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Monday, October 31, 2011

Three Delusions and a Few Conclusions

"(T)he main problem of the alcoholic," we read in the 'Big Book,' "centers in the mind." Why is this apparently so? Firstly, the alcoholic addict may harbor the delusion that, against all evidence, one day he or she may be able to control and enjoy his or her drinking once again. Secondly, there is the delusion that he or she is like other people, or one day will be. And thirdly, there is the delusion that he or she may be able "to wrest satisfaction and happiness out of life" if only he manages well.

The first of these delusions, that the alcoholic addict is one day going to be able to control and enjoy his drinking is belied by the evidence, both personal and anecdotal. No one but the alcoholic addict him or herself can effectually make the diagnosis that he or she is indeed alcoholic. Yet we read in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous that if when drinking you have little or no control over how much you imbibe, or you find that you cannot quit entirely on your own, you are probably alcoholic. Only the alcoholic addict can honestly answer those questions for him or her self. Anecdotally, medical doctors have established that the the phenomenon of craving for more and more booze when a person drinks is limited to one class of drinkers only - alcoholics.

Personally, I know that when I drank (or, in my case, used drugs) I always craved more and more, and that when I wasn't drinking or drugging, my mind was obsessed with just how and when I was going to be able to do so again.  I couldn't control how much I took, nor could I quit entirely on my own, and I thus remain convinced, even after twenty-odd years clean and sober, that I am both physically and mentally alcoholic. The delusion that one day I might be able to drink (or drug) like normal people who do not do so addictively has been smashed.

The delusion that I am like other people, or one day may be, is a delusion that is more subtle and persistent, however. I am not like other people, nor will I be, so far as booze or drugs is concerned, but am I not so in all other respects? Yes, but not exactly.

"Most people," we read at page 60 in the 'Big Book,' "try to live by self-propulsion. Each person is like the actor who wants to run the show, is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet the scenery and the rest of the players in his own way." In this respect, we alcoholic addicts, I have come to see are like other people, only more so. Happily, but cautiously, I can say that I am no different from other people in this respect: but most importantly, I know that I am.

An attitude of selfishness, self-centeredness and self-consciousness - the underlying ego identification with whatever we are thinking at the time - we read over and over in the 'Big Book' is the underlying problem of the alcoholic addict. We pray to be relieved of "the bondage of self," we make an accurate moral self-survey and share it, we make amends where possible for the harm we have done when acting on self, and we acknowledge that we are self-centered as we endeavor to be freed from the character defects which make us this way.

This is both a curse and a blessing. Acknowledging that we are "self-centered to the extreme," we can look around and see that most other people are merely 'extremely self-centered.' For most 'normal' people, their self-centeredness works to a greater or lesser degree - and it is usually the latter. But for the alcoholic addict whose two solutions to the innate irritability, restlessness and discontent of egoic self-consciousness is either to drink (and/or drug) or to seek a spiritual solution that will provide us with ease and comfort, such self-centerdeness is, we read, "infinitely grave." Shattering the delusion that we are like other people, or some day will be, is thus imperative if we are to make changes in our lives so that down the road (and, many times, years down the road) we do not run into a seemingly intractable situation in which our only alternative looks like a drink.

On the other hand, knowing that so-called 'normal people' are also predominantly self-centered (or egocentric) confers advantages upon the alcoholic addict in recovery. It allows us to understand the oftentimes peculiar motivations that drives others, it allows us to truly forgive others for their actions that may have hurt us, it allows us to make amends for harm done where we can, and when we are wrong it allows us to promptly admit it. We all, it turns out, have feet of clay.

Lastly, the delusion that we will be able to "wrest satisfaction and happiness out of life" if only we manage well also has to go by the boards. Each of us (and all our loved ones) will struggle, age, get sick and eventually die. Self-centered 'normal' folks will continue to step on our toes. The unexpected will continue to happen. The best laid plans will continue to go awry, and life will continue to be inherently unmanageable. Neither sobriety nor spirituality will make life "manageable." But working the Twelve Steps, if practiced diligently, will make life "acceptable" to us if we allow ourselves to "Let Go and Let God." "Mastery of life," noted an enlightened man, "is the opposite of control."

"Here is the how and the why of it," we read at page 62 of the 'Big Book.' "First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn't work. Next we decided that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director. He is the Principal; we are His agents. He is the Father, and we are His children. Most good ideas," we read, "are simple, and this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we pass to freedom."

