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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Carl Jung and Alcoholics Anonymous: Part I

The only place where an "absolute" is mentioned in the first half of the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous is in the introductory remarks about our "old ideas" in the "How It Works" chapter - right there in the paragraph immediately before the 'suggested' Twelve Steps are laid out.

"Many of us have tried to hold onto our old ideas," we are cautioned each time the "How It Works passage is read out, "but the result was nil until we let go absolutely." Nothing changes. We remain just as "restless, irritable and discontented" as we were before we took that last 'first drink' for just as long as we try to hang on to our old mental life.

But why are our "old ideas" flagged as the only aspect of our former lives that we must let go of lock, stock and barrel - or  "absolutely"? The answer, it seems, like so much else - indeed, the entire Twelve Steps movement - has its "taproot" in the work of the psychologist Carl Jung with a single patient, Roland Hazzard. Roland would go on to join the Oxford Group, find a "solution" to his alcoholic addiction, and pass the message of recovery on to Ebby T. who passed the message on to Bill Wilson. And getting rid of "old ideas" is at the heart of the message which Roland indirectly passed on to Bill W.

The crux of the message was that a sufficiently forceful - or "vital" - "spiritual experience" could arrest an almost always fatal alcoholic addiction:
"Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences. To me these occurrences are phenomena. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them."
("Alcoholics Anonymous," page 27; emphasis added.)
"What man by taking thought ever
added one moment to his life span?"

(Matthew 6:27)
The setting aside of "old ideas," together with the emotional content of those thoughts and our habitual process of how we think (our "attitudes") is the spiritual experience we need to arrest our alcoholism and recover. It is the setting aside of "old ideas" that creates within us the "open mind" uncluttered by egoic thinking and by the "calamity, pomp and worship of other things ("Big Book,' page 55) that separate us from the "Great Reality deep down within us." It is the setting aside of "old ideas" that reveals to us "the unsuspected inner resource" ('Big Book' Spiritual Experience appendix) which almost without exception early A.A. members identified with "their own conception of a Power greater than themselves."

We utilize the 12 Steps and its suggested program of "self examination, meditation and prayer" to rid our 'selves' of our 'selves' in essence. Through this process, the "ideas, emotions and attitudes' of our ordinary, egoic 'self-consciousness' are suddenly (or gradually) replaced with a 'higher consciousness,' or what the "more religious" early A.A. members called "God-consciousness," which brings with it a "whole new mindset of "conceptioins and motivations'" according to Jung.

That attainment of this 'higher consciousness' is sufficient to arrest and treat an alcoholic addiction is "no coincidence," Jung would much later point out in a prized letter to Bill W. In the Jung-Wilson correspondence (discussed in Part II of this article) Jung notes that, "Alcohol in Latin is "spiritus" and you use the same word for the highest religious [or spiritual] experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum."

However, in order for us to follow this formula, we must continually strive to rid ourselves of the ego and its old ideas, even as they continually arise in us through our egoic streams of consciousness. And, it is in this process of "self-forgetting" that we let go of ego-consciousness and so establish or re-establish our conscious contact with an 'understandable' God within our Being.

And, it is in this continual "self-forgetting" of the 11th Step Prayer that "we find" a higher consciousness and Jung's "new conceptions and motivations" despite the challenge of doing so. Because, let's face it, after several minutes of our egos chewing on it, virtually any thought will begin to grow old and stale.

(Click, here, for "Carl Jung and Alcoholics Anonymous: Part II")

1 comment:

  1. Very nice post, the references sited 'indirectly' refer to hitting-bottom, from which is the rock. No where else to go but death, institutions, or jails. At that time is when no human power can relieve our 'alcoholism' which is no different than the human condition in general. The first lesson of humility is found there. There is only one way to God Consciousness can be realized at this point, and that is through His Spirit of Love and Truth. I oft hear wisdom is learning from others' mistakes which is half true. For the wisdom of man can be quite wicked, like a snake. Very cruel people learn from other's mistakes to weave their webs through society as a hypocrit. It is God's wisdom which comes to our consciousness as a greater understanding. For His thoughts are not our thoughts. Ego does not exist, it is just a word afterall. It is man's nature which is the point. I strain to refrain from mentioning why and how this is even possible and how it was made possible to receive His Spirit of Truth, for it is for myself no more than lying by omission which is then denial. And it is no credit of mine, as it is freely given and dispersed of His Choosing, Give credit where credit is due, and not to put the cart (myself) before the Horse. Putting both hands on the plow and not looking back, keeping eyes only on Him through prayer and meditations of the heart and soul and mind. So where do we acquire the principles delineated as so well and written within the St Francis Prayer? And who was the praise worthy person who had what he wanted? On the other hand, Love and Tolerance..are we to let everyone forever be blind to Spiritual Truth and suffer forever due to lack of proper vision from the onset ? What is left out of the Big Book is that when the man was sent to Jung, he said something akin to, "you bring him to if Jesus could not resolve this greater than I". Since the post refers to Jung, and I just now (thank you sincerely!) was prompted to do a search through this New Understanding, I found this, which is what i have realize all along..this is Jung.
    " These are the reasons why I could not give a full and sufficient explanation to Rowland H., but I am risking it with you because I conclude from your very decent and honest letter that you have acquired a point of view above the misleading platitudes one usually hears about alcoholism.

    You see, "alcohol" in Latin is "spiritus" and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum."