I wish I had been told this

Julian Wood shares his experience of using spiritual practices and insights

I’m now 38 years old, and have learnt more about life and my place in it in the last five years than the 33 preceding ones. So much of this links to Quakerism.

So many of my addiction problems came from my inner emotional and spiritual unhappiness, and not knowing certain things about life that I am now learning through being a Quaker. It makes me think: If only I had known these things earlier, how much unnecessary suffering and dead-ends I could have avoided.At the same time, I feel extremely lucky (and humble) to have learnt so many of these things by the age of 38. And I have a passion to share these insights with others.

My friends and I often ask ourselves “Why weren’t there people around when we were young to tell us these things, to offer us emotional and spiritual guidance?”. I know we can build families and a society where this kind of information on navigating life can be spread more widely, and young people (and adults) can learn to avoid some of the emotional and spiritual pitfalls I got stuck in.

Many of these insights are spiritual. The best psychological insights- I had years of therapy before finding the Twelve Step Recovery, and then Quakers- only got me so far. Spiritual growth through the Twelves Steps, Quakerism and Christianity, has taken me a huge distance further, and has radically changed my life.

These insights sit so well with Quakerism. They include:

Other people are not as sorted as they look- Quakerism teaches me this, to look under the surface and not judge on appearances.

My problem is not shyness, it is a lack of self-belief and self-acceptance: I always thought I was so reserved and inhibited. Personally, I’ve found that I can be open, friendly and chatty once I feel good about myself.

Life is challenging: I never really picked up on the fact that life is hard work. I thought that if I behaved well, I’d have an easy life. Quakerism and other spiritual paths have taught me that happiness comes through pain, not through its avoidance.

I don’t have to be sociable in the way modern culture tells me to be: It’s OK to have a few friends, not get married etc. Quakers has helped me to cherish my own path.

It is OK to be highly sensitive: Society can pathologise sensitivity. It can be difficult to live with, but sensitivity is not a mental illness!

It is OK to build up friendships gradually: I always envied how some people made ‘fast friends’. I’ve realised that the best friends I have were built up over many years

.Other people need to deal with their own issues: The Twelve Steps have taught me that I cannot solve other people’s problems. I can support and be there for them, but I have to trust their own resilience and problem-solving skills.

Relationships make me happy, not things or substances: The temporary happiness from shopping, eating cake, going on holiday is lovely, but is not at all what life is ‘about’. Relationships anchor my life and emotions, and are the key reason for being alive, rather than consuming!

We learn things slowly, and cannot change things in a rush: Both the Twelve Steps and Quakers teach me patience, and that results do not come quickly. I need not give up when waiting for results.

It is important to respect and think positively of other people. I learnt to be mis-trustful, critical and competitive. Quakerism teaches me the attitude of love and co-operation with others.

Love is gentle and freely given. It is not a legal contract and must be generous, not controlling

.Some relationships are deeper than others/ some people can be trusted more than others.

My feelings matter, I matter!

Love is not straightforward. Sometimes tough love. Saying you love someone is not enough.

The Quakers and the Twelve Steps- I need to be discerning. I am a vulnerable person who tends to overdo things, and get obsessed. I’ve learnt I need to be discerning about how involved I get with social action and helping others.

Also, these actions and practices have helped me: Stephanie Dowrick- see stephaniedowrick.com It has taken me time to trust other people. But since early 12-step recovery, I found a writer, Stephanie Dowrick, who I felt I could really trust.

Slogans: The 12-step programmes display a number of slogans (short sayings) which have been a huge support to me, and continue to be. Especially ‘Keep It Simple’ and ‘This, Too, Shall Pass’.

Quotes have helped me so much. I’ve realised they encapsulate thoughts. And changing my way of ­thinking has been central to feeling better and to changing.

Affirmations: I have had to teach myself basic views and approaches to life that I did not seem to take in when young. For this, I’ve found simple affirmations for children very useful and straightforward, https://twitter.com/Kidfirmations/media. I’ve also found the books of Douglas Bloch very helpful http://www.madinamerica.com/author/dbloch/ .

What I focus on- I learnt to focus on what was wrong and worrying. I have been learning to focus on other things going on. When feeling uncomfortable, I focus on my breathing, or the fact I’m glad to be in company.

Gratitude- Choosing to be grateful is key to my emotional wellbeing.

What I feed myself with- Religious stuff rather than news.

I have a daily routine to start off the day with. This includes:

Sharing Daily Readings- There are many fantastic  daily readers such as http://amzn.to/1ShVdUo (click ‘Look Inside’).I write daily ‘Letters to Myself’. Here’s an example of the morning email I send to a few close recovery friends:

November 10th 2015

Dear HP,

Thanks for sleep; trust; friends; interests; a job; a fab manager; a flat to myself; prepared for Xmas; health good; progress at work; free time

Dear Jules, Well done on coping well with yesterday, a day you had a lot on plus the pressure of the job application

You felt uncomfortable at work- but carried on regardless’

Easy Does It’ today, take the afternoon off:)You’ve done enough on the application, good enough is good enough:)You’ve coped better the last few days- give yourself credit. “Progress, not Perfection”

Love, Jules 

One huge insight from Quakerism has been understanding that so much goes on when there is silence.

The things not said in families and relationships often matter as much as what is said

Trust and other values are often silent, implicit and can’t be covered in words

How we feel is often beyond the reach of words

For me, I have learnt that life is one long Meeting for Worship. The background is silence into which words and thoughts enter. My thoughts can constantly intrude, crowding out the good things happening in the present moment. Just as in MFW, or Buddhist meditation, my role is to bring my attention back to the present, back to God and to that of God in others. As in Buddhism, our minds can constantly drift (as does my mind in MFW!), but the whole of life is one long spiritual practice in bringing my awareness and consciousness back to what is happening the here and now, and living God’s will for me.