Applied spiritual principles in addiction recovery: Practical spirituality, Part 1 of 2
Here we point out a few examples of spiritual practices, which are ways spiritual principles can be applied in recovery from alcoholism and addiction to overcome the spiritual malady and propel the practitioner toward awakening to a brand new perspective.
Another way to look at this pair of articles: They are a list of spiritual practices divided into two categories. This part, Part One, lists spiritual principles and practices that take place largely in the mind, whereas Part Two lists spiritual principles and practices that are more in deed than solely in thought.
NOTE: This is the third in a series of articles about spirituality in recovery. Articles in the spirituality series (so far):
NOTE: There are some issues with numbering in this article which will be corrected at the first opportunity.
Universal spiritual principles as applied in everyday life by the recovered/recovering, awakened/awakening
What follows is a sample list of how universal spiritual principles can be embraced by the heart and applied in everyday life. These realizations and practices serve as examples of the increasingly healthy, community-oriented, and service-minded perspective recovering folks move toward and actions awakening people take as they grow and mature spiritually. Such understandings and actions seem to be well-integrated into the lives of those with strong recovery after having experienced a spiritual awakening (aka psychic change, personality change).
When an individual has genuinely and diligently taken the actions prescribed by the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, s(he) is almost certainly in the process of realizing a major attitude adjustment (if you’ll forgive the term), or what amounts to the substantial change in perspective promised in Step 12:
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs. (Step 12, Big Book of AA)
These spiritual principles, mindsets, and practices have been taught and encouraged repeatedly by many of the world’s greatest spiritual teachers throughout history including Jesus (1st century CE), the Buddha (6th century BCE), Lao-Tsu (6th century BCE), Dōgen, Christian mystics, Sufis, Kabbalah practitioners, and countless others throughout the ages and today.
The truly amazing and beautiful part of the above spiritual teachers is that their messages all agree on how we are to think and act, how we should interact with and treat others if we are to attain happiness and inner peace, and so on!
[ Great Spiritual Masters and Teachers (A 58-page PDF by Devon Love; fascinating & refreshingly objective) ]
Spirituality can be a complex and sensitive topic, so we hereby issue a disclaimer that, like anyone else, we do not have all the answers, and, in an effort to cover basic aspects of spirituality in recovery in a reasonably open-minded manner, we fully accept that the points we make and the perspectives we describe may or may not represent ultimate reality or absolute truth. We’re not speaking authoritatively here; we’re just sharing some experience. May all our views continue to evolve and become more inclusive with ongoing experience, sobriety, and spiritual practice!
An appeal for open-mindedness
Isn’t it possible that real open-mindedness must include the genuine realization and understanding that, regardless of how attached a man may be to his particular worldview, beliefs, and opinions (e.g., those regarding religion, philosophy, politics, and everything else), they probably don’t mirror Reality or Ultimate Truth? Maybe genuine open-mindedness cannot exist without the understanding that, as humans, we are not privy to what’s behind the curtain of Reality. I have finally come to realize there’s a chance that anything I believe could be untrue. It is the same for all of us. Can one who clings and grasps tightly to opinions and beliefs, refusing to consider alternatives, really be said to be open minded?
There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance — that principle is contempt prior to investigation.
Applied spiritual principles: Spiritual practices
Most applied spiritual principles – spiritual practices, essentially – seem to fit more or less neatly into one of two categories: (1) Those centering in thought, mind, and/or heart, and (2) the action-oriented ones. Naturally, in reality things are not so black and white, so there is plenty of blur and overlap within each category and between the two categories. After all, there are many perspectives from which to consider such material, many ways to categorize them, any number of ways to apply or practice them, and so on.
1. In thought: Mind/heart-oriented spiritual practices
The applied principles here would perhaps be mainly based in the mind, in the thinking of the individual, and hence are more a part of the thought process than of overt action, per se. While the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous represent, above all, a series of prescribed actions, thought is always a precursor to action – at least, thought precedes the kinds of purposeful actions we are talking about re: working the steps and engaging in spiritual practices since they happen only with intent. In addition, purposeful and active thought, contemplation, and discernment seems necessary in the development and eventual attainment of new attitudes and perspectives. We mustn’t discount the applied spiritual principles/practices that lean heavily toward the cerebral!
At first, many of the spiritual practices in the heart-mind category may require “acting as if” one understands or agrees with them in order to put them into practice. Be patient; as the spiritual awakening happens, these healthy, selfless ways of thinking will be making the long journey from mind to heart.
2. In deed: Action-oriented spiritual practices
This category is self-explanatory and is perhaps what usually comes to mind when considering or discussing spiritual practices. These are the spiritual practices that, in many cases, at least – you can see folks actively doing in some way.
In thought: Mind/heart-oriented spiritual practices
- Practicing quiet contemplation to develop and deepen insight
- Practicing discernment: Deeply considering the nature of reality and the way things really are; contemplating how one moves toward freedom from attachments, fears, patterns, habits, etc.
- Understanding that hatred and revenge never cease through returned hatred and vengeful intent, but by love alone are healed; facing hatred with compassion; loving one’s enemies; overtly moving toward equanimity toward all
- Aware of the anguish caused by intolerance, zealotry, and attachment to views, choosing to remain open-minded, pliable like clay, and teachable like a child, as opposed to being rigid & closed-minded
- Being a peacemaker; given to and encouraging pacifism and nonviolence; a dedicated stance against war and other violence
- Remaining unattached/not permanently bound to one’s present beliefs and worldviews in order to be open to others’ insights and experiences, superceding discoveries showing old views to be errant/irrelevant, new/deeper realizations, etc.
