Wednesday, 8 June 2016

The brutal simplicity of Step Three

Sometimes some thought is required. My job requires quite a lot of thinking, but it is technical thinking. I have to consider the meaning of words, sentences, and whole texts, and then process them. This sort of thinking is fine. A lot of thought that goes on in my mind is not, however, necessary. I know, for example, how I am going to vote in an upcoming event, but my mind has a habit of re-considering my arguments and quarreling with people on the opposing side. It worries about politics in other countries. It berates me for what I haven't done well enough or at all over the last 24 hours. It frets about the future and extrapolates today's failure into perpetuity. As someone once said, my head would kill me if it didn't need me for transportation; in truth, it could kill me even though it needs me for transportation.

Don't get me wrong, my mind is a hell of a lot more functional than it was 23 years ago, when I got sober, I believe wrong thinking far less often, and I'm largely at peace and content. There is a residual background noise at times, though, and also an awareness of the 'scripts' that are not even running but could run: I know the plotlines so well I do not even have to watch the movie to know what happens.

What do you do about this? Well, as Ed says, if you have a problem, pick a number between one and twelve. I pick three:

To turn my will and life over to God means that I need to ask God what to do. At the start of the day, I plan as far as I need to but no more (cf. Tradition Nine) and bring into my consciousness an awareness of all that needs to be done today. I schedule only what must be scheduled; the rest I trust God will fit into my schedule as I go. I complete each task, one by one, and ask God, 'what next?'

Once a day I run through the possible duties and tasks of the week; once a week I run through the possible duties and tasks of the month; once a month I run through the possible duties and tasks of the year; once a year I run through the possible duties and tasks of the rest of my life. Turning one's life over to God means considering timeframes outside the moment is carried out only as often as strictly necessary and no more. I need to cast my mind forward in an ad hoc fashion on occasion, but generally there is no need to be outside the moment, outside the technical task at hand. For more on different types of thinking: technical and other, see Joko Beck, who is brilliant on this.

Most people believe what they think. I have learned the opposite approach is more useful. I start with this: everything I think is a fiction to be disregarded as pointless and often painful, unless the thought clearly comes from God and is useful or otherwise loving (the latter category includes all forms of appreciation and positive imagination). I do not need to consider any particular negative thought to work out whether it is valid or invalid, whether the judgements and perceptions are right and wrong, whether to take heed of it or disregard it. I may quietly set it aside as I would an unpleasant dystopian novel and come back to reality: at almost all moments, the universe is entirely benign, and when horrid things happen God will give me the strength and poise to deal with them as they arise.

What about stress? Most people live in a prison of obligations stacking up around them in all directions forever. That sort of attitude has to go.

A more truthful and productive one is this: you do not need to be good; you do not need to be well; you do not need to be productive; you do not need to be talented; you do not need to be maximising your potential; you are enough as you are, in the same way that dogs and elephants and forests and rivers are enough as they are. They do not need to have anything added to them to be perfect. Thus are you, too.

Conceive of life like this: you are under no laws but God's: you are permanently free of the thousands of little rules you have been living by. Now, you are given time to play with. What are you going to do with it? What are you going to do next? Every action and decision has consequences. These are the laws of God. But these are the only laws. Ask God, what action shall I take next? Since God is good, the answer will be the right one.

Does this not leave room for rationalisation, sloth, and neglect of obligations? In principle yes, but in practice no: we are under no laws but God's but we are under those laws. If we trust God and listen carefully, we will, by the very nature of the exercise, be acting in our own best interests and in the best interests of all. Were we to make the wrong decisions, we would soon encounter negative consequences, and we would realise that the decisions were coming not from God but from some other source. This process takes practice, self-honesty, the application of principle, and time to come to fruition, but it works.

Take life largely one task at a time, and treat each task as a task carried out for the love of God and the love of the world. That is the entire formula.