UNIVERSAL 12 STEPS SITE LAUNCH

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Folks who have been following my blog for a while may remember the Universal 12 Step series I was writing, while visitors may have come across it after I made it a permanent fixture at the top of the page.  After kinda shelving it for a while, and with the urging of a Sister in the Priesthood, I have decided to work to put  the Universal 12 Steps out into the world as a stand-alone work with their own site.  But not only will they be available written, but they will also be accompanied by a video/audio recording of me reading the article for those who would rather not read.  This is going to be a new venture I am going to be trying out with my new work.  Yes,. we’re doing talkies now!  The videos have their own YouTube channel as well.  I have the Intro and the Preparation for Step 1 complete, and be on the look in the upcoming days and weeks for revised and audio versions of the other steps, including steps 11 and 12, which I never published here.  Tell a friend 🙂

UNIVERSAL STEPS 8 AND 9

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Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had wronged and became willing to make amends to them all.

Living life in the world it is pretty much a certainty that at some point we will hurt someone. Whether it’s mentally, emotionally or even physically; whether we were intentionally malicious or carelessly inconsiderate; it is inevitable that we will hurt one another. This is the sad reality of what the Buddha referred to as “Samsara”– the material world of pain and suffering. With the exception of the moments of actual physical pain we experience, the majority of the pain we feel is caused by our attachments and our beliefs. Likewise, much of the pain we cause others is when we offend the attachments and beliefs of others.

However, while we cannot “make” anyone feel a particular emotion and there are typically “wrongs” on both sides of any conflict, we would do well to take responsibility for our actions in any sort of disagreement or conflict that ends up in hurt feelings or alienation. Did we act or did we react? Did we act virtuous and honorable? Or did we act petty and disrespectful? It is our responsibility to have control over our actions. That responsibility is ours and ours alone.

Of course, we also need to be honest about those wrongs we may have done that were not necessarily based in “conflict”. Are there times where we may have defrauded another for our own selfish gain? Are there times where we have violated the trust that someone put in us? Are there times when we blatantly mistreated or even outright abused another- times where we deliberately violated free will of another living being? If so, these are things we need to bring to Light if true spiritual alchemy is our goal.

Working through the 4th Step, we came face to face with the mental, emotional and possibly even physical harm that others had caused us. Likewise, we fully acknowledged our roles in creating the negative situations and conditions we experience. From this step, we dug up names and situations from our past and brought ourselves face to face with their impact on our psyche. Through this, we brought healing into our being. Now it is time we fully acknowledge our roles in the hurt and perhaps even bring some healing to others.

With the aid of our 4th and perhaps even our 1st steps, we should have a pretty good idea of who we owe an apology. Now we need to be willing to do the right thing- we need to have that will to “man (woman) up” and apologize for f***in’ up. We need “Will” to do this. Not the lower case “w” will of our lower mind, but the big “W” Will that comes from aligning ourselves with our Higher Power. We can pray for our Higher Power’s guidance if we believe ourselves “unable” to apologize. Almost certainly we will find it is not that we were unable, it is that we were unwilling- our Higher Power’s guidance can help us through this, but we have to be ready to do some hard work. We need to be truly willing to go up to those we have wronged, look them in the eye, and apologize for our actions. The Blue Book states:

“A remorseful mumbling that we are sorry won’t fit the bill at all… So we clean house… asking each morning in meditation that our Creator show us the way of patience, tolerance, kindliness and love.”

This takes us to Step 9:

Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible except when to do so would injure them or others.

making_up_after_a_fightIt has been said that the three most difficult words in the English language for one to speak are “I was wrong.” Sometimes we can be so convinced that our actions in a given situation were harmless or even justified that we are oblivious to even the remote possibility of wrongdoing on our part. We can come up with all sorts of justifiers as to how what we did harmed no one or that we were entitled to act the way we did. We may believe that the particular wrong someone has done to us so far outweighs anything that we could have possibly done to them that they “should” be the ones apologizing to us. We wait for THEM to come to us so WE can get on with our lives. This is a great way to hold onto a resentment until you die.

I had a bit of resentment towards my father that came to a head in my twenties. My mother and father had married young and split when I was two. My mother told me that it was because he was either working all the time or out with his friends, so she filed for divorce. She later told me that he told her not to come to him when I became a “hard-to-handle teenager”.

I would go to visit my father on Sundays when I was younger, but oftentimes he would be working and I would spend most of the time with my stepmother, my sister and my grandparents. He owned his own logging and trucking business in Maine, and loved what he did, but he was most definitely a workaholic. On top of that, he was not one for expressing emotion. This appeared to be more evident as I grew older.

I moved with my mother in Rhode Island, who gone into the Navy shortly after they divorced, when I was thirteen (before that time I was living with her parents). After that my relationship with my father grew more and more distant. I would see him at Christmas and Thanksgiving and get a card with money in it for my birthday, and he came to my graduation, but that was it. He never called me, so I never called him.

However there was a point when my father loaned me money for a security deposit on my first apartment. I soon forgot about this, and shirked any responsibility of paying this debt, as this was around the time I was doing a lot of drugs, partying, etc. I moved back to Maine briefly for a time after I got evicted from that apartment and started to work on mending the estranged relationship with my father as well as my sister. Things appeared to be going in a positive direction, but a few months later I moved back to Rhode Island to basically pick up where I left off.

I went back to Maine for my cousin’s graduation, where my father was also attending. I vividly remember the awkward feeling I got when I approached him and went to shake his hand only to have him walk by as if he didn’t know me. To this day I do not know exactly what that was about, as I have never asked him, even though I have my theories. I was a bit of a mess for the few months I went back and it being a small town, word might have gotten out that I was a bit of a drunk. Or he might have just been pissed that it was over a year since he gave me a loan and I hadn’t made any attempts to address it. I don’t know.

I wrote him a letter asking about what was going on, as I had not even gotten a card for my birthday that year. My stepmother was the one who wrote back, stating the card issue was a misunderstanding, but did bring up the matter of the loan. My mother was pissed as she didn’t believe he was justified to call in any debt due to her allowing him to pay so little in child support.

I would still see my father once or twice a year during holidays. He never called me. I never called him. However, I again found myself in a financial conundrum three years later after I went to college. I called to ask him if he would co-sign on a loan. He refused stating that I was “25 years old and didn’t own a vehicle” and that I just needed to “work harder”. I was pissed. I had worked to get into college (which he never did) on my own. That semester I had made dean’s list, worked as an RA at my dorm, and worked part-time on the weekends when he didn’t have classes. But I wasn’t going to beg him for money and just left it at that. I had planned to talk to him face to face about how I felt he was not treating me like a son and had never been much of a father to me. However, it was at that time his father, my grandfather, passed away.

Nearly ten years had passed after all of this when I made my amends with my father. He had been going through a separation with my stepmother when I visited him at his house. It was the first time I had gotten to sit with just him and I and talk for a long, long time. I talked with him in a way I never had before. I opened up to him and apologized for acting the way I did during that time and being irresponsible. I also expressed remorse for allowing my relationship with him, as well as my siblings to become so distant. He expressed understanding and forgiveness to me. However he did not apologize for any wrongs he may have committed according to my perception. But that’s not what this is about.

