Tag Archives: conception of god

Thoughts on god (1)

Maybe the most life-saving aspect of AA and all the 12-step programs it has spawned is that we get to pick our own higher power. We don’t have to consider anyone else’s views of an HP — certainly not religion’s — as we generate an idea of the source in which we’ll place our trust.

I like to think of our conceptions of god as a sort of placeholder – something to represent the “you” we turn to – because it can be easier to reach out to “somebody” if we have some sense of who/what that is.

Reaching out to that power is the core of recovery as I know it.  If you’re dying from addiction, slowly or quickly, it is the solution.  The biggest stumbling block for most newcomers is that our culture still associates “God” with organized religion’s construct of a judgmental deity.

Prior to organized religion, human tribes had for many millennia held a sense of god(dess) that was multifaceted and unified with nature.  But in the shadow of the agrarian revolution, as societal power became increasingly stratified, monotheism arose.  In the case of the Judeo-Christian tradition, this “God” — the grouchy, punishing Dude in the Bible — became a political tool for those in power to cow the subjugated masses into compliance.

Modern goddess image

“Overseer’s Rod,” from Queen Mary’s Psalter, 1320

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Then, between 1600 and 1945, the Scientific Revolution gradually caused religion to crumble and fall — which was actually a good thing.  But, tragically, we have thrown out the baby with the bath water, god with religion, and the result is the spiritual turmoil now raging throughout the world.

We stand at an extremely perilous in-between era of human history, where billions who have turned away from the rubble of religion suffer anxiety and depression, and billions who still cling to its distorted structures justify judgment, exclusion, and cruelty via its tenets.

Humanity needs a new god — one indivisible from Gaia, the complex life system of which we are a part.  It is my belief that the evidence brought back consistently by Near Death Experiencers (NDEers) can offer humanity an evidence-based foundation for such a god.

I’ve decided to risk offering a series of posts on my own ideas of god, based on my NDE, the many NDE narratives I’ve heard at IANDS meetings over the past five years, and NDE narratives I have read.  If any of these ideas resonate with your ideas of god, take them.  If not, leave them.

Have you ever created a personal altar? It’s just a sort of sacred place in your home where photos of loved ones or meaningful objects remind you of what matters. It’s in a similar spirit that we can each assemble our concept of god(dess) – as a collection of ideas that call to us personally.  My aim here is just to offer some little crystals or shells you might add to yours.

Two excellent books on Near Death Experiences are Jeffrey Long’s Evidence of the Afterlife (2010) and God and the Afterlife (2017).  Both are based on thousands of NDEer’s responses to a survey accessible on the Near Death Research Foundation website.  Responses come from all over the world, and the average time elapsed between the NDE event and filling out the survey is 20 years. (Strangely, NDE memories do not fade with time.)

The upshot of Long’s research is that God loves us with a Love more powerful than words can describe.  Here are some excerpts:

“I knew that the being I met was comprised of a substance I can only call ‘love,’ and that substance was a force or power, like electricity.  Love is the only word I have, but it’s not the right word here” (God, p.53).

“I became aware of a presence vast and unimaginable, everywhere and everything, the beginning and the end, and he was Love.  I came to know that Love is a power to rival all powers — real and perceived — in the universe. (God, p. 174).

“All That Is can be perceived simultaneously as a force and as a consciousness that exists within each individual consciousness and yet is separate from each consciousness or being.  It might be called God, but the ideas of gods that we have are a pale and incomplete shadow of the All That Is that I perceived” (God, p. 175)

Further, many NDEers learn that we are here on this earthly adventure as part of the expanding evolution of Love – though sadly we “forget” what we came here to do.  The challenge of life on earth is to balance the self-preservation instincts we need to keep us housed in our bodies (fear/ego) with our mission of furthering Love by overcoming separation from other sentient beings (who only seem to be “other”).

“I was told that the earth is like a big school, a place where you can apply spiritual lessons you have learned and test yourself to see if you can ‘live’ what you already know you should do” (p. 101).

Many survey respondents (but not I 😦 ) were shown life reviews.  These incredibly detailed yet compressed replays of their life’s events are witnessed by about 22% of NDEers (who in turn comprise about 15% of those who die and come back).

Almost exclusively, these replays focus on acts of kindness and cruelty, along with their effects rippling outward throughout the world.  Most watch them together with a loving spirit who urges learning but not self-rebuke.  Here’s an excerpt:

“I was in the eighth grade, and me and my friends were verbally abusing another one of our friends.  It was cruel behavior, and I was drenched in cruelty. … I experienced the humiliation and pain of the girl we were tormenting.  I didn’t just see her, I got to be her as she huddled next to the lockers, crying alone… My mind and heart were crying out, ‘I’m so sorry!  I’m so, so sorry!’ … I felt a presence with me [that]… expressed amusement over my despair and said, with heart and mind, something to the effect of ‘You were just a kid.  How bad could you have been?’  Then I was embraced by layer upon layer of compassion” (p.100).

