Archive for the Spirituality Category
“It happened again today – when I learned that my childhood best friend’s father is dying. I am, once again, intimate with fear; death; dying. I think I pushed it away when my Grandpa passed. Could be any day now – his death. What to say when all we do is wait for him to die? Words fail me in this moment. Words fail me today.”
With eyes blinded by tears and hearts stricken with grief, we mourn the loss of my dear friend’s father. His soul left his body but a few weeks ago. As she drowns in his memories, my friend feels lost and alone. I cannot begin to comprehend her grief; the enormity of the loss; the depth of the void she now feels. Words fail me yet again. So I offer to her the most beautiful healer of all, Mother Nature.
The Universe has a funny way of offering us comfort. September’s coy arrival brings rich hues of red, orange, yellow, and brown; the scent of dried and crunchy leaves that tickle the nose; and a chill that sends us clinging to the first sign of warmth. Inevitably, autumn reminds us of the necessity for human touch – a longing to be near others – A longing that leaves my friend thirsty to drink in once more the love and warmth that her father gave so easily. But wait. Stay alert. Nature offers so much more. The turning of seasons is nature’s guide to survival in the most dire of circumstances. After all, one doesn’t take a journey without a guide who knows the paths, and who knows change and direction better than Mother Nature?
As words become a familiar acquaintance with my mind yet again, I plead with my aching friend – Dry your eyes and take Her hand. She will show you the way. Mother Nature will take care of you.
“There is a beauty to be found in the changing of the earth’s seasons, and an inner grace in honoring the cycles of life. If grief or anger arises, let there be grief or anger. This is the Buddha in all forms, Sun Buddha, Moon Buddha, Happy Buddha, Sad Buddha. It is the Universe offering all things to awaken and open our heart.”
It is a beautiful gift to see the world anew; to taste the fresh, crisp air; to appreciate the world that our loved ones have left behind for us to discover.
To my friend and to those who wrestle with anger and grief with each rising sun:
Your father’s scent lives on in the budding flowers of a cool spring morning. Look for his smile as the sun sets and gracefully makes her way to neighboring countries. His touch is as near to you as the hot summer air lay thick on one’s skin. His light is the warmth you feel on a bitterly cold winter day in Montana. Let all winds be his gentle hug. Let the sun be his warm forehead kiss. Let the moonlight be his blanket, holding you tightly as you sleep each night. His body may be gone, but his essence is as strong as ever. Quiet your aching mind, dear friend, and open your eyes to see the beauty that is your father. Stand tall next to the trees the brush against your bedroom window. Roots firmly planted, he is there to guide you; embrace you; comfort you always.
Let’s be grateful for this wonderful gift that he has left for you – the gift of the natural world. Find strength in change, solace in letting go, and comfort in relinquishing fear. The circadian rhythm of Nature’s song is undeniably sung each year. Perhaps you can try to hum a few notes with Her. She will be patient with you. And I will be here to hold your hand.
My name is Kiley. Most friends call me Ki. At twenty-three years young, I’m itching to understand the Universe and my place in it. I am an individual first, a mother second, a dreamer – always. LifeofKi is a humble blog reflecting my thoughts at any given moment. I ask questions of my readers, of myself, and of the Universe. I find solace in spirituality and connecting with others. With a passion for creative writing, I am living my dream every day. Stop by for a visit sometime! I’ve only just begun my spiritual journey, one fleeting thought at a time.
Do you ever get tired of hearing that you have to be a smaller size? In order to be OK you have to fry more fat, tighten your butt, firm your abs, fit into those skinny jeans, and do it all with a smile on your face! It just sucks.
If you’re tired of hearing it—and hearing it, maybe you need to stand your ground, rebel, and go against the tide. There is so much more to you than just a size or a number, but living in a culture that’s beauty and body image obsessed isn’t easy. In fact, it’s downright painful, especially if you’re not a size 2.
Most of us weren’t even born that small! If you’re tired of feeling bad about yourself, maybe you need a new look, but this one shouldn’t have anything to do with your weight, size or shape.
