In this episode Angela and John speak with Jackie S. about the power of pausing and meditation to bring mindfulness to our recover and how we can benefit from that. This episode was recorded as a live stream on our public YouTube channel and our private Facebook group. We stream an episode every Friday night at 7:00 pm Central Time.
00:00 John: AA Beyond Belief is a podcast by, for, and about people who have found a secular path to sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous.
00:26 John: Well, hello, and welcome to another sober distancing episode of AA Beyond Belief. And it’s Friday; happy Friday to everybody. And it is May Day; so happy May Day as well. And we have a special guest today, Angela and I. But before I introduce her, let’s check in with Angela and see how she’s doing. Angela how are you?
00:49 Angela: I am good. The Boise satellite office is going strong today.
00:55 John: Up and running. Good deal.
00:57 Angela: Up and running, yes. Back to the home studio.
01:01 John: And we have a guest, she is Jackie S. And she is from Maryland. And I actually did a podcast interview with Jackie, oh, a couple of months ago I think, and I had a screw up because I saved it on something that doesn’t work anymore. So, anyway, we are going to redo it, and so this is the redo. And the subject is going to be The Power of Pause, Mindfulness in Recovery. Jackie, how are you doing?
01:28 Jackie: I’m good, I’m good. I just realized we’re in three different time zones here, right?
01:32 John: Yeah.
01:32 Jackie: And then I’m in the Maryland studio, so…
01:34 John: There you go.
01:36 Jackie: It’s great.
01:37 John: We are also streaming in three different places, which is kind of wild. We’re on our Facebook group, we’re on YouTube and also on the AA Beyond Belief website; just for the nerdy stuff, if you’re interested in knowing all that.
01:50 Jackie: So exciting.
01:51 John: Yeah. So you were going to be going to the International Conference of Secular AA that was going to be held in DC this October. And of course, that isn’t going to be happening, but you were planning on a presentation at the conference called Power of the Pause, Mindfulness in Recovery. So I was hoping that you wouldn’t mind just giving us a bit of that presentation for maybe 20 minutes or so, and then we can start taking calls and go from there.
02:20 Jackie: Yeah, absolutely. And, please, feel free… I have to say that I love doing presentations, but the one thing I love about it is the interaction. So, John and Angela, chime in.
02:33 John: We will.
02:34 Jackie: Chime in and say “well, what’s that?”
02:36 John: We definitely will.
02:36 Jackie: Yeah, yeah, yeah. because I can’t have eye contact, so at least I’ll get the voice contact.
02:40 John: Yeah, we’ll definitely do that.
02:41 Jackie: Yeah. And, yeah, so I also want to let you all know that I do this presentation, or a similar one, at an inpatient treatment center once a month. I’m very passionate about it, I think it can be incredibly helpful, and it just broadens the scope. This doesn’t… I’m not trying to say that mindfulness or a mindfulness way to recovery is different from the 12 Steps. I mean, it is different, but it can be a supplement, or if you’re completely opposed to the 12 Steps, it can be quite helpful I think.
03:13 Jackie: So one of the things I like people to think about is, what is mindfulness and what is mindlessness? So mindlessness, pretty easy, we’ve all been there, especially if we are recovering drug addicts or alcoholics. A lack of conscious intention. To be mindless is to be oblivious, unaware. And the important thing about mindlessness, I think, is to understand that it leads one to do things automatically, and you act without thought. And so, if I was with you right now, I might reach out my hand to you and say, “Hey, I’m Jackie.” And if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, you’d probably reach your hand out and shake my hand automatically, right?
03:53 John: Right.
03:54 Jackie: So that’s just an automatic thing we do. It’s pretty harmless, again, if we weren’t in a pandemic. But if you’re in active addiction and you set an intention to quit drinking, or quit using drugs, and you go out and you see something that triggers you, whether it’s an old friend who invites you to have a beer with them or you pull up at a gas station and your drug dealer’s there, or you hear a song and all of a sudden that just reminds you of something and it triggers you, and you automatically use. Right?
04:29 John: Mm-hmm.
04:29 Jackie: And so that’s where mindfulness is the opposite of mindlessness. Mindfulness is this ability to be present in this moment and to be aware of your thoughts, but here’s the trick though, and I’ll talk about this, but it’s to be aware of your thoughts without getting too attached to them. Thoughts and/or feelings, because if let’s say I’m trying to get sober and I go into a meeting and I see my ex there, my thought or my feeling might be, “Oh, F… It. I’m trying to do the right thing and here my ex is,” and so I want to hightail it out of there. But if I’m mindful, if I have cultivated or I’m beginning to cultivate a pause button, I can hit the pause button. I can maybe see if there’s somebody else in the meeting that I can talk to about the way I’m feeling. I can find another meeting.
05:26 Jackie: Yeah, there was a joke when I was first getting sober that said… Well, it might have been way before that, but I heard it when I was first getting sober, that said, “If you go into a bar and you don’t like the bartender, you don’t quit drinking, you find another bar.” So it’s the same thing, you go to a meeting, you see your ex, go to another meeting. So, yeah, so mindfulness is just… It’s really cultivating that pause button, the power of the pause. Does that all make sense so far?
05:49 John: Yes, it does, it does. The only thing… The only time I’ve ever come close to something like this, I suppose… There was a period of time when I was meditating, and I think I was sharing this with you before, and during that time, I learned when I was meditating I kind of let my thoughts kind of go by and try not to grab on to them, and I learned that I could do that when I wasn’t meditating too. So if I was at work or something and I had some sort of a negative thought, I didn’t really have to grab onto it, I could just let it go. But, boy, it took a lot of practice. And when I was practicing it and aware of it, it seemed like I was kind of used to doing that, and it was very, very helpful. Would you think that would be mindfulness?
