In-Between Days

This morning I read a great quote from a woman named Sarah Parson about Lent. Lent is a religious observance in the liturgical calendar of many Christian religions that last 40 days and ends on Easter Sunday. Here is the quote:
LENT LASTS FORTY DAYS, a long time, because we need a good stretch of time to step back and be neither here nor there. We need plenty of time to drop our old ways of doing things and live in-between, not yet knowing what the new ways of doing things will be. Living in-between can be scary. But taking the full forty days is important; not to do so would be like denying ourselves a spiritual adventure, the gift of in-between time.
– Sarah Parsons
A Clearing Season: Reflections for Lent

I’m not a Christian, but I love the idea she is expressing. I have a lot of experience with being in the in-between spaces she talks about, but rarely by choice. I really like the idea of choosing to spend an allotted amount of time doing spiritual groundwork before launching into a new challenge in life. Maybe instead of deciding to launch into a new diet, or change jobs, or any other intentional life change it might be a good idea to spend time in contemplation and review, growing closer to my higher power and growing in understanding before I begin to take action on making a change. It seems like I might have a better chance of succeeding if I approach things in this manner. In fact, I have a huge piece of firsthand experience that this approach works.

Going to treatment was the first intentional decision I made on what turned out to be a spiritual journey. I got to spend 30 days outside of time, in a safe environment with spiritual teachers all around me. And as much as I wanted to leave that old life behind, facing an unknown new life was still scary. Without the help of those around me and an organized plan of action I don’t know if I could have made the changes necessary to find a new life.

This process has continues throughout the past 17+ years, although most of the time not exactly by choice. Everyone has heard the old saying “When one door closes another opens.” What they forget to include is that sometimes it can be days or weeks or even years between the first door closing and the next one opening itself to you. One era ends and then…nothing. Stuck between rooms. Learning to recognize this as its happening can be crucial, and it’s the time when a regular, daily spiritual practice can become invaluable.

Oftentimes I find myself in a hurry to get on to the next thing, even if I don’t know what it is. I constantly have to pause and remind myself that if I don’t know what to do it is usually because it’s not time to do anything yet. I can embrace the in-between time to examine my discomfort around just being where I am. I can spend time in prayer and meditation seeking to find an intuitive thought about how to proceed, and I can do my best to be of service to those around me while I wait for the answers. I can work to stay present in the moment because the best way to prepare for any moment in the future is to be fully conscious in the present.

Being in-between is necessary…uncomfortable, but necessary. The truth always reveals itself. The door always opens. Taking this time and staying active in a daily spiritual practice will allow me to see the right door when it opens, and it will give me the courage to step through into a new spiritual adventure.

Fear, and the Stories it Tells Us

Fear is everywhere. It comes in a million disguises. Yesterday I was talking to a guy in treatment for heroin addiction. He was talking about triggers – specifically needles. His line of thinking was “Needles are triggers for me, so it’s not safe to go to acupuncture even though it is designed to help with detox.”
I asked him what his fear was around needles and he looked completely lost.
“I don’t have fear of needles – I’m a heroin addict. I just need to avoid triggers.”
I said “So basically you’re afraid that being in a room with acupuncture needles will get you high whether you want to or not?”
He paused and said “I guess so.”
As we talked he realized that his real fear was relapse, not needles. The needles were just a symbol of the thing he was afraid of. Once he realized that, he could turn his attention to doing the things that would help him avoid relapse, like acupuncture!
Oftentimes I either can’t see my own fear, or I have begun to tell a story about why the fear is necessary and justifiable. This is where talking to others in recovery is crucial. My sponsor and the other people who make up my recovery support system aren’t part of the story I’m telling myself, so they can see it for what it is. With their help (and a little inventory!) and insight I can get to the truth of the situation. That will allow me to see where I need help from my higher power to move forward and stop letting the fear make decisions for me.

