episodes. These are less and less now. My little one's voice is the loudest when I am in a self-pity place. Acknowledging her from my adult self helps dissipate the amount of time spent suffering.

My longing for companionship can be from this very open-hearted, sensual place or it can be achey and painful. It sometimes comes from a place of missing or pure desiring and it can come from a place of wanting relief from my loneliness.

I have judgments about people still. They are not as plentiful as they once were. I very rarely engage in gossip. I used to feel superior when I could cut apart other people and I realize now that I did this so that I didn't have to feel my own inadequacies. When I judge, I catch myself more quickly. It usually doesn't feel good when I hold onto a judgment. I don't always want to look within, yet when I am willing to, the judgment is always about seeing something in someone else reflected back to me and not liking what I see.

I am a really great listener. I can give full attention and feel myself very very present with another person. I feel like this is a gift. I am also really good at taking in what other people say, like in a training or a class, and can summarize or reflect back in a way that has meaning or that enables them to feel understood and heard. I believe this is the mechanism in me that allows me to not be a mediocre teacher, but one that leaves a lasting impression. I really know this about myself. And it feels good.

I am affectionate and I love receiving affection. I am an attentive lover. I love being sensual and sexual. I am comfortable in my skin and in my body, just as it is. I don't feel myself worrying about wrinkles or a little extra cellulite or more silvers amid the browns in my hair. I have discovered that while I am a tomboy on the outside, I am really feminine underneath the clothes in every way, deep into my interior. I really know these things now too.

Jason concludes this passage, cited above, in his book with these statements, which I totally love:

"Seeing both sides is an openhearted view. It is what allows us to see the world and say, 'This too is good'. That is why the Buddha, the Christ, the Zaddik all love us. They see that we too are good."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The in-between state ...

Beaufort 03: Le Vent souffle où il veut - Beach Art in De Haan Belgium
Originally uploaded by Batikart

For several months now, I have savored Pema Chodron's book: "The Places that Scare You". I finished the last chapter today, entitled: "The In-Between State". It brought a lot of what has been working through and within me recently to a more solid place of understanding.

She concludes this book in this last chapter to talk about the acceptance of no control. It is a "don't-know-what-to-do" feeling, a sense of being caught in-between. It is the place where we're fed up with seeking comfort by looking to the outside (unhealed Yesod in Kabbalistic terms) and we're also fed up with beliefs, ideas, "isms" (connecting more to our true interior, Tiferet in Kabbalistic terms). BUT, in this in-between state, we wish it were true that outer comfort could bring lasting happiness. This is the bind.

Pema speaks about how this is the state where "the warrior spends a lot of time growing up." Oh, do I relate to that. For me, I think this is the state I've been in for the past 6 months or so ... where the smaller selves keep showing up, wanting to have their voices be heard, wanting to be attended to AND where the adult self is seeking to have her roots firmly planted and move about in the world from this self and the "in-between" is that place literally in the midst of both of these existences -- the old stories of the small selves and my history and the longing and desire to be freed from the chains of my history in a more whole and full adult being.

She goes on to comment about the "pain of chasing after pleasure and the futility of running from pain". This seek-and-hide has been the game I've played in the bulk of my existence, much of which I've written about in this blog. Both AA and my Kabbalistic program have given me wonderful tools, even if it is as simplistic as "naming what is here" to help me not engage in this game for too long before bringing it into my awareness, and, ideally, to not play at all.

Pema speaks about the fact that we often stay for lengthy periods in this in-between state because, while on one hand, it's pretty easy to acknowledge that we don't want to seek and hide; on the other hand, it is hard to sustain that place of awakening, interconnectedness, trusting the openness of our hearts and minds. What I take from this is that we reside in the in-between much like we hang out in the territory of the familiar, the illusion of security or even in the distorted comfort of resistance and stalling.

Pema says: "Anxiety, heartbreak, and tenderness mark the in-between state." These are awfully familiar, ever present states of being for me, that is for sure. And yet, she goes on to say that if we can just be with these aspects of the in-between, without buying into struggling or complaining, this is healing and this is the work of the "warrior".

It is courageous and brave to be in middle of nowhere. The reason we often can't remain here is because we want some kind of relief. She goes on to speak about the very thing that my Kabbalistic teacher Jason talks about in terms of the power and healing of holding paradox -- i.e. something can be painful and pleasurable; wrong and right; strong and tender. One of my favorite quotes of Jason from the first year of our program is that "we open our hearts when we make room for paradox". I didn't understand what he meant then and now it is becoming translucent. One of the practices we recently learned as part of our Impersonal Movement is about nesting opposites. I would venture to say that the Impersonal Movement practice is in total alignment with what Pema is discussing in this final chapter: how to really sit and stay with ourselves in the place of in-between (personal and Impersonal), without seeking relief and, simultaneously, experiencing relief and even joy, gratitude, aliveness in the staying.

My alcoholism was the only means I knew, in the "Who was" at the time, to survive and gain relief from tremendous inner pain and turmoil. I would have not been able to bear the in-between state. At the smallest signs of anxiety, I immediately self-medicated with alcohol. At the earliest signals of potential danger or distress, I did the same. As any of us who have an addiction reach that place of "enough", we are entering into the in-between. Relapse is a return to seeking relief and not being able to remain in the in-between. Working the steps and healing our interior is what will bring us to places of awakening , reaching the other side of the in-between for longer periods of time.

Some of the closing lines of this chapter are absolutely delightful : "First we have to appreciate the richness of the groundless state and hang in there... This juicy spot is a fruitful place to be."

