Sunday, 3 January 2010

A new and wonderful world

Follow the dictates of a Higher Power and you will presently live in a new and wonderful world, whatever your present circumstances! (P. 100, § 1, Alcoholics Anonymous)

Dictates?! They're just suggestions, aren't they?!

Bill W., in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, tends to use what is termed 'elegant variation', i.e. he employs different words to introduce the same idea. The people we take through the work are not called 'sponsees' in the Book; your chap is referred to as your 'protégé', your 'man', your 'prospect', your 'candidate', and your 'friend'. The Steps are referred to as a set of 'proposals', 'clear-cut directions', 'simple rules', 'simple requirements', and, lastly, 'a suggested programme'. The Book is also referred to as being 'suggestive only'. P. 94 also refers to 'suggestions'.

No one can force me to take on board the proposals, to follow the clear-cut directions, to follow the rules, to adhere to the requirements; that's why the programme is suggested. If I reject the programme, anyone following the directions in the chapter 'WORKING WITH OTHERS' will not put me under pressure, will not be offended, will not push or prod me, and will remain a friend (cf. pp. 94–95).

My experience, however, once I set out on the suggested path, is that, if I want the results set out in the Book, I have to treat what has been suggested as 'directions', 'rules', and 'requirements'. When you're flying a jet, you follow precisely what the instruction manual says; when you're baking a cake, you follow the recipe to the letter; when you are navigating a ship through waters with hidden reefs and shoals, you trust the navigational chart 100%. Deviate at your peril.
To sum up: we suggest you learn to fly your jet to the fourth dimension; we suggest you navigate through these dangerous waters to safe haven; you are quite at liberty to stay precisely where you are, however. We're not pushing you or prodding you. If you actually want to get to the fourth dimension or to safe haven, however, on what basis would you disregard or take a piecemeal approach to the flight manual or navigational chart?
There is another reason why this passage refers to 'dictates'. I am beyond a set of amends; there is no one I owe amends to whom I have not made amends to where such amends are possible. For whole stretches of time in a given day, I am freed of concern with myself, of concern with my self-image, my self-esteem, my wants, my needs, how I'm treated by the world, and my money. What comes through to me 'quiet and clear' (God never shouts) once the 'noisy authorities' of my hydra-headed ego are temporarily decapitated is what must be done.
Dictates. When people approach me looking for help in AA, the choice of what to do is really no choice: this is about life and death, for them, and for me. That doesn't mean I get to take everyone who approaches me through the Steps; quite the contrary: when I can, I do, when I can't, I'll help the person find someone who will take them through the Book. The choice—follow the dictates of the quiet voice within or slope off into the darkness of self-centeredness—is no choice, once you have been given a taste of true freedom.
A big circuit speaker from the largest group in LA says in many of his talks 'nothing stays wonderful for ever'. He speaks well about how every wonderful feeling eventually becomes jaded and dulled over time, how familiarity breeds contempt, and how we simply have to get over our idealism and yearning in order to stay sober.
I understand the point, and I can see the phenomenon in my own life.
However: following the dictates of a Higher Power has resulted, for me, in seeing the world constantly afresh. Freed from the past, freed from the future, freed from myself—in those moments and for those stretches of time when this freedom is mine—there is nothing but the infinitely varying, infinitely captivating, infinitely enthralling universe. There is a religious tradition in which it is held that the world is recreated from nothing, afresh, every instant.
Every morning, from the seat in which I pray and meditate, I look at the same tree. I am never, but never bored by it. I could watch it forever. Try that with people; try looking past what the person represents, the promise or the threat to you they hold out, the prejudices, the preconceived ideas, the judgements, the beliefs, the habits, the categorisations, the memories of what they were like in the past, and see what Mary Oliver would call 'the soft animal' in front of you. And, for a moment, you are in the present, you are presently living in a new and wonderful world, whatever your present circumstances, because those circumstances become the new and wonderful world, ever instant, instant after instant.
The only other thing that allowed me to live so utterly in the moment was alcohol.
Which is why I need a substitute far greater than 'don't drink and go to meetings'.


Chris said...

Food for the brain, the heart and the soul.
Thanks for the ESH.

Kesavan Chakravarthy said...