From the Gutter, the Stars Shine Brilliant

stars

Oscar Wilde wrote, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

While literary critics have pondered the meaning of that provocative line, anyone pursuing spirituality in recovery knows immediately – and with great personal empathy – exactly what Wilde was saying: Even in the roughest storm of life, we can see the startling beauty of the heavens.

Despite his considerable literary talent, Wilde died an impoverished alcoholic at 46, in exile from England and mostly estranged from his family. He was imprisoned for two years for homosexuality, and for the rest of his life he was barred from seeing his two children from an earlier marriage.

In the darkness of the gutter, the stars can shine incredibly bright.

In a recent song by the metal band, Disturbed, they say, “Sometimes darkness can show you the light.”

The contrast between the dank despair of human decent and the eye-burning shine of spiritual revelation is shocking – sometimes it’s shock enough to lift us up to the world of the living. Other times, it’s merely the faint call of a promising world on the other side of death.

The light-filled world of connection and hope is a blink away. It’s right here in your breath. The path to this warm earthly home is visible through the stars that we see from the gutter. Even in the sour sink of fear, we are always strong enough to climb through. Yet many will die tonight for the lack of seeing that path. Their time will come again and again even so.

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The Secret of the Voice in Your Head

 

voices

All day long, we go around with a monologue inside our head – the chatter of our thinking. Much of it includes thoughts such as: what do I have to do next, why is this or that person making things difficult, what am I going to have to eat or drink in the next? Will I be late? Am I good enough to do what’s expected from me? What happens if I lose my income? How am I going to stop this pain?

Often – if not almost always – it’s a mixture of fear and stress.

We sometimes mix the negative voice with fantasies of escape or revenge. These fantasies are not tangible nor rational enough to produce satisfying action.

The voice in your head sounds like your own, but it’s not. It tends to be a compiled rumble of childhood messages mixed with adult conflicts and disappointments. The fears and stress are enunciated in your own words and in your own voice.

On the bright side, we can replace the negative thoughts with positive affirmations or steps toward solutions. Even then, a negative voice will pop up out of nowhere. Chasing those negative thoughts is like hitting the plastic moles in What-A-Mole. So, how do you untangle this mess of unhappy inner quarrels?

Here’s a secret for the ages: you don’t have to believe in your own thoughts.

Your thoughts are just thoughts, words streaming through your head like the crawl at the bottom of a news channel. Let those thoughts be. They are not you. You don’t have to own them. They actually get quieter if you pay them no mind.

It’s a tiny thing to learn, but it’s helped me a great deal.

Where the Hell is the Path?

How do you find your spiritual path? Not an easy question, though easier now than when I was young. Back then I thought there was probably a path. Yet I certainly couldn’t figure out where it was.

In time, you can reach a place where the whole notion of path changes.

Carlos Castaneda said “A path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you . . . Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself alone, one question . . . Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t it is of no use.”

That makes sense. Anyone would want to be on a path with heart – whatever that means.

Castaneda elaborates: “For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length–and there I travel looking, looking breathlessly.”

I experience a lot of paths: my path on the mountain hiking trail, my path to the grocery store, my path through recovery. But my spiritual path?

A student asked the Zen master to show him the path. The master said follow me.

They went into the jungle. After walking for a while, the student said, “I don’t see a path. We seem to be just wandering aimlessly in the jungle.”

The master said, “I am the path.”

“You’re the path?” the student asked, a bit confused.

The master laughed and said, “I’m kidding. There is no path.”

The master paused for a moment, then added, “And you’d be a fool not to take it.”