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Sunday, February 27, 2011

A "Self-Imposed Crisis" Part 2: Overcoming Self

In a previous post, we have set out just exactly what the "self" or "ego" is.

When we come to realize that the "self" of the "self-imposed crisis" of  addiction we "are faced with" is none other than the human ego - not "ego" as in pride (which is one of the character defects we seek to overcome) but "ego" in its psychological sense," in the sense of what William James dubbed the "stream of consciousness"  - we become ready to "go to any lengths" to reduce or "deflate at depth" that sense of separated "self" and blunt its impact on us, on others and on the Whole.

Ego-consciousness vs. God-Consciousness
To do so, it is first necessary to admit to our own "innermost self" - that greater part of our consciousness beneath, yet higher than, our "self-conscious" stream of thought - that life is, in fact, unmanageable through the thought processes of our "normal" egoic self consciousness. Doing so - at least on a trial basis - we come to believe (or "become willing to believe") that there is within our consciousness a Power greater than the stream of thought - greater than the ego - that can and will restore us to its sanity. (Of course, that requires an admission that our "ego" - that "the human ego" - is in fact insane.) Admitting, again to our "innermost self" that the twisted thoughts of anger, depression hopelessness, fear, plots of revenge etc. that can course through our egoic minds are crazy should not, however, be much of a stretch."

Having passed these initial hurdles to overcoming our "self-imposed crisis" we need to come to a decision: are we willing to turn our will and our lives over to the care of the God of our understanding? That is a difficult decision, mostly because all of us come to the Third Step freighted with ideas, prejudices and more or less vague conceptions of what "God" is or may be. Like many, we may be dyed-in-the-wool atheists. This need not be such a psychological burden if we face the proposition that "God is either everything or nothing," that God either ""is or "isn't." (Some may call that "pantheism' but for others it may just be the universe at large.)

If God is indeed everything rather than nothing, than we too are included within this Universal Being; and, if we work diligently at it, we too can find within us what the Spiritual Experience Appendix says "our more religious members called God-consciousness."

The Big Book is intended, we are told (at p. 45), to show us how and where to find a Higher Power that is greater than our self-centered, ever self-conscious and judgmental "ego" or "self". And, we read in the all-important middle paragraphs of page 55, that we find that "Great Reality" not 'out there' somewhere, but "deep down within us." Once we have looked everywhere else - including to the booze, drugs, money, sex and everything else that once made us feel so good - we find that "in the last analysis" it is within our own Being, beneath our ego/self consciousness, and that an understandable God "may be found."

Of course, even when we find this Power greater than ourselves, this God that we can "understand" or stand under, it is enormously difficult to turn our will and our lives over to its care. We are used to making all our decisions about what we should say or do (or not say and not do) all by "ourselves." In this respect we have relied, in nearly every instance, solely on that stream of consciousness which is the "ego" - for deciding what to do, how to act, and what to say or not say. To decide is the exercise of one's "will," and it turns out (like virtually everyone else in this world) that we have been making all too many of these decisions based on whatever pops into our head and the situation seems to call for at the time. But now, it is necessary for us to develop an ability to make such decisions on a deeper, saner level. It becomes necessary for us to take the pressure of our egoic thinking off of us, so that we can make these decisions at a far deeper and sane level of consciousness. And that is precisely what Step 4 to Step 9 allow us to do.

"Many of us tried to hold on to our old ideas" with the result that nothing changes in our ideas and patterns of thought, within our attitudes. The result? Nothing . . . nada . . . "nil."  Nothing changes until we let go (or work to let go) of those old ideas and thought patterns "absolutely." This is the only "absolute" discussed in the first part of the Big Book.

We need to let go of the the thoughts that have haunted us for years and, eventually, the relatively new ideas that come to disturb us, in order to find and utilize "a Power greater than ourselves." Like a stick of gum, once we have chewed on a thought for a while - a short while, at that - it loses its flavor,  becomes stale and should be discarded. Step 4 to Step 9 is how we discard our old thoughts and way of thinking.

