Spiritual Principles behind the Traditions
Okay, okay: seven years clean from drugs and alcohol has less religious connation than “fasting”, but maybe it shouldn’t. Religion connects us to the universal after all, and the path taken from addiction certainly offers lessons applicable to all walks of life. See for yourself: these 7 lessons are ages-old, however much in need of a modern translation (I’ve tried my best).
(1)Stay with the Process (Or: One day at a Time).
I simply never would’ve made it 7 years if I’d counted down. Sure, some addicts have white-knuckled and self-willed their way 6 months without drugs (to prove they weren’t addicted), but these iron wills usually soften after a year. By living in the moment, staying in the day and focusing on the immediate challenges, one has enough resources to overcome. Anything.
The wisdom’s not just for junkies and losers, however; coaches implement it all the time. Billy Donovan, 2 time national championship coach of the Florida Gators, also preaches process: by ignoring the previous record of wins and losses, by shutting out the current score or the latest bad call, his teams are able to excel in the now.
In 2006-2007, they won back to back collegiate championships—nearly unheard of in college basketball. In 2013, a much less talented team immersed in the process strung together 30 straight wins before losing in the Final Four.
(2) Life can’t be contained (Or: Let Go, Let God).
Think about it; I mean really think about it: how many lifetimes have you already lived?
In my childhood I didn’t worry over bills and career advancement. Solid as any steel, an invisible barrier separates us from so many next-stages in life: high-school diplomas, a college degree, a wedding, a post-graduate degree, children. All these stages have their own routines, their self-contained worldviews replete with yearnings and ultimate purpose.
Didn’t a part of you die when you moved past high-school?
Are you even the same person that you were in 6th grade? After your first marriage?
That’s just it—life is ever beyond us. We put it into digestible pieces—with our routines, our baptisms and our proms—but life is too great to ever be contained. We might embrace it, but our hands can never meet around the other side.
Is there a lesson here?
Absolutely. Respect: go about the routines, enjoy the current stage, relish the struggle to be overcome (before the next struggle), only don’t cling to that which is dying. Life truly does go on.
Who knows how far?
(3) I can’t learn too many times what I need to learn (Or: Wisdom can’t be understood, only acted out).
For a while I thought I was stupid. No, not in school—I’m confident in classrooms. In life, though, I keep cycling through the same lessons: how many times will I have to realize patience isn’t learned overnight?
That’s just it, though: patience isn’t learned once, but over a lifetime. Same goes for letting go. Or settling into the present moment.
I keep thinking I can reach it: a level of security, a certain job and assured income that will, once and finally, eradicate anxiety. Then, I won’t have to trust, to lean on faith and experience that God will provide. Because I’ve learned just that: living one day at a time and connected to my best self, Life takes care of me. Paradoxically, it’s only through trust that I can realize this. Laying it all on the line in an out-of-state move, my faith was both tested and rewarded: I landed not just a job, but a job I considered beyond my league (staying in the process, I knocked the interview out of the park).
The story didn’t end there.
Life, as it does, moved on. I, to move with it, needed once more to learn trust: though I’d let it all go before, I still wanted to clutch and grab at what I knew, baffled that I couldn’t, once and finally, be certain of an outcome.
Patience, it seems, requires a lot of it to learn it.
(4) Spirituality is not Religion (Or: Religion is for those who fear hell, Spirituality is for those who’ve already been to hell).
This one’s a biggy. So I’ll try and sum it up simply: I’ve found that I need God to stay clean. I don’t, however, need religion.
More specifically: I don’t need dogma. I respect the need for an institution to survive, and to do that by standardizing certain things. McDonald’s franchisees after-all, must adhere to a certain uniformity; Big-Macs should be Big-Macs regardless where one lives. Religious life is great for those it works for, and I appreciate that some Bible verses could be interpreted several ways. The wrong dogma could weaken an entire institution’s influence.
Having the right dogma doesn’t help me stay clean, however.
Prayer, humility, meditation, service to others and being guided by ideals, does. These need not be connected to dogma to be effective.
I don’t need to perform certain rituals, or believe certain sentences or worldviews to be spiritual. For too long, religion told me I wasn’t spiritual. It took an addiction, and a recovery from it, to discover I’d always been.
It took courage to honor that which connects me, personally, to God.
(5)Don’t be afraid of the 2nd draft (Or: Take chances).
My spiritual practice involves writing. Like any good spiritual path, writing demands faith, dedication, patience, humility, service, a stretching of oneself, etc. I write every day, a commitment I was never capable of before: with other endeavors, I’d always quit at signs of trouble (religion, you’ll remember, demanded a constriction of thought I couldn’t bear). Writing demands that I be humble, accept where my skill is at, and patiently continue towards where I want to be (faith insisting I can get there).
Writing’s taught me something else, too: Don’t be afraid of the 2nd draft.
In writing, this means that I can go ahead, breathe, and try and write whatever it is I wanted to capture with words. If I’m burdened by an inner critic, not much gets accomplished—hardly two words come out without ridicule. If, however, I allow to emerge what will, I actually have something to work with. Sure, there might be mistakes after its down, but at least there’s something to improve.
The analogy extends.
In life, when I allow myself to take chances, to go out of my shell and call that person, to apply for that job, to ask her out, I also have the chance of failing. That’s why we often stay stuck, right: fear of failure?
Without the chance of failing, though, I’ll never have the chance of success.
(6)Believe in Others (Or: We can’t do it on our own).
This lesson is still raw for me. Sure, when my fast began, and the memory of drug was almost physical, I got it quickly enough: I would need to leave my shell, open up, and begin to trust others. If not, I’d destruct.
Broadening this approach to other spheres of life has been difficult.
Writing, as often for me, has been a catalyst: for prose to be refined, the author has to trust his audience. Strange as it may sound, believing in an (imaginary) audience that appreciates certain subjects and humor awakened me to a simple fact: the world is chock-full of interesting, worthwhile folks.
My arrogance (a product of insecurity) often tries to elevate me above the masses. Wisdom, and the resultant joy of its following, rejoices in joining the human race.
The more I join that race, the more I believe in the goodness of its inhabitants. Slowly, day by day, I’m opening up more to humanity. When I’m truly following my ideal, I’m helping out strangers in small ways, engaged in others struggles, present for whatever.
I’ve got a long way to go in acceptance and non-judgment, but I believe in the process that will get me there (even if I have to learn it a few times over).
(7)Make Lists (Or: There’s more than one way to skin a cat).
I’ve always considered lists corny. The 7 principles of success, the 10 habits of leadership—are concepts really so simply dissected?
Why my own list now?
Because one must be adaptable to thrive.
I, like everyone else, come to the party armed with pre-conceptions. When I insist others conform, I’m a wall-flower, grumbling with the rest of the complainers in the corner. When I shift and accommodate—never losing my core—I dance in the middle, an active—smiling—participant. When websites with happy little lists are getting all the hits, perhaps it’s time to write one’s own itemized wisdom.
This lesson has pre-requisites, however: insight (into one’s core values) and humility.
Bringing a beginner’s mind to endeavors does just that: it makes one teachable. Life, if we’re in the moment, paying attention, is always teaching. If we were just better students, we’d be in the advanced classes sooner.
There you have it. 7 lessons from 7 years. The clever will realize that all these lessons merge and feed one another. Though lists may have numbers, they need not have seams. However, if pressed for the most valuable to my 7 year fast, I’d have to go with number 1. Staying with the process can achieve so much.