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Monday, July 28, 2008

"Self-Examination, Meditation and Prayer" - Using Basic Recovery Tools: Part III

Bill W. wrote the series of essays that would be published as "The Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions" when he was fifteen years sober and had emerged from his own 'dark night of the soul' - a prolonged, ten year bout of depression that followed shortly after the "vital experience experience" that led to his co-founding Alcoholics Anonymous with Dr. Bob in the summer of 1935.

To me, Bill's reflections in the Twelve and Twelve on how to work the 12 Steps of Recovery first set out in the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, are an invaluable insight into the deeper workings of a spiritual practice that is designed to awaken a "new state of consciousness and being" in the person who applies this spiritual methodology. And perhaps no passage in the Twelve and Twelve more succinctly sets out the path to follow for a person who is earnestly seeking the spiritual awakening that is necessary to permanently arrest one's alcoholic addiction, than the following passage from Bill's essay on 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 interrelated and interwoven, the result is an unshakable foundation for life. Now and then we may be given a glimpse of that ultimate reality which is God's kingdom. And we will be comforted and assured that our own destiny in that realm will be secure for so long as we try, however falteringly, to find and do the will of our own Creator. (Emphasis added.)
I hear much talk about the necessity of prayer - and it is necessary - at AA meetings. I hear that we are to pray to the God of our own understanding for help throughout the day, and to give thanks at night. Indeed, the Third Step tells me to repeat the Serenity Prayer each time my emotional state is disturbed or my mind is racing and indecisive. The Third Step and Eleventh Step prayers are specifically laid out for our daily use.

Yet,while effectiveness of prayer is often and loudly touted, too often the necessity of meditation - the need for a quiet time of contemplation in the morning and evening - is not mentioned . . . let alone emphasized. Sometimes, even old-timers seem to scoff at the notion that meditation is a basic recovery tool that is necessary and required to achieve the emotional sobriety we all eventually require It is as if the practice of meditation is seen as some strange foreign "Eastern" tradition that was not a fundamental aspect of every religious tradition - West and East - including the Christian tradition.

Indeed, "self-examination, meditation and prayer" are three vital components of each of the world's great wisdom traditions. How then do we 'logically interrelate and interweave' these three ancient practices?

I suggest, as was shown to me, that first thing in the morning the spiritual aspirant looking for recivery from any of life's varied addictions sit in a straight backed chair for a 10 minute period of meditation. I was instructed by a man with over three decades of sobriety achieved through daily periods of prayer and meditation to count the breath. (Indeed, this is a fundamental technique of both Buddhist and Hindu yogic practice, as well as a technique used in many Christian, Jewish and Muslim schools.) This appears to be the technique that Bill himself was shown by his sponsor - Ebbie T.

In "The Man Who Sponsored Bill W." Ebbie recalls how he was shown a simple method of morning meditation by Rolland H. and the Oxford Groupers that had come to his rescue, before Ebbie in turn carried the Oxford Group message and methods to Bill.

"Rowland gave me a great many things that were of a great value to me later on," Ebbie recalled. "He had a thorough indoctrination and he passed as much of this on to me as he could. When we took trips together we would get up early in the morning, and before we even had any coffee, we would sit down and try to rid ourselves of any thoughts of the material world and see if we couldn't find out the best plan for our lives for that day and to follow whatever guidance came to us."

Following their period of morning meditation, they would make a simple list, based on the guidance they received during this quiet time, of the things they would like to accomplish during the day - a handy reference when the mind is chaotic! They would repeat this quiet time of meditation again in the evening, sitting for a ten-minute or so period trying once again to rid themselves "of any thoughts of the material world."

Personally, I find it absolutely essential to quiet my mind in this manner first thing in the morning. The clamorous and undisciplined "thoughts of the material world" that arise first things in the morning are the "calamity" that helps obscure the fundamental idea of God within me, as it is within every man , woman and child (AA, page 55). It is my job to uncover that "Great Reality" within me. First by a few minutes of quiet to dispell that obsessive (and oppressive) voice of "self" that can arisen unbidden first thing in the morning. Then, by being aware of my thoughts and emotional condition throughout the day - by the process of "self-examination" or taking a continuing personal inventory of my thoughts, actions and how these make me feel - and asking for relief from the "bondage of self" and repeating the Serenity prayer when I find my "self" emotionally distured or indecisisve, as laid out in Step Three. And finally, by engaging in another period of quiet contemplation, prayer and meditation at the end of the day, to lay that false "self" or human ego to one side before sleep.

I also enjoy, as Dr. Bob, advocated a period of time each day devoted to reading something - anything - of a spiritual nature. But it is this logically interwoven practice of self-examination, meditation and prayer that gives me the unshakable foundation - and gets me out of me. It is when I let up on any of these - particularly meditation, or more immediately, self-examination - that things get shaky.

(See also, Basic Recovery Tools: Part I and Basic Recovery Tools: Part II)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The "Serenity Prayer" - Using Basic Recovery Tools: Part II

For me, as for most others I suspect, there are three key concepts that stand out in the "Serenity Prayer" - serenity, courage and wisdom. All three concepts reflect an element of our consciousness, the mental "attitude" or internal perspective that we take in respect of the world that surrounds us and our state of being within that world. When utilizing the Serenity Prayer as the principal tool in my spiritual 'tool kit', it is these three components of what amount to a deeper, yet higher 'God-consciousness' that I focus on.

I am told that practicing the Third Step of Recovery, and in fact my entire psycho-spiritual recovery from a hopelessly, helplessly addicted state of mind and body, is contingent upon my bringing the power of my will to the task at hand each time I become emotionally upset or indecisive about what to do in the face of the vicissitudes and curve-balls that life itself has a way of tossing in my direction. And that task is (a) to "pause" from the thoughts and actions that have so disturbed and shaken me, (b) to ask for an inner "quiet" in which to recollect the Wholeness of G_d and my place within that entirety, and (c) from the internal "stillness" - a quietistic attitude and the non-rationalistic, non-analytic, non-judgmental mode of thought and cognition gained by doing this this invokes - take in and absorb the effect of the Serenity Prayer.

