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Friday, September 30, 2011

Trusting Infinite God vs. Our Finite Selves

"Courage is the first requirement of spirituality. A coward can never be moral."

-- Mahatma Gandhi --
In the discussion on the Fourth Step in the 'Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, we read (at page 68) the following passage on self-reliance, self-confidence, fear and faith in God:
"Self-reliance was good as far as it went, but it didn't go far enough. Some of us once had great self-confidence, but it didn't fully solve the fear problem, or any other. When it made us cocky, it was worse."

"Perhaps there is a better way - we think so. For we are now on a different basis; the basis of trusting and relying upon God. We trust infinite God rather than our finite selves. We are in the world to play the role He assigns. Just to the extent that we do as we think He would haves us, and humbly rely on Him, does He enables us to match calamity with serenity."
The ego, "self" in its many manifestations (such as self-reliance, self-confidence, self-centeredness, even self-esteem ), is the root of the alcoholic addict's problem. The raw fuel that feeds the ego are our fears that can never be allayed and our desires that can never be quenched. Thus, to move beyond the limited "self" of the ego, we must move toward the unlimited "Self" of God. It is essential, therefore, that we establish and maintain a conscious contact with a Power greater than ourselves so that we may truly "trust infinite God rather than our finite selves."

"(D)eep down in every man, woman, and child," we read in the 'Big Book,' "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." In establishing a conscious contact with God, and learning to rely upon Him, God "enables us" to strip away all these coverings and to truly "match calamity with serenity."

Such serenity is the hallmark of our deeper God-consciousness that is utterly devoid of fear and desire. Thus, the simple prayer that has been widely adopted by A.A. (and its sister organizations) is a prayer for serenity, courage and wisdom - all of which are aspects of the higher Self but wholly unavailable to the smaller self of the ego.

In The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (at pages 40-41) we read: "(I)t is really easy to begin the practice of Step Three. 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."

God is the "serenity" we seek. Asking for "courage" (from the French cour meaning 'heart') is to move from lower, egoic self-consciousnes' to the higher Self of God-consciousness. And "wisdom" is to know that there is within us both the lower self and the Higher Self of God. In affirming and invoking this Power that is greater than ourselves, we move from our reliance on, and our narrow identification with, the ego to a realization of, and a reliance upon, the God of our understanding.

In the end, we find and access this "Great Reality" deep down within our Being. "In the last analysis it is only there that He may be Found." ("Big Book,' page 55.)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Relieve Me of the Bondage of Self

" . . . (T)hinking without awareness is the main dilemma of human existence."

-- Eckhart Tolle --
("A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose")

The fears and desires of a mind prone to obsession, like the mind of the alcoholic addict, cloud out all reality. If unchecked, such fears and desires may drive the sufferer in any of a hundred different directions, none of them good, thereby reinforcing the habitually obsessive nature of a mind that is already afflicted.

"Since most of us are born with an abundance of natural desires," we read in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, "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 pleasure 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."

"As a man thinketh," says the proverb, "so is he." A mind that is consistently besieged by non-stop thoughts - which is the definition of an obsession - will direct actions designed to lessen such insufferable thoughts, oftentimes irrespective of the harm that may be caused. Such egoic, self-centered thinking, led as it is by the fears and desires of the smaller self, thus creates the field (or "measure") in which our shortcomings operate.

The challenge for the individual, then, is how to lift the hold such obsessive thoughts have upon the mind, and the key to such challenge is constant self-awareness. Only by constant vigilance of what the mind is thinking, and by an awareness of the emotions that we experience in response to such thoughts, can we begin to lift the siege.

"Relieve me of the bondage of self" may be the most powerful prayer we have to be rid of our obsessive thinking. At once it is a recognition of the problem - i.e., self - and an invocation for intercession by a Power greater than one's self in order to relieve the sufferer. For, as it is pointed out in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous (at page 55), we find a "Great Reality deep down within us," but it is only by lifting the siege of the ego that we can effect a conscious contact with this reality.

"(D)eep down in every man, woman, and child is the fundamental idea of God," we read, although this "may be obscured by calamity, by pomp, (and) by worship of other things." It is only by consciously lifting our mind above the ego, above the obsessive thoughts that obscure our true nature and make us miserable, that we are enabled to recover an awareness of our greater Being, and to be returned thereby to sanity.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Reflections on A.A.'s Early History: The Cental Role of Meditation

In a 1958 lecture delivered to the New York City Medical Society on Alcoholism (contained in the "Three Talks to Medical Societies" pamphlet) Bill W. described the fateful evening when Ebby T. came to visit him in his home. Surprisingly, Ebby was sober. And, as if that wasn't bad enough from Bill's point of view, Ebby had "got religion." Nevertheless, Bill heard Ebby out, and afterwards, as Bill describes it, "(t)he spark that was to become Alcoholics Anonymous had been struck."

Here, in Bill's words, is a summary of what ensued that evening:
". . . (H)e told me of his conversations with (Rowland H.), and how hopeless alcoholism really was, according to Dr. Carl Jung. Added to Dr. Silkworth's verdict, this was the worst possible news. I was hard hit. Next Ebby enumerated the principles he had learned from the Oxford Group. Though he thought these good people were sometimes too aggressive, he certainly couldn't find any fault with most of their basic teachings. After all, these teachings had sobered him up."