The healing from this step comes from OUR action, not from the actions of another. This step is us truly about empowerment and healing through alignment with the Higher Will. Making amends with my father was like a breath of fresh air into my being. Since that time, my conversations with my father have become more open, a he too is changing through the trials that have happened in his life. While my outreach is still not always the best, our relationship has indeed healed.Building-on-Relationships

When people have near-death-experiences, they typically learn to value two things above all: knowledge, particularly wisdom knowledge of things of a Higher Vibration, and relationships with others. Our relationships, the bonds we make in life are so essential as they allow us to grow in our ability to express, feel and understand love and compassion. It is also through reaching out to others that enables us to be of service and participate in the Great Work. This is something I am stubbornly learning, but learning nonetheless.

Before I conclude, we should address the qualifier “except when to do so would injure them or others” Everyone who you meet serves as a potential catalyst for your spiritual growth and development, and the same is true for those you have met, as you can help to facilitate that in them. Sometimes this is growth through loving and joyful experiences, but sometimes this is growth that happens through pain and trauma. To bring it back to a personal level, there are people in my life whom I have lost touch with for one reason or another, and I know it is better for everyone that it stays that way.

The most obvious example would be old lovers, where feelings of unhealthy attachment/obsession or betrayal may have played a role in facilitating or ending the relationship. Perhaps they were so hurt by our actions, that it took time and distance from us to heal the wounds that we helped create; perhaps attempting to reach out to them in a desperate attempt to heal ourselves, would only cause those wounds to be reopened. This could potentially have a destructive impact not only on them, but also on their current relationships and even their family. The same can be said in those instances where an unhealthy obsession or attachment exists between two people. Perhaps we had a friend or lover that enabled us to act in self-destructive ways. If we know that reaching out to that person would cause us or them to fall back into that cycle, that connection is probably best left in the past.

In any case, we need to be mindful about our interactions with those we have wronged, and be certain that while we are ultimately doing this for our own healing first and foremost, that we aren’t doing it in a manner that is selfish and inconsiderate. Sometimes this line can be a little blurry, at which point we should ask for guidance from our Higher Power as well as reach out to members of our support group, whomever that may be. If we find there are amends that need to be made, but a face-to-face meeting (which is the most optimal as it allows real sincerity and connection to be established) or even making a phone call or mailing a letter is not a good idea or possibility, there are other options.

One option is the “un-mailed letter. Here we can write out our apology and even read it out loud, imagining the person we wish to make amends to is in the room with us. After the process is complete, we can them burn the letter in a mindful and ritualistic manner. We can also do a similar thing without the letter, simply imagining the person there and giving amends to the person that way.

Another option I have done is doing amends in a state of deep, focused meditation, using visualization techniques. You visualize the scenario in which you are meeting with the person you need to make amends with, and you speak and most importantly FEEL the raw emotion and healing of the amends.

However you do it, the most important thing is that you FEEL it with the totality of your being- it needs to be as REAL and SINCERE as possible, otherwise your just writing and burning letters or talking to people that aren’t there. Likewise, you should only do this where amends TRULY aren’t possible or are really not a good idea. We shouldn’t hide behind burned letters or imaginary conversations if there’s an opportunity for a HEALTHY face-to-face conversation. Yes, that can be scary and it can leave us incredibly vulnerable, and it may not go in an ideal fashion. But if we are truly connected to our Source for guidance in our decisions and our communications with others, what needs to be said will be said, and what needs to happen will be what happens.

The amends process is not something that can be done in a few days or even weeks. It can take years, but if we want to heal and grow as human beings and become what we can be, we will do it. As the Blue Book states:

“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook on life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us- sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.”

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Those who have ears to hear should hear. Namaste and God Bless.

UNIVERSAL STEP 7

Step 7: Humbly asked God/the Active Force of Creation to remove our shortcomings.

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After recognizing our character defects as things that are not “just who we are”, and we accept that and become willing to step into a new way of being and doing, we now find ourselves ready to perform the Inner Alchemy that is Step 7.  This takes humility. Humility is often confused with humiliation. The Green Book states the following:

“ Many of us have confused humility with humiliation. We were more familiar with pleading for, or demanding what we wanted than with asking.  In fact it takes humility to truly ask for help. It means admitting that we are not wholly strong and self-sufficient.  It means that we are not too proud or ashamed to believe that we can be helped.”

humility2Pride is something I had a big issue with.  That was where my program would struggle. Particularly when it came to reaching out to others for help; making phone calls when I was feeling up against it.  But in doing this, I was limiting the capacities in which God could actually help me. The Green Book illustrates:

“One of the main ways God works in our lives is through other people… They can give us encouragement when we lack confidence.  They can help us see shortcomings that we have been unable to recognize on our own… Simply telling others about our defects can help reduce their power over us.  And just having someone listen to us in our struggles is often the very help we need.”

Step 7 is an act of faith and an act of Grace; which is defined as the infinite love, mercy, favor and goodwill shown to humankind by the Creator.  I had no issues with believing and coming to know a Higher Power and I had spent so many years practicing deep self-reflection that I didn’t have a problem digging into the wrongs I had done and the character defects and fears that were at the root of them.  However, I had developed such a self-loathing on such a deep level that I didn’t believe I deserved God’s assistance, even if He could give it to me.  My thought was “Why would God help me?”

This is of course, a very subtle and deceptive form of egotism.  The notion that I DESERVE to suffer is just as self-centered as the idea that I deserve to have whatever I want.  While this self-loathing is definitely still there, I have learned how to work with it and neutralize it in more effective ways than before. I do this through Prayer and Surrender.

11265958336_b1e0232bcc_bI completed my Seventh Step on the night before my Ordination into the Priesthood.  I got down on me knees in front of my Teacher’s altar and recited the following Seventh Step Prayer from the Blue Book:

“My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad.  I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character, which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows.  Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen.”

When I said that prayer, I was NOT magically “cured” of my character defects.  There is nothing in this step or any other that says we will be magically turned into a perfect person.  It is progress, not perfection we are looking for.  We are simply shining a light into ourselves and learning to let go of the lower mind’s stranglehold on our reality, bit by bit.

My character defects present themselves every day of my life thus far, and every day I need to make a conscious effort to recognize, resolve and surrender them, or they will take root and the work of digging them up becomes a bit more of a pain-in-the-ass.  I try to consciously say a version of the Seventh Step Prayer every day after I partake of Communion:

“My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad; dark and light.  I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character that stands in the way of my service to you and my fellow beings.  I surrender these things unto the (Holy) Spirit. May they be transmuted and my body filled with the Light (of Christ).  Grant me strength and courage as I go from here to do thy will. Amen.”

While saying this prayer, I feel and envision the process of surrender of these “negative” energies in an upward motion, where they are taken into a vortex and reconstituted.  From this vortex descends a golden Light that fills my body that is now ready to receive it, having been purged of energetic patters that were blocking it before.  My body is filled with this Light, and I peacefully sit for a moment, glowing, having faith that indeed this inner alchemy has taken place.  Alchemically I could liken this Seventh Step to reaching up to the Seventh Heaven, or to the Seventh Chakra which is the gateway to the Divine.

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Later that day, I very well may find myself acting upon my character defects again and the process continues.  But for that moment of reaching out in humility; for every little moment I surrender to this process in fullness, I am one step further into realizing the Wholeness of Being in Spirit.