This is a list of applied spiritual principles, or spiritual practices. It is not based on any particular religion, spiritual path, or worldview. The practices mentioned here dovetail beautifully with the practical spiritual teachings of the world’s major religions and spiritual paths. The material in this article, although compiled for those in recovery from alcoholism and addiction, is certainly applicable to anyone on an intentional path toward ever-deeper spiritual experiences and realizations.
- Mindfulness of the present moment; not worrying about the future, not dwelling upon past events
- Practicing humility: A clear recognition of who and what we are, followed by a sincere attempt to become what we could be (authentic self); not comparing ourselves to others
- Deeply realizing that everything is connected, that one is not truly separate from God, from others, or from anything; being aware of & our own deep connection to oneness, to God, to “the Source,” etc.
- Moving away from dualistic thinking (dualism) and toward non-dualistic thinking (nonduality)
Successful human progress requires overcoming the dualistic thinking that separates individuals, genders, races, classes, sexual preferences, regions, political parties, religions, and nationalities from the truth of our mutual value, interdependence, and common needs and problems. It also requires the realization of humanity’s interconnectedness and interdependence with the non-human natural world, a non-dualistic realization that has barely scratched the surface of human consciousness.
– A Non-Dualistic Political Paradigm, by Bill Walz – Rapid River Magazine
- Letting go of the need to know details about, or to intellectually understand, God, higher power, etc.; relinquishing the need to objectively define it (it’s far too subjective, after all), regardless of what one name one prefers to use for it (God, Tao, Universal Intelligence, spiritual connection, Creator, creative force, the universe, Mother Nature, etc.)
- Non-attachment, not clinging or grasping to things, people, places, ideas, habits, money, lifestyle, beliefs, organizations, worldviews, etc.); one must be able to walk away from it all if necessary, as Jesus, the Buddha, and many other spiritual teachers made quite clear
- Developing humility through ego deflation
- Understanding that spiritual and/or religious paths are not excuses for fighting, killing, or war
- Understanding that experiencing God, coming to one’s own self, and moving though increasingly deeper and meaningful spiritual experiences and finally waking up spiritually is a completely subjective experience which cannot be directly taught or transferred to others
- Being conscious of the fact that spiritual awakening is the result of an individual’s direct experience of the divine based on consistent spiritual practice over time, and does not occur from attending 12-step meetings, reading religious or spiritual books, attending church/temple/mosque on a regular basis, performing rituals, being taught by a priest, minister, master, or guru, etc.; these and other activities can be excellent tools but cannot replace the experience
- Understanding the limited nature of language, that words themselves are only symbols, mere signposts, to the deeper experience and understanding behind and underneath language; words are like a finger pointing at the moon, in that the finger is not the moon
- Understanding that walking the spiritual path has no graduation or point of arrival, that it consists of the journey and not any type of destination, as in trudging the path of (not to) Happy Destiny; the path itself is the goal
- Expressing hope; maintaining a positive outlook even in the face of despair; deeply understanding that there is no need to worry about anything, ever
- Focusing upon unity, oneness, and sharing rather than division, separateness, and differences; looking for the similarities; focusing on the common ground
- Demonstrating open-mindedness, flexibility, willingness to learn and to objectively explore and study, rather than blindly accepting whatever one is told “should” be done or what one “ought” to believe
- Applying common sense, and on a deeper level, giving objective critical thought to potentially consequential views and activities
- Looking at oneself and one’s actions – and others and their actions – with eyes of compassion
- Avoiding closed-mindedness in its various disguises and forms; symptoms of a closed mind might include indentifying with fideistic, rigid, fundamentalist worldviews that declare all others to be wrong, dwelling in us vs. them thinking, believing that other religions, spiritual paths, worldviews, political leanings, etc. are somehow less valid or less proper than one’s own; avoiding spiritual or religious elitism
- Recognizing that the ego can use virtually anything to prop itself up and reassert its power over us, including spirituality itself, we maintain a heightened sense of awareness for spiritual materialism, cutting through it when it is identified
We think that we are special, heroic, that we are turning away from temptation. We become vegetarians and we become this and that. There are so many things to become. We think our path is spiritual because it is literally against the flow of what we used to be, but it is merely the way of false heroism, and the only one who is heroic in this way is ego.
― Chögyam Trungpa, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism – Goodreads quote page
- Aware of the hardship caused by imposing our views upon others, refraining from forcing others to adopt a set of beliefs through any means whatsoever, be it propaganda, indoctrination, money, authority, etc.
It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us. If somebody hurts us and we are sore, we are in the wrong also. But are there no exceptions to this rule? What about “justifiable” anger? If somebody cheats us, aren’t we entitled to be mad? Can’t we be properly angry with self-righteous folk? For us of A.A. these are dangerous exceptions. We have found that justified anger ought to be left to those better qualified to handle it.
– Step 10, Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions, p.90
- Taking the spiritual axiom to heart; understanding the folly of taking anything personally (e.g., any communication or action of another person or entity)