Posts Tagged ‘12-Step’

Sundays are Spirituality day here at Taking it to the Streets

Yin and yang.  Black and white.  Right and wrong.  Right and left.

Yesterday I was at a 12-step meeting discussing step six (“Were entirely ready for God to remove all these defects of character”) and people were talking about ‘shortcomings’ as though they stood alone (simply stubbornness) rather than as one part of the continuum on a characteristic.

On the continuum of stubbornness at the “bad” end, I see “getting it done” or “Stick-to-it-iv-ness” at the “good end”.  I think “Good” and “Bad” are not helpful adjectives here – I prefer “Useful” and “Less useful.”

Doctor Phil used to ask “How’s that working for you?” and I think that is the key question with our characteristics.  If I am stubbornly sticking to my exercise routine despite changes in schedule it’s working for me pretty well, thanks.  If, on the other hand, I am stubbornly resisting implementing what I know about needed changes to said routine (like – I need to do it!) then it’s not serving me well at all.

From my perspective the focus on “Good”/”Bad” and “Right”/”Wrong” is a bit puerile.  for little children those can be helpful code words to help them make sense of a vast world.  But we limit ourselves when we plunk the world into two camps (typically aligning ourselves with the ‘good guys’ and “they” are “bad”).

In our spiritual development  this tendency is self-defeating.  We can use our “shortcomings” to batter ourselves, which rarely leads to lasting change, and is often, in fact, a dodge to changing behavior.  Because if it’s all black and white and I didn’t get in 30 minutes of weight lifting then I am bad, bad, bad and now, back to computer games.  Where if it’s a continuum and I didn’t get in 30 minutes of weight lifting I can say “what can I realistically do right now when it’s late and I’m tired?  Hmm, maybe 25 crunches, a few squats and ya, alright, I’ll do 10 curls.”  Or not.  But I can look at it as a choice, not a fate.

As an aside, I think this same tendency to childishly lump things into “good” and “bad” buckets is what has this country paralyzed politically right now.

Do you know the contemporary philosopher and philosophy professor Jacob Needleman?  He’s terrific.  In one of his books he talks about an experiment he did in one of his classes, which went so well that he now does it in all such classes.

He got two people on totally opposite sides of a divisive issue – polar opposites.  Then he had first one person, then other present “their side of the story”.  But the catch was that the opposing person had to reflect back the other’s position accurately.  And – upping the ante – the rule was also that one had to do so in a respectful tone with no disrespectful gestures et al.  So the person doesn’t have to embrace or pretend to embrace the ‘enemy’s’ point of view.  But they DO have to verbally demonstrate that they really heard what the other said – and do it in a neutral tone.

It had an interesting effect.  At the end of the debate both parties still largely held their initial view. But both were able to understand the others view, and even embrace elements of the others view. And most importantly, both sides side saw that the other side was sincere and that from their world view their view-point made sense.  Minds may not have been changed (at least not in entirety) but hearts were.

We can do that for ourselves.  Rather than beat up on myself (“Great, Diane, in May you said you would blog daily, meditate daily, workout 3x/week – and look at you, you schlub!!”) I can instead look at the continuum (“Great job on yoga in May, Diane.  And it’s great you’re working out with a personal trainer, but you will get WAY more out of that if you really make it a priority to also work out on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”)

And whilst beating up on one’s self is not effective, neither is just giving up or giving in.  If I can see my behavior on a continuum, I also have the opportunity to ‘tweak’ rather than ‘overhaul’ or nothing.

How about you?  Where do you stand?  Black and white?  A continuum.  Is ‘your position on this issue evolving’?  As always, I’d really like to know!

Yin Yang

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Sundays are Spirituality Day here at Taking it to the Streets

As mentioned in my post on Step 1, The Gift of Powerlessness, I recently read Recovery: The Twelve Steps as a Spiritual Practice by Rami Shapiro.  I found some of Shapiro’s ideas challenging, but all in all it was a very thought provoking book with some new insights into the twelve steps, which I’ve studied for quite some time.

I’ve always thought that Step Two was the step that showed Bill Wilson’s divinely inspired genius when he talks of “a Power greater than ourselves” and “God, as we understand God”.  To me, that’s what makes it work for millions of people.  For it’s a spiritual program, not a religious program and can work for atheists and non-believers as well as any stripe of believers.  For any who have suffered from addictions of any type and have observed others doing what they have not been able to do, can easily see that there is a Power greater than themselves.

Step Two reads:  “We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

He talks about the difference between faith and belief:

“Faith is not the same as belief.  Belief is about content:  One believes in this or that.  Faith is an attitude toward life itself. ”  He goes on to quote Alan Watts: “Faith is a state of openness to trust.  To have faith is to trust yourself to the water.”

He was making these distinctions as he was quibbling about the word “believe” in this step – his supposition being that belief systems, while ‘hanging together’ internally don’t have to be factual in order to ‘make sense’.

His key to acceptance of this comes from the term “came to believe” and the wise words of his sponsor, Bert: “Believing is a matter of grit; coming to believe is a matter of grace. When we choose to believe one thing or another, we are acting willfully, but when we come to believe we discover that we are convinced of something because reality allows for nothing else.”

So he then says: “Step Two is not about choosing to believe or not to believe.  Step Two is about seeing what is…..This is the faith at the heart of Twelve Step recovery.  Not faith in a belief or creed, but faith in the authenticity of your own experience.  Over time, your experience will show you that life, when approached with faith – and by faith I mean the willingness to surrender to reality – won’t kill you.”

A very interesting take, especially from a rabbi, which Shapiro is.

But as I said, this freedom to approach this Power greater than oneself as “God, as YOU understand God” or simply the Power greater than yourself is the key that makes 12 Step programs truly open to all who need them.

My other favorite quote from this chapter is:  “The key to living authentically, rather than habitually, is engaging the present.  We cannot do that while we are locked in the past.  As long as we ‘paste the past over the present and live today as if it were yesterday, we have no hope.  We can’t change the past, and living in it means we can’t change at all.  My experience of my Higher Power tells me that change isn’t just possible but inevitable, but only if I live in the present. God is only in the present.'”

I love that.  The power of life – the ‘hope of restoration’ – IS in the present moment.  And if I have the faith to “trust the process”, just show up and be with what is, I am capable of doing step three (turning my will and my life over to the care of God) which I’ll explore in a future post. And that, to me, is the step that changes everything.

But to get there, one has to first come to believe.  I have heard that step two has 3 components.

  1. Came (i.e., we showed up in 12 step programs, we show up for meetings)
  2. Came to (because we entered recovery we gradually awaken to life again out of the fog of addiction)
  3. Came to believe (and then and only then can we have a meaningful belief)

How about you?  Do you feel, ever, that your life is a bit – well, insane?  A bit out of control?  If so, do you have a sense of some “Power greater than yourself” that can restore you to sanity, to wholeness, to peace?  As always, I really want to know!

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