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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)

Bodhicitta

Nymphaea_sppIn Buddhism there is a practice called “Bodhicitta,” that is essentially the desire and attempt to bring happiness and relieve the suffering of others as much as possible.  Although that sounds like codependency, it really isn’t.  Codependency involves the attempt to move an unwilling person in the direction we think they ought to go.  Whether we are right or wrong, it is up to individuals to change themselves; we can’t do it for them.

Bodhicitta, in comparison, is more aligned with compassion, a response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help.  That’s the sort of feeling that is hopefully engendered when we get into recovery. Continue reading “Bodhicitta”

Happy 80th Birthday, Your Holiness!

"Dalailama1 20121014 4639" by *christopher* - Flickr: dalailama1_20121014_4639. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dalailama1_20121014_4639.jpg#/media/File:Dalailama1_20121014_4639.jpg
“Dalailama1 20121014 4639” by *christopher* – Flickr:  Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – 

“Whether one is rich or poor, educated or illiterate, religious or non-believing, man or woman, black, white, or brown — we are all the same. Physically, emotionally and mentally, we are all equal. We all share basic needs for food, shelter, safety and love. We all aspire to happiness and we all shun suffering. Each of us has hopes, worries, fears and dreams. Each of us wants the best for our family and loved ones. We all experience pain when we suffer loss, and joy when we achieve what we seek. On this fundamental level, religion, ethnicity, culture and language make no difference.”

His Holiness Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso
14th Dalai Lama

 

 

Awareness

In many respects, recovery is similar to the Buddhist concept of enlightenment: we become aware of our reality, rather than living in the fantasy of our addictions.

by Bill

In our addiction, we did “the next right thing” when it was convenient, or when it brought us something that we hoped to gain.  In recovery, living a good life is part of our practice.  We accomplish this through the Steps, our daily inventory, our meditation, our spiritual practices of whatever kind, and our determination to practice the principles of our program in all our affairs.

buddhaWe often hear it said that recovery is a journey or process, not a destination or event.  From time to time we have awarenesses in our lives, little “Aha!” moments when some aspect of our reality suddenly becomes clear.  These deserve our attention and contemplation, because they can mark the end of some bit of previously unfinished business.  It’s important to take note, because they often mean that it’s time to move on in some way.

In many respects, recovery is similar to the Buddhist concept of enlightenment: we become aware of our reality, rather than living in the fantasy of our addictions.  As with any other learning, once we comprehend the basics it’s time to build on them.  We incorporate our new awarenesses into our lives, not dwelling on them, but using it as a foundation for more skillful thinking and living.

Shades Of Gray

by Bill

A poor self-image is connected to low self-esteem, and self-image is one of the biggest negative issues in recovery.  In order to recover, we need to avoid defining ourselves in terms of our “character defects” and “shortcomings.”  Yes, when working on the 4th and 5th Steps we need to consider these things, but as any good sponsor will tell you, we also list and discuss the good things about ourselves.  It’s not all one-way.  We bring positives to the table as well as negatives.

To think of ourselves in terms of the things we need to change gives them power.  Constantly dwelling on them makes them seem insurmountable.  It causes us to live in the past, which we can’t change, or in the future, which we can’t predict or control.  In recovery, our goal is to live in today (“Yesterday’s history; tomorrow’s a mystery”), and that’s really hard to do when we’re focused on the “things we cannot change” rather than changing the things we can.

Skillful or Unskillful?

Everyone has made mistakes, is making them daily, and will make plenty more in the future.  It’s part of the human condition.  God is the only being who is mistake-free (we won’t mention mosquitos), and we aren’t him, her or it.  Rather than focusing on the things we’ve messed up in the past and worrying about whether we’ll be able to do better in the future, we need to stay in the present and concentrate on our good qualities.  We can appreciate our abilities, whatever they may have been, and also those we are learning.  If we are angry and are able to recognize it and deal with it, isn’t that a huge accomplishment?  Celebrate it!

A couple of nights ago I was explaining to a sponsee the Buddhist concept of “skillful” and “unskillful” thoughts and deeds.  Buddhists don’t think of things as right or wrong, black or white.  The idea of one act condemning an otherwise pretty decent person to perdition isn’t part of their world view.  Instead, they think of thoughts and behavior as being skillful or unskillful.

If I am skillful at something, I can appreciate my skills.  Others may be more skillful, and some days I may not be skillful at all, but if I blow it I have a world of opportunity to do it better the next time.  If I am unskillful (instead of — say — bad or sinful) I simply determine that I will do better the next time, make any repairs or amends that I need to, and get on with life.  I’m not bogged down in guilt, shame and recrimination, because I am able to admit to myself and to others that I am a human being, fallible but able to improve, not a god.

We can support this view of ourselves in a few simple ways: positive supports instead of critics; affirmations; journaling on our achievements every day, even the little ones (Getting the laundry done on time is progress, isn’t it?); we can make lists of our good qualities and resolve to apply them to the way we live, and so forth.  You can probably think of several more.

Self-image is largely a point of view.  We have trained ourselves to have a pretty low opinion of us.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  We can admit that we’re unskillful at some things, and resolve to try and be more skillful in the future.

This, then, is the Middle Way
Not black, nor white, but shades of gray.