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.
Right View (samyag drishti) is often the first of the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism. Right view is the practice of seeing things as they really are, or recognizing the true nature. Before anything, Right View is a full understanding of the Four Noble Truths. Sariputra said that Right View was the ability to distinguish wholesome roots from unwholesome roots.
One of the most fundamental issues having to do with Right View is our perception. The Buddha told Subhuti, “Where there is perception, there is deception.” The teaching here is that our perceptions affect everything we experience, and we must be careful in trusting our perception. Our human nature, conditioned brains, and closed hearts cause our perceptions to consistently deceive us. Our perception is dependent upon everything going on within us, and as we change, so does our perception. The Buddha taught that our perceptions are nearly all erroneous.
Right View vs. Wrong View
When we speak of Right View, it is often compared to having a Wrong View. Right View is seeing things as they are, recognizing our suffering is of our own making, and not trying to control the external world. We must look at our own mind. In this sense “wrong view” is doing the opposite; it is blaming others for our suffering, trying to control things, and not seeing things as they are.
However, many Buddhist teachers agree that most every view is truly a wrong view. Having Right View, we let go of our perceptions and attachment to them. Any view is still a view, and not recognizing the true nature of things, and thus wrong. However, this is a more advanced concept.
The truth of Right View is that we must focus the mind on the mind. Rather than focusing our mind externally on things we come across, we must focus our minds on our minds. Looking at ourselves, we see the First Noble Truth, that there is suffering. We also recognize the Second Noble Truth, the cause of our suffering. The root of our suffering is our own minds. Our fear, delusion, craving, and attachment create almost all of our suffering.
Recognizing this with Right View, the door opens to focusing our minds on our minds, concentrating on ourselves. As Ghandi said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” We cannot change the external, but we can change our minds, our delusions, and our unwholesome behaviors.
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.
As an alcoholic or addict, we are often challenged by our running minds and endless thoughts. In Twelve-Step programs, we are encouraged to take action against these harmful thoughts. Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh offers us a four-step path of action to take against our thinking. He addresses both vitarka (initial thought) and vichara (developing thought).
1. “Are You Sure?”
The first of the four practices related to Right Thinking focuses on its connection to Right View. Thich Nhat Hanh discusses the idea that all perceptions are wrong essentially. When we have a perception, a thought follows shortly after. A useful tool, we ask ourselves, “Are You Sure?” regarding our perception and thought. We must remember that a view is just a point of view, implying it is just from one point. When we change our point, the view changes. By asking ourselves if we are sure about our perceptions, we often are able to stop the thoughts at their conception, while the mind is still at vitarka.
2. “What Am I Doing?”
The second practice Thich Nhat Hanh offers is to ask yourself, “What Am I Doing?” This practice is related to Right Concentration. By asking ourselves what we are doing, we are brought back to the present moment. Oftentimes, we find that our body is doing something while our mind is doing something else. When we are being mindful, we are brought back to exactly what we are doing, and are able to enjoy the present moment, without thinking.
3. “Hello, Habit Energy”
Each of us has habit energy, energy that pushes us toward repeated behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. It is common for us to be hard on ourselves for these habit energies. We realize we are on autopilot throughout the day, focused on our work, family life, education, etc. We must stop and smell the roses. Getting caught in our habit energy prevents us from having any original, pure thoughts. We are stuck in a thinking cycle. Rather than scolding ourselves for this, we must look at the habit energy, and let it go. Being too hard on yourself is a habit energy! Let it go!
The final practice offered is that of the Bodhichitta. Bodhichitta is the “buddhaseed” within us. When we are living in our own buddha-nature, our thoughts become less invasive. We must cultivate this Bodhichitta within us when our thinking strays, and live with compassion and love. It is amazing how living with compassion and taking action clears our thinking!
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.