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

Seeker of Experience

“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 27/8/2004

I remember it well. It was a Sunday morning and I had risen to the thought of how fucking amazing I felt. I was 3 months out of rehab, 6 months sober and for the briefest moment I felt totally in control of my own destiny. For the first time in my life I held the deck and the cards where stacked in my favour. Oh how deep the darkness just before the dawn..
A family commitment I had that day had been cancelled. The sun shone. I had a whole day to myself. A blank canvas to paint as I choose. Then the thought hit me out of the blue, with the power of a freight train. It was the voice of a madman. My voice but not my words… an obsession so subtle and so powerful.
In under half an hour I knew I was going to get drunk. Within the hour I had acquired enough alcohol to find oblivion and was marching through it at the same insane pace I’d left off.
4 weeks that felt like 4 years. I could write exclusively on that period, but not this time, maybe another day. I fell deep inside a Hell State that could wipe just about any human from the face of this planet. The illness dragged me through debauchery, depression, misery, mayhem, isolation and public examination. It brought a pain so sweet I clambered for more.
Coming to and to what seemed like out the other side I found myself at a meeting dripping with self pity looking like a traffic accident. I could see the horror and the relief that it wasn’t them on the faces of those listing to me share it with the room. Except for one! An old timer. He approached me outside and he was laughing! I didn’t get the joke. I remember anxiously explaining to him how I had done everything right, I was working the Steps (remembering this I both laugh and cringe – I’d made 6 months haha what the fuck did I know about working the Steps), I was trying to get honest and making meetings. He asked me to name one thing I had done for somebody else over that period of self indulgent destruction. I felt speechless, unable to comprehend even the idea of what he was talking about. Had he not been listening? I had been waist deep in the shit. How could I have even thought about helping somebody else? I didn’t know how to do that, nobody had ever shown me! “Selfishness, self-centeredness that we think is the route of our troubles” – I was 41 years old and I had never gave a flying fuck about anybody or anything but me! Then he said – “ask God to show ya, He will send an angel, He always does”.

Visiting my counsellor back at the rehab he heard me describe what had happened, that complete lack of a mental defence against the first drink. He informed me I was getting to know my enemy (true knowledge of my condition) and he made some definite and valuable suggestions.

4 weeks that felt like 4 years, 4 weeks that brought 4 years of experience!

I remember that night praying to just be fucking willing to be willing…

What happened next is well beyond words that can fit into a blog post. I would rather see a sermon than hear a sermon. What it’s been is beyond anything I could have imagined or wished for. An incredible ride on an incredible leg of this miraculous journey. Things have been massively high with excitement at times and at others like trudging through treacle. I’ve worked alongside some amazing people and been privileged to serve some truly wounded souls who have at times made my heart bleed and at others made me laugh in a way I had forgot. During this time I’ve traveled the country and the world in connection with my work, and again been blessed with the experience of connecting with others in a way that for 41 years was alien to me. The sign was always on the door, always opening to some room, always a seat I had qualified for. It always was and always will.

Big Book Page 152 (A Vision for You) – “I know I must get along without liquor, but how can I, have you a sufficient substitute?”
“Yes there is a substitute and it is VASTLY more than that…”

Without this program I have no idea where I would be, but I know the experience of the last four years wouldn’t exist, I probably wouldn’t either.
As this leg of the journey comes to a close and I prepare to leave my job as part of the Sunderland team of Changing Lives. As I move into a new role within the Organisation, in a new location with new experiences I remember my greatest teachers have been those whom I’ve struggled with. Everybody is a mirror or a teacher. I’m truly grateful for all they have shown me. Especially the angel who was sent to give me an opportunity to grow by stopping been so fucking self obsessed. If she had saw the shit storm I was just a few short weeks earlier she may have thought twice, but then again I doubt that. Somebody who guided and supported me in a way I will never be able to repay. Unless someday some other fuck up going through a shit storm gets asked the question what has he done for somebody else during that period, then shows up asking me how he can help!

