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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

On Humility and Ego

"The average man is not humble; he may appear to be so, but inwardly he sets up mental resistance and barriers, and builds walls of prejudice against the truth. Humility consists in having a perfectly open mind, as though you were a new-born, and being able to receive with complete faith not only the words of those who know, but that which is still more important, that which is behind words, which is Spirit."
[Paul Brunton, "Discover Yourself," p. 68.]

The most leveling, the most humbling experience when we undertake the work of recovery - once we have admitted that life was is and will remain unmanageable -  is most typically taking and sharing a moral inventory.

Yet it is only through this process of self-scrutiny, and sharing its result with another person, that we can begin to deconstruct the root of our difficulty - egoism. We face who we are in front of the God of our own understanding and another person so that we no longer have to keep up the false pretenses we have been living our lives under

"More than most people," we read, "the alcoholic leads a double life. He is very much the actor. To the outer world he presents his stage character. This is the one he likes his fellows to see. He wants to enjoy a certain reputation, but knows in his heart he doesn't deserve it."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, page 73.]

In the "Co-Founders" pamphlet, Dr. Bob relates how at the very beginning of A.A., when it was just Bill, Bob and Bob's wife, Anne, sitting around their kitchen table in Akron, they found inspiration from the Bible, with the "Beatitudes," I Corinthians 13, and the Book of James being "absolutely essential" as they tried to carve out a life of sobriety and spiritual growth.

"A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways," we read in the Book of James, (James 1:8). Yet, further on, we also find an answer to the double life that we have been leading. "Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you," we read. "Wash clean your hands ye sinners; purify your hearts, ye double minded." (James 4:8).

These passages speak to the process of self-examination that we must go through before we can rid ourselves of the memories, fears and old ideas that are the raw fuel of the ego, the mental clutter which keep us separated and apart from both God and our fellow man.

How can I establish and then improve my conscious contact with a Power greater than my "self," if I am wholly caught up in the self-centeredness of egoic thinking? At that point, when haunted by what lurks in the dark crevasses of my lonely and separated ego, I have conscious contact only with my self and my old ideas and distorted memories.

Being honest, many of us were told, means we no longer have to remember the story. Being truly humbled, I would add, means we never have to remember who to be in any given situation. In this way, and this way only,  can we truly develop and foster a truly "open mind" cleansed from all the "calamity, pomp and worship of other things" that have separated us from our fellow beings and from the perhaps unsuspected Spirit we all have deep down within us.
[Alcoholics Anonymous, page 55.]

Monday, May 30, 2011

Two Approaches to Anonymity

A controversial article in The New York Times and a thoughtful response on the Huffington Post highlight perhaps the most controversial issue in Alcoholics Anonymous since its founding - anonymity.

The Times article ("Challenging the Second 'A' in A.A.") is at once a  compendium and recital of the famous and would-be famous who have broken their anonymity at a very public level, as well as a calling-into-question of whether maintaining our "personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and film," as A.A.'s 11th Tradition suggests, is an anachronism in the "Information Age." While questioning the need for anonymity at a time when "Celebrity Rehab" is a prime-time reality show and the famous and merely notorious break their and others' anonymity routinely on venues like TMZ, the article wholly ignores the effect and potential effect that a public relapse might have on the alcoholic addict who is still in the throes of his or her addiction. And it is not as if this 'controversy' is new.

Going back in A.A. history, Bill W. recounts how, "(a)t one point, about a hundred of our Society were breaking anonymity at the public level. With perfectly good intent," he recalls, "these folks declared that the principle of anonymity was horse-and-buggy stuff, something appropriate to A.A. pioneering days." (The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 182). The article in the Times, despite its innately controversial subject matter, in all reality breaks very little new ground. Rather, it just reframes an old debate that has dogged us since our early days.

The Huffington Post response, on the other hand, takes a much deeper (and helpful) look at the issue of anonymity, focusing more on the 12th Tradition ("Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities."), than on maintaining or breaking one's anonymity "at the level of press, radio and film."

"You're not so much trying to establish your individuality as to let go of your sense of uniqueness," observes the Huffington Post contributor. "When we stop trying to stand out in this way, we are working from the premise that, as the 12-Step literature says, "Selfishness -- self-centeredness! That we think is the root of our troubles.""

"Dropping our last name and our sense of uniqueness," he notes, "is a way to counter this tendency of trying to be the most special person; of trying to control everything and everyone around us; of putting satisfaction of our own desires before the needs of those around us."

"Like many 12-Step ideas," he observes, "there is a brilliance in this one. Without exactly telling us why we are doing it, the tradition . . . guides us to an experience of letting go and an insight into our own suffering -- the suffering of self-centeredness."
"Make a list of all the roles you play," he suggests, "all your identities, whether it's work, family, friends, your talents, your personality traits, your emotional patterns, your addictive habits. Look at all the things that you call "I," like name, body, memories, plans, accomplishments, etc."

"Once you've got the list, go through it one-by-one and ask, "Is this permanent? Could it change? Does it belong to me? Do I control it?" Then ask yourself, "Does this ever cause me pain or discomfort? What would happen if I didn't believe this was 'me'? How can I stop clinging to this identity?""
This, it seems to me, is a far better approach, and one that is far more likely to result in our ideal of "attraction rather than promotion," than is idealistically breaking one's anonymity by seeking the spotlight to tout the miracle of A.A. when one is really only clean and sober today, just like the rest of us. . . . And it sure reduces the risk of a spectacular Sheen-ian meltdown and tirade against A.A. (or any of its sister organizations) if one does not try or succeed in adopting A.A.'s program and principles as a way of daily living.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Back From Life's Precipice

"It's extraordinary how we go through life with eyes half shut, with dull ears, with dormant thoughts. Perhaps it's just as well; and it may be that it is this very dullness that makes life to the incalculable majority so supportable and so welcome. Nevertheless, there can be but a few of us who has never known one of those rare moments of awakening when we see, hear, understand ever so much - everything - in a flash - before we fall back again into our agreeable somnolence."
-- Joseph Conrad --
["Lord Jim," Chapter 13.]
In his correspondence with Bill W. (attached below), the great psychiatrist, Carl Jung - who was the first link in the chain of events that would start A.A., as we know it  - observed that an alcoholic addict's cravings are "the equivalent on a low level of the thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: union with God."

