From those that I have spent time with on-on-one, most people don’t really think too much about how they learn. I’m not talking about formal education, but how they learn how to live in relationships. They just subconsciously adopt ways to think and act around others.

Generally, you may think that learning comes naturally. You listen to someone speak either in conversation and you simply absorb what they are saying, right? Maybe so, Maybe no. I find that as I get older, real learning takes more effort. The more I have filled my brain with facts, figures, and experience, the less room I have for new ideas. Plus, now that I have lived more than a few decades I have all sorts of opinions that may discredit the ideas being presented just because I have an opposing opinion. Knowing that, I’m trying to stay open to ideas that are different than what I have carried around for years.

For me to mature, to respond to my environment more often in an appropriate manner, the desire to do so should always outweigh my desire to be right. The world is changing and new ideas pop up every day; incorporating them into my life will keep me engaged with life in a way that is exciting. It’s about being aware of the correct time and place to behave and knowing when to act, according to the circumstances around me. By taking the position of being a student, a clearer comprehension of life’s purpose has developed and all of that contributes to the feeling that life is meaningful.

The following are the methods I use to stay open and think critically; which is really just another way of saying I am teachable. I’ve shown these to others people because they have benefited myself by trying them out; they may just work for you too, no matter how old you may be.

Try to Quiet Your Inner Voice

It’s that little voice that offers up a commentary when you are listening to someone. It’s the voice that brings up your own opinion about the information being provided; so it’s judging instead of observing. And it is all too easy to pay more attention to the inner voice than the person who is speaking. That voice often keeps you from listening openly for good information and can often make you shut down before you have heard the entire premise. Focus less on what your brain has to say and more on the speaker. Seek similarities instead of differences. You may be surprised at what you discern by trying to discover a commonality with another soul.

Challenge Your Thoughts

If you can’t quiet the inner voice, and just observe, use your busy mind to your advantage. Every time you hear yourself contradicting the person speaking, pause. Consider all the reasons why the speaker may be correct and you may be wrong. In the best case you may open yourself to the information being provided. If that doesn’t work, you will have at least strengthen your own viewpoint.

Get Curious

Next time you are listening to someone share some new information, try to ask relevant questions. If you are listening instead of thinking about what you will say, you’ll likely learn more, and the action of thinking up questions will help process the concepts in your brain.

Focus on the Message; Not the Messenger

Often people shut out learning due to the person who’s delivering the information. Whether it’s a boring lecturer, someone physically unappealing, or a member of the opposite political party, the person presenting the message often impacts your learning. Even friends can disrupt the learning process since there may be too much history and familiarity to see them as an authority on a topic. Separate the material from the provider. Pretend you don’t know the person or their beliefs so you can hear the information objectively.

Look, you’re a human, I’m a human. We’re breathing the same air. We all have problems and we’re trying to get through our day doing the best we can. That means learning not just how to get by, but also get along. If that can happen, your life will be better because perhaps one of the best ways to evaluate the quality of a person’s life is by examining the quality of their personal relationships.

I’m trying to change. I really am…

He said softly, “How did I get here?” I was not sure if he was speaking to me or if it was just a sigh that had turned into a question, but I didn’t respond. His head lifted and then he looked me straight in the eye. This time his voice was clear and the words were said with intensity. “Why do I keep repeating the same mistakes? Shouldn’t I be farther along in this process? I’ve done the meetings, said the prayers, took commitments and even followed your stupid directions. What’s wrong with me?”

Before I could reassure him that he was not as bad off as he believed, he followed with more of his self-loathing. “Look at me! I’m maladjusted to life; a full flight from reality at times! Come on, drinking or not, and although I am a full grown adult, no matter how hard I try, I remain childish, grandiose and basically emotionally immature.” “Why do you say that?” I replied.

“It’s the anxiety I feel right now, or maybe it’s the depression when thinking too much, the fear…the…and that intense desire for excitement. Always! Throw on top of all that an obsessive, compulsive, impulsive, excessive need for attention and acceptance! You are supposed to help me, what’s wrong with me?” It didn’t seem appropriate to give him an answer yet. No, this was far too important to just hand him an answer. He wanted once again an immediate gratification. It wouldn’t help him anymore than handing a bottle over to him.

