Recovery–The Sacred Art, a Review

062 005In the decades since the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous were penned, scores of people on every continent–including lowly me–have embraced the steps as an alternative to battling addiction.

The power of the 12 steps is undeniable.  In more than two decades of personal immersion as well as observing their transformative power in others, I realize that I have a love-hate relationship with the 12 Steps.  Most of you probably know what I mean.

But now I know why I both love and hate the steps–because I am obsessed with control and I have a bad habit of impersonating God.

First of all, we had to quit playing God–Bill Wilson

The above statement, located in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, smacked me with deep understanding when I recently read Recovery–The Sacred Art, by Rami Shapiro.  Nestled between the book’s introductory title and the first sentence of the introduction, is Bill Wilson’s quote, which I’ve heard thousands of times.

For some reason, Shapiro’s book snapped my head up from my long-time recovery doze.  Many thanks to his publishing company for the invitation to read the book and offer a bit of commentary.

So back to the God-impersonation thing.  Simply put, even attempting to play God is an illusion.  Rabbi Shapiro explains that beneath the specific addiction that brings you and me to 12-step work, is “the addiction to the delusion and illusion of control.”

He also zooms right past the lightweight idea of letting go of control and screeches to a teeth-rattling halt in front of “the delusion of control must be involuntarily shattered rather than willfully relinquished.” (Italics are mine.)

Then this bombshell:  “God has nothing to do with control.  God, as I understand God, is reality itself, and reality cannot be controlled, for there is nothing outside reality to do the controlling.”

That’s it.  I think I’ve been busted.

Step One:  A deeper meaning of powerlessness

When you read Recovery–The Sacred Art, you’ll come away with an enriched appreciation for the sacred nature of the 12 steps.  This book is no ethereal examination, nor is it a guidebook for “working” the steps.

Shapiro’s book is, however, a self-guided tour through each of the steps accompanied by suggested practices.  Hint: Be ready for a bit of a twist on familiar language.

For example, Step One introduces the idea of being surrendered to God instead of surrendering to God.  Shapiro explains that when we say we are powerless or that we surrender our particular addiction, we still maintain a degree of control.  We’re making decisions about how and why and when we’ll surrender.

But–when life knocks the stuffing out of you and you’re crawling on your hands and knees, completely out of options, ideas or plea bargains, when you sense this time, you’re down for the count, then, and only then, does a power greater than you deliver you to a state of grace.  You are surrendered to God.

Stripped bare, devoid of everything but your breath, control finally leaves you.  You are powerless over life.  You are free.

If you’ve succumbed to this kind of rock bottom, God (and all holy iterations) bless you.  May you never forget the feeling of naked exposure.

But be very careful.  We humans are so enamored with control that even the bliss of new life will probably not keep us from seeking control again.

That’s why Rami Shapiro’s book is so important.  He gets it and he knows you and me.  He knows we’re addicted to control.

It’s time to quit playing God.

Recovery–The Sacred Art is available through SkyLight Paths Publishing http://www.skylightpaths.com/page/product/978-1-59473-259-1

Photo courtesy of butkovicdub

3 Antidotes for the Fear Virus


At this writing, the 84-degree Spring tease of two days ago in Dallas is a fading memory.  A major winter storm named Titan (When did the National Weather Service start naming winter storms?) slammed a good portion of the U.S. again.  Sigh.

That’s the way it goes sometimes.  Just when you think you’re through with something–can we be rid of winter quick enough?–the Universe, or Mother Nature, drops another heavy load, seemingly with glee.

Come on! You think.  It’s all too much and when are you going to catch a break?  Enough already!

The storms in our hearts

Heavy storms in our hearts are just as real as the foot-high snow drifts outside many windows today.  Just like the weariness we feel about the interminable Artic weather (Say it with me: The “polar vortex” sucks.), so too do we grow weary of the storms raging throughout our spirits.

The question was posed to me recently:  How do I get rid of fear-based thoughts, especially the fear of the unknown?

Well, jeez, I don’t know.  How can I make grass grow in the middle of the Sahara Desert?

If I only knew the answer to the fear question, I could crown myself a spiritual guru or Tony Robbins on the speaking circuit.

When the question came, I fired off a few suggestions that were, admittedly, a tad smart-aleck-y.  You see, the question made me nervous and I become a bit flippant when I’m nervous.

Why was I nervous?  Because I’ve asked the question too, many times, in fact.

So what about the fear question?

The question is haunting, isn’t it?  I haven’t been able to let it go. But now I have an addendum to my answer.

As with most spiritual matters, there is no black and white, so “getting rid of” doesn’t fit the question because it suggests a conclusive action.  You and I are human, so unless your name rhymes with Dalai or Eckhart, fear-based thoughts appear in your life at random and annoying times.