We will not be able to control and enjoy our drinking one day, we are not like other people, and our lives do not become manageable by us. The acceptance of these facts of our lives, together with accurate self-survey, prayer, meditation and selfless service to others, however, allows us to live full, God-conscious, productive and loving lives.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Higher Consciousness and a New State of Being

"When a man or a woman has a spiritual awakening, the most important meaning of it is that he has now become able to do, feel, and believe that which he could not do before on his own unaided strength and resources alone. He has been granted a gift which amounts to a new state of consciousness and being. He has been set on a path which tells him he is really going somewhere, that life is not a dead end, not something to be endured or mastered. In a very real sense he has been transformed, because he has laid hold of a source of strength which, in one way or another, he had hitherto denied himself." (Emphasis added.)

-- The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pp. 106-107 --
Spiritual awakening, as mystics, philosophers and sages have recognized for millennia, amounts to a "new state of consciousness and being," As Carl Jung describes it in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous: "Ideas, 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 motives begin to dominate them." Yet such a seemingly new state of consciousness and being is not something foreign to any of us. It is innate.

In the Spiritual Experience Appendix (added in the second edition of the 'Big Book' when there were approximately 150,000 alcoholic addicts in recovery) we read that: "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," we continue to read, "think this awareness of a power greater than themselves is the essence of spiritual experience. Our more religious members call it "God-consciousness."" (Emphasis added.)

Once one recognizes that the fundamental problem of the alcoholic addict is not booze and/or drugs but "self" (or the ordinary human "ego") - and that booze and or drugs were but artificial, and therefore temporary, solutions to the existential problems of self-consciousness that ultimately failed to work anymore - then one becomes truly able to believe that there is a Power greater than one's "self" that will restore sanity.

It is not that sanity has disappeared per se, but rather that it has become lost to the sufferer. He or she can no longer effect a conscious contact with a Power greater than him or herself which will restore her to sanity. The "unsuspected inner resource" which exists within all of us - the peace and quiet of mind of a higher consciousness - has been obscured by the calamitous, pompous and outwardly focused and worshipful inner dialogue of the ego. "Ego deflation at depth" is, thus, required so that the sufferer can effect a conscious contact with this Higher Power and then turn his or her will and life over to the God of his or her own understanding.

Meditation and prayer are essential to reconnect to this inner core of our being, but the accurate self survey and sharing of our moral inventory are equally necessary to mute our "old ideas, emotions and attitudes." In completing and sharing our moral inventory, by "admitting to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs," certain things happen. "We can look the world in the eye," we read. "We can be alone at perfect peace and ease. Our fears fall from us. We begin to feel the nearness of our Creator. We have had certain spiritual beliefs, but now we begin to have a spiritual experience." (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 75.)

By building on this newfound spiritual experience, by asking for the courage and humility to face the people we have harmed, by making restitution (where possible) for wrongs done, we transform our inner experience. More and more we can be alone and not be prey to the punishing and unrelenting inner dialogue of the egoic self. We move from being utterly self-conscious to potentially God-conscious people.

Yet this "new state of consciousness and being" requires practice if we are to perfect it. When we are wrong - that is, when we act upon the dictates of our lower self rather than those of our higher being - we can promptly admit it and make restitution if harm has been done. Thereby, by conscious and continual attention to just what we are thinking and doing, we continue to deflate the ego and to reinforce our Higher Self.

Most importantly, by the practice of meditation we improve our ability to attain to this new state of consciousness and being, and when we fall short, we pray to be relieved of "the bondage of self." By practicing these basic principles in all our affairs, this hitherto "unsuspected inner resource" truly becomes a working part of our consciousness, and we are indeed transformed.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The "Missing Piece"

Dr. William D Silkworth
Recently, when re-reading The Doctor's Opinion in the 'Big Book' of  Alcoholics Anonymous, I was struck by the fundamental difficulty that both Dr. Silkworth and Carl Jung, himself, were faced with in treating alcoholics. Both knew that "an entire psychic change" could alleviate the alcoholic addict's difficulties, yet both were faced with their inability to trigger such a change. There was a "missing piece" somewhere. Indeed, Dr. Silkworth explicitly admits this. "Faced with this problem," he notes, "if a doctor is honest with himself, he must sometimes feel his own inadequacy. Although he gives all that is within him, it often is not enough. One feels that something more than human power is needed to produce the essential psychic change." (Emphasis added.)

At page 27 in the 'Big Book,' Dr. Jung admits to the same basic futility of effort in working with Rowland H. (that "certain American businessman") which Dr. Silkworth faced when working with Bill.
"Here and there, once in a while," Jung told Rowland, "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."

