Chapter FIVE


A  Path 

  • Recovery and the attainment of sobriety, through Alcoholics Anonymous or otherwise, is best described as a process, a gradual search for the maturity which years of drinking have postponed. Many, or even most, persons in AA view this process as a spiritual one. Its name may not be as important as its content. Since AA is for all faiths, and even for those who assert that they are agnostics or atheists, each must have his or her own unique recovery. Although there is one over-arching goal, sobriety and maturity, there may be several paths. This is but one of them: 

  •  Perhaps the primary need is self sufficiency, namely relief from dependence on other persons, which means that  they no longer are empowered over us. This does not mean self centeredness, rebellion  or narcissism. Nor should it mean selfishness.  Quite to the contrary, the self, released from dependence on others, is set free to help and care for others. For to regain the power over one’s life is to have the power to help those who for some reason cannot or will not help themselves. Yet it must be kept in mind that no one can really change another, and should not be so arrogant as to try. Each person can only change himself but others may at least try to show him the way if he would only listen. Regretfully each generation seems intent on learning each thing anew, equivalent to reinventing the wheel. They tend to reject and scorn the wisdom built up from generations, centuries or even millennia of experience, lessons taught by the ages in the rough school of trial and error. And, in a moral equivalent of the burning of the great Library at ancient Alexandria, the learning of the past is often cast aside, only to be “discovered” hundreds of years later. Meanwhile history tends to repeat itself as, it is said, “those who will not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”.     

  • Another aspect of attaining a release from dependency relates to dependency upon possessions, particularly on those accumulated as evidence to others of one’s wealth or superiority of taste. Here much depends not only on the nature of one’s acquisitions but also on the motivation for which they were acquired. If this should be from vanity or ostentation then this is something which cannot contribute to serenity. For not only does this incite the envy of others but such an obsession may well become an addiction in itself and then there is no end to it. Evil has been said to be a perversion of the good. Thus, within limits, a beautiful home and garden may be a consolation but an excessive accumulation motivated by the sole object of acquisition, like William Randolph Heart’s San Simeon or the closing scenes of “Citizen Kane”, may become grotesque. If beauty is, if not “Truth”, as Keats suggested, it may surely be a manifestation of a greater spiritual reality. The work of genius exists. Is that not quite enough? Is it of any importance who may “possess” or “own” it? Can anyone “own” Mozart’s last Requiem, Bach’s Mass in B. Minor, Wagner’s “Parsifal” or “Tristan und Isolde”? Who can boast about ”owning” the lilies of the field, the giant redwood trees, Grand or Bryce Canyons or Niagara Falls? Or, more simply, an evening sunset or the way the evening light in Autumn filters through the trees at the end of day, Winter’s frost upon the bare trees or the first signs of Spring, when from the awakening land comes the promise of nature’s renewal, a rebirth of the spirit and a newness of life which signifies God’s forgiveness and a promise of redemption. All these cannot be “owned”. One can only stand in awe and, if not silent, say “Surely this is the work of Something beyond my comprehension”, a nouminous sense that this may indeed be holy ground.    

  • ​Escape from the accumulation of money. Money, essentially a mere convention for expressing material value, is  useful only for attaining a continuing sufficiency and independence. Aristotle was thus correct in his view that, although a sufficiency of money may be necessary for a happy life, more than that becomes a burden and a life dedicated to the pursuit of money for its own sake is doomed to result in misery. For then there is no end to it. No matter how much money a person accumulates this will not be enough. Like an addiction, the love of money feeds upon itself and is never satisfied. Along with material wealth goes pride and the love of status and power over others. Those who are preoccupied with the accumulation of wealth delude themselves that they do so for the sake of later philanthropy or out of concern for the welfare of their descendants. But the contribution of large amounts to charitable causes more often feeds the ego and elicits the  insincere flattery of multitudes who discover new needs, real or imagined. Thus the rich person can never be sure whether he seems to be loved for his wealth or for his person. And his descendants, beneficiaries of trusts which enable them to live a life of leisure and self indulgence if they so choose, are often even more unhappy than their ancestral benefactors. For they have not earned their way in life but are left to squander the resources left to them by others. In doing so they must inwardly feel disrespect for themselves or at least uncertainty as to who they really are. Thus although a sufficiency of money may be a good thing, more than that can well become a burden, a perversion and a curse.     