Even when we fuck up, we are loved.  No one expects us to ace this.

In short, god is the energy of Love that created and sustains all that is. Addiction cuts us off from god as we bombard our brains with meaningless dopamine, sabotaging our mission.  But when we sincerely ask god for help, we open a channel that allows it to enter us, guiding and strengthening our hearts, healing us from the isolation of addiction.

It does so by slowly teaching us to love others as it loves — unconditionally.  That is the not only the purpose of life, but the cure for all that ails us.

More next time.  ❤

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Full Time God

Holding onto my god-reality gets difficult. Consensus reality refers to what a given culture affirms as real and true. Everyone is socialized to adopt a similar model.  Where I live, in an urban, high-tech setting, most people dismiss the idea that god is an actual presence and power in everyday life.

Today it’s not crazy to believe every object around us is 99.999% empty space punctuated by vibrating atoms with orbiting electrons whose “wave function is spread out over a cubic Angstrom (10^-4 microns), which means that the electron ‘is’ everywhere in that volume. So [while] the electron has no volume, …it is spread out over a relatively big volume. ”*

Totally! Got it!  Physicists know their shit, right?

But it is crazy to believe the statements of thousands of perfectly sane people who claim to have left their bodies, entered a spiritual realm far more vivid, and there encountered a being of Light who beamed them love, compassion, and insight beyond anything comparable on earth.  (For examples, browse those posted on the NDERF site.)

Those guys are just trippin’!  Sure, they all think they left their bodies, but really it was just X… [insert hypoxia, DMT dump, etc.]

The problem? Religion has claimed authority over god and the afterlife for so long that we as a culture seem unable to divorce the two. Sometime in the mid 1800s, there began a cultural landslide that demoted the church to a social club and the bible to myth – BUT also took out with it the conviction that our spirits are of god and survive physical death.

the_last_judgement  stefan_lochner_-_last_judgement_-_circa_1435
The Last Judgment, a total bummer – versions by Jan Provoost, 1525 (above) and Stefan Lochner, 1435 – click to enlarge

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I’m feeling weird.  At long last I’ve read Life after Life, by Raymond Moody – the pioneering exploration of Near Death Experiences (NDEs) published in 1975.

I say “at long last” because, in spite of having undergone an NDE myself in 1982 (as described in my book – along with my alcoholic wreckage and recovery), I’ve strangely resisted reading Moody’s book for many years. If you’d forced me to read it the day before my NDE, I’d have scoffed at it as total crap. If the day after (though my slight brain damage made reading difficult), it would have blown my mind, upended my universe – to know that so many other people had experienced what I did.

Moody 70s&15

Dr. Raymond Moody, 1975 & 2015

At the time when Moody conducted these interviews with NDE survivors, the terms NDE, being of light, life review, tunnel, etc. had no place – zero, nada, nichts – in our culture. Moody coined them. In fact, the interviewees struggle to come up with the best words they can find for what they individually maintain exceeds the scope of both language and earthly experience. All had kept their stories to themselves to avoid being labeled kooks.

Just as I did – even to myself! And… here’s the reason I’m feeling weird: I realize I’m still doing that.  WTF?!  On a daily basis, I unknow my knowledge of the other side to align with the consensual reality around me.

I recently came across this video on Facebook showing the power of cultural conformity. In it, a woman is conditioned by study “actors” in a waiting room to rise from her seat every time she hears a beeping tone. The shocking part is that she continues the behavior after the planted group is gone; in fact, she “teaches” a new group of five non-study civilians to stand up every time they hear the tone – just because.non-conformity

And I am DOING THAT! Every time I set aside my knowledge that the spirit world really does exist, I’m allowing the beep – the consensus model of materialism – to control my internal behavior.

I know the being of light that beamed me full of love and bliss on the other side, while back here I’d become a corpse, was a piece of god – a god that knows us all because we’re of it.  And I know that same celestial being sent me back here.  It beamed, “You can’t stay; you’re not done.”  To me.  Which enraged me.  I remember that.  And yet MOST of the time, I go around with my god truth stuck away in a little mental compartment.

Reading Moody, when I really think about the fact that I came alive in a body that three minutes before had shut down from snorted lidocaine (sold to me as cocaine), I see that it simply makes no sense. A lethal dose of that drug was still in my system. How could CPR restart my heart?  I came back to my body in a vast puddle of sweat, dazed and child-like but fully functional – when three minutes before, extreme bradycardia had shut down my brain and triggered a grand mal seizure.

