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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.

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