For the alcoholic addict, while the booze and drugs continued to work, the drunk or the high was like that. We became complete, for a time, connected with our fellows and part of the world as an unbroken whole. But, alas, this seeming bliss was temporary and caused by alcoholic spirits rather than by true Spirit. Each time, we would crash from the heights of this unitive Wholeness and would awaken just a little bit more disconnected, more self-absorbed - perhaps, more self-loathing - and just that much more imprisoned in the bondage of self-consciousness than we were just a day or a week ago.

And the longer, and necessarily more, we drank or drugged, the more fleeting the elusive feeling of Wholeness became - and the sharper the fall. Eventually, this is how for some or, perhaps, most of us finally reached a point where we could not stand ourselves no matter how sober, drunk or high we became. This is described in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, as reaching "the jumping-off place."
"For most normal folks," we read, "drinking means conviviality, companionship and colorful imagination. It means release from care, boredom and worry. It is joyous intimacy with friends and a feeling that life is good. But not so with us in those last days of heavy drinking. The old pleasures were gone. They were but memories. Never could we recapture the great moments of the past. There was an insistent yearning to enjoy life as we once did and a heartbreaking obsession that some new miracle of control would enable us to do it. There was always one more attempt — and one more failure."

"The less people tolerated us, the more we withdrew from society, from life itself. As we became subjects of King Alcohol, shivering denizens of his mad realm, the chilling vapor that is loneliness settled down. It thickened, ever becoming blacker. Some of us sought out sordid places, hoping to find understanding companionship and approval. Momentarily we did — then would come oblivion and the awful awakening to face the hideous Four Horsemen — Terror, Bewilderment, Frustration, Despair. Unhappy drinkers who read this page will understand!"

"Now and then a serious drinker, being dry at the moment says, "I don't miss it at all. Feel better. Work better. Having a better time." As ex-problem drinkers, we smile at such a sally. We know our friend is like a boy whistling in the dark to keep up his spirits. He fools himself. Inwardly he would give anything to take half a dozen drinks and get away with them. He will presently try the old game again, for he isn't happy about his sobriety. He cannot picture life without alcohol. Some day he will be unable to imagine life either with alcohol or without it. Then he will know loneliness such as few do. He will be at the jumping-off place. He will wish for the end."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 151-152.]
It is because, sooner or later, the alcoholic addict will inevitably find him of herself at just such an existential cliff's edge - yearning to feel whole again, and at peace with his or her fellow travelers, yet with no apparent means of achieving such peace and wholeness - that a spiritual experience or awakening achieved with real Spirit (instead of false spirits) can be effective in overcoming addiction.

Who, with no other options discernible, would not trade in the "Four Horsemen" of terror, bewilderment, frustration and despair for the sense of freedom, wholeness and faith that he or she may be shown in A.A. (or any of its sister organizations) by God manifesting through us? Few, indeed, it would seem if they have, in fact, reached the "jumping-off place," and if they are assured through the presence of our consciousness and being that "one of those rare moments of awakening" (as Conrad puts it) might also be available to them. Perhaps then they, too, may walk back from the existential cliff's edge and join us as we "trudge the Road of Happy Destiny" in recovery.

There are three ways that one may find such an experience, Jung assured Bill. "The only right and legitimate way to such an experience," he observed, "is that it happens to you in reality and it can only happen to you when you walk on a path which leads you to higher understanding. You might be led to that goal by an act of grace or through a personal and honest contact with friends, or through a higher education of the mind beyond the confines of mere rationalism."

For "a higher understanding" achieved "by an act of grace," God is responsible. For helping the newcomer find "a higher understanding" by "a personal and honest contact with friends," we, as alcoholic addicts in recovery, are collectively responsible. And, for achieving "higher understanding" by "a higher education of the mind beyond the confines of mere rationalism" each of us is individually responsible, although we can, and should, show the newcomer how this may be achieved through the continuing practice of "self-examination and prayer" that Bill describes on page 98 of The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.

We are fortunate indeed if, through any or all of these means, we have achieved a spiritual awakening - an awakening which Conrad describes as being "rare" and fleeting amongst everyday men and women.  We are then able to utilize the experience strength and hope we have gained to help a fellow sufferer on life's precipice. We are in danger if we neglect doing so, for in such negligence we fail to grow along the path towards our own ultimate enlightenment.
 . . . . . . . . . . . . .

 As promised, below is the letter from Carl Jung to Bill W., which contains the all-important prescription for the alcoholic addict: "spiritus contra spiritum."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Chuck Chamberlain on "A Spiritual Way of Life"

In the attached videos from 1974, Chuck Chamberlain, gifted speaker and author of "A New Pair of Glasses," delivers a lecture on "A Spiritual Way of Life" to a class at U.C.L.A. Without breaking his anonymity or running afoul of Alcoholic Anonymous' 11th Tradition, Chuck, a pioneer of A.A. in Southern California, delivers a first-rate talk grounded in his deep vision of non-duality and his wide breadth of knowledge and experience in spiritual matters.

For his signature message within A.A., follow the links, below, to listen to his "New Pair of Glasses" workshop on
Sit back, center yourself, and enjoy!

On Acceptance of Spiritual Teachings

Are the first 164 pages of the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous really, as I've heard so often lately, all we need to practice A.A.'s program of daily living? What about the the "Spiritual Experience" appendix and "our personal stories before and after" which are contained in the back of the 'Big Book' but are clearly referenced in the first 163 pages? What about William James' "The Varieties of Religious Experience," which is also directly referenced on page 24 of the 'Big Book', let alone The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions and the six other books that A.A. in its collective group conscience has seen fit to publish? What about the Serenity Prayer and the 11th Step Prayer, which are both contained in the '12 & 12'?

All these, are vital material for the alcoholic addict seeking to attain and perfect his or her conscious contact with a Power greater than him or herself. Perhaps the most potent example of what is left out when we discourage others to look beyond the first 163 pages (which, indisputably, are of the uttermost importance for taking the newcomer through the Steps) is the passage on 'Acceptance' from the story, "Acceptance Was the Answer" contained in the 'Big Book's' Stories section.
"And, we read (at page 417), "acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation - some fact of my life - unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation - some fact of my life - unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I could accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God's world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I couldn't stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and my attitudes."
"Between the banks of pain and pleasure," Sri Nisargadatta observed, "the river of life flows. It is only when the mind refuses to flow with life, and gets stuck at the banks that it becomes a problem. By flowing with life I mean acceptance - letting come what comes and go what goes. Desire not, fear not, observe the actual as and when it happens, for you are not what happens, you are to whom it happens. Ultimately, even the observer you are not. You are the ultimate potentiality of which the all-embracing consciousness is the manifestation and expression."

