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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Going Broke on Spiritual Pride

Bill W. was the recipient of a sudden and tremendous spiritual awakening. It is attested to by his work with Dr. Bob and the millions of individuals who are clean, sober and addiction-free today because of Alcoholics Anonymous (and its sister programs). But he was a man who wrestled with spiritual pride and the sudden and complete disappearance of all humility - and he knew it.

Writing in the June, 1961 Grapevine, he observed:
"There can be no absolute humility for us humans. At best, we can only glimpse the meaning and splendor of such an ideal. As the book Alcoholics Anonymous says: "We are not saints . . . we claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection. Only God himself can manifest in the absolute; we human beings must needs live and grow in the domain of the relative. We seek humility for today."

"Therefore our practical question is this: "Just what do we mean by 'humility for today' and how do we know when we have found it?""

"We scarcely need to be reminded that excessive guilt or rebellion leads to spiritual poverty. but it was a very long time before we knew we could go even more broke on spiritual pride."
Bill was, after all, by profession a stock promoter. Immediately after his spiritual awakening the thought came to him that his experience might serve as an illustration of how to get over alcoholism, and that one drunk working with another could spread like a "chain reaction" sobering up everybody who needed help. And he immediately set out to start such a chain reaction, but with absolutely no success until, in desperation to hold on to his own tenuous sobriety, he told his story to Doctor Bob.

Doctor Bob seems by all accounts to have been temperamentally a far more commonsensical man than Bill, who admittedly suffered the tendency to power drive in his quest to be "a number one man." It was Doctor Bob who coined and epitomized the A.A. slogan "Keep It Simple." And, though a fellow Vermonter, he seemed to have epitomized a mid-Western simplicity and humility. (Perhaps, as a physician, he was more acutely aware of our universal mortality, including his own.)

On his desk, he kept a plaque bearing the following inscription about humility:

Perpetual quietness of heart. It is to have no trouble, It is never to be fretted or vexed, irritable or sore; to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me.

It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised, it is to have a blessed home in myself where I can go in and shut the door and pray to my Father in secret and be at peace, as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and about is seeming trouble.
The ego is a sneaky, subtle force and foe. Having a spiritual awakening, it is far too easy for the ego to to take the position: "O.K. You want to be spiritual? Look how spiritual I can be!" And off goes our egoic self-consciousness, obsessed now with spirituality and our riff on what spirituality is, how it can be attained etc., instead of its usual wants, desires and fears.

It may be that the only time we are wholly free from the wiles of the ego is in meditation and contemplation. And this takes hard work and practice. "Perpetual quietness of heart" is a very high ideal, a rarefied consciousness that we are progressively alienated from as we age. That downward shift into pure self-consciousness is only accelerated by our years of addiction, alcoholic or otherwise.

Today, for me, I have to be just as aware of the inner dialogue going on about spirituality as I do of the "painful inner dialogue" of the usual ego-stuff. Though it is much more interesting to think about, it equally robs me of the experience of the here-and-now going on all around me. The time that I spend in quiet meditation and contemplation is inversely proportional, I find, to the amount of time I spend uselessly chattering away in my own head.

It is helpful to know that I have a "blessed home in myself" where I can go in and "be at peace." Particularly with my family and friends, I need to spend more time there than I spend trying to tell them about a "spiritual solution" to each of their "problems." It is, as Bill notes, far too easy to go "broke on spiritual pride." And I usually do so without noticing that I've already spent all the spiritual currency that I've set aside in the hours of quiet.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Tavern of Ecstatic Experience

"In the tavern," writes Rumi translator and poet Coleman Barks, "are many wines - the wine of delight in color and form and taste, the wine of the intellect's agility, the fine port of stories, and the cabernet of soul singing. Being human means entering this place where entrancing varieties of desire are served. The grapeskin of ego breaks and a pouring begins. Fermentation is one of the oldest symbols for human transformation. When grapes combine their juice and are closed up together for a time in a dark place, the results are spectacular. This is what lets two drunks meet so that they don't know who is who. Pronouns no longer apply in the tavern's mud-world of excited confusion and half-articulated wantings."

"But after some time in the tavern," Barks observes, "a point comes, a memory of elsewhere, a longing for the source, and the drunks must set off from the tavern and begin the return. The Qur'an says, "We are all returning." The tavern is a kind of glorious hell that human beings enjoy and suffer and then push off from in their search for truth. The tavern is a dangerous region where sometimes disguises are necessary, but never hide your heart, Rumi urges. Keep open there. A breaking apart, a crying out into the street, begins in the tavern, and the human soul turns to find its way home."

"Alcohol in Latin," Carl Jung pointed out to to Bill W., "is 'spiritus" and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum."

In the attached video this recognition of alcohol as a surrogate (or in Barks' case, a symbol) for spiritual awakening is continued. In it Dr. Robert Johnson, a Jungian analyst and author, notes that "if we do not get our ecstasy, which is an archetypal quality, in a legitimate way we will get it in an illegitimate way, which accounts for much of the chaos in our culture now. We have to have an ecstatic dimension of our lives."

The following poem by the great Sufi poet, Rumi, who is often called "the Shakespeare of mysticism," is from the first chapter in Coleman Barks' "The Essential Rumi."
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .


God has given us a dark wine so potent that,
drinking it, we leave the two worlds.

God has put into the form of hashish a power
to deliver the taster from self-consciousness.

God has made sleep so
that it erases every thought.

God made Majnun love Layla so much that
just her dog would cause confusion in him.

There are thousands of wines
that can take over our minds.

Don't think all ecstasies
are the same!

Jesus was lost in his love for God.
His donkey was drunk with barley.

Drink from the presence of saints,
not from those other jars.

Every object, every being,
is a jar full of delight.

Be a connoisseur,
and taste with caution.

Any wine will get you high.
Judge like a king, and choose the purest

the ones unadulterated with fear,
or some urgency of "what's needed."

Drink the wine that moves you
as a camel moves when its untied
and is just ambling about.

Monday, June 27, 2011

"Ego-Deflation" and "A New State of Consciousness and Being"

"Maybe there are as many definitions of spiritual awakening as there are people who have had them. But certainly each genuine one has something in common with all the others. And these things which they have in common are not too hard to understand. When a man or a woman has a spiritual awakening, the most important meaning of it is that he has now become able to do, feel, and believe that which he could not do before on his unaided strength and resources alone. He has been granted what amounts to a new state of consciousness and being. He has been set on a path which tells him he is really going somewhere, that life is not a dead end, not something to be endured or mastered. In a very real sense he is transformed because he has laid hold of a source of strength which, in one way or another, he had denied himself. He finds himself in possession of a degree of honesty, tolerance, unselfishness, peace of mind and love of which he had thought himself quite incapable."

"The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pp. 106-107 --
In William James' "The Varieties of Religious Experience," a book that Bill W. was referred to in order to reassure himself as to his sanity and the authenticity of his sudden spiritual awakening, the author convincingly points out that there are many, varied states of consciousness and being of which we are usually quite unaware.
"(O)ur normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it," James observed, "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."
[Wm. James, "The Varieties of Religious Experience," p. 388.]
Of course, for the alcoholic addict the requisite stimulus that beings about the mental rearrangements that are requisite to experience this "new state of consciousness and being" - in reality - is "ego-deflation at depth."