"In fact," he pointed out, "I have been trying to produce some such emotional rearrangement within you. With many individuals the methods I have employed are successful, but I have never been successful with an alcoholic of your description."
Dr Carl G. Jung
 Rowland was initially relieved upon hearing this, pointing out to Jung that he had long been a "churchman." This, however, as Jung pointed, was not enough as "in his case (that) did not spell the necessary vital spiritual experience." Rowland was dismissed by Jung with the advice that he associate himself with some unspecified religious body that might (just might) help him find such a vital spiritual experience.

As fate would have it, upon his return to America Rowland associated himself with the then-popular Oxford Group which had adopted a series of concrete steps that an individual could take in order to effect a closer relationship with his or her God. As part of those steps, Rowland altruistically reached out to Ebby Thatcher, and Ebby reached out to Bill W. The rest is A.A. history.

Bill W. and his sponsor, Ebby T.
Yet, when one looks back at this improbable chain of events that would lead to the further recovery of millions of alcoholics and addicts of all stripes worldwide, one sees that two unique factors were at play when Ebby reached out to Bill that was not the case when Bill was being attended by Doctor Silkworth.

First and foremost, as Bill pointed out many times, he was able to identify "at depth" with Ebby. Here was an alcoholic who should be drinking but was not. Secondly, and just as importantly, Ebby had a concrete solution - a program of action - that Bill could (and eventually did) utilize to effect the "vital spiritual experience" that would relieve him of his alcoholism. Rowland and Ebby had found "the missing piece." Dr. Silkworth could identify the problem, as could Jung, but neither had the mechanics of a "moral psychology" that could help bring about a spiritual awakening.

The word-of-mouth program that Ebby passed on to Bill was simple:
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 consciousness."
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.
(Source: Three Talks to Medical Societies by Bill W., Co-Founder of A.A.)
This word-of-mouth exposition of the Oxford Group's program (which Bill would later expand "for the sake of greater clarity and thoroughness" into A.A.'s Twelve Steps) was "the missing piece" that both Silkworth and Jung lacked. These steps (in their final form) would be the concrete things that an alcoholic addict (or an addict of any kind) could do in order to produce "the entire psychic change" posited by Silkworth and described by Jung. ("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.")

For sure, Alcoholics Anonymous has "no monopoly" on this. There are, as William James points out in The Varieties of Religious Experience, "a multitude of ways in which men have discovered God." (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 28.) Yet, whether by Providence or happenstance, there was a confluence of events that brought the work of Jung, Silkworth and Frank Buchan's Oxford Groups together, and from this confluence of events sprang the miracle of Alcoholics Anonymous. Seventy-five-odd years later, the "missing piece" that bridges medicine, psychology and spirituality (i.e., the Twelve Steps) remains as effective as ever in relieving alcoholic addiction. Jung's helpful prescription "spiritus contra spiritum" still applies, and without the practical steps to bring this spiritus into our lives, millions of recovered alcoholic addicts (and others) would have likely died of their disease.

Our lives in recovery still depend on how well we practice the principles that Rowland, Ebby, Bill, Dr. Bob and so many others found in this "missing piece" of the alcoholism equation. There is a solution to alcoholic addiction, and "it (still) works if we work it."

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Anger: A "Dubious Luxury"

"If we were to live, we had to be free of anger. The grouch and the brainstorm were not for us. They may be the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics these things are poison."
-- Alcoholics Anonymous, page 66 --

There is, perhaps, no stronger emotion than anger. Fueled by fear, it takes over the individual's mind and body. The option of flight, of turning the other cheek, goes out the window and it is, "Fight! Fight! Fight!" Anger is, thus, the ultimate weapon that the ego wields to capture the unwary individual. And once the monster of anger is set in motion it is virtually impossible to arrest the inevitable blow up.

One could liken the individual's struggle with anger to the struggle with a python. One struggles to get out of its grasp, yet the more one struggles the more the beast tightens its coils until it is literally suffocating.

But why is anger so damaging? Why is it pointed out as the most dangerous of our character defects? Why in our moral inventory are resentments the first thing we deal with?

We read in the 'Doctor's Opinion' that alcoholics are "restless irritable and discontent unless they can again experience the the sense of comfort and ease that comes at once by taking a few drinks - drinks that they see others taking with impunity." When gripped by anger or resentment (which is simply the anger we hold onto over time), the feelings of "irritability, restlessness and discontnet" are incalculably multiplied. The alcoholic addict, if he cannot overcome his anger (or does not strike back at the object of his anger, which is inadvisable) is almost certain to drink and/or use drugs to get rid of the emotional maelstrom that anger engenders.

