Saturday, 23 August 2014

My business and God's business

Take a blank sheet of paper.

On one side, write the heading 'God's business'.

On the other side, write the heading 'my business'.

Take a problem area of your life.

Fill in each side of the paper with regard to that area.

Discuss and amend under the guidance of a sponsor.

The Tom I method of going through the Big Book

Two people sit down with the Book.

They take turns, each reading a paragraph.

After each paragraph, they share how they identified with it.

When the Book issues an instruction, the instruction is to be followed.

Resume reading once the instruction has been followed.

Can I be manipulated?

It may be correct to observe that someone else is attempting a manipulation (i.e. control through covert means), but I am free to play the game or step back.

Also: I cannot change other people’s faults. If I'm upset by them, I turn myself into a puppet. They pull the strings, and I dance the 'I'm upset' dance.

The real question is this: do I want this person with all their faults in my life or not?

Accept everyone perfectly and on that basis decide who one wants in one's life.

Those are the only two valid options: accept them and love them as they are, or jog on.

Not to accept them but to remain means I'm voluntarily opting to be exposed to that behaviour, and I cannot blame them for my opting in.

Do I have to accept unacceptable behaviour?

Other people are going to behave badly at times. Or, at least, they are going to behave as they wish.

A distinction must be drawn between the emotional level and the practical level.

If I am disturbed by someone else's behaviour, they have not followed my script. My script is the cause of the disturbance; no script: no disturbance. Acceptance is therefore mandatory if I am to be at peace. Not accepting something, at this level, is entirely self-defeating, and achieves nothing.

To accept does not mean to say that something is 'OK'; to not accept does not mean to say that something is not 'OK'. Sometimes people say they cannot accept something, because to do so would be to say it is 'OK' or to condone it.

This makes about as much as sense as not accepting that bees sting, because to do so would be to condone the bees for stinging. Bees sting. Full stop. There is no point in complaining that bees sting, or that the sky is blue or grey, or that the sea is wet and salty. I may not like such things, because they do not fit my plan, but the universe is not terribly interested in the plan. I am the one who came up with the plan, all by myself.

So, to sum up, on an emotional level, I can choose between acceptance or maintaining the fiction that the universe presented is somehow 'wrong', and that my alternate universe is the real, genuine, valid one.

This does not mean that the future universe cannot be different and better. It means merely that the current universe is as it is.

One can be accepting at the emotional level, e.g. that there is injustice, poverty, violence, etc., in the world, but work actively towards its elimination. The active combatting of wrong does not require me to be or remain angry, and acceptance actually makes it easier to work for a better future for all.

From a practical point of view, acceptance is vital, also.

What this means is the recognition that most people and situations are largely non-negotiable. They are as they are. I can accept them in my life, lock, stock, and barrel, or jog on, and find a person or situation that is more to my liking.

Within the very limited bounds of negotiability, there are five ways I can effect change:

(1) Polite request: this is the ideal.

(2) Transaction ('If I do ..., you do ...'): this represents a 'fair' exchange, and often works well, too.

(3) Overt control/boundaries ('If you ..., then I will ...'): this is where we state the consequences of someone else's actions, in terms of how we will respond, e.g. 'Let's meet at 8.15. I will wait for fifteen minutes. If you do not show up, I will go at 8.30,' or 'if you carry on shouting, I am going to put the phone down,' or 'If you do not hand in your work on time, I will not mark it.' Sound judgement is required to discern whether we are acting within the bounds of fairness. This remedy is to be used sparingly and with a light touch. Clearly, there are inappropriate varieties, e.g. unreasonable threats, especially of punishment or withholding of love.

(4) Covert control/boundaries (e.g. not responding to aggressive emails). This is the same as (3), but with the consequence unstated and implied.

(5) Force (changing the locks, calling the police, etc.)

There is scope for all five, depending on the circumstances, but, in order not to be excessively disagreeable, I need to use all but the first two very sparingly.

In short, other people's bad behaviour is generally to be accepted as one accepts the weather or illness. Railing against it will not help, but evasive measures and remedies are available.

Looking for the positive

I used to look at everything in AA and find the flaw in it. I could take anything anyone said and prove it was the opposite of what the Big Book said.

I've been taught by people ahead of me on the spiritual path that this helps no one.

I've been taught instead to look at the positive.

Ordinary discussion meetings can be weak on the steps, absolutely. But often I find a cheerfulness, a kindness, and a tolerance in such meetings that can be lacking in some Big Book meetings, where, technically speaking, not a foot is put out of place.

Now I try to see the positive, I find a lot more sources of learning, which help me to grow in effectiveness.

The fun thing with the unofficial slogans of broader AA is to see where they do actually reflect the principles set out in the Big Book.

