The Last Leaf

Student: “Master, what happens when we die?” Master: “I don’t know.” Student: “But you’re a master!” Master: “Yes, but I’m not dead.”

There we were, about seven of us out to dinner on February 4th of this year. For some reason the talk steered into a long foray about broken bones and surgeries. I would be out of the loop on this one. I’ve never had a surgery. I had no idea that three days later I would fall on some ice and tear a quadriceps muscle. (Boy, the things I do to feel included.) I got some help into my apartment and calmly made coffee and prepped myself to call 9-1-1. I chatted with a friend briefly and she said “Call an Uber!” Um, no. First of all I needed some professional help. I knew I would end up with a huge bill but I didn’t want to cause any more damage. So into an ambulance and off to United Hospital in St Paul MN I went.

Everything moved so quickly. I was in a waiting room for only about an hour and was immediately tended to by a surgeon. X-rays happened next, and surgery was scheduled for the next morning. Bam, bam, bam. This may sound a bit odd but the whole process had a rather mystical quality to it. I was feeling a Presence the entire time I was there. As I was escorted to my room for the night, the fun mystical feel for everything began to wane. I was introduced to my roommate for the night, a gentleman named Rick. The first words out of his mouth to me were “I’m an extrovert.” Ducky. I just wanted to “do my time” and get out of there. He seemed like a nice enough guy, but I wanted to rest. I forgot how hospital staff check on surgical patients often. Like waking you up to take a pill so you can sleep. Still feeling pretty good about the whole deal overall, I steeled myself for a night of saying “I just want to sleep” or something along those lines. But as Rick began to chat, I was quite surprised at how interested I became in what he had to say.

I am in recovery. Thirty-four years of sobriety. Rick informed me he had fifteen years. We began to chat about our respective spiritualities and I suddenly realized that an angel had been sent to me to get through what could be a pretty rough ordeal. After our common bond of sobriety, the similarities ended. Rick was there for hip replacement surgery. I remember asking my ninety-one year old AA sponsor a few years ago what it felt like to be his age. He said “Everything hurts. But less of it is mine.” That was in the forefront of my mind as Rick and I continued. I don’t remember all of the surgeries he had, but he did inform me that he had been shot five times in his life. Once while getting off a helicopter. He was once beaten into submission right outside of his own office building and was seriously injured. He also had been stabbed several times. I was either rooming with Indiana Jones or this guy was just plain on a very rocky path. In addition, he needed to get out of the hospital asap so he could care for five grandchildren because their less than sober parents could not. The whole time telling me his plight, I remember Rick smiling often.

In O. Henry’s beautiful short story The Last Leaf, the heroine is convinced that with each leaf that falls off a vine outside her window, she is closer to death. She notices that after a very stormy night, there is one leaf that is still clinging stubbornly to the vine. It doesn’t even blow in the wind. Feeling much more confident, the young lady’s health begins to improve immediately. What she didn’t know, and wouldn’t be told about until years later, was that a colorful local painter had actually climbed up on a ladder and painted a leaf that wouldn’t die. It was the ultimate sacrifice, as he fell to his death right after his mission was accomplished. Gender difference aside, the heroine reminded me very much of Rick. As did the painter.

All of this may seem very ordinary, or romanticized, or maybe I was in fact in a heightened state of awareness. I heard Rick moaning in pain throughout the night yet he remained upbeat, laughed a lot when we talked and generally made me feel like there was indeed an extra Presence in the room. And it was emanating from Rick. Here was a guy in obvious pain and yet his concern was to get home to take care of a bunch of kids not his own. Like the painter determined to restore the young lady’s will to live in The Last Leaf. We traded phone numbers and I told him I would write an essay about him, which I’m finally getting to.

Sometimes heroes come in ordinary clothing, bodies that are held together by stitches and a prayer, and an upbeat tone that permeates the air. I don’t remember if I told him or not, but Rick made that experience go by so quickly I forgot I was even having surgery. In AA one of the many definitions of “coincidence” that I’ve heard is “a miracle in which God chooses to remain anonymous.” Rick struck me as a man who has weathered many storms and repeatedly has clung to that last leaf, the one that not only gives him life, but also passes on aliveness to anyone around him. His being there at the same time as me was no accident. Granted I look for miracles. And if one looks for miracles, sure enough, they’ll show up. This one was easy to spot. May his leaf never fall.



Dancing With The Devil

“Let this be your task, let this be your greatest joy, to give people back to Themselves. Even in their darkest hour. The world waits for you. There is much you can do.” – – Conversations With God Book 3

This time I really didn’t see it coming. After a marvelous finish to last year including a promotion at work, I started to feel a mild depression. As a lifetime dysthymic it was certainly not cause for alarm. As often is the case, it did linger, on and off, in and out for two months. The weekend of February 26th is one that I have circled in my mental notebook as memorable. I dropped into what I believe is very close to the worst depression I’ve ever felt. Hopelessness was nearby, and yes I had “that” thought, my immediate indicator that it would be a good idea to call for help.

