“Be Yourself” (Robert Brezny)

One of the greatest gifts of recovery has been getting to know myself — my wants, likes, pains, dislikes, hobbies, joys, etc.  In truth, I remind the people around me who helped me get clean and sober that their great gift to me was they gave me back to myself, so I, in turn, could give myself to others.  So, I say find yourself in recovery so you can give yourself away; find yourself so you can be yourself.

So, with that, I give to you some practical mystical words from Rob Brezny on being yourself.

Be Yourself

You came into this world as a radiant bundle of exuberant riddles. You slipped into this dimension as a shimmering burst of spiral hallelujahs.  You blasted into this realm as a lush explosion of ecstatic gratitude. And it is your birthright to fulfill those promises.

I’m not pandering to your egotism by telling you these things. When I say, “Be yourself,” I don’t mean you should be the self that wants to win every game and use up every resource and stand alone at the end of time on top of a Mount Everest-sized pile of pretty garbage.

When I say, “Be yourself,” I mean the self that says “Thank you!” to the wild irises and the windy rain and the people who grow your food.

When I say, “Be yourself,” I mean the rebel creator who’s longing to make the whole universe your home and sanctuary.

When I say, “Be yourself,” I mean the dissident bodhisattva who’s joyfully struggling to germinate the seeds of divine love that are packed inside every moment.

When I say, “Be yourself,” I mean the spiritual freedom fighter who’s scrambling and finagling and conspiring to relieve your fellow messiahs from their suffering and shower them with rowdy blessings.

“Compassion can be Fierce” (Tsültrim Allione)

Tsültrim Allione writes: “I was at a lunch with the Dalai Lama and five Buddhist teachers at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. We were sitting in a charming room with white carpets and many windows. The food was a delightful, fragrant, vegetarian Indian meal. There were lovely flower arrangements on the table.

“We were discussing sexual misconduct among Western Buddhist teachers. A woman Buddhist from California brought up someone who was using his students for his own sexual needs. One woman said, ‘We are working with him with compassion, trying to get him to understand his motives for exploiting female students and to help him change his actions.’

“The Dalai Lama slammed his fist on the table, saying loudly, ‘Compassion is fine, but it has to stop! And those doing it should be exposed!’ All the serving plates on the table jumped, the water glasses tipped precariously, and I almost choked on the bite of saffron rice in my mouth.

“Suddenly I saw him as a fierce manifestation of compassion and realized that this clarity did not mean that the Dalai Lama had moved away from compassion. Rather, he was bringing compassion and manifesting it as decisive fierceness. His magnetism was glowing like a fire.

“I will always remember that day, because it was such a good teaching on compassion and precision. Compassion is not a wishy-washy ‘anything goes’ approach. Compassion can say a fierce no!”

– Tsültrim Allione, from her book Wisdom Rising

Musings on God’s ‘voice’ (revised)

Is it discernable to the human ear?  I say it is. I say it is all of the above and much, much more. I say the sound of God’s voice is all around us.

It is in the chirping of the birds at daybreak. It is in the soft cooing of a mother to a baby. It is in the agonizing weeping of sorrows and loss. It is in the rushing waters of rivers and streams.

God’s voice is found in the hushed whispers of breezes dancing through the trees; in the rhythmic meter of little frogs singing in chorus at eventide from the surface of the pond.

But God voice is found other places as well; places we think not, places that offend us and disturb us.

It is found in the trembling truths that fall from the mouths of alcoholics and addicts finding and seeking a new way of life. It is found in the death knell sucking sound of cocaine and heroin entering the body and the gurgling of the last breath of an overdose or suicide. It is found in the screams of a child cowering in a corner. It is found in the begging and pleading of a young woman being trafficked.

God’s voice is found in a myriad of places, some comforting, some disturbing. God’s voice is found in the sacred text of old that perpetually points us towards our Creator and each other. God’s voice is found out on the streets and in the mountains.

I feel that in all ways, and things, God’s voice is constantly saying through life, the rooms of recovery, the streets, the people next to us, Nature and all that exists, “come, be with Me, be with Me in all the places I am to be found.” Other times Gods voice is saying “stop this, help that one, be with this one, listen to the other, fix this, heal that, challenge the darkness and shine the light.”

It is not always what God is saying that is crucial for us, for it is. But what is more important is the truth that God is speaking to us, here and now, in this moment.

So where do you hear God’s voice? And what is being said?

