How to Live a Great Life

How to Live a Great Life

“Al-Anon is like physical therapy for my soul, aligning my principles and behavior so that I can move joyfully through life!” — The Forum, March 1988, Hope for Today

What a wonderful analogy. This morning I did my mediation, prayers, and affirmations, leaving myself feeling spiritually centered.

Then I got up, made my bed, straightened my house, leaving myself feeling clean and organized.

Then I did my yoga, ran some wind sprints, lifted some weight and ran through some body core exercises, leaving myself feeling strong and healthy.

Then I showered, shaved, dressed nicely, groomed myself and drank a bunch of water, leaving myself feeling refreshed, handsome and hydrated.

Now I’m at Starbucks, doing my journaling, sending out my gratitude list, writing this blog post, reading from my spiritual backpack and infusing my mind with AlAnon ideas and principles, leaving myself feeling joyful and open to the abundance of the day.

In a little while I’ll be at a job I love to do, which also provides a great service to others, leaving myself feeling productive and self-supporting.

Later today I’ll stop working for a bit, play guitar and drink tea with my friends and brother, who are all in the program, sharing hobbies and fellowship, leaving myself feeling a sense of community, belonging and love.

After writing this all down, it’s evident to me why I love making the program a central and integral part of my life. It’s also easy to see why… ILML!

– JamieQ

Without Getting Stuck

Without Getting Stuck

“They are living in the moment. There are not ashamed of the past; they are not worried about the future. Little children express what they feel, and they are not afraid to love.” – The Mastery of Love

Several years back, when Richie and I took the Iyanla Vanzandt challenge, writing ourselves love letters for 40 days, I decided to write them from James to my inner child. At that time I began to develop a relationship with my inner child, and I started to become more aware of how happy little children are, and how easily they transition in and out of feelings and emotions, without getting stuck.

These young ones seem always intrigued with life and truly living only in each moment. Crying when upset or hurt, then laughing when happy, just moments later, as if they had never been hurt or unhappy to begin with. How cool is that?

This is how I aspire to live today. In awe of being alive, not attached to the past, and not focused on the future. Just enjoying the gift of the present. I get to experience that feeling when I’m connected to my Higher Power, whatever that may be.

About this Higher Power thing: What I love about the 12 step program is that we all get to have our own concept of God, our own relationship with the creative source that guides us. In our program, no one person’s concept of God is better, truer, or more accurate than another’s. There’s no room for spiritual righteousness in AA or AlAnon. Each of our beliefs is perfectly designed for us, and where we are at right now. And as an added bonus, for most of us, our concept of, and relationship with, our personal higher power is always evolving.

It’s when I’m plugged in that wonderful, loving energy that I get to live like a small child does, filled with the wonderment of each and every moment. By letting go of the past and future, but unplugging from regrets and fears, my words, thoughts, actions and feelings are guided only by pure gratitude and love. And when I’m in that magical place, abundance flows in and all around me, and… ILML!

— JamieQ

(click on the image below to see what I’m talking about)

A Spiritual Time-Out

“It is not what I have gained that is important but rather what I have diminished, namely, greed, hatred, and delusion.” — World Buddhism

The 11th Step suggests we seek through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God. But what about those of us who really struggle at being still? Or those of us who have tried meditation and we really don’t enjoy it?

I am one of those who is so busy that I can’t seem to justify the idea of spending 15 or 30 minutes each day meditating, yet over and over again, I hear of it’s benefits from our members. So what did I do?

I ended up getting an app called Simply Being. I choose the voice and music I like, and then it takes me on a guided meditation for as little as 5 minutes or as long as 30. Essentially, I take a spiritual time-out from life for just a few moments, getting a break from my head and the world around me.

I usually choose 5 minutes because I have a very full life (30 would likely make my life easier though). One day I may get there.

But in the meantime, by incorporating meditation, prayer, reading inspirational books, journaling, writing gratitude lists, being of service to others, and attending meetings, greed, hatred and delusion no longer play a prominent role in my days, but instead, ILML!

— JamieQ

An Unreligious God

“What the Catapillar calls the end of the world the master calls a butterfly.” —Richard Bach

At first I knew nothing about God except that my babysitter took me to a church where Jesus was nailed to a cross, blood dripping from his wounds. I came home and asked my dad “What’s God daddy?” and he said “God is love honey, the way it feels when mommy holds you in her arms.”

Later I took a class at USC called Seminar in Religious Studies and learned about different religious gods. I even spent the night with the Hare Krishnas to write a paper on that religion. My verdict: I didn’t like religion.

And then I came into the 12 step rooms and saw that word again: God. I tried to ignore it as I went to meetings, worked the steps, and fellowshipped with others. I did what I needed around this Higher power concept, the minimum, but didn’t believe in any God. To me, God meant religion.

Eventually I wanted more. I wanted the spiritual connection, love, faith, and all the stuff people talked about, but without god. Because, again, to me, God = Religion. On a radio show the host, an atheist, said “God is just a make believe friend for grownups.”

Sometimes, even though we hear something over and over, we don’t get it until it’s said differently. That day I wrote down what, if I had one, this make believe friend called God would be like. Funny, kind, helpful, smart, creative, loving, playful, trustworthy, and someone who really wants the best for me. I’ve believed in that make believe friend ever since. In fact, he’s a constant companion of mine.

When my mom died I thought it was the end of her life. Like the caterpillar, I can’t see into the future. Who really knows if it’s the end, or if it’s a transition into something more wonderful. And if I can’t know for sure, and feel like I need to believe something, why not believe she, and my baby brother, and my grandma, and my kitty have transitioned into the next, amazing level of existence. Oh, and guess who was by my side during each of those deaths? You got it. My make believe buddy. How do I know? I don’t. I simply choose to use my imagination to believe.

