Posted by: innerpilgrimage | May 25, 2011

The Collection

      I collect things. Well, actually, I think I collect color. I collect colorful yarns (which I am sending out as hats and scarves), I collect colorful beads, and I collect colorful ideas in the form of the many books I purchase that others have abandoned over time.

      I would say I am a collector, but I want non-attachment to these things. However, I am finding that each idea or item which enters my life (to pass through in order to allow for new growth and new beginnings, as I am working toward aligning myself with a naturally-lived life) has a lesson within. Some spotlight my character assets and make me feel light and joyful as I learn. Some spotlight my character defects and make me feel anxious and resentful–lessons which will ask of me to practice new ways of thinking and acting.
      Yarn is the easiest of the three to give away. I enjoy the creative process which will offer people comfort this winter. I am making hats and scarves to give away, getting better at basic crochet. By the time I reach 42, I should have enough stitches to be a strong crocheter (like I have enough words to be a strong writer). I hope to expand my crocheting to sweaters and afghans next year. This year, however, is the year of the gift, of taking the large box worth of yarn which I purchased and which was given to me through the St. Vincent de Paul Society and turn it all into the core body-survival requirement of warmth for people. My hope is to make 42 scarf/hat sets by December–my burning desire is to have it done by Thanksgiving. Whether or not I reach that goal (which is entirely possible, since I am getting faster–it used to take a week to make a hat, and now it takes a day to make a hat and scarf together), I will have put time, effort, and love into that project. I wish the yarn to pass through my life, to become a commitment between my Higher Power and me in order to create something pleasant and beautiful. Add to it that I get ambulatory meditation in when I crochet (turning toward deep mindfulness of each stitch until I am in that stitch’s moment of creation, as it happens), and crochet is a wonderful way to both create and center myself.
      Beads are not so easy. I met a bead guru in Laguna Beach a few weeks ago, when I was on my trip. He gave me an idea that had never crossed my mind before . . . I had permission to collect beads not to put in projects but to enjoy simply for the beauty of them. So, I am going to save aside a bead from each bead type and shadow-box what I have. I am not sure if it will be a mosaic of the beautiful beads or if I will simply string them. Or even if I will pin them like glass-and-stone-and-bone-and-wood butterflies to a surface and just admire them. But I don’t look at them at this point. They are sorted by color in bins and baggies, all hidden away in a drawer for the future. That’s not how I meant them to be. I wanted them out in the world, being part of the beauty out there, not settled inside boxes where no one can enjoy them. This is a pretty good allegory for life as an addict–the constant waiting for the right time. Well, the right time is now. It’s the only right time there ever was or ever will be. And since today is a day worthy of celebration (I woke up–that’s as good enough a reason to celebrate, right?), to create something beautiful to send out into the world is worthy. And keeping one bead, one remembrance to make my own life more beautiful or fun or whatever, is honoring my self-care (so that I can care for others). Hoarding is part of the addiction. I hoarded food, and it made me miserable. I hoarded attention and appreciation, and it did not fulfill me. I hoard beads, and I fret that I’m not using them in projects for the people I care about–people I both know and do not know. Adding beauty into the world is a joy, and I want to do that. And giving myself that beauty is a kindness to all people and a means to recovery. Self-care is the only way I can give others real compassion and concern. If I am giving from my dregs, I am giving from a place of “should do” instead of “wish to”.
      This comes around to my books, words which inspire and touch me deeply. Some, others send to me as gifts or loans; some, I purchase. My sources, these days, are rarely bookstores. I find that I get more out of the chance purchases from the Friends of the Library section in my local library’s lobby and from thrift stores. See, the money I spend on books I trip over at those two sources allows me to benefit my local community. Buying books from Good Will Industries (which tend to run a bit more than the Friends of the Library purchases) gives me a sense that I am helping people work, eat, and get their basic needs met. When I buy books, someone gets helped. Same thing for St. Vincent de Paul and Salvation Army, though I do not go to their thrift stores as often because they are farther away than the closest store–the Good Will Thrift. Plus, Good Will seems to get a lot of great books in.