"In dealing with resentments we set them down on paper."
Just as its laid out in the Big Book, we write down and examine our resentments (the "re-sentiments" or feelings we re-experience whenever our egoic thinking drudges up and dwells on our old thoughts about people, situations and institutions). We write down the fears and sexual improprieties that ensnare us and cause us shame. We stop living alone and trying to deal with these ideas and the roller-coasters of emotions they generate by admitting to our innermost selves, to God as we understand God and, most importantly, to another human being, the thoughts which have haunted us in secret for years upon years. (To find relief from the pressures and sense of "anxious apartness" these thoughts generated was, in most instances, why we sought relief through booze and/ or drugs. Such "anxious apartness" is the signature of the "self" in our "self-imposed crisis.") Having obtained some sense of relief from our internal persecutors through sharing what has been bottled up inside us, we seek to obtain an evermore perfect release from all these tortuous thoughts  and the behaviors they generated through Step Six and Seven.

If the "ego" - our internal sense of "self" - were a raging bonfire, Step Eight and Step Nine are like kicking the logs off the fire and smothering them in sand so that the fire is contained and diminished no longer poses further risks ands imperil us or others. Step 10 is assuring that we do not deliberately or inadvertantly throw more fuel on the fire. When we do, we recollect the dangers that an out of control fire poses, and knock the fuel out of the fire and smother it as quickly as we can.

Continuing to take - and, to the best of our ability, continuously taking - an inventory of just what's going on in our egoic self and what we do as a result - we confront our "selves" whenever we slip back into self-centeredness and act in accordance with the whims of our shallow "self" consciousness instead of basing our actions onour deeper consciousness. This process of "self-examination" is perhaps the most arduous task we have ever been confronted with. It requires great discipline of awareness and practice.

Continuous awareness of how, when and where the stream of self-consciousness guides us goes against the way we have learned to think and "reason." Forunately, our emotions - our visceral "feelings" - can act as a sort of internal "early warning system." It is far easier to remain aware of, and attuned to, how we are feeling - anger, jealousy, greed, a wounded sense of pride etc. are, very powerful emotional states - rather than focusing solely on the more subtle processes of just what we are thinking. Because of this subtlety, Step Ten is really a follow-up in the course of daily life to Step Three.
Reinhold Niebuhr, author of "The Serenity Prayer"

In concluding his essay of Step Three in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Bill writes that beginning to practice Step Three is relatively easy. "In all times of emotional disturbance or indecision," he writes, "we can pause, ask for quiet, and in the stillness say: 'God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.'" (Emphasis added.)

There is, of course, only one thing that we can do in a single moment and that is to affect a change in the level of our consciousness, to move from the state of self-consciousness to the quiet and stillness of our greater higher consciousness (or, if we prefer, God-consciousness). To do so, however, we need to have both the "wisdom" that there exists within us both the egoic "self" of self-consciousness and the greater "Self" of higher consciousness or the soul. It also requires the "courage" (from the French, cour, meaning heart) to move from a reliance on self-consciousness to a reliance, in that very instance, on higher, God-consciousness.

Figuratively, this change in reliance is a move from the head (ego/self) to the heart (soul/Self/God). To find such wisdom and courage, we need to practice Step 11 on a daily basis, for it is only through prayer and, most especially, through meditation that we find and open up the space within our being that is the place of quiet and stillness our Serenity Prayer refers to. The discovery of this place - really the experiential acquisition of the knowledge that we are much greater than our ordinary ego consciousness - is the essence of a spiritual awakening.

It is useful to keep in mind the central message of the Spiritual Experience Appendix, an addendum  that was only added to the 2nd edition of the Big Book, at a time when there were roughly 150,000 A.A. members:
"With few exceptions 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 our,selves is the essence of spiritual experience. Our more religious members call it "God-consciousness." (Emphasis added.)
" . . . sought through prayer and meditation . . ."
It is through practicing this process of interwoven "self examination, meditation, and prayer" in our day-to-day life that we become able to deflate the ego "at depth," to keep in check the "self" of our self-imposed crisis. Doing so reins in the obsessive nature of our minds, most particularly the obsession that only booze and/or drugs will relieve our internal pressures or solve our life crises. It is this process that provides us a solution to the existential problems that the ego creates, and it truly provides us with a Road of Happy Destiny that we can walk upon for the duration of our time here, ever perfecting our relationship with God and our fellows. It provides us with an inner Grace which we can share with the alcoholic addict who still suffers, and which we can apply in all of life's affairs.