Read the first 164 pages of the 'Big Book'. Diagnose your condition in the way it is set out, find the solution within, and take the newcomer or serial relapser through this process. But do not restrict your, or others, spiritual growth by dogmatically clinging to the idea that the first 163 pages is the sum of all, and nothing more, that is needed to attain sobriety and grow in Spirit.
"There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance - that principle is contempt prior to investigation."
- Herbert Spencer
[Alcoholics Anonymous, page 568.]

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Ability to Give and Receive Love

The 12 Steps have much to teach us about that highest of human emotions, love.

Displaced, misplaced or suppressed as it may have been, we find once more (or, perhaps, for the first time ever) the ability to consciously give and receive love as we grow in the Steps and in the unconditioned love of a Power which is always greater than the self. Indeed, the ego, based as it is on fear and unfulfillable desires, is not capable and knows nothing of love in its purest sense.

Is this truly possible?

"We found," we read in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, "that we had been worshipers. What a state of mental goose-flesh that used to bring on! Had we not variously worshiped people, sentiment, things, money and ourselves? And then, with a better motive, had we not worshipfully beheld the sunset, the sea, or a flower? Who of us had not loved something or somebody? How much did these feelings, these loves, these worships, have to do with pure reason? Little or nothing, we saw at last. Were not these things the tissue out of which our lives were constructed? Did not these feelings after all, determine the course of our existence? It was impossible to say we had no capacity for faith, or love, or worship. In one form or another we had been living by faith and little else."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, page 54.]

Yet, in the throes of our addiction, even these loves were insufficient to bring us back to a sense of reality. Despite our loves, the gratification of our cravings and soothing the obsessions of the mind dictated that, finally, we could love no more; and, if it were not for recovery from this seemingly hopeless state, perhaps we would have, sooner or later, rendered ourselves incapable of either giving or receiving love for all time.

Now, having recovered this, our natural ability to love, what are we to make of it? To what extent do we exercise our capacity to give and receive love? And, how do we perfect, or attempt to perfect it? This is the great human challenge, and the great opportunity for spiritual awakening.

In The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (at pp. 92-93), we read:
"Not many people can truthfully assert that they love everybody. Most of us must admit that we have loved but a few; that we have been quite indifferent to the many. As for the remainder - well, we have really disliked or hated them."

"We A.A.'s find we need something much better than this in order to keep our balance. The idea that we can be possessively loving of a few, can ignore the many, and can continue to fear or hate anybody at all, has to be abandoned, if only a little at a time."

"We can try to stop making unreasonable demands upon those we love. We can show kindness where we had formerly shown none. With those we dislike we can at least begin to practice justice and courtesy, perhaps going out of our way at time to understand and help them."
To summon the courage and will to do these things, to bring us to the state of consciousness in which love which is not only unconditional but unconditioned begins to dominate our thinking and motives, we can meditate upon our Eleventh Step prayer.
"Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted," we read, "to understand, than to be understood - to love, than to be loved. For it is by self-forgetting that one finds. It is by forgiving that one is forgiven. It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life."
 In striving, mentally and then practically, to comfort, understand and love, to forget "self" and to "die" to the ego, gradually and/or suddenly we will awaken to the greater consciousness within us. We will find, as we read in the "Spiritual Experience" appendix, "an unsuspected inner resource" within us that can change our way of thinking; and we will enter what Bill W. describes as a "new state of consciousness and being" (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 103.)
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
The way of love is not
a subtle argument.

The door there
is devastation.

Birds make great sky-circles
of their freedom.
How do they learn it.

They fall, and falling,
they are given wings.

Let you throat-song
be clear and strong enough

to make an emperor fall full-length
suppliant, at the door.

<< >>

I have phrases and whole pages memorized,
but nothing can be told of love.

You must wait until you and I
are living together.

In the conversation we'll have
then . . . be patient . . . then.
-- Jalalludin Rumi --
(Coleman Barks, "The Incredible Rumi," pp. 243-244.)

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Jung-Wilson Correspondence

Bill Wilson
Shortly before the latter's death, Bill W. wrote to Carl Jung, thanking the great psychologist for his largely unheralded impetus in the chain of events that would establish Alcoholics Anonymous (and her sister 12 Step groups) as, perhaps, the most effective way for treating addictions, to alcohol and otherwise. For it was Jung who passed on the vital information (through the aegis of Roland H. and Ebby T.) that "a vital spiritual experience" could be sufficient to arrest the fatal progression of alcoholism.

Roland H., whom Jung had treated for alcoholism in or around 1932, took this important message to heart and joined the then-popular Oxford Group, and through him, Jung's remarks were carried to Ebby T. (an old drinking friend of Bill's), and on to Bill, himself. (Roland attained life-long sobriety, but remained in the Oxford Group, never becoming a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.)

The important message conveyed through Jung's treatment of Roland, set out on pages 26-28 of the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, contains the following description of what seems (in Jung's view) to happen to individual alcoholics who undergo profound psychological changes as a result of a spiritual (or religious) awakening:
"Ideas, emotions and attitudes which were the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and new conceptions and motives begin to dominate them."
Carl G. Jung
In his reply to Bill's letter of acknowledgment (copied, below), Jung outlined the basic reason why an alcoholic drinks, a reason that, of course, underlies the effectiveness of the spiritual solution found in A.A. Making an intuitive observation, Jung noted that: "His craving for alcohol was on a low level the thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval terms: the union with God." Thus, Jung's conclusion that a real and effective spiritual or religious experience could aid the individual in overcoming alcoholic addiction.

However, Jung warned: "The only right and legitimate way to such an experience (i.e., the non-dualistic union with God) is, that it happens to you in reality, and that it can only happen to you when you walk on a path which leads you to higher understanding. You might be led to that goal," he observed, "by an act of grace or through a personal and honest contact with friends, or through a higher education of the mind beyond the confines of mere rationalism."

Fortunately for the alcoholic addict, effecting a "conscious contact" with a Power greater than the limitations of our ordinary, egoic self results in "grace"; the fellowship within our A.A. (or sister) group and/or with our sponsor affords us the requisite "personal and honest human contact" we need; and, the process of continual "self-examination, meditation and prayer" we engage in provides us with "a higher education of the mind" beyond the confines of our egoic and incessant rationalism.

Here is the body of the letter from Jung to Bill W., which is also included in the Grapevine book, "The Language of the Heart." Note, Jung's ultimate prescription for alcoholism: "spritus contra spiritum".

