I have just finished reading Fear No Evil by Natan Sharansky, and I am in awe of his courageous and heroic battle for survival against the “evil empire” of the Soviet Union, a battle which he won convincingly by never yielding in the struggle of wills. On the one hand, it is embarrassing that I have only just read this important book first published by in 1988, 2 years after his release from the Soviet prison where he had been held for 9 years as a political prisoner. But possibly the time is right for me to have read it, a time in which I have come to understand life as a heroic journey. Sharansky’s crime was requesting a visa to leave the Soviet Union and live in Israel. He was also outspoken in his criticism of government policies of repression of human rights. It was the era of the refuseniks, the Jews and others whose request to leave the Soviet Union was refused by the authorities. In the Soviet Union he was not allowed to practice his religion or to exercise many other freedoms, such as the right to speak his mind about the government policies. He had become very well-known as a dissident both within the Soviet Union and in the West, so his arrest attracted much attention. He spends a good deal of time in his narrative talking about the period of time leading up to his arrest. He talks about how the KGB constantly had a tail on him, and as time went on was more and more obvious about it, even to the extreme of him sharing a taxi cab with a KGB agent. While this is a funny story, there was nothing funny about the KGB. He goes into great detail about his first year in prison, during which he was interrogated almost daily by the KGB and other authorities attempting to get him to confess to crimes or give the names of his “collaborators.” They let him know early on that he would be charged with espionage, a crime punishable by death. He goes into the procedures he was subjected to which made a fair trial impossible, and all in accord with Soviet law.
Once convicted, he went into the Gulag, the terrifying and reprehensible prison system that swallowed up millions of citizens, breaking their health and spirits, and often costing them their lives. Since this was twenty years or so post-Stalin their methods were less barbaric. It was illegal to torture or murder prisoners as had been done in the past. This did not mean that prisoners were not beaten, nearly frozen, starved, or murdered, but the systematic brutality had been moderated. In fact, if a prisoner went on a hunger strike as Sharansky did many times, he was not allowed to starve to death. Instead, he was forcibly tube-fed, by rectum if necessary. He recounts his experiences in the Gulag, telling the reader about the conditions, the food, the punishment cells, the forbidden zone, the guards, the prison administrators, and the arbitrary denial of privileges. The system was designed to create maximum distrust among the prisoners of each other. What I found the most interesting aspect of the narrative was his talking about his fellow prisoners, and how each of them coped with prison conditions and supported each other so as to not lose their sanity.
Sharansky was a chess master, and as such had a mind that could analyze a situation, look ahead several moves, and develop a strategy leading to the least possible harm to himself and others. He waged his own courageous personal war with the KGB, refusing ever to have anything to do with them. He would not talk with the officials other than to demand his rights when they were denied, or in an attempt to manipulate his captors. A major issue was their denial of his right to correspond with his family, and to receive visits from them. His wife, Avital, had received a visa and emigrated to Israel about 6 months prior to his arrest, but his parents and brother remained in Russia. (Avital worked tirelessly for his release for the entire duration of his imprisonment.) Most of the hunger strikes he initiated were because of denial of these privileges, and many others were in support of fellow prisoners. It was important in the Gulag to not think about the future, because such speculation decreased the ability to cope with the present reality. For example, a prisoner would be sentenced to fifteen days in a punishment cell for something like trying to communicate with a prisoner in another cell. At the end of the term rather than be released a prisoner could be advised that another fifteen days had been added on for some fabricated reason. Had release from the punishment cell been counted on, this would result in demoralization. By staying in the present, and by refusing to cooperate, a prisoner could survive. Solidarity amongst the prisoners was profoundly important as well. Here is a quote where he explains this:
“This mystical feeling of the interconnection of human souls was forged in the prison-camp world when our zek’s (prisoners) solidarity was the one weapon we had to oppose the world of evil, and when the defeat of any of us had an immediate and painful effect on the others.” (p356)
Sharansky’s experiences taught him many things, but I was particularly interested in his idea of the attraction of souls to each other because it is in accord with my own thinking. He says that just as in Newtonian physics where physical objects exert a gravitational pull on each other, so it is that souls also exert attraction to each other, and thus influence each other. He adds that this soul-attraction and energy crosses expanses of time. Thus, while in prison he felt he energy of his own heroes—Galileo and Socrates, and even fictional heroes such as Don Quixote—energy that he could draw on. Interestingly, he says that we can also reciprocate, and send our energy back to these heroes, and to others.
