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Monday, September 10, 2012

Maintenance of Our Spiritual Condition

"It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do. . . . We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition." (Emphasis added.)
Alcoholics Anonymous, page 85
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"More sobriety brought about by not drinking and attendance at a few meetings is very good, indeed," Bill W. observed. "(B)ut," he pointed out, "it is bound to be a far cry from permanent sobriety and a contented, useful life." (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, pages 39-40.)

Why is this?

Simply because it is all too easy to let up on the spiritual work that must be practiced daily if we are to stay on the spiritual path, to attain and enlarge our spiritual consciousness, and to attain "a new state or consciousness and being." The daily practice of "self-examination, meditation and prayer" - a practice that all of the world's great wisdom traditions advocate - is required for spiritual growth and spiritual living.

Almost invariably, however, at some point in their recovery most alcoholic addicts will let up on the "daily . . . maintenance of (their) spiritual condition." Some, like me, will survive by dint of good fortune (or, perhaps, good karma) to again take up the spiritual path. Others will die - quickly or slowly - often after many repeated and failed attempts to regain their sobriety.

Each day that elapses without practicing the necessary measure of "self-examination, meditation and prayer" that is required to deflate one's ego (and keep it deflated),  in my experience, makes it easier for another day to pass without the requisite practice. The inevitable outcome is grave, however, physically or literally.

Having once attained sobriety and obtained some freedom from the ceaseless chatter of the egoic self - having reduced to some extent the intensity and frequency of one's "painful inner dialogue" - it becomes all too easy to turn to the matters of the world and neglect the matters of the psyche and the soul. This is particularly so, if we fall victim (as I did) to the "delusion" that life has somehow become "manageable."

All our time time then, it seems, is taken up by the struggle to either: (a) keep the things (money, possessions, relationships, etc.) we have attained and think are necessary for our continuing security and happiness, or (b) to pursue the things we don't have, but which we think are necessary to make us feel happy and secure.

Unfortunately, the sense of "calamity, (the) pomp, and (the) worship of other things" engendered by such pursuits obscures "the fundamental idea of God" that is inherent in each of us. (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 55.) It is a spiritual truth that happiness and security is attained not by what we have, but rather by what we do not need to have.

"Why, is it," author, videographer and minister, Rev. Ted Nottingham is asked (in the video below), " (that) after introducing the . . . inner work on one's self and meditation to so many people, do so few actually move forward (on the spiritual path) in a committed, long-term way?" It is, I think, a very good question for all of us in recovery to consider.

"It is so hard to find even those few who are interested in these profound realities," Rev. Nottingham notes, "in part because it requires such change on our part to enter into the wisdom teachings - whatever they may be - from across all great traditions. If one truly discovers the core of their meaning, it has to do with spiritual awakening, spiritual evolution, self-awareness, brutal self-honesty, and an understanding of what it takes to go against the current of one's self."

"(M)ost people . . . drop off very quicky," he observes. "Even to begin with there are so few who are interested in just the general concepts. But then, (even) amongst those (few), there may be an initial excitement, curiousity (or) enticement into the mysteries of the sacred, of a greater conscious, of new understanding, of self-mastery, (and) of understanding others. . . . And, yet, before you know it they just drift back to the old ways."

"Numerous teachers have pointed out that you are worse off having found something and then turned away from it," he notes, "because (then) you can never go back to sleep in quite the same way (and) live as if you hadn't discovered another path."

"It is indeed a great human tragedy," says Nottingham, "to have come close to life transforming teachings that offer the kind of human wholeness and fulfillment, radiance, (and) goodness that they are designed to do, and then to walk away from them and fall back into the dreary egoism and self-absorption that makes life ultimately meaningless."

"Do not leave before the miracle happens," A.A. newcomers are often urged. "It is exceedingly hard," as many old-timers who have 'slipped' point out, "to have a head full of A.A. and a belly full of beer." Yet, there seems to be (as Nottingham points out) an all-too human propensity to fall off the spiritual path once one has had the barest tasting of the spiritual fruits that continuing and advancing on the path will yield. (This, I would note, may be especially true of alcoholic addicts who are, it has been observed, "rebellious by nature.")

"The main reason to those out there who wonder why so few remain consistently (and) focused on these teachings of whatever variety," says Nottingham, "is to recognize that it is part of our human condition, to be so fragile, to be constantly on the edge of just falling off (or) falling back into automatic routines and the easy way."

I am neither Christian, nor am I non-Christian, per se.  Rather, I follow the advice given to me by my late spiritual mentor  to "study all religions until I become able to see the sameness in them all." Or, as Bill W., advised, at page 87 of the Big Book: "Be quick to see where religious people are right. They have much to offer us." )

In that vein, there is a particularly cogent observation of Jesus that so figuratively answers the question of why so many people let up on the spiritual practices that have saved, or can save their lives. That being:

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."
Matthew 7:13-14


  1. ...thanks rabbi..I needed to hear this admonition/encouragement...Nottingham is such a great teacher i think..always so crisp and clear,as are you spiritual journey feels more like being adrift in the middle of the Ocean,I suppose i am a Christian in that,most days,i believe the Nicene creed,but i can hardly go to ANY church anymore without a feeling or sense of disgust/disdain for the whole orchestration..yet it seems that is where the crude rudimentary Divine spark was first initiated in myself,so i try not to condemn them or the process...I've 'fallen away' from the path of sobriety and or spirituality several times myself,but even then i never stopped feeling the gentle tug of my 'magnetic center',Thank you Holy Spirit....Appreciate the post..

  2. I am struggling with this part of my program. I find it hard to get into the habit or schedule of doing this in ernest. I do have contact during the day but not where I really hunker down and do the review at night of my day and in the morning asking for guidance to meet the days challenges. How do you go about this?

  3. No need to struggle. Remember, "We have given up fighting everyone and everything. . ." For my part, I play a game I call 'Remembering God.' I note how long it is in the morning before I remember to attune to God. Usually it is before I roll out of bed. Sometimes, however, and particularly if I am rushed, hours can go by.

    Usually I spend a few minutes sitting quietly after waking up, and I follow this up by reading something of a spiritual nature - my meditation books, the book I happen to be reading, the Big Book or 12x12, perhaps even something that comes to me through my e-mail or over the internet.

    At night, (on the good nights) I meditate over a stick of incense, then I read something from any of the number of spiritual books I seem to have on the go. Rarely do I do a night time 10th Step inventory as laid out in the Big Book. My sponsor often talks of a "continuous moral inventory," and I find this most helpful. When I am off track and disturbed it is readily apparent. That is the point at which I need to address the disturbance, admit that I'm wrong (once again) and make amends.

    In the past, I've found the two readings (in the following blog posts) to be most helpful, in the morning and evening respectively:

  4. .."My sponsor often talks of a "continuous moral inventory"...yeah,I think once we have had a spiritual awakening as a result of the 12 steps then our conscience is quickened or made alive so to speak and ideally we instantly acknowledge or at the least are aware of our shortcoming(s) on-the-spot as it happens,thus we are ever-taking an inventory.
    Anonymous raises the perennial dilema of sustaining one's Motivation on the path of transformation,all i can add is:Its a commitment and Its Work!..for me it involves a spiritual hunger and a desire to grow and develop as a whole person..once i had tasted the fruits of daily meditation (it took months) then i knew i had to have more..Nottingham rightly says that only a small percentage of us will find/have the desire to go furhter into the 'interior life'... "the Kingdom of God is WITHIN you"

    1. Amen . . . As 'the Good Book says (and many overlook), the Kingdom of God IS within you. And as John Lennon said: "Instant Karma's gonna get you."