Sunday, 30 December 2012

GSR checklist

What literature should a GSR be familiar with?

Books and handbooks:

Alcoholics Anonymous ('Big Book')
The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age
The World Service Manual
The AA Service Handbook for Great Britain (this incorporates the Guidelines for AA in Great Britain)

The AA Group
The rewards of being a GSR
Twelve Concepts Illustrated
AA Tradition—How it Developed
Twelve Traditions Illustrated

Why Step Five is important, as teller, and listener

From pages 56–58, "Storytelling: Imagination and Faith"

"On the day the Baal Shem Tov was dying, he assigned each of his disciples a task to carry on in his name, to do some of his work. When he finished with all of them, he had one more task. He called the last disciple and gave him this task: to go all over Europe to retell the stories he remembered from the Master. The disciple was very disappointed. This was hardly a prestigious job. But the Baal Shem Tov told him that he would not have to do this forever; he would receive a sign when he should stop and then he could live out the rest of his life in ease.
So off he went, and days and months turned into years and years of telling stories until he felt he had told them in every part of the world. Then he heard of a man in Italy, a nobleman in fact, who would pay a gold ducat for each new story told. So the disciple went to Italy to the nobleman's castle. But to his absolute horror he discovered that he had forgotten all the Baal Shem Tov stories! He couldn't remember a single story. He was mortified. But the nobleman was kind and urged him to stay a few days anyway, in the hope that he would eventually remember something.
But the next day and the next he remembered nothing. Finally, on the third day, the disciple protested that he must go, out of sheer embarrassment. But as he was about to leave, oh, yes, suddenly he remembered one story, and this would prove that he indeed did know the great Baal Shem Tov, for he was the only one there when the story happened. And this is the story he remembered.
Once the Baal Shem Tov told him to harness the horses, for they were about to take a trip to Turkey where at this time of the year the streets were decorated for the Christians' Easter festival. The disciple was upset, for it was well known that Jews were not safe during the Christian Holy Week and Easter. They were fair game for the Christians shouting 'God-killers!' And, in fact, it was the custom during the Easter festival to kill one Jew in reparation.
Still, they went. They went into the city and then into the Jewish quarter, where the Jews were all huddled behind their shutters out of fear. They were secluded, waiting till the festival was over and they could go on out into the streets again in safety. So imagine how startled and surprised they were when the Baal Shem Tov stood up and opened all the windows of the house where they were staying. And furthermore he stood there in full view!
And looking through the window he saw the bishop leading the procession. He was arrayed like a prince with gold vestments, silver mitre, and a diamond-studded staff. The Baal Shem Tov told his disciple, 'Go tell the bishop I want to see him.' Was he out of his mind? Did he want to die? But nothing could deter this order, so the disciple went out and went up to the bishop to tell him that the Baal Shem Tov wanted to see him. The bishop seemed frightened and agitated. But he went. He went and was secluded for three hours with the Baal Shem Tov. Then the Master came out and, without saying anything else, told his disciples they were ready to go back home.
As the disciple finished the story, he was about to apologise to the nobleman for the insignificance of the story, when he suddenly noticed the enormous impact the story had on the nobleman. He had dissolved into tears, and, finally, when he could speak, he said, 'Oh, disciple, your story has just saved my soul! You see, I was there that day. I was that bishop. I had descended from a long line of distinguished rabbis, but, one day, during a period of great persecution, I had abandoned the faith and converted to Christianity. The Christians, of course, were so pleased that, in time, they even made me a bishop. And I had accepted everything, even went along with the killing of the Jews each year, until that one year. The night before the festival, I had a terrible dream of the Day of Judgement, and the danger to my soul. So, until you came, the very next day, with a message from the Baal Shem Tov, I knew that I had to go with you.
For three hours, he and I talked. He told me that there still might be hope for my soul. He told me to sell my goods and retire on what was left and live a life of good deeds and holiness. There might still be hope. And his last words to me were these: 'when a man comes to you and tells you your own story, you will know that your sins are forgiven.'
'So I have been asking everyone I knew for stories from the Baal Shem Tov. And I recognised you immediately when you came, and I was happy. But when I saw that all the stories had been taken from you, I recognised God's judgement. Yet now you have remembered one story, my story, and I know now that the Baal Shem Tov has interceded on my behalf, and that God has forgiven me.'
When a man comes to you and tells you your own story, you know that your sins are forgiven. And when you are forgiven, you are healed."

Q: who gets to share at the meeting?

Tradition 4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole.

A group can therefore stipulate who has the opportunity to share. In some groups, there is no restriction whatsoever. In others, those sharing are handpicked by an officer of the group.

Tradition 9. AA, as such, ought never be organised; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.

The spiritual principle here is allowing God to work through the room.

Here are some useful questions:
Will we allow God to act just through the picker, who chooses without raised hands?
Will we have raised hands for those wishing to share plus a picker?
What are the picker's criteria? Length of sobriety? Likelihood to observe Tradition 5 and the other Traditions?
Or individual fairness? Picking people in the order they raised their hands?

I've been to some great meetings where there is hand-picking, but some awful ones too. The same applies to free-for-all meetings.

Tradition 5 is important: structures and formats are often chosen to promote Tradition 5 above all else. This is not bad. It is a group's prerogative.

There are, however, other principles that might be relevant.

Tradition 1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon AA unity.

To be unified, we must all have a common stake. As my friend Tom W. says, 'we all have one share in AA. You don't get an extra share or an extra vote just because you've been here longer.' Linked to this is Concept IV:

Concept IV. At all responsible levels, we ought to maintain a traditional 'Right of Participation,' allowing a voting representation in reasonable proportion to the responsibility that each must discharge.

Now, this is obviously not about voting, but sharing, but the principle of participation nonetheless applies. AA is a participation, not a spectator sport. I see AA functioning and flowering most effectively where everyone is given the chance to participate. Having even newcomers participate allows them to feel part of AA right from the start and to be valued as such. At my home group, newcomers participate freely, and they are simultaneously very eager to take on active service at the group, as tea-makers, greeters, etc. I do not think this is coincidence.

Tradition 2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.

A group is indivisible: Tradition 5 (long form) refers to a group being a spiritual entity.

A partly stifled voice is no voice at all.

God, unfortunately, has no taste whatsoever. He has the habit of picking the most improbable people to speak through. Sometimes, He has the temerity to voice AA's message of recovery and love most clearly through someone who is a few days sober, and resolutely fails to use the old-timers routinely trotting out their well-worn spiel.

It is established in spiritual traditions outside AA that it is often the most innocent or the outsider who are chosen by the Spirit as the voice of God, and that the established leaders are bypassed by the Healing Force.

I would therefore be very hesitant to see sharing restricted only to old-timers or 'trusted hands'. There's a risk of an AA group being a command-and-control pharisaic institution.

The pendulum can, however, swing too far, and I have been to meetings where there is little message and a lot of craziness.

Typically, timed sharing tends to take care of that. If sharing is limited to three or four minutes (and this is monitored by a bell, and the bell is respected), enough people will be given the opportunity to share for balance to prevail. This will often be sufficient to ensure balance.

If there is far greater demand for sharing time than there is supply, a group will have to have raised-hand sharing plus a picker.

Here, one way of ensuring that the above Traditions and Concepts are respected is a principles-based system rather than a personality-based system (cf. Tradition 12).

E.g.: alternating men and women; alternating established members and visitors; alternating experienced and inexperienced members.

This can act as the minimum organisation necessary to allow smooth and effective running.

As with much else in AA, lightness of touch can go a very long way.

Q: what happens if we disagree with how the secretary is running the meeting?

The key principle here is Concept III:

III. To insure effective leadership, we should endow each element of AA—the Conference, the General Service Board and its service corporations, staffs, committees, and executives—with a traditional "Right of Decision."
This means that the secretary can discharge his duties as he sees fit.

The checks and balances reside in Concepts I, II, and X

I. Final responsibility and ultimate authority for AA world services should always reside in the collective conscience of our whole Fellowship.
II. The General Service Conference of AA has become, for nearly every practical purpose, the active voice and the effective conscience of our whole Society in its world affairs.
X. Every service responsibility should be matched by an equal service authority, with the scope of such authority well defined.

This means that the group may define clearly what the scope of a secretary's authority is. Tradition IV would suggest that groups may be very prescriptive or very permissive. Most are the latter. Tradition IX suggests not being over-organised, and this principle is, in general, liberally applied.

If something goes wrong, Tradition XII comes into play. It usually does little good for the group to hammer down on the officer for exercising his discretion in such a way that others do not happen to like. If he was within the bounds of the authority given, hard luck! Only if the secretary exceeded the authority granted or went beyond the scope stipulated are there any grounds for criticism, and then only with reference to the established principle of what the role requires. Concept XII would suggest not making such discussions punitive in any way.

If there is consensus that the secretary be given less discretion and be directed in a particular way, then that is a group conscience matter (or steering committee matter, as the group decides). The discussion then is one of how things should be going forward, not on how things were done differently the past. It is important not to criticise someone for rightly exercising right of decision in accordance with their own conscience in the absence of specific direction.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012


Short form:

To insure effective leadership, we should endow each element of AA – the conference, the General Service Board and its service corporations, staffs, committees, and executives – with a traditional “Right of Decision".
Long form:

As a traditional means of creating and maintaining a clearly defined working relation between the groups, the Conference, the AA General Service Board and its several service corporations, staffs, committees and executives, and of thus insuring their effective leadership, it is here suggested that we endow each of these elements of world service with a traditional "Right of Decision".


"... the latter part of Tradition Two, which provides for "trusted servants." This really means that we ought to trust our responsible leaders to decide, within the understood framework of their duties, how they will interpret and apply their own authority and responsibility to each particular problem or situation as it arises. This sort of leadership discretion should be the essence of "the Right of Decision," and I am certain that we need not have the slightest fear of granting this indispensable privilege at nearly every level of world service."

"This "Right of Decision" should never be made an excuse for failure to render proper reports of all significant actions taken; it ought never be used as a reason for constantly exceeding a clearly defined authority, nor as an excuse for persistently failing to consult those who are entitled to be consulted before an important decision or action is taken."

"Our entire AA program rests squarely upon the principle of mutual trust. We trust God, we trust AA, and we trust each other. Therefore we cannot do less than trust our leaders in service. The "Right of Decision" that we offer them is not only the practical means by which they may act and lead effectively, but it is also the symbol of our implicit confidence."

Basic questions

In my service assignment, is it clear, by tradition, charter, written procedure, etc., what my responsibility and authority is?

When I have a service assignment, do I exercise right of decision over what I take back to those I represent for guidance and what I will decide upon myself? Or do I simple make all decisions myself or refuse to make any decisions myself.

Am I then accountable back to those I serve for the decisions I have made in exercise of this right?


The only decision I can ever make is to decide to pray. I will then follow my ego or what comes to me when I pray. I am either deciding to serve self, or I am deciding to serve God.

All problems are caused by a failure to pray, and thus remaining in the thrall of my ego.

Extended questions

When I want to drink, do I decide to pray, and act accordingly?
When a defect arises, do I decide to pray, and act accordingly?
When I realise I am serving self, do I decide to reboot and serve God instead?
Do I exercise right of decision over what to seek guidance in relation to from others? Or do I either seek no guidance or, at the other extreme, refuse to take any responsibility for myself?
Do I trust others to follow their consciences?
Do I let others exercise that right even when I disagree with them?
Do I respect others' right to drink or otherwise not work the programme, without interfering?
Do I try and make others go against their consciences to please me?

