Wednesday, February 26, 2014

It's All About Joy

An ancient Egyptian teaching says: When you arrive in the hereafter you will be asked two questions:

1.     Did you bring joy to the world?
2.     Did you find joy in your life?

An important learning for me in recovery is that joy and happiness are different. Recovery does not make us less human, and human life happens to us as it does to everyone else. So happiness is not a constant even though our periods of happiness will increase the longer we are active in recovery.

But Joy is something else. What I learned about Joy is this:

“Joy comes from my relationship with God. So I can be Joyous even when I am not happy.”

As we pursue a connection with our Higher Power we become happy, joyous and free. This is why recovery continues and why we continue our recovery even though our last drink or drug or binge was many years ago.

               “You were not meant for pleasure, you were meant for joy.”

                                                                  --Thomas Merton

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Honus Wagner Day

For true baseball fans the season has begun. Pitchers and catchers reported and the position players head to Spring Training now. News stories will soon reveal the characters and the character of America’s professional baseball.

In the past this would be the time that kids would pull out baseball cards and begin to trade. These days it’s collectors and dealers who care most about those cards. There is one card that any collector—child or adult—speaks of in hushed tones because of its legend, status and cash value.          

Growing up in Pittsburgh, I first knew Honus Wagner as the name of the sporting goods store where my parents took five kids to buy cleats and gloves. At the ball park there was a statue of this same man in baggy clothes with a face as creased as his glove.

Later, after I began to collect cards, I came to understand the significance of Honus Wagner—both the flesh and cardboard versions. Sports historian, Bill James, described Wagner as the second greatest player of all time, behind Babe Ruth. A Pirate shortstop, Wagner is one of baseball’s “Five Immortals” –the first entries in The Hall of Fame. (The other “Immortals” are: Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson.)

But today, as we live through so many sports scandals, Wagner may also be one of the immortals of sports history for his character, integrity and decency as well.

There’s a reason that the Honus Wagner baseball card is valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars and that is because of a stand that Wagner took for kids.

When baseball cards were first issued they came, not with bubble gum, but in packs of tobacco. The cigarette packs included little portraits of popular players. This is why, in collector’s jargon, the famous and somewhat mysterious Wagner card is called a T-206.  T for tobacco.  In the 1900’s tobacco cards were widely distributed by the American Tobacco Company, and they asked to include Wagner’s portrait on a card too. But they began production of the cards before his permission was secured. When Wagner learned of the card he demanded that production be stopped. It was, but not before some 300 cards made it into tobacco packages and were sold.

Though he was a tobacco user, Wagner regretted it. He was also an advocate for teaching sportsmanship and moral education to young people. His granddaughter said, “He did not want kids to have to buy tobacco to get his card.” The high value of the Wagner card is the result of that decision –which cost him income--and the consequent limited supply of those cards.

Bart Giamatti, baseball writer, former Commissioner of Major League Baseball, and former President of Yale University, wrote, “For the sports participant there is a constant dialectic of restraint and release, improvisation and obligation, of strategy and tactic.” It would seem that we should see a similar push-pull of restraint and release in an athlete’s social and moral conduct as well. With today’s players the release we see a lot, the restraint not so much.

It seems that so few ball players today think about teaching kids. Not the PR stuff that their agents make them do but the real deal, on their own dime, like Clemente in Nicaragua or Ripken in Maryland. Wagner is an example of an extraordinary athlete who found no inhibition to his greatness by practicing good behavior off the field. When we read about the Wagner card we should not think “investment”, but rather “integrity”.

Today is Honus Wagner’s birthday. As America’s ballplayers report for another season let’s wish for more heroes like him who might inspire us with both athletic brilliance and moral example.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Wisdom from Chief Inspector Armand Gamache

I have written several times about the inspiring wisdom from Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. He is perhaps one of the people I most admire even though this Quebecois leader is fictional.

Yes he is the creation of novelist Louise Penny, and I know that means that it is she who is actually the wise one, but she writes him so well that he remains a real –and really smart—person to me. I think he is of highest value to anyone pursuing a life of integrity.

Today’s excerpt is from the most recent novel: “How the Light Gets In” in which Armand is talking to his adult daughter about a relationship gone into difficulty. She is in love with a good man but there are problems. And drugs and alcohol are involved.

Armand says to Annie,

“I think you should try living your life as though it’s just you. If he comes back and you know your life will be better with him, then great. But you’ll also know you’re enough on your own.”

If only we had all learned that at 13 or 21 or 41 --or now.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why Do We have Darkness in Our Lives?

I heard a wonderful story the other day and it helped me better understand why we have difficulties and even darkness in our lives. For a long time I falsely assumed that struggle or challenges were signs that my spiritual life was not in good shape or that maybe my recovery wasn’t good enough. I mean, we hear things like, “Fear and faith can’t exist at the same time.” Now I know just how silly that is. Of course they can.

But to that very point here’s the new story:

Every year the birds of Capistrano fly north. They leave the island and have to cross wide swaths of ocean to make the long journey. What ornithologists noticed was that before the swallows left they would pick up a twig and carry it with them. As they few over the ocean they carried these twigs in their mouths for hours.

It seemed crazy.

But what the bird experts learned was that the birds flew those long distances over the ocean and when they got tired they would drop the twig and rest on it. The twig floated so they rested then picked up the twig again and kept flying.

The very thing that seemed to make the journey difficult turned out to be the very thing that made the journey possible.

So too with darkness in our spiritual lives, with sadness, with challenges and with hard times. We are strengthened. Comfort comes from the Latin, confrontare—to strengthen—and we are strengthened.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Out of the Woods--The book is in stores and on Youtube

I am so pleased to let you know that what began on this blog is now a book. "Out of the Woods" has been published by Central Recovery Press.

You can purchase the book at your local bookstores or an Amazon. I placed a link below to make that easy. And also a link to me on YouTube talking about why--oh why--I wrote this book.

I began talking about how we come out of he woods when I was maybe ten years into my recovery and then I started writing about the issues of changing recovery, transferring addictions, relationships in recovery and finally longterm recovery over the next 20 years.

I made myself laugh when someone recently asked me how I wrote a book while also having a big job and a busy recovery life and rich friend life and wonderful married life too (and a little cancer thrown in for interest) and I said, meaning this is how I write, "I did it one day at a time."

Yeah, I said that. To coin a phrase:) But it's true. I wrote the book the way I do recovery: baby steps, trials and tests, building new habits and one day at a time.

I invite you to buy the book. But keep joining me here. The discussion  just keeps going and there is so much more for us to talk about as we come out of the woods.

Check this out:

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Be Here Now

You've heard every version of this wisdom but every now and then you can hear some guidance that really let's you hear it. Here's mine. Yesterday I read this:

"Be in the present. Stress and anxiety happen when you are managing the future."

As if :)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Sylvia Plath Bake-Off

Today is the anniversary of the death of poet, Sylvia Plath. On February 11, 1963, on a bitter, cold, dark London evening Plath put her two small children to bed, then turned on the gas stove in her kitchen, she laid down with her head in that oven and she died.

She was 30. She was talented. She was celebrated. She was heartsick. She was depressed.

Celebrate Plath today by baking something yummy. Make cookies for someone you love. Bake lasagna for dinner. Read a poem. Write a poem.

Cherish your life.