He had a small book of Psalms in prison, although it was often taken away from him for months at a time. It must be from the 23rd Psalm where he found the title for his memoir. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”
The heroic journeyer sometimes finds the return to his community challenging. While on the adventure he or she is beset with ever-present danger, suffering, and uncertainty. At the same time, the hero draws on the one thing that he or she seems to have some control over, that of the exercise of his or her own inner strength and power to make choices. It is a journey of survival and spiritual growth, but it does not necessarily prepare one well for the return to the mundane world of everyday existence. At the end of the memoir, Sharansky is only 2 years back to the real world, and he talks about how much more complex life is now. He is committed to a life of being useful, to giving his ordeal meaning, and this is the last stage of the heroic journey, that of returning to the kingdom with the treasure, the treasure of knowledge and wisdom that the kingdom needs to survive and hopefully, flourish. Indeed, he has been an important contributor to the State of Israel since his release. One amusing fact is that eleven years after his release from prison he returned to Russia as Israel’s Minister of Industry and Trade. Anyone familiar with the Middle East and Israeli politics knows how strife-ridden and complicated the issues and relationships are. As such, Sharansky has had his disagreements with many, but it can’t be denied that he has always done what he thought was right, and given his maximum effort. I applaud Sharansky, and thank him for the sacrifices he has made. Anyone who reads this book will be in awe of the depth and capacity of the human spirit on the heroic journey of life, and hopefully will be inspired and have the courage to be their own best person they can be.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of people who have in common the desire to stop drinking, or to stay stopped. As active alcoholics their stories often include episodes in which they behaved disgracefully, incurring substantial guilt, shame, and embarrassment along the way. At the same time, most alcoholics successfully maintained the delusion that they were fully in control of their lives, and not only that, but generally knew better than anyone else on most any subject. Underneath all this lay a deep-seated belief in their personal inadequacy along with a facade of coolness to keep their inadequacy hidden from the view of others. Thus the expression of being an egomaniac with an inferiority complex. It is a crazy and painful way to live.
Once in A.A. and sober, the alcoholic embarks on a journey of self-discovery and self-forgiveness such that he or she can arrive at a place of self-acceptance, usefulness, and wholeness. A perspective is gained on one’s past life in which the narrative changes from “The Great Tragedy of Mike G. (or whomever)” to what one had to go through in order to get to where one is now. One of the tools picked up on this journey is the gift of laughter, especially, the ability to laugh at oneself. People in the fellowship learn to not take themselves so seriously. An expression often heard at A.A. is “I’m just another bozo on the bus.” This is a statement of being not special, no more or less than anyone else. It is the opposite of where the alcoholic came from, the egomaniac with the inferiority complex.
I like the expression because it is both amusing and instructive. I have a special feeling for it because both Bozo the Clown and I are from Chicago. My family moved to the Chicago area in 1947, and to the city in 1951. Bozo the Clown was featured in a television show that first aired on WGN-TV in 1959. It was highly successful, and ran for over forty years. At one point there were numerous locally produced Bozo shows all over the country. The original Bozo was played by Bob Bell who held the role down for 25 years. The word bozo means a person who is foolish and incompetent. We tend to mock such people when we are not being nice, but it’s okay to make a little fun of ourselves. I think the “bus” reference also has significance, in two ways. First of all, it is a means of conveyance—it takes people from one place to another. Thus, it represents the fact that recovery, indeed life, is a journey. Moreover, a bus is a relatively humble means of transport. Generally speaking, people take the bus when they can’t afford anything better. It is the proper means of transport for a person whose overblown ego has been deflated. And secondly, the bus signifies that we are all taking this journey together. It is a much better way to live than trying to fight all the demons alone, angry and terrified. I learned to not take myself quite so seriously once I found myself amongst others who had acquired the gift of being able to laugh at themselves. And when I fall back into the trap of taking myself too seriously, I just imagine myself with a big red nose, goofy red hair, oversized clothes, and a grotesque smile—just a clown among clowns—and I can settle back down as a member of the human race—another Bozo on the bus.
