Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Giant Forest, Sequoia National Park
Originally uploaded by Buck Forester


For the 2nd meeting night in a row, we have read from the Living Sober book. In tonight's meeting, we read the passage on "Fending off Loneliness". It is in this passage that a reference is made about the dangers of being: too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. Hence, the acronym: HALT.

I've heard people make mention of these things in meetings and yet did not truly make a real connection to them and being sober until tonight ! And these are the kinds of things that can "sneak up" on you and, if not given proper attention and pause, could easily lead one toward a drink.

Hungry. I have known myself to literally not feed myself enough food. Some of this has had to do with worthiness. But the "being hungry" that I believe is related to living sober has much more to do with how we nourish or don't nourish ourselves. If I am hungry for anything, I associate this with greed. Or wanting to fill a void. To get full on something as a distraction or not being able to bear "no-thing-ness". There is urgency in this kind of hunger. To be hungry is to be craving and wanting more and not being satisfied; conversely, it may also be "starving" because I have deprived or separated myself from those things, people, situations that provide nutrients,  substance.   It is to not know what it means to experience true FULLness, which is not about hunger at all. It comes from a place of savoring what is right here in my life, "taking in" another or an experience with all of my senses.

Angry. So many of us alcoholics either suppressed anger with a drink or blew up at everyone and everything because we "drank at" them. I did a bit of both. I suppressed a great deal of anger, much of which was built-up resentments toward my parents and the circumstances of my growing up. Anger for me felt like it was an unwielding, dangerous sword that could cut and tear up anything in its path, therefore it was to be kept under lock and key. And yet, under the influence of alcohol and losing total inhibitions, my anger would rear its ugly head and come out sideways or inappropriately, often when I was in a blackout. I would then hear about myself from others the next day and would have terrible shame and remorse about my actions. In my alcoholism, I did not have a healthy nor balanced relationship with anger. I was either trying to control it or it controlled me. And, after I put down the bottle, I was even more terrified of my own anger. I was a virtual pressure cooker much of the time, particularly with my former partner and especially during the time of her substance abuse. The heart of my anger, however, was frustration with myself and my own cowardice about giving myself away and allowing myself to remain in unhealthy situations, repeating the historical pattern of passivity and co-dependency that I detested in my mother's relationship to my father. My need for control and to keep up certain appearances coupled with a very distorted idea about the expression of anger being something that represented "out-of-controlness" found me so tightly wound inside, like a rubber band ready to snap at every little thing that didn't go my way. Not to mention the incessant arguments that would take place in my head, ruminating over things that I didn't assert myself to say or wallowing in my own victimhood. What an incredibly uncomfortable and unsober place to live.

Lonely. I shared in tonight's meeting, given that our focus was on loneliness, that I have spent such a huge portion of my life hiding my loneliness behind a disguise of feigned happy-go-luckiness. The life-of-the-party I believed I was when I drank; it didn't take too much detective work to see through the transparent veil that was my feeble attempt to cover up the depressed and deeply lonely person that I was. And when I was no longer drinking and not working a recovery program, I pretended all the time so that I didn't have to know how lonely I really was. "I'm fantastic!" was a favorite decoy. During a great majority of my time living with a partner, I was so so lonely. And the truth is this: my showing up in a large way in social circles, pretending that all was dandy in life, and moving farther and farther away from my partner by busying and working, were all the ways that I didn't want you to know how lonely I was. I was so fearful of intimacy. Of being vulnerable. Of the emptiness that was swallowing me whole. It was the lie I told myself and others through my unsober actions day in and day out. What I also shared in the meeting is this: living alone, while working a recovery program and doing deep personal healing work, finds me feeling more connected and full and in relationship to my life and with others than when I lived with someone and was in a so-called partnership. We had a store-front relationship; behind the scenes, it was anything but. We occupied shared living space yet did not connect to one another in that space. I am so grateful to not experience the depth of that kind of loneliness.

Tired. There's physical exhaustion and then there's the even more taxing, mental/emotional exhaustion. When I drank, I was always tired. My body was worn out from the physical toll the alcohol was taking on it. And I kept on abusing my body, night after night. The mental exhaustion of addiction is a kind of tired that I never want to feel again; constant obsessive thoughts and worrying and planning about when and where the next drink will be. This state of tiredness morphed into other things when I stopped drinking. Not working a program found me anxious and fearful about countless things. I suffered from insomnia for years. This is the result of not having serenity or peace. Trying to be self-sufficient, care-taking, and then not asking for help or utilizing a sponsor or a fellowship makes you really, really tired. Downright depleted and zapped of your lifeforce. Being tired for all the right reasons today is the best kind of tired ... like having been in service or working on something that I feel passionate about -- like right now. It's late and I'm tired and I love being in the stillness of night, writing.

And with that, I shall close so that I may nourish myself with good rest.

I bid you a sober goodnight.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Blessings for Our Teacher

The Promised Land (Ben Heine)
Originally uploaded by Ben Heine

I awoke quite early this morning with one thing on my mind: our Kabbalistic teacher, Jason, is entering an operating room today to have a segment of his diverticulum removed which has been affected by bladder cancer. Each of us in our community have been engaging in group prayers and our own individual prayers for a week now. There are individual prayer slots, 20 minutes long, that we could sign up for - specifically for his surgery - from 7:30p last evening until 7:30p this evening. My slot was 8:30am this morning.

Before I did my prayer, I opened Jason's book and read a beautiful passage about kindness and how this shines through each of us in the form of blessing. The last line of his passage is magnificent: "Whenever you see clearly, your true nature stands up and blesses the world."

The words of this passage guided me in my specific prayer time this morning. I was actually a bit nervous, as this felt like a very sacred responsibility that I, and countless others, have been entrusted with. And once I let that wave of feeling run its course, I settled down on my meditation pillow, shawl wrapped around me, candles lit on the altar and sat quietly for awhile, letting the words of the passage and God lead the way to the next right action. And each piece just flowed and transitioned into another one.

I began blessing Jason for his wisdom and his love and for creating the school where I could learn and heal myself and have the ability to sit in prayer today, with God, because of him. I blessed his medical team for finding the cancer at an early stage and for their training and knowledge to do this surgery. I blessed the nurses and others who were assisting for the surgery. I blessed the people responsible for sterilizing the equipment to be used for the surgery. I blessed the anesthesiologist. I blessed any personnel who helped in any way. I blessed the people who cleaned the surgical room. I blessed the people who founded and built the hospital so he could have this surgery.

This flowed into chanting. The kinds of chanting I learned from Jason when he conducted blessing circles in our first year at the school. God, Creator, Allah, Yaweh, Adonai, Om Buddha, Higher Power, Lord ... all of these came out from this deep place in me; I was in child's pose on my meditation mat and could feel the deep vibration pulsing into the floor and around me and around Jason. There was this incredible ray of connection -- like I could feel him on the operating table.

This sensation found me back in silence and then quietly asking God to keep Jason's breath and his heartbeat steady, to keep him strong in his body, mind, spirit. To trust his body and this process that is here and that everything is exactly as it should be.

And then one of his Negun's entered in and I began to sing: "Life, life is around me, let me sing Hallelujah." And then it became: "Life, life is around you, Jason. Let us sing, Hallelujah." I don't know how long I sang, but it went on for awhile.

Lastly, I spoke to God again and returned to some familiar statements I had been making in the prayers of the past week: that Jason could feel God's tender hands on his shoulders and at his back and that he could really know the love God has for him. And that he could feel each one of us holding him. And that each teacher and each one of us could also feel God's hands and know God's love for us in our holding. In this moment, which has happened at other times, I began to see the faces of many members of our Kabbalistic healing community flash in front of me. I could feel people in prayer. I could feel the hands of others in mine.

I have never been able to drop into prayer in this way until I began really practicing my recovery program in AA. And because of that practice, I am able to do this practice. And really, they are just ONE practice because they have become integrated.

May Jason awake from his surgery knowing that he has been held by God's love and the love of his family and his friends in this community.

May Jason heal and recover in the coming weeks knowing that all of this was in God's plan for him and that he is awake to receiving this truth.

May we each be better, kinder, more loving souls because of our participation in these prayers and blessings for our teacher and for ourselves.

May we all know God's love and presence is with us always.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

A visit from the Irish harpist ...

The Harp Sessions: Caravaggioesque
Originally uploaded by eugkyr

I went to an informal dinner party at a couple's home who I've known now for about 16 years. The gathering included a few of their neighbors -- older women who I've come to know over the past decade. The "force", however, that was the common bond for all of us is no longer on this earthly plane. A feisty Irish woman named Sinead -- who lost a valiant battle back in 2004 to pancreatic cancer.

