Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Seven simple ways to meditate

(1) Either sitting or walking: take a word or phrase and repeat, concentrating on the phrase (either the sound or the meaning). Whenever you get distracted, notice it, then draw yourself back, gently and persistently.

(2) Either sitting or walking: with your eyes open or closed, concentrate on all physical sensations (what you can hear, see, feel physically, or even smell or taste). Whenever you get distracted, notice it, then draw yourself back, gently and persistently.

(3) Either sitting or walking: be silent, listen to the silence, and stay in the moment. You will be constantly distracted by your mind. Observe what distracts you, and what that teaches you, then draw yourself back, gently and persistently, to the silence. Whatever difficult feelings arise, observe them, and know they will pass.

(4) Either sitting or walking: concentrate on breathing. Whenever you get distracted, notice it, then draw yourself back, gently and persistently.

(5) Sitting: read some spiritual literature, line by line. Read one line. Let the idea resonate; let new ideas come to mind; let thoughts associate; ask yourself how the line applies to your life or some aspect of it. When you drift or exhaust the line of thinking, or if nothing comes, read the next line.

(6) Take a problem or difficulty. Remind yourself you are no longer running the show, ask for God's will to be done, then ask for the right thought or action. Let God show you the answer, if any. There may be no answer right now. If the thoughts that come are angry, frightened, or guilty, they are not from God.

(7) Run, cycle or swim. Talk and listen to God as you do so.

See if you can exhaust these seven techniques.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Some experience on sponsorship: bakers, trees, and hunger

'If he is to find God, the desire must come from within.' (Alcoholics Anonymous, 95:3)

A tree provides shade. The tree does not go to the person; the person goes to the tree, although the tree is rightly in full sight. The tree does not mind who sits under it. It provides shade anyway.

When people come to me, I'll tell a story, if I have my wits about me. Or I'll say, 'I did this,' or 'this is how I did this.' They then do the 'this'. Or not. I cannot get involved in whether or not they do it. The tree doesn't care. The shade is for everyone, whether they want it or not. And if they do not want it for now, they can always come back for it later.

If someone comes to me and says, 'I'm feeling terrible because …' and I say, 'when I feel terrible, I do this,' we have a good conversation. If they come back and have not done the 'this', I will tell them a story about a man who went to a baker's to buy some bread. He did not eat the bread, because he tried a little bit and it was not to his taste. But he went back to the same baker. Why?

If I appear to be bothered whether they eat the bread … or do the work … they'll end up doing it for me not for them. If the desire does not come from within, it certainly won't come from me. I may get results with bullying, cajoling, persuasion, flattery, or any manner of other techniques. These will just be distractions, however, from the fact that that desire is not coming from within.

Not working the Steps is a pure motivational issue. The only response can be this: when I eat a meal, it is because I am hungry. If I am not eating the meal, it is because I am not hungry. There's no point in focusing on the eating/the not eating. The only question is why a famished person would not be hungry. That's a useful conversation that can be had. 'You're famished. But you're not hungry. Why would that be?'

Friday, 17 May 2013

Preparing to hear a Step Five

The instructions for the actual Step Five in the Big Book are sparse, and there is little advice on what form it takes or how long it lasts:

'… until they told someone else all their life story.' (73:0)

'… a long talk' (75:1)

'We pocket our pride and go to it, illuminating every twist of character, every dark cranny of the past.' (75:2)

In AA in general, the instructions for Step Five are taken to be, 'read out your Step Four'.

A good Step Four takes ten to twenty hours to write, and a good Step Five takes perhaps one or two hours of revelation and discussion. However, in most cases, sponsees, especially on their first Step Four, are unable not to tell long-winded stories or regurgitate endlessly repetitive resentments that differ from each other only in name and time. The Step Five can then drag on for up to a year in some cases, with a couple of hours every Sunday, perhaps. Some Step Fives take all weekend.

What's wrong with a Step Five that lasts 20 or 100 hours?

