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‘We act as though Truth were something we could stuff in our pockets, something we could take out every once in awhile to show people “Here! This is it!” We forget that they will show us their slips of paper, with other Truths written upon them.’
~ Steve Hagen Roshi

Probably the last book review you’ll ever read here

First of all, I need to assure my readers that I have absolutely no connection with the author of this book or his publisher.  I received no incentives to write this.  I purchased the book myself, and have been using it daily for several months.  This review is based solely on my admiration for an exceptional recovery resource that doesn’t get enough air time around the rooms.

I begin this review with trepidation because it is normally my policy not to do book reviews or promotional posts.  I had to adopt that position after years of requests to read books, bb-image22infographics and do reviews of websites, some of which were great, some of no interest and some of which were even toxic.  Nonetheless, I’m writing this one — with full knowledge that it will probably engender another s—storm of requests (which will, let me say in advance, be refused).

A year or so ago, I started looking for recovery resources that would be suitable for people who have a problem with the “God Thing” in AA, NA and most of the other 12-step fellowships.  As we all know, this is an issue for some, newcomers in particular.  While searching, I stumbled across “Joe C” and Beyond Belief — agnostic musings for 12-step life, his book of daily readings for folks in recovery.  After using it for the past eight months, I have come to the conclusion that it is the most valuable recovery resource I’ve used in more than a quarter of a century in 12-step recovery, excluding the basic texts of the individual fellowships, of course.  I learn something from it every morning, and I would be proud to have written it myself.  Unfortunately, I’m just not. . .that. . .good.

Don’t let the title fool you.  This isn’t a trash-the-believers book.  It’s respectful and inclusive: more a secular examination of the various addictions and programs than agnostic in the sense most people think of it.  No believer of any kind need be put off, and it would be a crying shame if any were because this book is a treasure chest of down-to-earth, triple-distilled recovery of the best kind.

I opened the book at random to the July 7th reading.  Consider the following:

First time Fourth Steppers are cautioned that this list is no magic pill; it is a step in the right direction to honest self-appraisal.  Many of us do Step Four more than once just as some businesses do a complete inventory every year or two.  Each new inventory isn’t an admission of failure of the previous stocktaking.  Rather, it is a new balance sheet on a new day to quantify progress and circumstances.

Some inventories look at the good and the bad: shameful acts vs. great accomplishments, healthy expressions of fear and anger vs. unhealthy expressions of fear and anger and our histories of deception and avoidance vs. examples of bravery and honesty.  Mismanaged feelings are addiction triggers.  Step Four uncovers the emotional triggers that set off the freeze, fight and flight reflexes. [Emphasis mine]  Like a blueprint, Step Four shows us how we’re wired, opening the door to change.

Like I said, I sure wish I’d written that!

Please, suspend your prejudices about the word “agnostic” (which, after all, only means “one who doesn’t know”), and get a copy of Beyond Belief.  I promise you that it will be one of the best recovery purchases you’ve ever made.  It will be part of my daily practice from now until I move on to find the definitive answers, and I’ll bet it will be for you, too.

Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life: finally, a daily reflection book for nonbelievers, freethinkers and everyone Paperback – January 21, 2013

by Joe C.  (Author)

51 customer reviews (Amazon)

A Long Thought for the Day

First of all, I’d like to apologize for the two-week hiatus from What…Me Sober?.  Moving from a big 2/2 apartment where you’ve lived for 25 years to a much smaller 1/1 is a complicated project, fraught with turmoil.  But that’s a story for another day, perhaps.

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*****

The beauty and joy of life dwell within differences.
~ Answers in the Heart, April 1

Who wants to watch the same sunset every evening? Who wants to converse only with people who parrot our own thoughts and opinions?

Why do I imagine that I need opinions to begin with, or that they bear more validity than other people’s? Is it because I am afraid? Of what? Does being “wrong” threaten who I am?

And where did I get those opinions, anyway? Are they mine, or did I inherit them from others through lazy thinking — or due to rebellion?