Sinead was a hospice nurse and the next door neighbor to my friends who hosted this dinner. The other women in attendance were neighbors and friends of Sinead -- two of the four are also Irish. These strong women who live on this block took turns caring for Sinead while she was dying, over the course of 7 months. There was not one night when Sinead had to sleep alone. As they spoke about her last night, there was still grief and love and tender hearts abound.

Sinead was the first person I met who could see auras and who taught me how to view them. My former partner had a natural gift for seeing them, while I have developed this ability more so over time -- particularly in my Kabbalistic healing practice. Last evening, as we were talking over appetizers in the living room, I could not help but be distracted by a very intensely green-gold glow and presence on the right side of one of Sinead's closest friends from Ireland. I made a decision at one point to speak up and share that it appeared that perhaps Sinead was here and described what I was seeing. These woman, over the years, have also witnessed this very same phenomena. My friend's husband busted out: "It would be just like Sinead to not want to miss out on a conversation that's all about her!" And we all laughed, because this was absolutely true. When she walked into a room, she had a commanding, halting presence. I often thought: "She's not OF this world."

Sinead had a gift for helping the dying to cross over. She could see what they saw. She spoke the language of the "other side". Sinead was also a harpist. She would bring her harp to the bedsides of her dying patients in their homes and serenade them to ease their pain, to help them comfortably fall asleep -- even if just for a few minutes. My friend's husband volunteered at the hospice that Sinead managed and he shared with us last night that watching her in "action" completely changed his perspective and his fears about dying. His only regret is that he had always hoped that Sinead would be the one to help him cross over and not the other way around.

Sinead was scarily psychic. To the most minute detail. She could often predict, almost to the hour, the time and day each of her hospice patients would leave the earth. She was also the first person to introduce me to Tarot cards; her favorite deck is the one I like to use the most for my own readings. Sinead, however, was not imposing; if you were drawn to what she could offer, it was like a magnetic pull toward her. I felt this with her, right from the first time we met.

Sinead was an invaluable resource when my partner's father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She offered many helpful suggestions and ways that we could help him cross over comfortably. It was devastating for both my partner and I to then learn, just 2 years after her father's death, that Sinead had the very same cancer diagnosis. It was a twist of fate that seemed unfathomable.

The women last night spoke of how ornary Sinead was during her dying period. She did not want any hospice involvement. To have hospice was to admit and acknowledge that she was dying. She fought tooth and nail til the very end of her life. When she was on the giving end of supporting people to leave the earth, she was fearless and solid as a rock. To be on the receiving end for her was both terrifying and unacceptable. None of us really understood how fearful she really was in her own relationship with death. And yet, these strong, amazing women that I was sitting with last night all rose to the occasion to support Sinead to do the very thing that she did for so many other dying souls. I was in the company of earth angels.

It was an incredible evening, with such bittersweet memories. And a visit from the Irish harpist in her green-gold spirit that lives on in each of us.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Behind the mask of innocence ...

Originally uploaded by geewillikersjett

As I entered my Friday night Step meeting, I saw a woman around my age sitting with a boy, early teens. I made the assumption that he was here to support his mother, as it is not uncommon to see people come with their children. I was quite mistaken. It was the mom, who was here to support her son. I would find out later that he was 14, 2 days out of a 20 day rehab, for addiction to Oxycontin and alcohol. He barely had any facial hair and sat very close to his mother during the meeting, practically curled up on her lap. His foot would not stop tapping. Behind the mask of innocence, was a young man who found his way into this room because he was powerless over drugs and alcohol. Other than his chronological age, he was no different than any of us sitting in the chairs around him.

And, as many members stated, he was the most important person in the room.

Several older guys remarked about the fact that they weren't willing to acknowledge their powerlessness over alcohol and drugs until much later in life after they hit multiple bottoms (the majority in their 50's) and how amazing it was to see a young man trying to nip this disease in the bud at such an early stage. One guy tearfully shared how a 25 year addiction to cocaine and Percocet had robbed him of an existence. The most poignant sharing, however, was an older woman who didn't come into the rooms of AA until she was 68. She looked directly at this boy and his mother and very tenderly spoke to him. She said that someone who loved her dearly accompanied her into AA and how important it was to know that she was loved and cared for enough that another human being would take the time to do that for her. And how this young man was so lucky to have his mother support him. And how she wished that she could've gotten the lesson early in life and what a gift it was to witness this young man in front of her. She related to his nervousness and his inability to sit still; she told him to be patient with this, that eventually it would pass, just like how the obsession would be lifted. Lastly, she told him how hard it was to hear anything when she first came into AA after going to rehab herself and to just have faith that all of what is being said -- "the seeds being planted" -- will eventually take hold inside, grow roots, and then blossom. It was an absolutely beautiful moment between them -- many generations apart yet deeply in connection.

During the break, I introduced myself to this young man and his mother. I told him about what I was teaching this semester and how I showed my students a DVD just last night of a teenage boy just a little bit older than he who made a documentary about becoming addicted at such a young age and nearly committing suicide as a result. And how this teenager made the film with his father so that he could carry the message to other teenagers who might be experiencing the same struggle.  I thanked him for having the courage to take these steps and that by walking them,  he would be helping many other young people in the process.  I offered some information about beginners meetings and young people's meetings, so that he might find peers in the AA community to talk to.  He was barely able to make eye contact, absolutely trembling the entire time, reaching out to hold his mother's hand periodically. It was both heart-wrenching and exquisitely tender. He may very well be one of the lucky ones that God has more important things in store for while here on this earth plane.

Sitting across from this young man reminded me that I too was young when alcohol took ahold of me. And that behind the mask of innocence was a disaster in the making. And it wasn't long before the innocence disappeared and a hard-hearted, dishonest, thieving, manipulative, promiscuous woman took over for the next decade. I was just like him -- terrified, scared, wanting my mother or father's hand to hold and know that I would be okay and safe. That wasn't to be my story and, by the grace of God, I found my way to AA in spite of everything.  I shall not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.

My greatest wish and prayer for this young man is that he still gets to experience being a young man.

May God hold him closely and tightly and tenderly.

Experience, Strength, Hope ...

Hoping for a wonderful tomorrow~
Originally uploaded by ♥Spice / Tryin' to catch up!

Last night in the Substance Abuse course I teach at the University, my students submitted their reaction papers about having attended some kind of 12 Step meeting: AA, NA, Al Anon or OA. The first part of the class involved each person sharing for a few minutes about what this experience was like for them and anything that really stood out about the nature or culture of the meeting and its members.

The level and depth of sharing in this classroom was a 12 Step meeting in and of itself. The first person to share was a hulking guy whose skepticism has been slowly fading about what he could possibly be taught given that he's been an addictions counselor for quite some time. His sharing was totally and utterly from his heart. He visited a legendary meeting, one that is hardcore and in one of the roughest sections of the city, and yet the words he used to describe it were anything but tough: humbling; touching; moved my soul; had me writing poetry again after the experience. His voice trembled as he spoke. Every eye was on him. He stated that this experience renewed his faith in the power of 12 Step programs, which he had actually dismissed in his jadedness of being entrenched in this work. My own hand rested on my heart, as I soaked up the beauty of his sharing.

Following him were 3 other students who attended this same meeting, just different nights, and two of them were women ! Each spoke from such a heartfelt place about the way the stories and the rawness and the bottom-of-the-bottomness moved them. I began capturing key words on the board: humility; spirituality; faith; hope; love; self-acceptance; resilience. I emphasized with my students how they were learning the language of recovery and that speaking from this place with current or future clients will be the key to building a therapeutic relationship.

One student had a very emotionally moving experience at an Al-Anon meeting, which she attended not just for this class but with her fiance whose father is an alcoholic. She was struck by how the spouses and family members of alcoholics had to do the same Step work so that they could work on their own powerlessness over the disease and the person using and the strength of the cammeraderie in the meeting. Her words were: "They didn't have much in common in terms of ages or other demographics but that didn't matter because they were all there for the same thing: to be stronger in themselves while their loved one was drinking. This was their common bond."

Some students who attended NA meetings were surprised at how young folks were -- noting that there were 15 and 16 year old heroin and crack addicts among the members. What students did share, however, was that it felt like there was a "looser, more lax" adherence to the 12 Step principles, particularly after they had the assignment of reading key chapters of the AA Big Book. They found these meetings powerful yet filled with more venting, more profanity and a LOT of cigarette smoking ! And still, amid these conditions and crime-ridden locations, my students marveled at the numbers in attendance and the desire for people to get clean because of the consequences many were facing: criminal records; losing children; loss of home, job, family; major health issues.

