I was inspired to write this blog after I read Jeremi McManus’ blog post recently. A former roommate and long-time friend, I don’t feel bad almost plagiarizing his title and idea – because I liked it and what are friends for? Find his post here.
Over the course of 2015 there were many lessons learned and relearned. I can’t pretend to create an exhaustive list nor aim to, but here are some of the highlights from the year.
1) People would rather see a sermon than hear one.
I was leaving a dinner with family just the other evening and I heard myself tell my father perhaps the one fact of my life that I am most proud of… My father’s job is to consistently remind me that he’s waiting on me to become the bread winner of the family. All he has to do is bring up my career, and though I’m almost immune, I’m still instantly transported back to the little boy intimated by the demands of his father. “When are you going to get a real job, Adam?” I quickly assured him that I was taking steps to work on just that, but I needed more. I had to come up with something more powerful that reminded us both that I’m on the right path. The answer? – my sobriety. It’s humbling and powerful, but it is the greatest work I’ve ever accomplished. I learned and re-learned this fact all year in the rooms of recovery. There is no other substitute for living more sufficient than spiritual principles. I got this beautiful moment to reflect with my father about how important my recovery is for my nephew. He witnesses how I live – though imperfectly – day by day according to spiritual principles. My life speaks the message my voice communicates. As I walked away from my father I remembered the line so many old-timers in the rooms of recovery have spoken, “I would rather see a sermon than hear one.” In that moment he remembered that he was proud of his son too… despite my waning financial adolescence.
2) Tears are still absolutely essential.
I’ve had my fair share of up’s and down’s this year. Joy has been abundant and continuous. I have grown immensely as a professional teacher, an active participant in family and community, discovering more of who I am. AND, this year the tears have been plentiful. The sadness over losing an amazing teaching job that I loved. The mourning over losing my last grandparent just recently. And omg…was I diagnosed with skin cancer this year? Yes, plenty of tears over that too. Don’t be concerned, I’m fine – the new scar I have goes with me as a constant reminder that when in doubt, question doctors – they’re absolutely imperfect.
I’ve written a fair amount on the power of tears in the past. Tears are one of those indispensable opportunities to shed pain and connect deeply with our lives. In fact, I don’t believe there is any other substitute as powerful for mind/body/spirit healing. No one can cry for me – like they could feed me or clothe me. It’s more akin to forgiveness or love or death in that way. No one can love for me, forgive for me or die for me – like these, my tears are my cross to bear or gift to receive. AND… it takes a certain capacity to cry. My most sincere cries are always alone with God. If you spend enough time in the rooms of recovery you’ll start to notice the suffer’s face warped by pain. I’ll never forget how profound the revelation – I was witnessing faces that hadn’t wept in years – decades even. They were the faces of unexpressed, repressed, forgotten, drugged pain. If you watch closely and stay present you also witness those same faces heal and literally grow younger. I have to remember that tears are still absolutely essential.
3) I am ready enough.
I like movies an awful lot. While the rest of my demographic is currently obsessed with Netflix’s “Making a Murderer” I am re-watching sci-fi cinematic favorites like, Ender’s Game. The book is outstanding. The film earned a solid tomato somewhere in the 60 percentile. There is one line in the film that continues to resonant with me. Harrison Ford’s character is pushing Ender to his psychological, social, and physical limits in preparation for his great work leading – AN ATTACK TO DEFEND EARTH!! As the time arrives for Ender to lead his psyche officer demands that Ender be given more time to prepare, “He’s not ready!” And Ford replies, “You’re never ready. You go when you’re ready enough.” YESSS!! I love it.
So many moments in 2015 came and went under this mantra. “I have to teach 6th Grade girls about what? Shit. Here we go!!” Telling myself, “Don’t curse in the classroom, Adam! And don’t be weird!” Whether it was hosting a huge Culture Fair for the entire 6th grade and their parents or holding soccer practice as the head coach for the first time, the entire year was filled with the feeling that I wasn’t quite ready, but I was ready enough. I did wonderful. In the new year I face the same calling only this time I feel I am the more unprepared, yet all the more “ready enough” to embark on my own private practice as a life coach. With each new goal it’s essential that I keep reminding myself and practicing – I’m ready enough.
4) Spiritual Principles Are Facts of Life.
Over the past 5 years my life has been re-fashioned by spiritual principles. I’m not so sure that I’ve been doing the work either. I feel its more accurate to say that the spiritual principles have been working me and not the other way around. These principles are stronger than I would like to admit – they’re forces not subject to my whim and want; they’re ego crushing and lawful – more physical like gravity. I align myself with them and they work – not some of the time, every time. The degree that they work is dependent upon my surrender or how honest, willing, and open I am to be a channel for their presence. I’m only beginning to practice living upon this foundation and so far its been like gravity – attractive. The same principles that got me sober, that sustain my life currently, are the same principles that unlock my future potential – as it is written in the Big Book of AA, “We apply these principles in all our affairs.” Let me take you more deeply into one of principles I’ve been working with recently.
5) You become what you think about.
I’d like to say I came to this idea out of an intellectual inquiry, but no. After depressions, bottoms, and multiple humiliations, this is a tool I need to survive. If you haven’t ever taken the idea seriously, I would suggest it. One of the most powerful talks I’ve heard on the subject is called “The Greatest Secret in the World” by Earn Nightingale found here. Earls talk is weighed with authority – his heavy, deep tonal voice captures the authority of a convicted preacher having pasted through fundamentalisms into an emancipated and inclusive worldview still grounded by a perennial truth. He communicates over and over the fundamental principle (secret)…that, “We become what we think about.” or in the words of the famous 20th century philosopher and psychologist, William James, “Human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitude of mind.”
It’s one of those things most of us have heard before. Negative thoughts attract negative experiences; positive thoughts attract positive experiences. In the past I’ve associated the idea – that we “become what we think about” – with those fascinated with “The Secret.” I’ve been really critical about the entire matter for some time: “So poor, black Sudanese should use ‘positive thoughts’ to bring themselves out of poverty!?” Post-structuralist criticism aside, (or just prejudicious) its been interesting to take an honest look at the evidence for such a claim in my own life because there’s plenty. I could site the years I was consumed by my fear of becoming a pot-head and how I attracted everything I need to fulfill this fear. Or I could talk with you about how often I thought life was deeply unfair and unjust which put me in a constant state of self-pity and victimization. Positivity worked the same way. I surrounded myself with recovering people, and I find sobriety comes to me with ease today. I do not fight to stay sober; it is a non-issue; the struggle does not exist for me. Currently, I am using the same tools I applied to get sober to build my dreams. The very principles I have been taught to apply and practice on a daily bases to maintain and grow my sobriety are the same principles that will make me successful at anything I choose to do or become. I become what I think about. I’ve been reading my goals to myself for the last month. All the sudden I’m attracting people who are accomplishing the very things I hope to achieve. Still, over the holiday season, as I have drifted from my practice so have those connections – the momentum has waned according to my conscious thought and action. So I have to remember to practice again, and relearn and relearn in 2016.