Thursday, September 30, 2010

Receptivity and Sensitivity.

"If you try to keep an open mind, you will find help."

That sentence comes from Al-Anon's suggested closing to a meeting. I must have heard that hundreds upon hundreds of times, before I was able to begin the work of keeping an open mind. For me, it has been hard work. I lived in such fear that I was unable to be open-minded to anything which didn't fit my precise definitions or standards.

I was unable to take the time to challenge my thinking, because I was engaged in a precarious balancing act between obsession, control, and despair, continually cycling among those three states,  never managing to break free long enough, or feeling sufficiently safe, to be able to consider alternate viewpoints. I knew what I thought about things, and that was a done deal. I couldn't see far enough past my own misery, to understand what keeping an open mind could gain me.

When I was new in program, the book One Day At A Time In Al-Anon was the only daily readings book available, and I read that book the same way I did so many other things in my life - obsessively. In my case, that was a good thing, because it meant that I absorbed the wisdom almost without realising or knowing that I was doing so - I thought I was just finding comfort and solace. I didn't know that the readings in that book, and the wisdom of the meetings, were slowly slowly prying open my so firmly closed (also locked, and bolted with sixteen deadbolts and a motion sensor alarm) mind.

From the ODAT, page 49:

"If I take to myself each day, even one small new idea, heard at a meeting, or read in Al-Anon literature, I will make progress. Things may not work out as I want them to, but as my point of view changes, what I thought I wanted changes, too. My absolute contentment does not depend on having things work out my way."

What I have learned in my time in program, is that when I am fearful, I am less open-minded. When my mind is closed, partially or completely, I am turning my face away from the gifts life has to offer, and then complaining about the hand I've been dealt.

I cannot receive wisdom unless I am willing to stop long enough to hear, and consider, new information. I cannot grow if I am unwilling to let go of my old behaviors of judgement and condemnation.

I had an experience this week, in which I was grouchy and unaccepting because I was exhausted. As soon as I put the phone back down upon the charger, I knew that I had been in the wrong, and needed to make an amend.

Making an honest amend was a completely new idea to me when I was first in Al-Anon - before that, I might apologise, but the apology would be bracketed with justifications and rationalisations, and be a sparse and paltry thing. In Al-Anon, I learned that if I wanted to have a better life, I needed to become a better person.

That included being sensitive to the feelings of others, and being upfront about my own mistakes. I don't need to batter myself with my wrongs, but I do need to be receptive to needs and feelings of those around me, and if I lose my way for whatever reason, and trample upon those feelings, the road out of that morass is a clean and clear road I've travelled countless times.

Make a direct amend, and then sit quietly and accept the consequences - don't justify, don't rationalise, sit in silence, and listen. Hear the other person when they speak of how I have affected them - hurt them, irritated them, whatever it is. Be receptive.

And the last step to making an amend - forgive myself, and learn from the experience, so I don't repeat it; use what I have learned, to make myself more receptive and sensitive, more open-minded.

When I used to bash myself with my mistakes, anything was preferable to admitting to the damned things - once I admitted to them, they would overtake me, and give me hours of unhappiness.
I had to not only be willing to be more open-minded about the way in which I treated other people, I also had to be more open-minded about my treatment of myself. If it wasn't acceptable to berate and guilt-trip another person - well, I was a person too, therefore, the same rules applied.

1 comment:

  1. I think that my willing to be teachable and have an open mind was what helped me so much to get the Al-Anon ideas. I was like the sponge also. I wanted what the others had. I listened and knew that the key to my life was here. Great post.