All things happen in God’s time, and God’s time is eternal.  We have our particular brand of character defects for a reason that is unique to the needs of our spiritual growth and development.  Our character defects can even serve as aids to the spiritual growth and development of others, either through empathy or through conflict. The Green Book sheds light on this:

“We… discover that our character defects can become useful in God’s hands.  Our struggles with our own shortcomings can help us to understand and empathize with the struggles of others and to reach out… by sharing our own experience, strength, and hope.  Aspects of ourselves that we were ashamed of and tried to keep hidden can sometimes blossom unexpectedly into gifts that enrich our recovery, when brought into the light of a loving Higher Power.  Anger may contain the seeds of courage; envy can turn to empathy; self-centered pride may grow into a healthy self-love.  Each character defect we turn over to God becomes one more way of opening ourselves to God’s care.”

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Surrender isn’t something that we can force if we are not ready.  Again, this takes time and it is imperative that we are understanding and gentle with ourselves, while still holding ourselves accountable.  Sometimes we may even have to “fake it til we make it”, but again, little by little, bit by bit, the Light inevitably comes into those dark places until we are indeed living in a new state of being.  Until next time, Namaste and God Bless.

UNIVERSAL STEP 6

Step 6: Were entirely ready to surrender our character defects and erroneous beliefs to the Active Force of Creation (Holy Spirit, God, Goddess, etc.) as we understood It.

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Having gone through the “inferno” of steps 4 and 5, we now find ourselves again to a point of surrender. By this time we have recognized the “Root of Evil” within us- the underlying causal factors of why we think, feel, and act in ways that ultimately hurt ourselves and others, keeping us in a state of perpetual bondage. Now the question is, “Am I truly ready to let these things go?”

For many of us, our character defects are the “old familiar face” we can always count on to pop in. We become comforted by them, like an old shirt that we can’t bear to throw away, even if it is in tatters. We associate with our character defects as being an inherent part of “who we are”. We identify with them, and feel they are part and parcel with what makes us “special” and “unique”- what makes us “who we are”. This is nothing more than an illusion created by our finite mind, or “ego”. To put it bluntly, it is a lie.

As we move through the process, we begin to recognize the lies we have told ourselves and continue to tell ourselves, and seek to move toward truth. Truth can be uncomfortable and painful at times, but it is REAL. When we are ready to let go of lies, we are ready to move into truth in a full and real way.

But in order for this process of surrender to happen in any sort of complete manner, we have to BELIEVE it is possible. These elements of our ego have become very comfortable “ruling the roost”, as it would be, and are not just going to leave without putting up a fight. This is where our relationship with our Higher Self/Power comes into the picture.

We have (hopefully) already come to the realization that the will of our finite ego is not enough to create real and lasting change within us. We need to tap into the limitless potential of our Higher Mind- the Divine Spark within and the correlating Infinite Power that surrounds us. It is only through reaching to this Power that we can be given the keys to unlock our limitless potential for growth and transformation. But in order for any of this to happen, we have to first BELIEVE it can, and I can say from personal experience that it can sound a lot easier than it is.

When we become so used to living in a state of fear, anxiety and hopelessness, it can be incredibly hard to “unlearn” that state of mind. When we let life’s disappointments and our own perceived failures get the better of us, we can fool ourselves into believing that things will “always be this way”. Even though we may believe in a Higher Power, we may not believe that even He could help us, or if He could, we really don’t deserve His help.

This is where I found myself. I knew where I was. I knew how I got there and where I wanted to go. But I didn’t believe God could get me there because I didn’t feel I deserved it. It took me a while to realize that was the mental prison I was creating for myself, and I pray each day, often multiple times throughout the day, for guidance out of that prison.

“It is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom.”

We are all Divine Children of the Living God. We all deserve the Kingdom of Heaven that dwells within us, which we can in turn, make manifest in the world around us. When we believe this is possible and believe we are worth it, the freedom we ultimately seek can become reality. Until next time, Namaste and God Bless.

UNIVERSAL STEP 5

STEP 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

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In Step 4, we inventoried our fears, resentments, and character defects (and hopefully assets as well), now it’s time to use the power of the Word to bring in healing to ourselves. As a brief review of what we are talking about, I will cite the Green Book:

“Admitting our wrongs means admitting all the ways in which we were dishonest, unfair, abusive, inconsiderate, unjust, or unethical. Our wrongs include all of the ways we (cheated) to get ahead or to avoid consequences we didn’t want to face. They may also include actions we neglected to take, as well as ones we took.”

We wrote down these things in Step 4, now it is time that we reflect upon them and admit to ourselves without justification, “Yeah, I did that, and while I am not proud, I understand what motivated me and I am ready to move on from that way of thinking and being.”

We recognize and accept that these were/are ways of acting out sync with the Laws of Nature and Creation (see previous postings for detailed explanation of this concept) as we on some level did harm to others and ourselves. When we admit this to God/Self and to ourselves through contemplation, meditation and prayer, we can begin to heal ourselves and forgive ourselves- we can be “redeemed”. A wonderful short prayer or mantra we can say to ourselves to bring about self-forgiveness is “Thank you. I’m sorry. I love you. Forgive me.”

Now that we have undergone the difficult process of being honest with ourselves, now it is time that we are honest with another person. This is the point where I once again make the case that the Steps are not just for “addicts”, even though it was originally developed for them. All but the most exceptional among us have secrets (and I dare say they too might have a few things they don’t air in public). All of us have a few instances from our past that we are ashamed to admit in full- specifically those instances in which we know we have acted in a less than honorable manner. These are things that have the potential to erode our view of ourselves as well as our ability to be truly close with others out of fear that they might see “who we really are”.

This is for all intents and purposes a confession. The Sacrament of Confession itself is a very old thing that unfortunately has been given a lot of dusty associations rooted in shame and regret, and the idea of “sin”. However Father Paul Blighton clears this up very succinctly:

“Sin is merely a name for the incorrect use of the great creative law of God. This law is the nature of man’s own being and function. Right use of this law brings happiness, peace, fulfillment, and realization. Wrong use of the law breeds pain, suffering, and confusion.”

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In truth, the confession is an act of humility that allows us to be free of our self-righteousness, self-importance and the bondage that goes along with it. However it is important to go into this with not only a desire to cleanse ourselves of the shame and resentment of the past, but the sincere desire to change the course of our future. If we are merely blurting something out of guilt, with no desire to change the ways of thinking and doing that led to us behaving in that way in the first place, then a confession is merely a superficial way of making ourselves “feel better” so we can continue about “business as usual”.

With this understanding, we find an appropriate individual to share the exact nature of our wrongs. I did my 5th Step with my sponsor, as is typical in 12 Step Programs. However in the case of those working outside of 12 Step, it could be with a close friend also walking the spiritual path of healing, a therapist, spiritual adviser, or another wise confidant (a mentor, etc.). Find someone you trust, who you know will understand, yet be unaffected by what you share. This step should NOT be taken with partners, parents or family members. We need a safe space where hurt feelings, accusations, and the possible desire to defend our actions and our person will not become a barrier to healing.

When the appropriate individual is found and gives their consent to listen to your 5th Step, we find a place where we can talk in a safe and private manner. We bring our 4th Step inventory and review it, as well as elaborate upon it. At that point, to again quote the Green Book, “We admit our wrongs in a detailed and thorough way. We describe what we did, when we did it, and what we were thinking when we did it. We describe what the consequences were for ourselves and for others. Many of us tell the story of each wrong rather than simply listing them. In the process we reexamine situations in which we may have seen ourselves as the victim or minimized our wrongful actions.”

Many of us expect to be judged harshly or rejected by someone we tell our darkest secrets and most shameful behaviors to. However, when we tell finally someone these things and we get loving acceptance in return, we begin to heal from these ghosts of the past. We in turn begin the process of loving acceptance towards ourselves in a more complete manner.