How could that happen?  It couldn’t.  Not by any natural means.  God did it.embarrassed1

But it’s SO UNCOMFORTABLE to know this when my culture categorizes such a claim as fantastical.  It’s SO HARD to own it when it sounds arrogant and self-important: “MMmm- god sent me back!”  I’m frickin’ embarrassed to say the same things so many people in Moody’s book were frickin’ embarrassed to say.

But it only seems arrogant because our culture squelches acknowledgment of miracles all around us – every goddamn day! Miracles in the lives of virtually every goddamn person! Why are miracles so hard for us to acknowledge?  GOD IS REAL.  Why, as a culture, do we have to explain the evidence away?  Some of us predict that the internet will change this denial.  For the first time in human history, NDEers can find one another.  We can become a group with a united voice – and power to challenge the consensus that insults us.

For example, I recently read a skeptic’s theory that the light is actually an optical migraine.  Dude – I’ve had optical migraines!  Lots of ’em.  They’re a big swath of shimmering light, sure, but they’re less like the Light than a firefly is to a bolt of lightning.  How stupid do you think I am?

But I’m promising myself, I’m promising my god, and I’m promising those of you who share my experience: I will fight to know what I know.

Continuous prayer is really the only sane state of mind.

 

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* See Quora explanation

Every year hundreds of NDEers and interested fellows fly in from all over the globe to attend the IANDS conference because, according to skeptics, they’re all, like formerly sane Dr. Eben Alexander, a bunch of self-deluded dummies who actually believe this other-worldly shit happened to them.  Related links on my Links and Stuff page.

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What Alcohol Did; What god Does

Pain happens, starting when we’re young. In our efforts to evade it, we suppress a whole array of feelings, turning away and denying them. But like an ignored roommate sharing the small apartment of our psyches, the pain lives on. It doesn’t grow up. It stays the age we were when the trauma happened. Countless negative beliefs systems sprout to position it – that we’re not good enough, that others will reject our true selves, so we need to strategize to please them.  We try.  Again we miss the mark and endure more pain, the rabble of negativity within us creating a ceaseless inner shitstorm.

It sucks – the shitstorm does.  Our psyches can become a hellhole.  In AA, we speak of the shitty committee.

Shitty Committee

click to enlarge

What Alcohol Did for Me
The first time I got wasted, alcohol shrank that entire tornado of pain and fear so small it could fit inside a harmless little bubble and float off somewhere in my mind’s periphery – totally irrelevant.  Hey!  I was fine, you were fine, and if someone didn’t like us, fuck ‘em. My psyche’s protective walls fell away so the world opened up as a land of plenty, beautiful and safe. Life was so damn easy!  Cocaine tripled that effect*, adding an intense interest and delight in all things.

I wanted that feeling again.  And again.  Addiction promises a shortcut, an escape from ourselves. It’s that hope, that sweet anticipation of GOOD STUFF that lures us every time to jump on it again. Something as simple as a red notification number on Facebook can trigger a spurt of anticipatory endorphins in our minds – this is gonna be good! This cheesecake, this big sale, this cocaine porn winning horse remodel facelift romance booze is gonna lift me right out of the bad stuff, set me on top, make being me so smooth!  Dopamine levels surge, causing us to “forget” all the pain in our lives.

“Thus addiction… arises in a brain system that governs the most powerful emotional dynamic in human existence: the attachment instinct.  Love.”  Gabor Maté is writing here of opiates, but the same principle applies to all drugs that impact our dopamine levels – including alcohol.

sunshine1That first perfect, blissful high is, in my opinion, reminiscent of heaven.  Literally.  Hear the story of anyone who’s had a Near Death Experience (NDE) in which they went to the Light, and they’ll tell you they were permeated by an ovewhelming Love, a brilliance so powerful it left no room for anything bad. The Light is the unfiltered energy of Love that is not incarnate, not trapped in a limiting body; it is whence we originate, what powers us here, and what we’ll return to. And it’s a memory of bliss for which we hunger desperately as we trudge through the difficulties of being human.

So what am I saying?  That consciousness from a brain artificially flooded with dopamine resembles consciousness in heaven?  Yep.  ‘Fraid so.  That’s why many addicts sacrifice their lives in pursuit of it.  Un/fortunately, our brains respond to such bombardment by curtailing both production of and receptors for dopamine, so life without using more becomes increasingly hellish – and that change persists for years.

What god Does for Me
…is not as fast or dramatic, but it works: god gives me the self-compassion to heal my own wounds.  The message of the Big Book is love.  In the rooms we’re surrounded with it as we dare to take that First Step, to admit openly, “You guys, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing!!”  From that humility, we tap an “an inner resource” – god as we understand it – which begins to edge out ego as our guide for living.  The more love we accept from god, the more we have to offer others, and vice versa.  For the first time, we can love imperfect people from the standpoint of our own imperfection.  In other words, as working the steps gradually teaches us compassion for others, we also develop it for ourselves.  We become conduits of the Light.

