As we have amply demonstrated in the preceding three posts, the Big Book and the 12&12 leave no doubt what the 12 Steps are all about, what their ultimate goal is. It is to have a spiritual awakening. That’s the transformational experience that will relieve us of the obsession to drink and enable us to become “happily and usefully whole” as we saw the 12&12 put it.
As we have argued, this involves a radical change in the way we view and value things. In the last post, we discussed the first, the reordering of our vision. In this we discuss the second, the reorientation of our heart.
We find this idea of a deep, inner realignment throughout our two basic texts. The Big Book speaks of it with direct reference to the heart. In it, “heart” is a metaphor for the things that we care about, the things that matter, that are important, meaningful, or significant to us, the things that we are attached to or invested in and which therefore motivate us, stir our desires, arouse our emotions, and move us to act.
We noted that we find this change linked to a spiritual awakening in "There Is a Solution": “The central fact of our lives today is the absolute certainty that our Creator has entered into our hearts and lives in a way which is indeed miraculous” (p. 25).
We’ll find it again in "We Agnostics," with reference to Fitz M. (“Our Southern Friend”), “a man who thought he was an atheist,” but who, having had a spiritual experience, “His change of heart was dramatic, convincing, and moving” (p. 55).
In “To Employers,” the change is related to the issue of the reordering of our concerns, of giving things their proper value. “Though you [the employer] are providing him with the best medical attention, he should understand that he must undergo a change of heart. To get over drinking will require a transformation of thought and attitude. We all had to place recovery above everything, for without recovery we would have lost both home and business” (p. 143).
And in the last chapter of the book, "A Vision for You," we are shown how, as we continue to grow along spiritual lines, our hearts are increasingly reoriented away from the selfish and self-centered concern with ourselves which is the mark of our disease: "Being wrecked in the same vessel, being restored and united under one God, with minds and hearts attuned to the welfare of others, the things which matter so much to some people no longer signify much to them” (p. 161).
Following Jung (and to some extent Freud), the 12&12 takes a more psychological tack on the cares of the self-centered heart, identifying the source of the problem in our natural, inborn desires and instincts. That’s why, at first, we have such a hard time working the Steps and practicing the principles in them. That's just not how we are made.
“Who wishes to be rigorously honest and tolerant?” we are asked rhetorically in Step 1. “Who wants to confess his faults to another and make restitution for harm done? Who cares anything about a Higher Power, let alone meditation and prayer? Who wants to sacrifice time and energy in trying to carry A.A.’s message to the next sufferer? No, the average alcoholic, self-centered in the extreme, doesn’t care for this prospect—unless he has to do these things in order to stay alive himself” (p. 24).
“Since most of us are born with an abundance of natural desires,” we are told in Step 6, “it isn’t strange that we often let these far exceed their intended purpose. When they drive us blindly, or when we willfully demand that they supply us with more satisfactions or pleasures than are possible or due us, that is the point at which we depart from the degree of perfection that God wishes for us here on earth. That is the measure of our character defects, or, if you wish, of our sins” (p. 65).
Therefore, “If we place instincts first, we have got the cart before the horse; we shall be pulled backward into disillusionment. But when we are willing to put spiritual growth first—then and only then do we have a real chance” (Step 12, p. 114). That simple willingness is the first sign of a change of heart. We begin to care for the right things and in the right order.
The Big Book describes this process in "How It Works": We become “less interested in ourselves, in our little plans and designs” and more interested in others; “in what we could contribute to life” (p. 63), not just in what we could 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 constituted, 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 the way he wants us to live.
Why is a spiritual reordering of our heart central to our recovery? Because the heart is the lens through which we view and value things. Our perception of how the things we care about are affected in a given situation arouse our emotions. And our emotions then drive our actions.
If our concerns and perceptions are distorted, so will our emotions and our actions be. To act rightly, we need to feel rightly, and to feel rightly we need to care and see rightly. A spiritual awakening makes this possible.
[Image: Ebby T, who carried the message of a spiritual awakening from Rowland H. to Bill W. and became Bill's sponsor. To hear Ebby tell his story, please click on "Ebby T. – Memphis, TN, 1958," and "Ebby Thatcher, San Jose CA, 3-4-61." For a biography, see Ebby T.: The Man Who Sponsored Bill W., by Mel B. For an audio of this post, please click on link.]