There has been a massive growth in the project over the last 4 years. Many faces have come and gone. Ive connected with all of them on one level or another. I respect and care about each of them. We have moved offices from an over crowded unit in a block shared with many others to a huge and very comfortable environment half a mile away. What started out as one small project has expanded and morphed into a multi service multi disciplinary team. As a result the people we support have benefited in many ways. The people who do this work are more than something special. I have loved my time as a part of all this and know it will continue to grow and move forward. Adapting at every turn, it doesn’t need me! There is currently only 3 of us left from my first year, soon that will be 2. I have tried to remain present as much as possible throughout the whole experience and wish to remain forever teachable.
I am in the process of asking “how I understand Him” to provide me with another great teacher, I don’t know why I’m asking, He will anyways, He always does!

What I do today is important because I am exchanging a day of my life for it” – Hugh Mulligan.

Opinions are great, we all have them. Only problem with that is when the truth shows up it doesn’t give a fuck about opinions” – Heard in a meeting.

 

D&O in Fresno

Process of Subtraction

Process of Subtraction

(Love more than Judge)

Attending my weekly morning meditation group I was overjoyed to see an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while stepping in for the regular facilitator. A guy with a good few years in the Program, he has a way of saying things and giving off this very calm vibe that most if not all people pick up on. He wanted to convey a message to the group before settling into meditation. A message of how things where once very different. He described a situation he found himself in many years ago when he first got sober. He was out in Canada working on a farm. It was winter, the snow was deep and they were subtracting syrup from the maple trees. His job was to go round the trees, collect each bucket when it was full, take it to some kind of boiler, then after emptying them return each one back to the tree. He was frustrated and angry each time he fell on his face or sank to the waist. It was hard work. He was red in the face and constantly cursing, getting more tired and frustrated as each minute passed.

Then something happened. At the point of giving up and walking off he heard the sound of the syrup hitting the bucket, all at once, then picking out each individual tree. He described a scene of deep tranquility, solitude, and a wonderment of what was actually going on around him.

Recovery is such a beautifully powerful Journey, but its a double edged sword just like the scene our friend paints of his time in Canada. It is by no coincidence that I spend the majority of my waking moments working the 6th & 7th Steps! Humans ya gotta love them!! The world is fully populated by sick people, Im one of them. The problem is that once I became aware of that then my own defects (which I had remained blind to for 41 years) where mirrored back to me by people who are totally oblivious to the soul sickness that sweeps our species. Buddha was asked… “What have you gained in all your years of meditation? He replied – ‘Nothing! But let me tell you what I’ve lost… Ego, Anger, Resentment, Hatred, Self-Criticism, Self-Pity and Fear’

The joy of working the 12th Step, helping another is an incredible experience. Watching as the penny starts to drop. Listening as they describe what they can see as if its the first time, that gradual awakening process and then –  Booom!! I remember it well, that instant desire to share this with the world, all those other sick fucks.

I slow things down and we take a look around!!!

Bringing into the conversation what it says so simply in Chapter 5… “We are not saints.” Explaining to the new comer that this is my 12th Step, Im doing it for me. Im the still sick and suffering. 

Learning to accept who I am along with all my faults and shortcomings wouldn’t be possible if I then thought the process had rendered me whiter than snow and I had the right to Judge others.

I may not be, and God willing I will never (Just for Today) again be that crazy lunatic powered by self will run riot, anaesthetising the pain of unmanageability with copious amounts of drink and drugs, caring not one bit about who got caught in the crossfire.. But until I took the 1st Step in its entirety then I had every right to do that! Not very responsible, but then again I wasn’t the responsible type. I didn’t know any better! People may have pointed this out, Im not too sure how many, I wasn’t really listening!

