Monday, April 30, 2012

April is Poetry Month: Wild Geese

So now we will close our April Poetry Month with another poem by Mary Oliver. This might be one to memorize and press--like a flower --into your heart.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good. 
You do not have to walk on your knees 
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. 
You only have to let the soft animal of your body 
love what it loves. 
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. 
Meanwhile the world goes on. 
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain 
are moving across the landscapes, 
over the prairies and the deep trees, 
the mountains and the rivers. 
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, 
are heading home again. 
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, 
the world offers itself to your imagination, 
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place 
in the family of things.

---Mary Oliver

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Newcomer Envy

After many years of sobriety I can still feel shame when I do this. It happened again this week. A man in my home group celebrated 6 months and he was glowing. His life was transformed, he had found a deep faith in his Higher Power, his surrender was complete; he had completed his step work and was quoting the Big Book. His “share” was more lecture than personal story, but I bit.

I was jealous.

I know better. I knew better. But I could feel myself become envious and annoyed. I knew that I should be happy for his pink cloud and changed life but my own smallness revealed my envy. After all these years and all this work—I’m still trying to surrender, have absolute faith, and be a perfectly perfect person.

I know, I know.

These are the moments I wish for a meeting for people who have ten or 15 or 20 years. Not to leave behind the other meetings but so that I can say, “Does anyone else feel like this?” Is anyone else with long recovery secretly ashamed of their own petty reaction when someone with a year or so tells the group how perfect their life is and how they have incorporated all of the wisdom of the 12 steps?

I know better. I really do. But still.

I’m sure I did this too. No, I know I did this. I was the girl carrying AA literature home to family holiday dinners and passing it around like hors ‘dourves. I was the one who lectured every friend about the “principles of the program” and yes, I was the one blowing my anonymity hither and yon because I was so wise, so very wise.

So you’d think I’d have more compassion.

And in my heart of hearts I do. I much prefer that this new man be here and feel the guru than be out there drinking his life away. And I’d rather he lecture us in AA than his own family—which only delays their ability to hear about this marvelous thing we have. It’s just that when I look at my own “progress not perfection” life, and I see the intractable character defects and the amount of fear that is still underlying so much that I do I have to fight my snarky inner commentator who wants to say to the perky, pastel-hued newcomer, “Oh, just wait.”

But what I know is that life happens to all of us, and that we need those pink clouds and happy days to give us the ground under the harder parts of our recovery. The pink cloud days help us to make friends with other newcomers so that we have a gang to hang out with, which means we’ll have peers to call when the harder parts of recovery inevitably happen.

My red-faced humility is this: When I hear those newcomers speak of their transformed lives and the perfect peace that AA has given them I still want what they have. So I keep coming back.

Monday, April 23, 2012

April is Poetry Month: Raymond Carver

Raymond Carver is one of America's great writers: fiction and poetry. He is one of the chroniclers of what a drinking life is like and a sober life. His stories have become movies, his poems, plays. Here is a poem he wrote near the end of his life.  This poem is called, "Gravy".

No other word will do. For that’s what it was. Gravy.

Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving, and

being loved by a good woman. Eleven years

ago he was told he had six months to live

at the rate he was going. And he was going

nowhere but down. So he changed his ways

somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?

After that it was all gravy, every minute

of it, up to and including when he was told about,

well, some things that were breaking down and

building up inside his head. “Don’t weep for me,”

he said to his friends. “I’m a lucky man.

I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone

expected. Pure Gravy. And don’t forget it.”

Raymond Carver

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Support Your Local Self

A final take-away from the retreat at Wisdom House is this song by Celine Dion. You have heard it many times and maybe, like me, even rolled your eyes at the over romanticized lyrics.
But here's a new way to experience this song: Click on the link below to hear Celine Dion on YouTube, but as you listen actively imagine that you are singing this song to yourself. Sing to your inner anima and animus (Jung's terms for the the male and female parts of your core self).

Give it a try.

If the link doesn't work just look for Celine Dion, The Power of Love, on YouTube.

Friday, April 20, 2012

More from Don Bisson's Retreat

Here are a few more gems from the retreat at Wisdom House with Don Bisson. (See more on this blog from April 18). The retreat was about Spirituality and Sexuality and Don gave us a Jungian perspective on both. Here are some of Don’s ideas that I am pondering:

“The skills of intimacy with another person are the same skills needed for intimacy with God.”

 “When we are threatened in any way we turn to food because eating is a primary form of self-preservation. It’s not true body hunger; it is the body’s first way to protect and preserve itself in the face of physical threat. But we use it for what we perceive as emotional threat.”

“When we don’t feel in control we demonize that element which is pushing us, (food, sex, work…).”

“Our sexuality has a shadow side because we are human, but that does not mean that sexuality is the shadow side. We often confuse this.”

“If you block off your sexual energy you won’t have access to your creative self.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Addiction and Relationships

A couple of weeks ago I went to Wisdom House in Connecticut for a retreat with Don Bisson, a Marist Brother who is also a Jungian analyst. That’s a combination, huh? Don gives many retreats each year for spiritual directors and they attract people in recovery who like this combination of psychology and spirituality.

