Saturday, November 26, 2016

Taking Recovery to Work--Does God Show Up?

Inside my day planner I have written these words: Laborare est Orare. It’s the motto of the Benedictine Order of Monks and it translates: Work is Prayer. But I hadn’t thought, until recently, about how many people are actually praying at work. 

It’s not uncommon to hear a co-worker say something like, “Pray that delivery gets there on time” or “I hope to God this deal works out” but most of us don’t suspect the number of colleagues who go to their offices and literally, “hope to God”. 

Last year Fortune magazine had a story called “God and Business” about people who bring their Sunday values into their Monday world, and according to Fortune there are a lot of prayers rising up from office buildings all over America.

What is our reaction when we think that someone might actually be praying on the job?
Do we roll our eyes? Feel a sense of quaint embarrassment?  Ask to join in? If we consider that more than 90% of Americans say they believe in God, and 89% say they pray every day, it makes sense that some of that prayer would be in the office.

But you’re not alone if that makes you uneasy, because it’s not a simple thing when God comes to work. Diversity training has taught us that best practice means not trying to whitewash the workplace or removing all symbols of culture and belief but to allow differences to be celebrated and respected. The hard part is that when God goes to work He or She often brings not just the New Age rainbow raiment of acceptance but very often the strident symbols of specific religions and cultures. Even with the best intentions warm and fuzzy spirituality gets poked by the sharp edges of organized religion.

It raises a lot of questions that may not have satisfactory answers. Federal law requires “reasonable accommodation” of religious practices in the workplace. But the trouble is that there are often inherent conflicts.  I have a friend who works with a man, a senior manager in her company, and she wonders if she’s right to worry that his particular religion could get in the way of promoting women. Another friend tells of major conflicts at her company where the deeply religious HR director advocated for a health plan that did not cover contraception.

But walk through the office again and look at office bookshelves or take a peek in your co-workers briefcase and you’ll see books with titles like:  “God at Work”,  “Jesus, Inc.” or “What Would Buddha do at Work”. These are just a few of the new offerings from the fastest growing segment of the publishing industry. The “Inspirational”, and more specifically, “Faith at Work” segments of publishing have grown 31 percent in the last four years. According to Publishers Weekly, the industry trade journal, we’re spending more than $900 million on these books each year.

Clearly we’re looking for some kind of help that the Employee Assistance Program isn’t offering. We want faith in something to get us through the week, and we want to know how to reconcile the prophets and the profits. But it may also be that we’re taking old values and giving them a new spin. 

When I read the individual profiles in the Fortune article I was a little dismayed. I had expected to learn how business people who were “out” as believers struggled with the legal and political aspects of their faith, but instead the stories were of people who are, well, simply good people: decent, honest and caring. What struck me was that they sounded kind of old fashioned until I realized that what they had was what we used to call good character.

It looks to me like we’ve discovered some value in our parent’s values after all. But true to form, we’re now dressing up the stodgy old  “good character” in the hipper garb of being spiritual at work. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Relationships-All of It is All of It

When John was diagnosed with cancer shortly after we moved in together people said to me. “Well you have a fairly new relationship and now you are dealing with cancer too. How do you know where the relationship will go, and if it’s really OK?”

And when I thought about their questions I realized that, after a certain age, any time you enter a new relationship you are going to get a surprise—just like getting a prize in your Cracker Jack box. It might be stepchildren, bad credit, chronic illness, job dissatisfaction. It might be a crazy former spouse, or it might be cancer. It’s always something.
What seems to be crucial is that we can’t always separate the relationship from the things that come with it. Rather, it is about seeing those things as the factors you will deal with, or talk about, or maneuver around in the relationship. There is not “the relationship” and then also the cancer. It is folded together. Dealing with all of it is dealing with all of it.   

We don’t know who discovered water but it certainly wasn’t the fish. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Anger and Fear

This week I am feeling anger. The election has shaken me deeply. I am also shaken by the reaction of friends whose reaction seems to be, “Oh well…that’s too bad…big sale at Macy’s on Veterans Day."

