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personal growth

Truth in a Book

There are a lot of books out there, many written by authors of great inspiration. Although reading seems to go in and out of fashion, largely due to the fact that people seem to find great difficulty in holding onto a coherent thought for more than a minute or two at a time, books still have a great impact on tens of millions of lives around the globe. There are works of fiction and nonfiction, and there are historical texts. You can find how-to books, autobiographies, and entire wings of bookstores are dedicated to self-improvement. And then there are the books that tell you how to live your life. 

    Essentially, the author is trying to impose his version of the truth onto your life and your circumstances, through the form of the written word. Despite its apparent waning popularity, the written word still exerts an incredible amount of influence over the lives of the populace. This is largely due to the fact that an individual can pore over the manuscript repeatedly for hours or even days, dissecting and reevaluating passages, phrases, words, and even punctuation in order to coax the meaning from the text that will give him the answers he seeks. 

    I’m inclined to wonder what makes any particular author the authority of that which is true in my life. Or your life. Or anybody’s life, except his own. I understand there are some pretty powerful tomes out there. Weighty pieces of work that speak the word of God, in the many names that people use to reference Him (or Them). And there are guides like the Big Book from Alcoholics Anonymous that endeavor to help escort people from the throes of addiction back to a healthy life. 

    What if the truth can't be found in the pages of a book after all? Perhaps the Truth - your “Truth” , as it specifically pertains to you, in your life, at this point in time, corresponding to and deriving from your thoughts, your actions, and your experiences - can only be found within yourself. No one can just hand you the Truth. You have to work for it. You have to earn it by actively seeking it. Meditate, devote time to self-introspection, climb a mountain, spend time in nature, commune with those who would help you look at things differently (not with absolutes and ultimatums, but with suggestions and new perspectives). There are as many paths to the Truth within yourself as there are books that would place it there for you, without any effort on your part. Truth doesn't come to the sheep. It comes to the hunter.

    Much can be gained by referencing as many external sources as possible in your pursuit of Truth. There is a great body of work dedicated to finding it and understanding it, and you can learn a lot from the efforts of those who have come before you. But because you are the only one who exists exactly in your time and space, it is only you who can ultimately decide just how exactly you fit in there. It is only you who can grasp Truth, as it defines you and how you define it. Trying to insert someone else’s Truth into your reality is like going shopping for a suit that fits. You see the styles that look good on other people, and there are many brands, shapes and sizes to choose from. But ultimately, there is always compromise to be made, because it was not custom-made for you. 

    The problem with shopping for a version of Truth that you find is an acceptable fit to your life - rather than building your own - is you end up with something that has been mass-produced. It has been watered down so as to accommodate as many lives as possible. By gratifying a few basic needs, such as security, acceptance, or the promise of a reward for prescribed behaviors, it attracts as large an audience as possible. There is strength in numbers. This breeds validation for followers and power for those who spout the rhetoric of their Truth.

    Beware those who would impose their Truth on you through fear of impending consequences for not heeding their call. They may have an agenda. And that agenda may be a lot worse than the imagined consequences they claim they can keep you safe from. There is absolutely nothing wrong with borrowing and test-driving pieces of their prescribed lifestyle and behaviors. Study them with an open mind and see how they speak to your mind and heart when you enact them. This is how your truth evolves with you as you evolve with the passage of time. But don’t force ideas and ideals to fit you, nor force yourself to fit them. If they don’t speak to your soul, do not hesitate to throw them out and move on!

    Truth, as it pertains to you, is not a model or an object that exists outside of you that must be located, acquired, and operated, like a used car. It is created within your thoughts and inspiration. It is then manifested in your life through action. When there is discomfort in your life, ask yourself :
Have you actively sought your Truth, or did you follow the crowd and end up there? 
Did you reach for your Truth with open eyes, ears, mind, and heart, or was it thrust upon you?  
Has your Truth encouraged change and growth in your life, or has it limited you?
Have you stepped into your Truth with confidence and joy, or did you receive it with hesitation and fear? 

    You are more than the equation 2 + 2 = 4 . You are more than a mindless array of zeroes and ones. The energy that forms you, your reality, and the relationship among them needs constant monitoring. The ultimate authority to oversee this process is you. 

