"Most of our experiences," we read in the "Spiritual Experience" appendix, "are what the psychologist William James calls "the educational variety" because they develop slowly over a period of time. Quite often friends of the newcomer are aware of the difference long before he is himself. He finally realizes that he has undergone a profound alteration in his reaction to life; that such change could hardly have been brought about by himself alone. What often takes place in a few months could seldom have been accomplished by years of self discipline."In his classic work, "The Varieties of Religious Experience," William James does indeed note that the "religious experiences" he is dealing with - inner, spiritual experiences, rather than outer, religious practices - may develop slowly over time culminating in a higher state of consciousness above our ordinary, egoic self-consciousness. Yet, the pertinent message of his work, like the pertinent message behind the "Spiritual Experience" appendix, is that this new state of consciousness and being is most often unsuspected and cannot be attained by the mere exercise of self-will. ("We could wish to be moral," we read in the 'Big Book', at page 45, "we could wish to be philosophically comforted, in fact, we could will these things with all our might, but the needed power wasn't there. Our human resources, as marshalled by the will, were not sufficient; they failed utterly.")
"There is a state of mind, known to religious men, but to no others," James explains, "in which the will to assert ourselves and hold our own has been displaced by a willingness to close our mouths and be as nothing in the floods and waterspouts of God. In this state of mind what we most dreaded has become the habitation of our safety, and the hour of our moral death has turned into our spiritual birthday. The time for tension in our soul is over, and that of happy relaxation, of calm deep breathing, of an eternal present, with no discordant future to be anxious about has arrived. Fear is not held in abeyance as it is by mere morality, it is positively expunged and washed away."
"This enchantment," James observes, "coming as a gift when it does come - a gift of our organism, the physiologists will tell us, a gift of God's grace, the theologians say - is either there or not there for us, and there are persons who can no more become possessed by it than they can fall in love with a given woman by mere word of command. Religious feeling is thus an absolute addition to the Subject's range of life. It gives him a new sphere of power. When the outward battle is lost, and the outer world disowns him, it redeems and vivifies an interior world which otherwise would be an empty waste."
[Wm. James, "The Varieties of Religious Experience," pp. 47-48.]
The purpose of the 12 Steps is to lay the groundwork and prepare ourselves for such an awakening. We cannot will it, but we can take actions that make room for this shift in consciousness to occur. Indeed, looking back at the collective experience of A.A. members, Bill W. asserts in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions that it is when completing the 5th Step that many A.A.'s first "begin" to have a spiritual awakening.
Yet, whether the process is sudden or prolonged, the important point is that such an unexpected and unusual spiritual awakening is readily available in reality.
"With few exceptions," we are reassured, "our members find that they have tapped an unsuspected inner resource which they presently identify with their own conception of a Power greater than themselves."Such "God-consciousness," it is worth repeating, gives the alcoholic addict in recovery "a new sphere of power," and "(w)hen the outward battle is lost, and the outer world disowns him, (this new God-consciousness) redeems and vivifies an interior world which otherwise would be an empty waste."
"Most of us think this awareness of a Power greater than ourselves is the essence of spiritual experience. Our more religious members call it God-consciousness."
"We find that no one need have difficulty with the program," we are once again reassured in the "Spiritual Experience" appendix; all that is necessary is that we maintain our "willingness, honesty and open-mindedness" as we work through the Steps preparing the ground for such an awakening.