“You have to feel it to heal it,” my cousin and I like to say.  In scaredgirlmeditation I go in looking for that little 9-year-old Louisa who was so blighted by shame, and I ask her to tell me where it still hurts.  I feel it, too; I grieve with her; I comfort her.  You don’t have to do anything, I tell her. You can just be you, and I’ll love you.  I can promise her this because my god has promised it to me. At the core of Al-Anon, ACA, and SLAA, named either directly or indirectly, is the healing power of self-parenting. That’s the nexus of change.  We can play both roles, loving and healing our past selves.

Today my inner little girl is pretty happy.  She got banged up rather badly in my recent break-up, but she’s convalescing well.  We share an open world infused with goodness – because I perceive god in all I encounter.  At times I do experience bliss – basking in the beauty of the mountains, laughing myself loopy with sober friends, or witnessing the miracle of my sweet son. It’s not a cheap bliss, either: it’s the real McCoy, earned through hard spiritual work – that freedom I once faked temporarily with alcohol and drugs.  And like heaven, it’s all about love.

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Watch This:
Here’s a simple animation that depicts volumes about addiction in a brief 4.5 minutes.  Strangely, watching it makes me cry.

I’m guessing Andreas Hykade, the film’s German creator, knew addiction well. It’s not by coincidence that our protagonist is a kiwi, a flightless bird.  We all feel like that – denied the soaring others pull off.  Neither is the grating step-by-step sound effect accidental. Real life is one step at a time and arduously incremental compared to the smooth bliss of intoxication. Even the images’ barren simplicity reflects the stark focus of addiction. An animation teacher at Harvard, Hykade chose a simple line drawing over every state-of-the-art visual effect at his disposal.

NUGGETS

Kiwi addict

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So many of us never escape that final darkness.  If you have, take a moment for gratitude.

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* Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, p.153

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Spiritual Experience

Sometimes I wish I could loan my faith to others.  At least I felt that way the other night at my homegroup when the topic was “your spiritual experience.”  In share after share, people balanced guarded reservation with the undeniable fact that, once they sincerely asked a higher power for help, their addiction was lifted and a new way of living began for them.  A few also shared that certain inexplicable synchronicities or phenomena had strengthened their faith.

I really hoped to get called on.  If you could raise your hand in AA, I’d have been bouncing in my chair – “Ooo!  Pick me, pick me!”  My faith is HUGE and strong, and I wanted to share it!  I don’t believe – I know ( just like Carl Jung! – this is an awesome, quick clip!).

sky angelsMy addiction memoir recounts the tale of my slow (and ongoing) spiritual awakening.  It tells how there came a definite turning point in 2003 when I finally dropped the walls I’d been holding up against god.  Before that, I’d locked my Near Death Experience (NDE) and subsequent paranormal experiences away in a “not relevant to regular living” vault.  When I was “feeling spiritual,” I’d turn to god; otherwise it was was business as usual.  Weird Thing #9 led up to the transformative acknowledgement that god really is omnipresent in all that lives, beyond anything my brain can conceptualize or imagine.

On that day, I turned away from loyalty to society’s consensual reality in much the same way I’d turned from loyalty to alcohol and drugs some 8 years previously.   In both cases, I’ve never looked back.

My god is not religion’s God.  It’s the life force, the collaborative, animating energy of Love and the collective intelligence of all life it has ever generated. Nothing is lost.  Energy can’t vanish, even as a result of mass extinctions.  The sun keeps pouring energy into our life system, and the system keeps growing.  You’re a part of it.  Your trillions of separate cells collaborate toward the larger purpose of you, which/who in turn is meant to serve the greater purpose of we.

After Weird Thing #9 in 2003, it still took me 8 years to Google Near Death Studies, and still another year before I went to an IANDS meeting.  As with my first AA meeting, I was leery of a bunch of kooks.  And, as with my first AA meeting, hearing my inmost experiences described by strangers blew me away.  I soon realized I had, again, found “my people.”

In fact, only about 10% of our Seattle IANDS group at any given meeting has actually died.  But almost everyone there (usually about 60 people)  has experienced some kind of overtly paranormal event that caused them, too, to break from the physical-only view of the world that society condones.

Just as it’s “safe” at an AA meeting to share our ups and downs of sober living, so it’s “safe” in an IANDS meeting to speak of guardian angels, the overwhelming Love of the Light, and encounters with dead loved ones, or – if they’re in your story – demons.

Here’s a brief excerpt from one of our members’ stories.  A severe allergic reaction, combined perhaps with asthma, had caused him to collapse, aspirate, and die one night on a California beach.