Get Your Feet Wet

There is a reason the beach is used in so many analogies about life. It’s warm and dry, and it’s frequently sunny. There is fun to be had, people to hang out with, and, unless you’re a lifeguard, very little responsibility. We love the beach, or at least we love the idea of what the beach represents - no worries, no cares. Life is easy on the beach. And this is the very reason it’s so important to get off of it occasionally. 

    A little while back I wrote about the joys of spending time in your comfort zone and the importance of appreciating that zone, rather than feeling you ought not to spend any time there at all. But too much time spent in a place of ease or routine can breed complacency. And complacency breeds boredom. Addicts in recovery do not always fare well under the placid acceptance of boring daily routine. 

    There is a law of physics that states “an object at rest tends to stay at rest.” This is true of humans as well, in the sense that a lack of active engagement with life, when practiced consistently and over a period of time, becomes difficult to change. In other words, sitting on your ass and letting life pass you by can be habit-forming. 

    Getting involved in something - anything - other than the predictable day-to-day pattern does not have to be a huge undertaking, nor does it have to be frightening, although the definition of both is completely arbitrary, and will vary greatly from person to person. The most common factor in determining how difficult it will be to break routine is to ask yourself how long you have been going through the motions - or avoiding any movement at all. Not surprisingly, the longer a person has been following a safe pattern, the harder it will be to get out of it. 
    
    This means it is probably in your best interest to start today. 
    
    Change can be tiny at first, and the little ones can sometimes be the most interesting. Wear a button-down when you usually wear a T-shirt. Or vice-versa. Try driving a different way to work, or stop at a different gas station. Try going to a different meeting, or investigate some spiritually based literature instead of repeating your step work. Again. 
    
    If you are surrounded by people who live in a similar fashion, and who are also creatures of habit, there may be the added difficulty of breaking away from the crowd. Misery loves company, and is frequently camouflaged by conformity. Life’s limitless possibilities can get obscured behind the people around you, especially if they're doing the same boring shit you are. You may not be able to see or even imagine that there are alternatives, and you may experience great resistance from the others who are offended that you would even contemplate such possibilities. 

    I’m not suggesting you quit your job so you can dance in the chorus line on Broadway. I’m not suggesting you leave your spouse of 20 years. I’m not suggesting you start skydiving. Although any of these might be exactly what would get you off the beach of banality and into the ocean of enterprise and creativity, each solution is extreme and some consideration of consequences would be in order before you stepped in and possibly drowned. But the thing to remember is that “drowning” is an extremely unlikely result of augmenting change in your life. It is more likely that you will get cut on the coral or a big wave will knock you off your feet and you will get your wind knocked out. 

    On the other hand, maybe you'll hop on a surfboard and have the ride of your life...

    When trying to get out of a rut, tangible results are not nearly as important as the unpredictable by-product of growth. Cuts heal and embarrassment fades, but lessons and experiences last a lifetime. Try to remember that there is no failure in unexpected results, only the opportunity grow from the experience and maybe do it differently the next time. 

    It is not in your best interests to let life pass you by, rather, you want to actively travel along the path of your creation. If you fall, get back up. If you land in shit, take a shower. If you slam into an oak tree, bandage your wounds and go around it. If you find yourself strolling through a field of roses, enjoy the view and the aroma...but watch out for the thorns. 

    The point of living is not to avoid hardship, nor is it to seek perfection. The point is to move, to experience, to participate. We fear the demons that may drag us down, and certainly some people, places, and things are best left alone. But why get scared into paralysis? Where is the joy in existing in a “safe” room with padded walls, no windows, and no way out (and no way for new people or ideas to get in)

    If you were in chaos when you were participating in addictive behaviors, you may cherish the peace and quiet that comes with sobriety. This is not only understandable, it is commendable. We get as caught up in the maelstrom that results from bad ideas, actions, and consequences as we do in our addictive pursuit to avoid life and ourselves. The mess we create can become, in its familiarity, the only life we can imagine. When things calm down a bit, it's like heaven has descended upon us, and we cling to it vehemently. But once the dust has settled and the damage has been assessed, it's time to start healing. 

    Never assume a life without any risk is a life that is rich in rewards. Never confuse banality with serenity. 

        It's time to start living. 

