Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A dear friend and I took a lovely hike over the weekend - Opal Creek, near Detroit Lake. It was gorgeous, and Higher Power was definitely there in the magnificence of the old growth forest, and in the sweetness of long term friendship. At a particularly beautiful spot, we paused for a moment of silence to honor our friend, Grace, who died last year due to ALS. We'd always planned to do this hike together, the three of us, back when we were hiking and walking regularly, scanning our calendars for an open weekend. It's not an easy hike to get to - an hour from town to the turnoff, and the final 25 miles on a dirt road - so it was always a "someday." Grace then left town to join the Peace Corp, and then she got sick while in Africa. When we visited her in Maine after her diagnosis, she could only manage a few steps, using a walker.

My point here is that you never know. You just never know what life-on-life's-terms will bring. Obviously I can't do everything I want, when I want. I can't leave tomorrow for a month in India, or rent a cozy bed-sit in northern England for the summer, or retire next week. But I can pay attention to those little nudges to take that hike, call that older relative, visit the friend I haven't seen in a while.

One of the gifts of long term recovery is the ability to discern my heart's true desire from the flashy craving of the moment. A true desire doesn't go away. It might take different forms to get my attention, but the essence of what I truly want (freedom, love, adventure, connection) remains.

Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Band sang, back in the 70's, "Some people have everything that other people don't, but everything don't mean a thing if it ain't the thing you want (Express Yourself)".  What do I want, really?  That's a question I frequently ask myself, trying to make sure that my "want to's" balance out the "have to's."  I'm also paying attention to my policy of "later," as in, "I'll use those pretty dishes later... save that beautiful candle for later... read that book later...  call that person later." My new philosophy is "Later is Now!"  Go on the hike. Take the trip. Use the fancy china. Tell those I feel close to that I love them. Because you just never know.

How do you make time to listen to your heart's wisdom? What is it saying? Is there something you've been saving for later that you could use today? If you could do anything you wanted to, tomorrow or next week, what might that be?

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

A friend recently passed on an article on surrender (see link below). As we are in the sixth month, related to the 6th Step, I appreciated this attempt to explain what, to me, has always been unexplainable.
Surrender is a state of being, a sense of relief and exhale. In treatment, one of our counselors frequently walked through the milieu responding with, “Oh well!” to our various dilemmas. Or she’d say, ‘Let it go!” Dear God – what does that mean? “How?!” I’d plead. She would make a fist, then open her hands. “Just let go.” I couldn’t grasp the concept – how could I let go of something that I really didn’t have a hold of to begin with? Precisely.
It’s been remarked that “figure it out” is not a Step, but that mental gyration of searching for answers is an almost automatic response to life on life’s terms for me, with thoughts of surrender my last resort. OK. OK. I give up. 
I can’t demand the relief of surrender, but I can make myself ready. Inventory, prayer & meditation, smudging or other rituals, sharing openly with a sponsor or trusted other – all can open me to the still, small voice that whispers, “I’ve got this. You are being taken care of.”  How many times have I said, “OK, HP, I surrender” while thinking, “Now, where is that outcome I want so badly?” It doesn’t work like that. True surrender = letting go of all of it: the problem and the solution.
A friend talked with me last week about the incessant internal chatter that seems to plague us recovering folks. She noted her tendency to distract with external noise - podcasts, speaker tapes, TV/movies. What would happen, she wondered, if she were simply quiet? After we spoke, I started noticing how often I hurry home to catch the national news or automatically turn on music in the car. Lila R, who's Step workshop we use as a guide in our monthly group, suggests that we pay attention to our thinking. I can't do that if I'm being barraged with noise, no matter how pleasant or edifying. 
How do I live in a place of surrender, with the day-to-day as well as those earth-shattering events that more quickly lead me to my knees? When and how do I make time to listen to my thoughts - not the racing busy-brain, but the quiet voice? Psalm 46 says, "Be still and know that I am God." Just reading that causes me to breathe a little deeper. On that theme, Rumi wrote, "Silence is the language of God; all else is poor translation." 
However you do or don't translate the word "god," surrender seems to begin in the quiet moments, the empty spaces where I'm all out of ideas. To become "entirely willing," as described in Step 6 means without reservations. That doesn't mean I don't grab my defects, my fears, my gyrations back a hundred times. What it means to me is that I continue the practice of getting quiet and letting go, over and over again.
What is on your heart today? Where do you desire to let go on a deeper level?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A few things occurred over the weekend that heightened my already acute sense of time passing, my desire to take it all in, because what's happening today becomes the memories of tomorrow. I haven't always known that, at least not on a visceral level. There was always more time, more to do, hurry, hurry. Even with my desire to live to (a healthy) 100, there is more time behind me than ahead. Today, my refrain is more often, "Slow down," asking myself, "What really matters in this moment?"

On Friday, my step-daughter graduated from high school. She was 9 when I met her dad, and here she is at 18, gliding across the stage to accept her diploma, off on a road trip, with college in the fall. As one of a group of valedictorians, she thanked, "My mom, my dad, and my step-mom," for helping her get to this launching point. I teared up with the recognition, especially since I feel like I don't do much mothering, though she frequently lets me know that she appreciates my support. Stability and structure are two of my strong suits (thanks to my own mother), so if I've been able to provide that, I'm grateful - grateful for this opportunity that I didn't know I wanted.