This was far more than just a college course assignment; for many of these students, it was a life changing experience. I attribute this to their willingness to be open to receiving what so many who walk in the doors of a 12 Step meeting also gain from others in the rooms: experience, strength, hope.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

May I be Useful ...

Team Work 2
Originally uploaded by Redcorn Studios [Redboy]

Dear God,

I must continually work toward unselfishness.
To be unselfish is to be useful.
When I am selfish, I am useless to myself, You, and others.
Help me to stop thinking on only me and to stop hoarding not only material things but also my thoughts and feelings from others.
Dear God, grant that I may practice what the Program teaches me.
My life has been saved by what others have given me.
I must, in turn, give it away to keep it.
~ From the 12 Step Prayer Book, Vol. 2

This was the first email I read after prayers this morning, Today's Gift, that I receive daily. These words went in deeply. I felt God's purpose for me in these words and that more would be revealed.

At my home group meeting tonight, a young woman with whom I've made a spiritual connection sat next to me and said that she had something important to ask me at the end of the meeting. She & I have met a couple of times to talk about Program on a more informal basis as well as to troubleshoot about one of her challenging sponsees. After the meeting was over, we stood in the parking lot and talked. She had been really thinking about what is important to her in terms of a sponsor as well as how she feels about her own ability to sponsor. She revealed that she is now going to therapy and made a decision to "refer" her only sponsee to someone more capable. And, she also shared that the more she has connected with me and heard me share, the more she "wants what I have". We made a joint decision tonight that I would sponsor her. The timing was impeccable, given the words of this prayer and the "sensing" that I had after taking in this prayer -- in particular, this line: "I must, in turn, give it away to keep it."

I have, to some extent, hoarded my thoughts and feelings from others in the Program -- when it comes to considering taking on a sponsee. I have been selfish about my time and about taking on the responsibility that comes with being a sponsor. My perfectionism has also played a role: "What if I don't do this right?" "What if I don't live up to their expectations of what a sponsor should be?" I am aware that these thoughts are not rational or based in true reality, but instead are my projected fears.

Every day, as part of my 3rd Step Prayer, I say to God: "May I be useful to you and to those in my fellowship and in my spiritual community" And, up until recently, I had only given that request lip service while reciting the prayer but not truly putting myself "out there" into service. Last week, I participated in a 12th Step call. I have made the occasional pot of coffee, cleaned up, chaired meetings, told my story. These are pretty easy forms of service, all things considered. The real "juice" of the program is in the relationship of Sponsor and Sponsee. Each person's program is made richer and more solid because of this partnership -- especially when it is done in the spirit of generosity and an intention for sharing our experience of what works and what has helped in our own sobriety AND a willingness to listen and learn.

My Program is what it is today because of the trusting, mutual, connected relationship that I have with my Sponsor. There isn't a thing I can't say to her or she to me. Her experience and wisdom is invaluable. Her understanding of the Steps and her own interpretations of practical daily application really resonates with me. I have gained much and do not want to be selfish with these many gems I have been given.

Tonight, I was presented with a gift to be of God's service. May I be useful ...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Kindness of Suffering

Sunrise Reflection (4+4 in 6x6)
Originally uploaded by NaPix -- Hmong Soul

After receiving the news of our teacher Jason's diagnosis and our community coming together to hold him during this time, I have dropped in more to the awakening that is possible in the face of suffering.

Ever so timely, I turn yesterday afternoon to the passage in Jason's book about this very subject. I have read it multiple times since. The opening "seed" statement goes like this:
"Awakening is the moment we become completely human, no longer suffering needlessly and no longer fighting the suffering we must do -- and knowing the difference."
Interestingly enough, this has every piece of the Serenity Prayer contained within it.

Jason walks his talk, embodying and living his words, in his truth.

To suffer needlessly is to wallow in it, seeking attention from a place of self-pity, resistance, unable to accept life on life's terms. To no longer fight the suffering we must do is to make peace with it, to accept what is here, to trust God's unfolding plan for us. The wisdom, Tiferet (wise sage) that we can access by listening and trusting our inner God-voice is what helps us to gain balance in our relationship to suffering. This is my take-away message from the opening of this passage.

And, just as impactful as the beginning lines are, the ending paragraph resonates deeply: "When you can do this [have a different relationship to suffering], your suffering will help you increase your degree of kindness and forgiveness toward yourself. You will also be kinder to your brothers and sisters who walk this planet in the glory and difficulty of being human. When you do these things, you are truly awakened."

There was a moment at the end of our training on Sunday when my beloved classmate, my love, was filled up and welled up with these tears of kindness and tenderness toward our teacher. She felt the glory and the difficulty of his humanness before he ever disclosed that he had cancer. She was, in this moment, awake to his awakeness. This was incredible to witness.

After sitting in prayer for Jason and significant others last night and this morning along with the many members of our group doing the same around the globe, I could feel my own tender heartedness touching suffering, both personally and impersonally. This was ever present in an interaction I had this morning with a good friend who asked me to meet her to talk for awhile. She too is in the midst of suffering - of a different variation. She experienced a traumatic event, a personal violation of her body, last week. She is feeling the conflict of reporting her violator and wanting to have safety and peace for herself and her partner. While we talked, I was filled with love and incredible kindness toward her. It was not from a care-taking place, but rather an authentic, kind place of relating to her in this suffering. She felt this too and remarked about it: "My friend is really here. I feel how much you care about and love me and honor whatever decision I make about this situation." This was the absolute truth. I had no personal agenda or vendetta for her violator; in fact, I have included him in my prayers, which is the hardest thing I've ever done.

From a person who lived the majority of her life in "Woe is me", it is such freedom from bondage to experience this. There is exquisite kindness for myself and for those I love in this place of suffering.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Uncoiling the Heart ...

Ol' Blue Eyes
Originally uploaded by vgm8383

"Now is the time for you to tell me.
Now is the moment for you to unfold.
God has now found a vessel that is sanctified enough
so that a holy life can be lived.
You will begin to disappear so that a new you can be born."
~ Jason Shulman, from the Impersonal Movement I Manual

The last practice that was taught in my Impersonal Movement training this weekend was called: "Uncoiling the Heart." It involves a downward movement of consciousness to be seated in the Heart, being able to hold the world in its duality, so that we may begin the final part of our journey.

Our teacher, Jason, has a negun that he taught us in the first year of the Kabbalistic healing program that feels like it is related to this process:
Unlock my heart, Oh God
Unlock my mind.
Unlock my spirit too
I give it all to you.

This practice involves a descent into viewing the essence and the messages incarnated in all beings, resulting in the suffering of the world, without it being personal, without any feelings of self-hatred or deprecation of any kind being present.

Interestingly enough, the personal heart experience of suffering entered our healing space at the end of this practice. Perhaps it was Divine timing that we should be given this opportunity to hold duality. Our teacher Jason announced to us at the end of the training that he would be having surgery next week for bladder cancer. From a place of tenderness, humility and grace, he asked for our prayers and for the community to hold him through this process.

To be "in the Heart center" of this was, however, a place of non-duality. There was an outpouring of tears among the members of our class from a place of fear/worry and from a place of love/caring. Sadness about this news was paired with joyful singing as the group circled our teacher. A classmate offered a deeply sacred blessing, the words of which seemed to flow directly from both his heart and the heart of the group and the heart of God.

Part of the human condition is that there will be suffering. A spiritual teacher is not immuned from this and it was so important that he allowed each of us to witness his vulnerability, his humanness. Our community watched another teacher a couple years ago, who appeared to be the picture of health, die very quickly from an aggressive cancer. Simultaneously, we have had several classmates survive and thrive after breast cancer and other illnesses. The most significant piece in all of these occurrences, however, is not about whether or not death resulted, because the Truth held for all of us is that we will eventually die; instead, the significance in our individual journeys lies in our choice to be with the Reality of Life. Can we hold our being scared with acceptance ?  Our fear of mortality with faith in the Infinite ?  
Or, as the woman I love so bravely and poignantly shared during class this weekend about the fact that she can now hold her craziness along with her sanity, which actually makes her more sane. In response to her sharing, our teacher Jason offered this very fitting quote from the Buddha's Heart Sutras:

"A buddha is greatly enlightened about their delusions.
An ordinary person is greatly deluded about their enlightenment."

In the presence of our classroom, there were a sea of buddhas, quite enlightened about their delusions. I think perhaps this is what has drawn us together for this part of the walk on our spiritual paths.

May each of us have the willingness and the courage to uncoil the Heart so that we may be born anew.

May our teacher, Jason, be held in the vibrantly beating,  Life-giving center of this Heart.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Carrying the Message ...

