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Friday, July 29, 2011

The Birth of a Spiritual Experience

Regarding the taking of Step Five, the author of the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests that it is at this point in our recovery, when we share our moral inventory with another human being and the God of our own understanding, that we really begin to 'experience' the spiritual awakening which will relieve our alcoholism. At page 75 of the 'Big Book,' the author observes:
"We pocket our pride and go to it, illuminating every twist of character, every dark cranny of the past. Once we have taken this step withholding nothing, we are delighted. We can look the world in the eye. We can be alone at perfect peace and ease. Our fears fall away from us. We begin to feel the nearness of our Creator. We may have had certain spiritual beliefs, but now we begin to have a spiritual experience. (Emphasis added.)
 For those who may have already experienced a certain grace in their recovery, as well as those who have just doggedly pursued their path of recovery by working the Steps, it is at Step Five, we are told, that our spiritual beliefs (and I would add faith) are turned into a palpable spiritual experience.

Why is this so? I would suggest that before taking Step Five, our minds are awash with the fears, resentments and remorse that characterize the content of the ego, or "self." Afterwards, freed of this mental baggage, we can (as is foretold, above) "be alone at perfect peace and ease." "Peace" and "ease" being the characteristics of the higher, God-consciousness of our authentic "Self," rather than the smaller "self" of merely ego-centric consciousness. It is at this point where "the ideas, emotions and attitudes" which were heretofore the guiding forces of our lives may be "cast to one side" and replaced with "new conceptions and motives." (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 27.)

Before Step Five, my resentments, fears, and the remorse I experienced when thinking of past peccadilloes, were wholly my own affair. My greatest hope was that nobody would find out about them, much less confront me with them. After having shared these closely held anguishing thoughts and memories with my sponsor, I gained a certain perspective on my all-too-human condition, and was thus able to move forward to make the amends necessary to solidify my newfound sense of peace and ease.

This is not to say that all resentments, remorse and fear were at once removed, but I became more readily able to see them for what they really are, the thought-stuff of the ego that separates me from everyone and everything. Knowing this, it has become far easier to dismiss such thoughts (and the ensuing emotions they produce) as the merely mental tricks of my smaller self. And, in some instances, the only times when I ever think of certain past actions that once haunted me, it is to help another person struggling with the same levels of shame, remorse, anger and fear that these old thoughts once produced in me.

Step Five was thus, without my knowing it at the time, the beginning of spiritual experience, the beginning of my living - however falteringly and slow - a life of the spirit, rather than a life of mere spiritual belief. And by working the 12 Steps on a daily basis I am enabled to grow within, yet never outgrow, this experience.

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