It used to be all about locating my feet and my roots. Looks like being an astronaut or a chimp dangling in a tree will also be very enlightening.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Undressing in the service of truth ...

various stages of undress
Originally uploaded by Darwin Bell

In 2 different passages I read over these last couple of days from my teacher Jason's book, there is this beautiful link: In one passage, "learning about and embracing our limitations is the gateway to true greatness ... it is a sort of undressing in the service of truth ..." AND, in the other passage: "When we are consciously , personally aware of who we are - flaws and all, greatness and all -- we hear God calling."

So, it begins with learning about and embracing our limitations as the gateway, getting naked to be in the "truth" of ourselves, and then, taking those pieces into account and the greatness we've discovered, we are able to hear God's calling.

We are being asked, quite simply, to be who we are. No holds barred. Everything included, nothing left out, no stone unturned.

My blog since last August feels like it has been the medium for this work. It is, essentially, a journey of learning about and embracing my limitations, seeing the contrast between the "who was" and the "who is" and how the space between those "who's" can be decades, a few years, months or even a couple of days. Which then leaves me curious and asking this question: "If I feel like I am being who I really am today, in this present moment, having done this work, won't the "who" still keep changing as I continue to learn and grow?" And so, perhaps, being who we are is ACTIVE and ALIVE ... that it isn't an arrival or a landing. That feels pretty right on.
Interestingly enough, the photo I chose for this post is titled: "Various stages of undress" ... seems to fit and describe what I am pondering right here.

And also, if we come to this place of knowing ourselves -- all the imperfections and all the shimmeriness -- and hear God's calling, then perhaps this is also a gateway of sorts to continually be in conversation and relationship with God. I believe that the "calling" is the invitation and everything after that is all about the on-going relationship with God. It's like in AA, when we take Step 2, we first come to "believe" in a power greater than ourselves, having had a spiritual awakening to bring us to this place -- the "calling". And then, as we work the steps, we deepen that relationship and by the time we arrive at Step 11, we are seeking through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God.

I shared with someone I love deeply yesterday that when I express anger, like I did in a post a couple of days ago, it is my version of undress and nakedness. There's a turbulent wave in my interior to have that aspect of me revealed. It goes back to an old myth I've held: "Quan Yin doesn't get angry." It's about a distorted belief I have for myself that being compassionate does not include anger AND,  to see my anger is to see my ugliness. And, if you see my ugliness, then you will walk away, leave, reject and not love me. Some of this is an old story and yet, there are a few pages that are still open and kept alive when I subscribe to this belief. I am very grateful to have this be in my awareness and, as Jason points out, to learn about it and embrace it. At the close of that angry post, in which I uncovered that it was really a protective armour for the fear of no control, I was actually in a place of being really "in control" in the interior of my being. And that, I would say, was a gateway to greatness.

This undressing business is sometimes really NOT sexy. I want to cover up in many layers of hiddenness so that the dimples and wrinkles and cellulite of my true self cannot be perused or gawked at or possibly judged. I think that's part of the human condition and conditioning. What softens me and what allows the fear of being naked to fizzle out is the fact that it IS part of being human and that my fellow travelers and souls on this path are also fearful about being unclothed and having their own ugly, messy parts revealed and viewed.

There is great comfort for me to be part of this spiritual nudist colony on the path to our true greatness and in relationship with God.

Let's get naked !

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Real Love ...

Tender Love and Care
Originally uploaded by Araleya

I am humbled and far softer in this moment after my tyrade yesterday about road conditions and Valentine's Day and fear of no control. None of those things much mattered today.

This morning, I attended an AA meeting that was an act of real love. Not manufactured, romanticized red-hearts and candy kind of love. Just pure, honest, this-is-the-stuff life is about love.

A member of my local AA community is in hospice within a hospital, as he battles a rapidly moving brain cancer. He was diagnosed almost a year ago and has faced it with complete grace. And still does. One of his requests was to have the members of this community bring the fellowship of AA to him, as he does his life 1 day at a time. What I was not aware of prior to going to this meeting was the fact that there is an existing AA meeting at this hospital, on Sunday mornings. So, it was a partnership of sorts --- our community supporting our beloved member joining the folks who attend their regular Sunday meeting. It was the largest AA meeting I've ever attended. There were upwards of 150 people there. A good 75% were from our community. Watching each familiar face enter the room made my eyes well up with tears of total appreciation and love. Each person hugged the guest of honor or offered a little gift. He was in a wheelchair and in amazing spirits, not to mention totally lucid and present. He has been in AA for a long time, so there were members that came from all over to support and be with him.

The speaker was someone who, in his words, "owes my life to him" as he first met this incredible member of ours when he was in prison due to where his alcoholism led him and our member was in service for AA bringing meetings to prisons. The gratitude that was expressed by this speaker was overwhelming. When he compared his life before sobriety to now, it was like going from the depths of hell to a fairy tale. One of the powerful statements this speaker made was: "In sobriety, I had nothing to lose but my pride and my ego and my terror." I had chills run through my entire body hearing those words. Particularly, because of an incredible line in the passage I read just this morning from my teacher Jason's book. It goes like this: "Be naked. You have nothing to lose but pride and fear."

One other fantastic statement this speaker shared was something he tells himself everyday: "If I wake up and the sheets are dry and I'm not in prison, it's gonna be a helluva good day." That's being pretty naked, alright.

Many folks who shared acknowledged both the courage and the sincerity of the speaker coupled with their experience of the love in the room in support of this member who wants to actively have "the hand of AA" holding his until the end. It was unlike any event I had ever been part of before. There were tears of sadness and tears of belly-laughter. There was a warmth and a coziness among every person sitting in that room, regardless if they knew one another previously or not. We were there first because we have a desire to stop drinking and want to be sober. And, as part of that commitment to ourselves, we were there to carry the message to a member most in need.