Friday, February 25, 2011

About Recollection and the Obsession of the Mind

"The problem of the alcoholic centers in the mind."
At my home group, we have a "Solution" table that goes through the "There Is a Solution" chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous' Big Book. Last night we went through what may be perhaps the most important pages in the chapter: from the middle paragraph on page 22 pages to the end of the italicized paragraph on page 24. These pages deal with the mental aspect of this two-fold disease. they deal with the obsessive nature of the alcoholic/addict's mind.

While the physical suffering of the alcoholic addict, as manifested in a "craving" for "more" while he or she is under the influence (and even while detoxing), is tragic, progressively more powerful,  potentially fatal, the craving stops in short order. What drives a sober alcoholic to start up again is the "obsession of the mind." This "obsession" is a mental preoccupation with the relief which the booze and or drugs used to provide, but which can no longer be found. Booze or drugs are solutions that no longer work.

(Let's face it: If booze or drugs still worked for us by doing what they once did, we wouldn't need "a solution," we'd just continue to drink and drug. As is stated on page 30 in the "More About Alcoholism" chapter: "The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.")

Page 23 plainly states that, "The problem of the alcoholic centers in the mind." This statement is one of the most important passages in the Big Book, and it needs to be understood. The Steps can only be effectively taken if this is understood. We will only rely on a Power greater than our "selves' to the extent that we realize our alcoholic/addictive self-consciousness (or, "ego") is the problem, that the "problem" - i.e., that the illusory "obsession" that booze and drugs might once again provide relief - "centers in the mind."

As we shared, person after person with little or no sobriety - indeed, some who had not even worked the Steps - said that they wouldn't be or weren't able to "remember" the problems alcohol or drugs caused before they started using again. That, of course, is what we hear in too many meetings. But, at least for me, that was not the problem. If I wasn't able to remember what I'd done, I wouldn't have suffered enough to stop, I believe. Certainly, it would have prevented me writing out that first Fourth Step. But more importantly our ability to remember  is not what these passages are talking about.

The italicized passage on page 24 (italicized meaning "this is important") doesn't say we can't remember. We remember all right. It says we cannot "bring into our consciousness with sufficient force" those self-same memories of what we'd done in the past. The memories are there, but what prevents our being able to bring these memories "into our conscience" with enough clout to stop us from drinking and/or using again? Once more, it is the obsessions and obsessive nature of the mind.

The word "obsesssion" comes from the Latin sessare, which means to sit, and the Latin prefix ob, which in this instance means to block (as in obstruct). The example given in the Oxford Etymological Dictionary (which tells us where our words come from) is that of an army - or, I assume a Roman Legion - that sits outside of a walled city or fortress besieging it by allowing nothing to come in, and nothing to come out. (Doesn't this sound familiar?)

The reason why we cannot bring our memories of what happens "into our consciousness" with "sufficient force" to start the whole cycle of using and drinking again is that "our consciousness" is already full. Our minds are besieged by the seeming or imagined calamities with which our our ordinary "self-consciousness" ( or, our "ego" in the sense it is discussed in A.A. literature) continually  bombard us, destroying any peace of mind we might have and forcing us to find whatever form of relief we can. All too often, however, that relief comes in the form of drugs and/or booze.

It is because of the mind's preoccupation with all these calamitous disasters (and seeming or imagined disasters) that we will drink or drug again to find relief if we do not do something about the attachment of our mind to, and its identification with, the ever suffering self-consciousness of the human ego.

To stop the obsessive nature of the human ego - what Bill variously describes in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions as that "painful inner dialogue" or the "terrifying ghosts" that produce an overwhelming sense of "anxious apartness" - and to overcome the ego through reliance upon a higher and deeper consciousness that exists within each of us ("Our more religious members call it God Consciousness.") is what the 12 Steps are intended to do. In the words of the late but inimitable Chuck C: We "uncover, discover and discard" those old thoughts (ideas) and thought patterns (attitudes) that separate us from, and prevent our accessing, this deeper higher, consciousness.

Remember this: "Many of us tried to hold onto our old ideas, but the result was nil until we let go absolutely." Nothing changes if we do not let go our old ideas and ways of thinking. This is the only "absolute" found in the first 164 pages of the Big Book. Through the persistent and logically interrelated application of "self-examination, meditation and prayer" we are enabled to deflate the obsessive "human ego" (not pride, but "self" consciousness) and the suffering and separation from our fellows and G-d that the ego causes.