There is nothing wrong right now

This is not strictly true always. If a knife is being inserted into you; if a joint is aching terribly; if you slept only two hours last night, there will be suffering. I have had the experience of suffering, both physically and emotionally, and being "OK", however: nothing was wrong right then. The wrongness would have come from a mental superstructure or add-on about the suffering. "This shouldn't be happening." "This is unfair!" "If I hadn't ..., I would not be feeling ..." "When is this going to stop?" The wrongness is not inherent in the experience itself.

Other than that, any "wrongness" in the moment, if analysed carefully, will be revealed to be attributable entirely to interpretation through the ego of an essentially benign or at least insignificant circumstance.

There is nothing wrong

What is true in the moment is eternally true. What is eternally true is true in the moment. If wrongness is ever possible, it is always possible. If it is ever impossible, it is always impossible. If God cannot heal one thing, I might as well throw the towel in now. If God can heal one thing, there is hope for everything. God is everything or God is nothing. God is or God isn't. What is the choice to be?

There is nothing

Oh, there are certainly electrons, quarks, protons, and other atomic and sub-atomic particles. There is certainly light. Something let that be and it is. Isn't it? But is there a chair? An elephant? A slight? A catastrophe? Or are these things merely interpretations of the electrons, protons, neutrons, and photons, interpretations residing in my mind? Are these things merely temporary form belying a mysterious, ineffable, harmless, and indestructible substance?

There is

When the interpretation is removed, all that is left is the "isness" of what is.


But in the observation of what is, the "there", who is doing the observing?


The observer of the there is the here: as you realise you are the observer that is part of what is being observed, the last sense of separation is dissolved, and you are left with ...

Letting go. Or not.

Stop. Stop now.

There is an illusion in recovery that wellness comes from an accumulation of "recovery actions", like wealth might come from an accumulation of things. A man who merely takes recovery actions is no more well, necessarily, than a monkey with a bank account is rich.

"You have not only been fully created, but have also been created perfect. There is no emptiness in you."

All recovery acts are like an actor's words cast into an empty auditorium, or a gourmet banquet set for a colony of ants, unless their purpose is revealed.

In themselves, they are useless. If they remove the illusion of sickness, they release power, like a split atom. They transfigure.

If, however, they are undertaken out of a sense of duty and labour, to escape or mask a sickness that is not there, to win points or acclaim, to be a good boy or girl, to allay guilt, to fill time as though it is empty, they will become a frantically active addiction in themselves, the worst, in fact, because there is then no pleasure in them and no apparent solution when they are supposed to be the solution.

Some people who slip work the Steps over and over, to no avail. If they did not work the first time, another hack at them will not work, if the reason for their failure is not uncovered.

There is only one reason for failure: the futile clinging to a set of beliefs about the world that condemn one to the perpetual climbing of a mountain whose summit becomes the foothills of the next mountain. When recovery is another mountain, there is no recovery.

So, what is the solution?

Let go.

I can't tell you how to let go. I can only tell you that that is the only action (or actually the reverse of an action: becoming the acted upon rather than the actor) that will release you.

Then, every recovery act becomes a joyful expression of that release.

Tense? Frustrated? Panicked that whatever you do will never be enough? If so, then it won't be, because letting go is not about doing.

So, let go. How? Perhaps, by realising you cannot.

Until then, keep up the good work.

Monday, 10 December 2012

A brief service inventory

(1) What are my service assignments?
(2) Am I applying the Traditions and Concepts in those service assignments?
Over the last week:
(3) What has gone well?
(4) What has gone badly?
(5) What are my corrective measures (using the Traditions and Concepts)?
Over the coming week:
(6) What service is scheduled?
(7) How can I apply the Traditions and Concepts to plan under God's guidance what my role will be?
(8) Am I spending time reading about the Traditions and the Concepts, and reading service literature (e.g. the World Service Manual) to learn more about how things are best done?
(9) Am I taking specific difficulties to my sponsor, service sponsor, or other people experienced in successful, Traditions- and Concepts-based service, or am I struggling to handle such difficulties on my own?
(10) At my home group, do I discuss difficulties constructively or destructively?
(11) Is there a matter I need to bring to the group conscience—does the group need a group inventory?
(12) Have I given what I cannot change to God?