So I called my sponsor, went to extra meetings, prayed and used my phone to stay in touch with my friends, right? Of course not. I wallowed as I felt trapped deeper and deeper in a hole that seemed bottomless. I had energy for nothing. I felt like doing nothing but sleep. Monday came and I called in to work. Tuesday was the same. As was Wednesday. It was on Monday that I felt the tiniest flicker of looking at my situation as an opportunity. For what I had no idea. Luckily I have a very understanding management group at my workplace. Ironically, I work in the mental health and addiction area. And so in all of my waking time (what there was of it anyway) I prayed. And prayed. And prayed. I’ve held dearly to the belief for years that the directing of thought is the highest form of prayer. But for three days it felt like it was getting me nowhere. I checked my phone messages on Wednesday and was reminded that I had a doctor appointment early the next day. Thank God.

My doctor and I talked for only ten minutes or so and we decided on tweaking some medication I’m on. I honestly think that unburdening myself by spilling what I was going through began to alleviate the misery I was in. Something I could have done days earlier. Once again I called in to work, went to pick up a prescribed medication at my local pharmacy, took said medication and went home. And prayed. And prayed.

It was a matter of hours. Everything lifted. It feels like I’m writing some sort of fairy tale now but I’m reminding myself that this series of events really happened. And happened that quickly. I’ve heard over and over again that in order to experience Light one has to experience darkness. I wish sometimes I just didn’t allow things to get to such extremes. I’m certainly not advocating not reaching out while sitting in a cubby hole of palpable depression. Gratefully, it has a Divine opposite.

I was scheduled to tell my AA story at an open meeting on Saturday March 5th, just two days after my doctor visit. For much of Friday I thought what a sham it was to be going through such a time and then talking about the glory of sobriety. Thirty-three years of it, in fact. Then the thought began to come to light: what better time is there?

I remember telling a quick joke, playing off of something the earlier speaker had said. After that is mostly a blur. I do remember that it felt as though lines were being “fed” to me, and edited if I was straying in an unapproved direction. I would ever so gently be brought back to the beautiful track I was on. My take on spirituality entails believing that as our physical lives go on, we are to chip away at the pieces of ourselves that we are not, thus allowing more and more of Spirit to come through. So, not so much a matter of living “God’s will” as I hear so often, but letting Spirit live It’s life through me. Like everyone, I’ve experienced a miracle here and there. and occasionally felt what seemed to be a gentle nudge in a direction, given by an Unseen Hand. This night was easily the most profound I’ve had. It felt fun. The closest I’ve come to describing it is that I felt as though I was visiting the space I was in through a human body. Such a beautiful, beautiful night. What a powerful example of opposites I lived for myself. Or for my Self.

After I got done talking a friend walked up to me and said “That was extraordinary.” I said “Then I must’ve gotten out of the way.” There was a time not that many years ago when I would have said that but still reveled in the shadow of self-aggrandizement. Not this night. I was blind and then I saw all within a span of one week. As I mentioned earlier, I certainly don’t recommend mimicry of the inaction I took. If a depressive episode of this magnitude ever hits, please, please reach out for help. I truly believe we are all temporarily here with a body housing our souls. We don’t belong here permanently. But nothing says we have to fast forward to the end. As The Messiah’s Handbook says in the book Illusions, “There’s one sure way to know if your mission on earth is done: If you’re alive, it’s not.” Amen to that.


National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255

An Unorthodox Thirty-Three

“ Addiction is just a way of trying to get at something else. Something bigger. Call it transcendence if you want, but it’s a rat in a maze.” – – Unknown

On January 11th of this year I turned thirty-three years sober. On February 13th it will be twenty-one years without a cigarette. I don’t know what may be next, but it’s sure not coffee. I turn sixty-five years old on January 31st, so I’ve effectively been sober for more years I’ve been in the world than not. Or as I replied to a person who said to me the other day “Wow – thirty-three years without a drink!,” “Yeah and I’ve even been sober some of that time.”

Like most, my years of sobriety have had their ups and downs. I absolutely pounded AA meetings at first, probably hitting an average of two a day for my first six months in the program. After a major wave of emotion thawed out, and getting myself into a triangle relationship at the AA club I was going to (that’s a whole other essay), I found myself hurting and at a loss with how to deal with it. I stayed away from the club to avoid the triangle situation, and drifted for about a year. I got into running. A lot. When I got sober I weighed two hundred and twenty pounds. At one and a half years of sobriety I weighed one hundred and thirty-five as a result of result of constantly running twelve to fifteen miles daily. I finally collapsed into depression and got myself into therapy, which led to attending Adult Children Of Alcoholics meetings.

From year two of sobriety (1991) through about year fourteen (1995) I don’t think I went to a single AA meeting. None. Nada. I certainly don’t say this to advocate for going it alone. I did continue to go to ACA meeting until they all dwindled to about nothingness in the spring of 1991. I tried Al-Anon and I just couldn’t get into it. Also in the “in-between” years, I became a Third Degree Reiki (I’m not real keen on the term “reiki master”) and also an initiate in the medicine buddha healing system. I meditated my brains out for years, and although a lifetime dysthymic, managed to maintain a pretty nice sense of contentment. If I had the years to do over again, honestly, I’d probably do the same. I have little regret, and very much value everything I learned in the healing systems and also in therapy. The one thing I wish could change? Loneliness.