      Many are purchased because the titles have meaning to me. I bought You Are the Message by Roger Ailes at the library because I say it all the time about myself. To be a stronger speaker at my 12-Step groups, I can use this to align my living recovery through honesty, openness, and willingness when I offer my experience, strength, and hope by telling my personal story. I want to live recovery every day, and I’ve seen so far (after skimming this book) that the book helps clear the blocks in order to open myself up to be the message that 12-Step recovery is an option. Yes, even as I have been challenged by my anorexia in both programs over the last few weeks (which, as all natural cycles do, is coming to a close), I have an awareness that the challenges I face–even when they seem insurmountable and threaten my abstinence–are lessons which will allow me to face the next set of challenges. I am facing obstacles which would have sent me running a year ago. Though I am far from perfect in my recovery (progress, not perfection), I am learning. That’s the point for me . . . to learn. Sometimes I lose sight of that purpose, and my ego gets all in there as I try to force lessons in my time instead of be empowered by letting go to infinite patience. It’s not an easy path, but easy wasn’t supposed to be part of this life. Maybe the next one (or ones prior), but an easy road is not the one I travel. It is a simple path, one which is essentially moving obstacles out of my way then proceeding forward. But it’s by no means easy.
      I bought a few cookbooks (one on picnics, one on making paninis and bruschettas and crostini, and one on baking cookies–which I look forward to using this year at Christmas). The cookies book has recipes in it which are creative and exciting, unique and curious. I have so many books on the basics that I enjoy collecting the books which are exciting in their variety. Will I make mistakes when I bake them the first time? Very likely yes, though I have good luck with baked goods, in general. It’s not easy, being a compulsive overeater surrounding myself with potential trigger foods, but sharing what I make with others will be a delight I look forward to. Baking is another ambulatory meditation I use, to get into the moment of creation as it is happening. And it brings me joy to create these things. So, I do, I suppose.
      I have gotten some self-care books with titles which jumped out at me. Recovery of Your Self-Esteem by Carolynn Hillman was bought because of the word “recovery” in the title. I skimmed the book and found useful information in that cursory look through it. Another which jumped out at me was The Gift of a Year by Mira Kirshenbaum. Having already given myself the gift of a year of abstinence (and a stunning 100+-lb. weight loss over it), this book on quick review looked precisely like the kind of self-care I need. I don’t have to make it a big life change–like becoming a nun or traveling the world–but even small changes make big differences. The permission to self-care is the core of this book’s meaning to me, and the mental education on how to actualize the spiritual message to self-care my body and mind is held within the pages. So, I’m going to enjoy reading that one, too.
      One which has challenged me already is a wonderful Christian-based (see the trigger already, hunh?) book entitled The Relief of Imperfection by Joan C. Webb. I initially picked it up and missed the heavy religious overtones because what I gleaned from the cursory flip-through really hit home. When I started reading it at home and slammed into the path through religion it relied on, I realized two things: (1) This book is going to challenge me to release resentments and fears regarding the powerful mental messages embedded by my encounters with Christianity and (2) this book, once I am done turning it secular in my journal, is a gift I want to give to a beautiful and kind woman who is a Christian. She gives beyond the dregs, to the point she appears to even give away pieces of her cup. The sadness she holds is palpable even through her gorgeous smile; one can feel that she is hurt when people are imperfect in loyalty and love toward her even as she is driven to sacrifice herself again and again (which does align with Christianity . . . she is, in essence, a lesser saint–suffering her own ills to contribute to the greater good) with more vigor in order to earn their love. She is driven to be perfect, neglecting her needs then seeking someone to fill them for her. Unfortunately, I know that desperation to find relief from suffering only to end up attracting someone who intends to be loyal and loving and perfect yet who–in their own human condition–cannot. Can I call her a love addict? No, because it’s not my place to. I do, however, see many of my own qualities in her, ones which I seek to abandon. So, by reading this book, I get to learn non-attachment to the mental message that religion equals faith. I KNOW it does not. I have experienced already it does not. But for her? Faith and religion are intertwined, and I hope that the gift of this book will inspire her to learn to give from a place of abundance, so her path through Christianity will be filled with joy as she serves. A little jealous that she has a purpose and I don’t seem to, I find that this book has quite a lot to offer, even if I am facing the obstacles of fear and resentment reading it. If I can get through it having learned something, I have hope that it will be one of several steps to bring me to a state of peace with Christianity. It is a good path for some; it’s just not my own. To be strong in my Truth is the challenge of this book, that the Higher Power which led me to weight loss beyond my wildest dreams is not the Higher Power invoked at Bible studies every day around the world. But this does not mean that Higher Power is wrong and I am right (an ego-based and self-serving assumption, a wall-building judgement that someone has to be wrong and that someone has to be right). To release the “wrong” and “right” of a spiritual journey is held within those pages, and the greatest hope I have is to get to the end of the book with a warm and loving attitude toward the faith built by Christianity and the release of the fear, anger, doubt, and resentment of the religion as I experienced it. Since I don’t have this same difficulty with any of the other inspired works from people of other religions (even in this book, the Old Testament passages and lessons do not get me going as much as the “Jesus as savior” parts do), I am seeing that this is my resentment not against religion but against Christianity itself. This is all ego, and this is a wonderful opportunity to practice non-attachment, to surrender to my sex-identifier-free Higher Power (Not a He, barely an It because both imply that it is only exists as something-ness, and my Higher Power is something-ness and nothingness . . . it both exists and does not exist). Perhaps it will be that strong belief that the lessons of the teacher, of the being which transcended ego yet was described by people who had not, will break through the walls I build the minute the letter J is combined with an E, 2 S’s, and a U. If I can see him as a teacher like the Buddha, like Mahatma Gandhi, like Mother Teresa, like many other teachers of spiritual service through non-conflict? I can learn. And learning is core to centering myself in mind, body, and spirit.
