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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Instinct, Logic and the Frustration of Spiritual Development

In his Step Three essay in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Bill W. directly addresses a major stumbling block - perhaps the major stumbling block - which can hamper and stall a newcomer's recovery for months, or even years. At least this was so in my case. The result need not necessarily mean that the forestalled alcoholic addict lapses back into his or her active addiction, however. Just as easily he or she may enter into the netherland of dry sobriety, with cravings gone but with the obsession for alcohol more or less sublimated by all the looming obsessions about how his or her life, as well as how the lives of others should be led.

"Yes, respecting alcohol," Bill has our potential white-knuckler saying, "I guess I have to be dependent upon A.A., but in all other matters I must still maintain my independence." This way of thnking, Bill points out "is the process by which instinct and logic always seek to bolster egotism, and so frustrate spiritual development."

"(T)he moment our mental or emotional dependence is in question," Bill notes, "we (persistently) claim the right to decide all by ourselves just what we shall think and how we shall act. . . . We are certain that our intelligence, backed by will power, can rightly control our inner lives and guarantee us success in the world we live in."

It is, of course, unsurprising that our white-knuckling alcoholic should think in such terms. After all, is this not how virtually all of us are trained and schooled to think? Recall the children's story, "The Little Engine That Could." In the story, the narrator has the Little Engine chugging up a seemingly insurmountable hill. "I think I can. I think I can," says the Little Engine to himself. Yet in real life, one knows that he would probably be filled with fear and saying to himself, the exact opposite.

We are all taught that intelligence and will-power will prevail if rightly applied. "Be an army of one!," the commercials exhort. "Take a licking and keep on ticking." Be the Energizer Bunny. "Grit your teeth, Charlie Brown! You can do anything if you just grit your teeth!"

Step Three, however, calls for us to take the exact opposite approach. It urges us to become at one with the Tao, so to speak, instead of raging against It.
"So how, exactly," we read, "can the willing person continue to turn his will and his life over to the Higher Power? He made a beginning we have seen, when he commenced to rely upon A.A. for the solution of his alcohol problem. By now, though, the chances are that he has become convinced that he has more problems than alcohol, and that some of these refuse to be solved by all the sheer personal determination and courage he can muster. They simply will not budge; they make him desperately unhappy and threaten his newfound sobriety. . . . Surely he must now depend upon Somebody or Something else."
This, is the exact point at which our white-knuckler might venture to try true reliance upon a Power that is greater than him of herself, taking action based not on is or her own egoic, self-centered consciousness as expressed through instinct and logic - which is the way we are conditioned to make our decisions - but rather to act from a more truly centered and passive God-consciousness that is available to each of us.

"(I)t is really easy to begin the practice of Step Three," we read. "In all times of emotional disturbance or indecision, we can pause, ask for quiet, and in the stillness simply say: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Thy will, not mine, be done.""

This Serenity Prayer has been used effectively by millions to generate an appropriate response to seemingly impossible situations. Its effectiveness, however, will increase exponentially, as we pursue a practice of meditation and quiet contemplation, so that even in the most pressing of circumstances we can find a higher, inner God-consciousness in which we can "pause," seek the "quiet" and find the "stillness" necessary to make this prayer truly effective in all circumstances.

Fortunately, we will later read in Step Seven of The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions that we need not always be bludgeoned by painful circumstances into seeking this state of effective humility. Rather, we will find, that we can access this new-to-us state of consciousness and being by seeking it voluntarily. And, like all skills, the more we endeavour to "seek . . . first the Kingdom of God" the easier we find that it becomes to enter into it.

WIth time, we find that we no longer need stand waist deep in the stream of life, furiously trying to get the water to flow in the other direction. Rather, we find that we can just "go with the flow" with an assurance that whatever the results are we will be able to access our newfound Higher Power in order to help us deal with them, and to deal with them sanely and effectively. For the new-comer and white-knuckler alike, this is the beginning of true recovery.

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