Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Effective message-carrying: leave your axe at home

"And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone even alcohol." (84:3, 'Alcoholics Anonymous') 
"no axes to grind . . .  these are the conditions we have found most effective" (18:5)
"You will be most successful with alcoholics if you do not exhibit any passion for crusade or reform." (95:1)

A common phenomenon in AA, particularly amongst those who have been taken through the Steps rapidly and, after years of floundering, drunk or sober, have had a barn-burning spiritual experience, is militancy.

What is more, a virtue is made of it.

And the spiritually awakened guerrilla runs around, dividing the wheat from the chaff, condemning anyone who disagrees with their particular brand, and reserving particular scorn for those who question their militancy. Anyone who rejects the message because they are put off by the delivery is deemed 'not ready to hear the truth' and dismissed. I know. I've done it.

There are two reasons for avoiding this.

The first is the law of life. Whatever I mete out, I will get back. Whenever I am on a militant jag, I feel persecuted, because I generate negative reaction left, right, and centre, and, of course, blame other people for the persecution. I do not enjoy persecution, and there is absolutely no virtue or merit in it.

"Nothing can come into our experience unless it finds something in us with which it is attuned; and so, to have trouble and difficulty is only a sign that our own mentality needs clearing up; for what you see at any time is nothing but your own concept. There is at this point a grave danger for weak, or vain, or self-righteous people. People others do not treat them just as they would like to be treated, because they do not get consideration that they probably do not deserve, they are often inclined to claim that they are being 'persecuted' on account of their spiritual superiority, and to give themselves absurd airs on this ground. This is a pathetic fallacy. In consequence of the great Law of Life, of which the whole Sermon on the Mount is an exposition, we can get only what belongs to us at any time, and nobody can prevent our getting that; and so all persecution and hindrance are absolutely from within." ('Sermon on the Mount', Emmet Fox)

The second reason is lack of efficacy.

Sure, certain results can be achieved. But is this approach maximally effective?

Again, in my experience, no. A small number of absolutely desperate people will be attracted, but most will be repelled. And the AA message can easily be tainted by and equated with the militancy. Who knows how many people have been deterred, perhaps permanently, by truth without love? As someone who heard a Step Five of mine once said, "If the grace of God works through you to save lives, how many people have you killed because they disagree with you?"

Time and time again, I've seen militant, rigid, tightly controlled, heretic-burning groups hamstrung by their inability to attract newcomers and grow. Militant groups, additionally, tend to comprise almost solely men. Quite telling, that.

The greatest lunacy is the belief that there are two alternatives: wishy-washy, frothy emotional appeal with no genuine spiritual substance and none of the necessary spiritual surgery, on one hand, and the brutal truth, on the other hand.

I'm glad that I have been shown a path between the two, which combines love, truth, life, and intelligence.

Tradition One: unity comes first—dividing AA into two camps helps no one.

Tradition Two/Three: God guides me in my work with others—the other guy and I, gathered together for sobriety, form a group, and, Boom!, the power flows. I cannot outline how that is going to work. Sometimes people have been tough with me. Sometimes, gentle. And that is true when I work with others. I cannot apply a single template and cut or stretch my alcoholic prospect to fit it, like on a Procrustean bed.

Tradition Four: everyone else has the right to be wrong.

Tradition Five: my primary purpose is to carry the message—my limited ideas about how that message 'should' be carried must never get in the way of the actual carrying.

Tradition Six: I must never get personally identified with the message such that I will be offended if someone is not interested in it.

Tradition Ten: how other people find God—or not—is not my concern.

Tradition Eleven: attraction, not promotion.

Is it possible to be extremely effective in carrying the message set out in the first 164 pages without confrontation, without fighting, without perceiving AA as a battle ground between good and evil? Totally.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

It's the human condition, not necessarily untreated alcoholism ...

"If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic. If that be the case, you may be suffering from an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer." (44:1)
 "Doubtless you are curious to discover how and why, in the face of expert opinion to the contrary, we have recovered from a hopeless condition of mind and body." (20:1, 'Alcoholics Anonymous')

Alcoholism: when I start, I cannot stop. That's the physical bit. When I stop, I inevitably start again. That's the mental bit. Hopeless condition of mind and body. Not of spirit.

"… for we have been not only mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick. When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically." (64:3)
 "Continue to speak of alcoholism as an illness, a fatal malady. Talk about the conditions of body and mind which accompany it." (92:2)

The spiritual malady—manifesting as restlessness, irritability and discontentment, or the page 52 'bedevilments', amongst other examples in the Book—are essentially human problems, as page 52 highlights. Only a fraction of those in the world suffering from the sense of uselessness, from the fear and anxiety, from the sense of futility described are alcoholics.

The only connection between the spiritual malady and the 'conditions of body and mind which accompany it' is the fact that alcohol treated that spiritual malady, and, because of the mental blank spot that prevents dreadful experiences from prevailing in the decision-making process, we are doomed to continue drinking even when its usefulness as a solution is massively outweighed by the terrible consequences.

I can recover from alcoholism. Totally. No more drinking. No more thought of drinking. A spiritual defence when I need it, whatever is going on in my mind.

Sometimes, human problems and emotions are described as 'untreated alcoholism'. I do not think they are.

