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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.

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