What you look for is Inevitably What you Find

What you look for is inevitably what you find, even if you don’t realize you are looking for it. Here’s an example that nearly everyone has experience with. Let’s say you buy a 3-year-old Honda Accord. You shopped around, picked the best car you could afford and the Honda came up the winner. Suddenly everywhere you look there are Honda Accords. Old ones, new ones…some just like yours. It’s amazing how many Honda Accords there are. Now, there are no more Hondas on the road than there were before you purchased your car, but now that “Honda Accord” has meaning in your life, you have become hyper aware of them.
The exact same thing holds true for other things as well. If you think that life is amazing, chances are you will find things at every turn to support that idea, and the same thing applies if you believe that life is pointless and futile. Whether you realize it or not, we all tend to walk through life subconsciously looking for things that support our views and completely missing things that don’t. That’s great if you have a naturally sunny disposition, but if that were true, you probably wouldn’t be reading this in the first place!
I spend a lot of years expecting the worst out of life and people, and that’s pretty much what I got. Once I found my way onto a spiritual path that began to change, but I still found myself being a pessimist more often than not. I didn’t want to live under a black cloud, but no matter how hard I tried to change my outlook, things just didn’t change. I believed that change was possible. I was just going to have to find a better way to make it happen.
So, if what you look for is what you find, I had to ask myself “What am I looking for and why?”
The question itself was unanswerable if I tried to address it directly.
“What do you mean what am I looking for? I’m not looking for anything, I’m just seeing things as they are.”
That felt like the truth, but it left no way to address the question.
Ultimately, I found it more useful to come at things from another angle. Instead of asking “What am I looking for?” I ask myself “What am I finding?”
What I find in the world is a solid indicator of what I’m looking for. My interpretation of the things and events that surround me can tell me a lot about where I am physically, mentally and spiritually. Especially spiritually.
Over time I realized that my negative outlook on life was entirely driven by my spiritual condition. In fact all of my thinking seems to be colored, if not outright controlled by, my spiritual condition. Once I realized this everything fell into place. I knew from experience that it is impossible to think my way out of a bad spiritual spot, which completely explained my inability to change my outlook on life through will power and positive affirmations.
I didn’t want to be the guy whose first reaction to everything is negative, but I couldn’t seem to stop doing that just because I wanted to. I wanted to understand why that happened, and here is what I came up with:
1. Something happens and it causes fear
2. The fear immediately diminishes my spiritual condition
3. This causes my thinking to become selfish, self-centered, frightened, dishonest, unrealistic and inconsiderate
4. I have a thought based on these defects of character and Surprise! Surprise! It’s negative…

Now that I understand what’s happening, instead of beating myself up for my negative reaction, I can just use it as a red flag signaling that I am on rough spiritual ground and there is work to be done. Inventory, prayer, meditation, talking to someone about it… Addressing these small negativities uses the same tools I use to keep larger fears and resentments from dominating my life. Over time and with the steady application of the process, my spiritual condition has gotten better and better, and along with it, my outlook on life. What I look for now of signs of the love and beauty in the world as well as all the places where fear is showing up for myself and others. If this process works for me, it will work for anyone. My job is to spread the word.
And live a big, cool life.

Staying Present

You know, the synchronicity in life is funny sometimes. I am starting a new project and a new adventure today, and almost every daily meditation I come across is about staying present and waiting for life to reveal itself. That is always good advice, but it is particularly pertinent for me today.
I really have no idea what this new job is going to entail or even what will be required of me, but that hasn’t stopped my mind from trying to race ahead and make plans. Over the last week or so it has been challenging to let go of my desire to make a plan and just stay present in this moment. It has required some additional prayer, meditation and inventory, and I have managed to do a pretty good job of staying present and connected. That is the beauty of a daily spiritual practice – new challenge, same tools.

