Overcoming Self-Centeredness

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Closeup portrait, senior mature, haughty, arrogant man admiring himself in the mirror combing his bald head, smiling, isolated white background. Human emotions, facial expressions, feelings, attitude

My name is Rick. I am self-centered and fearful. In the past that has fueled my alcoholism and complicated my mental illness. For alcohol, according to our literature, is but a symptom. The underlying spiritual malady is self-centered fear.

Knowing this, I embarked on a little experiment. Nine days ago I reviewed Steps 6 and 7–addressing character defects–with a sponsee. Though when manic I experience some tin-foil-hat-wearing grandiosity, I typically don’t strut around the rooms of recovery like some trumped up sobriety guru. When I ask a sponsee to work a step, I do the same. We are on this journey together.

Step 7, “Humbly asked God to remove our defects of character” suggests prayer. My sponsor suggests a very specific prayer: “Help me get through the day without acting on my defect of [lust, dishonesty, anger, breaking out my signature Macarena dances moves while in line at the local 7-11, and so forth]. So for the last nine days I prayed throughout each day not to act out like a self-centered reality show participant (I may not see my own flaws well, but those Real Housewives got them some amplified defects.)

Praying for help with character defects is key. Even in sobriety I have tried to attack my flaws with a massive dose of willpower. That has proven about as effective as downing a box of Ex-Lax and willing my bowels not to move.

But when it comes to addressing character issues, prayer works… if approached rightly. I stress “rightly” as I am kind of an expert in the misuse of prayer. I remember being exposed to the concept that we don’t pray to change God, we pray to change ourselves. That little insight convicted me to the core. For years my approach to prayer was a futile attempt to sway God to take this action or that. This self-centered approach left me unfulfilled and frustrated. Many a time I abandoned prayer altogether.

As I point out with some frequency (like last week) God is not a wish-granting genie– regardless of how well intentioned our wishes are. But when we seek Divine assistance in learning lessons the miraculous can happen.

And so it was this past week.

It never ceases to amaze me of how focused and clarified my thinking can be when I pray none wish-granting prayers. It’s like a thought experiment I saw proposed in a book I read a few years back. The author suggested focusing our attention throughout the day on how many times we can see a green car. A bit goofy, but I gave it a go. Thus focused, I began to see green cars everywhere. I thought green cars rare, but was quickly proven wrong.

Similarly, as I prayed to address my self-centeredness an amazing thing began to happen. Throughout the day, often the most mundane settings (e.g., running an errand at a local convenience store) I began to see people acting selflessly. Like green cars, these selfless folk were everywhere. I was astonished.

Before embarking on this little exercise what I tended to observe and point to were people acting selfishly. For example, just two weeks ago I relayed the following negative anecdote to my wife: At the local Sam’s Club, where we pick up the plethora of prescriptions my wife needs to support her life-giving lung transplant, there is a little vending machine that gives out free samples of this, that or the other when you scan your membership card. I love free stuff so I visit it with some regularity. On one visit I noted a man ahead of me trying to score a free granola bar. He got his and then beckoned the woman accompanying him to come over. From experience I have learned that this machine takes a fair amount of time to retrieve and dispense a sample right after one has been dispensed. The woman waited and waited. The impatient man devoured his sample without offering her a taste and, when finished, questioned whether they should keep waiting even though there were multiple prompts on the screen that a second sample was forthcoming. He had got his and had no interest in hanging around.

I relayed this observation to my wife in what was yet another attempt at making myself look better in comparison to some poor mouth breather who incurred my judgement. Until nine days ago most of what I observed were the people who, in my estimation, acted poorly in comparison to yours truly.

But regular prayer screwed up my judgmental ways. Almost overnight I began seeing example after example of selfless behaviors. The world is full of teachers. They teach through actions not words. They apparently don’t have a mind like mine that is constantly screaming me, me, me.

At every turn I saw doors opened, people offering assistance, and random acts of kindness. I saw the good in humanity and wanted the same for myself. When I was ready to learn, living lessons abounded. Prayer focuses the attention. Pray works.

Could the same effect be manifested with affirmations? Well my skeptical reader that might very well be the case. The only difference being that when I pray and acknowledge a universal force I open the door to the most important prayer of all—“Thank You!”

In giving thanks I instill a little gratitude my otherwise self-absorbed thought life. If I got where I wanted to get with affirmations instead of prayer I’m afraid I’d me saying “Thank Me” instead of “Thank You.”

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