Archive for the 3rd Step Category
In recovery, we go through the steps with our sponsor. However, the steps also must be worked in our daily lives. As the Twelfth Step of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests, we must practice these principles in all our affairs.
The principle of surrender that is behind the Third Step must be practiced throughout our daily lives. As we discussed in Step Three: Surrender and the Three Jewels, surrender is about turning ourselves over to a power other than ourselves, whatever that may be. However, step three is not just about making a decision and leaving it at that.
We must turn our surrender into a way of life. If we are being honest, most of us are not in surrender for the majority of our days. Anytime we are upset, anxious, or not in acceptance, we are not in surrender. To be in surrender, we must constantly remind ourselves that something else is in charge. Earl Hightower gives the example of a soldier surrendering to an opposing army. The soldier lays his gun down and puts his hands up. The soldier is fully surrendered at this point; he doesn’t suddenly turn and pick up his gun again. In a similar way, we must fully surrender.
It is only natural that we are not in surrender all the time. However, when we aren’t in surrender we must catch ourselves. As the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous reminds us on pages 87 and 88, “As we go through the day we pause, when agitated or doubtful, and ask for the right thought or action. We constantly remind ourselves we are no longer running the show, humbly saying to ourselves many times each day ‘Thy will be done.’ ”
Surrendering means to let go of our self-will, and let something greater direct our thoughts and actions. As we have discussed, what this power is does not matter. What does matter is that we cease fighting anything and anyone. We surrender to the way things are, and opt to learn from life. Some people believe everything happens for a reason, while others believe everything is chance but we always have the opportunity to learn. Either way, surrender is about staying out of our own way, learning to live in harmony with life, and cease trying to control things.
The Third Step of Alcoholics Anonymous states, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” The principle behind this step is Surrender. The 3rd Step and is also closely related to the Three Jewels of Buddhism.
Step Three and Surrender
In Step Two, we open ourselves up to a bit of hope and faith. In the third step, we surrender our lives to something greater than ourselves. The Oxford English Dictionary defines surrender as to “cease resistance to an enemy or opponent and submit to their authority.” In this sense, we are ceasing to resist running our lives, and submitting to the authority of a power greater than ourselves. Where we previously resisted and turned away from any sense of a Higher Power, we submit to its authority.
It is important at this step to investigate what the term “power greater than ourselves” means to us. For those of us that enter the program with a religious background, it may be a good idea to use our previous concept of a Higher Power. However, most of us do not enter the program with an existing Higher Power. If we are agnostic, we may investigate the power of the twelve-step rooms or of our sponsor. We recognize the rooms hold more power than we do ourselves, as we were not previously able to stay sober alone. For those of us that enter atheistic, we may find trouble with this step. However, this does not mean we must shy away from this step at all. For example, as a Buddhist myself, I use the Dharma as my Higher Power. It is not a greater person nor a sentient being. Rather, the Dharma is a Higher Truth. Merriam Webster defines the word God as “the supreme or ultimate reality,” which the Dharma absolutely is for me. I, daily, turn my will and my life over to the practices that the Dharma lay out for me.
When we turn our will and our lives over, we are submitting to something greater than ourselves. Whether it is Jesus Christ, the universe, a Twelve-Step room, or a set of atheistic teachings, we must surrender completely. To do so, this decision must be made at once, and fulfilled in our everyday life. We must give up running the show ourselves, and allow our thoughts and actions to be run by something greater.
In the Third Step we surrender to a power greater than ourselves. One might say we “take refuge.” In Buddhism, we surrender to the Three Jewels. This is called taking refuge. The Three Jewels are the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. As we surrender and turn our wills and our lives over to a Higher Power in Step Three, we turn to the Three Jewels for refuge in Buddhism.
The first of the Three Jewels is the Buddha. This jewel is not the worshiping of a supreme being. Rather, it is the recognition of our own Buddha-seed within. The Buddha taught that we all have the ability to attain enlightenment. Taking refuge in the Buddha means aligning our actions with those of our own Buddha-nature. Taking refuge in the Buddha also means we surrender to our loving Buddha-nature, and let it run our lives.
The second of the Three Jewels is the Dharma. The Dharma is the collection of teachings that the Buddha laid out. Generally, the word “dharma” is translated as “path.” However, the word is more appropriately translated to the “way.” The Dharma is not a path that leads somewhere specific, but a way of life that is to be followed. The Dharma teaches us about the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, compassion, mindfulness, and much more. Taking refuge in the Dharma is taking refuge in a set of teachings that has been proven to lead to awakening. We surrender to the teachings, letting our thoughts and actions fall in line with this greater truth.
The final of the Three Jewels is the Sangha. The Sangha is essentially the community of practitioners. Just as in twelve-step meetings we speak of the power of one addict or alcoholic talking to another, there is power in two ore more people coming together to discuss meditation, the teachings, the Buddha, etc. Taking refuge in the Sangha, we engage in our community and fellows and embrace the power of a group.
Taking refuge in the Three Jewels is the same principle as surrendering to a Higher Power in the Third Step. We turn our will and our lives over to something greater. We cease resisting our own Buddha-nature, the teachings, and the community. We begin to embrace them, and let our actions and thoughts be guided.
Willingness is one of the keys to my sobriety. In early recovery as much as today, I must maintain an open mind and a willingness to learn something new. Whether it is accepting a Higher Power into my life, letting character defects go, getting a sponsor, or listening to the experience of others, willingness is an essential quality of my spiritual growth.
