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God

The Everlasting Solution to All Our Troubles 640 480 Thayer Fox

The Everlasting Solution to All Our Troubles

Mid-life, there is no place left to hide. The panic that follows this realization is such a common phenomenon in our society that we’ve named it. Over the years, I’ve witnessed and supported friends in the grips of a “mid-life crisis”. Buried beneath their unlived lives, excavation is an overwhelming prospect. Change comes at a cost. They delve deeper into their vice of choice. More wine, more bread, more plans or more stuff. Anything to stay numb, they “re-arrange deck chairs on the Titanic”.  A few are hopeful that a new romance or job could fix their internal dilemma. They seek the aid of therapists, playing a weekly game of whack-a-mole. Some are flat out depressed and find relief in medication which doesn’t seem to last for long.

And now, it’s my turn.

This month I turn forty-five. I’m restless and swarming with questions. I feel guilty that I’m not grateful for my blessed life. I fantasize about buying a one-way ticket somewhere far away and warm where I can shed my identity. Wondering how I ended up a statistic in the status quo with all the work I’ve done, my default mode is to shake the world for answers. I know that happiness is an inside job and yet I still grasp at worldly structures and conclusions until I get into enough pain and become willing to try another way.

This week, a quote I love, penetrated my self-centered turmoil.

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

When I first heard this Pierre Teilhard de Chardin quote years ago, I assumed that I was already living in the second sentence.  Having had a handful of spiritual experiences, I considered myself a transformed being. What I have come to understand is that yesterday’s awakenings did not turn me into a spiritual being once and for all. I wish it worked like that and it does not. The gravity in the world around me is powerful. I am continuously pulled by longing and disturbance. Staying connected to my spiritual nature takes a Herculean commitment. I must tend to my spirit like the keeper of a sacred fire. My most important job every day is to stoke the flames. I do this by engaging in practices like meditation, prayer and seeking support in spiritual communities.

If cultivating a spiritual life sounds like work, it is. No different than going to the gym or taking a class or anything else that yields results with consistent effort.  So why bother?  Why add one more thing to your busy day that doesn’t directly correlate with advancement in work or personal relationships? Because everything falls into place when I nurture my spirit. It’s a relief when I connect with an energy greater than my identity. Running the show is overrated and exhausting. My way never lasts for long. I must continue to row the boat of my life, but relinquishing the navigation to the higher intelligence found in my deepest consciousness ensures that I will end up where I am meant to be.

I celebrated fifteen years without alcohol on January 2nd. Friends and family outside my sober network associate my achievement with extreme discipline. It’s awkward to explain in passing that I can’t take credit for my course change that included giving up alcohol and other substances that were blocking me from deeper communion with spirit. I don’t drink today not because I fear alcohol but because I know that alcohol is a false idol. It could never provide me a shred of the contentment I have found in my sober, spiritual life.

When I’m living as a spiritual being, I feel unconditionally loved. This is a miracle for a little girl who believed she was broken and unlovable. No human relationship can make me feel loved for long. We cycle through relationships our entire lives blaming people when we don’t feel loved enough. We have an expectation that family, friends, and spouses should offer us endless love and support. This can be true for the luckiest among us, but human love never quiets the patient whisper that tells us every time we fall that we will never be enough. When I take care of my spirit, I am at peace, whole, complete, exactly where I longed to be my entire life.

And when I slide back into unconsciousness and treat the world around me like that’s all there is, I become afraid. Afraid of not getting my way, afraid of getting older, afraid that I will enter my grave with the song still in me and afraid of death. Death is the mother of all fears. Studying Buddhism this Fall while simultaneously expanding my meditation practice eased this primal dread. The truth of our existence is that each of us will die. Everyone we know will die too. It’s not tragic, it’s the promise of our humanity. When I am planted in my spirit, I see that death is just part of a cycle and life is everlasting.

As we evolve into smarter rats, we believe that we have more control over our lives and the world around us than ever. Control is an illusion. Our choices obsess us, they become our masters. We are worn out by the endless decisions required of us to navigate mundane life. Choices perpetuate the illusion that we are running the show.

