Outside noisy. Inside empty-Chinese proverb
“Welcome to the Here and Now,” he said, then winked and sipped his coffee, awaiting my response.
The sage but puzzling remark was followed by a mischievous grin and eyes so penetrating they unmasked me. The Whiz sensed we were talking long-distance—I was trying to see through the cloud of me and my ten thousand things while he spoke with a simplicity too abstract for me to grasp. I didn’t know it and couldn’t help it, but it was all me, me and more of me. That was the problem—this self-obsessed junior grasshopper wasn’t all there.
“What the hell is he talking about? The Here and Now? Is this another Timothy Leary moment?” I wondered, alluding to the wacky LSD pioneer from the Sixties. It was philosophical gibberish to me—something from a bumper sticker on a makeshift Socrates dummy at a psychedelic toga party, not in the rooms of recovery. Even so, I could relate to burning some brain cells.
Nevertheless, everything I squeezed into my Here and Now was crowded and out of sync; my busy mind was saturated with yesterdays and tomorrows, fear and regrets. Forsaken hopes and expired dreams. Add people, places and things and it was a non-stop picture show that had me up to my eyeballs in anxiety. All the outside things that party-crashed my head were noisy—consequently, my inside was empty. I was elsewhere, preoccupied with everything but the moment; that, I was not in tune with. Mindfulness offered too much realism for me.
He nodded slyly and returned to the coffeepot—to experience its essence, I figured. “Keep coming back…” the Whiz said. “It gets better.”
That, I noticed. When? I wondered.
“Oh, great,” I winced, but with a token sigh of relief. “At least that wasn’t so transcendental.” Nevertheless, somebody needed to speed it up with that ‘it gets better’ stuff—I didn’t have time for thinking in riddles. My life was complicated enough without anyone adding more detours and distractions.
Like some new age treasure map, the search for my sweet spot in life became an obsession when I got sober. Many recommended that I practice patience, but the delayed gratification technique they were trying to sell me seemed farfetched and impractical. Some even said I had to ‘give it away to keep it’—most of what I had wasn’t worth keeping anyway. It baffled me how that little tidbit was supposed to help. Nevertheless, as I trudged this road to nowhere, they suggested I smile-it-up all the way there.
I often groused, “Why me? Why can’t things come together without the hassles?” I was mad at me for being me, and mad at God for making me, me. When the Whiz pointed out, “Why not you?” I thought he was picking on me, so I was pissed at him, too.
The way I was wired, I liked it when things got better on their own, and was willing to wait it out, which explained the look on my face. The crux of my problem was that I tried to understand things away with my overrated intellect. It was my M.O. However, my favorite method wasn’t working at this stage of my recovery. Not much was changing.
Unbeknownst to me, my persona had been shaped by the past I thought I left behind; unresolved chapters of my story carved into my wounded psyche. My inner self’s framework consisted of a lifelong chain of events too complex to dismantle. The dots had to be connected and the mud of my history cleansed away so I could be free. Mind control, unlimited coffee, and a shrug and a hug wouldn’t do it.
Even though I disliked the idea, I had to stop defending my troublesome emotions. I was always at their mercy. Somehow, I had to neutralize the triggers that activated them. To my chagrin, that meant I’d be looking under rocks again—the Gung-Ho Gang called it doing an inventory. “Work the program,” they advised. I was convinced it wasn’t necessary and hoped they could come up with a paradox that made sense instead of actions that didn’t. I had no use for sappy self-help techniques or life lessons. In the meantime, I endured with the phony happy-face I wore in public. Whenever they asked, I was “Fine”. And in case you wondered, I didn’t have a bad attitude.
Still, the path to my goal would be easier to navigate if the message wasn’t in some strange, confusing language delivered by the Whiz at the coffeepot, or the other sunshine supermen counting their blessings while my ass was falling off.
‘Here and Now?’ Did I have to find a secret psycho-babble decoder ring?
I was afraid to ask. They said there were no dumb questions, (which is not in the big blue book), but you can get some pretty dumb answers…
During a crucial period of my life months later, I circled the date of a spiritual retreat on my calendar. I needed a recharge, so I didn’t hesitate to register. Something had to change or my sobriety would likely vanish, gone as if it never existed. I saw it happen with others, before they disappeared.
Challenging times had clouded my new world. My Mother was deathly ill following several rounds of chemotherapy after a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, and Dad was beside himself. Lingering uncertainty was the unwelcome guest in our lives, threatening our long-awaited reunion after my dark alcoholic journey. It’s not easy when you get your heart and your feelings back.
Other commonplace issues paled in comparison, but still caused me much angst. There was an infatuation I wanted to blossom that wouldn’t, no matter how hard I tried. Problems in my social circle cropped up, too—when you let people walk all over you, you shouldn’t be surprised by the footprints you’re wearing. But it was me this time, and I was. Put it all together and I was in trouble. I supposed a spiritual getaway might clear my head, so I attended, hoping for the best. Maybe I could finally figure things out.