Untreated alcoholism manifests as drinking periodically because I do not have the Step Three decision—to stay close to God and perform his work well—as the basis for my life. Essentially, if I am not turning to God for the solution, I will involuntarily turn to drink, sooner or later.

Alcoholics without God as the centre of their lives can drink on the barest of problems and emotional difficulties. Alcoholics with God as the centre of their lives can stay sober with the most gargantuan of problems and with crippling emotional handicaps that take months or years to sort out.

The point is this: if I am on the path to establishing and deepening a relationship with God, I will be OK.

My human condition does not need to be treated. It needs to be experienced and loved and learned from. If God is the solution to the problems and the emotional difficulties that my human condition throws up, I need not drink. If I do not turn to God as the solution—however far along the path of evolution as a human I travel—I will indeed drink.

In other words: if I am living in all three sides of the triangle, I can relax. The difficulties I have in processing my experiences are lessons in my growth towards God, not drinks waiting to happen or a sickness waiting to be cured, provided I keep the main thing the main thing: love and service, with God at the helm.

Deserts, wild geese, homecoming

"Time after time newcomers have tried to keep to themselves certain facts about their lives. Trying to avoid this humbling experience, they have turned to easier methods. Almost invariably they got drunk." (72:2, 'Alcoholics Anonymous')
"Have we kept something to ourselves which should be discussed with another person at once?" (86:1)
So, I wake up with thoughts. Bad thoughts. Egoic thoughts. They run like this, "it isn't good enough. You need another X, a bigger Y, a better Z. This is old, old stuff, Tim. You know perfectly well these desires and their related disappointments are never going to go away. You are going to have to suffer them forever, because there is no real solution. If God was going to provide a solution, He would have done so already. Throw your little prayers at me; throw your little Psalms at me; Golden-Key this one all you like, you lightweight, I'll still be here, waiting. And you know that this time it's true. You cannot escape from me."

I'm reminded of a John Berryman poem:

"He stared at ruin. Ruin stared straight back.
He thought they was old friends. ...
... When the papers were lost
rich with pals' secrets, he thought he had the knack
of ruin. Their paths crossed
and once they crossed in jail; they crossed in bed;
and over an unsigned letter their eyes met,
and in an Asian city
directionless & lurchy at two & three,
or trembling to a telephone's fresh threat, ...
But he noted now that: they were not old friends.
He did not know this one.
This one was a stranger, come to make amends
for all the imposters, and to make it stick."
Every time my ego is on the attack (pretending, as usual, to be protecting my best interests, so I will listen), it attempts to convince me that this time is my High Noon, this time is my Waterloo, this time is the time of my final and irrevocable undoing.

Anyway, it's about 6.55 a.m. at this point. 'Lurchy' (like John Berryman, who, incidentally, was an alcoholic—you don't say!), I stumble to the kettle, and get a text. "You OK?" it says. Naturally, my ego uses this against me, saying, "obviously your egoic crap is now visible to everyone: that's how out of control this has got." The person, we'll call him 'Jack', wants to call.

I've been taught in AA always to take calls, always to answer the phone, always to let into my life the people God brings to me, and, if I allow the Spirit to guide me, no harm can ever come to me or the other person.

So I take the call.

And it's an amend for something that never happened. OK, the situation happened—every word he related of the events in question was true, but the perception of those events was totally distorted, and the interpretation of that perception, quite flawed. I reassured him that there was absolutely nothing to make amends to me for, and that, although I had noticed the situation in question, it was like throwing dried peas against a wall (as the Russians say), and I was not remotely affected. We were both laughing hysterically by this point at the distortion in his perception. We could both hear the distinctive sound of the ego deflating.

Then it occurred to me.

This is the reason why AA works.

This is someone with a very strong programme. Very few amends left. Lots of service. Lots of sponsees. A very strong prayer and meditation life. A shining example of the programme. And yet totally capable of waking up in the morning crippled with delusion.

If that is true for this man, whom I deeply respect, is that not going to be true for me too?

I could not possibly maintain the double-standard that, whilst his egoic fears are substanceless, mine are real.

The truth started to peep through: whatever is negative is founded in untruth and delusion. Whatever is fearful is founded in untruth and delusion. Whatever is Godless is founded in untruth and delusion.

And what is true for others is true for me; what is true for me is true for others.

In the moment of seeing his delusion for what it was, I saw mine, and, in the moment of seeing mine, I saw his. What I see in others is what I see in me. And what I see in me is what I see in others.

You will learn the full meaning of "Love thy neighbour as thyself." (153:0)

In loving him, in having compassion for him, I am healed.

In AA, physician and patient, therapist and patient are one. There is no distinction in the roles. It is impossible to heal without being healed of precisely that which is being healed in the other.

The AA programme is, indeed, incredibly simple. Admission of defeat, inventory, confession, restitution, reliance on God, helping others.
"You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine." (Mary Oliver)
More miracles happen in my life through the simple revelation of the truth than anything. And the truth, often, is the presence of delusion in my mind, which blocks my heart.
"Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things" (Mary Oliver)
Once the truth of the lies has been revealed, the smoke lifts, and the True World reveals itself. That is the moment my place in the Family of Things is announced. That is the moment I come Home.

We are blessed.