So how, then, does one deal with anger? Perhaps the answer lies in the quotation from the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, above. If we can recognize anger before it is activated, when it is still either just a "grouch" or a "brainstorm" it is possible for us to deal with anger mindfully. Once our resentments are stoked like a fire, however, the inferno of full-blown anger is nearly impossible to smother.

Our first line of defence against anger is, thus, in listing our resentments in our Fourth Step inventory. When we write down who and what still angers us, identify what causes our resentments, and examine how they affect us, we are then in a position to see the role that we, ourselves, played in past instances of anger. We see that almost inevitably our actions, to some degree or other, have brought on the behaviour that seems to have been directed against us. Knowing, then, that we have been at least in part responsible for how the world treats us, we begin to treat the world itself more charitably. Life is not as serious as our egos make it out to be.

Our second and ultimate line of defense is a reliance on our Higher Power to shape and order our world. Thus, we read in the Third Step essay in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions that "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 acceptthe things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Thy will not mine be done."

The God of our own understanding is the serenity that allows us to accept the things we cannot change. And who amongst us can change a single outside thing in the moment it takes to say this prayer? The only thing which we can instantaneously change is the state of our consciousness and being. Serenity, is thus the ability to tap into the "unsuspected inner resource" each of us has buried beneath our egoic self-consciousness. Realizing this, we ask for the courage (from the Latin cour meaning 'heart') to go to this deeper, higher consciousness. And, finally, we ask for the wisdom to know that there is a clear difference between our egoic self-consciousness and its cauldrom of fears and desires, and the higher God-consciousness of peace and quiet.

Anger is thus the "dubious luxury" of so-called "normal people." To the extent that they can sustain their anger, so much the better (or the worse) for them; but we need not suffer. Clearing away the wreckage of old resentments allows us the psychic room to effectively utilize the "spiritual toolkit" we learn in sobriety, knowing that "this too shall pass" - albeit quickly or slowly. And, if that is so, why not let it pass quickly?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Know Thyself - Know Peace

"While the purpose of making restitution to others is paramount, it is equally necessary that we extricate from an examination of our personal relations every bit of information about ourselves and our fundamental difficulties that we can. Since defective relations with other human beings have nearly always been the immediate cause of our woes, including our alcoholism no field of investigation could yield more satisfying and valuable rewards than this one. Calm, thoughtful reflection upon personal relations can deepen our insight. We can go far beyond those things which were superficially wrong with us, to see those flaws which were basic, flaws which sometimes were responsible for the whole pattern of our lives. Thoroughness, we have found, will pay - and pay handsomely."
-- The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 80 --

The essential problem of the alcoholic addict, is his or her identification with a seemingly separate sense of "self" (i.e., the human "ego"). Over and over in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous we read various iterations of the simple fact that "selfishness, self-centeredness . . . is the root of our problem." As "actors" in the drama of life we find that we have been, like so-called "normal folks," quite egocentric.

In active addiction the alcoholic addict essentially drinks and or uses drugs to get out of his or her "self." Thus, in recovery he or she must find means - spiritual means, at that - to find real and lasting relief from the "punishing inner dialogue" of the "ego" (i.e., relief from the separated "self"), a sense of relief that seemed to come so readily, if temporarily, from booze or drugs while they still worked for us.

We do not, as too many are mistakenly told, first make amends to ourselves in order to achieve this. Rather, we make a list of all those we have harmed in order to make amends to them, wherever and whenever possible. It is in making restitution to these people that we overcome the resentments, remorse and regrets that feed the inner dialogue of "self." With this accomplished, we can more deeply and easily see how the desires and fears that fueled such resentments, remorse and regrets distorted our character. "Calm, thoughtful reflection upon personal relations" will, indeed, "deepen our insight" into these underlying flaws.

Over the entrance to the Temple of the Oracle of Delphi, the most sacred site in Ancient Egypt, were chiselled the words "Know Thyself." Since "self" in its many different guises is the root cause of our problems, this ages-old advice remains apt.

We see in constructing our resentments list how the actions of others have impinged on our physical security, emotional security, personal relationships and sex relations. We have seen how such impingements on our basic desires have engendered great fears. And, we have also taken stock of the role we played in the events that led to such resentments.

Making restitution for our wrongful actions leaves us free to work on the self-centered fears and selfish desires that have warped our character. We come to know our lower "selves" and in knowingly turning our lives over to the care of a Power greater than our lower "selves" - i.e., to the "God of our own understanding" - we come to know a deeper Self beyond the ego. It is in that knowledge that we come to know our own inner divinity, that we come to know that we have never actually been separated from others or from God, and that we come to know peace.

