Monday 4 February 2019

Of Powerlessness and Belief - Part l

          All the 'Anonymous' organisations, alcoholics; narcotics; gamblers etc., as well as Al-anon for friends and families of alcoholics, follow the same basic "Twelve Step Program" of spiritual recovery. There are slight variations between the groups but in general they all follow the same format. The 'First Step' says:-

"We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable".

In addition to alcohol, narcotics and the rest, I would add that one needs to admit powerlessness over addictive or habitual thinking. This first Step is extremely important and one which most people will not begin to work, so long as their ego insists it can cope or manage, invariably a fallacious conclusion. This Step is important for a number of reasons the first being that one voluntarily commits to the work, and 'does' something. The second Step, which I will discuss in Part ll, is more about what is done to the spiritual seeker. These two Steps are bound together so that the second almost seems to be an emergent property of the first.
           I recall one of my counsellors once saying that if you are unwilling to enter the first 'Step', you haven't bottomed out, you don't yet hurt enough. He was a recovering alcoholic. Friends and families of substance addicted people so often prefer to play the blame game. In blaming others, a classic denial symptom, they fail to see what is wrong with their own behaviour, even that there is a problem to be looked at. I know, I've been there.
          The ego detests, hates and fears change. To change is to admit it was wrong. To change is to admit that it was without real substance. It is a no-one, an emptiness. Yet the acceptance - what a huge word that is - and the ridding of oneself of psychological denial is the gateway to enlightenment and truth, and so much more.
          I would like to cite an example which is outside the usual substance-addiction field to illustrate how easily one can fall into the ego-dominated problem of addictive thinking. I take my example from current UK politics. After the Prime Minister's recent, massive defeat in the House of Commons over her Brexit deal, MPs demanded that she return to the EU and renegotiate the 'withdrawal agreement'. It never seemed to occur to them that the EU might just not be prepared to re-open negotiations. The UK government is powerless to force the EU to re-open the 'withdrawal agreement'. They would require consent, choice, on the part of the EU. Choice is not control. [It will also have been noticed no doubt by anyone observing this political process, that the blame game is in full swing.]
          Of course, the Prime Minister readily agreed to return to Brussels and she would bring back the necessary changes that would be needed to pass the deal in the Commons, or so she said. Well, she has already tried that and failed. As I recall, ex-Prime Minister David Cameron failed also. It may well be that a new deal is struck. But I say again, it will be from choice [maybe even a nasty tasting choice] not power and control that success emerges. Choice is not control; powerlessness is still there even if the political ego refuses to see.
          A good, thorough working of Step One not only reveals powerlessness, unmanageability, and the futility of the machinations of an overly proud ego, but also eradicates the psychological denial in which one has indulged. It is, in truth, enlightenment in the darkness of despair. It is like looking at starlight after the intervening clouds have passed away. But that is more properly talked about in Part ll......


  1. Hi Tom,
    I like the way you have applied that first step to the Brexit madness.
    To be blunt, and be a bit outspoken, I agree with your idea and posit the first step to any real progress is to admit the UK is in a hopeless position? Does anyone know what the Brexiteers actually want? - leaving aside the Norther Ireland problem.
    Therein such an admission might offer a faint glint of hope in carving out a middle ground between the populist movement and maintaining a tolerant democratic system.
    I can’t help thinking the original referendum was like an intoxicated person lashing out against immigration and blaming someone else – principally the EU citizenship agreement. A bit of a furphy don’t you think?
    At any rate, on a lighter note, can I have a few bob bet that Britain, one way or another, will eventually find a way to stay in the EU?- she can do better than this. Can anyone tell me what the advantage is in leaving?
    Best wishes

    1. Hi Lindsay,
      First of all I had to look up what a furphy was, then I was able to agree with you. I don't think even the Brexiteers know what they want, at least they don't appear to have a common goal, except leaving the EU.
      I think there is something in what you say about the original referendum. Heaven forbid there should be a "people's vote" as if that is in some way different from a referendum. Frankly, I was appalled when I heard from friends and family in the UK about why people voted to leave the EU. No doubt some voted to leave for what they considered to be good reasons. Others most certainly did not.
      You may put a hypothetical bob or two on, but not with me. I use euros. As to whether the UK stays or goes, they have made something of a laughing stock of themselves. I suspect there is going to be a banquet of pride swallowing to come. Well, that might not be a bad thing. If they do finish up by staying, it might just see the end of the Tory party as we know it.

