Spirituality in the Trenches

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Spiritual calm is easy when everything is going great. Finding peace is easy even if things are only going sort of well. Yet spirituality becomes critical in the rough patches, when life slips slowly or suddenly out of control. This’s when calm matters – and that’s when inner peace can be hard to find.

Our troubles are often illusory, but it can take spirituality to see through the illusion.

Think about difficulties you’ve experienced in the past. How many of those would have been greatly relieved if you kept your head? How many of them were not actually difficulties but rather misperceptions?

Overcorrection can cause serious car accidents. The state of Missouri recently identified overcorrection as the leading cause of traffic fatalities.

During much of my life, I responded to problems with emotional overcorrection. Call it overreaction or reactive behavior. It was a matter of not being able to insert the brain between a seemingly threatening event and my response to it.

Spirituality provides a cool pause in a highly charged world – a place of calm when life is on fire.

Spirituality can circumvent damaging emotional reactions and give you a chance to see – even if just for a moment – that the essence of life is peace and love, not threat and danger.

The Wisdom Within

Reading books and blogs on spirituality, listening to talks, watching YouTube videos, all of it brings calm and reminds me to pay attention to the soft hum in my chest and arms.

It doesn’t bring wisdom.

Stepping into spiritual writing and discussion draws me closer to a place within and gives me ways to express what’s inside.

If I’m not careful, I can go years without any awareness of the language within.

Some time ago, I attended a spiritual talk with a friend. Afterwards I asked what she had learned. “I didn’t learn anything,” she replied. “I didn’t expect to.”

“Then why did you go?”

“I need to be reminded.”

I need to be reminded as well. When I put myself into the stream of spiritual language, I am reminded of the presence and I awake yet again to the guidance inside.

For me, access to the wisdom within requires continual reminders, and I am grateful for each one.

Living in the Quiet

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I used to want peace. Now I’m not sure what peace is.

The absence of stress? Taking away stress doesn’t necessarily leave us with peace.

So I’ll take quiet as the metric.

The absence of noise in my head doesn’t result in complete silence, but I don’t need complete silence to be quiet.

Birds, the breeze through the bushes, far-off horn honking, the tapping of a woodpecker a few trees away – that’s quiet enough.

Not fretting over the past, not uneasy about the future – just quiet.

My muscles relax and yet I’m not sleepy.

There are worse ways to live.

There are worse ways I’ve lived.

It’s not a long journey to be quiet. It’s right here, and I don’t worry whether it’s peace, whether I’m in the now, or whether I’m all right. It’s just quiet.

From the Gutter, the Stars Shine Brilliant

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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.

Watch The World Come Home

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When we get these feelings of spiritual connectedness, when it seems we are one with all that’s around us, even at one with our own lives, maybe we’re seeing a crack into the next world. Or the in-between world where spirit breathes for a moment before we enter a new earth with new skin.

Or maybe the world is spiritual in its essence and the connectedness is a brief view of what is actually true.

We wake up with needs, we wake up with pain, we wake up and choose to see the connectedness behind the pain and need. We wake up and see the need and pain of others and our own troubles subside. We attend to the needs and pain of others and the connectedness seeps in and the needs and pain drift away.

And what world is here before us?

Trees and houses and moons and clouds and dogs and wind and water. Is our pain among these?

Is our connectedness elsewhere or is it mixed into the world before us? Is our connectedness taste and skin and smells and the weight of air? Is our connectedness relief from this world, a reminder that our mammal life is just a moment along a curve of outrageous beauty?

For now, I am here among so many people, alive in the exquisite presence of love that doesn’t even know it’s love.

The Secret of the Voice in Your Head

 

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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.

The I Am Behind Who I Am

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Do you ever get the sensation there is someone with you, in the background of your life somewhere? When I was a kid, I had a feeling of something faint in the background. I didn’t think it was God, because I associated God with church on Sunday, and most of what I felt about church was shoes that hurt and an itchy coat.

That childhood sense of something with me was most pronounced when I was by myself out in the woods or fishing or catching snakes or frogs by a pond. Something that knew me was near me. I don’t remember that is was comforting or loving, just that it was there. I didn’t think much about it.

When puberty began, that sense completely vanished. I spend a few years out of sorts with my family and school. I was awkward and hopeless, completely on my own, lost and alienated. In my late teens, experiences with psychedelic drugs brought that feeling back, but only later did I connect it what that feeling I had as a kid. At the time, it seemed the presence I felt was part of the drug experience.

When I began to meditate a few years later, I would experience a sense of presence. The sensation was in my arms and chest, and it came with a feeling of peace and well being. Sometimes the feeling was just above my head and a few inches behind me, connecting to the back of my head.

I thought of it as the sensation of spirit, a sensation of connectedness. I didn’t think of it as consciousness or awareness, and I certainly didn’t think of it as part of myself. Actually, I still don’t.

Then I ended up in the hospital – long story – where I was put into a coma for three weeks. I emerged from the coma with delusions – common when emerging from a sustained coma. The delusions are marked with vividness. Only later did I learn they were delusions. At the time they were exactly like real life.

As I came out of the delusions and began to get my “self” back, I had the sensation of something else looking out through my eyes. The feeling wasn’t alarming; it seemed natural. Everything was so crazy during that time, it was just another part of my bizarre recovery. I had to learn how to eat and walk again – those seemed to be the more pressing issues.

Yet that sense of something looking out through my eyes didn’t subside as things slowly returned to some sort of “normal.” The sensation has not left to this day, many years later. Something is looking out through my eyes. Some of the sensation is exactly like meditation, with a warm buzz in my chest and arms and a sense of well being and peace.

At any time, I can bring it into my awareness, in traffic, during moments of anxiety. It almost always calms me. I suspect that what I’m experiencing is the awareness of the larger “I Am” behind or beyond the self. If I were to choose one word for it, it would be “awareness.” Whatever that means. There is an awareness with me that seems to be looking out my eyes.

I believe it’s the same thing I experience as a kid in the woods, the same thing I experienced during psychedelic experiences and during meditation. Only now, it is much more pronounced. I can’t explain it, but it has become the centering focus of being alive.