Monday, 16 July 2012

Worry is temporary atheism.

I've met a lot of atheists who worry a lot. Hell, I've been a lot of atheists who worry a lot.

When I worry, I'm saying that a future event will bring me a set of emotional experiences I do not want or cannot face.

Sometimes it is just childishness, and demanding that everything be permanently nice and that I not be exposed to legitimate pain.

More often than not, however, I have based my happiness and identity on shifting sands, things of the world that will come and go and cannot be controlled: sex, money, power, prestige, comfort, thrills, and looks.

There is no way of relying on these things (extensions of self, hence reliance on self) and not being frightened, unless you're psychotic or otherwise delusional.

If I rely on God for my identity (just being one of God's kids, not having my identity reliant on anything external, cf. Tradition Six) and my life's work is simply to carry the message of AA by demonstrating what God can do through me, with everything that comes to me a bonus, there is no way of failing, as any day on which I make an honest effort is a good day.

I've not found it inevitable that really bad things cause misery: when my father died, there was pain, but there was also joy at what his life had been. I didn't suffer because of my emotions or resent them. When I was faced with a potential 6-figure law suit, once the programme kicked in, I sailed through the experience without it touching the sides, because I knew it couldn't take away what mattered, which was the love for the people in my life.

When I rely on God, I know that anything can be gotten through with poise and grace, and that the negative feelings will be just a tiny part of a much greater whole. There really is nothing to worry about.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Victimhood, acceptance, and forgiveness

Someone said, "I'm surrounded by all of these controlling, manipulative people. I'm sick of it being me that has to change and practise acceptance."

If I am bothered, it is axiomatic that it is something in me that has to change for me to be OK.

I've certainly suffered from the illusion, particularly in relation to insufferable, controlling, and manipulative people, that my emotional disturbance has come from them, not from me.

When I unpack such a situation, it is clear that, except in situations of genuine power (e.g. employment or familial relationships involving minors), I cannot be controlled or manipulated without my full approval (and even then there may be structural acquiescence).

When I say that someone is controlling or manipulative I am really saying that they are expressing demands either overtly or covertly, usually with some promise of reward or threat of punishment.

If I am in a relationship with such a person as an adult, I am free to leave the relationship. If I am staying in the relationship, I have somehow calculated it is in my interest to remain in it. The apparently insufferable nature of the person in question must actually be more sufferable than my perceived alternative. So I have chosen this.

Secondly, I either acquiesce, in which case I must perceive a reward of greater value than the alternative, or I don't. The choice is entirely up to me.

The anger I can feel in such situations is often anger at my own hypocrisy of blaming another person for a situation I have co-designed. The horns in their head neatly match the holes in mine. And blame is a jolly good way of avoiding responsibility and concealing my own schemes.

So, let's say I have made some progress, have decided to remain in a situation with such a person for work or other reasons, have learned to navigate the tricky situations, and have decided that I will not acquiesce to their demands just to gain their approval or avoid their angry outbursts or attempts to impose guilt. My behaviour is now impeccable and I have escaped the acquiescence trap, am ostensibly free, but am still upset. What then?

Firstly, I am the one who has gained the enormous benefits of changing and desisting from the games, and this requires far less real effort than acquiescence, so no self-pity is due there.

Secondly, however, I may be trapped in the 'acceptance fallacy'. This involves spiritual advancement to the point of not engaging in damaging behaviour and the folly of trying to change people but with retention of the victimhood. The script is something like this: "I accept that this person is frightful and will continue to be frightful and that I must tolerate suffering at his hands, as trying to change people is wrong."

Acceptance can be used as a way of solidifying victimhood into a pseudo-spiritual permafrost of misery.

If I am upset, I have a demand. It is that that must be dropped. An idol that I must cease to worship.

What is the idol? Their approval or respect.

As soon as I become indifferent to whether or not they approve of or respect me, I am free.

I need not even be with them. If I am, I need not acquiesce to the demands. If I do not, I need not even resent their raging or whining response to my refusal, because I am no longer making the demand of them.

The realisation then dawns that I was just as manipulative and controlling: I wanted their approval and respect and was willing to compromise my integrity to get it.

Then forgiveness arises and I am free. The person can no longer control me because I am no longer handing them the keys to my soul. I was the gaoler and prisoner the whole time, and it was never about them.

QED: my troubles are of my own making (page 62, 'Alcoholics Anonymous').

Step Nine—do I still regret the past?