06:00 Jackie: Absolutely.
06:00 John: Yeah?
06:00 Jackie: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And a lot of people would say that mindfulness and meditation do go hand-in-hand, and we’ll talk about that for sure, but I don’t know that it’s the only time you can be mindful is on the cushion, or in your chair, or however you’re practicing mindfulness, if that makes sense.
06:00 John: Yeah, yeah.
06:00 Jackie: But, yeah, absolutely, it really is simply just understanding that your thoughts and your feelings don’t have to control you.
07:00 John: That you can just be there with whatever your thoughts and feelings are without having to react to them.
07:04 Jackie: Right. What do you think… How’s that sound? [chuckle] I think it sounds really hard, I think, for a lot of people, right? And, I think, for some reason, there’s probably some research about this, but… Maybe you guys even know, but for some reason, when we’re in early recovery or at the end of our use, it doesn’t seem like we have the ability to right-size our thoughts and our feelings. Everything seems to be an emergency. Would you agree, Angela?
07:35 Angela: Oh, definitely, everything’s a big deal. So I know in my early recovery, my sponsor had made a deal with me that I wasn’t allowed to quit another job or end another relationship without calling her first, because anytime at work somebody said anything to me that sounded at least in the very least critical, I would lose it and quit. because how dare they treat me that way? And same with relationships, I couldn’t do those either very well, because lots of things trigger you in relationships. So, yeah, so that was how I first started learning to pause, was to actually just call my sponsor when I was upset, before I did anything, and, yeah, that was my version of it early on.
08:29 Jackie: Yeah, absolutely. And I think… I think it would be nice to reach guru status, which I have not done, where we can just pause and the feelings just melt out of our body magically. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with pausing and realizing, if I don’t call a trusted friend, or sponsor, that I might, I don’t know, hit somebody. Or whatever, quit my job, or get out of this relationship. So there’s this way that one can cultivate, I think, enough peace or mindfulness to sit through feelings, but I probably wouldn’t suggest that to someone in early recovery, or even someone who’s just struggling. Like right now in this pandemic. Just to be mindful and let things kind of roll off of us. I mean, I’m sure that there’s some people that can do that easier than others, but I think, for most of us, especially those of us who find solace in a group of sober folks, that we need that, we need to get into that Zoom meeting or call someone when we’re feeling a little squarely.
09:32 Angela: Yeah, definitely. It kind of reminds me of people who are in early recovery, a lot of the meetings where they said they just give it to God. I was like, “Well, one, I don’t have that kind of a higher power, but also, how is that useful to me right now?”
09:50 Jackie: Yeah, I used to feel like there was really something wrong with me, because people would talk about, I just prayed about it, and this was removed, and that was relieved, and that was just never my process. And when I did believe in God, I kind of thought that God must not like me as much as God likes those other people. Because my process was usually long and hard, and often dark, and I would get through it, I didn’t pick up a drink or a drug, but it wasn’t magical.
10:20 John: See, that’s how I felt too, but I felt like there was something wrong with me because I didn’t have the ability to believe in God, or make God work the way that other people could. And it took me a long time to kind of understand that it wasn’t that I didn’t know how to use God, it was that there was actually no God. [chuckle]
10:40 Jackie: Right, right, right. Yeah, yeah. And I still can get kind of, I wouldn’t say jealous exactly, maybe envious of people who it just seems so easy. I have gray hair. I think I’ve aged enough now to know that it’s not easy for anybody. None of this is easy. Life is difficult. And if we’re lucky to have some of these principles, both… I love the principles of the 12 Steps and I love these mindful principles. So, you guys, help me out here, because normally what I will ask people is to think about what they do mindfully and what they do mindlessly. Can you guys think of anything you might do mindfully?
11:21 Angela: Mindfully. Well, when I get into something. I enjoy cookie decorating. I do that mindfully and can do that for many hours, and kind of in the zone type of thing. So I think I do that mindfully. I’m very deliberate and present with the cookie and the cookie decorating stuff.
11:51 Jackie: Yeah, that’s awesome.
11:52 Angela: That kind of a thing. So, yeah. How about you John?
11:55 Jackie: How about you, John? Do you do anything mindfully?
11:56 John: What I would do mindlessly is maybe react in traffic. Somebody makes me angry because of the way they’re driving, or some stupid thing like that. That’s pretty mindless.
12:08 Jackie: Yeah.
12:08 John: Or even this, I might be at work, and I guess this might count as being mindless. I make a mistake, and I just won’t get over it. I just beat myself up over that mistake that I made. It can sometimes just ruin my day. But what I do mindfully… It’s interesting, like what Angela said, things that I really enjoy, if I’m editing a podcast or talking to somebody in a podcast, listening to somebody, I’m pretty mindful about that. I would also think that just sometimes at work, I’m a manager, so before I speak with an employee, I try to be very careful about how that employee feels and, oh, the entire situation. Depending on what we’re going to be talking about.
