In The Plumed Serpent D. H. Lawrence has Don Ramůn say, "Every man who goes along a way is led by one of three things: by an appetite ó and I class ambition among appetites; or by an idea; or by an inspiration." And later in the conversation ≠ after he and Kate dismiss appetites and ideas as "rotten wineskins" which wonít hold anything -- "ĎOne is driven, at last, back to the far distance, to look for God,í said Ramůn uneasily."
Uneasily indeed. This reaching beyond our appetites and our limited ideas ≠ even if they be noble causes ≠ to seek inspiration, is not the way most of us have tried to deal with life. Unnatural. At first itís like trying to hammer a nail or throw a ball with the wrong hand.
I have a feeling that I am going to step outside some politically correct lines in talking about my very personal experiences with Step Eleven and the world of the spirit. Just know at the outset that I am not selling anything ≠ the variety of ways people experience the other side is indescribable and one size does not fit all. It just feels dishonest and unhelpful to be over-general ≠ and leave too much unsaid ≠ out of fear of getting outside anybodyís comfort zone. You guys pretty much know my heart by now.
In the first years of program, if youíd had me write out Step Eleven from memory ≠ and itís wordy ≠ the one word I would have left out over and over would have been "power." I did not want to hear it. I wanted the spiritual life to be basically passive, to turn everything over to God and let God do it all, and especially for me not to have challenges I might fail at or decisions I might make the wrong way. I see it now as Peter Pan syndrome ≠ a recurring theme in my life (I hope I donít outgrow ALL of it). Donít make me grow up and have to do HARD things and make my own decisions.
And of course as Iíve told you earlier, the only God-concept I knew for the first seven years was the Southern Baptist one who made pretty hard terms with people. He would be disappointed in you if you didnít succeed, but he damn sure wasnít going to help. No wonder there was such a reluctance to take more on my own inadequate shoulders. And having said all that, I still turned my will and my life over every day and asked to be shown what to do that day. But I didnít expect much, just did it because it was one of the suggested things that would keep me sober and abstinent. But somebody over there was listening and believed me ≠ and wouldnít let me take it back even when I wanted to.
My good sponsors told me to take Step Three and Step Eleven and hang onto my ass cause it was going to be a ride. That was not comforting. And sure enough, this past thirty years has seen a procession of challenges handed to me that I wondered if I was equal to. I have failed at some and succeeded beyond my wildest dreams at others.
One good early example for me was Tom and Corinne, Flobird folks, who had been living from pillar to post ≠ I mean, living with a new baby in a lean-to consisting entirely of a piece of roofing metal spanning between a rotting house and garage in a papaya orchard on Mauíi, and underneath it, a bed made of planks nailed to the structures. Theyíd been offered a house to rent, but a big, nice house in Kaneíohe, and rents are high in Hawaiíi. I asked Tom how they were going to manage that, and he answered "You make your cup bigger, and God will still fill your cup." Well that house hosted a large meeting of the Beachcombers for a long time, it was all about service and joy of living, and they ended up owning it. And Tom taught himself to be a contractor and paid for it with his work.
Things like this made me more ready to take on my own assignments when God would present them to me. In the context of Step One I talked about the Alaska adventure. Alaska was really my experiment to see if God would catch me if I just walked off the cliff. At times I was scared to death. We found ourselves at one point on Kodiak, forty degrees cold and raining sideways, money for one night at the motel and not enough money even to get ourselves back to the mainland. And through a series of coincidences we lived there comfortably for a whole month. Somewhere along the way I got comfortable with the idea that God would not let me starve, and then I was offered a JOB where people counted on me to keep things working and do things they couldnít do for themselves. And I was scared to death some of the time, but I showed up and asked God every morning to help me and it worked out. I was reliable and talented as it turned out.
So about the time I got used to the idea that God would show me how to do the work thing, I met a girl and we got MARRIED. Now I had a wife ≠ very pretty and we were mating like nutria which I was sure was Godís will, but she had few marketable skills ≠ and I was afraid God would let HER starve to death. Instead I just happened into a generous and fun position in a construction company. I got used to the idea that with Godís help I could support a wife, and about that time she got pregnant and I was scared to death that I couldnít support a baby. And then the baby was blind and my wife left and I lost my job and got a chance to go back to school, more challenges.... And I was scared to death some days. Do we see a pattern here?
