And the fire upon the altar shall be kept burning thereby, it shall not go out. Leviticus 6:5
There is a tradition that interprets this verse as a specific warning against the fire on the altar going out even under conditions where one might reason that it should. No never, even if it travels or other obstacles present themselves we must be prepared and not allow ourselves to be forced into bad decisions. Much like our spiritual renewal, we must make the choices that keep it alive.
On a deeper level, this verse also speaks to the individual regarding the “flame” – that is the passion – that burns on an internal “altar” in our heart. We must always be enthusiastic in the service of our Maker. Apathy, depression, sloth and other “cold” emotional states are antithetical to being of true service to our Higher Power.
It is easy to keep the fire in our heart burning as long as we are in our routine and the comfort of home, but we cannot become complacent and think that s just because we are away, and it is more difficult that we can let it slide. After all who would know? We would and so would our God. We do it for the peace of mind we give by constantly having that flame alive to keep us in touch with the Power of the Universe.
We carry it wherever we go; there is no situation too lofty and none too bleak that precludes our constant need for exuberance, joy and warmth.
And the fire upon the altar shall be kept burning thereby, it shall not go out. Leviticus 6:5
Sacrificial offerings on an altar are described in our ancient text are an atonement for sins; animals and foods were “burnt offerings”, expressions of gratitude were given in “peace offerings”, an expression of sorrow or remorse were given as “sin/guilt offerings”, and sometimes and an entire meal to express devotion.
Today it is common practice to substitute prayer for these sacrifices and to ask for God’s will in our life and build a relationship with Our Creator to atone for our transgressions.
“Offer the sacrifices of righteousness,” the Psalmist tells us (4:6) and indeed has a point. Just as the sacrifices are necessary to atone for various misdeeds, so are sacrifices required for us to remain good-sacrifices not of animals, not of money, but of ourselves. To reach any goal requires not only focus and determination, but also the foregoing of a part of us. As the saying goes, we can have anything we want, we just can’t have everything we want.
In our quick-fix society, instant gratification is the spiritual opposite of sacrifice. By taking the time and making the effort to seek a spiritual solution through prayer and meditation we get results that are more enduring and improve our quality of life.
Just as athletes in training forego many of life’s pleasures to achieve their goals, so we can learn to put doing what we need to do ahead of doing what we want to do. Living life on life’s terms may sometimes interfere with our living a “normal life,” but, then again, sacrifice is an offering of giving not receiving.
The bottom line is that if my spiritual renewal is to work, then I must do what is uncomfortable. Doing the right thing may not always be easy, but it is always the right thing. We have so much more to offer.Continue Reading...
This is a version that I came up with when I had trouble memorizing it. It has evolved over the years, but it expresses my establishment of a relationship with my Higher Power and it gives me TRUST. Hope you like it or make your own. It does strengthen my relationship with God.
God may it be your will that I be a messenger of your peace
May I bring love and the spirit of forgiveness to my fellow, may I know my truth and have faith
May I bring hope to others and live in harmony with all
May I share your joy and live in your Divine Light
Let me be of comfort without asking to be comforted
Let me be understanding without asking to be understood
Let me be loving without asking to be loved
It is by pardoning that we are pardoned and it is by giving freely of ourselves that we receive
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you my Lord, My Rock and my RedeemerContinue Reading...
The smarter a person is the more they need God to protect them from thinking they know everything.
Being on a spiritual quest requires caution. If we are confident about our journey it is not uncommon for our egos to get us into trouble. It is easy to become self-righteous.
We start out with good intentions wanting to help others and morph into teachers or worse, preachers. We treat others as our students and consider ourselves more knowledgeable. Slowly we are taking inventory of those we wish to help and judging their progress. Our mission becomes more about correcting then helping.
It is a subtle process, but it evolves into a retraction of our Second Step, I found myself playing God. Unfortunately I got good at it and it is dangerous.
It was subtle at first, but by the time I became aware of what had happened my sponsor was making some strong suggestions. There were meeting I was chairing that were becoming long-winded gabfests by me telling those in attendance what they needed to do to stay sober and recover from alcoholism. I had left the realm of sharing my experiences along the lines of what I did to stay sober and how I had learned to follow the suggestions of others. The lectern had become my pulpit to expound on the way to stay sober. It didn’t work for me or anyone else. It was suggested that we do another second step, and I was reminded of two very important lessons; there is a God and I am not it.