"In substance, here they are, as my friend applied them to himself in 1934:

      1.  Ebby admitted that he was powerless to manage his own life.
      2.  He became honest with himself as never before; made an "examination of conscience.
      3.  He made a rigorous confession of his personal defects and thus quit living alone with his problems.
      4.  He surveyed his distorted relations with other people, visiting them to make what amends he could.
      5.  He resolved to devote himself to helping others in need, without the usual demand for personal prestige or material gain.
      6.  By meditation, he sought God's direction for his life and the help to practice these principles of conduct at all times.

"This sounded pretty naive to me," Bill recalls, "(n)evertheless, my friend stuck to the plain tale of what had happened. He related how, practicing these simple precepts, his drinking had unaccountably stopped. Fear and isolation had left, and he had received a considerable peace of mind. With no hard disciplines nor any great resolves, these changes began to appear the moment he conformed. His release from alcohol seemed to be a byproduct. Though sober but months, he felt sure he had a basic answer. Wisely avoiding arguments, he then left."

"The spark that was to become Alcoholics Anonymous had been struck," Bill points out. "One alcoholic had been talking to another, making a deep identification with me and bringing the principles of recovery within my reach."
Carl Jung: Click here to read
Jung's letter to Bill W.
Reading this account, I am struck by two seemingly separate but interrelated points: (1) the emphasis that is put upon Carl Jung's conclusions about alcoholism, and (2) the emphasis that is put on meditation for seeking God's direction for life. Indeed, prayer is not mentioned at all.

Jung's conclusions on alcoholism are set out on pages 26-27 of the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, and indicate (a) that sometimes alcoholics have had"vital spiritual experiences" sufficient to relieve their alcoholism, (b) that such experiences seem to be "in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements, and (c) that "(i)deas, emotions and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motivations begin to dominate them."

These conclusions are related to Ebby's sixth point, that he and the original Oxford Groupers utilized meditation to ascertain how they should implement their spiritual principles into their conduct at all time. Meditation, it seems, is the process by which we raise our minds to a higher level which is devoid of our old thoughts and ways of thinking. Thus, old ideas, emotions and attitudes are, indeed, "cast to one side."

Ebby T. with Bill W.
In a subsequent biography ("Ebby: The Man Who Sponsored Bill W."), Ebby describes how he and Rowland H. practiced the Oxford Group principles, including daily meditation.
"Rowland gave me a great many things that were of a great value to me later on," Ebby recalls. "He had a thorough indoctrination and he passed as much of this on to me as he could. When we took trips together we would get up early in the morning, and before we even had any coffee, we would sit down and try to rid ourselves of any thoughts of the material world and see if we couldn't find out the best plans for our lives for that day and to follow whatever guidance came to us."
Ebby's observations about the centrality and importance of meditation are reflected in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous (at pages 86-87), where we read:
"On awakening let us think about the twenty-four hours ahead. We consider our plans for the day. Before we begin (however), we ask God to direct our thinking,  especially asking that it be divorced from self-pity, dishonest or self-seeking motives. . . . In thinking about our day ahead 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 a 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 a while."
 And the result of such a meditative practice?  "What used to be the hunch or the occasional inspiration," we read, "gradually becomes a working part of the mind." Thus, if we are to experience the wholesale change in our "ideas, emotions and attitudes" that marks a spiritual awakening and thus relieves us from our alcoholism, the practice of effecting a conscious contact with God through daily meditation is absolutely crucial.

Supplicatory prayer which affirms and invokes God's help, while important, is a lesser form of a direct and conscious contact with a Higher Power. Meditation is the process by which we effect and improve such conscious contact, while contemplation - the highest form of prayer - is going out from meditation into the world, while maintaining our conscious contact with God so that we may truly practice A.A.'s principles in all our affairs.

All three types of prayer, but particularly meditation, were emphasized in early A.A., and  all three continue to be applicable and essential today if we are to effect, attain and maintain a vital spiritual experience of God in this world.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Eckhart Tolle: On Resentments

"The past has no power to stop you from being present now. Only your grievance about the past can do that. And what is a grievance? The baggage of old thought and emotion."
-- Eckhart Tolle --
("A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose")

The Twelve Steps are designed to bring about "ego deflation at depth" and, thereby, a spiritual awakening which will solve the alcoholic addict's problem - "self" - in all its manifestations, selfishness, self-centeredness, egocentrism etc. One of the first concrete steps we take in this process of ego deflation is to list all of our lingering resentments, the lingering anger that we hold against people, ideas and even circumstances.

Why the importance in reconciling our resentments? The answer is that unless we do so they fester as an underlying anger that blocks us off from the spiritual resources that are buried within us. It is impossible for us to be honest, patient, understanding and loving while we harbour the lingering coals of the grievances we have towards others.

"Resentment is the emotion that goes with complaining and the mental labeling of people and adds even more energy to the ego," notes Eckhart Tolle, a renowned spiritual teacher. "Resentment," he observes, "means to feel bitter, indignant, aggrieved or offended. You resent other people's greed, their dishonesty, their lack of integrity, what they are doing, what they did in the past, what they said, what they failed to do, what they should or shouldn't have done."