So, asking for Godís will and the power to carry it out might have a feel-good sound to it on its face, almost a syrupy religious sound like a Hallmark card, but when you get down to it, itís pretty real and often scary. I hear people say ruefully in meetings, "I never saw a burning bush..." Do you WANT to? I mean, if you read the book, here this guy Moses has an ideal life as a Bedouin, family and animals and solitude and all, and he sees this burning bush. In his private thoughts Moses must have said "Damn that burning bush anyway, I wish I could just have one day laughing and scratching back there in the Sinai desert without all this drama...I didnít sign up for my life to be a novel."
I donít know about Moses, but with all the challenges and scary places, I treasure my history from the past thirty years of program. The fine moments and feeling that I was doing something worthwhile, have far outweighed the hard times. One of the things I learned from early on, and had to keep re-learning, was that 1) my manipulations were often badly motivated, short-sighted and usually didnít work, and 2) the really wonderful things that came into my life were always out of left field, things I wouldnít even have thought of asking for.
About the time I came into program in the mid-seventies, they were talking a lot about affirmations. People would put sticky notes on their mirrors that said "I am a child of God and I deserve health, wealth, happiness...." Stuff like that. Maybe they do work, but something about all that didnít sit well with me. I know now that I understood how the good can be the enemy of the best. My sponsor Johnnie would say it this way: "This guy prays for a Chevvy and God hollers down the hall, ĎCancel the Cadillac, the fool wants a Chevvy.í" I laughed and half-believed this was the way things worked. Until one day I became the parent of a blind kid who turned my life around. When you do affirmations you damn well donít ask for a handicapped kid. If Iíd gotten to write the script myself, Iíd have missed out on a match made in heaven.
So I think thatís pretty much my take on "...praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out." Iíll venture to talk about the world of meditation now.
Meditation. This is really the long story of my conscious contact with that which is not material or visible. Iíll pretty much leave aside the notions of faith and belief here ≠ those are not things Iím capable of on a regular basis -- and talk about what Iíve experienced instead.
From the earliest days I wanted sobriety, and later abstinence, enough to make me willing to try all the suggestions that were solidly within program. And that included meditation, whatever THAT might mean. People told me how do to it "right." I had already learned in India that my legs donít fold right, and I feared I was never going to get it. My friend Noa told me it was okay to "just show up" and find my own way with it. That I could do. Every morning before work I would sit however I could sit, close my eyes, and watch the dogfight for fifteen minutes. My head was so frantic and conflicted, that me being alone with me was about like being in the middle of a vicious dogfight. And this was not to change for a while.
To my surprise, the results were immediate and sometimes striking. I would spend fifteen minutes watching my dogfight, get up and dress thinking "what an ordeal," and I would find my mood was light and cheerful and I was less sensitive to frictions in the workplace. Once after a typically awful meditation, I was working on a form carpentry job and the foreman came to tell me to slow down, "Bambai nomo work foí ahs" (Youíre going to put us all out of work).
With the steps, the dogfight subsided and meditation came to be a time when I sat quietly. I did not expect to experience energy or anything else coming from the other side but it gave me the emotional stability the literature promised me. This did not change for the first eight years or so, not till after the watershed fifth step where I abandoned my old ideas about God.
And in the meantime, I became aware that people like Flobird ≠ and later my friends Mary and Sash -- had something like two-way full-motion video communication with the other side, or said they did. I think Flobird meditated more than she slept. And for me, that, and all the astrology stuff and the auras and Tarot cards and crystal balls, was just something out there that other people did or said they did. And as you know, people who live in that world talk about it the same way carpenters talk about hammers and nails. I was open to the idea that there was lots of unseen stuff out there, and thought too that I was probably going to be one of those hammer-and-nails types who never got a glimpse of anything outside the material world.
The year ≠ my first year abstinent in OA, third year in AA -- I spent at the end of the road up at Makaha, with the wild peacocks and very little company, something changed in my outlook that has not changed back. I thought I would use the solitude to study the occult. I bought books, ordered Tarot cards and began to study them, read about past lives and spirit guides and the like. One day in the course of that year it hit me full force ≠ okay, there may be past lives and future lives and astral travel and out-of-body phenomena, and you know what? At rest, my consciousness always returns to today, January 22 of 1978, here on the 17th floor on the side of the mountain in Makaha Valley. There must be something very important about the here and now that I am supposed to pay attention to. And from that time I lost interest in occult phenomenology ≠ I donít disapprove of those pursuits but they hold no more interest for me than daytime television. And the here and now has taken on a luminosity of its own, a specialness, a knowing that this moment will never be repeated and Iíd better pay attention to it. Somehow all that fits in here but I canít tell you how.