We sat with him afterwards until he expressed that he needed to lay down. G-d willing, many of us will be back next Sunday. And, some of us will try to bring literature and sit with him at different times during the week. His visiting hours are wide open, 24-7.

This experience for me is one that I will not soon forget. On my drive home, I had one of my very greatest fears laid to rest after this meeting -- which is, the fear of dying alone. As long as I am a member of AA, that will never happen. What an incredible feeling it is to really know that.

This is what real love is. Anything beyond is icing on the cake.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Easy Does It

Originally uploaded by pedalpower

The aggravation of all things snow-related in the god-forsaken area that I live in has really pushed me to my limits of patience and acceptance and surrender.

I haven't said "Fuck" in probably several years as many times as I have in the past 36 hrs ! As a noun, a verb, an adjective, and of course, as the infamous explitive that it is !

It is disgraceful what the area I live in looks like compared to the burbs. I went to a Trader Joe's yesterday after seeing my client and it's located in the burbs, just 15 min outside the city limits. Streets were absolutely clear. And then, as I entered onto the main road to lead me back toward home, the conditions got more hideous and challenging.

My car is totally ghetto right now. Passenger side mirror dangling. Salt splayed on every inch of the outside. Dirty frozen snow hanging like cavernous stalagtites from the bottom of my car.

I made another trip to my gym in an attempt to swim. A half hour trek each way (normally it is 6-8 min tops). I even called ahead of time to investigate the population of the pool. I was told: "Oh, it's been very quiet. One lane taken. A couple of people in the hot tub." So, off I go to hopefully release all this pent up wintry frustration in the calm waters. I arrive, check in, make my way to the pool area. It is crowded beyond words! People doubled-up in lanes and 2 more people waiting nearby. I turn around immediately and walk out. I am so done. Many "fucks" are splattered about the interior of my car. I try the Serenity Prayer and that is also polluted with fucks in between the lines.

On my drive back, I decide to listen to the radio. Several stations are playing commercials. Over the course of 10 minutes, the same commercial comes right in a row over 2 stations. It's about Valentine's Day. A woman's sultry voice says: "What will it be tomorrow ? Candy ? Roses? Ahhhh, but nothing says love like jewelry." And then she proceeds to say the name of the Jeweler, blah blah blah. Fuck Valentine's Day ! Stupid commercialized heterosexually-driven ,man-made Hallmark holiday. Now, I am in a lather.

Funny thing is this: I am totally aware and awake to the anger and frustration that is here for me. I am not trying to cover it up or soften it or make it go away or meditate it to a fluff. So, as any decent AA, I call my sponsor. I know she'll be light-hearted about all of this and make me laugh. Sure enough, she is true to form ! And after 20 min or so, I even forget why all this crap got under my skin.  

So ... I sit at the kitchen table and cut up an apple. And my poochie gets on the other chair like usual and I think: "Nah, she won't eat an apple." And yet, she looks very interested. I give her a little piece and she LOVES it ! To watch her chomp and have the apple juice fly everywhere was totally delightful. And I am then reminded that nothing ever is worth the energy expended that it takes to get my "knickers in a bunch" (one of my sponsor's phrases that cracks me up). And, more importantly, nothing is ever worth taking a drink over. Nothing. Ever. 

Slowing down now,  the spinning and churning eases up.   And what has been bubbling underneath the surface of the anger and frustration introduces itself.    "Hello,  I'm your fear of no control."     No shit.   It is often what is underneath anger for me.   Terror of what I perceive is a barrier that I have no control over.   The mountain of snow piles that are everywhere bring this fear into full regalia, complete with the armouring of all the fucks and rants to protect its vulnerable side from seeing the light of day.   This even includes Valentine's Day.   Yes,  I really do think it's a ridiculous holiday and it's a false representation of the deep meaning of love.   But underneath my sneering and cynicism,  is also this same fear of no control.     I would like to be able to express in ALL ways how I feel and how much I love the woman I am involved with - which are so much more meaningful and extend beyond what Valentine's Day symbolizes.   The circumstances of this relationship do not permit that right now -- hence,  the piece about "no control".   It's something I have to practice surrendering to regularly.   So,  coupled with the massive weather issues,   this rises and is here too. 

I see the Living Sober book sitting right in front of me on the table after I finish the apple. I close my eyes and pick a page. And I burst out laughing when I read the title of the passage.

Easy Does It.

G-d is really fuckin funny. Hilarious. Just what I needed. Thanks.

Friday, February 12, 2010

When it all turns to slush ...

Originally uploaded by opobs

The neighborly winter coziness of yesterday all went to literal and figurative slush today outside my urban nevernever land.

I decided I'd like to go for a swim before seeing a 4p therapy client. Off I go in my car, navigating the horrid road conditions of my area. I am letting myself see what many black folk have shared with me over the years about the inequities of community care in the city compared to the burbs. It is painfully true. Not a single road in my area has had a plow touch it. The melting power of the sun, thankfully, made some areas more passable today than yesterday.
On my way, I see cars speeding and slipping through slush-filled puddles, splashing folks waiting at bus stops. Other cars are parking in any fashion they see fit, creating barriers on some streets. When I pull into the gym's parking lot, it is a disaster zone. Someone is going the wrong way toward me and then backs into the spot rather than going around the 1-way only clockwise fashion that is the norm for this lot. I find a spot on the other side and make my way in. I get down to the pool and it is a bit crowded. I peek in and see someone exiting a lane and ask if it would be ok for me to grab that. A guy spralled out in the hot tub leaps up and screams: "I've been waiting for that lane ! It's gonna be awhile til something's open, miss !" I wanna punch his lights out from my inside and on the outside, I manage to keep a neutral face, exit the pool area calmly, and leave. Not the battle I need to have today.