Firstly, I'm an AA sponsor, not a therapist paid by the hour or a friend. I can spend a couple of hours helping a sponsee understand the exact nature of their wrongs. An additional 18 or 98 hours spent hearing someone repeat the same resentments and character defects over and over provides no marginal benefit to them or me. It is not the most useful way for me to spend my time, nor the most useful way for the sponsee to spend his time.

The purpose of Step Five is to reveal the exact nature of our wrongs and to share them with another person and thereby to admit them to ourselves and to God. The Book does not say, 'share with another person everything that has ever happened to you, everything you have ever thought and felt, and everything you have ever done, right or wrong.' Two hours is enough 'exact nature'. The reference to the whole of one's life story is clearly meant to prompt a summing up of one's life in a 'long talk' of a couple or a few hours, not a months of Sundays—that is certainly not what happened in the early days of AA, when these suggestions were written. The flaw in no one's approach to life (in thought and deed) is so involved that it takes more than two hours or so to isolate. In fact, the exact nature of someone's wrongs can often be nailed in about half an hour.

What would the exact nature of someone's wrongs be? Well, in my case, it would be spending my life running after money, sex, power, and prestige, comfort, thrills, and looks, admiration, validation, and approval, getting frustrated and vindictive when I do not get them, and dropping into disillusionment and disappointment when I do. I have a history of being arrogant, hostile, distrustful, vain, judgemental, critical, cruel, and indifferent to the suffering of others. In short, I trusted self, not God.

Are there exceptions?

Yes. I have engaged in Step Fives that extend over multiple sessions, usually where the individual is several years sober and there is not much of a pre-existing relationship. Then, the Step Five is used as a springboard to talk mostly about corrective measures and how to approach the area of life in question in a spiritual way. In such cases, there're perhaps ten minutes' revelation per session plus fifty minutes' discussion. This is certainly valuable.

What sometimes fails are multiple-session Step Five where the individual simply talks, talks, and talks, and the listener just listens, listens, listens. I've seen individuals merely burrow themselves further into their self-obsessed, warped narratives and fail to achieve that moment when the penny drops and perspective is regained or gained for the first time.

The danger in these instances is that the individual will not see that there are common threads and really quite simple causes behind the plethora of awful situations and decades of distorted and painful thinking. Unless the root causes are found, the individual will continue in delusion in perpetuity. Complexity or long-windedness in a Step Five usually suggests the root cause has not been found.

So, does the detail ever get discussed?

If the sponsee would like to 'share with another person everything that has ever happened to him, everything he has ever thought and felt, and everything he has ever done, right or wrong,' a therapist can be hired or friends can be found. There likely is a need to talk, talk, and talk, but that's what fellowship and the rest of one's life are for. Also, every story will ultimately get retold when the individual acquires sponsees. That is a very good time for telling all the stories, because then the stories, combined with some insight, can prove useful to others.

The detail of what went wrong in past and present relationships will get discussed in detail in a targeted way in Steps Eight and Nine, to work out whether and how to make amends and what the vision of God's will and the sane and sound ideal for such relationship will be in the future.

So, how do you keep Step Five to one–two hours?

When the sponsee is doing Step Four, monitor closely when each column or section is started, to ensure that the responses are concise and to the point. Help the person boil down to the absolute nub of the matter. Look at page 65: there are just a few words on each item. No more than ten–twenty resentments really need examination. Any further resentments will be variations on a theme. A doctor takes a tiny amount of blood to test it, not pints and pints. We're aiming to get to the core reasons why we resent: we have a plan in the seven areas of self (pride, self-esteem, personal and sex relationships, ambitions, security, and pocketbooks), and the world, of course, is not under our control. If you can't see that with twenty, the penny won't drop with fifty. So twenty resentments will do.

When it comes to the fourth column, the questions can also be answered succinctly in relation to the major resentments.

The final inventory, the list of remaining harms not otherwise covered (cf. page 76), can mop up any other harms scratching away at the back of the sponsee's mind.

The fear and sex inventories (if the latter involves grouping relationships into category or type) are pattern-finding inventories anyway, so produce little material.

If the Step Four is kept concise, the Step Five will be short.

Finally: I suggest that the individual pick the top ten most illustrative or exemplary relationships they have had. Perhaps some family, some childhood relationship, a work relationship or two, etc. It is likely that these relationships will be the templates for every other relationship in their life.

And just in case there is anything else, I ask the individual to pray at the end of the Step Five to be shown anything else they need to get off their chest. Usually one or two things come. The rest—the hand baggage as opposed to the heavy luggage—will be revealed later.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Teenagers and grown-ups

When I was a teenager, I was interested above all in two things. What I felt and who I was.

In AA, I have been taught to concentrate on what I am doing and what I am thinking, and to ensure that these are directed along sound lines.

If I concern myself with my action and my thinking, what I feel and who I am take care of themselves.

To quote Chuck C.

'I think losing yourself in life guarantees finding yourself in God. Guarantees it, because all you've got to do is to get rid of the roadblocks. You lose yourself in life and find yourself in God. And so I wouldn't, if I were you, spend another five seconds trying to find self-worth or anything else. To find yourself, yes. To realise that whatever it is you're looking for is right here inside you—what you're looking for you're looking with; what you came here to get came with you. Everything you've ever wanted to know you've always known, and everything you've wanted to be you've always been, but it's covered up. It's covered up, so we uncover and discover. Forget about you—to hell with you. Maybe you've got a little better break on that than I have. Maybe you have, and maybe you haven't. Let the chips fall where they may. The beautiful thing about this deal is not to get serious about yourself, to make the whole deal a game. A play of life upon itself. And to have fun at it.' (NPOG 126:1)

Sunday, 5 May 2013


All I have to want is peace above all else. How is that achieved? By recognising that all I want is peace. That can be achieved only if I am in harmony with others, in harmony with my purpose, and in harmony with reality. What is required, therefore, is kindness, usefulness, and cheerfulness.

Why do we want things other than peace? Because we think they will give us peace. Best to just go for peace first off rather than aim to seek it via something that in any case fails to deliver it.

The only reason I am not in harmony is if I believe a plan must be fulfilled for peace to be achieved, and that plan is not being fulfilled. Once I drop the plan, and seek the place I am allotted (page 68: the role God has assigned), the next action is self-evident. But only if I drop the plan.

What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!

May you find Him now (page 59)!

'Live And Let Live', 'Big Book World', and the straw-man argument

There is a fashion in the parts of AA where the Big Book is used extensively as the basis for the programme of recovery to deride so-called 'middle of the road AA'. This creates division and a sense of superiority amongst a self-appointed elite. This is not healthy.

One of the ways this is done is the straw-man argument: to attack a straw man is to present your opponent's position in a caricatured way, refute the caricatured position, and believe you have refuted your opponent's position.

A good example can be found in the lists that are drawn up of standard 'AA sayings', followed by quotations from the book 'Alcoholics Anonymous' (the 'Big Book') that purport to contradict said saying.

Here are some examples:


The saying: 'I don't have an alcohol problem, I have a living problem.'

The retort: 'Page xxiv, paragraph 2: 'In our belief, any picture of the alcoholic which leaves out this physical factor is incomplete.''

What the retort implies about the saying: that this is a denial that alcoholism has a physical element.

How the saying is really used and what it really means: this saying is used to convey the idea that, if you are an alcoholic, your problem is not alcohol per se but how you are living your life, the selfishness and self-centredness that are described as the root of the problem, on page 62 of the Big Book. After all, you cannot take a drink and trigger the physical craving unless you 'decide' to, stone cold sober. The problem therefore resides in the sober mind (page 23 of the Big Book). The message of the Big Book is clear: if we do not throw ourselves into this programme to create our lives ('Doctor's Opinion') with the power and guidance of God ('We Agnostics'), we will drink again. We cannot tackle the alcohol problem head on; we must tackle the living problem, and that in turn will tackle the alcohol problem.

The saying in fact seems perfectly consistent with the totality of the message of the Big Book.


The saying: 'I'm powerless over people, places and things.'

Page 132, paragraph 3: 'We have recovered, and have been given the power to help others.'

Page 122, paragraph 3: 'Years of living with an alcoholic is almost sure to make any wife or child neurotic.'