By an odd turn of events, I started seeing a "therapist" after Sethís mom left. Vern probably had never had a course in psychology, was a EdD with a voc-rehab background I think, and most importantly he was a charismatic Catholic. The spirit world was part of his everyday life. Heíd offered to give me some money when Seth and I ran out, and one day I told him Yes, itís time for me to ask for the money. He asked how much, and I said $500. He laughed and fished around in a pile of books on the floor, and there was a check made out to him for exactly $500. Somebody had unexpectedly given it to him that morning, he explained as he signed it over to me. For him, that was the way things worked, the unseen hand putting things where they were needed. Along with my sponsors and many others, Vern led me by example to rely on the unseen hand.
A year and a half into my doctoral program, I had a string of incompletes. I had writerís block and could not write a research paper. I told you about this earlier, I know. Vern said he would hypnotize me, and teach me to hypnotize myself, and we would work on the writerís block that way. It didnít work for the writing ≠ that took care of itself another time, another way (sure donít have any reticence nowadays) but in the course of trying the self-hypnosis I stumbled into a place that had no time or space and no awareness of my physical body. I would lie down flat on my back and well, just go away somewhere. And an hour later I would be back. There was healing in it at a time when I needed a lot of that. This was my mode of meditation for some four or five years, from Hawaiíi grad school into my first couple of years in Israel.
When I was in Israel I sponsored a drug addict Yonatan, native Dutch speaker. Yonatan did automatic writing and told me what he was getting. I was struck by the maturity and commonsense the entity was showing ≠ in a stilted, archaic form of Dutch -- in great contrast to Yonatanís confusion and dishonesty. Yonatan would ask a dumb question, and the entity would shoot back, "Get honest, thatís not what the problem is...." These were not Yonatanís words or thoughts.
About that time, my wife was in a Course in Miracles meditation group that met in an apartment upstairs. I was not evolved enough that they would invite me. One day I returned from lecturing at the university and there was a man in the living room I was sure was Morris, the leader of the group. I played good host, introduced myself, and he rather cut me off ≠ psychic people are sometimes socially strange if youíve noticed. "Let me see your watch," he said. I was wearing a Swiss gold watch that had belonged to my father. Morris put it to his face and said "There are several people who want to talk to you."
He began to channel. I recognized Harry Lake and we talked a bit and Harry laughed. I recognized my father who did not laugh. Two others. Morris told me he had no further business with me but I would meet somebody who would introduce me to my guide, and what the person would look like and where I would find them.
I wonít tell the rest of the story but it played out as Morris had said. When the shaman Bill P. in Oklahoma introduced me to my guide Aleksander, he also told me he was done with me and my business would be between me and Aleksander. When I returned to Israel that winter, I sat down at the keyboard and a flood of communication started that ran for fifteen years and has only ended, I donít know why, about two years ago. Maybe we got me to the place Aleksander was aiming for and he had something more pressing to take care of. I kept a log of several hundred pages of those sessions. Meditation became a conversation with a spiritual accent.
Perfectly consistent with my insight at Makaha that the present is what we really have, Aleksander did not predict the future for me but rather would talk about the dynamics of my relations, my motives, my fears and strengths in the here and now in such a way that I would understand what the right action or course was. His directions were not always welcome, but I had the grace to follow them. They were not controversial things ≠ I was not to become one of those "God told me to do it" types ≠ but rather things I often did not want to do. "You have a ball of fear in your tummy because youíre holding Jenny Brudoís [landladyís] money and youíre afraid to go to the bank and speak Hebrew with them and straighten it all out. Go take care of it NOW." And I would, and the ball of fear in my tummy would be gone. "Youíre not telling Seth the whole truth about X. He believes in you and you must be honest with him."
I learned from Aleksander that a sincere prayer from the heart cannot fail to reach the right place. There is no such thing as praying to the "wrong" god or calling them by the wrong name. It doesnít work that way over there.
Thereís another story I am still wondering if Iíll tell you. Okay, here it is. Iíll be as brief as I can. It seems to fit here some way.