12:49 Jackie: Yeah, that’s great, because you can see how that’s so helpful, if we can just take a pause, take a breath. I’m a mental health therapist. When I first started practicing, I really had to take some time before every patient came in. To just center myself and try to be present. And now, of course, it’s more of a habit. I still… I’m present. I do think that is one of the things I do mindfully, is work with patients, which is also why I don’t like the Zoom, because it takes something out of that, with the way I’m doing it now. But the thing I do mindlessly the most, which is so scary, and thank goodness you guys don’t live in proximity to me, is drive. I am completely mindless when I’m driving. It’s pretty scary. [chuckle] I just am. Not always. I’ve gotten better, but I do think it is the one thing where my husband will be in the car with me and he’s like, “Can you just drive? Can you just drive? Put your phone down, stop doing this.” Yeah.
13:56 Jackie: So this practice will benefit everyone on the road. The better that I practice mindfulness, everyone will be a little safer. Yeah. And, John, when you were talking about not letting it go when you make a mistake, that’s the one definition, is the ability to know what’s happening in your head, at any given time, without getting carried away by it. So just understanding, “I made a mistake. Oh, look at this, I’m actually angry with myself. Wow, I wonder if I could just put that anger down.” And that’s the thing. I think mindfulness should always be gotten into with a sense of non-judgment. Like, feelings are neither good nor bad, they just are. Circumstances are neither good nor bad, they just are. Now, I know that sounds really woo-woo, and I’m totally a human being and can complain about things, but if I go into it with that kind of intention, then I don’t get as carried away, if that makes sense.
14:56 Jackie: I had a run of tragedies in my recovery, lots and lots of death. And, to be honest, I wish I hadn’t had to do that. I’m not saying, “Oh, wow, that was really good,” or whatever, but it does make me more mindful about life, more mindful how quickly death can come. I think it makes me a person that when someone is experiencing death, they can call me because I’m just more grounded about it. Like, yeah, that’s horrible, people do die. And in fact, I remember talking to my sponsor when my sister was terminally ill and crying on the phone and saying, “I’m just afraid she’s going to die.” And my sponsor in her mindful Buddhist wisdom said, “Well, she will die.” And it really helped to hear that. Like, we’re all going to die.
15:48 John: Yeah, that’s really interesting about grief. I went through my father’s death after about 10 years of sobriety. And I remember going into it, because my mother had died before I got sober, and so I had experienced grief through drinking and I know what that was like. So now I’m going to experience grief as a sober person and I’ve been sober for 10 years, and I’m thinking, “Oh, I can handle this. I can handle this grief.” But what I noticed was I couldn’t, and I was crazy. And it was like the grief sometimes would just flow over you, just flow over me, and I just couldn’t control it. And, I guess, what I learned from that experience is… And this is what I always try to relate with people that might be experiencing grief, is I always share that story with them, “You know what? I really learned I really couldn’t control it.” That it was almost like nature was taking its course and it would just bring this grief on in waves, and little by little, it would almost in a way heal me I guess.
16:49 Jackie: Yeah, absolutely. I love that analogy. Because then, I think the more… And I think this is the point I was trying to make, is that, once those deaths happened, I realized I really am not in control, and not just of life or death, but really anything. And it’s also why everybody’s a little freaked out about this pandemic. I think the main thing for most of us… I feel lucky that I don’t know a ton of people affected by the actual virus, sick, but yet, and even people I know who aren’t affected, they’re still completely stressed out and it’s unknowing. It’s the feeling out of control. And so mindfulness, if you start practicing it, can really help you kind of get comfortable with being out of control, or just being comfortable with being uncomfortable. I think that’s the caveat here. Mindfulness doesn’t make you happy, joyous or free. Well, it does kind of make you free, but it will make you more content. Like when people die, you grieve, but if you don’t try to fight the grief, if you just are content like, “Well, this makes sense. It would be weird if I wasn’t crying, or if I wasn’t sad,” that’s where mindfulness can really help you not to fight it.
18:00 John: About the pandemic too, I don’t often think about how it’s making me feel. Occasionally I might talk to somebody at work about it that it seems like, and I was sharing this with you earlier, that the days seem to be kind of monotonous where one day is like the other the next day, but I know there’s a lot more going on. I noticed that my sleep is disturbed, and I was reading in the paper that that seems to be common right now, that people aren’t sleeping really well. So there’s probably a lot of stress that’s going on that I’m really not that mindful about, that I’m just somehow, I don’t know, muddling through. Probably a lot of people are like that.
18:35 Jackie: A little bit of meditation in the morning might help you, John. [chuckle] Not trying to force feed you on meditation, or anything, but… It is amazing though if you can just sit for a few minutes and watch your mind, you can be like, “Oh, right, yeah, I am kind of stressed.”
18:49 John: Oh, it does help. Now that we’re working from home too. I’m starting to work a lot earlier, so I’d start work almost as soon as I possibly can, 6:30 or 7 o’clock, and I normally wouldn’t start ’til 8:00 or 8:30. So I am now beginning to take a little bit of time, not to just jump right into it, and just kind of sit and have some coffee.
19:09 Jackie: Yeah. And then back to kind of like how mindfulness and recovery from addiction goes hand in hand, I think that most of us in active addiction, we liked not being present. It was hard to be present when I’m just an overarching stereotype. When I was lying, stealing and cheating, I didn’t want to be present. In fact, I would say that the main reason I used drugs was because I didn’t want to be present. I hated the way I felt. And I was one of those alcoholic drug addicts who I didn’t have a lot of euphoria in the last, I don’t know, 15 years of my using. I used in order to not feel so bad. So it was like, I felt a little less worse. And so, when I got sober, I had to figure out how to, I don’t know, right-size my feelings like we were talking about. Because I really believe it’s the feelings that are going to make us relapse. Not the circumstance, it’s the feeling around the circumstance.