What the retort implies about the saying: that this denies our harm of others or our ability to help them.

How the saying is really used and what it really means: the saying is really suggesting that we cannot consistently and successfully induce others or the world to change or act as we see fit through sheer force of will. The failure of this approach is described on page 122: 'Each is interested in having his or her wishes respected. We find the more one member of the family demands that the others concede to him, the more resentful they become. This makes for discord and unhappiness' (page 122). The approach is further described on page 66: 'The usual outcome was that people continued to wrong us and we stayed sore. … But the more we fought and tried to have our own way, the worse matters got. As in war, the victor only seemed to win.'

This saying seeks to provide a solution: rather than trying to change the world by force, we accept reality head-on and our inability to change it by a headlong assault of the will. Only then can we seek to contribute to positive change in a harmonious and constructive way.


Saying: 'alcohol was my drug of choice.'

Page 24, paragraph 2: 'The fact is that most alcoholics, for reasons yet obscure, have lost the power of choice in drink.'

What the retort implies about the saying: that this is a denial of powerlessness.

How the saying is really used and what it really means: when people are talking about drug of choice, they are not indicating that they are not powerless but that, when they were using and several different drugs were available, there was one they would typically 'go to'. I identify with this. I had available to me all sorts of drugs, but I drank alcohol. The use of the term 'choice' is perhaps unfortunate as it could cause confusion, but the intent is clear, namely to indicate where one's substance problem chiefly lies.

* * * * *

Now, there are certainly AA sayings that I do disagree with and which I do not believe help. For instance, people are sometimes encouraged to work a step a year or not to worry about the steps at all. But the honest effort to present a solution and counter certain unhelpful ideas can sometimes go too far, tipping over into actively scouring AA sayings for possible contradictions with the Big Book based on a deliberate misreading of the slogan or saying.

I have been guilty of this in the past, but I can now see the foolishness of it.

Firstly, this approach creates division and is unnecessarily antagonistic and vexatious.

Secondly, it blocks me from a lot of the wisdom inherent in these sayings.

To wit (and this may annoy some!):

Acceptance is the answer to all my problems—unless I can accept I have a problem, I will never change; unless I accept you as you are, I will illegitimately try to change you.

First things first

I came to AA with many problems other than alcohol. Most people do.

The ‘Just For Today’ card suggests I not try to solve all my life problem at once.

I have found that by applying the Twelve Steps, the Twelve Traditions, and the Twelve Concepts, most other problems have automatically dropped away. What then remains can be dealt with much more effectively.

Just as some cancer drugs reduce the size of the tumour before excision, the Twelve Steps, Traditions, and Concepts provide a stable structure for my life, an enormous amount of symptomatic relief, and clarity regarding what problems remain. These remaining problems can then be much more effectively excised, with a specific spiritual exercise, visiting another specific fellowship for a while, a specific type of external talking therapy, etc.

When I was six weeks sober in 1993, I was told that, unless I dealt with my ‘family-of-origin issues’, I would drink. I heeded this advice, went into therapy with a very skilled therapist, and soon started contemplating suicide or drinking. I could not cope with the magnitude of what was ‘coming up inside me’. I fortunately encountered Maureen, who suggested I get a sponsor, work the Steps, get a home group, do service, etc. I did this, and dropped the therapy. I am very glad I did. I cheered up immensely and felt great relief. I did indeed have some therapy many years later on my relationship with my father, which was very targeted. That helped a little. A few years after that, I did some specific Step work on my relationship with my mother. That helped hugely.

There is a time and a place for everything.

Sure: there is much that is wrong when one washes up in AA, but solving the biggest question first—the alcoholism—surely lays a solid foundation and provides sufficient resilience, stability, and courage for other issues to be faced in good time.

We do not need to get well overnight; but we do need to find a way to live sober today—literally today, because the only day I could slip and drink is today, and that is where the genius of the AA programme lies: it solves today’s problems today, by encouraging us to take today’s actions today and to leave our cares and our care to God.

The motto, here, is very simple: first things first.

Do I need multiple fellowships?

