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Stop. Smile. Breathe. Be Grateful

In the tradition of Thanksgiving I thought I would send a note out to the world about the things I am grateful for.

In day-to-day living it is very easy to forget gratitude.  We are faced with negatives through the media, the facts of life seem a bit stressful and our work worlds (or lack of them) and relationships can overwhelm or confuse us.

This is called living.  This is what having feelings is all about.  It is all in how we react to them that makes the difference regarding how a moment, a day, a relationship, a situation or a life ends up being.

This is the first thing I am grateful for.  I remember regularly that the things that challenge me spiritually, physically, mentally or otherwise are but stimuli.  My reaction (or non-reaction) to them is what makes the difference.  If my world is filled with an overwhelming amount of information or perceived “demands” on my time it is vital I remember that they can be meaningless without my response.  The greatest percentage of what happens around me is not worth the reaction I could potentially give it.  Any reaction is my responsibility and will end up being my cross to bear within my own head (and with whomever or whatever I may react to as well.)

God, I am grateful for having learned that is not necessary.

I am grateful for being a part of the solution.  Although reaction can be problematic I am not of the mind that ignorance, denial or avoidance are paths that provide happiness either.  When I am in a position that might require the reaction I am making sure I understand and craft in a positive way, I am building a strong action towards a solid solution.  I love the lesson to concentrate on the solution vs the problem.  It has saved me on so many occasions.

I am grateful for the important people in my life.  My intentions towards those I love, admire, share or spend time with is honorable.  I no longer allow anger or resentment to be a driver towards how I think or what I decide to do or say.  The people in my life will know how important they are by my behavior and actions towards and around them.  My presentation of self has changed in order to meet new people and expand my horizons with people that could enhance my time here.

I am grateful for an open mind.  It  has allowed me to grow in so many ways I would have never considered.  To learn that the judgment I sometimes feel is normal,  but not correct (fear as motivation) has allowed me to to look at others behaviors without requiring I drag myself down to the way others may think.  I do not condone negative behavior, but I do not feel joining in as a ‘retaliation’ is going to solve how I feel.

I am grateful for my opportunities.  Everything I have done, am doing or will do moving forward is a lesson.  I am privileged to be in this classroom.  Each and every step is meant to be a possibility for growth and knowledge.  All of my growth and knowledge is leading me towards better life experiences and a fulfilling journey in the world I inhabit.  Not every day is going to be perfect, but even the days that give me pause are likely to provide me steps into better thinking, more opportunity and richer, more complete relationships.

I am grateful for my talents.  One of the hardest things I have had to learn was the acceptance of the many things I am capable of.  We are often our own worst critics.  I have success because I have humility.  I have humility because I have learned that I am only as good as I allow myself to be.  There is nothing I cannot do if I allow myself the belief in myself and the walk through fear to take action.  With this I am armed for happiness and then more happiness.  I am given the means by which I can handle the world as it is revealed to me.

Finally, I am grateful for the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, which over 23.5 years ago gave me my life back.  I am grateful for the willingness to have embraced this change and all the changes that followed it.  I am grateful for the shift in my thinking that allowed me to understand the true nature of giving and service, tolerance and forgiveness.  I am thrilled that I learned as a result of this program to look at myself differently in order to be able to look at others with easier, softer eyes.

I am thankful today because I am blessed with intelligence, love and family.  I am surrounded by talent, trust and beauty.  This is not something I will soon forget, but in the moments that I do I have means, methods and people to remind me and put me back on my better path.

To those who read my blog, and to the world at large I wish you a happy Thanksgiving and the wish that gratitude become a part of daily thinking.  With it the hope is enormous, without it we have only the evening news.

Stop. Smile. Breathe.

My name is Mark and I’m addicted to control

Please don’t call me a control freak.

I have long held an awareness about my issues with control, or the unconscious fear of losing control, but I work with this daily and the intentions from within are honorable and heartfelt.

This is a key character defect for me.  I look back on my life up until now both in and before my sobriety and see there has always been the need to control.  Over the years with my awareness this has become a much more manageable defect, but it does not (and probably will not) go away completely.  Although I have made my peace with its existence (some things will not completely subside and are best accepted with management,) I do realize that the attempt to completely move out of this state of thinking is always going to be a goal.

As a child I found myself creating worlds of my own.  I had my own country, my own movie studio filled with stars, I built my own world of music and Top 40 charts filled with original songs and re-created tunes that lived on the real charts.  It was all very authentic.  It was also the beginning of my need to control my environment.