But, "nothing changes, if nothing changes.> We must let go of our old "ideas, emotions and attitudes" and allow a Power greater than our "selves," greater to our egoic self-consciousness, to replace them with new "conceptions and motives." (See how Carl Jung describes the "phenomena" of "vital spiritual experiences" on page 27 of the Big Book.)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What Was Bill's Spiritual Experience? Did He Experience Satori?

What was the nature of the sudden spiritual awakening that Bill W. underwent in Towns hospital? What propelled this particular low-bottom alcoholic not only into a lifetime of continuous sobriety but to single-handedly envision a network of recovering alcoholics; and then, after six months futile effort, to build Alcoholics Anonymous into what it is today with the help of Doctor Bob?

In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous Bill describes it as if he were on a mountain and the with the wind seemingly blow through him, he remarked, "So this is the God of my forefathers." In his autobiography, My Name is Bill W. (Hazelden Press) he also describes the presence of an all encompassing lights. All these symptoms fall into what Richard M. Bucke calls "cosmic consciousness." Bucke's book, Cosmic Consciousness, is among the collection of spiritual books in Bills library at Stepping Stones, Bill's residence in his later sobriety. (He undoubtedly referred to Cosmic Consciousness in coming to understand what happened to him, and to write the Big Book, as it is a reference in Wm. James' Varieties of Religious Experience with respect to alcoholism.)

In Pass It On: The story of Bil Wilson and how the A.A. message reached the world (at page 302), one of Bill's close friends, Bill P. discusses what happened to Bill in the moment of his "hot flash" at Townes Hospital. "The thing Bill had was a perfectly clear case of satori or somate," he says. "You know by the fruits. The guy goes out and starts to act like an enlightened man. No one ever went further to prove it than that man did - he led a life of total service."
[Note: "satori" is the term for the moment of achieving enlightenment in Buddhism, particularly Zen Vuddhism, while "somate" - or, more commonly, "samadhi" - is the state of enlightenment on Hinduism, most particularly in the Shankya and Advaita Vedanta schools of Hinduism.]
So what about it? Did Bill Wilson achieve enlightenment, or cosmic consciousness as Bucke termed it,
in that moment at Townes Hospital when Bill first felt the presence of God? Did he experience satori?

Certainly, in Appendix II of the Big Book (the Spiritual Experience Appendix) the point is made that not all of the spiritual awakenings experienced by AA's early members were of the same sudden and momentous type of awakening that Bill experienced, and that many such experiences were of "the educational variety" described in Varieties of Religious Experience; nonetheless, many early AA's, including Bill, did experience an abrupt awakening. Many experienced an abrupt and "entire psychic change" brought about by the sudden deflation of the ego structure - the spontaneous collapse of what James termed the "stream of consciousness, what Bill called the "painful inner dialogue." Such spontaneous collapse and silencing of egoic thinking are the primary hallmark of satori.

D.T. Suzuki, the Japanes Zen Master who was the principle teacher who introduced Zen Buddhism to the United States, had the following to say about the nature and experience of satori:
D.T. Suzuki (1870-1966)
"As for satori itself, it will turn into an act or a form of intuition. Zen does not propose this kind of miracle. In satori the continuum [of consciousness and time] is not subjected to the process of intellection and differentiation; it is not a concept here, though we have to speak of it as if it were. Satori is the continuum [of consciousness and time] becoming aware of itself. When it perceives itself as it is in itself there is a satori. There is in satori no differentiation of subject and object What is perceived is the percipient itself, and percipient is no other body that the perceived; the two are in a perfect state of identification; even to speak of identification is apt to mislead us to the assumption of two objects which are identified by an act of intuition." (Suzuki, Living by Zen, p. 50.)

When Ebby Thatcher visited Bill at Townes Hospital and suggested that he surrender and rely on a 'God of his own conception, Bill describes how this "melted the icy intellectual mountain in whose shadow [he] had lived and shivered many years." [Emphasis added.] It was at this point that he "stood in the sunlight at last."

