This is a chapter from the book: The Alternative Twelve Steps: A Secular Guide to Recovery. The previous chapter, Step 1, was posted on February 26, 2014, and subsequent chapters dealing with each of the twelve Steps will be posted on AA Agnostica on the last Wednesday of each month ending in December, 2014. The book, originally published in 1991 and written by Martha Cleveland and Arlys G., is available as an ebook at Recovery 101.
Came to believe that spiritual resources can provide power for our restoration and ‘healing’.
Principles: Hope, Faith
The Second Step builds on the First. It asks us to go beyond admitting our personal powerlessness, to accept that there are powerful spiritual resources that can help us reshape our lives. All we have to do is to recognize, accept and connect with them. In Step 1 we acknowledge that we aren’t in total control, that our individual power is limited. Step 2 tells us we can use spiritual resources beyond our own ordinary personal power to restore and heal ourselves.
Spiritual Resources – To Each His/Her Own
Lots of us confuse spirituality and religion. The words are often used interchangeably and we must realize that they shouldn’t be, for they have different meanings. To call religion spiritual is true, but religion is only one source of spiritual power. There are many, many others.
The word spirit comes from a Latin word that means breath, life, vigor. We call something spiritual when it represents life or when it enhances life.
There are people who center their spirituality on religious practices and principles. There are others who find spiritual connections with things totally outside of any religious framework. As far as spirituality is concerned, to believe in a God or not to believe in a God doesn’t matter. What matters is to have faith in our spiritual selves – in other words, to have faith in the energy that gives us life.
The phrase “spiritual resources” can be interpreted in many ways. Does it have to mean something great and mystical? Probably not. Does it mean there are a certain number of clearly-defined sources of power that we can tap into? No. There are many sources of spiritual power, more than any of us will ever be aware of or be able to use.
Spiritual power comes from whatever gives us peace, hope or strength and enhances our humanity.
The Higher Power of the original 12 Steps is a spiritual idea. A Higher Power can be a God or another kind of symbol. It can be goodness, love, a friend or an idea. It can be our own intellectual curiosity. It can even be the 12-Step program itself.
When we open ourselves to the power of spiritual resources, we open ourselves to an abundance of help that is beyond our comprehension. Each of us will find different powers, and those we use may change from day to day.
Some of us will reach out to nature, some to the calm, ordered events of everyday living. Some of us will find energy in the support of another person or the wise words in a book. Some of us will become healed by connecting with the deepest parts of our own nature, our internal wiser self. The sources of spiritual power are both outside of us and within us. The Second Step helps us connect with them all.
Every Day In Every Way
There is a wonderful Zen saying by Thich Nhat Hanh which says cleaning up after a meal can be curative to our spirits. However, our cleanup will only help us if we wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes, and not if we wash the dishes in order to get them done. The difference may seem trivial, but it is really tremendous.
When we wash the dishes to get them done, as most of us probably do, we abusively push ourselves to complete a disliked task. We rush to get through a few moments of living, and we will never be able to get those moments back. They and whatever potential they may have had are gone forever.
It’s a completely different story when we wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes. Then we allow ourselves to value and even cherish the experience of warm water on our hands, the satisfaction of cleaning the plates and utensils and the lovely sense of non-pressing time. We actually have a healing experience washing the dishes. It may seem incredibly silly to describe dishwashing as a spiritual experience, but if we accept the wonderful possibilities offered by the task, it can be just that.
Our lives are full of spiritual resources that can help us heal. We feel connected with the entire universe as we stand and look at a starry sky on a winter night or watch the summer sun rise across the prairie. We get a sense of security from knowing there are other people, programs, books, leaders, medicines and activities that can help us learn and live better.
We get a feeling of confidence when we begin to believe in our own inner wisdom. We get comfort when we accept the healing energy of ordinary everyday living. As we eat, take a bath, meet with friends, make love, tend a flower, hold a child, watch a bird, write in a journal, meditate, stand up for ourselves in a difficult situation, feel the rain or the wind on our faces as we do any of these things, we can heal.
The Second Step helps us realize the spiritual potential that is all around us every day. Other people at other times have taught the same thing.
Zen teaches that the true realization of the life spirit occurs when we become one with whatever piece of life we are living.
Hopi Indians teach that everything is right here right now.
St. Catherine of Siena, a Christian mystic, said that all the way to Heaven is Heaven.
It is true that spirituality can’t be separated from the common miracles of everyday life.
Restoration Of Innocence
We’ve come a long way from our original innocence. Once we were small, perfect people, open to life, trusting everyone and everything. Now we’re not any of those things. Like everyone in the world, we’ve been damaged by the circumstances of our lives. Things happened to us, things hurt us. As grownups we don’t have to take responsibility for the things that hurt us. They weren’t our fault. But we do have to take responsibility for our restoration from them. We will never again be true innocents – the damage that has been done is a permanent part of our psyche —- but the 12 Steps give us the power to reclaim our innocent openness and trust.
In The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen tells us that as we work toward spiritual growth, “The journey is hard, for the secret place where we have always been is overgrown with thorns and thickets of ideas, of fears and defenses, prejudices and repressions.” When we find our secret place and reclaim our innocence, openness and trust can triumph in our lives, and we can be restored.
What About Healing
Then there’s the question of healing. What is it that needs healing and how do we heal it? We have no open, draining wound that needs attention. It’s our inner self that is sick, it’s our inner self that needs help.
The Second Step means we can use the power of spiritual resources to heal ourselves. We can be cured of denial, chronic anxiety, depression, grandiosity, resentment and all the other negative states that wither our spirit. We can be restored to a place where our vision is clear and we feel competent, confident and trusting in our lives.