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ego, Fear and the Smaller "Self"

"More than most people," we read, "the alcoholic leads a double life. He is very much the actor. To the outer world he presents his stage character. This is the one he likes his fellows to see. He wants to enjoy a certain reputation, but knows in his heart he doesn't deserve it."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, page 75.]
"A double-minded man is unstable in
all his ways
." (James: 1-8)

It is to be free of this duplicity - the double-mindedness of the "self" and our higher, God-consciousness - that we take Steps Five through Step Nine; sharing, perhaps for the first time ever, what we did when under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, and more significantly, what we did when stone cold sober. For it is in sharing these matters, examining our role in them, forgiving others and making amends to them where possible for the harm we have done, that we become able to live in our true nature, rather than in the fear-based false identity of the ego, or smaller "self."

Of course, this is not the first reference to the alcoholic as actor. The more recognizable description of the alcoholic as actor follows immediately after the "How It Works" reading that many groups use to open their meetings. Noting that "most people try to live by self-propulsion," we read:
"Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show, is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put. If only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful. In trying to make these arrangements our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous even modest and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish and dishonest. But, as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied traits."

"What usually happens? The show doesn't come off very well. He begins to think life doesn't treat him right. He decides to exert himself more. He becomes on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious, as the case may be. Still the play does not suit him. Admitting he may be somewhat at fault, he is sure that other people are more to blame. He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying. what is his basic trouble? Is he not really a self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well?"
[Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 61. Emphasis added.]
 This delusion - that happiness and satisfaction may be attained by successful self-management - is the crux of the second part of Step One, and it lies on the cusp of Step Two and Step Three. Life, even the life of the individual, is inherently unmanageable. The individual is a part of a much greater whole, although this is not readily apparent to the egoic consciousness of the individual. Thus, in the throes of self-consciousness, we mistakenly feel compelled by fear to try and manage life's circumstances so that it comes out in a way we can accept and tolerate.

The trouble is, that such efforts very, very seldom work out to our satisfaction. Life itself, has far larger rhythms than the individual stuck in narrow self-consciousness can either see or admit. Knowing that we are extremely prone to jump in and manage life, despite its inherent unmanageability - which, of course, is the height of grandiose insanity - we can, if we so choose, decide to turn our will and our lives over to the care of a Power greater than our ordinary fear-ridden, egoic selves. In doing so, we begin to experience a working faith and the peace that comes from the acceptance of a Power greater than ourselves which is already a present and organizing fact in our lives and the life of the cosmos itself.

Such faith is not ordinarily available to the unaided self, because our egoic self-consciousness is merely a fabrication of unresolvable fears and unquenchable desires. We must therefore work to let go of our smaller "selves" and the fears that are rampant in them. For, as Mahatma Gandhi once remarked: "Fearlessness is the first requirement of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral." We are thus not asked, but begged, to "be fearless and thorough from the very start" in trying to live life according to the Twelve Steps and the spiritual principles behind them.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Religion and Spirituality

Very often, and rightly so, we hear that A.A. is a spiritual, not religious, program. Yet at the same time we read in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous: "Be quick to see where religious people are right." And in the "Spiritual Experience" appendix, the term "religious experiences" is used synonymously with the terms "spiritual awakening" and "spiritual experience." What the heck is going on here?

Much confusion arises, I find, because many or us are (or were) unaware that the word "religion" has two different senses to it, as William James made clear in "The Varieities of Religious Experience." There are 'outer' religious forms - churches, temples, mosques, doctrines and dogmas, etc. - and there are 'inner' religious experiences which have little or nothing to do with 'outer' religious forms.

The word "religion" comes from the Latin words re (again) and ligare (to tie, or unite, as in 'ligature' or 'ligament'). Thus, the 'inner' religious experience is that of reuniting with the Whole, with a Power greater than one's 'self,' or simply with God. In this sense, and this sense only, A.A. could be said to be a spiritual and religious program, although our AA. Preamble (approved by the General Service Conference) makes it clear that A.A. "is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics or organization, and neither endorse nor opposes any causes."

Over the years there has been much controversy over whether A.A. is, in essence, a Christian program, although our Preamble should make it clear that we are not. Thus, while the Oxford Group from which A.A. emerged was a Christian organization, the Foreword to the Second Edition of the 'Big book' clearly states that "(b)y personal religious affiliation, we include Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Hindus, and a sprinkling of Moslems and Buddhists." Now that A.A. has spread worldwide, it is likely that we include members from nearly every religious tradition from A to Z - or from Anglican and Advaitist to Zoroastrian and Zen Buddhist, if you'd rather.

A.A. co-founder Bill W. addressed the issue of religious tolerance - even tolerance for the avowed atheist - in his published correspondence. Writing in 1940, Bill observed:
"We found that the principles of tolerance and love had to be emphasized in actual practice. We can never say (or insinuate) to anyone that he must agree to our formula or be excommunicated. The atheist may stand up in an A.A. meeting still denying the Deity, yet reporting how vastly he has been changed in attitude and outlook. Much experience tells he will presently change his mind about God, but nobody tells him he must do so."

"In order to carry the principle of inclusiveness and tolerance still further, we make no religious requirement of anyone. All people having an alcoholic problem who wish to get rid of it and so make a happy adjustment with the circumstances of their lives, become A.A. members by simply associating with us. Nothing but sincerity is needed. But we do not demand even this."

"In such an atmosphere the orthodox, the unorthodox, and the unbeliever mix happily and usefully together. An opportunity for spiritual growth is open to all."
["As Bill Sees It," p. 158]
Thus, the aim of A.A. is to grow in spirituality; and while we do not endorse or oppose any 'outer' religious sects, denominations or practices, we should "(b)e quick to see where religious people are right."

Reuniting with our Source - whatever that may be called - has, after all, been the crux of 'inner' religious experience since the dawn of time.

Friday, May 20, 2011

On Spiritual Awakening and Recovery from Alcoholic Addiction

My spiritual awakening was electrically sudden and absolutely convincing," Bill W. wrote. "At once I became a part - if only a little part - of a cosmos that was ruled by justice and love in the person of God. No matter what had been the consequences of my own willingness and ignorance, or those of my fellow travelers on earth, this was still the truth. Such was the new and positive assurance, and this has never left me. ("As Bill Sees It," p. 225.)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Bill's spiritual awakening at Towne's Hospital was obviously convincingly and stunningly sudden. In fact, it was so sudden and unexpected that Bill thought perhaps he had gone mad. Asking Dr. Silkworth (of the "Doctor's Opinion") if that might not be the case, he was assured that whatever had happened it was surely preferable to what he had had before, and that he had better hold onto it.