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The person you share this information with may even have insights to share that you may not have realized in your own reflection. One that I particularly remember was that I was looking for others to fill a void that I had within myself. I was looking towards others to give me the love that I did not have towards myself. I was expecting them to be able to complete me and give me identity, when these things are only something that a true relationship with God and Self can bring us. And when these people inevitably failed to meet my expectations in some way or other, I resented them, often deeply.

We must do our best to be completely and fully honest, and not “edit” or skim over details to protect ourselves. Healing will only be as complete as our honesty. Now perhaps we may have forgotten or unconsciously omitted something. Perhaps we are not ready to share everything right then and there. That’s okay. This is not something that needs to be done all in one shot. The process of rigorous honesty, especially with ourselves and our intentions is an ongoing one. The important thing is to do our best to be as honest as we can, and be honest that we are doing our best. Over time we learn to hold ourselves accountable without persecuting ourselves.

After the 5th Step process is completed to the best of our abilities, we would do wise to meditate and reflect. Let the sense of healing and gratitude fill you, and give thanks. Now we can work bit by bit on being fully honest with others and ourselves. We can begin to live the examined life of fullness and meaning. Until next time, Namaste and God Bless.

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UNIVERSAL STEP 4

STEP 4: “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

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Recently I was browsing through a newsstand at New Seasons Market when I came across the cover of “The Atlantic Magazine”– an editorial-style magazine that would be described as having a moderate (i.e. center left) political stance. What caught my eye was the cover piece entitled “The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous”. I was immediately intrigued by this and took a few minutes to skim through the article, which not only attacked A.A. as having a next to nothing percent success rate, but attacked the efficacy and science behind 12-step programs in general.

Now while I have had my issues with alcohol in the past and I do regularly attend 12-step meetings, I wouldn’t label myself as an alcoholic and I have never been to an A.A. meeting. However what really struck me about this article as well as the other anti-12 step articles and books that have come out in recent years is the virulent anti-religion and anti-spirituality stance that is taken. One of the main shots taken to “prove” the ineffectiveness of ALL 12-step programs, not just A.A., is that they are considered “faith-based”, or that they have some basis in fundamentalism and mysticism.

I will tell you speaking from experience, the “faith” involved in 12-step is as varied as the people who go. There is no institutionalized religion there unless you bring one. The only real faith espoused is in some power or force greater than ourselves that can act as a helpful guide in our lives and the belief that by honestly and continually working a program of recovery specific and unique to ourselves we can remain sober and live healthy meaningful lives.

I will also attest from meeting, conversing and listening to people with many years of sobriety that the 12-step program DOES work. However, not everyone involved in 12-step works the steps earnestly and sometimes circumstances can get the better of us. I’m speaking from experience here too. Relapses happen. Failures can be cited with treatments like cognitive behavior therapy, psychiatric medication, and the many other treatments at the disposal of modern “science-based” counseling and psychiatry. At the end of the day, NO TREATMENT, aside from being locked in a cage, will prevent relapse if the addict’s heart isn’t FULLY committed to it. It also can take time and commitment to find a group that is a right fit for you.

Again, I’m speaking from experience here. The whole idea of “working the steps” is not just about habitually going to meetings or making a dogma out of the A.A. Blue Book or any other recovery literature or format; it is about naked self-honesty, reaching out to others and getting to know the Divine Source that is uniquely expressed in each and every one of us. “Working the program” is doing all of the activities and rituals that keep you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually centered and balanced. Yes, 12-step programs are about spirituality at their core, which will inevitably cause them to be labeled as “un-credible” and “un-scientific” by the medical and scientific establishment.

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Again, what I really see driving much of the views of the author of this particular article as well as those of Lance Dodes, M.D. (author of the recently published book “The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry”), and others, is this all-out war that materialist science and secular culture has waged on anything that smells like religion over the last century. One should not be fooled into thinking that “science” is somehow on the defensive at this point in history- it is THE dominant paradigm. This has caused a reactionary movement of many who have religious beliefs to try and push back in attempts to defend their beliefs, which has strengthened various forms of fundamentalism. It saddens me to see such a stark rift between science and spirituality being continually perpetuated, when both schools of thought in their TRUE forms are complimentary to one another. It was spirituality that gave birth to modern science.

Much of this “war” is fueled by an increasing resentment of fundamentalism and dogmatic religion (which is arguably justifiable in some respects) that came out of the Enlightenment era (1650s to the late 1700s) and bloomed during the Industrial Revolution (the 1800s) into the modern age. Resentment, however, is quite possibly the most toxic emotion that exists on any level- be it collective or individual. Resentment causes incredible amounts of damage to societies and individuals, acting like a slow rot, eating away at the insides. And the toxicity is cumulative; creating more poison as each seed of resentment grows to maturity.

psychic attackResentments are also a key focal point of any 4th step inventory; which is the main topic of today’s posting; and unless you’ve done the deep work of clearing them out, you probably have them, addict or not. We all have had points of our lives where we have felt “wronged”- by a family member, a friend, a significant other, an employer, a teacher. If these things are not recognized and dealt with in a healthy and productive manner, they can fester within us, causing us to hold onto old grudges and false beliefs about others and ourselves. These resentments can provide fuel to unhealthy and self-destructive habits as they try to “reconcile” themselves. The Green Book describes resentment as “one of the most stubborn obstacles to our spiritual growth. Resentment means holding on to old hurts, anger, and grudges.”

The Blue Book states that from resentment “stem all forms of spiritual disease, for we have not only been mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.”

Typically in a fourth step we will make a list of people and specific situations that hurt us in some way, and identify exactly what they did to cause us harm- be it physically, mentally or emotionally. When I first did my 4th step I joked that it was my “Big Book of Resentments”, because I had A LOT of people I held resentment towards. Over time, we learn to let these resentments go. This is not possible however, if we do not first take them out of the dusty back closets of our minds and shine the light of day on them.
After this step of the inventory is finished, the Blue Book states:

“We realized that the people who wronged us were perhaps spiritually sick. Though we did not like their symptoms and the way these disturbed us, they, like ourselves, were sick too. We asked God to help us show them the same tolerance, pity, and patience that we would cheerfully grant a sick friend. When a person offended we said to ourselves, ‘This is a sick man (or woman). How can I be helpful to him (her)? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.”

After we make our “Big Book of Resentments”, we then go back and look at our list and examine each incident. At this point we have to honestly ask ourselves: “What role did I play in this situation? Could I be at fault here somehow as well?”

This can be real, real hard for many of us. The last thing we want to do when we feel hurt by a situation involving others is turn the mirror back on ourselves and see that we too played a part in the drama of pain and misfortune that befell us. Now of course, we cannot necessarily take fault for trauma that may have befallen us when we were small children (I mean, I suppose you COULD if you wanted to try and go into things like past lives and karmic debt, but that water’s a little too muddy for me, and I feel it’s best to accept that it happened and move on). However, as we get into the resentments of adolescence and especially adulthood, we will discover that we’ve almost ALWAYS contributed to our troubles in some way or another.