Gołębie pocztowe / Carrier pigeons
Originally uploaded by Rrrodrigo

In the old tradition of AA, a "12th Step" call was one in which AA members were informed that a drunk was in desperate need of help and you went to where that person was, often in psych wards of hospitals or behind bars, to carry the message to them. Today, sometimes a 12th Step call is tamer and more "pro-active" than the days of old; I participated in one such call this evening after my home group meeting.

I ended my blog entry Monday night stating that I would be praying for 2 souls in the Big Book meeting that evening who were not yet ready to stop drinking. Ten minutes into tonight's meeting, one of those souls showed up in the back of the room. When our eyes met, mine was filled with tears of gratitude ... that perhaps God was indeed watching over this man. At the end of the meeting, he approached me and shared that he liked what I spoke about at the Monday night meeting and how he had overheard my friend, the guest speaker that night, and I talking about seeing one another this week at both the Tue night meeting and the Wed night one, which he is chairing this month. This man decided that he would come to the Wed night meeting, as it was close to where he lives and the fact that it would be St. Patrick's Day and the temptation would be great to go out and get blasted. As we talked at the end of tonight's meeting, I invited him to meet some of the guys and get their phone numbers, which were readily offered. As it approached the time for us to all exit the building, this man asked my friend and I if we might have time for coffee afterwards; he was very concerned that he would likely go to the liquor store, his urge very strong, and he was trying to not drink -- at least just for today. My friend and I looked at one another and recognized the significance of this request -- a 12th Step call in the making -- and agreed to go with him.

When we arrived to the coffeeshop, I was delighted to see that 3 more of our members followed and came to support this man. We pulled together a couple of tables and gathered around him. He was anxious and distraught and yet, it appeared, quite relieved. We all shared stories of what this period looked like for each of us when we were not quite ready to stop and yet knew we had to at some point or it would destroy us. This man listened intently, his eyes brimming with water. He kept saying: "I think I'm ok, I don't want to burden all of you." One of our members looked at his watch, noting that it was 9:45 and the liquor store could still be accessed before the 10p closing time; we had no problem sitting with him for as long as it would take.

As the coffeeshop was also closing at 10p, our new friend looked at all of us and proudly said: "It'll be 3 days in a row now, this is a miracle!" He expressed his thanks, hugging each one of us tightly. We reminded him about using the numbers he collected and someone went to their car to give him a meeting schedule and even offered to meet him tomorrow.

There is something so raw and so touching and so tender about sitting with someone who has not yet wanted to surrender, to fully acknowledge their powerlessness over the addiction and YET, at the same time, is desperately seeking help. We have all walked those very shaky steps. It is an extremely vulnerable, humbling, awkward, terrifying crossroads in one's life approaching the point when you know that as you keep playing the alcohol roulette wheel, the booze is winning each and every spin.

As I drove home, my heart was full and my heart ached for this man. Our job was to carry the message; his job, the far more strenuous and grueling task at hand, is to keep coming back, not taking that first drink, making meetings, calling people AND taking that very first Step to admit he is powerless over alcohol and that his life has become unmanageable. All I can do now is to keep praying and to be awake to the 12th Step moments and keep carrying the message.

Sweet Surrender ...

Alien Tentacled Thing aka Passion Fruit Flower
Originally uploaded by AnnuskA - AnnA Theodora

As I pondered the subject of surrender and began my search for photos to capture the essence of what I wanted to write about, this incredible flower caught my eye. Upon very close examination, you can see bees feasting on the glorious nectar within the inner layers. This flower has opened her petals up, surrendering the sweetness inside of her, so that the bees may thrive from her nutrients. A flower does not know to be afraid of the possibility of the bees stinging her;  she freely surrenders because this is part of what she was born to do, God's intention for her.

I looked at this photo for a long time this morning. Nature provides us such profound teachings, provided we are open and willing to receive the lessons.

The subject of surrender was on my radar today because of a couple occurrences, minor really, in my life that I am turning over and need to let go:
- My hair is changing. No, I'm not going bald ! The texture has gotten softer and finer. The length I was previously wearing my hair no longer could hold its shape over the past couple of weeks. So I went to my stylist yesterday for support. Not to "fix" the issue, but rather to offer me a style to accomodate "what is" . So my hair is shorter than I'd been wearing it and yet it feels so good because this style feels effortless and I have a deeper acceptance that perhaps this is just what happens because I am getting older and I am entering peri-menopause.
- My Kabbalistic retreat is this weekend. I like feeling energized and healthy in my body, mind and spirit when I have one of these weekends. The beginning signs of the arrival of my menstrual cycle are here: bloating; fatigue; cramps; headache. Attempting to fight them or wish them away or struggle is about self-will and not God's will. It's also about denying the course of nature. The flower here has inspired me so much. The inevitable bleeding and movement within my reproductive system is what I was born to do as a woman. I need to let my petals open, so to speak, and let Nature take her course, surrendering to the tenderness of my body, doing what it is supposed to do, trusting the timing and my ability to be with the discomfort and pain, understanding it is a cycle that will pass and eventually end.

I sat for long time this morning on my meditation pillow. I only said: "God" and then nothing came. I understood that these things I've written about were on my mind, fodder for my unhealed ego. I just sat and listened in the stillness. Praying, for me, is being in relationship with God; I do an awful lot of chattering on most mornings and evenings, so I decided to just keep my mouth shut and my ears wide open.

The only thing I heard was: "Surrender".

Monday, March 15, 2010

Climbing Mt. Everest

An ocean of clouds
Originally uploaded by ···Skazi••

Tonight I experienced a "homecoming" of sorts ... after a 3 month or so absence from a former Big Book mtg (mostly due to the fact that it starts at the time when I am sometimes just getting back from seeing clients) I was greeted so warmly and affectionately, like a long-distance relative that the family hasn't seen in awhile. This is a quality I love about AA and still can be baffled that I couldn't and wouldn't see this as being possible when I first came into AA.

I, along with a number of members of my favorite Tuesday night meeting, were here to support a beloved member of our group who was the featured speaker. This Big Book meeting has adopted the "California style" format: podium with microphone; an hour and a half; guest speaker each week chairs and reads a favorite passage from the Big Book then chooses people from the group to come up and share about it. There is something about this that reminds me about self will; you don't get to control or decide if you're going to speak at this meeting -- you are powerless and, if you're called upon, then it is in the plan of the Higher Power that you are chosen to share your message.

2 small passages were chosen by our speaker tonight and are as follows:
P. 60: "We are not saints. The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines."
P. 568: "We find that no one need have difficulty with the spirituality of the program. Willingness, honesty and open mindedness are the essentials of recovery. But these are indispensable."

The "theme" of his message, based on these statements above, was about the spiritual part of how we work our program. He called it: "Spiritual Fitness". He compared how we "exercise" our recovery spirituality to an actual workout at the gym. And how it is sometimes hard to get motivated, how we can get lax and lazy, and yet, once we do it, we are always amazed at how GOOD we feel after ! It's so true ! Along the lines of this metaphor, he shared about how he knows when he's spiritually "out of shape" because he reverts back to easier, softer ways of dealing with things -- like avoiding or getting lost in TV or not initiating a needed conversation or a 10th Step amends. And that when he is in this kind of shape, he really feels stretched, weighted down, restless, irritable, quick to react, not having a strong set of recovery "muscles".

One of the best shares tonight after the speaker was done, came from a long-timer -- someone I adore -- who has 27 years sober. He told us that when he first came to AA, he viewed being able to stop drinking akin to "climbing Mt. Everest" -- a feat that seemed virtually impossible and much too massive to even tackle. His sponsor told him this: "You can climb what you believe to be the Mt. Everest of recovery quite easily and simply. All you have to do is follow the footsteps on the path of the person who walked before you. That's it." The room took a collective deep breath in and a long one out taking in the power of his message.

My selfish and distorted thinking when I first got sober had me believe that I didn't need to follow any of "these people" and that with my self-will in toe, I could easily climb the mountain of recovery. I was not willing to grow, however, along spiritual lines. No letting anyone hold the ropes for me, while I ascended or just in case I might fall -- oh no, I got this and I can do this on my own. Several years later, I strayed from the path and lost my way. And then my sense of direction. I was making circles round the mountain and going nowhere. Willingness, honesty, and open-mindedness were all within reach to help me have a smoother climb and I tossed them aside, as seemingly useless tools. My next decade and more would find me having slid back down the mountain, bruised and cut, and ignoring the injuries, denying they actually existed. I would forget climbing Mt. Everest and take on the label of being a "recovered" person, past tense, no need to make that trek again. Or so I thought ...

