Search This Blog

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


I have come to believe that discipline is the most important aspect of spiritual practice, whether it be through AA, the dharma, some other means, or a combination of them. The whole idea of discipline can cause us to recoil, though, especially us alcoholics, because it implies something imposed from the outside (personally, I think of Coach Capello and his incessant insistence on exercises that were incredibly dull). But the discipline I am thinking of is imposed from within, and arises from wisdom.

What, us, wise? One of the most damaging aspects of the way we tend to speak and think in AA is the idea that we are so basically flawed that it is dangerous for us to ever think for ourselves or believe in our ability to devise a way of living that is skillful. How often have we heard in meetings some version of this statement: "I am as crazy now as the day I came into the program"? But the program of Alcoholics Anonymous is precisely designed, I believe, to give us access to the basic wisdom that is in us all, and that has been obscured by our decades of alcoholism. And I should make clear that I do not think of alcoholism as merely the abuse of alcohol, but of the other characteristics which comprise any addicted character: greed, selfishness, self-centeredness, dissatisfaction, and substitution for true peace that which can never replace it. We have all known alcoholics who were no longer drinking, yet exhibited these characteristics, probably even more so than when they were drinking. Indeed, as we can perceive from studying this list a bit, this could describe most of the people we know, at least the unhappy ones, whether they substitute shopping or sex or alcohol or drugs or television or meditation for the underlying sense of peace which is available to us all if we have the will to look for it. This search is wisdom and is at the base of all our seeking, whether we know it or not.

One of the most basic tenets of dharma is the idea that all persons are seeking the end of suffering. Indeed, we could expand that further: every object and being is also seeking such peace. It is one of the perversities of human nature that we seem to have an innate understanding of what can bring us this peace, but we seek other means as more immediately (if fleetingly) gratifying. This is not to say that any of these pursuits is inherently wrong, mind you. Each of them, in the right person, can be quite useful and a source of joy. Even alcohol is, for most people, a source of relaxation and comfort. But when we make of these a compulsive seeking of the end of suffering, they become addictive because they can never bring us to such a state, except perhaps in memory or in short spurts, which causes us to seek to recreate these states over and over again, with the vain hope that they will become permanent through some alchemy in which we have a faith that is not supported by any available evidence.

Thus, wisdom and discipline. Of course, discipline comes first. As we who have worked through the Twelve Steps know, we are so confused when we get to the program that our wisdom has been thoroughly obscured, and we have lost all faith in our ability to exercise it even if we had access to it. Thus, someone else's wisdom or, more accurately, the wisdom of the program substitutes for our own as we work through the Steps. As we clear away the crap that obscures our access to what I term the sunlight of the Spirit, we become more able to trust our own inherent wisdom, and to use it to guide other parts of our lives; in other words, we have a spiritual awakening and learn to practice these principles in all our affairs, which is the essence of the Twelfth Step. But this requires further discipline, and a discipline which must dominate our lives for as long as we live. Fortunately, once we have access to some modicum of wisdom, it brings us such joy that we want nothing more than to open ourselves even further to this light, and the discipline itself can become joyful. Of course, we still have the impulse to return to easier, softer ways to achieve this, but find that only through the discipline of a spiritual practice can we come ever closer to the peace that we may call God, or nirvana.


MikeLRecovery said...


Stumbled on your blog today and it's great. But I can already come up with one complaint: you need to blog more! Write!

Mike L.

MikeLRecovery said...


My grandsponsor, now deceased, used to say that we alcoholics were in great need of "structure" in our lives. We don't do well without it. Without structure, we spin, become self-focused/obsessed.

So from an early stage in my recovery (got sober little over 8 years ago) I began developing routines and practices (a word which essentially means putting some thought into action or "praxis") that brought some semblance of peace and serenity and groundedness into my life.

One practice which I still follow to this day is that when I'm leaving for work each morning, I say the Serenity Prayer out loud to myself in my car. That practice led to many others.

I think that part of my addiction/disease came to relish chaos and disorganization: I suspect because it supported the myth that I was not responsible for my life and circumstances. Drunkenness was only one manifestation of my addiction to chaos. But it was a primary one for a long time. After getting sober though, I've become aware of other ways in which I can fall asleep at the wheel, as it were, and drift off the path.

Your post reminded me today that I have benefitted immensely from various disciplines in my life -- and also that there have been some of my newer habits (e.g. meditation) which I have let fall to the wayside recently and I need to recommit myself to a daily practice of sitting for at least 15 minutes. Thanks for that reminder!

Mike L.

stop-drinking said...

Don't like some if the ideas, but am a firm Buddhist at