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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Overcoming the Paradox of "Self"

Anyone familiar with 12 Step living has undoubtedly noted the many paradoxical concepts that underlie it: the need to surrender in order to win, coming to A.A, because of our drinking only to find out that drinking is not the problem but a symptom of the problem, how sharing our story with another helps us irrespective of whether it helps the other, etc.

Nowhere are the deep paradoxes underlying our program more apparent, however, than they are when we come to believe "in a Power greater than ourselves" only to find "the Great Reality deep down within us." Solving this "paradox of the self" is, I believe, the key that unlocks our understanding of the 12 Steps, and encourages us in our quest to attain and then "improve our conscious contact with God as we (understand) Him."

Merriam-Webster's dictionary has two germane definitions of "self" that lie at the heart of this paradox. Most commonly, "self" is defined as "the entire person of an individual." Secondarily, it is defined as "the union of elements (as body, emotions, thoughts, and sensations) that constitute the individuality and identity of a person." It is this latter definition, rather than the former and more common meaning, that is being used when we talk of "self" in reference to the 12 Steps; a definition that is consistent with the way that the concept of "ego" is also used in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, not as "pride" but as "the self, especially as contrasted with another self or the world." (The Oxford English Dictionary, has another, more helpful definition of "ego," defining it as "the part of the mind that reacts to reality and has a sense of individuality.")

I suspect that many newcomers (and even old-timers) are somewhat stymied in their spiritual development, as I was, because of this underlying confusion as to what is meant when Step Two talks "about a Power greater than ourselves." It sounds like this Power is something exterior to us, rather than a Power that is actually within us, albeit a Power which is obscured by the self/ego and the "calamity. pomp and worship of other things" that are the thought stuff of the self/ego complex.

The 'Big Book' explicitly states (at page 45) that "lack of power" was our dilemma, and that we need "to find a power by which we could live, and that it had to be a Power greater than ourselves." Then it states that "how" and "where" to find such a Power is "exactly" what the 'Big Book' is all about. The "how," I put to you, is through taking the 12 Steps and applying them to one's life, while the "where" is deep down within one's being. In other words, we are not looking externally for a "God of our own understanding," but internally.

Consider the following passage taken from the middle paragraphs from page 55 of the 'Big Book':
". . . (D)eep down in every man, woman and child, is the fundamental idea of God. It may be obscured by calamity, by pomp, by worship of other things, but in some form or other it is there. . . . Sometimes we had to search fearlessly, but He was there. He was as much a fact as we were. We found the Great Reality deep down within us. In the last analysis it is only there that he may be found."
Consider, also, if you will, the following passage taken from Appendix II of the 'Big Book' (i.e., the Spiritual Experience appendix):
"With few exceptions 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. 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."" (Emphasis added.)
From the above, it should be clear that we are not looking for some entity that is wholly exterior to us, but rather for a broad yet heretofore hidden aspect of our very being, that wholeness of our being beyond the limited and limiting egoic self which is co-extensive with God.

At page 53 of the 'Big Book' we are shown how "crushed by a self-imposed crisis we could not postpone or evade, we had to fearlessly face the proposition that God is everything or else he is nothing. God either is, or He isn't."

By looking outside of our being, instead of looking at our being beneath the limiting self of the ego, we are in essence saying that God is not everything. We exclude ourselves from God and create a false duality that cannot be overcome. It is only in looking deep within our being (mainly through meditation, but also through self-examination and prayer) that we find our own God-consciousness, and come to the realization that we are an integral component of all that is.

And by acting in accordance with - and from the place of - this newfound God-consciousness, we are finally able to rightly align ourselves with the world and its inhabitants, and to overcome the necessary suffering caused by the self/ego complex and thinking - a feeling and a feat we had only been previously able to do under the influence of booze and/or drugs when, and if, they still worked for us.

1 comment:

  1. Great article! So insightful and eye opening. Very nicely written.