However, I believe there are at least three antidotes for the fear virus (Can its insidiousness be anything but a spreading virus?).

First, rather than focus on getting rid of fear-based thoughts, especially fear of the unknown, what if you quietly and simply accept them?  Acceptance means you can invite the fear thought to stay for dinner, without asking it to spend the night.

D. H. Lawrence said, “The living moment is everything.”  Acceptance can only happen in the living moment.

Second, feel the fearful thought(s) without judgment.  If we can agree that 99.99% of humans feel fear from time to time, then what the heck is the point of beating yourself up for having a fear thought?  Doesn’t make much sense, does it?

Finally, and this antidote is kind of radical so stick with me here.  When you’re in the middle of fear, take several deep belly breaths.  That’s right, pull the fear inside as you inhale.  Allow the fear thought to wash over you as you hold your breath for a few seconds.

Then, slowly let your breath out–not the fear, but the idea that you have any control over whatever is causing the fear.  Do this several times.  That exhale, my friends, is faith, and is WAY more powerful than any fear thought you can have.

All spiritual processes take time and practice.  Don’t allow the fear virus to spread.  Patience, Grasshopper, work with the antidotes!

Photo courtesy of Karpati Gabor

How to Live Like a Spiritual Warrior


A quick Google search for “how to live like a spiritual warrior” yields lots of cool links, even one with the key word “seductive,” but we won’t go there.

The number of links is a great sign that there are plenty of folks who have at least a passing interest in spiritual warriorhood.

Spirituality has definitely gone mainstream.  Twelve-step communities aren’t the only ones talking about a “power greater than themselves.”

Why else would the BuzzFeed quiz, What Career Should You Actually Have? currently on Facebook, include the Dalai Lama with Steve Jobs and Beyoncé in its question, Who is your dream dinner guest?

A deal-breaker?

Here’s a thought that may send even the more open-minded seekers running for the hills:  “A warrior accepts that we can never know what will happen to us next.”

So says Pema Chödrön, a student of Shambhala Buddhism, in her book Comfortable With Uncertainty.

Whoa.  I think I just heard all you control freaks gasp.  I did too when I first read the sentence.  What happened to “master of my own fate?”

Chödrön continues, “We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe.  But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty.  This not-knowing is part of the adventure.  It’s also what makes us afraid.”

Truth be told, I was raised to believe I could be and do anything I wanted.  The sky is the limit.  Get out there and fly, little bird.  The world is your oyster, whatever that means.

Problem was, that behavior wasn’t modeled for me at home.  My family was all about security, predictability and routine, which created a confusing conundrum for my adolescent self.

As a young adult, I landed somewhere between master-of-my-own-fate controller and fearful risk-taker flying without a net.  There was, and sometimes still is, an internal tug-of-war about whether I’m comfortable with present circumstances.

Don’t you just want to know that you’re doing it (meaning life) the right way?

Are you with me here?

Looping back to living like a spiritual warrior

I think the first thing to realize about how to live like a spiritual warrior is there are no right or wrong answers.  Oh, we tell each other all the time, “Come on, what were you thinking?” or, “Jeez, that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Yep, we’ve all got a bunch of human opinions; it’s a part of our DNA.

Your life choices may not be good ones for me; and vice versa.  In fact, you should never make a decision solely on what works for someone else.

That brings me to my second thought about how to live like a spiritual warrior.  Spiritual warriors know how to treat a tremendous circumstance and a sucky circumstance equally.

No doubt about it–that’s a spiritual battle, and one definitely worth fighting.  There are people who can sit in joy one day and pain the next while their demeanor doesn’t change.  That’s what I want and although it’s not easy to get there, I sure want to give it a warrior-like try.

Again, from Comfortable With Uncertainty, “We encourage ourselves to develop an open heart and an open mind to heaven, to hell, to everything.  Only with this kind of equanimity can we realize that no matter what comes along, we’re always standing in the middle of a sacred space.  Only with equanimity can we see that everything that comes into our circle has come to teach us what we need to know.”

Now, about that financial insecurity thing I’ve got going on . . .

Photo courtesy of clarita

Waiting Like the Buddha

file4001264776522Would you say you’re good at waiting?  How do you react when you’re stuck in a traffic jam?  A long line at the grocery store or the post office?

I’m not particularly fond of waiting, nor am I good at it.  Like so many character attributes to which I aspire, I do find that waiting is infinitely easier when I’m emotionally and spiritually healthy.

Consume quickly, move fast, pile on stress

Everything seems speeded up, don’t you think?  For the sake of convenience, and to cram 24 hours of activities into 17 (generously leaving yourself seven hours to sleep), most of the things you and I consume–whether it’s food, entertainment or services–happens so fast.

Do you sometimes feel like there is a drill sergeant standing behind you blowing a whistle and screaming, MOVE, MOVE, MOVE?  There is you know, and he (or she) carries your name.

