Monday, July 26, 2010

Holy Crap

Taking a dump.
Originally uploaded by Aaron Van Dike | |

"When we have no territory to defend, God rushes in to where God always was. This is a paradox we understand only as we embrace life fully."
~ Jason Shulman

The meat of this seed passage goes on to say: "How can you choose to let go without giving up your own integrity? How can you stand up for yourself and still remain open to all possiblities?" Jason closes this by reminding us that we simply are not defending our own existence and that, if we consciously choose to do this, it will become our own, private holy day.

I know that when I am in a place of defensiveness or resistance and am not letting go, I literally "hold" it in my body in some way. Reading this passage this morning and then having it milling around my being for the day, I became increasingly aware that I was experiencing tremendous pain and constipation. There was stuff in me that just wouldn't come out ! That is, until I went to an AA Big Book meeting tonight and could feel more deeply the places in which I defend and where I don't let go, as it pertains to self will and trusting my Higher Power -- God. Waking up to some insights during this meeting, prompted me driving home speedily because what was "blocked" inside was getting ready to explode ! It was the sweetest (and perhaps smelliest) release -- HOLY crap.

I understood tonight during this meeting that my self will is just as insidious, if not more so, than my alcoholic drinking was. It not only finds me trying to manipulate and control my circumstances, but I also, as Jason points out in the passage, defend myself multiple times daily, which is an act of repeatedly claiming a place for myself or my actions which involves taking my will back.

So I did what Jason suggested which was to name each time I caught myself in the act of defending. Here's the score card from today's match of K versus the world:
- Defending my busy schedule to a friend who wanted to make plans
- Defending my ability to know what is best for my dog with someone who had a different opinion about her care
- Defending my side of the sidewalk when someone with 2 large dogs had to squeeze by me and my little dog
- Defending my choice for a topic today in a group when members wanted to discuss something else
- Defending my position about what was best for a client when a person in authority had a different perspective
- Defending my reasons for why I hadn't been at this particular Monday night Big Book when a member began to playfully tease me

As I ran through this list during and after tonight's meeting, I relaxed into letting go (and then REALLY let go in the toilet once home !) The idea that, in each scenario that transpired today, I could still in some cases claim a stance AND I did not have to do so in order to defend my existence. As an example, with the friend who was like a pitbull trying to find an opening in my schedule for us to possibly get together and me defending at every entry way, I could have simply replied: "It feels like you are really missing spending time together. My schedule is what it is for today. I would love to make a plan with you in the coming week."

It is incredibly exhausting to have a day filled with defending and explaining and claiming and taking one's will back. Not all of my days are like this and thankfully, I am awake and open to noticing when I am holding on and need to let go.

It's one of my favorite slogans in AA: "Let go and Let God". This is Step 3 -- as the speaker said tonight -- the "feel good" step. When you practice it, you feel good. I really get it.

And, after my bathroom spiritual awakening, I feel much better having lightened the "load" .

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Celebration and Suffering

Happy and sad fingers
Originally uploaded by zamburak

An invaluable gift of non-dual healing is that the world is no longer, for me, viewed as " This versus That" ; "All or Nothing"; it can now be seen from the places of "And this too"; "Everything has a place"; "This AND That ".

What I have come to discover in my personal house is that a room can be filled with celebration, while another one right next door can be occupied with suffering. And neither one has to be evicted.

For a great many years, however, during my alcoholic drinking, I believed that I was hanging out only in the room of celebration and that life was one big party. The truth is that I actually lived most of that time period in a small corner of the room of suffering and the booze deluded my brain into thinking life was grand. When I stopped drinking and immersed myself into an unhealthy relationship complete with care-taking, bullying, addictions of all kinds and resentments, I made suffering into one of those junk drawers or closets that rarely sees the light of day. There was not true celebration but rather "happy face" was the outer covering feigned for company and everything was about the main foyer having a neat and tidy appearance.

This past week, in particular, I experienced the exhuberance of celebration in my work/career path while simultaneously being steeped in the suffering of multiple losses -- supporting a grieving staff who lost a client with mental illness in a heat-related death; an AA friend who died from a drowning accident; my other dog who resided with my ex and was put to rest a few days ago. Neither set of experiences required me to cancel out the other nor did they find me polarized to one end of the feeling spectrum.

Living non-dually in a world that is filled wth opposites allows for this all to be possible. My house comes to life because of its many and varied rooms -- all of which are open and visible, some cluttered and others neater, some occupied more and some less, yet no room is off-limits. My house is a work in progress. And I like residing here.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Wide Awake ...

Wide awake....
Originally uploaded by pippy & timmy

"Our goal is to shatter and not shatter at the same time. To be awake in the dissociative state."
~ Jason Shulman

On Tuesday night of this week, I shared some of my recovery story at a women's prison. This type of experience is not only humbling, but is a sobering wake-up call. I was aware, as I looked around this small room with women in colored uniforms and I in my street clothes, that I was just a choice or two away from sitting on the other side of the locked door and having one of them as a cell mate. I shared with these women that the easy part of sobriety for me was putting the bottle down and that the far more difficult task was to live soberly.
This was, interestingly enough, the theme of an old timers meeting that I attended last evening : emotional sobriety.

