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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"Humility Consists in Having a Perfectly Open Mind"

"Honesty" = We don't have to remember the "stories" we've told.
"Humility" = We don't have to remember the "roles" we've played.

Greek "Tragedy" and "Comedy" Masks
(Note the grapevines on "Comedy.")
The analogy of the alcoholic addict as an 'actor' is an effective one. Like all good metaphors and analogies, it works because there is so much truth in it. With a continually humble attitude - true 'humility' - we move from being "the actor" always trying to hit a "mark" we've imagined, and to "deliver the lines" we imagine we need to, so that life will turn out good for everyone - even ourselves.

We can, however, if we stay humble, move from being stage-frightened actors to comedians joyfully ad-libbing our way through life one day at a time, confident that the whole life process - the whole "show" - is in the hands of a manager/director infinitely more capable than we are of running things on our own resources.  No more "scripts" to remember; no more "roles" to rehearse; no more "characters" to play. (It is no coincidence that the ancient Greek word for an "actor" was "hypokrite.")

Paul Brunton (1898-1981 )
Yet, true humility is difficult for all of us - alcoholic addict and so-called 'normal person,' alike. As the philosopher, Paul Brunton, observed:
"The average man is not humble; he may appear to be so, but inwardly he sets up mental resistance and barriers, and builds walls of prejudice against truth. Humility consists in having a perfectly open mind, as though you were new-born, and being able to receive with complete faith not only the words of those who know, but what is still more important, that which is behind the words which is Spirit."
It is, of course, a great challenge - some might call it, life's greatest challenge - to keep a perfectly open mind. As with so many other challenges in our program, we aim at perfection while knowing that we will consistently fall short. But recovery is found in our attempt to reach perfection.

But how many newcomers (or old-timers, for that matter) would interpret humility as "keeping an open mind"? Few, I would suspect. That would not only have never  occurred to me. I suspect that I would have argued vociferously against such an interpretation, just as I argued (if silently) against all spiritual axioms and principles. Yet, this is indeed, what humility means; an open mind, free of the wholly "self" conscious "stream of thought."

On Dr. Bob's desk in his Akron, Ohio home, I am told there is a plaque bearing the words which to him best described what true "humility" is. It reads:
Dr. Bob (1878-1950)

Perpetual quietness of heart. It is to have no trouble, It is never to be fretted or vexed, irritable or sore; to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me.

It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised, it is to have a blessed home in myself where I can go in and shut the door and pray to my Father in secret and be at peace, as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and about is seeming trouble.
But how to keep this "open mind;" how to find this "blessed home" in oneself? This is exactly what the 12 Steps are designed to open up and maintain. But first we must get rid of our "old ideas" and "old attitudes," or the habitual way we have learned to think and perceive the world.

Remember, in "How It Works," we read that "some of us tried to hold onto our old ideas, but the result was nil until we let go absolutely." That, it was pointed out to me, is the only "absolute" in the first 164 pages of the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous. Old ideas, can quickly and easily cloud one's "open mind," and thus, irrespective of length of sobriety, rob the then-suffering alcoholic addict of all humility and "quietness of heart."

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