When I have blind, unprovable faith that everything is not only exactly the way it’s supposed to be, but that everything that’s happening is actually fantastic, ILML!

— JamieQ

What an Idiot

If you keep saying things are going to be bad, you have a good chance of bing a prophet.” 

– Issac B. Singer

Sounds pretty similar to what I say frequently, “Be careful of what you’re saying out loud and to yourself, because your mind is listening and it believes you.”

Of course, it’s impossible to always think and say things that are positive. But what is possible is to catch ourselves when we do think or say things that are negative, and then take contrary actions.

Here’s a very clear example of how I practice living in the solution and getting out of negativity: 

After spilling the milk at home alone, I say out loud “What an idiot!”

Awareness hits me and I think to myself, “I just called myself an idiot, that’s not kind or productive.”

Which prompts me to take action by saying the contrary thing out loud, “Actually, I’m not an idiot, I’m a really smart guy who just made a mistake because we human beings do that, we make mistakes.”

Which evokes a feeling of success and celebration, causing me to yell out, “I’m stoked I caught myself, that’s a victory, you rock James, I love my life.”

Which puts a big smile on my face. I’m smiling after spilling the milk. That’s rad!

This process, once practiced, can become an automatic way of life, regardless of who, what or where the negativity is directed.

So the next time you start thinking upsetting thoughts, or speaking things that are fearful or unkind, give it a shot. And remember, it all starts with awareness.

Whenever I use the tools of the program to change the way I think and speak, from negative to positive, ILML!

— JamieQ

Love & Selflessness

“Well, I believe he’s worth saving and working on.“ They said to me, “Do you want to quit drinking?… Now, if you don’t want it, we’ll not take up your time, and we’ll be going and looking for someone else.“ — Bill & Bob talking to Alcoholic #3, Big Book p.186

According to the history I found online, a few days before speaking with AA#3 (Bill Dotson) on June 26, 1935, Dr. Bob had said to Bill W., “If you and I are going to stay sober, we had better get busy.” 9 days later, Dotson left the hospital a free man, never to drink again until his death, 19 years later.

What I find particularly interesting is that Dotson’s wife, Henrietta, just a few days earlier, had prayed with a pastor that someone her husband could understand would visit him in the hospital.

And to make it all even more improbable is that, at about the same time she was praying with the pastor, Dr. Bob reported saying to Bill: “If you and I are going to stay sober, we had better get busy.” Dr. Bob called Akron’s City Hospital and told the nurse, a “Mrs. Hall,” that he and a man from New York had a cure for alcoholism. Did she have an alcoholic customer on whom they could try it out?

Sounds to me like divine intervention. The spirit of all that is good and kind, the energy that wants the very best for us, the power that is cheering for us to practice compassion, love and selflessness can and will break the bonds of suffering. I believe that was what brought these three alcoholics together in order to carry the message to the millions of us who want to heal and lead productive, happy lives, along with the millions of those that love us and were suffering right along side of us.

When I read about this encounter, tears of gratitude spilled from my eyes. I think of what my life would have looked like without the program—It would have been a truly tragic life. Instead, those three got together and kept it going, and eventually the program reached me, healed my soul, and changed me from a man who hated life to one who runs around yelling “ILML!”

— JamieQ

A Program of Action

“Then they outlined the spiritual answer and program of action which a hundred of them had followed successfully.” — Big Book p.47

They outlined a spiritual answer. I believe that the founders were speaking of providing answers to help others, like me, who, through the effects of alcohol, had warped our sense of identity, lost our emotional stability and abandoned some or all of our moral convictions in the face of the disease.

And they outlined a program of action. In early sobriety a sponsor holds our hand and shows us that program of action. But at 20 years I found myself sober, in AA, with a sponsor, with sponsees, and without a solid program consisting of daily actions that kept me evolving into a better man. I needed something more and different than what I did in my first year. So I searched and searched, until I found one.

Today my program includes the following actions: In the mornings I roll out of bed and pray and at night I stop to pray again before getting into bed, I take time to hit the pause button on life—even for just a few minutes—to meditate, I say positive affirmations out loud, I keep a spiritual backpack at my side, filled with C.A.L. and other books that enlighten me as a read, highlight and share the passages along with my experience, strength and hope, I write and share gratitude lists with others, I write a daily 10th step in my journal, I make immediate amends, whenever my disease isn’t getting the best of me, except if it hurts another, I actively work the steps and traditions over and over each year, I share what I learn in recovery, I attend both AA and AlAnon meetings regularly, I engage in fellowship with others in recovery, I sponsor others and seek my sponsor’s help and direction as needed, I am involved in service work, I work to be self-supporting financially, I spend time with my family, I exercise and stretch, I eat healthy (and give myself the gift of some cheats too), I keep my body and my surroundings clean and tidy, I practice self-care, I set healthy boundaries, I am a man of my word, I detach from toxic people and situations, I love others but not at the expense of being loving toward myself, I have and engage in hobbies and recreation, and I get 8 hours of sleep.

Holy mackerel! And that’s not even my entire list! But here’s the deal, and you already know this: we get out what we put in. The more action we take in our program, the more gifts of recovery we receive, the happier we are, the easier life is, the more successful our lives become, and the more we love our lives.

As a result of seeking a spiritual solution and taking actions in recovery, I have a life beyond my wildest dreams, and… ILML!

— JamieQ