Spiritual Principles behind the Traditions
There was a time I thought similarly to Tyler Durden. Tyler Durden, for those who’ll remember, turned out to be both Brad Pitt and Edward Norton in the movie which defined post-high-school-cool. Fight Club provided a cynical look at life, coloring it with the heavy shadows of black I (at the time) found the only appropriate way to present life: dark, violent, brutish, teetering towards meaninglessness. In fact, there is one line in particular that sticks with me:“Self-improvement is masturbation. Why worry about ‘bettering yourself’? I think self-destruction is the answer.”There was something about the way Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) said it that fashioned it the coolest thing to belief. As it turns out, there were a lot of things Tyler Durden did that seemed the coolest thing since Antartica.
The problem with living “cool” philosophies, as I did, was after 25 or so odd years at sneering at others attempts to “improve” and “achieve”, I found myself miserable to the point of hopeless, spending all my money (and much not my own) on a synthesized sort of happiness. Of course, the problem with the synthesized sort is that it runs out. That, and fucking tolerance. An 80 mg oxy-contin used to seem so enduring…
The other blog posts have practically written themselves, so I’ve been waiting for this next one to do the same. Unfortunately, it’s being stubborn, and making me do the work this time. So, I’ve chosen a place to start I’ve often found a good place to: honesty. Honestly, I’ve been struggling a bit of late, which (honestly) is nothing so new.
It’s like I reach these truths, inspiring in their at-the-time revelation, and then have to relearn them over and over. And over. One such truth I’ve eye-wateringly affirmed is the fact that I’m OK exactly where I am. That’s not to say that I don’t have anything to work towards or aspects of my personality that could use a little attention, but merely to say that wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, is exactly where I’m supposed to be. With a little bit of acceptance and forgiveness, perhaps I’m able to evolve further into a life I believe the Universe wants me to inhabit; or perhaps not. Either way, it’s precisely the point I’m supposed to be at.
The problem becomes when the point I’m supposed to be at doesn’t remember—or more likely doesn’t believe—that truth anymore. There’s a literal constriction in my chest, near my heart area; not necissarily overriding, but a sense of unease and anxiousness is there. Of course, this is only the physical manifestation of a “spiritual condition”, and translates in that realm as thoughts of guilt and doubt. Oh, don’t forget fear. Can’t forget fear.
Beneath our struggles and beyond any desire to develop self, we can discover our Buddha nature, an inherent fearlessness and connectedness, integrity, and belonging. Like groundwater these essential qualities are our true nature, manifesting whenever we are able to let go of our limited sense of ourselves, our unworthiness, our deficiency, and our longing. The experience of our true self is luminous, sacred, and transforming. The peace and perfection of our true nature is one of the great mystical reflections of consciousness described beautifully in a hundred traditions, by Zen and Taoism, by Native Americans and Western mystics, and by many others.
And this, at the place where I need to be, helps me remember yet again this truth. Beyond remembrance, it helps me open up to the relived experience of what it feels like to step beyond fear, or what the Eastern spiritualists call moving beyond the “limited sense of self”. It’s what a lot of people who’ve done a thorough Step 4 have experienced after reading it to God and another human being in Step 5: the world is bright, shining, and new—quite other to the Fight Club perspective—and often, we feel just as bright, shining, and new, stepping out and touching once more the limitless possibilities that exist in a world we no longer limit or restrict through fear and resentment.
I’ve heard it described beautiful from another recovering addict, when sharing her experience of Step 9. In the process of walking through her fear and actually making ammends to people in her past, unable to stop the sweeping circles of her arms as she talked, she described the process of her entire world getting bigger, detailing how streets and people once avoided lost their restrictive hold. Her world just “opened up”.
I’ve certainly experienced this sense, most markedly the first time walking through the 12 steps. I had done a lot of harm, and my resentments were deep and gashing. But sobriety is not kept by one experience of spiritual awakening–rather a sustained and focused one–and a re-walk through the steps looks different to me today. In fact, resentments don’t really eat at me. Fears, however, do, and I’m only now beginning to identify them, walk through them, and step once more into that clear space of “Me”.
Once spiritual faculties such as faith and awareness are awakened, they take on a life of their own. They become spiritual powers that fill us and move through us unasked. The pure, clear space of consciousness is naturally filled with peace, clarity, and connectedness; the great spiritual qualities shine through when our fearful sense of self is released.
The italicized quotes, by the way, don’t come from an addiction/recovery source, but rather an “American Buddhist” one. (A Path with Heart: Jack Kornfield–maybe the most wisdom-dense book I have ever read) However, as the purpose of this blog intends, the same, beautiful “spiritual truths” of the 12 steps exist in many traditions, and many modes of life can help achieve a life fully-lived.
Which actually leads me back to the beginning—I’m told, a very good place to start. Honesty. And my fears at the moment, my struggles, surround the religion I was brought up in. I suppose it is the season. I still consider myself a Christian of sorts, though by no means subscribe to a belief system with fixed reference points on how and where to place my faith. Why, my journey has been a sustained stroll through fear into the open spirituality that helped get me sober.
So why all this fear?
And it’s not overwhelming, but just honestly there. I don’t wish (today, anyway) to make this some sounding board for my personal truth and religious views. Plenty of time for that, later, I’m sure, but what motivates this day’s post is a sense that others might share a similar struggle.