It is important to remind myself daily that I am doing God’s will by praying every mornings, asking for knowledge of the Power of The Universe’s will for me and that power to do it. I must check in constantly during the day to be reminded I am here to serve and at the end of the day it is important to review my day with my Higher Power. This will keep me on track and in the spirit of helping others, not teaching.
It is my choice to be guided on a path of spiritual renewal and it requires a power greater than myself to correct my life.Continue Reading...
Harmony House Yoga
Our spring forward this weekend brings up time, particularly ‘lost’ time. Sixty minutes of life that seemingly evaporated and the adjustment period that now follows. As the collective conversation gathers around the concept of time, we pause to recognize its relevance.
Time is represented through what is consciously given. This is about how we serve – whether as a parent, a partner, a friend, or through our profession. It is of the highest honor to give. Generosity with our time extends our moments by giving life greater meaning. It is the way we embody prayer, by answering an external call to be present for each other.
Time is represented through how we receive. Being still enough to invite in each experience as relevant and beautiful enhances the way we embody meditation.
Time is measurable through the moments that captivate us. As love lodges deep within our psyche and threads the human story, it reminds us, there is nothing lost. There is simply this experience of what is called “yours” and what is considered “mine” inside of the eternal bond of that which is truly “ours.”
Extending us a conscious connection to all life and always…Continue Reading...
AA is often accused of being a Christian cult, but it has a lot more in common with Buddhism than many may realize. “Consider the eight-part program laid down in Buddhism: Right view, right aim, right speech, right action, right living, right effort right mindedness and right contemplation.
The Buddhist philosophy, as exemplified by these eight points, could be literally adopted by AA as a substitute for or addition to the Twelve Steps.
Generosity, universal love and welfare of others rather than considerations of self are basic to Buddhism.” —from the Akron Pamphlet; “Spiritual Milestones in Alcoholics Anonymous” (http://hindsfoot.org/AkrSpir.pdf) edited by Dr. Bob, co-founder of AA.
There appears to be much in common between Buddhist thought and the 12-step recovery program practiced by members of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and other programs aimed at aiding people who struggle with addiction. I had the opportunity to communicate with a number of Buddhist teachers and writers who addressed the possible positive connection between Buddhism and recovery from addiction.
But first, what is Buddhism?
The easiest way to think of it, if you’re encountering Buddhism and its teachings for the first time, is that Buddhism is all the different traditions, teachings, and practices that have grown up around the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, who is thought to have lived and taught in India around 2,500 years ago.
Today, there are a huge number of different schools of Buddhist practice and thought, but almost all adhere to certain core teachings. These teachings include certain fundamental views such as the Four Noble Truths, the Three Treasures and the Noble Eightfold Path.
The Four Noble Truths, for instance, are as follows: the truth of suffering, the truth of the cause of suffering, the truth of the cessation of suffering, and the path. While this might sound alien or exotic at first, it simply means acknowledging that we all suffer, and that there are reasons for suffering, as well as the possibility of ending suffering through certain methods.
Interestingly, the word “suffering” is a translation of the original Indian word “dukka” which means something closer to “dissatisfaction.” The idea is that when we have pleasure, we get greedy and don’t want it to end, and that when we have pain, we want it to end as quickly as possible. But, in neither case do we have real inner peace.
Additionally, in Buddhism there is a description of a world in the afterlife, populated by beings, so-called “hungry ghosts,” whose appetites exceed their capacity for satisfaction. Their stomachs are huge, but their throats are tiny. No matter how much they attempt to eat, their hunger remains insatiate. The realm of the hungry ghosts is one of the “six realms of Buddhism,” which at first glance might seem like actual places—there is a “hell realm,” for instance, which could be thought of as a real hell.
Another way of looking at them is as descriptions of certain mental states. The hungry ghosts, or pretas, might be imagined as real beings, but in a larger sense they are simply sentient beings whose hunger defines and dominates their existence; we may call them alcoholics and drug addicts.
“The root cause of addiction is the survival instinct we are all born with. We are born into a body that craves pleasure and hates pain. Addictions are a maladaptive manifestation of trying to create pleasure and avoid pain.” said Noah Levine, a Buddhist Teacher.