I have had events just today that, in the past, I would've gotten obliterated over. The difference is that I trust myself and I choose to show up in my life. I am committed to being in reality. It is what I am made of.

Just ten minutes before I was to enter the funeral service of my friend in AA, I received a call from my ex. She had made the decision today to put our other dog to sleep. It was the right thing to do. When we spoke, I felt nothing but tenderness and compassion for her. I fully understood how difficult this experience was for her and, simultaneously, I could feel my own separateness and distance from the actual situation. I had not had a relationship with her or the dog in 4 years. I felt the grief place in me that was a composite of all of the sum total of losses up to this point and it was not as deeply personal for me as it was for her.

The funeral was incredibly moving. Almost 300 in attendance it seemed. Standing room only, with people outside the entrances. Probably half of all of the attendees were members of our AA community. I was overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and fellowship and with sorrow in seeing the 3 adult children and 2 grandchildren who were devastated by her sudden death. We sang hymns and heard prayers that were part of my ex's father's service. I felt my missing of him as the Prayer of St. Francis was read and how this has become such an important passage in my recovery literature. The tears freely streamed down my face when my friend's daughter sang "Amazing Grace" accapella, fending off her own breakdown in the middle of it. The countless AA members who filled the pews wth arms draped around one another despite the humid temperatures was a heart-opening sight.

And here's the cool part: I didn't want to miss a thing. In each moment of today's unfolding events, I wanted to be in it, feel and see and sniff it in. I wanted to be up close and in the face of my life.
Emotional sobriety, for me, is being present for the kinds of interactions and events - like today - that I would normally avoid, have an excuse to not be around for, or check out in some way.

Before any of these events occurred today, I was finishing Tara Brach's "Radical Acceptance" book on the train back home from a lunch meeting. I was filled up with emotion reading a poem she included in the last chapter by David Whyte; it captures so eloquently some of the experiences I had today in honoring the passing of these cherished lives.

Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief
turning downward through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe
will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,
nor find in the darkness glimmering
the small round coins
thrown by those who wished for something else.

This, to me, is about being wide awake ...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

In grief, we are all the same ...

Hands group
Originally uploaded by SHRCC

Death is becoming more a regular part of the cycle of life in my world as of late. Two AA members, a former client, soon-to-be among them my former dog. All of this in just a 3 week period.

Yesterday afternoon, I was asked to facilitate a group with the staff and roommates of a former client of mine who died a week ago. He was doing a trial run of living independently by staying wth some friends, also people with Schizophrenia; during a heat wave, these guys did not have air conditioners. Nor did they have any fans. Their ability to rationally deal with the heat came down to closing all the windows in their house. Two were found dead after several days, from complications of the heat.

Entering this situation, I was already feeling the heaviness of getting the news the night before of a friend in AA who had died over the weekend. I did not know what I was going to do for this group, given the weightedness of my own heart. Before I went there, I prayed and asked God for guidance to help me channel what would be of use to this group who were, like me. grieving.

Upon arriving to the group home, I was told that the air conditioner was not working in the meeting room and that everyone had gathered outside in the backyard, under the gazebo. This already felt like God's work in action -- to be touching the earth and surrounded by the sky and the trees was simply perfect. Two of the residents with mental illness came up to me and nervously asked: "Hey lady, what do you have planned for us today?" I smiled and replied: "I don't really know. What did YOU imagine the day would look like?" One man eagerly said: " I want to tell stories about J and our time with him." I couldn't have thought of a better way to begin and so we did.

The stories were funny and poignant and sad and alive. You could feel our deceased friend's spirit there -- as several people actually named aloud that this was their experience. As I scanned the large circle, there was such diversity among us: people with mental illness and people who were paid to care for them; administrators; case managers; therapists; all ethnic backgrounds and ages; some with lots of education and others with incredible street smarts.
In grief, however, we are all the same. We feel loss and separation and sadness and a longing for the one who is gone to return. This too was expressed among the group members. People cried openly, men and women, and tissues were abound. Some staff were comforted by their co-workers who put a loving arm around them or an outstretched hand for them to hold. There was no judgment about how people shared or the fact that some of the folks with mental illness said the same things twice or said things that were about another subject --- everyone was allowed to show up as they are.

All I did in this session was hold a space, recognizing that there was nothing to do but allow the process to unfold and meet each moment. At the end, when no words were left, I asked how they wanted to close; a resident quickly raised his hand and said he wanted to say a prayer. We all stood, hand in hand, heads bowed and he led us in the best way he could. And it was beautiful.