When I’d been flipped over, I had sand and vomit all over my face and… she thought it was gross and didn’t want to do [CPR].  I still was [above them] saying, ‘I’m fine, I’m okay!… I don’t want to bother you!  I’d much rather you be happy!’…  But she did it.  I could see her bending down and getting ready to press her lips to mine.  And almost as soon as that happened, it felt like a car crash or something.  I was immediately back through my own perspective, I was definitely in my body… it was like being slammed back into me.  …I don’t know how to describe it.

I remember seeing her over me… At this point people are all around me and I’m just laying there on my back.  And I know that they’re asking me, what’s your name, what year is it, who’s the president.  I… I didn’t care.  All I could focus on were two things.  I could see their lips moving – I couldn’t actually, for some reason, hear their voices.  The only thing I could hear were the waves from the ocean, and the only thing I could look at were the people that were helping me – but they were… people that were helping the people that were helping me.

Um… for lack of a better term – I don’t like to use certain terms, but – for lack of a better term, I would call these ‘angels.’  I don’t feel they were there connected specifically to me, but that maybe they were there connected to those people – that we were all part of a collective effort, that everyone had the same – goal? – in mind.  It wasn’t that the goal was to bring me back, but that we were all taking part [in something bigger].

How wonderful to be free to know in an IANDS meeting that god is real!  Those rooms glow with vestiges of the Light.  By aligning what’s happened to me with what others have seen and described, I’ve come to believe that the loving presence I knew on the other side was my guardian angel, and that this same entity is what often answers not just my prayers but my private thoughts – not necessarily when I’d like or with what I’d like, but somehow.

 

orb close close orb2
Just before these pictures were taken in 2013, as many sober friends who knew I had cancer sang Happy Birthday to me, my embarrassment was interrupted by a different thought-voice: “Louisa, this is as good as it gets!  Don’t resist.  Just let them love you.”  If orbs are nothing but dust motes on a lens, why would photos from two different cameras, from two angles, at two different moments show the same orb in the same place?  That’s my angel.

 

So… back to my homegroup: “What’s your spiritual experience?”  I wasn’t called on, so I’d resolved to share once the meeting opened for volunteers.  As soon as it did, though, before I could open my mouth, came the thought: Don’t.  Only listen and love.

I countered, “I only want to help people!”

Bullshit, came the next thought/voice.  You think you know more just because you know different?  Let be.

Boy, was it hard to abide by this!  I had to sit on my hands, especially through the long silences.  Puppies don’t always pee on the newspaper, and I don’t always listen to guidance – but this time, I did.  When the secretary finally called time, I sighed: Phew!  Made it!

I got home.  I went to bed.  And in the morning I remembered clearly that AA works only because we all keep our gods to ourselves – since we do “not need to consider another’s conception of God.”  To go off about my IANDS group and NDE would be no different from someone going off about how Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior.

Because spiritual experience is, like sobriety, an inside job.  Each person grows their own experience.  Much as I’d like to, I can’t whomp my big fat weird tree down in front of anyone – each person has to germinate their own inner seed and nurture it over the days and years of their life.

What do you call that, when you’re great guns to do something and another thought/voice tells you not to – or vice versa?  How, exactly, do Steps 6 & 7 work in your beliefs?  “Do not let any prejudice you may have against spiritual terms deter you from honestly asking yourself what they mean to you” (p. 47).  You can call it superego if you prefer, but, as long as it’s a calling toward love, I call it direction from whatever it is that’s helping me.

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Trusting God, Trusting Life

I haven’t had a clue what I’m doing lately. Last night I dreamed I had to perform in a play – you know this one – despite recalling none of my lines, my script turning into a camping catalog, and part of the stage collapsing to reveal a cistern of filthy water – almost like sewage treatment – just underneath. A fiasco, a shit show! That’s how everything feels right now.

Why? Loss – in my case, of a long term relationship doomed by alcoholism. But loss can spur growth. Each time something we’ve been clinging to is wrenched away, our hands are freed to reach for god. In a different dream I had a few weeks before discovering my partner’s duplicity, back when I’d first quit mocking and started reading Codependent No More, I met face to face with the deprivation I’d been choosing in order to keep my “love” intact. Here’s my journal description:

4/17/15: I dreamed last night of a woman sealed in a basement of an old, dilapidated house. We raised the trap door and she had cobwebs and dust all over her bowed head. When she lifted her face to the light, it was ugly but not evil. She had a red clown mouth drawn over her real one – leering, but supposed to be a smile. I felt afraid of her until I saw that her eyes were young and confused. We talked to her, me and these friends of mine who had unearthed her. We offered to let her come with us, and her face lit up with hope. Yes! She’d love that! She wanted to come out of her cave and live.

Christina's World

Christina’s world – Andrew Wyeth

My dream friends, I think, represent the loving AA fellowship I’ve allowed to buoy most parts of my life. But I’ve left behind my inmost part, a soul that craves true intimacy but has always settled for less. This is due to no flaw in AA, but to fear holding me back from full trust in god.  God can’t fix what I won’t offer up. Ironically, it’s always my efforts to protect myself that harm me most.