"The ego loves it," he points out. "Instead of overlooking unconsciousness in others, you make it into their identity. Who," he asks rhetorically, "is doing that?"

"The unconscious in you," he answers, "the ego."

"Sometimes the "fault" that you perceive in another isn't even there," he notes. "It is a total misinterpretation, a projection by a mind conditioned to see enemies and to make itself right or superior. At ohter time, the fault may be there, but by focusing on it, sometines to the exclusion of everything else, you amplify it, and what you react to in another, he cautions, you strengthen in yourself."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Step One Misperceptions and Confusion

There are many sayings - some trite but true, others not - that one hears around the tables in Alcoholics Anonymous (and many of its sister organizations). One of these sayings is that: "Step One is the only Step we do 100%." But is this what our literature says? Is this truly our collective experience? My reading of our literature, and my own experience, says it is not.

This particular saying seems to originate in the essay on Step Six in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, where (at page 68) we read: "Only Step One, where we made the 100 percent admission we were powerless over alcohol, can be practiced with absolute perfection. The remaining eleven Steps state perfect ideals. They are goals toward which we look, and the measuring sticks by which we estimate our progress."

Note that in this passage it is only "the 100 percent admission we were powerless over alcohol" which can be "practiced with absolute perfection." The alcoholic addict practices this first part of the First Step with perfection each day when he or she does not drink and/or drug. This says nothing about the second (and more difficult) half of the First Step, where we admit that our lives have become unmanageable. The two halves of the First Step are separate, but intricately interrelated concepts. They are not interchangeable.

Yet, in his essay on Step One in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, even Bill seems to treat the two parts as being the same, or at least he muddies the distinction between them. At page 23 of the Twelve and Twelve, discussing those "who were scarcely more than potential alcoholics," Bill asks: "Since Step One requires an admission that our lives have become unmanageable, how could such as these take this Step?"

His answer is that we "raise the bottom the rest of us hit to the point where it would hit them." And, if this does not work, he suggests that to these "doubters" we might say: "Perhaps you are not an alcoholic after all. Why don't you try some more controlled drinking, bearing in mind meanwhile what we have told you about alcoholism."

WTF???? He suggests that a person who is struggling with the idea that his life has become unmanagaeable should go out and try more drinking? This does not make sense. In my experience it has been beneficial to suggest such a tactic to a person who is unclear whether or not he or she is powerless over alcohol, after all that is the crux of the matter and a proposition that we must accept 100 percent. By contrast, I both struggle myself (and see many many others struggle) with the idea that life is, in fact, unmanageable . . . and will remain so. After all, if life became manageable, we would just manage it by ourselves, and what need would we have for the remaining eleven Steps?

Remember, in the How It Works reading, we hear the following, over and over: "Our description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic, and our personal adventures before and after [stopping drinking], make clear three pertinent ideas: (a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives. (b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.  (c) That God could and would if He were sought."

I have practiced the first half of Step One with 100 percent effectiveness for the past 21 years, but day upon day I struggle with the second half of Step One - i.e., ceding control and management of my life to a Power greater than myself. Thus, whenever I have a problem toaday, I can recognize that it is, in effect, a problem with the second half of Step One. I can still be driven blindly by my small, egoic self, although thankfully (a) this does not happen as frequently as it once did, and (b) I have the tools to correct - and clean up after - such self-centered thinking and behaviour.

Not picking up a drink (and in my case a mind-altering drug) is the only part of the program that I have so-far managed to practice with 100 percent success, and it is likely to remain that way. Remember, on this spiritual path we strive for perfection, all the while knowing that we will inevitably fall short. Meanwhile, with the Grace of God, one day at a time we stay sober.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Seeking Humility

"Out of suffering may come the transmutation of values, even the transfiguration of character. But these developments are possible only if the man co-operates. If he does not, then the suffering is in vain, fruitless."

-- Paul Brunton --
("Perspectives," page 157.)
In reading through the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous we come to see that selfishness and self-centeredness - i.e., egoism - are the root causes of our addiction, and that "self" or "ego" must be gotten rid of, or at least reduced at depth, if we are to live happy, sane, and productive lives. The shift from living an egocentric life to one that is God-centered is, however, a transition that requires an act of great humility. It is to wholly admit that life is, in fact, unmanageable and to humbly admit that we cannot be rid of our character defects by any action of our own unaided will. It is to admit that that which we had relied upon - our self-will - has failed us. Thus, we read in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (at page 72),  that "the process of gaining this new perspective is unbelievably painful."
"It was only by repeated humiliations that we were forced to learn something about humility," we read. "It was only at the end of a long road, marked by successive defeats and humiliations, and the final crushing of our self-sufficiency, that we began to feel humility as something more than a condition of grovelling despair."
Fortunately, as philosopher Paul Brunton notes (above), we can co-operate in our own transformation. Indeed, at page 75 of The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions we read that "we needn't always be bludgeoned and beaten into humility;" but, rather, that "(i)t could come quite as much from our voluntary reaching for it as it could from unremitting suffering."
 "A great turning point in our lives came," we read, "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 implication of Step Seven: "Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.""
Just as honesty means that we don't have to remember our story, so humility means that we do not have to remember our persona, our actor's role. Is humility something I truly want in life? If so, am I willing to let go of my own story?  If I don't, as Brunton notes, all the suffering of my alcoholic addiction will have been in vain.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Tao of Selflessness