I decide I'll go to my client earlier. I am navigating really treacherous roads to make my way to the main highway. As I plod along on one particular cobblestone street that is very slippery and narrower than usual because of all the snow, a transit bus is in the oncoming lane. Going very fast and the driver is quite aggressive. One car tries to pull off and slides. The bus is coming dangerously close to me and I realize it's going to possibly sideswipe me and I inch over and in the process, take out my passenger side mirror and damage a parked car's mirror. The owner of the parked car comes flying out of a store nearby and we realize we know each other from an agency we both do work at ! She says: "Thank God it's you!" And her friend gets the bus number and we both agree we'll call their complaint dept and report this driver. That encounter was a divine intervention amid utter chaos.

I continue on my way. I can feel the turbulence building inside of me. When I let myself come out of the anger trance, I consciously take breaths. And just as quickly, I am back to fuming. I finally re-gain my composure when I arrive to my client's home.

I just wrote in my post yesterday how a snow storm can bring out the best in us or the worst in us. I got to experience the positive "oneg" side yesterday amongst my neighbors and today, I balanced it out with the negative, "nega" side. The nesting of opposites. Neighborliness/un-neighborliness. Both need each other to exist.

I will venture out now once more, as I make my way to the local Fri night AA meeting. I am open now to whatever comes. Perhaps it will be stillness and pausing and a "3rd thing" arising to meet me.

I shall greet the mysterious with my boots on !

Awakening to a Lived Life

Rainbow's End
Originally uploaded by michaeljosh

The "seed passage" from my Kabbalistic teacher's book that I opened to today was about Awakening. Part of it goes like this: "It is not about some mountaintop. It is about the mountain range and the valley, the earth tectonics and seasons and snows, and how things move and how things change." He goes on to note that awakening's true character is a mustard seed -- which is the smallest seed we can see with our eyes. That from the mustard seed level of seeing, it is to see clearly the essence of every thing.

I was so incredibly moved by this passage for a variety of reasons.
First, it validated what I've shared when I've told my story at AA meetings about the fact that I did not have some grand spiritual awakening when I put down my last drink. And that the true "awakening" for me was not until 18.5 years later when I paused and heard the words "I'm an alcoholic" tremble from my lips at the first AA meeting I attended in this area, a year ago in January. In that "mustard seed" moment, I saw the totality of my sobriety and non-sobriety, from only putting down the bottle to resisting AA and its fellowship to what transpired in my dry drunk period and then my denial to being called back to a spiritual path and entering Kabbalistic healing and having my heart and eyes open enough to let myself clearly see the crack in the door and the invitation to peek in that would allow me to re-enter AA.

The second reason I was moved by this passage is the fact that one of the oldest AA meetings, legendary, that long-timers speak about as their mainstay and the foundation of their early sobriety is a meeting that still exists (that I've not been to yet) called: "Mustard Seed". And until I read Jason's words today, I never for the life of me understood why this AA group had such a name. It never made any sense. Until this morning and it was a HUGE "a-ha" ! It made me curious as to what the discussion may have been among this meeting's founders -- did they have the recognition that perhaps people walking in, at the bottom of their lives, could catch just a mustard seed of hope, of possibility, of AA's message. And that if they kept coming back, the seed that is each person and their recovery would get nurtured and grow and blossom and flourish. I will make it a point to visit this meeting and find out about the origins of its name.

Lastly, Jason's passage came on the heels of a Tara Brach podcast I listened to before bed last night, which was titled: "Embracing the Unlived Life". The theme of the talk was centered around awakening -- to our bodies, to our connection, our rootedness in this moment and in this life. And that whenever we separate or disconnect, it's about a profound sense that something's "wrong" - a hauntedness that lurks within. In reaction to this, we dissociate and numb and armour ourselves. What both Jason and Tara are offering in terms of true awakening is that we bring presence to all pieces of what is happening. And, as Jason so tenderly writes, to also continually forgive ourselves when we simply cannot see clearly. To just be there with that -- the "not-seeing" -- because clear seeing can't exist without not-seeing clearly.

One of Tara's poignant comments in her talk was this: "The unlived life inside of us wants our loving attention." That when we're not present in this moment with our aliveness, our awakening, we will feel a "missing" and we'll try to connect "out there" rather than "in here" to find completeness. Or in Jason's words -- to find wholeness.

Understanding this at a more root-level within me has enabled me to drop into a place where I can hold my former "who is's" and recognize that my past actions of having my eyes closed to my life was necessary in order for me to be able to see the contrast of having them wide open today. And to not be afraid to look and to know I won't die or crumble at what I see. And to be tender toward myself if, sometimes, I just am not ready to see in the moment. To extend self-forgiveness.

"Awwwwww, sweet self, this is too hard to look at right now. That's ok. We'll try again another time."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Won't you be my neighbor ?

Originally uploaded by bivoir

Up until quite recently, I mean like within the last few months, I have not necessarily ever been what I would call "neighborly". I usually stayed to myself, even when I lived with my former partner, not really going out of my way to get to know neighbors. In one complex, I socialized with a couple neighbors and that was about it. I was never what the State Farm motto claims: "Like a good neighbor, ______ is there". Quite the contrary, I was never there for my neighbors nor did I turn to them.