Whether we’re walking our first days sober or well along in our journey, we have to keep extending our trust day by day, ever beyond our comfort zone. In addiction we trusted the power of booze to fix whatever ailed us – so what if it was temporary? We also trusted our stories: we were victims, uniquely flawed, deeply complex and misunderstood. Both these props collapsed.

AA suggested I chuck this entire way of positioning myself in the world. What I was handed instead were spiritual principles, a compass for living with its rose oriented toward love, humility, usefulness, and gratitude. Dammit! To invest my trust in these spiritual principles meant embracing a god of my understanding – the loving energy that animates the world. But how to do that?

In early sobriety a friend of mine – Aaron G. – taught me his letting go meditation. He would lie down with closed eyes and start by giving god control of his room, everything in it – whether it was messy or clean, etc. Whatever, god, it’s yours. Then he’d shift the spotlight to various areas of his life. Work. Housemates. Sex. Money.  God, I’m done trying to control what’s going on with these things. They’re yours. Next he’d move to his feelings. Sadness. Anxiety. Greed. Vanity.  God please steer me, because I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing. And last of all, he came to his life itself. If I’m supposed to keep living, let me live. If I’m supposed to die, I’m good with that, too. You made me. You run me. I’m yours.

Intestines

Your intestines. Nice work!

Sound overly dramatic, that last part? It’s not. What do you know of the trillions of intricately orchestrated processes of mitosis, osmosis, and diffusion keeping you alive right now? How is it that you can eat a crappy breakfast scone and turn it into thought and laughter and you running across the street or picking up a toddler? How do you do this stuff?

“Oh, that’s not god!” reason shrugs. “It’s just nature. Shit happens. The earth has life and it evolved into complex organisms and, you know, it’s science!”

I dare your skeptic to really contemplate this description of photosynthesis*, the molecular process by which plants transform SUNLIGHT into SUGAR, providing the bedrock upon which all of earth’s menagerie is built. See how far you get before you sigh and say: “Dude! That’s a shitload of science. I’m just glad it happens!”

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 10.40.47 AM

Admit it. We know next to nothing.  Each of us is a drooling infant riding a 787 across the Pacific Ocean, grasping nothing of how the plane works or was made, aware only that our basic needs are met. We exist by trust alone, despite whatever stories we propagate about how we engineer our lives. Bullshit. Perhaps for a brief moment, we can acknowledge what bullshit it is.  We can see that god lives us.  But we soon direct our attention elsewhere, sighing, “Well, that’s enough of that!”

Our spiritual practice today can be to continually give up a little more pretense of control, as in Aaron’s meditation, but all day every day.  We can allow in a little more the fact that god and life are one.

Loss is damn painful, for you as for me. Pain urges us to retreat into depression, nursing our wounds in solitude while mindlessly munching glazed donut holes. And addiction is right there, cheering for that plan as the grieving we deserve – because, while that track may be fine for normies, for an alcoholic prone to depression, like me, the next stop is relapse.

That’s why I’m doing the opposite. Here’s what my grieving looks like: I’m climbing too many mountains, going on too many dates, showing up to feed the homeless, speaking at meetings, starting new projects, and buying two baby chicks in the bleak darkness of November. Pain gets dragged along for the ride, like it or not. I entreat god continually for the courage to pursue whatever feels like growth – even if it’s scary – and then I simply blunder ahead, sometimes clumsily, maybe knocking over a vase or two along the way.

“Screwing up is part of being human – part of how we steer the course of who we do and don’t want to be.” Who wrote that? Yours truly at the close of “Being Right versus Just Being.” (Sometimes I teach myself!)  The point its, we don’t have to do this thing perfectly.

A woman emerging from the darkness of her cave doesn’t know which way to head. Trust is walking anyway. It’s striving to be our best, to love god and others, and to live at peace with knowing nothing.

Beneath all this tumult, god is transforming me into a wiser, stronger woman. In that I trust.

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Brothers summit

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* http://science.nsta.org/enewsletter/2007-05/sc0704_60.pdf
(Sorry, Facebook insists on posting the stupid picture of the photosynthesis text.  I can’t change it.  😦  Try copy and pasting the url instead, and choosing no preview.)

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Near Death and God Stuff

I am weird.  One night in 1982, when I was 22, I went out to a Manhattan night club, snorted quite a bit of coke, then bought and snorted what I thought was a gram more Nightclub(though it didn’t get me high). I developed increasingly narrow  tunnel vision from bradycardia (slowing heartbeat) and hypoxia (from respiratory depression), underwent a grand mal seizure, suffered a cardiac arrest, and died on the nightclub floor.  That is, I was without vital signs for three minutes.  I’d ingested enough lidocaine to shut down my central nervous system.