“Tell me, is your thought life controlled by fear, self-delusion, self-seeking and self pity?”

“Haven’t you been listening?”

“Slow down! Think about this before answering me. What are your motives?”



“Yes, but not always…sometimes.”

“Your motives, if they’re left unattended, do they seem to arouse in you a need to engage in what may be considered as dangerous behavior?”

“Sometimes? What are you now, some kind of shrink?”

“No, you are just like I used to be. Pride, anger, envy, greed, sloth, gluttony, I really wanted it all. When I got that way, it made me really emotionally sensitive. Raw. All this means is typically we both have a really strong tendency towards taking everything we see or hear personally if left unattended.”

“Really? You feel like that too?”

“Yep, but not all the time any more. In fact rarely any more. I used to be that way all the time. When I came to this program I was a spiritually bankrupt idealist and a brooding perfectionist. Because of this I was constantly defensive and guarded. To cope, I would rationalize, minimize, justify and deny all of my actions while casting blame upon others. To make this even worse, I got a distinct delight and a twisted pleasure out of judging and criticizing everybody I met.

“Wow, no wonder why you drank so much. It must of been hell living like that. What did you do?”

“For the longest time, I did just the same thing that you’ve been doing and feeling. I was just as helpless, hopeless. I felt like I didn’t fit in, I knew that I didn’t belong- I just knew that I must be different than all the rest. The only thing in the past that satisfied my restless, irritable and dissatisfied nature was drugs and alcohol; lots too. You know how that, even that way to find some comfort, eventually stopped working. So I was finally ready to surrender. The pain was finally greater than the fear of change. I hope you don’t have to wallow in the pain as long as I did before you do something about it”

“I am trying to change; I really am.”

“I know. I can see that you are trying. I know you are because we are the same except for one thing; I have worked through the fear and got into action. What has been suggested by this program really is a sufficient substitute to the drugs and frankly vastly more than that.”

“So you know it all, don’t you! You think you have it all figured out.”

“No, far from it. I realize I know only a little but God does disclose more to me and he will for you too, if you will let him. Remember that God will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, but he won’t do for us what we can do for ourselves. You need to fearlessly make an introspective look at the causes and conditions that have brought you to this point in your life. When you do, you will be amazed with what you see. Then that new found awareness will be amplified when you share what you’ve found with another person who can bring it all into a better focus. Just like what’s happening right now.”

The quality of a person’s life can be determined by the quality of their relationships

All to often, what a person considers as “the truth” is only how they have processed the information that they have. When emotions are involved, the “facts” get adjusted to support what we want to believe. What I mean by that is when I feel that I have been done wrong, I will seek out the reasons why and dismiss anything that doesn’t support my position. The process of the personal inventory allows for me to get past this and see not just the evidence that I am attached to, but also the facts that I have an aversion to.

When doing my personal inventory it became more and more obvious that I had problems in my relationships. Like every one of them. Of course the only common denominator was myself. Sure I already knew that I have been stubborn, rebellious, arrogant and outright mean at times but it was really surprising to me that I had gone forty-something years without ever having a moment of extent of this. I don’t think that would have ever happened without doing a personal inventory- which is just an exercise in taking subjective perspectives and reviewing them objectively.

I have a pretty well developed imagination. What I mean by that is not just that I am creative but I am also able to envision scenarios. When those of the opposite sex are involved, I would call it being romantic. Picturing how good we will be together. How we will not have any problems and life will be oh so wonderful. Then when we do share life and its not as I expect it to be, resentments begin to happen. This anger is directed towards them and myself. My imagination once again is attached to ideas that something or someone should be different than it really is. My subjective viewpoint is the core reason why I believe things that are not completely real. My estimations and expectations of what is right and wrong in all of my relationships are skewed because of only recognizing things my way. And I didn’t really know what was happening so I could not change it. That is not until I did my Fourth Step.

Now that I have done the personal inventory repeatedly, and led many other’s through it too, I have concluded that the only reason many people don’t open their hearts and minds to other people is that these people trigger confusion in us. It’s because we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to fully deal with all that is involved. So a lot of us repress and rationalize what’s going on. Over and over again. That’s why living life on life’s term is so difficult. We don’t like what life is giving us, we try to control the relationship, that backfires, we get upset, then we adjust reality by getting high.