Where does my need for control come from?  Fear.  When young I felt like an outcast for a number of reasons and because of it needed to create a place that I could feel comfortable.  This need for “safety” or fear of losing control became the catalyst to the early adoption of alcohol and drugs into my life.  They offered me solace, comfort, a quieting or numbing effect on the over-active thinking and, beyond anything else, the courage to face a life that scared me from deep down inside to the obvious surfaces and outer realms in every social or human level experience I was a part of.

For years I have wondered whether it was my fears that pushed me unconsciously to try and control the situations I faced or if the habitual actions of control resulted in the fears I found myself always handling.  It would seem that no matter what the level or type of control I was issuing I would invariably be trying to protect something that I thought I was going to lose or insure somehow that I would be getting something that I really wanted (or thought I wanted at the time, it has been proven far too many times that I am not always the best “judge” for what it is I believe I want or need.)

Is all control bad?  Not at all.  There are distinct advantages to the world I built for myself through my willingness to grow, change, learn and build a better world amidst other human beings (and definitely with myself.)  With a good degree of awareness and the right intentions my control of situations has allowed for miracles in my life I would not ever have expected possible.  I have learned control does not have to be a negative, but if held too tight it is likely going to be one.

It is when control begins to hurt me that I must take a long hard look.  If I am holding on tight for reasons that at any point don’t make sense or can be second-guessed the obvious reason is in the motivations behind them.  If fear is present in choices I am only going to end up suffering, wasting precious time, and possibly hurting relationships and opportunities.  This is not conducive to any aspect of my growth.  It takes the opposite effect and throws me into deep dark cycles of shame and holes that I must find help to pull myself out of.

I’m an alcoholic, asking for help is never the easiest thing to do.

The fact that I find myself still looking at this character defect 23 years into my willingness to pursue sobriety and a different way to live this, my only life, is not something I allow to dampen my spirit or judge the the way I handle the world around me.  I look at my behavior and realize that I am worlds better in how I have learned to understand and maintain a spiritual program by working with the imperfections I am coupled with. I am cognizant of my actions these days and proud of the changes I have made throughout the years.

Control is part of who I am, it is part of my personality trait.  This is not an excuse as much as a necessary acceptance.  I am thrilled I am able to know this and continue to work with it.  I have faith in my intentions and in continuing to learn to let it go.

…just don’t call me a freak.

Stop.Smile.Breathe.

Religion vs. Spirituality: stop overthinking

The most important thing I could do while writing about the concept or thoughts behind religion and its many differences or similarities to spirituality is to remember a core philosophy central to each.

They are (or should be) personal.

There is no way to avoid the influence of religion upon people, cultures, societies, countries and, whether we like to see it or not, governments. Religion and its teachings are everywhere and in everything.  Even for those refuting their meaning or purpose they are, some could say, in our face.

It might be best to try and understand what religion truly is and how it has (some could say always) provided a need and shelter to humans on this Earth.  The word itself connotes the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.

God, Goddess, Allah, Brahman, Buddha, Jesus Christ, Higher Power, Holy Spirit, Jehovah, Krishna, Shiva, Vishnu, or any other supreme being are examples of the gods of religion.  It is, however, more important to understand the lines drawn between these beliefs and the idea in that definition of control put forth by the definition’s controlling power.

I consider myself a spiritual man.  What is the difference?  Spirituality indicates a personal “inward” way of feeling or believing.  It is not “organized” as most religions tend to be and doesn’t prescribe to validation or instruction from others or the requirement to be spread and issued beyond the personal holder of the beliefs.

My spirituality comes from many sources but it is not something that I need to make sure you agree with.  It does not require anyone’s approval.  It does not exist for me to be right and you to be wrong.  It evolves within me to keep me on track, to focus, to help me be of service to others, to strive for happiness and a personal sense of right.

Sometimes religion can offer that as well, but the tendencies in weaker minds seeking a structure and fearing the loss of their own supposed integrity or moral situation is that it needs to be forced on others as a correct or only way to think and believe.  It is not enough that the need for individual belief is held, but that all that becomes fearful is forced as a threat to the individual thinker.  In some religion is becomes necessary to tear down others in order to justify one’s beliefs.  A primary difference I see between religion and spirituality is some religion’s belief that everything other way of thinking is wrong.

It is important to note that this is not black and white.  Not all who follow religion do so the way described above.  Some use it as I use my spirituality.  We will, however, always hear more about those who do not.

When practiced with fear religion becomes dangerous.  It provokes war, bigotry, hatred and more fear.  It drives the thinker from the core “spirituality” it could provide and into the need for control that the definition seems to describe of the being “in charge.”  Perhaps the word control is a core issue within the world of organized religion.  Is it not based for most on power and money?  It does not seem to be enough for some religions or religious people within those religions to require that the way they think or believe be the law of whatever land it is they live in.  You will think as they do or you will suffer the consequence through the law, through the hatred or through the threat of fire and brimstone in whatever form their particular deity may suggest is set for whatever it is you are doing “wrong.”