What does long-term recovery teach me about this anger? It tells me “restraint of tongue (Facebook) and pen.” I find myself posting and deleting and finally pushing away from the desk. I talk to safe people. I write to my sponsor. And I pray. 

I do not pray for the anger to go away. I know that in every faith tradition righteous anger has a place and a power. But I also know I have to sort out what is truly righteous on behalf of vulnerable others, and what are my own personal fears.


I heard this at a meeting ages ago: Under Anger is Fear. That helps me to dig deeper. My thinking changes when I can remember that. If I catch myself feeling anger I can ask, “What am I afraid of?”  And make a choice on what I do next.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

An Open Heart

“My ability to be present in the world with an open heart depends on my ability to be present to myself with an open heart.”

             --Sylvia Boorstein





Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Power of Rituals

A ritual is a way of ordering life. And so people in recovery—where it takes a long time to return order to our lives—often create and value rituals. Rituals have power. Our faith communities teach us rituals to help us find faith and meaning in our lives. Almost all professional athletes have rituals—the order in which they dress, the things they do on game day, the special movements or gestures that precede their competition. Performers and artists have rituals. Dancers are governed by ritual. And after many years of recovery our rituals help us too.  

Many of us have rituals for our prayer and meditation practices. I light a candle each
morning at my little altar in my bedroom—that altar is also part of my ritual. The altar makes it clear to me—only me—that this is prayer time. I’m sure my higher power does not care about the location or the accessories but having the altar, small prayer rug and that candle help me to pay attention to what I’m doing.

For meditation I have a small brass chime that makes a soft sound. I use the chime to start my ten minutes of meditation each day. It’s a reminder to my brain, “Oh that’s what we’re doing now.” Recently I began to use the timer on my phone to alert me when my sitting time is over. It’s a ritual and a helper: I don’t have to keep peeking at my watch when I’m meditating. 

Do you write a gratitude list? Do you write your tenth step inventory at night? Or do you say it out loud in the car as one friend does.  For many years in Overeaters Anonymous I called my sponsor every morning to commit my food. That external monitoring helped me get clear about my choices, and making the call was a daily ritual of commitment --and humility. I still write down my food every day. It is a ritual of  honesty with myself, and a commitment to my good health.

Do you have any rituals you use at meetings? I know a woman who tried to always sit in the same chair, and another who always sits in the front row to make herself pay attention. Years ago someone taught me to, “Always look at each person as they speak, it will help you hear them.” Do you have something you do as your gesture of being present at a meeting?

Rituals reinforce habits --and recovery is really a series of positive, healthy habits. Having a ritual erases any  question of, “Should I or shouldn’t I?” The renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp talks about her artistic rituals in her book, “The Creative Habit”. 

She writes, “Rituals are the mechanism by which we convert the chemistry of pessimism into optimism.”

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More on creating good habits, practices and rituals in recovery in the book, "Out of the Woods" published by Central Recovery Press.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Fear of Financial Insecurity

Yesterday I had lunch with another writer. We were talking about our work, and aging, and the perils of writing books, and I said,  “I just always imagine I’ll end up a bag lady.”


She looked at me levelly and said, “Are you saving your good bags? I always save bags from the better stores just for when that day comes.”

Monday, September 26, 2016

Faith & Fear

Here is another AA heresy. One of the platitudes in AA is that “faith and fear cannot occupy the same place.” But it’s not true. We do people a disservice when we say that. 

People of faith also have fear.
Moses had fear in the desert.
Daniel had fear in the lion’s den.
Jesus had awful fear; he sweated blood at Gethsemane.

Faith is not the absence of fear. Faith is doing the next sober thing even while feeling terrible, awful fear.



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Lots more on faith and fear in "Out of the Woods--A Guide to Long-term Recovery" published by Central Recovery Press.