Unfortunately, I didn’t travel light, and brought all my problems with me. During a session at the retreat, I became absorbed with a painful situation in a town miles away, with a cast of faraway faces, on some other day of a previous month, seeking different and better outcomes. In other words, I was tripping out while sitting in my chair, right in the middle of eighty guys.
My focus on those recycled problems created a black hole of space and time that allowed the retreat master’s message to freefall into the cerebral chasm nestled between my ears. It was a non-mood-altering out of body experience, with no bad after effects, except I was missing important stuff that could have helped me. Some called it daydreaming, but I preferred ‘multi-dimensional travel for problem solving and personal growth’. It just sounded better.
While I was immersed in my ten thousand things, my attention was suddenly shifted; I was caught flat-footed by some potent words coming from somewhere I wasn’t– the Here and Now.
“Wherever you are, BE THERE!” a voice declared from somewhere in the distant background.
“Whoa! What? Where? Huh?” I panicked, snapping out of whatever it was I was snapped into.
Naturally, the voice came from the speaker I wasn’t listening to. If I was the target of the message, it was a bulls-eye—he dropped a bomb on me. He took it right down to the real nitty gritty.
Embarrassed, my mind strongly suggested I should get back to my body, NOW! ‘Hurry– get back there, before they notice,’ I told myself. Then I wondered why I have to tell myself things. ‘I, myself, me— aren’t we one package? Who’s the boss? Do we listen to each other? Are we ALL screwed up?’
Startled, I nearly tripped over myself scrambling across my multi-dimensional daydream, back into my body where I was supposed to be. Once there, I glanced timidly around the room and saw it from a completely new angle. When my mind screeched to a halt, I was introduced to a slice of the Great Right Now. It was incredible. I thought, ‘Me and my body ought to hang out together more often.’
It was safe in the chair, in the moment, right where I was. Wow. This was a strange, new experience—I had to find a way to hang onto it. Just don’t think, I told myself.
“Then would I be ‘there’?” I wondered. There I went again.
We are always getting read to live but never living – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Where is this ‘there’ anyway? Is it spiritual enlightenment? Tao? Rarefied air?
Being a spiritual guppy, I knew it was the exact moment where and when everything finally fell into place. I was so consumed with getting there that I couldn’t enjoy the simplest yet most significant reality: I’m here and it’s now! I wouldn’t even be ‘there’ if I ever got there because when I did, it would be here, and then would be now. Life is a journey and it moves independently, whether I’m ready or not. I had to pay attention.
I began to wonder if I missed the most important day of school. Keeping it that simple was very difficult for busy-minded people like me. The concept rubbed my high and mighty intellect the wrong way. It had to be more sophisticated than that. However, I was still at a standstill, waiting for the perfect time and conditions to start living while my life ticked away. Could I be a butterfly being, stuck in an unhappy caterpillar experience?
To get the recovery ball rolling, I had to cut loose from my anchors. I live in this body 24 hours a day—it might as well feel good in there. It was necessary to find my place in the Great Right Now. For that to begin, I had to ask for help.
I’d come pretty far, but I still needed to go the rest of the way—with a Higher Power. I couldn’t stop now—I needed recovery. No more of that dry as a bone, mental giant, spiritual midget thing again. God either is or He isn’t—there isn’t a kinda-sorta-sometimes God. He would help. That’s what they told me.
I was on God’s watch. Wherever I went, whatever I did, I was in the Here and Now, and my Higher Power was there with me. There was shelter in the present moment. I wouldn’t have to worry about getting there, wherever, whenever, if ever. That belief guided me to take the actions after the Third Step. Yes, even that inventory I hoped to avoid.
The last thing I wanted to do was the best thing I ever did. After I opened that can of worms, I felt 500 pounds of thinking and feeling lighter, and reached a turning point. The things that crawled around inside of me for years had left. Everything was new. Now, the less I thought about myself, the better my life was—I was being instead of thinking. Where had I been all this time?
On my journey through the Ninth Step, where I made amends to those I had harmed, a familiar line had new meaning– ‘We have now entered the world of the spirit’. I was freed from the past—the mud of my history—after I set things right. It was the expressway to the Great Right Now.
New hope arrived. I became current when I utilized the spiritual tools that kept me there… I mean Here. ‘Pay attention!’ I reminded myself, me included.
There’s still a million miles to go before this grasshopper trades profundities with the Whiz, but I did lay this gem on a sponsee many years ago– “I don’t think unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
I think he got it. Addiction hates one thing in particular– the Here and Now. It’s an Achilles heel to our disease. Remember, it’s safer in the chair than where your brain might take you. Forget your then’s and when’s, and notice your now’s. Be.
Don’t think about the future. Just be here now. Don’t think about the past. Just be here now-Ram Dass