The problem with a formal religion, or simply doing the things we are told in order to heal, is that it may not work. They dull over, wash out, grow bleak. Alcoholic comes in, does the steps, writes his inventory, shares it and asks to be removed of his defects, and wonders why he still hurts. Buddhist sits for hours and hours, practicing loving kindness, practicing acceptance of what he thinks and feels, and the resolution grows dim. Christian prays, and prays and prays, and gets caught up in things like ‘worship’ or ‘resentment’ or ‘confession’ or ‘salvation’, but still goes home to the same kitchen, with the same family, the same table cloth, the same hungers. A superficial adherence to the forms of spirituality becomes little more than ‘positive thinking’, ‘cognitive therapy’, or ‘replacing with opposites’. By those theories, you recognize when the negative thoughts come up and replace them with their opposites. This is what happens when people tape affirmations to their mirror and spin themselves out on platitudes.
Trying to cultivate a feeling of self-love to get rid of self-hatred is a back asswards kind of thing to do. I know, said a girlfriend, who like me has struggled with major depression for years, that I have low self esteem. But how do you go about loving yourself when you hate yourself so much?
Faith cannot be blind. The only faith that is real is faith in one’s own experience. It is difficult, though, to truly honor and have faith in your own life.
Practice and form and religion can backfire: every time you try to bring in an element of faith, or prayer, or loving kindness, or positive thought, the fierce and destructive aspects of mind and experience gain strength. They throw back more venom. Instead of reducing the strength of the negative thoughts or the low self esteem or the urge to drink, they are actually increased, feeding on weakness.
It isn’t time for platitudes or saccharine promises. It is time for raw. The voices in the head, those insistent visitors, those defects of character prove, as they say, that if we don’t work the steps they will work us. Work us over to a pulp.
To work: enter, engage more deeply. Be willing, when that thought of unworthiness or grief or rage swims up, to ask it in to tea.
Begin, here. It is raining. Flash floods and steady lightning. Roses have bloomed, sudden and everywhere, and heat has settled in like a virus. The dog slaps his tail against the floor in happy dream, and I listen to the thousand hammers and nails of the rain, holding everything solid. I need the ducks, and the roses, and the pine, and the thunder. Without them, I would die. Why would I say such a thing?
They change before my eyes. They keep me close to process. To growth, and also to dying. I feel them as presences. I am floated – pure drift – on their moments.