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Friday, May 20, 2011

On Spiritual Awakening and Recovery from Alcoholic Addiction

My spiritual awakening was electrically sudden and absolutely convincing," Bill W. wrote. "At once I became a part - if only a little part - of a cosmos that was ruled by justice and love in the person of God. No matter what had been the consequences of my own willingness and ignorance, or those of my fellow travelers on earth, this was still the truth. Such was the new and positive assurance, and this has never left me. ("As Bill Sees It," p. 225.)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Bill's spiritual awakening at Towne's Hospital was obviously convincingly and stunningly sudden. In fact, it was so sudden and unexpected that Bill thought perhaps he had gone mad. Asking Dr. Silkworth (of the "Doctor's Opinion") if that might not be the case, he was assured that whatever had happened it was surely preferable to what he had had before, and that he had better hold onto it.

William James
At some point in the next several days, Ebby T., Bill's sponsor, brought him a copy of William James' "The Varieties of Religious Experience," which was then popular with many of the members of the Oxford Group. In it, Bill would have found many accounts of experiences startlingly similar to his.

Perhaps because of this, Bill was particularly attentive to Ebby's recounting the experience that Ebby's friend Rolland H. had in undergoing psychoanalysis with the pioneering psychologist, Carl Jung. It is recounted in pages 26 to 28 in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, while the essence of Jung's message to Rolland may be found on page 27.
Carl Jung (1875-1961)
"Here and there, once in a while," we read, "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.]
Clearly, Bill - who went overnight from being a nameless and hopeless drunk, to a man who, as a spiritual and social pioneer, would go on to lifetime of sobriety in which he helped literally millions of other drunks achieve sobriety - was the recipient of just such a phenomenological experience. He had achieved, in an instant, a clear consciousness of God.

While thousands of A.A. members (and members of A.A.'s sister 12 Step organizations) have undergone such sudden spiritual awakenings - some repeatedly - for most, perhaps, this experience of "a new state of consciousness and being" (as Bill describes it in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions) is only gradually attained. Thus, in the second edition of the 'Big Book' (when there were approximately 150,000 A.A. members "in recovery"), the "Spiritual Experience" appendix was included to assure those who had not had a sudden awakening that their spiritual experiences were equally valid and effective, a point emphasized by James in "The Varieties of Religious Experience."

The bottom line of the "Spiritual Experience" appendix, however, is that by practicing the Steps, most members attain, however falteringly, to a higher state of consciousness beyond their ordianry egoic, self-consciousness
"With few exceptions," we read, "our members find that they have tapped an unsuspected inner resource which they presently identify with their own conception of a Power greater than themselves."

"Most of us think this awareness of a Power greater than ourselves is the essence of spiritual experience. Our more religious members call it God-consciousness."
Thus, within themselves (i.e., within their own consciousness), members of A.A. who have undergone such a spiritual awakening, discover a wholly unexpected level of consciousness and being; a state of consciousness that is devoid of the old "ideas, emotions and attitudes" that once dominated them. As a skeptic, I would not have believed this, if it had not happened for me.

As William James observed:
"(O)ur normal waking human consciousness, rational consciousness, as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the flimsiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness. . . . No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded."
In going through the 12 Steps, we are introduced to a process of "self-examination meditation and prayer" (The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 98) that are intended to be a stimulus to a new and higher state of consciousness, however transient, through which we can attain to a Power greater than our narrow "selves," and which can help us through even the greatest difficulties that we may face in life. The more we work at it, the more readily such God-consciousness may be attained and maintained. It is not, however, necessarily a matter of becoming suddenly and wholly conscious of the presence of God. Patient, continual and daily work that maintains and enlarges our spiritual lives is the key.

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