"Ebby brought me a book entitled "Varieties of Religious Experience" and I devoured it," Bill recalled in a talk he gave to a medical committee on alcoholism.* "Written by William James the psychologist, it suggests that the conversion experience can have objective reality. Conversion does alter motivation, and does semi-automatically enable a person to be and to do the formerly impossible. Significant it was that marked conversion experiences came mostly to individuals who knew complete in a controlling area of life."

Thus, it is no mere coincidence that the opening words of The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions ask: "Who cares to admit complete defeat?" It appears to be only through complete ego-deflation, the convincement that of our own self-conscious thinking we have no solution to our addiction, that the alcoholic addict may open himself to the same "conversion" or "spiritual awakening" that can, if acted upon, restore him or her to sanity.

In one of the stories in the back of the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, the author states that we "hit bottom" only when we stop digging. It appears, I would suggest, that so long as one has any reliance upon the twisted, self-conscious thinking of the ego, one is still "digging" and, therefore, does not have the requisite "open mind" that is necessary for spiritual awakening and recovery. Indeed, the first 44 pages of the 'Big Book' are devoted to shattering all the possible "outs" that the alcoholic addict may be considering.

Yet, remarkably, through this process of "ego-deflation," when the alcoholic admits to his innermost self that he has no further "Plan B," he opens him or herself up to a radical shift in consciousness, the requisite "stimuli" of utter desolation and despair has then been applied.

"In the extreme of melancholy," William James observes, "the self that consciously is can do absolutely nothing. It is completely bankrupt and without resource, and no works it can accomplish will prevail. Redemption from such subjective conditions must be a free gift or nothing, and grace . . . is such a gift" - the free gift of "a new state of consciousness and being."
[Wm. James, "The Varieties of Religious Experience," p. 244.]

"But for the grace of God," the alcoholic addict in recovery often remembers, "there go I."
. . . . . . . . . . . . .

(* From the pamphlet, "Three Talks to Medical Societies by Bill W., Co-Founder of A.A.," pp 14-15.)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Spiritual Conceit and Prejudice: From Closed to Open-Mindedness

"Instead of regarding ourselves as intelligent agents, spearheads of God's ever advancing Creation, we agnostics and atheists chose to believe that our human intelligence was the last word, the alpha and omega, the beginning and end of all. Rather vain of us, wasn't it?"

"We, who have traveled this dubious path, beg you to lay aside prejudice, even against organized religion. We have learned that whatever the human frailties of various faiths may be, those faiths have given purpose and direction to life. People of faith have a logical idea of what life is about."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, page 49.]
Religion - from the Latin 're' + 'ligare' - means to retie or reunite, and all of the world's great wisdom traditions lay out methods and practices by which this reunification of the individual with a Power greater than his or her "self" may be accomplished. Thus, there is nothing in the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous that need threaten the religious newcomer. It is more often than not, I suspect, the non-religious or decidedly atheistic newcomer that is threatened by all this talk of a God of one's understanding. I am sure that many, like me, were nearly fatally put off by all mention of a Higher Power.

When I got my first sponsor in A.A., he told me that I had to look beyond the First
Step and its admittance of alcoholism and unmanageability, that I had to look at the Step Two. Being swift on the uptake, I immediately asked him the absolutely wrong question: "What is God?" Of course, at this stage I was not even concerned with God. Step Two merely suggests belief in a power greater than one's "self." I would have been far better served, it turns out, to have asked him what was meant by "self."

As it was, my first sponsor gave me the old fob, by explaining that "God" in his view was "Good Orderly Direction." Don't get me wrong, my first sponsor thus made A.A. "acceptable" to me. But for ten years after his premature death I chased after getting some kind of "good orderly direction" in my thinking, and the two university degrees and professional training I received culminated in a near-fatal suicide and admittance to a psychiatric facility. This is the power that "self" unchecked can have - without picking up a drink.

I was fortunate, indeed, to have an A.A. "old-timer" - not ironically, my first sponsor's best friend - reach out to me and reclaim me from the ash heap of the life I'd burned through. With a new sponsor, one who had drank after 15 years, and at that time had achieved another 15 years of the very best sobriety, I worked through the Twelve Steps again, this time with a truly open mind. With his assistance, and the later assistance of two 35-year A.A. veterans - one who showed me "what" it was I was in need of, and the other who taught me "how" through meditation and prayer I could find it - my eyes were finally opened, and I was able to experience the spiritual awakening others had experienced.

My mind had been closed by "prejudice" towards all things "spiritual" or "religious." While we are told to "be quick to see where religious people are right," I could not get beyond where they were so clearly wrong.* After all, with my education and scientific background, I knew that dinosaurs had existed, and that all the evidence showed the universe to be about 13.8 billion years old. But I was wholly ignorant of the "religious experiences" that have manifested in individuals since time immemorial, nor was I a believer that just such an experience was what restored alcoholics to sanity and emotional sobriety. I did not know anything of higher states of consciousness (other than being an alcoholic and drug addict for 20 years!), nor did I have any notion of the connection that these higher states of consciousness and being have with spirituality, the God of my understanding, or my recovery from alcoholic addiction and final restoration to sanity. But I was set to learn.
"There is a state of mind, known to religious men, but to no others," wrote the great psychologist, William James, "in which the will to assert ourselves and hold our own has been displaced by a willingness to close our mouths and be as nothing in the floods and waterspouts of God. In this state of mind, what we most dreaded has become the habitation of our safety, and the hour of our moral death has turned into our spiritual birthday. The time for tension in our soul is over, and that of  happy relaxation, of calm deep breathing, of an eternal present, with no discordant future to be anxious about, has arrived Fear is not held in abeyance as it is by mere morality, it is positively expunged and washed away."
[Wm. James, "The Varieties of Religious Experience," page 47.]
An eternal present. Who would have thought?

Of course, many had. Marcus Aurelius, the great Roman Emperor more famous for his Meditations than his victories on the Teutonic battlefield, pointed out that "all we have to live or lose, is this ever-passing present moment."

Could it be, I wondered, that what science, psychology and religion all point to is a spirituality of the present moment, and that consciousness itself, is an integral (or, perhaps, the integral) component of the universe? Could we be, in fact, as Bill describes above, "spearheads of God's ever advancing Creation?" It sure seems, I found out, that we are.
"At bottom," James observes, "the whole concern of both morality and religion is with the manner of our acceptance of the universe. Do we accept it only in part and grudgingly, or heartily and altogether?"
Could I discerningly accept as true whatever science provided evidence for, yet remain unswayed by the "religious" or "spiritual experiences" - including eventually my own - reported by men and women throughout the ages?
"It makes a tremendous emotional and practical difference to one," James points out, "whether one accept the universe in the drab discolored way of stoic resignation to necessity, or with the passionate happiness of Christian saints. The difference is as great as that between passivity and activity, as that between the defensive and the aggressive mood."