All of these affirmative actions, contemplations and meditations are intended to invoke an attitude of trusting acceptance in me that the results of all that is transpiring in that moment will occur in a good, orderly and directed fashion that will ultimately satisfy the requirements and needs of all, and not merely satisfy my narrow desires and quell my ego-centric fears.

The Serenity Prayer is, thus, really a means for reorienting my interior attitude - a means of reorienting my innermost thought processes. ("Attitude", is defined in The Concise Oxford Dictionary" as being a "settled opinion or way of thinking"). Truly, "nothing is good nor bad," as Shakespeare observed, "but our thinking makes it so." The Serenity Prayer is thus the mechanism for the conscious "attitude adjustment" that A.A. is often said to be the acronym for.
"Serenity" then becomes the state of being or consciousness that I am affirming and invoking.

In Emmet Fox's classic work, The Sermon on the Mount, a book that Bill, Bob and other Recovery "pioneers of consciousness" relied upon, Fox observed that there are really three levels of 'prayer': the lowest level being 'prayer' as we commonly think of it, but prayer invoking and affirming the omnipresence of God and not a mere asking for things or outcomes; the next higher level of 'prayer' being meditation, or a quiet abiding in that omnipresence; and contemplation, the highest level of 'prayer', in which to practice the continued abiding in God's omnipresence that we find only in meditation.

Often, in troubled times I merely make the silent affirmation, "God, you grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change", knowing that the 'courageous' (from the Latin cour, meaning 'heart') process of detaching from what my reasoning and analysis is saying to gain an intuitive perspective will follow, and that I have the "wisdom" to know the difference between the two ways of thinking about and responding to life's circumstances. I often have to say the Serenity prayer frontwards, backwards, silently, out loud or in my own words, but acceptance comes. I find that backwards is often the way this powerful prayer works best - a quiet inner affirmation that I have the wisdom to know the difference between the two attitudes or ways of thinking about this life, courage to let go of the fearful, egoic way of thinking about life that I learned as a young boy and perfected in my addictions, and then serenity is what is left.

Paul's letter to the Corinthians says, "God is Love." It could equally say that God is serenity, inner peace, acceptance, truth or any one of the synonymous attributes of God that we can find within ourselves through the Serenity Prayer when we move from finding life itself "unacceptable" to an attitude of inner acceptance.

(See also, Basic Recovery Tools: Part I and Basic Recovery Tools: Part III)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Evening Contemplation for Spiritual Awakening

"Each worldly person, moralist, spiritual aspirant and yogi - like a devotee - should every night before retiring ask his intuition whether his spiritual faculties or his physical inclination of temptation won the day's battles between good and bad habits; between temperance and greed; between self-control and lust; between honest desire for necessary money and inordinate craving for gold; between forgiveness and anger; between joy and grief; between moroseness and pleasantness; between kindness and cruelty; between selfishness and unselfishness; between understanding and jealousy; between confidence and fear; between faith and doubt; between humbleness and pride; between desire to commune with God in meditation and the restless urge for worldly activities; between spiritual and material desires; between divine ecstasy and sensory perceptions; between soul consciousness and egoity."

Paramahansa Yogananda,God Talks with Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita, Volume I, p. 48.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Morning Contemplation for Spiritual Awakening

Marcus Aurelius, one of the founding fathers of Neo-Platonism, a philosophical school that would have a profound impact on the early Christian Church, and the Emperor of Rome, recommended the following contemplation as a morning meditation:

"Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will and selfishness - all of them due to the offender's ignorance of what is good and evil. But for my part I have long perceived the nature of Good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself who is my brother (not in the physical sense, but as a fellow-creature similarly endowed with Reason and a share of the Divine); therefore none of these things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading. Neither can I be angry with my brother or fall foul of him, for he and I were born to work together, like a man's two hands, feet or eyelids, or like the upper and lower rows of his teeth. To obstruct each other is against Nature's law - and what is irritation or aversion but a form of obstruction?"
- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2:1

Saturday, June 7, 2008

A Spiritual Awakening from the Addiction of Consumer Culture?

Maybe its time for a global intervention, suggests Charles Shaw in a powerful article in The Huffington Post which examines whether Western consumer culture has become the ultimate addiction. Surely all our desires can be fulfilled and our fears allayed if only we can somehow manage to purchase the "new look" for the fall, live in the latest and toniest loft or McMansion, and . . . please God . . . invest in the right retirement funds and investment portfolio which will see us flying our glider over our own Napa Valley winery free of all mundane cares and financial worries by age 55.

The article is much more substantive than the usual critique one sees on the madness of Western society's conviction that happiness and security can be packaged, marketed and purchased, or that mere materialism will fill the vacuum of the soul that exists, perhaps unrecognized, in the being of every woman and man that has turned outward in a vain attempt to wrest security and happiness from the world. Mr. Shaw's insightful article takes a hard look at what the values of Western society have degenerated into, as well as a brutally and honestly examining whether, in fact, as a global society we are not suffering a malaise of the spirit that is not in and of itself an addiction.

This should come as no surprise to anyone with any length of recovery from their own personal addiction who has seen others fall prey to the ravages of workaholism, economic, consumer or sexual addiction only to have that related dysfunction bring the whole house of cards down upon themselves and/or their families. Too many have crashed from these related addictions to go back to the bottle or the bag - or whatever their particular vice or "drug of choice" was - or worse, for it to come as a shock to anyone with eyes to see. Now it appears that we, as a society, have kicked the individual's penchant for addiction up to a whole new, global level.

Mr. Shaw cites social philosopher Morris Berman's prescient observation that, "Addiction in one form or another characterizes every aspect of industrial society." He notes that an addict's dependence on substances or divergent corporeal pleasures is no different from our general dependency on "prestige, career achievement, world influence, wealth, the need to build more ingenious bombs or the need to exercise control over everything." (Renowned spiritual teacher and enlightened philosopher Eckhart Tolle has noted the fallacy of such simplistic wish fulfillment, albeit that it is the wishes and unquenhable desires of the out-of-control human ego, when he plainly states "mastery of life is the opposite of control.")

