Sunday, December 30, 2012

Making Decisions

Today I talked with a sponsee and I shared with her some advice I learned a long time ago about decision-making. Not that I always follow it—or even remember it --but this is good stuff.  This is one of the benefits of sponsorship: you hear yourself say wise things and sometimes you use them yourself.

Here are two strategies to use when making a decision:

  1. “The 10-10-10 Rule”: Imagine that you have to make a decision but you can feel yourself struggling. First imagine that you are going to say yes to the choice. Then sit down and ask yourself: Will this matter in ten minutes? In ten months? In ten years? Then imagine the opposite, that you are saying “no” to the choice, and again ask yourself will that matter in ten minutes? In ten months? In ten years?
 And here’s another way to discern what you really want to do. I call this one Yes!! or No.

  1. “Yes!! or No” goes like this: When confronted with a choice you say to yourself,  “If it’s not a Yes!! then it’s a no”. What that means is that you should only honor choices, actions or decisions that are clearly Yes!! (With two exclamation points.)
If your internal response is just yes or a yeah, or maybe, or “I guess I could do that” then it is not really a Yes!! And anything less than a clear, strong Yes!! is really a no. We all know what a clear Yes!! feels like, so if you don’t feel that, your answer is no.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Stop Treading Water

“Promise me you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above the waves, that you forget, truly much you have always loved to swim.”

                                                            --Tyler Scott Gregson

Sunday, December 23, 2012

In Darkness and Light

These are the holidays. Hanukkah last week, Christmas now. We may complain about our errands but we enjoy the festivity and the light that these holidays bring to our dark December.

In the Northern Hemisphere this is a time when we face our vulnerability.  Ancient man feared the sun had died, and we still fear the darkness. As winter begins there is a pull from deep in our bones that makes us seek light and answers.

So in December we try to outrun darkness. We go to the Caribbean or to sun lamps or we pursue spirits, both religious and distilled. Like our ancestors we want the light to return so we drive to the bright lights at the mall and we sacrifice our savings.

But in fearing the dark we may be resisting something necessary, maybe even something holy. The December holidays are about darkness after all, and the mystery felt just at the edge of light.  And, as is often the case in spiritual matters, there’s a paradox: In darkness we get the signs-- and the answers-- we'd never see in light.

I laugh at how many times in my life I have prayed for signs. In very difficult moments I have begged God for an envelope with my name on it. Maybe I watched too many episodes of Mission Impossible growing up, but part of me wants instructions that clearly spell out what I should do.

I know God doesn’t work that way, but I know I’m not alone in wanting him to. Some people flip coins or read their horoscope; others go to Tarot readers and keep psychics in business.

The part of the Christmas story that means the most to me is about the wise men, traveling on a hunch and their deep wanting. They had studied the sky for years and then they saw their sign.

In his poem, Journey of the Magi T.S. Eliot wrote: “At the end we preferred to travel all night, sleeping in snatches, with the voices singing in our ears, that this was all folly.”

Of course that’s the problem with star following. You just don’t know. We see this in the news. Stories of young men and women: some are heroes and others commit terrible crimes. Perhaps all following their stars. But you don’t know until you show up whether there’s going to be a baby or a bullet.

So how do we face the dark things in front of us now: global warming, war with no end  and the daily crimes committed against our hearts?

The wise men’s example is about faith: We can study, we can consult with others and we can try to be wise men and women, but in the end we have to get on our camels and hope we’re doing good.

In December we cope in the most ancient of ways. We go toward light--to neon and to parties like our ancestors gathered at the bonfire. But what if we allowed some darkness?  What if we dared ourselves to sit still and take a breath before we lit the tree? The darkness offers hidden gifts. After all, the wise men only got to see their star after they sat and waited in the dark.

This week the sun is at the most southern point of its transit.  Its cycle –and the darkness--is astronomical and holy. We need not fear it.  That is why the Christmas song says: Let nothing you dismay.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

In Defense of Late Shoppers

This is one of my favorite days of the year. This afternoon I’ll head out to start my Christmas shopping.  For a long time I was ashamed to admit that I prepared for the holidays with less than a week to go, but the truth is, this is my favorite part of Christmas.

No, I didn’t procrastinate.  I well know the advice about how to make Christmas shopping easier. But there are some things that don’t get better just by being easier. I’ve read many of those How to Get Organized books, but I’ve also lived through enough tragedy to know that trying to organize one’s life is an illusion.

I grant you that there will be a moment this week when I’ll envy those who had their gifts wrapped in August.  But that’s kind of like having a good report from the dentist isn’t it? All very wholesome but where’s the fun?

And don’t get me started on the people who buy everything online.  How much holiday spirit does that take? Yes you meet the technical requirement of gift given—but then why not just hand everyone a twenty-dollar bill, and say, “Hey, have a go at it”.

I also hate that suggestion that you should keep a stash of generic gifts on hand in case someone surprises you with a gift and you were not prepared to reciprocate. That’s just mean. Someone was just about to feel generous and you cut them off at the knees with a retaliatory box of bath salts. It’s the cruelest one-upmanship.

Those of us who begin our shopping this week will enjoy the real spirit of Christmas: We get to watch humanity test itself and we’ll see kindness and patience and grace enacted –or honored in the breach--in toy stores and next to the stack of 30% off cashmere cardigans.  We will also endure the “I was done in August” folks who just learned they need one more thing; they will typically be the ones cutting in line or sighing heavily and making lots of eye contact wanting everyone to share their misery.

No, we who start our shopping now are engaging in a holiday ritual much closer to the original: It’s cold out, traffic is as slow as a lane of donkeys, there is no room in the parking lot, and we get to watch a young family with a triple stroller searching the mall for a baby changing area. It makes you want to drop to your knees and pray.

Yes, shopping in August could make Christmas nice and tidy. But real life is anything but that. Consider the story of the Holy Family: There was no advance plan; Mary was days away from delivering a baby; then they went on a long trip, and she had to give birth in a barn. Not tidy and neat. 

The crux of that first Christmas is that sometimes in the midst of mess and stress, angels show up and miracles happen.

But in order to experience that you have to be willing to join the fray and put yourself where human beings are being human. Yes, it’s a gamble, but relationships are like casinos: You must be present to win.

So this weekend I’ll be where humanity is. I’m heading out to the mall, bundled up, grinning and bracing myself for mixed encounters with my fellow man. I’ll be trekking in from the outerloop of the parking lot, looking for a few gifts and the real spirit of Christmas.         

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Is Addiction a Form of Violence?

Here is a very provocative idea that I heard in a meeting recently. It shocked me but I thought, “I totally get that.”

A  woman was saying that we so often, in cases of domestic violence, hear the question, “But why didn’t she leave?” Why do women stay with someone who is abusive? It can seem contradictory or crazy or just make no sense…I mean, who would stay in a relationship that was hurtful, dangerous, life threatening?

Well all of us who have used drugs or alcohol or food addictively know how this works. For years we were in a terrible relationship with booze or drugs. It was a relationship that was progressively worse, but we kept hoping, kept rationalizing. “I can mange this” and “I can control this”, and “If I just change this or that…

Alcohol lied to us, beat us up, stole from us, humiliated us and then made promises,  “Next time will be different.” And we stayed and stayed. We lied to cover up, and we tried to be “better” addicts each time. Finally, when we were bloodied or when someone else saw what was really happening, we surrendered and then we left.