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Friday, March 4, 2011

"Where" I Found the God of My Own Understanding

"Lack of power," we read in the We Agnostics chapter of the Big Book, "is our dilemna." To explain exactly "where" and "how" to find a Higher Power sufficient to relieve the sufferer's alcoholic addiction and to make his or her life livable again, we are then told (at page 45), is the whole "purpose" of why the Big Book was, in fact, written. How did I miss that?

If, like so many (including myself), you read the Big Book with an attitude of spiritual "contempt before investigation" and preformed, or prejudiced, views of what "God" is, or has been portrayed as, you may be liable to skim right over the paragraphs that explain exactly "where" we are able to find "a Power greater than ourselves," just as I did. (At the end of the Spiritual Experience appendix, Herbert Spencer, the great scientist and philosopher, warns the reader that, "There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance - that principle is contempt before investigation.")

When my first sponsor told me I had to look at Step Two, my immediate question was, "What is God to you?" His answer was what I have heard many time since then: 'Good Orderly Direction.' With that answer in hand, I set out with all my driven self-will to get a little "good orderly direction" into my life. (The question that I should have asked, looking back, was: "What is "self?")

Never underestimate the power of self-will, however. We are, indeed, "driven people." While remaining sober, attending lots of meetings and fulfilling my 'roles' as a good sponsee, sponsor  and group member, this was (as Bill notes in his essay on Step Three in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions) "very good indeed," but it proved to be "a far cry from permanent sobriety and a contented, useful life."

In the first five years of sobriety, my wife (who had stopped drinking to help me out) went to rehab, got off the pills and joined our Fellowship. We made our mortgage payments and had another daughter. I held down my job and worked lots of overtime, while returning to university part-time and earning a degree. I made the Dean's list and enrolled in law school. I became, as my sponsor pointed out to little or no avail, "a human doing, rather than a human being."

With the premature death of my sponsor, moving to another city to attend law school and focusing all my destructive self-will on finishing in the school's top ten, I drifted away from A.A. Still a nominal "member" of a group in my new hometown, I spent little or no time on prayer or meditation and the day-to-day anger and fears I went to bed with hardened into resentments and mania as I avoided the Tenth Step altogether.

Moving, yet again, to practice law with a top 'blue-blood' corporate law firm, I began putting in gruelling hours at work for the benefit of my growing family (and, of course, for me). Three months after beginning my new law practice (and nine-and-a-half years into my 'sobriety'), I made a conscious decision to stop attending A.A. altogether. I wasn't worried about drinking or drugging again. Booze and drugs were, to me, a "non-factor" at this point in my life.

This dry, dry period of my life lasted almost five years. I had no God, no peace of mind, and no "solution" to my evermore vexing problems. Unbeknownst to me, my wife began drinking again shortly thereafter, swearing our girls who had been brought up, quite literally, in A.A. to secrecy. (They had been the little girls sitting quietly at the meeting with their colouring books and crayons.) My mind was obsessed with my not being able to cut it at the prestigous law firm I worked for, despite all the evidence to the contrary. I was barely a member of society at all. In a very real sense I had become the human "race."

I do not know why I didn't drink or drug. After nearly 15 years of training my mind in a "good orderly direction," I began the revolving door of the psychiatric wards. The insanity of alcoholic addiction had returned - writ large - minus the booze and drugs. My marriage shattered, and separated from the roles in life I most valued (that of 'husband' and everyday, loving 'father'), I came within minutes of dieing at my own hand. You see, the problem of the alcoholic addict does, indeed, "center in the mind."

I was very fortunate. The fates (or a God I did not believe in, much less understand) were kind to me. My first sponsor's best friend who I hadn't seen for 6 or 7 years reached out to me, taking me to my first meeting in almost five years. The results were electric, and I promptly got a new sponsor and joined a group just as the obsession to drown all my sorrows again took hold . . . drinking dreams and all!

After years of acute suffering (and inflicting that suffering on the people in my life who were dearest to me), I was once again on a spiritual path, seeking a God of my understanding. Yet still I had know idea of where to look.

A newfound friend who had been working with a wizened old timer kept urging him to talk to me, but to no avail. The oldtimer observed, quite rightly, that I was not done suffering yet. I was still looking for alternatives to make "me" feel better. I entered into a relationship with a beautiful and bewitching woman who had been sober a number of years, but the "defects of character" which manisfested from the deep-seated fears of my "ego" doomed it, and it was short lived.