“Buddhism’s whole teaching is directly related to recovery. The Buddha started his teaching by asking us to break the denial that we have about the suffering in our lives, an encouragement to turn toward and directly face the facts. He then pointed out the main cause of our suffering is craving for and addiction to sense pleasures. This craving can also manifest as aversion to pain and the cycle of escapism that leads to addiction to substances and behaviors,” Levine continues.
“He then taught that we can fully recover or be liberated from all of the suffering that addiction causes. We do this by renouncing the behaviors that we have become addicted to. In support of renunciation, we also take refuge in our potential to recover, a disciplined meditation practice and a community of recovery. The path that will lead to a full recovery has eight factors: Understanding, Intention, Communication, Action, Livelihood, Effort, Mindfulness and Concentration.”
When I asked Mr. Levine if he believed the practice of Buddhism was complementary to the 12-step model of recovery he responded, “Most will find Buddhism to fit well with their 12-step process. It will depend on one’s concept of a Higher Power. If one believes that there is an all-powerful God that is the creator and controller of the universe, they may have difficulty understanding things like karma. But I think that most 12 steppers will find the universal principles like generosity, forgiveness, compassion and the meditative path of mindfulness as complementary to the steps. More importantly, those who have difficulty with the 12-step views on powerlessness and God, will find in Buddhism a recovery process that does not ask for belief, only encourages direct knowing.”
Byakuren Judith Ragir is the Guiding Teacher at Clouds in Water Zen. She shared with me some of her thoughts about the relationship between Buddhism and addiction recovery.
I asked her, “Is there a common root cause of addiction in Buddhism?” Ms. Ragir replied, All illusions are on a spectrum of addiction. From the habituated patterns of the way we think about “self” and “reality,” to small patterns that help us escape our problems, to overwhelming addictions; they are all based on the root that we can’t hold our present reality and we want to escape. We could also call it a spectrum of neurosis or compulsions.”
“In Buddhism, we seek to understand the underlying truth about life, a person, a life span and karma, which can start to unravel our tight grasp on who we are and what are problems are. ‘Relieve me of the bondage of self,’ our literature says. Meditation practice teaches us how to increase our capacity to stay with our negative emotions without acting out or repressing. This is incredibly important for addicts, otherwise we hit a feeling/emotion we don’t like and we escape through our addiction. It’s part of growing up. Life has suffering in i. Can we be present to our life as it is? Can we plant seeds of goodness in our current conditions, one day at a time, that will manifest positively in the future? Changing my relationship to suffering, which is a basic teaching in Buddhism, has radically changed my life. Buddhist practice and 12-step recovery are very complementary. They each deepen the other. Their strengths lie in different areas.”
Kevin Griffin is a Buddhist teacher and author of numerous books, says “Mindfulness and meditation practices help people in recovery be a little bit more peaceful, to feel a bit more calm, to relieve stress.”
In describing “mindfulness,” Mr. Griffin remarked, “In mindfulness practice, we explore our habitual thought patterns. This can help the addict see the ways they are undermining themselves with thoughts, with obsessive thoughts, with reactive thought patterns.” Mr. Griffin continued. “
A bit of negative thought or self-hatred is going to be another trigger for relapse. So, we can see that in mindfulness practice we can respond in a more intentional, conscious way to those habitual negative patterns and really question them. The bumper sticker, ‘Don’t Believe Everything You Think’ comes to mind. This describes, in a way, the cognitive-behavioral practice of challenging thoughts.”
Mr. Griffin expressed the belief that “Buddhism and 12-step programs, share an understanding that craving is the cause of suffering.”
Finally, Mr. Griffin remarked, “Most of my work and my writing is seeing the parallels between 12-step work and Buddhist teachings.”
Darren Littlejohn has studied Buddhism for over 30 years and is an author. Mr. Littlejohn has written extensively on the complementary relationship between Buddhism and the 12-step program and remarked, “Attachment gone wild is addiction.”