20:11 Jackie: Yeah. And so I’m sure you’ve heard this in some way or another. The stimulus comes at us. Somebody dies, our shoestring breaks… I’m telling you, the closest I ever got to relapse, well not ever, ever, but in the first 15 years of my recovery was when… It was in December, I’ll never forget. I was trying to get out the door to go to a meeting and my shoestring broke, and I was like, “I’m going to go get drunk.” At my shoe string, I was going to show that shoestring who was boss.
20:40 Jackie: But it was such a wake-up call. And I needed to look like… Like you were saying, John, look at what’s really going on, what am I so stressed about? And then turn to the Steps, turn to sponsorship, to try to alleviate some of that underlying pain.
20:57 John: That’s something I did learn, I guess, through the steps, is if I was angry, or feeling angry, there was usually really something else going on. Either I was afraid of something or it was usually depression masked as anger. Anger could really be a way of gauging that there’s something wrong with me. There’s something wrong that I need to pay attention to.
21:20 Angela: Mine usually is a fear, and it doesn’t look that way at first, but it’s generally fear. I get angry and because I’m afraid of embarrassment. So if somebody thinks I’m wrong, then I’m embarrassed about that, and so that leads back to fear. Yeah.
21:39 Jackie: Same. I can relate to that. Yeah, for me a lot of times it’s fear, but it really gets masked as anger, or just passion, or excitement. If I just get too high almost… It’s like, what’s going on? I’m kind of trying to run away from my feelings. So the stimulus comes at us and then we respond to the stimulus, but between the stimulus and our response is a pause. And if I was in front of you, now I have this slide that shows this, it’s really nice, but when it says pause in the middle, I also have the word pray, because this is where I can really help the folks if I’m doing this presentation in a treatment center who don’t believe in God. Because a lot of times what will happen, the stimulus will come to us, and we’re in the 12 Step program, and we call our sponsor, and they say, “Pray about it,” right? Well, for a lot of people, that works, but if you don’t believe in God, what are you left with? I say you’re left with the pause. That’s all praying is anyway, is stopping for a few minutes, pausing, asking for help, asking the Universe for help. And I’ve said this before on this Friday night call-in show. Angela was so helpful when I heard her share her experience as being an atheist in AA, saying what she does is listen for the action after the prayer about it. Okay, pray about it, but then what?
23:12 Jackie: How are you going to interrupt those feelings? So, yeah, that’s… Really, this is, in a nutshell, what mindfulness is. It’s cultivating the pause between the stimulus and our response to it. Because, as much as I want to say, yes, on a good day, when I’m on the good beam, everything is right with me and the universe, I might have a feeling like, “Oh gosh, my colleague at work didn’t mention the group experience. I wonder if he thinks I’m making a mistake.” I might have all those thoughts in my head that aren’t really rational, they’re just old parts of myself that don’t feel like enough. So if that happens on a good day, then I can say, “Wow, that’s really old stuff. You just need to let that go,” and that’s it, boom, a second. But if it’s a bad day, I can do the exact same thing, because I’m mindful, but it doesn’t mean the elephant on my chest always goes away right away. And it’s just learning how to let the elephant just be there. Like, “Okay, you’re really feeling anxious about this.” And then, if it doesn’t pass and I’m uncomfortable, then I do have a toolbox full of: Call somebody, sit in meditation, get outside in nature. There’s lots of other things I can do, but the first thing is to pause.
24:31 John: I was wondering, Gayle, if there’s… Not Gayle. I was like, “Gayle.” I mean Jackie. I was wondering, is there some sort of trick, or something, that you can use to remind yourself to pause, or is it just a matter of just practicing it?
24:46 Jackie: Yeah, it’s called practice. Yeah, I just think it’s practicing it. And I do think that’s where the meditation piece comes in. And, gosh, we live in a world now… I was talking to my friend Michelle today, because she and I kind of started meditating together, and I think it was like 2005. Yeah, around 2005, and I got sober in 1989. And it was pretty torturous for me at the beginning, but people that I really admired were doing it, and I liked the results they were getting. And so it’s kind of like when you come into AA. We want what these other people have, more or less, so we do what they do. And so what happened was, I would sit in meditation and I would think that everybody else was blissed out and peaceful, and I just kept thinking, “I wonder how many minutes it’s been. Should I open my eyes? Should I look at my watch?” [laughter]
25:35 Angela: “My butt hurts.”
25:35 Jackie: Yeah. “My foot fell asleep. Oh, I wish I had put socks on,” right? Whatever. But in doing that and just not getting up and running out of the room, I learned to be mindful. I learned to watch my mind, watch how it was trying to seduce me, watch what my feelings were saying and sit there anyway. And, you know, I’m not saying you have to meditate for 45 minutes every day, Jon Kabat-Zinn would say you should, and there’s nothing wrong with that but, I can’t. I just can’t do that. When I first started meditating, I would in the mornings get up before any of my kids got up, or my husband, and I’d put the coffee on, and while the coffee pot was filling up and I could hear it dripping, I would sit. And that was all I could do, and that was probably five minutes, but it was amazing if I missed that. It didn’t guarantee that I was going to have a great day, but if I didn’t do it, whatever the bad day was, would be worse. If I didn’t just give myself that minute.