Recovery State University

Before I begin, let me assure you that I love AA and the 12-step program that it follows and that it has brought to millions of addicts and the world at large. AA saved my life. It showed me that I was not alone, that there were thousands of people who suffered from addiction and who lived in my area. I took great solace in the fact that I was not the only one who had issues with feelings of isolation, with fitting in, and with a past that was ravaged by antisocial behavior. 
I immersed myself in a community whose main focus, whose very reason for being, was the recovery from drugs and alcohol. 

    Sorry - I mean the recovery from alcohol. If you need to recover from drugs, you have to attend a different meeting, even though alcohol is a drug; the only differences are that it’s a liquid and that it’s legal. And that’s frequently a topic for much debate. Most people who suffer from alcoholism also have a history of drug abuse, stemming back to the stories you can read in the Big Book wherein the various authors mention drugs as part of their stories. Despite this, most AA meetings begin with a request for those who share to limit their comments to their struggles around alcohol. 

         Meetings, and the programs they support, need structure in order to be effective. With structure comes rules of conduct, and general streams of thought that are intended to produce a desired result. Add to this, the oft-present tendency for addicts to lie and manipulate, and you end up with a rock-solid list of expectations on the part of members for themselves as well as each other. 

    This is where 12-step begins to lose its ability to help every person who is struggling and who is looking for some outside assistance. Any program that has a set path intended to get you from point A to point B, without regard to your individual and unique gifts (and faults) will lose some people. There is no “one size fits all” with regards to recovery, nor should there be. And yet, when an addict suggests that perhaps 12-step recovery isn’t for him, the pervading assumption is that he has relapsed, is planning to relapse, or that he will relapse in the near future, despite yearning to stay clean. 

    The founders of AA never claimed the program was (or would be, in the future)  free from disagreement among its membership. I would go so far as to suggest that they deemed the presence of argument to be a crucial factor in recovery. Argument arises when new ideas are voiced, and the opposing sides need to think as they debate. New ideas and perspectives, and the controversy they provoke, all encourage introspection and growth. The ultimate result is change. Without change an addict will die. 

    Of course, it is change that 12-step tries to invoke in its members, but it is change under the strict guides of a structured program. Change directed by “accepted” literature and led by people who have followed those who preceded them. Do as you’re told, read the books, attend the meetings, “stick with the winners” , get active in service, come early to meetings and stay late, take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth...it all becomes a little like you’re being seduced by a cult. If you question any of it, it is assumed you are shying away from the hard work that must be done in order to affect successful change in your life. Aversion to structure and authority are a natural trait inherent to many addicts, so there is much time and energy devoted to dissuading them from succumbing to the desire to leave the program before they can see the results - “before the miracle happens” . 

    Again, let me assert that I love AA and the 12-step program. I can’t tell you exactly what my life would look like now, had I made different decisions in my past, but substance abuse was killing me. And AA helped me recover. But 12-step simply is not for everybody. The prevailing axiom that “12-step is not for those who need it. It’s for those who want it.” This is true, but that is not to say that those who do not follow a 12-step program will never attain lasting sobriety. The implication made by many who say say the axiom is “12-step is for those who are willing to do exactly as they are told (exactly as I have done), and the rest are doomed to suffer their addictions until they die” . This is NOT true. 

    Addiction, in its many manifestations, holds no prejudices as to who it will infect. 12-step is, for the most part, as open in its acceptance of those who would join one of its programs. Perhaps the members could be as open to those who choose NOT to join their ranks, in favor of alternative pursuits to sobriety. 

    Here at ArcoftheSpirit, and our corresponding programs that we run at Love&Addicts, we are always looking for new ways for the individual to get and stay sober. Our main message is one of love. Love of Self, of Man, of God, and of the Universe. We believe all of this is inextricably connected. We believe Man has lost sight of the importance of living in love in all aspects of his Being. Addicts in recovery are especially susceptible to losing sight of the omnipresence of love. It’s everywhere, but we have let it get lost among bad ideas, misdirected journeys, escape from the Self, and guilt over our pasts. 

    12-step programs are a wonderful way to break from active addiction and begin recovering. The brightest gifts they offer (besides sobriety!) is the introduction of the idea that the addict does not suffer alone, nor does he need ever suffer from active addiction again. But those in recovery who are interested in more than just being clean, those who yearn to live with inner peace, inner purpose, and INNER JOY will benefit from pursuing additional and alternative means to recovery. 

