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Monday, July 23, 2012

". . . Any Lengths"

"His craving for alcohol was the equivalent on a low level of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, in medieval terms: union with God."
Letter from Carl Jung to Bill Wilson, dated January 31, 1961, discussing the recovery of Rolland H. from alcoholic addiction using the Oxford Groups' "word-of-mouth" spiritual program that was passed from Rolland to Ebby T., and on to Bill W.
In the "How It Works" reading, which is customarily read at many A.A. meetings, we hear: "If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any lengths to get it - then you are ready to take certain steps." (Emphasis added.) Reflecting on the early years of sobriety, I ask myself: Was I willing to go to "any lengths?" The answer is quite clearly: "No!" While I didn't drink (or use), joined a group, got a sponsor, did an inventory, shared it and made amends etc., I would not, and did not, pray and meditate on a consistent basis, nor did I give these vital practices any more than a surface trial.

In the "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions" (at pp. 39-40) we read: "More sobriety brought about by the admission of alcoholism and by attendance at a few meeting is very good indeed, but it is bound to be a far cry from permanent sobriety and a contented, useful life." And, how true that ignored warning turned out to be for me! If you knew me at five years sober, you would likely have said: "Yes! He's got it." But by roughly the time I was fifteen years sober, having achieved much in the worldly sense of life - profession, money, prestige, family and home, etc. - not only was I profoundly discontented and virtually useless to friends, family and the community, but my sobriety and my very life were in grave peril. The reason? I had neglected the clear warning in the 'Big Book' (at p. 85) that "(w)e are not cured of our alcoholism" but, rather, "(w)hat we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition."

I was an extremely fortunate man, however. A good friend from early sobriety reached out to me when he found out my life had crumbled beneath me due to what was most clearly a case of being "dry" rather than mentally and spiritually "sober." (Only half-jokingly, I refer to it as being a period of "stark raving sobriety.") Additionally, a man who had been fifteen years years sober and then drank, but who was then fifteen years sober once again, saw that I was truly suffering and reached out to sponsor me. Although he was even then dying of cancer, he took me through the Steps and illustrated to me how and what needed to be done if I, too, was to truly recover from, by then, "a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body."

Even more importantly, as it turned out, was another old-timer who recognized my suffering and took me once again through the 'Big Book, showing me what it was that I needed - a power greater than my own narrow, egoic "self" - and where to find it. The "how" of establishing such a relationship with "a Power greater than myself" - i.e., "how" to pray and meditate effectively - was, in turn, shown to me, albeit reluctantly at first, by a third old-timer steeped in decades of meditative practice.

It is on the all-important page 55 of the 'Big Book' that we are told where to seek and find a "God of our own understanding."
". . . (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 it is there. . . . We found the Great Reality deep down within us. In the last analysis, it is only there that He may be found." (Emphasis added.)
Collectively and individually, these gentlemen showed me how to access that "unsuspected inner resource" which is discussed in the Spiritual Experience appendix to the 'Big Book.' Yet, how difficult it is to establish and maintain an effective practice of meditation and prayer, how difficult to truly practice Step Eleven.

"We are not saints," it is true. But how willing are each of us "to grow along spiritual lines"? What "lengths" are each of willing to go to? Is it, indeed, "any length." (Emphasis added.)

For myself, the question is: Am I seeking enlightenment? For the possibility of attaining an absorbed consciousness anchored in the Ground of Being is spoken of in each of the world's great spiritual traditions, whether it is called liberation, enlightenment, mystic union, moksha, nirvana, or more plainly, as Dr. Jung  phrased it "union with God."
"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."
(Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, page 98.)
The question thus remains for each of us: Am I truly "willing to go to any lengths" and to endure the rigours of the necessary spiritual disciplines to gain relief and break the bondage of self which is the hallmark of the ordinary human condition? Remember the caution we hear so often: "half measures availed us nothing." I found it to be was so with me.


  1. ...i really appreciate this resonates so true i my own life...the discipline of contemplative introspection and meditation has helped me when nothing else could,I can't speak highly enough of the practice..i've noticed however,the blank looks i get in AA meetings when i speak of the benefits of diligently practicing these spiritual techniques....but then,it was'nt all that long ago that I myself could'nt comprehend the significance of such things.....Thank you for the post rabbi..

  2. Love this post, well said! Going to any length was more then simply a suggestion, it was a MUST! My life depended on it! And all the difference I think in whether we get this thing or not, and for me a very slow and gradual process, I was such an entangled mess. Absolute surrender to this simple program, (just not so easy) Honest, open minded, and willing. Painful yes... and the most incredible beauty I have ever know all entwined together on the journey, but what lay on the otherside is healing, recovery, and AWE.... and always more room to grow and grow, and more levels of surrender, and a deeper and deeper relationship with God of my understanding. None possible without the willingness to go to any length. Thank you for your post. Blessings Trac