(This is from the www.georgiacat.com/blog post of April 23, 2020. It is edited for the michaelcowlgordon.com blog)
Yesterday was the 52nd Anniversary of Earth Day, the inspired idea of the late Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, a progressive liberal and ardent conservationist. He was born in 1916 and grew up Clear Lake, Wisconsin. How could anyone from a place called Clear Lake not be an environmentalist? He was a graduate of the University of Wisconsin Law School and served 2 terms as Governor of Wisconsin. He revived the Democratic Party there just at the time that Senator Joseph McCarthy was dragging the Republicans down with his anti-communist witch hunt. He initiated a strong environmental program in Wisconsin with a great deal of public support. Elected to the United States Senate, he carried the same energy and enthusiasm for the environment into his legislative efforts while meeting with a great deal of resistance from industry. So, he turned to the people and proposed April 22, 1970, as a day of protest about the state of the environment. The response of the public on that day was astonishing, and the political establishment was forced to take action. Congress went ahead with significant reforms in a series of environmental preservation laws including the Clean Water Act, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and the Clean Air Act. He did not limit his energy to saving the environment and was an early and vocal opponent of the Viet Nam War, as well as a supporter of President Johnson’s War on Poverty, and of civil rights legislation. Gaylord Nelson was one of my heroes. Here is a statement of Nelson’s philosophy: “Environment is all of America and its problems. It is the rats in the ghetto. It is a hungry child in a land of affluence. It is housing not worthy of the name; neighborhoods not fit to inhabit.” In 1995 Senator Nelson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. No one has deserved it more. Gaylord Nelson died in 2005 at the age of 89.
His heroism was marked by his willingness to take risks for what he believed was right. He was a politician who believed that he served all the people, not just special interests. He talked about courage and sacrifice in the service of the people and the environment. Here is the core of his sense purpose in life:
“The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.”
He was less interested in recognition than in leaving the world a better place for his having lived here.
In 1990 he sent a letter to the Wilderness Society in Madison, Wisconsin on the occasion of an award ceremony that he could not attend.
“December 8, 1990.
I regret I am unable to be present for your Award Ceremony but nonetheless, I am honored to be one of the recipients of the Beyond War Award.
Earth Day achieved what I had hoped for and then some. The purpose of Earth Day was to get a nationwide demonstration of concern for the environment so large that it would shake the political establishment out of its lethargy and, finally, force this issue permanently into the political arena. Having crisscrossed the nation speaking on environmental issues during the previous eight or nine years it was clear to me that the public was far ahead of the politicians and given an opportunity they would demonstrate their interest. It was a gamble, but it worked. It got the attention of the politicians. An estimated twenty million people participated in peaceful demonstrations all across the country. Ten thousand schools, two thousand colleges and one thousand communities were involved. It was truly an astonishing grassroots explosion. For the first time people were given the opportunity to demonstrate their deep concern about what was happening in their own communities and across the nation – polluted air, rivers, lakes and oceans; health threatening hazardous wastes; urban blight; pesticide and herbicide poisoning of people, plants, birds and animals; the destruction of scenic beauty and wildlife habitats. All of this swirling around them and the politicians didn’t seem to know, understand or care. But the people cared, and Earth Day became the first opportunity they ever had to join in a nationwide demonstration to send a big message to the politicians • a message to tell them to wake up and do something.”
A life lesson here is that no matter who you are and what obstacles you may face, don’t back down from doing what is right. By drawing on whatever inner resources you may be able to call on, and finding other resources around you, proceed in doing the next right thing without regard to whatever the outcome may be. The reward is in the actual doing what is right, but more often than not, the outcome will exceed what you hoped for. This I believe, and I also believe that if we all do our part we will create a cleaner and more beautiful, healthy world for ourselves and our succeeding generations.