The point is (We are willing to grow along spiritual lines) that this process of change I have went through (With the help of others and guidance from something much Greater than myself) and am still going through one day at a time, as wonderful as it is, has at times been incredibly painful. I’ve had more than one relapse, none of them where down to me wanting to drink. But the flip side of this is I’ve learned to love myself, I’m comfortable in my own skin at last (well most of the time). So if I deserve to reserve Judgement on myself after everything that happened during that long former life time, then why wouldn’t others be just as deserving of my forgiveness and compassion? Remembering always what the first 100 so Majestically put down on paper… “Perhaps they too are spiritually sick!

No one can get rid of the spirit of judgement by an effort of the will ~ Paul Tournier

People suffer because they are caught in their views. As soon as we release those views, we are free and we don’t suffer anymore ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Its a process of subtraction ~ Greg C

D&O in Fresno

Just for today – 24 little hours

Waiting at the bus stop on route to the office after attending the local psychiatric hospital this afternoon (Myself and a colleague had been to visit a client ), a car pulled over and I recognised the private number plate. Strange as I had only spoken to the driver on the phone three days earlier. A very good friend of mine was driving the car. We hadn’t seen each other in about five years. I ushered my colleague into the back seat and made a joke that I had just picked her up from the hospital and was escorting her on ‘Home Leave’. My friend quickly retorted “Its ok love, I know who the real patient is here!”

Everyday is different in my life today. Though I have a job, regularly attend meetings, stay sober, work the Steps and also have various commitments, no 24 are the same. Very different from where I was last time I saw this friend. Those days revolved around drinking and the madness it brought, I was very much the patient!

My life of late is very balanced, especially my inner life. During the five years since recovery found me I have been through some challenging periods of growth and Im now reaping the rewards. I’ve become very self aware and work on myself on a daily basis. Staying one ‘Step’ ahead of those pesky character defects that tempt me on a daily basis to ‘act out’ has become my spiritual practice. I can’t do that alone, so starting each day with Step 11 is how I ask for guidance from whatever it is that guides me. Step 11 – “Through prayer and meditation” asking only for knowledge of Its will for me and the power to carry that out. It didn’t start out that way today since I woke up in somebody else’s bed – Not very spiritual. But at least it was dry!

By 4:30pm I’m sat with a Social Worker discussing a case I’m involved with. Forgetting for a moment that she is neutral and neither for or against the individual I represent, I found myself slightly wound up. Those pesky defects! Stepping back from the situation slightly, taking a sip of water and recomposing myself, I become quickly aware of my ego rising to the fore. Its not about me and she isn’t against me. Stop feeling threatened and calm the fuck down D&O! All ends well and I feel the satisfaction gained by allowing the Program to work in my life. Progress not perfection!!

Earlier today around noon I was escorting another homeless person to the bus station. I was reconnecting her to the town of her former home, her area of connection. I had linked her up with homeless services through there and remain hopeful she will receive the support she needs. On the way another old friend and former drinking buddy was outside a bar smoking. He waved and I shouted over that I would call in and say hello on my way back. I did – he was surrounded by comrades who maybe more needing of the psychiatric care than those I was to visit later in the day. We spent a few short minutes with pleasantries and he updated me on the latest chaotic event of his recent life. I was pleased to make a sharp exit. He is somebody I care deeply about, we have been friends a lot of years, but his bar fly compadres are easy for me to walk away from nowadays. I know without this 12 Step Program of Recovery I would soon be drinking with them. I thank God thats not today and hopefully not in any 24 hours of a future that includes me… I don’t judge, Im just grateful its not me today – bless them!

Later at home Im going over the events and conversations of the day when a friend in the fellowship reaches out and asks for my help. Remembering I can’t stay sober alone, that no man can sincerely help another without helping himself, I say yes! Its partly how it works – ‘Step 12’, give freely of what you shall find! I phone my Sponsor and chat about his day as well as mine. He jokes that God puts crazy people in other crazy peoples path… I don’t argue with that, and remind him that He introduced us!