In The 12-Step Buddhist Mr. Littlejohn writes: “I believe that Buddhism contains immeasurably powerful methods for everyone, especially addicts. If these methods are understood and practiced in the context of a recovery program, they will help you understand and realize your spiritual nature, which is the true mission of the 12 steps. As the Alcoholics Anonymous literature states, ‘our job is to grow in understanding and effectiveness.’“
“The roads to recovery are many…AA has no monopoly on reviving alcoholics.” —AA Co-Founder, Bill W., September 1944Continue Reading...
Being holy means being in a different kind of space. Special. Consecrated. Separate. But we don’t get there just because our Higher Power proclaims it or especially because we say it or think it. If we are on a path of spiritual renewal then we get there because we want to and we work it. God wants all of us to be there and opens the gates to all of us. “God helps those you come to purify themselves”.
We are setting our sights on a new Design for Living and are adopting a new code for living, as our ancestors received at Sinai. We are raising ourselves up with a new foundation and new support. In doing so, we are becoming closer to our Creator. This new relationship will require discipline and limits, things that may not be comfortable at first but because they are as our Higher Power wants we will adapt and become comfortable with what is uncomfortable. Our renewal requires searching for new people, places and things to associate with, ones that are good in the world, the holy.
Holiness is not to be confused with spirituality; it is an intimacy with God, a commitment to The Almighty in our life that encourages us to do the next right thing. It is faith. More than belief, it is doing, as our Higher Power would have us do. It is asking for the will of God in our lives and accepting it. The resulting feeling of ecstasy and relief is beyond understanding. It is.
The goal of spiritual renewal is to bring us closer to our Higher Power, so that we may have a relationship that enables us to trust, learn humility and to be of service to others.
Getting closer to our Higher Power is a driving feeling of contentment that is never satisfied, but the growth it inspires is satisfying enough to keep on working toward spiritual renewal.
COMPLACENCY!!! Until recently I didn’t realize how much that word or thought scared me. I had heard many people share about the trap I could become ensnared in by not going to meetings, not staying connected to other recovering alcoholics in my support group and not practicing the principles in all my affairs. The message wasn’t that I had to do any of the above perfectly, but that if I didn’t stay close to my recovery, if I started to believe that I could go it alone and/or abandoned my spiritual routine then complacency would lead to relapse.
None of the signs caught my attention, maybe because they didn’t all happen at once. We deal with a “cunning, baffling and powerful” force that is patient and will creep back into our lives if we are not diligent about our recovery. At first, it was not attending meeting as often as I had for the previous 8+ years. I made excuses for myself: the messages were repetitive; the speakers were boring or less meetings worked for me. Then I stopped calling my sponsor regularly and thought I could solve all my own problems without input from anyone else. It was the classic mistake of sponsoring myself and not seeking my Higher Power’s will for me. It didn’t take long until I was skipping my morning meditation occasionally and not doing a 10th step before retiring for the evening. Never did I entertain the thought that I could drink again, but it probably wasn’t far away.
It wasn’t like a freight train, but my emotional sobriety was tortoise-like moving away, and when I saw what was happening it scared the hell out of me (pun intended). I was coasting. The thought of drinking was not in my conscious thoughts, but who can tell when it will be. I realized that my alcoholism was patiently waiting for the weakness of my character to let it back in. The behavior was familiar and the memory of my last relapse was fresh.
Sobriety the first time around was not about recovery; it was based entirely on stubborn abstinence. My repeated attempts to drink less, change what I was drinking or sneak and lie about my excessive drinking had failed. Numerous appeals by my wife had fallen on deaf ears. Similar requests or pitiful looks of contempt by friends and family had not made a difference to me. Reluctantly in order to quiet the noise I began attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. The meetings were escapes from what I perceived as the harangue of others who didn’t understand. I was the one who didn’t understand. My self-centered absorption with myself was blocking me from any learning about alcoholism or any chance of finding a solution. Truth be told, I didn’t want another solution. It didn’t concern me yet.
For 30 months I attended meetings, burglarized the conversation of others, pretended to be in recovery and did all the superficial things you are supposed to do as a member of AA. Then it happened, I announced at dinner that it was OK for me to drink again. I ordered a glass of wine with dinner, beginning a 6-month relapse that almost ended in death.
My return was different, I was ready to surrender and willing to do whatever it took. I worked the steps, attended meetings several times a week, spoke with others about my recovery and theirs. And then I didn’t. The coasting began with giving up my service commitment, cutting back on my interaction with others, slacking on my prayer and meditation ritual. The biggest change was that I was sponsoring myself and not regularly doing a 10th Step.