What makes me so sure that I’m right?

Daydreaming

dreamingWhen I was a kid in school, it was common for me to hear something like, “Bill, stop looking out the window and get to work!”, or “Bill, stop daydreaming and pay attention!”.  I spent my first 10 years as the only kid on a farm full of adults, and early on developed the ability to disappear into my own world of fantasy — far more interesting than the humdrum reality of a failing farm, terminally ill father, and a bunch of worried adults.

Daydreaming and books facilitated certain of my addictions both then and later.  Although I continued to enjoy fantasy as an escape from reality for many years, it wasn’t until I got into recovery — and later, into meditation — that I began to appreciate daydreaming for its own sake.

“Solutions are difficult to come by rationally. The reasoning mind is like a rudderless ship: It describes interesting patterns on the water, but it lacks a sure sense of direction. The rudder of inner guidance comes from super-conscious levels of awareness.” ~ J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda)

As the Hon. Swami says, we need to access a level of consciousness other than “rational” thought in order to calm our minds and allow ourselves to integrate the various concepts that swirl around in our heads sometimes.  The path to that is prayer and meditation (Step 11), and daydreaming is simply an unplanned meditative state. So, if you think that meditation is impossible for you, you’re wrong (unless you’ve never daydreamed). You’re probably already pretty good at it.

I was taught that the prayer in “sought through prayer and meditation” was to “program” me so that my meditation might lead to clarity about the subject of my prayers for “knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.” That works for me. After fixing the subject in my mind, I simply let my thoughts wander around it, consciously avoiding any direct, logical thought as much as possible.  I’ve written about those techniques here.

More often than not, I find that this process helps to untangle in my mind whatever was troubling me.  Sometimes it takes sleeping on it, and sometimes I don’t get the “light bulb” for a couple of days, but usually at least some of the head monsters who were dragging me around by my thoughts are silenced long enough for me to get some clarity.

All in all, daydreaming has served me well over the years.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t just for escaping.

First Impressions Count

We say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but we do.  Sometimes we find that we were wrong in our assessment of other people, places and things, but we always use that first impression as a guide.  Often we can’t explain why we feel that way about our encounters; we just feel an affinity.  Certain feelings are triggered, and we act on the feelings.  

On occasion, these reactions are pretty strong. “I haven’t been able to stand him from the first moment I laid eyes on him.”  “I walked into that room, and I just felt at home.”  “When I looked around me, I suddenly felt at peace.”  In those situations, lasting relationships may develop.  We may continue to visit that perfect, peaceful place.  We may make new friends.  Perhaps that person we couldn’t stand is really a nice guy, but he’ll have an uphill struggle to prove it — or maybe we’ll change our minds after watching him for a while.  Nonetheless, first impressions are a powerful influence on our attitude and trust.

Sometimes we just don’t know how to deal with people.  That can be especially true of first encounters.  It is important to always remember that people respond to how we make them feel.  If we seem to feel superior to them, that will most likely trigger anger.  If our approach is parental, that’s sure to trigger old stuff.  If we fail to smile, they will sense our disapproval — even if it’s only in their heads.  If we seem indifferent, they will feel rejected.

Intentions speak louder than words.  If it is truly our intent to welcome folks, they will feel welcome.  If we think well of them until they prove otherwise, if we listen to them with compassion (wishing others well) they will feel safe.  If we meet them with a smile, they will feel accepted.  If we treat them with respect and compassion, they will believe they have value.

website-first-impressionWe all leave first impressions, individually and in our fellowships.  We’re affected by the people, the ambiance, the sharing (Is it hard-core or loving?), the attitude of the greeter at the door, and so on.  Creating a good first impression is critical, especially dealing with newcomers.

We develop the ability to put others at ease by becoming at ease with ourselves. If we learn to be mindful of the ways we think of ourselves and can begin to become aware of our own feelings, we can be more mindful of the ways in which we relate to others.  Meditation can help us with that.  It isn’t necessary to have wise words; all we need is to be ourselves — to be real.