"Addiction," Mr. Shaw writes, "is really a hallmark of our era, and I think it reflects that we don't have culturally promoted kinds of other deeper forms of meaning and purpose in our lives. So we make up for it by consuming more. But the evidence is overwhelming that people who are characterized by materialistic attitudes and values actually experience lower well-being, lower happiness, more depression and anxiety and anger than people who aren't materialistic."

Mr. Shaw points to the social, economic and political systems of our modern cultural milieu as having wittingly and complicitly created a consumer society that is frankly addicted to more of anything in a vain attempt to fill that vacuum of the soul that is produced when we lack sufficiently deep ties to others - the condition of anomie identified by French philosopher and father of modern sociology, Emile Durkheim, that is the driving force behind most suicides. And what is an addiction if not an oh-so-slow suicide?

"Designing and marketing secondary sources of satisfaction," according to Mr. Shaw's analysis, "falls to the complimenting social, political and economic systems that reinforce addictive behavior in order to drive the consumer machine. Consumption becomes 'naturalized' through corporate advertising and marketing, government tax breaks, and officially sanctioned religio-consumer holidays like Christmas, Hanukah and Valentine's Day."

Enough already! More and more disaffected consumers are beginning to question the basis of this widespread consumer addiction. It turns out that the Beatles were in fact right: "Money Can't Buy (Me) Love," we are finding out at the last moment, and hopefully not too late. Perhaps it is time for a wide-scale intervention, but surely that is what we are in the midst of as we face the spiraling costs to buy the energy that is ruining our environment while our political masters dither and prevaricate. But do any of us want to really put down the needle and the spoon afforded by the so-called "comforts" of our affluent society?

Mr. Shaw notes that the field of public relations and mass marketing was pioneered by the progeny and prodigies of psychology, noting in particular the pivotal role played by Sigmund Freud's nephew Edward Bernays who brought the fledgling p.r. industry to politics at the time of the First World War. But he points, with good effect, to the solution to all addictions proposed by Freud's one-time student who has, in actuality long since passed Freud in terms of influence. For it was C.J. Jung who famously observed that a vital spiritual experience, and only such a profound experience which reforges our personality and remaps our motivations and conceptions, is what ultimately can arrest and reverse addiction. He clearly saw that addiction like virtually all kinds of psychoses and mental illness represented a deep spiritual thirst in our collective being.

"Asking society to go into a global recovery program is not nearly as Dr. Phil-crazy as it sounds," Shaw writes. "It's become the new mantra of the green movement, who are now calling for a spiritual solution to the planetary crisis. It was Freud's student and eventual rival Carl Jung who first dissented against Freud's 'irrational desires' theory and put forth the idea that addictions address a spiritual loss or deficiency. Because the addictive experience is mimetic of the spiritual experience, you can have an imitation of bliss or oneness, but it doesn't last. Jung believed only a true spiritual awakening will end an addiction. Likewise, the eco-ilk believe only a global spiritual awakening will end the consumer addiction that is ravaging the planet."

Many believe that is correct, as I do. Perhaps its best that we work to forward the spiritual/philosophical discussion that is the intervention we all collectively need - before Mother Nature, or the G_d of whatever your understanding is, forces the issue for us.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Fear and Desire Create the "Bondage of Self"

In A.A.'s Third Step Prayer, there is a line where the alcoholic addict asks whatever G_d he or she has an understanding of to, "Relieve me of the bondage of self." What is "self"? And what is it that constitutes "the bondage of self" from which relief is sought? How and where is relief from this "bondage of self" that lies at the root of the alcoholic's addiction to be found?

It is the thoughts of fear and of desire (or craving) that create the "bondage of self". But to understand this it is perhaps necessary to understand that "self" in this context is not what we consider that word to mean in its ordinary sense - "self" as in our sense of "me" or the person that "I" am. Rather, in the sense that Bill W. writes of in the basic texts of recovery (the books Alcoholics Anonymous and Bill's later volume of essays, The Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions) "self" is the human "ego" - "ego" not in the way it is commonly used as a synonym for pride or one's sense of self-esteem, but rather "ego" in its original meaning as "the part of the mind that reacts to reality and has a sense of individuality", according to The Concise Oxford Dictionary.

The use of the word "ego" to denote pride or one's "sense of self-esteem" is a later use of the word that came into popular usage after Bill wrote the Alcoholics Anonymous text. ( Bill was trained as a lawyer though he never practiced law, and as a former - or recovered - lawyer, I can attest that he demonstrates a lawyer's precision in the way he writes and chooses his words.)

At p. 63 in the Big Book, describing the real dyed-in-the-wool alcoholic as an "actor", Bill writing in 1939 observes, "Our actor is self-centered - ego-centric, as people like to call it nowadays." And, there is the basic problem, the part of the alcoholic's mind that reacts to reality and gives the alcoholic his or her sense of individuality has as its frame of reference what has been described as "the lonely universe of individual consciousness". The alcoholic's thinking mind is stuck in "the bondage of self". Thus, it makes sense when Bill declares that "the problem of the alcoholic centers in the mind," more so than the body. To arrest and treat our alcoholism or other addiction, we therefore need to address the problematic thought patterns that lurk within and can takeover our minds and, thus, our means of relating to this world.

To find relief from the suffering of our addiction- be it active or inactive, yet untreated addiction - it is necessary to move away from self, from identification with and bondage or attachment to our sense of individual consciousness, to a deeper part of the mind. We must tap into that "unsuspected inner resource", described in Appendix II of Alcoholics Anonymous, that many of the early, more religiously-minded persons who found recovery from addiction through the Twelve Steps referred to as "God-consciousness".

To shift one's consciousness from a sense of individuality based in the human ego, to a conscious contact with what Bill describes as "the Great Reality" within each of us is the purpose of the 12 Steps. They give us the methodology to access within the depths of our own being "a power greater than our (seemingly individual) 'selves' that will restore us to sanity." But to do so, it is first necessary to face, face down and be rid of the two strains of thought that create and sustain the human ego, the two conditioned drives that create our sense of helpless individuality and causes us suffering: fear and craving. Or to "uncover, discover and discard" that which blocks us from the deeper unitive consciousness beyond ego, as Chuck C. so famously described the process of recovery from addiction in his talks and wonderful book, A New Pair of Glasses.