"Gradual as are the steps by which an individual may grow from one state into the other, many as are the intermediate stages which different individuals represent, yet when you place the typical extremes beside each other for comparison, you feel that two discontinuous psychological universes confront you, and that in passing from one to the other a 'critical point' had been overcome."
[Wm. James, "The Varieties of Religious Experience," pp. 42-43.]
 For me, it took a crisis in life to get sober. Being close-minded, however, it took a greater crisis deep into my sober life for me to reach the 'critical point' that James referred to before I was restored ('somewhat') to sanity. When sharing my experience, I emphasize the need to set aside prejudices and develop an open mind - the sooner, the better - and to question what concepts such as "self," "sanity" "consciousness" and "a Power greater than ourselves" mean.

"Seek until you find," I was advised by one of my old-timers, "and study all religions until you can see the sameness in them all." Or, as Bill advises in the 'Big Book," "(b)e quick to see where religious people are right."*

* Alcoholics Anonymous, page 87.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Smashing 'Old Ideas' and 'Attitudes'

"We 'begin' with this this now-awareness, but the beginning must be a new and genuine redetermination of Isness. We start from scratch, but this is not being done until our previous beliefs, ideas and cherished opinions are loosed and let go. The practice of humanity, the intellectual temptation, is to carry them with us to see if our new discoveries coincide with our old ideas."

"No, we let go everything and start again like new babes, with the first and basic fact about which there is no uncertainty - the Isness of this present now-awareness. All else must go. Without regard or regret, without fear or consternation, we stand in a void, naked, childlike, innocent. As this now-awareness, empty of the ego, we open our eyes and awaken."

-- William Samuel --
("A Guide to Awareness and Tranquility")

The only "absolute" in the first part of the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous is the absolute necessity of letting go of our old ideas. "Many of us," we read in the "How It Works" chapter, "tried to hold onto our old ideas, and the result was nil until we let go absolutely." Nothing changes if our thinking does not change. Our old thought patterns must be smashed!

Indeed, that is the essence of what a spiritual awakening is. At page 27 of the 'Big Book', in describing the type of spiritual awakening that had been know to arrest chronic alcoholism, Carl Jung described how the "(i)deas, emotions and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of these men are suddenly cast to one side and new conceptions and motivations begin to dominate them." Of course, both "ideas" and "conceptions" are synonyms for thoughts, and it is thus clear that our "old ideas" must be let go of, in order for new "conceptions" to arise. And with our old "ideas" go the "emotions" that are associated with them, and suddenly (or gradually) there arises a new "attitude" or way of thinking.

Clinging to our "old ideas" impedes or totally blocks this mental transformation, and merely reinforces our calamitous ego-centric thinking. New thoughts and a new way of thinking are necessary if we are to effect and then improve a conscious contact with the God of our understanding, for it is our self-centered, fear-based ideas and attitudes (i.e., the seemingly separate and desperate human ego) that are the immediate problem of the alcoholic addict once he or she is clean and sober. Acting while reliant on our egoic self-obsessed thinking, we are bound to say or do something that blows up in our faces and thus makes drinking or drugging seem like the only option available to us. Thus Steps Four through Step Nine are designed to clear away the mental "wreckage of our past," while Steps Ten through Twelve are designed to keep our old "attitudes" or ways of thinking at bay

Freed from our old ideas - and the longer we are clean and sober, the less time it takes for an idea to get "old" - we are then able to live freely in the present moment, in what Bill describes at page 107 of The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions as "a new state of consciousness and being." It is this higher, God-consciousness (once obscured beneath our ordinary egoic self-consciousness) which spiritual teachers of all traditions attest to - the "suchness" or "Isness" of life itself as it is lived - or, as Paul described it, "the peace that surpasses all understanding."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fear, Desire and Defects of Character

In doing our Fourth Step, we are instructed to review our fears "thoroughly," to write them down on paper, even where there is no resentment connected with them. Then we are asked "why" we had such fears, and questioned as to whether or not it is because our "self-reliance" had totally failed us. This realization is helpful in seeing the root cause of the fears (that are elsewhere discussed as being the "chief activator" of our defects of character), but it says very little about the process by which these fears themselves arise.

To understand how and why fear arises within us, one needs to turn to The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, where the "flip-side" of fear - instinctive desire - is discussed. "Every normal person," we read at Step Six, "wants . . . to eat, to reproduce, to be somebody in the society of his fellows. And he wishes to be reasonably safe and secure as he tries to attain these thing." We all have, and will continue to have instinctive desires, it is how we deal with them that determines how and to what extenet fear will continue to rule our lives and dictate our behaviours.
"Since most of us are born with an abundance of natural desires," the reading continues, "it isn't strange that we often let these far exceed their intended purpose. When they drive us blindly, or we willfully demand that they supply us more satisfactions or pleasures than are possible or due to us, that is the point at which we depart from the degree of perfection that God wishes for us here on earth. That is the measure of our character defects, or, if you wish, our sins."
Our instinctive drives are very basic. We have a need for air, water, food, clothing and warmth. On top of these we have an instinctive drive for sex, and as social creatures, a place in the human community. For most of us, barring natural or man-made disaster, securing these basic human needs and aspirations is straight forward and far from an impossible feat. Yet, are we satisfied once these needs are met? For most people, it would seem on the face of it, we would have to say "no," based on the behaviour that we see surrounding us. And perhaps, as a class, alcoholic addicts (once clean and sober) are amongst those least satisfied with the lot that falls to them.

Remember, as it says in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, that we are "driven people." Are we satisfied with three square meals a day, a roof to sleep under, and a companion and friends with which to share our lives? What about the promotion we now so richly deserve? What about that new car? What about new clothes? What about what other people might think of us? What about the people we want or "need" to impress?

Clearly, as is pointed out, "it is nowhere on the record that God has completely removed from any human being all his natural drives. Why and to what extent, then, do we continue to let our instinctive desires drive us blindly? Why do we allow our desires to create within us the room in which we allow our character defects to operate? Why with our needs for the day met do we obsessively work to ensure that tomorrow's desires - for food, clothes, sex, companionship etc. - will be met in surplus?

One answer may be, as many noted spiritual authorities attest, that there is within us a typically unrecognized desire for transcendence, for something much greater than the here and now. The alcoholic addict's "craving for alcohol (is) on a low level." Carl Jung observed, "the thirst of our being for wholeness, in medieval terms: union with God." And, similarly, I would suggest that our thirst for money, for prestige, power and sex, etc. is a similar misplaced thirst for the transcendent. Out of this thirst, or desire, arises the fear (rightly founded) that this thirst will not be quenched, as, in reality it cannot be. Then, because of this irrational fear, we act out, seeking to grasp more than we could possibly consume, all in a quest for a happiness which ever eludes us.

