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Friday, March 25, 2011

On Acceptance . . . and "God-consciousness"

“… (A)cceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation - 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 [this] world by mistake… . (U)ntil I accept life completely on life’s term, 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.”
("Alcoholics Anonymous," page 417.)

Likely the most often quoted passage from the "Stories" section of "Alcoholics Anonymous," this paragraph cuts to the chase. In one paragraph it diagnoses the fundamental problem of the alcoholic addict and suggests the solution: acceptance that life is as it is in this moment, and what is needed is a change in one's attitude from resistance to an acceptance of life on life's terms.

The underlying cause of almost any addiction (including, foremost, an addiction to one's thinking patterns) is that the addict is essentially attached to and identified with an overly active and compelling inner narrative of self-consciousness - the  ordinary, human "ego," or what William James called "the stream of consciousness." Indulgence in the behaviour that provides temporary relief from this incessant mental chatter and the painful emotions that accompany it - drinking, drugging, gambling, an eating disorder, emotional outbursts, etc. - is the symptom of this addiction to the addict's self-conscious life. What is needed, therefore, is a change in one's inner life, a change in one's "attitude" (one's habitual way of thinking) or, in short, a change in the level of one's 'inner consciousness.'

One of the books in Bill W.'s library at "Stepping Stones' - his home just outside New York City where he lived when writing the "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions" - is Richard M. Bucke's classic psychological profile of "enlightened" persons throughout history and across cultures, "Cosmic Consciousness." (Bucke, was an intimate friend and 'follower' of the poet, Walt Whitman, and the Superintendent of an "insane asylum" in Hamilton, Ontario at the time he wrote "Cosmic Consciousness.") The book was first  published in 1901 and was used as a source book for William James' critically important book,"The Varieties of Religious Experience."

Richard M. Bucke
In it, Bucke distinguishes between three different levels of "ordinary" consciousness: receptive, perceptive and conceptive consciousness. As far as we know with certainty, we are the only species with "consceptive consciousness," while we share with lower order species the more basic states of consciousness which Bucke terms 'perceptive' and 'receptive' in order of descending evolutionary development.

In "What God Wants," author Neale Donald Walsh, classified these same levels of consciousness in the way more popularly discussed today as 'human' consciousness, 'mammalian' consciousness and 'reptilian' consciousness. Walsh used an apt illustration of a cobra, a lion and a jealous husband to illustrate how these varying states of consciousness trigger a response once there is something in the environment that seems to be a call to action.

To paraphrase Walsh, he notes that if you get to close to a cobra - invading its territory, so to speak - it will instinctively coil and then strike out with a venomous bite. However, a crucial distinction is that there must be a direct stimulus or 'threat' in its immediate environment to trigger this response. (Bucke would term this "receptive" consciousness, as the organism is receiving a direct stimulus and reacts to it.)

At the next higher level - 'mammalian,' or what Bucke would call "perceptive" consciousness - a male lion patrolling its territory smells the urine markings of a competitive male, and this indirect perception of a 'threat' triggers a response; the lion 're-marks' its territory and aggressively tries to hunt down the other male it perceives as threatening its interests.

Shakespeare: "There is nothing either
good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
"Hamlet," Act II, Scene II.
At the 'human' or 'ordinary' level of self-consciousness (or what Bucke calls "conceptive" consciousness) a man going to a dinner party knows that a man who could be a potential rival might be there. He thinks to himself that the man might hit on his wife, or the wife might flirt with the potential rival, and that mere thought or 'concept' triggers an emotional response of jealousy. There is no direct stimulus, just the act of conceiving the ideas in his mind produces the effect. As far as we know it is only mankind (and 'perhaps' some higher order mammals, like chimpanzees, dolphins or whales) that are capable of manifesting this higher order of self-consciousness.

We may, in fact, be unique in that, as others have observed, somehow 'we know that we know.' And isn't the sure conviction of knowing that we 'know' our 'problems' what causes the irritability, restlessness and discontent in the alcoholic addict? And, isn't the knowing that we 'know' a solution for this discomfort what keeps an addict in his or her active addiction?

Fortunately, as others have again noted (both alcoholic addicts and other so-called 'normal people,' alike), we are capable - once we know that we know - of a still higher state of consciousness that we all have the potential of reaching. It is as Bucke, the philosopher Gerald Heard (a friend of Bill W.'s) or Andrew Cohen, a teacher of what he terms "Evolutionary Enlightenment,"  would call an evolutionary potential. It is a higher state of consciousness that I would term an "acceptive consciousness" although Bucke and others have various names for it, "cosmic consciousness" being one preferred description.

Yet, because it is for now a "potential" state of consciousness, the person who wishes to reach that state must work towards becoming capable of manifesting it. He or she must 'consciously' and 'actively' nurture it, as very few attain to this state through force of circumstance; although, historically some lucky few have attained it spontaneously, and mostly in very trying circumstances.

The "Spiritual Experience" appendix to the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous tells us that a vital spiritual experience, whether of the "sudden" or "educational variety" is what we need to arrest and recover from both our addiction to booze and/or drugs - as if booze weren't a drug - and the addiction we have to the ordinary self-consciousness that drives us blindly. Fortunately though, it assures us that we all have the potential for this higher consciousness, and - assuming we put in the continual daily effort to practice this program of self-examination, meditation and prayer - a very good chance of attaining this higher state of being.

The "Spiritual Experience" appendix, first published in the second edition of "Alcoholics Anonymous" when there were approximately 150,000 A.A. members, notes:
"With few exceptions our members find that they have tapped an unsuspected inner resource which they presently identify with their own conception ot a Power greater than themselves.

Most of us think this awareness of a Power greater than ourselves is the essence of spiritual experience. Our more religious members call it "God-consciousness."
"Acceptive" or "God-consciousness" 
is a 'love' without object or conditions.
Ultimately, it is resorting to this higher state of radical acceptance (a sense of 'love' without objects or conditions), this state of "God-consciousness" (or as I prefer "acceptive consciousness"), that allows us to accept life on life terms, that allows us to accept the "person, place, thing, or situation" that is disturbing us "as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment," without the necessity of drinking or drugging to get by.

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