Search This Blog

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Tale of a "Double-Minded Man"

I've always been a reader. I got the habit hard when I was a kid, and its stayed with me. I pretty much always read for a little while, or a long while before going to sleep, even in the years I was drinking and drugging - at least on those nights when (a) I didn't pass out, or (b) I actually went to sleep that night.

I just reviewed Dr. Bob's last major talk from the pamphlet, "The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous", and was pleasantly surprised that he said he had decided to "cultivate the habit of reading", as he puts it, when he sobered up - usually for about an hour or so a day, which included what he called "the Good Book", but also "a good deal of standard literature, possibly of a scientific nature." Not that he pushed that on anyone. Quite the opposite. He said, quite specifically, "I'm not trying to sell you on the idea that you've got to read an hour a day. There are plenty of people, fine A.A.s. who don't read much." . . . I wouldn't try to sell anybody on the idea of it either, but I'll tell you - those minutes or hours are sometimes the very best part of my day, and spiritually liberating.

What I looked through the Co-Founders pamphlet for was a mention that Dr. Bob made in his last major talk about what it was like starting out, and what Bill, Bob and the other "early-timers" had read and studied in the very earliest days of the 12 Step Recovery movement, before there was the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous - or even a written-down formulation of the 12 Steps, for that matter.

I had in my mind's eye the picture of Bill, Bob and Bob's wife, Anne (who was really probably better read, and
perhaps more spiritually advanced, than either of those two newly-sober drunks), sitting at Bob and Anne's kitchen table, with only what they referred to as the "Good Book" to go on as a guide. I know I've read that description - probably in one of the two ' official' A.A. histories: "Pass It On" or "Dr. Bob and the Good Old-Timers." While the description, as I remembered it, wasn't there, the information I was looking for about the passages from the Bible that they had found "absolutely essential" was.

Speaking of the very earliest members of A.A. - Bill. Bob, Bill D. and the mere handful of (then) men who were the precursors to the millions of men and women who have been transformed by taking the 12 Steps today, Dr. Bob said:

". . . (W)e were convinced that the answer to our problems was in the Good Book. To some of us older ones, the parts that we found absolutely essential were the Sermon on the Mount, the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, and the Book of James." (Emphasis added.)
I had read the Book of James several times in the early years of my sobriety, before I became surrendered to life itself and not merely to 'the bottle and the bag'. And, frankly . . . it hadn't meant much to me because of my prejudice and contempt prior to investigating the spiritual basis and nature of the 12 Steps. When I picked it up again, four or so years ago, however, the following passage hit me like a ton of bricks:
"A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways." (James 1:8)
That's me! I'm that guy! If you run into me when I'm spiritually centered and fit, you will probably get the same kind of experience when dealing with me. . . .I'm pretty predictable that way. Get me on a day when all that is 'inside' of me is "right with the world" - so to speak - and I'm pretty much "happy, joyous and free", as the Big Book says.

But watch out if I'm 'off-kilter' . . . if I'm having a "spiritually-bad hair day", as one speaker so aptly put it. Then, all bets are off, folks. . . . When I've got a really bad case of the "monkey-mind" - with my thoughts just a-racing, taking me from here to there, to there, to back here again . . . and all in my mind . . . like a monkey jumping from branch to branch in a tree - with the full 'committee in the head" all present and cacaphonously accounted for - I am prone to saying or doing almost anything! That's why, I believe, the Good Book describes a man so bedevilled as "legion" (Mark 5:9).

In those moments, I - or the guy in the 'gorilla suit' who is temporarily suited up as me - am unstable - in all of my ways. I've heard my sponsor say many times, that the only difference between him and some dude doing a life sentence in Attica State Prison, is that when he was in that state of mind, he didn't have a gun. . . . Now, that I get!

There's my problem - my whole problem! On those days, there is no G_d and I'm running the whole show, trying vainly to manage life itself. I'm bombarding all my "problems" with a futile, infuriating attempt at exercising my self-will by acting out on whatever solution comes to the monkey-mind of that full committee of idiots I've got running the show at full quorum inside of me. . . . How pathetic . . . How sickening . . . and . . . Oh!, how I suffer inside when that's me in the gorilla-suit. Stay clear of me on those days folks, if you can. No wonder I'd drink, drop or drug just about anything in days past to shut down the "monkey-mind".