I bath, eat, meditate and pack a bag for tomorrow. I’m heading to Leeds after work, giving a presentation to my peers – my findings on homelessness in the United States! Thats on Saturday, Im going to get there the night before and make a meeting in the City centre.
I sit down to Write… No 24 the same, but for a few in a row I haven’t needed a drink, never hurt anybody (including myself) and have enjoyed this wonderful gift we call life!
“Die to the moment, every moment!” – Buddhist Philosophy.
“The secret of daily living is daily dying” – St Paul (formerly Saul, author of the New Testament).

 

Day Fourteen of the Word Press everyday inspiration challenge: Recreate a single day.
D&O in Fresno

Just Meditation 

 

All my life, as far back as I can remember, I was searching for something. I had no idea what that something was. Wherever I went, with whoever, to do whatever I constantly had this underlying current – an uncomfortable feeling in my own skin. This was regardless of how close and friendly I was to whoever I was sharing the moment with. It made little difference whether it was a fun and safe environment or a chaotic dangerous place (I preferred the danger and chaos, at least it had an emotional charge). My thoughts and emotions where completely unmanageable by me. Alcohol proved to be a life saver as Im sure I would never had made it through on my own having to deal with that inner hell. It was the mask I wore that hid all this from the rest of the world. I believed it was my best friend and over time it almost destroyed me. In a nutshell thats alcoholism. Alcohol was the solution I was searching for (and rapidly found from an early age), the ISM is the illness, one of its many symptoms I have just briefly explained to you. Theres more, a whole lot more, but that will do for now.

The 11th Step of the 12Step Program that I treat (it demands to be treat, one way or the other) the ISM  with suggests Meditation (amongst other things).

By the time it came for me to work Step 11 I had already through the previous 10 Steps experienced “The necessary complete psychic change vital to sustaining recovery” (‘The Doctors Opinion’ – Big Book of AA). However the psychic change is impermanent, as is all things in life. It requires work on a daily basis – just for today; one day at a time! Alcoholism is a subtle foe!! So I set off on a remarkable journey into meditation. Meditation takes on many forms and is a personal endeavour. However it just so happens (Recovery has presented way too many incidents for me to still believe in coincidences ) that around this time, thanks to two individuals and the others they quickly enlisted the help of, a meditation centre of a unique variety came into fruition.

It all started at Changing Lives Recovery Centre late 2013. I was onboard almost from the start and would look forward to our monthly get-togethers . In a few short months it quickly outgrew the RC and moved into a Commercial Building in the centre of Newcastle. At this point gatherings where still monthly (last Saturday each month), but progressed to two classes – morning and afternoon. Numbers quickly outgrew the capacity of the building. Meditation was proven extremely popular. It was supported by a mixture of the recovery community and interested members of the public.

This gave birth to the ‘Just Meditation’ Centre of today. A building in the heart of Newcastle’s Westgate Road, purposely designed to facilitate daily meditation workshops. It is the brain child of the original founders – Fr Nicholas Buxton (St John the Baptist Church) & Ollie Bachelor (CE Client Services Changing Lives).

Nicholas is a Priest, but like many in attendance he has a colourful past – He was once a drop out who took copious amounts of drink and drugs before meditation helped him turn his life around. He drifted between jobs as a labourer, cleaner, painter & decorator and a barman while staying in squats and taking copious amounts of drink and drugs. He dreamed nicholasbuxtonof being a writer, artist or musician but, by the age of 27, was living on a boat on the Isle of Wight, where he started a boatyard management course. But, after falling in with a group of bikers and drug dealers, he dropped out of the course and reached a point where his drinking became such a problem he wasn’t capable of holding down a job.

“I used to drink beer, stout, vodka, gin and wine. I would start in the morning and drink through the day, not every day, but I did drink a lot. I certainly had a problem.” He also took cannabis and speed and went through an acid phase but the alcohol was worse because, he says: “I couldn’t control it.”

