We all do this every day. Millions of decisions every day of our lives. Minute changes in direction, this or that, that or this…sometimes in life we are faced with making life altering decisions:
Whether or not to continue treatment.
Whether or not to remain in a marriage or relationship.
Whether or not we stay in our job.
Those are the big ones. But the one I want to talk about today is a decision to believe. A decision to walk in faith with something greater than ourselves. I am not talking specifically about religion, more a decision to believe in the divine current that runs through each of us out to each other and connects us.
I am not a religious person. Never have been although in my childhood, I was a seeker. I went to church after church seeking to find my own connection to this divinity that I really knew nothing about but wanted anyway. I kept going with friends and their families, and never ever found what they seemed to find. And I wanted to…desperately.
I found my connection at 13 when Mike Allard (a boy I loved dearly) introduced me to Buddhism. That began my own spiritual quest. In the beginning, it wasn’t something that I talked about a great deal because it was the 1980s and a young Army brat didn’t talk about such things…especially if you were an Army Officer’s daughter. But I began my journey. I stopped eating meat and I began reading book after book about Buddhism and its tenets.
But even though I found something that spoke to me at 13, it was not enough to save me from alcoholism. It wasn’t enough to stop me from turning away from the divine that I found towards the booze. And the reason was clear: Booze worked faster! And it spoke to me and told me lots of things that I wanted to believe at the time:
I was pretty.
I was lovable.
I was wanted.
I did belong.
Buddhism also said all those things but since there was no community I could access at the time, drinking won out. In truth, I think drinking would have won out regardless but I really think this community of fellow drinkers sealed the deal. Because while I was seeking divinity, I was mostly seeking a place to belong. And bar rooms and yacht clubs gave me that feeling of belonging that I so desperately craved.
Like all spiritual practice, there is work involved. And while I read the books in my altered state of consciousness, I was not capable of doing the work. What I have learned is that mind altering chemicals cut off the divine connection. Every single time. No exceptions. I cannot be connected and inebriated. That is just how it works and that is why Buddhism says:
I take into my understanding that in order to achieve enlightenment, I must refrain from taking in intoxicants that cloud the mind.
It took me a long time to get all five precepts activated in my life.
Refrain from taking life. Not killing any living being.
Refrain from taking what is not given. Not stealing from anyone.
Refrain from the misuse of the senses. Not having too much sensual pleasure.
Refrain from wrong speech. Not lying or gossiping about other people.
Refrain from intoxicants that cloud the mind.
Simple but not easy. It, as it turns out, is a life long practice.
I could not really begin to do the work until I took precept five and worked backward. Honestly the third one has been the hardest one to give up. Sex power is a very powerful power and very easy to abuse…that one has been hardest for me…using it well and not in an abusive or addictive manner.
As with everything, all of the above are works in progress. I am never going to be perfect. And that is not the goal, the goal is to use these precepts to come to know myself and others better. See us for who we are and then do the work to improve upon that.
So where did I turn the corner and begin to do the work? It was when I made a decision to get sober and work some steps in a totally unrelated and non-religious, non-Buddhist program that my life fundamentally and totally changed. One day, I realized that there was a way out of my hopeless spiral to death and I took it. And I began to do the things that people do when they want more than anything to change trajectories in this life. I began to live according to some principles. And I made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of those principles.
This month it will be 26 years since I made that decision. I can’t believe it. Seriously the only other thing I have done longer than this is breathing. And my life depends on both, breathing and living this life according to principles that I was introduced to at 13, and even younger. But I could not believe AND be willing to do the work until I pretty much removed every other option.
Today I rely on that decision daily. Every day I get up and I make a decision to move toward the light. The goodness I see and feel in this world. I continue to do the work because I like the effect produced. I am an effect produced kinda girl.
I have made many decisions in my life but this one was by far the most important one because it can change every one of my other decisions into lessons that beget more spiritual work and growth. Without this decision, I am a victim. With it, I am linked to divinity and capable of seeing the divine in all that I do, all that I am and all that you are.
Because I made a decision, I connected myself up with a community of people doing the same thing as me, well at least trying. There are a lot of people who fail, and I learn perhaps more from them than I do from the ones that succeed. But I need both, the failure and success to keep going. And I need my cheerleading squad of other people on the path to keep me motivated, reminded and walking the walk.
I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have made that decision. It took a life that I was throwing away and gently turned it toward the light. So I walk with the sunlight of the spirit every day and am warmed to my core, always.