Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"Thinking Outside the Self"

I was listening to a radio program the other night, one of those mostly-boring speaker droning on to a quiet audience types of things. But the subject was the history of how cultures have approached the spiritual. The speaker talked (in a very English accent) about the use of reason versus the use of faith. One thing she mentioned was how reason and faith used to walk hand in hand, that you didn't have one without the other, and that it's only within the past couple centuries that we've separated the two.

Another thing she talked about was how the idea of approaching spiritual texts and myths in general with the question of whether or not they're "true" is putting the cart before the horse. Spiritual guidance is something you live by; you have faith, do the action, then see its effects in your life. The action comes first; the "truth" of it becomes apparent after. I think just about anyone who has been through the 12-steps of Recovery will agree that our spiritual program definitely works like that. If you spend your energy trying to figure the program out, you won't get anywhere. If instead you just take it on faith and work the steps, you'll see the truth of them as their effects show in your life.

We didn't think our way into becomming addicts; we can't think our way out of it.

Another guest started talking about how self-centered we are these days. There's so much emphasis on self-improvement, self-discovery, and of course looking out for #1 is a huge part of our culture here in America. His point, though, was that any time we put someone besides ourselves first, that is a huge paradigm shift. Yes, thinking of others first, instead of yourself, is a revolutionary, radical concept.

In my active addiction, I always put myself first. I was raised in a religious household, so I had been taught to think of others, to sacrifice myself for others. I knew how to give the appearance of putting others first, but the times that I did, I did it out of selfish motivation. I didn't help others because I cared about them, I did it because I didn't want to listen to them whine about their problems. If I saw someone in pain, I tried to alleviate that pain not because I wanted them to suffer less, but because I didn't know how to and couldn't deal with emotions. I focused on other people's problems, trying to fix them and change them, because if I did that then I didn't have to deal with my own issues.

My helping others was an escape from myself. I didn't know how to deal with me, so I used other people in order to avoid doing so. I know other addicts have different experiences when it comes to selfishness, and these are just some examples of mine. I also know these kinds of issues are something many addicts struggle with in their Recovery. It's one of the reasons a lot of us end up in the rooms of Codependents Anonymous, Al-Anon, and Nar-Anon, in addition to attending our regular fellowships.

The chaos of our old lives was the result of self-will run riot. More often than not, we addicts come in to the rooms as deeply insecure, raging egomaniacs. The 12 Steps teach us how to live a spiritual life. As the literature says, we don't learn to think less of ourselves, we learn how to think of ourselves less. It is said that this is a selfish program, a statement that is sometimes misinterpreted. What we learn is a different kind of selfishness: we learn that it's okay to take care of ourselves. We learn how to be good to ourselves, to treat ourselves well. We learn to love ourselves. Only after we can do that, can we honestly and truly love others.

The whole point of the spiritual is to step outside of ourselves. Living a spiritual life means we remove ourselves from the center of the universe and instead assume our proper place in it--as one of many; a small piece of a much larger whole. The speaker on the radio made the point that being compassionate is the easiest way to do this. When we practice compassion, we try to see things from another's perspective. It gets us outside of ourselves and we begin thinking of others.

Compassion. Compassion towards others. Compassion towards ourselves. These are the cornerstones of the spiritual life.

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