His wake-up call came when his friend, Steve, who also lived on a boat, fell in and drowned while drunk:  “That could have been me. We used to hang out and drink together and I had had a few near misses, falling in. I was very upset. It made me realise I had to get out of that lifestyle.”

Realising he needed to get away before he ended ‘washed up on a beach’ he sold all his possessions, including his prized punk rock and metal record collection, and headed to India, to ‘sort himself out’. After two years spent in Indian ashrams and a Thai Buddhist monastery in New Zealand, he returned to the UK to continue his spiritual journey: He was accepted by Cambridge University to read theology and religious studies, going on to gain a PhD in Buddhist philosophy before becoming ordained.

Ollie-BatchelorOllie is Chief Executive Director of Client Services for Changing Lives, a national charity which provides specialist support services to vulnerable people and their families in order to help them make positive, lasting changes in their lives. He began work as a social worker in the late 1970’s, before training as a probation officer at the London School of Economics. He is a specialist on the subject of substance misuse and has worked throughout England and Scotland in the statutory, voluntary and private sectors. Ollie is also a dedicated practitioner of meditation.

The building itself is exquisite. It maintains a touch of class whilst striving to remain MeditationSpace.jpgsimplistic. Though the new project is still in its infancy, numbers are relatively healthy. The group is a really good mixture, a very healthy, vibrant gathering, made of up of people in their 20s and 30s up to their 60s. It hasn’t achieved its goal of opening on a daily basis yet but is heading in that direction. New facilitators are been trained by Nicholas and volunteer posts are slowly but surely been taking up by those who value the importance of the centre.

Nicholas says – “You don’t need to travel to a retreat in the Bahamas or a beach in Bali in order to meditate. It’s here and now. It’s about regulating your attention, and not allowing your thoughts to wander, so you don’t get caught up in the busyness of your mind: “Harder to do than it looks.”

People usually begin with meditation to help with one particular life problem they are struggling with. There is a multitude of reasons, for example: to help with stress, quiet a busy mind, relieve anxiety and help calm worry, mental health issues, to make sense of of everything and find some serenity, as part of a 12 step program, or just to get some time to relax and unwind. There are many more examples, we usually start for one reason and find it helps us with other challenging situations. However meditation doesn’t just help us deal with the negative stuff we face, it also adds to the positive, accentuating the things we already enjoy. We find peace within ourselves and learn to lighten up and appreciate life. I myself have found I meditate for the sake of meditating. Thats not what I had in mind when I first started, but thats how its developed. All other benefits (and there are many) are an added bonus.

Meditating in a group, sharing openly on how we are developing our practice, what it helps with, what we find difficult about it and gaining others experience and perspective. These are the fruits of having a meditation centre in the midst of a busy city.

I encourage anyone who is interested to come along on a Saturday morning. Meditation starts 11am prompt, but the group meet at the centre for a cuppa and a chat around 10:30am.

Contact –  meditation-centre

The Newcastle Meditation Centre, 71b Westgate Road

Newcastle upon Tyne.

http://www.justmeditation.org/

D&O in Freso

FEAR!!!

Fear…

“This short word somehow touches every aspect of our lives, it was an evil and corroding thread. The very fabric of our existence was shot through with it…” (Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous).

FEAR – Described in 500 words:

Fuck Everything And Run or Face Everything And Recover!

I prefer – Fantastic Expectations Amazing Revelations…

Since I got Sober – Son Of a Bitch Everything is Real, I have been confronted by all of the Step 4 inventory headings. It was an extremely painful and drawn out process that I won’t go into depth about in this post. If I take my eye off the ball and forget the lessons then I fully expect I will go through it again. I truly believe I was dragged through a crash course, taken to Rock Bottom with my most glaring of defects and given a severe and humbling beating. I can now see that I was lovingly protected every ‘Step’ of the way by a Higher Power and helped to overcome. That was my introduction to ‘Step 6’.

