Note: This article first appeared in the Spring 2004 issue of MeadowLark, the alumni magazine of The Meadows.
Spirituality in Everyday Life
By John Bradshaw, MA
Recovery is about an awakening. We are literally awakened from a restless sleep that has numbed our feelings and left us emotionally and spiritually groggy and exhausted. This awakening begins with the eye-opening experience and recognition of our powerlessness - with recognition of our limitations and our need for help - and with the hard work of transforming our toxic shame into healthy shame. It is this healthy shame that is the source of our spirituality.
For many of you, this awakening began in earnest in a treatment center or program. The important work you have done involves freeing yourself from the bondage of the past. This bondage literally drags us out of the present. It distorts our perceptions. It blocks our feelings and keeps us constantly in fear of exposure. All of this serves to prevent us from recognizing one of our most important human limitations, which is simply that we exist only in the now, from moment to moment.
In the mystified and trance like state in which we lived before recovery, we could not be present in the moment, for each "now" was full of "then." Whether we were listening, observing, talking, or in any way experiencing life, we simply were not there. And so the quality of our life was diminished.
I look at old photos of family outings and realize that, much of the time, I was not there. I cannot ever get these moments back. They are gone. I missed them, and I am sad and angry about that. I don't want to miss any more of my life.
It frequently seems that our lives are made up of a series of events. Taken individually, these events appear insignificant. In the grandiosity of toxic shame, we discount and dismiss them without realizing that, no matter what success or failure occurs, these events will continue to be the core of our existence.
Gandhi said, "Almost everything we do is insignificant, but it is very important that we do it."
To be awake and fully conscious is to recognize that everything, from washing dishes to locking up the house at night, is important and demands attention. The move from toxic shame to healthy shame enlarges our opportunities for recognizing the significance of the insignificant.
In my view, spirituality is a lifestyle rooted in moment-to-moment awareness and appreciation of all events in life; it must, of necessity, be an everyday affair.
Some of us have difficulty accepting ourselves unless we are praying or are in church. We associate spirituality only with religion and its happenings. This ideal hinders our acceptance of ourselves as spiritual, but it is only part of the problem.
Toxic shame, like a brooding omnipresence in our souls, is always there to remind us that we are unworthy, and that spirituality is a state far too lofty for us to achieve. With its customary deceit, shame urges us to deny our humanness by denying its spiritual quality. To be human is to be spiritual, and to accept this is a part of healthy shame.
We need to recognize that spirituality is not at odds with "terrible dailiness," and it need not be grandiose in its ceremonials. The soul benefits most when its spiritual life is performed in the context of ordinary life. It grows and blossoms in the mundane and is found and nurtured in the smallest of daily activities.
Spirituality is living each moment of life more abundantly. It is honoring our values in our simplest acts. Spirituality is being present in our feelings. It is being more conscious of our connections to others and to all things. Spirituality enables us to turn an ugly loneliness into peaceful solitude.
None of these remarks is intended to discount prayer or our relationship with our higher power as principal sources of spirituality. Turning to this higher power on a daily basis is a bottomless well of spiritual sustenance. Other techniques, such as meditation and service, deepen and enrich us by giving us a way to pass on spiritual awakening to others.
I have the image of a group of sleeping children about to embark on a holiday. One of them awakens and, with excitement and energy, rushes to the others, urging them to "wake up - it's time to go!" All of us need to bring the light to others with the same joy and enthusiasm.
A brief word of caution: Certain qualities are antagonistic and destructive to our efforts to achieve a soulful spirituality. Rigidity, moralism and authoritarianism are some of these. They are to be avoided like the plague, for they are harsh and arrogantly insist on absolute standards and perfection. They destroy the gentleness and serenity out of which spirituality flows.
If I were to make a list of the promises of recovery, a deepening spirituality would rank high. It is the fruit of our labor. Recovery takes great courage and involves great risk if it is to be successful. To come out of hiding and embrace our shame is no easy thing to do. Those of you who went through a program know well the pain and agony of this experience. The payoff for such tremendous acts of courage should be great. I believe it is.