I only have one problem: trying to solve my disconnection by means other than absolute surrender to God. All of the obsessions of my mind; all of the plans and designs that distort my behaviour and relationships with others; all of the other ways in which I act out to fix myself: all of these are avoidances of God, who is present in my life, right here, right now.

God is available now through love and service; I consider love to be a combination of cheerfulness and kindness; I consider service to be usefulness. If my life is dedicated to love and service, expressed in these ways, all other problems simply drop away. When the problem is solved, I no longer need my ‘solutions’, which are actually what are creating the problem in the first place.

There is only one set of Steps; there is only one God.

In my primary fellowship, I find people with all of the problems I have in all areas of my life.

Sometimes other fellowships are good places to meet and share with people with problems in particular areas; sometimes these fellowships' written materials flesh out the application of certain twelve-step principles or practical ways of handling tricky situations.

I am in trouble, however, when I shield certain problems from the God and programme I have found in AA, because ‘only the people in Al-Anon understand’, for instance. I can use multiple fellowship attendance to carve up my life and protect my sensitivities or bad behaviour. I cease viewing the single problem as a single problem with a single solution and start trying to deal with the problem at the level of its individual manifestations rather than rising above the problem and letting God simply take it away from me, trusting that whatever I experience in the process is a necessary part of healing.

I have suffered in the past by approaching recovery like a jigsaw or a supermarket with multiple counters. Treated in this way, I focus on multiple problems rather than the single solution, and the major questions never get faced:

What is so wrong with right now?
What is so wrong with this very moment?
What is so wrong with my constructive plan for the day?
How about I face this moment and the work of the day and really live Step Three, deciding to stay close to God and perform His work well, regardless of the emotional or other consequences?

Surrender to the moment heals, and I can surrender anytime, anywhere, with enough willingness. God is ubiquitous and eternal—God is everywhere, has always been, and will always be. If I cannot find God ‘here’, I will not find God ‘there’ either.

‘God-geographicals’ come in many forms: switching religions, switching sponsors, switching meetings, switching fellowships.

Ultimately, as the book ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ suggests, it is only deep down within that He may be found (page 55).

May you find Him now (page 59)!

‘Be still and know that I am God.’

Concept XI

Short form:

The trustees should always have the best possible committees, corporate service directors, executives, staffs, and consultants. Composition, qualifications, induction procedures, and rights and duties will always be matters of serious concern.

Long form:

While the trustees hold final responsibility for AA's world service administration, they should always have the assistance of the best possible standing committees, corporate service directors, executives, staffs and consultants. Therefore, the composition of these underlying committees and service boards, the personal qualifications of their members, the manner of their induction into service, the systems of their rotation, the way in which they are related to each other, the special rights and duties of our executives, staffs and consultants, together with a proper basis for the financial compensation of these special workers, will always be matters for serious care and concern.

Questions in service

·         When committees or individual officers are being appointed, do we pay due consideration to (1) personal qualifications (2) induction into service?
·         At group level, at Intergroup level, at Region level, etc. is the relationship between different officers and/or committees clear?
·         Are officers', committees', staffs', and consultants' rights and duties clear?
·         Are staff or other people hired being duly remunerated?

Questions in service and life

In service, I apply these questions to any board or committee I am on, at group level, at Intergroup level, at Region level, etc.