I hugged nearly every person before I left and they, in turn, hugged one another. God was present in every way possible. I was reminded about the power of asking for God's help and saw the rewards right in front of my eyes. I felt like in my own surrendering to my own powerlessness and the recognition of my own grief allowed me to step out of the way and to let God in to do his job.

Driving home, I felt my own container stretched to its limits. Thankfully, I had a healing exchange already set up in advance with a classmate. It was only 15 minutes into our exchange when I let myself, literally and figuratively, collapse into her healing arms. I tearfully understood that I did not have to do all the holding and that I could ask to be held -- just as I watched some of the people today lean into others when they could not do that for themselves. It was liberating and tender. I allowed myself to fully receive nurturing in a way that was a complete and conscious letting go. Afterwards, the weight around my heart was lifted.

When we have loss, we want to be comforted and reassured and held in some way. We want to know that we are not alone in the experience. We want to know that it is okay to feel our smallness and our humanness and our own tender heart.

In grief, we are all the same ...

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Originally uploaded by n.elle

In my non-dual healing practice of Impersonal Movement this morning, I went deeply into the aspect of the work in which I was dropped in and seeing from the heart. In this place, a vasana arose quite clearly: "This will all be gone." I was not aware during this moment of being a separate me in the space I was practicing or in the larger space of the world. The statement brought to my awareness aspects of the room I was in that would no longer be there, then aspects of the house I was in that would no longer be there, then aspects of the community I live that would no longer be there, then aspects of nature and of countries and of the galaxy that would no longer be there. When I had "enough" in terms of following these threads of impermanence, I simply stopped the practice. I did not have a personal reaction to what I just experienced, but rather a long-view as if looking at the passage of time through a telescopic lens.

This evening, impermanence was brought directly into my stream of consciousness as I learned that a beloved woman in my local AA community had drowned yesterday while swimming in the ocean at her shore home. "This will all be gone" took on new meaning. It could be seen and felt in the empty chair in the front row of the meeting. The void in that space was palpable. This vasana occupied the sullen and tear-streamed faces around the room. In this moment in time, it moved from the impersonal to the personal and eventually, back to the impersonal again.

The Buddha's teachings had particular emphasis on the importance of accepting impermanence as in integral part of the life cycle. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, made this profound statement: "If you suffer, it is not because you believe things are impermanent. It is because you believe things are permanent." Change is inevitable; suffering, as the Buddha taught, is optional.

Driving back home from the meeting tonight, with this news still lingering, I pulled the car over to stand under the gorgeous moonlight. I thought about this woman, someone I could call a friend and what I recalled about the last time I saw her. She and I had coffee together after a meeting. She showed me pictures on her phone of her grandchildren, who she said were "her heart". She spoke about looking forward to her time at the shore. I was aware how much she loved to be by the sea. What a beautiful and cruel paradox: the very thing she longed to be near would the very thing that would take her life.

As I let that understanding settle in me under the night sky, I felt a shift to the impersonal. Some stars that I was gazing at will be gone someday. As will the trees. And the flowers. And the houses. And the people in the houses. And other people in AA. And my loved ones. And me too.

Life and death are in relationship and one cannot exist without the other. Impermanence allows for possibility, for new doors to open. The passing of my friend will help me appreciate the preciousness of my life, here and now. To not take time or moments or interactions for granted. To savor the blessing of being alive.

Thank you for these unexpected gifts, J. May you find a new home in the waters you so loved.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

I am Responsible ...

In Buddha's hand
Originally uploaded by Nicolas de Fontenay

I am responsible.
When anyone, anywhere
reaches out for help
I want the hand of AA
to always be there.
And for that,
I am responsible.

This is a statement that is infrequently read at AA meetings. It is, in many regards, the essential message of Step 12. It is a statement not just about the personal hand extended but the impersonal, larger, fellowship hand of the AA community as a whole and what we represent.

I was not supposed to be at this morning's meeting, as I was scheduled to give a workshop. Due to unforseen circumstances, the workshop was canceled and off I went to the meeting instead. By the end of this meeting, it was clear that I was absolutely meant to be exactly where I was. A dear friend, someone for whom I have prayed to return to the rooms after many months of isolation and alcohol/drug use, was sitting at the back of the room, just 3 days clean and sober. His was the most beautiful face in the room. After we embraced and walked out to the parking lot, he shared about where this last run had taken him to in terms of unmanageability and morally corrupt behavior. He has come to understand that at the root of his use is self-loathing fueled by a litany of resentments. He's never truly had a comfort level in working with straight male sponsors as an openly gay man for fear of judgment and subsequent shame. With great sincerity in his eyes, he asked if I would consider working on the Steps with him as a "bridge" , if you will, to acquiring a full time sponsor with whom he could feel safe. There was no hestitation for me; I agreed immediately. This is what the 12th Step is about and what the "I am Responsible" statement is asking of each of us.

He and I will meet tomorrow over coffee and begin with Step 1.

