Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Listening and Speaking in Recovery



     In Zen Buddhism we have a teaching called the Four Noble Truths. I know pretty humble right? Anyway the last section is called the Eightfold Path and it's intent is to give us tools for everyday living. Tools for everyday living was something in short supply when I finally stopped abusing drugs and alcohol. The Eightfold Path was designed for us to develop awareness about our everyday functioning. It points to using our senses and abilites to balance ourselves in our everyday life. And the most important thing of all it encourages us to become less Reactive and more Responsive.

     This was a really big deal to me when I first entered a recovery status. I mean I had spent my entire life being reactive and honestly I don't think I had a clue on how to respond any differently. Being reactive seemed like a survival mechanism that I was unable to live without. At the time of my last hospitalization I was simply running on reactions and conditioning. As I remember it my life was entirely ugly and without much meaning.

     Although I studied Zen on and off for decades I had never actually applied myself with any intent to use it any more than a philosophy.The only use I had of Zen was that  I could use it to impress myself. I had a lot of Zen type soundbites that I could use with others but none of it was in my heart. When I finally aquired some recovery and some perspective I started reading Allen Watts books again. This time I was able to use my emotional structure to complete the knowing that Zen was not about thinking it was about doing.

     One of the very first things I learned at 12 step meetings was the art of listening. At first I didn't want to go at all. Then once I got comfortable all I was focused on was whatever I was going to say. I would become "bored" listening to others and spend a lot of time listening to the internal complaints in my mind. I was studying Zen with a passion at the time and was processing the part of the Eightfold Path that dealt with Right Speech. The material also folded in listening as part of right speech. One night at 7PM at a church in Madison Heights, Michigan I found myself with a cup of coffee sitting at a table and waiting for the six people who came to this meeting to start. As the first person started talking I started to repeat everything they said in my head like an echo chamber. Hmm. A minute into what they were saying I realized that for the first time I could ever remember I was actually listening to them and not the voice in my head. I did this with the three people who spoke before me. When it came to me I realized I had nothing to say. So I told them I was just there to listen and that's exactly what I did. LISTEN.

     Actually repeating what we hear is not that difficult. In practice we are doing it anyway but not quite in this specific and attentive manner. The main benifit is that we are actually processing the words being spoken and focusing on the meaning. This cuts way down on the chatter of our "all knowing" ego centric conditioning and sets us up to actually communicate in a thoughtful way. We actually know to the best of our ability what has been said. Yes it takes a little getting used to but it's worth the effort. You will notice that you start RESPONDING to what is being said and less REACTIVE to what you think you are hearing.

     Consider this. Being in remission from substance abuse can be the best opportunity you have ever had in life. Why? Because if you decide to take the opportunity to do so you are going to clarify your life like no else could even consider. All you have in life is egocentric conditioning. Everything you have done is a direct result from conditioning. The chances are pretty high that instead of learning to respond you learned to react to whatever experience was in front of you. You never decided how your were going to speak or listen, you were trained in the art of speech and listening. Now you have the opportunity to take the tools you have and seek a new direction. You get to choose how you speak and listen. It's going to require some work and now that your in remission you can choose to begin.

     I believe in you.

I'm always happy to hear comments and concepts. If you think I can help please feel free to email. me. The email address is to the left. I really love helping people gain a remission status and will gladly share any resources I have. You can do this. I know you can.

Be safe.
Bryan S. Wagner