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A New Mind

Twelve-Step Spirituality: Week 1

A New Mind
Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Twelve Step program gave meaning and effectiveness to transformation. “Salvation” is not just something you believe, but something you begin to experience. Both Jesus and Paul were change agents. They were hated by their own groups precisely because they were constantly talking about change. The first thing Jesus said when he started preaching was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). The word usually translated as “repent” is the Greek word metanoia; this might be best translated as “turn around your mind” or change. But most of us won’t move toward any new way of thinking or actual change until we’re forced to, which usually means some form of suffering or some disturbance that upsets our habitual path.

Addicts—the majority of us—have an intense resistance to change. We like predictability. That’s one of the reasons addicts find it easier to have a relationship with a process or a substance rather than with people. People are unpredictable. But it feels like this glass of wine or going shopping (or whatever it might be) can change your superficial mood very quickly. Even though the mood shift doesn’t last, it makes you feel like you are in control for a while. You don’t have to change your thinking; you don’t have to change your way of relating to people. Basically, you stop growing at that point. They say you can usually tell when a drug addict began using, because he or she will reflect the emotional maturity of someone at that approximate age.

Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) said it so well: “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” The Twelve Step program understands you can’t change people by mere knowledge or willpower, whereas much of organized religion seems to think you can. For example, you don’t become more charitable by saying to yourself, “Be charitable!” You actually become more charitable by noticing when you are not being charitable and “weeping” over it. But none of us want to see our own faults; they usually have to be shoved in our face or we have to fall right into them. At least I do. And even then, many will just deny their mistakes more forcibly. Peter’s three denials come to mind here.

Transformative religion goes against our basic survival instinct which is to live. But darn it, the spiritual teacher is always telling us to die. You can see why the ego resists. The addict puts up a fortified wall against change, against death to self (the false self), and therefore against all real spiritual growth. A.A. understands that it usually takes a bottoming out experience to break that wall against change. The highly fortified religious ego is perhaps the most resistant to change of any, because “God” is used to maintain its own security and superiority.

This is the addictive pattern of thinking that characterizes so much of our religion and politics today. It creates very cognitively rigid, dualistic thinking in service to the ego. This thinking is largely impregnable to either love or logic. Could this be the deepest meaning of sin?

Gateway to Silence:
Breathing in—receiving mercy; breathing out—letting go

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, How Do We Breathe Under Water?: The Gospel and 12-Step Spirituality (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2005), CD, DVD, MP3 download.

Image Credit: Two Women Sitting at a Bar (detail), Pablo Picasso, 1902, Blue Period, Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK
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