It’s an interesting thing, this willingness, because willingness really is the key. We come in here beaten and scared as only “the dying” can be, and we are willing as hell. Then something happens. We forget the pain, get a little arrogant, and then decide to follow the thought process that results in, “I’ve got this!”
There is conversation that two cowboys have from Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty that sums my lack of self-awareness, my thinking that I knew it all and that recovery can be had without constantly working it:
Augustus says, “You’re so sure you’re right it doesn’t matter to you whether people talk to you at all. I’m glad I’ve been wrong enough to keep in practice.”
“Why would you want to keep in practice being wrong?”
Call asked. “I’d think it would be something you’d try to avoid.”
“You can’t avoid it, you’ve got to learn to handle it,” Augustus said. “If you come face to face with your own mis¬takes once or twice in your life it’s bound to be extra painful. I face mine every day-that way they ain’t usually much worse than a dry shave.”
More so than honesty, more so than open-mindedness, if I can remain willing to do the things that have been suggested in this “design for living.” If I “practice the principles in all my affairs” and walk toward sobriety the solution,, then I have a chance one day at a time to lead a sober, somewhat sane, life. And most importantly NOT become complacent.Continue Reading...
This post draws on Book of Genesis as an example of spirituality for the purpose of bringing forward into consciousness a “Power greater than ourselves” to rely on in recovery. It is not intended to espouse any religion or to insinuate that one needs a religion to recover from alcoholism, only that it is my belief that my recovery was by finding a spiritual path.
And Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I instead of God? You intended evil but God meant it for good…” Genesis 50:19-20
In the final portion of the Book of Genesis, Jacob passes away, leaving his sons to fear that with their father gone their brother, Joseph, will take vengeance upon them. They feared he would be vengeful for the wrong they did him many years ago when they kidnapped him and sold him into slavery. The brothers approach Joseph and beg him to do them no harm. Joseph is taken aback. “Am I instead of God?” he asks rhetorically, “You intended evil for me but God meant it for good.”
The words with which Joseph reassures his brothers are quite telling. Certainly, he could have said something to the effect that “two wrongs don’t make a right.” But Joseph communicated a message far more profound than that. Not only did he have no desire for revenge, he would not even concede that his brothers had actually succeeded in doing anything to him for which he should feel wronged. He allows that they had intended evil for him – for which they are presumably accountable to their Higher Power – but that is none of his concern anyhow, as he says, “Am I instead of God?” As far as what they actually did to him, Joseph completely dismisses any grounds for feeling ill will.
In other words, he explains the reason for his lack of resentment: The Power of The Universe was in control all along and his brothers had done nothing to him. To be sure, the day his brothers sold him as a slave, Joseph’s life was changed forever. There was a plan for him to come to Egypt, to become Pharaoh’s viceroy and to save his brothers in time of famine. That was not what his brothers had in mind, but for Joseph that was irrelevant. Life, as he saw it, was not a result of anything that any human being could ever have done to him, but rather, the culmination of a beneficent plan.
When we take stock of our lives, we endeavor to confront any resentment we may still hold toward anyone in our lives, past or present, and to let the hurt go. We make amends after the introspection that traditionally takes place on Yom Kippur but is never complete; we must continually look at our deeds and ourselves. In Seeking Spiritual Renewal teaches us “resentment is the number one obstacle.” Only then are we able to rid ourselves of any resentment we carry with us.
Our spiritual journey is best traveled lightly and we can scarcely afford to be weighed down by such useless, heavy baggage.
But getting over our resentments is not just a matter of unburdening ourselves of emotional pain. It is also how we get in touch with our Higher Power’s purpose and plan for our lives. When we attribute to the actions of others any power to define our lives, then we submit ourselves to the tyranny of people, places and things rather than surrendering to the loving care of God. Even when there have been people in our lives who have intended us harm, our faith tells us that none of that could have ever derailed our lives from Our Creator’s plan. Even those who have genuinely wronged us have been no more than unwitting players in a show that is constantly being rewritten. To state it succinctly, to carry a resentment is to grant power to a created being; to truly let go of resentment means to grant power only to God.