This look takes cultivating what’s on the inside. It means being fearless about who you are apart from a number on the scale. It means standing up and screaming at the top of your lungs, I’m not going to drop a jean size just to be acceptable and valued! I’m actually perfect just the way I am.
Here are a few tips to begin the journey of being authentic to who you are:
Know your Heart
Houston we have a problem. That problem is we’re paying more attention to the externals than we are to our hearts. That’s why people are dying out there. If we spent half as much time noticing and tending to our hearts, we would be a lot healthier emotionally. Think about how much time the fashion industry, the food industry and the cosmetic industry pay to convince you that you’re not OK. And you buy it hook line and sinker. How do I know? Cause I buy it way too often. Invest in your heart. Know your value and change your world.
How do you tend to your heart? By paying attention to what’s happening to it as the losses of life unfold. By feeding it with good kind things. By spending time with yourself and learning who you are and what your strengths are.
Find your strengths and you’ll become fearless. Utilize the gifts God’s given you and impact your world with them. Be humble. Be a friend. Be generous. Give your heart away. And lead others.
Pay attention to the one thing that’s most important in your life; those you love. Don’t let your concern for your size, your weight or your body image rob you of life. Don’t let it steal time away from those you love because you’re so preoccupied with all that mess. Risk. Step out. Say good-bye to the old way and dare to try something new. You’ll feel so much better.
It’s hard to be grateful for something you loathe. My clients with eating disorders and body image concerns can’t find one thing to like about their physical appearance generally. But I challenge them to risk looking beyond what they see and begin to cultivate an attitude of gratefulness for what their physical body allows them to do. Hold a child. Run a marathon. Write a poem. Play an instrument. Touch a loved one. Start small —but start somewhere.
Don’t look at the girl at the gym, the guy on the magazine or the hot chick at the beach to judge yourself. Start thinking about your strengths. Your attributes. If you feed yourself a steady diet of garbage, that’s how you’re gonna feel—like garbage.
At the end of the day, only one thing is necessary to revolt against societal norms that demand we be thin to be valued— choice, a choice to ignore the cultural mandates and set the world on fire just as you are —size 10 and all. A choice to live, really live a full and abundant life where you’re content with who you are, not what you look like. Go get em!
Back at you: How have you felt pressured to meet the standards for beauty and perfection today? How have you resisted?
Rita A. Schulte is a licensed professional counselor in the Northern Virginia/DC area. She is the host of Heartline Podcast and a short form feature Consider This. Her shows air on several radio stations as well as the Internet. They can be downloaded from www.ritaschulte.com/category/podcast or iTunes. Rita writes for numerous publications and blogs. Her articles have appeared in Counseling Today Magazine, Thriving Family, Kyria and LifeHack.org. Her book Shattered: Finding Hope and Healing through the Losses of Life releases in September 2013 by Leafwood Publishers. Follow her at www.ritaschulte.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter @heartlinepod.
The Third Step of Alcoholics Anonymous states, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” The principle behind this step is Surrender. The 3rd Step and is also closely related to the Three Jewels of Buddhism.
Step Three and Surrender
In Step Two, we open ourselves up to a bit of hope and faith. In the third step, we surrender our lives to something greater than ourselves. The Oxford English Dictionary defines surrender as to “cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority.” In this sense, we are ceasing to resist running our lives, and submitting to the authority of a power greater than ourselves. Where we previously resisted and turned away from any sense of a Higher Power, we submit to its authority.
It is important at this step to investigate what the term “power greater than ourselves” means to us. For those of us that enter the program with a religious background, it may be a good idea to use our previous concept of a Higher Power. However, most of us do not enter the program with an existing Higher Power. If we are agnostic, we may investigate the power of the twelve-step rooms or of our sponsor. We recognize the rooms hold more power than we do ourselves, as we were not previously able to stay sober alone. For those of us that enter atheistic, we may find trouble with this step. However, this does not mean we must shy away from this step at all. For example, as a Buddhist myself, I use the Dharma as my Higher Power. It is not a greater person nor a sentient being. Rather, the Dharma is a Higher Truth. Merriam Webster defines the word God as “the supreme or ultimate reality,” which the Dharma absolutely is for me. I, daily, turn my will and my life over to the practices that the Dharma lay out for me.