Today, a full year and almost 2 months making great headway on the climb, I have followed those footsteps carefully, rarely veering off the spiritual path. Those AA hikers that have come before me have blazed a surefire trail that has provided good direction. And the really cool thing is this: there will be dozens of others who will follow in mine.

What touched me so much tonight was the fact that there were 2 people present who just had 24 hours sober. And both shared that they didn't think they were ready to stop drinking just yet. And we gently invited each of them to "keep coming back". Offering this message feels like the rope given to the climbers further below on the mountain, thrown down by others who have solid footing and who can keep the rope steady and always available if someone feels like they may slip.

I will pray for these two souls tonight before I go to bed. That even if they don't decide to climb Mt. Everest, that perhaps they will know there are steps to follow along the path made by fellow travelers and a line to grasp along the side of the mountain, should they have doubts about making the journey.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Eleven Turtles
Originally uploaded by ozoni11

During the 6 months or so before I ended my relationship with my former long-term partner, I began to see the number 11 show up a LOT. Primarily, anytime I looked to see what time it was, 8 out of 10 times, it was 11 after the hour. I can remember asking my yoga teacher at that time, who also was very into numerology and doing astrological charting, about the significance of number 11. I remember her speaking about it being a very spiritual number, the "master" number (since it contains two 1's, which are not divisible by any other primary number besides themselves) and a number which indicates strong development of intuition and psychic abililties -- both of which were becoming more apparent to me at that time in my life.

After the ending of this relationship, number 11 seemed to fade away. Not making any significant re-appearance until now. Over the past 3-4 wks, with gradual increase in frequency, nearly any time I am looking at the clock on my cell phone or in my car, it is 11 after the hour. AND, I am seeing the specific time of 11:11 very often.

I decided to investigate this phenomenon of number 11 a little more. I looked at numerous websites that I have trusted or have been recommended to me. Here are some of the findings about number 11:
- In addition to what my yoga teacher had shared with me (many of these sites confirmed what she said), number 11 is associated with people who are sensitive to "energies" and vibrational frequencies; people who are reflective and intuitive souls.
- 11 is about male and female equality.
- 11 is holding both sun and moon energy simultaneously.
- 11 is about balance.
- 11 involves refinement and vision.
- Since it is the digit #1 doubled, it takes on double strength of the meaning of one, which is about purity and new beginning.

I am really intrigued by the presence of this number in my life again. At its first showing, I was on the brink of the most major life transition to date. I am aware today that I have been in a quieter yet deeper transformational period in my life. This one is not the volcanic eruption and subsequent chain of shatterings beginning in the summer of '06; it is, instead, a time of great interior healing and my relationship out into the world from this place.

When I think of the meaning of 11 associated with my Kabbalistic work and with AA, two things stand out:

11 feels like the side-by-side pattern of holding 2 things, nesting opposites -- an integral part of my current practice which has had deep meaning for me.

The 11th Step in AA is about prayer and meditation and making conscious contact with God. The 11th step prayer is the Prayer of St. Francis. These aspects of my recovery work have been incredibly meaningful, particularly in the past couple of months.

Eleven rhymes with heaven. I like the sound of that.

Good vibrations...

The blessings of rain ...

Originally uploaded by Herodoto

It has been pouring here for 3 days now. I normally would find this very irritating and challenging. That is not the case this weekend.

One of the blessings of rain is that all of the dirt tainted snow has washed away, allowing the ground to receive the nutrients of water to prepare the soil for blooming Spring flowers. I look forward to watching them unwrap themselves as the gifts they are.

Another blessing has been the appreciation of intimate activities indoors, gathered with others who, like me, were willing to get wet in order to be together for a purpose. Two of these were my AA meetings on Friday night and Saturday morning. Suited up in drenched raincoats, we filed in, one by one, dripping and grateful to be there to hear a message or to carry one or both. The Saturday meeting attendance was surprisingly huge and it reminded me of the commitment we each have to our sobriety regardless of weather conditions.

On Saturday afternoon, I attended a Loving-Kindness workshop given by Sharon Salzberg. A local friend was celebrating her 50th birthday and wanted to go to hear her; her brother generously bought 3 tickets as his present to her, allowing her to invite a friend and I was the lucky recipient. There were probably upwards of 150 people there in a moderate size meeting room of a Unitarian church, piling in like wet creatures looking for dry shelter. It was both cozy and crowded -- the perfect "set-up" for doing Loving-kindness meditations. On a break, we found a sweet, open spot at the back of this room -- like a secret retreat that allowed us ample space for meditation AND connection to the group. This area was much damper and chillier than the other part of the church; thankfully, my friend's brother, who is a Buddhist teacher, came well-prepared with cushions to sit on and comfy blankets to drape ourselves in.

As we were guided by Sharon to sit with our breath, she also invited us to take in the sounds. All I could hear was the splashing of water onto the road along the front of the church, cars whishing through huge puddles and it was really calming to listen to this while nestled indoors. Like how I feel listening to the waves at the beach -- this was, instead, an urban ocean of sorts.

Our last meditation was the full Loving-kindness meditation in which you say: May I be safe; May I be happy; May I be healthy; May I have peace. And then you do this for a loved one. A friend. A neutral person. A difficult person. And then, every being. Interestingly enough, the "difficult" person was right in this very room. An ex-girlfriend was attending and made it a point to come over during a break, complete with the same intrusive and narcisstic qualities that found me exiting that relationship fleeing. It's been 2 years now. I chose her to send the meditation to when it came time for the difficult person. It allowed some room for compassion, some distance and peace. I will remember that Sharon said we could offer these to anyone, anywhere -- especially when we are impatient and irritated.

Last night's blessing of rain brought a lovely group of people together, at the height of the storm, in the gorgeous foyer of the building I live in for a drumming circle and potluck meal. It was a fundraiser for an old friend of my landlord's who died of a rare disease and the monies collected would be given to the hospice that cared for him in his last days. People traveled from near and far to be at this event, even having detours because of the flooding conditions. Most people had no connection to each other, other than to my landlord who was hosting this OR to her friend that she was memorializing. She is a piano teacher and has a beautiful room with 2 baby Grands. And a boatload of percussion instruments. It wasn't long before the pulsating drumming began and each of us got behind a large bongo or with a tambourine or some other noise-maker and communicated through the language of rhythmic sounds and beats. We did this for HOURS, taking a break here and there to graze at the potluck buffet or enjoy the hot cider.

I awoke to rolling thunder this morning, under the warmth of my blanket and my little poochie. No need to get up early, having lost an hour due to Daylight Savings. Just listen to the waterfall on my windows, the gusts stirring the windchimes. A symphony of nature. The blessings of rain ...

Friday, March 12, 2010

God, make me a channel of Your peace ...

Where there is sadness joy
Originally uploaded by Jim Frazier

This entry's title is the opening line to the Prayer of St. Francis. It is a universally-known psalm, not tied to one particular religion but rather to spirituality. In AA, it is also known as the "11th Step Prayer", because it is connected to the work of this Step: " Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out."

The Prayer of St. Francis was the topic of discussion in last night's meeting. This was the 1st time in 6 weeks I could attend my favorite women's meeting. I now teach on Thursday evenings, which conflicts with the time of this meeting. I didn't realize, until last night, how much I miss the women in this meeting , the depth of discussion, and the strength and hope that is found in the members.

As the chair read this prayer aloud, the room fell silent and a wave of goosebumps made the rounds to nearly all of us. You could actually "feel" this in the room. After the prayer was read, the chair spoke about the contrast between who she was when she drank and even in early sobriety compared to who she is now in relation to how she "lives" the tenets of this prayer. What she shared resonated with me -- every word. Her message was about the growth and shift from viewing oneself as a victim, unable to consider others in a selfless way, looking to see "what's in it for me?" and how living like that is in direct opposition to what is being asked of us in the principles of the Prayer of St. Francis.

My heart literally vibrated taking in each line of this prayer. I shared last night that when we move to the 11th Step prayer, it's like "sealing the deal" with God in terms of the 9th step Promises. We see all these great things in The Promises materialize as we make a pact with God in the 11th Step Prayer. We are offering ourselves, having turned over our will, to be in God's service: "Make me a channel of Your peace". It isn't about choosing and seeing if this feels like a possible option, like: "I'm considering being a channel of Your peace -- if the time and circumstances are suitable." Absolutely not ! This is a healthy surrendering of myself to carry out God's plan, his intention, for me.