The more we yell at ourselves to get to the next thing, the more stress we pile on and the more we age.  Gotta have, gotta do, gotta be here or there, gotta get it done . . . make sure you carve out time for your pending heart attack or stroke.

I’m making light of a serious subject.  Why can’t we just s-l-o-w d-o-w-n a-n-d W-A-I-T?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this whole idea of constantly rushing for a couple of weeks now, ever since the 42-year-old husband of a friend of mine had an aneurysm and died.  I’ve been especially thinking about their two small children, the younger one only a year old.

I’m not suggesting that incessant doing caused his death.  No way.  My heart cracks open thinking of my friend and her babies.  What she wouldn’t give . . .

Think, though, of the many moments lost to the dizzying pace of 21st century life.  Precious moments that could be spent enjoying the beauty of your love’s face or gently caressing your sleeping baby (either the two-legged or four-legged brand, or both).

A story about Buddha

Recently, I read a Pema Chödrön story about the night the Buddha waited for enlightenment.  Apparently while he sat waiting under a tree, forces of Mara (she explains these as obstacles that cause confusion and loss of confidence in our own wisdom) shot arrows to distract the Buddha.

I suppose the approach of enlightenment is a fleeting thing, like “blink and you miss it.”

Anyway, Chödrön reports that Buddha calmly turned the arrows of distraction into beautiful flowers.  The longer he waited, the more his surroundings turned to fields of flowers.

Isn’t that a terrific notion?  While waiting for whatever it is you’re waiting for, look for the beauty around you.  Look closely with concentration because the chances are excellent that whatever you notice that is good and beautiful, is an arrow turned into a flower.

This week, instead of doing, doing, doing, try being, being, being.  Be right where you are without rushing to the next place.  Wait in joy, rather than rushing with impatience.

Close your eyes and wait for the hint of floral in the air . . . wait, like the Buddha.

Photo courtesy of Djb78

“Find a Way” to Thrive; Don’t Merely Survive

Find a Way

In early September of last year, a marathon swimmer named Diana Nyad became the first person to swim across the shark-infested waters (without a cage) between Havana, Cuba and Key West, Fla, a distance of 103 miles.

She logged four previous attempts, beginning in 2010, but her fifth shot at swimming 53 consecutive hours shoreline to shoreline brought her victory.  Diana is 64 years old.

I’ve watched several news interviews with Diana; she even sat down with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday.  As you might expect, she presents herself as a strong-willed, determined woman with a “live large” attitude. (Watch Diana and Oprah.)

I’ve also read snippets about her life and I now believe there are two overarching reasons why Diana finally stumbled onto the shore of Key West last year.  It wasn’t because of her 35-person crew and technology, or the silicone mast that protected her from jellyfish.  The successful swim wasn’t even because of favorable Gulf Stream currents.

No, Diana’s death-defying swim wasn’t even as a result of all those things combined.

Only two reasons why Diana Nyad made history in September 2013

I believe Diana’s success is two-fold:  One, she shifted her mindset from surviving to thriving, and two, she’s an atheist with a spiritual sense of awe and wonder.

Whoa.  How does that work, you might ask?  Oprah asked too during the Super Soul Sunday broadcast. Diana said while she doesn’t believe that one entity created everything that has ever existed, she does stand on a beach and feel a deep sense of awe and appreciation. She is moved when she thinks about the enormity of previous generations who stood in the same place contemplating their lives and their ambitions.

I agree with Oprah; feeling awe is believing in a power greater than oneself.  Wouldn’t you think that some sort of faith in the great Whatever is necessary to swim with sharks for 53 hours?

As for the shift from survivor to thriver, Diana also spoke with Oprah about being sexually abused as a child by a swim coach.  One day, many years later, circumstances took her to a dinner where she met a retired professor who unexpectedly shared her experience of being three years old and watching her family ripped away by the Gestapo during the Holocaust.

When Diana tried to downplay her own story of abuse, saying there was no comparison, the older woman reportedly took her hand and said, “‘Don’t ever say that.  Every human being on this planet has their pain and their heartache and it’s up to all of us to find our way back to light.'”

From that moment, Diana determined to live her life in big ways, not to settle for merely surviving.

Find a Way

During her tedious, stroke-by-stroke swim last September, maybe Diana recalled her conversation with the retired professor.  Whether she did or not, she remembered three incredible words that formed a mantra for her journey:  Find a Way.

Diana speaks regularly now and those same three words are often offered as a challenge:  No matter what is going on in your life now, or what you’re struggling to overcome from your past, Find a Way to work through it. Find a Way to move on.  Find a Way to shift from surviving to thriving.

Sage advice, don’t you think?

Watch Diana’s terrific talk on TED.com to here her story for yourself.