Staying sober requires an honesty that surpasses what has been done before. Chronic justification led me to an incomprehensible hopelessness because I could not be honest with myself and therefore others as well.


Relationships are the most important factor in having a meaningful and satisfying life. My life was not any of that, so I had to learn how to see myself and the world differently if the quality of life was to improve. And by doing the fourth Step, this exercise in rigorous honesty, I was able to begin to having hope for a better future. But know that being rigorously honest does not mean just focusing on all the wrongs we each have done. Remember, this is about being objective. There are always assets in every person’s character. They just seem to get overshadowed by the liabilities. For me, that was me practicing self-pity; which is me imaging that I deserve something different than what is really happening.

To the degree that we each look clearly and compassionately at ourselves do we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes. When that does happen a better life is unfolding. Doing a personal inventory is the first step in doing that. The fourth Step is the beginning of better relationships. And the quality of a person’s life can always be determined by the quality of their relationships.

I didn’t use to allow myself to feel other people’s love for me – not family, not friends, no one. I lived in extreme fear of intimacy and vulnerability and I self-medicated to the extreme when I couldn’t tolerate my feelings. Any therapist, teacher, mentor, healer who I’ve worked with reading this post knows this to be true of me. It’s been a long road for me to build the resources within myself to feel safe enough to let love in and to trust that life is happening for me and not to me and to stay present with my feelings. Today, I’m grateful.

Christianity is not an outside issue

Not sure if I want to describe myself as a Christian due to the often negative connotations that go with wearing that label. I am student of Jesus; that means using his teaching in a practical and pragmatic way to live daily. I consider that Scripture is less a set of fixed and final propositional truths and more an invitation into the right conversations with God and with others. I find peace not by rearranging the circumstances of your life, but by realizing who I am at the deepest level. Maybe the label of peaceful warrior fits me better because there’s a battle going on inside of me. And as easy as it is to see the pain and suffering in my life and the lives of others, there is also a desire to find goodness and expansive truth in all that comes from that suffering.

I value art, mystery, science, and beauty, recognizing their unique role in nurturing, challenging, and transforming our humanity. I seek to grow, learn, expand through an openness to seeing truth, goodness, and beauty wherever they are to be found. Even in painful moments. To that end, I’m more committed to personal growth than to conformity. That’s why Jesus Christ’s’ teachings resonate with me as that’s what he is proclaiming. I find Jesus more compelling, more commanding, more converging than ever before because I have tested the teachings by making a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God- as I understand him.

Based upon what is shown in the bible, I trust Jesus and in the good news of the reign, commonwealth, or ecosystem of God. And I seek God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven by focusing on love – love for God and neighbor, for outsider and enemy. For myself. Therefore my spiritual beliefs are not concerned primarily with the role, function, and longevity of religious structures and systems. Rather, I seek to engage in the significant issues of our day to bring about healing of the human spirit, foster life in community, and cast a vision for living harmoniously with God and one another. When that happens, I believe important and significant advancements can be made for all humanity.

As you may recognize, I don’t fit into the traditional “community church”a  worldview. And because of my devout love of Jesus, I really don’t fall in with the all to common perspective of a vague “higher power” that permeates recovery communities. But like everyone, I do desire to belong to something bigger without the authoritarianism of the institution. Also there is no delusion that there will someday be here on earth some sort of global utopia. That perfection is in the next reality.

All that being said, I do take seriously Jesus’s call that we “will do even greater things” with our lives than he did. That statement was not just to person who was listening or reading, but to the body of believers. Together we will have an impact. But the change in your world must begin with myself before those any that I encounter will be affected. So you may be asking what does all this mean to you.

I am saying is that what first comes to your heart and soul must be a yes instead of a no, trust instead of resistance, if God’s Power is to be received. When you can lead with yes and allow yourself to see God in all moments, you’ll recognize that all moments are divine and that nothing is really ever wasted. With that as your core, you can be a conduit for the Spirit and effectively be the change you want to see in the world. This is the Good News and it is not just for yourself. You are being changed to bring a change that benefits the world. Everyone benefits.

