Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Generic spirituality (part two) - introspection


The first article of this series identified the three basic generic spiritual principles (introspection, contemplation, and altruistic service) which were incorporated into the 12 Step recovery program by the early members of A.A. This segment will discuss the first basic generic principle – introspection.

‘Introspection’ is a $10 word for self-examination.

Introspection is required on the very first day of recovery from any addiction. As Bill W. wrote in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions:
“In the first two Steps we were engaged in reflection. We saw that we were powerless over alcohol, but we also perceived that faith of some kind, if only in A.A. itself, is possible to anyone. These conclusions did not require action; they required only acceptance.” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 34)
We begin conscious recovery by examining our powerlessness over whatever our particular addiction happens to be and the resulting unmanageability. We ruthlessly look for the truth about ourselves and our addiction and work to keep our memory of that truth up and running (or as they say in the meetings “keep it green”). But that is not the end of our practice of introspection.

The practice of self-examination continues to be used in Steps 4-12 – perhaps more heavily in Steps 4, 6, 8, and 10 – but still involved in all of the Steps to one degree or another. Perhaps this would be a good place to list all Twelve Steps in case someone is not familiar with them. Here they are as originally finalized by the early members of A.A.
1)      We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
2)      Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3)      Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4)      Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5)      Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6)      Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7)      Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8)      Made a list of all people we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9)      Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10)  Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11)  Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12)  Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. (Alcoholics Anonymous, pp. 59-60)
Apparently, one of the things distinguishing human beings from other life forms is our capacity to self-examine. With the effort of spiritual practice we are able to see those things in our mind that cut off our awareness of inflowing Divine energy (or the ‘grace of God’ if you prefer). This is the 4th Step inventory. This inventory is reviewed in Step 6 and practiced daily in Step 10. When we fail to see the truth of our lack of conscious connection to the Divine in all things we are totally unable to cooperate effectively in enhancing or improving that connection.

Whether we call these bliss-busters ‘shortcomings’, ‘defects of character’, ‘maladjustments’, ‘seeds of unhappiness’, or ‘evils’ one thing is certain – the more we can do to disable their influence in our lives the happier we (and everyone around us) will be. This is a kind purification or detoxification process. In conscious recovery detoxification happens at the physical, mental, and spiritual levels.

And when is purification in order? Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Not next Thursday. Purification is in order NOW! Is there any other time available for the experience of life? Is there any other time when our shortcomings retard our awareness of our connection to the Divine? Everything happens in the now. Yesterday is history and tomorrow is a mystery – and taking care of the now automatically takes care of the future and reduces stress and anxiety.

To summarize, self-examination or introspection is the spiritual practice which begins the process of spiritual development and makes purification possible. We are led to this practice by our experience of life with varying levels of personal awareness over the course of our lives. Although purification is a life-span experience, it always occurs in the present moment – never in the past or future which have no actual reality outside their appearance in our own brains.


Cheever, S. (2004). My name is Bill: Bill Wilson – his life and the creation of Alcoholics Anonymous. New York: Simon & Schuster.

DR. Bob and the good oldtimers: A biography, with recollections of early A.A. in the midwest. (1984). New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

‘PASS IT ON’: The story of Bill Wilson and how the A.A. message reached the world. (1984). New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

W., Bill. (1986). Twelve steps and twelve traditions. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (Original work published 1952)

W., Bill. et. al. (2001). Alcoholics Anonymous. Fourth edition. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. (Original work published 1939)

 Copyright @ 2010 Jeremy K. Finkeldey; All rights reserved

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