The Way to Better Living

I was first formally introduced to the concept of Self-mastery when I began my coursework to become a certified spiritual life coach.  There was nothing that I wanted more than to become Self-mastered.   Ah, to be like Jesus or Buddha. Ah, to have such command of myself.  How fabulous to…

Then the dream collapsed with a thud under the weight of these insane expectations of myself.   I nearly gave up before even starting.  Then I learned that Self-mastery is actually attainable in this life.  Yay! Re-start the music!

In his book, Self-mastery: A Journey Home to Your Inner Self, Hu Dalconzo states that those of us who live just 51 percent of our days from the spirit rather than from the ego can consider themselves Self-mastered.  This gave me great hope.

Quick Psych Tidbits

The term ego-mind or just ego refers to that part of our selves that is devoted to creating a sense of safety, security, and control.   The term spirit is that part of our selves that is divine or eternal.  Some call it the soul.

The Issue

The ego is an exquisite instrument.  It developed in response to a prehistoric environment that was fraught with threats from predators and warring tribes.  And it worked.  We evolved into the world’s dominant species.  But the ego is a fear-based operating system.  In our desire to feel safe, secure, and in control 24/7, we have empowered it to steer and command our lives.

Spiritual psychologists say that the ego makes a wonderful servant but a terrible master.  That’s because it puts our consciousness into hyper-arousal, relentlessly scanning for perceived threats and often misreading situations that really pose no threat at all.

This is why consciousness is so often focused on disturbance rather than on what is pleasant.  As a result, the ego engages the mind to “endlessly reprocess the past and endlessly worry about the future,” according to Michael Singer, author of The Untethered Soul.

Spirit, on the other hand, is a love-based operating system.  Where the ego is about separation, the spirit is about unity.  These are diametrically opposed operating systems.  And psychologists are recognizing that humans operate out of just two modes:  love or fear.  When we are experiencing fear, we are in the grips of ego.  When we are experiencing love, we are in the domain of Spirit.  We can’t feel fear and feel love at the same time and vice versa.

So the task of Self-mastery is to force the ego to the back seat and place the spirit at the wheel.  My job as a spiritual life coach is to help people through this process.   It involves training the mind to anchor in the present moment rather than forever drifting between past and present.  No small task.  But Self-mastery is about progress, not perfection.

When I teach my clients about Self-mastery, I don’t require them to continually monitor their thinking, being vigilant to replace every negative thought with a positive one.  I don’t even ask them to devote long hours to meditation.  Instead, I teach them two Zen-like concepts: the narrative mind and the experiencing mind.

The narrative mind is the one that is committed to maintaining and contributing to the storyline that we have created from past experiences. What doesn’t comply with that story, it dismisses.  The narrative mind is the fortress of the ego and is fixated on either the past or the future.  Little wonder our thoughts are so often negative, producing feelings of regret and anxiety.

The experiencing mind, on the other hand, is committed to experiencing the present moment.  This is where life happens.  This is the domain of spirit.  And if we pay attention to the here and now, we are often rewarded with positive thoughts and frequently a sense of joy.

Self-mastery, then, is really a practice of living life through the experiencing mind.   By intentionally training our minds to focus on what is happening in the here and now, we can experience the true art of living.

Trappist monk Thomas Merton said, “Life is this simple:  We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and the divine is shining through it all the time.  This is not just a nice story or a fable; it is true.”

When we make it our goal to see the divine in all things and to feel it within ourselves, we are really experiencing what Self-mastery is all about.  It takes some practice, but the results will transform your life. Join me in pursing this goal of Self-mastery and experience a state of intimate awareness of life that opens us up to all its splendor.  It’s a great ride.

 

 

 

 

The Ultimate Addiction

The ultimate addiction may be to our thoughts.

Everybody is aware of that voice in the head. You know, the one that urges you to action, the one that you argue with, the one that criticizes you, the one that narrates the movies you make in your head.

A friend of mine joked that the only difference between the people he sees on the streets arguing with themselves and himself was that he didn’t make public the dialogs he creates in his head. I laughed a little uneasily about this, and I was reminded of a passage from Eckhart Tolle’s The New Earth in which he makes the same observation as my friend.

One of the things that non-addicts get grumpy about is hearing addicts in recovery say time and again that everyone would benefit from reading the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. As a recovering alcoholic, I was guilty of this in my early recovery.

Yet, as I read more and more spiritual psychology, the more I learn about the voice. Tolle makes a cogent point that we are all addicts…addicts to our own thinking.   Part of it, particularly for those who love drama (and we all do to a degree), is that creating these mental movies is like the rush of crack.  There is a release of hormones and an adrenaline rush that is…well…addictive.

The majority of us have come to believe that the voice is ourselves speaking to ourselves. What psychologists say is that the voice is really a collection of voices from parents, caretakers, and people who were influential in our lives back as early as childhood.  We have internalized these voices into a composite voice that is constantly chattering away in our heads.

Because it is so familiar, we consider it to be one that “has our back,” that is looking out for our best interest, that is like a best friend. We sometimes forget that this voice is the one that drags us over the coals for the blunders we have made.

If we have the courage to really step back and listen to this voice as if it is someone we are sitting down with having coffee, we would begin to notice that frequently it is a very critical voice. It cruelly takes us to task about who we are and what we do.

