HAMLET – neither good nor bad

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” 
HAMLET – William Shakespeare39

My grandmother was a wise yet simple farm woman.  She knew how to gather any vegetable from the garden or berry from the woods and cook it into a delicious casserole or jam.  The storage shelves in the cellar were filled each year with mason jars of wonderfully colorful canned vegetables and preserves.  And in her spare time she crafted from scraps of dresses and coats gorgeous quilts or blankets.

I learned from her that a man “is what he eats.”  The foods which a person consumes will ultimately determine the health status of his/her body.  Unfortunately, I strayed from Grandma’s wisdom regarding foods and nutrition as a young adult resulting in various difficulties with the Western culture health epidemics plaguing us today.

I also strayed from the spiritual/life lessons learned from my farming community as a young boy leading to addiction and behavioral patterns which controlled the years when I should have been maturing into a responsible adult.  Living life soberly has been a prolonged process of ‘catching up’ to others who learned their lessons well and pursued G.O.D. – Good Orderly Direction – rather than waste precious years cavorting as a prodigal son in the far country. (see LUKE 15)

Those of us who share these experiences of addictive exile have a choice to make in our recovery years.  The times were neither good nor bad – they simply were.  What we did, the hell we created for others and ourselves cannot be reversed.  The heartaches and pain inflicted on loved ones including ourselves must be accepted as part of the process leading to sobriety.  Today I know with certainty that I was a royal A-hole back then.  However, today I also know that I don’t have to sit in this chair ten years from now looking back and saying, “Damn, what an asshole I was back on September 18, 2019.”

They say that humility is all about acceptance – accepting and reconciling my past, who I was and what I did, but then recognizing who and what I am destined to be as a sober-minded man living a life that doesn’t really belong to me.  It’s a journey with G.O.D.

So, now you ask, “Larry, what does this have to do with Shakespeare and Hamlet?”

Everything, absolutely everything in life is neutral, neither good nor bad.  It is the thinking which you and I attach to ‘everything’ that makes it good or bad.  We have the choice to create the life we want.  My physical pain suffered today from poor habits of eating and addiction years ago is a good thing because I choose to marvel in the complexity of a body which uses pain to remind me that, yes, I am still alive.  The morning leg and knee pain awaken me to a new day saying a prayer of gratitude,

“Thank you Lord for giving me breath and heartbeat.  My leg hurts, my knee hurts, but they still function and, oh, just look at the glorious sunshine awakening me.”

Am I always successful deferring thinking about everything that crosses my radar screen?  Of course not, I continue to be a member of the human race and therefore frequently offer an opinion, good or bad.  But, another tool learned in my recovery journey is the Serenity Prayer,

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, courage to change the things I should, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

For me, the wisdom is in knowing when my opinion matters and when it does not.  When should I apply thinking to the never-ending parade of drama in today’s life?  As I process this choice I realize more often than not that my opinion truly does not matter.

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let go – let God

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In the King James Version of the American Standard Bible there are 400 verses that mention the word “peace”.  The BARNES’ NOTES commentary on a passage from Philippians 4:7,

“And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding…..”

writes that “this peace is that which is felt when we have no anxious care about the supply of our needs, and when we go confidently and commit everything into the hands of God.”

“….shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

The commentary goes on to say that ‘shall keep’  was translated from a military term meaning guarded and preserved lending further definition of peace as freedom guarded from the intrusion of anxious fears and alarms.

LET GO – LET GOD

In my first recovery meeting room, those framed words were hanging on the wall in front of me.  “What in the world does that mean?  Let go of what?  How does a man do that?”  Not an easy undertaking for an alcoholic dedicated to self-will run riot for his entire life.  “Absolutely not, I will not surrender anything to something I can’t see, touch or talk to.”

I was urged by the others, sitting at the tables sharing their stories, to embrace steps 1, 2, and 3, the surrender steps of the 12 step program which had graced their lives with sustained sobriety.

1) Admitted we were powerless over  alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable. 2) Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 3) Made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God, as we understood God.

Surrender – once and done?  Not really.  It became a daily practice which for most of us continues even after years of sobriety.  It directly affects the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding.  Without surrender I will not enjoy peace. Without peace, life once again becomes unmanageable and insane.

This way of living, sober-living, is not about religion and Bible passages.  Neither is it about performing the 12 step programs perfectly until completion.  It is the way we approach all of life’s challenges and surprises.  It is an ongoing surrender to the energy which we call Higher Power.

One of my most trusted prayers is the prayer of St. Francis.  It begins:

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace…..”