I finally meandered back into Al-Anon in 2005. It eventually led to sporadic attendance for some years at AA, interacting only intermittently with sponsors or sponsees. It was not until last summer that I began regular AA attendance again. I sorely miss my live Al-Anon home group that Covid is having its way with. I think as a result of little interaction with people in AA or otherwise for years, my relationship skills are a bit stunted. Also I quickly remembered the happiness that the fellowship can bring me. Though I’ve attended Al-Anon for years, I know only one slogan that is constantly with me: participation is the key to harmony. Indeed.

Though still continue to engage often in what some might view as isolation, I’m pretty comfortable in my own skin. There are solitary activities that I do like running, playing my guitar and reading that I’d rather not turn into group activities. (Ever invite anybody over to read silently?) Still, the warmth of the fellowship always seems to call me back whether it be after days away, weeks, or even years. As I said earlier, I sure don’t advocate doing recovery my way. I also know I haven’t had a drop of alcohol in the last thirty-three years. There is indeed a difference between not drinking and being sober, but the big 33 is still something to celebrate.


Yes, Virginia . . .

“I bought my brother some gift-wrap for Christmas. I took it to the gift wrap department and told them to wrap it, but in a different print so he would know when to stop unwrapping.” – – Steven Wright

A while back I became motivated to start writing again, and to put out at least one piece of writing a week. Hopefully two. It has been easier said than done. I know tons of material waits to be harvested in the ethers, but I just can’t seem to access it. I finally thought I hit paydirt tonight and wrote what I thought was a nice little piece after hearing my favorite version of “The First Noel.” As I putzed around for an hour or two after though, I just couldn’t help but think that it was weak – not anywhere near what I’m capable of allowing to come through me. I thought about times in the past when material just seemed to drop into my lap. Why can’t that happen now? So I headed for my frequent fall back coping mechanism: munchies. With today being Christmas I know everything was closed. Except for a twenty-four hour Walgreen’s not far from me which has often been a Godsend. Tonight I just didn’t know how much of a Godsend it would be.

As I entered the parking lot I noticed a gentleman leaning against a post near the entrance of the store and sort of braced myself to be given a sob story and to be asked for some money. As I got out of my car and headed for the door, sure enough, the guy approached me. “Do you celebrate Christmas?” he asked. I was a little confused. I’m so used to hearing “can you spare a dollar or two or even some change” as the opening line. I gave him the most intelligent response I could muster at the time. “Huh?” He said again “Do you celebrate Christmas?” Except this time his right hand was moving toward me with a twenty dollar bill. “Well, Merry Christmas” he said as he handed it to me. I think I said something like “For what?” as I was still pretty surprised. He said “I just want to spread a little Christmas joy.” I thanked him and headed into the store, not sure if this was part of some goofy dream I was having.

When I came back out, the man (I learned that his name is also Michael) was handing another twenty dollar bill to a fellow named John. They were in a conversation about bitcoin when it dawned on me: here was the topic material I was looking for. So I started asking questions. “Do you mind if I write about you?” I asked him. “I don’t do anything large-scale, and I just think this would make a cool little story.” As we continued to chat, John started commenting about synchronicity and how we’re often led to the people we need. Indeed. John went into the store and within a minute or two Michael handed out twenty dollar bills to two other people. One in particular seemed more than a little resistant.

“I had six hundred dollars in twenties in my pocket after helping out my brother (I think he said brother, anyway). I was in line in the store and the lady ahead of me had her card declined.” Michael said. “So I paid for it and thought ‘that felt good.’ So I’ve been out here for the last two hours handing out twenty dollar bills.” Amazing. John emerged from the store, not with his items yet, but helping a woman bring her groceries to her car. Apparently the spirit of giving was spreading.

In retrospect, I’m amazed at the thoughts that ran through my head as I walked around inside the store. “Oh, oh – did I forget to lock my car?” “Is there some sort of disease he’s spreading on these twenties?” “This can’t be for real.” Nine times out of ten it really is not. But what really got my attention was my resistance to something I had already been given. The gift was already mine and I was doubting its reality. Just as I doubted there is enough material to write about in the universe. Just as I sometimes doubt the gifts I have to offer to people that don’t have the faces of presidents on them. Like we all have. I’ll take twenty bucks for sure. But Michael himself was the gift. Restoring faith is priceless.

When I got back outside I told Michael “you can spread joy to me any day.” I handed he and John my “magicianstouch” cards and asked that they please read my work, and thanked them for the inspiration. I am in a totally different place than I was an hour and fifteen minutes ago. I read often how God and Santa Claus can be confused, as we often ask “God” to reach into his grab bag and fix things and situations in our world. The miracle for me tonight was in my joining, or being joined with two other people. Spirit likes attention. Of the three of us, only one had to be focusing on his higher power in order to draw in others. Its when Spirit (or your superego or whatever you want to call it) gets the attention it gently requests of us that we are reminded that we already have so much more than we think. That twenty dollar bill I got tonight will likely be gone in no time. Michael’s gesture will be with me a considerably longer period.