What I want to tell her, as I think of the wonder involved in being 18, with her whole life ahead of her, is what I wish I'd been told: Before you know it, you'll be 25, then 37, then 50 - pay attention. This great boyfriend of yours may or may not be the love of your life, and either is ok. You are choosing a career that may or may not be where you want to spend your life, and that is ok too. There will be joys and disappointments ahead, and you will be ok with both in the long run. Oh, if only I'd had  more appreciation of the long run and less for the flash of the moment. At 18, I disregarded my mother's suggestion of college because I was stubborn and frightened, and married my high school sweetheart in a rash of self-will. Maybe there isn't much I could tell my step-daughter that would ease her path after all. All we can do at this point is trust her good foundation, and be here to help illuminate the path, if she asks.

On the drive down I-5 to the graduation ceremony, we listened to a CD, recently re-recorded from the original 1989 cassette tape, of Leonard C, "my" old-timer. I've written about Leonard before, with his cigarette stained fingers and thick glasses, and a story that still leaves me amazed - shanghai'd onto a merchant ship during WWII, bombed and left afloat twice (once in the Atlantic and once in the Pacific), introduced to Bill Wilson during the 1960 Long Beach International Convention when he and his boxcar buddies were still drinking...  I know Leonard's story almost as well as I know my own, and cried to hear his voice through time saying, "Will power will not keep you sober, but want power will." Did I ever tell Leonard that I loved him? Did I ever let him know how important his recovery was to my own? I was riveted by the stories when I first got sober, and specifically with him, thinking, "If this old coot can do it, then maybe I can too." Hearing his voice reminded me of the precious nature of our recovery relationships - those people who's last names we rarely know, but who are both a witness to our growth, and the beacon along the way.

In 1983, my brother and I took a trip to honor my dad, three years after he'd died. We started in New Orleans, with a pilgrimage to the Preservation Hall, and to hear Pete Fountain, one of the clarinet players who's music could give my dad goose-bumps. From there, we flew to DC, visiting places we'd only read about - the Lincoln Memorial, the Declaration of Independence, every single room of every single Smithsonian building (with the blisters to prove it), Ford's Theater. From there, imagining a pastoral journey along the eastern seaboard, we took a train to New York that went through the rusty industrial section of every run down city along the way. This was pre-cleanup NYC - at Grand Central Station, the cabbie didn't want to get out of his vehicle to unlock the trunk for our luggage. We were out of our element, but saw what we came to see - the NY Library, the Metropolitan, the Museum of Natural History, Dream Girls. My brother had never been in an airplane before, so I was the wise older sister, even though pre-recovery, I was more timid than bold. On the day he headed back to Portland, I had time to kill before flying on to meet my boyfriend, so, feeling grown up and urbane, walked along Central Park, perusing the street vendors selling used books, sketches, and jewelry. I bought a ring from one of the guys - a simply designed sterling silver band that came to represent both my father, and the grand adventure I'd shared with my brother. In recent years, I wore it on the same finger as my mother's wedding band, further solidifying the family connection. Well, the band broke in two over the weekend - kaput. I suppose I could get it soldered, though I'm sure that would cost more than the $5 I originally paid. And what is it, anyway? Just a tiny piece of metal that, in and of itself, means nothing .

A high school graduation, a voice from my past, a broken piece of jewelry - time marching on, with past, present and future intersecting, braiding into my history, and my memories blending with those of people I love dearly, and those I merely meet along the way. In these recovery years, I have the chance to re-establish a relationship with my past, seeing more clearly what might have been muddled at the time. One day at a time, I can decide what to let go of, and what to bring forward on the journey.

What are you carrying, materially or emotionally, that brings a smile to your face? What memories might have been tempered and recast with the passing of time?

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Last week, while on vacation, my friend and I were seeking a particular hiking trail with the assistance of Google Maps, the all-knowing, all-seeing miracle on our smart phones. OK, not Higher Power material, but who would've thought, all those years ago, when I was instructed to carry a quarter in case I needed to make an emergency recovery phone call, that I'd be walking around with the world's knowledge a tap away. It's kind of creepy, actually, but convenient.

And not infallible. While searching for the trail-head, Ms. Google literally sent us in a circle back to our starting point. We back-tracked, thinking we'd missed something, only to see that it was a historical marker, not our hike. What the heck - we're here, so let's drive in, at least to turn around. As we rolled up the narrow road, one of us mentioned how much we'd loved our time in Scotland last summer - such a great experience. As we pulled into the parking area at the sacred Hawaiian site, we came upon a couple of young guys practicing their bagpipes. Talk about unexpected! Hearing "Scotland the Brave" while gazing over a lush forest towards the sea, and having just talked about Scotland, gave me goosebumps. A "God-shot," and evidence that perhaps Ms. Google did know where we were supposed to be after all. We chatted with the kids, and gave them the name of an awesome street band we'd seen in Edinburgh (the Spinning Blowfish - check out their bagpipe enhanced version of "Wish You Were Here" on Youtube). A sweet, momentary connection from a mistaken path.

How many times have I initially thought, "I don't want to go," and had a great time at a gathering, or took a wrong turn and came upon a beautiful scene. How often have I gone to a new meeting, only to run into someone I haven't seen in decades? Or, attended a meeting with a particular matter on my heart and hear a stranger speak directly to me?

God-shots are those little coincidences - synchronistic reminders that "expect a miracle" applies to me too, not just the newcomer, if I remember to pay attention. Being open to the mystery, letting go of the need to figure it out or have all the answers, is a comfort, when I allow myself to relax into the moment, trusting that all is as it should be. As someone used to tell me, "if things were supposed to be any other way, they'd be different!"

On these days when it seems like the news of the world is mostly terrible, I find it helpful to notice my surroundings - listen to the morning bird call, appreciate spring blossoms, or strike up a conversation with guys playing the pipes. How do you ground yourself? What, lately, has you wondering, "Is it odd, or is that God?" How can you open your heart and mind to the wonders of this life?