Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Step Seven: dandelions and lawns

"My Creator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen." (76:2, 'Alcoholics Anonymous')

What I get from this is the idea that I am not going to be dry-cleaned by God. The change that happens is the change that is necessary for me to be more useful to other people. As a friend of mine says, "that means you get to keep any defects of character that are merely embarrassing."

I fall flat on my face on a regular basis. I am as capable of mind-bending, all-consuming resentment (usually masked as self-pity or disillusionment) as I ever was. Pride, impatience, intolerance, judgement, every defect remains entirely intact in its potential in me, and, whilst there has been improvement in terms of frequency and severity of 'relapse' into these states of mind, spiritual perfection is about as remote as the North Star. Something to navigate by but no more.

There are two additional perspectives, however, which have transformed my experience of my defects of character.

Firstly, the resurgence of character defects is no reason to believe that they have not been 'removed'. If I view the defect as the obstacle in the path, its removal from the path and the consequent enablement of my usefulness can be perfect. The fact that an identical-looking obstacle appears further down the path does not imply that the prior removal did not take place. The potential for the defect—even as the potential for drinking again—may be a single, inherent feature of being human (or, in the case of drinking, of being an alcoholic). The defect, as a manifestation in my thinking and behaviour, can be perfectly removed at a given point in space and time.

To use a simple image: if a dandelion is removed from a lawn, and another dandelion grows, this does not mean that the removal of the first dandelion was imperfect. It is not the same dandelion that has returned. It is a new dandelion. Its DNA may be the same, but it is a different flower. This simply means that dandelions tend to grow on lawns, and action is required if the lawn is not to be choked.

Secondly, apparently catastrophic flowerings of my ego (with the full gamut of character defects the flow from this flowering)—whether I am 'relearning' an old lesson or accessing long-dormant areas of dysfunction that need to have the light of healing shone on them—may not, in ultimate consequence, be as catastrophic as I believe at the time.

"We were prepared to look at it from an entirely different angle." (66:3)

"Henry Ford once made a wise remark to the effect that experience is the thing of supreme value in life. That is true only if one is willing to turn the past to good account. We grow by our willingness to face and rectify errors and convert them into assets. The alcoholic's past thus becomes the principle asset of the family and frequently it is almost the only one!" (124:1)

"Should it will happen again, regard it in a different light. Maybe it will prove a blessing!" (116:1)

I have fallen into the trap of wandering into remorse and morbid reflection (cf. 87:1) when I look at my own mistakes. This is where I need to follow the 66:3 instruction of looking at my errors and relapses into old ways of thinking and acting from an entirely different angle.

Firstly, every time I learn an old lesson once again, I am not simply repeating the experience, I am deepening it. And, each time I deepen my experience of defeat at my own hands, I am pushed further towards God.

Secondly, the fact that I regularly fall flat on my face keeps me accessible to others. When people work on Step Four or Step Five with me, I can pull out inventory from last week or even that morning, and I do not have to stretch back ten or fifteen years to find mistakes. The experience is fresh. Any humility I have will likely come from recent humiliation. Basically, the repeated experiences of being bitch-slapped by my own ego mean that I remain part of the 'we' of Alcoholics Anonymous, and the road of happy destiny is one that I still get to trudge—I am not cycling past the trudgers; I am one of them.

Thirdly, a casual, uninvolved observer of my life might conclude that the debacles I experience in my own life are not actually about me—they are about equipping me to be useful to others. The spiritual life is not a theory, we have to live it, and that means I need to live life and get it wrong to learn how to apply the principles. The mistakes are not, therefore, mistakes. They are part of the training. And how I help others is merely to show them how I was given help myself (cf. 124:2).

In general, therefore, I am no longer scared of and no longer (lastingly) ashamed of my setbacks. It can sometimes be a while before I 'cheerfully capitalise' trouble as an opportunity to demonstrate His omnipotence, but I am amazed at how transformative this mental turnaround can be—as soon as I make the decision to see trouble in this way, the tap of relief gets turned on, as the Bigger Picture looms into view.

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