Is wanting bad?

All desire is God-given. Our egos get in the way and tell us how that desire should be met, in the three dimensions available to us. Then we get fixated on those three-dimensional things, thinking it is the things we want, when they are only our egos' idea of how we should get what we want. So wanting is fine, but outlining how God is going to give that to us is not, because it gets us chasing after things that do not work and will not give us happiness anyway. Or health, or harmony, or love, joy, peace, or connection. For these seven experiences are ultimately what at least I am after, fail to recognise this as I do.

It is no good repressing desire and wants. They will not go away. Rather, we have to ask God how we can serve Him and others today, how we can use the skills and experience we have accumulated, how we can develop further, how we can give, and trust that, in so giving, we will be given the opportunities for situations and relationships in which the underlying desires and wants are met, typically in ways we had not anticipated.

It is like we want to be warm but we have been wearing fishnet stockings or string vests and missing the fur coats because we actually have no idea that fur coats will keep us warmer.

What God has in mind for us is luxury; what we have in mind for ourselves is explosive, bitter poverty that looks like luxury in the shop window.

Do we have to work in a soup kitchen in Ethiopia and knit for Jesus to be happy? If we are good at making soup, speak Amharic, have a collection of knitting needles, and already love Jesus, then, possibly, yes.

However, I have always been taught in AA to grow where I am planted and have figured that a normal life of love, work, and play is likely to be precisely what God wills for me.

The only way to find God's will is to exercise a little vision in Step Eleven and choose from the available three-dimensional-world options for the next move in each area of my life.

Progress is not linear, and going from A to B involves travelling through a lot of unfamiliar letters, including J, L, Z, and occasionally Ж and Я. This can be challenging, disconcerting, and frustrating. But if I hold back on outlining (fixating on the means rather than the end and becoming rigid about attachment to things of the world), the promised land eventually comes into view, in the rear-view mirror, as my everyday life is endowed with qualities I hitherto believed would reside only in extraordinary circumstances.

In other words: trust God, choose as best I can from the available options each day, and keep talking, to scoop the water out of the bottom of the leaky boat. And, until God's will is revealed and the trumpets blast to herald the arrival of the new life, some people find knitting really helps.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

'I'm full of resentment. And fear. And guilt.'

Are you? How did that happen?

I certainly know what this feels like. You feel like you're a bucket, and someone has poured something terrible inside you, and you are left with the consequences.

A more accurate assessment would be this: 'I have been concentrating on the ills of the past, the present, the future, others, and me, and I feel the natural and unavoidable consequences of this concentration on the negative'. It is rightly said that what we get out is a reflection of what we put in.

I cannot control what you do to me, but I am in charge of my reaction to it, at least past the initial, instinctual response. I cannot control the past, but I am in charge of whether or not I perceive myself as a victim of it, constantly replaying the tape, each time adding a tragic or dramatic flourish. I cannot control the future, but I am in charge of whether I quiver in anticipation or plan my contribution and choose to rely on God to guide my thoughts and actions and remove my fear. I cannot choose what trains come into the mental station, but I can choose which ones I get on.

Naturally, if we have spent years letting ourselves be dragged behind our minds like fallen riders with their feet trapped in the stirrups, regaining control of our thought lives (from which all else, our actions, and our emotions, flow) will take some work, and we will encounter numerous setbacks, small and large. The only way to retrain ourselves, however, is to start, and the only day to start is today.

Essentially, this is the practice of Step Ten:

'Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. … Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help. Love and tolerance of others is our code.' (Alcoholics Anonymous, 84:2)

The task, therefore, is to watch for these negative mental manifestations (and I would add fruitless fantasy and nostalgia to the list, equally harmful as they can be) and deliberately turn in one of two directions when they crop up:

(1) Think about where I am now and what I am doing now.
(2) Think about God.

The former is straightforward. If I have taken a strong Step Eleven that morning, I will have a plan for the day, and, at any particular point during the day, there will be something I am supposed to be doing and some activity I am supposed to be concentrating on.

