Sutra 1.21 “The goal is near for those who are supremely vigorous and intense in practice”
Sutra 1.22 “There are differences between those who are mild, average and keen in their practices.”
A friend called me up recently seeking advice, “I admire your ability to seemingly navigate stress and conflict with a sense of peace and objectivity,” and wanted to learn he might cultivate the same mindset.
I assured him if there was any truth to his perception, it was the product of years of practice.
I once listened to Vedic scholar, Sree Aswath, (pictured) speak on yoga and the sutras. He explained many think yogis do not get stressed or experience anger. Yogis, like everyone else, experience these mental states, but the yoga practice cultivates an ability to recover quickly. An unpracticed person may take a month or longer to move on from an emotional event; a practitioner of yoga, over time, can learn to recover in a week, a day, an hour, 10 mins.
Stoics also have a reputation for being unfazed and emotionless. Again untrue. Stoics cultivate maxims to have “ready to hand” to help bring them back to objective thinking. Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations are nothing more than reminders to himself to come back to this fundamental disposition.
“The ancient philosophers, likewise, did not merely think about the challenges of living and arrive at a conclusion once. They found it necessary to repeatedly go over and over the same line of reasoning in their minds on a daily basis, sometimes reviewing a single idea in relation to many different concrete situations, or elaborating it by means of different analogies and modes of expression. In other words, it takes effort and perseverance, in many cases, to change our habits of thinking and overcome destructive emotional responses.”
How have I applied this?
I read daily with the intention of finding passages I can use as reminders and tools. I enjoy sharing these with the world.
Ashtanga yoga encourages a regular daily practice. Through it, I’ve built strength over my mind.
Whether a headstand, or compassionate objective demeanor, it’s simply unexpected fruit of consistent practice over time.
As a boy I loved to learn. Mama would sit with me at the dining room table every night and help me with my studies. Daddy, always the avid reader, modeled the behaviors of a lifelong learner.
I am not sure where it changed. But after more than a decade of drug and alcohol abuse, my brain was not what it once was. Once a master of chemistry, I could notw string together coherent sentence.
In the year before getting sober, my body and my brain were falling apart. I spent thousands of dollars on all types of doctors trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I spent hours searching for articles on being inarticulate.
On Jan 1 2017 I wrote,
“I want to be more well spoken. I have felt less articulate than ever before. I will read more. Read something daily and dare I say 50 books this year?
I will dedicate time to write. I think this improves the brain and helps you find new words and thoughts. Dare I say I would write something daily. That may offer me little flexibility. Worth a try? And not just this copy quotes bullshit but actually reflect. I like quotes and new words, but I think I need to write about them.”
I decided to start writing publicly to hold myself accountable. Instead of starting a blog I decided to use social media. The character limit on Instagram is 2200 characters. Fitting what I wanted to say into 2220 characters made me a better writer. It’s made me restructure, simplify and stay on message.
The public accountability along with leveraging the notorious dopamine effect of social media keeps me reading week over week so I can digest, synthesize and share my thoughts and feelings.
But most importantly, this act has healed me in an unexpected way. Many people have reached out to me because they need or are curious about sobriety. Some reach out and berate me. They say sobriety should be anonymous, and I only do this for my ego and that one day I will relapse, and I will make a public fool of myself.
Maybe they are right, but I write anyway. I write because I want to write. I write for me. And this act of doing what is right for me has healed me as much as anything.
I was speaking to the team in our weekly meeting. As was often the case, my enthusiasm came out in choppy simple sentences. I’d get stuck recalling the simplest word. I was embarrassed. I had so much to say yet unable to get it out. My brain was broken.
This was my reality before I got sober. Getting sober wasn’t just about drinking destroying my body, but also about fixing my brain. My mental states were all over the place, and I could barely conjure full sentences.
New Years resolution 2017: Stop drinking for 60 days. Write a public post every 10 days for accountability. Read more.
Publicly I shared I was taking 60 days off from drinking. Privately I hoped I could quit for good.
The first book I chose was Ryan Holiday’s The Daily Stoic.
Reading philosophy started to inspire me and give me hope. The Stoics, The Gita, The Sutras. Spinoza. Why wasn’t I taught this as a kid?
I felt calm in study. THe Yoga Sutras and Stoic philosophy taught me the importance of learning to control my mind.
My writing became bolder. Once only few sentences, I began writing paragraphs about my experiences and learnings.
My brain and mind changed.
“What flows through your mind sculpts your brain.”
Unfortunately this works both ways.
People do not choose to become addicts. Due to circumstance, environment or pain we chose to use. Our mind convinced itself being high is better than our normal experience and our brains attach and form a pattern.
In this day and age, most of us do not get the tools needed to combat this.
If we are fortunate enough to be “safe”, we are bombarded by attention merchants and advertising. We are made to feel less than and incomplete. We are rarely exposed to sound philosophy and true spiritual practice as youth. We are instead groomed to participate in a culture of more and better than.
Then enemy is at the gate .The battle is here. Only to win, the fight is internal not external. Learn to change your mind, be an example, then help others do the same.
Break the pattern.
“More than ever, the human world needs to find ways to build love, understanding, and peace, individually and on a global scale.”
Twas December 2016.
I was getting back to Atlanta a little later than planned after speaking at Georgia College’s winter commencement. Even though I was exhausted traveling, I decided to drop by Jen and Tom’s holiday party.
I quickly felt energized by the buzz of friends and strangers enjoying good company and libations. The evening started out with a lot of engaging conversations and karaoke, but my propensity for drinking too much whiskey, as it did so often, got the best.
I was embarrassed the next day. I couldn’t remember what I had said or done. I was positive I had made some guests uncomfortable and my hosts mad.
Tom is always honest with me. He shared that I had drink a lot, and they had been forcing me to drink water. He also shared another guest, someone I hold in high regard, commented, “I’ve never seen Butler sober.”
Christmas has always been hard for me. I’ve don’t understand why. Maybe never will. Here is how it usually went?
I arrive at my parents house on Christmas Eve. I would crack open the fifth of Jack on the way — usually in the parking lot of the liquor store. I’d walk into my childhood home and pour a drink. I would continue drinking trying to block out my feelings..
We would open gifts. I’d sit in the recliner and pass out then wake up and begin drinking again by lunch.
After lunch I’d head back, stopping in Dublin GA to pick up another fifth to nurse on the ride back. I would sit at home crying Christmas night wondering why I felt so alone in the world.
This was true Christmas of 2016. However I learned on the ride back George Michael died. I began sobbing immediately. I couldn’t stop crying.
53 seems too young to die. A I assumed as a celebrity he has abused his body with drugs and alcohol much like me.
Later than night I text Mama. I thought I remembered my grandfather had died in his 50s. She said he was around 57.
I asked her how. She replied, “Heart problems complicated by alcoholism.”
“I thought he was sober.”
“He was. He quit drinking 15 year before.”
I was about to be 42. I stopped drinking 6 days later
This Christmas I feel different, and I am grateful.
Merry Christmas everyone!