When we turn our will and our lives over, we are submitting to something greater than ourselves. Whether it is Jesus Christ, the universe, a Twelve-Step room, or a set of atheistic teachings, we must surrender completely. To do so, this decision must be made at once, and fulfilled in our everyday life. We must give up running the show ourselves, and allow our thoughts and actions to be run by something greater.
In the Third Step we surrender to a power greater than ourselves. One might say we “take refuge.” In Buddhism, we surrender to the Three Jewels. This is called taking refuge. The Three Jewels are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. As we surrender and turn our wills and our lives over to a Higher Power in Step Three, we turn to the Three Jewels for refuge in Buddhism.
The first of the Three Jewels is the Buddha. This jewel is not the worshiping of a supreme being. Rather, it is the recognition of our own Buddha-seed within. The Buddha taught that we all have the ability to attain enlightenment. Taking refuge in the Buddha means aligning our actions with those of our own Buddha-nature. Taking refuge in the Buddha also means we surrender to our loving Buddha-nature, and let it run our lives.
The second of the Three Jewels is the Dharma. The Dharma is the collection of teachings that the Buddha laid out. Generally, the word “dharma” is translated as “path.” However, the word is more appropriately translated to the “way.” The Dharma is not a path that leads somewhere specific, but a way of life that is to be followed. The Dharma teaches us about the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, compassion, mindfulness, and much more. Taking refuge in the Dharma is taking refuge in a set of teachings that has been proven to lead to awakening. We surrender to the teachings, letting our thoughts and actions fall in line with this greater truth.
The final of the Three Jewels is the Sangha. The Sangha is essentially the community of practitioners. Just as in twelve-step meetings we speak of the power of one addict or alcoholic talking to another, there is power in two ore more people coming together to discuss meditation, the teachings, the Buddha, etc. Taking refuge in the Sangha, we engage in our community and fellows and embrace the power of a group.
Taking refuge in the Three Jewels is the same principle as surrendering to a Higher Power in the Third Step. We turn our will and our lives over to something greater. We cease resisting our own Buddha-nature, the teachings, and the community. We begin to embrace them, and let our actions and thoughts be guided.
Equanimity is the practice of treating things neutrally. We don’t judge or react; we experience things exactly as they are and do not add on. Speaking with a teacher recently, we discussed the different ways that equanimity work in our lives, and he clarified two unique examples.
Equanimity with Others
Equanimity with my relationships with others was not something I had given very much thought to. In our relationships with others, we find ourselves either becoming attached or detaching harshly. We are sometimes often the equanimity phrase, “May you be in charge of your own karma.” In this way, we learn to let go of the results. Our prayers or good wishes for someone else will not change them; it changes us. Practicing equanimity, we recognize this and let go fo the outcomes.
In working with others, we often become attached to their progress. When a sponsee relapses, a child fails a class, or a loved one is in pain, we sometimes feel at least partially responsible. All we can do is practice metta, touch their pain with compassion, and appreciate the happiness of others. However, as the phrase we use says, others must take control of their own karma. Rather than see it as detaching, we are simply letting go of our attachment to their happiness. This end of the spectrum is essentially not being codependent. When someone is unhappy, we don’t blame ourselves. We do what we can and leave their suffering up to them. We continue to send metta and compassion his or her way.
At the other end of this is completely detaching. This is also not healthy. Sometimes when a child, sponsee, or loved one continues to create their own suffering (with drug use, poor judgement, anger, etc.) we become cold and calloused. We detach strongly, losing compassion and care. When they are suffering or make mistakes, we act with anger or even malice. The practice here is the same: we must act with love and compassion without becoming attached to the outcome. We may repeat the phrases in meditation or throughout the day, “May you be at ease,” “May you be happy,” “May you be free from suffering,” and “May you be in charge of your own karma.” These phrases are of metta, mudita, karuna, and upekkha.