In the Eleventh Step Prayer, we affirm that: "(I)t is by self-forgetting that one finds. It is by forgiving that one is forgiven. It is by dying (to the ego) that one awakens to Eternal Life." Thus we see that a transformation of consciousness is what we are truly seeking, for the so-called normal, egoic consciousness of the alcoholic addict is the basic problem for which booze and/or drugs was once a viable solution - that is, while they still worked to bring us out of our narrow self-consciousness. Anything short of such a transformation of consciousness is bound to be painful and ineffective over the long haul.

In the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous it is pointed out (at pp. 44-45) that mere knowledge and intellectualism is insufficient to overcome alcoholic addiction.
"If a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism," we read, "many of us would have recovered long ago. But we found that such codes and philosophies did not save us, no matter how much we tried. We could wish to be moral, we could wish to be philosophically comforted, in fact, we could will these things with all our might, but the needed power was not there. Our human resources as marshaled by the will, were not sufficient; they failed us utterly."
"Lack of power (is) our dilemma," we are then told, and the purpose of the 'Big Book' is to show us how and where we might find and establish conscious contact with a Power greater than ourselves in order to transform our inner being.

Thus, philosophy and intellectual knowledge are insufficient for our purposes, but actual spiritual experience - if it is real and effectual - will relieve us from the fears and desires that constitute the raw fuel of our lower, egoic self-consciousness. We will find such a Higher Power "deep down within us" we are later told, and this paradoxical discovery - the paradox of all spiritual paths - will solve our dilemma of powerlessness and life's unmanageability.

In the Taoist book of spiritual wisdom, Lau Tzu's "Tao Te Ching," we read:
"Exterminate the sage, discard the wise,
And the people will benefit a hundredfold;
Exterminate benevolence, discard rectitude,
And the people will again be bound;
Exterminate ingenuity, discard profit,
And there will be no more thieves and bandits.
These three, being false adornments, are not enough
And the people must have something
To which they can attach themselves:
Exhibit the unadorned and embrace the uncarved block,
Have little thought of self and as few desires as possible."
 It is by forgetting self - with all the fears and desires that preoccupy our lower thought lives - that we ultimately find recovery, sanity and wholeness in a new, transformational state of consciousness and being.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Forgiveness and Making Amends 101

I found the following passage in Richard Carlson's "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff . . . and its all small stuff," a pithy little book of practical spiritual wisdom. Dealing with reaching out and making amends for so-called "normal people," the topic is doubly applicable to the alcoholic addict for whom addressing resentments effectively and making amends are spiritual imperatives upon which the whole of recovery hinges.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Be the First One to Act Loving or Reach Out

So many of us hold on to little resentments that may have stemmed from an argument, a misunderstanding, the way we were raised, or some other painful event. Stubbornly, we wait for someone else to reach out to us - believing this is the only way we can forgive or rekindle a friendship or family relationship.

An acquaintance of mine, whose health isn't very good, recently told me that she hasn't spoken to her son in almost three years. "Why not?" I asked. She said that she and her son had had a disagreement about his wife and that she wouldn't speak to him unless he called first. When I suggested she be the first one to reach out, she resisted initially and said, "I can't do that. He's the one who should apologize." She was literally willing to die before reaching out to her only son. After a little gentle encouragement, however, she did decide to be the first one to reach out. To her amazement, her son was grateful for her willingness to call and offered an apology of his own. As is usually the case when someone takes the chance and reaches out, everyone wins.

Whenever we hold on to our anger, we turn "small stuff" into really "big stuff" in our minds. We start to believe that our positions are more important than our happiness. They are not. If you want to be a more peaceful person you must understnad that being right is almost never more important than allowing yourself to be happy. The way to be happy is to let go, and reach out. Let other people be right. This doesn't mean that you're wrong. Everything will be fine. You'll experience the peace of letting go, as well as the joy of letting others be right. You'll also notice that, as you reach out and let others be "right," they will become less defensive and more loving toward you. They might even reach back. But, if for some reason they don't, that's okay too. You'll have the inner satisfaction of knowing that you have done your part to create a more loving world, and certainly you'll be more peaceful yourself.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The passage above illustrates some truisms: (a) that most of us have a compelling, yet unexamined, need to be right, (b) that some people would rather die than reach out and make amends, (c) that reaching out to make amends most usually heals distorted relationships, and (d) that, even if it doesn't, making amends wherever possible will nevertheless give peace of mind to the person who reaches out and makes the effort.

"The alcoholic is like a tornado roaring his way through the lives of others," we read in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous. "Hearts are broken. Sweet relationships are dead. Affections have been uprooted. Selfish and inconsiderate habits have kept the home in turmoil. We feel a man is unthinking when he says that sobriety is enough."