Fear is one of them defects. I never realised how much ‘The fabric of my life…’ until I could no longer go to the well and top up on chemical courage. I had no idea I was doing that until I could no longer do it. That was an Amazing Revelation!! People, my former self included like to believe courage is the opposite of fear. ‘Step 7’ requires me to practice the opposite of anything negative that is engrained in me. Practice it every time the negative thought, feeling or behaviour arises. Difficult at first but with the correct use of willpower it slowly gets easier and easier until the old habit dies (or… goes to sleep!) and the new one takes its place. The problem here is courage and fear go hand in hand they are not opposites. Courage is the ability and desire to do the next right thing regardless of fear. It is an incredible virtue. But not the opposite that ‘Step 7’ suggests.

The opposite of fear is Faith. Faith grows from the lived past experience that all turns out well in the end. Maybe it turns out differently from what I would have hoped for or planned, but never the less it always turns out ok. It must have done… I’m still breathing!  

Fear is a primitive instinct that serves us well when we are in a fight or flight situation. However this is rarely the case. The majority of our fears are based on projection. Fantasies about a future event, 5 minutes from now or 5 weeks from now for example. They are never positive fantasies, always heavily negative with a disastrous outcome of sorts. The modern terminology for this is – Catastrophizing!

When gripped by fear especially worry, panic or terror (take your pick it has 1000 forms), it takes a lot of courage to hold onto faith. The desire to burst out screaming and run for cover can be overwhelming. However, when through past experience, remembering that these Fantastical Expectations giving off alarm bells and flashing red lights are nothing more than an illusion produced by an ego under threat- then we can see our own insanity.

Understanding that we are never sane until we can see our own insanity is an Amazing Revelation! As is the awareness that, through this I get to see ‘Step 2’ once again very gently infiltrate my life and that something Much Greater than myself has my back.

 

Day 13 of the WordPress #everydayinspiration challenge suggests I experiment with word count. To either double or half the amount of words from my regular posts. I normally weigh in between 1000 -1200 words. This post lands on the page at 580.
“I’m pulling for you to push through this feeling and with a little time should do the healing” ~ Eminem (Beautiful Pain)
“Every time he tries to look within himself, Pride says, ‘You need not pass this way,’ and Fear says ‘You dare not look!’ But pride and fear of this sort turn out to be bogeymen,nothing else” ~ 12Steps & 12 Traditions pp.49-50

D&O in Fresno

 

Balance

Day 9 of the #everydayinspiration challenge asks “How do you maintain balance, what do you do when not writing?”

I need to look at this from a slightly different angle than the wording of the question. Writing is something I do to help maintain balance in my life, it is one of the tools in my armoury. Everything else is ‘What I do when not writing.’
That armoury is a lot deeper and vast than I tend to give myself credit for. It has developed over a bit of time and I’ve absorbed it piecemeal. Its been a necessary process, frustrating at times. I have a tendency to reach for instant gratification. Learning patience was a high priority when I was starting out on this journey of self-realisation. Its life that I have to maintain a balance with and how I deal with its often annoying challenges. I’ve have had to grow a thicker top skin and that in itself was painful. Absorbing others’ negative charge. Tolerating egos and reflections of my own (I would like to say old, but…) defects without loosing it big time. Sitting with the desire to control without sticking my size 9’s in. These and many more have been uncomfortable at times without the aid of the anaesthetic of drink and drugs. Living Sober – Life on Life’s terms. However I think I’ve documented all this enough in recent posts, so what about the solution?…

When I first came out of rehab, trying to get my head around the program, it was obvious how much I enjoyed and benefited from the fellowship. Meetings especially would rock my day and I loved them, still do! But back then that was all I thought I would need, not so! Working the ‘Steps’ requires me to change – I had to… the old way didn’t work!!! Been open and honest with a sponsor, about what I’m finding difficult on a daily basis, especially my sponsor who constantly challenges me to step out of the dreaded ‘Comfort Zone’. Been willing to take on board suggestions are all things that have lead to me trying new things. That is where I’ve found ‘balance’.