New Fears Pushing Old Buttons

Fear is a very weird thing. It comes out of nowhere. It hides in plain sight. And its presence always diminishes us spiritually.
I was a heroin addict for years and during much of that time I lived with a woman who would use so much on a regular basis that she would become unresponsive… right on the edge of overdose. I was always afraid that I would find her dead. Through the years of my addiction I did find people who had overdosed and died, including a 21 year old roommate. It was a rough time for all of us.
I have been sober for over 17 years as I write this, and I still have a visceral fear response when I see someone who is lying very still and seems unresponsive. This morning it happened with my dog. Now, my dog is almost 15 years old and he’s moving a little slow, but I have no reason to think he’s about to die, and yet… He was laying on the couch and wouldn’t respond until I shook him awake. I got the full-on, fight-or-flight adrenaline dump, and a confused look from the groggy dog.
When this kind of thing happens I have to remember that without some intentional work to reconnect I am in danger of walking around all day in a diminished spiritual state. When I let this occur, I am much more likely to be negatively affected by things that wouldn’t ordinarily bother me. My wife calls it “becoming sticky.” Not a good way to go through the day for anyone. All it took was a quick 10th step inventory to help me see the truth of the situation, a moment on the 6th step to help me get a clear vision of the man God would have me be today and a quick prayer asking for some help to actually be that guy. These simple actions, along with trying to be helpful to those around me will make the rest of my day a more pleasant experience for me and everyone I come in contact with.

A Spiritual Starting Point

There is a lot of spiritual teaching in the world. And I do mean a LOT. For centuries men and women have been trying to understand their basic spiritual natures and to share what they have found with others. I have been involved in a spiritual model like this for over 17 years, and it has changed my life.

Here is an interesting thing that I have discovered along the way – many of the teachings out there assume a spiritual starting point that I cannot assume. I’ll give you an example, and explain what I mean afterwards. This comes from www.Chopra.com, Deepak Chopra’s web site:

The Law of Least Effort

The Law of Least Effort: Nature's intelligence functions with effortless ease, with carefreeness, harmony, and love. And when we harness the forces of harmony, joy, and love, we create success and good fortune with effortless ease.

I will put the Law of Least Effort into effect by making a commitment to take the following steps:

  1. I will practice acceptance. Today I will accept people, situations, circumstances, and events as they occur. I will know that this moment is as it should be, because the whole universe is as it should be. I will not struggle against the whole universe by struggling against this moment. My acceptance is total and complete. I accept things as they are this moment, not as I wish they were.
  2. Having accepted things as they are, I will take responsibility for my situation and for all those events I see as problems. I know that taking responsibility means not blaming anyone or anything for my situation (and this includes myself.) I also know that every problem is an opportunity in disguise, and this alertness to opportunities allows me to take this moment and transform it into a greater benefit.
  3. Today my awareness will remain established in Defenselessness. I will relinquish the need to defend my point of view. I will feel no need to defend my point of view. I will feel no need to convince or persuade others to accept my point of view. I will remain open to all points of view and not be rigidly attached to any one of them.

I love the sentiment expressed here, and I realize that just being introduced to this way of approaching the world is enough to allow some people to actually change their manner of engaging with the world. But for me (and I suspect a lot of other people) there are things that I am going to have to do – actions I am going to have to take before I can even remotely begin to achieve the standard that is espoused here.

I believe that my thinking, and indeed everyone’s thinking is based on the spiritual condition I am in when I am having the thought. So if my reaction to someone or something is resistance and not easy acceptance, the resistance is based in spiritual malady. Something about this person or situation feels threatening to me and unless I can examine my fears I will never be able to really accept things as they are.

By writing them down and looking at specifically what areas and instincts are feeling threatened, I am able to begin to separate the true from the imagined, and by reconnecting to my spiritual source I am able to begin to have some serenity, and an acceptance of things as they are right now. By intentionally reconnecting with my spiritual source of power I can have the faith and courage to take responsibility for the parts I can change and the wisdom to know the difference.

All of this takes action on my part. Acceptance is the byproduct of a solid daily spiritual practice, not something that just happens for me. Any time I feel that resistance I know that it is just an indicator that there is spiritual work to be done. The quicker I do the work, the less time I have to spend in that state of agitation. Developing a practical spiritual program of action is crucial to having a peaceful, productive life. The tools are all around, all I have to do is pick them up.

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The Austin Recovery Blog is intended as a space for readers to find inspiration, support and encouragement in recovery. Austin Recovery staff and guest writers will share their wisdom on topics including 12-Step methodology, spiritual practices, meditation and more.