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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Two Different Paths

"More sobriety brought about by the admission of alcoholism and by attendance at a few meetings is very good indeed, but it is bound to be a far cry from permanent sobriety and a contented, useful life."
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pp. 39-40
In writing the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Bill W. used much the same method he had used in writing the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous. He circulated drafts of the essays to friends and editors for suggestions and critiques, and he then revised the transcript and made certain editorial changes - except, in doing so, this time he was assisted by his nonalcoholic secretary, Nell Wing (see "Pass It On," pp. 354-357). I often wonder, however, if during one of these revisions or transcriptions the words "(m)ore sobriety" leading off the above-quote (from his essay on Step Three) were not changed from "(m)ere sobriety."

Many (and perhaps most) of us have, it seems, suffered from the "mere sobriety" of just not drinking at one point or another in our recovery. Looking back, I spent most of my earliest sobriety in the state of being "stark raving sober," although, of course, I was not aware of it at the time. Indeed, it was not until after I had been institutionalized for the increasing insanity resulting from being "merely sober" that I clued into their being a wholly different and entirely new depth of experience available through the rigorous practice of the Twelve Steps.

As in all spiritual or religious practices and teachings, there are different paths and depths to the practice of the AA program - and different realizations and results to be experienced and achieved. Bill undoubtedly was aware of this, even to the extent that he wondered about the usefulness of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. "At first," he wrote in correspondence dated October 5, 1953, "I was dubious whether anyone would care for it, save oldtimers who had begun to run into life's lumps in areas other than alcohol. But apparently," he observed, "the book is being used to good effect even upon newcomers."

The different depths of practice and result are apparent throughout the Twelve and Twelve, although perhaps nowhere more explicitly noted than above (from the Step Three essay),  and in the following observations (at page 98) made in regard to the practice of Step 11:
"There is a direct linkage among self-examination, meditation and prayer. 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 which is God's kingdom."
"(M)uch relief and benefit" is, of course, available through prayer, meditation and self-examination, as is "(m)ore sobriety brought about by the admission of alcoholism and attendance at a few meetings." The question thus becomes whether one is satisfied with the mere relief the program provides for the symptoms of active alcoholic addiction, or whether one truly seeks the "new state of consciousness and being" that Bill describes in his Step 12 essay (at page 107). For the mere relief of alcoholic addiction's symptoms (though such relief may well prove to be impermanent) there is one depth to the application of the 12 Steps; for inner transformation, however, a much greater depth must be explored. Such is the nature, per force, of all spiritual teachings.
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. "
Matthew 7:13-14
"Buddhas became enlightened because of realizing their essence. Sentient beings became confused because of not realizing their essence. Thus there is one basis or ground, and two different paths. . . . There are two choices, two paths. One is the path of knowing, the wakefulness that knows its own nature. One is the path of unknowing, of not recognizing our own nature, and being caught up in what is being thought of . . . "
(Emphasis added.)
Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche
"As It Is," vol. II, pp. 43-47
The first step on both paths is to admit our alcoholism. This admission of alcoholism and attendance at a few meetings will lead to "more sobriety," but not necessarily "permanent sobriety and a contented, useful life." Sadly, many, perhaps most (at least for a time), settle for the "mere sobriety" that this gives. No longer in active addiction, their material life usually improves, and they may "settle" for the conventional aspirations that most people embrace as life's purpose - family, making money, success, etc. This is, perhaps, taking the lesser path, or, if you like, going through "the wide gate."

The next step on the inner path, however, is the admission that life was, is and will remain "unmanageable" by one's self-conscious and unaided will, not merely "unmanageable" when one was drinking and/or drugging. With this comes an understanding and - through understanding - a "belief" that there is a power greater than one's "self" or "ego" that will restore the sufferer to the "sanity" (i.e., "wholeness") of one's authentic Being. Such belief turns into a prayer and aspiration to be relieved of "the bondage of self." These are the first tenuous steps that mark the beginning of "the narrow path."

For those who choose or settle for "mere sobriety," Steps Four through Step Nine merely get the heat off them for past misconduct when they were in their active addiction, while Step 10 keeps the heat off. For the spiritual aspirant, though, Steps Four through Nine identify and remove the old "ideas, emotions and attitudes" that separate them in consciousness from their Being, while Step Ten becomes a "continuous" moral inventory, or self-examination, that alerts them when they have once again slipped back into ordinary egoic self-consciousness.

Few are those on "the wide path" who effectively practice Step 11, even those who do meditate and/or pray. For, as Bill notes, above in his Step 11 essay, it is only when we logically interrelate and interweave the practices of "self-examination, meditation, and prayer" that we are afforded, however briefly, spiritual awakening and true insight into the very nature of our Being, call it nirvana, mystic union, samadhi, enlightenment, God's kingdom, or what you will.

It is as a result of the "spiritual awakening" afforded by the inner path that we are enabled to truly and effectively carry the message of Alcoholics Anonymous to the alcoholic who still suffers, rather than merely "suggesting" that he or she "join a group, get a sponsor, go to meetings, and work the 12 Steps" etc. It is only through enlargement of our "new state of consciousness and being" that we enabled "to practice these principles in all our affairs."

1 comment:

  1. ...thats a great post,man!...i so appreciate you sharing with us the amazing depth of your spiritual and psychological insight...