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Friday, August 6, 2010

Spiritual Experience: Living the Spiritual Life

There are two small sentences - one a proposition, the other an assertion - that, I believe, lie at the heart of the AA program.  Both are keys to a new 'attitude': i.e., new thoughts and a new way of thinking about the world,  and who and what we are. It is this new attitude that allows the recovering alcoholic addict to live at peace in a world that is inherently unmanageable, without compulsively seeking to either manage his or her experience, or seek the comfort and ease that might elusively be found in a continuing addiction.

The first proposition is found at page 53 of Alcoholics Anonymous, AA's basic text. "When we become alcoholics," it reads, "crushed by a self-imposed crises we could not postpone or evade, we had to face the proposition that either God is everything or else He is nothing, God either is, or He isn't." [Emphasis added.] It then asks us, "What is our choice to be?".

Now, I don't believe that God is some superhuman and separate entity; rather, I believe that God is the Ground of Being, forming the substratum of the Universe and every particle of inanimate matter and animate being within it.  Such an understanding lies at the heart of pantheistic religions and wisdom traditions that have been a part of mankind's heritage from the earliest aeons of unrecorded early history.

One of my favourite sources of spiritual wisdom is from Chassidic Judaism.  One of the most revered teachers in the Chassidic tradition, the Seventh Lubavitch Rebbe, reportedly observed that if you traveled to the remotest galaxy in the universe, and went to the remotest moon of the remotest planet in that galaxy and picked up the tiniest pebble, that pebble would be all God.

I had always struggled with the concept of a God of my understanding in early sobriety; understandably, as I came to AA from a decidedly scientific background.  Early on, I latched onto the concept of "Good Orderly Direction" as a higher power that I could accept.  Unfortunately, and with predictably disastrous results, I then tried to impose or discover some good orderly direction in my self-consciousness.  Only later did I come to discover that self-consciousness itself is at the root of addiction.  (Remember, we are "faced with a self-imposed consciousness.)  Fortunately, when I dug deeper into both metaphysics, psychology and physics (in this instance, quantum theory), I found that consciousness is interrelated through the entire universe, and arguably forms the entire substrate of what the universe is.  From there I came to a working knowledge of the deeper levels of consciousness - higher than mere self-consciousness - that exist within us all.  It is there that I found the capacity for manifesting the "unsuspected inner resource" that more religious members of AA call "God-consciousness." (See Appendix II of the Big Book, on "Spiritual Experience".)

Facing the proposition that God either is, or God is not, I could then say with full honesty that God is. I had come to experience higher levels of consciousness beyond self-consciousness through the practice of meditation and contemplation. I had thus come a long way to living an actively spiritual life free, to a greater or lesser extent, of the root affliction of my addiction: the unbounded desires that manifests as fears from which I need ease and comfort.

Another key component in my recovery came from a short truism on page 84 of the Big Book, which asserts that, "The spiritual life is not a theory, we have to live it."  In itself, and in context, this seems to be an admonishment to exert us to live an actively and consciously "spiritual" life.  However, I have come to realize that the essence of this admonishment is a deeper truth.

There is a unitive consciousness that forms the substrate and essence of what the universe, and every pebble or person within it, is.  Thus, whether we recognize it or not, we are living a spiritual life.  The question is, do we want to live this spiritual life consciously, seeking the will and power afforded us through higher consciousness? Or, do we wish to blithely ignore this reality, or give it mere lip service, and continue to be strong along to the end by the voice of self - by the mere self-consciousness that Bill W. describes as a "punishing inner dialogue". In essence, AA teaches us to go beyond the dualities of so-called "normal" self-consciousness, to the non-duality of higher consciousness.

There is an old adage in recovery that says "we are not human beings having a spiritual experience but, rather, spiritual beings having a human experience."  How true!

One of my favourite spiritual teachers bases his teachings on "evolutionary enlightenment".  He posits that we are each responsible for evolving the consciousness in our own beings and, thus, throughout the world and universe.  He teaches the possibility of evolution from the ordinary self-consciousness of the ego, to the unitive soul consciousness at the heart of our "authentic selves" and the universe. He, rather aptly, differentiates the ego as an "insanity" different from the "sanity" of our "authentic selves" - or, the "sanity" of a higher, God-consciousness, in AA terms.

It is by facing the limits of narrow self-consciousness, and consciously working to evolve within ourselves and the world a higher, God-consciousness - through the logical interrelation of self-examination, meditation and prayer - that we take up the real task of recovery. Acknowledging the inherent unmanageability of life, we former atheists or agnostics may then truly become what Bill describes as "intelligent agents, spearheads of God's ever advancing creation" (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 49).

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