And it was just minutes ago I thought of the eeriest, coolest part of this whole incident. For years, in particular this year, I had a strong urge to drive around handing out twenty or maybe even fifty dollar bills to people on freeway ramps. (These things are best done in secret – if I had followed through I wouldn’t be writing about it.) Finances took a bit of a left turn for me this past summer, so my plan was thwarted, or maybe just delayed. Or maybe completed through another person. Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Sometimes he’s just not visible. And sometimes he’s named Michael.

Merry Christmas

Dear Mom

“Oh, sure. They’ve had me working since I got here.” – – my mom answering me in a dream when I asked her how if she was ok – the day after she died.

It seems hard to believe that it’s twenty-eight years ago today that you left, Mom. I still remember the holy terror of finding you dying, and yes, I still feel the guilt of not comforting you enough as you left, although I know you don’t hold it against me. I miss you. And I know that grief has its own life. I’ve never tried to rush it and I know it’s right where it needs to be, even after twenty-eight years. It will leave when it leaves.

You never got to meet Laura. She and I were dating until a few months before you left. We met at an Adult Children Of Alcoholics meeting, the same meeting my attorney friend Eric attended. Anyway, not having any clue how to settle an estate, I contacted Eric for guidance when you died. I was no longer going to the ACA meeting by that time, but Eric and Laura still were, and I still knew everybody in the group. Thus one Friday Eric made the announcement that “Michael’s mom passed away this week.” According to Eric, Laura fell to pieces. Apparently she’d had a dream that you had died. Although I was concerned for Laura’s well-being, I also felt some relief. Laura and I were not destined to be together forever. Still, the dream almost seemed like an explanation that I was needed elsewhere, that I was to become a sort of caretaker for you in the last few months of your life. If you remember, things had gone south for me financially around that time and I moved back into the old house. And it was that fitting that we made some amends those last few days. Laura and I met a year later and reconciled. I’ve not seen her for years, but we parted on good terms.

And then there was what I’ve come to think of as “The Opus Incident.” The Friday you died I was starting a weekend “angel workshop” at a local church. At the end of the night we were told to make a wish. Mine was pretty obvious: “give me a sign that she’s ok.” But nothing happened for next two days. On the following Monday I sat reading in your house, in an easy chair right by that old trophy case you had. Behind the glass was a little Opus doll I had given you one year for Christmas. Anyway, the night was extremely windy, and ironically I was reading from A Course In Miracles. At one point I heard this big “whoosh” and I turned to the picture window as if to make sure it wasn’t shattered. When I looked back, there was the Opus doll. In front of the glass. I had my sign. Know what? That scared the hell out of me. Thanks, Mom.

Long gone are the days when you would come home and excitedly tell me you saw a scary movie called “Pocket Full Of Guys.” I thought that a rather odd title, until someone else told me you had actually seen “Poltergeist.” Nice try though, Mom. But my favorite was when you told me about seeing a tear-jerker called “Bitches.” That one didn’t seem to make sense either. So I’ll let you in on a little secret now, Mom: the title was really “Beaches.”

I straggled getting to the hospital when they called to tell me you were dying. You had died the night before and came back to life on the table just like Shorty (dad). My guess is the possible future you saw just wasn’t acceptable, so you decided to make a final exit. I still remember my shock when I saw how badly the pain you were going through had contorted your face. It seemed like this horrible, frozen cry for help. And nobody was there to hold your hand through it. What I mean is I wasn’t there. The abyss I was walking into, the dreadful fear of losing both parents within two years of each other was more than I could handle. I am so sorry.

I like to think we live many incarnations. Likely we’ll both be in the same tribe again to even up karma, although time is becoming less of an illusion to me these days. I promise to be of stronger fortitude next time. Or maybe you’ve already assumed another incarnation in a parallel life. Or maybe even this one. If not I could write volumes on the insanity you averted by leaving when you did. I miss you, but I know we’ll meet again when the time is ripe. And you know what, Mom? You’re really not missing all that much. We’re all still pretty crazy.


Confessions Of An Ice Cream Junkie

The optimum amount of sugar in a product became known as the ‘bliss point.’ Food inventors and scientists spend a huge amount of time formulating the perfect amount of sugar that will send us over the moon and send products flying off the shelves.”   – – Michael Moss

In 1987 the movie “Clean And Sober” was released, and as I was freshly out of my first treatment I of course had to see it. After all of these years, there’s one scene that comes back to me time and again: sitting across from Michael Keaton’s character is his recently picked AA sponsor, who has just ordered a milk shake. The scene cuts away to another and then back to Keaton. His friend still sits across from him. Now with five empty milk shake glasses. If it was me in his place, I might be wondering where number six was. As I told a friend once, “I never do a little of anything.”

Even page 134 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests to “constantly have chocolate available,” and how it can be beneficial at times to stave off an alcoholic craving for the newly sober. Somehow I don’t think they meant that thirty years later its a good idea to inhale two pints of Ben And Jerry’s in one sitting. I’m still looking for that page in the Big Book. But a few weeks ago I decided to stop kidding myself. It’s not only ice cream, it’s sugar in all forms. I keep a huge bucket of fun sized candy bars on top of my locker at work for passersby. It’s funny how I can come in to work some days with the bucket filled to the top and see it half full by the end of the day. And nobody else has been in the office. The exaggeration is only slight. It was time to take a long embarrassing look at my sugar consumption.