A week or so after that relationship ended, and really "smarting" from the effect that (yet another) failed relationship had on me, I was with my best friend looking for a new (and better, naturally) apartment to live in. More by happenstance than planning, I found what proved to be an ideal place for me to live.  Almost magically, waves of relief washed over me. All the suffering was gone, the nagging voice of "self-consciousness" (the "ego") silenced for a brief while.

My friend and I were having a celebratory lunch at an outdoor cafe. Everything was wonderful. I felt "the ease and comfort" I had once experienced with drinking and drugging, but this was a "natural high." My friend was conducting a running monologue on the cars, motorcycles and women that passed us by, and I was content just to listen and enjoy the mood and the company.

Suddenly, however, I had a "thought." One thought. I'm not sure if it was about my family, my failed marriage, or perhaps the relationship that had just ended, but with that thought I felt a wave of fear and anxiety wash down through me. Thus, began my spiritual awakening.

I came to the sudden realization that there was nothing "out there" that would fulfill me . . . not a relationship, a home, a job, the best of friends, money, education . . . nothing! I realized in an instant that the problem was "in here" and that the solution must also be "in here."

I believed in synchronicity, rather than fate or the predestined "hand" of God pulling some invisible strings, but be that as it may, help began to pour in thereafter. The very next day the oldtimer who had seen that I had "not done suffering yet" talked to me and gave me the first book of a spiritual nature that my "prejudice" about God or a Higher Power did not reject out of hand.

This oldtimer spent three or four hours later that week and took me through the Big Book, explaining its key passages to me and sharing the "experience, strength and hope" he had gained through practicing what the Big Book outlined.

Most importantly he took me through page 23 (". . . the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind."),  page 55 ("We found the Great Reality deep down within us. In the last analysis, it is only there it may be found."), and the Spiritual Experience appendix where it says, "With few exceptions our members found that they have tapped an unsuspected inner resource which they presently identify with their own conception of a Power greater than themselves. . . . Our more religious members call it god-consciousness." (Emphasis added.)

"A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways." James 1:8
Who would have thought? My problem I came to see was the focus of my consciousness. All these years I had been stuck in "self" or "ego-consciousness" when just below that inner narrative, and wholly unsuspected by me, lay a deeper well spring of pure, higher consciousness. My years of drinking and drugging, it turns out, were just my tapping that higher consciousness by silencing the ego of self-consciousness chemically. And now I found that I could do so much more effectively by applying the Steps to rid myself of the "old ideas" that powered that egoic consciousness, and through the constant application of our outlined process of "self-examination, meditation and prayer."

That same week, I heard another humble and frail oldtimer - the only enlightened man I've ever met - say that "at the end of the sixth stage of meditation, he knew." I pressed him to tell me what it was "he knew." Reluctantly, at first, he did. In sharing with me the ideas and books that he had been shown and used, I began a meditation practice and an intense spiritual journey that continues to this day.

As is promised to the true "spiritual seeker," I have been shown "much of God" - a God and God-consciousness that exists within us, and within which we exist - and have found a refuge from the "double-minded" sufferings of self-centeredness, selfishness, and self-absorption in the all-inclusive "Self" that exists beneath what William James called the ordinary "stream of consciousness."

This was, of course, wholly unexpected; and, yet, from all I hear at meetings and in everyday conversation, most people mistakenly continue to look for a God "out there" somewhere, a mistake that nearly cost me my life.

". . . the Kingdom of God cometh not with observation:
Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, Lo there! for behold,
the Kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:20-21)
As it turns out, I found that what Paul told the philosophers of ancient Athens (on Mars' Hill, in front of the Parthenon) was and is, indeed, true: 
"That (we) should seek God . . . and find him, though he be not far from every one of us. For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your poets have said, For we, too, are children of God." (Acts 17: 27-28).
Who would of thought to find "a Power" greater than one's "self" underneath one's "self?" Certainly, not me! I had to be shown, before I "came to believe."

1 comment:

  1. This is a very good explanation of the consciousness of God. Thank you for that concise breakdrown of the very feelings I have after coming into A.A. and following to the best of my ability the 12 steps.