  • Escape from the illusion of a “career” centered around the pursuit of fame. This is but another aspect of dependency, seeking the approval of others, which more often results in envy, rather than in approval. And fame itself is fleeting. “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair”, said Shelley’s Ozymandias, “King of Kings”, to be forgotten centuries later and commemorated only by “two vast and trunkless legs of stone” standing in the desert, whose “lone and level sands stretch far away.”. It is but another aspect of pride, hubris, ennobling no man and inciting rebellion and hatred in others. In a softer and more charitable sense it may be replaced by a “calling” or, perhaps, a “mission”, commendable if it were not an effort to change the lives of others to one’s own liking.    

  •  Service to others. The joy which comes from making someone else’s life a little better. This is not dependent on being “thanked”. Indeed, the object of charity is often resentful. Cynics have said, “No good deed goes unpunished” or have observed that charity often springs from feelings of guilt or ostentatious benevolence. Yet  charity may also come from love and compassion for others. And it may be anonymous, seeking no praise or recognition. 

  • Freedom from compulsive perfectionism. Excessive pursuit of perfection is merely hubris. Seek a better result but do not expect the best, much less the perfect. What is perfection and who or what is free from some flaw? Did not Lincoln once say, "I do the very best I know how - the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end." Little of value may be accomplished quickly and much can be done slowly and, step by step, with patience, or even as ritual, like the tea ceremony popular with the Japanese. Often little is necessary if the thing is done well, for, as the seed contains the tree, much may be contained in something of no great size. One may glimpse eternity in a grain of sand, as the poet  Blake once said. The Sermon on the Mount is brief but its love, wisdom and forgiveness, its simplicity and grace, have inspired millions over the centuries. And it is written that “thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy strength and thy neighbor as thyself.” That alone is enough.


CH. 2. 

So shall the earth, its galaxy and perhaps the universe itself eventually vanish, possibly to be replaced by another universe, different and possibly more beautiful than ours, evidence of the wonder of that which is infinite, the essences of which are love, beauty, wisdom, understanding and forgiveness.  

“Free at last! Thank God Almighty! I’m free at last!”
                                                      The Rev. Martin Luther King​

         And this was the poet Coleridge's conclusion at the close of his Rime of the Ancient Mariner:


        “He prayeth best, who loveth  best

         All things both great and small;

         For the dear God who loveth us, 

         He made and loveth all.” 

  • But what about those who are evil? Although there may be some who are so corrupted by evil that they seem beyond redemption or forgiveness, even they may at times be understood if one is aware of their background and their lives. For is it possible that a child might be born evil or does this arise from some corrupting influence, no doubt amplified in later years by choices springing from greed, pride, envy and the love of power?

  • So the pursuit of understanding becomes all important. Learning more about why persons are the way they are. The pervasive influence of parents, family, peer culture and advertising. The more we understand the more likely it is that we may be able to forgive and, forgiving them, forgive ourselves. An admonition to “Know Thyself” is said to have been engraved by the Greeks over the Temple to Apollo at Delphi. That the ancient Greeks would have had such insight into the nature of wisdom is intriguing. Indeed it might be said that, at least in this respect, little has been learned since then.

  • Understanding may then be followed by forgiveness. When we understand why people do the things they do we may experience forgiveness, Although we may always "remember" something that someone has done, we cannot truly forgive if we foster resentment, what has been called "self-as-victim" or what some psychiatrists have called "collecting brown stamps".

  • Yet there is a difference between forgiveness and toleration of evil. There is a need  for punishment in some cases, both as a possible deterrent, a hope for rehabilitation and to accommodate a feeling that   justice may in any case be done. This still leaves the possibility, perhaps the probability, of the existence of absolute evil, such as envisaged by  Manichaeism and Zoroastrianism, in sharp contrast to the Catholic dogma that Evil may be but the Perversion of the Good, as Milton’s Satan was a but a rebellious and Fallen Angel. But acceptance of the  latter view makes it difficult to understand extreme manifestations, such as Adolf Hitler or  Josef  Stalin, whose willful sadism and carnage seem entirely alien from any notion of  perverted good. Evil of such proportions seems to have an inbuilt tendency to self destruct.  

