5000 days (in a row).
I woke up on December 4th, 1997 fully expecting to remain forever in the spiral of addiction, remorse and regret. There was no hope of getting off that track. I’d left my sober life and vowed to never go back. But somehow I wound up by accident or divine intervention or dumb luck in a 12-Step meeting in Santa Cruz, CA. I have been sober since. On August 13th, 2011 I celebrated being clean and sober for 5000 consecutive days in a row. But on that day in ’97 I felt like my world had come to an end. Yet it was the beginning of a new chapter that continues to be exciting – good times or bad. Things are not always what they seem. So if you’re down, feeling hopeless or just depressed, please don’t give up. There are sunny days ahead to be sure. Life is like that.
In the Dharma we talk a lot about impermanence. It just means that everything changes. To take it a step further, nothing is really as concrete as it appears. Not buildings, cars, walls, bridges or mountains made of stone. In the physical world, science shows us that what we see and believe in is really not the full representation of how it is. Dharma is like that. It applies to the three dimensions of body, speech and mind. The physical world is impermanent. Even planets and stars and solar systems and galaxies and universes are in constant flux – no matter how solid they appear to us. Our speech or energy dimension is just like that. Energy moves, changes form and appearance. The mental dimension as well, and maybe more importantly, is unstable. Yet we hold to our conceptions as if we can’t survive without them. We’ll fight to be right. Some never see the light. This is the nature of human consciousness and such is our plight. My thoughts arise from where….how I can see that? What methods can I use to observe my mind to know more fully that there is nothing permanent about my thoughts. The come, they float by, I may try to grab them or hold on but they evaporate like “a finger writing on water.” Where do they go, these thoughts that seem so real? We can look, but what do we find? Nothing.
I mention this because it’s a time of much change for me. And I have to remember for myself what I try to pass on to others. The spiritual axiom is that this too, shall pass. Everything changes. Good times or bad. I’m out living on my own now after 13 years with the same woman. She’s a kind, generous, funny, intelligent, spiritual woman. I met her when I had 2 weeks sober and we’ve been talking and laughing and playing ever since. But something happened for me in this past year. I changed. I don’t understand fully what the nature of the change is or where I’ll wind up but I do know this: life as I knew is has changed. This has cause a deep suffering. It’s been in some regard totally incapacitating. But as the good things change so do the bad. In my meditation I try to allow myself to feel the feelings. This was one of the first truths of recovery and a favorite piece of advice from one of my favorite authors, Dr. David Viscott. We need to feel the feelings when they happen, as they happen. As an addict, my first response to feeling good or bad is to take some poison. When it comes to feelings the last thing in the world that I want to do is sit still in silent, present moment awareness and let them arise. What an order! Anything but that. I try to change it,control it,stop it or keep it going – depending on circumstances. My teacher often talks about this. Everything in samsara is relative. So who is it that feels the pain or pleasure? My sponsor is fond of asking questions that he’s heard the great Indian saints ask, such as, “Who are you?” Zen is not so different. Joko Beck used to ask us to ask ourselves, “What is this?” Regardless of the words, the nature of such inquiry has more in common than these seemingly different points of view would seem to have at face value. So as a Buddhist, as a Yogi, as a recovering person I am admonished by teachings to ask myself these things. But it’s not so easy, as Rinpoche says so often. He usually follows that up with, “We try to relax and do our best.” Such it is trying to understand the nature of mind.
It’s easy to talk spiritual trips when all is well. It’s a mother to live the teachings when your guts churn from the inside out, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, month after month. It’s hard when you hurt people you love. It’s real hard when someone asks you how you’re doing in public and you break down crying, unable to catch a breath. Pain is deep. Samsara is beginningless. Sometimes all I’ve been able to do in this past year is try to breathe deeply. In my yoga training at Core Power Yoga this year I learned about Pranayamas (breath practice). It’s been a life saver for me. My teachers at Core Power often remind us to come back the breath with mindful awareness during the more challenging moments of asana (pose) practice. This works really well with my Dharma and has been an amazing, powerful practice both on and off the yoga mat.
Buddha talked about four times to practice mindfulness;sitting, walking, eating, sleeping. The practice is being present to life as it is, putting one foot in front of the other with mindful awareness. I’ve practice this for a lot of years – in the good times and the bad. This year has been perhaps the most challenging for me ever. But I have tools; daily yoga, good nutrition, 12-Step meetings and community, my 12-Step Buddhist weekly groups, 24-hour Fitness and so on. I’m blogging about these daily activities of self-empowerment on my Tumblr site, It’s How I’m Living. One day at a time I’ve been fortunate enough to make it this far. My teacher often mentions that although the skies appear cloudy from our point of view, we should know that the sky is still there in all its deep, immense blue emptiness. Even when we can’t feel the beauty in life – it still exists. The Portland skies are finally blue after a very late start to summer. I hope that your skies are blue too.