In spirituality, practiced as it is meant to be, the user is taking care of themselves and passing on their peace as a result.  Attraction, not promotion. Peace comes in forms of non-judgment and service.  Non-judgment is one of the ironies involved in remembering that we should not condemn those who condemn us.  It doesn’t fit spiritually and does not solve anything.  Those who would suggest that I need to live a different way or I might be less of a “special soul” in their God’s eyes would know as much about this as they’ve been taught by other men.  It is no more true than what we would accept in our own minds.  It is a suggestion that is often screamed or taunted.

But my ultimate irony is in how I believe personally in my spiritual program for living.  It has prospered through repetition, and routine.  I am happier when I connect and do whatever it is that has helped me to evolve on this path.  The fact is it could be said I live my spirituality “religiously” in that I am scrupulously faithful or devout to my thinking (and a God of my own understanding.)  The difference is that I don’t want to assign the bigger meaning and compare myself to others to justify or validate who I am or how I think.  In the truest sense of spirituality I am no different than anyone else.

It just is what it is.  I am a better and happier being as a result.  I choose to live and let live.

Stop. Smile. Breathe.

Being honest with what you feel

I have worked tirelously to change my life, to grow, to develop, to learn and to work with my assets, defects and mistakes.

There are still days… and sometimes extended periods that do not feel like progress is being made at all.  Where I come from this would be called false evidence appearing real (or FEAR) but it is all too real and sometimes can become confusing and slightly dangerous if I do not pay attention and work through it (as I have been taught.)

Depression is a scary word.  It riles the critics and afflicted alike.  It has the potential to be over-diagnosed and over-medicated if not handled with the right methods or people.  It is also dangerous for people like me who are constantly working to make things better by warding off negatives and stigmas that have either been attached to me or lies I have been told to me by myself or others in the past.

Although it is definitely not my personal goal to acheive anywhere near perfection with my steady dose of program and maintenance in my life, I do feel I am continuing to grow by leaps and bounds.  On no day am I going to provide the world with a 100% model of my being, because by nature I am flawed and afflicted.

I have learned to accept and even embrace this.

My fact remains, however, that I have built myself a life by becoming a person who is honorable, honest, real and giving.  Even if to some, the appearances may not always be of this persona, the human being I am most in touch with is all of these things at the core and very proud of it.

In having built this life I also find myself denying certain feelings and possible indicators for growth and change (FEAR.) In every life there are chapters and I sometimes may not be honest with myself about the instinct within me giving me clues and hints that I might very well be better off moving on into a new challenge (or challenges) other than where I have become most comfortable (and successful) up to this point.

What does this mean?  For me it says that I have been feeling depression about a great situation in my life.  Something that I have worked very hard for and excelled in many ways around.  I have struggled, picked myself up, learned, rose above, lived and loved the world I surround myself within for a living, but it is no longer working for me.  It has reached the point where there does not appear to be any further growth and what I do has become taken for granted.  If I believed that there is power involved I am fooling myself not only because it doesn’t really exist, but also because it is not what I really care for in the first place.  There may have been a time, but now it is only about collecting all the complaints and expectations and keeping people who are very seldom seeing what we do as anything creative or valuable in its doing, happy.

It is important here to note that I do not blame anyone here.  It is not about fault even if I came up with such an answer.  It is more about time and change within me.  If I am going to work this hard I want to feel a passion and see a future.  This, for me, is no longer there.

Happy in some places has become elusive  both for them or for me.  As a result I have felt a depression in the loss of meaning to what I do and have felt the sadness of someone “trapped” (which we all know would only can only really come from me.)

Is there an answer to this for me?  Not in the immediate.  But I must recognize that the previously discussed “power” is still mine in my life (as opposed to in a job.)  By recognizing that something must change I am allowing myself the means to move towards it. This does not make it easier, but it makes it more real, more evident.  It allows me not to deny that the feelings are there, which is dangerous and a lie.  It allows me to remember that the life I have built is not taken for granted or in any way at “fault” or marginalized.  I am filled with gratitude for the person I am and have become.  Being that person and all that comes with it does not shield me from feeling depressions (which for me is a warning flag waving for change.)

It’s time for a new spiritual awakening.

Stop. Smile. Breathe. (Change!)

 

The social character: bit parts and major roles

Have you ever been told that you’re not yourself today?