  • Forgiveness may lead to compassion for all living creatures and an awareness of the essential tragedy inherent in much of life. Although one may not agree with the philosopher, Schopenhauer, that death is preferable to the despair inherent in existence, his suggestion that relief from sorrow or hopelessness may lie in the arts, and particularly in music, is perceptive and true.   

  • It is easier to change oneself than to change others or to change the world. An attempt to do the latter may elicit only frustration and accompanying anger. Humans, as well as some inanimate objects, may occasionally be teased or coaxed into line, but, more often than not, they must go their own way. Much can be said for going with the flow of life, listening for the inner Tao, and arranging oneself to live with grace, modesty and simplicity. 

  • Release from the fear of death. Death is not the end but merely a transition. If there is no existence after death then with the death of the self, where is the harm? Then there can be no suffering. No regrets. No unpleasant memories. And if one should leave a single footprint behind, then this alone may be enough. Need the footprint be in a rock, like that of the Buddha? If it were only in the sand and were ultimately to vanish in the wind would this not be a testament to the impermanence of all that exists? Like the sand paintings of the Tibetans (known as "dul-tson-kyil-khor" (mandala of colored powders)) as well as of other cultures, such as Native Americans in the Southwest. These intricate paintings are ultimately swept up by brooms and the sand is cast into the water.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner 
Part VI, 446-51; Part VII, 597-600 
S.T. Coleridge


                 Recovery from alcoholism is best viewed as a spiritual journey. Often such a journey cannot take place until an alcoholic “hits bottom”, becomes so desperate that he or she is willing to do anything to be free from the addiction. Such moments are not unique to alcoholics but they often occur during the progress of the illness. Occasionally they have been described in literature and in poetry:

“In the midway of this our mortal life,
I found me in a gloomy wood, astray
Gone from the path direct: and e’en to tell,
It were no easy task, how savage wild
That forest, how robust and rough its growth,
Which to remember only, my dismay
Renews, in bitterness not far from death.
Yet, to discourse of what there good befell,
All else will I relate discover’d there.” 

              Dante, Inferno Canto I (Cary Trans.)

Ch. 1. The First Meeting

Atisha (Atisa Dipankara Shrijnana (Ôtish Dipôngkor Srigên) (980-1052 CE)-Tibetan teacher)


“Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round, walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.
                   *    *    *
Oh Wedding-Guest! this soul hath been
Alone on a wide, wide sea:
So lonely ‘twas, that God himself
Scarce seemed there to be.”

The greatest achievement is selflessness.
The greatest worth is self-mastery.
The greatest quality is seeking to serve others.
The greatest precept is continual awareness.
The greatest medicine is the emptiness of everything.
The greatest action is not conforming with the worlds ways.
The greatest magic is transmuting the passions.
The greatest generosity is non-attachment.
The greatest goodness is a peaceful mind.
The greatest patience is humility.
The greatest effort is not concerned with results.
The greatest meditation is a mind that lets go.
The greatest wisdom is seeing through appearances.

“Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is beauty, admire it. 
Life is a dream, realize it. 
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it.
Life is sorrow, overcome it.
Life is a song, sing it.
Life is a struggle, accept it.
Life is a tragedy, confront it.
Life is an adventure, dare it.
Life is luck, make it.
Life is life, fight for it."

              Saint (Mother) Teresa

“What is the price of Experience [?]
Do men buy it for a song
Or wisdom for a dance in the street?
No it is bought with the price of all 
       that a man hath [,]
His house, his wife, his children [.]
Wisdom is sold in the desolate market
      where none come to buy.”

         William Blake- “Vala” p. 35 lines 11-14

“He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our despair, against our own will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”

                           Aeschylus-lines 179-182 of the Agamemnon

A Parable

There was a man who, in the loneliness, the pain, the unrelenting isolation of long life, longed for death. But he had been told by pastors, well meaning though perhaps ill advised, that death may be but the beginning of even greater torment, from which only those “elected” by God’s Grace are spared. Or those who, belonging to a sect or narrow religious community, had said that if he were not one of their number, he would suffer eternal damnation. 