The second part of the inventory builds on this notion that we have indeed contributed to suffering, not only in our own lives, but the lives of others. This part can be even harder than the last part because we essentially have to own up to all the bad shit we’ve done in our lives. We need to take and accept responsibility for how our actions and inactions harmed others. Now, the point of this IS NOT to beat ourselves up, convince ourselves we are a bad person, or send ourselves into a “shame spiral”. That would be counter-productive to the work we are doing here. Everyone, even the most “saintly” among us has done wrong at some point in his or her lives. Everyone has hurt someone else’s feelings, knowingly or unknowingly. This does not make us “bad people”. We are good people who sometimes don’t always do the right thing.

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I see the list and categorization of wrongs as a way of releasing internal guilt. Most of us, on some level feel bad when we hurt someone, even if part of us felt they deserved it at the time. When we own up to our part in the suffering, we humanize those on the “other side” and are better able to, as Jesus said, “love your neighbor as yourself”. And when we own up to our part in wronging those who may have done no wrong to us, we begin to release the hold that event has had on our hearts. When I finished this, I felt lighter and freer as a person.

There are many different ways to go about doing a 4th step inventory and I have attached a couple PDF versions at the end of this posting to help folks along. The common element is writing about a number of different aspects of our lives that, when put together, give us an honest picture of ourselves, including our shortcomings. When putting my 4th step together, I referred to the people and events I had written about in my first step. However you choose to go about it be sure that your 4th step is indeed a WRITTEN inventory. This helps bring the process into the physical world of manifestation and makes it a more concrete and “real” process for our minds to work with.

The Green Book describes this “moral inventory” in the following manner:

“A moral inventory can be described as a systematic examination of all the beliefs, feelings, attitudes, and actions that have shaped our lives from the earliest years. It is a careful survey of how we respond to people, circumstances, and the world around us. An inventory allows us to go over our lives methodically and objectively, reevaluating assumptions, beliefs, and feelings that we have held onto for years but perhaps never examined or questioned. In making this inventory, we take special care to identify these aspects of our character that have caused harm to ourselves and others, so as to bring them forward for healing and change in later steps… Our inventory is searching, because we try to examine ourselves as thoroughly and painstakingly as possible. It is fearless, because we don’t let our fear stop us from digging deeper. It is moral, because it concerns our values and the consequences of our actions for ourselves and others.”

After we finish reviewing our part in the conflicts of our lives, we see a pattern of “character defects” in our behavior. Character defects are “flaws in our moral nature that prevent us from aligning with God’s Will.” Some of mine include being cynical, evasive, isolating, resentful, selfish, suspicious, and being a perfectionist. It can help us to list these defects of character we see in ourselves so that we can be aware of them when they emerge, allowing us to thwart the negative impact they can have on our lives and the lives of others. Again, if we do not allow ourselves to become fully aware of these “dark” aspects of ourselves, we will never be able to reach our full potential as human beings.

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That being said, we should also give our credit for our “character assets”, so as to give us a complete picture of ourselves and to avoid unproductive self-shaming. My list includes being respectful, calm, caring of others, open-minded, altruistic, and polite. We would do well to list more assets than defects to again remind ourselves that we are not bad people, but good people who sometimes do bad things.

Lastly, I made a list of my fears, because as author Adam Elenbaas states in his book, Fishers of Men: Gospel of an Ayahuasca Vision Quest, “Without knowing how to face fear, we cannot heal. The two things are the same.”

Fear and resentment are arguably the two most potentially destructive emotions if they are not dealt with in a healthy manner. Some of my fears include fear of rejection and betrayal, fear of losing loved ones, fear of transitions, and fear of not being “good enough”. Now you may find it helpful to list other secondary emotions that drive negative behavior like envy, loneliness, shame or embarrassment. However, most of these emotions are ultimately rooted in fear.

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As a word of caution I will say that if you are going to do a 4th step; and I encourage everyone, not just addicts, to do it; please be sure to take care of yourself and be sure to have a good support network in place and UTILIZE IT. Be it a close friend or loved one, a significant other, a group of “fellow-travelers”, a counselor, your spiritual community- whatever the case may be, have SOMEONE to reach out to. DO NOT TRY AND GO THIS ALONE. This step will inevitably bring up some heavy stuff and you will need to take the utmost care of yourself mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. As I have said in the past, if at any point during this process you discover that you indeed have some form of addictive issue, I STRONGLY advise you to get into a 12-step program and/or some form of counseling ASAP. Contrary to mainstream materialist science, addiction can include more than external chemical substances like drugs and alcohol.

I don’t say these things to deter anyone, but rather advise as someone who’s gone through this process himself. This creating of a safe space where we are taken care of and supported will better enable us to surrender to the process. The ego or “lower self” will either try and subvert this process or fight it head on; tooth and nail; so we need to be in a place where we can accept any issue as it comes up and then let it go, rather than being overwhelmed and feeling like a deer in the headlights. I envision myself surrendering unwanted fears, resentments, etc. to the Holy Spirit, having Her carry them away and in their place, my body is filled with Light, while stating out loud that this process is taking place.

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This is not a process that needs to be or should be rushed. It took me about 3 months or so to finish my 4th step. Let your intuition be your guide, but at the same time be honest and accountable with yourself as to whether you are indeed taking care of yourself or if your are just putting things off (this is where having somebody working the steps along with you really helps). So until next time, safe travels, Namaste and God Bless.

UNIVERSAL STEP 3

STEP 3: “Made a decision to surrender our personal will and lives over to the guiding Principle and Power of the Universe (some call this ‘God’) as we have come to understand It.”

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Surrender is more often than not, seen as a negative thing. When an army loses a battle, or a nation loses a war, it “surrenders”. In today’s world of social and corporate ladders filled with “winners” and “losers”, surrender is vilified as being akin to personal weakness and lack of willpower and drive.  This outlook comes from the view that life is a perpetual struggle filled with victories and losses, until one finally meets the ultimate, yet inevitable “defeat”- death. We see the one who fights the hardest as the one who “deserves to win” and question our faith in God and/or humanity if they don’t. We see those who partake in undesirable behavior or struggle with addictions, or panhandle, or live a life that we generally perceive as “failure” or “mediocrity” as someone who didn’t have enough willpower to make something better of themselves.

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The worldview of “winners vs. losers” is rooted in mankind’s general idea that we are our body and our body and the things that the body possesses (money, cars, houses, careers, physical health, sensations of pleasure, leisure activity, etc.) are what life is all about, and in order to obtain them we must have infinite willpower and “never give up”. If we “surrender”, that means we have given up and will not get what we want and are a failure at life. This is a misleading notion that is directed by the ego, which only wants us to fully “submit” to its wants and desires, which most do quite regularly.

The surrender we are referring to is a “defeat” of the ego. For those unfamiliar, the ego is the part of our mind most people commonly associate with their “identity”. When we say things like “I am a (put your occupation here)” or I do this particular thing this particular way because “that’s who I am”, this is really our ego talking. When people identify with their ego, they are identifying with the roles they play (husband, wife, son, daughter, manager, employee, police officer, accountant, student, graduate, Seahawks fan, democrat, republican, etc., etc.) in this 3-dimensional drama we call (physical) life.

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Problems are created when we become ATTACHED to these roles we play and the pursuit of the physical pleasures of life, and we begin to identify these things as being WHO WE ARE. When we become attached, we desire things to stay as they are, which is impossible because change and motion and flow is forever a constant in the universe- Spring into Summer into Fall into Winter; Life into Death and then Life again from Death. But we create an illusion that this eternal flow will somehow not affect us and we cling to these attachments that our ego creates. This results in our minds manufacturing a world of turmoil and pain around the agony of having things we are attached ripped from our grasping hands over and over and over again.