Can we really call this voice a friend? Friends love us, support us, and say encouraging words. They remind us of our strengths.  Does the voice really “have our back”?  In my experience, no.  Why do I listen then?  Because I always have.

That is the addiction.

One of the most life-changing realizations I have made during my years reading books on recovery, spirituality, and spiritual psychology—and the one that was so tough for me to grasp—was simply this: we are not our thoughts, we are not our behaviors, and we are not the roles we play. These are things we do. They are not who we are.

But there is a part of us that is at the core of our being. It is that part of us that has remained the same from the time were in diapers, from the time we were children, from the time we were in middle school and high school, and throughout the entire span of our adult lives.   In spiritual terms, this is the soul.

The soul has a voice. It is often called the “small voice” within us.  The reason it is small is because we have allowed the cacophony of voices of our social conditioning to dominate it.

The soul-voice is the one that is who we really are. It is our essence.  And it truly is our most loving friend.

In order to hear it, we must no longer identify ourselves with the critical voice. We must step back from it, again recognizing it as the composite voice of our parents and caretakers.  Experts call this taking the “witness-observer” position.

Being able to assume this position will dramatically change the way that you respond to life and all the people who make up your life.

With practice it becomes easier to dispel the noise of the critical voice and to hear the small voice within. Just take a few moments every day to sit in stillness.  Visualize stepping back away from the critical voice you are hearing like backing away from another person.  Remain still and listen.  See if you can’t begin to hear the loving and compassionate of your small inner voice.

It is there, and it is the voice of self-compassion, love, and acceptance.

It is the voice of your true Self.

I would love to hear your personal experiences doing this. Your comments are welcome!

The Transformational Power of Relationships

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In the previous blog I mentioned that painful experiences will repeat themselves until we drill down to the root of the problem.  Even after our 12-Step work, one of the common categories of pain that we alcoholics and addicts still experience is relationships.  Jacquelyn Small, author of Becoming Naturally Therapeutic, says, “The alcoholic is terribly deficient in the area of intimate relationships—a deficiency that is both a cause and an effect of his drinking” (63).

Both the Big Book and the 12 x 12 say that relationships bring us continuous and recurring trouble.   Why is this?  As alcoholics and addicts, we became masters at avoiding life’s essential pain.  Pain is the greatest catalyst for change. Yet, when we continually used alcohol or drugs to numb us from pain, we cheated ourselves of the spiritual and emotional power of pain to spur our growth.  Maturity is the product of facing pain, not avoiding it.

Relationship experts like Guy Finley say that our interactions with life and with others cannot be any deeper or satisfying than the understanding we have of ourselves.  I remember a fellow AA asking a sponsee who said he wanted to kill himself, “Why would you want to kill someone you don’t even know?” We laughed at this, but the truth stung each of us.  Remember all the times we used isolation to keep us feeling safe?  Unfortunately, it isolated us from understanding who we are. And if we don’t understand ourselves, how are we to understand others? It’s little wonder we are ill-equipped to sustain long-lasting relationships.

It may seem paradoxical that the very thing that creates pain—relationships—is the doorway out of our pain.   Finley says that relationships are literally a mirror.  In them we can see how we are playing in the world.  Relationships can rid us of the blind spots that have sabotaged all of our relationships. “Until we are conscious of [our issues],” Finley says, “they control our actions and reactions.” So self-awareness through relationships provides the best chance we have to grow and develop.

I encourage all of us to seek out relationships with others.  Let us use that same transformational desperation that brought us to the rooms of AA to decommission the defenses that we have employed to build walls between ourselves and others.  Let us be intrepid in our desire to connect with others on a deeper level.  And let us dare to remain vulnerable to ourselves and others even when it comes at a terrible cost to our pride.

In the next blog, I will provide more wisdom from relationship experts

 

My Story

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It was nearly 10 years ago that a Big Book quote came true for me: “Someday the [alcoholic] will be unable to imagine life with alcohol or without it.  Then he will know loneliness such as few do” (BB 152).

It may have seemed to others that my life was like a Lexus, but inside I was really a rusted out AMC Pacer.  I was on the brink of bankruptcy after my business partner lost all our working capital in the stock market. My reaction was to descend deeper into abyss of my drinking.

I was literally a fall down drunk. Despite tearing my rotator cuff and then later breaking seven ribs in two drunken falls, I was too prideful to seek out AA for the help I desperately needed.  Although I knew I was an alcoholic, I could not tolerate the stigma of being labeled one.

With my wife set on leaving me, my friends having abandoned me, and my credit card debt reaching $60,000, I lived a life of loneliness and despair that few non-alcoholics experience.  In agony, I finally reached out to my alcoholic sister who encouraged me to attend an AA meeting.  It is through AA and the grace of God that I got sober and remain so after 10 years.

So this blog is really my way of giving back to a program that literally saved my life.  Like many of you, the 12 Steps were my portal into a spiritual awakening.   Sponsorship keeps me involved in the program, but I continue to hunger for more inspired texts like the Big Book to nourish my spiritual growth.   I have read many, and a year and a half ago I went back to school to become a Spiritual Life Coach.  Through this blog, I hope that I can share some of the spiritual truths that have brought a wonderful sense of joy and contentedness to my life.