William James
At some point in the next several days, Ebby T., Bill's sponsor, brought him a copy of William James' "The Varieties of Religious Experience," which was then popular with many of the members of the Oxford Group. In it, Bill would have found many accounts of experiences startlingly similar to his.

Perhaps because of this, Bill was particularly attentive to Ebby's recounting the experience that Ebby's friend Rolland H. had in undergoing psychoanalysis with the pioneering psychologist, Carl Jung. It is recounted in pages 26 to 28 in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, while the essence of Jung's message to Rolland may be found on page 27.
Carl Jung (1875-1961)
"Here and there, once in a while," we read, "alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences. To me these occurrences are phenomena. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them." [Emphasis added.]
Clearly, Bill - who went overnight from being a nameless and hopeless drunk, to a man who, as a spiritual and social pioneer, would go on to lifetime of sobriety in which he helped literally millions of other drunks achieve sobriety - was the recipient of just such a phenomenological experience. He had achieved, in an instant, a clear consciousness of God.

While thousands of A.A. members (and members of A.A.'s sister 12 Step organizations) have undergone such sudden spiritual awakenings - some repeatedly - for most, perhaps, this experience of "a new state of consciousness and being" (as Bill describes it in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions) is only gradually attained. Thus, in the second edition of the 'Big Book' (when there were approximately 150,000 A.A. members "in recovery"), the "Spiritual Experience" appendix was included to assure those who had not had a sudden awakening that their spiritual experiences were equally valid and effective, a point emphasized by James in "The Varieties of Religious Experience."

The bottom line of the "Spiritual Experience" appendix, however, is that by practicing the Steps, most members attain, however falteringly, to a higher state of consciousness beyond their ordianry egoic, self-consciousness
"With few exceptions," we read, "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."
Thus, within themselves (i.e., within their own consciousness), members of A.A. who have undergone such a spiritual awakening, discover a wholly unexpected level of consciousness and being; a state of consciousness that is devoid of the old "ideas, emotions and attitudes" that once dominated them. As a skeptic, I would not have believed this, if it had not happened for me.

As William James observed:
"(O)ur normal waking human consciousness, rational consciousness, as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the flimsiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness. . . . No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded."
In going through the 12 Steps, we are introduced to a process of "self-examination meditation and prayer" (The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 98) that are intended to be a stimulus to a new and higher state of consciousness, however transient, through which we can attain to a Power greater than our narrow "selves," and which can help us through even the greatest difficulties that we may face in life. The more we work at it, the more readily such God-consciousness may be attained and maintained. It is not, however, necessarily a matter of becoming suddenly and wholly conscious of the presence of God. Patient, continual and daily work that maintains and enlarges our spiritual lives is the key.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Our Life's Contribution: To Comfort, Understand and Love

Ego deflation at depth as a result of spiritual awakening, the "dying to self" of our Eleventh Step prayer, is a rebirth of who we are in our essence, a point made clear in the following excerpt from "As Bill Sees It" (via The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions):

Our New Employer
We had a new Employer. Being all powerful, He provided what we needed, if we kept close to Him and performed his work well.

Established on such a footing, we became less and less interested in ourselves, our little plans and designs. More and more we became interested in seeing what we could contribute to life.

As we felt new power flow in, as we enjoyed peace of mind, as we discovered we could face life successfully, as we became conscious of His presence, we began to lose our fear or today, tomorrow, or the hereafter. We were reborn.

But just how do we determine what we can contribute to, rather than take from life? Again, the answer is in the Eleventh Step prayer, where we seek "to comfort, rather than be comforted; to understand, rather than to be understood; (and) to love, rather than to be loved." And, like so many of the other paradoxes we find in living a spiritual life, we find that in practicing such principles, we too find that we are comforted, understood and loved. Who would have guessed?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Praying For Answers

"In thinking about our day we may face indecision. We may not be able to determine which course to take. Here we ask God for inspiration, an intuitive thought or decision. We relax and take it easy. We don't struggle. We are often surprised how the right answers come after we have tried this for awhile. What used to be the hunch or the occasional inspiration gradually becomes a working part of the mind."

-- Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 86-87
In working to overcome the self-conscious mind-chatter of the ego, the central problem of the alcoholic addict, we develop what Bill W. calls a "sixth sense." A higher, God-consciousness "becomes a working part of the mind," and we are able to see and respond to life's circumstances in a manner wholly different from the way we formerly would have.

But, as he notes, in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, it is far from certain that we will always be attuned to this new mode of thinking. All too often, we lapse back into our egoic self-consciousness and react to life, trying to manipulate and guide people, things and circumstances into a reality that we dictate, rather than accepting them as they are.

"Being still inexperienced and having just made conscious contact with God," Bill writes, "it is not probable that we are going to be inspired at all times." As a result, he notes, "(w)e might pay for this presumption in all sorts of absurd ideas and actions."

Writing on Step Eleven in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Bill addresses the difficulties that arise when we ask for guidance without having established (or re-established) the conscious contact with our Higher Power that is necessary to receive it.
"(T)he question is often asked," he notes: "Why can't we take a specific and troubling dilemma straight to God, and in prayer secure from Him sure and definite answers to our requests?"

"This can be done," he observes, "but it has its hazards. We have seen A.A.'s ask with much earnestness and faith for God's explicit guidance on matters ranging all the way from a shattering domestic or financial crisis to correcting a minor personal fault, like tardiness. Quite often however, the thoughts that seem to come from God are not answers at all. They prove to be well-intentioned unconscious rationalizations."
This is, perhaps why Dr. Bob (in the "A.A. Co-Founders" pamphlet) continued to reccommend the Four Abolutes of honesty, purity, unselfishness and love as guideposts to making difficult decisions, asking of any particular solution: Is it true or is it false? Is it good or is it bad? How will it affect others? And, is it beautiful or is it ugly?

Doctor Bob observed that running the Four Absolutes past a given problem or situation would usually provide him with the appropriate answer or course of action. Yet, he also observed that if an answer was not clear after posing the questions suggested by the Absolutes, he would consult someone else who was spiritually grounded and perhaps more familiar with a particular situation than he was.