I learned so much, and I’m still digesting a lot, but here are a couple of thought provoking gems from my notes:

“At the core of an addiction is an energy that wants to take your life. An addiction wants nothing less than your entire life.”—Marion Woodman

“The purpose of marriage is to find the right person to force you to individuate.  Most people’s expectations of life are too low: The goal of life is not happiness, but individuation.
Your unconsciousness will choose the person who will push your individuation.” –Don Bisson

“So always be asking yourself: What is this person calling on in me? What am I projecting onto him? Can I pull back this projection—pull it back into myself? What part of me am I seeing out there on this other person? How can I integrate that part of me?”—Don Bisson

Now, that gives me something to chew on today!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

April is Poetry Month: Ithaca

You have heard this poem or excerpts from it. It was one of Jacqueline Kennedy's favorite poems and it was read at her funeral. A few years ago I re-read it and it hit me that this is also a poem for people in recovery. It is about a journey and it is about the treasure of living life on life's terms. Please enjoy "Ithaca" by Constantine Cavafy.

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon -- do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.

Constantine P. Cavafy (1911)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Taking My Own Advice

Here is the hard part: Taking my own advice. Last night I spoke at a women's wellness event and with sincerity I spoke about stopping the mental to-do list, and the self-shaming, and the craziness of trying to balance your life.

And this morning I wake up obsessed with the many things that are undone, that "should" be different, the people who are not happy or who might be happier if I only did....(fill in the blank). I open the morning paper and I read the obituaries--(I have read them all of my life--they are the best mini memoirs), and I see people close to my age. I think again, "Whose life is this?" and "What do I really want?"

But it's hard to take my own advice. It's hard to let go. It's hard to detach. And it's hard to live with other people unhappy with me. But it's much harder to live unhappy with myself.

This is why, after many years of recovery, I still need three meetings a week, a sponsor, the "other" program, and women who really do live the way that I am trying to. I need lots of examples and reminders. And on days like this I need hourly contact with a Higher Power to whom I can surrender my life.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Poetry Month: Feel Your Feelings

"Feel Your Feelings" is not new advice; it didn't come to us from codependence studies. It is ancient wisdom teaching us to stay fully present to every bit of ourselves.

Here is "The Guest House" by Rumi:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-- Jelaluddin Rumi,  translation by Coleman Barks

Friday, April 06, 2012

Good Friday

I have an Easter memory from years ago. I was living in Washington, DC, and that year was a low point in my life. My older sister had recently died and both of my brothers were seriously ill; my best friend was leaving town, and on top of that I was questioning my work.

In my journal that April I wrote, “Am I depressed?” When I read those pages now I laugh and shake my head. “Depressed?” That I even had to ask. In that long year I thought I’d never laugh again, just as I thought I’d never again feel love, the joy of easy friendship, or the satisfaction of good work.

I went to church that Easter out of both habit and desperation. I had grown up in a church going family. It was what we did. And so to honor the family that I was losing I went. I chose a big downtown church for Easter services—one with hundreds in the congregation--not daring to visit a smaller church where I might have to speak to people or be embarrassed by my own tears. I wanted the paradoxical safety and anonymity of being in a crowd. 

The minister that Easter Sunday said many things that I don’t remember but one sentence has stayed with me all these years. He said, “We live in a Good Friday world…”  That I understood. A Good Friday world is a world full of suffering, questioning, unfairness, trouble, mistakes, hurts, losses and grief. That was certainly confirmation of my life that day. “But”, he continued, “We are Easter people.” Those words stopped me cold. I was stunned to be reminded that painful morning that there was something other than what I was feeling.

My life was not instantly transformed; his words did not change the course of my brothers’ illness; nor give me answers to my questions. But the idea of being “Easter people” gave me a pause in my grief and the teeniest hope that there really did exist something other than pain.

Today all of the things that hurt so much back then have changed. As my brothers died friends came forward to help. I began to write and publish. Months later I fell in love and moved to upstate New York where a new life began with new friends, new work and yes, of course, new problems.

What strikes me now is that this believing in “Easter” in the midst of “Good Friday” is as much about being an American as it is about being Christian.  Americans are, by character, a people of reinvention. There is an extra layer of intention that we bring to “new life” that isn’t true even in other predominately Christian cultures.  As Americans we are future oriented, we look forward not back, and we are, for the most part, a culture of optimistic, hopeful people.

The gift from that Easter service many years ago was the reminder that we are, by religion or culture, a people who believe in possibility. When our hearts are shattered we are sometimes shocked to discover that there is joy as well as pain inside. Out of the ashes of our mistakes, from our defeats and even our despair, we rise again in better lives.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

April is Poetry Month

April is Poetry Month so,

“Let us remember…that in the end we go to poetry for one reason, so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both.” --Christian Wiman

For this Poetry Month I’ll be adding some poems about recovery, and growth and changing our lives. I hope you’ll make them part of your meditation and that you will share them too.

We begin with Mary Oliver who writes in “The Journey” about the experience that many of us had that got us here:

The Journey by Mary Oliver
One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting 
their bad advice-

though the whole house
began to tremble

and you felt the old tug 
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried 
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,

though their melancholy
 was terrible.
t was already late 
and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen 
and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn 
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice

which you slowly
 recognized as your own,

that kept you company
 as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world, 
determined to do
 the only thing you could do
determined to save 
the only life you could save.