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3 years ago  ::  Jan 23, 2012 - 1:42PM #1
cherubino
Posts: 7,277
Over these last 23 years of sober living, I've gradually become convinced that alcoholism was about the only thing that ever would have forced me to confront my previously denied and undiscovered innermost self. A lot of us take the steps only far enough to become better actors in the various roles we play in our lives as spouses, parents, employees, etc. And there are tangible rewards for that, because people start treating us better.

But in due time the novelty of all that starts to wear off, and then there's a thud. A lot of us conclude, often with the connivance of sponsors or therapists who are perhaps a tad too eager to get involved, that it's because we've left some crucial stone unturned in our inventories and amends. Maybe that's often true, but I think it's only part of the story, and I say that because I've known too many people who've repeated these steps, in some cases literally for decades, but the thud always comes back. So then they do what we alkies do best-- they try the same thing over and over again, each time expecting a better result.

After several such attempts, accepting and enduring the unattainability of lasting happiness eventually becomes a virtue in its own right, their (sniff) heavy cross to bear in this valley of tears, and their message is that anyone who doesn't suffer this chronic malaise is simply in denial or isn't working their program properly. Not surprisingly, these folks are often in the vanguard of sponsorship and service work, but I'll leave that aspect of it aside for the moment.

I've also come to believe that what we call stress or unhappiness is simply energy misdirected, like the sparks that fly out of short-circuited wire. I believe that each of us has within ourselves a creative potential, a dream, or if you prefer, a myth for our lives that will either save us or destroy us if we don't realize it. That's why I regard my alcoholism as a gift, a wake-up call to tap the undiscovered self, rather than a burden or having to settle for a second-rate life using one step or another to squelch any spark of joy that might arise under the notion that recovery is primarily a program of puritanical taboos and prohibitions.

Most of the people I know who've found lasting and constantly renewable happiness in sobriety are those of us who've discovered or rediscovered, nurtured and disciplined ourselves to pursue a passion for some craft, skill or art that engages us creatively in our daily lives. This impulse prodded us at first to seek, and then we soon found in our contact with the world directly in front of us, an effective way to get over ourselves by seeing and relating to the "wow in the now" rather than looking at life as an obstacle course to navigate without drinking.

I love this quote by Thomas Merton:

"It is not humility to insist on being someone that you are not. It is as much as saying that you know better than God who you are and who you ought to be. How do you expect to arrive at the end of your own journey if you take the road to another man's city? How do you expect to reach your own perfection by leading somebody else's life? His sanctity will never be yours; you must have the humility to work out your own salvation in a darkness where you are absolutely alone...

"And so it takes heroic humility to be yourself and to be nobody but the man, or the artist, that God intended you to be. You will be made to feel that your honesty is only pride. This is a serious temptation because you can never be sure whether you are being true to your true self or only building up a defense for the false personality that is the creature of your own appetite for esteem. But the greatest humility can be learned from the anguish of keeping your balance in such a position: of continuing to be yourself without getting tough about it and asserting your false self against the false selves of other people."

From New Seeds of Contemplation, New Directions Publishing Co. 1961, pp. 100-101
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2 years ago  ::  Jan 26, 2012 - 2:31AM #2
Bob_the_Lunatic
Posts: 3,458

Nice quote and good points.  The wise man realizes his enemies are really his best friends-for it is they that allow for growth toward happiness in this world.  This is what I think of based on your alcoholism discussion here.  I would also say this:  Sometimes I wonder if it takes utter despair, you know, boiling in the middle of hell.... to find the self.  Does it take horrible suffering at the foundations of life to get us human beings to seek something more, something beyond materialism, beyond desires in general?  I wonder, I hope not.  While it's worth it, that suffering is a bitch and seems dangerous-just like addiction.  


I would however disagree with the claim of humility in your quote.  True humility is that point at which you realize you know NOTHING, and never really have.... while replaced with a glimmer of the ultimate truth.  Including the realization that all those things that happened.... were caused by YOU, not "them"-that you were driving the car the whole time.  With such true humility comes overwhelming hope-as you're driving the car in the present and the future too.

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2 years ago  ::  Jan 26, 2012 - 8:51AM #3
cherubino
Posts: 7,277

Jan 26, 2012 -- 2:31AM, Bob_the_Lunatic wrote:

 


I would however disagree with the claim of humility in your quote.  True humility is that point at which you realize you know NOTHING, and never really have.... while replaced with a glimmer of the ultimate truth.  Including the realization that all those things that happened.... were caused by YOU, not "them"-that you were driving the car the whole time.  With such true humility comes overwhelming hope-as you're driving the car in the present and the future too.