Overcoming the desires (or cravings) and fears that fuel and foster the unquenchable thirst of our human ego is the essence of Steps 6 and 7. However, to better understand how our desires or cravings foster our fears and trap us in the suffering of our lonely egos, it is helpful to first turn to the lists in the "moral inventory" that we asked to write down in Step 4 in order to get a good handle on what our cravings and desires are really for.

The part of the Fourth Step inventory that always seems to get the most attention are the columns in which we list the resentments we carry that "block us off from the sunlight of the Spirit." And of those columns, it is perhaps the column that lists what the actions of others have affected - our personal relationships, sex relations, reputation financial and emotional security etc. - that receives the least attention, at least initially. Likely that is because we have been prone to going over these stories we tell about others - whether to our "selves" or anyone who will listen - over and over, ad nauseum. That is, until they sicken us so badly that we must stop doing so.

It is necessary, of course, for us to see what part we played in bringing these hurtful actions seemingly down on our heads, but it is absolutely essential to see how our desires for relationships, security and money etc. have truly warped our minds. We need to see that while still practicing our addictive behaviours, the only recourse we had to alleviate the suffering caused by these desires was to drown them in a vat of alcohol, the haze of drugs or the fast-fading and fleeting ecstacies of other addictive behaviours. Examining how the desire to fill these longings affected us can be an often long drawn out process. Yet the key to understanding this, for me, is found in Step Six, through which we become, "Entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character."

Step Six as it is set out in the Alcoholics Anonymous text is absolutely essential, yet it receives short shrift, being conducted in a mere hour of contemplation after having confronted our "selves" and shared our moral inventory with God and another for the first time and before taking the vital Seventh Step in the meditative state of prayer. The reason for this, I believe, is that Bill wrote the Big Book when he had only three years of experience on this spiritual journey, and he had yet to wrestle down his own 'demons' of fear, desire and depression through the often-time years of spiritual discipline that the Steps require to fully work their ever-deepening miracle.

In his essay on Step Six in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, written when Bill was about fifteen years sober and after he had emerged from a near-decade long bout with depression (a residual after-effect of active addiction for many an alcoholic and/or addict), Bill closely examines how our desires can separate us from wholeness and lock us in the "bondage of self". Studying the list of our desires and the patterns of actions they have fueled, we can begin to see how acting on these desires has increasingly separated us from others and the whole world in a lonely individual consciousness that is far removed from the underlying God-consciousness that is so freely available to all, though largely unknown, unperfected or simply not experienced by many.

At page 65 in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Bill examines the crippling effect that desires can have on our consciousness, affecting our minds and the state of our being with which we approach life. He writes:

"Since most of us are born with an abundance of natural desires, it isn't strange that we often let them exceed their intended purposes. When they drive us blindly, or we willfully demand that they supply us with more satisfactions or pleasures than are possible or due to us, that is the point at which we depart from the degree of perfection that God would have for us here on earth. That is the measure of our defects of character.
I emphasize those last words, as they seem to point to the operative mechanism of "the bondage of self". My desire to have something or someone - a relationship, a job, money, a position in society or whatever - that it is not practical or due for me to possess because of circumstances or life itself will creates internal within my mind for the ego to manifest and operate. Equally, my desire to avoid someone, something or some situation that is either unavoidable or not practical for me to avoid due, again, to circumstances, life itself - or God, if you will - will also lock me in the suffering of bondage or enslavement to my sense of individuality and uniqueness. I will add a new chapter to the same old story that will go on endlessly repeating itself within the not-so-quite airy confines of my mind, creating all forms of anger, pride, lust, greed and/or envy etc.

So much for Step Six. Through my propensity to foster all manner of undue and impractical desires I have laid the groundwork and created the "measure" or made internal room for my ego to take hold and drag me back into self-consciousness, or ego-consciousness, breaking all conscious contact with the G_d of my understanding. I have created the basis for my own suffering. What then activates and perpetuates this suffering?

Desires for what are impractical, impossible or not due to us at any given moment will quickly morph into fear we are told in Bill's essay on the Seventh Step. That, in turn, will energize and set in motion the patterns of thought, speech and action that cause our suffering. "The chief activator of our defects," Bill writes, "has been self-centered fear - primarily fear that we would lose something we already possessed or fail to get something we demanded. Living upon a basis of unsatisfied demands, we were in a state of continual disturbance and frustration. Therefore, no peace was to be had unless we could find a means of reducing these demands."

Fortuntately, we have been shown a means of reducing and possibly eliminating, at least temporarily, these unsatisfied and unsatisfiable demands - unsatisfiable demands, in the sense that what we are demanding is not practical or due to us. That means is the logically interrelated process of self-examination, meditation and prayer that Bill writes of in Step 11. I was told by my greatest spiritual mentor, a man that sought an ever-deepening consciousness of the divine order of this universe until his dying day, that we are or should be constantly in the process of doing Steps 3, 7 and 11: affirming and invoking that deeper God-consciousness that forms the basic fabric of our being, recognizing when we hav reattached to our desire-fueled fears that strip us us of conscious contact withG_d's grace and seeking a return to that grace through the process of self-forgetting in contemplative meditation.

This is the only method that I have learned or been shown - and I have achieved some great material and financial successes and successes in my personal, social and familial relationships through my own efforts and other methodologies- that has brought me any degree of deep or lasting peace of mind. I know that recourse to the eternal within brings me to a consciousness of serenity in both my mind and my surroundings. It brings me to an inner place where I lack nothing and want for nothing, where fear and desire subside, wane and are gone so long as I remain there.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Spiritual Awakening: Filling the "Vacuum of the Soul"

Re-reading the March 1971 "A.A. Grapevine" which commemorates the life and passing of Bill Wilson, the man who first formulated the Twelve Steps as we know them today, I am struck by the deep and moving language of the introduction to that volume. The language describes in scant lines the state of perpetual loneliness and suffering Bill and Dr.Bob survived and recovered from, as well as the "new state of consciousness and being" - to use Bill's description from his essay on Step 11 in the "Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions" - that they discovered within themselves and shared with the world.