To "Know Thyself" is, thus, in essence, to experience God-consciousness and to know God. And, in reestablishing and improving our conscious contact with "the God of our own understanding" we are, in effect, "reborn."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A New State of Consciousness and Being

". . . (T)he disciplining of the will must have as its accompaniment a no less thorough disciplining of the consciousness. There has to be a conversion, sudden or otherwise, not merely of the heart, but also of the senses and of the perceiving mind."
-- Aldous Huxley --
("The Perennial Philosophy," page 72.)
The Twelve Steps utilized by Alcoholics Anonymous (and its sister organizations) have as one of their principle objectives the goal of "ego deflation at depth." Just as the alcoholic addict drinks and/or uses drugs to counteract and overcome his or her ordinary self-consciousness (or ego-consciousness), so too our ordinary state of egoic self-consciousness must be overcome in sobriety if we are to enjoy the "new state of consciousness and being" that Bill W. describes at page 107 of The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.

A "new state of consciousness and being" may perhaps be better described as a "renewed" state of consciousness and being. That is, in overcoming the thought structures of the ego (or separated "self") we regain the sense of wholeness and completeness we had as children; that is, we regain the state of consciousness and being we had before self-conscious thought became our sense of identity; that is, we are in effect "reborn" (as described at page 63 of the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous).

Our acceding to this renewed state of holistic consciousness and being may rightly be called a "conversion" experience, as it is labelled, above, by Aldous Huxley (one of Bill W.'s many non-alcoholic spiritual friends). And, albeit whether it happens suddenly or over a prolonged period of time, it is clear that such a "spiritual awakening" is the solution to the existential problem of self-inflicted alcoholism and addiction, a point reinforced in Carl Jung's correspondence with Bill W. 

In his letter of January 31, 1961, explaining how one might achieve such a "spiritual awakening," Jung observed:
"The only right and legitimate way to such an experience 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."
The Twelve Steps are just such a path "in reality" which leads "to higher understanding." It does not matter, as Jung notes, whether we are led  to this path through a sudden "act of grace," through the "personal and honest contact with friends" which we attain with our sponsors and fellow alcoholic addicts, or through the "higher education of the mind" we attain through prayer and meditation. The point is that there occurs within each of us not only a change of "heart," but also a change in both our "senses and perceptions" that could not have been readily achieved through other, non-spiritual means.

"What often takes place in a few months could seldom have been accomplished by years of self-discipline," we read in the Big Book's Spiritual Experience Appendix. "With few exceptions," we are told, "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," we then read, "think this awareness of a Power greater than ourselves is the essence of spiritual experinece," while "(o)ur more religious members call it "God-consciousness.""

We can thus see that is not sufficient just to turn our will and our lives over to the care of the God of our understanding, as set out in Steep Three. We must have as the"accompaniment" of this critical Third Step "a no less thorough disciplining of the consciousness," as Huxley points out.

It is precisely through Steps Four to Step Eleven that we "discipline" our consciousness, moving however slowly from the self-centeredness of our ego-consciousness to the other-centeredness of God-consciousness. It is by following this path "in reality" that we attain to the "new state of consciousness and being" that arrests both our alcoholism and our overwhelming and painful self-consciousness. It is on this "path" that we are "reborn."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Overcoming Our Fears and Desires

"Since most of us are born with an abundance of natural desires, it isn't strange that we often let these far exceed their intended purposes. When they drive us blindly, or we willfully demand that they supply us with more satisfactions or pleasures than are possible or due us, that is the point at which we depart from the degree of perfection that God wishes for us here on earth. That is the measure of our character defects, or, if you wish, of our sins."

-- The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 65 --
Fear, we read at Step Seven in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, is the "chief activator" of our defects of character. But what, we should ask, is the root of this self-centered fear? In Step Six, above, Bill W. suggests that the root cause of fear is desire - in this instance, otherwise natural desires that far exceed their natural bounds. Such overblown desires, he notes, are "the measure" of our character defects. That is, our blind desires create the mental room for our character defects to manifest and operate.

This is unsurprising, for if we look at the resentments list in our Step Four inventory we will see again and again that the action of others had impinged on our desires - our desires for security, for sex relationships, for personal relationships etc. These are (as Bill notes) natural desires; however, to the extent that we demand more security, more personal relationships, and more sex "than is possible or due to us," we create a fear that we will never have enough - enough security, enough money, enough friends, enough sex etc., etc., etc.