The ego at its core is simply the part of our mind that differentiates our physical body from the rest of the physical landscape we inhabit. It is a necessary tool for having a spiritual experience inside of a dense physical body. Without something to differentiate separateness, we would literally perceive ourselves as “one” with everything- including the bus that was headed straight for us. We need the ego to survive and do the work we are here to do on this level of existence.

However something has happened in our development that has allowed this ego, which was designed to be a tool and a servant, to become the master. The ego has created kingdoms for itself and walls to protect what it has. And while it asserts an illusion of control, with its pride and hubris and attachments, it is easily fooled and manipulated by others and itself. It is also this pride and attachment that makes it extremely difficult and at times impossible to tell the ego it has been deceived or it has deceived itself. The ego HATES admitting it could ever be wrong in its belief and will aggressively defend against the notion that it ever could be.

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Ego has taken over the consciousness of humanity collectively and individually. The reasons and origins given for this run the gamut from an unexplainable side effect of evolution to some kind of alien or demonic intervention. I cannot claim to be certain of the exact nature of the origin of the ego problem, but I feel the perpetuation of it into the present has to do with human “self-domestication” and the world we have made for ourselves which has caused us to become disconnected from the true nature of reality and the world around us.

The world we have collectively created is a result of a moving away from the Natural World and the Laws of Nature and Creation and letting the materialistic (focused on the world of matter) ego call the shots. Humanity under the guidance of its governments and institutions (which are the expressions of the collective ego of a people) has tried to do things “its way”, and the suffering and turmoil we collectively experience is the result. As always, the microcosm reflects the macrocosm, and the suffering and turmoil many of us experience in our daily lives is the result of trying to do things “our way”.

In the 2nd Step we came to accept that a Power greater than ourselves could bring us to “sanity”, now we have to move out of the way and let this Power begin to do Its work. This moving out of the way means we have to stop trying to control things and do things “our way”. The ego hates this. The ego wants us to submit to its will and remain attached to the physical sensations and pleasures and comforts as being our goal in life.

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When I’m doing things “my way”, my ego’s way: I am doing what is habitual for me instead of taking a moment to reflect on the decision I am about to make. I am reacting instead of acting. I investing myself in specific outcomes of things and events that I cannot possibly control, and then getting upset if things don’t turn out the way I want them to. I am expecting other people to act and behave in a manner that I feel they should, and then resenting them when they don’t. I will even lie and deceive others and myself to protect and maintain the identity and ways of doing that my ego is attached to, and I will lash out at anyone who threatens it. When I am doing things my ego’s way, I am separate, isolated and fragmented. When I am in this place I can tend to be a miserable prick.

I can easily contrast this to when I “let go and let God”: I am reflecting on what I feel the impulse to say or do at an given moment, taking a conscious breath and checking in with my Heart, my Mind and my Gut (these 3 elements are unified when I am in this state of consciousness) to guide me. I am acting consciously instead of unconsciously. I have faith that the outcome of an event or situation will be for the best, but also have the clarity and insight to take the right actions, while being guided away from taking the wrong ones. I don’t put unrealistic expectations on people and I accept them in that moment as they are, while being grateful for them being in my life and learning what I can from my relationship with them. When I am letting go and letting God, I am connected, I am at one with my environment (although I still don’t walk in front of a bus) and I am in a state of whole-ness. When I surrender in this manner I feel truly alive and full of love, and my actions and demeanor reflect that.

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In my experience, this process of surrendering to my Higher Power is not a “one and done” sort of deal. The ego and its habits and mannerisms are deeply entrenched into our psyche and don’t just “go away”. We have literally been programmed by a multitude of influences, most importantly our own mind, to act and identify with ourselves in this manner. We have become comfortable with our programming. This way of being is what we know. So it is for this reason that surrender has to be done repeatedly; day-by-day; moment-by-moment.

Every time we face a challenging situation where we are tempted to respond in the habitual ways, but instead we surrender to this Higher Impulse, we grow spiritually stronger as a result. The stronger the spirit is, the stronger we are as a whole. Whether it is keeping your cool and not speaking or acting in a hurtful manner when hurt or angered; or whether it is reaching out and being present and available when you would rather just not deal with it; when we surrender and let the Principles of Light, Life and Love guide our actions, we receive relief from our personal suffering and find Grace.

But in order for this to work, we have to move out of our own way and let that Force flow through us as the Reiki master does, and trust that this Force knows exactly what is best. Again this is not a one and done, nor are the Steps themselves in any form a strictly linear thing, despite their being numbered. The 3rd step is something I do daily and surrendering is something I do far more often than that if I am doing the work I need to that day.

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With that I will leave you with the traditional 3rd Step prayer as well as a re-worded version for those who are interested. Personally, I tend to go with the original but that’s just me. Until next time, Namaste and God Bless.

“God, I offer myself to Thee- to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!”

“Nameless Creative Power of the Universe, I offer myself to You- to build with me and to do with me as You would. Relieve me of the bondage of ego, that I may better do Your will. Take away all things that bind me and blind me, that freedom from them will bring forth those I would help with Your Power, Your Love, and Your Way of life. May I do Your will always!”

UNIVERSAL STEP 2

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STEP 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than our own ego and willpower could bring us to a place of freedom, happiness, wellbeing and love.

In the first step we brought to light our past ways of thinking and being that had brought us to a place of unhappiness and dissatisfaction. We revisited our past and realized its effect on us. We took our first step toward living an “examined life”. Now we are ready to move forward.

However, we cannot move forward through individual will and ego-driven self-determination. This is what we have BEEN doing and it obviously hasn’t been working all that well or we would not be at this point. Our own personal power is not enough to heal what needs to be healed.

We cannot heal our relationship to ourselves, others and the world around us through our own devices. We have tried and failed in varying degrees. We need to open ourselves to a power GREATER than our individual ego. In order for us to do that, we must first BELIEVE that such a power can and does exist, and that it can provide for us what we need at any given point.

Now I know that I spend a lot of time harping on beliefs and belief systems here, so let me take a moment to differentiate between beliefs and believing. A BELIEF is a noun- it is a THING. Beliefs are formed when the imagination and other creative principles of one’s consciousness are now longer free-flowing around an idea, but rather they become set and calcified; rigid and immovable. Set beliefs are much like a bone that has become old and stiff- causing one great discomfort when stressed and unimaginable pain when broken.

Believing on the other hand is a verb- an active principle. Believing is the life of the imagination which brings the world of men into existence. Nothing in this world can be can be made or achieved if one does not first BELIEVE these things are possible. We believe in the creative potential of ourselves and others as well as the creative potential of the universe around us.

So in Step 2, we BELIEVE that a power greater than ourselves can bring us to that place of freedom, happiness, wellbeing and love that we want and need. In the traditional 12 Steps, Step 2 reads that we “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”. This gives credence to the “crazy-making” cyclical behaviors of the addict. However, you could argue that everyone has their own crazy-making cyclical behavior patterns, even if they are not as extreme as that of the true addict.

In order for us to take this second step, we need to be able to first IMAGINE that a Power greater than ourselves exists. This concept can be challenging for people for a variety of reasons. Many people in our “scientific” secular society are agnostic or even atheistic and have a hard time believing in the concept of “God” or a “Higher Power”. Others can be the opposite and have extensive religious beliefs about hierarchies, sin and shame that can actually get in the way of developing that personal relationship and closeness that is necessary.

