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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Evolving Consciousness

Perhaps the most frequently referenced quote from the stories section in the back of the Big Book is that dealing with 'acceptance' from the chapter "Acceptance Was The Answer" (formerly, "Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict"). It is found at page 417 in the fourth edition of Alcoholics Anonymous and reads:

"And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. Whenever I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, thing or situation - some fact of my life - unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God's world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and my attitudes."

Acceptance is at the heart not only of the Serenity Prayer, but at the heart of most of our slogans. To "Live and Let Live" is acceptance. Acceptance is the 'grace' in "But for the Grace of God," the 'first thing' in "First Things First," the level of thought to aspire to in "Think, Think, Think," and the means of 'letting go' of old ideas in "Let Go and Let God".

A.A. is often referred to as an 'attitude adjustment.' My dictionary defines 'attitude' as "a settled opinion or way of thinking." It is, therefore, our challenge to utilize the 12 Steps to change or adjust our habitual way of thinking. And, if there is one thing an alcoholic addict can latch onto, it is a habit.

From being judgmental of the people, things and situation in our lives, it is crucial that we become 'acceptive' of them - exactly as they are at this moment in time. It is to enable this, that we seek to experience a spiritual awakening as the result of working the A.A. program.

In "Cosmic Consciousness" - a book undoubtedly read by Bill, as it is cited in the "Varieties of Religious Experience" by William James in reference to individuals afflicted with alcohol addiction - its author, Richard M. Bucke, distinguishes between three ordinary levels of consciousness: perception, reception and conception. Bucke's thesis is that there is also a fourth level of consciousness which exists in rare cases. He calls this higher consciousness"Cosmic Consciousness". In generic terms this state may be called enlightenment; or, in AA terms a "vital spiritual experience".

Bucke's book was one of the first Western scientific examinations of higher states of consciousness across time and cultures. It examines what the common elements and similarities of spiritual experience have been where there have been reported awakenings of a higher, cosmic consciousness. Now, however, when Western culture has been exposed to and familiarized with Eastern wisdom traditions which emphasize spiritual enlightenment as the goal of religious practice - and, indeed of life - there are any number of books that describe such enlightened states along with various methodologies by which the reader and practitioner may him or herself attain enlightenment.

In Cosmic Consciousness, Bucke distinguishes between three ordinary levels of consciousness in a hierarchy depicting an organism's ability to respond to the stimuli in its environment. At the level of "reception", the lowest state of consciousness, an organism reacts only to a direct stimulus. Poke an amphibian or reptile with a needle and it will slither, leap or scurry away in response to the stimulus of the needle.

At the next higher level of consciousness - "perception" - an organism will react to the mere presence of a stimulus. For example, once a dog has had it's 'shots' with a needle, the next time it goes to the veteranarian's office and the vet produces a needle, it will react even before the needle is applied. (Indeed, many dog owners will observe that their dog are skittish just in going to the vet's office.)
The third higher level of consciousness, according to Bucke, is "conception". It is at this level that just the ideas or thoughts (i.e., conceptions) of the stimuli will produce a reaction. Thus, if one explains to a child what an inoculation is, it is very likely that the child will react with fear and aversion just to the idea of having to get a needle.

Bucke states that this 'conceptual' or 'conceptive' level of consciousness is exclusive to the human species; although, I note, there may or may not be more modern studies showing that other primates or higher species may have evolved the ability to respond to stimuli at this 'conceptive' level.
All three ordinary levels of consciousness (reception, perception and conception) are, Bucke notes, a product of evolution. Over time, various species have evolved - and continue to evolve - towards states of greater consciousness and finer responsiveness to stimuli. The evolution of mankind to such greater and finer awareness leading finally (and hopefully) to a state of spiritual awakening and transcendence, is discussed in great detail in Pain, Sex and Time by Gerald Heard, who was a spiritual pioneer and non-alcoholic intimate of Bill W.
These three orders of normal consciousness are, of course, all present and remain liable to be activated at anytime in our ordinary human consciousness. That is, as homo sapiens we have evolved through the eons to our present ordinary state of consciousness and being; yet, at the same time, we have retained our capacity - for both good and ill - to react and respond to stimuli at any of these three levels of consciousness. (We modern hominids retain the basic reptilian "fight or flight response" and yet have the conceptual abilities to devise space craft to probe the universe.)

The three stages of this evolutionary process - from the receptive capacity of reptile and amphibian, to the conceptive capacity of humans - are well depicted in Neal Donald Walsh's "What God Wants."
Get too close to a cobra, Walsh writes, and the cobra will strike out, as the snake's sense of territoriality, or it's 'comfort zone,' has been violated. A lion, however, will react merely to the scent (i.e., the perception) of another competing lion that has impinged on its territory. A man or woman, meanwhile, may react merely to the thought of competition or territorial infringement; as, for example, when a person's jealous ideas (i.e., their thoughts and conceptions) are aroused by the thoughts of their spouse talking to a potential competitor across a crowded room at a social gathering.
Importantly, all three authors (Bucke, Heard and Walsh) point to a yet higher state of consciousness - a state of consciousness that is now emerging in humanity - that transcends and is beyond ordinary conceptions and the stimuli of the outer world.

That is, each author points to a consciousness that is 'acceptive' of the people, places, things and ideas of the outer world, and is not involuntarily involved with or attached to them. This is the state of consciousness that allows the spiritual seeker to "accept that person, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment."
Acceptance - or, perhaps, 'acception' as such - is the hallmark of the spiritual practitioner who is awakened. It is, I put out there, the higher state of consciousness and being - i.e., the "inner resource" - that was sought and found by the earliest members of Alcoholics Anonymous. The Second Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous - written when there were then150,000 A.A. members according to the Second Edition Foreword - included Appendix II on Spiritual Experience, which speaks directly of this new and higher state of consciousness. It states, that:
"With few exceptions [amongst the then 150,000 members of A.A.] our members find that they have tapped an unsuspected inner resource which they presently identify with their own conception of a Power greater than themselves.
Most of us think this awareness of a Power greater than ourselves is the essence of spiritual experience. Our more religious members call it 'God-consciousness'."
It is this change in attitude - from a mental position of judgement and resistance to one of acceptance - which gives the alcoholic addict the ease and comfort necessary so that he or she may stay away from the high and release of the first drink (or drug). It is the "serenity" or conscious contact with a Power greater than ourselves (i.e., the God of our own understanding) we invoke in the Serenity Prayer. It is "the solution" not only to our addiction, but also to how we need to live our life in recovery.

We seek through the 12 Steps to become spiritually awake, to be able to gain through experience the knowledge that God is everything rather than nothing. We seek through self-examination, meditation and prayer the "new state of consciousness and being" Bill describes in Step 11 of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.

That is, we seek to live our lives on the highest plane of evolving consciousness available to us, the plane of acceptance where the "ideas, emotions and attitudes" we have lived our entire lives by "are cast to one side, and new conceptions and motivations arise to take their place" ("Alcoholics Anonymous," p. 27).

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