The Twelve Steps provide a formula for the repair and transformation of one’s life. The pathway prescribed is not one that would be followed without adequate need for rescue from a desperate situation, whether it be alcoholism, drug addiction, other addiction, mental illness, or being an affected family member of one so afflicted. I recently read an analysis of the sequence of stages seen in recovery: pain and suffering leading to seeking God; finding God (or a Higher Power) leading to obedience; obedience leading to growth; growth leading to gratitude; gratitude leading to peace of mind; and all of these stages leading to living and sharing in sobriety. As I read this I felt a visceral sensation (really!) at the word “obedience.” I felt it in my gut, and my body momentarily tensed. Although I have been guided by the Twelve Step principles for a long time, this informs me that I still have some of my old characteristics.
I have never liked anyone telling me what to do (or not do). I didn’t like it from my mother (especially from my mother), teachers, coaches, or any source of authority. I raised this issue at a Twelve Step meeting recently, and found most of the attendees shared my aversion. We all have the sad personal histories of doing things our way, of not taking direction or advice at our own peril. We have in fact in one way or another risked our lives, and sometimes the lives of others in our stubborn insistence on being right…on doing things our way. I remember as a youngster bristling with anger if I was told I had to do this or I couldn’t do that. My coping skills were to be superficially compliant but looking for loopholes and being passive-aggressive or sneaky.
At the same time, I believe wholeheartedly in the Twelve Steps as a pathway of recovery. Having been defeated by life and the consequences of living it my way (Step One), and coming to believe that the Twelve Steps could work for me as they had for countless others (Step Two), I was finally ready to surrender to being directed (Step Three). The Third Step calls for making a decision to turn our will and our lives over to a power greater than ourselves. It says I need to surrender my will to the God of my understanding. This sounds a lot like being obedient. My natural resistance to taking such a step had to do with not trusting that God would seriously consider me for who I was, and not take my needs and wants seriously. Such had been my experience, or at least my ego-driven perception of my experience, with others who had authority over me in the past. Still, Step Three seems to require obedience to God, to the turning of my will over and let myself be directed.
Doctor Bob Smith, one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, boiled the program down to three steps: trust God, clean house, and help others. Based on this formula it is clear that a person needs to have faith that the Higher Power he surrenders to will indeed be fully committed to his or her best interests and welfare. I had great difficulty believing in this idea. I was too filled with ego, a sense of my own specialness, and it was hard to believe that God would take me seriously when no one else in my life ever had done so (or so it seemed to me). The idea of a God who was pervasive enough in the world to have the presence to attend to each individual is challenging to believe, or at least it was for me. It was also hard to shake the idea of an angry punishing God, and learn to think of God as tender and loving; but this has happened for me over time.
Now that I trust God you might think that I would have no difficulty with being obedient. After all, the program teaches me to seek God’s will and do it. My answer to this problem is to not call it obedience. The Twelfth Step suggests that I practice these principles in all my affairs. For me this means “do the next right thing.” If I conduct myself according to these principles, then I am doing God’s will to the best of my understanding and belief, and this is the right living that I want for myself. I just don’t call it obedience. Furthermore, I now believe that God does not want obedience from me. He wants me to do His will out of love and respect for Him.
A corollary to this issue with obedience is the problem of rules. I like to say there are no rules in A.A. This, of course, isn’t true. They are simply not called rules. There are numerous principles itemized in the Twelve Traditions that look a lot like rules (twelve, actually). There are other practices often implemented by individual groups for themselves, such as no cross-talk or advice-giving during the meeting. What actually makes the difference in Twelve Step groups is the lack of absolute human authority to enforce the “rules.” All conflicts are resolved by the group conscience itself. Tradition Two states “For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants: they do not govern.” Amazingly, people in Twelve Step groups accept and live by the “rules” easily and willingly. This is most likely because there is no person or persons saying that they must do so. It works because of the lack of human authority. I don’t believe that all organizations, whether political, religious, social or otherwise could function successfully on such a basis, but it is one of the unique aspects of the Twelve Step fellowships that I think those not involved with Twelve Steps could learn from. Trust God, clean house, help others, do the next right thing, function as a group with God as the sole authority, and don’t call it obedience( or rules).