The solution to this dilemma is, as always, that the God of our understanding can restore us to sanity, if we seek our satisfaction there. This is not common sense. We are not taught this by society. Rather, it is uncommon sense. We need to seek a higher, acceptive consciousness that will allow us to fully accept and enjoy the here and now, instead of remaining mired in the egoic consciousness of "self" which is forever unsatisfied. To access this higher consciousness, and to attain, maintain and improve our conscious contact with a God which relieves our suffering (not only from alcohol or drugs, but also from fear, desire and our character defects) is the purpose of the Twelve Steps.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Carl Jung on Alcoholism, Addiction and "Attitude Adjustment"

Often referred to as a program of "attitude adjustment," the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (and its sister fellowships) were crafted to address the problem of the alcoholic addict where it centers - in his or her mind. In doing so, they are intended to address the thoughts, feelings and way of thinking that keeps the alcoholic addict in the throes of addiction, and they do so by uncovering an entirely new state of consciousness and being that exists within each of us.

"Attitude" is defined as "a settled . . . way of thinking," and it is the alcoholic addict's conditioned, or learned, "way of thinking" that must be overcome. Indeed, in describing the spiritual awakenings that had been reported as arresting chronic alcoholism, the great Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, observed that "(the) ideas, emotions and attitudes that were the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side and a completely new set of conceptions and motivations begin to dominate them."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, page 27.]

Note how these words "ideas," "attitudes," "conceptions," etc., all deal with mental phenomena. The 12 Steps are indeed "a program of action," yet all the actions that are suggested are meant to effect a mental rearrangement by allowing the recovering alcoholic addict to tap into the stream of a different, higher state of consciousness than his or or her ordinary, egoic "self" consciousness provides. Indeed, in Jung's view, the problem of "ego," or "self" consciousness, is the central dilemma of all humanity - addict and non-addict alike - only in the alcoholic addict, if unchecked, the "ego" will inevitably lead the sufferer to drink or drug once again in order to relieve this "bondage of self." In order to overcome this dilemma, Jung saw that a spiritual (or inner religious) conversion was necessary, and that such a spiritual awakening must be one that is grounded in experiential rather than merely intellectual knowledge.

Thus, in his book, "The Undiscovered Self," Jung observes:
"Just as man, as a social being, cannot in the long run exist without a tie to the community, so the individual will never find the real justification for his existence, and his own spiritual and moral autonomy, anywhere except in an extramundane principle capable of relativizing the overpowering influence of external factors."

"The individual who is not anchored in God," Jung points out, "can offer no resistance on his own resources to the physical and moral blandishments of the world."

"For this," Jung notes, "he needs the inner, transcendent experience which alone can protect him from the otherwise inevitable submersion in the mass. Merely intellectual or even moral insight into the stultification and moral irresponsibility of the mass man is a negative recognition only and amounts to not much more than a wavering on the road to the atomization of the individual. It lacks the driving force of religious conviction, since it is merely rational."
[Jung, "The Undiscovered Self," page 34.]
Indeed, in his belated correspondence with Bill W.  - in which Bill originally thanked Jung for his initial contribution to the chain of events that would lead to the founding of A.A. - Jung observed that "the evil principle prevailing in this world leads the unrecognized spiritual need into perdition, if it is not counteracted either by real religious insight or by the protective wall of human community." The 12 Steps are thus designed to provide just such insight.

Just as "attitude" can also describe the way in which an aircraft cuts through the sky, "attitude" (or his or her way of thinking) can describe the way an individual circumnavigates life. If centered in,  and identified wholly with, his or her egoic self-consciousness, the individual is left blowing in the wind with neither guide nor plan. But the same individual, armed with real and experiential religious or spiritual insight, and experiencing life through the higher consciousness and being which exists within each of us, becomes in Jung's terms "anchored in God." The Twelve Steps are, thus, designed to spark the spiritual (or inner religious) experience that makes this rarer state of consciousness and being possible.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Worry and Fear vs. Serenity and Acceptance

"(A)cceptance 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 my attitudes."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, page 417.]
The opposite of acceptance is, of course, defiance - and we are told that defiance is "an outstanding trait of the alcoholic" - but the product of acceptance is serenity. It's opposite is calamity and fear, and the effect of egoic, calamitous thinking is to obscure the Ground of our Being and thus prevent us from establishing a conscious contact with the God of our understanding. But how do we practice this seemingly radical acceptance of every person, place, thing or situation in our life?

A starting place for acceptance, and thus serenity, is in the practice of Step Three. "In all times of emotional disturbance or indecision," we read in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, "we can pause, ask for quiet, and in the stillness simply say: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Thy will, not mine, be done."
[The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 41.]

Why does this simple prayer seem to work so effectively? First and foremost, it seems to work because the fear, worry and anxiety - all emotions that are symptomatic of our being lost once again "in the bondage of self" - are, practically speaking, useless in addressing whatever 'problem' we are facing. It is a spiritual truism, as Einstein once famously remarked, that we cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that got us there in the first place.

Consider the following objective schematic of our thinking process:

"Serenity" is the fruit of a conscious contact with a Power greater than "self," greater than our conditioned way of egoic thinking which is rooted in fear and desire. In stopping, pausing and asking for quiet, we release ourselves from the bondage of self and attain to the higher state of consciousness and being (some call it God-consciousness) that always lies just beneath the ego. God thus grants us "the serenity to accept the things (we) cannot change." If, as the diagram shows, we have a problem in our life, and we cannot do something about it, then we should not worry about it.

Next we ask for the "courage to change the things (we) can." The word "courage" comes from the French and Latin "cour" meaning "heart." "Heart" is of course a metaphor for the higher consciousness that is obscured but attainable by all people. Thus, the first and most important thing that we can change, is the level of our thinking, raising it from the egoic plane of "self" to the holisitc plane of Higher Being. If we have a problem, and we can do something about it, raising our consciousness to this holistic state of consciousness and being is the first thing we need to do. Having done so, as the diagram illustrates, why worry?

"A double-minded man is unstable
in all his ways. "       (James 1:8)
Lastly we ask "to know the difference." This means not only knowing the difference between what we can and cannot change, but more importantly knowing that there are at least two different levels of consciousness with which we can utilize in addressing any 'problem' - the egoic consciousness of our smaller "self" based in unfathomable fear and unquenchable desire, and the higher consciousness of "Self" in which a conscious contact with God, Wholeness, Pure Being and the Unity of the universe is available. In the latter, problems do not exist, because we can clearly see that the worry, fear and anxiety of the ego (as the diagram illustrates) do nothing but rob us of the serenity we need to live a truly spiritual life. In the latter, life suddenly becomes non-problematic, no matter what it is we seem to face, even death.

Acceptance of this duality, through the spiritual practice we have put in so that we can effect a conscious contact with the God of our own understanding, is thus, the fruit of a spiritual life and the essence of true emotional sobriety.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Thirst of Our Being for Wholeness

The word "addiction" has the same Latin root as the words "diction" and "dictator" - 'ad' + 'dicere' - which means, essentially, that the addict really has "no say" in his or her behavior.

At heart, a spiritual malady, the "false spirits" of alcohol, drugs, sex, or what have you, gives the addict a taste of the divine, but he or she is never allowed to remain. And, over time, it takes more and more of that which he or she is addicted to, just to get a glimpse of the state of peace and good feeling that was once achieved. Eventually, even a glimpse will be out of reach of the then hopeless addict. And then the individual, once fully addicted, really has no say in how this process inevitably works out.