The problem with asking for answers to specific questions or for guidance upon a particular course of action is not only that we often substitute our own answer for that of our Higher Power's, but that in all earnestness we believe that the answer comes not from our own selfish and egoic consciousness, but from God's.
"The A.A., or indeed any man, who tries to run his life rigidly by this kind of prayer, by this self-serving demand of God for replies, is a particularly disconcerting individual," Bill observes. "To any questioning or criticism of his actions he instantly proffers his reliance upon prayer for guidance in all matters great or small. He may have forgotten the possibility that his own wishful thinking and the human tendency to rationalize have distorted his so-called guidance. With the best of intentions, he tends to force his own will into all sorts of situations and problems with the comfortable assurance that he is acting under God's specific direction. Under such an illusion, he can of course create great havoc without in the least intending it."
An alternative form of prayer is that suggested by Emmett Fox in his great work, "The Sermon on the Mount," a book that many of the old-timers turned to for instructions on prayer and meditation.

Fox suggests that there are three levels or types of prayer. First, there is the petitionary prayer we are used to, but prayer that is restricted to affirming the omnipresence of God and invoking his consciousness in our lives. The second, and higher form of prayer, he notes, is that of meditation, in which we find the quiet consciousness of God. And the third, and highest form of prayer, is that of contemplation, in which we take the quiet consciousness we have found through meditation out into our lives.

Relying on affirmative and invocative prayer to bring us into the consciousness of God - and then to ask "for inspiration, an intuitive thought or decision" - many have found, is a more useful and effective mode of prayer than is asking for specific solutions to be laid out before us. Many would say, it is the only means of effective prayer.

And one may always rely on the Four Absolutes, as Dr. Bob did, in checking both the answers we come up with, and those that still elude us, when utilizing this mode of prayer.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

On Desire, Fear and the Activation of Our Character Defects

In Step Four, we see how the word "fear" occurs again and again in the third column of our resentments list. Then, again, on the last page of the Step Seven essay in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, we read: "The chief activator of our defects of character has been self-centered fear - primarily fear that we would lose something we already possessed or would fail to get something we demanded."

But why are our lives shot through with fear? If we re-examine the fourth column of our Step Four inventory - what our part was in the situations we are still resentful about - we can ask why we have these fears, and the answer will almost inevitably come back that our basic interests or desires are threatened.

In the examples given in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous. fear is bracketed three times beside 'self-esteem' and once beside 'security.' This prompts the question: Do we not have overbearing desires to be seen and treated in a certain fashion? Do we not willfully demand that other people see us and treat us in the manner we demand?

Step Six in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions suggests that we do.
"Since most of us are born with an abundance of natural desires," we read, "it isn't strange that we often let these far exceed their intended purpose. When they drive us blindly, or we willfully demand that they supply us with more satisfactions or pleasures that 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, our sins."*
Thus, while fear is "the chief activator" of our character defects, it is our desire-fuelled demands upon life and other people that is "the measure of our character defects," that create the mental space for our fear-activated character defects to become operative.

If we do not have a desire about how we wish to be seen by others and stake our self-esteem on it, for example, then we can have no fear that we will not be perceived in that specific light. The same is true for the myriad of other desires about the amount of money we want, the personal and intimate relationships we crave, and the social positions we want to hold. This, of course, is the reason why all of the world's great wisdom and religious traditions identify our desires as the root of our human suffering.

Thus, in the Gospel of Luke, we read:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!"

"And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?
If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?"

"Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!"

"And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you."
[Luke 12:22-31]
Similarly, according to the Buddha, the cause of our suffereing is our identification with the mind, and just so long as we live in the mind, then the desires of the mind will coninue, and with each desire further suffering. Desire, according to the Buddha, is the root cause suffering, and so he taught the path of witnessing the desires and, thus, going beyond the mind.

To this effect, the Buddha taught:
If you are not awakened, desire grows in you like a vine in the forest. Like a monkey in the forest, you jump from tree to tree, never finding the fruit - from life to life, never finding peace. If you are filled with desire, your sorrows swell like the grass after the rain. But if you subdue desire, your sorrows shall fall from you like drops of water from a lotus flower.
And, on fear, the Buddha notes: "The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you freed."

If we fearlessly face the proposition that God is either everything or nothing (see page 53 of the 'Big Book'), and we answer in the affirmative, then we can begin to realize that there is no other desire that need be filled. And if there are no desires, there is no fear that our desires will not be fulfilled, and therefore no activation of our defects of character through the action of our egoic self-consciousness.

While fear is, thus, the "chief activator" of our defects of character, without our self-centered desires, there can be no fear.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
* Many people shy away from the words "sin" or "sins." The term originates from a Greek archery term for when an archer misses his target, presumably to the left (as the Greeks called the right hand 'dexterous' and the left hand 'sinister'). Thus, the word "sin" is originally a metaphor for when our thoughts miss their mark. Understanding this, helped me to stay open-minded about the concept of "sin" (particularly regarding the 'seven deadly sins' of pride, greed, anger, lust, gluttony envy and sloth, as discussed in Step Seven in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions), as - like alcoholic addiction - "sin" implies a physical and mental shortfall, rather than a moral failing per se.

On Awakening . . .

"On awakening," we read in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, "let us think about the twenty-four hours ahead. We consider our plans for the day. Before we begin, we ask God to direct our thinking, especially asking that it be divorced from self-pity, dishonest or self-seeking motives. Under these conditions we can employ our mental faculties with assurance, for after all God gave us brains to use. Our thought-life will be placed on a much higher plane when our thinking is cleared of wrong motives."

In this passage on 'awakening,' we are urged every day to return and give thought to our 'spiritual awakening,' and therefore it is not mere coincidence that the discussion centers around our motives. For in reading page 27 of the 'Big Book' (below), where Carl Jung explains what a 'spiritual awakening' consists of, we see that the plane of one's thoughts and one's motives are the central feature of his description.
"Here and there," we read, "once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences. To me these occurrences are phenomena. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them."
[Emphasis added.]
The alcoholic addict is a victim of his or her own "selfish" and "self-centered" thinking. This does not, perhaps, mean that the alcoholic addict is "selfish" and "self-centered" solely in the normal sense that we think of such terms - i.e., in the sense of greed and a heedlessness to the needs of others - but also (and more importantly, I believe), it means that the alcoholic is in a very literal way 'addicted' to and wholly identified with the inner dialogue and narrative of the self-conscious human ego.

The alcoholic addict (like most other folks), I believe, suffers under the false assumption that he or she is the 'thinker' rather than the person who is aware of the thoughts that move fleetingly and continuously across the field of his or her consciousness.

When wholly identified and dominated by such egoic self-conscious thinking, one's motives will necessarily be focused on alleviating the suffering that this fearful mode of thought (or "attitude") engenders. Whether this is done by exerting all one's efforts to control and mange one's life circumstances and the people in one's life, or whether it is by surrendering to the impulse to escape such suffering by drinking or drugging, the motive is the same: one is seeking only to avoid suffering and gain happiness, however temporary and fleeting.