Bill is described as having "found eternal peace" on January 24, 1971. I know, however, that he had witnessed such peace long before his passing. A man of the nineteenth-century whose life spanned the formative decades of the twentieth, Bill witnessed supposed scientific "miracles" from the Wright brothers' first flight to man's walking on the moon, events he famously wrote about and speculated upon in the most famous of his many writings.

"Full comprehension" of what Bill and Dr. Bob achieved, says the anonymous writer of this brief introduction, "is difficult to set down in black and white." "Both men," he writes, "filled the vacuums of their own souls with their 'language of the heart,'" which they then passed on to those of us who are willing to seek out the nuances of that most estranged of human dialects. (Emphasis added.) "Each of us," says the anonymous eulogist in this introduction, "in the lonely universe of individual consciousness" - emphasis added, once more - "must reckon what he or she has taken of the gift that the Higher Power gave to Bill and Bob, the gift they shared with us."

And that is the miracle of the Twelve Steps, the miracle of recovery from all addictions and suffering: that it is possible in this lifetime to forego one's egocentric consciousness and fill 'the vacuum of the soul' with the grace of unselfish love, thus emerging from that 'loneliness of individual consciousness' into a shared and unitive G_d-consciousness we each possess.

Bill was first and foremost a man of science before his conversion experience, and he remained a lifelong student of both physics and metaphysics, as well as the human psyche. He was once interviewed by Thomas Edison for a job at Edison's famous lab, and he writes of grappling with the intellectual problems of nuclear physics and "remote propositions" like Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Yet, he was a man of faith who had an experiential knowledge of G_d.

Einstein, who was always metaphysically enigmatic for a scientist (and a professed atheist who nonetheless sought only "the thoughts of God", dismissing all other thoughts as "mere details"), at one point noted that mankind's "greatest delusion" (delusions being concepts all of us in recovery should be eminently familiar with) is that there is "more than one of us". That is a delusion that Bill shattered over and over many times in his lifetime, always demonstrating and writing of the inherent unity of G_d and the "unsuspected inner resource" of G-d-consciousness he described as being "the Great Reality" existing deep down within every one of us.

The great Seiss psychologist, Carl Jung, in his letter to Bill in January of 1961 - a letter Lois Wilson described as her husband's "most treasured possession" - wrote that the alcoholic's "thirst for alcohol" was "on a low level", the thirst of mankind's being for "wholeness: in medieval terms - union with God." During their lives,Bill and Bob learned how to quench their own existential thirsts for wholeness with a unitive and unifying love that broke them out of the "vacuum of their own souls", demonstrating thereby to all of us that "the lonely universe of individual consciousness" is in fact delusionary, that Einstein was again correct, and that there exists a state of grace in which we all abide, irrespective if we are conscious or unconscious to that reality, in which God (and the universe) constitute a unitive, undivided and absolute Whole, devoid of all relativities.

"The measure of our debt," the anonymous eulogist concludes, "is, of course, drawn somewhere near the limits of gratitude itself, in the infinity of love."

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Tale of a "Double-Minded Man"

I've always been a reader. I got the habit hard when I was a kid, and its stayed with me. I pretty much always read for a little while, or a long while before going to sleep, even in the years I was drinking and drugging - at least on those nights when (a) I didn't pass out, or (b) I actually went to sleep that night.

I just reviewed Dr. Bob's last major talk from the pamphlet, "The Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous", and was pleasantly surprised that he said he had decided to "cultivate the habit of reading", as he puts it, when he sobered up - usually for about an hour or so a day, which included what he called "the Good Book", but also "a good deal of standard literature, possibly of a scientific nature." Not that he pushed that on anyone. Quite the opposite. He said, quite specifically, "I'm not trying to sell you on the idea that you've got to read an hour a day. There are plenty of people, fine A.A.s. who don't read much." . . . I wouldn't try to sell anybody on the idea of it either, but I'll tell you - those minutes or hours are sometimes the very best part of my day, and spiritually liberating.

What I looked through the Co-Founders pamphlet for was a mention that Dr. Bob made in his last major talk about what it was like starting out, and what Bill, Bob and the other "early-timers" had read and studied in the very earliest days of the 12 Step Recovery movement, before there was the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous - or even a written-down formulation of the 12 Steps, for that matter.

I had in my mind's eye the picture of Bill, Bob and Bob's wife, Anne (who was really probably better read, and
perhaps more spiritually advanced, than either of those two newly-sober drunks), sitting at Bob and Anne's kitchen table, with only what they referred to as the "Good Book" to go on as a guide. I know I've read that description - probably in one of the two ' official' A.A. histories: "Pass It On" or "Dr. Bob and the Good Old-Timers." While the description, as I remembered it, wasn't there, the information I was looking for about the passages from the Bible that they had found "absolutely essential" was.

Speaking of the very earliest members of A.A. - Bill. Bob, Bill D. and the mere handful of (then) men who were the precursors to the millions of men and women who have been transformed by taking the 12 Steps today, Dr. Bob said:

". . . (W)e were convinced that the answer to our problems was in the Good Book. To some of us older ones, the parts that we found absolutely essential were the Sermon on the Mount, the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, and the Book of James." (Emphasis added.)
I had read the Book of James several times in the early years of my sobriety, before I became surrendered to life itself and not merely to 'the bottle and the bag'. And, frankly . . . it hadn't meant much to me because of my prejudice and contempt prior to investigating the spiritual basis and nature of the 12 Steps. When I picked it up again, four or so years ago, however, the following passage hit me like a ton of bricks:
"A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways." (James 1:8)
That's me! I'm that guy! If you run into me when I'm spiritually centered and fit, you will probably get the same kind of experience when dealing with me. . . .I'm pretty predictable that way. Get me on a day when all that is 'inside' of me is "right with the world" - so to speak - and I'm pretty much "happy, joyous and free", as the Big Book says.