And just to the extent that these overblown desires manifest in fear, will we act act self-centeredly in response to them, trying vainly to satisfy and fulfill desires that are in all reality unquenchable. Chasing these desires we are, thus, stuck in a rut of our own making. "Living upon a basis of unsatisfied demands," we read, "we are in a state of continual disturbance and frustration. Therefore no peace was to be had unless we could find a means of reducing those demands." (Twelve and Twelve, page 76.)

How then do we go about reducing these demands? The answer it seems is, not surprisingly, right in the Steps. If we continue to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, we will experience a freedom from these desires gone wild.

Not convinced? Consider for a moment the propositions and promises we read concerning Step Three in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous (at pp. 62-63):
"(W)e decided that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director. He is the Principal, we are His agents. He is the Father, and we are His children. Most good ideas are simple, and this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom."

"When we sincerely took this position, all sorts of remarkable things followed. 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 of today, tomorrow, and the hereafter. We were reborn." (Emphasis added.)
To the degree that we seek and perform God's will for us, rather than relying on our own narrow selves, life itself will provide what we need, but not necessarily what we want. Our choice then, is whether we rely on self-will or God's will. If we rely on God's will, not only will we find that we have what we "need," we are also promised that we will "lose our fear of today, tomorrow and the hereafter."

Thus, conscious faith in the efficacy of "a Power greater than ourselves" to provide what we need is the solution that removes the desires that underlie our fears. Thus in relying on the God of our understanding rather than our self-centered thinking, we are released from the cycle of fear and desire that activates our character defects. We are then, in effect, "reborn."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Love and the Eleventh Step Prayer

"Be the captive of Love in order that you may be truly free - free from coldness and the worship of self. Thousands have passed who were wise and learned but who were strangers to Love. No name is left of them, nothing to proclaim their fame and dignity or to relate their history in the march of time. Although you may attempt to do a hundred things in this world, only Love will give you release from the bondage of yourself."
-- Jami --
("Essential Sufism," p. 115.)
 "When we became alcoholics, crushed by a self-imposed crisis we could not postpone or evade," we read in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous (at page 53), "we had to fearlessly face the proposition that either God is everything or else He is nothing. God either is, or He isn't. What was our choice to be?"

If we truly wish to be relieved of the "bondage of self," we must humbly take the position that God is, indeed, everything - that everything we perceive proceeds from, is, and is of, God. This position of non-duality allows us to truly embrace Step Three. We can be assured that our lives (and the world) are all part of a Unitive Whole that mystics, teachers and sages from all the world's great wisdom traditions have identified with a Power greater than themselves.

The great teacher of mystical Islam, the Sufi poet Jami, (above), like the Scriptures, equates this Higher Power with 'Love.' Thus, it is no mere coincidence that in our Eleventh Step Prayer (i.e., the Prayer of Saint Francis, a man profoundly influenced by Sufi teachings) we pray: "Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted - to understand, than to be understood - to love, than to be loved."

Simple on its face, this aspiration is profound in its implications. It is an appeal to have our narrow self-consciousness lifted to an entire new plane - that of a transcendental Love, without conditions or even objects. "For," we affirm, "it is by self-forgetting that one finds. It is by dying (to self, or the ego) that one awakens to Eternal Life."

To love, in the sense meant by Jami, St. Francis, and so many other saints, sages and spiritual teachers, is to truly turn one's will and one's life over to the power of God as we understand Him, to die to self and awaken to the Eternal Self that is the core of our inner existence, to die before dying.

Am I truly ready to take this greatest leap of faith, to truly put aside once and for all reliance on my own narrow self-will? This, it seems, is the central question of recovery, recovery from all of our addictions and from our obsessive, self-centered, lower consciousness.

Monday, October 10, 2011

"We Were Reborn"

"This is the how and why of it. First of all we had to quit playing God. It didn't work. Next, we decided that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director. He is the Principal, we are His agents. He is the Father, and we are His children. Most good ideas are simple, and this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom."

"When we sincerely took this position, all sorts of remarkable things followed. 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, and the hereafter. We were reborn."

-- Alcoholics Anonymous, pages 62-63 --

Continuing the analogy of "the actor," the basic text observes that as we come to believe that there is "a Power greater than ourselves" that can restore us to sanity, that we can find a new "Director" in life, and that we can, in fact, "be reborn." What, then, are we to make of such promises?

