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Monday, December 27, 2010

A "Self" Imposed Crisis - Part One: What is 'Self'?

An alcoholic addict is eventually "crushed by a self-imposed crisis" he or she can "no longer postpone or evade." (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 53.) But what is meant by "self," and how do we begin to overcome this "self-imposed crisis?"

What is "self" is the most important question that I never asked my first sponsor. And, in my recovery (as in my life), coming to an understanding of, and a reliance upon, a "power greater than myself" - the solution to this "self-imposed crisis" - was the longest-running, most perplexing and most difficult task I have faced. In retrospect, the biggest impediment in coming to such an understanding and reliance was that I had no conception of what "self" is. I assumed it simply meant "me" - my body, my mind, my person . . . everything within my skin, so to speak.

Thus, I was stuck trying to come to an understanding of "a power greater than myself" that was "out there" somewhere. Small wonder, then, that I could not effect a "conscious contact" with such an ethereal thing or being. In childhood, I'd given up all fantasies about a supra-human "God" out there in some celestial Heaven.

Initially, I tried to return to some belief in such an entity, with very poor and dangerous results - a madness brought about by mere sobriety with neither sanity serenity. For that "power" I needed to "restore me" to sanity, the "Great Reality" specifically identified on Page 55 of the Big Book, can only be discovered/uncovered "deep down within us;" as in "the last analysis" (i.e., once we have looked everywhere else for this mysterious "power") "it is only there [i.e., "deep down within us"] it may be found."

I did not know that, nor could my initial prejudices about the word "God" be overcome without further suffering. Yet, after that further suffering, I finally became willing to listen to others who had discovered or been shown this great truth.

"What?," I finally asked. "I need to find and learn to rely on "a power greater than myself," yet I have to find this power "deep down within" me?" This seemed totally nonsensical until the true meaning of "self" was explained to me by a true "old-timer," one steeped in years of meditation and contemplation. Thus, began my true recovery from "the self-imposed crisis" I faced (as described on page 53 of the Big Book).

"Self" it was explained to me, in simple terms, is "the voice in the head" which we listen to, reason with, and identify with as "who" we are. This was a strange notion to contemplate. Was this seemingly ever-present "voice in the head" not me? Was it not the essence of who I am? "Not so," I was told. "That," I was told, "is merely the 'egoic self', or ego."

As in the world's great wisdom traditions, in recovery "self," I was shown, does not refer to the entirety of an individual; rather, it refers only to the egoic self (the "voice in the head," or what Bill Wilson calls in Step 7 of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, "that punishing inner dialogue") or, more precisely put, it refers to the ego. (Thus, AA has often been referred to as "ego deflation at depth.")

The pertinent definition of "ego" in the Oxford English Dictionary is, "the part of the mind that reacts to reality and has a sense of individuality." Thus, when on page 22 of the Big Book, Bill writes that "the problem of the alcoholic centers in the mind," he means that the true nature and local of the alcoholic or addictive malady is in the individual 'ego', or the individual's 'self.' (Indeed, at page 64 of the Big Book, in concluding his description of the alcoholic addict as an "actor," he plainly states: "Our actor is self-centered - ego-centric, as people like to call it nowadays.")

And, paradoxically, the ultimate solution to this "self-imposed crisis" is effecting a "conscious contact" with a power greater than one's "self." But, I was shown, to effect such "conscious contact, it is necessary to go beyond the confines of the "ego" and to effect a "conscious contact" with a deeper, greater part of "consciousness" itself - that which Bill called "the Great Reality."

The Spiritual Experience appendix (Appendix II of the Big Book) explicitly describes the "spiritual awakening" (Step 11) or "essential psychic change" (Big Book, page xvii) that occurred amongst the vast majority of early AA members who had effected such a conscious contact with this hidden power of consciousness:
With few exceptions our members find that they have tapped into an unsuspected inner resource which they presently identify with their own conception of a Power greater than than (them-selves). Most of us think this awareness of a Power greater than (our-selves) is the essence of spiritual experience. Our more religious members call it "God-consciousness."[Emphasis added.]
The "self " is not, as it turns out, who and what I thought I was, nor was this "power greater than my-self" what or where I had assumed. Thus, began my true recovery and the most important lesson of life and reality I could ever learn.

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