Forgiving others for harm done, and then reaching out lovingly to make amends for where we have been at fault are first but necessary steps in cleaning up after such "tornado damage." A lifetime of work may remain to fully rebuild some shattered relationships, but "clearing away the wreckage of our past" is a necessity if we are ever to begin reconstruction.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Letting Go of Old Ideas

In the "How It Works" reading, we hear over and over that "(s)ome of us have tried to hold onto our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely." This is the only "absolute" in the first 164 pages of the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous. But just what does it mean?

At its most basic level, no doubt, it means that we have to complete our moral inventory, share what we find, and then get rid of the resentments, fears and remorse that have held us in bondage. We do this, in part, (particularly in respect of our resentments and remorse) through making amends where possible for the harms we have caused others. In part, we overcome our fears and remorse by engaging in daily prayer and meditation that lifts our thought plane to a whole new level. But is this all? If it is, it may be rather limited.

A second, deeper level to the admonishment to let go of old ideas comes into play as we realize that even new ideas become old very, very quickly. For instance, if a person cuts us off in traffic - a commonplace occurrence we are as likely guilty of as many times as is the person who cuts us off - how long does this action live on in our minds? Do we flip off the other driver? Do we need to comment on the alleged offense to our other passengers? Do we need to critique in depth the other driver's skill, motivations and character? Such thoughts gets old fast.

Take as another example being called into one's employer's offices for an annual review. All goes well, but as is the custom one's boss highlights several areas where improvements might be made. Do we seethe or worry over these constructive criticisms and allow them to haunt us for weeks or months? Or, do we take them in stride for what they are? If we allow criticism to fester inside of us, how quickly do such new ideas become old?

Man is a thinking creature and our self-centered egoism thrives on such raw fuels. New ideas can be positive, negative or neutral, but to the extent that they dominate our thought life, they become old thoughts and serve to reinforce not only what we think of, but how we think. And if how we think does not change, nothing really changes. The result is nil.

Thus, on the subtlest level, holding onto old ideas forestalls all spiritual growth because it reinforces our old thought patterns, and such old thought patterns (of course) are synonymous with our character defects. That is, if a man consistently thinks angry thoughts he becomes an angry man, consistently thinking jealous thoughts makes for a jealous man, and thinking envious thoughts breeds envy, etc.

One suggested methodology for getting rid of our old ideas is for us to raise opposite thoughts. Thus we are told to think of a person who harms or offends us as being a sick person. Raising thoughts of compassion for the seeming offender, we dissipate the judgmental thoughts that would otherwise separate us from that other, and more importantly separate us from God. Similarly, if we are patted on the back for some good that we have done others, we are advised to take this humbly in stride, knowing that we were merely acting as the agent of God's will for us.

A second methodology for letting go of old ideas is made explicit in the slogan: "Let Go and Let God." Not only does this mean letting go of our need to manage and control life, it also means that we can aspire to a higher consciousness where the mundane thoughts that upset us are dissipated. Who can be upset with his neighbour (or a complete stranger) when he or she realizes that we are all part of a unitive whole in which God is manifested?

The choice is really, thus, to let go of our old ideas and to realize God in action, or to hold onto our old ideas and suffer in the bondage of self. And, it is this bondage - the "painful inner dialogue" of the ego - that is the source of all suffering. Selfishness and self-centeredness, we are told, are the basic root of our problem, and we must be rid of (or at least reduce at depth) this separated sense of self if we are to live fully and fully recover from our alcoholic addiction. To do so, we must absolutely let go of all our old ideas no matter how deeply or lightly they may be entrenched.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Obsession of the Mind

"We know that while the alcoholic keeps away from drink, as he may do for months or years, he reacts much like other men. We are equally positive that once he takes any alcohol whatever into his system, something happens, both in the bodily and mental sense, which makes it virtually impossible for him to stop. The experience of any alcoholic abundantly confirms this."
"These observations would be academic and pointless if our friend never took the first drink, thereby setting the terrible cycle in motion. Therefore the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than in his body."
The two paragraphs, above, taken from pages 22-23 of the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, address the effects of the physical and mental cravings of the body for more alcohol once drinking has commenced; but, more importantly, they address the obsession of the mind for alcohol when the alcoholic addict is not drinking.

The word 'obsession' comes from the Latin obsidere, meaning 'to sit down before' (as an army sits down before a walled fortress, besieging it.) Its original fourteenth century English usage was to denote "being assailed by an evil spirit or fixed idea." Both the origin and first usage of the word 'obsession' are particularly apt, for how many of us did not at first struggle or ceaselessly fight with the seemingly ever present idea that taking a drink or drug would fix the way we were feeling? Was the thought of drinking and/or getting high not a strong and frequent temptation?

For many of us, we were like a city under siege and the thought of drinking or using was more or less constantly with us during the first weeks or months of recovery. Even thereafter, many (and perhaps most) of us were left with a mind highly susceptible to other obsessions, once the obsession about alcohol and/or drugs lifted. How many people, for example, have replaced their obsession for drugs or booze with an obsession for physical fitness, or an obsession for work, relationships or money? Quite a few, in my experience. And the list of such 'replacement' obsessions is both incredibly long and fraught with peril.

How then do we lift the siege, so to speak, of our obsessive minds. In its paradoxical way, the 'Big Book' indicates that the answer to this "main problem" of the alcoholic (which, after all "lies in the mind") is also internal.

