Thin Places in Recovery

My Chair for Practices, Casma, Peru

I am a creature of habit.  My current morning practices include journaling, writing a note to someone, recovery step work, meditation and composing a gratitude list.  For the past three weeks and through the first of August, I am in rural Peru.  Before leaving on the trip, I was certain to pack all of my necessary supplies, take into account the likely lack of internet service so that I could continue these practices.  All has gone well and I foresee no problem in maintaining my routine.

A couple of other recent practices I knew I could not continue during my trip.  Since moving to New Orleans last year, every Sunday morning I have come to enjoy walking to Rayne Memorial and participating in the service.  Obviously that was not going to happen while in Peru.

Another practice I picked up over the past several months is my Wednesday 11:30 AM meeting with my fellow pilgrims in the School for Contemplative Living.  At these gatherings we have a 20 minute centering prayer/meditation and discuss a spiritual text for an hour.  I committed to my friends that at 11:30 am each Wednesday, I would join them in spirit in a 20-minute centering prayer practice from Peru.  That has gone well.

I have come to understand that a good part of the experience of my Sunday and Wednesday morning practices has more to do with being in community and relationship with others than just the physical process of the practice.  That has been a meaningful insight for me in the same ways that I was never able to get sober just by reading the literature or thinking about my addiction, but by being in community and relationship with others.

This past Wednesday I sat down for my centering prayer in the courtyard of the house where we are staying here in Casma.   I had Russian Orthodox chant music playing in the back ground.  I am a novice at this sort of thing and generally tend to just try to focus on my breathing.  I often become rather restless about half-way through the 20-minute practice.

This past Wednesday, I quickly got into the rhythm of the breathing – the Spanish/Quechua voices from next door replacing the sounds of traffic at my regular practice space in the States.  Trying to empty myself as best I could and focus solely on my breathing, I was filled with a sense of well-being.  Knowing too that my fellow pilgrims in the US were practicing at exactly the same time came into my head and I emptied that as well.  The chanting caught my attention like never before for the sheer beauty of words of which I knew not the literal meaning but spoke to me fully.  A cool breeze flowed through the yard, as I continued to empty myself of all thought.  My eyes felt wet and I could feel tears moving down my face.  I entered a thin space.  And then I was back again.

I liken these thin spaces to pink cloud or mountain top experiences in recovery.  I have come not to expect them, but by putting one foot in front of the other, and following the next intuitive step on a path to true self, I can be ready to absorb the experience, the liminal space, when presented.  In the same way that the mountain top experiences of recovery can never be taken away, so to these liminal or thin spaces remain as well.  As certain as the “aha” moment when I realized that it was not that “I could not drink alcohol today” but that “I did not have to drink alcohol today” so too my Centering Prayer experience in the dusty courtyard in Casma, Peru, is now forever a part of me.  I am grateful for this gift.

A Bike Wreck and Recovery

I am supposed to be in Peru now, but instead I am still at home in New Orleans.  A short four weeks ago I was in a pretty nasty bike wreck.  A “frat boy type” was trying to do skateboard tricks on a bike path when he lost control of his board which then ran into my bike and I went down hard.  When I was laying there I knew that things were not okay.  At first I cussed like a sailor because I was well aware there was no way I could leave for Peru on May 23rd as scheduled.  I could not even stand up.  The “frat boy type” and his buds, as soon as they saw I was not dead, took off to escape any responsibility.  Another passerby helped me stand-up.  I could not put any weight on my left leg.  The passerby helped me get back on my bike and I was able to pedal the two miles home, make my way into the house and pretty much collapse.

I am now recovering well. Hip and leg x-rays revealed no broken bones, but the jury is still out on my left shoulder.  I had a bone scan.  Other than that, I am reasonably mobile and will leave for Peru tomorrow morning.

Recovery related things out of this include:

  • I can cut the “frat boy type” some slack.  In my early 20s as an active alcoholic, I would have acted the same – tried to get away as fast as I could and not take any responsibility.  Though I look forward to the next time I run into the “frat boy type” to give him a lecture on same.
  • Living Life on Life’s Terms.  I have tried to use some of this down time for reflection.  One thing I truly appreciate is that were it not for my past decades of sobriety, minimally, I would not even be considering a return trip to Peru, be retired and living in my favorite city in North America, and very likely would be dead from something related to my drinking and drugging.
  • Living into the Solution.  I am forever grateful that sobriety has given me a “glass is half-full” approach to dealing with reality.  I pretty quickly got past the “poor me” thinking to figuring out how to recover and move on.
  • Learning to Prioritize.  One thing I have learned in the past month is to better prioritize what I will do in life.  Since retiring some 9 months ago, my plate has overflowed with opportunities.  I have enjoyed having the time in the past few weeks to slow down and think on those things which are most important to me, rather than running from one place to another.

So, in less than 48 hours, my plan is to be in Lima, Peru.  Regardless of how the field season plays out, were it not for recovery, I would not have this opportunity, or any other that I have been blessed with over the years by living into a simple Twelve Step Program of recovery.