The thirst of the alcoholic, Carl Jung explained to Bill Wilson, is "the equivalent on a low level of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval terms: union with God."

Addiction is thus a "separation" of our consciousness and being from Wholeness, and unless we can overcome the duality of the false ego of the seeming "self" and our true state of consciousness and being, we will once again try to approach the divine with whatever our drink or drug of choice may be.

Ram Dass - a spiritual teacher who knows a thing or two about addiction - puts it this way: "What you find out with most addictive things (is) that they give you a short rush but they don't allow you to remain at home. They just allow you the taste of it. And then the minute you get thrown out, you go to heaven but you can't stay because you didn't come in through the right way."

However, Dass notes, "(w)hen you start to stand back and see your predicament and see what you are doing, there is a way from a spiritual perspective in which you begin with that slight bit of awareness to extricate yourself from the chain of reactivity" that keeps you in addiction.

"When people come to me with addictions," Dass says, "I'm inclined to say, start doing spiritual practices. Start doing the studies that will allow you to see yourself in a new way, that will allow you to understand what that hunger is you are feeding in a new way, to just get a little different perspective on it."

"The line I always use," he says, "is, "How poignant I am! How poignant the human condition!"

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Step Ten: A 'Continuous' Moral Inventory

Step Ten suggests that "we continue to take personal inventory and continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along." In The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions both a "spot-check" and a "nightly inventory" are suggested. However, my sponsor, who has spent three-quarters of his life working this program of recovery, suggests that this be a "continuous" inventory, rather than a once a day thing. After all, once we "have entered the world of the Spirit" it becomes immediately clear and evident when we have done or said something (or have omitted doing or saying something) that puts us add odds with the spiritual principles and locks us right back into the bondage of self. And, as John Lennon, famously put it: "Instant karma's gonna get you." That is, right away we feel the results of our misdirected actions.

The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, indeed, recognizes that "(a) continuous look at our assets and liabilities, and a real desire to learn and grow by this means, are necessities for us," particularly if we are to avoid the crippling and dangerous "emotional hangovers" that are "the direct result of yesterday's and sometimes today's excesses of negative emotion - anger, fear, jealousy and the like."

"It is a spiritual axiom," we are told, "that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us." And, thus, it is up to us to recognize where we have been wrong and to make what restitution we can - as soon as we become aware of the errors in our thinking and actions - if we are to restore our consciousness and being to the emotional sobriety of the spiritual plane as soon as possible.
[The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pp. 88-90.]

Otherwise, "instant karma" is sure to get you!

Friday, June 17, 2011

William James and 'The Varieties of Spritual Awakenings'

The "Spiritual Experience" appendix was added to the second edition of Alcoholics Anonymous in order to reassure recovering alcoholic addicts that a sudden, overwhelming and distinct spiritual awakening was not the only type of "vital spiritual experience" necessary to arrest their alcoholism. Great pains were taken to reassure alcoholic addicts that such experiences may be both progressive and dynamic, and need not be at once momentous and complete.
"Most of our experiences," we read in the "Spiritual Experience" appendix, "are what the psychologist William James calls "the educational variety" because they develop slowly over a period of time. Quite often friends of the newcomer are aware of the difference long before he is himself. He finally realizes that he has undergone a profound alteration in his reaction to life; that such change could hardly have been brought about by himself alone. What often takes place in a few months could seldom have been accomplished by years of self discipline."
In his classic work, "The Varieties of Religious Experience," William James does indeed note that the "religious experiences" he is dealing with - inner, spiritual experiences, rather than outer, religious practices - may develop slowly over time culminating in a higher state of consciousness above our ordinary, egoic self-consciousness. Yet, the pertinent message of his work, like the pertinent message behind the "Spiritual Experience" appendix, is that this new state of consciousness and being is most often unsuspected and cannot be attained by the mere exercise of self-will. ("We could wish to be moral," we read in the 'Big Book', at page 45, "we could wish to be philosophically comforted, in fact, we could will these things with all our might, but the needed power wasn't there. Our human resources, as marshalled by the will, were not sufficient; they failed utterly.")
"There is a state of mind, known to religious men, but to no others," James explains, "in which the will to assert ourselves and hold our own has been displaced by a willingness to close our mouths and be as nothing in the floods and waterspouts of God. In this state of mind what we most dreaded has become the habitation of our safety, and the hour of our moral death has turned into our spiritual birthday. The time for tension in our soul is over, and that of happy relaxation, of calm deep breathing, of an eternal present, with no discordant future to be anxious about has arrived. Fear is not held in abeyance as it is by mere morality, it is positively expunged and washed away."
"This enchantment," James observes, "coming as a gift when it does come - a gift of our organism, the physiologists will tell us, a gift of God's grace, the theologians say - is either there or not there for us, and there are persons who can no more become possessed by it than they can fall in love with a given woman by mere word of command. Religious feeling is thus an absolute addition to the Subject's range of life. It gives him a new sphere of power. When the outward battle is lost, and the outer world disowns him, it redeems and vivifies an interior world which otherwise would be an empty waste."
[Wm. James, "The Varieties of Religious Experience," pp. 47-48.]

The purpose of the 12 Steps is to lay the groundwork and prepare ourselves for such an awakening. We cannot will it, but we can take actions that make room for this shift in consciousness to occur. Indeed, looking back at the collective experience of A.A. members, Bill W. asserts in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions that it is when  completing the 5th Step that many A.A.'s first "begin" to have a spiritual awakening.

Yet, whether the process is sudden or prolonged, the important point is that such an unexpected and unusual spiritual awakening is readily available in reality.
"With few exceptions," we are reassured, "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."
Such "God-consciousness," it is worth repeating, gives the alcoholic addict in recovery "a new sphere of power," and "(w)hen the outward battle is lost, and the outer world disowns him, (this new God-consciousness) redeems and vivifies an interior world which otherwise would be an empty waste."

"We find that no one need have difficulty with the program," we are once again reassured in the "Spiritual Experience" appendix; all that is necessary is that we maintain our "willingness, honesty and open-mindedness" as we work through the Steps preparing the ground for such an awakening.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Perils of 'White-Knuckling' Sobriety

The danger with "white-knuckling it" in recovery - whether this consists of perpetually putting off working the 12 Steps (typically resulting from 4th Step fear), or in becoming complacent, slacking off meetings and ceasing to do the daily work that is necessary to maintain healthy sobriety - is that very, very quickly and subtly one is back running the show, managing one's life, and stepping all over the toes of people who insist on running theirs. Within days, one may be drunk, or worse. At best, one may find oneself all alone and facing the dreaded "Four Horsemen" of "Terror, Bewilderment, Frustration and Despair" without the luxury of being able to take a drink, or to lighten the load by sharing one's fears and frustrations with someone who can understand you in the depth of your being. Remember, "the problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than in his body." [Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 23.]