The healing of a self is a hard thing to live through. Many of the feelings that go with it seem negative. We have to use anger to clean our emotional wounds. We have to deal with fear as we try new ways to survive. We have to accept the confusion that protects us from feelings that are too harsh and change that is too rapid. So much of healing doesn’t feel good.
And this is where the emotional and psychological energy of faith comes in. We simply have faith, we simply believe that if we continue the journey, things will get better. Our faith pays off and slowly our program works. We stick with it and it keeps on working.
There are times when it seems as though our lives are back where they were when we started, when we can’t connect with any spiritual resources at all. Then there are times when we feel surrounded by calm and strength and beauty. Then there are the bad times again. Gradually the good times increase and the bad times get fewer and farther between. Our sense of self grows stronger. We have the feeling that inside of us is a core that feels calm and certain. We begin to heal. And from that healing place we begin to grow. We use our spiritual strength to begin to reach our human potential.
We Use The Power
“Came to believe that spiritual resources can provide power for our restoration and healing.” If we do believe this, if we have faith that spiritual resources are all around us and that they can provide us with power to heal and grow, how does that happen? It’s different for each of us. Here are four examples of how it worked for four very different people.
Ann stands by a huge stormy lake. She is 65 years old, recently widowed, at a turning point in her life. The wind pounds at her body, the waves crash, the spray ﬂies. Ann has come here because she needs to be alone. She needs to make a decision that may set a path for her new life. She tries to think, to balance the pros and cons of what she may do. But her mind swirls round and round, the same old thoughts over and over. So she tries to stop thinking, to simply watch the grandeur of the lake and the wind. She gives herself over to the rhythm of the moment she is in. Gradually her mind is cleared of its babble. Slowly she calms.
Then it happens. Her quiet mind releases a new idea, one she hasn’t had before. From deep within herself has come an answer. And the lake and the wind have given her something, too. When she leaves this place, she will take with her an image, a memory, a feeling that she need never lose. When she feels alone, frightened, confused or weak, when she needs another answer to another problem, she can return to her memory of this time and use its energy. Always.
Tom is a 33-year-old father of two sons. He and his wife, Sue, are at the doctor’s office. They were told three weeks ago that Sue had a terrible form of uterine cancer. She has had a hysterectomy and is just out of the hospital. They are meeting with the doctor for the final pathology report.
The doctor tells them the reports are good, there are cancer cells in only one lymph gland, Sue’s disease hasn’t spread as far as they feared. She will need radiation, which will be hard on her, but her chances for recovery are good. Toms whole being soars with joy. This is the very best they could have hoped for. Tom stays centered in his joy, truly takes time to feel it, to root the explosion of happiness and wonder deep inside himself.
Tom knows there are going to be hard times to come. Sue will be sick from the radiation, the children will need special care, there may be a recurrence of the cancer. But the feeling of joy is a separate thing from whatever caused it. It is a source of spiritual strength. Tom knows that in times of future crisis or despair, he can reconnect with his joy and rest in it for a little while, girding himself to live with whatever struggle is on his path.
Sarah is 24, recently graduated from business school and about to go on a special job interview. She is so nervous she can hardly function. She needs this job, she wants this job, she believes her professional future is at stake.
Sarah knows her nervousness could destroy the interview, yet no matter how hard she talks to herself, her jitters don’t get any better. She stands tapping her perfectly-manicured fingernails on the window as she looks out at the potted geraniums on her apartment deck. They are a brilliant scarlet, glowing in the sunshine. A thought comes into her mind. She goes out onto the deck, breaks off a single geranium flower and takes it to the kitchen sink where she carefully wraps the stem in a wet paper towel. She picks up the flower when it’s time to leave.
Sarah climbs into her car and carefully places the flower next to her on the seat. She drives off to the interview. ln the company parking lot, just before opening the car door, she looks at the small vibrant piece of life lying next to her. It’s still fresh and glowing and Sarah is comforted. She knows that no matter how the interview goes, no matter what turns her life takes, flowers will continue to bloom. And thats what’s important. Despite anything that can happen to her, she will always be able to turn to this wonderful source of beauty and strength. She takes a deep breath and opens the door.
Jim is 44, a recovering alcoholic, a husband and father of three teenagers. He is competently fulfilling his career as a lawyer. Jim has just been told that his 16-year-old son has been caught dealing dope. He feels as though his world is falling in on him. He has worked so hard; worked at recovery, worked at fathering, worked at providing – and now this. His head spins. He feels out of control – where to turn?
Jim has been through treatment for his alcoholism; he knows the program and what the 12 Steps can do. He’s seen it in others and experienced it for himself. So he goes to his study, closes the door and picks up one of his AA books. He reads quietly for an hour or so. As he reads the well-known words, his mind slows down and he begins to get a sense of perspective. He knows what to do about his son and what to do about himself. He also knows that this feeling won’t last, but for this particular moment, he is peaceful.
Ann, Tom, Sarah and Jim are different people leading different lives, looking to different spiritual resources for strength. But what they experienced can happen for any of us. Each of our lives is played out against a backdrop of spiritual possibility, what the Hindus call “the beyond that is within.” The possibility of spiritual energy available to us is endless. No matter who we are or what our problems may be, we can feel the power of the “beyond” if we believe and live the Second Step.
Came to believe that spiritual resources can provide power for our restoration and healing.
Today I will believe I can connect with spiritual resources that will help me become the person I want to be.
Next month on AA Agnostica (April 30). Step 3: Make a decision to be open to spiritual energy as we take deliberate action for change in our lives. Principles: Decision, Acceptance, Action.
An ebook version of The Alternative 12 Steps: A Secular Guide to Recovery is available here: Recovery 101.