When such "ideas, emotions and attitudes" are cast away, "new conceptions and motives" naturally arise from a higher plane of consciousness - what the more religious members of A.A. would call "God-consciousness." Gone are the thoughts that dwell on what other people have done, or might do to us, and thoughts of what we may do to raise the plane of our consciousness and help others to realize their own potential begin to take their place. In this process we learn to live "one day at a time" (or perhaps more accurately, 'one moment at a time'), free of the fear-based thoughts about the actions of others that used to dominate us.

This is not a new insight peculiar to Alcoholics Anonymous (or any of its sister organizations), but is an insight that has been with us since humankind began to realize the difference between their thoughts and 'who' or 'what' they are. It is reflected in the Meditations of the great philosopher/Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, where he writes:
"Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will and selfishness - all of them due to the offender's ignorance of what is good and evil. But for my part I have long perceived the nature of Good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself who is my brother (not in the physical sense, but as a fellow-creature similarly endowed with Reason and a share of the Divine); therefore none of these things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading. Neither can I be angry with my brother or fall foul of him, for he and I were born to work together, like a man's two hands, feet or eyelids, or like the upper and lower rows of his teeth. To obstruct each other is against Nature's law - and what is irritation or aversion but a form of obstruction?"
In striving to attain to this higher plane of consciousness which is devoid of ego, we are told that: "What used to be the hunch or the occasional inspiration gradually becomes a working part of the mind." This shift in consciousness - from egoic, self-consciousness to an inclusive and expansive God-consciousness - is the heart of the A.A. miracle. With it, the obsession to drink or drug (which is the predominant symptom of alcoholic addiction) drops away, and we are enabled to live a contented and purposeful life without the urge to flee from our smaller "selves" via the bottle or through drugs.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Meditation: "Keep Off Thoughts!"

Step 11: "Sought through prayer and
meditation to improve our conscious
contact with God, as we understood
him . . .
Why meditate? Why engage in the continual practice of "self examination, meditation and prayer"? The answer is: "We are not cured of our alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God's will into all of our activities."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, page 85.]

In meditation, we make a conscious contact with God, and we carry that "vision of God's will" for us into our day through the practice of contemplation. When we find that, once again, we have become attached to and diverted by our self-consciousness (the mental chatter of the ego), we can pray briefly to be relieved of "the bondage of self," slip back into the quiet state of God-consciousness and then carry on with our day, assured that we will be able to respond effectively to what presents itself.

The state of our consciousness is the one thing we can change to achieve inner serenity or peace at any given moment, but we need to have the courage to let go of our egoic thinking, and the wisdom to know that there is a difference between our ordinary self-consciousness and the deeper and higher state of God-consciousness. This is the essence of the Serenity Prayer.

In the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, at page 85, we read that: "If we have carefully followed directions, we have begun to sense the flow of His Spirit into us. To some extent we have become God-consciousness. We have begun to develop this vital sixth sense. But we must go further and that means more action."

"Step Eleven," we then read, "suggests meditation and prayer."

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Ramana Maharshi
When the modern-age Indian sage, Ramana Maharshi was asked what the difference was between meditation and distraction he answered: "No difference. When there are thoughts it is distraction; when there are no thoughts it is meditation. However," he then observed, "meditation is only practice (as distinguished from the real state of Peace)."

When he was then asked how to meditate, Maharshi simply replied: "Keep off thoughts."
[Talks with Ramana Maharshi, page 56.]

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Laying Aside Prejudice and Contempt

How often have we heard people in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous disparaging, or even verbally attacking, one or another of the world's great religious faiths? Too often, in my view. Particularly, as we are urged in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous (at page 87) to "(b)e quick to see where religious people are right."

The A.A. Preamble, which appears in all material approved by the General Service Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous, makes it clear, and rightly so, that "A.A." is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy; (and) neither endorses nor opposes any causes."

But why if A.A. as a whole does not endorse or oppose any cause, do so many members openly oppose various religious faiths or denominations within the rooms of A.A., particularly, when we are advised time and time again, that there is much of value to be realized from the world's great wisdom traditions? One begins to suspect that attacking the religious faith of others may be a means of justifying their own lack of any kind of faith. (I know this was once true of me.) Thus, in the 'Big Book', we read:
"Instead of regarding ourselves as intelligent agents, spearheads of God's ever advancing Creation, we agnostics and atheists chose to believe that our human intelligence was the last word, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end of it all. Rather vain of us, wasn't it?"

"We, who have traveled this dubious path, beg you to lay aside prejudices, even against organized religion. We have learned that whatever the human frailties of various faiths may be, those faiths have given purpose and direction to millions. People of faith have a logical idea of what life is about."
[Alcoholics Anonymous, page 49. Emphasis added.]
William James (1842-1910)
After Bill W. had his sudden and profound spiritual awakening, he doubted his sanity. Bill was given some assurance by Dr. Silkworth (he of the "Doctor's Opinion") that he had not gone over the deep end. He was given further assurance of both his sanity and the reality of his spiritual awakening upon reading a copy of the great psychologist, William James' book, The Varieties of Religious Experience. Indeed, The Varieties of Religious Experience this is the only book referenced by name in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous.

In it, Professor James distinguishes between the steeples and bells, incense and vestments, and doctrines and creeds of what he termed "outer religion" and the personal experiential nature of "inner religion" and the inner religious experience witnessed by so many differently circumstanced people down through the ages. (Another, such book, which outlines the inner religious experiences of saints mystics and ordinary folk from a wider variety of the world's great religious and wisdom traditions is "The Perennial Philosophy," which was written by Aldous Huxley, a non-alcoholic friend of Bill Wilson's.)

Indeed, in the Spiritual Experience appendix to the 'Big Book' the personality changes "sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism" are openly referred to as "religious experiences" which are, undoubtedly of the "inner" religious variety described by William James.

And what are the effects of such profound spiritual and religious experiences? Again, in the Spiritual Experience appendix we read:
"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.'"
Thus, just A.A. as a whole (and each group) does not and should not endorse or oppose any religion or religious denomination, in keeping with our traditions and stated purpose, there is really no need or place for the individual A.A. member (or N.A. member, etc.) to disparage any or all religious sects or denomination. Doing so, displays only a lack of open-mindedness and tolerance, and a lack of awareness of A.A.'s roots and what its purpose is - i.e., to facilitate within each of us a spiritual or (some would quite correctly say) religious awakening which is sufficient for us to recover from our alcoholic addiction, and to thus lead contented and purposeful lives in sobriety.