When we pray for those still sick and suffering in and out of the rooms, my friend has always been at the forefront of my mind and my prayers. What a blessing to have my training canceled and to understand that there is a plan for me that is not mine to control, but is God's map for my day.  I only have to ever trust and align my will with this power greater than myself to reap the rewards.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Live and Let Live ...

NASHIK - Meditation
Originally uploaded by Elishams

The topic of our women's AA meeting tonight was from the vignette in the Living Sober book, "Live and Let Live" -- also a common slogan in the recovery rooms.

Many members shared about difficult relationship circumstances and how practicing this can help set boundaries and not get sucked into drama and some of the other pitfalls of co-dependent and otherwise unhealthy dynamics with another human being.

I did not share this evening; I had an intention to sit and listen attentively. What I was aware of for a good portion of the meeting was how I sat in judgment of a particular member as her child made noise and frolicked and how this member needed to get up multiple times to manage the situation. I felt irritated and distracted. I rode the waves of this out. I even laughed to myself as I became aware of these feelings, as it was the perfect teaching moment on the subject of "live and let live". There was simply nothing to do or say about the situation. I began to soften as I caught myself.

An even more poignant lesson was the fact that this member was the last person to share. She spoke, from a very shameful place, of her need to be at meetings and her frustration in not being a good mother and how much she is struggling trying to juggle listening and taking in what is happening in meetings while trying to have a handle on her daughter. My heart began to open even wider in this moment. All previous criticisms I had about the earlier events involving the little girl and her mother melted away.

Live and let live is about dropping the judgments and expectations I have of people and situations and moving into acceptance of difference. I realize that sometimes I might only be able to muster up being tolerant. It may take the form of restraint of pen and tongue. It may involve being quietly patient while riding waves of irritation. If I work diligently at this slogan, I will be able to find plenty of space within my relational field for others to freely express and present and be exactly as they are and still have plenty of room for me to do the same. Live and let live helps me loosen rigid boundaries and not have to cut others out because their way of being will encroach and potentially threaten my  little corner of the world.

Live and let live does not mean that people walk all over me either. Unacceptable or harmful behavior of others may still occur; practicing the slogan allows me to step back or even walk away so that I am not trying to control what others are doing, while simultaneously I don't have to participate or be affected.

Even more importantly is the fact that this slogan has 2 distinct parts:   1)  Live.   2)  Let Live.  
I've been exploring all the ways that I can be in the world with others'  behaviors,  personalities, quirks,  defects and "let live".     I need to pay careful attention,  however,  to part 1 ...  Live.    This reminds me about living fully,  individually,   with clear boundaries for myself.   To enjoy and embrace and bask in the activities of my life in spite of others,  regardless of how others are behaving or reacting.   That I don't have to be deterred from the pleasure of  living my life when others are not engaging or doing things that I had hoped or wished for.   I need to live my life no matter what is going on around me.   This is such an empowering awareness.

Live and let live, ultimately, is about freedom. All that is here has a place and a right to exist.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Someday ...

Mari & Diti
Originally uploaded by Stefan Gabriel

Maybe, someday
We'll figure all this out
Try to put an end to all our doubt
Try to find a way to make things better now
Maybe, someday
We'll live our lives out loud
We'll be better off somehow
Someday ...
~ Rob Thomas

A couple of months ago, I posted an entry titled: "Reality Check" - about the evolution of the relationship that I am in with a woman I love.

Since then, there have been several revolutions to our evolution:

- Stating our YES's and our NO's
- Saying "I don't know"
- Facing the fact of life and death -- no guarantees

These turns of the wheel have created openings for a more spacious reality to emerge:
She, from her own volition-desire, wants to be with me. I, from a resounding Yes in my interior, want to be with her. There is an expressed intention to be together.

This is no longer a matter of IF, but rather WHEN.

There is not an urgency or pressure, just simply an awareness that there is more unfolding to occur.

Someday ...

Monday, July 12, 2010

Plunging into Ecstasy ...

Rory Quinn
Originally uploaded by kindalikeyou

"Ecstasy is not something separate from fear. Ecstasy is something that includes fear in the price of being human."
~ Jason Shulman

The American Heritage Dictionary offers 3 meanings for ecstasy:
1) Intense joy or delight.
2) A state of emotion so intense that one is carried beyond rational thought and self-control: an ecstasy of rage.
3) The trance, frenzy, or rapture associated with mystic or prophetic exaltation.

Its origin is from the Latin word for "terror".

I, like perhaps many others, have only considered the first, more upbeat, definition for ecstasy. Which is why I have spent several days on my teacher's passage above and could not make the connection to fear coupled with ecstasy. As I see that the meaning is not limited to intense joy and includes emotion beyond the rational and trance and terror, I am standing at attention with eyes wide open.

Jason goes on to say in this passage about ecstasy the following:
"Don't be afraid, my friend,
of anything for too long a time.
God is in the middle of darkness,
just as darkness is in the middle of the Divine."