In the Step One essay in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions we read that we have so "warped our minds" with the obsession for drinking that "only an act of Providence can remove it from us." Thus, unless the obsession to drink is lifted, we are doomed to go on drinking. However, we are also told that there is something already provided and established within us - i.e., "Providence" - that can remove the obsession to drink. Our task, then is to tap into this "unsuspected inner resource." To do so is to be "reborn." How, then, is this to be accomplished?

First, it seems, we must acknowledge that there is in each of us (i.e., "deep down within every man woman and child") a spark of the Divine. Although in nearly every instance this Inner Divinity is covered over and obscured by the unrelenting thoughts of the egoic self-consciousness that has firmly rooted itself during our active addiction - and, perhaps, beyond - it is there. Our job, then, is to get past "the calamity, pomp and worship of other things" that obscures our true being. (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 55.) This is the purpose of the first three of A.A.'s Twelve Steps.

Recognizing our own Inner Divinity (literally 're-cognizing,' or becoming 'cognizant of' once again) is to re-establish a conscious contact with "the God of our own understanding." It is to recognize that there are many inner realities, the Primary Reality being that we are part of a Unitive Whole. This is, indeed, Providence, as it is innate within each of us. Learning what separates us from this Providence, however, requires an inner housekeeping. "Trust God, clean house, and help others." we are often reminded. This inner housecleaning (and keeping our "inner house" clean), in turn, is the purpose of Steps Four through Ten - i.e. the second phase of the Twelve Steps.

Finally, if we are to "be reborn," we must learn to live life on a different basis, and within our newly rediscovered higher God-consciousness. To do so, we are warned again and again, we must be free of self. Thus, we devote ourselves to how we can contribute to life and help others, rather than focusing on what we can drag out of life in order to gratify our narrow, self-conscious egos.

It is in endeavouring to live life on this Higher Plane, that we truly express the God-consciousness that Providence has provided each of us with, irrespective of how others act. It is a large and elusive existential challenge, but in the end, it is the challenge of our lives. Before, we unknowingly tried to seek and maintain a higher consciousness by getting high on alcohol and/or drugs. Now, we seek to attain to a natural Higher Consciousness by consciously striving for the Divine in reality. In doing so, we are reborn to our natural lives, and to the highest challenge that any of us can meet.  "We are," indeed, "reborn."

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Small Self

"It is our ignorance that makes us think that our self, as self, is real, that it has complete meaning in itself. When we take that wrong view of self, then we try to live in such a manner as to make self the ultimate object of our life. Then we are doomed to disappointment, like the man who tries to reach his destination by firmly clutching the dust of the road. Our self has no means of holding us, for its own nature is to pass on, and by clinging to this thread of self which is passing through the loom of life, we cannot make it serve the purpose of the cloth into which it is being woven."

-- Rabindranath Tagore --

 Self manifested in numerous different ways - self-absorption, self-centeredness, selfishness, self-consciousness, egocentricity, etc. - is, we are told, the real problem of the alcoholic addict. Alcohol and/or drug abuse is a symptom of this underlying problem. Thus, we chase an illusory freedom from self each time we drink or use. While it is still effective we gain a temporary reprieve from the "punishing inner dialogue" of our smaller self. Yet, each such time the effects wear off and we return to an identification with a sense of self that is ever larger, ever stronger, and ever more painful. We are, in effect, living to make self-satisfaction "the ultimate object of life," and we are "doomed to disappointment," as Tagore notes (above).

"So our troubles," we read in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, "are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme case of self-will run riot, though he ususally doesn't think so. Above everything," we are warned, " we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us!"

Harsh words, but it is a universal truth - for alcoholic addicts and so-called normal people alike. So long as we hold onto, and are identified with, our small selves, we cling to the dust in the road mistaking it for our destination. We cling onto a single thread in a life that is otherwise a tapestry. For the non-alcoholic addict, such clinging leads to a life of frustration and suffering. To the alcoholic addict, it leads back to the bottle, the bag, and eventually the hospital, the psych ward, jail or the morgue.

As alcoholic addicts, we are powerless over booze and drugs, and our lives are unmanageable. But there is one who has all power. That one is God, may you find Him now! For in finding God we awaken to the divinity within, to a greater Self than that of the narrow, egoic self Tagore writes of. And with this Power greater than our narrow self, we are enabled to "trudge the happy road of destiny," rather than clutching vainly to the dust we kick up along the way.

Tagore, the first East Indian to win the Nobel Prize for literature, puts it this way:
"I went out alone
on the way to my tryst,
but who is this 'me' in the dark?
I step aside to avoid his presence,
but I escape him not.
He makes the dust rise
from the earth with his swagger.
He adds his loud voice to every word I utter.
He is my own little self, my Lord.
He knows no shame.
But I am ashamed
to come to thy door in his company."