Snow storms can either bring out the best in people or the worst. The one that hit my area yesterday, leaving quite the wreckage today brought out the very best in all of us -- in particular, me. Early this morning, as I was reading and drinking coffee, I heard my voice being called out, faintly and then shrieking. I opened my door to find that my upstairs neighbor had collapsed on our steps. I kept my calm, asking all the questions I learned from many years of being a CPR/First Aid instructor. She was not having a stroke nor a heart attack; she had done too much shoveling on an empty stomach and her blood sugar had plummeted. Quickly getting her juice from another neighbor and then cut up tangerines, her color came back slowly. We sat on the steps for nearly an hour, just talking. In the midst of this, two other neighbors joined us. It was agreed after this incident, that we would walk this neighbor up to her apartment to ensure she rested and had a good breakfast and that myself and another neighbor would dig out her car.

I bundled up and got ready for the tasks at hand. In times past, I would've been bitchin up a storm. This was the farthest notion from what I experienced. I felt cheerful, like what is described in the Big Book of AA when one is able to be in service. I asked G-d this morning in my prayers to help me have strength to dig out of the snow and to be of usefulness to my fellows. And here was my opportunity to do just that. The shoveling, while tiring and back-aching, did not feel like a "chore". I took pride in each scoop. I did my neighbor's car first and then mine. There was no rush, no urgency.

After I was done, I got my neighbor's keys and made sure the car could be easily backed out as she would be leaving quite early tomorrow morning for work. She was delighted. Once feeling better, she stopped by and said she was going stir crazy and wanted to test-drive the roads and would be picking up items at the local co-op -- did I need anything ? I actually did and there was no hesitation in putting my request in.

This is what it means to be a neighbor. It seems so incredibly simple and easy and it is truly the first time in my adult life that I have not been so self-centered and, instead, have felt open-hearted and generous of spirit to actually show up as a decent neighbor. In a couple weeks, I will be hanging out with neighbors for a potluck and a drumming circle. It was such a thrill to be invited.

There are many gifts of recovery and healing that I am uncovering each day. This is a very special one in particular.

My days of isolation feel like they will no longer have a place. They are being evicted. A neighborly soul has moved in and she wants to take up plenty of space.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Gratitude is an Action

dancing with faeries
Originally uploaded by dacookieman

In the span of just 5 days, I have been generously given 2 incredible books -- both of which I have had a desire to read and did not obtain for myself. One is "Living Sober", an AA publication, and the other is "The Instruction Manual for Receiving God" by the founder of my Kabbalistic program, Jason Shulman. I am so struck by the fact that my blog is about the marriage between AA and Kabbalistic healing and here are these perfect bookends. And, that I should be given these books by people who care about and love me AND who have reaped the benefits of using these books.

I have had the Living Sober book on my kitchen table, reading a segment from it each morning as I wait for my coffee to brew. At my AA meeting this evening, the chairperson has chosen a reading from this very book ! And, it was one I had not yet read, so it sparked even more interest. It was a chapter on being grateful. The discussion that ensued tonight was the fact that gratitude is an action ... that it is something you consciously work on as part of the program. And, what struck me is that the titles of both of these books I have mentioned contain action words: LIVING sober; RECEIVING God. These are not things that are handed to me or "just happen", but rather these are actions I can choose to take as a way to recover, to heal, to be awake, to be present, to be more in my life. "To be" is an action, in and of itself. It is the choice to bring presence to your mere existence and the choice to not have to do anything else about that but simply to show up.

In "Receiving God", Jason offers a simple yet profound action to take in terms of how to use the book: "It starts with you. It starts with you becoming ready to receive God in your own life ..." This is also the message of AA, especially throughout the steps. "Willingness is the key". Willingness is also an action. That is what Jason is asking the reader to do -- become willing to receive God. That is what Bill W. and Dr. Bob ask alcoholics to do too -- becoming willing to believe in a power greater than ourselves and to turn our will over to God, as we understand God.

In my alcoholism and in my dry drunk period, I was asleep to life. It felt too painful to really be fully awake to it. I was passive and often I awaited for things to happen or I perceived that things happened to me and then I would take an action from a place of REaction. What Kabbalistic healing and AA have given me is a purpose to move and to experience and to be awake to life. That I am an active participant in my life. And from that place, I can make choices to respond or not respond, rather than react. To know that when I surrender and let go of my will, that I can place my difficulty in God's hands, to just be held, or carried, or even removed. All of these things are actions.

For me, to be grateful is to acknowledge the goodness and the preciousness in what is here in my life. Even when it feels unpleasant or unkind or too hard or too painful. In fact, I randomly selected a passage from Jason's book today and one of the sentences in the opening of it says: "We simply need to know how to surrender to whatever God gives us, like manna, each day."

Getting on my knees.
Thanking God for another day sober and asking how I can serve.
Expressing joy for being alive.
Appreciating the beauty and the goodness of myself and others.

This is gratitude in action.

The WHOLE doughnut ...

Originally uploaded by beebo wallace

Part of my starting my morning today was reading Step 3. I feel like I can always learn something from each step, and this one in particular. A revelation happened for me when I looked at these particular lines in a new way: "If I keep on turning my life and my will over to the care of Something or Somebody else, what will become of me? I'll look like the hole in the doughnut."

It hit me reading this line and the connection to our Impersonal Movement practice in Kabbalistic healing. The doughnut is not the doughnut without both the dough and the hole. I related it to my work with empty/full. Both are needed to exist.

In Step 3, the fear of looking like the hole in the doughnut is a story our ego tells us about losing ourselves, losing control. In Step 3, this is how resistance arises in not wanting to let go of self-will. That to actually turn our will over to G-d would be to become invisible, a non-entity, like the hole in the doughnut. The hole in the doughnut, however, is as crucial to the WHOLE doughnut as the dough.