26:37 John: I’m encouraging people to call. I’ve got a sign up there to call us. You can call in at 844-899-8278, and we would love to hear from you. Call in with any questions you might have about mindfulness and ‘the pause, or anything else you might want to chat about, we’d love to hear from you. It’ll take a little while for people to call, if they do call. [chuckle]
27:00 Jackie: Right. One of the things that I love is that your mind is out to get you. All of us, not just me and not just you guys. All of us. And so, what mindfulness practice does is it tames the amygdala, the brain in the front, where the fight or flight response gets triggered and tickled. And so, you can learn that no matter what happens, there’s always a pause. Well, if I’m having a heart attack, please use CPR, don’t pause. If there’s a lion chasing you… But the times that we don’t need to pause are so few.
27:35 John: Patrick Greer has an interesting comment. He says that meditation seems stereotyped as pushing thoughts/stimuli away. I wonder if the word “pause” may contribute to that. Maybe for us disassociaters, mindfulness involves un-muting, un-pausing in little spurts.
27:54 Angela: Yeah. I get what I think he’s saying, because I’ve listened to some talks. There’s lots of talks on mindfulness, and stuff, and on meditation, and I know, for me, to do actual meditation, I have to have guided meditation, because my mind just does not like to stay put for long periods of time. Five seconds, that’s way too long. And so I was looking at some things and found different types of dance that people were talking about the difference between yoga and, say, Nia, a different kind of dance, and that with the Nia, it’s like you’re doing the pause, but you’re moving it through your body. And so, you’re aware of it, you’re not pushing it away, you’re considering it, you’re just not dwelling on it. And so, that’s what the comment brought to mind for me is that, I find, in my pause, that is what I’m doing, because I do have a past with trauma and dissociation is quite easy for me. And so, when I pause, usually that is not to push away the idea, it’s to examine the idea and not act on it immediately. That’s my big thing. Because even disassociating is acting on it.
29:26 Jackie: Absolutely.
29:26 Angela: So if I have the ability to pause whenever I’m having a feeling, an unpleasant feeling that I might act on, then I feel like that’s a positive thing for me. Even if I do still decide to act on it. [chuckle] But I don’t tend to push it away. So, I guess, maybe in recovery terms, it is like the difference between praying and then letting go, letting God, or pausing when agitated and doubtful, and discernment I guess.
30:05 Jackie: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And there is some clinical study with therapists and psychologists that if someone is really good at dissociating, yeah, they love meditation, and you really gotta check them. Like, “What’s going on there? That seems to be really easy for you.” But I never think meditation is about clearing my mind, stopping my thoughts, it’s about getting to know my mind, getting to understand my thoughts. And so, especially when I teach folks new in recovery, we’re talking two, three days in sometimes, I’ll say, “Okay, we’re going to do this meditation and, if you want to be here, if you want to be present, just focus on your breath. Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in; breathing out, I know I’m breathing out,” you’re going to be present. But, if you can, if you have the ability, just watch your mind, and watch your thoughts. But for some people, that can be dangerous, because they get retraumatized that early in recovery. And so, I say, if your mind is taking you into the past and you’re feeling a lot of fear and guilt, then just focus on your breath, and then you’ll be here. Does that make sense?
31:15 John: Yeah, that does make sense. It makes a lot of sense. I do agree with him, and I agree with you too, that meditation isn’t about eliminating my thoughts. In fact, I would use my thoughts. That was my whole purpose of meditating, was to learn how not to act on my thoughts. To let them just go away like a cloud in the sky, just let it drift away. Because the mind produces thoughts. Oh, Geostube wants to know the phone number is. The phone number is 844-899-8278, and I will put it up here, on the deal here, remove the… Gayle’s comment. Gayle also had a comment though. She wanted to know, is there’s such a thing as sitting in your thoughts too much? She says, “I have some epic dueling matches with my wall, and overall, I don’t know if it’s helped me. How can I tell?”
31:57 Jackie: Yeah, absolutely. Oh my gosh, I love that. Because I think I can get there too. Sometimes in my darkest hours, in grief, I’m sitting there, I’m having all these feelings, I’m sad, what do I do? because I’m thinking, “Well, you should just be here, you should work through it, get it all out.” But, no, sometimes I just have to go for a walk, call somebody. Gayle might not be thinking of something quite that intense, but, yeah, it could be that thing at work… Oh my gosh, a couple of months ago I was in court, it was a family matter in orphans court, and I got kind of triggered. [chuckle] I’m a very mindful and nice person, but somebody said something that kind of went against my character, said something bad about me, and I muttered a profanity under my breath and the judge asked me to leave the courtroom. Well, that really triggered… I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m 30 years sober, I’m 56 years old. How could I have gotten kicked… How could I’ve done something like that?” And so I had to take action, I couldn’t just sit with that. And so, basically, I wrote a letter apologizing to the judge.
33:17 Jackie: But, anyway, yeah, I could’ve thought about that too much and I could’ve called 50 million friends… Yeah, sometimes it can be too much, ruminating on our thoughts.
33:24 John: You will not believe this, we have three callers.
33:27 Jackie: Oh my gosh, okay.
33:28 Angela: Three people.
33:29 Jackie: Thanks.
33:29 Angela: Yay. Okay.
33:29 John: We have three people calling at one time. Okay, let’s take this first call here.
33:35 Jackie: Okay.
33:35 John: Oh, boy. So the other ones are going to have to wait. Hello. Okay, I might have to let him go, or her go. Okay. And we’ll take today’s caller. Hello.
33:46 Sam: Hi, this is Sam, from Lawrence.
33:48 John: Oh, Sam, how are you?
