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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Courage: The Ability to Continue in Spite of Fear

"And acceptance 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 God's world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life's terms 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 in my attitudes."
("Acceptance Was the Answer," Alcoholics Anonymous, page 417)

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Of the three attributes that we ask for in the Serenity Prayer - serenity, courage and wisdom - it seems to be courage in the face of our life circumstances, with their messiness, emotional challenges and their sheer, fundamental unmanageability, that is often the most difficult for the alcoholic addict to obtain.

Why this is so, seems to be (a) that courage is almost wholly an internal matter, (b) that sometimes exercising courage goes against our most basic instincts, and (c) courage often calls for us to do or say (or not do or say) something that flies in the face of the life lessons we have learned.

The Japanese have a saying which seems to have universal application: "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down." Oftentimes it is much easier to go along with the crowd, or do what "other people" would do in the same circumstances, but for the alcoholic anonymous trying to live his or her life on a different spiritual plane, such actions may prove fatal.

How many alcoholics have started their last binge because they did not want to stand out as the only person not having a drink at a wedding or a cocktail party? Being "convinced" we are alcoholic addicts requires that we give up the "ideas. emotions and attitudes that were the guiding forces" of our lives, and to adopt wholly new "conceptions and motives" for living our lives.
[Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 27.]

One of the more powerful stories in the back of the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous is that of a Vietnam vet and pilot facing a prison term for flying a commercial airliner while under the influence. In the story "Grounded," he writes:
"From somewhere back in high school I remembered a poem that says something like, 'Cowards die a thousand deaths, a brave man only once,' and I wanted to do what had to be done. I was terrified of walking into prison but told my children that I could not come out the back door until I walked through the front. I remembered that courage was not the absence of fear; it was the ability to continue in spite of it."
[Emphasis added.]
 "Courage" - from "cour," the Old French word for 'heart' - means that we have to shift our thinking and identification from our ordinary level of self-consciousness (or "ego" consciousness) to a deeper and higher level of our consciousness and being, and then to base our actions (or refrain from taking action) upon what that higher, God-consciousness dictates.

This, of course, may be the most difficult mental task, especially under unusual and unexpected, emotionally-charged situations. It is a test of both the decision we have made in Step Three to "turn our will and our lives over" to the care of a God we do not and cannot fully understand, and of our entire willingness in Step Six to have our character defects removed. For most of us, we continue to "fall back" upon our old ideas and actions in many of such instances.

In such cases, it is perhaps helpful to re-examine what our Serenity Prayer means, and what it is we are asking for, or seeking, in the most challenging situations we face in our lives.

To me, God, or the deeper level of God-consciousness we are all capable of attaining, is the "serenity" we ask for. The "wisdom" I seek is a recognition that there are at least two distinct levels of human consciousness: the "ego" or "Self," and the higher "Self" or "soul" of a man or woman. And the "courage" I need is to let go of the thoughts and thinking patterns of ego-consciousness in order that the thoughts of God-consciousness may emerge from where they have been obscured.

(Remember that " deep down within every man, woman and child is the fundamental idea of God," although "(i)t maybe obscured by calamity, pomp and worship of other things, but in some forth or other it is there.")
[Alcoholics Anonymous, page 55.]

To face prison, our pilot had to let go of his fears and face the circumstances that caused his fears. That is the very essence of courage. But it does not come easily. "All our instincts" may cry out against what we know we need to do or say in a frightening situation; yet, even in such circumstances it remains a truism that conforming our will to God's will (doing or saying, or not doing or not saying, what is indicated by our higher consciousness) is the better way, and will ultimately result in a better set of circumstances for us, and for everyone else.

"God is either everything or else He is nothing," we read at page 53 of the 'Big Book.' "God either is, or He isn't. What (is) our choice to be?"

Taking the view that God is, in fact, everything, there is then nothing we cannot face, despite all our instinctive drives to avoid our life circumstances. And that is the 'heart' of the 'courage' we are granted through the practical application of the Serenity Prayer. It is what brings us back to the serenity of God.

Yet we are challenged - throughout our recovery - to practice attaining to this higher God-consciousness by disciplining our smaller "selves" through the interwoven practices of "self-examination meditation and prayer." Without such discipline and practice, we may not be able to summon the "courage" to face, and face down, the things we will surely have to.
[Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 98.]

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