So it makes total sense in Step 3, this line is there so that we understand that our resistance and our fearfulness that has us holding onto our self-will is just as vital a part of this step as turning our will over to G-d. Because, afterall, the "action" in this step is really about the will we hold onto (self-will) and the actual turning it over to G-d (now it becomes G-d's will). Both aspects are needed for this step to be taken.

To be in and feel the fullness of my life (the dough), I need to experience the tenderness of the empty (the hole). My missing and my longing and my unmet desires make up the hole. My taking the plunge into meeting people, being part of groups like AA, accepting social invitations and extending myself in friendship and service are the dough. Both are absolutely needed. It is hitting me this morning in a way that I've not been able to take it in thus far. I feel the "collapse" of the nesting opposites. All-or-nothing thinking does not have a place to live here.

I want the WHOLE doughnut.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Clawing for Control ...

Eye contact with a Praying Mantis
Originally uploaded by B℮n

I slept very poorly throughout the night. Several disturbing dreams, the contents of which are now fuzzy. I do remember one segment of one dream, in which I am holding onto myself for dear life, having felt that someone "violated" my body. I have my arms around myself, clutching tightly, and shouting these words: "From G-d ! Back to G-d !" I gathered that I am grasping onto the idea in this part of my dream that no one can really take what's been G-d-given, my essence, my true nature and that I came from G-d and when I leave this earth plane, I'll go back to G-d.

Head pounding from all this interrupted sleep, I do my prayers and my usual morning routines, like making cofee and breakfast. I see specks of crumbs on the stove, then on the floor, then on the counter and I furiously wipe them up. I am aware that my attention, as of the past couple of days, has been on details like this. I now know that these behaviors are early signs of my obsessive-compulsive stuff rearing its tidy head. Being snowed in, while mostly relaxing and filled with good self-care, also was peppered with a lot of straightening and cleaning. This is an outward manifestation of thoughts about "what's not right".  It is coupled often with worrying and trying to control outcomes, the future. In fact, I had checked the weather forecast for the week (another manifestation of trying to regain control) and saw there is another winter storm to hit, Tue night into Wed. My heart began to race. My first full-day training (associated with good money)  is scheduled for Wed. (and I haven't had one of these in a little over 2 months)  And now the story line picks up: "Oh shit. Now it'll be canceled. I was counting on this money to catch up. How will I make this up? Maybe I can still get down there and if people don't show, then they still have to pay me." And on, and on. This is crazy-making stuff.

I am grateful to bring this into my full conscious awareness in this moment. It is time to return to the Serenity Prayer. And my steps, especially the first 3. Speaking of which, this gem was offered to me after I told my story on Fri night by a "long-timer" from my homegroup: Step 1 has 2 parts -- a) that we were powerless over alcohol and, b) that our lives had become unmanageable. Many of us get the first part and think we've completed that step (that was me when I first stopped drinking) and then we forget about the 2nd part and don't attend to the fact of all the ways that our lives become unmanageable. A total eye opener !

I can actually feel my anxiety and headache dissipate quite a lot in acknowledging these things out loud. They lose their weight and their scare factor.

Easy does it.

First things first.

One day at a time.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Different stadium, different team ...

Originally uploaded by a chimp with coconuts

This is Superbowl Sunday. As a person without a TV, this day means very little to me. In fact, it was only yesterday that I found out which teams were playing !

Statistically, on this day, it has been reported that the highest number of domestic violence incidents occur, with the primary accomplice being alcohol.

During my alcoholic years, the Superbowl was a gigantic reason to have a party and to drink excessively. And I often didn't know who was playing then, either! It would be highly unlikely that I ever watched a single play, other than to drink when I heard people cheer about a touchdown. And, after awhile, any day, at any time, for any reason was an excuse to get drunk.

So, as folks around America and the world settled down with their party snacks and beverages, a great percentage being alcoholic, I was making a quiet dinner for myself, by candlelight, and then read and then left for the Sunday night AA meeting.

There were only a handful of us in attendance compared to the usual crowd -- perhaps a dozen. And yet, we had enough "players" to make one helluva meeting ! It really was quite special, for a number of reasons. The speaker who was supposed to be there canceled because he wanted to watch the Superbowl! Instead, a woman new to our area but not to AA volunteered to share her story. She was riveting. And very very funny. The best line I've heard in quite some time in her share was this: "This is the paradox of alcoholism. You believe you are a piece of shit AND the world should revolve around you !" The ultimate in descriptions of us AA's: bottom-of-the-barrel self-esteem and sky-rocketing self-centeredness !

I related to that paradox SO much, on so many levels. Self-deprecation permeated every fiber of my being AND I believed that I was a victim of everyone, so I should be given my just due. Simultaneously, I felt undeserving AND entitled. I can see how sick it was to live like this. To be in a self-imposed prison and blame everyone else for being locked up!

The most beautiful piece of being at this meeting tonight, however, was witnessing a newcomer -- with just 1 week of sobriety. She raised her hand and said that she was an "alcoholic" for the very first time. I had chills. I knew that feeling all too well, just a year ago. The whole room fell hush, yet was holding her completely. She trembled as she spoke, tears falling down her face, and the chairperson immediately began a list passed around to all the women in the meeting so we could put our names and numbers on it for her.

It takes such a courageous heart to admit powerlessness. And then it takes willingness to keep coming back. Thankfully, there is a community of people that have walked these very steps that can carry you for awhile until you can walk steadier. Many of us spoke to this young woman at the end of the meeting and you could see her "deer in headlights" look, quite shaky, disoriented perhaps. Each of us shared our favorite meetings and circled them in the book for her. There is always the hope that this person will return and want to play on "our team".