But watch out if I'm 'off-kilter' . . . if I'm having a "spiritually-bad hair day", as one speaker so aptly put it. Then, all bets are off, folks. . . . When I've got a really bad case of the "monkey-mind" - with my thoughts just a-racing, taking me from here to there, to there, to back here again . . . and all in my mind . . . like a monkey jumping from branch to branch in a tree - with the full 'committee in the head" all present and cacaphonously accounted for - I am prone to saying or doing almost anything! That's why, I believe, the Good Book describes a man so bedevilled as "legion" (Mark 5:9).

In those moments, I - or the guy in the 'gorilla suit' who is temporarily suited up as me - am unstable - in all of my ways. I've heard my sponsor say many times, that the only difference between him and some dude doing a life sentence in Attica State Prison, is that when he was in that state of mind, he didn't have a gun. . . . Now, that I get!

There's my problem - my whole problem! On those days, there is no G_d and I'm running the whole show, trying vainly to manage life itself. I'm bombarding all my "problems" with a futile, infuriating attempt at exercising my self-will by acting out on whatever solution comes to the monkey-mind of that full committee of idiots I've got running the show at full quorum inside of me. . . . How pathetic . . . How sickening . . . and . . . Oh!, how I suffer inside when that's me in the gorilla-suit. Stay clear of me on those days folks, if you can. No wonder I'd drink, drop or drug just about anything in days past to shut down the "monkey-mind".

I've read and re-read the Book of James, many times since the full import of James 1:8 hit me. Then on one of my last go-throughs, the solution to all that double-mindedness popped out at me. Its just like reading the Big Book or listening to my sponsor. The same thing is repeated again and again, and I can't absorb the truth when I hear it because who I am is obscured by the clamour of the calamity, pomp and worship of other things that can run unchecked and roughshod through my mind - even when I'm looking for the solution. Never underestimate the power of the human Ego to blind someone like me to reality! Worse yet, as Chuck C. put it, "It's Divinely impossible to satisfy the human Ego."

In, at least to me, very Biblical language, James at Chapter 4:8 writes:
"Draw nigh to God, and God will draw nigh to you. Wash clean your hands ye sinners! Purify your hearts ye double-minded."
I am sure it was my reaction to the very Biblical sounding words and imagery in James 4:8 - "Wash clean your hands", "sinners", "purify". . . even that word, "God" - which kept me skimming right past the solution without its having a chance to register in my consciousness. To me, this brief passage sums up what the 12 Step process is all about. It is just about as beautiful and as succinct a diagnosis and prescription for what ails me as I've seen anywhere outside the "three pertinent ideas" that pertain to a wreck like me: That (A) I am alcoholic and could not (cannot, nor should presume to) manage my own life; (B) that probably no human power could (can, or will) relieve my alcoholism and restore me to sanity; but, (C) that God could (can and will) if I seek him out and try to do as he would have me do, not what I might prefer to do. (Please excuse my paraphrase of these three beautiful, pertinent ideas from page 60 of the Alcoholics Anonymous basic text.)

What James 4:8 suggests that I do, is what A.A., N.A., E.A or even ?.A. suggests I do in adopting the 12 Steps as a way of life. That is, (a) to draw near or "nigh to God" by 'uncovering, discovering and discarding' the calamitous thinking, pomp and worship of other things that obscures the "Great Reality" within my being from 'me' and 'my' consciousness - Steps 1, 2, 3; (b) to "wash clean" my hands, by getting rid of "the wreckage of my past" - Steps 4, 5, and 8 through 10; and (c) to "purify my heart" by ridding my being of the false-self's - or Ego's - petty, selfish, self-centered desires and fears by instead focusing my will on the desire to obtain that, and only that, which God would and will provide to me, particularly by his allowing me to attempt to help 'others' - Steps 6,7,11 and 12.

A modern teacher from another of the world's beautiful and ancient wisdom traditions put it this way:
". . . (I)f we want to transform our life and be free of problems we must learn to transform our mind. Sufferings, problems, worries, unhappiness, and pain all exist within our mind; they are all unpleasant feelings, which are part of the mind. Through controlling and purifying our mind we can stop them once and for all. . . . This is not easy to understand at first, but we can gain some understanding by thinking about the following. When we are awake many different things exist, but when we fall asleep they cease. This is because the mind to which they appear ceases. When we dream, the only things that appear are dream objects. Later, when we wake up, these dream objects cease. This is because the dreaming mind to which they appear ceases. If we think deeply about this we shall understand how we can cause all the unpleasant things that we dislike to cease simply by abandoning impure, deluded states of mind; and that we can cause all the pleasant things that we desire to arise simply by developing a pure mind. Purifying our mind of delusions through spiritual practice fulfils our deepest longing for true happiness."
Geshe Kelsan Gyatso,"Transform Your Life: A Blissful Journey", pp. 8-9.
Paul advises, as my greatest spiritual friend in A.A. often did: "Don't be conformed to the world; rather, be transformed by the renewal of your mind." (Romans 12:2) Interestingly, one of the definitions of "renewal" in The Shorter Oxford Dictionary is "recovery".

Enough, already . . . Time to quit writing and do a little more reading, with Dr.Bob's blessing, I assume . . . and with G_d's, I trust. . . .

God Bless . . .

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Four Absolutes - Using "Basic Recovery Tools": Part I

The History and Importance of the Four Absolutes in Recovery's "Pioneering Times"

The "Four Absolutes" were one of the principal tools that Bill W., Dr. Bob and the "Good Old-Timers" adopted from the Oxford Group and utilized in achieving and maintaining the entire psychic change, rearrangement or "spiritual awakening" that allowed them to stay sober, recover from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body and to help others secure the transcendence of the ideas, emotions and attitudes that had fueled their chronic, progressive and near-fatal addiction to alcohol.
I have found it crucial in my own recovery to learn, 'understand' and embrace the origins of the spiritual discipline which are the 12 Steps in order that I might live without suffering - free of "the bondage of self", for however short or long a period I am able to experience that state. Utilizing the Four Absolutes has been a crucial part of this journey.