Bill's satori moment is perfectly congruent with how Carl Jung described such an awakening or "vital spiritual experience" to that "certain American businessman," Roland Hazzard, who relayed that infomation to Ebby, and an thus, to Bill. At page 27 of the Big Book, Bill narrates how Jung described the "huge emotional displacements and rearrangements," or mental "phenomena," that had periodically acted as an antidote to alcoholism, in the following terms:
"Ideas, emotions and attitudes that were once the guiding force of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them."

While, as the Spiritual Experience Appendix notes, the thoughts, feelings and intellectual processes ("ideas, emotions and attitudes") that dominate the alcoholic mind are not always "suddenly cast to one side" or overcome in the spontaneous manner that Bill describes, often they are. This was my experience, as well as the experience of many AAs who have shared their experiences of spiritual awakening with me.

Sometimes such spontaneous awakenings come at the outset of an AA's sobriety, sometimes after years of practicing the Steps, particularly Step 11. Very often there are multiple distinct spiritual awakenings of the satori variety, and almost universally the beneficiary falls back from the spiritual heights of the experience of God-consciousness nd back to the ordinary and widespread ego-consciousness.

Bill, like St. John of the Cross and so many other individuals who have experienced satori and samadhi (what Christians call "mystic union"), suffered after it from "the dark night of the soul." In Bill's instance this period of depression lasted for almost a full decade after he fell from the spiritual heights he had achieved. And, yet, even then his actions, life, purposes and intent remained radically different  from what they were before his last admittance to Townes Hospital. It is because of this radical change in thinking and actions that what is important is the state of consciousness achieved; for it is in that state of "God-consciousness" (as the "more religious members" of A.A. call such a higher state of consciousness) that the alcoholic finds what will restore him or her to sanity, what will restore him or her to life. As D.T. Suzuki expresses it (at page 68 in Living By Zen):
The mind or consciousness, serially divided and developed in time, always escapes our prehension, is never 'attainable' as to its reality. It is only when our unconscious consciousness, or what might to called super-consciousness, comes to itself [and] is awakened to itself, that our eyes open to the timelessness of the present in which and from which divisible time unfolds itself and reveals its true nature. [Emphasis added.]
It is only in this "timelessness" and in reliance upon "intuition" and this "super-consciousness," "cosmic consciousness or "God-consciousness," that we can truly surrender and turn our will and lives over to a Higher Power, in which we can truly "Let Go and Let God," in which we can truly accept life moment-to-moment, and in which we can truly be "restored to sanity."

Monday, February 21, 2011

Alcoholics Anonymous: "We Have No Monopoly"

In Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson wrote that "we have no monopoly" on spiritual awakening, and that we should "be quick to realize where religious people are right." The one thing unique to A.A., he famously said, is the ability of one alcoholic to relate to another alcoholic at "depth."

Inayat Khan (1882-1927)
Reading an online text on basic Sufi teachings (Sufism is purportedly the 'mystical branch of Islam') by Inayat Khan, one of the first modern Sufi teachers to write widely on Sufism for the West, I was impressed (yet unsurprised) by the similarities between this free online text and the chapter "We Agnostics" in the big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. The following is a juxtaposition of basic assertions from Khan's article ("A Sufi Message of Spriritual Liberty") and Chapter 4 ("We Agnostics") of the Big Book.
"If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic. If that be the case, you may be suffering from an illness which only a spiritual experi- ence will conquer." (A.A., p.44)
"We may ask: why we should worship God, and whether the theoretical knowledge of His law in nature is not sufficient For the highest realization. The answer is: no. Theoretical knowledge of a subject can never take the place of experience, which is necessary for realization." (Khan, "Worship")
"We found that as soon as we were able to lay aside prejudice and express even a willingness to believe in a Power greater than ourselves, we commenced to get results, even though it was impossible for any of us to fully define or comprehend that Power, which is God." (A.A., p. 46)

"(N)ature consists of different personalities, and each of them has its peculiar attributes. The sum total of all these personalities is One, the only real personality. In relation to that One all other personalities are merely an illusion. Just as, in a limited form, a nation or a community is the sum of many personalities. Just as nature manifested in numerous names and forms is still called nature, singular not plural, just as the individual combines within himself the different parts of his body, arms, limbs, eyes, ears, and is possessed of different qualities yet is one person, so the sum total of all personalities is called God." (Khan, The Personal Being)

