Archive for the Suffering Exists Category
The First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous states, ”We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” The principle behind this first step is honesty. Step One also is closely related to Right View in Buddhism.
The first step is a simple (not easy) declaration of our complete defeat. Looking out our addiction, we see that our behavior has centered around our addiction. The first part of Step One, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol,” is a look at the nature of our using. Powerless is a strong word, and frightens many of us. However, when we look at the way we use, powerless is indeed a fitting word. When we drink and use, we lose all control and power. Taking the first drink, pill, hit, etc., we immediately succumb to our own powerlessness, and give in to the power of the substance.
We also experience powerlessness with the mental obsession we have. Even before we take the first drink, we are in constant thought of alcohol. Our lives are centered around alcohol. When we are not drinking, we are looking for the first drink. We are preoccupied with alcohol, not only losing power of action but also power of thought over it.
When we work this first part of Step One, we are practicing rigorous self-honesty. In order to see the nature of our powerlessness, we must be willing to set down the ego and be genuinely honest. This honesty helps us see that true extent of our powerlessness. As we honestly look at places we drank when we should not have, times we drank when it was inappropriate, and amounts we drank that we should not have, we recognize our powerlessness.
The second half of the First Step is “that our lives had become unmanageable.” Many people read this the first time and misinterpret it. What this is saying is not that our drinking had become unmanageable, but our lives. Yes, our drinking is obviously unmanageable, but the point is that our entire life is unmanageable by ourselves. When we look honestly at our lives, we see how unmanageable it has become. Our entire lives are out of our own control. With honesty, we are able to concede to our innermost selves that we are alcoholics and that our lives are unmanageable by our own control.
Step One and Right View
Right View and Step One are very closely related. Right view is the practice of seeing things as they truly are. The principle of honesty goes very well with Right View. In Right View, we begin to see things as they really are. When we are drinking and using, our perception is certainly disturbed. We are not seeing things as they really are, although it seems real to us.
Practicing the First Step and Right View, we open our minds to seeing the world from a different perspective. We look at our drinking and using, and we recognize the truth. We see more clearly the nature of our addiction. Rather than blaming everything on external issues, we recognize it is our own powerlessness that is the root of our suffering.
We also recognize how unmanageable our life has become. This is not to say we recognize the need for a Higher Power in our lives; rather, we come to terms with the reality of our lives being out of control. Often for some time, we have not been able to manage our lives. Where we previously believed we were in complete control, our convictions change.
Right View is essential to the First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous because we must begin to see things more clearly. We recognize the cause of our suffering is the addiction, powerlessness, and unmanageability.
The First Noble Truth is Dukkha which is most commonly translated as “suffering” or “dis-ease.” Dukkha refers to physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental suffering. It may also refer to dissatisfaction with our current situation, pain over something changing, or attachment.
Many people read the First Noble Truth, hear that Buddhism teaches life is suffering, and criticize it as being rather cynical. The reality is that every living being experiences suffering at some point in their life. It is inevitable. We will all experience old age, sickness, and death. Most all of us know the feeling of having something in our lives that makes us happy, but becoming unhappy when we no longer have it. It is due to the impermanence that we are most often suffering.
The Buddha emphasized insight meditation as a way to see our own dukkha. It is through meditations on impermanence and insight that we are able to identify the suffering in our life. The Buddha said in Samyutta Nikaya, “What ordinary folk call happiness, the enlightened ones call dukkha.” Often, it is near impossible for us to see the true nature of our suffering until we begin practicing and moving away from it.
(Please note I wrote this while in jail, and am now posting it here)
In jail, it is easy to drift from spiritual practice. The language, attitudes, and energy around me are consistently negative. From inmates blaming the police or the judge to repeat offenders discussing how high they are going to get when they get out, this doesn’t seem like a place where recovery can flourish. In order to fit in, you must blame the system, hate rules, and engage in conversations about who is the harder criminal.
I learned from a Buddhist mentor once that there is a reason that suffering is the First Noble Truth. Suffering is what leads to freedom. Through our suffering we seek and find the path. Without suffering, the other three Noble Truths could not exist, nor the Noble Eightfold Path to liberation. Khalil Gibran said, “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” When we are broken down and suffering, it is when we often have the most desire to grow spiritually. My personal experience with Alcoholics Anonymous confirms this. I was not able to get sober until I was COMPLETELY broken. Unfortunately this is the case for many alcoholics. Only through immense suffering was I willing and able to change.
In jail, my personal suffering as well as the suffering of my fellow inmates is too much for me to handle. I came to a point after the first few days where I absolutely had to practice rigorous spiritual routines. Spending so many hours a day locked in a tiny space, left with far too much time to be inside my own head, I had to choose between falling deeper down the self-pity, misery hole, or practicing the spirituality I have worked so hard to obtain, but let go of so easily.
Using my suffering as a motivation, I am finding that my primary perceptions were completely wrong… This is the most intense spiritual practice I have maintained, the most prayer and meditation I have done, and the most growth I have felt. From my morning meditations to my mealtime prayer, I am practicing things that I never before considered. At the root of this willingness is the amount I suffered while not practicing in here.
Being locked up, stuck with myself, and left with hours upon hours of solitude was in fact causing a great deal of suffering, which I can truly say in this moment I am grateful for. The past several weeks have rejuvenated my yearning for recovery and spiritual growth, and the things I’m learning in jail are numerous, crucial, and will hopefully stick with me.
“God can move mountains, but please bring a shovel.”
“If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.
If you want happiness for a day, go fishing.
If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime, help someone else.”
“Action may not always bring happiness; but there is no happiness without action.”
I have found in my recovery that I must continue to take personal inventory ON PAPER. Simply trying to do it in my head does not work, and I fall behind. Furthermore, when I am doing a written inventory, I must also take the action to make amends where they are due.
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
““When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”
“Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”