Doc Rioux At Large

Surrendering to places where the phone doesn't ring

Richard "Doc" Rioux · December 15, 1996

Last week I told you that I've been spending some time recently in the Southern California mountains among tall pine trees reaching up to touch skies filled with a million stars on very dark nights. The mountains are places where the phone doesn't ring and you can surrender every pressing thought to the wind. Surrender is good for the soul.

Each week I have the privilege of addressing 500 recovering addicts attending general assembly meetings at the Acton and Warm Springs rehabilitation centers. This last week I felt compelled to speak on the question and the importance of surrender in the process of recovery from the prisons and addiction.

"We're on Spaceship Surrender, just leaving earth and headed out of our solar system. Look out your window. You'll see Mars and Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, too. As we pass Pluto and exit the solar system, we accelerate to near light speed. The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second. At that speed we could go all the way around the earth in less than two tenths of a second. Now, you'll have to admit that that's awfully fast.

"We've set our course for the nearest cluster of stars. But sit back and take it easy, 'cause it's going to be a while before we get there.

"Alpha Centauri is more than four light years from our solar system. What's a light year? It's the space that a particle of light travels during one year. That's many trillions of miles. Our sun is 93 million miles away from earth. It takes light about eight minutes to travel from the sun to the earth. When you feel the sun's warmth on your body, the light touching you is eight minutes old. When you look up at the cluster of three stars called Alpha Centauri, the light entering your eyes is over four years old.

"OK. So let's move on past Alpha Centauri and head out across the huge spiral of stars astronomers call the Milky Way Galaxy. Are you ready for this? Most of you in this room are around 30 years old. If you reach the age of 80 and you've been traveling at the speed of light for 50 years, how far do you think you will have gone across the Milky Way Galaxy? I'll give you the time it takes to go around the earth at light speed to figure it out. Well?

"Here's the answer. You will have scarcely started to travel across the galaxy. The Milky Way Galaxy has 200 billion stars in it, and it would take 100,000 years to cross it from one side to the other, moving at the speed of light.

"Some people believe the universe is 10,000 years old. Others assert that it's more than 10 billion years old. The Hubble Telescope has taken pictures of galaxies that are five billion light years from us.

"Anyway, our spaceship is approaching the center of the Milky Way. But wait. Maybe that's not a good idea. Maybe it's better to avoid the center of the galaxy. There could be one or more of those black holes there with the gravitational pull of a million suns. Yep, black holes are places for spaceships to steer clear of. Black holes won't even let light escape. If you get too close, you'll get sucked in by the enormous gravity and won't be able to put on the brakes. No phone calls from there.

"Let's assume we've lived long enough to cross the Milky Way Galaxy. I imagine it's because of the good food prepared by the cooks at our centers who have joined us for the journey. What do you think?

"We're out of the galaxy, in open, dark space with a course set for the nearest galaxy to us -- the Andromeda Galaxy. We'll get there in a couple of million light years. On the way, perhaps we'll be able to see a supernova. That's a star that blows itself out of existence. The light goes out in one gigantic, massive explosion. Great fireworks on a Fourth of July! Look, did you see Santa Claus?

"And what's after Andromeda? How about 100 billion more galaxies? Yes, one hundred billion galaxies with two hundred billion stars in each one of them. Yes, at least one hundred billion galaxies, billions of light years apart, expanding from the center of the universe at enormous speeds across an infinity of space where earth-time makes no sense, and where we are by comparison really not much at all, not even a particle of sand. Let's get back to earth.

"Somehow, it is easier to surrender to your powerlessness over your addiction and the troubles in your life when you face the awesome size of the universe. Somehow, it's OK for me to accept being nobody today and to feel very good about my own insignificance.

"Our egos would have us believe that we are the most important things in the universe. How many of you think at this moment that you are the center of the universe? How many? That's right, no one.

"I'm just dust in the wind. I don't have to be somebody someone else wants me to be. I can go to places where the phone doesn't ring and be perfectly happy being nobody, nobody at all.

"Now, I'm in the process of recovery. I'm learning to surrender. Thank you."

Oops. The phone just rang. It was Santa Claus. He will be bringing your children a picture book on astronomy on Christmas Eve.

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Dr. Richard Rioux is a resident of Stevenson Ranch. His commentary appears on Sundays.

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