I understand in this moment that I have experienced being ecstatically irrational, frenzied and in terror. I just thought it was plain old crazy. And, as Jason states, we don't have to be afraid of anything for too long a time, just as the timeless quote goes: "This too shall pass."

What I am aware of now that I was not before is that God is in the middle of manic-like excitement and passion, right in the throws of thinking we're going mad or surely about to die or even when we believe our world will crumble apart. Ecstasy INCLUDES fear. This offers yet another window into the MAGI process phrase: "There are sunlit roads woven in the dark places. Both are needed."

When I had, what I considered at the time to be, debilitating panic attacks in my early 20's, I had absolutely no sense of God or anything remotely Divine being present amid the terror of impending doom. I was convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I was either going insane or about to die. So frightened I was, that I doused these intolerable feelings with large quantities of alcohol. It would soon become a vicious cycle that grew into full blown alcoholism, not knowing truly which came first -- the panic or the bottle.

Since I have been sober, I have had perhaps 2 occurrences that resembled the former panic symptoms. One such instance resulted from an anxiety-type side effect of an antibiotic. In that moment of the onset of symptoms, I can look back now and say that God was surely present. So much so that I was "guided" to recognize that what was happening to me was medication-induced and allowed me the presence of mind to call the pharmacist. I was able to listen to the voice within -- what I know now is also God -- to remind myself that I was okay and that I was not going to die and that this would eventually pass. This event occurred during my second year of the non-dual healing program. While I didn't fully understand the Divine presence in that situation then, I surely do in this moment.

I venture to say that I will not look at the word ecstasy the same way ever again. Just as I continue to not see myself as the same person from one moment to the next.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Farewell Re-Visited ...

Originally uploaded by playzwifstonz

It is the nature of grace always to fill spaces that have been empty.
~ Goethe

The regal canine depicted above in her dogdom of wildflowers is Lansbury -- the first dog my ex and I acquired in our partnership. This photo was taken just 4 months before I would part from the two of them, taking our other dog, Iman, with me.

Two years ago, it appeared that Lansbury was on her last legs and I went to say a very tearful goodbye. The stubborn old girl, much like her other mother, has sunk her fangs into life up until just recently. I received a similar call this morning from my ex, only this time with a much more serious assessment and an emphasis on the fact that Lansbury's decline would likely be resulting in her being put down in the coming week or so. Sitting with the rightness of whether to make another farewell visit or not, the answer from within was a resounding yes that I should and I went directly over.

It was a healing time all the way around during this interaction at my former residence -- the house which my ex inherited from her parents after we buried them a month apart just 8 years ago. As I gently stroked the now quite fraile Lansbury, only 7 lbs and partially blind and deaf, my ex and I spoke about the many losses that have happened for her (and me too) over these past several years. After her parents, it was a co-worker and mutual friend of ours -- same cancer as her father died of. And then I left. She partnered with another woman for 2 years and then lost her to ovarian cancer -- just this past March, 1 month after her brother died. And now, we laid on the floor tenderly surrounding the next loved one to leave.

The magnitude of sadness and loss that was present today was larger than all of us and yet, it was for me both personal and impersonal. My heart was touched directly at certain moments and then I would experience "threads" of sadness/loss that permeated the atmosphere -- both vivid and alive in their dance around the room. This for sure is the by-product of my healing work and the non-dual practice of impersonal movement. I felt a great deal of compassion and open-heartedness for my ex, for Lansbury, for myself and all those who have gone before us.

Walking out the front door of my ex's today, civilly and without regret or anger or resentment, was wonderful to experience. It was such an honest visit, minus the historical baggage and willfull intent to take jabs at one another. And, this is also the truth: I have no desire to be in my ex's life. There is no emotion attached to that -- it really is just what it is. I feel space around my heart saying that out loud.

In my prayers over these next few days, I will ask God -- if it is in his will, to help Lansbury cross over as peacefully as possible. Not just for the little pooch's sake, but more so for the serenity of her other mother.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Easy as Coffee ...

Originally uploaded by α7lα dσичαツ

A revelation of sorts occurred in a conversation yesterday with a woman I love dearly :

In its simplest terms, life can be as easy as coffee.

We both enjoy this simple pleasure. In particular, she loves Dunkin Donuts coffee. A dark skim coffee with half a Splenda to be exact. To watch her get one, hold it and savor it is like watching someone at a 5 star restaurant getting the best meal on the menu. I, on the other hand, love grinding my own beans, making it in a French Press. Sheer heaven-in-a-cup in the morning. And, now that Dunkin Donuts has a dark roast iced coffee, I am a converted fan of this chain that is growing leaps and bounds over Starbucks (and markedly cheaper too !)