The Third Step of the Twelve Steps in the AA program reads: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” For many newcomers, as well as some old-timers, this step is challenging. For one thing, people don’t read it carefully, and so don’t notice that the action in the step is making a decision. Many work strenuously at the turning over idea of the step with little success until it is pointed out by their sponsor that all that is required is the making of a decision. Seemingly, it is God who does the heavy lifting. A bigger problem for others is the idea of letting go of control. Alcoholics are survivors (until, of course, they are not). The first rule of survival is don’t trust anyone. Keep your plans, your location, your opinions to yourself. A related rule is to not trust anyone. In the Third Step the alcoholic is asked to trust a God that he cannot see to take charge of his/her welfare. If the alcoholic is to do this, the risk is run that he or she will not get what they want, or will be asked to do what he or she does not want to do. And although this step has been preceded by the Second Step in which the alcoholic professes a belief that God can restore him or her to sanity, many if not most people have little idea of just who or what God is. To such persons the AA group suggests a non-theological G.O.D. concept such as a Group Of Drunks or Good Orderly Direction. The underlying challenge to the alcoholic is a lack of trust. The alcoholic has learned that people are not to be trusted based on personal experience, and may also have learned to not trust God based on their view of the deplorable state of the world, negative personal experience with religion, or other seemingly sensible reasons. On page 59 of the Big Book, the text of the AA program, it says “Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.” This sounds like the total surrender of a person who realizes there is no other choice. The author then moves directly into the listing of the 12 suggested Steps, the third of which, once again reads: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
A friend was in his second year of recovery when he went to an AA meeting in a new location. He was a stranger at the meeting where the topic was the Third Step. During the discussion our friend spoke up and shared his thoughts on the step. After the meeting, an older gentleman walked up to him, gestured toward him with his index finger, and said, “The step says, to the care of God as we understood Him.” And he walked off before our friend could reply. Driving home, our friend admitted to himself that he had never noticed what the step actually said, and asked himself why the author had inserted the phrase “to the care of” instead of just saying, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to God as we understood Him.” He concluded that, by implication, God would take care of the will and the life of the alcoholic if the alcoholic placed himself or herself in God’s hands. And indeed, the author has just said a few sentences earlier that the alcoholics who have succeeded with their program have “stood at the turning point,” and “asked His protection and care with complete abandon.”
I don’t know may people who have come to AA for the purpose of improving their relationship with God. They come because they either want to learn to control their drinking or to quit altogether. Remarkably, although this goal (quitting altogether) is achieved by those who work the program, an even greater benefit of recovery for most is the establishment of a meaningful relationship with a Higher Power. And, it is discovered, that this Higher Power has an investment in the welfare of the alcoholic, a “personal” interest in having a relationship with that person, and does care for the individual in all aspects of life.
Father Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish priest who died a martyr in Auschwitz in 1941. Born in Poland in 1894, he had a vision of the Virgin Mary at age 10, and entered the religious life at age 16. He was ordained a priest in the Franciscan order, and was active in organizing and publishing. He was especially devoted to the Virgin Mary whom he saw as a spiritual conduit to God. He hid 2,000 people, mostly Jews, from the Nazis, and for this crime was arrested and sent to Auschwitz where he was enslaved as a laborer. While there he ministered to the spiritual needs of Catholic prisoners and celebrated mass using stale crusts of bread. At one point he was beaten nearly to death by a brutal guard who had taken an especial dislike to the priest. After a successful escape by a few prisoners, the camp commander ordered 10 prisoners to be chosen at random to be placed in an underground bunker and starved to death. One of the 10, Franciszek Gajowniczek, a sergeant in the Polish army, cried out in desperation that he was a married man with children. Father Kolbe volunteered to take his place, a request which was approved by the commander. After 15 days during which he led the dying men in prayer, Father Kolbe was still alive, and he was given a lethal injection and cremated. The entire incident was widely known throughout the camp and served as inspiration to the other prisoners.