Equanimity is also very applicable with our responses to emotions and thoughts. As commonly discussed, our natural reaction is to avert from unpleasant feelings and to attach to anything that pleases us. When we have unpleasant feelings, we label them as bad or negative. We do this similarly with pleasant feelings. Practicing equanimity, we focus on the direct experience.
With negative emotions, we label them as negative and bad. With equanimity, we must simply focus on the direct experience, rather than adding more things on. Sharon Salzberg calls these things exactly what they are: add-ons. These add-ons serve us no purpose. They are a product of our survival instincts and societal conditioning. When we add on, we are living in delusion and without compassion. Recognizing the truth, we see simply that an unpleasant emotion is just an unpleasant emotion.
We must so similarly with pleasant emotions. Rather than attach and crave more, we must recognize the pleasant feeling as just a pleasant feeling. A phrase offered to me by my teacher for this is, “May I treat things as they truly are.” It has to do with Right View, and seeing the true nature of our thoughts and emotions.
Practicing equanimity, we are able to live in a neutral, joyous position. We don’t cling to pleasant feelings nor avert from unpleasant ones. We also are not letting our joy rest in the hands of others. We are able to live freely and joyously.
The Twelfth Step of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests we “practice these principles in all our affairs.” In prayer and meditation, our work with others, and meetings we are able to be present and work our spiritual program. However, the majority of our days are spent in the real world. It is much more difficult for us to work our programs in daily life, and we must remain vigilant.
A fundamental tool we have for practicing the principles in our lives is to remain mindful. When we are truly present, focused on what we are doing in the moment, we are able to see more clearly our own actions and thoughts. With mindfulness, we are able to be conscious of our spiritual practice. Whether we are meditating, walking, or working, we always have the potential to be mindful. People hear the word meditation, and most commonly think of a formal sitting meditation. Meditation means, “To focus one’s thoughts.” Recognizing where we currently are physically, emotionally, and mentally is focusing one’s thoughts.
One of the first thing we often notice when practicing this mindfulness is the arising of thoughts and emotions. We begin to notice more frequently anxiety, fear, resentment, etc. This can be painful, but leads to great insight. As we recognize our emotions and thoughts, we take some of their power away. Sometimes we feel that we are suffering but not exactly sure why. This is because the emotions and thoughts are being pushed down and eventually build up. When we are mindful and recognize them, we are able to prevent them from controlling us so much. Simply recognizing to ourselves, “I feel anxious” has tremendous power. Speaking about it with somebody else is even more powerful.
The Quality of Our Actions
Our thoughts and emotions drive our actions. When we become aware of the feelings and thoughts, we see the actions that follow them. We must ask ourselves many times throughout the day where our actions are coming from. Are they coming from a place of love? Of fear? Of anger? Of compassion? When we recognize where our actions are coming from, we gain insight into our true nature. The principles we are working to practice become more visibile to us, and we gain judgement in our actions.
A big part of looking at the quality of our actions is how we speak. Speaking accounts for the majority of our communication with others, not just what we say, but how we say it. Remaining mindful of our speech, we often say things and are able to see where in the heart or mind they came from. With this knowledge, we are able to work on these thoughts and feelings, or at least on not acting (speaking) on them. We check if our words are helpful, true, and loving or if they are vengeful, jealous, or harsh.
Along with the actual quality of our actions, we also must investigate our true intentions. Sometimes we do “good” things with bad intentions, or we make mistakes when our intentions are pure. When we notice resentful, selfish, or averting intentions arise, we must recognize them, for if we don’t we will act on them. When we perform a good deed, we also must gently praise ourselves for keeping pure intentions.
Being Gentle with Ourselves
When we find ourselves making a mistake or acting in an unwholesome manner, we must be accountable. We cannot afford to let ourselves get away with everything; we must deal with our mistakes before they deal with us. However, there is a gentle way to go about this. We must practice the principle of compassion with ourselves in these cases. Everyone makes mistakes, and they truly are opportunities to learn. If we hurt others, we must make amends promptly. We also must make amends to ourselves by diligently working to change the behavior.
