"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."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.
"The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pp. 106-107 --
"(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."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."
[Wm. James, "The Varieties of Religious Experience," p. 388.]
"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."
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(* From the pamphlet, "Three Talks to Medical Societies by Bill W., Co-Founder of A.A.," pp 14-15.)