Tag Archives: 12 steps

looking into gratitude

this morning, i visited chitowngreg’s sunday post about gratitude. it was fabulous to see all the comments there – 48 at the time i was visiting.

and then of course my research brain got curious. what a great treasure trove to delve a little into to find out what specific things people are grateful for! i spent a few hours to analyze it a bit and cam up with a few surprises and a few things that were expected.

family was the biggest theme. i found 25 mentions of it. most of them were about children, e.g.

three wonderful children with their own uniqueness

and almost as many about spouses, e.g.

climbing into my warm bed, with my husband who loves me, and listening to the rain softly falling all night long……

then a surprise – the next category in “family” was dogs, before mothers, etc.:

for dogs who never tire of seeing me.

chitowngreg’s blog is a 12-step blog, so understandably, there were a lot (21) of expressions of gratitude about recovery and 12-step programs, like

i watched, “crazy heart”, last night. a story about an alcoholic country singer/ songwriter. made me very grateful for my sobriety and the second chance i was given.

indirectly, some of the comments where gratitude is expressed for those kinds of things would also fall into other categories such as spirituality and friends (because of the strong fellowship aspect of 12 steps). i found surprisingly few (5) for friends (“the companionship of friends”) and 4 for spirituality (e.g. “playing ave maria in a little while at mass this morning”).

i was also not necessarily surprised but perhaps “pleasantly confirmed” that those gratitudes contained none of the cultishness that 12-steppers are sometimes accused of.

another topic that came up frequently was basic needs, possibly inspired by greg’s intro to the post about how lucky most of us are. if your combined household income is over $ $26,400 a year, you’re in the top 10% of all income earners in the world. think about that. for many of us westerners, that’s mind boggling. when i think of how many people i know who are wringing their hands because they only make $25 an hour, it’s refreshing to hear this

thank god for running water!

and then there were more comments (14) about the weather/nature than there were about health (11)! that was perhaps the biggest surprise. i would have expected for health to be right up there with family. of course this is anything but a scientific research project – still, i find this remarkable, something i’m thinking of following up (maybe i’ll write one of my brainblogger articles about this sometime soon). loved this comment:

i’m grateful to have had a glorious weekend on the boat and that this afternoon there was a wonderful thunderstorm. we came back through the rain but were safe. nature in all its power!

another surprise: of all the gratitudes i looked at (about 140 altogether), this was the only one that explicitly mentioned nature.

here’s one about¬†health:

i’m grateful today that i can think and speak in words. a dear friend is wordless after a brain hemorrhage, and it’s very hard.

other things that were mentioned more than once, with some examples, and in order of occurrence:


i’m grateful to have blogs that allow me to reconfirm i am doing the right thing in my life.

gratitude itself
people like you who remind me why i should be grateful when i’m grouchy just because its monday

personal growth

having the courage to ask “what am i going to do,” rather than sitting in pity saying “why”

mornings (that was another surprise – mentioned 7 times)

the possibilities of the whole day in front of me

also home, work, baseball (!!!) and peace.

alcoholism and everyday addictions

the 12 steps of alcoholics anonymous are sometimes summarized in these seven words:

i can’t
god can
i better let god

these pithy words come from the first three steps:

1. we admitted we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives had become unmanageable
2. we came to believe that a power greater than ourselves would restore us to sanity.
3. we made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of god as we understood him.

depending on one’s interpretation, that can sound quite defeatist (“i can’t / i’m powerless”) and cultish (“i better let god / turn over our will”).

in my occasional musings on how the 12 steps can be used outside of traditional addiction recovery (for example, here are some thoughts on step 3) i’d like to propose that these seven pithy words and these three steps can be useful for anyone as a guide in their lives.

we admitted we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives had become unmanageable.

it may not be alcohol, it may not be drugs, food, work, cigarettes or caffeine – but the truth is that there are a lot of things inside and outside of ourselves that we are powerless over, and that feel totally overwhelming. i have no power over the traffic, you have no power over your boss, joe has no power over politics. but it goes deeper than that – it is our reactions to these things that truly trouble us – the feelings of helplessness, the endless worry, the anger. we hate these feelings, so we run to do something about them – TV, romance novels, potato chips, blackjack chips. at the root of that are fear and pain and avoidance of fear and pain through escape into instant gratification. so how about:

step 1: we are run by fear and pain and avoidance of them, and that the endless cycling between those two is exhausting and overwhelming – it is insanity.

we came to believe that a power greater than ourselves would restore us to sanity.