When I am still regretting the past, I have to address a number of questions:

(1) Choosing guilt over powerlessness. If I took the actions I took out of a combination of powerlessness over alcohol (powerlessness over the first drink and powerlessness after the first drink) plus being in the thrall of forces within me greater than my intellect plus willpower, guilt really means a failure to recognise this powerlessness. I have to choose between powerlessness and guilt. If I am guilty, I am not powerless. If I am powerless, I am not guilty.

(2) Forgiveness. This applies to others, too. If I am charging myself, I must have standards that I am applying universally: this means I have a plan for my life, and the world around me, and must be measuring myself and the world against those standards. Whatever guns are being turned on me are necessarily being turned on others; inconsistent belief systems always resolve in one direction or another. The question, therefore, is 'whom have I not forgiven'? Whom do I believe is guilty not powerless? Whom do I believe to have acted out of badness rather than ignorance and blinkered self-centredness, driven, as was I, by a hundred forms of fear, self-pity, self-delusion, and self-seeking? When I fully forgive everyone for everything by refusing to see the 'evil', instead seeing past that to the perfect child of God within each person, whose only fault is the possession of an ego that distorts their thinking and therefore action and blinds them to the perfection of themselves and others, then I discover myself forgiven.

(3) Amends. I made a bunch of amends in my first few years, but get-out-of-jail-free cards were collected along the way, and there were many people I did not face personally, for various reasons that seemed quite plausible and were apparently well-founded in sound principles. However, low self-worth, as I called it, afflicted me for a long time. When I was 15 years sober, I went through the Steps again and found 78 people still on my Step Eight list, some from my drinking, many from my years of sobriety. I found and made amends to every single person on this list that I could. When I completed the last action that was in my power, an extraordinary transformation took place: I realised the truth that had been told to me many times but I had never believed, that I was a perfect child of God who had merely been in error and illusion. This was universalised, and the world suddenly seemed quite benign—my life could be affected but I could not.

(4) Playing God. One great reason for regret is imagining what might have been and 'mourning' that. The 'what might have been' that I imagine is usually contrived of various self-centred desires for money, sex, power, prestige, comfort, thrills, and looks. What I'm really angry about is that my plan for my own salvation through wresting happiness and satisfaction from this world was foiled by my own failings. This is not real guilt. This is my ego chastising me for not fulfilling its demands for supremacy.

(5) Spiritual pride. Somewhere along the line I decided that I was here to achieve rather than to learn. The decades of mistakes I saw as a mistake, ironically. They are not. They were the necessary lessons. I am no more exempt from error—sometimes egregious—than anyone. And all error is necessary for me ultimately to be brought to the truth. It forms the  material for the lesson.

Everything can be healed; a single run through the Steps usually clears away some of the debris, but a single run through the Steps, or even several, does not mean the Steps have been exhausted, because they comprise spiritual principles that allow for limitless expansion. This isn't a mechanical 'alconomics 101'; it's perpetual growth towards ideals that are never attained in their entirety. There is always more breadth, depth, and weight, and there are always people ahead of us who can chart the waters we are currently foundering in.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

STEP 04 An exercise on completion of the third column of the resentment inventory

(1) Can I see that my unhappiness is coming from the gap between my perception of reality and my plan for reality?

(2) Can I see that my perception of reality is highly selective and therefore fragmentary, and that actual reality is obscured by a great deal of conjecture (forming views based on imagination not fact), interpretation (seeing what we think things "mean", not what they really are), generalisation (inferring general trends from individual observations), and extrapolation (inferring what cannot be seen from what can)?

(3) Can I see that my plan for reality to a significant extent boils down to wanting sex, money, power, prestige, looks, comfort, and thrills, and in particular (with regard to prestige) approval, validation, and admiration?

(4) What value do these commodities have? How do I feel when I chase them? How do I feel when I cannot get them? How do I feel when I get them? How long can I keep that feeling for? How do I feel when I am making every effort not to lose them?

(5) Is my life like the war it talks about on page 66 in which, even when I win, the cost of chasing these commodities is a terrible one?

(6) Am I willing to see I need to drop the chase after these commodities if I am going to be happy?

(7) Am I willing to see I need to stop speculating, interpreting, generalising, and extrapolating if I am to see reality as it is?

(8) Am I willing to believe that reality might be seen differently?

(9) Am I willing to believe that there may be better commodities than money, sex, power, prestige, looks, comfort, and thrills?

(10) Am I willing to let God guide me to those with no prejudice?