Wherever you are in the world, there is almost always an AA meeting available. That being said, not being familiar with a particular locale, many of us have wandered around trying to find the meeting itself. Hopefully, they’ve put out a small AA sign by the door, but that is not always the case. What has saved us and often gotten us to the meeting is the ubiquitous butt can at the entrance. That butt can has served as a beacon to guide us down the steps to a meeting.
In the early days of AA those butt cans outside the meeting were unnecessary. When you entered any AA meeting you would have been greeted with clouds of cigarette smoke.
At a meeting recently a member was reminiscing about those days where the room was a cloudy haze. He observed that even though we no longer have clouds of cigarette smoke surrounding us, we still have clouds of smoke surrounding us. He went on to explain that it was in AA meetings that he felt the perceptible presence of God. For him, it was almost like a comforting ether of spirituality. He viewed the words spoken in the shares of others as messages from his Higher Power. In meetings, he often had insights that he attributed to the God of his understanding.
Aren’t we lucky in AA? We can experience those clouds of smoke without ever having to take a puff.
Personal Reflection: Do I connect with my Higher Power at meetings?
Recently, two people who had just come out of their yoga class had a small fender bender in the parking lot. Right after the accident they began to yell at each other at the top of their lungs. Both had spent an hour doing deep stretches in class and ended their session in deep meditation. Yet now, just a few minutes later, they had left the serenity of the class far behind. So, the question is where did a spiritual experience take place that morning? Many would say that their hour long session of yoga and meditation qualified as spiritual. We in the program look at life a little differently. We believe the true spiritual experience took place when they lost it with one another in the parking lot. Yes, the yoga class was very nice and relaxing. But, it was when they were yelling at each other that they had the greater opportunity for spiritual growth. If they had chosen to examine their actions, they would have discovered opportunities to work on anger, pride, self righteousness, arrogance and a host of other defects of character. The real spiritual “work” takes place when we see those darker parts of ourselves and have the capacity to own up to them. If one of them had stopped yelling and said “forgive me for hitting your car”, that would have been a spiritual home run.
Personal Reflection: What was my last rude awakening?
Every generation has had people that were considered spiritual. In the 19th century Henry David Thoreau left the hustle and bustle of the city behind and went to live on Walden Pond. More recently, in the 1960’s thousands of people flocked to Ashrams in India. Today, large numbers of people attend gatherings led by people like the the Dali Lama. If queried, almost all of these people would probably categorize themselves as spiritual.
We in AA, NA and OA identify our programs as spiritual as well. Yes, we also spend time in self examination, meditation and prayer. However, we define a large aspect of spirituality as something quite different. For us, spirituality, involves us stepping out of ourselves. For all to long we were obsessed with the world of I. We really did believe that the world should revolve around us. Now we see things very differently. A big part of our program is to extend ourselves and help others. When we do so, some of that arrogance of self is burned away and we begin to experience the joys of service. Helping others is a beautiful thing. When we do so, our minds quiet and we can forget about that world of I for a few hours. Those hours have become a precious commodity to us.
Personal Reflection: Do I exercise spirituality thru service?
At some point in time all of us took our first drink or drug. People in AA often say I didn’t like how it tasted, but I sure did like how it made me feel. When you probe a bit deeper, most people who used did so because they were uncomfortable in their own skin. Initially the alcohol or drugs or food did the trick. On some deep level they felt soothed, perhaps for the first time in their lives. Unfortunately, the effects were illusory. As soon as we came down from our alcohol, drug or sugar high, we were exactly in the same place we had been before. Nothing had really changed. So we entered into an endless cycle of pain, drug of choice and remorse. When we finally entered the rooms of AA, NA or OA we learned that using a substance would never fill that deep hole within us. Our problem was spiritual, not physical in nature. We needed spiritual not physical medicine. Our new course of treatment included going to meetings and getting a sponsor. As we healed we upped our dosage and began to work the steps. Prayer and meditation were part of the prescription as well.
Personal Reflection: Am I still trying to use a physical solution for a spiritual problem?
Being a child of the 1960’s I had a particular view of living a spiritual life. Truly spiritual people were only eating healthy organic foods. It went without saying that they were vegetarian. Daily meditation was of course part of their regimen. A strict yoga practice along with tai chi provided added benefit. Many of them were adherents to Buddhism or esoteric systems.
There are people in the program who do fit the above description. It is also possible for the rest of us to practice a spiritual life. Having full schedules, we make a yoga class whenever we can. We attempt to eat as well as possible given our budget and time constraints. When we fall short of our idealized goal, we are kind and accepting with ourselves. Our definition of spirituality has broadened as well. It has come to include being honest in all of our dealings. Being of service to others is also a very high spiritual act. Making time for self care feeds and replenishes our soul. Perhaps most importantly we focus on maintaining a connection to our Higher Power. Without that, everything else is just window dressing.
Personal Reflection: How do I walk the spiritual path?