33:50 Sam: Hey, good, how are you?
33:51 John: I’m doing great. So nice to hear from you.
33:53 Sam: Yeah. So I just was calling because my home group in Worth was an agnostic meditation group, so that’s kind of how I got into AA. And I just think that mindfulness and meditation just fits perfectly with alcoholism and recovery, because so much of my alcoholism was just being on autopilot and always just trying to change how I felt about things, especially if I was having negative feelings, just kind of running away from that. And so, mindfulness, meditation helps me practice just being aware instead of being on autopilot, and being okay with being uncomfortable, having uncomfortable feelings, and just sitting with them.
34:41 Jackie: Yeah, absolutely.
34:42 Angela: Totally.
34:42 Jackie: Yeah, that’s wonderful.
34:44 Sam: Yeah. And now I teach high school and I have been reading a lot of studies about how great mindfulness meditation is in schools, and it’s becoming really popular in the school system. So I’ve been trying to pilot a little program for kids to learn how to do that. And so far they really like it, so I’m hoping we can keep it going.
35:08 Jackie: There’s a great book I taught some high schoolers meditation, it’s called Learning to Breathe, and it’s like meditation for adolescents, and it’s great. It’s like an eight-week course. You’re probably doing fine, but if you ever wanted any supplemental materials, that’s a really good book. And it even comes with some meditations that you can download onto your computer.
35:28 Sam: Oh, good. Okay, thank you.
35:30 Jackie: Yeah, yeah, no worries.
35:31 Sam: Well, yeah, great episode, and I’ll let you go. Thank you.
35:35 John: Thank you for calling, Sam. Nice to hear from you.
35:35 Angela: Thank you.
35:37 Jackie: Thanks, Sam.
35:38 Sam: Alright, bye-bye.
35:40 John: Thanks, Sam. Sam is so nice, and she is actually a new patreon, and I appreciate that so much.
35:45 Jackie: Oh, nice.
35:46 John: She signed up to give a dollar a month, and I tell you what, I like that. If a lot of people gave a dollar a month, it would help us out a lot. Anyway, got another call coming in from area code 714. We’ll take this one. Hello.
36:00 George: Hi.
36:00 John: Hi.
36:00 George: Hi, I’m George, from area code 714. Hi.
36:02 Angela: Hi, George.
36:03 George: I love the podcast. I’ve been listening for years, and I just discovered the podcast, and now it’s on YouTube. Mindfulness and meditation, and sobriety also. 32 and a half years sober. Still go to meetings. Not that frequently in… The coronavirus thing. We have some Zoom meetings, none of them secular meetings, and when they start the Lord’s prayer I get up and leave. Usually right before that. [chuckle] It has never been part of my recovery. My first sponsor, who detested the word sponsorship, he was a very old-fashioned Big Book guy, he said, “I’ll just be your friend.” He was very… Although a seven-day-a-week Catholic, never mentioned anything about church or religion. He said, “You can be whatever you want.” He was very wide open all time Big Book guy. Not a lot of emphasis on the Steps, not a lot of emphasis on the complexity of the Steps. It started out three, six, 12, whatever.
37:15 George: And traditions, he said, “That’s all very well and good, but sobriety is two alcoholics sitting across from each other talking about life,” and that really helped me a lot. So I didn’t feel that I was ever constrained to have to have a higher power in AA meetings. I’ve been an atheist since I was 13. I’ve been confirmed in Episcopal church, and dad said “You want to go?”, I said “No, I don’t really believe it.” So [chuckle] I never went, and I’ve learned how to adapt to people with my atheism. I don’t walk down the street with a banner, “I’m an atheist and I’m sober.” I just live my life. Many friends in sobriety, ranging from atheistic like me, atheist-agnostic, to very devout religious people, and I take them at face value as humans, and I just suspend my disbelief that they all know I’m going to hell.
38:17 Jackie: That’s great.
38:17 George: I say forget it, that’s just an aberration, because they’re going to die and they won’t believe that, right?
38:24 Angela: [chuckle] Right.
38:24 George: So the thing about meditation is so important for me. I started it in ’75. I remember my first day of sobriety, I remember my first day in the KM Program. And I kept a very simple program. I did not get into any of the fancy elaborate rituals and so forth. I had a very good teacher, he said “Stick with the basics. Stick with the basics.” And I meditate twice a day for 30 minutes each time, and I don’t think about anything. I don’t think so. I don’t have to think. I don’t have to worry about the time. I don’t have to keep thoughts out of my head. The KM method is, “Let it go.” “Let it go, let it go, let it go”. And pretty soon all the thoughts disappear. And then, after half an hour, my little buzzer reminds me that it’s time to slowly open my eyes and get back in the world. And it’s been immense, immense help to me. It’s the first thing I do every morning, and at the end of my day, it’s the first thing I do before I do anything else.
39:19 John: Have you been doing that ever since 1975?
39:21 George: 1975.
39:22 John: Wow.
39:23 George: June 21st.
39:24 John: Wow. That’s amazing.
39:26 George: 1975. I’ve forgotten my teacher’s name. She’s just wonderful, charming. It was her first initiative and she was so nervous. [chuckle] I remember how nervous she was. But there was just a wonderful experience. Occasionally, once every couple of years, I go in for a check up. I just sit around with a bunch of other mediators and sit there and we kind of bliss out for half an hour. And people ask me, “What is it like?” I said, “I don’t know.” It’s not meditation itself, it’s how I feel afterwards that makes it so important. So I believe that mindfulness follows meditation.