A Hunger of Recovery

“We hunger to be known and understood. We hunger to be loved. We hunger to be at peace inside our own skins. We hunger not just to be loved but to love…  

-Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons

People in recovery often talk about addiction as a disease of “More” – a nagging persistent hunger to fill a void.  I can say from my own life, even long before addiction became a part of my story, I felt this hunger.  Some call it the “God” hunger, others a byproduct of our addictive natures.  Me, well, I’m not one to think that all the “more” I hunger for is either negative or dangerous.

I hunger for more of many things.  I hunger for more of God and all that is sacred and divine to me.  I hunger for a deeper connection between my work and my calling.  I hunger for more community and intimacy as well – the place (community) and the space (intimacy) for being known as I truly am.

We live in a world that confuses intimacy with communication and isolation become the defiant denial. How can I be “isolated” when I have 600 “friends” on Facebook, while simultaneously saying “how can I be lonely when I have 600 friends on Facebook?”

I suffer from a brain disease that is also a disease (dis-ease) of extreme isolation and paradox.  I got drunk and high to feel good – good enough about myself to be part of the crowd.  Alcohol is called liquid courage for a reason – it gave me to courage to overcome my inner discomfort and instead gave me the illusion that I fit in, drunk.

I confused people at the bar knowing my name and my drug dealer being on speed dial with community and intimacy.

But I do believe that authentic community is the answer.  We see it time and again that people who have found healing from disaster, disease, and despair have done so most often by finding others who have gone through similar experiences and found healing in some form of community.

Community is the answer; the answer to the disease of isolation and to living in a country that esteems rugged individualism as a zealous ideal for emulation.

Community is where I find healing and hope.  But far from a utopian ideal, I know that life in community with wounded people is never easy or tidy; far from it.  Community, like most of recovery, is messy.  Community, like recovery, needs grace to seep into the broken and wounded cracks all of us carry.

In a world gone mad for the instant gratification of a digital economy, one where “attention” is as strong a currency as money, the road of intimacy and community is a path one can seek and hold to for roots.

Community is the place where we can be real.  The digital world is an illusion of code, of ones and zeroes that are a mere fabrication of intoxicating glitter.  Marx said that religion is the opiate of the masses but I believe our addiction to our phones and Facebook and Amazon prime are the new opiates running concurrent to the substance addiction epidemic.

But I still believe in the healing power of community as the space where I can hunger for more and in small ways and deep ways not only find my soul but find it sated as well.

Confessions of Smallness

I have a confession to make, one that is quite important and that I have Dr. Brené Brown to thank for making it (if you don’t know who she then click here).

The wording of my confession comes from her, but I stand in the fucking raw truth of it and claim it as my own. I claim this truthful confession with the same despair and hope I felt when I finally looked in the mirror and realized I was dying from the disease of addiction.

My confession goes something like this: I have spent far too long of my life engineering smallness.

I engineer smallness everywhere and in so many ways.  I engineer smallness to feel the security of being a big fish in a small pond, to not feel fear, to say I am taking the spiritual high road and seeking humility (as if humility and smallness were synonymous).

I engineer smallness to make myself feel good, to make my light seems to shine brighter. I engineer smallness because I’m just fucking afraid of failure and even more afraid of ‘big’ successes.

Even as I rail against those petty-minded people who let fear rule and ruin their lives – I stand in the shadow of my fears hoping no one will see my light.

I have feared greatness and being large for far too long, claiming the spiritual high road of humility and smallness, as I would judge those who seek “greatness”.   I am not talking about a greatness based on ego, stardom or popularity.

I am talking about the greatness of a large heart, of living through the fear, of not letting shame win, of not being afraid of money, wealth, giving, serving, striving and creating!  All of that is the greatness I have feared and the tool I have used to hide my fear has been my intelligence, my wit and wisdom, and all the things I have learned in both my active addiction and active sobriety.

I have cloaked my engineering of smallness behind the spiritual and the sacred as much as I have the mundane and the mindless. 

I fear sharing this truth of my being with others, and not the truth of my vulnerabilities and weaknesses and pains; no that pain is rather easy for me to share in the rooms of recovery and the stages I have shared with others these last few months talking about “my story of addiction and recovery.”

No, the truth of my being that I have not shared, the ones that lie just beneath gentile vulnerabilities, is the truth that I desire to do great and wondrous things, not for my own glory, but rather to have influence, to do good, to create entrepreneurial ways merge social enterprise, healing, and community renewal. 

