By Ken Wells - 07/15/2022


Series Three: Blog Forty-Four

“Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try—

No Hell below us—

Above us only Sky—

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will be as one”—-

John Lennon

Spirituality is an important quest in addiction recovery whether you seek healing through a 12-step program or otherwise. Some people say that spirituality is the quality of being concerned with the human spirit as opposed to material or physical things. Recovery requires tuning into your spirit in the presence of chaos in your physical existence.

I grew up understanding that spirituality had everything to do with an individual relationship with God. Since I was a Christian, God always included Jesus. This complex journey led me through a labyrinth of contradiction that required more possibility than one world religion or all of them combined provided. Did I really believe that everyone had to accept Jesus to go to heaven? Did I really believe that there was one sacred book or was there many that God wrote or inspired others to compose? Did I really believe that spirituality required a religious reference? Could someone experience spirituality through mathematics, astronomy or many other sciences? Why did science and spirituality need to be so juxtaposed? Why does spirituality demand that someone create a concept of God, traditional or otherwise? Could the principles of 12-step recovery be helpful without identifying a known Higher Power? Black and white answers to these questions and many more did not satisfy or create a space of inner peace for me and many others who journeyed through their own labyrinth.

Many people have concluded that spirituality is obtuse to the experience of life no matter how you define it. If you are atheist does that mean you cannot be spiritual? Could there be a better word to describe the non-material aspects of human existence? We do have a vast vocabulary. Why insist on one or a few words to describe human adventure? Some people prefer “life force”, “energy” and other words to replace the word spirituality to describe their life experience. I am resolved that the spiritual journey in life can be described in a myriad of ways. For me, spirituality includes many paths that involves a vast vocabulary to describe its meaningfulness.

Here are a few forethoughts about spirituality to reflect along the journey of addiction recovery.

Connection: I contend that humanity is social. One of the basic needs that exists is the longing to connect with another in some way. I have a neighbor who is reclusive. Many times he will not acknowledge or say hello when I notice him in his yard. Yet, he does have a network of connecting that is important to him. It just doesn’t include me! Spirituality embraces the desire to matter and to connect with another human being. Isolation destroys recovery for addicts. People who pull away from the connectivity of a 12-step group replace the energy with a relationship to a drug of choice. Vulnerability is the conduit for connection in a 12-step recovery group. Sharing the raw and rugged reality of your relationship with addiction is met with acceptance. It is matched with other stories who share the same reality. Like magic, when this occurs you come back. When it doesn’t happen you go back to your addiction. Human connection is critical to the development of a spirituality that heals addictive behavior.

Paradox: The story of recovery always includes paradox. Who would have thought so and so would have become a disciple in a 12-step group? This remark is hallmark throughout 12-step community. There are so many paradoxes in recovery living, such as “to win you must learn how to lose”, “to be in control you must learn to let go”, “to connect you must first detach” etc. Spirituality is a journey of paradox. For many years I conducted a spirituality group. Often, I would pose a speculation of thought that if spirituality was only to be found in the wound, life imperfection, or failure, then which part of your wound or imperfection is most difficult for you to embrace? The question is designed to help identify the experiences of life that you try to avoid. The suggestion is that the painful experiences that you try avoid is likely the very place you might find “God” or cultivate your spirituality.  Frequently, folks didn’t get it. Why would you want to find God there? You mean the painful reality in the wound of infidelity, abusive behavior, or hatred and resentment toward another are places to cultivate spirituality? Isn’t there a better place like a church or a retreat with a spiritual guru or something? The idea that where you have perpetrated pain and suffering for another is antithetical to where most would set up shop to cultivate spirituality. It seems so counterintuitive. Yet, spirituality requires these moments of brokenness to cultivate humility and to connect with remorse. Spiritual enlightenment and transformation occurs when you stalk these moments of shameful behavior. Learning to love yourself in the presence of shame is the workshop of cultivating spirituality.

Tolerance: Tolerance is not just putting up with another person’s differences or idiosyncrasies. It means to care and identify with someone who is different and disagreeable. Tolerance multiplies appreciation for the rich diversity that exists on the earth and promotes deep understanding that all our struggles are the same. It is possible to connect to the same fears and the same sorrows. Most folks are doing the best they can to make life work out. In his book, His Holiness, the Dalai Lama made this appeal to the world, “On some days I think it would be better if there were no religions. All religions and all scriptures harbor potential for violence. This is why we need secular ethics beyond all religions. It is more important for schools to have classes on ethics other than religion. Why? Because it’s more important to be aware of our commonalities than to constantly emphasize what divides us.” This spirit points to the common threads of everyday living that connects humanity. Tolerance moves beyond connection with others whom we share commonality. Connecting through weakness brings people together and is often where we find our bond and common beginnings. Tolerance toward others begins with tolerance within self. It is bedrock to deepening spirituality in the recovery process. Sit with Presence. Society points a finger of disapproval to addicts as numbed and checked out from reality. Yet, most everyone wants to be checked out from discomfort. It’s human nature. During the past few years there has been a revival in the use of psychedelics toward healing mental illness. Psilocybin’s, designer drugs, and other hallucinogens offer encouraging results when utilized by trained therapists in a controlled environment. Michael Pollan in his book, How to Change Your Mind, chronicles the encouraging advances made in offering relief to those tortured with mental illness. Alongside these discoveries it is important to promote the value of sitting in the reality of the present moment and uncovering one’s own brilliance in the average experience of daily living. Rather than pursuing spirituality through the spectacular or through an hallucinogen, there is a way of connecting to what is, without a mind-altering drug experience. It is its paradoxical nature to take what most would want to escape and make the miracle of heaven in the present moment simply by embracing its reality.

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