Monday, February 20, 2017

The Paradox of Education



Hola Everybody,
It’s been a while since I posted a blog and a lot of that has to do with being busy working my new gig and stressing over finding a place where I can rest my head. Right now, I have no place. I would submit that I’m the Best-Dressed Homeless Person in NYC! LOL It’s ok, I will persevere. Tonight, a friend who’s aware of my situation, let me use the hotel room she wasn’t going to use the last night of her stay here. Hey, I’m grateful. I’ve been sick these past few days and appreciate the chance to rest without worrying about this or that.


Most likely due to the film, I’m Not Your Negro, I’ve been seeing many white liberals express anguish over James Baldwin’s truth. I was lucky, I discovered Baldwin when I was a teen. I love James Baldwin and if you ever get a chance, pick up some of his non-fiction. It’s some of the most powerful socio-political writing evah... The following is an excerpt I try to post at least once a year.



A Talk to Teachers, by James Baldwin

Delivered October 16, 1963, as “The Negro Child -- His Self-Image”; originally published in The Saturday Review, December 21, 1963, reprinted in The Price of the Ticket, Collected Non-Fiction 1948-1985, Saint Martins 1985.




Since I am talking to schoolteachers and I am not a teacher myself, and in some ways am fairly easily intimidated, I beg you to let me leave that and go back to what I think to be the entire purpose of education in the first place. It would seem to me that when a child is born, if I’m the child’s parent, it is my obligation and my high duty to civilize that child. Man is a social animal. He cannot exist without a society. A society, in turn, depends on certain things which everyone within that society takes for granted. Now the crucial paradox which confronts us here is that the whole process of education occurs within a social framework and is designed to perpetuate the aims of society. Thus, for example, the boys and girls who were born during the era of the Third Reich, when educated to the purposes of the Third Reich, became barbarians. The paradox of education is precisely this -- that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not. To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity. But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around. What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it – at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only way societies change.

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My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The 12 Steps for Everyone [Step Two]



Hola mi Gente,
Many people take issue with 12 step fellowships, calling them cults and ineffective. I don’t care to debate that here. I don’t know if the following will get you clean, but it is what helped me recover and it’s a set of principles that continue to guide my evolution as a human being.

These posts are best read in order. My take on the first step can be found here.

Faith and our Deepest Experience


We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
 -- The Second Step, Narcotics Anonymous


As most who read these pages know, I am an addict in recovery. I’ve been clean (yes, clean, not sober!), one day at a time (sometimes one breath at a time), for going on more than 26 years. What follows is a narrative of my journey toward wholeness. I don’t know if this will work for you, but if you were to ask me, this is how I got clean and recovered my life. My story is extreme and you might find it hard to identify with some of its elements. All I ask is that you try to identify with rather than compare my story. As they say in the rooms: listen to the message and not the mess.

I believe all people, regardless of whether they are addicts or not, can benefit from a rigorous application of the 12 Steps.

So take a thorough FirstStep and what happens? We’re stuck in a bad place. I mean, c’mon now, coming to the full and painful realization that my way of doing things was fundamentally fucked up wasn’t a revelation that filled me up with spiritual joy. Furthermore, my bottom had me staring at some very harsh consequences. The last time I took a drug or drink, I was in detention and looking at a possible 15-year prison sentence. Talk about despair.

But years before I got to that mess, the first time I read this step, I literally walked away from Narcotics Anonymous. My understanding of the core principle of this step, faith, at that time caused me a lot of discomfort. I am not a religious person, nor do I believe in a patriarchal God-in-the-sky. To make matters worse, as I continued reading down the steps, I kept seeing the “God” word and the phrase “Higher Power” and I decided then that it was bullshit.

Consequently, I went through the five worst years of my life. The second issue I had with this step was the implication that I was insane -- restore us to sanity. Years later, when in desperation I came back to NA, I did so with a more open mind. But I still had major issues with this step…
 
My sponsor at the time suggested that I simply commit to keeping an open mind and to make this process a personal search. The beauty of Narcotics Anonymous is that the fellowship doesn’t demand you do anything. There are no “thou shalts,” no “shoulds.” As part of taking this step, my sponsor suggested I do a close reading and learn the terms. One of the first things I liked about the step the second time around was how it starts, “came… ” and then, “came to… ,” then, “came to believe… ” In a very real way I was finally coming to my senses -- I was awakening. The opposite of despair is hope and I came to understand that hope is what the Second Step offered me.