Our conversation revealed that we can be incredibly complicated creatures left up to our own devices. We make buffets from crumbs. We analyze our analyses. We tell ourselves certain stories repeatedly and hold them to be truth. We make assumptions. We project. We defend. We act out of fear lots of the time. Being engaged in any number of these mazes of craziness finds us missing the beauty of things, the simplicity and pleasure of them, of each other, of ourselves.

And here's the "sweetener"  from that conversation:  when you name just "what is",  fearlessly drop the old story lines,  be honest and direct with kindness and without qualifiers,  own your part outright --  an incredible thing happens ...  you're free.  And nothing bad happens afterwards.  In fact,  there's a whole lotta room and a whole lotta intimacy.    It's that easy.

Like enjoying your coffee.

Or as the man who spoke at my home group shared last evening about re-visiting the concept of time in his newfound sobriety at a rehab in India where you sat each day for an hour or so with the other patients and did absolutely nothing. No talking. No gestures. Just quiet. He told us that he never thought he could deeply appreciate something as simple as "15 minutes" , until he learned and understood that it was an actual "thing with a feel and quality" to be savored versus something missed, tossed away or lost - like in a blackout . Every second, every minute is precious.

My life can truly be simplified by remembering to do a few things each day:  when I wake up and before I go to sleep,  get on my knees and thank God for this day and for being alive and sober and ask that my will be aligned with God's plan for me. And don't pick up a drink under any circumstances. Meet each moment as it arrives and speak and live my truth.   Appreciate and be grateful and love whenever possible.

Easy as coffee ...

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Re-Awakening ...

Originally uploaded by @mands

"When we realize that we are fully capable of re-awakening from our habitual spiritual sleep, over and over again, then even failure, even blindness, is no impediment to being with God."
~ Jason Shulman

I have read and re-read this passage over the past few days. It has been working through me and in a particular set of interactions, sparked by my Friday night AA meeting and the first spiritual alarm clock that went off when I understood how my absences and not showing up are part of my 4th Step and even 7th Step defects of character.

Sunday night, I receive a total "surprise" email from a young man -- the son of a lesbian couple who I attempted to make amends to last summer and then they canceled. Many times I thought about picking up the phone or just dropping by and then avoiding the notion of having a potential awkward interaction. He wrote to me to tell me how much he missed me. And that he has grown 7 inches since we last saw one another a couple years ago. He included 3 youtube videos of his saxophone solos at his middle school and he captured his passion for playing jazz so eloquently that I would swear I was receiving a letter from an adult. Upon getting this email, I woke up again. God's handiwork in action. Whenever I have had a willingness, the situation presents itself.

I wrote him back immediately. I told him how moved I was by his email and how proud I was to see him playing his saxophone so beautifully. I apologized for my absence in his life as of late and that I also had to work through some things with the adults in his life.

Fast-forward to Monday night. Another unexpected email arrives and this one is from the partner of the mother whose son who wrote me. She shares that the young man's reaching out to me was the impetus for her to be forthcoming about the cancellation last summer and the distance before that. She shared how she was aware that she pushed me away from her partner and the kids. How my abruptly ending the relationship with my former partner jolted her world. It appeared that we had such a "perfect relationship" and then there was the incongruence of the break-up, the substance abuse, and she simply didn't trust me. She now understood that it was her own fears that this could happen in her own relationship and they got projected onto me. My jaw dropped in reading her honest disclosure. And understanding that it was not all me. Another awakening, another door open.

I write her back immediately. I tell her that I understand how difficult it must have been to see the appearance of what she thought to be true about my former relationship and then to discover that it was all a lie. I acknowledged my part in keeping up that facade and how in my healing work I now understood why that occurred and how each of us could not bear to be in the reality of the relationship.

I received an immediate, heartfelt response from her and then a phone call with an invitation to come back into their lives. She wants to surprise her partner first by having me just "show up" this weekend. And then, a gathering with the kids. We both experienced tears of great joy in the prospect of re-connection as well as how much we've missed one another.

We can indeed re-awaken over and over and over again. God is always waiting when we come out from under the covers.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Uncoiling the Next Layer ...

The Plug-Hole
Originally uploaded by ~~Tone~~

One of my non-dual healing practices is Impersonal Movement. Every Sunday, there is a small group of us that discusses what arises during our practice. Today, it was just one other classmate and I.

In my practice, as of late, when I get to the stage that involves something called "uncoiling the heart", I have felt a halting as I am digging, metaphorically speaking, through what feels like a dark hole in my heart. I am aware in the back of my mind that when I come to a particular layer in this hole, I cannot go any further. My classmate today helped me to understand that there is likely a vasana, or an impurity, that lies just beneath the surface where I stall and that it may be too scary or painful for me to uncover it.

As we talked for awhile, I began to relax into the experience of recalling each piece of the digging and then the halting. Quite effortlessly, a phrase arose which seemed to be the very one I've been fearful of unearthing: "Will there ever be an end to this sadness?" It took my breath away the very moment I uttered it. My classmate very gently said: "It feels like this is the vasana." We both knew it was.

