Practice These Principles
Living the Spiritual Disciplines and Virtues in 12-Step Recovery

Spiritual Awakening: The Caring Heart

Our spiritual disease distorts our vision and disorients our heart. Being selfish and self-centered, we’re concerned mostly with ourselves. We see people, places, and things through the narrow lens of the things that we care about, that we value, that are important to us.

We lose sight of and often are blinded to the needs and the concerns and perspectives of others, even of those that we love the most. This is even more the case when our own concerns and “instinctual needs” get “out of joint” (12&12, p.72, p.42) and become twisted and disordered. For then we are mindlessly driven by them and seek to satisfy them in ways that bring harm to ourselves and to others.

A spiritual awakening is AA’s prescription for this disorder. Brought about through the practice of spiritual principles, it helps us to reorient our vision and our heart so that we come to view and value things from a spiritual, God-centered perspective.

We become “less interested in ourselves, in our little plans and designs” and more interested in others; “in what we could contribute to life” (Big Book, p.63), not just in what we can get out of it. We begin to value and to desire the things of the Spirit above everything else. These are the things of which the Steps are made, embodied in spiritual principles that represent God’s will for us.

As we practice these principles in all our affairs, our lives are reordered. Our heart is reoriented and our vision restored. Gradually, imperceptibly, we begin to care the way God wants us to care, to see the way he wants us to see, to live as he would have us live.

[Image: Dr. Bob, his wife Anne, Bill W., and AA friends.]

“We found, too, that we had been worshippers. What a state of mental goose-flesh that used to bring on! Had we not variously worshipped people, sentiment, things, money, and ourselves?” – Big Book

“We had lacked the perspective to see that character building and spiritual values had to come first, and that material satisfactions were not the purpose of living.”
– 12&12

“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” – Matthew 6:21
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” – Proverbs 4:23

“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.” – Plato

“The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.” – Socrates

“All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsions, habit, reason, passion, desire.” – Aristotle

“No one is wholly free; you’re either a slave to wealth, or to the law, or to the people you’re trying to please.” – Euripides


“Home is where the heart is.” – Pliny the Elder

“Let us train our minds to desire what the situation demands.” – Seneca

“Good does not mean merely not doing wrong, but also not desiring to do wrong.” – Democritus

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” – Epicurus

"You too, let your desire go; covet not too much." – Epictetus


“I am dragged along by a strange new force. Desire and reason are pulling in different directions. I see the right way and approve it, but follow the wrong.”
– Medea, in Ovid’s Metamorphoses

“Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe, to know what he ought to desire, and to know what he ought to do.” – Thomas Aquinas

“Those speak foolishly who ascribe their anger or their impatience to such as offend them or to tribulation. Tribulation does not make people impatient, but proves that they are impatient. So everyone may learn from tribulation how his heart is constituted.” – Martin Luther


“Whenever a man desires anything inordinately, he is presently disquieted within himself.” – Thomas à Kempis

“The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of.” – Blaise Pascal


“Man often thinks he is in control when he is being controlled, and while his mind is striving in one direction, his heart is imperceptibly drawing him in another.” – Francois Duc de La Rochefoucauld

“A desire to be noticed, considered, esteemed, praised, beloved, and admired by his fellows is one of the earliest as well as the keenest dispositions discovered in the heart of man.” – John Adams

“If you desire many things, many things will seem few.” – Benjamin Franklin

“The only way to break the hold of a beautiful object on the soul is to show it an object more beautiful.” – Thomas Chalmers

“The discipline of desire is the background of character.” – John Locke

“Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” – Samuel Johnson


"Better to rule in hell, than to serve in heaven.” – Satan, in Milton’s Paradise Lost

“Each Man takes care that his neighbor shall not cheat him. But a day comes when he begins to care that he does not cheat his neighbor.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson


“There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart’s desire. The other is to gain it.” – George Bernard Shaw

“We can’t change things according to our desires, but our desires gradually change.” – Marcel Proust

"O why are we so haggard at the heart,
So care-coiled, care-killed . . . so cogged, so cumbered.”
– Gerald Manley Hopkins

“There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not go through the intellect.” – G.K. Chesterton

“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

“What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” – Oscar Wilde

"Our longing, our craving, our thirsting for something other than Reality is what dissatisfies us." – William Butler Yeats

“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care”
– Theodore Roosevelt

“It is with the heart that one sees rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“Teach us to care and not to care.” – T.S. Eliot

“You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first. From which it would follow that the question, 'What things are first?' is of concern not only to philosophers but to everyone.”    – C.S. Lewis

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt 


“Tell me what draws your attention and I will tell you who you are.” – José Ortega y Gasset


“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” – Harry Truman


“Mostly it is loss which teaches us about the worth of things.” – Arthur Schopenhauer


“A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.” – Thomas Merton

“Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.” – J.M. Barrie

“Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.” – Steven Wright

“The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
– Aleksander Solzhenitsyn

“If you set your heart on power, you’re controlled by power; if you set your heart on human approval, you’re controlled by the people you want to please; if you set your heart on family you’re controlled by your family.” – Becky Pippert

“I feel when the gun goes off I have 10 seconds to justify my existence.” – Harold Abrahams, "Chariots of Fire"
 “God made me fast, and when I run I feel his pleasure.” – Eric Liddell, "Chariots of Fire"


“Then I'll know I’m not a bum.” – "Rocky"

"I have to proof I'm somebody." - Madonna

"Making money made me feel like a man." – Ted Danson's character in "Dad"

“Perception is a function of character; it is not a morally neutral faculty but one that sees only that which the person already values. Transformation of the person down to her most important values, therefore, is necessary to correct the vision of the heart.” – William C. Spohn  


“The natural tendency of the human heart is to take good things and turn them into ultimate things.” – Tim Keller

“[V]irtue consists in selective differentiation of concern: intense concern for what is worthy of it, and relatively little concern for what is less worthy.” – Intellectual Virtues: An Essay in Regulative Epistemology

“He who would have beautiful roses in his garden must have beautiful roses in his heart.” – S. R. Hole

“It is only by frequent deaths of ourselves and our self-centered desires that we can come to live more fully.” – Mother Teresa

“What is more important: to be right or to be happy?” – Anonymous


“AA is for those who want it, not just for those who need it.” – AA Saying

“Pride stands sentinel at the door of the heart and shuts out the love of God.”
Twenty-Four Hours a Day

“Are my priorities in order? Am I so busy with smaller, less meaningful concerns that I run out of time for the really important considerations? Today I will make room to think about what really matters.” – Al-Anon’s Courage to Change


“[Health] is measured by our detachment from those things we can do nothing about as well as by our engagement with those things we can.” – The Promise of a New Day

“A spiritual awakening that wholly reorients our heart and makes God and his will for us the ground of our view of life and of the things that we value makes it possible for us to practice the disciplines and virtues as distinctly spiritual principles.” – PTP


“In the fullness of time, doing his will and growing into the person he wants me to be becomes my overarching, master concern, the passion or desire that motivates me above all other concerns and orders and gives them form, what gives meaning, purpose and direction to my life.” – PTP

For more PTP passages on caring and concern, see “New Outlook, Different Motivation,”
pp. 47-52. For more BB and 12&12 passages, click on “The Caring Heart: More Insights
from the Big Book and the 12&12.” See also "The Seeing Eye" and “Billy’s Death,” in

Additional Resources                                             

1.    Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues, by Robert C. Roberts

2.  Chariots of Fire,” 1981 movie with Ben Cross and Ian Charleson. Two Olympic runners, one motivated by a passion to win and prove himself, the other by a passion to excel and honor God. A classic. Four Academy Awards