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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Why Must We Write Down, and Face Down, Our Fears?

"Anger," according to one proverb, "is a corrosive poison that eats away at the vessel that holds it from the inside out." And anger, together with lust and ignorance, is one of "the Three Poisons" in Buddhist teachings. Small wonder, then, that anger in the form of 'resentments' is included in our Step Four inventory. Similarly, the powerful emotional weight that sexual improprieties carry makes it easy to understand why we take an inventory of our sexual conduct. But why do we write down all our fears, large and small?

The simple answer is that fear - the visceral reaction that triggers our 'fight or flight' response is, quite arguably, the most powerful of our 'instincts.' And, as Bill writes in his essay on Step 4 in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (at p. 44), alcoholic addicts should be quite "able to see that instinct run wild in themselves is the underlying cause of their destructive drinking. Moreover, at page 766 of the Twelve and Twelve, we learn that self-centered fear "is the chief activator of all our defects of character."

Fear that we may "lose something" that we already possess or "fail to get something" we demand - in our sobriety, as in our active drinking or drugging - can, quite literally drive us nuts. "Living upon a basis of unsatisfied [and unsatisfiable] demands" for perfect security from these fears, we can live "in a state of continual disturbance and frustrations."

Listing our fears, facing them down through prayer, in meditation and in our actions, we seek to reduce the fears themselves and the amount of time we live in a state of fear. For it is our self-centered, or ego-centric, fears that separate us from "a Power greater than ourselves" and all humankind.

The purpose of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, we read (at page 45), is to show us "where and how" to find a Power greater than our "selves" - a 'Higher Power' that will restore us to sanity, and through which we can act and live in freedom not only from booze or drugs, but in freedom from egoic "self" and our self-centered fears, and through which we can overcome our defects of character.

That "Power" - the "Great Reality," or "fundamental idea of God" is, as it says on page 55 of the Big Book, "deep down within us" and, ultimately, it is only "deep down within us" that this Power" may be found. The problem, however, is that this Power is "obscured," or blocked from our consciousness, by three things: "calamity," pomp" and "worship of other things."

All three of these 'obstructions' are, in turn, fear based. "Calamity" is our perception of the world when viewed through the lens of the "ego," or "self." ("Oh my God!," we think. "I'm not going to get what I need, and I'm gonna lose everything that I have and need to hold onto.") "Pomp" is what we experience when, temporarily at best, we manage to grasp and hold onto all those "things" we need; while "worship of other things" is the driving force which generates our need to grasp and hold onto these "things."

It is, thus, our fears that choke us off from what Bill so-poetically called "the Sunlight of the Spirit. The word "worrying" - that is, what we do when we are in the grip of our fears - is an Old English expression that comes from the German word 'wurjgan' which means to choke, or seize by the throat. Another synonym, "anxiety," comes from the Latin, 'anxius' meaning to "cause pain or choke." Both literally, and figuratively, we can be smothered by our suffocating fears, choked by the "lump in our throat." Therefore, if we are to lead happy and productive lives, we must face and face down our fears.

A start to overcoming fear is to observe, in meditation, the thoughts of what it is we want or fear losing that course through our ordinary self-consciousness. A quick prayer to be relieved from the all-too-tight "bondage of self" can help when once again we feel the "existential knot" in our stomach, a knot of tension which is caused by what Bill so succinctly described as our sense of "anxious apartness."

Most importantly, we have the Third Step and the Serenity Prayer (set out on page 41 of the Twelve and Twelve). "In all times of emotional disturbance or indecision," every time we are choked or paralyzed by fear, "we can pause, ask for quiet, and in the stillness 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."

In this way we can "face our fears," serene in the knowledge that at this moment in time there is nothing (no "thing") 'out there' that we can immediately change; that the one thing we can change is the level of our consciousness (letting go of 'self' or 'ego' consciousness in favor of a deeper, higher consciousness, or God-consciousness, as some call it); that we are wise enough to know there is a distinct difference between "ego" and 'who' and 'what' we are; and that it is only our runaway egoic, "self" centered thinking that is creating our sense of fear and trepidation.

"With God" - in that inner state of non-egoic consciousness - "all things may be accomplished," even winning freedom from our deepest and most pressing fears.

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