When I reflect on those words, it is not a request to send me out into the world as a peacemaker among friends, peoples or nations.  No, it is directed inwardly to create a space within which is free of worry and anxiety.  The world’s insanity will probably not embrace peace in this day, but I can.  Join me?

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joy or misery – it’s a choice

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Let me repeat that.  In this new day we can choose to be joyful or we can choose to be miserable.  Within each of us is the power to wallow in this world’s drudgery or soar on wings of joy – and it is possible without the use of pharmaceuticals, alcohol, or any mind-altering substances.

“…..we are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness….we will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace…”  from the promises, ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

The promises listed are not just fancy ideals written by a successful recovering alcoholic.  They are reality for millions of alcoholics who choose to follow a program of sober-living earnestly and honestly….“are these extravagant promises?  We think not!”  That, in a nutshell, is the beauty of our lifestyle.  Today, we have choices which were dismally not available before.  Joy or misery is one of those choices.

Alcoholism is a disease of the mind, of the body and of the soul.  It is cunning, baffling and powerful.  It wants to see you and I either in a mental institution or in the grave and it will not rest until it destroys us.  But, we have resources available that can conquer our disease.  For some it is Alcoholics Anonymous, for others it is Celebrate Recovery, still others discover sobriety through numerous spiritual programs.  They all present to us a way of changing our lives and living victoriously as new men and women.  They rebuke the power of alcohol in our lives and replace that demon with the power of choice.

The joy of living soberly is directly linked to an attitude of gratitude.  What is on this morning’s gratitude list?  Nothing?  Let’s think again.  Did we sleep in a warm, comfortable bed last night?  Do we remember this morning where we were last night, what we did?  Do we suffer from blackouts?  Are we filled with self-loathing because of what we did last night?  Were we unfaithful to our spouses?  Did we spend the family’s grocery money on booze?  Are we calling the boss and lying about why we will not be at work?  Yeah, we have much about which to be grateful, don’t we?

I suffer varying degrees of arthritis pain on a daily basis.  Many of us endure medical and physical conditions that limit activity.  Are we going to allow these maladies to diminish joyful living?  Absolutely not.  The pain I feel this morning is a reminder that my body is still alive and functioning.  When the day arrives that this body is not responsive to stimuli, good or bad, then I shall likely be dead.  And although that is neither good nor bad, I am not yet ready to be dead.

So let’s make our choices.  Will that choice be a joyful interaction with all that has been restored to us through the grace of recovery or will it be a miserable day of drudgery wallowing in the pit of negative thoughts and behavior?  Which will we choose?

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EGO – it’s a killer

Have we ever considered what it is about others than disturbs us the most?  Is it their conceit, their crass behavior, their selfishness?  Or is it their love of possessions, their old codgerdisregard for society’s moral conduct, their dishonesty?  Of course, the next question would require us to look into our own selves wondering what it is about them that trips our  trigger.

In my early recovery years, as I was complaining to my sponsor about  a group member who embodied everything which I despised, he responded this way,

All that you hate in others are elements of your own personality that you are afraid to look at.”

“Hell no, that’s not true,”  I replied defensively.  “I am not like that.”

And I truly believed that.  But, the seed had been planted and would not allow me to rest until I took it to my  quiet space within and considered my sponsor’s words.  Jerry could be shallow and selfish – yeah, me too, we are, after all, alcoholics.  Jerry could seem arrogant – yeah, me too, but that was due to my insecurity with others.  Jerry seemed disinterested in his group members – yeah, me too, but again I was shy and felt awkward with people.  Jerry didn’t seem to grasp the humility in recovery, his concept of a Higher Power was weird – really?  What did I profess as a Higher Power?  A vengeful, old, gray bearded, eyes on fire, lightning-spitting man sitting somewhere in the universe on his throne of judgement?  How weird is that?

In due time I learned a lot about myself from Jerry.  He mirrored my own ego which at that time totally controlled who I was.  Eckhart Tolle in his book, A NEW EARTH -AWAKENING TO YOUR LIFE’S PURPOSE, writes:

“The particular egoic pattern that you react to most strongly in others and misperceive as their identity tend to be the same patterns that are also in you, but that you are unable or unwilling to detect within yourself.  In that sense, you have much to learn from your enemies.  What is it in them that you find most upsetting, most disturbing?  Their selfishness?  Their greed?  Their need for power and control?  Their insincerity, dishonesty, propensity to violence, or whatever it may be?  Anything that you resent and strongly react to in another is also in you.”