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There is also what could be described as the “New Age” misinterpretation that we ourselves ARE God the Creator Him/Herself. The Hermetic teachings speak wonderfully to this common mistake. Yes, the ALL (God) is in ALL things and all things exist within the ALL or the “One”. And yes, we ARE individuated expressions of this ONE Being, and so we too have that Divine potentiality innate within us. In Genesis it states that “God made man in his likeness”.

However, while we are indeed expressions of God, and we exist as creations in the Mind of God, WE OURSELVES ARE NOT GOD- we are at our highest potential gods with a “little g”, but we are not God with a “capital G”. This is part of what is known as the Divine Paradox.

A great way of illustrating this concept is that of a fiction writer and the characters he/she creates. While each character is unique, it will still have a little bit of its creator’s own personality and temperament in it somewhere. This is inevitable as the character emanates from the mind of the writer. The writer’s characters are the expression of the writer’s unique personality, character traits and interpretation of the world around him/her. It is the same way with us and God. We are each unique characters carefully developed and given life by the Grand Playwright, and each having our own unique bit of that Playwright within us.

The reason I went into all that is because if one comes at this Step Work with this notion that “I AM God”, it will probably be really hard to imagine any sort of Power greater than ourselves to help and guide us through this process. This outlook makes it very hard to move past the ego which absolutely LOVES the concept of being the supreme Creator of the Universe.

There are as many spiritual paths as there are people in the world. Nature, Energy, the Universe, Consciousness- these are ALL things that can be seen as a “Power greater than ourselves” and can be used by those who find the term “God”, or the other variations on that word uncomfortable or unpalatable. Opening ourselves to the concept of that “greater Power” allows us to ask for and receive help in our time of need. This requires us to humble ourselves and begin to put our egos to the side somewhat.

First find what works for you and resonates with you and your temperament. Be open and flexible- a relationship with a Higher Power is a fluid and progressive relationship. Second, look for people who are truly living and embodying moral and spiritual principles in their daily lives. Reach out to them if possible and see if you can incorporate anything that they are doing into your daily life.

Anyone who has done Reiki or any sort of energetic healing work will tell you that they themselves are not doing the healing- they simply open themselves to and allow that healing energy to flow through them. They BELIEVE in that higher energy’s capabilities and have FAITH that it knows what to do. THAT is what we are doing here. We are moving our own ego-based desire to be “in control” of things out of the way and letting that initial possibility of that Healing Energy begin to manifest in our minds and in our lives.

EXERCISE: MICROCOSMIC ORBIT MEDITATION (VARIATION)

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The Microcosmic Orbit meditation has its origins in Taoist Chi Kung and Spiritual/Energetic alchemy. The version of which is a simplified version done for the purpose of moving our mind “out of the way” and feeling that “Higher Energy” flow through us. Personally, I typically do this meditation process 7 times before beginning Communion:

1. Sit at the edge of a chair with your spine straight, head slightly tilted, with your tongue lightly touching the roof of your mouth. Close your eyes.

2. Fold your hands, palms up, in your lap- left over right for men, right over left for women. Breathe deeply from your belly. Observe the breath; let the thoughts drift away. Keep as still as possible.

3. Envision in your mind’s eye a golden ball of light, like a miniature sun, hovering just above your head. Feel its warmth radiating down on you.

4. Now envision a smaller ball of light slowly descending down from this “sun”. Prepare yourself to take a long, deep inhalation.

5. As you breathe in, envision this ball of light, descending into your skull, illuminating the energy center in the front of your head.

6. Continue the in-breath, and envision the ball of light moving down the front of your body and illuminating your heart center.

7. Continue breathing in, and envision the ball of light moving further down the front part of your body and illuminating the energy center just below your navel, aka the Tan Tien.

8. Envision the ball of light moving down to your perineum- the middle bottom portion of your torso between the buttocks and genitalia. Let the ball rest there for a moment while you put your attention in physically holding this light in that area.

9. Exhale, envisioning the ball of light slowly moving up the spine in a similar fashion to the way it moved down until it returns to the “sun” above the head it came from.

10. Repeat this process as many times as you are comfortable- the more repetitions, the more you will feel the circulation of energy.

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If you need to modify the in-breath to make in through the full movement of energy, do so. I would use a modified sipping breath, moving the ball of light down the front of me. The process itself does not take very long once you get into it. Below I have attached further reading on this meditation as well as Taoist Alchemy. Have fun with it! Until next time, Namaste and God Bless.

Microcosmic_Orbit-Earth_Balance_Tai_Chi <PDF Doc.

Awaken Healing Light <PDF Doc.

UNIVERSAL STEP ONE

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”
– E.H. Chapin

STEP 1: We admitted we felt powerless over circumstances, habits, compulsions, beliefs and/or ways of thinking and acting that seemed beyond our control- that our lives somehow lacked the freedom, happiness, meaning and love we desired.

Many people who have near-death experiences talk about seeing their life play before their eyes or of being given a “life review”. Here the events of their life are replayed and they are able to see the sum total of their actions. Not only do they see their life, they feel it as well. Some even speak of feeling how their actions caused others to feel.

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Toltec Warrior Shamanism mimics this life replay for the recapitulation ceremony, where the initiate re-visits the events of their life, typically in some sort of mock-casket. The warrior focuses on how each life event feels, seeking to evoke subconscious or unconscious body memory; understanding that we experience memory in every cell of our bodies, not just our brain. The warrior remembers and works through each event of his or her life, breathing in each event, then breathing out after it is fully revisited to release it. After the recapitulation is finished, the warrior emerges renewed and freed from the chains of the past.

The first step, as well as the other eleven for that matter work in a similar fashion. Many painful events and realizations are brought up through step work. Having the courage to face these painful “shadows” is what ultimately allows us to be free of their influence over us and our lives.

Many people do not fully realize the impact that events of the past have had and continue to have on their lives. When unrecognized and unresolved events of the past and the beliefs we created as a result of them can affect every aspect of our lives: our relationship, our work, our finances, our eating habits and how we perceive the world and ourselves.

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Take the example of the child who was overweight when they were growing up. In school the child was bullied in a variety of cruel fashions. His parents were divorced. His mother was a single working mom and the child was alone most of the time. His father was distant and would make fun of the child’s appearance when he was around him. The mass media and mass-mind culture told him that men should be athletic with muscles and six-pack abs. This instilled a deep sense of self-loathing and a lack of self-love in the child.

As the child grew into an adult, they began going to the gym obsessively. They were going to “show” all those people who made fun of them. They became very lean and fit. Fitness became their life and they became a personal trainer. Eventually this person had children of their own and he was going to make damn sure that his children were never fat, so they didn’t have to go through what he did. As a parent this man was an obsessive tyrant, passing on the psychological damage they received when their intention was exactly the opposite. This is how the cycle of emotional trauma is perpetuated.

The emotional trauma from this person’s childhood caused this person to form a set of beliefs about themselves and others. It should be added that as an adult this person now accepts and perpetuates this belief system willingly, (whether they choose to believe it or not) and attempts to control others according to these beliefs.

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The first step is about taking an honest look at the events of our life and identifying the key events and relationships that impacted our lives and shaped our beliefs about ourselves and others in a negative manner, giving a sense of powerlessness over our own lives. When we identify these things, we get at the root causal factors of whatever problems we have in our lives; the things that seemed a mystery to us.