My classmate encouraged me to stay and work with this phrase and to notice over the next day or so the ways in which the essence of this shows up in my world.

In this part of the practice, the appearance of the vasanas are about the larger scale suffering of the world -- its "incarnational baggage". To feel it personally means that I have not dropped into the true "impersonal" aspect of the practice.

After this very healing call with my classmate, I noticed a variety of shifts in and around me. I decided to go to the movies by myself. At the start, I felt a twinge of discontent in the background, a brief thought like: "Oh, look at you, going to the movies with all the gray hairs on the 4th of July , how sad". I let it live, then just as quickly, it left. I enjoyed my popcorn and most of the movie. Leaving the theater, I was to meet my AA sponsee for a bite to eat and then go to a meeting. On my way to the diner, she texted me to say that she could not meet me and that she was sorry. A variety of feelings rose up: disappointment, self-pity, loneliness. I drove home to walk my dog and then made a sandwich. As I sat at my dining room table, a wave of sadness came over me. I could feel myself simultaneously pushing it back. Within this were messages about being alone on the Holiday, missing the woman I love deeply and wondering how many other holidays will be spent apart,  thinking of my sponsor,  my mother and hundreds of women who keep at life without their spouse or partner. Giving them this place to be here again softened and opened my heart toward myself.

Then my feelings shifted to looking forward to my meeting and stopping to get an iced coffee on the way. I sang to music blaring on my car stereo and then greeted a number of friends and we set up chairs to hold the meeting outside in the courtyard. The speaker was amazing and the night was clear and gorgeous. I took in the entire experience through as many senses as possible. Afterwards, I joined several members for sweet treats at my favorite frozen custard stand and we sat outside to catch a few glimpses of the fireworks against the indigo blue night sky. As I sat taking all of this in, including the delicious creamy goodness in my styrofoam cup, another wave of sadness was pushing against my heart and the back of my throat. I could feel the dam about to burst. I politely excused myself so that I could let all of this flow.

No sooner did I get into my car, the tears erupted with tremendous force. I sobbed and sobbed and didn't know why I was actually crying and it didn't matter. This continued as I entered my apartment and I sat on my meditation pillow, holding a stone in my hand, and let the tears flow freely as I said the vasana aloud: "Will there ever be an end to this sadness?" I repeated it nearly 4 times. As quickly as the tears had come a half hour ago, they ceased in the very same way. It was just as my wise classmate had said to me earlier: "If you stay with this dark place, other space will open up."

It most certainly did.

I sit here now quite calm and clear-headed. While the sadness initially felt personal and I tried to make meaning of it, over the course of the night it became hugely impersonal. Like I was a conduit for this particular suffering of the world that I was tapping into.

It is now with anticipation and spaciousness, rather than hesitation and dread, that I will be uncoiling the next layer ...

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Step 5: Discerning fantasy versus reality

Pencil Vs Camera - 29
Originally uploaded by Ben Heine

Last night's AA meeting was focused on Step 5. The sharing was incredible and very raw and honest. The "meat" of this was that many of us, once we arrived at Steps 4 and then 5, realized that we had either carried as "truths" some of the lies we told for years during our drinking OR that we had many omissions that we needed to own up to (things we DIDN'T DO for others, ways we didn't show up).

The question on the table in this discussion for many of us was: "Did we know what was fantasy and what was reality once we met with another person to say aloud our 4th Step transgressions?"

I shared with the group that there were many stories I believed to be the truth during my years of drinking that I would later come to uncover never actually happened. Some were small things like having done something really daring that didn't really occur in the way I had told the story dozens of times. There was one serious lie that I held as honest-to-God truth --  even up until a year or more AFTER I stopped drinking. The story was that my brother made a suicide attempt at age 15. It was my 25th birthday approaching and I wanted to get out of work so that I could do an all-out drinking binge with former drinking buddies at the shore. I created this "family emergency" and even phoned in to my boss with fake reports. He must have heard how much I was slurred or possibly incoherent at times. I "got away" with being out of work for 5 days. It was approximately 1.5 years after I got sober that a friend from that time period asked how my brother was doing and this time around, he really wasn't okay. He had just had a psychiatric hospitalization due to a psychotic break. As I relayed this to her, it hit me that in the midst of this I became confused. I heard myself saying aloud: he's had YET ANOTHER psychiatric hospitalization and then, catching myself, recognizing that this was the actual FIRST one. I awkwardly back-tracked and stumbled and then finally "fessed up" to my friend that I had lied about his suicide attempt. I was deeply ashamed. Many friends who were not part of my 25th birthday drinking binge were also told the story - it was my excuse for being away. I never admitted this to my therapist or my therapy group in my newfound sobriety either. In fact, I completely forgot about this when I did my actual 5th Step with a woman from the rooms last summer. On the spot, as I was sharing last night, this 5th Step omission was done with the entire room. It was incredibly liberating.