There is a reason monks live in monasteries on mountaintops wearing the same robes every day and eating what is offered to them by villagers nearby. I only understood this after staying in a monastery Labor Day weekend for a silent meditation retreat. Simplicity is a pathway to spirit. As is silence. The shiny bells and whistles of the modern world distract us. If I do not carve out time to be alone, I lose my way easily. Pain, my loyal guide, nudges me back on track when I stray too far away from a spiritual solution. Few among us come to spiritual practice naturally. The majority of us find our way after surviving through the dark night of the soul. We roll our eyes at the concept of God until we lose a loved one, get sick, have our heart broken or our house burns to the ground. Only then do we turn to prayer.

For those of you that associate prayer with religious doctrine, I invite you to suspend your belief that religion is the opiate of the masses. That’s too easy an out. Try it on that different religious institutions are spiritual support systems all in service of the same force. When I “take the good and leave the rest” in spiritual practice and my entire life, I am surprised by what I receive.

My favorite line in the Big Book of AA is, “God could and would if he were sought.” This has always been true for me over the past fifteen years. Please don’t take my word for it, if you are in pain, go seek for yourself.  And if you are not ready yet, your time will come. And it’s never too late.

 

Four books I recommend reading if you are interested in developing a spiritual practice:

Buddhism Plain & Simple by Steve Hagen

The Sermon on the Mount by Emmet Fox

The Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield

Anam Cara by John O’Donohue

 

 

 

 

Judgment or Reality? 640 432 Thayer Fox

Judgment or Reality?

How many times have you made a decision based on an abrupt judgment? Do you feel confident that the way you see things is reality? Do you explain some of your judgments as instinct?

I’ve been off lately, barely able to sit through my two daily meditations because of the creepy crawly energy under my skin. The voice in my head has been relentlessly antagonistic. I could chart and study the chain of minor events that lead me here, but that would be a waste of time.

Looking for relief, I walked into a midday AA meeting in my neighborhood. Finding a seat in the first row, I adjusted the angle of my chair repeatedly, so I wasn’t too close to my neighbors in any direction. That’s the nature of the mood I can’t shake. Finally seated, I stared at my phone pretending to read something so no one would engage me in the usual friendly AA fashion.

Looking up at the clock, I cased the room, every person looked crazier than the next. Why did I think this was a good idea? How the hell could these people help me when they were all tearing at the seams?

No one sat in the leather speaker chair yet; there was still hope. I prayed a wise female version of Gandalf would plop down and say something astonishing.

A few minutes before the start time, a robust, dark-haired man took the seat. His sweaty face looked familiar. Then it hit me how I knew him. Struggling for over a year now, he could barely pull together ninety days of sober time before going on a bender. Thoroughly agitated, my instinct told me to bolt; no way this messy man had any sage advice to pass on.

Before I could gather my stuff, he introduced himself and began speaking. Debating whether I dashed for the door now or waited until he finished, I realized as I put a water bottle into my backpack, that the dark-haired man was staring only at me. Before I had time to be uncomfortable, he paused and pointed at me, “I know you” he said loudly.

This is totally off script, a speaker never addresses anyone in the audience during the twenty-minute opening talk. Without responding, I tilted my head giving him a quizzical look. He continued anyway, “I was counting days when I heard you speak at the 79th street workshop, you know that big Sunday 11th step meeting?” I nodded, I had spoken there recently. The speaker smiled, “That was the best qualification I’ve ever heard. I wanted to drink badly but stayed sober so I can sound like you one day.”

Sound like me? The judgmental shrew about to walk out as you bare your soul? I looked down, unworthy of his generous words. Today, I was not the woman who gave that talk. My eyes filled up as my heart opened. Putting my hands together, I bowed my head in a Namaste to show appreciation.

Gratitude surged through me, replacing all irritability. One sentence out of a stranger’s mouth smashed the self-centered glasses I had been wearing for days. Humbled, for the rest of the meeting I listened like my life depended on it.

My judgment almost kept me from being able to experience that mystical moment. I wonder how many beautiful minutes, hours, days, years have been stolen by snapshot opinions masquerading as instinct. God/ a higher intelligence/ destiny connects with us through other people. The most important job I have every day is to make myself available.

