Thursday, December 10, 2009

Psalms for Addicts - Psalm 139

O God, You search me and You know me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up.
You attend my thoughts from afar.

Your breath fans my road and my resting place.
My whole journey is known to You.
Before a word is on my tongue
You know it through and through.

From all sides You surround and fill me.
You lay Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful -
Too great for me to understand.

Oh, where can I go from Your spirit?
Where can I flee from Your face?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there.
If I make my bed in death, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn
And fly past the sea’s farthest end,
Even there Your hand guides me,
Your right hand holds me fast.

If I say, "Darkness has wounded me
And all the light is night,"
Even darkness hides nothing from You.
The night shines as the day,
For in You, light and dark are one.

Your breath was woven into me
In my mother's womb.
You are my inmost being.
I always dwell in You.

I praise You for the wonder of my life.
For my soul understands:
As are all Your works, I am awesome.
Every part of me lives in You.

Even as I was created in secret,
My body drawn from the clay of the earth,
You saw my new-formed self, my mortality.
And inscribed all my days with Your words.

How precious are Your thoughts.
How vast beyond belief.
Counted, they are more numerous
Than the grains of sand.

Let me wake up so I know myself one with You.

Slay the voices of my addictions!
Cleanse me of their self-negating hostility!
Or overwhelmed by fear and pain
I will forget what You are.

The oblivious speak of You, yet deceive.
In delusion, they abuse Your Awesome Name.
Do I not despise what is hardened against You
And abhor what turns away from You?
With loathing I face my addictions -
The enemies of my heart.

Search me, O God, and know me.
Examine my innermost thoughts.
Cleanse me of what leads away from You,
Awaken me and set my feet on Your path.

An interpretation based on the NIV, the ICEL and the JPS 1917 translation

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Psalms for Addicts - Psalm 41

Happy is one who is compassionate toward those who lack.
God will heal her in the day of her suffering.
She will be upheld and brought to life.
She will live happily on earth.

Do not let us be consumed by the greed of addiction.
Support us in our sickness.
Catalyze our lethargy; turn us around.

As for me, I cry, “Show Your care.
Heal me for I have wandered away from You.”
Fear speaks malice inside me, saying,
“When shall she die, and her name perish?”
The voices of addiction come into me, speaking deceit.
They slander me and fill me with lies.
Then I go out and broadcast their fraud.

These voices hate me.
Their whispers are against me.
Imagining the worst of me, they devise my harm, saying,
“Evil clings to her. She is dying and can never recover.”

Addiction was my best friend, the one I trusted,
The one who shared my food.
My friend has turned against me
And now wishes my downfall.

O God, care for me.
Restore my health that I may renounce my true enemy.
And get myself back.

I will know Your delight in me
For my addictions cannot triumph.
If You uphold me, I will enter my heart’s integrity
And live in You forever.

Blessed is the wholeness of those who struggle.
From everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen

An interpretation based on the NIV, the ICEL and the JPS 1917 translation

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Monastic Ticks

Today I got my first tick of the season… and I’m engulfed by sadness, longing for monastic life.

It's a sparkling, clouds sky chasing spring day. Well worth the odd tick to walk in slanting sun and deep shade woods or baby green grass, prairie fields. (‘Though imagining a tick in every little skin itch is an annoying side-effect.)

Intellectually, I know that particular monastery with those sisters was not life giving for me. I miss it anyway.

Of course, I can list the good parts of monastery life: the daily psalm chant and meditation schedule, little driving, social detachment yet constant companionship, the focus on spiritual development, the biblical concentration (Of all things! How did that become a good?), living into inspiring land… and the silence and the silence and the silence.

But what I really miss is the way those conditions made it easy to fall into divine unity… and (‘though I remain embarrassed to say it) a direct connection with Jesus of the "let's sit close and talk" variety.

But both of those could be right here, right now – if only I let go of comforting distraction and entered the barrenness that lies waiting under my more dramatic feelings.

That wouldn’t be fun. It's a painful emptiness that feels like choking on fire… and at the same time like an endless stretch of deadly dull, institution-beige-wall, sand-dry, horizon-to-horizon nothing.