AA Co-Founder, Bill W. (1895-1971)
"We discovered we did not need to consider another’s conception of God. Our own conception, however inadequate, was sufficient to make the approach and to effect a contact with Him. As soon as we admitted the possible existence of a Creative Intelligence, a Spirit of the Universe underlying the totality of things, we began to be possessed of a new sense of power and direction, provided we took other simple steps. We found that God does not make too hard terms with those who seek Him." (A.A., p. 46)

"We may ask: why we should worship God, and whether the theoretical knowledge of His law in nature is not sufficient For the highest realization. The answer is: no. Theoretical knowledge of a subject can never take the place of experience, which is necessary for realization. Written music cannot entertain us unless it is played, nor the description of perfume delight our senses unless we smell it, no recipes of the most delicious dishes satisfy our hunger. Nor can the theory of God give complete joy and peace; we must actually realize God or attain that state of realization which gives eternal happiness through the admiration and worship of nature's beauty and its source." (Khan, Worship)
"When we became alcoholics, crushed by a self- imposed crisis we could not postpone or evade, we had to fearlessly face the proposition that either God is everything or else He is nothing. God either is, or He isn’t. What was our choice to be?" (A.A., pg. 53)

"(T)he philosophic view (is) that God is the beginning and end of all, having Himself no beginning nor end. As a Sufi mystic has said, 'The universe is the manifestation of Allah, where from His own unity He created, by involution, variety."(Khan, The Personal Being)
"(D)eep down in every man, woman, and child, is the fundamental idea of God. It may be obscured by calamity, by pomp, by worship of other things, but in some form or other it is there." (A.A., pg. 55.)
"Inspirations are more easily reflected upon spiritual persons than upon material ones. Inspiration is the inner light which reflects itself upon the heart of man; the purer the heart is from rust, like a clean mirror, the more clearly inspiration can be reflected in it." (Khan, Dreams and Inspiration.)
"Sometimes we had to search fearlessly, but He was there. He was as much a fact as we were. We found the Great Reality deep down within us. In the last analysis it is only there that He may be found. It was so with us." (A.A., pg. 55, emphasis added.)
"The wise man by studying nature enters into the unity through its variety, and realizes the personality of God by sacrificing his own. 'He who knows himself knows Allah' (Sayings of Mohammed). 'The Kingdom of God is within you' (Bible). 'Self-knowledge is the real wisdom' (Vedanta)." (Khan, The Personal Being.)
Thus, the experience of A.A.'s early members is fundamentally the same as all the world's great wisdom traditions: Once you have looked everywhere else externally, the truth of Being - of God, as we come to understand that concept - is deep down within us.

Early in the We Agnostics chapter we read: "Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves. Obviously. But where and how were we to find this Power? (emphasis added).

William James (1842-1910)
The "how" to find this power is the 12 Steps; the "where" is clearly "deep down within us," below and above "the ego;" below and above what Bill termed "that punishing inner dialogue;" below and above what the great psychologist, and author of The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James termed "the stream of consciousness."

In We Agnostics, Bill notes that, "(m)any of us have been so touchy that even casual reference to spiritual things made us bristle with antagonism."  However, he cautions, "(t)his sort of thinking had to be abandoned.

In As Bill Sees It, Bill assures us that A.A.'s , "(H) ave found that God does not make too hard terms with those who seek Him." God's "Grace" is available to all, both to those who actively seek that understanding of "a Power greater than ourselves," and even those who don't seek but are, rather, led there inevitably by their intellect, and the wisdom that the intellect naturally breeds. As Inayat Khan notes:
"Intellect is the knowledge obtained by experience of names and forms; wisdom is the knowledge which manifests only from the inner being; to acquire intellect one must delve into studies, but to obtain wisdom, nothing but the flow of divine mercy is needed; it is as natural as the instinct of swimming to the fish, or of flying to the bird. Intellect is the sight which enables one to see through the external world, but the light of wisdom enables one to see through the external into the internal world."
Alcoholics Anonymous, 2nd Ed. (pub. 1952)
The Foreword to the 2nd edition of Alcoholics Anonymous tells us that, "Alcoholics Anonymous is not a religious organization.Neither does A.A. take any particular medical point of view, though we cooperate widely with the men of medicine as well as with the men of religion. Alcohol being no respecter of persons, we are an accurate cross section of America, and in distant lands, the same democratic evening-up process is now going on. By personal religious affiliation, we include Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Hindus, and a sprinkling of Moslems and Buddhists."