The initial response is probably, “no way, not true.” But, as with any planted seed, this will not disappear until it is either choked with weeds and dies or nourished and brought to fulfillment.  The question becomes whether we will wither in our denial or respond and grow.  That, essentially, is what recovery is about.  It is much more than living without alcohol and drugs or whatever our addictions entertain.  It is a continual recognition of the external forces and internal thoughts that attempt to control our true identity, that state of Being which the Buddha called anata – no self.   Words attributed to Jesus of Nazareth in the 8th chapter of Mark, verse 34, “whoever wants to be my disciple (follow my Truth) must deny self…..” which, in other words, is  to deny ego control of our response to the world in which we live.  Peace or drama?  How will we choose to live?

Our world has become one of us versus them.  Nationalism, tribalism, religious intolerance – they all try to convince us that we are superior to them.  The them are always wrong while us are always right.  Eons ago this mindset meant only that the caveman with the best clubs and biggest stones would win and the others would need to move on to find another cave in which to live.

We are not cave dwellers.  We have missiles and nuclear weapons instead of clubs and stones.  Our separateness cannot be resolved by conflict and violence.  There will be, in a World War 3, no winners.  Our species and probably earth as we know it will be eradicated.

The next time I watch on media screens a national leader or world power whom I despise, the next time I see a religious leader lead his flock astray, the next time I look at my neighbor with disgust, I must remember the lessons which Jerry taught me in early sobriety.  Despite the outward appearances of polarizing differences, we are the same.  What we do, how we think will determine whether this species of ours sees a 22nd or 23rd century.  It’s our responsibility to grow our planted seed into selfless maturity.

GARDEN OF EDEN

 

Carpe diem

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Hallelujah, it’s a new day, opportunity for a fresh start, the first day of the rest of your life.  C’mon, get out of bed, stretch your arms, say a few words of thanks for breath, for heartbeat, for arms and legs that move.  Hug your spouse, cat or dog and go brush your teeth.  While looking in the bathroom mirror, say to yourself, “you are wonderful, I love you.”

“Larry, it’s raining, the weather is dismal, my spouse is snoring, my back hurts, I was up too many times to pee, I am tired and I just want to snuggle up to my pillow and waste the day in bed.”

Okay, that also is an option.  Maybe tomorrow will be a better day – if you still have breath and a heartbeat tomorrow.  Do you realize the rarity of being alive this moment of  this day in the history of mankind?  Do you understand how precious this waking moment is, that any moment’s breath could be the last?  Do you?

CARPE DIEM!  Seize the day, it belongs to you.  Your Lord made it just for you.  We don’t have the luxury of rolling the dice and accepting anything that happens in this day.  Get out there and do something.  Learn something new.  A skill, a hobby, a new yoga practice, a delicious recipe for Caribbean chicken, an exciting writing idea.  Just do it.  Carpe diem.  Tomorrow could be too late.

Lounging in bed still sounding like a good idea?  Okay, try this.  Think of a friend in the hospital who can’t leave his bed, an elderly family member who’s confined to a wheelchair, the veteran who suffers debilitating PTSD, your neighbor who unsuccessfully attempted suicide last week?

God gave you this day to make a difference in your life or the life of another of his children.  Seize the moment and make it a spectacular testimony of a life well-lived and humbly appreciated.  And when that last breath of the last moment of the last day is upon us, may we hear the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

So get up, get moving!  It’s a beautiful day.

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resentments

resentment : to feel bitter, indignant, aggrieved, or offended
Eckhart Tolle, A NEW EARTH – AWAKENING TO YOUR LIFE’S PURPOSE

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Dealing with the delicate, easily offended part of the human being labeled as the ego can be difficult.  It is that internal mechanism which screams me, me, me or mine, mine, mine, and I, I, I.  It is that voice which asks indignantly, “How could you do that to me?” Resentments lead to grudges, grudges lead to grievances, and grievances on  a national level lead to wars.  Grievances manifest in tribalism and nationalism.  The world’s most notorious despots have relied on grievances against imagined ‘enemies of the people’ to establish autocratic rule and subsequent persecution or genocide.

Pheeeew!  Are you saying, Larry, that my petty disagreement and resulting resentment with my neighbor over his insult regarding my yard’s landscaping efforts (or lack thereof) can lead to World War 3?  Probably not.  But, our lives will be blessed with serenity and comfort if we learn how to deal with the ego’s need to feel demeaned or belittled, hurt or unappreciated.