It is not, after all, the actual words contained in the Big Book that are the solution: it is the ideas the words point to and express, and the actions they suggest. Just because something is worded differently does not mean the same idea is not being expressed, any more than the Big Book translated into Hungarian is no less the Big Book.

Al-Anon pitfalls

Things to be wary of:

Right actions taken in the wrong spirit.

Punishing others for breaking rules I have never voiced.

Pulling rank on an alcoholic because I see myself as more competent, capable, and responsible.

Valuing my time more than others'.

Seeing myself as the instrument of God's justice or the chalk that draws the writing on the blackboard of the alcoholic's life.

Acting or speaking when I am not at peace.

Speaking unnecessarily slowly, clearly, or elaborately to shame the alcoholic by implying he's an idiot.

Repeating something when the last dozen reminders were in vain.

Expecting the sow's ear to turn itself into a silk purse.

Expecting others to pull up socks they do not have.

Expecting others to display a clarity about the effect of their behaviour I would do well to seek with regard to my own.

Shielding someone from the consequences of their actions then bringing home all the chickens to roost at once.

Master these and you free up the whole afternoon.

There is more to Al-Anon ...

There is more to Al-Anon than listing 'his' faults and recruiting sympathy and identification with my judgements, perplexity, and rage.

For me, Al-Anon is about recognising that, whenever I am blaming, I am distracting from the fact that I am the creator of both my life and my responses.

I having learned not only that I did not cause, cannot control, and cannot cure 'his' alcoholism, but that he did not cause, cannot control, and cannot cure my maladjustment to life.

He did not cause my upset; he does not determine its course; and he, or some fantasy version of him, is not the cure to my problems.

I have learned that, by accepting I am not to blame for his alcoholism or recovery, I am free to stay or leave.

I have learned that there are seven billion people on the planet and that, if I do not care for the life I have, God has endless other opportunities and channels available for providing His love to me.

I release him. And thereby, myself.

Is 'unmanageability' a disastrous external life?

Most people come to AA with their lives in a mess, and because their lives are in a mess.

This is not the 'unmanageability' that the book Alcoholics Anonymous talks about, however.

Two of the examples (Jim, page 35, and Fred, page 39) do not have messy lives at all, yet are alcoholics, and presumably are capable of honestly taking Step One.

Unmanageability is the corollary of powerlessness. If I cannot choose whether or not I will drink, what will happen if I do, and whether I ever stop, I cannot dictate the course of my life. I literally cannot manage it.

Now, if you cannot manage it (because you drink unexpectedly then cause problems because of the uncontrollability once you start), you are likely (but not bound) to end up with external chaos.

The external chaos is not the unmanageability. It is the consequence of the unmanageability.

Am I splitting hairs?

I do not think so.

Many people sort out the consequences of their unmanageability in AA, i.e. sort out their external lives. However, this can conceal the fact that the underlying problem of powerlessness has not yet been solved, and their lives are still unmanageable, because a restlessness, irritability, and discontentment (of which they may or may not be aware, because it is so familiar it is not even noticed) is still liable to pull rank and force the first drink (despite the ample history of catastrophic consequences), thus setting in motion the terrible cycle once more, a cycle that this time perhaps will not be stopped.

AA is about sorting out the underlying problem, the separation from God (and others, and our true selves). If that is sorted out, the externals will sort themselves out automatically.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Who is the Big Book for?

A friend said: "I recently heard about AA traditionalists being upset because they think these other 12 step groups have no business using the Big Book, that the information in the Big Book is only relevant to alcoholics."

(1) I've learned that, if I'm upset, I'm playing God.

(2) There are seven billion people on the planet. I would have quite a nerve suggesting I know whether a particular (large) body of information is or is not relevant to any or all of said seven billion. That would require quite a degree of omniscience.

(3) If you do not want people to 'use' information (whatever 'use' means), you might want to think about not publishing it.

(4) My business is my business. Your business is your business. What is or is not your business is not my business.

(5) Every single idea contained in the Big Book was learned. We learned of the physical craving from Silkworth. We learned of the connection between a spiritual awakening and the removal of the mental obsession from Jung. We learned about reliance on God from millennia of teachings. To suggest that this information, which predates the Big Book and AA, has use only in AA is comical.

(6) We are sticklers for facts and results. Are people other than alcoholics benefitting from using the Big Book? Yes. Are we going to say that other people recovering is somehow not God's will?

(7) We give freely. Full stop.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Dependent relationships

In any relationship of dependence, instead of seeing God as the source of good, with others as the channel, I have made others the source of all good and am then frightened that, if they are eliminated from my life, I will lose all good from my life.

Take a sheet of paper.

On one side, write the heading 'love'.