is there something greater than fear and avoidance of fear? god? maybe for some. how about for those uncomfortable with or plainly disinterested in the idea of god? the 12 steps are informed by underlying principles such as honesty, hope, courage, integrity, love, justice and service – all positive, life-affirming, values that are greater than our little egos and ids, our inner factories that constantly crank out more fear and fear avoidance. here is my proposition, then:

step 2: we remind ourselves that by holding on to our values, we can rise above fear and instant gratification and leave insanity behind.

we made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of god as we understood him.

the awareness that there is an alternative to fear, pain and instant gratification is a good start but it is not enough. a lot of us are aware that there are problems. we need to make a decision to do something with that awareness. this decision, by the way, needs to happen on a daily, hourly, sometimes minute-by-minute basis. fear and pain and our desire to escape them are incredibly strong; if we want to let go of them as prime motivators for our lives, we need to counter them with our values, virtues and beliefs on an almost constant basis. one of my favourite quotes is freud’s about us having but a “thin veneer of civilization”. i firmly believe if we are to keep this world going, maybe even make it a better place, we need to do everything we can to make this veneer stronger and thicker. we literally need to become more civil. isn’t that one of the main goals of democracry (a concept deeply informed by civility): to create and nurture an environment where citizens need not be governed by fear? just as we need to keep working on and fighting for democracy, we need to keep building our own personal virtues and values. here is my suggestion for step 3:

step 3: we decided to lead our lives by our virtues and values.

i would be very interested in hearing your thoughts about this.

a 12-step buddhist talks about anger and george bush

a guest post by the 12-step buddhist:

how do you feel now that barack is official? i’m still in shock. waiting for a big news release about some kick ass exec orders reversing idiocracy. one of the big questions for me is how to practice buddhism and the principles of 12-step recovery around politics. on one hand, i care very deeply about the state of the nation. but not just the nation, or certain people in the nation who i like.

in the 12-step world, we are to be of service to everyone. in buddhism, we’re interested in the total liberation of all sentient beings from every form of suffering–forever. so how do we deal with our strong feelings about, say george bush for example? do we have the right to have anger towards him? certainly, from a non-buddhist perspective, we should be angry. but in the 12-step world, we know that anger is the dubious luxury of normal people. in buddhism, we strive to have compassion for everyone, even, especially, the ones who make us angry.

for one thing, karma says we cause our own suffering. anger is suffering. holding on to anger is holding on to suffering. venting our anger is causing more suffering. understanding equanimity is also a buddhist tool that we can apply. george bush and barack obama have the exact same buddha nature. how could they be different? we can also practice compassion. how does it feel, deep inside, to be george bush today? can we imagine that he, like us and all beings, wants not to suffer and wants only happiness.

your comments are welcome. let’s see how people really feel about this topic. be honest. let it out. i’ll respond to the comments in a few days.

darren littlejohn blogs here and is the author of the 12-step buddhist.

buddhist carnival – december 2008 edition, part 2

here is part 2 of this month’s buddhist carnival. part 1 can be found here.

one of the things that attract me so strongly to buddhism is the idea of moderation and balance. i love the story of the buddha attaining enlightenment not through his years of asceticism but after accepting a modest drink of milk and honey from a young woman. this is walking the middle way.

grace talks about the balance that is such a hallmark of the well-lived buddhist life. i love the story she tells to illustrate it:

i walked along a favourite creek not too long ago. it is in a pristine slot canyon, with high red rock walls on either side. to get to the spring at the end, i must criss-cross the water a dozen times.

each crossing is different. some are easy, with large flat rocks. in some, poles have been placed across the water, and i must balance with one foot on each log, in an awkward, hitch-step fashion to reach the other side.
as i get deeper into the canyon –

read a balanced life to see what happens there …

accessible buddhism
my good friend carol sill has an exciting new site, called opensourcespirit.org. on it, she interviews people from all walks of spiritual life, usually on video. here is an interview with peter fenner from radiant mind, who talks as eloquently about the various strains of buddhism as about his approach to making buddhist ideas accessible to all.

william at integral options, where he tirelessly scoures the blogosphere for interesting material, has a thoughtful article on change, inspired by two articles that he discusses at length. one is about changing ourselves:

we can’t change the world, we can’t change our country, we can’t even change our family members, but we can change ourselves. wanting to change others is attachment – a clinging to the way we want things to be rather than working with things as they are.

and the other about leaving the box of safety or, as they say in german, “jumping over your shadow”:

as long as we remain in our comfort zones, change is not very likely to happen. we know we are open to change when we live on the edge of our personal safety. and this does not mean physical safety, but rather those feelings and situations that create anxiety, such as a personal or national crises.

