Summer is drawing to a close, and I'm feeling lazy.
Let's try that again. It's the dog days of August, and I'm relaxing and enjoying the end of the summer vacation season.
Better? What's the difference?
The difference is the language I use to describe myself. When I call myself lazy, I'm putting myself down. When I call the exact same behavior relaxing, I'm building myself up. Relaxation is a form of self-care; laziness is not.
How to tell the difference? There isn't any, really. It's all about how the ego perceives the world. My actions remain the same.
I cannot be happy when I attach my emotional state to my judgements, nor can I be when I attach it to the judgements of others. They might perceive me as lazy, relaxed or both. It doesn't matter. As a good friend of mine used to tell me, "happiness is an inside job."
And so the news this weekend in the United States is focused on a hate rally in Washington that drew close to 100,000 people. Populist demagoguery has always had an appeal to a certain segment of Americans, the never-ending war of "us against them", and in one sense it's good news that so few people showed up.
But the news coverage was wall-to-wall, especially in the media owned by Rupert Murdoch, who has become fabulously wealthy as a bottom-feeder. The rally was led by one of his employees, Glenn Beck, a man of small ideas. Frankly, if I'm looking for a nutty professor, I'll take Jerry Lewis.
The book "Alcoholics Anonymous" well describes the blame-others personality:
He is like the retired business man who lolls in the Florida sunshine in the winter complaining of the sad state of the nation; the minister who sighs over the sins of the twentieth century; politicians and reformers who are sure all would be Utopia if the rest of the world would only behave; the outlaw safe cracker who thinks society has wronged him; and the alcoholic who has lost all and is locked up.
I try to give as little mental space as possible to these types. All demagogues with a megaphone are, of course, potentially dangerous. But many other dangers also lurk in the world. It's easy to see the world as a dangerous place.
It's much harder to look past the appearance of danger to the underlying reality. Yes, a lunatic might kill me; I perceive that as a danger. I take reasonable precautions against such a possibility. If I see a car weaving toward me, I back away from the curb. But that won't prevent the car from lurching forward and hitting me. What can I say of the driver? Perhaps he's drunk. Perhaps he wants to kill me. Perhaps he has had a heart attack and has lost control of the wheel. The motivation is unimportant; the result is the same.
And the underlying reality of every situation is that, yes, eventually I will die. As another close friend once told me, "John, we are all going to die. The question for you is, what do you want to do between now and then?"
It's often said that we are given only today, that 24 hours is a manageable chunk of time. In the 12-Step programs, this approach is summarized in the slogan One Day at a Time. When I focus on the present, my worries about the future and my regrets about the past don't loom so large. They become manageable.
So the real questions are: 1) What do I want to do before I die? and 2) What do I want to do today?
And this is where the fear of laziness kicks in. In his book "Healing the Shame That Binds You", John Bradshaw notes that family-based shame leads us to become "human doings" rather than "human beings" -- always on the run, always busy. Well, I don't have to accomplish anything today. Relaxing can be just fine. So to rephrase those questions: 1) Who do I want to be before I die? and 2) Who do I want to be today?
Those questions fit me to a T. Today, I want to be someone who uses his anger like fuel in an engine -- not to lash out at others, but as a source of power. The engine is my creativity, currently focused on my writing (doing that now) and my musical (help needed and welcomed). And which direction to drive? That's the answer to the question about who I want to be before I die -- the creator of a musical.
The purpose of these plans is to be of service to others, in particular, to carry the message that recovery from addiction is possible. I've discussed these goals and projects extensively with people I trust. I believe that these reflect a higher purpose for my life. By giving little attention to the bottom-feeders who would claim my attention, I can practice Step Three: "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God." Again, the AA Big Book describes the result:
Established on such a footing we became less and less interested in ourselves, our little plans and designs. More and more we became interested in seeing what we could contribute to life. As we felt new power flow in, as we enjoyed peace of mind, as we discovered we could face life successfully, as we became conscious of His presence, we began to lose our fear of today, tomorrow, or the hereafter.The references to God might seem too overtly religious, especially to the agnostics and atheists among us. The phrase "God as we understood God" is intended to temper that, to be inclusive of all religions, but my experience is that a belief in a specific god or gods is not necessary to recovery. All that is really needed as a starting point is an open mind.
That's where I started on this path, nearly two decades ago. I still have fears of today, tomorrow and the hereafter. But I also have faith that the world is a safe, welcoming place. And so long as my faith is ever-so-slightly deeper than my fears, I am able to move forward.
May you find the same peace of mind today.