      Among the books I found were a Big Book and a little AA 12&12. While I feel sad that these pristine copies of these books were found there (my Big Book has tons of marginalia in pencil and a few passages highlighted–including the resentment prayer and Acceptance is the Answer and soon will have Step Zero highlighted), every time I come across copies at a thrift store, I buy them. Why? Because they are meant to go to someone. So, I get to carry them around until the person meant to have them receives them with the love of a person who empathizes with the pain of addiction and the desire to find a solution which can bring one out of the Hell that is the daily practice of addiction. Yes, I believe in eternal Heaven and Hell, only because when I have been in the moment of recovery or in the moment of addiction, I have felt the expansive serenity or I have felt the expansive suffering. I just don’t consider them discrete places where I will go after this body and mind stop existing in the world.
      Anyway, this brings me to the last book, one which I found two copies of at the Good Will. I had the choice of purchasing the beat-up copy or the neat and pristine one. Neither has been underlined. I happened across a Wayne Dyer book I wanted to pick up but rejected it because of the hot pink highlighting–see, highlighting distracts me, and since I rarely give books away, I tend to only write in pencil and in the books I know are not going anywhere. The book on imperfection is going out as a gift, so that one will leave here unmarked, having been used fully and written about in my pen-and-paper journal. That way I can use its lessons again and again, yet in my own words through my own from-within connection to my Higher Power. Anyway, back to the beat-up book, Journey to Center by Thomas F. Crum. So, why did I choose the one which had yellowed instead of white pages, which had a hole poked in the back cover near the spine (which I will be clear-taping the binding of, as I had to with the Mira Kirshenbaum paperback)? Because this one had two things which set it apart. One is a bookmark from the director of Aiki Works, Inc. requesting that readers of the book ask local bookstores to stock it on one side and which has the signs of being centered on the other. The other is an inscription on the front interior cover:
      “To Barbara,
      “Enjoy the journey. With love and [a symbol which I am looking for–an L-shape resting on its side, beneath which is another horizontal line, and what looks like the right side and top of a square resting above a plus sign and four dots at what would be the points of an invisible square surrounding the plus sign],
      “Tom Crum”

      Now, yes, I am not Barbara. Never have been mistaken for any Barbara. But this book has a story. See, Barbara clearly went to a bookstore signing or a seminar and picked up this book. She saw him, spoke to him, and was inspired enough by him to support his journey. And, when it was time to practice letting go (a chapter’s title in Part One of this book), she did. And her generosity to help (or, at least, the generosity of someone else, if Barbara has detached from mind-body) the community through giving away this book has allowed me to bring it into my life. So, I can look at the inscription and know I have Barbara to thank for not only leaving the pristine bookmark (a nice, quick list so I can see if I am out-of-alignment spiritually) in the book, but being generous enough to share something which once meant enough to her to get signed by the author. Yes, it does go into my imagination that perhaps she’s given up all of her worldly possessions to join an ashram and serve there, or perhaps she’s left the country to work with Doctors without Borders or the Peace Corps. Whatever the reason Barbara gave up her book? It’s in my library now. For today, it is part of my journey, and I embrace it.
