Friday, February 11, 2011

“Step Six: Willingness”

(This blog is sixth in a multi-part series, “Thoughts On The Steps”. This series is not a guide on how to work steps; steps can only be worked under the guidance of a sponsor. The twelve-step program is a spiritual program; it teaches us how to live a spiritual life. Working each of the steps gives us the chance to practice a spiritual principle. Whatever your particular fellowship, the Steps are the same, as are the spiritual principles behind them. These are my thoughts on the steps and on those principles.)

Step Six: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Step Six is about taking our spiritual growth ever-deeper. We’ve taken inventory, had a long, hard look at ourselves--who we are and how we’ve lived. If we’ve done a thorough job, we can see the patterns of our lives, how they’ve caused suffering for us and for other people. We just might even have made enough spiritual progress to see the need for greater change.

The ways in which we’ve lived our lives don’t work anymore (if they ever really did). The most blatant example of this is our addiction, but a thorough working of the fourth step helps us to see that our disease is about much, much more than our substances. The disease is about more than what we are hooked on, be it alcohol, marijuana, speed, crack, heroin, or coke. The subtler parts of the disease are what truly show when we put down. It’s in the way we think, the words we use to speak, the actions and inactions we do and don’t take.

Doctors and scientists tell us that the disease of addiction is a brain disease. It affects the reptilian part of our brain, the part that governs our instincts, skewing them, sending those once-healthy ways of dealing with the world totally awry. Program literature teaches us the same things, that we have natural instincts that the disease has perverted, causing us to try and fulfill those needs in extremely unhealthy ways. Our normal human instincts are good, useful, important, but we have been using them in all the wrong ways.

The list of possible character defects is too long for me to go into in this entry. I could write an entire blog on the subject and never run out of material. So what is a defect? How can we tell which of our personal qualities are objectionable? How do we know what it is that needs changing? The answer is actually pretty simple: they are the traits which prevent us from getting closer to our higher power. Getting loaded prevents us from making conscious contact with God; our character defects do much the same thing. When we act on them, we pull away from the spiritual instead of moving towards it. They are the ways in which we harm others and ourselves; the ways we assert our will on reality instead of letting God be in charge.

We can do our part, work to try to change the things we can, but we need the help of a power greater than ourselves to change the things we can't. We want to lead new lives, live differently, more spiritually. We do this by taking the tools the program has taught us and applying them in new ways. It takes all the principles we have learned so far--Honesty, Hope, Faith, Courage, and Integrity. It calls on us to practice another principle that we’ve been using all along: Willingness. Now, we use that principle in a far more specific and determined way: We have been willing to get clean and sober; we have been willing to work the steps we have worked so far. But how deep does our Willingness go? Are we truly willing to change our lives? Are we truly willing to be changed and become new and different people? Are we truly willing to live the spiritual life? These are the questions we ask through working the sixth step. We learn just how deep our willingness goes and then we push it even further.

To become changed, we must stop practicing our character defects. We seek to restore our instincts to their natural, healthy functions. We are like ancient navigators at sea, looking at the night sky. We read the stars, see where we have been and how we got to where we are. With Willingness, we can take our hands off the steering wheel of our lives and allow ourselves be guided.

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