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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Step Six: Aiming at Perfection

"We aim at perfection," my sponsor often says, "knowing that we are going to fall short." This, of course, is the gist of the message in the Step Six essay in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, which helps us examine if we are "entirely ready" to have all of our character defects removed by the God of our understanding.

Step Six, in essence, asks whether we are ready to lead a wholly spiritual life - a decision that is difficult for all of us.
"(I)t seems plain," we read, "that few of us can quickly or easily become ready to aim at spiritual and moral perfection; we want to settle for only as much perfection as will get us by in life, according, of course, to our various and sundry ideas of what will get us by."
 Accordingly, "the difference between striving for a self-determined objective and for the perfect objective which is of God," is a mark of whether we are "entirely ready" to have our character defects removed through our efforts and with the grace of God. "The key words "entirely ready" underline the fact that we want to aim at the very best we know or can learn," Bill notes.

The difficulty with Step Six, it seems, is that when we honestly look at ourselves, we see that we are almost wholly reliant upon our habitual attitudes to get by, and to "manage" our lives and our interactions with others. Is there much difference between the man who projects a surly and -ill-tempered persona to keep other people walking on eggshells, and the beautiful woman who is alternatively flirtatious and coy in order to get her way with others? And what about the person who projects the image of being meek, mild and deferential? All these, and so many other roles we play, are the stuff of the tragedies and comedies of all ages.

Taking Step Six means that we become ready to drop these false personae and, with faith, allow our true "selves" to emerge from the shadows cast by the false egos we have habitually presented to the world. It is when we becoming willing to take what seems to be a huge risk in presenting our real character, that we embrace the aid and assistance of a Power greater than our small, self-cenetered egos. "This," we read, "is the exact point at which we abandon limited objectives, and move toward God's will for us." But we do not do so alone.

"Draw near to God," we read in the Scriptures, "and God will draw near to you." (James 1:8) As the great American Transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson observed:
"This intuition of the moral sentiment is an insight of the perfection of the laws of the soul. These laws execute themselves. They are out of time, out of space and not subject to circumstance. Thus in the soul of man there is a justice whose retributions are instant and entire. He who does a good deed is instantly ennobled. He who does a mean deed is by the action itself contradicted."

"If a man is at heart just, then in so far is he God; the safety of God, the immortality of God, the majesty of God do enter into that man with justice. If a man dissemble, deceive, he deceives himself, and goes out of acquaintance with his own being. A man in the view of absolute goodness, adores, with total humility. Every step so downward, is a step upward. The man who renounces himself, comes to himself.
"All things," Emerson observes, "proceed out of the same spirit, and all things conspire with it. Whilst a man seeks good ends, he is strong by the whole strength of nature. In so far as he roves from these ends, he bereaves himself of power, or auxiliaries; his being shrinks out of all remote channels, he becomes less and less, a mote, a point, until absolute badness is absolute death."

"The perception of this law of laws," Emerson suggests, "awakens in the mind a sentiment which we call the religious sentiment, and which makes our highest happiness. Wonderful is its power to charm and to command. It is mountain air."
["The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson," Modern Library Classics, pp. 64-65.]

"(A) blufffing of oneself will have to go the way of many another pleasant rationalization," we read in the Step Six essay. "At the very least, we shall have to come to grips with some of our worst character defects and take action toward their removal as quickly as we can." And it is Step Six which "is the exact point at which we abandon (such) limited objectives, and move toward God's will for us."

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