Meditation – That mystical Far Eastern practice of Buddhist Monks. If you believe thats what it is then you will believe any old Horseshit (most people do anyways). Even the USMC are doing it now. It has been a staple practice of warriors long before the birth of any Marine Corps. I love it, It has been one of the most fascinating aspects of Recovery. It helps me to get grounded into reality, disconnect (temporarily at least) from the constant chattering of my destructive thought processes, and experience inner peace! Try it, but trust me it will change your view on everything in a way you will never be able to return back from. It ain’t for the faint hearted! I meditate whenever I have nothing in front of me that absolutely requires my complete focus and even then thats a meditation in itself. The mind on one thing, not scatter brained fantasy, present and in the here and now. Anywhere anytime whatsoever… Trains, Buses, Planes (was tempted to say automobiles but I avoid them as much as possible). Eyes closed with headphones playing relaxing music or spoken guidance, or my favourite Zazaen. Zazaen isn’t an ideal way to begin practicing meditation (forgetting that we are always beginners). It requires sitting crossed legged on the floor in silence and staring at a blank wall. You may say it sounds boring and difficult, I agree it does sound that way. It isn’t, its massive in the way it gifts the benefits I described earlier in this paragraph. I would no sooner be without it now than I would food or sleep.

Yoga – Again something that sounds very different from what it actually is. One for the girls! Thats what the old me would have thought. Well the old me’s thinking put me right in deep shit! I was always one for the macho bullshit. Long before drink and drugs started to take a heavy toll on my body I could exercise obsessively, running 10 miles was nothing. As for lifting heavy weights I could bench more than a fully grown man when I was 12 years old. 15 Rounds on the bags before heading to the pub on a morning became a daily routine whenever I found myself out of work. My shins, knees, back and shoulders remind me of this stupidity on a regular basis, more often with each passing year.
Yoga gives me so much more than an exercise fad to obsess over, not that I need a reason or excuse to obsess over anything. It develops a core strength, flexibility of the body and a focused healthy mind. Its also a lot of fun as long as again I remember not to take it or myself too seriously.

Writing – its so therapeutic and I enjoy it a huge amount. I value reading to the same extent and always have a book on the go!

Meetings – I still love them and the amazing people that visit the rooms. They are incredible Survivors, interesting and very often hilarious.Teachers and  I learn something new on each occasion!

Family – Spend time with them people!! Make amends to those you’ve hurt, forgive those who have hurt you… Life is so very short!

Travel and anything that pushes me to the boundaries of my comfort zone… I have seen a lot of the World but accept I will never see it all. This Rock that we hurtle through Space on is a wonderful place occupied by fascinating creatures (some at least more than others). I try to do something new on a regular basis, some I enjoy more than others. The ones I enjoy least are the ones I should do more often (push the boundaries).

Theres more, quite a bit more, but thats it in a nutshell. Im alive and awake. The journey continues. Thanks again for reading, and don’t forget… do something your future self will thank you for – step outside of that comfort zone, it is a strangler of dreams and creativity!

“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” – Nelson Mandela

D&O in Fresno

“Mission should you accept… Navigate the Killing Zone”

“Ignoring the mind is a beautiful Sadhana. This is what many of the Sages did. They ignored the mind out of existence. It loses its influence and its potency when it is ignored.” – Mooji Zen Master from Jamaica.

Today the challenge is to start with a block quote and then keep writing and hopefully maintain a link between what was quoted. Anybody who has read my blog will know I always finish with at least two quotes, relevant to the theme. I love quotes I find them empowering. I search for them always after I’ve finished so this is a new approach for me.

I always start my day with meditation – every day! Its part of the Twelve Step Program that I have adopted and absorbed into my life. Step 11 is such a huge and vital part of the Program in as much as its often heard in the rooms of AA – “I came for my drinking and stayed for my thinking!” “We are all here because we are not all there.”