·         When people are being appointed, are these principles being followed (to the extent proportionate to the role)? (1) Careful deliberation (2) painstaking investigation and interviewing (3) refusal to accept casual recommendations (4) preparation well in advance of lists of suitable candidates (5) avoidance of all temptation to haste or snap judgment.
·         When recruiting, do I avoid hiring people more able or accomplished than me, because I am threatened?
·         In life, do I avoid people more able or accomplished than me, because I am threatened?
[Finance and budgeting]
·         Do I spend money I do not have?
·         Do I make every effort to stay solvent in good times and bad?
·         Do I budget annually?
·         Do I keep a cold and watchful eye on needless cost, waste, and duplication?
·         Do I monitor budgets mid-year and revise if estimates have been wrong?
·         Do I scrutinize every new and considerable expenditure, asking 'Is this necessary or desirable now? Can I afford it, all considered?'
·         Do I set aside substantial sums for the future and for emergencies?
·         Do I, by contrast, hoard and avoid necessary expenditure out of fear?
[Public information]
·         Are my relations with the outside world sober and quiet, emphasizing attraction nor promotion, or am I sensationalist or self-promoting?
·         In my relations with the outside world, do I display these skills: 'diplomacy, a sense of what is dangerous and what is not, the courage to take calculated risks, and a readiness to make wise but tradition-abiding compromises'?
[Status of executives]
·         Do I discriminate well when I should act on my own and when limited or wide consultation is proper, and when I should ask for specific direction?
·         Do I inspire by energy and example, thereby securing willing cooperation?
·         Do I know when firmness is in order?
·         Do I act without favour or partiality?
·         Do I step up to the plate to handle 'large affairs'?
·         Do I neglect 'small affairs'?
·         Do I take the initiative in plan-making?
[Regarding paid workers]
·         When I set what others are paid, am I fair or cheap?


From Bill W.'s essays on the Twelve Concepts:

'[Regarding the 'nominating committee'] Careful deliberation, painstaking investigation and interviewing, refusal to accept casual recommendations, preparation well in advance of lists of suitable candidates—these will need to be the principal attitudes and activities of this committee. All temptation to haste or snap judgment will need to be faithfully and constantly resisted.'

'Another problem that future committees may have to face is the subtle tendency toward deterioration in the calibre of personnel due to the very natural and usually unconscious tendency of those who suggest nominees to select individuals of somewhat less ability than themselves.'

'[Regarding the 'finance and budgetary committee] The whole temper of today's world is to spend more than it has, or may ever have. Many of us consequently are infected with this rosy philosophy … The primary function of this committee, therefore, is to see that our Headquarters operation is always solvent and that it stays that way, in good times and bad.'

'This committee must conservatively estimate each year's income. It needs to develop plans for increasing our revenues. It will keep a cold and watchful eye on needless cost, waste, and duplication. … At mid-year it will ask for budget revisions if earlier estimates have gone too much wrong. It will scrutinize every new and considerable expenditure, asking "Is this necessary or desirable now? Can we afford it, all considered?"'

'This committee, in good times, will insist that we continue to set aside substantial sums to our Reserve Fund. It will pursue an investment policy in that fund which will guarantee the immediate availability of at least two-thirds of it at any time, without loss, thereby enabling us to meet hard times or even a calamity.'

'Future committees, therefore, will ponder the difference between real prudence (which is neither fear nor hoarding and which may indeed require us sometimes to run temporary deficits) and that kind of persistent recklessness which could someday result in the severe contraction or collapse of our vital services. … The safe course will usually lie midway between reckless budget-slashing and imprudent spending.'

'[Regarding the 'public information committee'] Skill in this area implies much technical experience, diplomacy, a sense of what is dangerous and what is not, the courage to take calculated risks, and a readiness to make wise but tradition-abiding compromises. … For instance, the techniques used to sell a big time personality or a new hair lotion would not be for AA.'

'[Regarding paid workers] We believe that each paid executive, staff member, or consultant should be recompensed in reasonable relation to the value of his or her similar services or abilities in the commercial world.'

Status of executives

'No active service can function well unless it has sustained and competent executive direction. This must always head up in one person, supported by such assistants as he needs. A board or a committee can never actively manage anything, in the continuous executive sense. This function has to be delegated to a single person. That person has to have ample freedom and authority to do his job, and he should not be interfered with so long as his work is done well.'

'Real executive ability cannot be plucked from any bush; it is rare and hard to come by. A special combination of qualities is required. The executive must inspire by energy and example, thereby securing willing cooperation. If that cooperation is not forthcoming, he must know when real firmness is in order. He must act without favour or partiality. He must comprehend and execute large affairs, while not neglecting the smaller. He often must take the initiative in plan making.'

'It is the duty of the good executive, therefore, to learn discrimination of when he should act on his own and when limited or wide consultation is proper, and when he should ask for specific definitions and directions.'