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Musings on Resurrection & Recovery

Note from Niles: I know this blog is about Soulfulness and Sobriety, but my own recovery story (and life story) includes being enamored with and trying to follow the example of Jesus of Nazareth.  So, if historical Christian terms are not your thing or bother you, I suggest you stop reading; if they do not, then read on.  This is taken from a previously written blog on Easter that I have re-written and revisioned from the standpoint of Recovery and Resurrection.

Happy Resurrection Day (as I like to call Easter Sunday).

A few years ago, on what liturgical churches call Holy Saturday, I attended ‘Easter Vigil’ services at the Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia.  Never having attended Lenten services at a monastery, I was not sure what the experience would bring.  My initial thoughts were that I felt I had stepped back in time, in a wonderful way: the historical richness and the ever-present reality providing sacred collusion.   The pews were hard, thick dark wood made by local friends, there was darkness, candles, prayers, chanting and singing in Latin and English, kneeling, bowing, and of course, the Eucharist.   It a delightful, albeit long, experience – over two hours.

What I have learned in my life of studying and even knowing a few, Catholic monks do almost nothing quickly.

And in this world of immediate gratification, I was afforded the ‘time’ to slow down, breathe, and attune my being to God’s all-pervading and loving Presence permeating the place.

All this pausing got me to thinking about the reality of Easter; about resurrection and the relationship between the concept of “Resurrection” to recovery from addiction in general and my recovery specifically.

To many people of faith, the shadowy, yet hopeful day in between – in between the crucifixion of Friday and the empty tomb of Sunday – reminded me that for people in recovery (as with people of faith) we are truly a people on the Way…in transition and on a journey.

Like believers who live between the tension of the crucifixion and the resurrection, people in recovery are those who must live between two tensions as well: that of being an addict (bound in some ways to the past and our pain) and that of being people in recovery (set free from the bondage of active addiction to live lives of love and service).

People who believe, are often called a “Good Friday People”; all we need to do is look around at all the pain and suffering in our world and in our hearts.  Those of us who have been bound by the chains of addiction, death and despair are too in some ways a “Good Friday People” – we have crucified and been crucified repeatedly.

But the glorious news for believers is also glorious news for addicts and alcoholics: death does not have to have the final say.

There is hope; there is another way; there is a different ending to the story of addiction.

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Musings on God: Experience or Understanding

“God is the glue that hooks everything together…” Tom Rapsas

I love the 12 Steps – the actual steps not just the movement. I believe them to be one of the greatest tools for spiritual growth and development ever given to humanity (and yes, I believe them to be given for ALL people not just alcoholics, addicts and their family members.)

Whether or not one considers oneself an alcoholic or addict working the 12 Steps – no matter how perfect or shitty they are worked – will have some modicum of positive effects upon the one practicing them.  If you don’t agree with me, then go out and spend 30 days practicing them and if you have not changed in the least, I will shut the fuck up about how great the 12 Steps are.  But if I’m on point here, well, your life will never be the same again (so it’s a win-win).

BUT…and this is a medium-sized but (we’re not talking a J-Lo but here), if I could I would change one thing about the 12 Steps. I know, I know, I have committed the unpardonable sin for 12 Steppers, but since this is my blog, I can write whatever I want, and you can choose not to read it.

The one thing I would change would be one word; I would change the word “understand” to the word “experience”. It is one thing I suggest to people I work with and walk with along the path of Sobriety to try – to change the phrase “God as we understand God” to “God as we experience God.”

Why? Quite simply because I will never understand God.  In truth, it has been my experience of God, in the rooms, in other people, in service, and in prayer that has transformed my experience and reality of sobriety and all of life.

The word “experience” is defined as having to do with ‘practical contact’ or to encounter or undergo something (or Someone, in this case).  And it is precisely this practical contact and encounter with God that transform a garden variety drunk and drug addict like me into a person in long-term recovery who has become a ragamuffin mystic seeking to see and taste this ‘experiential’ God in all of life.

It is this very experience of God which transcends my so-called understanding of God.  For in truth, God makes no fucking sense to me. None.  And if God did make sense to me, as in rational understanding, then you best hope I am locked up in an institution somewhere because that hubristic delusion would make me a dangerous menace to society.

But, when I say that I have experienced God, then it becomes something that is limited to my own personal experience.  It is not arrogant, for it only my personal experience – small, little old me.  Which is a far cry different from saying I UNDERSTAND God; for if I think I understand God then I am drowning in all my magnanimous and arrogant megalomania – a royal fucking narcissistic douche is what I become.

