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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Surrender Part I: Surrendering Old Ideas

"Some of us have tried to hold onto our 
  old ideas and the result was nil until

let go absolutely." ('Big Book' p. 58)
Recovery from alcoholic addiction begins with surrender - letting go of the bottle and our old ideas of how we should live our lives, admitting that we are powerless over our addiction, and that life on the grand scale (and in the minutest detail) is, in fact, inherently unmanageable. Thus, it is no coincidence that the very first concept that Bill W. discusses in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions is that of surrender. "Who," he asks, "cares to admit complete defeat?."

We are told in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous (at page 84) that we have "ceased fighting everyone and everything - even alcohol." But is that true for us? The "fight or flight" response is perhaps a human's deepest instinctive drive, and is far more basic than even his or her sexual instincts. It represents survival or 'being' itself.

In the "How it Works" passage that is used to open so many meetings, we hear time and again that "some of us . . . tried to hold onto our old ideas," in fact, "and the result was nil until we let go (of those old ideas) absolutely." Nil, nada, nothing! Nothing changes until we become willing to try and let go of old ideas - all of them - without reservation, and that is a tall order.

But nobody said that complete surrender would be easy, nor did anyone say that we would ever be rid of our old thoughts and thought patterns completely. Rather, we try and rid ourselves of the old ideas and thought patterns instead of holding on to them.

Our "ambition," which is discussed in the closing paragraphs of Step 12 in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, is to attain and maintain a conscious contact with the God of our own understanding in order that the "(i)deas, emotions and attitudes" which were once the "guiding forces" of our lives can be "cast aside" in favour of "new motivations and conceptions." ('Big Book,' page 27.) To establish such a 'conscious' contact we must clear our mind of that which already fills our 'consciousness,' i.e., our "old ideas."

But just how do we surrender our old ideas? In order to "practice" Step Three, as it is set out in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, we are told that in all times of emotional disturbance and indecision, we can simply "pause, ask for quiet, and in the stillness" recite and contemplate the words of the Serenity Prayer. Yet, while this is critical for times of great turmoil and challenges, how do we practice letting go of old ideas in the mundane moment-to-moment affairs of our daily lives? This is a more subtle question, yet the answer may, in fact, be more crucial for our attaining true peace of mind and the sanity necessary to establish and maintain permanent sobriety and a contented, purposeful life.

In their subtler aspects, Steps One through Step Three are all about responding to life on a different plane of thought than we are used to rather than reacting to life as it is thrown at us. To do this, we need to develop the capacity (through AA's process of interwoven "self-examination, meditation and prayer") to refrain from all actions, at least for a moment, in order to realize that the thoughts coursing through our minds are not 'who' we really are, and that they are definitely not our allies in trying to bend life to how we think we want it to go.

We need to surrender to the facts (i) that  life is inherently unmanageable by any one individual, (ii) that it evolves quite well enough without our grasping for control over it,  and (iii) that we are not our thoughts themselves, but rather the quiet, simple observer of those thoughts. If one is able to surrender one's thoughts and his or her identification with them, one then becomes capable of making peace with both the world,  and with one's true 'Self' which lies beyond the false duality which is mentally manufactured by the small 'self' of the human ego.

REMEMBER: We are not here to bend the world to our own narrow will. Rather we must demonstrate a deep and abiding faith in the infallible rightness of the course of events.

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