First, I need to realize that my neighbor’s comment about the weeds in my yard were most likely not meant to hurt – it was merely his observation about something which for reasons beyond my control were important to his ego.  Does my yard detract from his flawless, picture-perfect landscape?  Does my yard infer that I am a lazy homeowner?  Does the view of my front yard from his recliner looking out the bay window of his house somehow deprive him of his serenity?  Does he see the beautiful wildflowers in my yard as unsightly weeds?

I don’t know and probably never will know the reasons for his assault on my personal integrity.  Yeah, this situation has now blossomed into a  full-fledged grudge.  I want revenge.  How can I get even?  What evil can I employ to retaliate?  Maybe I’ll throw my cat’s poop over the fence into his perfect petunia bed.  Yeah, that would really piss him off.  Wow!  My me, me, me and his me, me, me are now poised for conflict.  Ego.  All because of offended egos.

So, do we ban ego from our being?  Can’t, it’s innate to humans.  But perhaps, we can keep it in check.  The next time I encounter a difference of opinion with my neighbor, maybe I ought to look beyond his words and actions with an understanding that he is also a work in progress, a man filled with insecurities and fears just like me.  Maybe he has endured hardships that are unknown to me.  Maybe he has medical conditions that are of concern to him.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.  Bottom line is that he and I are one in this spiritual experience called life on earth.  Together we can resolve problems and resentments.  But, in opposition we can only encourage World War 3.

In the book ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, Bill W. writes:

Resentment is the number one offender.  It destroys more alcoholics than anything else.  From it 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.  

Also in ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS on page 552, from a member’s story:

“If you have a resentment you want to be free of, if you pray for the person or the thing you resent, you will be free.  If you will ask in prayer everything you want for yourself to be given to them, you will be free.  Ask for their health, their prosperity, their happiness, and you will be free.”

I want to be free.  I’m ready to pray about my resentments.  How about you?

LOVE

 

pro life – pro choice

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I normally don’t weigh in on this topic because I am…….a coward.  Aha!  You thought I was about to say that as a man I don’t feel qualified to offer an opinion.  My friends, I have survived this life for 72 years by keeping most of my opinions regarding a woman’s rights between me and my Creator.  However, should I be questioned about abortion and a woman’s reproductive rights, I would have to defer to an even greater right which we all have.  And that is the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

But, I must occasionally quiz myself about my views.  If I were a pro-lifer, would I value the life of a homeless woman equally to mine, would I embrace the life of a refugee from a country filled with violence and killing equally to mine, would I support the life of my Muslim neighbor practicing his faith, would I welcome the black or brown man as a life which matters equally in God’s eyes, would I cherish the life of a tiger or lion equally to mine?  Would I value all of Creation equally?

Would I?  Would you?  Do you, who profess to be pro-life, value all life as sacred?

If you and I cannot affirm all of life and every creature’s right to live it’s designed purpose on earth, then we would probably need to approach the issue of pro-life this way:

the labeling is all wrong.

One cannot claim to be pro-life unless one supports every aspect of life, every human’s right to exist , every lion’s right to prowl and hunt, every butterfly’s right to flutter, every fetus’s right to be birthed.  Perhaps some anti-abortion people who exclude a majority of life on earth as irrelevant ought to appropriately call themselves “pro-birthers.”

So, the question to me needs to be presented this way.  “Whom do I choose to offend?”  Whaaaaat?  Did you really believe that after 72 years of survival in a woman’s world that I would offer an opinion?  I may be old, but I am not yet senile.  Yep, I’m a coward.

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Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
step 4 – ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS

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Don’t know about you, but I hate turning the critical eye inward.  Presumably you will ask, “Why is that, Larry?”

Up until I had several years sobriety behind me, LarryPaulBrown was the world’s foremost expert at condemning himself.  “You never do anything right, you are a failure,” were my life’s defining words.  “Why can’t you be more like Joe, the school sports jock, or Mary, the class valedictorian, or Pastor Jones, the community rock?  Why, why, why?”

Doing an honest 4th step, a searching and fearless assessment of me was a daunting task until my spiritual advisor set before me on paper two columns – one for the negatives and one for the positives.

“But,” I protested, “I can’t think of any positives.”  Thank God for the patience and insight of our sponsors who guide us through these growing pains.

Even today it is infinitely more comforting to look at you and take your inventory.  Yes, old habits die hard.  The ego loves this – ‘I’ and ‘me’ become bigger and superior – it creates separation and otherness.  My defects are not as severe or humiliating as yours.  “Well, I never did that. Tsk, tsk.”