"Now and then," we read in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, "a serious drinker, being dry at the moment says, "I don't miss it at all. Feel better. Work better. Having a better time." As ex-problem drinkers, we smile at such a sally. We know our friend is like a boy whistling in the dark to keep up his spirits. He fools himself. Inwardly he would give anything to take half a dozen drinks and get away with them. He will presently try the old game again, for he isn't happy about his sobriety. He cannot picture life without alcohol. Some day he will be unable to manage life either with alcohol or without it. He will be at the jumping-off place. He will wish for the end."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 152-153.]
The usual result of "white-knuckling" sobriety is thus, usually, relapse with all the suffering that causes. Hopefully, but far from certainly, that may mean a lesson learned and the "white- knuckling" alcoholic addict will return to the fellowship of A.A. (or a sister organization) and begin working the 12 Steps anew, this time being "fearless and thorough from the very start." Unfortunately, that is the best scenario.

There are a certain number of "white-knucklers" who find themselves "at the jumping-off place" and do, in fact, jump. They may do so either after drinking some more or, shockingly, even in sobriety. Of the "Four Horsemen" Bill describes, "Despair" can be the most deadly. Ask any old-timer whether they have known anyone with long-term sobriety who, having failed to take the 12 Steps or haing drifted away from the fellowship and work of A.A., has taken their life, and chances are he or she will probably be able to tell you the story of some deceased friend.

There is, of course, a whole further class of "white-knucklers" who learn to stoically absorb the suffering of recovery without relief. Opinionated, angry, disputatious, gruff and unhappy, it is not hard to pick them out, if they still go to meetings at all. Twenty or thirty years later they are still going on about their drinking days and their character defects seem to be getting worse not better. Taking a mental rather than moral inventory, they have decided that they are not all that bad after all, particularly since they no longer drink. Thus, year after year they do not change as, after all, their life has become quite manageable - thank you very much - since they quit drinking.

Let's face it. None of us is, or will be perfect. But if we do not do the work that is suggested, or if having gone once through the Steps we fail to do the daily work that is required for the maintenance of our spiritual condition, we will inevitably fall into one of these groups. None is safe, all are deadly. Only the amount of suffering and pain absorbed and inflicted varies from case to case.

How to avoid these perils? "Abandon yourself to God as you understand God. Admit your faults to him and to your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of the past. Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit. . . May God bless you and keep you - until then."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 164.]

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Paradox of Alcoholism, Addiction and Spiritual Awakening

Twelve Step programs have a double purpose, but like all spiritual matters, the double purpose is paradoxically interrelated. The alcoholic addict turns to A.A. (or one of its sister organizations) because of the suffering induced by his or her addiction and quickly (or slowly, in my case) learns that alcohol and/or drugs are not the problem, but rather a failed solution to a deeper, existential challenge: the lack of power to manage, or even soberly tolerate, his or her life.

"If a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism," we read in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, "many of us would have recovered long ago. But we found that such codes and philosophies did not save us, no matter how much we tried. We could wish to be moral we could wish to be philosophically comforted, in fact we could will these things with all our might, but the needed power wasn't there. Our human resources, as marshalled by the will, were not sufficient they failed us utterly."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 44-45.]

Thus, it seems we cannot stop drinking and/or drugging just because we feel, or even know, that it is "wrong" for us to continue. "The needed power was not there." Essentially, we continue because we see no viable path to live our life without the comfort and ease (which finally elude us) that comes from drinking and/or drugging. We are hopeless, or so it seems.
"Lack of power," we then read, "was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves. Obviously. But where and how were we to find this Power?" 
The "how" of where to find a Higher Power greater than "self" is, of course, the Twelve Steps. And, the "where" (again, paradoxically) is "deep down within us" - i.e., deep in our consciousness. We read in the 'Big Book' (at page 55) that "deep down in every man, woman, and child is the fundamental idea of God," although "(i)t may be obscured by calamity, pomp, (and) by worship of other things."

And there's the rub. We each have within us a higher consciousness devoid of the pomp, calamities and acquisitiveness generated by our self-conscious, egoic state of being - a higher consciousness that we approached, but never really reached, when using alcohol and drugs -  but we are unable to attain to it. It is through the "how" of self-examination, meditation and prayer suggested by the Twelve Steps that we finally acquire the ability to let go of our ego-consciousness and connect (or, perhaps more accurately, reconnect) with this deeper nature of our being - a state of consciousness and being which the more religious members of A.A. (and its sister organizations) call "God-consciousness."

When we attain to this state of higher consciousness, we experience a spiritual awakening, and this awakening allows us to abstain from the use of alcohol and/or drugs on a day-by-day basis, provided we do the necessary daily work to maintain a connection in consciousness to this Higher Power. For the realm of the spiritual is ephemeral, as generations of mystics have warned, and our conscious contact with the God of our own understanding is much easier to lose than it is to attain and maintain. "Every day," we read, "is a day when we must carry the vision of God's will for us into all our activities."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 44-45.]

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Despair, Hope and the Nature of a Spiritual Awakening

For permanent and contented sobriety, the alcoholic addict in recovery is dependent, first, in attaining a spiritual awakening and, secondly, on the daily maintenance of his or her spiritual condition.
"If, when you honestly want to," we read in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, "you find that you cannot quit entirely, of if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic. If that be the case, you may be suffering from an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, page 44.]
Carl G. Jung
But what is the nature of such a "spiritual experience" and what might trigger such a process? In the 'Big Book', Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, is said to have described such "spiritual experiences" as being "phenomena . . . (which) appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements." Importantly, he notes that the existing "ideas, emotions and attitudes" of the alcoholic are replaced with "a completely new set of conceptions and motives."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, page 27.]

A.A. co-founder (and principal author of the 'Big Book'), Bill Wilson, famously experienced just such a sudden and unexpected spiritual awakening just prior to his receiving treatment for his chronic alcoholism at Townes Hospital in New York in December of 1934. At the time, his sudden and profound conversion experience initially scared the formerly agnostic Wilson. He sought assurance from his attending physician that he had not gone completely insane, and was somewhat reassured that he had not. Later, his sponsor, Ebby T., brought him a copy of William James' "The Varieties of Spiritual Experience." Reading this volume, Wilson was further reassured, not only of his sanity, but of the reality and efficacy of the spiritual awakening he had undergone.
"Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it," James observes, "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," he notes, "but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation."

"No account of the universe in its totality," he writes, "can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. How to regard them," he notes, "is the question - for they are so discontinuous with ordinary consciousness."

"Yet," he observes, "they may determine attitudes though they cannot furnish formulas, and open a region though they fail to give a map. At any rate, they forbid a premature closing of our accounts with reality."
[Wm. James, "The Varieties of Religious Experience," p. 388.]
William James
(1842 -1910)
It seems probable from Wilson's varied writings, including his account in the 'Big Book,' that there were two stimuli which sparked his sudden and unexpected "spiritual awakening." The first was his attending physician's diagnosis that he would soon die or have to be institutionalized as a result of his uncontrollable drinking. The second it seems, was the hope that his sponsor, Ebby inspired in him. Together with the assurance that he could rely on a God of his own conception, Bill describes how his intellectual reservations melted away when Ebby visited him, and how he "stood in the sunlight at last."

