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Nov 29
Dharma Teachings
“It Works If You Work It”

Hearts Exposed... Together. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Holder.

Hearts Exposed... Together. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Holder.

What we can learn from the discipline of people whose lives are on the line.

By Bindu Wiles

I have been getting up at 5:30 am to get to my desk by 5:40.

I have never been a morning person — I seem to do my best sleeping in the hours right before I have to get up. The task of getting up feels Herculean and especially so when I don’t “have” to get up quite that early. But I am writing a memoir and working with an amazing editor; this is something I’ve wanted to do for many, many years. And now, at almost 45-years-old, events have conspired to bring me to this point of intense action. It’s no longer an idea or a wish or something I do on the side in secret. It’s actually happening. Now.

Last night, I was having dinner with a friend. She told me the story of her partner, who is struggling to maintain a brand-new state of sobriety. It has not been easy, but he is literally in a fight for his life. Among the hundred really moving and inspiring things she told me about him, was that he goes to an AA meeting every morning at 6:00 am.

His alarm goes off at 5:15 and he struggles out of bed, gets dressed, and then walks ten blocks to the AA meeting, getting a coffee on the way. She said it’s getting colder and darker now with winter coming and she doesn’t know how he does it. Except that this is what he must do in order to stay alive. The stakes are very high.

When I think of the people who are walking the path of recovery from addiction, I honestly don’t know how they do it. Have you ever tried to quit sugar? Or floss twice a day without ever missing? Or tried to change an aspect of your personality that feels hardwired into your DNA?

I asked her how many people are at that meeting, thinking maybe there would be six or seven people (I was thinking about early morning yoga classes that I have taught and taken, and there is maybe five people), and she said there was about 30 people. I was shocked. I pictured all these people on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with their alarms going off while it’s still dark, getting dressed, leaving their apartments, and showing up at this AA meeting for an hour. It must not be easy or pleasant to get up so early and go admit every day that you are powerless over a disease first thing in the morning, yet this is precisely what saves millions of people from addiction each day. They get up and go to meetings. It is a moment-by-moment discipline. A moment-by-moment choice towards life, towards not having it run by those voices in our heads that tell us we are never going to get there, that our dreams will never happen, that life is just a long hard road that we have to hoe.

I’m sure there are mornings this guy is soooo tired all he wants to do is stay in bed and go to a meeting later.

Healthy Road. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Holder.

Healthy Road. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Holder.

My own journey of writing my book came to light when I heard of this guy who was trying to stay sober. I find it somewhat similar. As dramatic as it sounds, I feel like if I don’t write this memoir, I will die. It’s just something that I have to do. I have avoided it for years, tried to do other things, and it persists.

To do anything, one needs a steady discipline applied toward the thing one is attempting to do.
The thing about discipline is that at first, it is very very painful. We are not creatures who like pain. If it hurts, we usually stop and say, “I can’t”. We are resistant, and have millions of excuses because we are afraid to change our habitual ways of being, even when those ways of being are not really working for us.

I have felt an actual physical impossibility to wake up early and get out of bed at times, and the mind chatter of justification of why I don’t really need to do the thing I am trying to do is stunning in its convince-ability. I have avoided sitting down to write with an astonishing regularity.

One of the Lojong slogans is “Train WholeHeartedly.” For me, that slogan means to commit fully to my life, and to waking up in this life, the one that I have now — not some other life. Not after the book is written or after I finally nail down living perfectly. To start simply with waking up earlier (literally!), and to stop fooling myself with excuses. Discipline and commitment are bringing me freedom.

What if we approached the things we want to do with the underlying discipline and urgency of the people working with sobriety? What if we framed our dreams and goals for ourselves with the focus and motivation of our life depending on it? Because as much as we talk ourselves out of them, we all have dreams for our life of what we want to do, or who we want to be. It can feel like we will never get there, and for me, I know it’s a bunch of lies that I listen to and often believe.

For me, the key is commitment. Committing to myself and then sticking with that commitment no matter what. “Train WholeHeartedly.”

I think I have underestimated the level of commitment it takes to do something bigger in my life. What I have learned from people in AA, who have their own wonderful and upsetting set of slogans, is that if you do what is asked of you — “Work the Program”– then you have a shot at sobriety. “It Works If You Work It” is a slogan they use in AA, which is a sibling of “Train Wholeheartedly.”

I am reaching deep inside myself to build a stronger muscle of discipline and focus towards these early mornings of being here at the desk and doing what my editor is asking of me. And I am thinking about my friend’s partner and all the people out there who must do the hard thing in front of them.

When my alarm goes off at 5:30, I will be rising with all the other people who are Working the Program and Training WholeHeartedly: they at their meetings, and me at my desk.

Bindu Wiles is currently getting her MFA in non-fiction at Sarah Lawrence College and is working on a memoir. Click here to read her blog.

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4 responses to “ “It Works If You Work It” ”
  1. Kirk Cornwell
    Nov 26, 2010

    The problem with the “recovery” movement is the idea of a daily struggle with a lifelong “disease”. Twelve step is not for everybody, nor should it be. Sobriety is choice, available at every moment. As Trungpa might have said, “it’s an open situation”. The whole point of Buddhism is to be present to the situation and act with wisdom. Identifying an addiction and choosing to move beyond it “qualifies”.

  2. Arla Wiles
    Dec 2, 2009

    This is exactly how I have been feeling about Weight Watchers! I just could not get to those meetings – it seemed like such a big commitment! I put it off for so long & I don’t even remember what finally motivated me to JUST GO ALREADY!! But here I am eleven wks later with 12 lbs off & I feel like I have won the lotto! Such a sense of accomplishment to get on the road of self-help & be winning the race. Great article & I think your Mother must be an amazing woman to have raised such an intuitive woman! xo

  3. The twelve steps are simple and powerful. They were the first self-help program in the US. I too, was shocked at how many people are at each AA meeting. Then, as I saw how the love, sharing and support radiates out in the group, I was able to understand. The discipline of an early morning desk is possible with a greater vision of who you might be.

    When we work the steps, we change in a profound way. They are human principles that apply to all humans.


  4. I love that “Train WholeHeartedly” has not insulated your work — that is, you haven’t just committed your whole heart to the path right in front of your face (on a computer screen perhaps?), but have allowed that slogan to connect your struggle to other, disparate-but-similar struggles happening everywhere around you. Keep on keepin’ on!!

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