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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.

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