Search This Blog

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.

1 comment:

  1. I wish I would have read As A Man Thinketh before reading The Secret. Even though the language is older, this book is more clear to me in explaining the ways and the whys and the importance of positive thinking; whereas, The Secret seems to repeat itself over and over again if you want something think positively. Don't get me wrong, I have enjoyed reading The Secret and continue to reread. I would suggest As A Man Thinketh as more as of a foundation and guide to why we should focus on the good in life, in people, and our circumstances.