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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Quieting the Mind: 'The Tao of the Doughnut Hole'

To lead a contented and purposeful life, the alcoholic addict in recovery is dependent upon a "spiritual awakening" - the opening up of a 'new' consciousness, beneath and above the internal dialogue of the 'ego,' or what we ordinarily thnk of as self-consciousness - as well as the daily maintenance of the 'spiritual condition' of what is really the 'renewed consciousness' of our fundamental innocence.

I call it a 'renewed,' or 'recovered' innocence  - the two words share a common meaning - because it is an innocence which we have experienced more or less often as children before the onset of the constant internal voice of the ego took firm hold. After all, it is fundamentally this "painful inner dialogue" and the accompanying discomfort of the 'existential pain' of unrelenting self-consciousness that the drink and/or the drugs relieved us of. "We loved the effect alcohol had on us" precisely because of the extemporaneous internal relief from the constant thinking and emotions which arise through our self-consciousness; relief from the sense of being an 'actor' on stage without his or her lines.

But if we are to let go of our "old ideas" and the attitudes that foster them, if we are truly able to admit the fundamental unmanageability of the whole of life by us and "turn our will and our lives over to the care of God" as we understand (or grasp to understand) God, what will become of us?

To accept that we are powerless to run our own lives goes against all the instincts of the ego and the 'lessons' we've learned in life. We have been taught, in a certain sense, that life is a problem to be figured out, and that we must somehow figure out how to figure it out.

Turning our 'will' (our decision-making about what we will do or say) and our 'lives' over to the care of an 'innermost reality' that we have - let's face it - very little understanding of goes against all the inner emotional pressure we face to 'appear' just like so-called 'normal people' and everybody else; that is, firmly in control of ourselves and confident in our inner core at all times. (Small wonder, then, that we so often hear how our fellow alcoholic addicts talking about having wished they felt like other people looked.)

So what is the result of this big, existential and fundamental challenge we face? Usually, unless we can truly "admit complete defeat," as it says in Step One of the "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions," it is a profound reluctance to "Let Go and Let God," and an internal, reluctant dialogue and rationalization that goes much like this:
"Yes, respecting alcohol, I guess I have to be dependent upon A.A., but in all other matters I must still maintain my independence, Nothing is going to turn me into a nonentity. If I keep on turning my life and my will over to the care of Something or Somebody else what will become of me? I'll look like the hole in the doughnut."
("Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions," page 36.)

And this is the point. The hole is the essence of the doughnut. The rest is eaten, but the hole remains. In turning our will and our lives over to the care of a Power greater than ourselves and our egoic, self-centered thinking are we ready to trust (even on an experimental basis) that we can rely on the essence of our being?

In the great Taoist treatise, Lao Tzu's "Tao Te Ching," we read:
"The thirty spokes converge on one hub, but the usefulness of the cart is a function of the 'nothingness' inside the hub. We knead clay to shape a pot, but the usefulness of the clay pot is a function of the 'nothingness' inside it. We construct windows and doors to make a room, but the usefulness of the room is a function of the 'nothingness' inside it. Thus, it might be 'something' that we attain that provides function and value, but it is by the virtue of  'nothing' that we can put it to use." (Tao Te Ching, XI)
In a very real sense we construct our own mental prison that locks us into our alcoholic, self-centered and self-absorbed attitudes. "What will become of me? I'll be like the hole in the doughnut," the ego cries out. It is precisely this thinking that perpetuates alcoholic suffering, active or inactive.

"This," we read, "is the process by which instinct and logic seek to bolster egotism and frustrate spiritual development." To overcome this process, it is necessary to face and face down our instinctive fears of not being able to survive without trying to exert control over our world and the people in it, To overcome this process we need to slow down and quiet our logical processes that tell us we will find a solution that will take care of our illusory problems if we just give it enough thought.

And it is precisely here that the practice of Step Three needs to kick in. Every time we do not know what to do and our emotions are in overdrive we need to recognize, through the practice of self-examination, just what a perilous situation our egoic minds have once more put us into. Then, just as it says in the "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions," we are able to pause, recenter on the essence of our being, and from the quiet and stillnes of that essence, simply 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."

"Thy will, not mine be done."
There is only one thing we can "change" in an instant, and that is the level of our thinking. To know the fundamental difference between the  thoughts of the ego and our inner essence - between the doughnut and the doughnut hole - and to recognize that the function of the quiet void below the raucous 'noise' of the ego is to provide "serenity" and safe haven, is true "wisdom" that is indeed worthy of the Tao.

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