I have the requisite cell – my little office. It isn’t ascetically stark, but has a quiet, clean, spacious feel. Instead of emailing or phoning or writing, I could just sit and be present.

So many teachers say that within that desert a living well exists – one that can be found no matter the external conditions. All it takes is entering the emptiness, and the persistence to stay there.

The thing is, I can just sense that well, and my Beloved by it. So why am I out here kicking and screaming with flailing arms and legs, doing everything possible to keep from falling?

* * * * * * *

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Addiction in an April Blizzard

I love April blizzards.

Everything is in a rush toward summer: the grass greening, bulbs shooting up, the air softening. Then suddenly: a pause. Just for a moment. As soon as the snow stops falling, it melts, and the rush to summer is back on.

Yet, a pause…

Like the pause at the top and bottom of each breath. Breathe in. Pause. Breathe out. Pause. (If you’ve never paid enough attention to your breath to experience the pause, try it.)

For a moment the rush of breath is still. In that moment, there is nothing to do. Nothing to get. Nothing to release. Only rest. Only openness.

Only surrender.

“Take pause.” That’s what my friend says, the one who is holding my hand as I climb up from my reading/internet/video addiction. She says, “Take pause, and just notice" - The first and second tools of recovery.

This friend knows from addiction.

I first told her about mine last September. I said I knew it was destroying me, and I wanted to tell someone. But I had absolutely no intention of giving it up and didn’t want to hear anything about that.

She said, "You don’t have to start by giving anything up. Just pay attention. What does it feel like when you first move toward using? What is going on around you? What messages are you telling yourself? What does it feel like when you are using: in the beginning, and then as your lack of control becomes apparent? How do you feel afterwards? What messages do you tell yourself?”

“You don’t have to do anything else right now,” she added, “Just notice.”

After six months of noticing - and a horrendous two-week, 24/7, reading binge - I was finally ready to quit.

Then my friend offered tool #2. When I felt that desire to use, even if I’d already decided to go for it, just pause for a moment.

Just pause.

Even for the briefest of moments, put off acting on the desire. And continue to notice.

That helped. It really helped.

A Sunday morning blizzard in April: time to take pause. And notice.

* * * * * *

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Dead Come Out in March

In winter everything sleeps under cover – so quiet and clean, so empty. I love the sharp, black calligraphy of plant stems rearing above the snow: asters, milkweed, or regal prairie dock. But with March, the sordid dead come out. Cold rain runs uncaring through rotted leaves, sodden sticks and matted grass. Any lingering snow turns gritty dark from the decay heaved to its surface. It might as well be road debris.

Birds swing joyously by, but who else could believe this is the path to life?

Just so the spiritual journey. When in the March of it, I sometimes long for the time I still slept - when I didn’t have to daily sort through yesterday’s corpses. And I wonder why some have their feet placed on the path to wakefulness, with all the pain of learning to see what is. Yet others sleep until the end, never glimpsing what else they could be.

In Wisconsin, like on the spiritual journey, we get fleeting thaws in February – 50 degrees, 60 even, and everything smells of becoming. Then another blizzard or ice storm freezes us over again.

Until March.

Not that the blizzards and freezes are done, but the cold isn’t as deep and the new snow, though piled high, swiftly melts again. So gradually the periods of warm become longer and longer. Then the decomposing bodies of last year’s dead feed this year’s spring...

As far as my spiritual journey is concerned, I can only trust that the future will be as rich.

* * * * * *

Monday, February 23, 2009

Outer War, Inner Peace

"It is like a war zone in here," said a friend who is struggling to live authentically, centered in her sense of direct connection to God.

"Yes. And that is why it is a war zone out there," I instantly responded. Then I had to stop and think what I meant.

To live authentically from one's center means being present to every pain that arises without trying to fix, suppress or anesthetize the hurt. And that requires the practice of opening old wounds and being to the pain as it processes through. Watching what comes up and letting what comes come. Acknowledging that what is, is.