12-step meditation meetings
darren littlejohn presents how to start a 12-step sangha meeting posted at the 12 step buddhist.

the reason i started 12-step sangha was to focus on meditation as part of a recovery program, not as a substitute. i’ve included the format we’ve been using below, but in a simpler version. the idea was to use some buddhist meditation techniques, but to keep the style, topics and sharing oriented to recovery. this is different than a buddhist style group that allows recovering people.

tibetan philosophy
loden jinpa is a buddhist scholar, and opens for us doors into buddhist philosophy that we may sometimes not even know exist. one of the great teachers he discusses on his blog is tsong khapa. here is a little introduction:

tsong khapa’s overall enterprise and in particular his insight into the illusory-like nature of persons and phenomena is about solving the problem of existential suffering. the solution to this problem is found in the extirpation of ignorance – the ignorance that reifies essence in things and functions as the root cause of suffering. it is the root of suffering, as it pervades the cognitive process for ordinary unenlightened beings propelling them into dysfunctional actions.

read on here

the dalai lama’s successor
on now public:

the dalai lama opened his much anticipated meeting with the international media here on sunday with a terse “i have nothing to say”, but went on to indicate that he was ready to pass on his political role to tibetans in exile and choose his successor, probably a young girl, in his lifetime. in his 90-minute interaction with the media, the nobel laureate made many remarks that are sure to irk china and cause some anxiety in new delhi. he said tibet’s cause was linked up with the question of democracy in china and that india’s approach to the tibetan issue was “too cautious”.

therion, a fellow canadian, sends us the story of a different successor: ram bahadur bomjon : buddha boy back from the jungle

and finally, two more contributions. axel presents zen-like living, and igor talks about what his rabbits taught him about buddhism.

that’s it for this year! if you have a buddhist blog post you’d like to contribute, please send it to me here, or, if you have a hard time connecting to blog carnival, drop me a line.


depression and AA: as bill sees it

bill w. and dr. bobjohn at storied mind recently wrote a post on the intersection between depression and the 12 steps of alcoholics anonymous. it just so happens that same evening i was browsing through “as bill sees it”, a compilation of writings by bill w., the founder of that group. it has a few entries on depression. you might find them interesting:

sometimes, we become depressed. … while the surface causes were a part of the picture — trigger-events that precipitated depression – the underlying causes, i am satisfied, ran much deeper. intellectually, i could accept my situation. emotionally, i could not.

to these problems, there are certainly no pat answers. but part of the answer surely lies in the constant effort to practice all of A.A.’s twelve steps. (letter, 1954)

i asked myself, “why can’t the twelve steps work to release me from this unbearable depression?” by the hour, i stared at the st. francis prayer: “it is better to comfort than to be comforted.”

suddenly i realized what the answer might be. my basic flaw had always been dependence on people or circumstances to supply me with prestige, security, and confidence. failing to get these things according to my perfectionist dreams and specifications, i fought for them. and when defeat came, so did my depression.

reinforced by what grace i could find in prayer, i had to exert every ounce of will and action to cut off these faulty emotional dependencies upon people and upon circumstances. then only could i be free to love as francis had loved. (grapevine, AA’s newsletter, january 1958)

when i was tired and couldn’t concentrate, i used to fall back on an affirmation toward life that took the form of simple walking and deep breathing. i sometimes told myself that i couldn’t do even this — that i was to weak. but i learned that this was the point at which i could not give in without becoming still more depressed.

so i would set myself a small stint. i would determine to walk a quarter of a mile. and i would concentrate by counting my breathing — say, six steps to each slow inhalation and four to each exhalation.

having done the quarter-mile, i found that i could go on, maybe a half-mile more. then another half-mile, and maybe another. this was encouraging. the false sense of physical weakness would leave me (this feeling being so characteristic of depressions). the walking and especially the breathing were powerful affirmations toward life and living and away from failure and death. the counting represented a minimum discipline in concentration, to get some rest from the wear and tear of fear and guilt. (letter, 1960)

recovering from addiction: a prayer

a prayer by someone dealing with addiction:

an image that goes with prayer

dear higher powers:
thank you for another day of life.
help me to walk closely with you today.
work through me so that i may better help others.
help me when i am weak. help me to reach out to your unending strength.
help me to remain hopeful and inspired.
help me to be humble in dealing with my ferocious disease.
help me to remember where to turn for help.
help me to get over myself and reach out to others for help.
and help me to remember what a magnificent being i am, that each and every person is your child, worthy of the utmost respect, that i don’t own anybody, that nobody owes me anything and that i live in a caring, abundant world.
help me to create more harmony, peace, serenity, joy, security, and love.
help me to freely give all these things and find them in return.

(image by alicepopkorn)