In 1955 Father Kolbe was designated a “servant of God,” the first official step towards sainthood. (Moses, Joshua, Paul, and James are all referred to as servants of God in the Bible.) In 1969 he was beatified as Confessor of the Faith, and he was canonized as a saint in 1982. His martyrdom was considered to be that of Christian charity rather than of persecution for his faith. Franciszek Gajowniczek miraculously survived his imprisonment, and was able to attend both the beatification and the canonization ceremonies in Rome. St. Maximilian Kolbe is designated as the patron saint of drug addicts, prisoners, political prisoners, journalists, media communications, and families. Pope John Paul II designated him the Patron Saint of our Difficult Century. His feast day is August 14, the day of his death.
His life illustrates some important aspects of the Heroic Journey. First, he was called upon to do the seemingly impossible, to survive and to serve man and God under dreadful circumstances of war, persecution, imprisonment, and slave labor. That he was able to successfully carry out his journey was made possible by his faith, and the strength he drew from it. When presented with an opportunity to save the life of a fellow prisoner, a husband and father, he acted immediately, knowing that death was certain. And, as in all heroic tales in which the hero is killed, he rose from the dead through certified miracles, and by serving as a lasting inspiration to others of how courageous it is possible to be. His story is that of humanity at its finest.
Here is another guest post from Black Magic.
So, I continue to stress the importance of cats to the understanding that humans have of their world. I must say at the outset, that I don’t begin the comprehend the physics of what I am about to relate, and I assure you, neither does Mike. Nevertheless, let’s give it a try. The beginning of the last century saw the development of theories of quantum mechanics. This involved the existence and behavior of atomic and subatomic particles. One interesting aspect of this is the observation that at times a particle such as a photon (light particle) behaved as though it was a particle, and at other times behaved as though it was a wave. Because of the size of the particles involved there was a limit to the accuracy of observations that could be made. For example, if you wanted to look at a photon you would shine a light on it. Since the light you shine is made up of other photons of a mass equal to the photon you are trying to examine, the act of illuminating the photon would cause it to be knocked out of its original position. In 1927 professor Werner Heisenberg formulated what has come to be known as Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. It states that it is not possible to know both the position and the momentum of a particle at the same instant. Heisenberg believed that this was a fundamental principle in nature, and independent of the limitations placed on the observer of the particle. Einstein disagreed, stating that there must be a more fundamental principle in reality that is not yet known.
Because of the limits of observation, according to quantum theory not only could one not know if the photon was behaving as a wave or as a particle, you could say that it existed as both a particle and a wave at the same time. Schrodinger believed this was absurd, and in 1935 devised a thought experiment to look at this phenomenon on a macro level. He imagined a closed steel box in which a cat had been placed. Also in the chamber was a source of radioactivity and a device to detect the decay of radioactive atoms. If the device detected the decay of an atom, it would trigger a hammer which would shatter a glass flask of poison, thus killing the cat (shudder.) In theory in 1 hour there was a 50% chance of the cat remaining alive, and 50% chance of it being dead. The observer would not know unless he opened the box. Schrodinger said that according to the theory of a photon being both a wave and a particle at the same time (in the absence of a measurement) then one must say that the cat must be both alive and dead at the same time. This is clearly absurd. If you are interested there is a great deal of scholarly work available on the subject, but you had better bring your math chops with you.
What really interests Mike about this is the convergence of physics and spirituality. On the surface one would think they would be so different, physics being an exact measurable science, and spirituality being unmeasurable and mysterious. It seems that the deeper one gets into physics the more mysterious it becomes. So maybe they are two different ways of looking at the same thing. Mike says there are 2 kinds of seekers that turn to religion. One kind is those who need definite answers. They tend to place complete trust and faith in their sacred texts, follow the precepts found therein, and are thus comforted in the knowledge of their salvation. The other kind is those that prefer the mystery. They believe that whatever force or energy rules in the universe, it is ultimately unknowable at our current level of existence. One can appreciate the world and its Creator from a state of awe, hope, and wonder. The mystery works better for me, and Mike is with me on that. In counseling his patients Mike often tells them that learning to deal with uncertainty is one of the great challenges we all face in life.
