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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Continuing to Take Inventory: An Evening Contemplation

We are told quite clearly that "we are never cured" of an alcoholic addiction; and, that what we really have in recovery is "a daily reprieve" from addiction and all its incumbent suffering "based upon the maintenance of our spiritual condition." (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 85) An interesting choice of words. "Maintenance," of course, means we have 'work' to do, while "condition" reminds us that we are training our mind and our being, just as an athlete engages in physical 'conditioning.' But how to do so?

A combination of Steps Three, Seven and Eleven form one part of our conditioning regimen. Through the rigorous application of the process of "self-examination, meditation and prayer," which Bill refers to in his essay on Step 11 in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, we work at establishing, maintaining and improving our "conscious contact" with the God of our understanding.

To do so, each time we become aware that we have once again slipped back into narrow 'self-consciousness' with its accompanying emotional disturbance, we pause and say a quick prayer of affirmation and invocation. (I prefer to use a quick remembrance that "God is everything" rather than "nothing", and a mental recitation of a snippet of the Third Step prayer: "Relieve me of the bondage of self.") Then we proceed with a renewed and re-focused contemplative frame of mental reference, the internal quiet found in meditation which may, in reality, be the initial stage of "God-consciousness."

Of course, for all but those rarest of individuals who have slipped the bonds of narrow self-conscious and "slayed" the ego, this is an ongoing form of "spiritual warfare" that needs to be repeated scores or hundreds of times per day. However, when we are unsuccessful in this process and so do or say something (or omit to do or say something) that harms another, we need to "promptly admit" that once again we have erred and make what amends we can to set things right with others we have harmed - asap.

This "continuous" inner moral inventory of the state of our consciousness and the prompt admission of any wrongs done, as well as the ongoing amends we make for these wrongs, is one facet of Step Ten. But, it is only one facet. In the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Bill suggests (in the following paragraph) that we do a nightly inventory, weighing up the positive aspects of the daily progress in consciousness and behaviour we have made, along with the negatives.

At page 92 in the Twelve and Twelve, Bill writes:
"When evening comes, perhaps just before going to sleep, many of us draw up a balance sheet for the day. This is a good place to remember that inventory-taking is not always done in red ink. It's a poor day indeed when we haven't done something right. As a matter of fact, the waking hours are usually well filled with things that are constructive. Good intentions, good thoughts, and good acts are there for us to see. Even when we have tried hard and failed, we may chalk that up as one of the greatest credits of all. Under these conditions, the pains of failure are converted into assets. Out of them we receive the stimulation we need to go forward. Someone who knew what he was talking about once remarked that pain was the touchstone of all spiritual progress. How heartily we A.A.'s can agree with him, for we know that the pains of drinking had to come before sobriety, and emotional turmoil before serenity."
Sri Yogananda (1893-1952)
So how do we then go about taking this nightly inventory which is the second facet of Step 10? Many alcoholic addicts keep a journal, which is a great tool for tracking one's spiritual growth. For those not comfortable with writing out a nightly inventory in ink (red and black), I have found that the following contemplation set out by Paramahansa Yogananda is a quite effective means of putting the day to bed mentally and surrendering one's thoughts to the renewal of sleep:
 "Each worldly person, moralist, spiritual aspirant and yogi - like a devotee - should every night before retiring ask his intuition whether his spiritual faculties or his physical inclination of temptation won the day's battles between good and bad habit; between temperance and greed; between self-control and lust; between honest desire for necessary money and inordinate craving for gold; between forgiveness and anger; between joy and grief; between moroseness and pleasantness; between kindness and cruelty; between selfishness and unselfishness; between understanding and jealousy; between bravery and cowardice; between confidence and fear; between faith and doubt; between humbleness and pride; between desire to commune with God in meditation and the restless urge for worldly activities; between spiritual and material desires; between divine ecstasy and sensory perceptions; between soul consciousness and egoity."
 Like the Eleventh Step Prayer and our invocation to be comforting, understanding and loving, rather than demanding to be comforted, understood and loved, continued practice may aid the process of "self-forgetting" and "dying to self" which we need to live freely in the Eternity of both this world and in the realm of our dreams.

* * * * * * * * * * *
"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
     Hath had elsewhere its setting,
          And cometh from afar:
     Not in entire forgetfulness,
     And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
     From God, who is our home"

William Wordsworth, "Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood"

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