When I was newly sober, willingness was one of the qualities that saved my life. Although I did not immediately want quality sobriety at first, I was willing to go to treatment. I did not see it as willingness at the time, but I had enough of an openness to consider an alternative to the way I was living. Unfortunately, the only reason I had this amount of willingness was because of where I was emotionally; I had become emotionally exhausted, confused, and completely afraid of life.
Attending twelve-step meetings, I had the slightest amount of willingness, and was able to listen to speakers and fellows share their experiences. With the little amount of willingness I did have, I heard enough to help me grow. I did not have the most open mind, nor the most willingness in the room, but I was reminded that I only needed a little to begin.
I heard repeatedly to get a sponsor, even if it was a temporary sponsor. I heard I needed to work the steps, help others, get commitments, and go to a meeting every day. All the cliche pieces of advice for newcomers, I took in. I had enough willingness to get a sponsor on my fourth day of sobriety. He told me he would be my sponsor one day at a time until I found a new one, and that I should call him the next day so we could start working together. With over 30 years of sobriety, I had enough willingness to believe in what this man was telling me. He is still my sponsor today, and we have grown extremely close over the past several years.
Being a newcomer, willingness is not an easy quality to come in contact with always. My ego was in the way, telling me that I could do it differently. Spending my whole life “knowing everything, always,” it was a dramatic shift to have it brought to my attention that I needed help. However, my sponsor asked me in my first 30 days one simple question, “Are you willing to just entertain the idea that maybe there is a different way for you to interact with life?” My answer was that I was, and this was and still is a great reminder to remain open-minded and willing.
Willingness also takes a crucial role in the development of my relationship with my Higher Power. When my perception of a Higher Power first began to develop, I had to have willingness to even consider the possibility of it. Raised in a Jewish family, I attended a Catholic high school before moving to rural Costa Rica, where Roman Catholicism was by far the most popular religion amongst the community. My religious views were cloudy at best, and I bashed any form of a “god” as weak, ignorant, and irresponsible. Not truly an atheist, I acted like one as a defense mechanism.
When I began attending meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, I was completely put off by the talk of a Higher Power or of God. However, I had the willingness to stay, and ignore what I did not need. As time went on, my willingness spread to this aspect of my recovery, and I considered the presence of a power greater than myself in my life. As many people getting sober, the rooms and meetings were my first sense of a Higher Power. I thought of love, the energy in the room, or of compassion as my god. It took a growth in willingness for me to even accept any of these into my life.
As my growth continued, I began praying and meditating as suggested by the program and my sponsor. Willingness was one of the most frequent things I prayed for (and continue to pray for). My relationship with the world grows with my willingness. As I have maintained an open mind with my faith, my sense of a power greater than myself has greatly changed. With willingness, I become open to change and do not get attached to one idea of a god that I have set in my mind.
As the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions says on page 34, ”There is only one key, and it is called willingness.”
“The spiritual life does not remove us from the world but leads us deeper into it.”
-Henri J. M. Nouwen
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
“I believe God is managing affairs and that He doesn’t need any advice from me. With God in charge, I believe everything will work out for the best in the end. So what is there to worry about?”
I have felt at times in my life that my Higher Power was not there when I reached for it. I also find that I often pray for things for situations to turn out how I want them to. The Twelve N’ Twelve Quote of the Day today was “In the morning we think of the hours to come. Perhaps we think of our day’s work and the chances it may afford us to be useful and helpful, or of some special problem that it may bring. Possibly today will see a continuation of a serious and as yet unresolved problem left over from yesterday. Our immediate temptation will be to ask for specific solutions to specific problems, and for the ability to help other people as we have already thought they should be helped. In that case, we are asking God to do it ourway. Therefore, we ought to consider each request carefully to see what its real merit is. Even so, when making specific requests, it will be well to add to each one of them this qualification: “…if it be Thy will.” We ask simply that throughout the day God place in us the best understanding of His will that we can have for that day, and that we be given the grace by which we may carry it out.”
This reminded me that I must pray for God‘s will, not mine. When I am praying for something to turn out the way I want it to, I am setting myself up for failure. As the popular quote from “Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict” (or “Acceptance was the Answer” in the 4th Edition) says, acceptance is the answer to my relationship with God.
When I am asking for things that are within my will, my prayer is futile. If I am praying for my will to be done, I find that my Higher Power is absent when I most need it. Hard times come, anger comes, friends relapse, things don’t go my way. When I am not praying for God’s will to be done, I am far less accepting when these things happen. When I pray for God’s will, not mine, I find that I am able to accept these situations with an amazing level of serenity.
In Buddhism, the first step of the Noble Eightfold Path is Right View. I find this applicable to this topic in that when I am in Right View, I see that God’s will is always being carried out, and THE ONLY THING STOPPING IT IS ME. When I am seeing more clearly, working to eliminate my warped perceptions (which is indeed all of them), I see that it truly is my will that interferes.
One piece of advice I have found especially helpful is to practice my Right View specifically when I am praying and meditating. When I am asking for God’s help, I check to see if my perceptions are interfering. I do not pray for many things other than happiness for others, compassion, and patience.
“Though our decision was a vital and crucial step, it could have little permanent effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort to face, and to be rid of, the things in ourselves which had been blocking us.”
“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.”
“God can move mountains, but please bring a shovel.”
“Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. And lo, no one was there.”
“Faith makes things possible, not easy.”