With this short, simple book the author presents the spiritual philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson. He uses as his primary source the journaling that Emerson did in 1833 upon returning from his pilgrimage to Europe where he had met with some of the leading intellectuals, scientists, and authors active there at that time. Such people included Coleridge, Carlyle, and Wordsworth. His visit to Europe followed the tragic death of his wife of 18 months, an event which caused him to question everything that he had been taught in his training as a minister and had believed up to that point. His meditation, reading, and life experience led him to understand the soul as the place where man meets God, the Universal Soul. He saw life as a unity of souls, all connected as One. From Emerson’s writings the author has presented seven principles of spiritual existence. These are: “1) Trust Yourself. All that you need for growth and guidance in life is already present inside you. 2) As you sow, you will reap. Your thoughts and actions shape your character, and your character determines your destiny. 3) Nothing outside you can harm you. Circumstances and events don’t matter as much as what you do with them. 4) The universe is inside you. The world around you is a reflection of the world within you. 5) Identify with the infinite. Center your identity on the soul and your life’s purpose will unfold. 6) Live in the present. The present moment is your point of power. Eternity is now. And 7) Seek God within. The highest revelation is the divinity of the soul.”
Throughout the book he presents quotes from writers whose thought supports his views. These authors include Joseph Campbell, Lao Tzu, Marcus Aurelius, and Henty David Thoreau. Emerson can be classified as a Transcendentalist, in company with Walt Whitman, Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and many others in the early to mid-nineteenth century. This movement laid a foundation for important new ways of thinking, which ultimately influenced Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Emerson was the Godfather of the famous psychologist William James. James authored The Varieties of Religious Experience, a book which Wilson read early in his recovery, and which helped him understand that not everyone needs to have the dramatic “mountaintop” experience that he had which opened him up to a new life. Transcendentalism was an important source in the development of Religious Science, the movement which inspired Emett Fox, who had a significant influence on Wilson’s thinking and on that of the early A.A. members. There is much in Emerson’s seven principles which can be found in the Twelve Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. These include the need to seek a Higher Power, to live one day at a time, the importance of character building, the importance of meditation, of finding a purpose in life, and the need to achieve serenity for finding acceptance, courage, and wisdom. It is a useful book, and for those who are unsure of what to believe about a Higher Power or God, it provides something to think about. The material is presented in an easy-to-understand style which will be accessible to the average reader.
From time to time I may write a review of a book which I have read and which I believe may be of interest to my readers. Much has been written about the Twelve Steps, and a fair amount has been written about the Heroic Journey, but very little has combined the two. This is not a criticism, just a comment on the lack of literature on the subject. Hopefully, my book will stimulate interest. In the meantime, here is a brief analysis of Russell Brand’s book.
Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions, by Russell Brand
Bluebird, London, 2017, ISBN 978-1-5098-5086-0
With this book Russell Brand essentially gets on stage and delivers a monologue designed to entertain and educate at the same time. He describes the book in his introduction as a “self-help guide”, teaching “how to overcome our destructive and oppressive habits, be liberated from tyrannical thinking, and move from the invisible inner prison of addiction to a new freedom in the present.” The book makes clear the intensity with which Brand experiences life, such that it is understandable that he would have engaged in mood-altering behaviors as he did with booze, drugs, and sex.
