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March 5, 2006

The Ten Promises

Right now it seems that alcohol has no positive effect on me. Five years ago it made me really happy; I would become more confident and outgoing, more relaxed, and more cheerful. Two years ago it took the edge off my nerves, relaxed me, and stopped me worrying. A year ago it just relaxed me. Today: nothing.

It makes me feel dehydrated; even after one glass of wine I get really thirsty. It takes the edge off my joy. It makes me feel drowsy and lethargic. It makes me less funny, less sociable, and generally less happy. So there doesn't seem to be any reason for me to drink it. And the cool thing is that I don't have to preach because I would drink it if it made me feel good. So if you like it that's great; you're welcome to it. In fact, spend your energy on introspecting rather than trying to control your habit.

And how did this happen to me? I just looked into myself and I guess I found enough of my true self, the joyful true self that I am, that the negative false self, the part that I had to medicate, couldn't exist any more. I had to look at that negative self and see that it was false, and then find the true self hiding under it.

I still sometimes think that I'd like a drink. And then I have a drink and find that there are only negatives. Perhaps over time that habit will change. Strangley, I actually can't remember when it was that I last had a drink.

My dad was an alcoholic and so was my step-dad. Both grandfathers were alcoholics and so was at least one of my grandmothers. It'll be really great if I don't end up being an alcoholic. Alcohol killed my dad at forty-five; or rather, he killed himself with alcohol.

When I think about this, I'm reminded of something from the Conversations with God books by Neale Donald Walsh. It's something that I heard on my iPod while out walking in the woods near my home. When I heard it, a couple of years ago, tears came to my eyes as my heart filled with love. God said that there's no such thing as the Ten Commandments. She told Neale that there were only the Ten Promises.

Moses asked God how he would know that he was on the right path. And God told him that he would know because: you will know me; you will worship only me; you will honor me; you will think of me all the time; you will honor your parents; you will not kill; you will not have sex with another's spouse; you will not steal; you will not lie; you will not covet.

Can you see that these are just the beginning? It seems quite obvious how they can be extended: you will not abuse yourself; you will honor your body; you will not abuse others; you will not stand by and watch injustice; you will not judge others; and so on. Deep down we all know what is godly because it is our truest self.

So we don't need to try to force ourselves to be good. It doesn't work to try to emulate the godly by copying them and suppressing ourselves. That's generally what religion is about: be good, and this is what good looks like. Instead, we just need to find out who we are. I am reminded of a beautiful poem called Wild Geese by Mary Oliver which goes like this:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.


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