In 2001 I started taking depression medication, meant to be a “bridge” until the symptoms were alleviated. My bridge turned into twenty years. Without going into great detail, I’ll just say that scrutinizing my diet has become a viable option for beginning to wean off meds. Way back when I asked a few people how long they took anti-depressants and got answers ranging from “I took them for six months” all the way to “I plan on taking them the rest of my life.” To each their own. That was not my plan. I resisted taking them for years with so much stigma attached, but then found out that I was hardly in the minority. They were everywhere. Today I’ll be the last person to throw a stone at anyone getting relief from medication. It just feels like a possible end of the road for me. They seem to be doing the opposite of the desired effect.

I have quit caffeine (much like alcohol) a hundred times. Maybe more. I have never gotten beyond that “foggy brain” stage of two months or so. I know it can also make me jittery, but I intuitively figured there were other culprits. And before I give caffeine abstinence another go, I will develop a solid plan to do so. But something had to give. A loose example of a conversation I may have had with someone a few weeks ago could have gone like this: Other Person – “Hi, Michael.” Me – “What’s THAT supposed to mean???” Again, the exaggeration is only slight. I needed to address my mood issues asap.

Sugar seemed to be as good of a place to start as any. I got myself armed with two books, “The Sugar Demons” by Jonathan Cranford and “Sugar Detox.” (no author cited) They are both short and are packed with great ideas on how to become sugar free. They both also tell of what to expect the first few weeks. I followed the script for nearly a week and had almost no cravings. Then came the unexpected: I fell into one of the deepest depressions I can remember in recent history. I couldn’t focus, was thinking some pretty dark thoughts, and missed some work time. During the few days it lasted I gritted my teeth and told myself it was sugar withdrawal. Sure enough, by day ten I felt better. By day twelve I was feeling pretty “light.” It has been twenty-one days now. I feel much more clear-headed than I did a few weeks ago and if somebody says hello to me I likely won’t growl at them. I’m convinced that taking acetyl-l-carnitine (to improve brain and nerve cell function) has been a big help also. I feel so much more relaxed. The only real temptation or difficulty I’m having lately is forgetting to avoid the ice cream aisle while shopping. I felt downright jittery the first time. But getting sugars from fruit, especially low sugar ones like blueberries, strawberries, apples and avocado usually take care of a craving. Or sometimes just saying a prayer. I know angels have had their hand in this. I could never do it alone

I’ll say this with a hundred exclamation points in my heart: while twenty-one days is not a lifetime, if I can stay off sugar, anyone can. Many years ago I ran into a guy at an AA meeting who said he had recently quit sugar almost entirely. “It’s like a second sobriety” he said. Thirty-one years later I know what he was talking about. I feel so much cleaner. I can definitely feel myself wanting to pursue this as a life-style change. Then on to the next addiction (Coffee? Red meat? I don’t plan on giving up air any time soon.) I’ve been amazed how much, other than the depressive period (which I think is an anomaly) I’ve enjoyed the process. Sugar is in just about everything. Often disguised as an ingredient ending in “ose. “I can say “no” to it. So can anyone else. Just stay away from that darned ice cream aisle.



Ten Righteous Folks

“When there is no enemy inside, the enemies outside can’t hurt you.” – African Proverb

I was once taught a forgiveness process that seemed too good to be effective for me.  It can be used to forgive person, place, situation, anything.  It works as follows: 1) Remember that you’re dreaming. 2) Forgive your dream images and yourself for dreaming them. 3) Let God/Spirit/Is/Self do the rest. It takes a much shorter time to practice it than to describe it.  Basically, if I’m having trouble with a person, I just ask for my Self to allow me to see this person through Its eyes.  All three steps in one.  Presto.  Being mortal,  I sometimes (make that often) need to practice the process over and over again around the person or situation in order for it to work.  But it works.  “Hi (perceived) nasty behavior in front of me. Oops, wait – Self, let me see this person through Your eyes.”  It works as I heard a respected friend in recovery describe it. “Practice things I don’t believe in, get results I can’t deny.”  I’ll vouch for that.

I have said it before.  I have tremendous respect for those who protest peacefully, who get their physical selves out there to be agents for change.  And I know particularly with today’s state of the world, their value is immeasurable. I have come to believe that a quiet approach can be equally effective, and in fact may be what drives those who put themselves on the line.  To pray without ceasing is hardly a pious endeavor.  And it doesn’t mean walking around with hands folded and being oblivious to cars about to hit me or anything else that may pose a physical threat.  It is more a state of mind that doesn’t even require words like “God” or “Holy Spirit.”  Eckhart Tolle simply refers to it as “being.”  My most common internal reference is “Self.” I need to practice being in the presence of that Self in order to live in peace.  Hating war doesn’t create peace, loving peace does.