He openly identifies himself as a recovering addict thanks to the Twelve Step Program. He has structured the book by having a chapter on each of the Twelve Steps in which he engages in storytelling about himself and other (nameless) individuals and by telling the reader what the step means to him. He has included exercises at the end of each chapter to help the reader think through the step and how it may relate to their own lives. His language can be poetic at times and crude at other times, liberal as he is with f-bombs, especially in the chapter headings. His ability to talk at the feeling level about the painfully lonely addictive life is exceptional. No doubt this combination of emotional honesty and raw expressiveness combined with his on-stage persona will engage a great many readers and help them think about what they are doing with their lives, and how they could change. It will also turn many readers off. He often refers to life and to recovery as a journey. While not speaking in terms of a heroic quest or journey per se, he does mention both Joseph Campbell and Dr. Carl Jung in passing. That this book reached number one on the Sunday Times best seller list is a testament both to the current interest in the subject matter and to the popularity of the author.
Growing up in Chicago during the fifties, I was captivated by baseball. As a Cub fan, my favorite player was Ernie Banks, the Cub shortstop. I was a Cub fan, I suppose, because my older brother, Bob, was a White Sox fan. The best player on the Sox during the fifties was their left fielder, Minnie Minoso. Both players were black, a novelty at the time in major league baseball. They were both the first Black players on their respective teams. Both had started their careers in the Negro leagues, Banks with the Kansas City Monarchs, and Minoso with the New York Cubans, a team of Hispanic players that competed in the Negro leagues. Minoso was in fact from Cuba, and Banks was from Dallas, Texas. Although a few Hispanic players had played in the major leagues prior to Minoso, he was the first Black Cuban to play in the major leagues.
Baseball players are admired by kids because of their athletic prowess. I revered both players as heroes. I particularly admired them for overcoming the racial discrimination imposed upon them by the worlds they lived in. Banks grew up in a black ghetto in the South. Minoso grew up on a sugar plantation in Cuba. Both had great success in the major leagues once they were afforded admission. Banks was elected to the Hall of Fame after a career in which he hit over 500 home runs. Minoso was known for his speed, power, and for getting hit by pitches while crowding the plate. He was an exceptional left fielder with a strong and accurate throwing arm. He suffered a skull fracture on two occasions, once when hit by a pitch, and the other time crashing into the outfield wall. He was on the ballot for the Hall of Fame many times but was denied admission until six years after his demise in 2015. After their playing careers both men were active in their communities, providing encouragement and opportunities to others.
As a society we admire our heroes and various organizations have established Halls of Fame to afford them honor. Unfortunately, the Baseball Hall of Fame has often come up short in its selection of the players and men to be identified as exceptional. I think the sports writers who vote are too absorbed in the individual statistics a player accumulates as opposed to the impact the player has made on his team, the sport, and the community at large. Rarely does one’s character seem to be a consideration, nor do the obstacles a player had to overcome seem to matter. And it is only in recent years that the time played in the Negro leagues has been considered as part of the player’s body of work. This has delayed the admission of players like Minoso who failed to hit the numbers (such as total hits) because their early careers in baseball were disregarded. I also don’t like the fact that the votes are held in secret, so the voter doesn’t have to defend his or her reason for denying a player’s recognition (or the fact that they failed to vote for the admission of the player).
As individuals and as a society we need heroes to inspire us to be the best that we can be. Sometimes a hero who is from our particular town, ethnic group, or with whom we can otherwise personally identify can give us a feeling of pride. But, most people don’t realize that they have an inner hero of their own who can emerge when the circumstances call for it. For most if not all of us, the circumstances at some point do arise, and we are challenged to achieve what seems to be beyond our capabilities. All the seemingly ordinary people I know have had their moments when they were called upon to be heroic. Measurement of heroism cannot be limited to numbers of home runs hit or innings pitched, although some individuals accomplish remarkable achievements on the athletic field. I admire Minoso, not only because of his athleticism, but also because of the character he demonstrated when he failed to get the recognition he deserved. He admitted that he cared about being in the Hall of Fame, but never reflected bitterness or resentment about his denial. In the end, I would hope, we admire our baseball heroes for the way they conduct themselves both on and off the field, rather than just for the number of home runs they hit. Neither Banks nor Minoso had any social or monetary advantage growing up, but they had the gifts and ultimately the opportunity to achieve their quest. Their journey led them to become the best people they could be on their journey in life and left us with a lot more to admire than their numbers.