It truly is not easy to practice these principles in the fast-paced world where not everyone is working a spiritual program. However, this is not an excuse to behave poorly. It is a true test of our abilities and growth.
The Tenth Tradition reminds us that we as a group do not have an opinion on outside issues. This is an important principle, as it keeps our meetings focused on our primary purpose: to help others. As a sober member of twelve-step programs and an active member of the local Buddhist center, I have some experience with keeping outside issues of mine out of the rooms.
Although my participation in this other organization is very helpful to me, has helped me connect with myself and the world, and is very important to my sobriety, it has no place in the rooms. When I speak directly about my “religion” rather than my spiritual program of working the Twelve Steps, I am
minimizing my effectiveness to others.
When someone shares and makes clear his or her religious affiliation, I must admit I close my mind a tiny bit. I am not proud of this quality, but it is the truth. I think if I, with a few years of sobriety, have even the slightest amount of contempt for this, than it is probable that a newcomer also would.
The need to share religious affiliation in meetings baffles me. I often wonder why somebody would share that kind of information. My personal opinion is that it tends to come off in a demeaning way. When somebody speaks about his or her intense religious practice, I feel contempt because I feel judged. I often feel like it is a separating act, not a unifying one.
Although at any given meeting there are possibly people with similar religious beliefs, there are generally far more people with different beliefs. One of the
most beautiful things about twelve-step rooms is the unifying of addicts and alcoholics from all different walks of life. Feeling a part of was one of the most wonderful feelings I felt upon entering the rooms. Putting differences out there like religious beliefs is simply unnecessary and certainly unhelpful.
Knowing this, it is my opinion (based on my personal experience, as well as those that came before me), that any religious affiliation should stay out of a
regular meeting. Where I live, there are twelve-step meetings that are designated for people of certain faiths or beliefs, just as there are gender-specific meetings.
When I am asked to share at a meeting, when I speak to someone at a meeting, or when I am working with a sponsee, I very rarely even mention the word Buddhism. I always mention my meditation practice, but not in any religious sense. The steps mention meditation, and most literature from twelve-step groups does as well. It is not difficult for me to use twelve-step lingo when speaking about my personal faith. I do so, thus keeping my outside issue outside of the rooms. Whether it is Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, or Hinduism, I would definitely have had a harder time getting sober if religion was being pushed in my face.
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous states in the second Appendix, “The terms “spiritual experience” and “spiritual awakening” are used many times in this book which, upon careful reading, shows that the personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism has manifested itself among us in many different forms… Most of our experiences are what the psychologist William James calls the “educational variety” because they develop slowly over a period of time.”
Although many members do have a white-light experience, this is not the case for most of us. Even those of us who have moments of clarity often have our spiritual experiences occur over a more extended period of time. When we first begin hearing about spiritual experiences, moments of clarity, and conscious contact with a Higher Power, we may be turned off by this misunderstanding. Although this is just a misunderstanding; the truth is that these educational spiritual experiences are far more common, and just as helpful.
My spiritual experience has come in many waves over quite a long time. Although I most certainly had a moment of clarity where I decided I want to be sober, it wasn’t until I was about 30 days sober that I realized the change that was taking place. Over the first year of my sobriety, I experienced my spiritual awakening from following the suggestions I was given. Around two years sober, when I went to jail, I had more of a white-light experience. Although it was not any single moment, the 30 days in jail led to a spiritual experience unlike any I had experienced up until that point.
When we use the phrase spiritual experience, we mean this personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism. The book discusses a physical craving, mental obsession, and spiritual malady. If we do not drink, we do not have any physical craving. As far as the mental obsession we experience, the only way to treat this is by examining our spiritual malady. When we treat this spiritual malady, our mental obsession dwindles down. This treating of the spiritual malady is the essence of a spiritual experience.
Willingness is one of the keys to my sobriety. In early recovery as much as today, I must maintain an open mind and a willingness to learn something new. Whether it is accepting a Higher Power into my life, letting character defects go, getting a sponsor, or listening to the experience of others, willingness is an essential quality of my spiritual growth.