I’ve had a conflict situation brewing in my workplace for the last few weeks.  Setting boundaries is far from being my favorite sport, and setting boundaries was certainly an option to attempt to repair the situation, especially if I nipped it in the bud.  I did not.  If any trigger in the world brings out my inadequacies it’s workplace boundaries.  I am clueless in this area.  I also (ahem) noticed that the situation seemed to escalate in the last week or so as I began to skimp on my usual spiritual practices.  Meditation and spiritual reading, practicing noticing little miracles, practicing the aforementioned forgiveness process, all of these things keep me sane and happy in a nutty world. It was easy to notice this in retrospect, but of course I had forgotten the following Course In Miracles philosophy: “It is impossible to evaluate an insane thought system while engaged in the same system.”  Oh.

After I noticed what I had been lacking, resulting in out picturing an unsavory circumstance, I did a blitz on my sanity producing methods.  I had requested a meeting with a manager on Monday to explain what had been going on in the office.  My habit sometimes is to paint disaster fantasies, fearing the worst or something close to it.  But after doing lots of inner work on Sunday I awoke to a pleasant surprise on Monday morning: a beautiful Christmas dream.  I was at a party, with everyone dressed festively, including a woman wearing a dress with all of the Peanuts characters on it. (I absolutely love Peanuts – especially Snoopy) But the part of the dream that stood out to me was what happened when I left the party to go home.  I couldn’t find my car.  Oddly, I felt no dismay, in fact I felt more of a sense of relief.  A Christmas dream alone usually ushers in a time of receiving gifts of some form.  This time there was an added bonus.  It finally occurred to me what the missing car meant.  Without a car I could no longer drive.  I had surrendered.  And I had a very nice day indeed.

The story of the ten righteous men in the bible strikes me as an allegory explaining critical mass.  It doesn’t necessarily take fifty people, or forty or thirty to begin a shift in the world.  Just ten.  And while I’m slaying the “demons” within by starving them, by instead focusing on the inner beauty and calm of the Self, my mood and demeanor begin to change.  Just like the story of Jesus in the boat during a storm with the apostles.  The Master to me is symbolic of a person’s faith, asleep at this time.  The apostles symbolize fear.  The sea represents the human body, composed of mostly water.  When the Master “wakes up,” the waters quiet down.  I become calm.  And I pass that calm and presence on to the next person I meet.  The forgiveness process can be used on anything.  World events. Political shenanigans.  Disagreements with friends.  But they all begin inside. Joseph Campbell once amended an ages old quote to say “Love thine enemies, for they are the instruments of your destiny.”  It sometimes seems impossible to look on cruelty and inequity in the world in any area of life and love it.  If I can remember that all I need to do is ask to see the world with “a new pair of glasses” as a popular book title suggests, the job doesn’t seem so enormous.  In fact, as I’ve said in the past, it can become a labor of love.  Just let me look at one political story (maybe a debate?) with Your eyes.  Just let me look at one person I’m having difficulty with through Your eyes.  It takes a fraction of a second.  I cannot be ten righteous folks.  But I can be one.




Cracker Jacks

“The goal is very close to us, but nevertheless, as close as it seems, it is far away, because with every horizon reached, another beckons beyond.” – – Joel Goldsmith


“Candy coated popcorn.  Peanuts, and a prize.  That’s what you get with Cracker Jacks (bouncy flute riff).” I loved Cracker Jacks when I was a kid.  And the tv commercial. I loved the prize even more, the one that was usually at the bottom of the box.  Let nothing come between me and that prize! So my usual tact was to jam my hand down to the bottom of the box as the candy coated popcorn flew all over the place.  But I had my prize! (Or as mom might’ve said: “You and that dammit prize.”) It is such an ironic metaphor for the results of a lot of meditation that not too much time ever passes without me making the comparison.

On December 10th, 1993, my mom passed away.  I was newly broken up out of a relationship just before she died and things had soured  financially so at age thirty-six I tucked my tail between my legs and moved back in with her.  Can’t beat free rent. By this time the rest of my family had scattered away from mom so I was left holding the proverbial bag. It was up to me to settle the so-called estate.  I was in over my head.  I was talking daily with attorneys, and realtors and panic got to be my normal mode.  I started to meditate daily, sometimes twice.  Then I had an invoice sent to me from the VA.  It seems that mom didn’t understand that my dad’s VA checks were meant to pay for his nursing home fees before he passed.  She was pocketing the money.  I got a bill for $77,000.  After holding the piece of paper for a few seconds I started to laugh out loud.  What else could I do?  Meditate, that’s what.  So I did again and again.  Days, weeks, a few months passed and I swear I was in a meditative state as many as ten times a day.  Feeling scared? Meditate. Lonely or overwhelmed? Meditate. It took me a while to notice the changes that were happening around me.

At first, impossibly it seemed like things were getting worse. A notice from the city to clean up various or face a fine.  Hiring a guy to come and cut down an overgrown plum tree in mom’s back yard, only to have him cut down the two big pine trees in front of the house instead. Things going awry at work.  Was this crap the answer to all of my prayer and meditation?  I had started out looking for some sort of resolution.  After my situation started pointing south again, I began to meditate just to feel safe.  I loved the beautiful feeling of companionship I got.  The little tufts of joy.  The growing feeling that everything was not going to be ok, but everything already is ok. Meditation was truly my safe haven.  Yet it seemed odd to me that it felt like the whole world was against me for the first couple of months.  Like I had crammed my hand into the Cracker Jacks box of the world and popcorn and peanuts were flying everywhere.  As a kid I had to clean up the Cracker Jacks.  In my estate situation, everything began to right itself.  Without me lifting a finger.  I had found the prize at the bottom of the box.