On page 55 of the 'Big Book' we read:
". . .(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. . . .'

"We finally saw that faith in some kind of God was a part of our make-up, just 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."
It is thus, by accessing the hidden dimension of God within us, by attaining to a lasting peace and quietness, that we are relieved of the raucous obsessions of the mind that drive us wildly. It is a reality that we can in fact become spiritually awakened and attuned to a deeper consciousness than that of the obsessive mind of self or ego-consciousness - whether such a spiritual awakening occurs suddenly or gradually evolves.

In the Spiritual Experience appendix to the 'Big Book' 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 that this awareness of a Power greater than ourselves is the essence of spiritual experience. Our more religious members call it "God-consciousness.""
 Thus it is that the higher spiritual mind of man, replaces the lower obsessive mind of the ego, or self. And with that, the obsessions for alcohol, drugs or their replacements can be expelled. As Carl Jung put it in his famous letter to Bill Wilson:  "The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum." That is, the experience of God rather than alcohol is that which solves our all-too-human dilemma.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The 'Three Delusions'

There are 'three delusions' - actually one illusion, and two delusions - specifically referenced in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous. The 'first delusion' speaks to the first part of Step One (that we are "powerless over alcohol"), the 'second delusion' speaks to both parts of the First Step, while the 'third delusion' addresses the last half of the First Step (that our lives have become, are, and remain "unmanageable"). An understanding of all three delusions is critical if we are to work the rest of the 12 Steps to the best of our abilities.

The 'first delusion' is in the first paragraph in the chapter entitled "More About Alcoholism," in which we read: "The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates or insanity or death." (Emphasis added.) For the real alcoholic (or alcoholic addict) this illusion can entirely stymie all attempts at recovery, and may prove fatal if the victim of this delusion is unable because of it to move beyond his or her craving for alcohol.

In The Doctor's Opinion preface to the 'Big Book' we read: "We believe . . . that the action of alcohol on . . . chronic alcoholics is a manifestation of an allergy; that the phenomenon of craving is limited to this class and never occurs in the average temperate drinker. These allergic types can never safely use alcohol in any form at all, and once having formed the habit and found they cannot break it, once having lost their self-confidence, their reliance upon things human, their problems pile up on them and become astonishingly difficult to solve." (Emphasis added.)

A true alcoholic addict "can never safely use alcohol in any form at all." The illusion that he or she may once again control and enjoy his drinking has thus got to be thoroughly and wholly smashed. Do not perish under the delusion that you may one day be able to drink again, just like old times. At the end of your active addiction it did not work anymore, nor will it work if you resume where you left off.

The 'second delusion' is set out in the second paragraph of the "More About Alcoholism" chapter. New paragraph; new idea. In it, we read: "We learned that we had to concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed." (Emphasis added.)

This 'second delusion' is, as stated above, pertinent to both the first and second halves of Step One. There is an old saying in A.A. that once a cucumber becomes a pickle it can never become a cucumber again. This is illustrated by the story (at pages 32-33) of the man who quit drinking at age thirty, only to retire and commence drinking again at age fifty. Within two months of doing so he was promptly hospitalized for alcoholism. His story illustrates how the physical allergy never goes away and, so it seems, in our experience the untreated obsession for alcohol only grows worse with time and never better.

On a more subtle level, however,  this 'second delusion' speaks to the unmanageability of our lives. "Selfishness" or  "self-centeredness," we read at page 62 of the 'Big Book' "is the root of our troubles." And, we read elsewhere that "the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot." Looking back, each time we came to were we not a little bit more self-absorbed? Was the painful inner dialogue of "self" or the "ego" not a little more strident and painful? After years and years of escaping that painful inner dialogue of self though the bottle (and or drugs), in recovery we are faced with an inner dialogue that is seems to be much, much stronger and more unsettling than it is for the so-called 'normal' person. Does this not resonate with how we know ourselves to be?

In sobriety, desparately trying to 'manage" that which seems to be (and is) unmanageable - i.e., life, all of it - is our inner narrative not so painful that it leads many to try and drown out such thoughts once more with booze and/or drugs? All too often - and sometimes fatally - this seems to be the case.

The 'third delusion' is found after the description of the alcoholic as "an actor" on pages 60 and 61 of the 'Big Book.' In the middle paragraph on page 61, we read: "What is (the alcoholic's) 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 satifaction and happiness out of the world if only he manages well?" (Emphasis added.)

Life is inherently unmanageable, we will come to see. Who can immediately change the circumstances that befall him or her? No one, of course. Who can shape how others act and react to their circumstances. Again, the answer is no one. Yet, at a very subtle level, the alcoholic addict still mired in habitual, self-centered alcoholic thinking thinks he can and must somehow control the uncontrollable.

If we can see through the delusion that we can somehow "wrest satisfaction and happiness out of the world" by managing well, we come to the point where we can, effectively and in reality, "turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him." Until we do so, we are left helplessly on our own trying to manage the unmanageable through the application of our self-centered will as best we can. This is the height of the insanity of alcoholism, even in sobriety. It drives many mad unless, and until, it is overcome.

