Monday, September 2, 2013

Musings on making my higher power work for me in a 12 step program

I want to talk to you a bit more about how I see my higher power and why it works for me. I'm always a bit reluctant to talk about this topic because I know that one's relationship to one's higher power is a very personal thing. What's meaningful to inner person is not to another. I learned this fairly early on in program.

 The great tsunami in the Indian Ocean occurred about two months after I joined program. I heard the third step prayer and I thought about the tsunami and I was inspired to construct a meditation in which I visualized my higher power as the tsunami, thinking that the tsunami would destroy and wash away the bondage of self and all my character defects.

I did this visualization on a very deep level. I really imagined myself being destroyed by the great wave.  I also imagined selfishness, dishonesty, self-seekingness (not sure of that's a word), and fear as little grass shacks that I had constructed, four of them, arrayed behind me. I brought to mind the images I had seen of the tsunami, washing through buildings and trees and destroying me and the little grass shacks. 

I imagined it really as two parallel events, one in my head and one outside my head, so that I would really truly be totally gone. I imagined the wave washing through the trees, just as I had seen in a video, but also washing into the back of my head, into the depths of my subconscious, cleaning everything out,  especially the desire for excess food.

I planned this visualization like this. Then, unplanned, my imagination provided a second visualization. Since I was imagining myself as dead, my soul was free to soar way up into the stratosphere, up to where the satellites take such beautiful photos of the earth. Then I did a backwards somersault up there.

The tsunami victims had said that the tsunami was actually two waves, that many children had been taken, because they went out to play on the parts of the beach that were newly exposed when the first wave receded, and succumbed to the second wave; so my imagination, unbidden supplied this image of me coming back down from the stratosphere onto a surfboard, that I rode the second wave with.

Now of course the second wave was to crash on the shore just as the first one had, but this is where my new intuition applied what program had taught me about living in the moment. I had been listening to this concept in meetings, the idea that we stay in the present. I learned a saying: "Yesterday is history, tomorrow's a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why we call it the present."

Being on that second wave was a fatal endeavor. It was going to crash into the trees ahead of me. I would surely die from they impact, yet it was also the best ride in the world, while it lasted. The water was sparkling under a warm tropical sun. The breaker around me was beautiful and exciting, roaring, wet, crashing. It was an amazing tropical vacation moment.

This was a new concept for me. I had been very afraid of death or injury. Even today I don't think I could really ride a big wave like that, but still the idea of enjoying such a thing was, for the first time, suddenly appealing to me. I sought out videos on the Internet of people who had actually ridden hundred foot waves.

The idea that I was riding that wave persisted in my head for several months. It was a very exiting time for me. I felt relieved of all my worries and truly free for the first time in a very long time, since I quit a job that I really didn't like. I went to sleep imagining I was sleeping on my surf board. Sometimes I imagined that the floor was wet from the wave, when I went to a new place where I might be confronting some fear.

It was an ecstatic mystical experience that lasted for about six months until I finally got a consistent sponsor. Most people tell you their sponsor helped them find a higher power, but that was not my case. She really didn't know anything about my beliefs or spiritual life. She heard that I did yoga, so she suggested that I try to visualize energy going through my chakras and that I pray on my knees.

Even though I was pretty sure that that was not what my higher power wanted me doing, I did it. I allowed my sponsor to interfere with my higher power, because I was making get into a higher power. I wasn't setting good boundaries.

Fortunately, I didn't lose my abstinence, but my relationship with my higher power did deteriorate.

But this just goes to show how tricky it is to talk to another person about spiritual things in program. You don't know what is going to help them and what is going to mess them up.  Food plans are like that too . We don't really know what triggers and doesn't trigger another person. We really only know for ourselves.

Others, too, have told me that there is a honeymoon period in program for the first six months, anyway, so maybe that intense ecstatic state would have faded even without my having changed my practices. I always remember it, though.

