God keeps me sober

I’ve known people who have mocked me for my religious practice.  Some have been coworkers. Some have even been friends.

What they don’t understand is that if it weren’t for God, I’d be still stuck in the hell that is addiction.  My religious practice helps me to remember that, to give thanks for that, and to keep connected with God to keep the healing happening. Recovery isn’t a one-time thing, but a daily (sometimes hourly) struggle.  You have to keep doing what you did to get sober, or you will quickly regress. If you aren’t going forward, you’re going to go backwards.  There is no staying still in sobriety.

I have a tattoo of Raphael the archangel on my calf as a testimony to how God has helped me.  When people ask about it, I tell them how Raphael’s name means “God has healed” and I tell them about what I’ve been through, and how God has pulled me out of it.  They don’t get it – they say that I did the work.  I tell them that it is God who gave me the strength to make it happen.

Part of my religious practice is to say blessings. There are hundreds of things to give thanks over according to Jewish practice.  Food is just one category.  There are blessings to be said upon seeing a rainbow, for hearing thunder, and even for buying new clothes.  There is a blessing for almost any kind of human experience you can think of. Some rabbis state that you should say 100 blessings a day, and while that may seem excessive, just being on the lookout for that many things to give thanks about is the best game of hide-and-seek you will ever play.

 

When I say a blessing,

I’m not blessing the food

(or the event).

I’m reminding myself

that I am blessed

to have the food

(or experience the event).

I’m reminding myself

of the One

who made it possible.

 

It is modern to talk about mindfulness.  Most people who practice mindfulness run as far away from religious practice as possible.  However, I say that you can’t beat saying 100 blessings a day for a mindfulness practice. Looking for things to be grateful about and to give thanks over to the One that gave these gifts to you helps keep depression at bay.

I leave you with a traditional Chassidic Jewish saying – “When a man suffers he ought not to say, ‘That’s bad!’ Nothing that God imposes on man is bad. But it is all right to say ‘That’s bitter!’ For among medicines there are some made with bitter herbs.” Attitude makes the difference between an ordeal and an adventure.  It is your choice.  And my choice is to have a religious practice to keep me on the right path.

Pay attention

I recently came across a book called “Spiritual Journaling: writing your way to independence”. It is by Julie Tallard Johnson, a licensed psychotherapist and the author of “Teen Psychic” and “I Ching for Teens”.

I came across a quote in it that amazed me.

“Walk in the light of your own fire, and in the flame which ye have kindled.”  (Isaiah 50:11)

I was amazed for two reasons – generally a “spiritual” book doesn’t have any Bible quotes in it.  Often they feel that it is more “spiritual” to quote Buddha, or Lao Tzu, or Rumi – anybody but Jesus or a Hebrew prophet.

But then I re-read the quote.  It didn’t feel right, especially from Isaiah.  This quote talks about relying upon yourself and your own powers.  I can see how a “spiritual” author would want to encourage that.

But if you want to know anything, you have to know it in context.  This one sentence is not a complete thought. This verse isn’t even all of verse 11.  It has been carefully edited to say what the author wants it to say, instead of the truth.

Here is Isaiah 50:10-11

10 Who among you fears the Lord
and obeys the word of his servant?
Let the one who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on their God.
11 But now, all you who light fires
and provide yourselves with flaming torches,
go, walk in the light of your fires
and of the torches you have set ablaze.
This is what you shall receive from my hand:
You will lie down in torment.

So really, the message is to NOT walk in the light of your own fires, because you will get lost.  Being in darkness and trusting in the Lord is better.

This reminds me of the poem by Alexander Pope in “An Essay on Criticism”, which states-

“A little learning is a dangerous thing ;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.”

We would do well to think critically at all times, and to examine everything. Don’t be misled by someone else.

Likewise, some wisdom from Proverbs 3:5-8
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD and shun evil.
8 This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

I’m a little concerned that the author of the misleading book is a psychotherapist, and that she writes what appear to be witchcraft books for teenagers. What else is she telling them that will lead them away from the path of life?

We all must be sure to check everything we read, to make sure that it is true and healthy for us – in body, mind, and spirit.

 

 

Stomach distress?

I’m noticing that many people right now are experiencing stomach distress.  They believe they have the flu or some virus.  I believe that their distress is unprocessed emotions related to the current political climate in the United States, which isn’t very “united” right now.

Many people were very surprised by the results of the election, and held out hopes that something unusual would happen to change it.  They waited until after the Electoral College voted to admit that their fears had been realized.  Now they are protesting everything that they are learning about.  People who were politically inactive before are now glued to whatever news they can get.

What you focus on expands.  What you think about, you are. If all you focus on is bad, that is all you will see.  Anger and fear leads to more of the same.

Life is all about choice.  You have a choice as to what you read or do or think, but first you must become aware.  You must become mindful of what is going on at the deepest level.

The stomach processes some of our most basic emotions – fear, anger, grief.  We feel things “at a gut level”.  We are “gutted” when something terrible happens.  Our stomach not just processes food, but feelings.  Our entire body is a sensory organ, and each unique organ receives and processes external stimuli in unique ways.  We accept that we see with our eyes and hear with our ears, but few people are yet able to understand that we have many other senses that are registered throughout the amazing gift of our corporeal forms.