Unless we see through the 'first delusion' we cannot stay sober. Unless we smash the 'second delusion' we may stay sober, but we will remain trapped within the insanity of our old ways of thinking. But once we accept and see through all 'three delusions' we can - and will - be enabled to live in what Bill W. describes as "the Sunlight of the Spirit." We will have recovered from "a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body."

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pesonal Religion and Finding the God of Your Own Understanding

In recovery, there is no requirement that you believe in the God of your upbringing, nor in the God of any particular faith. Rather, what is suggested is that you find a God of your own understanding. And, as Bill W. points out (at page 27) in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions: "A.A.'s tread innumerable paths in their quest for faith." Further, in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous (at page 28), the writer points out that William James, a distinguished Anmerican Psychologist, in his book "The Varieties of Religious Experience," "indicates a multitude of ways in which men have discovered God."
"We have no desire to convince anyone that there is only one way by which faith can be acquired," the 'Big Book' author continues. "If what we have learned and felt and seen means anything at all, it means that all of us, whatever. our race, creed, or color are the children of a living Creator with whom we may form a relationship upon simple and understandable terms as soon as we are honest and willing enough to try. Those having religious affiliations will find here nothing disturbing to thier beliefs or ceremonies. There is no friction among us over such matters."
In "The Varieties of Religious Experience" (at pages 28-29), William James distinguishes between "institutional" and "personal" religion. It is personal religious experience that James, like A.A. (and its sister organizations), is concerned with.
"In the more personal branch of religion," James notes, " it is . . the inner dispositions of man himself which forms the center of interest, his conscience, his deserts, his helplessness, his incompleteness. And although the favor of God as forfeited or gained, is still an essential feature of the story . . . the individual transacts the business by himself alone, and ecclesiastical organizations, with is priests sacraments and other go-betweens, sinks to an altogether secondary place. The relation goes direct from heart to heart, from soul to soul, between man and his maker."
In dealing with the inner being of the alcoholic addict, with "his conscience, his deserts, his helplessness, (and) his incompleteness," the writer of the 'Big Book' notes that invariably the alcoholic addict comes to a point where he or she must decide by themselves just what the God of his or her own understanding is to be.
"When we become alcoholics, crushed by a self-imposed crisis we could not postpone or evade, we had to fearlessly face the proposition that either God is everything or else He is noting. God either is, or He isn't. What was our choice to be?"
If we take the provisional position that God is literally everything, this has many, many times served as a common beginning to understanding and faith. Then, working through the 12 Steps we are assured by those who have gone before us that they "found that Great Reality deep down within (them)," and that "(i)n the last analysis it is only there that He may be found."

Thus we are assured that within our being is the fundamental essence of an all-pervading God, an "unsusupected inner resource" that is the essence of spiritual awakening, and which many of the oldest of the old-timers came to know as "God-consciousness." ('Big Book,' Spiritual Experience Appendix, pp. 567-568.) Thus, we become enabled to find, believe in, and experience a God that is truly in and of our own understanding, although the voyage we take to get there is bound to be unique and singular.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

As a Man Thinketh, So Is He

Today's Thought from Hazelden: September 7, 2011
"As we think, so we become."

"We can enrich our interior monologue. We can seek the company of people who inspire us with a loving approach to life. We can absorb the written thoughts of writers who encourage our positive emotions. We can decide to be cheerful and optimistic, just for today."

"Whom would you rather be around - someone who chronically complains and talks about what a mess everything is, or someone who finds joy and delight in watching the antics of two squirrels in a tree? You are your constant companion. Your own company can be a pleasure or a drag, depending on the thoughts and feelings you permit to linger in your consciousness."

"We take Steps Four and Five in order to sort out our thoughts, getting rid of those that depress our spirit. In Step Ten, we continue a daily mental housecleaning so that residues of resentment and discouragement are not allowed to accumulate. Then we go on to Step Eleven for an infusion of the kind of thinking that nurtures the person we want to become."

"Today, I will exercise my freedom of thought."
"As a man thinketh in his heart so is he," observes James Allen in his classic work, "As a Man Thinketh." Taken from Proverbs 23:7, this aphorism may at first be a revelation for persons who believe that they have no control over how and what they think. Experience with taking and sharing a moral inventory, with making amends for wrongs done, and, most importantly, with prayer and meditation shows us that this is just not true.

To affect a conscious contact with the God of our own understanding, requires the disciplining of our consciousness itself, and the experience of millions, inside and outside 12 Step recovery groups, show that this is eminently possible using the methodology of the Steps or other disciplines. (Remember, A.A. and its sister organizations "have no monopoly" on spiritual awakening.)
"Man is made or unmade by himself," Allen points out. "(I)n the armory of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself. He also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace. By the right choice and true application of thought, man ascends to the Divine Perfection; by the abuse and wrong application of thought, he descends below the level of the beast. Between these two extremes are all the grades of character, and man is their maker and master."
In the "How It Works" reading, we hear, but perhaps overlook, the warning: "Many of us tried to hold onto our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely." If we are to remain sober and live contented sane lives, we must not only let go of our old ideas, but our entire old way of ego-centric thinking. We must be able to free ourselves from the painful inner dialogue of self-consciousness in order to access the underlying God-consciousness which is the natural basis of our human condition.  And it is by "the right choice and application of thought" that we do so."