These events can range from abuse and neglect, to the death of a loved one, to abandonment issues, bullying. Even the very early childhood the procedure of circumcision has been linked to serious and lasting traumatic effects (there is a reason why the U.S. is the ONLY western country to routinely do medical circumcision and people in Europe and elsewhere think we are INSANE for doing it). Everything matters here, so talk to family if possible to get any details you may miss that could help in the process. Remember the body remembers what the conscious mind may not.

A first step typically breaks into 2 major parts- childhood, where the unpleasant and traumatic events happen to us; and adulthood, where we perpetuate the effects of those traumatic and unpleasant events onto ourselves and others. We take a brutally honest look at all of the instances in which we felt powerless in our lives. Powerless over what has happened to us and powerless over our own behavior and circumstances. True honesty is the key here.

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In a nutshell, the first step is typically a written life story that is pretty much all the bad stuff that happened to you growing up and all the bad stuff you did when you were a grown-up yourself. You recall the series of unfortunate events that led to any “wrong-doings” and their consequences. I know that writing a story about all the bad shit that’s happened in your life doesn’t sound like much fun, and it isn’t. But it is transformative. This is the beginning of the dying process that is necessary for the alchemical rebirth.

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Going into this we may very well have some idea what our “issues” are. Use these already recognized previously recognized character defects and look for them as you write your life story. Be as detailed as you need to be in order to get a full perspective on how these ways of thinking and being have negatively impacted your life.

There is no wrong way to write a first step and lengths can vary. Mine was about 40 pages handwritten and took me about 8 or 9 months to finish. Look for the cause and effect patterns in your life, and try to find the root causes for them in your life events. Do not try and sugar-coat anything. You need to be as real and raw as memory allows. Do your best to fully feel these events as you write them, and then again when you read them aloud.

This is where the others in your support group come in, as the first step is typically something that is read aloud to others. Being vulnerable among supportive individuals is amazing for the healing process. It is through having the courage to share the events and actions that bring us the most shame, embarrassment, anger, resentment and sorrow that truly begins the process of healing and rebirth.

If you are unable to find others who are brave enough to walk these steps with you, then I would urge you to seek the support of a trusted counselor or spiritual teacher, or perhaps a very close, non-judgmental friend. I strongly advise that you do not share first (or forth) steps with family members or significant others. This can cause hurt feelings and judgments that could impede your growth and progress through the steps.

That being said if you are reading this and feel that you are ready to embark on this 12-step program, do not try and go this alone. I know there may be some solo spiritual voyagers out there, but this is not that kind of work. This is hard and heavy stuff, and you will need the support of other human beings. I strongly urge you to find someone to partake in this process with you, or better yet a group of someones.

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Fellowship and support is crucial when working the 12 steps. Not only is trying to work the steps solo ineffective, depending on the level of trauma you have experienced in your life, it can be downright dangerous. And if you realize in the process that you do have some form of serious addiction or compulsive behavior, I strongly urge you to seek out an established 12-step group for that particular issue in your area.

I encourage people to accompany this step work with the Light meditation I posted a couple of weeks ago. I also strongly encourage folks to do one of the 3 exercises I laid out in my previous posting before embarking on the first step. Until next time, take care and God bless.

PREPARATION FOR STEP ONE

“Man know thyself; then thou shalt know the Universe and God.”
– Pythagoras.

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Typically when one enters into a 12-step program, they already have a pretty good idea of their primary issue, be it drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, food, etc. But for “non-addicts”, the sign posts aren’t necessarily so clear.  This can result in a life of seeming chaos and confusion, full of feelings of unresolved discontent. For those individuals, and anyone else for that matter, I am going to lay out 3 different exercises. Each exercise can be used on its own or it can be used in tandem with the others. Each exercise is meant to give folks a better perspective and offer some light on their habitual thoughts and actions, as well as the feelings and emotions that accompany those things.

The premise for the first exercise I originally discovered back in 2002 in a book entitled, The Teachings of Don Carlos by Victor Sanchez. This was a book of the “practical applications of the works of Carlos Castaneda”. Many know Castaneda as the author who brought Toltec Warrior Shamanism into modern western consciousness through his series of novels dealing with the sorcerer Don Juan Matus. The following exercise is based upon an exercise in the book that was referred to as an “Inventory of Energy Expenditures”.

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1. Get a pen or pencil and a notebook. In the notebook, divide the pages into four columns. At the heading of column 1 write: What was I thinking? At the heading of column 2, write: What was I feeling? For column 3: What was I doing? For column 4: Is this what I want to do?

2. Set an alarm for every 15-30 minutes. If an alarm doesn’t work, use a signal like walking through a doorway, or anything else that you know will occur at a consistent interval.

3. Each time the signal goes off, stop and observe yourself in that moment, then answer the questions honestly in your notebook. Simply observe your thoughts, feelings and actions objectively. Don’t analyze, don’t judge, don’t justify- just observe as a non-biased witness and record the data. The time should be recorded and the answers should be brief and concise.

4. Before you go to bed, review what you wrote during the day, and then on a separate piece of paper answer the following questions:
• Were my thoughts repetitive or varied?
• What were the most frequently occurring elements in my thoughts?
• Were my feelings and emotions steady and controlled or were they all over the place?
• What were the most frequently occurring feelings and emotions I experienced?
• Were my actions repetitive or varied?
• Which actions were most repetitive?
• Was there a relation between my thoughts, feelings and actions?
• What percentage of my actions had anything to do with what I really wanted to do?

5. Repeat this exercise for one week. Then use the questions from step 4 and apply them for the entire week, reflecting on the sum total of your thoughts, feelings and actions for that week. Look at them and see whether or not they are truly productive for what you want to do in your life and who you want to be. Do you find your thoughts, feelings and actions being unified or are they in conflict with one another?

6. Repeat this process for four weeks, doing a similar review process at the end of the month. By this time you should have a pretty good idea of any sort of negative ways of thinking and doing that may need to be addressed further. It should also show what sorts of emotions are dominating your life, and how your thoughts drive your emotional state.

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I realize this may seem a bit intense for some, but these types of exercises do wonders for us in gaining further understanding and insight into ourselves. The more time you put into understanding yourself, the better results you will be able to obtain; you reap what you sow.

Another good method for getting some insight into our thoughts and emotions that is a little less intensive is an exercise used by some therapists known as “Emptying the Jug”. In this exercise you are first going to write down anything that you are mad about at that moment. Then you are going to write down anything you are sad about in that moment. Then you are going to write down anything you are feeling scared about at that moment. Finally, you are going to write down anything you are feeling glad about. This can be done once or twice a day or more if you so wish and can be done continuously. I would suggest doing it for at least 30 days if you are going to use it to gain any real insight into your thinking and emotional patterns.

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The third method I was going to recommend is stream-of-consciousness writing. This is simply sitting down with a pen and paper and writing whatever comes to your mind. Don’t try to control anything, just let the thoughts and dialogue that is normally chattering in your head empty out onto the page. We are not trying to make something that “makes sense”. I would suggest doing this once or twice per day, writing three full pages of stream-of-consciousness dialogue. The best times to do this would be first thing in the morning and right before bed. Let it all out on the page.

At the end of the week review what you wrote and look for patterns in your thinking, especially those that seem particularly negative and/or repetitive. You may also find yourself “unlocking” past events that you had forgotten about or repressed. Again this is about understanding why we do what we do so the ways of being that seem out of our control no longer are. The 12 steps are about healing our relationship with ourselves and others, so first we need to gain insight as to what parts of ourselves need healing. This will give us what we need to move into the steps. In the next posting we will move into step 1, until then, take care.