It is incredible to return home, on a Superbowl Sunday night, sober and safe. Knowing I will be able to get up tomorrow morning without a problem, no reason to "call out". More so, I am simply grateful to have had a meeting to go to tonight and to know there are alternate options in a different stadium, on a different team.

The Gods of Winter

In my Impersonal Movement practice today,  I went to the part of the practice in which we go to the areas we are drawn to,  "The Gods".    I did this part outside and brought my camera to capture the experience.   I felt a different relationship to wintry sights and textures and sounds; I paid no attention to the temperature or the fact that my hands had gone slightly numb afterwards.  My "story"  about winter was not present.   It was really quite exquisite.

The Gods of Open-Heartedness

The Goddess of Clear Seeing

The Gods of Protection

The Gods of Buried Secrets

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Snowed In ...

Originally uploaded by mattsaxey

The idea of having nowhere to go and the only company being me would have been a very anxiety-producing prospect in the past. Today, after 18 inches or more of snow piled up, I embraced the idea of a cozy winter shack-up with just me, myself, and I.

I made an intention today to work with the question from my healing yesterday: "How can I be valuable to me?" There was not a more perfect playing field, so to speak, than being indoors for the better portion of a full day with myself to live in the answer to that question.

The ways I valued myself today included:
- sleeping in and giving myself ample rest
- making a nutritious breakfast and my favorite coffee
- letting myself have fun and work at a leisurely pace to grade my students' papers and to work on curricula for the week, even sending them humorous emails
- talking to people that I love -- conversations that were meaningful and genuine and not forced or out of obligation
- listening to a Tara Brach podcast
- reading
- making tunafish salad the way my mom used to
- changing my bed linens so I could curl up tonight in clean, fresh sheets
- having an enjoyable steamy shower
- making a great dinner (artichoke ravioli tossed with carmelized onion and garlic in olive oil)
- making time to write and relax as I settle down for the evening

With each task or action I took today, I really listened to myself and my wants and needs before moving too quickly. It felt honoring. There was not one moment today that I didn't enjoy in my own company. This is huge for me. While I have lived alone for quite some time, it has often been frought with anxiety, self-deprecating thoughts, periods of loneliness and self-pity.

In the podcast I listened to today, the timing - as always- was just perfect. It was about freedom. Her opening statement was: "Freedom comes from seeing the truth of oneself and others through the veil." She went on to talk about how the "mask" we're identified with or that we identify others with does not allow us to really see ourselves or them. And that true "seeing" happens in this 3-fold way, based on the teachings of Buddha:
- seeing humanity through compassion
- seeing beauty and goodness through love
- seeing being-ness through present awareness

When I am not "in my story" or hiding behind any kind of "mask", I am very aware that I can and do practice those 3 ways of seeing. And I also recognize how easy it is to get side-tracked, to go into trance, to get in my own way, and to lose sight of my own true nature and that of others. Listening to this today made me think about what happens for me sometimes when I attend AA meetings, as an example. When I am caught up in my story and inauthentic identity, I don't see others' humanity with compassion and instead look at them through the lens of judgment, irritation. I miss the beauty and goodness that is right in front of me, sometimes simply "missing" people period. And, in this state, I do not have present awareness, as I'm operating on auto-pilot, and I do not experience others' being-ness. Sometimes I "check out", daydream, perhaps even dissociate. Last evening, on the other hand, at the meeting where I shared my story, I had a completely opposite experience. I was able to take in some members' painful shares, seeing their place of suffering with a compassionate heart. Every person to me looked beautiful, I felt their goodness -- even guys who I wouldn't normally give the time of day to because I would have a judgment about their appearance or character and this simply fell away. I was very present, so seeing the "being-ness" in the room was palpable, tangible AND it was also something that could not be expressed in words -- like personal and impersonal. This is a practice that I'd really like to adopt on a regular basis.

I am really savoring this time with me and this day. I have such gratitude for the shift I've experienced as a result of sitting in all the muck and mire of unworthiness. It is never pleasant while in the midst of it and I have to always remind myself that to stick with it and fight the urge to run from it will always be worth it. Perhaps now I will re-phrase that to say: "I am always worth it."

Friday, February 5, 2010

I Matter ...

I Shall Fight to Stay Alive
Originally uploaded by Hamed Saber

In the presence of unconditional love, in a space held by my healer, on this path of no worth/worth that I've been traversing for a couple of weeks, I arrived at a place within myself today that seems so simplistic and obvious yet it is something that I have kept myself hidden from for many, many years.

It is the place of ... I Matter.

My repeated patterns, the old tapes, the belief of unworthiness have resulted in valuing and placing worth on everything and everyone else over the rest of my life, over myself. Caretaking and co-dependency and fear of abandonment all have unworthiness at their roots. This is what is spread all over and underneath the soil of my childhood poisoned ground.

A really important connection made today with my healer is how "hiddenness" and "unworthiness" are deeply tied together. I had been writing about making myself smaller, invisible, hidden in the background in relationship to issues of worth. In my childhood, something was always hidden, like my father's alcoholism from the outside world, or the fact that my parents weren't my real parents until the news was sprung on me before my brother was to be born.
From here, as my healer explained, I've been hidden to myself. Not allowing the full expression of my identity, the shame associated for years with my sexual orientation, the people-pleasing done in most of my relationships, the shape-shifting to fit in, the adopting a particular look and appearance out of fear of displeasing my former partner. What I have primarily hidden, however, is how much I matter to my own life, to me. Hearing these words from my healer's lips was bittersweet at first, then just sweet and oh so tender as I could really take in where I have traveled from. And, given that this journey about worth began around financial issues, that too had its place. Not paying attention to money was just one of countless ways I have previously identified that I have made myself less valuable.