And maybe ('though I'm pretty sure of this) all the wars - from the dysfunctional family, tiptoeing warily around each other until the next insignificant event triggers an explosion, to international fights that burn and crush millions - maybe all are the outer, physical expression of unresolved, inner battles. Physical, worldly conflicts arise, creating huge suffering, because so many people refuse to do their own, inner work. Because so many choose instead to push pain away with various means of numbing, distracting and justifying.

So we fight wars... just to avoid being with our own pain.

As so many spiritual teachers say, "If you want world peace and an end to suffering, do your inner work."

And maybe this is true because the physical universe, along with all of us humans, is a single energy field. If we are ALL inseparable parts of one whole, it is a contradiction to say you want peace while concentrating on outward displays of anger at those you believe caused the conflict - much less physically fighting them. That is like standing in a stormy sea throwing rocks at the waves while shouting "CALM DOWN."

It only riles things up more.

Yet if just one molecule of the water became calm for even a moment, the overall calm of the whole would go up.

Because the universe is a single field, if and when, for a moment or a day, any one of us breaks through our shit to rest in inner peace, the peacefulness quotient of the whole universe goes up.

Dogen Zenji said,

"To study the Way is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.
To be enlightened by all things is to remove the barrier between one's self and others."

When what was perceived as "other" becomes perceived as "self," lashing out in anger makes no more sense then dropping napalm on your toe as punishment for it hurting you after it stubbed itself.

* * * * * * *

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Acedia, the Writer’s Demon

When the eight “demons” of the early desert monks mutated into medieval Europe’s seven deadly sins, acedia (the “noonday demon") was folded into sloth. 

A mistake. 

Acedia deserves special recognition. It is so uniquely active, especially in the lives of writers. Besides, it can hardly be called "sloth" since, more often than not, it demands a deal of activity. 

Evagrius said this about acedia (based on the translation from the Praktikos by Luke Dysinger). Just substitute “writer” for “monk,” “desk/computer” for cell, and “book” for “way of life.”
Acedia is the most burdensome of demons…First, it makes the day appear to be fifty hours long. Then, it makes the monk look out his window, forcing him to bound out of his cell to …look round in all directions in case any of the brethren is there. [Note: the desert monks were not isolated. Twenty or thirty might live in caves within a few feet of each other. Which is why there was a lot of instruction about visiting, mean gossip, and other social distractions.]

trns: “If I don’t walk the dog she’ll never leave me alone. *Walks the dog* Okay, now I’m energized to write. I’ll just get the laundry in before I sit down. *Does the laundry. Also vacuums.* Okay, really ready to write, now. While the computer revs up, I’ll make some coffee…*Cleans the kitchen before making coffee.* Oh. It’s 5:00. Time to make dinner.”

It makes him hate his way of life. It makes him think there is no charity left among the brethren; no one is going to come and visit him. If anyone has upset the monk recently, the demon throws this in too. It makes him desire other places where he can practice an easier, more convenient craft.

trns: “The writing life sucks. And I’m no good at it. Surely I can be equally creative doing something where I’d make some money. Like an actual job, for f's sake, something useful, not the navel-gazing, self indulgence of thinking I am a writer… Especially since this book is going nowhere fast.”

It adds remembrance of the monk’s previous way of life, and suggests that he still has a long time to live, raising up a vision of how burdensome his life is.

trns: “If only I had a regular job with a guaranteed paycheck. I'd have respect, a house, health insurance, and a retirement plan. Waah!!! The writing life is too hard. My stomach hurts. I'm so sick of hitting up my folks for funds to keep going."

To be a writer is to be on intimate terms with this demon.

So I just applied for a full time, nicely paid job as administrator for the youth arts program where I've taught classes off and on for years..

Letting the noonday demon eat my soul or a sensible move in a rough economy? 
If I'm offered the job, I guess I'll have to discern which.

Note: Evagrius was a proponent of Origenism. He wrote extensively on the passions – their vice side and their virtue side (yes, each vice, turned around, is a virtue). His writings were declared anathema in the mid-500s, along with Origen's, when their theology
- that included reincarnation and universalism - was declared a heresy. Yet Evagrius' teachings on monasticism infiltrated - and greatly influenced - the Western church through the writings of an ex-follower, Cassian.