I have been very fortunate in my struggle with the addictions of the mind that underlay my physical addictions. I had "old-timers" come into my life that rescue me when I was emerging from a teenage and adult lifetime of addiction to alcohol and other drugs of its ilk as a newcomer to the 12 Steps. Other old-timers "re-rescued" me when I was struggling so badly to re-embrace and renew this spiritual practice and achieve the clear state of being that is the "next frontier" of emotional sobriety in my 15th year of sobriety. All of them had a strong basis in their common understanding of the 12 Steps - and all, to a greater or lesser extent, embraced the Four Absolutes.

The Four Absolutes are mentioned only sparingly in the literature approved by the General Service Conference of A.A. - the "founding" organization of the 12-Step Recovery Movement, if you will - and not at all in its two basic texts: Alcoholics Anonymous and the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. The reasons for this are clear. Rightly so, early A.A. group conscience felt that mention of the Four Absolutes would publicly identify A.A. with the Oxford Group at a time when the O.G. had become increasingly more controversial in the public eye. It was also evermore identified with its leader, Frank Buchan, whose controversial views on the emerging political storm that brewed into World War II would permanently fracture the OG. (In 1939, the year the "Big Book" of Alcoholics Anonymous was first published, the OG was reconstituted as "Moral Rearmament". It continues to exist today as the organization "Initiatives for Change".)

Mr. Buchan's very public leadership role in the OG was also one of the principal reasons for the anonymity principle within the 12 Step Recovery Movement. Self- aggrandizement in the public eye, it has been found, can quite quickly fuel the "big-shotism" that has scuppered many a person's recovery and led to many deaths that might have otherwise been avoided had the individual sufferer avoided the 'spotlight', so to speak. That's why Bill W. declined Time magazine's offer to put him on its cover, despite how many suffering alcoholics A.A.'s message may have reached had he accepted Time's kind offer.

The Four Absolutes are discussed briefly in A.A.'s two "personal histories": "Pass it On", the biography of Bill W. and the emergence of A.A. from his experiences in New York, Ohio and later the world; as well as, "Dr. Bob and the Good Old-Timers", which chronicles the birth of A.A. in its "heartland" of Akron, Cleveland and the American mid-west. The Absolutes are also mentioned briefly in the more "general history" of A.A.'s birth, "Alcoholics Anonymous Come of Age".
Most significantly, and as discussed in further detail below, A.A. co-founder, Dr. Bob, addressed the importance of the Four Absolutes to him - their importance to his spiritual recovery and precisely how he utilized them and incorporated them into his life to avoid the sufferings we are all prone to in our recovery from addiction. He did so in his last public talk before his death in 1950. Dr. Bob's last talk was given at A.A.'s 1950 World Convention held in St. Louis and is set out in full in the Conference-approved pamphlet, "A.A.'s Co-Founders."

Perhaps nothing I could write could attest more to the importance of the Four Absolutes in living my recovery, and perhaps for you in living yours, than was Bill's response to the question of why the Absolutes were not discussed in either of the basic texts of A.A. Bill affirmed that the Absolutes would have linked A.A. and the Oxford Group in the public mind, therefore he did not refer to them in drafting either the Big Book or the Twelve and Twelve. Bill did say, however, that the Four Absolutes - the principles of exercising absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness and absolute love - are implicit in each of the 12 Steps. (For a fulsome understanding of the the historical and spiritual roots and development of A.A. and the 12 Step Recovery Movement, generally, I have found no better outside, non-Conference approved source than Ernest Kuntz's book, '"Not God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous", in which Mr. Kuntz critically examines the Four Absolutes and how Recovery "old-timers" and pioneers used the Absolutes in their recovery.)

How Recovery's Pioneers Utilized the Four Absolutes

Bill W. clearly states that our physical addictions are not the addict's (alcoholic or otherwise) problem. Rather the physical addictions we suffer are really the manifested symptoms of a deeper psychological and spiritual problem in the mind and being of the addicted alcoholic.

In A.A.'s "Big Book", Bill examines the addictive 'acting out' that anyone familiar with those in recovery has witnessed near countless times - the alcoholic who wants to but cannot refrain from drinking again, the recovering junkie that jams a needle into her arm one more time, the bizarre behaviour of the workaholic, sex addict or compulsive gambler that brings their 'world' crashing down around their ears as they descend back into their addictive thinking and behavioural patterns, seemingly helpless to restrain themselves from engaging in their old, destructive ways.

"The problem of the alcoholic centers in the mind," Bill writes, at page 23 of Alcoholics Anonymous. If addictions did not center in the mind and in the addict's habitual thoughts and habitual, conditioned ways of thinking about their 'world', refraining from the destructive actions that fuel an addiction - refraining from drinking oneself to death, gorging oneself or starving oneself to death, gambling away all the resources one needs to physically survive - would be a fairly straightforward proposition. But it is not that simple.

A friend of mine, whose former appetite for and addiction to anything that would get 'him out of him' was prodigious by any standards, aptly observed, "God knows. . . . If there is one thing an addict loves, it's a habit!" Our addiction and clinging to our habitually and fearfully conditioned way of perceiving our "selves" and "our world", our thoughts and perceptions, is the underlying addiction. Our thoughts and perceptions, if unchecked, will manifest in the"symptoms" of addiction - be it drinking, drugging, or whatever the addict's particular proclivity for compulsive gambling, eating patterns, sexual excess etc. are.)

Our thoughts dictate our actions and our state of being, or 'Be-ing'. Indeed, they dictate the very state of our consciousness. "As a man thinketh, so he is," wrote James Allen, one of the spiritual teachers Bill relied on in coming to understand and write about his former helplessness in the face of his addiction to alcohol, and how that helplessness had been removed by his reliance on the God of his own understanding - a God personal to him, and to each of us.

