Recovery Radio

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Poet Mark Nepo says “The more we accept our very human frailties, the more we need to stay in conversation with all of life’s agents. We need our own conversation books to investigate and inhabit our very real relationship to life. Paradoxically, we need a space to talk things through, alone and together, while we search for the wordless still point within. Recovery Radio is built to be that space, where we converse with life’s “agents”, that is, persons in recovery, community leaders, medical and mental health workers and those who work with persons reentering society from prison and those who are homeless. We will also talk about music and how it relates to recovery.

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Recovery Radio's Blog

Oct. 10 2015

Meaning and Mary Oliver’s “The Journey”
I mentioned recently on my show that Mary Oliver’s poem “The Journey” is very much a metaphor for the recovery process. I will also return to Joseph Campbell’s “Heroes’ Journey” from time to time and attempt to tie that process to recovery, but not today. Let’s start with a line-by-line analysis of her poem.

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
At some point in a downward cycle, the brain or body or both say “Enough”. That “Ah Ha” moment, or epiphany is the beginning. I use “downward” as a label for the direction of a life that for whatever reasons, is being “lived” in an out of balance state. This state would be more fear based than curiosity driven. This state would be isolated rather communal. This state would be anesthetized rather then feeling.

though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—

Bad advice is plentiful, from the “inner voices” which may be saying “You aren’t strong enough, you can’t do this, give it up” or the external voices consisting of too much information via the Internet or cable TV or movies.

though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.

At this point there is a possible sea change at work, the foundations of life begin to crumble to make way for new structures, behaviors and outcomes but….the “hardwiring” of trauma based injury and addictive thinking “tug” at body and mind.

"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,

Possibly you are a “fixer” in life, someone who would gladly sacrifice themselves for others even at great cost. Maybe you are part of the “victim” triangle also called the “drama triangle” composed by Stephen Karpman consisting of rescuer/victim/persecutor. But at some point in order to rescue yourself, you have to let others go their own way too.

though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.

I mentioned a word during the interview in the broadcast, related by poet Mark Nepo in his book about courage. That word, a Peruvian word meaning “aquifer” (acequia) is a also the spiritual process of some villages who live in the mountains. During the spring thaw, the villages ritualistically cleanse the downward flowing steam of detritus such as branches, sticks, stones and animal nests. Conscious of life, they are careful with the nests and indeed the entire process of removal is considered sacred, lest they disturb the course of the life-giving stream. Like Oliver’s “road of fallen branches and stones”, our inner, spiritual stream is also sacred and must be culled with care.

But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Perhaps quickly, or slowly, after days or years, a transformation, an emergence begins to ensue. The “voices” go silent and your own voice, strong and clear begins to emerge. Ideas and plans begin to crystallize and life assumes a different kind of trajectory. It does not have to be perfect in order for you to see hosts of burning stars behind sheets of cloud in the conversant dark. The “dark” becomes an ally, a library where the present can interact in healthy fashion with the present.

Oct. 5 2015

So I didn’t get a chance on air to talk about the song “Tear In My Heart” by 21 Pilots. The song was written by lead singer Tyler Joseph about his wife, Jenna. It immediately reminded me of two other poem/songs with ties to a theme of recovery and reconnection to the universe. The first reminiscence is about Jalalludin Rumi’s oft rendered quote:

“You have to keep breaking your heart until it opens.” –Rumi

Rumi seems to say that a person grows stronger by breaking through the shell of the heart and allowing all that is within to be connected to that which is without. From a recovery perspective, an open heart is a heart free of guilt, shame and unreconciled trauma. So with the lines “she’s a tear in my heart” we are also reminded that a another person or power is capable of opening us to life’s possibilities. Another comparison arises with the classic Leonard Cohen song “Anthem” where he says:

“There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” – Leonard Cohen (Anthem)

Cohen’s song speaks of light and resurrection by dealing with reality, with “ringing what bells that can be rung”. The process of recovery is nothing if not a pragmatic process, and dealing with the here and now of existence may be mundane, ("after the ecstasy, the laundry" as meditation guru Jack Kornfield puts it) but necessary. The crack in everything is either the innate finiteness of physical matter or the crack between the world of light and the world of matter. In either circumstance, physical structures and patterns must be rended to open up to the light. Recovery is often about breaking habits and discarding outmoded behaviors is sometimes a key to that process.

“Set your life on fire, find those who feed those flames” –Rumi

Both the 21 Pilots and Rumi echo the idea that a life on fire is a life truly experienced and lived.

She's the tear in my heart, I'm alive,
She's the tear in my heart, I'm on fire,
She's the tear in my heart, Take me higher,
Than I've ever been. ---21 Pilots “Tear in My Heart”

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