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Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Great Paradox: Lack of Power, Ego and the Depth of Our Being

"Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves. Obviously. But how and where were we to find this Power?" 
-- Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 45 --
Here we have the first and the greatest paradox in recovery. Elsewhere, we read that the alcoholic addict is "selfish" and "self-centered," an acute example of "self-will run riot," and that our difficulties are "self-inflicted." Therefore, we are in need of "a Power greater than ourselves." The paradoxical irony, however is that we find this Higher Power "deep down within us."

Reading page 55 of the Big Book, the author makes clear that this is indeed the case.
". . . (D)eep down in every man, woman, and child," we read, "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. For faith in a Power greater than ourselves, and miraculous demonstrations of that power in human lives, are facts as old as man himself."

"We finally saw that faith in some kind of God was a part of our make-up, jsut as much as the feeling we have for a friend. 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." (Emphasis added.)
Thus, the paradox. We are told that we must find this "Power greater than ourselves," then we are told that we find that Power "deep down within us." In fact, we are told, that is the only place where such a Power may be found. Is this a fatal paradox? I think not. In fact, I know that it is not. The key to unraveling this paradox - paradoxically - is not to try to understand what is meant by a Higher Power, by God, by the Great Reality etc., but rather to understand what is meant by "self."

"Our actor is self-centered - ego-centric, as people like to call it nowadays," the author of the Big Book writes at page 61. And there's the rub. To the Big Book author, "self" is synonymous with "ego" -  not "ego" as in "pride," but "ego" in its psychological meaning, as "the part of the mind that reacts to reality and has a sense of individuality." Beneath our sense of a separate self, there is the underlying unity of a "Power greater than our selves."

Indeed, the entire Twelve Step program is designed to uncover this hidden, unacknowledged Power that exists within each of us, and it does so by getting rid of the mental calamities, grandiosity and desires which obscure such Power. "The problem of the alcoholic centers in the mind," we read on page 23 of the Big Book; and, paradoxically, so does the solution - only it lies in a far deeper part of our mind and being, in that part of our mind and being accessible initially only by deep meditation and prayer.

In a classic series of sermons, the great 20th-century theologian, Paul Tillich, a close friend and colleague of Reinhold Niebuhr, the author of the Serenity Prayer, observed that there is a fathomless depth to our being, a depth so great and infinite that it is the ultimate Ground of Being.
"The wisdom of all ages and of all continents speaks about the road to our depth," Tillich notes.  "It has been described in innumerably different ways. But all those who have been concerned - mystics and priests, poets and philosophers, simple people and educated - with that road through confession, lonely self-scrutiny, internal or external catastrophes, prayer, contemplation, have witnessed to the same experience. They have found they are not what what they  believed themselves to be, even after a deeper level had appeared to them below the vanishing surface. That deeper level itself became surface, when a still deeper level was discovered, this happening again and again, as long as their lives, as long as they kept on the road to their depth." 
"The name of this infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of all being," he continues, "is God. That depth is what the word God means. . . . For if you know that God means depth, you know much about him. You cannot then call yourself an atheist or an unbeliever. For you cannot think or say: Life has no depth! Life itself is shallow. If you could say this in complete seriousness, you would be an atheist; but otherwise you are not. He who knows about depth knows about God."
[Paul Tillich, "The Shaking of the Foundations," Scribners, pp. 56-57.]

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