"Use me, God, to do your work in the world with others." This is my take on what the Prayer of St. Francis is about. And, as one of our members so humorously shared, the principles of this prayer are NOT so you can go out there like some care-taking superhero and "fix" people and situations ! "Here I come to save the day!!!!!!! Let me bring love where there's hatred so I can make everything all better." The line is: "Where there is hatred, I may bring love." It feels like this is about being that channel, in service to God, that I embody a spirit of love in situations that have negative energy. And by showing up in this way, carrying out the principle without a hidden agenda or motivation or seeking applause, something happens that is beyond me or the people involved because it is of God. It's like the nesting of opposites in my Kabbalistic work; a 3rd thing arises just by the very nature that you are holding two opposing forces or things. Each subsequent line of the Prayer of St. Francis have opposing forces: wrong/forgiveness; discord/harmony; error/truth; doubt/faith; despair/hope; shadows/light; sadness/joy. This Prayer is asking each of us to be in the presence of the "nega" force and to show up in the "oneg" spirit of God and, when we can really do this, a 3rd thing does indeed occur that is a power greater than ourselves.

My favorite line, however, of the whole prayer is this one: "For it is by self-forgetting that one finds." Self-seeking, ego-centric, selfish behavior has no place here. These things get in the way of real discovery and uncovering. Last night, I spoke about this line and shared the following: "This kind of self-forgetting isn't about me losing myself or abandoning myself in relationship to others. It is about knowing who I am, solid in that feeling of my rootedness AND, from this place, I can be in relationship to another and not have to bring "What about me?" into the mix. I can be present to another's venting, pain, sadness -- not taking it personally or believing I have to change them or fix anything. This allows me to really SEE them, just as they are. I can stay there with them and "be". As one woman said in this meeting: "God is." Period.

And, as many of us acknowledged, living this prayer in our daily lives is easier said than done. We might have glimpses, moments, even a day of experiencing this and then that little unhealed ego rears her ugly head ! Progress not perfection. This Prayer is available to us anytime. I re-visit this daily. And, as I review my interactions in my day before going to bed, I can ask that I have the opportunity to be in service again tomorrow. Perhaps for longer than I did today. Or with more compassion. Or with extra help.

God, make me a channel of Your peace ...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A WHOLE life ...

Robin Hoods Bay Sun Rise
Originally uploaded by jasontheaker

The incredibly poignant speaker in last night's meeting concluded her story with this simple yet powerful statement: "My whole life is not AA; I have a WHOLE life because of AA."

I have let that statement whir about in me, spiraling and cascading into the healing I received from a Kabbalistic classmate this morning and in my Impersonal Movement (IM) practice this afternoon. It was here when I could feel how I was connecting to these words. What the speaker was saying is what occurs for me during the IM practice: there is no longer a personal attachment to one "thing" or "relationship" or "outcome" that I am looking to as making my life complete AND, because of my recovery and my healing and my practices, I am experiencing myself and my life as WHOLE. All of the parts of me are felt and are not cut out any longer. There is a place for each aspect to occupy and, in the larger picture of the impersonal, these aspects are no longer separate or fragmented pieces -- they are collected and blended and felt as The One.

There is a phrase used in part of the IM practice: "Making space full".
I have more clarity about this statement in this moment than I have ever before. The fullness of space includes density (solid matter) and space (no matter); both are needed for fullness to exist. This is essentially the profoundness of the AA speaker's statement. Having a WHOLE LIFE includes the solid fellowship and program of AA but also includes everything else, how I go out into the world because of what I learned in AA, permeating each "facet" of my life. Densities, in this context, are things like:  relationships outside of AA; Kabbalistic work; teaching; walking the dog; a "juicy" interaction;  expressing affection;  sitting in prayer and dozens more. Space is the literal and figurative distance between all of these facets and the relationship of them to each other. The way, for example, AA principles play out when I am in an interaction with a difficult person at the bank. Or how a Kabbalistic healing works in me and how I show up for my students. Making space full, for me, is inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness. One person or one thing or one destination or one long term goal --if made the sole focus --will not then permit room for other people, things, destinations and goals to exist.

Feeling full and "enough" are indicators for me that I am experiencing a WHOLE life. Obsessive and compulsive worrying and other associated behaviors have lifted for the most part. Fear of abandonment and aloneness no longer seem to have a place. Concerns about the future and the unknown are not what keeps me up well into the hours I should be sleeping. There is a contentment and a peace and a groundedness that has even more assuredness and solidity than I've felt before. This feels like more of The Promises being revealed and fulfilled.

It is sometimes hard to fathom that I am just "getting" this half-way through my life. I say this both from a place of : "Wow, how incredible to experience this now" kind of way AND in a "What the hell took me so friggin' long" kind of way. I mostly feel marveling and appreciating rather than shame or embarassment.

In this moment, I now begin to understand a passage of my teacher's that I couldn't take in the past 2 days: "Awakening is the birthright of every created being. To know God is our destiny." He goes on to the end of this passage to make these statements: "If you let yourself feel this, many things will drop away. Those are the things you no longer need. What is left is the answer you were looking for and the reason you were born."

This felt too BIG to take in a couple days ago. I believe some of what I have pondered here is part of the thread linked to this passage. What I am feeling is that the fears and the stories I've held onto as my identity are those things I no longer need. And they DO drop away, just as I cited above. If I were to give an answer that I am left with and the reason I was born, it would be as follows in this moment: "To live in the FULLNESS of me in relationship to the world, my will aligned with God's intention for me, living a WHOLE life."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The rewards of the Steps ...

Step Change
Originally uploaded by Sean Bolton

The Promises are read at my Tue night meeting. They are not often read at many meetings and there is something about hearing them that instantly fills me up ... they are indeed the rewards of the Steps. Provided that we are working the Steps. They begin with the line: "If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness."

Interestingly enough ... at last night's meeting, there were 2 newcomers ! This was their very FIRST AA mtg ! And, there were at least 4-5 regular members who've not been there in the past bunch of weeks who were all in attendance last night. The room was buzzing with laughter and hugs and excitement. There couldn't be a more clearer visual than that of the new Freedom and new Happiness that can be achieved by doing these Steps ! One newcomer, quite young, looked very anxious and terrified ... it was clear that it was uncomfortable for him to be here. The other newcomer, an older guy, looked resigned -- like he finally made it home. I love watching the men in this meeting actively doing their 12 step work, collecting phone numbers and talking after the meeting with these new guys to make them feel welcome and safe.

For the 3rd month of the year, we read Step 3. I simply cannot get enough of this Step. When I shared last night, I had an awareness about the pivotal nature of doing this Step and how, when I first entered AA, this was the Step I rejected and subsequently left the rooms as a result. I wouldn't turn over my will to God; I clung for dear life onto my self-will, having that very fear that I'd be the hole in the doughnut. I believed that AA was a cult and that I would become completely dependent on AA, losing my self-sufficiency and independence, which is also written about in Step 3.

I have more confidence and trust in my self today, as both an independent woman and one who knows that, when life is hard and challenging, she is able to turn her will over to the care of God. And, I am not afraid of sharing what is hard for me with people in the fellowship and in my Kabbalistic community. Part of turning my will over is also that it frees me up to let myself depend and count on others for support WITHOUT isolating OR becoming dependent in an unhealthy way on them. It is the balance of knowing when I can turn inward, to trust my own God-connected self (Tiferet in Kabbalistic speak) and when I need to connect and reach out from that place (Yesod) as a healthy way of getting help and support. This feels so good to finally be able to understand that turning my will over is not about giving up my life or my control or my independence; it is about being able to be MORE in my life, actually having more manageability AND having INTER-DEPENDENCE -- being my own person in relationship with God, with others, with the Reality of life.

The photo I chose for this post is EXACTLY how I see the rewards of the Steps: you ascend them and feel them working you and eventually, you glide down them and where you enter into is this spectacular, glorious place of serenity -- soft sand in between your toes, the ebb and flow of the tides of your life, and the limitless heavens above. It is possible. Just look around at a room full of AA's to see it for yourself.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Return to the Roots ...

Firmly Planted
Originally uploaded by papalars

Do not be afraid, but oak, big and deeply rooted.

This is the 3rd line of the Kabbalistic MAGI process. I have always been so drawn to the pull and power of this statement. A calling, if you will, to be both firmly planted within myself and to feel this in Nature, on the grander scale, joined with the trees.

The temperatures have finally reached Spring-like warmth and it was just the right day to make a return to the roots --- the inviting woods that are roughly a mile's walk from where I live.

I felt rejuvenated by this walk on so many levels: the warmth of the sun on my face; the aliveness in each footstep landing on the ground; the awe of being in the presence of these majestic trees and their branches extending out like a handshake, welcoming back an old friend.

There were a handful of folks mingling among the trees; the best sight I saw was a small group of elementary school aged children, say around 9 or 10 yrs old, who were there with someone that appeared to be their teacher and perhaps an aide. They were testing the pH of the creek water and were looking at some kind of plant too. It was so sweet to watch the look of wonder in their eyes. A few who were distracted made it a point to wave "Hi" to me as I walked by.

