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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

On Awakening . . .

"On awakening," we read in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, "let us think about the twenty-four hours ahead. We consider our plans for the day. Before we begin, we ask God to direct our thinking, especially asking that it be divorced from self-pity, dishonest or self-seeking motives. Under these conditions we can employ our mental faculties with assurance, for after all God gave us brains to use. Our thought-life will be placed on a much higher plane when our thinking is cleared of wrong motives."

In this passage on 'awakening,' we are urged every day to return and give thought to our 'spiritual awakening,' and therefore it is not mere coincidence that the discussion centers around our motives. For in reading page 27 of the 'Big Book' (below), where Carl Jung explains what a 'spiritual awakening' consists of, we see that the plane of one's thoughts and one's motives are the central feature of his description.
"Here and there," we read, "once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences. To me these occurrences are phenomena. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them."
[Emphasis added.]
The alcoholic addict is a victim of his or her own "selfish" and "self-centered" thinking. This does not, perhaps, mean that the alcoholic addict is "selfish" and "self-centered" solely in the normal sense that we think of such terms - i.e., in the sense of greed and a heedlessness to the needs of others - but also (and more importantly, I believe), it means that the alcoholic is in a very literal way 'addicted' to and wholly identified with the inner dialogue and narrative of the self-conscious human ego.

The alcoholic addict (like most other folks), I believe, suffers under the false assumption that he or she is the 'thinker' rather than the person who is aware of the thoughts that move fleetingly and continuously across the field of his or her consciousness.

When wholly identified and dominated by such egoic self-conscious thinking, one's motives will necessarily be focused on alleviating the suffering that this fearful mode of thought (or "attitude") engenders. Whether this is done by exerting all one's efforts to control and mange one's life circumstances and the people in one's life, or whether it is by surrendering to the impulse to escape such suffering by drinking or drugging, the motive is the same: one is seeking only to avoid suffering and gain happiness, however temporary and fleeting.

When such "ideas, emotions and attitudes" are cast away, "new conceptions and motives" naturally arise from a higher plane of consciousness - what the more religious members of A.A. would call "God-consciousness." Gone are the thoughts that dwell on what other people have done, or might do to us, and thoughts of what we may do to raise the plane of our consciousness and help others to realize their own potential begin to take their place. In this process we learn to live "one day at a time" (or perhaps more accurately, 'one moment at a time'), free of the fear-based thoughts about the actions of others that used to dominate us.

This is not a new insight peculiar to Alcoholics Anonymous (or any of its sister organizations), but is an insight that has been with us since humankind began to realize the difference between their thoughts and 'who' or 'what' they are. It is reflected in the Meditations of the great philosopher/Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, where he writes:
"Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will and selfishness - all of them due to the offender's ignorance of what is good and evil. But for my part I have long perceived the nature of Good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself who is my brother (not in the physical sense, but as a fellow-creature similarly endowed with Reason and a share of the Divine); therefore none of these things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading. Neither can I be angry with my brother or fall foul of him, for he and I were born to work together, like a man's two hands, feet or eyelids, or like the upper and lower rows of his teeth. To obstruct each other is against Nature's law - and what is irritation or aversion but a form of obstruction?"
In striving to attain to this higher plane of consciousness which is devoid of ego, we are told that: "What used to be the hunch or the occasional inspiration gradually becomes a working part of the mind." This shift in consciousness - from egoic, self-consciousness to an inclusive and expansive God-consciousness - is the heart of the A.A. miracle. With it, the obsession to drink or drug (which is the predominant symptom of alcoholic addiction) drops away, and we are enabled to live a contented and purposeful life without the urge to flee from our smaller "selves" via the bottle or through drugs.

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