The antidote to this, as my healer so lovingly shared with me, is to live my life, here with myself, to the fullest. To ask myself daily: "How can I be valuable to me?" One thing I have become aware of, quite recently, is that I have opened myself up to social invitations that I would normally turn down and I have shown up for others as a friend, where I would normally avoid. I had been, in essence, keeping the bulk of my own life hidden from being experienced, savored, fully embraced.

Interestingly enough, prior to this healing session today, I wrote a question down for myself as I worked with worthiness this week to use as part of my nightly inventory, which is a practice in AA. The question is: "Are the actions I took today in integrity with valuing my worth?" And, to be quite honest, I had great difficulty this week in answering that question. The uncoverings of today's session have helped me to understand why.

Even more intriguing is this: in my Impersonal Movement practice, I have been working with this pair of opposites: Empty/Full. My healer explained to me today that this makes total sense and completely in alignment with my work on worth for this reason: to only live on the side of "empty" is to rely on and look to others to prove my value; to only live on the side of "full" is to "want what I want when I want it" -- a narcissistic place to some extent -- self-centered, all-consuming, not considering others. I lived on this side when I drank. So, in the IM practice, when I "nest" these pairs, I am allowing myself to have this beautiful, 3rd thing arise which helps me to experience a balanced place of my own fullness. Doing this in my practice for the past week or so has helped me to land where I did today.

I feel like I have been given a window seat on this fantastic flight as I learn to spread my wings, take off, and soar into my life. It was like receiving this invitation today to be in my life fully. I even said to my healer, "Am I being greedy or selfish to be wanting to experience more in my life?" And her fabulous reply was this: "People who are actually greedy and selfish don't bother to ask that question!" And, the fact that I am asking is a sign that somewhere in my life, I had been under-valued. This question originates from the place of "not worth it".

To top off all of this, such divine timing it is, I had the great honor tonight of getting to tell my story at an AA meeting that I regularly attend. A number of my friends from the rooms were there, including my first sponsor. On the heels of this wonderful healing session today, this is the place I spoke from tonight. There was no thinking, no struggle about what I would say or how I would come across; there was simply no efforting whatsoever. The sharing after touched me deeply. I felt present and very alive and incredibly grateful to be a part of this community tonight -- in a way that I have not before.

I matter.

And unlike my experience earlier this week with the "worth mantras", I actually believe these words and feel them down to the tips of my toes.

I matter.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The gift I get to open everyday

Beginnings. . .
Originally uploaded by Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton

Over and over, we begin again.
~ Banana Yashimoto

This was part of my daily reflection from Hazelden that I get emailed to me:
"Yesterday, we did the best that we could. Yesterday is over. We have slept. We think we know some of what today will hold. We may boil water in the same kitchen, take the same route to work, see some of the faces we usually see. At the meeting we attend, we'll hear the familiar readings; take comfort from hearing the words we've heard before. Perhaps our shoulders, hunched with any tensions we're experiencing, will drop at the sound of those accustomed words, and we'll relax.
Along with the predictable, there may be a thousand unexpected experiences; a new color in the sky, a smile answering our own, a phrase of music, a sense of willingness rising within us to do something differently.
Let's take some deep, slow breaths and begin the day with faith that whatever it brings, we'll be present for it.
This day is a gift that recovery has given to me."

The only thing promised to me is that when I wake up, I have the opportunity to open the gift, as the affirmation says above, of having another day -- sober, to start over again. I love something my sponsor says when we're about to end one of our calls: "After we hang up from this conversation, it will already be in the past." It is really a reminder about letting go of one moment and moving into the next moment. And that this too is a gift that is offered to each of us, at any point in the day. I am learning this more and more in my recovery and my healing.

I shared with my love last night in a phone call that this work on "worthiness" is kicking my butt. Just the disclosing of that and opening up the door to my feelings around it in that moment, brought up such rawness and tenderness. And after we hung up, I let myself feel those feelings and made a decision to "enter a new moment". My conversation, my worthiness emotions could now be in the past. I had been wanting to see the student feedback from my Fall research classes and had received an email that the summaries were ready to be viewed online. I sat at the computer and took in their comments. I was blown away. Many students wrote this line: "She is the BEST teacher ever. The social work department needs to keep her!" A lot of students wrote about my sensitivity, my attention to diversity, and being caring, listening. One student wrote: "Loved her. Loved her. Loved her." What a transition in this moment, from a previous place of feeling my tender heart in terms of making amends to myself for all the years of allowing unworthiness to feeling my tender heart in receiving my students comments and their validation of the passion for me that is being with them, at home, in the classroom.

In the space of one hour, not worth/worth can be held. And in one moment, one can be let go and in another moment, one can be let in.

I need to be reminded that I am at choice at every turn at any moment of my day. I don't have to "hold onto" something, when I can easily choose to set it free and move into another moment. I forget this very quickly. This is what Tara Brach refers to when we step out of presence and go into "trance". She too offers reminders that when we really practice presence, we will develop an internal mechanism that alerts us to when we are in trance, allowing us to "come out of it" and back into a state of presence.

Today is a brand new opportunity for me. The rawness of unworthiness is in the past in this moment. An openness to possibility to experience something else is here right now. I did awake today with lingering feelings from the past few days and when I shifted from that moment to deciding to pray, then to light incense, then to water plants, then to make coffee and have breakfast, and then sit down to write, I can hardly remember what 7:30a felt like.

Thank you G-d for this gift that is here for me to open everyday I am on earth.