Search This Blog

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Spiritual Experience a.k.a Religious Experience

"Be quick to see where religious people are right. Make use of what they offer."

Alcoholics Anonymous, page 87
"The terms "spiritual experience" and "spiritual awakening" are used many times in this book which, upon careful examination, shows that the personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism has manifested among us in many different forms."

"Yet it is true that our first printing gave many readers the impression that these personality changes, or religious experiences, must be in the nature of sudden and spectacular upheavals. Happily for everyone, this conclusion is erroneous."

". . . Most emphatically we wish to say that any alcoholic capable of honestly facing his problems in the light of our experience can recover, provided he does not close his mind to all spiritual concepts. He can only be defeated by an attitude of intolerance or belligerent denial." (Emphasis added.)
Alcoholics Anonymous, pages 567-568

Neither Alcoholics Anonymous nor its sister organizations is "allied with any sect (or) denomination." Indeed, the Foreword to the Second Edition of the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous, first published in 1955, makes clear that A.A. at that time in its history included "Catholics, Protestant, Jew, Hindus, and a sprinkling of Moslems and Buddhists." Moreover, the "We Agnostics" chapter is devoted to those who may have no particular faith or belief in "a Power greater than (them)selves," let alone "a God of (their) own understanding." Why, then, in the "Spiritual Experience" Appendix does the 'Big Book' talk of "religious experience"? And, are people that stress that A.A. is "a spiritual not a religious program" wholly right?

The answer to that last question, it seems to me, is both yes and no. While we may respect the validity and usefulness of all creeds and denominations - being "quick to see where religious people are right" - we embrace none in particular. What William James termed "outer religion" -  steeples, bells, incense, liturgies, vestments and ceremonies, etc. - has no part whatsoever to play in A.A. However, what James termed "inner religion" in his masterwork, "The Varieties of Religious Experience" (the only outside reference in the 'Big Book'), has everything to do with the spiritual solution which we seek.

Religion - from the Latin re ligare, meaning to 're-tie' or 'reunite' - in its "outer sense" means to tie or unite a group of individuals in a congregation, or communion. In its "inner sense," however, it means to reunite our highest and self-less consciousness with a greater consciousness or Being, perhaps with the "God-consciousness" referenced in the "Spiritual Experience" appendix.

In Eastern traditions, which tend to stress meditation even more so than prayer, the word that is used for this "inner sense" or practice of religion is "yoga." Derived from the same Sanskrit term for the English word "yoke" - i.e., that which ties the ox to the cart - it, too, means to 're-tie' or 'reunite' our deepest consciousness and being with a greater consciousness and Being, itself.  Thus, in A.A., from its very start, individuals have knowingly or unknowingly sought the  inner "religious experience" which is the very same "spiritual experience" (or "spiritual awakening") we are, more or less, comfortable and familiar with
"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:29-30     
Bill W., in his belated correspondence thanking Carl Jung for the unknowing initial impetus he gave to what would become A.A., acknowledged the insights that Jung had passed on to Rowland H., the "certain American business man" whose experience is described at pages 26-28 of the 'Big Book.' Citing the advice Jung gave to Rowland, Bill wrote:
"First of all you told of his hopelessness, so far as any further medical or psychiatric treatment might be concerned. . . . When he then asked you if there was any other hope, you told him there might be, provided he could become the subject of a spiritual or religious experience - in short, a genuine conversion. "  ("Pass It On," page 382.)
 Bill then told Jung of his own spiritual awakening and those of "many of thousands" other A.A. members. "As you will now see clearly," he wrote, "this astonishing chain of events actually started long ago in your consulting room, and it was directly founded upon your own humility and deep perception. . . . Because of your conviction that man is something more than intellect, emotion, and two dollars' worth of chemicals, you have especially endeared yourself to us. . . ."

In response, Jung noted that (at least as it was in Rowland's case) the "craving for alcohol" is "the equivalent on a low level of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval terms: the union with God."

Carl G. Jung
"Jung is considered to be the
first modern psychiatrist to view
the human psyche as"by nature 
religious" and make it the focus 
of exploration." See: wikipedia
"The only right and legitimate way to such an experience," Jung continued, "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 mere rationalism."