The latter may be harder. The best approach is to take some spiritual reading and select a passage that appeals and concentrate on that. This might involve repetition of a prayer, concentrating on an idea about God or a spiritual principle and how it applies to our situation, or simple recitation, to block out the negative thinking and replace it with something better. At the very worst we are sparing ourselves a few minutes of further thrashing around inside our mental quicksand. At the very best, we will be lifted clean out of the morass.

Applied diligently, this will change your life.

There is no need to be a victim of the egoic mind forever. There is a solution, and that solution starts now.

What am I doing? Step Four, Ten, or Eleven?

The book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions encourages spot-check inventories, a nightly review, and a periodic housecleaning, say once or twice a year. All three exercises are regularly termed 'doing a Step Ten'. The short form of Step Ten 'Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it' seems to encapsulate all three, as well.

However, the short form of the Steps (what are printed on page 59 of the book Alcoholics Anonymous and what appear on the wall shades or scrolls) are simply handy aides-memoire and do not attempt to capture every nuance of the Step in question. The foreword to the Third Edition for instance describes the aide-memoire version of the Steps as what 'summarise' our programme. Nor does each Step claim for itself exclusivity over its subject matter.

The long form of the Steps—the AA programme in full—consists essentially in the content of the basic text section of the book Alcoholics Anonymous. The Steps, although simple, are not simplistic, and overlap in content. Prayer is not limited to Steps Three, Seven, and Eleven, the ostensible prayer Steps. Prayer is talked about through the programme, most notably perhaps in Steps Four and Nine. Steps Four and Nine, performed without a great deal of prayer and meditation, lose much of their substance and efficacy.

So, what inventories are there in the Big Book?

There is a Step Four inventory, a highly structured, systematic review of thinking and behaviour, taking as its entry point the emotional signposts of resentment, fear, and guilt for its three chief inventories. Add the harms list forming part of Step Four (as implied by page 76), and our review is complete.

There is a review at the end of the day, to be included as part of the evening meditation, and itself including prayers to God for forgiveness and corrective measures. This is set out as part of the meditation of Step Eleven, in the Big Book. It should be noted that meditation, in the 1930s, denoted chiefly contemplative, concentrated thought.

Then there is Step Ten in the Big Book. This deserves an essay of its own. Essentially it falls into two halves: developing an awareness of our own thinking and behaviour in real time, and envisioning and carrying out God's will in real time, too. A successful application of Step Ten will result in a shift from being the hapless victim of our lives, pushed and pulled by emotion and unbridled instinct, to being an observer-meets-actor, with a permalink to God and an array of mechanisms to keep the show on the right road. (See and

So, if I am following the instructions set out on pages 84–85 of the Big Book, examining what is going on in the moment, etc., I am taking Step Ten. If I stand back from my life for a few minutes and examine the last twenty-four hours, I am taking Step Eleven. If I stand even further back and survey my entire life since the previous systematic review, I am taking Step Four.

Why are all three necessary? In principle, a perfect Step Ten will result in no need for a Step Eleven review. In principle, a perfect Step Eleven review will result in no need for a periodic Step Four.

However, 'No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles' (Alcoholics Anonymous, 60:2).

These are the three safety nets, therefore, that stop us from falling back into alcoholism.

Furthermore: driving provides good analogies: Step Ten is adjusting the steering wheel as we are driving along; the Step Eleven review is checking the petrol, oil, tyre pressure, etc., cleaning out the detritus that has built up inside the car, and checking our progress along the map; Step Four is the annual or semi-annual servicing of the car, which may include large-scale repairs or even the replacement of the engine.

No amount of steering will re-inflate the tyres or clean the cup-holders; no amount of changing the oil will replace a dud engine.

The reviews may overlap somewhat in method and substance but are essentially complementary. A programme that includes only or or two of these three review methods is incomplete.

Lastly, it does not really matter what you call these reviews: the main thing is that you do them.