What I appreciated the most was my willingness and desire to walk on a day where I had more free time than usual and could have easily planted myself on the overstuffed chair to read. I loved being able to move my body in a rhythmic pace; it became meditative after awhile. It was almost like the feeling I get when doing Impersonal Movement -- everything begins to blend into One Thing, where I no longer feel my separate, personal body and I enter a space of "Is-ness". That was my experience today for a portion of my walk, particularly as I entered farther into the woods on a small path. I could have stayed in that place of being a "tree among trees" for a long time.

Exiting up the hill and out of the wooded park area, onto the pavement and the traffic-lined road was like when we do a part of Impersonal Movement to end the practice -- we walk "out of the seam". When this happens in the practice for me, as it did leaving the woods today, everything comes into view in a 3-D like way. Clear and vivid and with texture and dimension. I saw signs and rocks and birds and sides of houses in ways that I had not seen them before. Everything was bathed in God-like sunlight.

Until today, I had forgotten how meaningful it is for me to visit the woods. I am glad to have heard "the call" to return to the roots ...

The slippery slope of relapse ...

The Last Thing She Saw and it Was Beautiful
Originally uploaded by AnnuskA - AnnA Theodora

In Today's Gift from Hazelden: SLIPPING

A common rationalization about not making the program goes like this: "Harry over there slipped ten times before he made it. So what if I slip a few times?"
What is overlooked is that the last time Jack slipped, he slipped into a coffin; the last time Bob slipped, his baby son burned to death in a crib because of Bob's negligence, the last time Ann slipped, she got strychnine poisoning and became blind; and the last time Jim slipped, he tried to kill his wife and nearly did.
We're not playing games here. This is a matter of life and death.
Have I stopped slipping?

Higher Power, let me know that it is not only my life but the lives of others that I endanger by playing loaded games.

Receiving this affirmation this morning is quite timely, given what was shared with me by 2 other members in last night's meeting. A friend of ours from the rooms has had multiple relapses in the past year. With each one, he achieves another "I never". The last one involved being in dangerous crack houses coupled with drunk driving. His current resistance to working with his sponsor and staying focused on Step 1 (he believes he's being punished for relapses and wants to move further on to other Steps) has now taken him to a place where he wants to "wash his hands clean of AA". He will be leaving the country for a "break" at the end of the week; my friends and I are prepared for the possibility of him taking a permanent vacation, the kind you don't return to earth from.

This is the slippery slope of relapse. And the points in the Hazelden piece above could not be more true --- these kinds of incidents are shared in the rooms more often than we'd like to hear about. Sometimes, at regular meetings, when I see the chair once occupied by someone who is no longer seen for weeks on end, my heart sinks a little, especially if I know they were already struggling or had relapsed previously. Sometimes folks never get back in. Which actually has me ponder this: what did the people at meetings I frequented in early sobriety think when I abruptly stopped showing up ? Did I worry anyone ? I didn't bother to talk to very many people, often hiding out. And yet, we all keep an "eye" on the folks in the rooms, especially the quiet ones and the ones who show up late and leave early like I used to.

After the meeting, 2 mutual friends of the one who has retreated spoke fearfully about: "What should we do?" My response was simply: "What we can do is pray for him and let him know we're here for him.  The rest is between he and God."   AA is not a program of rescue or recruitment;  it is a program of attraction.  Part of the attraction involves wanting what others have,  a willingness,  and,  ultimately,  surrender.   The recognition and stark reality that many folks will not "get" this program is written about in the Big Book.  That's why I so appreciate at the end of a lot of AA meetings I go to, just before  the Serenity or Lord's Prayer,  this statement is made : "Let's have a moment of silence for those still sick and suffering in and out of the rooms..."

The other "myth" that these friends revealed in our discussion was this: "He's so intelligent, he KNOWS better ... why is he doing this?" Intelligence has nothing to do with recovery, that is for sure. The brightest of us die from this disease with just as much frequency as the "skid row bums". Alcoholism does not discriminate or play favorites. When we are sick, it is the addiction that convinces us it is in charge and that it knows what's best for us. Intelligence is no longer a factor.

Step work and meetings and talking with a sponsor and other members are the best defenses for relapse. I understand this now more than ever.  While I did not "relapse"  in the sense of taking a drink during the 16 and a half years out of the rooms,   I surely experienced emotional/psychological relapse,  all tools tossed by the wayside,  just an arms' length away from that next drink.    Suffering is also optional. Recovery does involve being in one's life to feel feelings, to really sit with them and not try to escape or avoid or numb or destroy them. Relapse is the very opposite. There is urgency in relapse. There is an inability to tolerate life as it is. The shouting of the disease muffles the whisper of God in relapse. Not to mention it blindfolds us and spins us around a few times until we have no idea what direction we're headed in. 

The passage of my teacher that I opened up to this morning has,  as always,  Divine alignment with this very subject:    "It is impossible not to walk to heaven or be pushed toward heaven or be kicked toward heaven while here on this earth.   The greatest teacher is life itself ...   Of course we don't always trust life.   Life has hurt us.  It can be unpredictable, changing course when we least expect - or desire - it.  But the more we trust what life brings us on a daily basis,  the more the mystery of life reveals itself, until, finally we are life itself."

Relating to this passage,  relapse is about not trusting life,  because we believe life has hurt us.   This is the victimized,  unhealed ego-driven,  small wounded self-centered place that we alcoholics justify taking a drink over.   Mystery is too dangerous and far too unpredictable a place to hang out in,  so what do we do instead?   We convince ourselves that the land of alcohol will be soothing and safe and then take a nosedive into the cavern of  addiction,  an even more treacherous place !

Unfortunately, it appears that this is where my friend has fallen and I will continue to pray for his ability to get back up.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Happy Birthday, Dad

Where's The Party?
Originally uploaded by Ronaldo F Cabuhat

My father, if he were still alive, would have been celebrating his 80th today.

It is hard to imagine him arriving to that age, given the damage done to his body and his psyche by alcohol. Had he continued to live, I am guessing it would have been frought with many hospitalizations, perhaps even being in a nursing home. He would've been more miserable than he already was. There is no question that the time of his passing -- just right for him.

Today is also the birthday of my nephew -- my sister's oldest child. He is now a father himself. Younger than my father was before he ever had children enter his life.

My father never liked birthdays. Celebrations of any kind, for that matter. "Why make such a fuss? It's just another day" was a phrase he often said on these occasions. I often wonder if there was ever a time that his birthday was a happy one ? My mother says that when they dated, before he went off to the ranks of the Marines to fight for his country, my father was "happy go-lucky". It is a version of my father that I never saw, can't even conjure up. It is the image, however, I am hoping is true for him on his 80th birthday, somewhere in the ethers of the heavens.

War and the terrors of war change people permanently. The Korean War stripped my father of "happy go-luckiness" and replaced it with "bitter-to-the-boneness". No more dancing, no more dressing-to-the-nines, complete with fancy cufflinks, no more smiles. Work at the steel mill, put food on your family's table, drown the haunting war images nightly in lots of beer, pass out, and wake up to do it all over again. This was my father's existence.

There was one thing, however, that I can say brought my father a millimeter of pleasure: doing puzzles. On weekends, before he got too blasted to see the pieces, he had a card table in the livingroom designated for puzzles. You didn't disturb him nor were you invited to participate. This was HIS to treasure -- for as much as he had the capacity to treasure something. As an adult, every year on his birthday, I bought him a puzzle. I tried to get really challenging ones to stimulate his mind. His response when he'd unwrap one was usually: "Oh, look at this one." That was about as much excitement as he could muster up and it was, for him, excitement.

So, Happy Birthday, Dad. I hope there's a card table wherever you are hanging out and that you are finding all the puzzle pieces -- perhaps you will have found some of the missing ones that will help you make sense of the life that didn't make sense to you while on earth.

And maybe, just maybe, you are dancing. Or fishing. Or all of the above and more.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Learning to fly ...

Golden wings
Originally uploaded by Giancarlo Scordo

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting
for this moment to arise ...
~ Beatles

As a kid, I had regular dreams of flying. They were quite exhilarating. I would "take off" by running really hard, then was suddenly propelled into the air, I would soar and look around and swoop and dive, and then when I was ready to land (this was always the scary part of the dream), I would be plummeting toward the ground, heart-racing, and then miraculously land right on my two feet and walk away. I probably had this very same dream over the course of 5-6 years, multiple times a year. And around age 12 or so, the dreams ceased along with my innocence about the world.