God’s power is not domination, threat, or coercion, but of a totally different nature, one that even Jesus’ followers seem not to have not yet adjusted to. If the Father does not dominate the Son, and the Son does not dominate the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit does not dominate the Father or the Son, then there’s no domination in God. All divine power is shared power and it given freely so you can give freely. You are healed to help others heal too.

And isn’t recovery about finding power greater than ourselves? If that’s so, then we are all in this thing called life together; searching for light in the darkness of insanity. Sharing the Power that has been given to us due to a spiritual awakening. And I do believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore humanity to sanity- one person at a time. One day at a time. One moment at a time. As best we each can understand at that time- and therefore act upon. It’s a daily decision that leads to thinking and acting more in alignment with the Good News in the bible.

God is in the business of generating life and light from all situations, even the bad and sinful ones. But you must allow him to do this! When you doubt the possibility of guidance, you’ve just stopped the flow. But if you stay on the path of allowing and trusting, the Spirit in you will allow you to confidently surrender. The result of this will be to act in a way that is patient and kind. Not jealous, proud, boastful or rude. To be more like God because you are living in his power.


“Like all the remaining Steps, Step Three calls for affirmative action, for it is only by action that we can cut away the self-will which has always blocked the entry of God – or, if you like a Higher Power – into our lives. Faith, to be sure, is necessary, but faith alone can avail nothing. We can have faith, yet keep God out of our lives. Therefore our problem now becomes just how and by what specific means shall we be able to let Him in? Step Three represents our first attempt to do this. In fact, the effectiveness of the whole A.A. program will rest upon how well and how earnestly we have tried to come to “a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him”.

Twelve steps and twelve traditions. (1989). New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, p. 40

A few simple things

Based upon being a student of the 12 Steps for over 10 years, I have come to believe that there are some things that need to be worked on by an addict or alcoholic who is seeking to turn their life around. These three areas need to be worked on at the same time and are not sequential like the 12 Steps are. And much like the Steps, being able to apply yourself to these key things will be much more likely to prove beneficial to you by having the the help of another human involved.

The first thing that needs immediate attention and improvement in the person recovering is self esteem. All addicts and alcoholics have serious self esteem issues and to not acknowledge that they have poor self esteem is part of the denial system, a function of the ego, and an attempt to not deal with the “inferiority complex” that lies within the individual. An addict or alcoholic has to learn how to authentically like himself/herself so they do not go back to self-abuse. They need to realize that they are worthy of a better life than they have been living.

Next, there needs to be put in place is a effective recovery program. Going to meetings, daily in the beginning, reading recovery material, getting a sponsor and working the steps is vital to an addict or alcoholic being able to transform their life. The support and comfort provided by the fellowship is absolutely crucial for the addict or alcoholic being to be able to transform their life. A recovery program has to be worked daily because the addiction was practiced daily. It’s how the new, better, life begins.

Also necessary for having a successful recovery program is for the person suffering to learn how to relax and as a result, lower stress and anxiety. Learning how to experience a deep state of relaxation through yoga, meditation or music, for example, will enable the person who is in misery to be more balanced and centered in life and as a result be much more likely to make more appropriate decisions. To have a good life is to be fully present and completely aware.

So again, in no particular order of importance- Self esteem. Action plan. Meditation.

You are worthy of a life that has quality relationships, significance and purpose. We all are worthy. Don’t think that you are the exception. Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact. Your relief will come by getting involved in a community that is based upon the faith of new life. The proven strategic action plan called the 12 Steps will provide the path to becoming who you were created to be- irregardless of how you think and feel right now.

I didn’t use to allow myself to feel because my emotions provoked uncomfortable thoughts of me being less than worthy of other people’s love for me. I got wasted when I could no longer tolerate my feelings. My thoughts were diluted and polluted so I needed clarity on what was confusing me. God granted me with enough serenity to accept things that I could not change; which are the people, places and things that used to upset me. Most importantly the courage to work through my fears and to not give up like I did in the past. That happened by daily prayer and meditation.

It’s been a long road with many lessons for me to build the needed confidence within myself to let love in and to let love flow out. Because of that, life has much more meaning and purpose than ever before. If you desire the needed self-confidence to love and be loved, it will come when you do daily a few simple things.