The actions we take, the decisions to say or do something  or to refrain from saying or doing something - in short, the exercise of our "will" - are solely based on the thoughts that we entertain in our mind, and the emotions within us which those thoughts produce. Over time, as an addict indulges his addiction, his or her very mind becomes warped and distorted by the recurring thoughts, or obsessions, that drive the sufferer back to the seeming comfort and ease of addictive behaviour. The state of mind and the thoughts of the sufferer, in turn, are dictated by the level of consciousness we sufferers of addiction entertain - by the perceptions and seeming awareness of our 'selves', others and the world that we "live and move and have our being" in.

The Third Step of the 12-Step Recovery Method describes how, "We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him." Bill clearly states in his essay on Step 3 that, "Our whole problem had been the misuse of our willpower. We had tried to bombard our problems with it instead of attempting to bring it into alignment with God's intention for us."

How then do we determine "what God's intention for us" is? Further, how do we go about disciplining the "punishing inner dialogue" and raucous shrieking of our separate little 'selves' - our woefully precious, judgmental and defensive little egos - the seemingly endless stream of thoughts that so disquiet us, the state of our being through which we are driven  to smash life head-on with our actions and words, all in a vain attempt to manage and wrest personal satisfaction and happiness out of a life so bruisingly assaulted?

What methods can we use to determine whether we are once again self-deluded and the decisions we are about to undertake, or are contemplating taking, are in alignment not with the deeper God-consciousness within us - the small, quiet and intuitive voice that is so often drowned out by the addictive quality and soothingly 'rational' and 'logical' common-sense of the addict's ego - but rather such decisions are based in and on our narrow, but strident ego-centric, self-consciousness?

(Ego, as it is used here and was used by Bill in his writings, is not to be confused with 'ego' as meaning our sense or feelings of 'pride' as the word later came to be defined in the years after Bill had written Alcoholics Anonymous, but rather ego is used in its original sense and definition, that being our sense of 'self' or the seemingly real but false sense of separate individuality. I think of it merely as the voice of my reasoning and logic running overtime, the "voice in the head" that Bill credited with investing in him a sense of "anxious apartness".)

In facing critical decisions - in trying to understand whether the decisions they were about to act upon were the thoughts of the ego or their God-consciousness - Bill, Bob and other A.A. pioneers cut their spiritual teeth in the Oxford Group by utilizing the Four Absolutes.

First, take note that God's intention for us, it is fair to say, is that we be relieved of that which separates us from Wholeness, or from God, and that the separating factor is the 'bondage of self" we pray to be relieved of in the Third Step Prayer. It is by having this barrier to others (and to life or God Itself) removed, by breaking this mental barricade between our seemingly separate being and the entirety of God, that we become able to "bear witness" to the rest of humanity and to life itself by acting as examples of God's "power, love and way of life." (No mean or easy feat, and one I find myself making amends for on a regular basis when I fall short.)

Next, knowing that we need to determine at what level of consciousness we are responding to life's challenges with, and in order to help us determine whether the actions or inaction we are considering are self-inspired or God-inspired, we can apply the Four Absolutes. They enable us to determine whether our actions or proposed actions are examples of where we are driven by self-will or if, in fact, we are being guided by God's will.

In his last public talk, which is set out in the A.A. Co-Founders pamphlet, Dr. Bob said that anytime he was faced with making a decision (i.e., the necessity of exercising his will) and he was uncertain what course of action was the one that God would have him take, he would examine that decision by applying the Four Absolutes to it.

The process of utilizing the Four Absolutes to check whether we are about to bombard our seeming 'problems' with an exercise of our self-will, or are in actuality turning the exercise of our willpower over to the care and protection of God, is fairly simple. As set out in a pamphlet entitled "The Four Absolutes", made available through the A.A.'s Cleveland District Service Office, all that is necessary to determine whether we are making decisions and basing our actions on our 'self' will or on God's will, is to examine the proposed action or inaction in light of the four following questions:
Absolute Honesty - Ask your "self": Is this action/inaction true or false?

Absolute Purity - Ask your "self: Is this action/inaction good or bad?

Absolute Unselfishness - Removing "you" and "your" self-interest from the equation altogether, ask your "self": How will this action/inaction affect others?

Absolute Purity - Ask your "self": Is this action/inaction beautiful or ugly?
Doctor Bob said that when he went through this process in times of difficulties or when he was facing difficult decisions he needed to make, the answers and internal guidance he needed to move forward in assurance that he was exercising his will under the protection and care of God would stand out clearly in most instances when the Four Absolutes were applied. If his own application of the Four Absolutes did not yield clear guidance to him so that he could act or forego acting with certainty, he would then consult with two or three individuals he knew to be living the clear, simple, spiritual life he had embraced. When he needed to do so, Dr. Bob knew that the guidance, protection and care he required from God for his continued well-being would always come if the Absolutes were applied with a heart that was open, honest and willing to perceive the uncommonly common sense of the still, small voice within.

The Four Absolutes are thus powerful and too- often unmentioned tools in the spiritual toolkit we each put together in our Recovery. Oftentimes, they have proven to be my most valuable spiritual tool and I have reached to them instead of grabbing the hammer of anger or the duct tape of sloth that I would otherwise have grabbed to deal with my life 'problems'.

Applying the Absolutes brings me back the ability to respond to life instead of merely reacting to it. When used, they help me to "Keep it Simple" and "Easy Do It" without "Think, Think, Thinking" myself into the 'disasters' I have so often brought onto myself and others when exercising self-will in the past.

(See also, Basic Recovery Tools: Part II and Basic Recovery Tools: Part III)


The books and pamphlet's mentioned in this blogpost, with the exception of Mr. Kuntz's book, '"Not God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous" and the "Four Absolutes" pamphlet may be ordered through the General Service Office of Alcoholics Anonymous in New York, or picked up at most any meeting of A.A. world-wide. The General Service Office link, above, will also enable you to quickly and easily find an A.A. meeting in you local area.

The books Alcoholics Anonymous - Big Book 4th Edition, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age: A Brief History of A. A., Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers and 'Pass It On': The Story of Bill Wilson and How the A. A. Message Reached the World may also be purchased through and delivered worldwide.