These flying dreams, looking back, felt like they represented what was possible. That I could travel anywhere my wings could take me and that the sky was full of limitless possibility, and, no matter if I fell, I would land on my feet. This has the feeling of the first glimpses of my Future Self making a formal appearance in my life.

By my late teens, "flight" was no longer about adventure and exploration, but rather it was about running away and escaping from the painful reality of life as I knew it. Alcohol was my pilot.

Something that alcoholics share in meetings quite often is that the allure of the liquor was for the effect ... it provided the illusory experience that all pain and discomfort was instantly obliterated and that one had extraordinary capabilities that defied odds, even gravity.
And then, when you are beaten down by the catastrophic and progressive deterioration of the booze, you eventually wake up to see that you are not the superhero you once believed you were and that, in fact, you are crawling on your belly to the toilet, begging for God's mercy to get you through the day and that you'll never do this again, just barely human.

The program of AA helps us mend our broken wings and teaches us how to fly again.

We alcoholics are a socially awkward lot without our booze-induced personalities. Not to mention the fact that once we put the bottles down, we are in the infancy stage of learning a lot of things -- some that simply declined due to our substance abuse and other things that we never learned at all. Like how to speak in public. Eat in a restaurant alone. Balance a checkbook and pay bills. Talk to people at a social gathering. Express feelings openly. Share a difficulty with another human. Ask for help. Admit being wrong. Make a sincere apology. Be present for a friend in need. Get to places on time. Keep promises. Be trustworthy.

I learned how to do some of these things right after getting sober; however, I didn't truly learn how to do many of these things until the past couple of years. And a few, just in the past 6 months. Very humbling to acknowledge this out loud.

I had a chance to observe how I've learned to "fly" in the following experience: this afternoon, I went to see musician friends playing a gig at a small bar in a quaint town that I adore. I went to this event alone, as 2 friends I was to meet up with there canceled at the last minute. I wanted to keep my promise to my musician friends by still attending and I had pre-ordered a ticket. As I entered the raucus room they were playing in, it was filled with people partying, primarily lesbian couples, seated in groups. Beer bottles and shot glasses adorned the tables. I walked confidently into the room and found the partner of one of my musician friends and was introduced to a number of women, all of whom were rowdy and quite buzzed. I received them without too much judgment, as I rode out waves of both transference and flashbacks of my past drunken hazes. I was gracious and kind with each woman I met. I sat at a small table by myself, close to the stage. I ordered a soda and a snack to nibble on. I took in the music and the energy and the liveliness of the crowd. It did not matter that I was there on my own; I moved rhythmically to the music, clapping and stomping my feet and singing aloud. I took photos of women sitting behind me and sang Happy Birthday to 2 others sitting on the other side of me. At the end of the gig, I invited myself to have dinner with both my musician friends and their partners. I did not feel like a "5th wheel" at all and enjoyed their company immensely. When I had "enough", I was direct about wanting to leave and get home to my dog. This felt both responsible and honest. These are the tools I've acquired along the way that I can practice in my daily affairs.

On my drive home, I talked with an AA friend and a Kabbalistic classmate. Like having air traffic controllers, keeping me company on my flight and checking my pattern and setting me up for landing.

Interestingly enough, just last night I had a spectacular and vivid dream that included flight. It was not the dream of my childhood by any stretch ... there was intensity and speed and heights like I had never felt or traversed before. The dream was filled with possibility and aliveness ... some themes appearing now in my life.

My Future Self makes an appearance once again, as I am learning to fly ...

Friday, March 5, 2010


Nature's beads
Originally uploaded by play4smee

"Gratefulness is the heart of a well-lived life."
~ Jason Shulman

I have understood gratitude from an intellectual place for quite some time, yet have only recently understood what it means to really feel grateful from a place of FULLNESS in myself, in my heart, with, as shared yesterday with my healer -- BOTH feet in my life.

In my teacher's passage where the quote above originates, he speaks about the human ego not ever being a mistake of God's creation but rather, when it is integrated and healed, it becomes the best vehicle for feeling gratefulness - the central aspect of our being.

I shared with my healer yesterday that for truly the very first time, as I really am in the fullness of my life, I am experiencing such clear sight and deep levels of gratitude for exactly what is here in my life, which includes the people in my daily life -- some of whom I have known for quite some time and yet am experiencing them in a WHOLE way and with much more appreciation. And the reason that this is happening has nothing to do with them or what they're doing or how they're changing or not changing; it is about my being fully present to take them in - all of them - and from this place, I am really seeing them and feel the love and the appreciation I have for them in my life.

My healer explained to me that a significant part of the healing that is happening for me in this process is that I am allowing myself to feel pleasure -- fully, completely, abundantly. The message from my childhood had been this: "You can't experience too much pleasure, because it will be taken away from you." Healing this is helping me to not only experience my worth, but to savor and delight in my life and all that is in my life.

"Woe is me" was a nega aspect of my life, an entire identity that was formed, resulting from this childhood message of you will lose things and things will be taken away from you. Seeing myself as a victim of everything and everyone set the stage for creating experiences, holographically, of being taken advantage of, loss, worthlessness, devaluing, unable to be met, not feeling loved. "Woe is me" was also necessary in order to know the full experience of gratefulness. Each needs the other to exist. Too much of one, on the other hand, does not make for a balanced life.

I realize now how hard it was to experience gratefulness while I was still wallowing in "Woe is me". I had glimpses of gratitude -- it certainly looked like a good thing and a nice way to feel -- but I couldn't sustain or hold onto this feeling because I was worrying about what I was missing or what I would be losing or how I would inevitably be abandoned or rejected. I wore the guise of gratefulness and what it was covering up was the bubbling fears of "Trouble's just around the corner." Operating like this was having just a big toe in my life, while the rest of my body was cowering and bracing for the inevitable doom and gloom to come.

I smile when I think about the people in the rooms of AA who are revered and respected that introduce themselves as a "grateful recovering alcoholic". They are embracing the whole of who they are, which includes both their recovery and their alcoholism. I never truly understood people identifying themselves in that way before until this very moment. What an incredible statement of one's acceptance of their FULL selves.

I have many of these statements I can make now:

I am a grateful recovering victim.

I am a grateful recovering adopted person.

I am a grateful recovering alcoholic.

I am a grateful recovering dishonest and selfish individual.

I am a grateful recovering co-dependent.

I am a grateful recovering adult child of an alcoholic.

I am a grateful recovering financially irresponsible person.

I am a woman who is experiencing grateFULLness.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

God of Our Understanding

Second Beach Slipping into the Night
Originally uploaded by Fort Photo

The speaker at my home group meeting last night is someone who I am riveted to any time I have heard him share in the rooms. His story did not disappoint. He started out saying: "I'm not going to tell the 'bottle' story - we all got here for the same reason; I'm going to tell you how I stay sober."

The most significant message from his sharing was the power of this program for every individual person who comes into AA and experiences the "God of Our Understanding". This is the pivotal moment of Step 3. It is, this speaker shared, " the chance for each one of us to have direct and conscious contact with the "force" that is present every time you step foot into an AA meeting." And it only has to be what WE understand that force to be: the God of our religion or the God of all things; the Creator; a Higher Power; the Universe; the Almighty; Allah; Elohim; the Goddess; Mother Nature; the AA fellowship. We each will have a different view and perspective and understanding AND yet, we will ALL experience the power of being in this presence that is bigger than ourselves.

The electricity in the room when he was done speaking was palpable and alive. It was if his story-telling opened up a direct God-portal which all of us entered into.  As a person having this experience, I felt this Divine energetic presence woven in the tapestry of the room -- like strands of DNA coiling around everyone and everything. It was so so real AND magical at the same time. As in the Kabbalistic MAGI phrases which follow one another:
God is the ground.
Once on the ground, God is in the air, everywhere.

After the meeting, quite uncharacteristically so, dozens of us were chatting, feeling full and energized, in the parking lot long after the meeting was over. Clusters of people were gathered who would not normally be joined -- any aspect of what keeps us separate, even among members in the same AA room had evaporated. It was a glorious sight to behold under the night's blanket of whispy clouds and a few sprinkling raindrops.

And then, as I began my morning, my teacher's passage becomes that much more illuminated after this experience last night. It goes like this:

"You are God's only child in a universe filled with only children. In the vast impersonal universe, someone is looking at you. Though you know somewhere within yourself that you are a temporary thing, soon to vanish in a cloud-chamber trail, someone is looking at you as if you were the most beautiful thing in the world."

And he goes on to finish, with this incredible line which captures our meeting's parking lot bliss: "When personal and impersonal disappear, what is left is God's eternal conversation among the stars."

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. There are no more words left, just a choir in my heart.