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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ego, Fear and the Smaller "Self"

"More than most people," we read, "the alcoholic leads a double life. He is very much the actor. To the outer world he presents his stage character. This is the one he likes his fellows to see. He wants to enjoy a certain reputation, but knows in his heart he doesn't deserve it."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, page 75.]
"A double-minded man is unstable in
all his ways
." (James: 1-8)

It is to be free of this duplicity - the double-mindedness of the "self" and our higher, God-consciousness - that we take Steps Five through Step Nine; sharing, perhaps for the first time ever, what we did when under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, and more significantly, what we did when stone cold sober. For it is in sharing these matters, examining our role in them, forgiving others and making amends to them where possible for the harm we have done, that we become able to live in our true nature, rather than in the fear-based false identity of the ego, or smaller "self."

Of course, this is not the first reference to the alcoholic as actor. The more recognizable description of the alcoholic as actor follows immediately after the "How It Works" reading that many groups use to open their meetings. Noting that "most people try to live by self-propulsion," we read:
"Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show, is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put. If only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful. In trying to make these arrangements our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous even modest and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish and dishonest. But, as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied traits."

"What usually happens? The show doesn't come off very well. He begins to think life doesn't treat him right. He decides to exert himself more. He becomes on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious, as the case may be. Still the play does not suit him. Admitting he may be somewhat at fault, he is sure that other people are more to blame. He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying. what is his basic trouble? Is he not really a self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well?"
[Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 61. Emphasis added.]
 This delusion - that happiness and satisfaction may be attained by successful self-management - is the crux of the second part of Step One, and it lies on the cusp of Step Two and Step Three. Life, even the life of the individual, is inherently unmanageable. The individual is a part of a much greater whole, although this is not readily apparent to the egoic consciousness of the individual. Thus, in the throes of self-consciousness, we mistakenly feel compelled by fear to try and manage life's circumstances so that it comes out in a way we can accept and tolerate.

The trouble is, that such efforts very, very seldom work out to our satisfaction. Life itself, has far larger rhythms than the individual stuck in narrow self-consciousness can either see or admit. Knowing that we are extremely prone to jump in and manage life, despite its inherent unmanageability - which, of course, is the height of grandiose insanity - we can, if we so choose, decide to turn our will and our lives over to the care of a Power greater than our ordinary fear-ridden, egoic selves. In doing so, we begin to experience a working faith and the peace that comes from the acceptance of a Power greater than ourselves which is already a present and organizing fact in our lives and the life of the cosmos itself.

Such faith is not ordinarily available to the unaided self, because our egoic self-consciousness is merely a fabrication of unresolvable fears and unquenchable desires. We must therefore work to let go of our smaller "selves" and the fears that are rampant in them. For, as Mahatma Gandhi once remarked: "Fearlessness is the first requirement of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral." We are thus not asked, but begged, to "be fearless and thorough from the very start" in trying to live life according to the Twelve Steps and the spiritual principles behind them.

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