When I was newly sober, willingness was one of the qualities that saved my life. Although I did not immediately want quality sobriety at first, I was willing to go to treatment. I did not see it as willingness at the time, but I had enough of an openness to consider an alternative to the way I was living. Unfortunately, the only reason I had this amount of willingness was because of where I was emotionally; I had become emotionally exhausted, confused, and completely afraid of life.
Attending twelve-step meetings, I had the slightest amount of willingness, and was able to listen to speakers and fellows share their experiences. With the little amount of willingness I did have, I heard enough to help me grow. I did not have the most open mind, nor the most willingness in the room, but I was reminded that I only needed a little to begin.
I heard repeatedly to get a sponsor, even if it was a temporary sponsor. I heard I needed to work the steps, help others, get commitments, and go to a meeting every day. All the cliche pieces of advice for newcomers, I took in. I had enough willingness to get a sponsor on my fourth day of sobriety. He told me he would be my sponsor one day at a time until I found a new one, and that I should call him the next day so we could start working together. With over 30 years of sobriety, I had enough willingness to believe in what this man was telling me. He is still my sponsor today, and we have grown extremely close over the past several years.
Being a newcomer, willingness is not an easy quality to come in contact with always. My ego was in the way, telling me that I could do it differently. Spending my whole life “knowing everything, always,” it was a dramatic shift to have it brought to my attention that I needed help. However, my sponsor asked me in my first 30 days one simple question, “Are you willing to just entertain the idea that maybe there is a different way for you to interact with life?” My answer was that I was, and this was and still is a great reminder to remain open-minded and willing.
Willingness also takes a crucial role in the development of my relationship with my Higher Power. When my perception of a Higher Power first began to develop, I had to have willingness to even consider the possibility of it. Raised in a Jewish family, I attended a Catholic high school before moving to rural Costa Rica, where Roman Catholicism was by far the most popular religion amongst the community. My religious views were cloudy at best, and I bashed any form of a “god” as weak, ignorant, and irresponsible. Not truly an atheist, I acted like one as a defense mechanism.
When I began attending meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, I was completely put off by the talk of a Higher Power or of God. However, I had the willingness to stay, and ignore what I did not need. As time went on, my willingness spread to this aspect of my recovery, and I considered the presence of a power greater than myself in my life. As many people getting sober, the rooms and meetings were my first sense of a Higher Power. I thought of love, the energy in the room, or of compassion as my god. It took a growth in willingness for me to even accept any of these into my life.
As my growth continued, I began praying and meditating as suggested by the program and my sponsor. Willingness was one of the most frequent things I prayed for (and continue to pray for). My relationship with the world grows with my willingness. As I have maintained an open mind with my faith, my sense of a power greater than myself has greatly changed. With willingness, I become open to change and do not get attached to one idea of a god that I have set in my mind.
As the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions says on page 34, ”There is only one key, and it is called willingness.”
One year ago at this moment, I was driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I was to stay at my parents’ house for a night, then drive with my mom from San Francisco to Portland, Oregon. The plan upon arriving to Oregon was to turn myself in to the Washington County Sheriff’s Department for a federal warrant that had been issued in my name. I had spoken with a lawyer, and was walking blindly into the situation, without a real knowledge of what would happen.
With my mom at my side, I walked up to the clerk’s desk at the Sheriff’s station at 6am and let them know I was turning myself in for a warrant. They took my ID and ran my name. An officer came out, handcuffed me, and walked me from the station over to the county jail, with my mom at my side. My mom cried as the officer told her she could not hug me, and he led me into the jail.
I got arraigned that day, and released on bail. I spent the next week and a half in a motel in Portland and bouncing around friends’ houses. On my court date, the judge heard the situation, and sentenced me to 30 days in county jail. Expecting less time, my heart immediately started racing. I asked my lawyer if there was anything we could do, but there was not. My mom gave me a serious hug, the kind only moms can give, and away I went.
