Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Thinking

Sometimes people in AA say you shouldn't think. Sometimes they say that we're all still mad in perpetuity but at least we have someone to go and share it. I disagree with this. The Steps seem to disagree with this, as they suggest a restoration to sanity.

The Steps, in a formal sense, will do a lot to improve thinking.

A lot of people, however, have a teenie-weenie problem that the Steps will deal with only if the problem is understood clearly and if the Steps are used in a targeted way to tackle said problem.

What is this teenie-weenie problem, you ask?

Well, it's a persistent failure to apply critical faculties to one's own thinking. Pages 84 to 88 provide clear guidance on how to improve thinking, which, after all, is the central problem, as suggested on page 23, but a lot of people, I have found, even those with good programmes, find themselves beset with all sorts of emotional problems years sober, stemming directly from crappy thinking unmoderated by critical distance.

The mind is a bit like this: you're sitting at a console, and, one by one, thoughts flash up on a screen before you. Now, the way a lot of people operate is this: they read the thought off the screen, and perform one or more of a number of different functions. This might include:

  • Registering the thought as a known piece of information.
  • Activating a particular recurrent thought pattern (say a resentful or fearful mental scenario).
  • Considering how the thought integrates into some area of existing knowledge.
  • Sending the thought to a decision-making module.
Two points are clear: certain thoughts produce an emotion (e.g. 'I'm ill and will never get better') whilst others do not (e.g. 'Helsinki is the capital of Finland'); certain thought modules, for instance the various resentment, fear, and guilt modules, are completely redundant practically and produce wholly negative emotion, on balance.

So, what is a boy to do?

Well, firstly, the subject needs to develop a skill that people often develop as children, namely the ability to question a thought that flashes up on the screen and ask: is it true? If a thought is not true (which is a matter of testing the thought against experience, evidence, principle, and logic), it must be rejected. Sometimes the thought will continue to flash up. So be it. One cannot control the thoughts that flash up on the screen. One can establish once and for all, however, that the thought is untrue and then resolve to reject it whenever it presents itself. A caveat: because the thought, each time it arises, produces an emotion, you will experience the emotion hanging around like a bad smell, even after you have rejected the thought. Thoughts can be rejected with immediate effect, but the emotional residue takes a while to fade. The trap is to believe that, if the emotion is persisting, the logical basis for rejecting the thought is somehow flawed; this is untrue. The emotion is not to be believed. The persistence of fear is not a sign that a fearful event is imminent: it is a sign merely that you have been thinking fearful thoughts, and it is the fearful thoughts that must be interrogated for accuracy, to determine whether a fearful event is indeed imminent.

Secondly, certain mental modules (resentment, fear, and guilt) need to be shut down, and only you can do that. Sure, invoke God's strength to direct the mind to how you can serve Him, but this must be done on the basis of absolute commitment to ridding the mind of all irrationality and negativity.

In short, we are not victims of our minds, though we seem to be: the job is to regain control of what we do and do not think.

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