After a rift with a friend recently I had such a barren feeling that I began to meditate frequently.  Twice a day.  Then four times a day. I’ve gobbled up six the of the late spiritual teacher Joel Goldsmith’s books in the last three weeks. My friend and I patched things up.  And then the popcorn and peanuts happened again.  Somebody forgot to add some paid time off to my paycheck so I was temporarily stiffed about four hundred dollars.  Then my rent check bounced.  Twice.  After getting that resolved with a very helpful banker, I figured things were dying down.  Then I went out to my car this morning and found that someone had shattered the passenger side window. I’m hopefully in the preliminary stages of a shift again. Something I’ve prayed and meditated for since about 1993.  I found that I never reached that level of bliss and things falling into place again because I was focused almost always on the outcomes I wanted.  This time, at age sixty-three I figured I have nothing to lose, so why not go for broke?  “Seek ye first the kingdom.”  Only the kingdom.  Not rosy results.

St Paul said to “press on toward the mark.”  I never knew what that meant until I felt a sort of pressing sensation while sitting in meditation.  A companion piece for that to me is Jesus saying “Go, and sin (an old archery term defined as “missing the mark.”) no more.  I don’t think of “sin” as a word I need to dodge any more.  I think it simply means I’m engaged in the world of thought more than focusing on my Self.  I was told once that people have upwards of eighty thousand thoughts a day.  With each “good” or “bad” thought being an obstacle to divinity.  Naqshbandi Sufis talk of living in two modes with no middle ground: an insatiable thirst for the Beloved, and being “drunk on the love of God.”  I prefer the latter, but know I will entertain both if I continue to meditate as often as I am.  And I’m getting less and less concerned with potential outcomes.  I love the biblical phrase “God is a jealous God.” Like a Sufi, my concern is only about union with my Beloved.  The “bad” things that have happened in my life recently are not “bad” at all.  They are merely a precursor to better things.  The Cracker Jacks may be scattering again, but I have found my long lost Prize.



The Rope

“What’s sad is that we bring our own unhappiness with us into situations where it’s easiest to blame it on our surroundings and other people.” – – Tara Braveheart


It was a normal looking rope, really.  About six feet long, and just left laying in the lunch room of a busy workplace called The Garden Of Eden.  Nobody even noticed it until one day a young woman came in for her morning shift, muttering to herself – – problems on top of problems: the husband, the kids, no money, seemingly no future.  She would give just about anything for a distraction.  Then out of the corner of her eye she saw it.  “Is that a snake in the lunch room?” she asked herself while she hurriedly passed through on her way to a meeting.  “It’s huge!” She couldn’t be sure, but she thought she’d best tell somebody right away.

The first person she saw was a co-worker from the same department as her.  He had come into work muttering to himself – – problems on top of problems: the wife, the kids, no money, seemingly no future.  He would give just about anything for a distraction.  His co-worker grabbed him as soon as he came into view, excitedly saying, “Look! Look! It’s a snake in there! And it’s gotta be at least twelve feet long!”  The co-worker quickly obliged and looked in horror at the fourteen foot snake.  Soon, the two of them were talking about nothing else.  They hurried out of the lunch room to alert a few others in close proximity, the people they knew best first, about the sixteen foot snake.  Before they could call an exterminator, a short-term fix was needed.  As the group closest to the lunch room scurried about for boards and nails and hammers to shut in the eighteen foot snake, the rest of the room privy to the slithering nightmare went off to warn the remainder of the building not to go into the lunchroom.  The original two (as well as others) didn’t even notice that they were no longer thinking of their personal issues, and wouldn’t for the next eight hours.   Not until they left the building and headed for home again, anyway. We must keep our attention on getting rid of this twenty foot snake!

Finally, someone from the group closest to the lunch room said, “Hey, I know just who to call! Magic Man Exterminator!  I had rats in my house once and he got rid of them all.  He said he didn’t find anything, and that made me think he was nuts, but the thing was – after he left my house they never came back again.”  So the man went off to the front desk to call Magic Man to liberate them from their serpentine dilemma.

He did indeed look like a magic man.  Dressed in a tuxedo, complete with top hat and wand and white gloves, he looked so grand!  He strode in through the main entrance confidently, heading toward the lunch room to survey the problem.  As he removed a few of the boards,  he chuckled to himself and said to those just outside, “Ok, I’ll have this taken care of in no time.  You can just go about your day.  Are you sure you want this resolved though?  Are you sure you’re not too attached to the problem?”  Those around the Magic Man were floored by the question.  “Of course we want it resolved!” shot back one of the small crowd.  “Are you nuts? Who in blazes wants a forty foot snake in their lunch room?”  “Ok then,” replied the Magic Man.  “Done deal.”