Faith was a harder score to settle, but there are enough agnostics and even atheists who are recovering addicts because the Twelve Steps allow for a kind of spiritual democracy. You do not have to believe in anything, or join any religion. You do not even have to apply the steps. They are simply suggestions and since whenever I followed my own suggestions, I usually experienced tremendous suffering, I figured it was time for me to listen to some alternative proposals.

There are many different meanings of faith. At one extreme, there is the more common understanding of faith as blind faith, but that’s just one way of looking at faith. There are degrees of faith. In fact, we all have daily moments of faith and belief. We have faith, for example, that when we turn on the faucet, water will flow. We have faith that our car will start, or that a toaster will work. We also have many beliefs. We believe, for example, that we have a personality. Actually, many of us believe we are our personality, though, scientifically speaking, there’s no brain center that organizes personality. Your personality is a set of beliefs and quirks that you constructed in order to operate in the everyday world. Similarly, scientists have faith in reason and logic to solve problems.

Shit, some of us believe that if we shove money inside of hole in the wall (as many of us did in the 1980s when we copped reefer or heroin), a bag of dope will materialize. LOL! I’m not kidding. Back in the day, the way you copped drugs was that you’d stick your hand with your money in a hole and a hand with bag would come out. I had complete faith in that transaction.

So early on in my recovery process, faith for me had to mean a temporary suspension of disbelief. What that means is that I made an agreement with myself to keep an open mind. Sometimes faith can mean trust. I came to believe that the spiritual principles of hope, freedom, and willingness would restore me to sanity. And believe me, by the second time around, I knew I was insane.
I have been studying human behavior for over a two decades now, and the best definition of insanity I have come across is: doing the same actions and expecting different results. Even an infant knows better not to stick his hand in the socket after the first go-round. But as adults we oftentimes commit the same behaviors -- especially in the area of relationships -- expecting different results.

Sometimes faith can mean trust in a teaching, or self-confidence. As a Buddhist, my Higher Power is the Dharma (The Law), a clearly defined set of ethical and cognitive principles. In sports, a group can develop faith in their ability as a team to overcome extreme odds. In that same way, I came to believe that the fellowship and principles of Narcotics Anonymous could restore me to sanity. Why? Because I was seeing people in the fellowship taking back their lives. People all around me were helping heal themselves and one another. I have been to NA meetings where a particular individual cried in despair because she couldn’t pay her rent, then see her cry in joy once again several months later because she was able to pay her rent.

Initially, my Higher Power was the group. I came to believe that what I couldn’t do alone we could do together. Like a team. Eventually, my spirituality would evolve and I would come to embrace Buddhism as my path. The historical Buddha didn’t make any claims to divinity and his last words, as he lay dying (of all things, food poisoning) were, “… be a lamp unto yourself.” What that means to me is that ultimately, you must walk your path. It means that sayings, scriptures, or instructions alone will not save you. Ultimately, if you want to awaken, to come to your full realization as a human being, you must walk your path -- whatever that path entails.

And that’s what the second step helped me begin. It helped begin to walk the walk, trusting in my experience that I could be restored to sanity by a power greater than myself. The Second Step helped me come to a different understanding of faith, one that wasn’t associated with dogma or religion. I wanted a faith that encouraged and emphasized love and respect for ourselves as a foundation. I wanted to experience a faith that uncovered our connection to others, rather than designating anyone as separate and apart. The faith I came to know as part of my recovery process and that I describe in this post does not require a blind faith or even a belief system; it is not necessarily connected to a God, though it doesn’t deny one. This faith I speak of is not a commodity we either have or don't have -- it is an inner quality that unfolds as we learn to trust our own deepest experience.

My name is Eddie and I’m recovery from civilization...

Resources

Addiction is one of the most pressing problems in our society -- a society that actually encourages consumption at the expense of substance. If you think you have a problem, give yourself a break and try something new, it just might save your life…

Alcoholics Anonymous: Official website

Narcotics Anonymous: Official website

Books I have found useful:

Allione, Tsultrim (2008) Feeding your demons: Ancient wisdom for resolving inner conflict. (click here

Ash, Mel (1993) The Zen of recovery (click here)

Chodron, Pema (2005) When things fall apart: Heart advice for difficult times (click here)

Griffin, Kevin (2004) One breath at a time: Buddhism and the Twelve Steps (click here)

Z., Philip (1990) A skeptic's guide to the 12 Steps (click here)

Note: The featured artwork is by Ben'hUsry.

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