I am thinking of embarking on a new moratorium. No, not a spending moratorium. Already did that for three months. No, this one will be much harder.
I propose a moratorium on criticism, which is a subtle form of gossip. And on self-righteous indignation, which is very loud criticism. And let’s throw in giving advice, which leads to self-righteous indignation when the receiving party doesn’t want to do what I say.
I’ll probably have to tape my mouth shut for the duration because, really, what else is there to talk about?
A Meditation Practice that Leads to Self-Reflection
I’ve been going deeper into a form of mindfulness meditation where I bring my focus to my breathing as an anchor to allow me to plumb the depths of my mind without losing it. As I become increasingly aware of my own thoughts, I see how much of the time what comes out of my mouth is criticism, self-righteous indignation, and adamant advice. And I don’t like it.
Despite the years of recovery I’ve experienced in multiple programs, this sneaky behavior keeps inching its way back into my life, causing me, and those around me, to suffer.
Self-righteous indignation is not a pleasant feeling. Expressing it IS a great adrenaline drug, however. So, like any drug, it makes us feel good for a short time. But as I’ve written previously, my disability is quite sensitive to adrenaline. A shot of it can put me under the covers for days at a time.
What has been very insightful is the instruction to bring my mindfulness practice off the “cushion” and into my daily life and relationships. That has been the missing link for me with meditation.
I can experience some peace and reduction of suffering (sometimes) when I do a formal meditation practice. But too many times, I lose it within, oh, say, three minutes, when the dog starts barking or some other minor irritant comes into my space.
A Step Six and Seven Issue
So I know that the only way for me to work Steps Six and Seven is to first become willing and then to actually change my behavior around the defect. Only then can my Higher Power remove the mental affliction. Of course, I view the behavior as the release valve. It sure feels good to let loose about why I’m right and you are wrong or why a whole group of people are wrong or even that I have the answer for how you should do whatever it is that I’m directing you to do at that moment.
But watch out, because my agitation increases exponentially if you don’t want to do it my way because, after all, YOU are suffering and, of course, I know how to bring you out of suffering. And so my frustration gears up and I want to explode all over you because WHY WON’T YOU LISTEN TO ME (since I’m right, of course).
Soooo, THAT is not really a pleasant way to live. Nor is it in keeping with recovery because such behavior leads only to resentment which will lead me to relapse. And THAT’S why I need to change.
The Big Book Sees Through Me and Has the Answer
Pages 60-62 of the Big Book sum up the problem, beginning with:
The first requirement is that we be convinced that any life run on self-will can hardly be a success. On that basis we are almost always in collision with something or somebody, even though our motives are good. Most people try to live by self-propulsion. Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way.
And ending with:
First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn’t work. Next, we decided that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director. He is the Principal; we are His agents. He is the Father, and we are His children. Most good ideas are simple, and this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom.
Well, there you go. Whenever I tell people what to do or criticize them, I’m playing God. When I think I have the answer or my way is the right way, I suffer, not them. When I’m shouting at the political pundits on TV spewing what I believe is ridiculous and outrageous rhetoric, I suffer, not them. When I talk to someone about how someone else (not in earshot) is wrong and how they should behave, I suffer, not them. (Though I may cause the person with whom I’m speaking to suffer as well by working him or her up about the issue.)
Someone recently said that she believes that anger is a good thing because it is the impetus for people to take action to change injustice in the world. That may be the case, but for this addict, anger is a poison I cannot afford to drink.
Just like with credit cards (and, for me, also food and alcohol), I can’t have just a little.
So I need to find the way to balance out my desire to make the world a better place (which is really my heartfelt intention) by not wrecking it by venting my spleen so that I temporarily feel better but leave a mess in my path.
The Challenge of Thinking before Speaking
I’ve laid out my problem. So how could this moratorium manifest?
It’s crucial, I think, to the success of such a moratorium, to learn how to pause before speaking to determine if what I want to say violates the moratorium. So many of us speak without thinking and it may seem daunting to jump into a moratorium if we haven’t learned how to become conscious of what we want to say before saying it and how to pause before our thoughts come out of our mouth.
This is not so easy for me. I know that the insistent pressure of expressing what I want to say evokes the same type of pain as a spending obsession that washes over me. At that moment, it feels like the only way to relieve that pressure is to spend the money. But in recovery, I know that isn’t the case. I know the feeling will pass if I don’t give into it.
So, too, with my thoughts and demanding ego. If I learn how to sit with the discomfort of an unexpressed thought, the pain will pass. Becoming willing to do this is where I must begin.
I strongly suggest using Step Eleven meditation as a way to learn to work with thoughts. There are many excellent resources to teach us how to meditate. I will just recommend the book I recently read that really spoke to me. Unlike other meditation books I’ve read, it really gives very specific and useful advice on bringing your practice into your life:
Three Steps to Awakening: A Practice for Bringing Mindfulness to Life by Larry Rosenberg
Suggestions on How to Work the Moratium
Here are a set of suggested guidelines if you, too, struggle with these issues and would like to try this out:
- Pick a duration of time for your commitment. For my spending commitment, I picked three months. But you can choose any length of time.
- My mantra becomes “it’s none of my business.” In other words, I have no business judging. This takes a lot of pressure off me and gives me a good reminder.
- If you slip up, just recommit and learn from the experience. Ask yourself what might you have done differently, for instance. This is not a punitive exercise, but a lesson in spiritual growth.
- Give yourself an amount of time to pause before speaking, for instance a count of three. By doing this habitually, no matter what you are saying, it will become easier to slow down. Plus, it will help if you have a tendency to interrupt.
- Do not offer advice or feedback unless you are asked. You may want to tell your network what you are doing so they don’t think you’ve been replaced by a doppelganger when you begin acting so differently.
- Avoid both overt criticism or subtle ways we may put people down.
- It may be best for the moratorium to deliberately choose not to say anything, good or bad, about other people to someone else. I think that is the course I would take to be safe.
- If I am asked for feedback, I will be sure to share JUST my own experience, strength, and hope (ESH).
- KEY POINT: After expressing my ESH, I will not justify my position. That means if the other person contests what I am saying, I will NOT engage in an argument. This, I think, is a crucial way I can keep from suffering. I find that as I argue, I get more and more worked up with trying to convince the other person I am right. This is an exercise in not engaging in that contest at all.
So there you have it. As this is about progress, not perfection, I’m sure it will be a rocky road. But just getting out of the weeds and onto the road is a way for me to become “willing to grow along spiritual lines,” as it states on page 60 of the Big Book.
I don’t know that I’m ready to commit to this yet. But I can still aspire to improve in this area and become willing, mindful that, as the Big Book says, “The principles we have set down are guides to progress. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.”
I’ll keep you posted.