I spent the next 30 days in the violent criminal cell pod. Not being “hard” or very much of a thug at all, I had no choice but to keep to myself. Thirty days goes by awfully slow all alone in jail. I had expectations of a lesser sentence, and the first few days of processing before getting into general population were extremely painful. I found myself reaching for a Higher Power of some sort, only to find that my conscious contact was almost non-existant. The faith that I had been professing and felt for the past few years suddenly eluded me. My first few days were full of an intense struggle to make sense of my situation.
Here I was, a 21 year old young man, raised in an upper-middle class family with all the opportunities in the world. I had been through my troubled times, but felt I had come out the other side. I was almost two years sober, had active service commitments in Alcoholics Anonymous, had panels with Hospitals and Institutions, had started new meetings in my community, had a sponsor, had sponsees, tried to practice the principles in all of my affairs, and had been meditating on and off. Where had I gone wrong?
I quickly realized that it was only up to me to decide how the 30 days in jail went. I wrote A LOT. I meditated more in those thirty days than the rest of my life combined. I prayed like it was life or death. And it was for me. My own behavior had ended me up here, and it was about time I find a better way to behave. Rather than look at the symptoms (my behavior), I took a look at the causes for the first time. I dove deeper than before.
There are a few things that stick out to this day as great spiritual experiences I had there. First, I reached for a Higher Power with complete surrender and total desperation. Where I had tried other solutions in the past, this conscious contact was really my only option. The key to this was for me to learn to accept without necessarily understanding. As I prayed and meditated, hoping to find some lessons to be learned in this situation, I found that the lesson was to accept, and have faith that each moment can be a teacher if I let it be. I truly turned my will and my life over to my Higher Power, which was meditation at the moment.
The next thing I came across was a feeling of truly living. It seems strange at first to think of experiencing true living in jail. However, when I awoke each morning, I had no agenda. The only thing I had to do was eat, drink, and live. I didn’t have work, school, relationships, meetings, or anything else on my mind. There was nothing I needed to do. What I learned from this was a very simple yet powerful idea: staying present. I was able to pray, meditate, eat, read, and live fully in the moment, without worrying about what I had to do later. Waiting for my time to be up, there was no action I could take to improve my situation except stay present.
Finally, as I began to dive into the cause of my behavior, I found out a lot. I found that my behavior was caused by fear, not by loving-kindness. I found my fears were controlling me at times, with my permission. I let my fears build and build until I had “no mental defense against the first” unskillful behavior. As I uncovered the fears, I made a conscious effort to begin addressing my fears before they were powerful enough to control my actions.
After being released from jail, this last lesson grew into a regular way of life for me. I began meditating far more frequently, and with far less expectations. I eventually found that although the 11th Step of Alcoholics Anonymous suggested prayer and meditation, my meditation practice was closely associated with my Tenth Step. As I began to meditate more often, my mindfulness and the Dharma began to permeate my everyday life. My personal inventory has become far easier, and at some times involuntary.
An example of this is this story of me taking a test at UCLA last week. I filled out the first page of the test without a problem. I knew every answer right off the top of my head. Flipping to the second page, I read the first three questions, and I had absolutely no idea how to answer them. My heart rate immediately increased, my hands shook, and my head raced. Within just a few seconds, I found myself taking a seriously deep breath. Just as the increase in heart rate was an involuntary reaction, so was the deep breath. I didn’t do the normal, “Take a deep breath. It will help.” The thought did not even enter my consciousness. I simply responded by taking a deep breath.
This is just a simple example of how the meditation practice I acquired in jail works in my life today. With this meditation practice and mindfulness, I am able to notice when something doesn’t feel right within me. Rather than wait until it is controlling me completely, I catch it earlier and earlier. I’m not perfect, but I have come a long way.
A year ago today I was on my way to jail. Terrified, confused, and close-minded I entered. I came out with a gift that I cannot truly describe in words, but I feel it. I feel it in my relationships with myself, with the world around me, and with my Higher Power. My relationship with my family has greatly improved over the last year, my intimate relationships have improved, I respond far better to emotions I deem negative, and I make conscious contact daily.
A year ago today I could have never even imagined the gifts that would come from my journey. I feel I have made more spiritual progress in this past year than any other year of my life, including my first year sober. Thank you to everyone who helped me get from there to here, and I look forward to sharing the journey with you all.