* * * * * * * *

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The only way to be clear is to be clean

19770 days an addict and 5 in recovery... more or less... today I used for 45 minutes... But I am committed. I will be clean.

O.K, so maybe it's not fair to count addiction back to my baby years. But the seed behaviors (and feelings) that became addictions were already comfortably well worn before my earliest memories (at three). So how early does addiction start?

All my addictions happen to be legal. I have three: simple computer games (like solitaire), TV, and children's books. A reading addict gets no respect, but people now accept that the computer game rush is just like the gambling rush and even TV changes brainwaves, so it's no biggie to say they are addictive. Shoot, I don't even like most television. It makes me queasy. But I will sit for hours flipping channels (and inflaming my thumb tendons), all the while telling myself, "Turn it off. Now. Off." And I don't enjoy computer games either. What better sign is there that these are addictions?

Yet until recently I had no desire to give addiction up. Or at least, I'd gladly be clean of TV and computer games, but stories. They have been my life.

Still, I'm a binge reader. Every few weeks, I loose a weekend or read till dawn and spend a day too bleary to work, or break a social commitment at the last minute because I can't put the book down. It is fairly easy to get along as a binger. Fairly easy to keep yourself off bottom.

Besides, I've been pretty good at removing temptation. I gave my TV & VCR away (no DVDs then) when I quit DePaul University (it's a long story... I had a vision... see "An Interfaith, Pantheist UU Is Called By Jesus: Part II"), No TV, no temptation. Each new computer, I'd play additively till dawn a few times and then in a spasm of disgust delete all games the hard drive - staying clean of games for some years.

Until last fall when I stumbled on the internet versions. I need parental controls for my browser, but can't seem to figure out how to get them. Now my writing environment is always dirty with a quick click all that stands between me and temptation. This led me close enough to bottom that I finally wanted to quit, really quit, not just have a long, binge hiatus.

Not stories, though... Those have been my refuge since before I could read. By age five, I was very proud that I could sit perfectly still for hours WITHOUT EVEN MOVING A FINGER (every so often I'd check my body to see). Because I wasn't there. I was off watching a movie in my head.

Give up stories? All these years, I have simply refused. I declared myself an addict most definitely NOT in recovery. Until a few days ago. Until spending most of the last two weeks on a binge. Until seeing how sickened this made me - just like TV or computer games - and how it made me hate myself and how that led to despair and how despair destroyed any will to write. Leaving me easy prey to a demon who whispers of the joy of getting lost in another world.

The thing is, not long ago I experienced what could happen if I lived clean. In the monastery, I was clean for 14 months. Oh, make no mistake. There are plenty of addicts in monasteries. And when I entered I worried. I could remove games from the clunky old computer I used, and I had no way to get kid books, but there was a TV in the basement of the house. Would I sneak down there to watch?

Turns out, I needn't have worried. I soon became like a clear, open conduit for something much more satisfying than any addiction - the thing I truly desired, the thing that maybe my addictions were fogging me up so I didn't know that that was what I was really after - the thing I now refer to with the misleading, short hand word "God." That amazing flow of joy/light/warmth/being-completely-known-and-loved energy that filled me, flowed through me, surrounded me and similarly flowed through every other person, animal, plant, rock, star and thing.

I didn't even watch the few approved TV shows (news and nature). The sisters were big on movies. But more often than not, I went for a walk instead - just to breathe/drink/swim in that light.

Of all the things I cried over after loosing monastic life, that connection was the main one.

I want the clarity that let me open to the great flow of divine energy. Only I can't perceive the light - which I know is always there - through a welter of buried feelings, unhealed wounds, and the fogging addictions I use to numb out feeling and prevent healing.

If I want to be clear, I have to be clean. No fog, no numbing. I have to be present to all the feelings, open and heal all the wounds. None of that can happen if I'm using.

The only way to be clear is to be clean.

So here I am. Painfully, haltingly in recovery. Five days and already: falling down, getting up, falling down, getting up.

So help me God.