The fear today exists and tells me that I don’t need to write this, that nothing is going to change and that all my dreams of some spiritually-open, religious community are a waste of time that nobody hears. Fear tells me that nobody needs to hear my inspiration and what has helped me; to stay out and mind my own business.
Again, without wanting to get too specific, a sincere search for and cultivated connection with my Higher Power (God) led me out of drug addiction, into my religion of origin, and out of it again. Wonderfully, I’ve heard others with the courage to share their experience relate similar experiences of having first gotten sober through a Power very much outside of themselves, the old “on-high” God of Western, Judeo-Christian society. In my early days of sobriety, very much on a high from the Grace of God given to a lowly, drug-addicted “sinner” as myself, the symbol Jesus gave of forgiveness, as the intermediary between my debase, drug-wanting nature and the new connection with the God of my understanding made a lot of sense. It made a lot of sense, even though I was very open to other spiritual expressions, to go to the religion of my parents, making them happy and creating a deeper sense of family bond than I had ever before experienced.
However, a couple years into my sobriety, a crises verging on thoughts of using again required that I dig deeper into the Higher Power concept. Again, I was relieved to hear that it was not unusual, after some clean time and self-forgiveness, to identify with a Higher Power that is very much “inside”, very much a “part of” oneself, along the lines of the ancient, Eastern wisdom traditions.
But let’s be honest: all these words we use to try and denote religious or mystical or spiritual experiences are a bit inadequate. I had this “connection with a Higher Power”, a deep-voice I could access within, often through prayer (which, in desperation, I had one day started to experiment with), and I was intuitively led to do something, call someone, or read something. When I followed this voice or intution, I noticed—or was rather floored by, experiencing floods of repressed emotions in the form of tearful joy—a greater sense of wholeness and well-being. Hell, I even started to feel comfortable in my own skin.
Words, as has been pointed out, are sometimes inadequate to describe this “inner experience”, so I found the words of my handed-down, ancient-tradition useful: I coined this inner prompting “the Holy Spirit”, and was (and am) convinced this is what those old practicioners as well experienced when they clothed this mystery of existence into a tri-une God, both in us (through the Holy Spirit) and out (through God the creator and Jesus).
Before I go to much on my own worldview in this post, suffice it to say this: in my moment of most supreme communion with this “Higher Power”, very much connecting most deeply with It through my sense of unworthiness and subsequent devotion (a spiritual practice, I would later learn, coined “bhakti-yoga” by the spiritually sophisiticated Hindus) to this Supreme Being who had manifested into a human body and died so that I might commune with Him, in my most supreme connection with this “Spirit of the Universe”, that same intuition—an intuition, I may need remind, that led me from drug addiction into peace and harmony—whispered in my being, “All paths, all religions lead here.” I knew it. I just knew it.
Also how my “Higher Power” or “God of my understanding” (or simply, “God” if you prefer) works is by sending the same message through different mediums. Though close in time. I first hear something somebody says that catches my attention. Then I read it in a book. Then I think the message might be for me to pay attention to. Then I read it in a different book. Sometimes I think it’s too good to be true, that God doesn’t operate like that, but wants us to suffer a little bit. So I pray about it. Shortly after I pray, I might read the same message in a different book. This has been a reliable pattern with many developments in my spiritual thought.
One such previous message, I might do well to add, was so simple I scorned it as overly so. There are only two paths to choose in life. The path of fear or the path of love. Too simple, right? But then I thought about it.
I’ve chosen the path even now, writing this post instead of remaining silent in fear of ridicule or scorn or simple rejection. But I’ve noticed my life open beyond my wildest imagination when I can move beyond the previous limits I had put on love and my capacity to show love in this world. God wants my life to move to the glorious heights God wants me to see, and all I have to do is move the blocks from my heart and walk the courageous path to see it.
But there’s a new message these days, battle-tested: I’ve read it in like 5 different sources already. It’s a message of “Unique Self”.
The latest sources’ description?
In our awakening our Buddha nature, we find that there is one further aspect of self to understand, the need to honor our personal destiny. This discovery is an essential task, especially for those of us in the West. In traditional Buddhist stories, it is taught that an individual might make a great vow to fulfill over the ages, to become the chief attendant to a Buddha or to become a yogi of unsurpassed psychic powers or a bodhisattva of limitless compassion.
To discover our destiny is to sense wisely the potential of our individual life and the tasks necessary to fulfill it. To do so is to open to the mystery of our individual incarnation.
Before I got this description, the message had come beautifully from an online, previously recorded speaker meeting. (to listen yourself, go to aaspeakers.org, the name is June G. from L.A.) To not strip her voice and the awesome power it has from her, I suggest you listen for yourself; I can guarantee you won’t be any worse from listening. She discusses, though not so blatently, this notion of unique expression I think a life of recovery asks us to live. Really, recovery from drugs and alcohol only asks us to live the best possible lives we can for ourselves.
By the way, I listen to speaker meetings online because I live in Germany, and the AA meetings are a lot more sparse out here. Matter of fact, this blog helps me feel a bit connected to that wonderful world out there, and I appreciate you giving me the space to share.
I would love to hear your experience and thoughts