It has occurred to me that this is not necessarily a far stretch for many, if not most mere mortals on a day-to-day basis in the real world.

Granted, that is not to say that we are not (some of us) authentic beings at heart. Sincerity, truth and positive motives are definitely alive and well in a majority of the people I know to exist around the planet. Don’t be fooled by the media focus on those who might tend to rank amongst the cons and artists that are out to pull the proverbial or realistic rug over our eyes (although they definitely do exist…)

I am also not necessarily referring to the planet filled with thespians and aspiring thespians (not that there is anything wrong with that!) There is a difference between creating a character for art and being a character in life.

What I do want to speak of are the roles I find myself playing on a regular basis and sometimes on the spur of a moment in order to work my way through the world I live in.

No, this does not mean I must create characters to survive and manipulate my outcomes… but isn’t that a little bit of what we do, consciously and unconsciously throughout the many places we go and with many of the people we deal with or meet?

For example: I have established a character I feel works best for the workplace in the role that I currently hold. This character is not scripted, nor is he perfect and completely successful. Over the years I have learned what does and does not work with certain people, groups, situations and purposes. Because of this I have formed a role that I have learned to play in these places (again, sometimes I am “on” and somedays I am not paying attention to best practices of the character.)

In social situations I am yet another character. I am, perhaps, a bit more guarded and a little less of what I might feel is necessary in the work mode. When I drank the social character was far more gregarious and outspoken but I retired that piece of me some 23/24 years ago.

With people I work with (in other non-job capacities) I am still another person…. this one closer and more fine-tuned towards the authenticity I have honed over the years. This part of my personality has worked with patience, understanding and a listening ear, traits I have been taught by others in the same sort of role towards me.

With Family, (and this one could range wildly for many of us,) I am still another person. I don’t see them as much and there is no need to really bring in some of the characteristics of the other “roles” I have created in a well-rounded and busy life. For some the “role” with the family may be the least authentic. I can tell you for me this was the case many years ago. Today it is the closest to the chest (outside of the relationship I have with my husband, where I am, hopefully, the definitive character I was meant to be here on this planet.)

Does this mean I have many personalities? Am I confessing to being inauthentic or a fake? No. What I am writing about today is the many different facets our personalities hold and the importance of true intention and rigorous honesty in our relationships for all parts of our daily lives, from the barista in the coffee shop, to the boss, to the casual acquaintances and right down to the lovers, wives, and husbands.

But the social character must also look at him or herself in the mirror and know that the most basic of roles is based in true intention. If I am going to go out there solely to win or win-over, only to survive or protect myself I might be missing the core point of any of the characters I am or can be. Any part of my personality that shines through in any given situation, creating the most appropriate character at that time is going to lose if they are not there to offer at least a part of themselves in service.

I am happiest when I know I am here to give it away.

Not everyday is easy. Not every character is good (it is easy to find oneself inside a darker mood and character that results in loneliness and sadness,) but my experience has told me that every character I am or create is, in part, a sum of the whole and a factor in my overall purpose.

Who are you today? I would love to say that I am one person who is always going to be the same cheerful, loving and honest, magnanimous soul. I know this is not correct. I know I am many different facets of myself from the moment I wake until the time I lay down to sleep at night. Each of these comes from the right place for as long as I am living within my best intention.

There will be no Academy Award for the characters that make up the personality as a whole. Just, hopefully, the satisfaction of feeling better about who I am.

Stop. Smile. Breathe.

Faith is so easy. Faith is so hard.

A long time ago I had a sponsor who told me that “God” had three answers to our requests.  One was “Yes,” One was “Not now, but maybe later,” and the third was “No, but I have something better.”  Unless the answer is yes, I am faced with the matter of faith.  Either faith in the understanding or accepting  of why I am not receiving what I think I want or need (and sometimes believe I deserve) or the faith that helps me to look towards knowing there is a better solution (in its proper timeframe,) a modified goal or completely different scenario while honoring/learning the need for patience in order to avoid making bad choices, saying things I’ll regret or realizing (all too well) that my best thinking is not always the harbinger of happiness and peace in my world.

Yes does not always mean my dreams are answered.  Sometimes “yes” is the beginning of a lesson in the making.  But no can be a protection against something that would very possibly have not been the answer you thought it to be…. some say that rejection is protection.

Faith often needs to be blind.  If I am practicing faith without an open mind I could very well be cutting myself short of the true meaning of the word and the better results that could be achieved without trying to control the situation.  If I am focusing on my ISM the goals and desires I have set for myself are not necessarily my truest answers.  They are, like the many other solutions my ISM have provided me in the past, often fixes.  A fix is a temporary solution that fades away leaving regret, remorse or the craving for more of the same in its wake.  Sometimes when something feels like it isn’t supposed to be,  possibly challenging me and feeling like a ‘wall,’ a ‘prison,’ a ‘trap,’ or a ‘bottomless pit,’  I have to remember it is going to pass and is possibly there only to provide a record, a lesson or a means of gauging what does work in later points of life.