Ultimately an overly active ego, a continual subversion of one’s inner truth to ‘I, I, I and me, me, me’ creates violence between individuals and warfare between nations.

Verse 41 in the 6th chapter of Luke says, “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”

What’s in my eye today?  What’s in yours?

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control freak – who, me?

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, wisdom to know the difference.”

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Most of us in recovery are failed control freaks.  Read those words again.  You and I have been miserable failures at controlling our lives. Lord knows we did our damnedest to cajole, manipulate, wheedle, urge or threaten loved ones, family and friends to think and do the ‘right way’ which, of course, was always our way.  I see some of you out there denying it, but let us just take a moment of truthful inventorying our past behavior before claiming innocence.  Yeah, just as I thought.  Guilty as charged!

Sometimes our game of controlling others actually worked and we felt victorious.  But our success came at the expense of ruffled feathers, resentments, anger from our victims.  The end result was that we distanced ourselves from those around us who loved us the most.  Ultimately, through the progression of our disease, we reached a point where, in the depths of our self-imposed exile from reality, we could not even control ourselves.  In those depths, alcohol was the victor controlling every aspect of our being.

Enter sobriety and the grace of a Higher Power.  We repeated in the recovery rooms of AA the Serenity Prayer.  Sometimes our discussions centered on the words of the prayer analyzing each word and each part of the three statements.  What do they mean?  What do I control?  What can I not control?  And when does the wisdom appear in my life?

Sobriety is not a commodity to be purchased at the recovery store.  It does not happen miraculously on the first day of not drinking.  We hang out with others like us, we listen to the wisdom spoken in the rooms, we take our thoughts to the quiet space within and begin to process what sober-living means.  Contrary to the previous drinking before which carried us to the depths of our personal hells, sobriety becomes our beacon of hope, our lifestyle resurrecting us to a purposeful place in society.

And eventually we discover the truths of control.  I accept that I control no other human being on earth, I control no other entity on earth, I control no political undertaking, no politician, no corporate CEO.  I do not control my spouse, family nor friends.  I don’t even control Max, the cat.  Lastly, I do not control the recovering friend who decides to go back out and do some more ‘field research’ on drinking.

“Pheeeew!  What a relief,” we exclaim, “I am not responsible for anything.”

Whoa, not so fast.  Yes, we are responsible.  “Whenever anyone, anywhere reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA to be there.  For that I am responsible.”

“Courage to change the things I can.”

In order to be a helping hand, I must change the only thing I can…and that is me.  I must change my thinking, my attitudes, my responses to others, my behavior, my prejudices, my lifestyle.  I must change myself to reflect the grace freely given on that first day of recovery when I walked into my first AA meeting a scared, hopeless drunk.  And therein is the wisdom to know the difference.  Today, I know how and when to surrender Larry, the control freak.  Not always easy, not always first choice, but always the path to serenity.

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peaceful change

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“The root of violence is the illusion of separation—from God, from being one with oneself and everything else, and from Being Itself. When we don’t know how to consciously live out of union (which is called love), we resort to violence, fighting anything that is not like us and that we cannot control.” cac.org – Richard Rohr

When we apply these words to the insanity of today’s violent, non-sustainable assault on the vulnerable people, the poverty-stricken, the minorities of our planet, and on earth itself, perhaps we can begin to understand that our solutions to these problems do not lie in answering what, how, when, but beginning with the question who.

Who are we?  Americans tend to answer this question with descriptions of their physical bodies, their gender, their accomplishments, their education, their suffixes following their names, their financial gains in life, their country club status, their professional titles.  JUST STOP!  Stop labeling and begin searching.

Look to that interior voice which says, “you are love, you are compassion, you are kindness, you are made in the image of the breath which created you.”

“Contemplative practice teaches us to honor differences and also realize that we are all much more than our nationality, skin color, gender, or other labels which are all aspects of the passing and thus false self. Contemplation brings us back to our True Self, who we are in God.”

JUST STOP!  Stop denying the truth and purpose of the higher Self.  When we become less we become great.  When we become “little enough, naked enough, and honest enough, we will discover that we are more than enough.”  Salvation, enlightenment, end of suffering is not about ascension to the heavens, looking upward to an imaginary God, or living righteously.  No, it is a downward migration into the depths of this world’s poverty of soul and recognizing that here is where reality and truth are to be found, here is where we will change the world, here is where nonviolence begins, here is where God dwells.

(all quotes are from today’s meditation @ cac.org – Richard Rohr)

LOVE