Addiction of any description is a ‘thinking’ dis-ease. Its is a soul sickness that plays head tennis between heart and mind. It attacks on three fronts… Mind, Body and Spirit! The thing is the Soul always knows what to do to repair itself, as for the body, well its ability to recover is phenomenal.  The mind is where its at! As a good friend of mine in the Fellowship often says – “my head has a contract out on me!”Welcome to the Killing Zone!

The killing zone is a term used by the military to describe the ‘arc of fire’ necessary to perform a successful ambush on the enemy. Along with the requirement that ambushing soldiers should outnumber the enemy by at least 2-1. Finding oneself in the ‘Killing Zone’ is to understand you are in the deepest shit that you can ever fall into! However like all things in life there is an opposite. Ying and Yang is a Universal Law. The principle employs taking immediate action, turning towards the incoming fire and dashing heroicaly into the danger with all guns blazing, really going for it regardless of how futile and lost the cause is. Don’t stop until your dead or victorious. Believe it or not, this has been proved to work from time to time.  Not with addiction!!

“Whatever stands in your way IS the way” – Zen Proverb.

When I first got sober I thought I really got it. To a degree I did, but not to the level I thought! Friends I’d made in a treatment centre were holding me up as an example and people in the Fellowship were congratulating me on my progress.  I had long been ‘Sick and tired of been sick and tired’ and was finding this new way of life invigorating. Alcohol is a subtle foe and I had no idea I was bumbling through the  ‘Killing Zone’ walking into an ambush! It wasn’t long before I took my first hit! I was drunk after 4 months and it hurt – a lot!

This all sounds very much the opposite to the quote, but wait a minute let me explain! The Steps allowed me to go through a process akin to dashing into incoming fire. They allowed me to stare myself down and see the real me. At that point I had no idea who I actually was, I thought I did, but no! Looking in the mirror all I saw was the mask that had been welded to my face for decades, one that allowed me to feel immune to my own bullshit. Dashing headlong into the ambush meant ripping the mask off, seeing what was behind it – Self  centerdness, Fear, Childish (almost infantile) manipulative behaviour coupled with aggression when not getting my own way. I was outnumbered more than 2-1.

“Acceptance is the key” – If I was to stay sober (not just dry, there’s a world of difference) I had to stare myself down and Surrender. A beautiful, empowering process that takes a little bit time and a huge amount of work. Work that involves ‘ignoring the mind’. The human race has long fell to the illusion that ‘I am my mind’ – Horse shit! Its just another part of the body, quite different from the heart and the hands and every other part of our biological make up I grant that!  But the fact remains its just another tool in our physical existence. It is not our life force!

On the contrary ‘It has a contract out on me!’ It can be a warm mistress or a cruel master! Both are imposters!!

Ignoring the mind proved to be very difficult for some time. Staying honest with the first drink/drug I was left with a mosaic view of my character defects, those old and heavily entrenched along with those acquired and learned along the way during the march with John Barleycorn! The illness lives in the mind and it would throw these at me at any given random moment in an attempt to get me back on track to self destruction.

Early in the Program (Step 2) I had learned the necessity of asking for help and the benefits of accepting it. I needed it  to “Navigate my way through the Killing Zone” –  the minds ‘Influence’ and its ‘Potency’ was more than I could handle alone. I was diagnosed with OCD, it had been torturing me (The imp of the perverse) for some time before I concluded I would never stay sober until I addressed it. Treatment for this has been fascinating and surprisingly enjoyable… get it out there, see it for what it is, habitualize self with it till it no longer has any control over your thought process then laugh at it – i.e.; learn to ‘Ignore the mind!’

The Journey continues and I remain forever Teachable…

I normally quote from two separate people but on this I will end with the great Charles Bukowski –

“Some people never go crazy, what truly horrible lives they must live.”

“Nobody can save you but yourself and you’re worth saving. It’s a war not easily won but if anything is worth winning then this is it.”

D&O in Fresno