OK, so let's make sure we both mean the same thing by the word knowledge. In the sense you're using it here, is it synonymous with certitude, or is it provisional and subject to change? In my own use of the word, my meaning is generally consistent with Michael Polanyi's take on it as reflected in this passage from Personal Knowledge:


"... I have come to the conclusion that the principle by which the cyclist keeps his balance is not generally known. The rule observed by the cyclist is this. When he starts falling to the right he turns the handlebars to the right, so that the course of the bicycle is deflected along a curve towards the right. This results in a centrifugal force pushing the cyclist to the left and offsets the gravitational force dragging him down to the right. This manoeuvre presently throws the cyclist out of balance to the left, which he counteracts by turning the handlebars to the left; and so he continues to keep himself in balance by winding along a series of appropriate curves. A simple analysis shows that for a given angle of unbalance the curvature of each winding is inversely proportional to the square of the speed at which the cyclist is proceeding.

But does this tell us exactly how to ride a bicycle? No. You obviously cannot adjust the curvature of your bicycle's path in proportion to the ratio of your unbalance over the square of your speed; and if you could you would fall off the machine, for there are a number of other factors to be taken into account in practice which are left out in the formulation of this rule. Rules of art can be useful, but they do not determine the practice of an art; they are maxims, which can serve as a guide to an art only if they can be integrated into the practical knowledge of the art. They cannot replace this knowledge."


And elsewhere:


“We can account for this capacity of ours to know more than we can tell if we believe in the presence of an external reality with which we can make contact. This I do. I declare myself committed to the belief in an external reality gradually accessible to knowing, and I regard all true understanding as an intimation of such a reality which, being real, may yet reveal itself to our deepened understanding in an indefinite range of unexpected manifestations. I accept the obligation to search for the truth through my intimations of reality, knowing that there is and can be no strict rule by which my conclusions can be justified...

"True commitment does not allow us to hand over our choice of beliefs to an authority or a rule or a formula, though these are useful tools; the commitment is of ourselves  to reality, and as it is a characteristic of reality that we can never know it completely, such a commitment is always risky."


(From Knowing and Being, p. 133). Emphasis in the original)

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2 years ago  ::  Jan 26, 2012 - 1:02PM #4
Bob_the_Lunatic
Posts: 3,458

I never used the word "knowledge" in my post, so your response doesn't really make sense to me.  I was talking about humility rather.


However, I would point out that the problem with your new quote is the claim of "external reality".  I believe there is only ONE reality, and it is not external, it is everything, including us.  The problem with seeking ultimate truth outside the self is that it is a cage upon the mind.  Like the elephant who has been chained since infancy-who never realizes it can no longer hold him.  The truth exists within us.  And what we see/experience tends to be subjective delusion-but that doesn't mean the reality isn't with us all the time, for that reality is objective.  


Seeking outside the self is the root problem with the "higher power" concept.  It limits us and teaches us that we cannot be free in this world, for we are at the mercy of external things.  That's not true.  It's not easy, but real living is when your life condition is based within, not dependent on external factors...

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2 years ago  ::  Jan 26, 2012 - 1:09PM #5
Bob_the_Lunatic
Posts: 3,458

To answer anyway though (even though we were not talking about "knowledge"):  I don't care much about knowledge.  One could know a great many things yet not be happy, ie not have knowledge of life (for that is not really "knowledge" but rather it is "wisdom").  Wisdom is all that matters. Wisdom is "knowledge" of the ultimate truth.  But it is not a mental knowledge, but one that is lived.  With that in mind-you also cannot own it like you can knowledge.  You are either living it, or you are not, in THIS moment-the only one that matters.  And life is not static, so while I may have had wisdom yesterday-I might lose it by today...  It has nothing to do with age or experience or knowledge.  Instead I would argue it can only be found through sincerity and humility.  Clearly this has nothing to do with "knowledge" as it seems to be defined by your recent post.  So again-I know a lot about a few things, economics, star wars figures, real estate, etc.  But none of those things helps me live in the moment, for knowledge is not wisdom and the two have nothing to do with each other.  Theory is irrelevant without faith.  


This wisdom is objective-there are not different versions of it.  Truth is truth.  There is no such thing as your truth or mine, truth stands alone-to be found by those who seek it.


Just trying to discuss your knowledge issue as best I can in an effort to dialog with you.

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2 years ago  ::  Jan 26, 2012 - 1:35PM #6
cherubino
Posts: 7,277

I still don't understand what you mean by knowledge here. From the way you're using the word, it sounds like you're limiting its meaning to abstract ideas with which one happens to agree. So let me ask you this question. If you see a man riding a bicycle down the street, do you assume it is knowledge or humility that keeps him from falling down?

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2 years ago  ::  Jan 26, 2012 - 5:44PM #7
Bob_the_Lunatic
Posts: 3,458

Jan 26, 2012 -- 1:35PM, cherubino wrote:


I still don't understand what you mean by knowledge here. From the way you're using the word, it sounds like you're limiting its meaning to abstract ideas with which one happens to agree. So let me ask you this question. If you see a man riding a bicycle down the street, do you assume it is knowledge or humility that keeps him from falling down?