      This actually almost became an issue because I was hoping for a purely self-help book, yet kept tripping over biographical stories. Now, when I first opened it, I found the self-help portion in a couple of chapters which had headings I appreciated (“Letting Go” being the biggest draw, since that’s the lesson I am currently working). When I finally took the time to mindfully skim the book (there’s an irony right there–how does one mindfully skim a book? Flip through pages and stop when something leaps out at me, that’s how), I realized that he was doing precisely what we do in group–experience, strength, hope. He shares a story of his own life related to the topic, with lessons he learned embedded within. Then, in a section with a dotted vertical line and in a different font, he offers suggestions on how to apply it to the reader’s life. His experience and strength as written in his stories is finished up with hope that I can do it, too. I am looking forward to reading Barbara’s book as vigorously as I envision she did. Maybe she drank tea while reading it; I’ll be drinking tea and coffee. What I appreciate most is that Barbara reads like my spouse and I do–the spine is not broken whatsoever. So, thank you, Barbara, for taking care of our book. And if there comes a time when I am to pass it along to yet another person (as you may have, though the book doesn’t appear to have anything more than yellowing and a little shelf/moving box damage), I will happily share it with whoever is meant to have it next. Though, for today, I hope that the second copy, with its white pages and pristine spine (a recently-bought and discarded copy which appears unread) goes to who needs it. Then again, if it’s still there when I hit the Good Will next, I suppose I can pick it up and pass it along. I don’t know.
      Oh, did I mention the two yoga books? Nope, I guess I didn’t. So I got two yoga books, one which deals with pilates, yoga, and meditation and one which is a photo-art book of sepia-toned photographs of a woman doing poses (with the names of the poses labeled at the bottom of the photographs) and with quotes across from the poses from philosophers and spiritual teachers. See, connected to doing 42 crochet projects is also knowing 42 yoga poses. Neither book gives me 42 separate poses, but I think between them and a few other books on yoga which I regularly check out of the library, I can get up to 42. Yep, I am collecting yoga poses–ones I can do, ones I can’t do, ones I may learn, ones I may never learn. But the beauty of physical balance in order to clear and balance the mind so I can achieve spiritual balance in that process is not lost on me. I’m not really a yoga-as-exercise person as much as a yoga-as-meditative-path kind of person.
      I’ve come up to the strongly-held, learned opinion (though not yet the knowing, because I drop into ego too quickly) that I am the soul, not the brain and body. My body is the means through which I travel the physical world; my brain is the means through which I travel the world of imagination. Neither are me, however. That’s part of learning non-attachment, of letting go. This isn’t disinterest, either. I’ve done active and passive (and even passive-aggressive) disinterest, and that’s not “letting go”. Letting go has to do with letting things pass through my life AS THEY ARE. Letting them go through with appreciation and acceptance, allowing the beginning and the end. To love is part of this, as is true compassion (as opposed to its attached opposite–meddling through authoritative advice-giving and saving people through resentfully martyring myself for them). Service, then, gets a whole new understanding as I perform it. To serve others, I serve myself first. This self-service is simply self-care through using the tools of recovery I have at my disposal–the steps, the literature, the fellowship–in order to grow abundance so I can perform service without self-sacrifice. I’ve hoarded that abundance, and it doesn’t work (as I wrote above). I’ve martyred out of guilt for hoarding that abundance, and it doesn’t work. To find unity in spirit, in mind, and in body makes sense to me, because when those are fully balanced, I have experienced a sense of abundance I can give from. However, the minute I try to lock it away and “save it for a rainy day”, it disappears. Abundance is about having it today and sending it out as soon as it’s been given as a gift to me.
      I’ve got a memory of a song I learned about love in nursery school running through my head right now, one of the verses of which is apparently insistent on being shared:
      Magic Penny by Malvina Reynolds
      It’s just like a magic penny,
      Hold it tight and you won’t have any.
      Lend it, spend it, and you’ll have so many
      They’ll roll all over the floor.

      Between that and Marlo Thomas’s powerful message that we’re all “Free to Be, You and Me,” my Hippie-kinder upbringing seems to help when I’m struggling with the experiences I had later in life. Sometimes it does take the simplistic childhood joys when I lived and loved in the moment to bring me back to the whole journey of recovery. I have a lot to learn from the child I was, and I find that the negative-focus recovery books (like how to recover as an adult child, or how to self-parent as an adult child, or even how to get past those burning resentments that my childhood wasn’t perfect no matter how I tried to mold myself into what I thought others wanted from me) are being replaced by positive-focus ones. Unity of spirit, mind, body. Recovery of self-esteem. Self-care by giving myself a year of being free to be me (whatever that is, always argues my addict self). Becoming the message of recovery from addiction and speaking from that place of power–while not forcing my message on others. Relieving myself of the onus to be perfect in an imperfect system (ie., giving up my self-proclaimed authoritative-yet-martyring deity status to my Higher Power).