Today, have I chosen to let go of the inner dialogue of self in favour of communion with the God of my understanding? Have I taken the quiet time to commune with and rest in the divine? As I go out from my time of quiet meditation will I be attentive to the thoughts of self-consciousness and let them go as they arise? Today, will I manifest the insanity of the ego or will I strive to remain within the sanity of a higher God-consciousness?

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Spiritual Life Is NOT a Theory!

"The spiritual life is not a theory," we read in the 'Big Book'. "We have to live it." Why this exhortation? At one level it is a recognition that we must have a spiritual awakening and live a spiritually awakened life if we are to remain clean and sober. At a deeper level, it is an affirmation that - whether we like it or not, and irrespective of whether we believe it or not - we are living a spiritual life, that life itself is inherently spiritual. The  question then becomes: are we living this spiritual life consciously?

Living a spiritually conscious life is no mean feat. It must be lived consciously, and our self-consciousness is a pernicious and relentless adversary. Can our self-centered consciousness truly be overcome. In the St. Francis prayer (the Step 11 prayer at page 99 of The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions) we are assured this is possible. "It is by self-forgetting that we find," we read. "It is by dying (to self, or the ego) that we awaken to eternal life." If we awaken to eternal life, is this eternity not inclusive of our whole lives? Are we not living in an eternal life, irrespective of whether we know or accept that fact. "The spiritual life is not a theory." We are living it - right now!

How then do we attune ourselves to this hidden reality? In the Twelve and Twelve (at page 98), the author suggests a richly interwoven process of self-examination, meditation and prayer - a process and practice that is reflective of the entire 12 Step program.
"There is a direct linkage among self-examination, meditation and prayer," we read. "Taken separately, these practices can bring much relief and benefit. But when they are logically related and interwoven, the result is an unshakeable foundation for life. Now and then we may be granted a glimpse of that ultimate reality that is God's kingdom. And we will be comforted and assured that our own destiny in that realm will be secure for so long as we try, however falteringly, to find and do the will or our own Creator."
"Selfishness - self-centeredness! That we think is the root of our problem. Driven by a hundred different forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate." (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 62.)

A life of conscious spirituality requires constant vigilance, or self examination. When we find ourselves thinking once more without awareness, we can be assured that this our ordinary self-consciousness trying to reassert itself. Just a snippet of the Step 3 prayer - "Relieve me of the bondage of self!" - may be enough to re-center ourselves in the God-consciousness of pure being. At other times, when in the throes of a full-blown ego attack characterized by emotional intensity and acute indecisiveness, the Serenity Prayer helps. In either instance the goal is to re-establish ourselves in the security of our newfound sense of consciousness and being, assured that it is there for the seeking.

Self-examination, in turn, requires that we set aside time for prayer and meditation. Just a few minutes of silent recurrence to the realm of pure Spirit each day is enough for us to begin the path of living this spiritual life consciously. This is not a theory. It is the practical lesson learned by millions of alcoholic addicts in recovery. It works if we work it.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

On Resentment and Forgiveness

Resentments, we are reminded over and over, are the number one "killers" of alcoholic addicts. But just what are resentments? The word, itself, comes from the Latin sentiere meaning "to feel." So, quite literally, resentment (which in medieval English was  resentiment) means "to feel again." We think about past events over which we are still upset, rub our supposed 'wounds' raw, and then act on the basis of the resulting feelings.

Thus, the process seems to be "re-think --> re-feel --> re-act." And the usual reaction? Far too often, the reaction of the alcoholic addict is to drink or use again, proving yet again the truth of the Chinese proverb: "Anger is a toxic poison, that corrodes the vessel that contains it from the inside out." "The problem of the alcoholic," remember,"centers in the mind."

So how do we do deal with resentments? Listing the resentments by name, writing down the cause of the resentment, and how it affects us, is a start. We then look rigorously and honestly about what part, if any, we played in the circumstances that set the whole train of wronged emotions in play. In most cases we find that we have played a part, and where we have wronged that individual we forgive and make amends where where that is possible. But what about the deeply held resentments where,quite honestly, we played no part?

The resulting thoughts and simmering anger surrounding circumstances in which we were victimized are just as dangerous and perhaps more so than the instances where we played an active role. Requiring a one-sided true forgiveness, these instances may offer us the greatest opportunites for spiritual growth that there are. Mark Twain remarked, "Forgiveness is the scent the violet leaves on the heel of the boot that crushed it." But just how do we get there? Perhaps the key is in recognizing that the other person, though his or her wrong actions may vary in kind from ours, is nonetheless just like us - human, fallible and thus prone to all the same soul sickness that we are.

The Roman Emperor and stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius advised in his Meditations
"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?"
More simply put, in the Lord's Prayer we are advised to ask God to "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. The operative word being "as" in this instance. Thus, so long as our thinking returns to the one-sided wrongs that have been done to us, we can dedicate those thoughts to our Higher Power, recognize our own continuing defects of character, and ask to be relieved of the anger that still resides within us. When true forgiveness comes - as it will if it is sought - we will seldom if ever think of those past injustices, usually only in those instances when sharing such wrongs will help someone struggling with wrongs of a similar nature.