But I digress…

All I am trying to say, all I want to say, is that it has been far more powerful, healing and transformative for me to EXPERIENCE God than it has been to try and understand God in my recovery journey.

So maybe we can all stop trying to understand God, and just try and have an experience of God.  Because when I understand God I might then begin to try and force others to understand God the exact same way I do (can you say religion boys and girls).  But let’s say we all go and have an experience of God then all of sudden there’s a chance for there to be 7.6 billion (world population) experiences of God rather than a dozen or so world religions controlling the human spiritual experience.

Not a sermon, just some musings…

“What is the Spiritual Life?” (Randy Woodley)

I read these words from Dr. Rev. Randy Woodley; Dr. Woodley is a member of a First Nations tribe in North America and writes eloquently, simply, and gracefully about spirituality.

His words ring true with recovery and my own recovery journey and my own spiritual development.  I hope it helps you find some Connection, which is for me the ultimate ‘goal’ of spirituality – to connect with sobriety, sanity, self, and God as we experience God.

What is the spiritual Life? 
It is life itself, not what one does but how one goes about doing. Spirituality is flesh and blood walking on this earth in real time. It is the embodiment of our whole selves being present in the moment it occurs. Spiritual life is living daily with the full acceptance of everything around us as real and attachable to our being as it happens. To be un-spiritual is to ignore any aspect of our whole selves, in our whole context, on this whole earth. Spirituality is appreciating it all.

What is Spiritual Exercise?
Listening to others is a spiritual exercise. Not just what they are saying but how they are saying it. Why they are saying it. Why they are saying it to you. Hearing the voice in your head and silencing it so you can hear their voice and recognize what is happening at the moment around you as their words make sense to your heart. Listening to others means connecting with them and discovering what is happening between you at the time and being grateful for it all.

Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley, Indigenous person and Public Theologian/Scholar

“The Journey” (Mary Oliver)

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

-Mary Oliver, Dream Work (Atlantic Monthly Press)

Breakdown or Breakthrough?

The following piece was sent to me by a friend in recovery whom I both love and respect.  I share it with you because sometimes the difference between a Breakdown and a Breakthrough is all in how we perceive what we are going through.  The original link to the article appears at the end of the piece.

Struggle is Good!   I Want to Fly!

Once a little boy was playing outdoors and found a fascinating caterpillar. He carefully picked it up and took it home to show his mother. He asked his mother if he could keep it, and she said he could if he would take good care of it.

The little boy got a large jar from his mother and put plants to eat, and a stick to climb on, in the jar. Every day he watched the caterpillar and brought it new plants to eat.

One day the caterpillar climbed up the stick and started acting strangely. The boy worriedly called his mother who came and understood that the caterpillar was creating a cocoon. The mother explained to the boy how the caterpillar was going to go through a metamorphosis and become a butterfly.

The little boy was thrilled to hear about the changes his caterpillar would go through. He watched every day, waiting for the butterfly to emerge. One day it happened, a small hole appeared in the cocoon and the butterfly started to struggle to come out.

At first the boy was excited, but soon he became concerned. The butterfly was struggling so hard to get out! It looked like it couldn’t break free! It looked desperate! It looked like it was making no progress!

The boy was so concerned he decided to help. He ran to get scissors, and then walked back (because he had learned not to run with scissors…). He snipped the cocoon to make the hole bigger and the butterfly quickly emerged!

As the butterfly came out the boy was surprised. It had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. He continued to watch the butterfly expecting that, at any moment, the wings would dry out, enlarge and expand to support the swollen body. He knew that in time the body would shrink and the butterfly’s wings would expand.

But neither happened!

The butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings.

It never was able to fly…

As the boy tried to figure out what had gone wrong his mother took him to talk to a scientist from a local college. He learned that the butterfly was SUPPOSED to struggle. In fact, the butterfly’s struggle to push its way through the tiny opening of the cocoon pushes the fluid out of its body and into its wings. Without the struggle, the butterfly would never, ever fly. The boy’s good intentions hurt the butterfly.

As you go through school, and life, keep in mind that struggling is an important part of any growth experience. In fact, it is the struggle that causes you to develop your ability to fly.

As instructors our gift to you is stronger wings…

Source: http://instructor.mstc.edu/instructor/swallerm/Struggle%20-%20Butterfly.htm