After my sharing, there were MANY other lightbulb moment "confessions" in that room. One by one, members spoke of either how they have avoided doing the 5th Step because they didn't know what was true or not OR that they had truly believed many of the stories of their drinking days and held them as reality.

One member spoke about the equally damaging transgressions of hurting others because of what he DIDN'T DO. He was an at-home, isolated drunk. He missed countless birthdays, weddings and other family gatherings. He never looked at those in his original 4th Step. It wasn't until he had a new sponsor and re-visited this time period that he was able to see that his absence was just as harmful as having done something directly to another. That really opened my eyes because I was notorious for ducking out, avoiding, making excuses and simply being a "no-show" for important events. Even in my dry period. And I didn't capture these kinds of passive, inactive behaviors in my former 4th Step.


I got some more unpacking to do !

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Dyke Night @ the Shop Rite

who's she lookin at?
Originally uploaded by bbheart

On my way home from my favorite women's AA meeting on Thursday evenings, I often make a pit stop at the mother-of-all Shop Rites. I am likely to frequent this supermarket at least 3 of the 4 Thursdays each month. Never have I experienced the amount of lesbians per cubic foot in one enclosed space besides a Pride event than at the Shop Rite tonight ! This phenomenon, had I been given the honor to name it, would have been titled: "50 and Over Dyke Night Supermarket Extravaganza" .

Clearly I missed the flyer and email about this, as well I should being 2 years shy of the Big 5 -0. Perhaps this event was sponsored by the AARP ?

I am not exaggerating when I say that practically every other aisle of the Shop Rite was swarming with bumbledykes, let loose from the gay hive, buzzing about in search of the queenbee in hopes of tasting the sweet nectar, wink-wink ...

There were mostly single dykes and a few couples. I hate to indulge in type casting, but I can't help myself. There is something about this particular generation of lesbians ( thankfully I missed the cut off) and their lack of fashion sense. Let me paint the caricature from head to toe: cropped hair, primarily clipper cut sides and back; devoid of any jewelry, including earrings; warm weather: plaid short sleeve men's shirt/ cold weather: flannel shirt (Note: shirt is usually NOT tucked in); straight-leg, light blue denim jeans with a baggy ass, like Lee or Wrangler; sensible flat shoes or sneakers. Usually chubby. If in a couple: uncanningly looks and dresses like their other half.

A couple of these suave gay senior-ritas cruised me. Mostly in the produce section. I think it may have been the way I fondled the bananas and peaches as I placed them into my oversized plastic baggie. Purrrrrr.

It is my intention, as I proclaim this out loud to the Universe, that I do not succumb to the tragic decline in appearance when I cross that 50 year mark. I want to feel and exude sensuality. I want to still be considered "sexy" and "hot". I want to able to get away with wearing some hip items like low-waisted jeans. I want to embrace my salt and pepper hair yet have it styled and not look like I put a bowl on my head !

Dyke Night @ the Shop Rite. Can't say that I'd go back -- not much in the way of bargains or sales for the likes of this shopper !

A Path of Aliveness ...

Hugging the NW corridor of the city I live in is a treasure-trove of greenery and trees -- a well-maintained park that has multiple entrances.  Instead of doing a drive-by on my bike,  I wanted to luxuriate in the woods,  digging my heels in and meeting all forms of life. 

The people that roam the park come in all shapes, sizes, ages, and athletic abilities -- ranging from hard-core long distance runners and mountain bikers to those who simply want to stroll and get some fresh air.   I discovered something about myself and about people in general on my path today:   authentically smiling to connect to people passing by,  even really focused or grouchy or engrossed ones,  almost always is met with a smile in return.  In the past when my interior and exterior had a very severed cord,  my smile reached out to grab and intrude on others and,  I would venture to guess,  was off-putting and intimidating.   My smile today begins in the roots of my legs,  making its ascent through my solar plexus,  radiating around my heart,  then bubbling up like a small fountain across the muscles in my face and around my eyes.   I am aware of how it travels and then meets people where they are now.    I felt each movement with every person I passed this morning and it was really incredible to experience the intricacies of this simple act.

Here are some gorgeous sights along this path of aliveness ...

The water is a constant companion on nearly every trail of this park.  It is as soothing to me as holding the hand of someone I love.

These towering beauties lovingly hover over all the trails
creating a container of shade and serenity for all. 

Just before this shot,  there was a sweet exchange
between this magnificent butterfly and a chipmunk. 
They quickly parted as I approached and the butterfly decided
to linger and allowed me to be in her world for a brief moment.

The trees naturally do "sun salutations"  arching toward her light.
Perhaps this is where the ancient yogis came up with the name
for this position.

A budding photographer friend taught me that
some of the best views are not the panoramic ones, 
but rather those that are found when you are low to the ground,
touching the earth.   A whole world opened up to me just by squatting.