 

The Gift of Consciousness 640 426 Thayer Fox

The Gift of Consciousness

My favorite commencement speech is called “This is Water” by David Foster Wallace. It offers us the gift of consciousness.

David’s message is enormous. It’s spectacular and shattering, and we rarely dare to speak it.

When you listen, you realize how subtle the line is between a lifetime of misery and a lifetime of wonder. We tend to think that those two worlds are far apart, but David makes it clear that they exist side by side in our minds.

Most people don’t realize they can choose what kind of life they get to experience. For thirty years I didn’t either, so I am not implying that this is an obvious choice.

Here’s what I learned from the pain of feeling trapped in a life shaped by unconscious decisions- we must be vigilant about the thoughts we choose to focus on because they become our reality. God or whatever name you feel comfortable with is the sacred force inside all of us that longs to rise and expand. When we live in the flow of that power, wonder becomes abundant.

Every morning when I turn my face into the light, I acknowledge and honor the darkness a few inches away before turning my back to it. Growth comes from being with all of it. We don’t get to experience the full heart moments without also experiencing the ones that crush our faith in humanity. We do get to wake up and start again every morning with a new intention no matter what happened the day before. Healing is not about completion; it’s a commitment to our rising.

David Foster Wallace is no longer with us, but he left us his consciousness in this beautiful commencement speech.

Today, I honor it, and I hope you do too.

 

How I Came To Believe in God 1024 683 Thayer Fox

How I Came To Believe in God

Today, I love the word God. It’s direct access to power that I cannot tap into on my own. My strength depends on my relationship with this simple word. When I say it, hear it, or read it, I am reminded to get out of my way and get into faith. You can’t be fearful and faithful simultaneously. The word God creates space. It is a relief that I don’t have to figure everything out on my own. I have no idea what or who GOD is, and I don’t care.

I grew up in a Christian household where God was a man with a beard. We went to church every Sunday, and I thought it was a drag. I didn’t have an issue with God; I just couldn’t figure out my relationship with the old man, so it made me uncomfortable.

At the age of 10, when my puppy died, I knew for sure there was no God. When I was 17 my father died and my belief that “God is dead” was reaffirmed. In my 20s I believed that I was the ultimate authority, or I would transfer that power to any man I was “in love with.” Christmas was the only time I stepped foot inside a church for 15 years.

At the age of 29, I started going to church every day, to attend meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. For the first 11 years of my sobriety, I rarely used the word God. In the rooms of AA, and in the literature, they tell you to use whatever you are comfortable with as your higher power. It just can’t be you. I used to say nature, the universe, and group of drunks (GOD as an acronym—people in the rooms of AA who have transformed their lives), until April 2015.

My son Griff was admitted into the ICU at New York-Presbyterian on a Saturday evening with a fractured skull and a massive hemorrhage. The doctors told us that surgery was too risky. They needed the bleed on the brain to clot by itself. That first night, I prayed regularly. Not to the ocean, or the members of AA, but to God. Eventually, a feeling of peace overcame me as I let go of Griff’s life. I handed him over to God, clear that I was never in charge. I was ok with either outcome.

That moment opened me up to a connection that I had not experienced before. It took me a few more years to get here. If I try to track it, there is no linear path. I read Mysteries of the Kabbalah and Mere Christianity. I learned Transcendental Meditation. I read the Buddha Bedtime series to Griff regularly. I attended two Tony Robbins workshops, in which he uses the word God liberally, and no one walks out in a huff. I visit Redeemer, a Presbyterian church that takes place in the Hunter College auditorium. I have watched three women I work with, transform in front of my eyes over the past six months.

I still don’t identify solely with being a Christian. I love Buddhism, as well as pieces of all religions. Giving up self-identifying labels has been a game changer; I want the option to say I am something else tomorrow. And whatever I choose to be, will always include God. The past year has been the happiest year of my life. If the word God offends you, that’s your filter. Keep reading anyway.

 

* My favorite Nietzsche passage as a teenager from “The Gay Science.”