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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Beyond Our Many 'Selves' . . .

"More than most people, the alcoholic leads a double life. He is very much the actor. To the outer world he presents his stage character. This is the one he likes his fellows to see. He wants to enjoy a certain reputa­tion, but knows in his heart he doesn’t deserve it."
Alcoholics Anonymous, page 73
In active addiction, the alcoholic addict is forced of necessity to play an outward role that is designed, it is hoped, to cover his or her affliction. Meanwhile, inside all is turmoil, leading him or her on to drink or drug again in order to alleviate the feelings (and the suffering) such inner turmoil creates. Then, in the earliest days of recovery, this difficult and painful acting role continues.

The alcoholic addict in recovery tries to maintain his or her outward facade without the relief from the racing mind - and the resulting overwhelming emotions - that booze and/or drugs had once provided. Unless he or she does something to be rid of the discomfort and pain created by trying to present one coherent persona to the world while inside a hundred different 'selves' manifest themselves - the angry 'self', the shameful 'self', the remorseful 'self', the indignant 'self', the smug and superior 'self', etc. - there is a distinct probability he or she will return to the chemical 'pain-killers' that seemed to have worked at one point to relieve such psychic pain.

Of course, this dilemma of being "an actor" is not unique to the alcoholic addict. "Most people," we know, "try to live by self-propulsion" and "(e)ach person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show." ('Big Book', page 60.) Yet alcoholic addicts are, perhaps, 'terminally unique' in that quite often they will turn back once again to using the alcohol and/or drugs that have exacerbated and intensified the sense of duality, emptiness and incompleteness caused by the fractured psyche that virtually everyone suffers from. And, due to the progressive and potentially fatal nature of this vicious cycle, they risk their very lives in an attempt to escape from the intensified feelings that the many 'selves' of their particularly fractured psyches generate.

"If when you honestly want to, you find that you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little or no control over the amount you take, you may be suffering from an illness," we read, "which only a spiritual experience will conquer." The work that is suggested in A.A. and its sister organizations - i.e., actually doing and thereafter practicing the 12 Steps - like the work suggested by all of the world's great religions and wisdom traditions, are intended to enable the individual to have just such a "spiritual experience." (Spiritual and/or religious beliefs, faith and knowledge are all well and good, but without the integrating experience resulting from following one of the various spiritual paths that are now so readily available to all, such beliefs, faith and knowledge avail the individual but little.)

"(The alcoholic's) thirst for alcohol," Carl Jung pointed out, "(is) on a low level the thirst of our being for wholeness, in medieval language: union with God." (See post:"Jung-Wilson Correspondence")

Such "wholeness" requires that we "uncover, discover and discard" (to use a favourite turn of phrase employed by a beloved and wizened old-timer) the many false "selves" which separates us from our true being, from our innermost real Self, from "the God of our own (experiential) understanding."

Consider the following excerpt of an article discussing the fractured nature of the human psyche by spiritual teacher and author, Ted Nottingham.
"We are not one person. There is no "I am," but many "I's" coming from numerous places within us. There is the "I" who is in command when it is hungry. There is the "I" who is in a bad mood, there is the "I" that loves to read poetry, and on and on. . . . In (our accustomed state), we just assume that we always act as the same person. Inner knowledge tells us that we are made up of many disconnected, fragmentary facets without unity. When such information is verified, then a presence besides those many "I's" is also present. You can no longer fall entirely for the illusion of unity. . . ."
"It is no small thing to begin to see who we are. It will impact our whole life. We are not one, but many. The aim is to become one, the true one behind the many "I's". The mysterious metaphor "man is legion" refers to the multi-faceted being that we are in our separation from the unifying Source. Part of our inner work, then, is to develop an awareness of the feeling of "I" in the moment. Such an effort will allow us not to be that fragmentary self claiming to be our whole identity. Any change in the sense of "I" will also transform the world around us. . . . "
"We generally encounter the world as an egotistical bundle of personal reactions and that is the cause of so much of our unnecessary unhappiness. We must develop a feeling of "I" that is different from the one we have now. We all have the experience of constant chatter in our heads. We are always thinking something, responding to something, imagining something. We say "I" to each activity in our mind: "I hate this . . . I am this . . . I want this." But this flood of constant response and talk in our brain is nothing more than life acting on our personality and our personality responding to it. We can form in ourselves, in our own psychology, a little bit of awareness that can stand back from that torrent of thought and activity and simply see -- without response to it, without judgement or justification."
". . . (W)hat we are not conscious of will control us. When we are completely caught up in our ordinary sense of self, there is no chance of change. We are convinced that we are right, we take for granted that this is who we are. We don't create that inner space which allows a new evolution to take place. So long as we take ourselves as one person, we cannot move from where we are."
"As you begin to distance yourself from this inner ocean, you will be able to observe parts of yourself that we are calling I's which are not only contradictory but entirely foreign to what you really care about. For instance, you can be a religious person as well as the very opposite. In order to strengthen the part of yourself that wants to be a spiritual person over against the part that couldn't care less, one has to intentionally give power to those I's that will do the work of spiritual evolution and remove power from those that will not. This requires serious personal separation. As things are now, all of these I's claim to be yourself whenever they appear."
"When you make that space -- which is the detachment of the mystic -- and you see these armies of light and darkness inside, then you know where the battle must take place. You will also see that the army of darkness is much bigger than the one of light, those I's that wish to love God and the universe and transcend their selfishness. Over against them is this horde of barbarians that are only interested in being comfortable and satisfying their desires."
". . . (N)othing can change in us if we identify with all our I's. The whole point is to discover that we are not all that inner traffic. This insight gives us independence from the external world. This is a fundamental aspect of spiritual maturity and freedom. If we look at the teachers of humanity, they were independent of the forces around them. They were truly themselves and able to act in the world regardless of surrounding influences. That is one characteristic of higher consciousness."
Can anyone relate to that? Does the alcoholic addict in recovery, at least initially, not suffer, and suffer greatly, from "all that inner traffic?" Bill W. called this ceaseless chatter of our many lesser 'selves' (the raucous vying for attention of what Nottingham identifies as our multiple "I's") a "painful inner dialogue" and "terrifying ghosts." Until we face, face down, and are freed from identification with these many 'selves' true recovery, sanity, and spiritual transformation will be illusive at best.

Fortunately, there are many paths and practices - including, and in addition to, the 12 Steps - which will lead us experientially through and beyond our many 'selves' to "a new state of  consciousness and being."
 * * * * * * * * * * * * *
[Note: Ted Nottingham is a prolific author and spiritual teacher who facilitates an ongoing, online course on "The Practice of Spiritual Awakening" at]

1 comment:

  1. ...a truly REMARKABLE post Bhuddini..very helpful for me feeling dazed by the shock and awe of these powerful insights..THANK YOU so much for sharing your wisdom...
    P.S. I joined Nottingham's group last week (mike)