When we are unable or unwilling to accept the reality of the messages that our bodies are sending us, we start to think that the messages ARE us.  We are able to understand that what we see through our eyes is simply a vision.  It is an observed phenomenon.  If we see a bird in flight, it does not mean that we are a bird.  Likewise, it is important to separate the sensations we experience through our other body parts from our selves, our being.  We do not have to be angry when we feel anger.  It is just a feeling, a sensation.

The purpose of being awakened isn’t to feel joyful all the time.  The purpose is to feel – everything – in a mindful and detached way.  You are not the feeling – you are feeling the feeling, just like you are seeing the birds fly above you.

It helps to be rooted in a faith that there is a guiding force that is over all things.  Having faith that the political leaders are not the true leaders is healthy and healing.

You must take care of your body in order to take care of your spirit.  There is nothing new here – diet and exercise count now more than ever.  Make healthy food choices.  Stress eating, eating “comfort food”, will bring your body and spirit down. Get regular exercise.  Just going for a short walk every day is excellent.  More is better.  Don’t overdo it, though, because that becomes a distraction.  It is important to be present.

Learn to be OK with sitting still in silence.  The need to constantly be busy is an addictive behavior the same as smoking cigarettes or drinking. Substance abuse isn’t just about drugs, but anything and everything. Doing anything mindlessly can be harmful to your body and spirit.

Having to check social media, read a book, or do chores can all be distractions.  Balance is what is necessary here. It is good to read a book – but if you feel anxiety if you are without one, then it is time to sit with that feeling and listen to it.  It is a sign that you feel a need to escape.  Use your feelings, regardless of what they are, to learn.  Do not run from “bad” feelings – they are trying to teach you that something is out of balance in your life.

Instead of protesting – of saying what you are against, spend your energy on building up.  What are you for?  What will bring healing to your community?  Who is hurting? Who is marginalized?  Go help them.  Go be a force for good.  Do what you can with what you have.  Your little efforts count.  Join with others to do more.  Don’t wait for the government to help – those times are over.  Be the change you wish to see.  Teach an immigrant child how to read and write.  Learn a foreign language.  Build a home for a homeless person. Teach a class on money management. Learn nonviolent conflict resolution.

Focus on what you can do, instead of what you can’t.  Spend more time on figuring out how you can do something instead of coming up with excuses for why you can’t.  Don’t blame others for your own choices.

Together we live or die.

We’re all in this life together.

I can heal myself. I can be awake and mindful. I can plant trees or buy land that has them on it already to preserve them – but it won’t matter much if others chop theirs down and build malls (our new temples to the god of consumerism) complete with parking lots dedicated to cars (mobile air destroyers). Each parking space is a gravesite, a memorial to a tree. A garish monument, an epitaph, a mockery of what was there before. The air will get more polluted, and without trees, there won’t be anything to clean it. The Earth will get warmer and warmer, and my efforts won’t matter. While I’ve done what I can to help, others have done more to destroy.

I can protect that stream of water on my hypothetical piece of land, keep it safe from pollution, taking debris out when I arrive there, not putting poisons in, but what about upstream? Their actions affect me. Then, what about the people who buy this land after I die? Who says that they will keep it pristine?

How to live in such a way that it inspires others to live – that is my goal.

Poem – to wander

To wander is to go forth,
eyes and heart open
into the unknown.
It doesn’t have to be in the wilderness.
It can be in the library.
It can be anywhere you have not explored.
To wander is to find yourself
in the middle of nowhere,
not lost
but awake and aware and curious.
To wander is to take the time
to appreciate the journey
instead of just the destination.
To wander is to venture forth
in body or mind
or both
with no goal other than to truly see
what you find
while out there.
There is danger in this
for you might get lost.
There is salvation in this
for you might find yourself.

Poem – It isn’t them

Don’t blame other people
for your problems.
Don’t expect other people
to rescue you
either.

They are not
the cause
or the cure.

Your choices
determine your reality.
Things happen
that are beyond your control
but your reaction
is within it.

What you do or don’t do
is your choice.
How you respond
in thought, word, and deed
is your choice.

Take ownership
of your life
and take
your own life
back.
It was yours
all along
after all.

Apologize! (?) – we are being distracted.

My two cents on the “Hamilton” hullabaloo. He should lead by example. How about he apologizes to the veterans with PTSD who he said were “weak”? Or perhaps the women he said were fat and ugly? Or those he sexually assaulted? Or the people who are disabled? Or basically everyone who isn’t a white male? He should apologize first, to show us how it is done. This is what leaders do.

But – here’s the important part. We are being distracted and divided again. He’s leading the dance. We are all puppets when we get distracted like we are on such little things. This is what he wants – to divide and distract us.  Don’t be fooled.

Stay focused. Be alert. Take care of yourself and those around you.  Take care of marginalized people in your community. If we each take the time to re-direct our energy, we’ll get through this. No longer can we count on the government to take care of us.  We’ve given away our power for too long anyway.  It is time for the American people to take care of each other.  We must.  We will be stronger for it.