In the 1960’s gurus and ashrams first appeared in the United States. Along with yoga, meditation began to become a household word. The reality is that hundreds of thousands of Americans were already practicing meditation in an unpublicized way. They were members of twelve step programs and meditation was a foundation stone of recovery. Of course, when newcomers came into the program, meditation was a foreign concept. They often turned to their sponsor for clarification. Their conversation began with the sponsee asking for how often and long they needed to meditate. Usually they were told to meditate daily for about 20 minutes. Invariably, the sponsee would say, “well, what if I have a busy day ahead”? To which the sponsor would say, “then you’d better meditate for an hour”. That answer seemed counter-intuitive but the reality is that time spent in meditation is time well spent. Those few minutes help set our mood for the entire day. When we meditate, we feel calmer and more present. A more stressful day requires greater preparation. Beyond that, many of us find solutions to problems while sitting; that we believe are Higher Powered.
Personal Reflection: How long do I need to meditate for today?
Prior to program, many of us prided ourselves on our quick repartee. We had an answer for every question, and an opinion on every topic. We viewed ourselves as the expert on all things and made sure people knew it. Sometimes, we would get into arguments with people who had the audacity to question our expertise.
When we entered the program we felt as if the rug had been yanked out from underneath us. We were no longer viewed as G-d’s gift to humanity. At a meeting, when someone called themselves “a garden variety drunk” we winced. We weren’t a garden variety anything. We were special. Then some kid half our age came up to us and asked if we needed a sponsor. “Who the heck does he think he is asking me that”, we exclaimed.
Over time, we saw that part of our problem was our arrogance and ego. Maybe we were just another vegetable in the garden. Maybe that kid who approached us about sponsoring us really had something to offer us. As we opened ourselves up to learning about the program and emotional sobriety, we discovered that there was much to learn and we were teachable. That’s when we found out about humility.
Personal: Reflection: Have I remained teachable?
Each of us is told upon entering program to choose a home group. You would think that people would choose a home group closest to where they live. The reality is that people will often chose a home group which often involves travel and inconvenience to get to. They will tell you they go to that group because it has “good sobriety”. When pressed, they will say, “people with good sobriety not only talk the talk, but walk the walk”. This means that a newcomer will always be greeted and given some phone numbers. At the end of the meeting, everyone pitches in and puts away the chairs and cleans up. During sharing, people are conscious of the time, so that many get the opportunity to speak. Members seriously refrain from the use of profanity. When there is a need for temporary sponsors or outgoing service commitments a lot of hands go up. When people share they identify and refrain from giving advice. The group is only as strong as the weakest link. We need to make sure that our behavior makes us a strong link in the group chain of members.
Personal Reflection: Am I a strong link in my home group?
Recently, the following observation was heard at a meeting.
I was driving in the city with another person from program. I was trying to get crosstown and was encountering a lot of traffic. There were a lot of double parked vehicles. Many of the cars and trucks at intersections suddenly stopped to make turns without signaling. My passenger, turned to me and said, “you know, driving with you is not a very pleasant experience”. “Why”?, I asked in surprise. To which my passenger replied, “you’re muttering under you breathe about the traffic, periodically complaining and making judgmental statements about other drivers”. At first I attempted to defend myself. “Well, I’m much better than I used to be”. Then I realized that they were right. Although I had “worked” on judgement and anger, they were still very much present. I felt very much humbled by my experience that day. If I can get bent out of shape by a double parked car, then perhaps I’m not as evolved as I thought. I need to remember that it’s not about people, places and things, but about my attitude.
Personal Refection: What “small” things hook my anger and judgement?
I was recently on the subway in NYC. While waiting for a train, I saw a sign which said, “if you see something, say something”. The purpose of the sign was to counteract the tendency to assume that someone else will report a problem.
We in program apply this principle to our daily lives as well. There are so many life situations where people just sit back and assume the other person will take care of it. When there are no seats left on the train or bus and an elderly person gets on, be the person to give up their seat. If a newcomer is looking around the room feeling uncomfortable, be the first to go over and give them a hearty welcome. The possibilities are endless and the good feelings you create are endless as well.
Quite often we are at an impasse with another person. Many of us think that if only “they changed” the blockage would be removed. The reality is that very deep spiritual and emotional work takes place when we practice, “let it begin with me”. Rather than focusing on what another person needs to change to make the relationship work, we need to focus on what changes we need to make.
Personal Reflection: Does it begin with me?
In recent years there have been a flurry of books on gratitude. Internet self help experts advice people to keep daily gratitude lists to record all that is good in their lives. In program, we too acknowledge the incredible importance of gratitude. We also maintain daily gratitude lists.
Beyond that, as part of our step work, we continue to take daily personal inventory. It is all well and good to write down 2 or 3 gratitudes in our daily journal. However, if after that we walk around leaking negativity, complaining, and judging others, are we really full of gratitude? It is only through a rigorous daily self assessment that we can ascertain how grateful we really are. It is also important to listen to the feedback from others regarding our behavior. When people indicate to us that we are being judgmental or negative, rather than getting defensive, we need to take the information and meditate on it carefully. As they say, where there’s smoke there’s fire. Finally, part of gratitude is being a gracious person who is willing to be of service to others. When you acknowledge that your cup truly does runneth over, then there is the possibility of sharing your good fortune with others.
Personal Reflection: Are your gratitude and actions in sync?
According to scientists all of us dream at night. There are varied opinions as to why we dream. Freudians argue that the purpose of dreams is to preserve sleep while more modern theorists say that we use dreams to problem solve challenges from our waking hours. There is another category which we can call life purpose dreams. Many of us in program believe that we were sent into this world with a particular purpose. Since no two people are identical, no two people have the same life purpose dream. We believe that our Higher Power has blessed us with certain attributes and talents which can help define our reason for being here. While we were actively using, we were disconnected from how to pursue our dreams. In sobriety, upon taking stock of our strengths as well as our shortcomings, we are ready to make our dreams a reality. Unfortunately, we sometimes encounter people who for whatever reason have abandoned their own life purpose dreams. They will then do everything in their power to discourage and squash ours because they’ve given up on the possibilities of their dreams. Just smile, say “thanks for the advice”, and then full throttle ahead.
Personal Reflection: Are you actively pursuing your life purpose dream?