While a bartender worked at CPR and I began to look “all gray like a corpse, nothing like yourself…” according to my date, my consciousness shot off on a vivid journey.  With keen awareness I traveled from sky to sea to beach to ancestral house before getting sucked through a window and over the dazzle of sunlight on the sea’s surface to plunge right into the heart of the sun. There I was subsumed by a light of love beyond measure.  A strong presence was with me, beaming love through me, until abruptly it told me in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t done and couldn’t stay – after which cut the light to total blackness.  (If you want the whole story, you have to buy my goddamn addiction memoir, but only if you’re also psyched to read about alcoholism and romantic obsession, because that’s mostly what it’s about.)

Anyway!  As a result of whatever happened that night, the boundaries of my consciousness changed.  I knew nothing of it.  I was a smug atheist who’d never heard of Near Death Experiences or any of the related terms now commonplace in popular culture.  What had happened didn’t fit with my scientifically based definition of reality, so I put it behind me.  Over the next decade, however, two more distinctly impossible experiences forced themselves on me.  I didn’t want them!

LightI didn’t much associate my secret paranormals with whatever people called God.  To me, that concept involved a personification of divine power – God as a super-boss.  I rejected it and still do.  But once I got sober, once I opened to a higher power and began to pray, the rate of paranormal “knowings” increased dramatically.  Finally, in 2003 I had an astoundingly specific clairvoyant dream, and in 2004 was shown the break in my life the dream had foretold.  It was a such an undeniably personal, otherworldly message that, at 9 years sober, I broke down, sobbing with gratitude, and finally surrendered the last of my reservations: god, I finally knew beyond faith, was an energy infusing everything that lives. Spiritual energy is a force every bit as real as gravity or electromagnetism – forces nobody personifies or insists we capitalize!  That’s why I refer to it as “god.”

In 2010, after accidentally and embarassingly reading a friend’s mind regarding a romantic weekend with his wife, I went ahead and Googled “Near Death Experiences.” I eventually found a Seattle group that meets monthly to hear a speaker tell his/her Near Death story (Seattle IANDS).  A year later, in 2011, I finally got myself to attend one of those meetings.  And in January of 2012, I was the speaker.  I discovered, just as in AA, that many experiences I’d long believed unique to me were actually quite common among this group.  We speak brightly of our dying experiences: “I was thrown 20 feet from the car,” “I could see the surface but knew I’d never reach it.”  Some of us talk about foreknowing events or catching an afterglow in much the same way AAs talk about the phenomenon of craving.  Though I never saw my guardian angel, hearing descriptions from those who did (and a few who saw other angels, though they’re reluctant to use the term) has helped me understand who/what was with me in the light.

I can’t talk about any of this in an AA meeting.  The purpose of AA shares is to allow fellow alcoholics to identify, to hear their own problems and psychic pain described by others, so they’ll be attracted to the solution of the 12 steps.  No one imposes their beliefs on someone else – at least, not in theory.  And the fact is, most newcomers are already freaked out by the word “God” in the steps – as I was at first.  They’re worried about cultish, woo-woo weirdness.  To hear someone talking about having left their body or experiencing paranormal after-effects would send them screaming from the church basement!  It would help no one.  And though AA friends came to hear my IANDS story, most assume Near-Death meetings must entail morbid rehashings of the close scrapes we call death, mixed with woo-woo chicanery.

I can’t talk about alcoholism at IANDS meetings, either.  For NDE folks, the strangest part of my story is not that I left my body, journeyed, etc., but that I basically killed myself by snorting everything I could get my hands on whether it was working or not.  Why would such a clown drunknice person be so self-destructive?!  They assume AA meetings are penitent gatherings where we rehash old drinking stories and renew our determination.  They express sympathy.  The idea that we’re happily united in a daily immunity granted to us by a higher power, that we laugh at our own sick thinking, that we’re actually grateful for the program we live by – they just don’t get it.

Every person’s beliefs develop in the crucible of their family, social group, and culture, to be either confirmed or challenged by individual experience.  Our culture at large tends to present religion versus atheism as an exclusive dichotomy, and many of us internalize that idea.  My family and our academic community chose option B – atheism.  For some time, I straddled belief in a higher power at AA and dismissal of the “weird things” that had followed my NDE.  It took 30 years of personal encounters with physically inexplicable happenings to push me to the point where I could discard my old truth and seek out people who shared my otherworldly experience.  I’ve since spoken at the Seattle Theosophical Society, been interviewed on a radio show (podcast here, starts at 15:00) and appeared in a documentary film /future television show.  I am all in.  But to be honest, part of me still cringes to hear, for instance, my radio talk sponsored by “Hugz from Heaven” – really?  Have I gone that daft?