While my mom and I were on a retreat in Arizona a few months ago, my mom pointed out my tendency to stop and talk to everyone I meet. She began to call me Chatty Cathy, after the popular doll from the 60′s that spoke when her string was pulled. She joked that somebody had pulled my string really hard when I hung around and talk when we had places to be.
I have a habit of stopping and talking to people when it is sometimes inconvenient. My mom was only joking with me, but my friends and girlfriend also say the same thing, and the name “Chatty Cathy” has stuck!
I have had many wonderful experiences that make me grateful for my desire to speak with people. Last Monday, I had one of these moments, and it has inspired me to write a piece every time I have one of these encounters. They happen frequently, so I am starting with the most recent and will share moving forward!
So, on Monday, I went to the 200 acre botanical gardens in the area. I went with my girlfriend, and we had an absolutely wonderful time. We traveled through a succulent garden, an Australian garden, a Japanese garden, the lily garden, a bonsai exhibit, and much more. When we arrived to the Chinese Garden, we saw a few places we wanted to take photos together.
I had seen an employee of the gardens at the gate to the Chinese Garden, so we went back out to ask him to take photos. The man was very polite and took a photo for us. He then commented on my jade earrings. The man and I had a little conversation about stones, as he was wearing beautiful turquoise, coral, and lapis. The man, David, was a Native American from the Denver area in Colorado. His father and grandfather had made him the jewelry.
David, my girlfriend, and I spoke about being who you are, the freedom of doing so, and how our egos get in our way. I wear one inch jade plugs in my ear, and spoke about wanting some amethyst ones, but was afraid they were too feminine for me. David pointed out that the idea of “feminine” is just a social construct and that I should be who I want to be.
David was about 5’3″. He told us of his difficulties with his height and how people made fun of him, especially when he was with his partner who is 5’11″. He reminded us that what it is to “be a man” has nothing to do with height, for he protects and loves her. He also told us that in his community, there was no words for “husband” or “wife.” Instead, his nation uses a word that is best translated to “companion.” He uses the word companion rather than wife because it implies they are traveling the road together, not as property or a belonging.
I was worried several times that my girlfriend was annoyed with the way I continued to talk. However, she showed no irritation and continued talking with the wonderful man we had just met. David asked how the two of us met, and we told him that we had met in a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. David was quite familiar with the program, had worked in the prison system in Oklahoma, and was sober himself!
David brought us around to the side of the Chinese Gardens, where he showed us his jewelry and intricate beadwork. I, in return, showed him the Tiger’s Eye and Jasper mala around my girlfriend’s neck. We spoke of the similarities between his beadwork and the malas I make, and how we both found it to be quite meditative. Then, he asked my “companion” what she enjoyed, and she told him she loved to sing (and she has an absolutely beautiful voice). She sang one of her favorite songs for him, and he listened attentively. After she was finished, David sang a song for her, and explained that as she shared a song with him, it was his duty to share a song with her.
We had been talking for about 45 minutes when we had to get on our way. David walked us to the Chinese cafe at the gardens and spoke with the employee there. David had asked her to give us a discount as we were good friends of his! David then gave us each a pass (over $20 each) to come back again the following Monday. David said he would love to see us, and will have a gift for each of us if we return to see him. So I am making David a mala, and will be bringing it to him on Monday.
Finally, David had both my companion and I sit down, and cup our hands. David recited a prayer with each of our names individually. Eyes closed, hands cupped, we were asked what we felt. I STRONGLY felt a weight in my hands, as did my companion. It was a distinct weight/energy in my hands, in a paranormal type of way like I have never experienced in my life. David told us that what he had said over each of us was something along the lines of, “Let all your burdens manifest in your hands right now, so that you may throw them free and live without them.” We then threw our cupped hands up in the air as if releasing a bird into the wild from our hands.
The entire experience was one that I will forever remember and forever be grateful for, and although my “Chatty Cathy” attitude is not always appreciated, this day it was. I am going back on Monday, and will write about what happens! Much love!