Notwithstanding these admonitions he had lived his life honestly. With the advancing years he had become increasingly aware of his faults, of countless errors made in the years which stretched in a long unbroken line behind him. He had not done as well as some, but few who had really known him would have doubted that, as time went on, he had improved. With time had come understanding and, with that, forgiveness, not only of others but of himself. He had learned, from the animals, love, simple and direct, without conditions. And he had felt an increasing sense that somehow everything was going to be all right. 

And so, early one morning, he felt at last his strength slipping away. Despite his pain he had an increasing sense of peace and with that the gradual ebbing of the fear which had haunted his earlier days. 

And then, at the end, he seemed to feel himself going down a long dark corridor towards an evening light. And soon he emerged on to sunlit meadow lands where, in the brilliance of the surrounding sky, love, understanding and forgiveness seemed to stream down from the heavens. 

And then he met a wise old man. And asking whether he had been sent to be his judge. Smiling came the reply “Who is he who would be judge of his fellow man? For only he himself may be the judge, if in his heart, he knows himself, himself forgives with understanding from advancing years. But what do you really want? I
f your soul were to vanish, return to that void from which it had come before your birth, and that it should be as if you had never been, but that your past life would remain, if not in books or other creations, then in the minds and memories of those you had left behind. And yet all these lingering remains, like flowers faded in the Autumn, should, in their beauty, have testified to the love of God, to his mercy, infinite understanding and everlasting forgiveness. Would this, then, have been enough. You yourself would vanish but would have exemplified the beauty, love and the splendor of the Almighty. Would this be enough for you?"

And the man said, “Yes, if this be so, then this would be enough for me. I should be content, if only for one brief moment in time, to have testified to the wonder, the beauty and the love of God.” 

And then he heard a Voice which said, “Enter now into these gates for we have long expected you, home again, with us for all Eternity. Our waiting these long years is at last at an end. Rest now and rejoice, for wisdom and grace have been given to you. May your heart always be happy and may the sun shine down upon you for ever.”

Plato's Vision

[B]ut the true earth is pure and situated in the pure heaven-there are the stars also... and ... our own earth is the sediment gathering in the hollows beneath. But we who live in these hollows are deceived into the notion that we are dwelling on the surface of the earth; which is just as if a creature who was at the bottom of the sea were to fancy that he was on the surface of the water, and that the sea was the heaven through which he saw the sun, and the other stars, he never having come to the surface by reason of his feebleness and sluggishness,and having never lifted his head and seen, nor ever had heard from one who had seen, how much purer and fairer the world above is than his own. And such is strictly our case: for we are dwelling in a hollow of the earth, and fancy that we are on the surface; and the air we call heaven, in which we imagine that the stars move. But the fact is, that owning to our own feebleness and sluggishness we are prevented from reaching the surface of the air; for if any man could arrive at the exterior limit, or take the wings of  a bird and come to the top, then like a  fish who puts his head out of the water and sees this world, he would see a world beyond; and, if the nature of man could maintain the sight, he would acknowledge that this other world was the place of the true heaven and the true light and the true earth. 
                                                                        Plato, Phaedo, Par. 605

 "Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,    
  Stains the white radiance of Eternity,"
                                 P.B. Shelley, Adonais

The Gate of the Year

“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied:‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.”

                                                                                                               *      *      *
                            From a poem, popularly known as "The Gate of the Year" by Minnie Louise Haskins, published in 1908, the original title having been "God Knows",  part of a collection titled “The Desert”. The poem was quoted by England’s King George VI  in his 1939 Christmas broadcast to the British Empire. Hitler had invaded Poland and England had entered the war with Germany These words. engraved on brass plaques, remain fixed to the gates of the King George VI Memorial Chapel at Windsor Castle, where the King was interred. When Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) was also buried there in 2002, the poem was read at her state funeral.

                                                                                                                *     *     *

              The Tibetan Mandala in the above illustration was created in May 2008 at the British Commonwealth House of Commons in London, England, in connection with a visit by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. The above quotation from Aeschylus was a favorite of Robert Kennedy, brother of President Jack Kennedy. Robert Kennedy used the quotation in a speech following the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King and the quotation was placed on Robert Kennedy's gravesite after he too was assassinated.