I've read and re-read the Book of James, many times since the full import of James 1:8 hit me. Then on one of my last go-throughs, the solution to all that double-mindedness popped out at me. Its just like reading the Big Book or listening to my sponsor. The same thing is repeated again and again, and I can't absorb the truth when I hear it because who I am is obscured by the clamour of the calamity, pomp and worship of other things that can run unchecked and roughshod through my mind - even when I'm looking for the solution. Never underestimate the power of the human Ego to blind someone like me to reality! Worse yet, as Chuck C. put it, "It's Divinely impossible to satisfy the human Ego."

In, at least to me, very Biblical language, James at Chapter 4:8 writes:
"Draw nigh to God, and God will draw nigh to you. Wash clean your hands ye sinners! Purify your hearts ye double-minded."
I am sure it was my reaction to the very Biblical sounding words and imagery in James 4:8 - "Wash clean your hands", "sinners", "purify". . . even that word, "God" - which kept me skimming right past the solution without its having a chance to register in my consciousness. To me, this brief passage sums up what the 12 Step process is all about. It is just about as beautiful and as succinct a diagnosis and prescription for what ails me as I've seen anywhere outside the "three pertinent ideas" that pertain to a wreck like me: That (A) I am alcoholic and could not (cannot, nor should presume to) manage my own life; (B) that probably no human power could (can, or will) relieve my alcoholism and restore me to sanity; but, (C) that God could (can and will) if I seek him out and try to do as he would have me do, not what I might prefer to do. (Please excuse my paraphrase of these three beautiful, pertinent ideas from page 60 of the Alcoholics Anonymous basic text.)

What James 4:8 suggests that I do, is what A.A., N.A., E.A or even ?.A. suggests I do in adopting the 12 Steps as a way of life. That is, (a) to draw near or "nigh to God" by 'uncovering, discovering and discarding' the calamitous thinking, pomp and worship of other things that obscures the "Great Reality" within my being from 'me' and 'my' consciousness - Steps 1, 2, 3; (b) to "wash clean" my hands, by getting rid of "the wreckage of my past" - Steps 4, 5, and 8 through 10; and (c) to "purify my heart" by ridding my being of the false-self's - or Ego's - petty, selfish, self-centered desires and fears by instead focusing my will on the desire to obtain that, and only that, which God would and will provide to me, particularly by his allowing me to attempt to help 'others' - Steps 6,7,11 and 12.

A modern teacher from another of the world's beautiful and ancient wisdom traditions put it this way:
". . . (I)f we want to transform our life and be free of problems we must learn to transform our mind. Sufferings, problems, worries, unhappiness, and pain all exist within our mind; they are all unpleasant feelings, which are part of the mind. Through controlling and purifying our mind we can stop them once and for all. . . . This is not easy to understand at first, but we can gain some understanding by thinking about the following. When we are awake many different things exist, but when we fall asleep they cease. This is because the mind to which they appear ceases. When we dream, the only things that appear are dream objects. Later, when we wake up, these dream objects cease. This is because the dreaming mind to which they appear ceases. If we think deeply about this we shall understand how we can cause all the unpleasant things that we dislike to cease simply by abandoning impure, deluded states of mind; and that we can cause all the pleasant things that we desire to arise simply by developing a pure mind. Purifying our mind of delusions through spiritual practice fulfils our deepest longing for true happiness."
Geshe Kelsan Gyatso,"Transform Your Life: A Blissful Journey", pp. 8-9.
Paul advises, as my greatest spiritual friend in A.A. often did: "Don't be conformed to the world; rather, be transformed by the renewal of your mind." (Romans 12:2) Interestingly, one of the definitions of "renewal" in The Shorter Oxford Dictionary is "recovery".

Enough, already . . . Time to quit writing and do a little more reading, with Dr.Bob's blessing, I assume . . . and with G_d's, I trust. . . .

God Bless . . .

No comments:

Post a Comment