On the other side, write the heading 'fear'.

Under 'love', write all genuinely good things about the relationship, e.g.:
  • We enjoy going to the cinema together
  • He helps out with my family
  • We enjoy cooking meals together
  • We laugh at the same things
  • She is good at talking through problems when I cannot see the wood for the trees
  • Etc.

 Under 'fear', write all ways in which the other person is the antidote to fear, guilt, shame, etc., e.g.:
  • When I am insecure about my looks, I ask for reassurance, and he provides it.
  • When I am frightened about money, she says she will look after me.
  • He makes me feel special, and I don't feel special unless I am with him.
  • She makes up for the fact I have been rejected so many times before.
  • He is so handsome etc. that it shows others I am 'worth' a boyfriend like that.
  • If she is around, I don't have to be alone.
  • If I am busy fixing him, I don't have to look at my own emotional problems.
  • Compared to her, I actually look reasonably sane, so I don't feel so bad about myself.
  • Etc.

Regarding the 'love' list, pray as follows:

'God, please have me trust that, if this channel for all good is removed, you will provide another channel, so I will always be alright. I undertake to trust in your benevolence and providence,' (or words to that effect: feel free to reword in language and terms you are comfortable with).

Regarding the 'fear' list, ask yourself what the underlying insecurities are, which you are using this relationship to relieve, temporarily. Then discuss with your sponsor or spiritual advisor how you can use the Twelve Steps, Fellowship, Service, and the Twelve Traditions to RECOVER from these problems, rather than temporarily relieving them.

Removal of Step Six blocks

List your defects (attitudes or thinking/behaviour patterns):

(1) Do I really want the defect removed?
(2) If the answer is 'yes', move onto the next one.
(3) If the answer is 'no', ask yourself: how is your life unmanageable due to your powerlessness to change this attitude or thinking/behaviour pattern?
(4) If the answer is still 'no': remember that defects progress; where will this take you if you do not change?
(5) If the answer is still 'no': each defect must be benefiting you: what is the benefit, and are you willing to give that up?
(6) Have you had enough?
(7) Are you now ready?

Can I take the credit?

I could legitimately take credit only for any concrete actions I have taken.

However, these were taken out of desperation and later out of self-interest, ultimately, so there is is no great merit there.

To anyone wanting to take the credit: what are you going to do with the credit once you have it? It is just to get a little kick and feel a little self-satisfied?

I am afraid I have burned myself out trying to build a life specifically so I can take credit. That is precisely what pride is about: building an identity rather than dissolving into the universe and being one with it.

I am happiest, most useful, and most cheerful when I have forgotten myself entirely. As Chuck C. said: I haven't any more an image of me than I have of a walrus.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Harm and forgiveness

If someone takes my stuff, that does not harm me, because I am not my stuff. If one confuses oneself with one's possessions, one can take it personally, which is a distortion of perception. A girl I knew was angry because someone stole and drank her bottle of champagne. She said, 'I can't believe you did it to me'. No, they did it to your bottle of champagne. You are not your bottle of champagne. The girl was very confused about who she was!

I am spirit. Spirit cannot be harmed. I happen to live in a body, and the body can be harmed.

To the extent that I maintain the illusion that I am my body or my material circumstances, to that precise extent am I inviting fear into my life, as these are inherently vulnerable and unstable.

The reliance on God talked about on page 68 obviously cannot suggest that bad things will stop happening to my material circumstances or my body if I rely on God: no, reliance on God is recognising that I am a child of God (and as a child of God I am spirit; like begets like), not a ten-dollar bag of chemicals (as Bill W. referred to the body) or a random set of external circumstances I have lent my name to (in breach of the principle behind Tradition Six).

True forgiveness lies in removing the judgement; removing the judgement involves a change in perception of who I am.

If I believe I can be harmed, e.g. by theft, malice, etc., forgiveness is merely a commitment to lying and saying that the harm has not happened.

That's like pasting a sticking plaster over a festering sore. It does not remove the sore.

No: the underlying problem has to be removed. Once that is removed, there is nothing to forgive, because I have not been harmed.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Corrective measures

I have never had great success with corrective measures involving not doing something. The best ones are where I cultivate a different positive attitude, thought pattern, or action.

According to page 85, we can exercise our will along the line of God's will, and that is where empowerment lies. We do not ask for God to reinforce our strength not to act on self-will, because that implies the solution to self-will is not the Step Seven removal thereof but the exercise of restraint, which always entails tension, as the self-will remains.

It is only by withdrawing my faith in the ego's plan for my salvation, which is where all of my failed attitudes, thinking, and behaviour have come from, and the placing of my faith in God's plan for my salvation that I can be at rest in God. And from that flows all the energy I need to act right.