I find in my own recovery that it is very beneficial to read amongst all of the world's great wisdom traditions in order to further my own understanding of that "Great Reality deep down within us." Inayat Khan's "A Sufi Message of Spiritual Liberty" is a concise article on the basic tenets of Sufism, the most mystical school of Islam, tenets from a tradition that is largely overlooked in the media.

For perhaps the best visceral understanding of Sufism, I recommend (as was recommended to me by one of my first spiritual teachers in A.A.) Coleman Barks' The Essential Rumi - a translation of the poems of Sufism's greatest poet and the founder of one of Sufism's most influential "schools"  - Jalalludin Rumi.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Surrender and Accept Life . . . or, at least, "Pick Your Battles Wisely"

"Agree with thine adversary quickly while thou
art in the way with him, lest at any time the adversary
deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee
to the officer, and thou be cast into prison." 
Matthew 5:25
I found the following article in my varied reading. Although it does not deal specifically with why it is easier, healthier and more effective to accept that life is, in fact, unmanageable, but rather it deals with "picking your battles wisely," the lesson is much the same. You attempt to manage your life - as well as everyone else's - at your own risk. If you do, you will continually be prey to a life of "irritability, restlessness and discontent," irrespective of whether you drink or use drugs to relieve such toxic feelings.

As the great Roman Emperor and renowned philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, observed, "Life is inherently unmanageable."

The following excerpt - "Choosing Your Battles Wisely" - is from Richard M. Carlson's book, "Don't Sweat The Small Stuff . . . and its all small stuff."

"Choosing your battles wisely" is a popular phrase in parenting but is equally important in living a contented life. It suggests that life is filled with opportunities to choose between making a big deal out of something or simply letting it go, realizing it doesn't matter. If you choose your battles wisely, you'll be far more effective in winning those that are truly important.

Certainly there will be times when you will want or need to argue, or even fight for something you believe in. Many people, however, argue, confront, and fight over practically anything, turning their lives into a series of battles over relatively "small stuff." There is so much frustration in living this type of life that you lose track of what is really relevant.

The tiniest disagreement or glitch in your plans can be made into a big deal if your goal (conscious or unconscious) is to have everything work out in your favor. In my book, this is nothing more than a prescription for unhappiness and frustration.

The truth is, life is rarely exactly the way we want it to be, and other people often don't act as we would like them to. Moment to moment, there are aspects of life that we like and others we don't. There are always going to be people who disagree with you, people who do things differently, and things that don't work out. If you fight against this principle of life, you'll spend most of your life fighting battles.

A more peaceful way to live is to decide consciously which battles are worth fighting and which are better left alone. If your primary goal isn't to have everything work out perfectly but instead to lead a relatively stress-free life, you'll find that most battles pull you away from your most tranquil feelings. Is it really important that you prove to your spouse that you are right and she is wrong, or that you confront someone simply because it appears as though he or she has made a minor mistake? Does your preference of which restaurant or movie to go to matter enough to argue over it? Does a small a scratch on your car really warrant a suit in small claims court? Does the fact that your neighbor won't park his car on a different part of the street have to be discussed at the dinner table? These and thousands of other small things are what many people spend their lives fighting about. Take a look at your own list. If it's like mine used to be, you might want to reevaluate your priorities.

If you don't want to "sweat the small stuff," its critical that you choose your battles wisely. eIf you do, there will come a day when you'll rarely need to do battle at all.
 In Twelve Step parlance, this is about (Step 3) turning one's will and life over to a power greater than the "small self" of ego consciousnesss, with its constant nitpicking and dissatisfaction;(Step 10) continuing to examine what we make into a "great big deal" as the result of our remaining defects of character; (Step 7) letting go of such defective thoughts and way of thinking by adjusting our attitudes; and, finally, (Step 11) improving our conscious contact with a power greater than our "small self" egos by hesitating and meditating before going off fully cocked on another ego gratifying battle.

As is noted on page 417 of the Big Book of Ă‚lcoholics Anonymous, ". . . acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or siyuation - some fact of my life - unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, 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; unlesss 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. [Emphasis added.]

These passage once again touch the timeless themes of all the world's great wisdom tradition. "We have no monopoly" on these spiritual insights and truths.