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The President Precedent

May 23, 2009

My greatest discomfort before attending a meeting of Al-Anon or AA, was “the god part.”  I could deal with the emotional stories, I could deal with the stigma of telling friends where I was going, I could deal with all the unknowns associated with a new experience, but “the god part” was a huge hindrance.

I should note, I am not an Atheist.  Somewhere between western science, Agnosticism, Humanism and a few eastern spiritual modalities lies my own personal religion, which can basically be summed up by the expression, “Beats the shit out of me!”  I do pray, but in that charming non-Theistic way we Buddhists have, and admit to being generally uncomfortable with the word “prayer.”

Luckily, I have a friend (or, as I more accurately think of him, my own personal Buddha) who has been going to meetings for years, and talked me through why “the god part” shouldn’t be an impedance.  By the time I went to my first AA meeting (last week) and my first Al-Anon meeting (last night) I was well prepped for what I heard.

However, I still felt myself wince a little whenever I heard the words ‘god’ or ‘higher power.’  Even though I consider myself a spiritual person, my body has a physical reaction to these words that I have a hard time controlling.  I mean, it’s subtle – I’m not flailing my arms or twitching in my seat – but I can feel myself react, despite attempts in my head to substitute a just-something-bigger-than-myself-out-of-my-control lower-case ‘g’ in place of the white-guy-long-beard-sitting-on-a-cloud capital ‘G’.

It occured to me after watching this happen in my body a couple times, that this is the same way I currently react to the word, “President.”  Whenever someone refers to “The President” my body still has that clenching, “man, that guy’s a douchebag” reaction, because for 8 years, that is all my body knew.   It always takes a second for me to go “oh no! That word means really smart guy now!  That word means guy you voted for now!!  That word means hope and thoughtfulness and a potentially bright future for your country now!”

And physically conditioned precedents are really hard to overcome.  I have a complicated past with religion.  The “god” I came to know as a child (ask me some time about how I used to think god looked like Ronald McDonald; then ask me about my fear of clowns) through my young brain’s synthesis of what I learned in the Catholic Church was a mental formation of judgment, unattainable perfection, and a set of eyes and ears constantly on me, in whose perception I was born a “sinner” and to whom I had to “confess”.

I don’t place unmitigated blame on the religion itself – though I admit I have a a healthy dose of anger toward the church.  But a confluence of factors in my developing mind contributed to a warping of this conception.  After leaving the church at 15, I went through a decade of life getting defensive at the mention of god and shirking away from anything that smelled of spirituality.  It was only once I began studying Buddhism and practicing yoga that I found I could let a little slip back in. It is thanks to this basis of re-spiritualizing that I am able to reap the benefits of a recovery program like AA or Al-Anon.

Ultimately, now, my job is to keep hearing the words President and god, and simply noting how my body reacts, until eventually new patterns can form and new reckoning can take over.  The nice thing about this path to recovery beginning at the same time my yoga practice is actively deepening, is I’m basically spending the next month of my life doing little other than noting what’s happening in my body.

It does make me curious if there are other words or concepts to which I have a physical reaction and of which I am not even mindful yet. But luckily, thanks to my President, I believe in change.

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