"Alcohol in Latin is spiritus," he concluded, "and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as you do for the most depraving poison. The helpful formulas therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum."

In a further letter responding to Jung's correspondence, Bill wrote:
"Your observation that drinking motivation often includes that of a quest for spiritual values caught our special interest. I am sure that, on reflection, thousands of our members could testify that this had been true of them, despite the fact that they often drank for oblivion, for grandiosity, and other undesirable emotions. Sometimes, it seems unfortunate that alcohol used in excess, turns out to be a deformer of consciousness, as well as an addictive poison."  ("Pass It On," page 385.)
Additionally, acknowledging the help that many A.A. pioneers had received from reading Jung's "Modern Man in Search of a Soul," he praised Jung's observation that: "(M)ost persons having arrived at age 40 and having acquired no conclusions or faith as to who they were, or where they were, or where they were going next in the cosmos, would be bound to encounter increasing neurotic difficulties; and that this would be likely to occur whether their youthful aspirations for sex union, security, and a satisfactory place in society had been satisfied or not. In short, they could not continue to fly blind toward no destination at all, in a universe seemingly having little purpose or meaning. Neither could any amount of resolution, philosophical speculation, or superficial religious conditioning save them from the dilemma in which they found themselves. So long as they lacked any direct spiritual awakening and therefore awareness, their conflict simply had to increase."

Acknowledging that these views had had "an immense impact" on some early members, Bill acknowledged that "(w)e saw that you had perfectly described the impasse in which we had once been, but from which we had been delivered through our several spiritual awakenings. This 'spiritual experience' had to be our key to survival and growth. We saw that an alcoholic's helplessness could be turned to vital advantage. By the admission of this, he could be deflated at depth, thus fulfilling the first condition of a remotivating conversion experience." ("Pass It On," pages 385-386)

Bill's "conversion experience" is, of course, the same as a "spiritual awakening," as a "spiritual experience," or as a "religious experience." It can be found through "outer" religious practice, but mere religious beliefs, knowledge and/or practice are not necessarily sufficient to bring it about. It must be found "in reality" beyond mere self-consciousness, or ego-consciousness.

Awakenings to  such "higher understanding" or "higher consciousness" (a.k.a. "God-consciousness" as many A.A.'s refer to it) are reported in all religious traditions, but such a "spiritual experience" or "religious experience" is wholly an "inner phenomenon." It is, as it describes, first and foremost experiential. In this sense, and this sense only, the Twelve Steps are indeed, and in fact, just as much a "religious" as a "spiritual" program.

* * * * *

Jung's letter to Bill W., dated January 30, 1961:

Jung died on June 6th, 1961, before he could return Bill W.'s second letter.

* * * * *
"Hear only this through the Holy Spirit within you, and teach your brothers to listen as I am teaching you. When you are tempted by the wrong voice, call on me to remind you how to heal by sharing my decision and MAKING IT STRONGER. As we share this goal, we increase its power to attract the whole Sonship, and to bring it back into the Oneness in which it was created."
"Remember that "yoke" means "join together" and "burden" means message. Let us reconsider the biblical statement "my yoke is easy and my burden light" in this way. Let us join together, for my message is Light. I came to your minds because you had grown vaguely aware of the fact that there is another way, or another voice. Having given this invitation to the Holy Spirit, I could come to provide the model for HOW TO THINK."

"Psychology has become the study of BEHAVIOR, but no-one denies the basic law that behavior is a response to MOTIVATION, and motivation is will. I have enjoined you to behave as I behaved, but we must respond to the same mind to do this. This mind is the Holy Spirit, whose will is for God always. It teaches you how to keep me as the model for your thought, and behave like me as a result."
"The power of our joint motivation is beyond belief, but NOT beyond accomplishment. What we can accomplish together has no limits, because the call for God IS the call to the unlimited. Child of God, my message is for YOU, to hear and give away as you answer the Holy Spirit within you."
From "A Course In Miracles," Chapter V ("The Voice for God")

1 comment:

  1. ...An OUTSTANDING post rabbi,Thank you!..i especially appreciate your clarity with the distinctions you draw between an outer religious experience and the inner spiritual'nt it interesting that Jung uses a quote from the Book of Psalms to close his letter...