He noted once again that the situation was always the same.  He laughed as he calmly picked up the six foot rope.  He’d been to places like The Garden Of Eden before. A few doves fluttered about him as he walked out the door, and those observing him noticed that he moved with such grace and had such a soothing feel about him.  The soothing aura the Magic Man emitted was so opposite the norm in the building it made everyone nervous.  Though the fifty foot snake was gone, they all had it in the back of their minds to keep an eye out for more, just in case. At least they would have something to talk about. The Magic Man easily picked up on the nervousness, then turned around and tipped his hat saying “Thank you for your business, and as with all of my clients, my service is free of charge.”  He exited through a side door and flipped the small rope into the back of his truck.  A few of the doves fluttered about in the back of the vehicle also, gliding into it on the trail of the Magic Man’s warmth.  The Magic Man fired up his truck and looked back at the entrance and smiled, then laughed the soft laugh of a Magic Man as he noticed a large yellow-lettered sign with a big arrow pointing toward the doorway, the same sign he noticed at all of the building’s entrances: “Volunteers Only.”  Then he started  singing a little Magic Man’s song and began waiting for his next call, knowing that it may be a long wait.







“You are watching people go through withdrawal from emotional addiction to the myth of certainty.” – – Ashley C. Ford

I will proudly say it took some time for my dam to burst but I have finally succumbed to an attack of Coviditis.  There is little comfort in not being alone.  The pressures of being put into a hugely different work schedule, no live Al-Anon or AA meetings and not enough other self care have led to a blowout with a neighbor in my building, and an overall feeling of depression. What brought on the rift was repeated door slamming by a guy one door down from me.  I decided to confront him once and for all as he passed my apartment one day last week.  Little did I know he had our landlord on his phone and she heard the entire conversation.  Fortunately I didn’t do anything close to threatening but was still rewarded with a call about getting along with neighbors.  Truth be known, the issue has been a ticking time bomb in me for over a month, and though I ended up splattering the walls with my ego, it was finally resolved.

I know I’m putting conditions on my recovery but to display this kind of behavior after being in various programs as long as I have got to feeling just plain shameful.  And I’ve carried it around since the incident with my neighbor last week.  So I’ve been the proverbial frog in the boiling pot. My savvy young boss noticed how out of sorts I was yesterday and she promptly changed up my schedule to have today off so I could do a little re-tooling. For a long time now I’ve thought of the “no room at the inn” story as the equivalent of a mind dominated by an ego that doesn’t allow the still small voice in.  As someone pointed out to me today in Courage To Change, “there is no room in a shame-filled mind.” So maybe I just brought myself to new starting point of knowing there is another way of looking at the world.  Recovery does move in cycles.

Step two suggests to me that belief and sanity are related.  A belief is nothing more than a thought or group of thoughts repeated over and over again.  During my “social distancing” my mind has become a dangerous place to be over repeated musing of the self pity kind – I have to endure this noise, I’m never going to see anyone I know again because of my work schedule, why am I not a millionaire writer, blah, blah, blah.  So the practicing of these thoughts has resulted in a belief that I view the world from and automatically act out of.  Basically, I’ve gotten to looking at the world through shit-colored glasses. Thank God beliefs can be changed.

One of the blessings of my recent experiences is that “aha” moment of remembering there is an eternal peace available in me.  It never left, I just forgot It was there.  Before I even begin practicing Its presence I need to remember that Its there.  Re-member.  To become a member again.  To practice the title of Kent Nerburn’s book Make Me An Instrument Of Your Peace.  My friend David once had a group that was reading this book.  As a new member joined he let David know how excited he was to start reading Make Me A Piece Of Your Instrument.  Obviously something got lost in the translation.  Lately, I know the feeling.

Hope is a strong theme in the Stephen King novella The Shawshank Redemption.  In the movie one of my favorite scenes shows an imprisoned Ellis Boyd Redding reading a letter from his friend Andy DuFresne, a letter Andy sent after escaping from Shawshank.  He finishes it with “And remember Red, hope is a good thing.  Maybe the best of things.  And a good thing never dies.”  One definition of the word hope reads “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.”  My hope is for a stronger feeling of peace in myself and everyone I know.  I agree with one of my old sponsors that recovery is an inside job.  And also that the external world is a manifestation of our collective ego in all of its grotesque glory.  I also choose to believe that a spark inside of me started the ball rolling in purging me of another layer of insanity.  I am a contributor in good standing to the craziness of the world.  By the same token, taking the baby steps outlined for me over and over again by people much wiser than me, I can little by little, one day at a time, be restored to my real Self, or at least closer to it.

Like Ellis Boyd Redding in Shawshank, “I hope that I can make it across the border.  I hope to meet my Friend and shake his hand.  I hope that the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”  And  I’ve been in recovery long enough that not only do I hope, I know.   Another biblical analogy has Jesus calming the stormy sea after waking from a nap.  Could that be a metaphor of his follower’s faith being asleep until they finally turned to him for help?  How ironic that the human body is approximately seventy percent water.  So from the hope of a peaceful mind springs the peace itself.  I doubt that I will never have conflict in my life again, but for the time being I think I’ve countered the folly of acting like a Covidiot.  As strange as it may sound, I guess due to the “new normal,”  it’s easy for me to forget that we are all under much more pressure than normal.  Yes, I am grateful that I’m still employed.  Yes, I am grateful to be alive.  I am also grateful that being human allows for making mistakes.  We’re all making them.  And we’re all making it through this.