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Friday, August 26, 2011

Humility, Suffering and Peace of Mind

"(W)e are building an arch through which we can walk a free man at last. Is our work solid so far? Are the stones properly in place? Have we skimped on the cement put into the foundation? Have we tried to make mortar without sand?"

"If we can answer to our satisfaction, we then look at Step Six. We have emphasized willingness as being indispensable. Are we now ready to let God remove from us all the things which we have admitted are objectionable? Can He now take them all - every one? If we still cling to something we will not let go, we ask God to help us to be willing."

"When ready, we say something like this: "My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellow. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen." We have now completed Step Seven."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, pages 75-76.]
In a mere three paragraphs, the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous thus takes the reader through Steps Six and Seven. In part the brevity of discussion on these steps may reflect the inexperience that the original nucleus of A.A. had in working these two steps on a protracted basis. In part the brevity may be due to the disability that the individual who has not completed Step Nine is still under. Until one goes through the amends process in Step Nine the resentments, regrets and remorse that fill the mind of the newly sober alcoholic addict until amends are made tend to obscure all else.

Conversely, in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions Steps Six and Seven are two of the most in-depth and nuanced essays that Bill W. wrote. In them, Bill squarely looks at the instincts, desires and fears which feed the ego-self and thus forestalls one's ability to effect a conscious contact with God.
"Since most of us are born with an abundance of natural desires," Bill observes (at page 65), "it isn't strange that we often let these far exceed their intended purpose. When they drive us blindly, or we wilfully demand that they supply us with more satisfactions or pleasures than are possible or due to us, that is the point at which we depart from the degree of perfection that God wishes for us here on earth. That is the measure of our character defects, or, if you wish, of our sins."
The question thus becomes: Are we ready to have God remove our blind desires and obsessive ambitions, be they for sex, security, social prestige or what have you? Just to the extent that we continue to feel we must "wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world by managing well" ('Big Book,' pg. 61), it is clear that we do not, with the result that we inevitably continue to suffer from these instincts run wild.

Indeed in the Step Seven essay Bill acknowledges that the ego-shredding process of freeing the mind from overblown fears and desires can generate an astounding level of suffering as we wean ourselves from the way that we were taught to deal with the world.  "For us," he observes, "this process of gaining a new perspective is unbelievably painful."

It need not be that way however. "(W)hen we have taken a square look at some of these defects, have discussed them with another, and have become willing to have them removed," he notes, "our thinking about humility commences to have a wider meaning. By this time in all probability we have gained some measure of release from our more devastating handicaps. We enjoy moments in which there is something like real peace of mind. . . (T)his newfound peace is a priceless gift. Something new indeed has been added. Where humility had formerly stood for a forced feeding on humble pie, it now begins to mean the nourishing ingredient which can give us serenity."

"We saw we needn't always be bludgeoned and beaten into humility," Bill points out. "It could come quite as much from our voluntary reaching for it as it could from unremitting suffering."

"A great turning point," he observes, "came when we sought for humility as something we really wanted, rather than as something we must have. It marked the time when we could commence to see the full implications of Step Seven: "Humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings.""

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