40:00 Jackie: Absolutely.
40:01 George: So I dive into my meditation and I come out and I have mindfulness.
40:08 John: Is that what all meditation leads to? Does all meditation lead to mindfulness?
40:11 George: Always. For me. I’m speaking to my own experience. I don’t have any theoretical background. People ask me, what’s the theory being an atheist? Simple question, “Do you believe in God?” “Do you believe in God?” “No.” “Okay, fine.” People talk about advanced atheism and I think that is so much malarkey and BS. I just turn my back, I walk away. It is so simple. So I’m not here prophesying meditation, but that is how I get to my mindfulness. And it was really helpful for me when my wife died in February ’17 and I was going nuts. I had suicidal thoughts, I thought about drinking. Called a friend: “So, George, what’s on your mind, why you’re thinking about drinking,” and two hours later I wasn’t. What helped me was to be able to get in a grief therapy group. And I walked in and the lady who walked in as a group said, “Anybody new here,” and I raised my hand, and I said, “I’m George, my wife died, I’m going crazy, I have this, that.” And everybody in the room raised their hands. So I was able to put myself into a recovery place of mind. And that was three years ago. It’s being mindful and aware.
41:38 George: And it was like AA meetings. No, I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go, but I’d get up and I’d go. Every week. And every morning, because I start my day with meditation, she recommended we dive deeply into our pain and our grief. And feel it. Feel it, be mindful of the pain and grief that you’re in. Don’t try to evade it. So that was part of my meditation in the morning. So I never had a problem with it. And it hurt, it was painful. We met and married in Alcoholics Anonymous, we were an AA couple. She was Kelly, child of the street, she’s been to prison and everything, and I was George, Joe college. I never even got a DUI.
42:16 George: But the commonality of our partnership, our situation, was what made her death so shattering. Although we discussed it and she died at home with hospice care, which was love, but still… When I started the grief meeting the therapist said two things. One, no new relationships, two, no new commitments, and three, here’s why, because you don’t know who you are yet. And that resonated with me as a recovering alcoholic. I got the same advice when I joined AA. Why? Because I really didn’t know who I was, I had to learn how to live life without drinking. “What the hell is that all about?” And I had to learn life without Kelly. There have been 28 years of loving relationships, full of ups and downs and many discussions. So that feeling of being at peace with a part of the world, the mindfulness, is when I… There’s something I hear in AA meetings from time to time and I love it. “Pause and reflect before you take an action and jump off the diving board into an empty pool.” Pause and reflect. And that helps in the middle of a busy day, or when I was… I was Uber driving and instacarting, which is a busy, busy person. [chuckle]
43:50 George: I quit three weeks ago just out of respect to myself and the world. And I was, “What do I do? What do I do? It’s so conflicting. Wait. Stop, pause. Take a breath, refresh yourself. Where are you? What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Calm down. Pull off the road, the traffic will go away, whatever, and that mindfulness of who I am/where I am now in the present has helped me so, so much. And I saw the topic of today’s talk in the meeting, I said, “Oh, this is just perfect for me.” I thought I missed it, but I didn’t. California time is just weird. We’re behind the rest of the country, we’re always behind. [chuckle] Everybody else has been there and gone and we’re catching up, “Oh, wait a minute.” I love the format of the meeting. I love all your talks you’ve had for so many years now. They’ve been such a part of my recovery. I look forward to them. I have not deleted a single download. My cellphone is full of them. You can go back and review them all.
45:01 John: Oh my goodness.
45:03 George: It’s been so important for me to hear about groups like Smart Recovery. And there are some in my area. I fell asleep yesterday and I missed a Zoom meeting, but I’ll be able to catch it next week. There’s one in Huntington Beach. They’re all over. You have a friend who calls in frequently from Smart. And I love to hear him talk. I can’t think of his name right now, but this is such a wonderful group, such a wonderful organization. I can’t tell you, this is so exciting. To be able to talk. And this is not a speaker meeting, so I’ll just shut up. [chuckle]
45:39 John: Okay. Well, I really appreciate you calling, thank you very much, it was really wonderful to hear from you, and gosh, it’s just… I don’t know what to say.
45:46 George: Oh, thank you.
45:47 John: Thank you, I appreciate it.
45:49 George: I love you. Bye-bye.
45:53 John: Bye-bye.
45:55 Angela: That was nice.
45:55 John: It blows me away…
45:56 Angela: We love you too, George.
45:56 John: It just blows me away how this podcast makes its way out into the world and so many people are listening, and it impacts them, and it is just… It’s incredible. So really nice to hear from him.
46:11 Angela: Yeah. Great thing to be a part of.
46:13 John: Yeah. Somebody from Baltimore is making a comment. She says that meditation is as generic of a term as sports, there are so many different kinds.
46:23 Jackie: That’s my BFF, Michelle.
46:25 John: Oh, is it? Michelle?
46:27 Jackie: Yeah. She and I are meditation buddies from way back, yeah.