-- Rabindranath Tagore --

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Main Problem of the Alcoholic Centers in the Mind

"All (types of alcoholics) . . . have one symptom in common: they cannot start drinking without developing the phenomenon of craving. This phenomenon, as we have suggested, may be the manifestation of an allergy which differentiates these people, and sets them apart as a distinct entity. It has never been, by any treatment with which we are familiar, permanently eradicated. The only relief we have to suggest is entire abstinence."
-- Alcoholics Anonymous, "The Doctor's Opinion," p. xxx --

The physiological basis of alcoholism has been confirmed by many studies since the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous was written. But, as the 'Big Book' tells us, this would all be moot if the alcoholic addict never took a drink in the first place. Therefore, the problem appears to be both genetic and environmental, both nature and nurture. Instant (or gradual) alcoholic? Just add booze. Indeed, at page 23 of the 'Big Book,' we read:
"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. (Emphasis added.)
The alcoholic, we read, drinks chiefly for the effect. He or she likes the experience of being under the influence of booze more than being sober. It is no mere coincidence, then, that a spiritual experience - an awakening of spirit - has proven effective in relieving alcoholism. As Carl Jung pointed out in his letter to Bill W., "Alcohol in Latin is "spiritus" and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: "spiritus contra spiritum.""

Of course. it was Jung's work with Rowland H. which was where "the taproot" which would become A.A. "first hit water." Jung's conversation with Rowland H. is set out at pages 26 and 27 in the 'Big Book.' And, helpfully, at page 27 Jung describes what the essential factors of the "vital spiritual experiences' which have relieved alcoholism are. "Ideas, emotions and attitudes which were once the guiding force of these (alcoholic) men," he points out, "are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them."

"Ideas," of course, are our thoughts, while "emotions" are the feelings that results from these thoughts. An "attitude," in turn, is a "way of thinking" and "behaviour reflecting this." (Oxford English Dictionary.) Thus, the relief of the problem of the alcoholic - centering as it does in his or her mind - is a completely new way of thinking, a completely new set of "conceptions and motives" (i.e., thoughts and attitudes). Indeed, the common solution that most sober A.A. members have found (irrespective of whether they may recognize or describe it as such) is a new state of consciousness and being, a state of God-consiousness rather than self-consciousness, that begins to dominate our thinking.

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 this awareness of a Power greater than ourselves is the essence of spiritual experience. Our more religious members call it God-consciousness."
"(W)e are now on a new basis," we read at page 68 of the 'Big Book.' "the basis of trusting and relying on 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 have us, and humbly rely upon on Him, does He enable us to match calamity with serenity."

Thus, we see that attaining and maintaining a new theocentric attitude to replace our normal, egocentric thinking, is the key to relieving the problem of the alcoholic addict which centers in his or her mind. As Jung pointed out to Bill Wilson, "The helpful formula therefore is: "spiritus contra spiritum."" Inspired (or "in spirit") we are enabled to lead sane and productive, sober lives.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

No Longer Running the Show

"We constantly remind ourselves we are no longer running the show, humbly saying to ourselves many times each day "Thy will be done." We are then in much less danger of excitement, fear, anger, worry, self-pity, or foolish decisions. We become much more efficient. We do not tire so easily, for we are not burning up energy foolishly as we did when we were trying to arrange life to suit ourselves."
~ Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 87-88 ~
Prayer and meditation need not be confined solely to specific times of daily practice; in fact, the effectiveness of the A.A. program depends upon how consistently we remember to let go of self and revert to the God-consciousness we discover in meditation. Contemplation, as this process is often labelled, is practicing the presence of God in our lives. The contemplative, as suggested above, does not seek "to arrange life" to suit him or herself, but rather intuitively acts in accordance with what he or she is presented with.

No more are we "the actor" who needs to run the whole show, manage the lights, the ballet, and the scenery. etc. Rather, we play the role that is assigned to us. And how do we know what is assigned for us to do? If God is, indeed, everything, life itself will present us with the opportunity to act and the ability to act rightly. What we have to do is to forget self and intuitively respond to what we are presented with - responding not in accordance to emotionally-driven and self-centered thinking, but in accordance with an "inner teacher" which is the root of intuitive thought.

"With few exceptions," we read in the Spiritual Experience appendix, "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." Our challenge, irrespective of the situation in which we find ourselves, is to act in accordance with this inner resource.