The presence of profound despair and the infusion of sudden hope, it seems, sparked Bill's awakening, and his reaction to these emotional stimuli - i.e, his sudden and profound spiritual awakening - it turns out, was not necessarily abnormal. In "The Varieties of Religious Experience," James describes precisely how such a violent swing of emotions can trigger the emotional rearrangement that he (like Jung) characterizes as the essence of a spiritual awakening or "conversion."
"Emotional occasions, especially violent ones," James observes, "are extremely potent in precipitating mental rearrangements. This sudden and explosive ways in which love, jealousy, guilt, fear, remorse or anger can seize upon one are known to everybody. Hope, happiness, security, resolve, emotions characteristic of conversion, can be equally explosive."

"And," he points out, "emotions that come in this explosive way seldom leave things as they found them."
[Wm. James, "The Varieties of Religious Experience," p. 198.]
Thus, experience shows how it is possible that an alcoholic addict in recovery, sharing at depth with another who is in emotional despair, may help precipitate a spiritual awakening that will relieve the sufferer from his or her addiction.

Of course, as was the case with Ebby and Bill, it is also necessary to show the sufferer exactly what steps he or she must take to assure the effectiveness of such an awakening. For, as William James notes, above, such experiences "open a region (of consciousness) though they fail to give a map."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Recovery Despite "Grave Emotional or Mental Disorders"

As an individual who has experienced a lifetime of bouts with recurrent depression - one of the "grave mental and emotional disorders" referenced in the "How It Works" chapter of the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous - but who has nevertheless attained and sustained long-term sobriety and freedom from alcoholic addiction, it is helpful (indeed necessary) for me to remember the nature of that illness. For this, the "Doctor's Opinion" in the 'Big Book' is the best place to start.

In Doctor Silkworth's statement enlarging upon his views about alcoholism, we are confirmed in "what we who have suffered alcoholic torture must believe - that the body of the alcoholic is quite as abnormal as the mind." Thus, while "the problem of the alcoholic centers in the mind" - as do other, primarily mental illnesses - it is important for me to recognize and remind myself of the strong physical component to alcoholic addiciton.

"It did not satisfy us," we read, "to be told that we could not control our drinking just because we were maladjusted to life, that we were in full flight from reality, or were outright mental defectives. These things were true to some extent, in fact, to a considerable extent with some of us. But we are sure that our bodies were sickened as well. In our belief, any picture of the alcoholic which leaves out this physical factor is incomplete."

If I had never drank alcohol, I wouldn't have become alcoholic, although that latent physical potentiality would still have been there. This does not mean, however, that I would never have suffered from depression. Looking back, with the help of friends, sponsors and therapists, it is clear that at times I treated my depression with the booze and drugs. However, looking at my family tree, it is equally clear that I, along with other family members, suffered from depression - some with additional battles against alcoholism, some without such struggles - irrespective of my alcoholism. Both diseases, I have found, have their biological bases, and their mental expressions are well known.

Thus, just as I seek treatment to guard against, and/ or ameliorate, chronic depression (which is a matter that is strictly between my doctors and myself), I must also remember that my alcoholic addiction requires treatment as well. That is why I continue to work the 12 Steps, attend meetings and try to help others work through the Steps.

Dr. Silkworth (and many doctors since) suggests "that the effect of alcohol on . . . chronic alcoholics is a manifestation of an allergy; that the phenomenon of craving is limited to this class and never occurs in the average temperate drinker. These allergic types can never safely use alcohol in any form at all; and once having formed the habit and found they cannot break it, once having lost their self-confidence, their reliance upon things human, their problems pile up on them and become astonishingly difficult to solve."

Looking back at my sixteen years of alcoholic addiction, three things happened the first time I got drunk, and the same three things happened the last time I got drunk: I lost my natural inhibitions and felt like an integral part of what was happening around me, I wanted more (and still more) of the booze and drugs that were making me feel that way, and I drank way more than I could stomach and eventually passed out. But in the midst of this, sometimes for just the briefest period, I felt elation. These effects were more or less present each time I drank, and accept for the puking out, passing out or, worse, blacking out, I drank for these effects. I craved more and more alcohol, and progressively drank more and more alcohol to attain the desired affect. And when sober, I could not wait to get high and drunk again. Such is the nature of my addiction.

I had one moment of clarity, which looking back I attribute to the grace of God, and that was sufficient to make the tentative first call for help which would lead me out of this alcoholic addiction. I work the 12 Steps to the best of my ability on a daily basis, so that I do not return to active addiction - ever.  I really do not know if I would have a "second chance" at recovery. And, I suspect not.

The added bonus is that working the Steps - living the spiritual way of life I have been taught in A.A. -  also helps me with the continuing threat that depression always poses, although, as mentioned, I do seek outside medical help for that supposedly "outside issue." For a while I attended meetings of Emotions Anonymous (one of A.A.'s many sister groups), where they used the Twelve Steps to deal with emotional and mental issues such as depression. I met people there who were getting great relief through working the Steps in that fellowship.

But, for me, an alcoholic addict in recovery, A.A. will always be home. All around me I see people just like me dealing with the same fears, overwrought desires and their struggles with everyday and once-in-a-lifetime occurrences, and I draw strength from their success, and knowledge from their experience which helps me in my life.

Over the years, I have boiled down the necessity of treating what are, in fact, two separate but related, and primarily mental illnesses (alcoholic addiction and depression) to the following: It is difficult and at times impossible for an unhealthy brain to entertain consistently healthy thought; therefore, I work with my doctor in assuring that my tendency to depression is kept in check. At the same time, it is still all too easy for a healthy brain to have some very unhealthy thoughts; therefore I work the 12 Steps, have a sponsor, and hang with individuals who are both working a program of recovery and have deep aspirations to increase and improve their conscious contact with a Power greater than themselves.

As a result, I have been the beneficiary of some great teachers and garnered invaluable insights into who I am as a person. And irrespective of what life brings to me, I have found (although it may not have seemed so at the time) that I can accept it all good and bad, whether it is the love my children have for me, or the loss of a woman I loved dearly, or any of the ups and downs that have happened in-between. I may not like what life brings, but that is not my call.

My imperative is to stay awake spiritually, to accept life as it is served to me, and to learn to accept it as it is, rather than plucking up false courage and unwisely battling things that are far beyond my ability to influence or control. My life remains unmanageable, and I accept that. Thank God, it is under better management than I could ever provide!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Anger: "A Dubious Luxury"

"Anger is a toxic poison," goes a Chinese saying, "that eats away the vessel that holds it from the inside out." Yet, how easily we (alcoholic addict and non-addict alike) become "intoxicated" with our petty angers and resentments. With no more than a thought arising within us, we can be carried away beyond all reason with anger, and the memory of a supposed "wrong" can send us reeling with resentment. It is no mere coincidence, then, that the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous points out that "we cut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit" when we harbor such feelings.
"If we are to live," we read, "we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, page 66.]
Of course, anger doesn't work out so well for so-called "normal men" either, but the insights they have gained into their anger can, perhaps, help us to gain insight into our own. Thus, in "The Genesee Diary," author Henri J.M. Neuwen discusses the insights he gained when debilitating anger grabbed hold of him during his nine month stay at a Trappist monastery in upstate New York.
"The longer I am here," he writes, "the more I sense how anger bars my way to God. Today I realized how, especially during work which I do not like much, my minds starts feeding upon hostile feelings. I experience negative feelings toward the one who gives the order, imagine that the people around me don't pay attention to my needs, and think that the work I am doing is not really necessary work but only there to give me something to do. The more my mind broods, the father away from God and neighbor I move."