      Maybe that’s why I resent Christianity so much . . . I missed the actual message of it and built one where to be like Jesus, I had to walk around knowing everything and being perfect then face the ultimate suffering martyrdom for it. The thing is, that’s a very ego-based way of looking at it. The lessons were offered, yet no one had to follow them. Those who are inspired by them could write them in the journals of their souls and live the principles daily. As for the suffering and ultimate sacrifice? Well, suffering is part of life (one of the Four Truths of Buddhism). And, if one really considers what Jesus gave up when the crucifixion happened? It really wasn’t all that important to him. It was just a body and a brain–and even that self-serving ego-based brain is debatable, seeing how connected he was to the spiritual (exemplified by the miracles recorded in the first four books of the New Testament). It was transcendence through the physical realm, to have to have an apparently very healthy body be pushed to its extremes in order to disconnect the spirit/soul from it. But, if he was the son of G-d, as written in the New Testament, that disconnection was desirable. And perhaps, even in that moment when he apparently cried out, asking G-d why he had been forsaken, he had to pass through the ego-desire to survive–despite the depth of awareness that it was necessary. This, interestingly enough, is the start of Psalm 22. The Wikipedia article on this particular saying says that referencing songs by their first lines was not uncommon at the time. I read the Psalm, which, in a way, is a message of hope–that the process of transitioning from the physical into the spiritual was a good thing. That even through the intense suffering and perception (illusion) of abandonment, one acknowledges as the song progresses that one was never abandoned. That the ending was necessary to create a new and powerful beginning (akin to the mythos of the phoenix, which dies in fire and is reborn from its own ashes). So, in a way, it can be seen as Jesus whining about having his miraculous abilities being taken away, or it perhaps refers to his awareness that to endure these hardships would allow for the transition to the spiritual. I kind-of like the idea of the reference to Psalm 22, which seems to state that when we leave what we think we know is and must be–the illusions we set up with the mind–we are open to a greater possibility than we ever imagined.
      I can empathize with that, leaving what I thought I knew (that diets were the only way to lose weight and that I just couldn’t get my act together to diet consistently in order to earn a perfect life that I felt I was owed) in order to embrace a whole new life (that abstinence and recovery could bring me to a weight loss I never imagined possible in my lifetime, one that–when I am not trying to control it–has maintained itself without my interference and has allowed me to experience peace and serenity . . . two things I also never thought I could reach in this life, no matter how much I wanted them). Now, yes, it’s not as dramatic as being tortured and murdered for telling people the truth that being decent to one another and to choose a path of non-conflict is a good way to live. However, the lesson that releasing the opinions and objects and people and resentments I hold dearly to in order to allow awe-striking impossibilities to manifest in my life is one which I am currently working on as I learn to “let go”. Surrendering to reality, to what is being experienced in the moment, allows me to consciously choose an alternative to the suffering. In referencing Psalm 22, what was said at the crucifixion leaves the realm of the ego and enters the realm of the spiritual–that by surrendering to the acceptance that suffering is part of what’s happening now and one cannot leave it (in Jesus’s case, people argue that it was a conscious decision to stay there and be tortured in order to escort the Holy Spirit of Truth into the world after the resurrection–had it not happened, the Holy Spirit would not have been released onto the earth), one can choose joy in knowing that suffering–like all things natural–has an end. And in choosing joy and hope, the suffering ends at the moment of choice.
      My name is Jess, and I am an addict. My substances of choice are food, approval, and cigarettes. One at a time, however. When my recovery in the food enters the spiritual more often (ie., when I live daily in Steps 10-12), then I can stop sitting in the SLAA rooms and actively work on my withdrawal in that . . . and start sitting in the Nicotene Anonymous meetings. It’s a process, though I strongly believe it’s one which will work as I layer recovery on recovery until I can live in recovery and abstinence/withdrawal/smobriety on a daily basis–using my cravings for any of those addictions as awareness messages that I’ve been letting my ego take over. It’s been a rough road over the last few weeks since I returned from my trip. I had a few times when I could have tanked my abstinence, and I was not particularly interested in fretting about the pain of overeating in order to comfort myself. However, whenever I reached out, the symptoms of the addiction subsided, and I was able to find satiety in what I had before me. It was when I retreated to my own fretful mind and the frustration that I have no words to describe my life’s purpose (resulting in the feeling like I am lost and frantically searching for a particular path a forest in a heavy fog as opposed to walking on a path I may not know the destination of, even if my surroundings are obscured save for the path just in front of me) that I had the worst trouble. Bobbing like a jellyfish on the tides, as it were, as opposed to entering and riding the Gulf Stream toward some far-off destination. The journey is the key, even if I am wandering lost. It sometimes takes getting lost to be willing to trust that the path one finds in the middle of the chaos is as much the right path as any other. I just walk it and experience the journey, not worry about where I end up.


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