I often wish I could help others in AA who struggle with the god aspect to see the wide array of spiritual paths between religion and atheism, or even to discard the “God-boss” image in favor of the energy of love.  Though it can be frustrating, in meetings I say nothing of my NDE or its after-effects.  If it took me 30 years to accept my own experience, how the hell can I expect others to accept my words?  I leave them to their own ideas, and share mine outside the rooms.  Part of faith is accepting that those who want to hear – who, as I did, already share this truth deep within – will be listening.

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On Cussin’ during Prayer: Separating god from Religion

Step 11

This blog may upset some people, but, oh well.

Over the years I’ve sponsored a lot of women in AA and developed some of my own ways that make me a good fit for some and not others.  For example, many of my newcomer sponsees have a problem with “the god thing” and thus a problem with prayer.  They aren’t sure if they should get down on their knees or clasp their hands, whether to look ceilingward or what to call their god.  It all feels so contrived.

In this case, I suggest they try dropping a few F-bombs while they pray.  That is, if I’ve gotten to know a sponsee a bit and in telling me her story she’s dropped a few, I suggest she do the same with god.  Not in anger, mind you, but as she might with a close friend.  I ask her to try it for a week and check back with me.

Why do I do this?  To help that person separate god from religion.  Religion works fine for some, so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  But for an increasing number of people who desperately need god, religion is not an option.  Fortunately, the 12 Steps give us the freedom to conceptualize god in whatever way works for us.  Chapter 4, “We Agnostics,” urges us: “Do not let any prejudice you may have against spiritual terms deter you from honestly asking yourself what they mean to you” (p. 47).

In my view, many of us assume that our conception of god has to import with it a shitload of trappings from religion.  We carry these prejudices around with us, i.e. ideas based on thinking we have not “honestly” examined.  We may have gotten far enough to let go of the old dude with a white beard image, but many hesitate to go further than that.

Among these imported God-trappings I will, for the purpose of keeping this blog short, limit my discussion to the the assumption that God can get pissed off by a lack of respect.  In this case, to appease Him, we should address God as we would any other authority figure: a police officer, a professor, a judge.  And since God is wa-ay old, we should definitely avoid language that would shock, let’s say, our grandmother.  For that matter, we need to capitalize every friggin’ pronoun referring to the Dude because He, essentially, demands Ass-kissing.

Approach prayer as our regular farting, burping selves?  Heavens, no!  Much of religion involves an effort to partition God off from the vulgarities of real life.  Over the centuries, our urban religious ancestors built temples, mosques, and cathedrals as sanctuaries, in part because there was just too much sheep shit and caterwauling and flies everywhere to let them string two thoughts together in prayer.  Prayer became a solemn supplication devoid of spontaneous personality because religion drilled into us that God wanted it that way.

I am so done with this view of God!  As I explain more fully in my essay, “God Evolved,” this view of God runs counter to my spiritual beliefs in every way.  It’s founded in feudalistic traditions and furthers agendas of classicism, sexism, and species-ism – not to mention personal hypocrisy.  Neither does it match the experience of anyone who has undergone an NDE.  What people experience when they die is an inundation of overwhelming love that exceeds our capacity for description.

There are, however, certain spiritual principles that hold true in life, many of which religion has accurately named.  When you act from unselfish love, you grow.  Any connection between us and god has to be initiated by us.  Anger and fear cut us off from god.  These principles aren’t god’s “judgement.”  They’re just spiritual equivalents of the laws of gravity or thermodynamics.

So, why would I recommend swearing in prayer to my sponsees?  Because… they swear!  And they’re the one who’s seeking god.  What matters when I approach god is that I show up as Louisa, 100%.  Sure, there are times when I feel solemn and ceremonial, but there are others when I’m flippant or pissy or frustrated.  It goes without saying that my god knows and loves all these modes of Louisa.

My sponsees, by contrast, are standing in the shadow of a cold, religious idol that requires thee-and-thou-style grovelling.  Swearing defies that idol, lets it tumble aside, and might just open them to the light of a god they can put their trust in.

As I describe in my addiction memoir (which also contains “God Evolved”),  I was somewhere between atheist and agnostic throughout my first years in the program.  But then from a tattoo artist with a huge afro, I heard these words: “A relationship with god is just like any other relationship: the more you hang out, the tighter you get.”

I hang out with god all the time now – when I’m teaching a class, when I’m peeing, when I’m chopping broccoli.  I talk to it honestly, and I listen.  So far, I’ve been healed of more maladies than you can shake a stick at: active alcoholism, clinical depression/anxiety, sexual obsession addiction, social phobia, (most of my) codependence, and the pessimism that kept me from living the adventures I dreamed of.   Most importantly, god has broken down my walls of isolation and opened me to love freely and try to help others – by posting this, for example, because it may help some reader move a bit closer to grasping their own truth.

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