I certainly wouldn't call it humility, but you could call it "muscle knowledge" I suppose.  Humility is not something attained from fear of pain-that's a very distorted definition which appears to be applied here.


I also would not liken humility to "common sense", as in - being careful on a cliff-that's not humility, that is the common sense even a dog has, also again called fear of death or severe injury.  I've been clear about my meaning of humility-there really should be no confusion on that.  And hopefully I've clarified knowledge here, although I don't see the importance of the bike riding analogy-nor that it has a thing to do with humility.

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2 years ago  ::  Jan 26, 2012 - 6:28PM #8
cherubino
Posts: 7,277

Jan 26, 2012 -- 5:44PM, Bob_the_Lunatic wrote:



I certainly wouldn't call it humility, but you could call it "muscle knowledge" I suppose.  Humility is not something attained from fear of pain-that's a very distorted definition which appears to be applied here.


I also would not liken humility to "common sense", as in - being careful on a cliff-that's not humility, that is the common sense even a dog has, also again called fear of death or severe injury.  I've been clear about my meaning of humility-there really should be no confusion on that.  And hopefully I've clarified knowledge here, although I don't see the importance of the bike riding analogy-nor that it has a thing to do with humility.




I think we're talking about basically the same things here, but with slightly different vocabularies. I see the steps as a set of acquired skills very much like the "muscle knowledge" that is required to ride a bicycle. As a matter of fact, I've seen dozens (or is it hundreds? I forget...) of newbies come into AA, grasp the "Program" as one would a theological system, eventually get bored with it all and drink again. It's not the content of their beliefs that seems to betray them, but the way in which they engage life in sobriety. And I do have to agree with you. By their own accounts, the theists have a much harder time staying sober and report struggling to maintain a concentrated effort to stay "on the beam" 24/7. Some do indeed stay sober that way, but they never quite seem to acquire a taste for it, if I could put it that way.


To them the steps are rules to be broken under the threat of getting drunk if they don't, or at least that's how they themselves express it. Unfortunately, they also assume that the rest of us suffer from the same limitations and they lecture us accordingly. Sometimes just being minimally polite is the best I can do under the circumstances. But that too has been a learned skill, if you see where I'm going with this.

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2 years ago  ::  Jan 26, 2012 - 6:38PM #9
Bob_the_Lunatic
Posts: 3,458

I agree with all that.  And it's nice to dialog with someone on this board :)  Up til now, I've simply heard parroting of AA slogans and closed minded, narrow statements from people here who somewhere along the way forgot the rule that "everyone is your teacher" and also how to listen to others.


I was speaking with a friend of mine earlier who has what I would call a "good program" (by this I mean he has a good quality of life in sobriety) which I find very rare in AA rooms-so frankly, whatever most of them have-I don't want it.  Anyway, we were talking about this and he pointed out there's more to it than "not drinking", and specifically he said (to a hypothetical, yet common AA member) "You were an asshole when you were drunk, and you're an asshole sober".  That sums it up and reiterates your point as well.


I don't know if theists have an easier or tougher time.  But to stop thinking definitely lowers quality of life.  I also find it is common for those of us prone to addiction to of course, "switch addictions"... perhaps it's bowling, or golfing, or ... AA.  Drunks at their base level are in fact fanatics.  So while quitting drinking may save lives, teeth, livers and so forth-it's not much of a program if they don't practice life; if they don't improve themselves truly.  So yes, this whole deal is a lot more about life to me than "not drinking". 


Yet-several people on here have basically said to me that if I don't adhere to the program, I'm just dumb and belligerent and have a lousy program.  Yet I've never had a "slip" (although old timers get quite excited at the concept and call it nonsense), and my quality of life has improved immensely and today my life is stable and makes sense.  So they can say what they wish-but simply by making huge assumptions about my life based on my beliefs, and quickly filing me in a very small filing cabinet with apparently two folders-they tell me a lot about THEIR program and how deep, or shallow it is.


Anyway-the point of course is that yes, it's all about how we live from that point on and how we improve ourselves.  I always argued that "alcoholism" is NOT the disease, sadness is.  That might make an interesting topic as well-or at least get some more blood boiling from those who don't believe in "live and let live".

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2 years ago  ::  Jan 26, 2012 - 7:19PM #10
cherubino
Posts: 7,277

Even more disconcerting than the theism itself is the overtone of parental or institutional authority that goes with it. Every theology, and indeed every anti-theology for that matter, implies a model for how society is supposed to be governed. Needless to say, the theists fancy that as spokesmen for the divine, their rightful place is at the top of the heap. But the peculiar genius of AA is that it doesn't have any oficial positions of authority to which these folks can aspire. There's no rank of bishop in AA, but for God's sake don't ever tell that to some of my dearest friends.Frown

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