    2. Bravo for highlighting the importance of accepting our own powerlessness, Tom. I very much look forward to your post on the second step.
      Your use of the Brexit conundrum is an interesting one. One may assume that those who voted, for or against, may have been powerless to alter their habitual thinking. ("Addictive" hardly applies.) And yet, as we know, one can indeed alter habitual thinking. Perhaps away from firm conviction one way or other; towards open-minded uncertainty.
      And perhaps habitual thinking may suppose that the future can be controlled in favour of our wishes. But we see in practice that things get out of hand. What happens is unpredictable, rather like the weather. Chaos theory applies, the Butterfly effect.
      But I must take you up on one point, where you say in your comment to Lindsay,
      "No doubt some voted to leave for what they considered to be good reasons. Others most certainly did not."
      What do you mean? That some voted to leave for what they didn't consider good reasons? Would anyone conceivably do that? Or did some vote to leave for what you consider bad reasons? You and they have equal right to define "good reasons". It's called democracy.
      And it may be a valid example of powerlessness to alter one's own habitual thinking.

    3. Hello Vincent,
      I'll take up that part of your comment that refers to my answer to Lindsay. Some voters might well have voted to leave, some to stay, for reasons which on the morning following the referendum they admitted were foolish. As I said to Lindsay, I was appalled when I heard that some voted the way they did, just to be different. One labour MP suggested voting one particular way to, "Give David Cameron a bloody nose!" Some voters who voted to leave openly said to members of my family that they voted to leave because they didn't think they'd win.
      So, yes, conceivably some people would do that. And my reasons to vote leave or remain were never given the chance to be heard. We were denied a vote. And that also is called democracy!

  2. " needs to admit powerlessness over addictive or habitual thinking." Yes yes yes! This is so true and so relevant, both in terms of political blindness as you've illustrated re Brexit, but also in personal, self-awareness terms. I've been looking about this problem a lot lately and I note that as time goes by, my mind does get into repetitious, mechanical patterns in what can only be described as addictive or compulsive mental behaviour because it controls me rather than vice-versa. Awareness of it and self-criticism isn't enough to put a stop to it but what does work is creative activity: a specific task to be carried out, preferably one which requires effort and focused attention. My point is that thinking about changing something in one's self, no matter how cleverly, perceptively one can analyse the problem, rarely produces actual change. Change happens almost accidentally, as a side-effect of doing something else: the 'doing', the activity being the key to stopping the broken record of addictive thinking. Other kinds of addiction, alcohol etc. of course are not that simple to confront. Thanks for letting me think aloud here, Tom, and for your explorations of these less-travelled roads.

    1. Hello Natalie,
      It is a pleasure as always to hear you exploring your thinking aloud. I like the point you make about creative activity. As one writer has said, activities such as music, art, dance, nature, fasting, poetry, games, life-affirming sexuality and the art of relationship itself, opens the heart to healing.
      Teachers of transpersonal psychology talk about sub-personalities, thought constructs that are applied automatically to situations we face, whether the applications are appropriate or not. We learn to unthinkingly react rather than thoughtfully respond.

  3. Excellent comparison with the Brexit mess, Tom. Aren't you glad to be in France? Or are you?

  4. Hi Tom,
    It's very good to see you've returned to publishing your welcome and always thoughtful posts.
    I'll write you soon with our latest.
    All the best

    1. Hi Susan, and thank you. At the time of this reply, I have received your news. Very exciting!