Outside the Box

Back in June 2017 I published a post named “Seeker of Experience.” It started with a quote from a friend I’ve never met. It went something like this…

“I seek experience. I no longer seek faith or belief, I seek experience. When I find experience, faith and belief take care of themselves. I urge you to seek experience” – Peter M from New Jersey speaking at the Primary Purpose weekend at Camp Hill Pennsylvania 2004.

When I wrote that post I was embarking on a new adventure. I was moving from homeless services into addiction services. It was a big step at the time. I had been safe and supported. It had been my first and only ever sober job up to that point. I had been guided and allowed to make mistakes. I loved the work and had grown immeasurably. I was comfortable. And still, there I was, walking away. I ended that post with a declaration of faith. And I’ve needed it. The journey since has been both arduous and exhilarating rolled into one.

I recall back to 2015:  That drive up the Pocano Mountains. At the top finding a white wood church with a picket fence; a room full of old timers who had travelled the length and breadth of the United States to attend a celebration of one of their own. Myself questioning how I got there while knowing in the depth of my being that I was exactly where I was meant to be. I recall the last speaker that night and how he blew me away. An old man with a history reaching back to the original one hundred. His laughter and parting statement after I approached him outside in the carpark… “Good luck kid.”

I had earlier listened to him speak about how he would “Rather see a sermon than hear a sermon.” His words as he described how the man in question that night had inspired him by his actions for over four decades. Words that have inspired me through periods of struggle and adversity many times. Times when I was close to throwing in the towel and returning to the me of old. I am not the man I used to be. Im grateful for that, but also grateful to the old me. He got me here. I look back to the start of this spiritual journey that I exchanged for a life that had failed. A life that was extremely eventful and not without excitement, all be it in a very sick and twisted way. A life with a lot of dangers I still find hard to believe I survived. I look back to the start and can almost hear the old me as I found a seat in a room that would save my life, “Ok I got us here, I’m done, your turn. Good luck kid.” And off I went seeking experience without the slightest understanding of what I was doing and what it was I was seeking. And like the drive up the Pocona Mountains that night in Pennsylvania –  the road got narrower.

For the last couple of months Ive been awake to the sensation of experiencing a feeling of intense freedom. That is what I want to share in this post. Two years ago I moved from addiction services into working for the criminal justice system. Again, it was a leap out of the comfort zone. I had a year under my belt when the pandemic hit. A year where I had adopted the role of utter beginner. An apprentice. Then I found myself alone with it all under endless days of intense pressure. I was stressed and exhausted. At the end of the first lockdown I took a train south to spend a few much needed days with an American friend from the Fellowship that I had met on a zoom meeting. He spoke of Proverbs and I found myself skipping through them; again seeking without realising. This is my experience…

I stumbled on Proverbs 3:5-6 and have meditated on it through this period that alerted the world that nothing, absolutely nothing, is under control. 

It goes like this –

 Trust in the Lord with all your heart

At first this seemed like no explanation was needed. All it asked was to muster with all my personal strength every ounce of trust I could gather and put it into something I cant see or touch.  Then I decided I would take this into meditation and ask the question “What does this mean?” A question I would resist answering. Slowly over time the answers came.

With all your heart stopped meaning with all my strength and was replaced with all the things that are in my heart: All my hopes, All my fears, All my resentments and prejudices, All my wants and needs, All my loves. All the things I mistakenly call Mine! 

Exactly what is mine? My Kids? Are they mine? I certainly don’t view myself as a possession of my parents, so the answer must be no! I’m their father, but does that make them Mine? Parents and friends? They are definitely people in my life that I love, but there are a lot of people I love that are now in the graveyard. So again I needed to ask just where exactly are we attached.

My Life, is it mine? If it is then surely I decide when it begins and when it ends. So again, No.

My Job? Somebody else will decide when I’m no longer needed there. Even if it kept me going until retirement, one day, sooner or later I will go home and not return. If that day is sooner then who’s going to pay the rent? Which brings me to my apartment, is it mine? Not without the rent money it isn’t. My sobriety and sanity? I already tried to get those by myself and don’t need to explain how that worked out; just see –  Shitshow. The list goes on. 

The Buddhists have a saying: “You only loose what you cling to.” I don’t want to loose the good things in my heart and I cant force the bad things in there to leave either. But I can see the gift in both. Both make me who I am. And if I am prepared to accept a gift then I must trust who is giving it. So who is that…

And lean not on your own understanding

At first I thought this was talking about not relying on self-sufficiency. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says in the chapter We Agnostics “God is either everything or He is nothing, what was our choice to be?” 

Thats a hard one. I simply cant believe that the known and unknown Universe burst out of nothing, is heading nowhere and will disintegrate into nothingness. That takes a special kind of closed mind that is beyond my ability. But everything, what does that even mean? I have equally less ability to understand the word everything. The most brilliant minds on the planet both past and present are limited in this department. We don’t know what it is we don’t know. Even geniuses are limited in their intelligence to a degree that is so small its immeasurable when it comes to this equation. 