We find that no one need have difficulty with the spirituality of the program," the Spiritual Experience appendix concludes. "Willingness, honesty and open-mindedness are the essential of recovery. But these are indispensable."

Is criticizing any religion or religious domination open-minded? Or, does it only display the continuing prejudices of the person doing the criticizing? I know that in the past, when I engaged in religion-bashing, it only showed that I was again exhibiting the "contempt prior to investigation" that Herbert Spencer rightly noted is a complete "bar against all information," and one that kept me in "everlasting ignorance" until I was shown a  broader and much more informative attitude by some kind and much wiser old-timers than I was.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Establishing "Conscious Contact" with God

"In meditation," we read in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous (at page 69)," we ask God what we should do about each specific matter. The answer will come, if we want it."

This instruction dealing with our sex relations, and simple on its face, is found in the instructions for how to do Step Four, yet its forward looking implications are for Step Nine and (perhaps more importantly) for Step 12, where we endeavour to "practice these principles in all our affairs." Its inclusion in Step Four is an indication that as part of Step Two and Step Three we have already begun to seek out, through the practice of prayer and meditation, a conscious contact with God.

Indeed, the "word-of-mouth program" from the Oxford Group that Ebby T. passed on to Bill W. stressed the need for daily periods of meditation. In the "Three Talks to Medical Societies" pamphlet, we read that the sixth 'step' that Ebby relayed to Bill was: "By meditation, (we) sought God's direction for (our) life and help to practice these principles of conduct at all times." Similarly, Step Eleven in A.A.'s suggested program of action says that we seek "through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact" with the God of our understanding.  If we are to "improve our conscious contact with God," we must have already established such conscious contact at some earlier point in the Steps.

All of this implies, of course, that meditation is one of the fundamental practices that facilitates the spiritual awakening that is necessary for recovery from alcoholic addiction, and that we are faced with the necessity of practicing meditation even before we hit Step Four. It implies, it would seem, that beginning the practice of meditation is an integral part of "turning our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him" in Step Three, for without it we are flying blind.

Steps Four through Step Nine will, of course, relieve the sufferer of many of the punishing thoughts and emotions based on past events that fuel his or her sense of discomfort, irritability, restlessness and discontent, but it is in the state of higher God-consciousness attained in meditation that we find real release. Thus, we are urged to make time for a period of quiet each morning before we start the affairs of the day, seeking guidance for what we should do; and we are urged to take a similar period of quiet each evening, before we retire to bed.

By establishing such a routine we find a place of quiet consciousness to which we can retreat when the going gets tough during our day, and in which we can recollect ourselves and what we are aiming at - i.e., to be of maximum service to God and our fellow beings. It is, as a plaque on Dr. Bob's desk says, "to have a blessed home in (ourselves) where (we) can go in and shut the door and pray to (our God) in secret and be at peace, as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and about is seeming trouble."

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Use of Will Power and a Higher Power

An alcoholic addict who has progressed beyond a certain point in his or her addiction loses all will-power and cannot, it seems, stop and remain abstinent on their own. This loss of the power of the unaided will - which may remain effective with respect to other areas of his or her life, but is wholly non-existent when it comes to drinking and drugging - is the essence of alcoholic addiction.

The 'Big Book" of Alcoholics Anonymous states this plainly in the following paragraph (which is italicized in the 'Big Book' in order to emphasize its importance):
"The fact is that most alcoholics, for reasons yet obscure, have lost the power of choice in drink. Our so-called will power becomes practically nonexistent. We are unable at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago. We are without defense against the first drink.
[Alcoholics Anonymous, page 24.]
Our being "without defense" against that first drink or hit of a drug, means that we cannot safely rely upon our ordinary will power, nor on all that we have learned in Alcoholics Anonymous (or any of its sister organizations). At such times, we need to be able to effect and maintain a conscious contact with "a Power greater than ourselves" in order not to act on the self-will that tells us it is okay to start the party rolling again. We must be able to attain to the higher part of our consciousness (what the more religious members of A.A. call "God-consciousness), and make our decisions about what to do from that level of consciousness, where the stressors and thoughts that lead us to want to drink and/or drug are absent. Without such conscious contact, we are "without defense," and we may well drink and/or drug again.

To admit just how powerless and defenseless we remain over alcohol initially goes against all we are taught.

Advertising makes it clear that we should: "Be an army of one! Take a licking and keep on ticking! Just do it!" Poor Charlie Brown tells himself, yet again, "You can do anything, as long as your grit your teeth!" Yet inevitably, time after time, Lucy pulls the football away just as he is about to kick it.

Thus, at page 22 in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, we read:
"When first challenged to admit defeat, most of us revolted. We had approached A.A. expecting to be taught self-confidence. Then we had been told that so far as alcohol was concerned, self-confidence was no good whatever; in fact, it was a total liability. There was no such thing as personal conquest of the alcoholic compulsion by the unaided will."
So where, then, do we turn for someone or something to 'aid' our will power in order that we have a defense against the first drink or impulse to drug? The answer is that we turn to a Power greater than our unaided 'self,' to the "God of our own understanding," or to "the Great Reality deep down within us," which is discussed on page 55 of the 'Big Book.'

It is not that our will power is no good whatsoever. Quite the contrary. Rather, it is when we rely solely on the will power summoned by our ordinary egoic 'self'-consciousness that we are vulnerable. When we rely on the power of a will that has effectively been turned over to the care of a Power greater than our 'selves,' we become invested with a defense, and are no longer 'powerless' in the way we were when we were all on our own. Thus, in the Step Three essay in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, we read:
"It is when we try to make our will conform with God's that we begin to use it rightly. To all of us, this was a most wonderful revelation. Our whole trouble had been the misuse of will power. We had tried to bombard our problem with it instead of attempting to bring it into agreement with God's intention for us. To make this increasingly possible is the purpose of A.A.'s Twelve Steps."
It is not that our will power is, per se, defective and thereby of no use in avoiding picking up a drink or taking a hit off of a crack pipe etc. It is trusting and acting only on the power of will that is based on our egoic, self-centered, self-consciousness thinking which provides us with "no defense." When we utilize our will power based upon and grounded in our higher, God-centered consciousness, we have an effective defense.

Therefore, just as alcoholism and addiction is progressive and fatal, so too we must seek - on a daily basis, and through meditation and prayer - to "improve our conscious contact with God." The secret to attaining and maintaining recovery from alcoholic addiction is, thus, a matter of changing (one day at a time) the ordinary state of our consciousness and being.