I once took a class in prayer. The speaker told us that in a person's lifetime there will be periods of consolation and periods of desolation. Anyone can have faith in periods of consolation, times when God seems beautifully close and full of inspiration. True faith comes during periods of desolation, when God seems impossibly distant and uncaring. Even though I was sad that my ecstatic mystical experience faded, because I listened to my sponsor rather than, my higher power, I kept my faith in the reality of my higher power transforming me in wonderful ways.

So I know I need to be careful, about talking to people about higher power. Sometimes I've told people about my tsunami visualization. So far no one has found it appealing at all.

In any case, the question I once asked myself about this visualization was whether my higher power was, for the purpose of program,  the surf board or the wave. I went back and forth on that. Ultimately, though, I conclude that it is both: the safe spot where I stood, but also the chaotic and destructive forces around me.

I started out with this destroyer HP idea, because I went to a weekend retreat at a yoga ashram. That was where I decided to use a spiritual approach to my eating issues, even before I joined program about six weeks later.

At that retreat, they talked about the benefits of meditation for mental and spiritual health. One speaker told us that, in India, housewives use a mantra while they are doing chores, as a spiritual practice that would not detract from those chores. The mantra they used was "Om, namo Shivaya," calling on Shiva, one of the members of the Hindu trinity.

Now I've never been much of one for Hindu Gods, but I decided to use this manta and it worked for me.

There were several reasons, why this particular God appealed to me. One was that he us the transformer, and I wanted to be transformed into a thin person. Another was that I had prayed fervently for years for God to save my marriage, and my marriage had not been saved, do my confidence in God was weak. Another was my need to confront my own fears of loss.

The Christian tradition, in which I was raised, speaks of God as creator. The Hindus have this Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva trinity. Brahma is the creator. Vishnu is the preserver. Shiva is the destroyer and transformer. Hindus have told me that they are really monotheists, like people in Western religions, but they have different personae for this one God, because it makes it easier for them to focus in the aspects of God that interest them.

When I first heard of Shiva, I assumed he was a bad guy, like Satan in Christianity. I thought that, because I couldn't imagine death and destruction coming from a nice God.

I was surprised to learn that Hindus seldom worship Brahma. Instead they focus their worship on Vishnu and Shiva. They regard Shiva as a loving god because he's sort of a cosmic declutterer, taking away the stuff that one no longer needs.  By definition, I guess, stuff that one no longer needs is the stuff that Shiva has taken away, whether one likes it or not.

Shiva the destroyer inspired my tsunami visualization.

I don't think one has to be a Hindu to appreciate the idea of God having destructive powers as well as the more positive stuff. God does create, sustain, and destroy, after all.

For me, the take home here is that if one does only see God as creator, then one is going to be frustrated when things are lost, taken away. "A loving God would not do these things," we're likely to say to ourselves. However, if we see God as being Creator, Sustainer, and Destroyer, then it's going to seem more natural if things are lost, if there is suffering in the world.

I might not agree with what goes on here, but I am not in charge.  I might not like or understand why some people have to suffer and die, especially if they're people who I like and want to have around, but I am not in charge. God is in charge. God decides who lives and who dies, not me.

Program has taught me to imagine positive consequences from tragedy. For instance, as a result of the horrors of World War II, Europe is now committed to peace.  Something similar happened in China about 2000 years ago. A horrible emperor who committed mass murder united the country, paving the way to peace and prosperity.

I take this example, because my father came to this country as a refugee from the Holocaust. I tend to feel unsafe, because of what happened there, and that God isn't really trustworthy, and of course he isn't, if by trust one means doing what *I* think is right. What I think is right is not necessarily going to happen, but I'm not in charge here, and cosmic decluttering is going to keep happening, even if, from my limited perspective, it seems unkind, unjust, cruel, or tyrannical.

Another thing I learned from that group of yogis was that if one truly believes that one is part of a greater whole, then nothing is truly lost. It might be redistributed, in some time or place distant from me, but that does not mean it is lost to God. God can still go there and experience it, or rather is near everything. It is only lost from my limited, selfish perspective. My anger or grief at loss only means that I want different things from what I am given, in other words that I am not surrendered.