46:30 Jackie: Yeah, so he was talking about TM, right? Transcendental Meditation. When Michelle and I first started meditating, we kind of hung out with the Buddhist… Theravada Buddhism, which was a sect of Buddhism. That’s the pharest tradition. Yeah, and so, that kind of meditation is really about… because it’s funny, sometimes when I lead these meditations and groups, I’ll say, “How was that? And some kid will say, “Wow, man, it was great. I was like out on a boat on the water.” And I accept that, but that’s not the kind of meditation I’m teaching. And that is a kind of meditation though, where you visualize a happy place. Yeah. But the kind of meditation that I teach, and I aspire to, is more of the mindfulness meditation. Being aware, the body scans, understanding my body, my thoughts, my feelings. Yeah, and you know, it’s funny, because when you think about it… We keep talking about it’s not about controlling any of this, not controlling your thoughts or your feelings. And it’s like… John, when you were talking about the waves of grief, right? And I feel like mindfulness is not about controlling the ocean in your mind, it’s about learning to surf.
47:42 John: I like that.
47:44 Jackie: The waves are thoughts, feelings, traffic, disappointment. And they will continue, but you can manage these things in a different way, with different tools.
47:53 John: I like that. That’s exactly how it was when I was going through that grief. What a deal that is. That’s the most difficult thing for anyone to go through. And unfortunately, there’s a lot of that going on right now.
48:05 Angela: I’m not down with the surfing. I can do some other sea metaphor maybe.
48:09 Angela: But I have this thing with sharks. And I never lived by the ocean, so I don’t know why, I think my family just let me watch Jaws way too young. But, yeah, so the whole surfing thing just… No, that doesn’t work for me. So we’re going to have to… Have to do a yacht. Maybe that. Maybe it’s just… [chuckle]
48:28 Jackie: That is so funny. Hey, I want to read this little thing, it’ll only take me like four seconds, but it’s a poem by that famous poet, Anonymous.
48:41 Jackie: It’s called The Inner Peace. “If you can start the day without caffeine. If you can always be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains. If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles. If you can eat the same food every day and be grateful for it. If you can understand when loved ones are too busy to give you time. If you can take criticism and blame without resentment. If you can conquer tension without medical help. If you can relax without liquor. If you can sleep without the aid of drugs. Then you are probably the family dog.”
49:20 Jackie: So I read that because this is really just about being human. It’s not a promise to enlightenment, it’s not a promise to guru status, it’s really… The best we’re ever going to get is if we can be kind of like the family dog. [chuckle] Because I do think, when I first got sober, it was such a wonderful gift. I was so happy that I landed in AA, but I just kept seeking. And that seeking wasn’t bad, what was bad was my attachment to the outcome. So this is going to be “the” thing. “The” thing that’s going to give me complete peace and serenity. This is going to be “the” thing that’s going to put me in control. And, you know, it took a lot of trial and error to realize that there is no thing. The thing is being uncomfortable and allowing myself to not intoxicate my brain when it happens. Sitting through it.
50:21 John: Oh, Sam likes that poem too.
50:22 Jackie: Oh, good.
50:23 Jackie: Hi, Sam, call back in. [chuckle]
50:26 John: She says, “Thank goodness that poem ended that way. I was about to feel very bad about myself.”
50:33 Angela: That’s funny.
50:35 John: Well, thank you, Jackie, I really appreciate you coming on and having this talk with us. We’re coming up on about an hour here pretty soon, so we might have time for another caller, if someone wants to call in, we can do that. I did want to spend a minute, just a second maybe, just thanking those of you who supported AA Beyond Belief financially. It means so much to me. Occasionally, I would get these emails from our bank that, “Your balance is below 25$,” and I’m like, “Oh, man, I gotta pay the mail chip bill.” That’s the way that we ran this thing, and so it’s stressful sometimes. And so I put out a little post on the Facebook group and I was just overwhelmed with the amount of support that I got from you. People are contributing on Patreon, people started contributing on PayPal. So we went from like having just 16$ in the bank to having 800$ in the bank in just one day. So, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
51:32 Jackie: Wow. Congratulations.
51:33 John: Yeah, because I love doing this and I would do it if I had to pay for it, I guess, all the time. But it does cost money to do all this stuff. So thank you very much. We can keep doing it, and you can support this podcast easily. You can do it on patreon. Patreon.com/aabeyondbelief. And even if it’s just a dollar a month, that’s appreciated and very helpful. And you can also do it through PayPal at paypal.me/aabeyondbelief. Or just go to the website and click on the donate button. And I don’t want to always talk about asking for money all the time, but thank you, that was just so helpful. You just cannot believe how helpful that was. And thank you very much, Jackie, for your presentation on mindfulness and recovery and the power of the pause. This is something that… This is an episode I’ll listen to again. I really did like that poem too.
52:31 Jackie: Okay. Good. Well, you know how shy I am, so it was hard to be able to do this. I’ll try not to call in for a couple of weeks, now that I had a whole episode.
52:42 John: And thank you, Angela, as always. I just love always having you here with me, helping me with this thing. It’s not always easy. And so I thank you so much for that.
52:51 Angela: No problem, I’m here for aesthetics.
52:54 Angela: Yeah.
52:56 Jackie: That’s great.
52:57 John: Alright, well, I don’t see anyone call, and so I’m going to go ahead and… Oops, that’s the wrong button.
53:03 John: Oh, boy.
53:04 Jackie: See, you’re not in control.
53:08 Jackie: Let’s go.
53:10 John: Well, that’s it. That’s another episode of AA Beyond Belief, the podcast. Thank you so much for listening, everybody. I appreciate your support and everything that you do. We’ll be back again next Friday for another episode of Sober Distancing. I don’t know what we’ll be talking about, but it will be fun and we’ll take your calls. We will also be posting some episodes of some interviews that I recorded and have ready to post. So those will be posted this week as well. So, until then, you all take care and be well. We’ll talk again real soon. Bye-bye.
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