Six years ago, I fell out of a tree and broke lots and lots of bones in my upper left area. A Bob Dole-type injury. The ER sent me to an orthopedic surgeon who told me I'd lose the use of my arm if he didn't replace the shoulder, and he wasn't going to do it cause I couldn't pay him. I had no insurance or money. I slept on the living room floor (you canít sleep on a bed with a broken shoulder) for about ten days, not knowing what to do, and had a dream. In the dream I was walking in a field of grass that turned into waist-deep warm ocean water. A group of maharajas on horses and elephants -- picture DalŪ's Temptation of St. Anthony without the desert or the DalŪ weirdness -- with bows and spears, and I tried to get away. but they could ride fast and I was struggling. One of the horsemen cut me off and rode right in front of me, his spear pointed toward the water. His skin was of a smooth blue leather and he had a turban with a jewel and white tassel, and stopped still and looked at me with a smile in his eyes and rode away.
A couple of days later, a longtime friend Dana called me from Dallas and said "I'm supposed to tell you to go to Parkland Hospital." Don't know if she even knew I was hurt. She'd already called the admitting nurse and found out they'd take me. I got a ride up to Dallas and sat in the Parkland ER for hours, and Dana came to sit with me. While we were sitting there, she said "I have to tell you something but I'm embarrassed to tell you." Tell me, I said. She had waked up that morning she called me, and in her doorway there was a blue man on a horse who said "Call Bob Wilson" and she knew what she needed to do. And I had not told her about the dream which was one of many.
I want to tell you one more story about Aleksander and Bill P who introduced us. About 1991 I wanted to take a short vacation to Guanajuato in Mexico. I was worried about having enough money. Aleksander told me "Spend ALL your money and buy some nice things that youíll enjoy having, youíll be all right." I was afraid about money and didnít buy much of anything. I stopped in Oklahoma City on the way back. Bill P is not a friend of mine and had no idea Iíd been to Mexico, and he was on the other side of the room when I walked into the middle of an AA meeting at the Western Club. After the meeting, Bill came up to me and said excitedly, "Can you see Aleksander? Heís got crossed cartridge belts and a sombrero on, and GOLD, and he told me to tell you you didnít spend all your money. What did he mean by that?"
So, sometimes I pray to God, sometimes to Aleksander, sometimes to this blue guy Krishna who also talks back to me at times. Johnnie doesnít believe thereís any such person Aleksander. He looked at our "chat logs" and said "Sounds like the best of Bob Wilson to me." I asked Aleksander about it and he said, "Itís the same thing but you donít understand it yet." He got THAT right.
And about the time I start thinking itís all in my head, and even if that were so it would still be a good life, something like Dana and the blue guy happens a hundred miles away.
I guess I want to close this by saying, Take Step Three and Step Eleven and hang onto your ass. Like they said. Life in this everyday world has been rich with unexpected miracles and adventures, and life on the other side, the little bit of it that Iíve seen, is richer than Iíd dreamed it could be. And I sense that Iím still mostly held back by old ideas and donít of course know what they are. Thatís been the case all along, and everything opens up for me when the old ideas fall away.
And I need to apologize again for being so specific about higher power stuff. If itís been helpful more than itís offended anybody, I would be pleased. Iíve neglected the program literature and there was more I wanted to say about some other facets of Step Eleven. But Dayenu ≠ enough already ≠ as the Passover song says.
STEP ELEVEN ~ QUESTIONS
1. If this prayer/meditation business is all new to you, what does it look and feel like from where you stand?
2. What are your prayers like? Welfare of others, help with own problems, thanks for all sorts of things, a set of directions for God so he can manage the day right?
3. Is your prayer life ritualized in terms of what you pray and how and when, or is it very spontaneous and natural?
4. Where are you with D. H. Lawrenceís three driving forces ≠ appetite/ambition, ideas, and inspiration? Have you changed in that regard?
5. What do you think of the notion that "the good is the enemy of the best?" Can you turn cherished wishes for your own life or for someone else over to a higher power who might cancel them and put something else in their place?
6. What is your meditation like? Has it evolved?
7. Can you suspend the idea of belief/disbelief when people ≠ strange people sometimes ≠ talk about things youíve never experienced? And just say Yeah, maybe so?
8. The AA 12 & 12 says "There is a direct linkage among self-examination, meditation and prayer.... unshakeable foundation for life." Has this combination had an effect on your life?
9. The AA Big Book talks about the occasional hunch or inspiration becoming a working part of the mind ≠ a sixth sense as it were ≠ in connection with our using prayer and meditation. Have you experienced this?
10. Is there an "unseen hand" that operates in your life? Do you have a story about one of the times it's happened?