Sometimes trial isn’t necessarily trail, but just a necessary growth period designed to strengthen the spiritual muscles and provide a contrast for the experiences that are hopefully to be provided in the future.  Isn’t it true that without sadness there would be no way to understand happiness?  Does it not then also make sense that more difficult periods are there to pave a more experienced means of becoming a better, understanding and more stable human being in the future?

Faith is easy when things appear to be working the way you believe they should.  Faith can be hard when you are feeling somewhat lost or in fear and dashed expectations are telling you that there is no “happiness” or solution in the future.  Whatever “pain” you are feeling is likely meant to be there, a barometer for future outcomes based on the willingness to surrender and move out of ego long enough to recognize the growth potential in front of you.

But how many times have I overthought the process and created the more difficult scenarios out of mis-communication or very little information simply out of the fear of not receiving what I feel I should be receiving?  Drama is very easily created and doom is such an easy outcome.  Who am I to decided completely what my experience should be?  Isn’t the point of my accepting that I am not the “higher power” and turning my will and life over to the care of a God of my understanding to make sure that I am NOT the one in control?  Couldn’t it be said that faith in that outcome is essential to the very happiness I am claiming to want and need and by determining the results of my outcomes completely on my own I am painting my work of art in a very dark room?

Faith is about surrender and when I am tied up in the result I am avoiding it’s simplicity.  That being said it is obvious that faith will always be difficult if I am not willing to let go.   When I am in faith I am happier and more relaxed.  With it I am able to understand the world around me and the very things I am looking to change.  As a result the very struggle I am working to remove can become easier to handle and definable as a part of the process towards the solution.  Faith does that. I just wish it was easy to remember this truth and adopt it as one of my defaults.

This is a goal for my life, and because I know it is possible I put it where it is most helpful by adding it to my mantra, which always takes away any (and all) of the angst I am experiencing in a given moment during my waking hours.

Stop. Smile. Breathe.

Staying happy in an angry world

I have long since accepted that the world around me is largely angry.  Social media has illustrated this completely but daily living and just a dose of the news can make it painfully obvious without even really trying.

Make no mistake, however, I will not claim myself to be an observer only.  As an active empath and a man with a daily task to remain aware of his own character defects and ISMs, I am often painfully aware and fully conscious of my own tendency to find what is not “acceptable”  in something and experience a bit of displeasure, raising my anger levels as well.

What has become most important for my path is not about the anger, or what I find myself angry about, but more within my reactions to the triggers and stimuli.  The more I am aware that the outside world is going to push my many, many buttons, (anyone who doesn’t have at least a couple is numbed out or lying) the more I can use an active set of tools and solutions to arrest the urges and take the deep breathes necessary to make sure the outcome of these thoughts is not something I end up having to regret or, worse, requires an amends down the road.

One of my best tools is to let go of ego.  Invariably it does not matter if I am angered with something or someone.  Knowing that something does not agree with me does not afford me the right to do anything about it outwardly.  Sure, there is the right to an opinion.  Definitely there is room for good, healthy action towards positive result.  But the moment I begin to believe that I am “owed” anything or retribution or retaliation is a good idea is the moment I have slipped from solution and into the creation of a problem that will involve me directly (whereas the likelihood is it’s origin was not.)

There is a lot to be angry about in this world.   I have experienced plenty in my life that could (or has) set me in a dour and indignant direction.  Going there has never provided me with the happiness that I honestly feel should be (and is) my only true destination for the years that I have left on the planet.  I became tired of believing that my being right is more important than the happiness I know I am capable of achieving and experiencing.  I have struggled with and continue to learn the true nature of forgiveness and remembering that many (if not most) of my triggers are not about me at all (Thank you to The Four Agreements.)

But anger is real.  It persists.  It shows up when I am not expecting it.  Triggers are inevitable and not to be toyed with.  I need to recognize and continue to work on these and any new form of external or internal incitation.  Without my awareness and the continual maintenance of my spiritual world I run a very sincere risk of not living my best life.

It’s entirely possible I’ve experienced that in the past and did not enjoy it, therefore I think it wise to not repeat the mistakes of my past (to the best of my ability.)  The most important thing I can bring to this topic, however, is the reminder that I have in my arsenal the best solution for anger in all my situations:

Stop. Smile. Breathe.

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