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Sunday, March 06, 2011


I have spent the past few months in a paroxysm of doubt, doubt about my place in AA, in life, in recovery, in Buddhism, in spirituality, which about covers everything, doesn't it?

This whole spiral of doubt was precipitated by a visit my wife and I made to Paris in October. I am not a very well-traveled person, and this is the first time I have been in Europe. We made a conscious choice to stay mostly within the confines of Paris, aware as we were that the city itself provides plenty of opportunities to wander and discover without spreading our nets so thin that we really experience nothing at all, a very real possibility in trying to see all of Europe on a single trip (as if that were even possible).

Now, Paris has its allures, of course, and I could probably write a (very unoriginal) blog just on those. I am a nondrinking, vegetarian, caffeine-free man, so many of the gastronomical delights were lost on me (what is this love affair Parisians seem to have with ham, for God's sake?), but otherwise we soaked and bathed and breathed and ate of Paris for three wonderful weeks. But what came out of this trip that is truly relevant to this blog is the feeling of absolute delight that came with discovering something truly new to me, and my capacity to absorb it, comprehend it (if only imperfectly), and absolutely love it. I was entirely there when I was there, and felt engaged in a way I haven't since...well, since my first days in AA.

Since I have returned, I have tried to discover what the nature of that engagement was, and what I must do to have some of that in my daily life. I want to make myself clear here, to make sure I have given you an idea what I am speaking of. All of you know deep in your hearts what I mean, but many, if not most, adults have sublimated this grand desire beneath a mountain of obligations, responsibilities, compromises, acquiescence, and maintenance activities. What I am speaking of is a sense that what I am doing in this moment is absolutely the best thing I could be doing with the brief time I have on this Earth, the absolute conviction that I am where I belong in this universe at this moment in time. This is a taste of the beyond, a glimmer of Nirvana, a glimpse of a real Heaven (not a place of fairies and elves, but a place of beauty and grandeur), of ongoing and everlasting meaningfulness in every activity of every moment of every life. This is not too grandiose an aspiration, is it? Well, perhaps a little....

Understand, though, that I am not delusional enough to think that this dream in its totality is viable, simply that the more we abandon the quest for such a state of being is not only the degree to which we shortchange ourselves, but also the lives of those around us. We all know of people who, by their very presence and way of being, inspire a higher way of thinking and being, and each of us can be one of these, but not if we abandon all hope for anything other than mediocrity.

Thus, the doubt I have been feeling. I think it is dangerous to take anything at all at face value in this life. For instance, we in AA tend to think that all of the principles and values of our fellowship are the best they can possibly be, and that no improvement is possible. But is this truly so? I am not fomenting rebellion in the larger fellowship, but asking this simple question: is it truly in the best interest of AA and ourselves for us to accept as a given the value of what we do? Could we get more out of this program if some things were changed? Could we help more people? Could we attract more people? Do we really understand the difference between attraction and promotion, for instance? And on and on. Everything should be open to question, nothing should be sacrosanct; in fact, we cannot afford for anything to be sacrosanct. And where do I fit into all this?

But this is merely an example; I am not targeting AA in my doubts. After nearly 12 years of recovery, it is admittedly no longer at the center of my life, not even my life in sobriety. Of much more importance to me is the development of my relationship to the spiritual and the larger world (which is, after all, what the 12th Step promises me). So what is my place in that larger world? How can I find more of that bliss I felt in Paris? I have tried a bit of hedonism, but that's really not what Paris was about, anyway. Paris was about immersion, about what the psychologist Csikszentmihalyi (try saying that drunk!) called flow, a state of absorption so absolute that all distractions are temporarily eliminated. This state is desirable in and of itself, certainly, for the utility of the experience in focusing our attention, but what has been discovered by many of those who achieve this state on a regular basis is that it can be synonymous with bliss, and I posit that a sustained experience of it is what we deem "Nirvana" (thus the absorption states of jhana and their accompanying bliss states, though those are ephemeral and, in the end, unsustainable in that form).

So, did I achieve Nirvana in Paris? Well, no, far from it, but I was more at peace (even in the midst of chaos) there then I have been in a long time, and it is that equation I have been seeking since my return. I am not about to quit my job and wander the Earth, nor do I intend to leave AA behind, but I will tell you this: I think it is God's will (however you define that) for us to feel a deep and abiding joy in our lives, and I intend to get me some. Stay tuned.


An Irish Friend of Bill said...

Nice post :) glad to have you back. wondered where u were :)

Reid said...

Thank you. It's good to be back. You know how life gets in sobriety...busy, busy, busy!