For months, I have woken up filled with anger and angst about the politics of the United States. I’ve felt that it was my responsibility to be educated, to be involved, to raise my voice against injustice, to resist. But in the 24 hour news cycle this has become taxing — Taxing on my mental health, my family, and my friendships.
I’ve been keenly aware that my anger and angst, my resentments, have been eating me alive. I’ve also been keenly aware that these things are beyond my control. Intellectually, I know what to do, and yet, I have resisted. And I’ve felt trapped. Trapped by the fact that this is an “outside issue.” I’ve felt a strong need to talk about it in a safe place, a meeting perhaps, but have known that I cannot bring up politics in a meeting for obvious reasons.
I’ve been caustic in my criticism of this new reality on my social media outlets. Where I’ve needed to bring healing words, I’ve only brought sandpaper to rub the wounds of my friends. And all the while, I’ve known deep in my consciousness that what I was doing was not good. It was not helpful. I’ve known that an argument on Twitter or Facebook serves only to increase the anger, angst and resentments.
Social Media fosters nothing akin to kinship. Our digital playgrounds bring out the worst of playground bullies, they rarely foster intelligent conversation or debate. And yet, for too long I have equated social media with actual socializing.
Last night, at a meeting I carefully brought up this undercurrent of anger and angst as the topic for the meeting. I made sure to identify the root of my angst only as “an outside issue that was outside of my control” and did not mention the true nature of the issue. I spoke of waking with feelings of anger and fear on a daily basis, that these feelings were interfering with my life. I asked for guidance and help with acceptance and detachment.
People inferred that I was speaking about politics, which was remarkable because, as I said, I was very careful to talk about my angst without talking about the root cause. I suppose that this speaks to the deep rooted angst in our society at the moment. While I was initially concerned that I’d veiled my concerns too transparently, as I recounted my words I realized that I had not mentioned politics at all and that I was hearing what I needed to hear — that I am not alone.
I’m not sure that I heard a lot on acceptance and detachment, but I did hear that it is important to talk about things — actually talk with trusted confidants rather than post on social media. I heard that isolation will kill me. I heard that many others are struggling right now and to my surprise that this angst exists across the political spectrum. I heard that many people have identified that their angst stems from fears, and more specifically projected fears. I heard that it’s important to act locally, where we can make a difference in our fellow human’s lives. I heard that “acceptance” does not equate to “resignation.” And I heard that I needed to work the steps.
I am resistant — Resistant to ideas that I don’t like, to things that make me uncomfortable, to the language of the steps, and to organized religion. And this resistance no longer serves me well — perhaps it never did. After the meeting I took time to speak with my sponsor.
My sponsor gently said, “I think what I heard to night is that you need to work the steps.”
And I was immediately resistant to this suggestion. “Yes, I heard that too. But I’m resistant.” He smiled, “I know, and I’m resistant too, but this program works.” Our conversation moved quickly to my resistance of the reliance on God, as it usually does. And then the miracle happened.
He told me about a book that he thought I should read — which is not unusual and initially provoked more resistance, but I am desperate. I’ve hit an emotional bottom with this stuff, and while it’s not exacerbated by the booze as my bottom was on September 22, 2015, this one is just as real and just as raw. I’m tired, sick and tired of being angry.
And so, I listened — a skill I’m still developing — as he told me about this book called, Rabbi Rami’s Guide to God: Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Teacher. He spoke of how he’d been reading it recently, and that there had been many times when he’d thought, “This is so Damien.”
When I got home, I ordered the book on my kindle and read half of it last night. (It’s a quick read on a deep subject.) For many years, I’ve bristled at the idea of “God.” This stems from many different experiences when I was growing up. For a long time, I’ve struggled with Theistic religion. I’ve long known that I’m not an Atheist, nor an Agnostic, but I never knew what I was.
Immediately upon reading the opening remarks of the book, I knew that I was going to be hooked. I knew that I’d found something that would resonate.
“DO YOU BELIEVE IN GOD? Wait a moment before you answer. It’s too easy to say “yes” or “no” to this question, and the question itself is vague to the point of being meaningless. Before you can answer “yes” or “no” to a belief in God, you have to know just what it is the questioner means by the word God.” 1
Shapiro, writes about five essential views of God and their distinctions — Theists, Atheists, Agnostics, Pantheists, and Panentheists. As I read these descriptions, I became increasing intrigued as to where my spiritual beliefs might fit.
“Theists believe that God exists, is self-aware, lives somewhere outside time and space, is the creator or catalyst for creation, sets a standard for human behavior, judges us against that standard, and rewards and punishes us accordingly either in this life, some future life, or in a supernatural spirit world like heaven or hell.” 2
I’ve long known that I struggled with the God of Christianity and now I know why. This just isn’t my understanding of the Universe. I’ve never been able to wrap my head around some benevolent (or not so benevolent) all powerful being. If it works for you, that’s fine, but it hasn’t worked for me.
For reasons that were not entirely clear to me, I’ve been attracted to Buddhism for several years, though I would not claim to be a Buddhist. Indeed it was only through a Buddhist lens that I was even able to begin to approach the steps. For years, I’ve had a nascent understanding that everything is connected, a sense of oneness, a sense that the divine exists in everything, and that the divine is made up of everything. In reading this book, I’ve discovered that most likely I fall into a category known as a Panentheist.
“Where the pantheist believes all is God, the panentheist believes all is in God, but God is still greater than the sum of nature’s parts. Like the pantheist, the panentheist sees no division between God and nature, but unlike the pantheist, the panentheist imagines God as greater than, albeit, not separate from nature.”3
Suddenly, things all made sense and once again, I knew that I was not alone. While I’ve always known that my spiritual views were not unique, I’ve never known a name for them. And just as suddenly, I had a greater understanding of why I bristle at the idea of many organized religions. It’s not because I am resistant to the idea of God, my resistance is with a Theistic God not with the God of my understanding.
“It’s taken me a long time to get here.” These words might to be my mantra. I’ve been sober for nearly a year and a half. I’ve struggled with the idea of the steps for longer. I’ve struggled with them not because there is anything inherently wrong with them — if I remove the word “God” and the Capital letters that ought not be capitalized they are a design for good honest living. I’ve struggled with the words “as we understood him” because I honestly believed that they must have been put in long after the fact — even despite finding out that they were indeed included very early in the writing of the steps after reading Not God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous. My struggle with the program and the steps has been a struggle with a god of another’s understanding, not my own.
And so, I think I may finally be ready. I may finally have surrendered. Or perhaps, more likely, surrender is an on going process. Perhaps it’s never actually complete. And perhaps that’s okay.
- Shapiro, Rabbi Rami (2013-08-23). God: A Rabbi Rami Guide (Kindle Locations 31-33). Seekers Without Borders. Kindle Edition. ↩︎
- Shapiro, Rabbi Rami (2013-08-23). God: A Rabbi Rami Guide (Kindle Locations 211-213). Seekers Without Borders. Kindle Edition. ↩︎
- Shapiro, Rabbi Rami (2013-08-23). God: A Rabbi Rami Guide (Kindle Locations 276-278). Seekers Without Borders. Kindle Edition. ↩︎