"Being in a monastery like this," Neuwen continues, "helps me to see how the anger is really mine. In other situations there are often enough "good reasons" for being angry, for thinking that others are insensitive, egocentric, or harsh, and in those circumstances my mind easily finds anchor points for its hostility. But here! People couldn't be nicer more gentle, more considerate. They really are very kind, compassionate people. That leaves little room for projection. In fact, none. It is not he or they, but it is simply me. I am the source of my own anger and no one else. I am here because I want to be here, and no one forces me to do anything I do not want to do. If I am angry and morose, I now have a perfect chance to look at its source, its deepest roots."

"I always knew it: "Wherever you go you always take yourself with you," but now," he concludes, "I have nothing and no one to blame for my being me except myself. Maybe allowing this realization to exist is one little step on the way to purity of heart."
[Neuwen, "The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery," p. 46-47.]
Doctor Bob
(1879 -1950)

In the "Co-Founders of A.A." pamphlet, Dr. Bob notes that the Book of James (in the New Testament) was one of the readings that he and Bill found "absolutely essential." In it, we read: "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways."(James 1:8).

This, it seems to me, is an implicit recognition that over and above our true being there exists the small "self" or ego; and, when in the throes of ego, anger (or any other of our character defects) can take us over, propelling us to do or say just about anything. In A.A. terms, when we are once again wrapped up in "the bondage of self," we are capable of doing or saying just about anything.

One answer to this near-universal human conundrum may found at James 4:8, which says: "Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you. Wash clean your hands ye sinners. Purify your hearts ye double-minded." The first part of this brief snippet seems to represent Steps One through Three. The second part (very Biblical in its terms, and which therefore turned me off for the longest time) represents Steps Four through Nine; while the third part - dealing with one's "purity of heart" as a solution ot "double-mindedness" - represents Steps 10 through 12.

It is thus, in the process of "purifying the heart" that we move from ego and self-consciousness, to our true being and God-consciousness. And it is in this higher state of consciousness that we shed the anger and instability of the ego. Of course, this is a life's work, as Neuwen's writing attests.

"The positive value of righteous indignation is theoretical - especially for alcoholics," Bill notes in a 1954 letter. "It leaves everyone of us open to the rationalization that we may be as angry as we like provided we can claim to be righteous about it." But, of course, for us even self-righteous anger (and, perhaps most particularly, self-righeous anger) is deadly. It has the power to make us drink, and for us (as Bill notes) "to drink is to die."

"When we harbored grudges and planned revenge for defeats," Bill writes (at page 47 in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions), "we were really beating ourselves with the club of anger we had intended to use on others. We learned that if we were seriously disturbed, our very first need was to quiet the disturbance, regardless of who or what we thought caused it."

"If you go out looking for revenge," another Chinese proverb says, "you had better dig two graves." That is how dangerous anger can be - particularly to the alcoholic addict, who is on a short leash, at best of times.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Step Three: "As a Man Thinketh"

"The aphorism, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he," not only embraces the whole of a man's being, but is so comprehensive as to reach out to every condition and circumstance of his life. A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts."
  -- James Allen --    
("As A Man Thinketh")
In the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, we read that its principal author, Bill W., was to "test" his thinking against "God-consciousness," a new state of consciousness and being which is described in the "Spiritual Experience appendix to the 'Big Book' as "an unsuspected inner resource." For, it is only in this higher, deeper (and quieter) consciousness that we are free of the ego's inner dialogue. This, is the essence of turning one's will and one's life over to the care of one's Higher Power.
"I was to test my thinking by the new God-consciousness within," we read. "Common sense would thus become uncommon sense. I was to sit quietly when in doubt, asking only for direction and strength to meet my problems as He would have me. Never was I to pray for myself, except as my requests bore on my usefulness to others. Then only might I expect to receive. But that would be in great measure."

[Alcoholics Anonymous, page 13.]
This notion of sitting quietly "when in doubt" as to what it is one should say or do (or what one should refrain from saying or doing) is, of course, the very method that is recommended to "practice" Step Three in one's life. And it is how, through the practice of meditation (as well as prayer) that we seek to "improve our conscious contact" with the God of our understanding.
"It is when we try to make our will conform with God's that we begin to use it rightly," we read in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. "To all of us, this was a most wonderful revelation. Our whole trouble had been the misuse of willpower. We had tried to bombard our problems with it instead of attempting to bring it into agreement with God's intention for us. To make this increasingly possible is the purpose of A.A.'s Twelve Steps, and Step Three opens the door."

"Once we have come into agreement with these ideas it is really easy to begin the practice of Step Three. In all times of emotional disturbance or indecision, we can pause, ask for quiet, and in the stillness simply say: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Thy will, not mine, be done."
[The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pp. 40-41.]
The essence of a spiritual awakening, as Carl Jung describes it on page 27 of the 'Big Book,' is that "ideas, emotions and attitudes" that were the guiding forces of one's life are "cast aside" in favor of "new conceptions and motives." It is through the practice of  sitting quietly in meditation that we begin to "uncover, discover and discard" (in the words of the inimitable Chuck c.) the thoughts ("ideas"), feelings ("emotions") and thought patterns ("attitudes") that separate us from God-consciousness. It is by stopping and seeking God-consciousness in the midst of indecision and emotional disturbance that we hone our character and begin ridding ourselves of our character defects.

One of the books used by Doctor Bob, Bill W. and other early members of A.A. was the slim volume, "As a Man Thinketh" by the English "New Thought" writer, James Allen. In it, he observes:
"Man is made or unmade by himself. In the armory of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself. He also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace. By the right choice and true application of thought, man ascends to the divine perfection. By the abuse and wrong application of thought he descends below the level of the beast. Between these two extremes are all the grades of character, and man is their maker and master."
(A copy of "As a Man Thinketh" is available, here.)

Through the consistent and continual practice of self examination, meditation and prayer, we become aware of what our thoughts are, and what emotions those thoughts spark. We also become attuned to the habitual way that we think - usually an uncomfortable realization for a newcomer to meditation. By recurrence to the state of God-consciousness, where the raucous voice of the ego is momentarily stilled, we can (as Allen notes) through "right choice and true application of thought" begin the ascent towards "divine perfection." Or, by acting indecisively and in the throes of emotional disturbance, we can again descend into, and reinforce, our egoic way of thinking and acting.

The 12 Steps are designed to help us make that choice and identification. They deliver us, as earnest application of Step Three and the Serenity Prayer will prove, "the serenity" of God-consciousness, if we have "the courage" to go beyond the ego, and we have "the wisdom" to differentiate the raucous voice of the small "self" from the peaceful and quiet consciousness of the higher "Self," or God.