In the book of Job God says to Job “Where were you when I laid the Earths foundations, have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep, who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?”

But still, admitting that I am limited in understanding does not stop me questioning. And then it was obvious: Everything that I see, Everything that I feel, Everything that I experience, Everything that makes me laugh and cry, Everything is constantly changing. Do not lean on it, Do not attach to any belief. Including how I understand a Power Greater than myself, or God if you will. How can I even pretend to understand something that is incomprehensible. Something I can’t see or touch. Like Job I was not there when the foundations were laid. But laid they were. So I agree to roll with a changeable understanding. If God is everything then that includes all of us, that in itself is good enough for me and so much better than a Michelangelo portrait on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. I value the experience and opinions of others nowadays (even those individuals I don’t particularly like) but I know better than to try to put God in a box.

In all your ways acknowledge Him

In a childish type of way I mistakenly thought this was about types of ways to greet and say hello. That was my first thought. Then it dawned on me. In all your ways. The journey itself. If God is everything then everywhere I’ve been, everything I’ve done, He’s been right there with me. That solves a few things that have puzzled me. I have no idea how I’m still here. Leaving aside the drink and drug experiment of over 30 years, where I proceeded on a self destruct mission that others would of and some did perish in; I can recall many times when I walked away thinking “I should be dead.” Ive been stabbed with a bottle 2 inches from my carotid artery, shot at, on the edge of the blast range of an exploding grenade, found myself in a minefield in the dead of night, car crashes that involved somersaults and crawling out while the machine was on its roof, and pulled out of a river at 6 years old after giving up the panic struggle and accepted I had, at such a young age, breathed my last breath. This is not a comprehensive list. But much more than these is the unexpected triumphs. Times when I felt my back against the wall absolutely convinced there was no way out and I was truly beat this time. Then the unexpected showed up with no planning or preparation on my part. I guess we’ve all experienced those moments. Funny thing is they became more regular when I started expecting them. Wherever you go expect miracles and  acknowledge Him.

And He will make straight all your paths

By the time I was taking this into meditation I could see the message. It’s come full circle. It’s back to trust. You see, most of the paths we tread are in our head. Our little plans and designs. Our wants and our needs. Our lust and envy. Our resentments and our fears. All the blockbuster mental movies where we play the star of the show. All the shit that gets us tangled up. All the nonsense that means nothing to nobody except ourselves. Our self importance. Where we get to take ourselves way to seriously ignoring the fact we are all going to be dead soon. Regardless how long you keep going, nobody gets out alive.

Then I can see it: All the things I call Mine, All my Understanding (or not) of life, the world, others, and my ever changing Beliefs, All my Experiences to date – none of them need me. And the real beauty of it is –  I need none of them either.  Everything is unfolding exactly as it should be. As it is. Creation is an ongoing process. It didn’t end with a Bang. To know that and to be a part of that, wherever that leads, brings an intense sense of freedom.

On the back of all this I found myself on a walk along the seafront. It was 6.30am and the sun was just rising in the sky. The weather looked in for an amazing day. There were few people out and about at that time, a few joggers and some dog walkers. And a guy sat on a bench. I noticed him at the exact same instant that I saw the can of cider in his hand. Strongbow, my all time favourite breakfast. He had another 3 cans at his feet. I saw the pain in his eyes along with that sense of ease and comfort the morning drink always brings. The voice started straight up in my head. Obsession. One so subtle and so powerful. The shockwave shimmered through my body and I was tempted on the spot by the old me that will forever sit in the wings waiting for another turn. I kept on walking but the voice kept on talking. Ive came to believe that I always had and always needed a Power Greater than myself to run the show. Only difference now is I get to choose which one. I text my recovery brother and he responded straight back with a phone call. We laughed at the powerful insanity of this disease and spoke in awe of a Greater Power that pulled us back from the abyss. The rest of the day was a breeze.

The only zen you find at the top of the mountain is the zen you carried up there with you.” – Shunryu Suzuki.

“We found the Great Reality deep down within ourselves. It is only in this last analysis where He may be found“ – A Vision for You, Big Book.

“Pursue what is meaningful not what is expedient.” – Jordan Peterson.

D&O in Fresno

6 thoughts on “Outside the Box

  1. Hi John,
    Happy to read your posts after a long while.

    It’s beautifully-written. And I can feel the liberation in you.

    Your meditations on Prov 3:5-6 are precious. How God has spoken to you through these few verses is nothing short of awesome. I personally hasn’t seen that side of the verses. And I will, too, let those verses brew in my heart, asking the Lord to show me what it meant to me, what is He telling me.

    Thank you for sharing this post. Wow, what a journey!

    Liked by 1 person

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