    Take the long, difficult, and rewarding journey within yourself. Take time for silence and meditation. Find and develop the love for who you are and why you’re here. You are not here to go to meetings and give rides to meetings for those who have no car. You’re not here to make coffee or to list every wrongdoing you committed in active addiction. You are here for a higher purpose that is yours to discover and share, thereby lifting your fellow man just a little higher than he was before you showed up on earth. 

    Addiction drew you down as far as it could. 12-step can help (or has already helped) you curtail your descent. To truly soar, you need only look within. 1

Messy Inspiration

Life is….messy. You have hundreds of things to do, people to see, places to go, and never enough time to finish half the things you start. Partially completed projects gather dust as the days go by, and the list of things that you haven’t even begun grows longer. As you lie in bed, exhausted at the end of another marathon that starts when you crawl out of bed and ends when you finally collapse back into it, you may think to yourself, “I gotta get organized.”

    I’m a big fan of organization, in all areas of my life, and I make lists for everything. I have so many lists that I have to organize them. They are all stored in one place and can be accessed from my laptop or smartphone. Essentially, it’s a list of all my lists. All the people, places, and things that need my attention (according to me, at least) are here. My life, in electronic print, is here. 

    And yet, my life is still a clutter of evolving ideas, unanticipated obligations, and agendas that crash into and contradict one another. The organizational systems I’ve established for existing data don’t apply, so I need to come up with a new way to organize life as it unfolds today. I need to re-distribute, re-collate, re-order, and re-sort everything so all the old stuff meshes with all the new stuff. I need to reorganize the old organization so I can think about what’s happening now, how it applies to the stuff that already happened, and how it will play out with the stuff that’s going to happen. 

    I gotta get organized. Or do I?      

    There is an inherent problem with trying to keep every idea and plan in neat little compartments. They lose some of their tendency to step in each other’s way. It is the natural inability of the mind to store all your thoughts apart from each other that enables them to intertwine in unintended ways and produce great ideas. The most fascinating and inspirational visions are borne from a lot of effort and a little something else. You might refer to this “something else” as luck or coincidence. I call it divine inspiration. 

    When I’m contemplating life, when I’m writing, or when I’m just planning my day, I often try to let a little silence into the spaces between the thoughts. I find that it’s the best way for God to get in and nudge things together or apart until, all of a sudden, I say “Eureka!”  or  “Holy shit!”  (depending on the circumstance in which I find myself.) And I try to let the thoughts flow naturally, following a train of thought while it meanders among the synapses and nodes of my mind, until it becomes something really interesting or I lose interest, at which point I latch onto something else. 

    The idea is to follow an idea and listen for inspiration at the same time I’m making an effort to create something, whether it be an interesting blog, a shopping list, or a decision that will move me either towards, or away from, a bad idea or behavior. Despite my desire to compartmentalize my life and control the ebb and flow of ideas and events, the most favorable results are largely influenced by divine inspiration. I am led by God’s communication that comes to me directly and constantly. All I have to do is maintain an awareness of the messages. These occur naturally, without manipulation or organization. 

    A cluttered mind can lead to frustration. Letting the imagination and/or intellect roam free inevitably leads to contradictions and repetitiveness, but the mess from all that thinking shows effort, rather than complacency. Effort and intention leave little room for the contemplation of negative self-image or resentments, which can lead to the formation of bad ideas, and eventually the actions of old, unhealthy behaviors. 

    Inside my head, there is a great disarray of many rambling, wonderfully ambitious ideas, some of which will come to fruition when their time is due. My active participation in the processes of life, creation, and growth is what reassures me that the mess will occasionally produce results. I show up for life now, as opposed to letting it roll right by me in the past. I create disorder in thoughts and ideas, rather than in my life. I actively seek divine inspiration while I create, instead of praying for God to get me out of another jam. 

    Don't just sit still so the past can catch up and drown you, and don’t let the fear of the future threaten to crash over you like a wave. Be active in the now. Be immersed in the activity of creation. If all you can see today is the mess you’ve created, at least you are trying! And that is all anyone can ask. God will fill in the gaps, and tomorrow or next week, the beautiful, divine creation that is of yourself will be revealed to you. And the Universe will applaud.