ONE OF THE PRIMARY DIFFICULTIES I had in trying to fit both recovery and Nonduality into my life and lifestyle was figuring out what a recovery-style spiritual awakening was–and what it wasn’t. I mention this here because this column is about telling the truth. This truth may upset a bunch of people. So be it. I’m out to free the few, not placate the many. Let me set this up a bit before I launch into the main topic.
I was, in the end, a low bottom drunk, drug abuser and compulsive gambler who wound up living in the bushes of Mt. Tabor City Park in Portland, Oregon. My own brain was killing me, and it was bent on torturing me as much as it could before it did me in. Given the gravity of this situation, my requirements of recovery were not lofty. If I could get clean and sober, and squeeze out a roof over my head, regular meals, and adjustable weather, I was in. I was in my late forties before I got sober, with a nuked background, so I didn’t hold out much hope for ever getting re-established.
I figured, what the hell, I couldn’t not join recovery anyway, and maybe if I did the right stuff long enough I could at least be made useful in a less painful way than being nature’s bad example. Maybe I could gain some respect within the fellowship, and have a humdinger of a spiritual awakening. Well, two out of three ain’t bad. I became very useful for a long time. I worked with a ton of guys, and I became quite a speaker. Over the years I told my story to thousands of alcoholics in treatment, in speaker meetings, and at special functions. From that usefulness came a fair modicum of respect.
Insofar as the spiritual awakening described in Appendix II of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, I could be said to have had one of those as well. I was sober. I did indeed develop an awareness that there was some sort of Higher Power. I called it God then, and I often still do, although what I mean when I say that has morphed quite a bit over the years. I was doing some good, had begun to take an interest in others, and I was happier than I had been when I was a practicing addict. Life was better. I was grateful.
Even when my life went to shit, and I was arrested as a result of my ninth step amends, things were a lot better than when I was in the park. I had a wonderful girlfriend by now, and a host of friends to help me bear that burden. Amazingly enough, I started a little book business that I still have today. I’m not getting rich by any means, but I’m not missing any meals. I even have a good car! So, what I’m saying is that recovery did it’s job. I’m a very satisfied customer. I am a promoter of Twelve Step programs–or any other program that will help get addicts clean. We can’t really get much of anywhere here until that has already occurred. I have no axe to grind. I was and am deeply grateful for the fellowship and the people who loved and nursed me back to something akin to normalcy.
There was just one problem. I’d had a glimpse of my true nature some years before I got sober, and I could see that the awakening we were talking about in recovery wasn’t like that awakening. If you have seen who you really are, even in a fleeting sort of way, it leaves a permanent footprint. You can’t unknow what you know. And while you may not be able to tell right away if someone else is awake or not, based on what they say and do, you can generally tell in a heartbeat who isn’t.
This “who isn’t” includes the vast majority of the population, including the population who follows New Age spirituality, Eastern philosophy and religions, the many forms of hatha yoga, Western philosophy and religious traditions…and recovery. As we’ve said before, people certainly do reach Nondual awareness through all of these traditions, but it’s rare in each, and rarer on the Western side than the Eastern. In general, the West almost hammers a belief in separation. There certainly are some philosophers who stand out from that generalization. Greg Goode’s short, but excellent Nondualism in Western Philosophy is a great place to explore Western influences in detail.
Recovery is a practical program with practical aims that has a background of spirituality whose roots lie in Christianity. I wasn’t there, so I can’t actually know what the founders had in mind, but I know what we’ve ended up with. There’s no problem whatsoever with any of this, except that it can confuse the hell out of somebody who’s flirting around a tradition that can actually deliver the goods, by which I mean enlightenment.
Recovery, like most religion and spirituality, is about a relative surrender in order to achieve specific, relative benefits. It’s a quid pro quo thing–a trade of this for that. There’s nothing wrong with any of this, it’s simply not what we’re talking about here. What we’re talking about here is absolute surrender, entirely gratuitous, meaning for free, for nothing in return.
This may not seem true at first glance, given that we’re hunting for peace and knowledge, but even if we don’t know it, we’re not hunting for relative peace, or relative knowledge. We are hunting for knowledge of our own nature, which is absolute peace. There’s nothing personal in this quest, and there’s nothing personal in its successful completion, if we would ever dare claim such a thing.
So what I’m saying is do recovery things to get recovery rewards. I thank God that I did. But if you find yourself wandering from the group agreement on spirituality, don’t worry. If you’ve found yourself here, you’re not sliding down a slippery slope, you’re moving forward. You’re off the circular movement now, and you’re headed in another direction. You can stay in recovery and come here as well. In fact, you can do whatever the hell you want.
I won’t be talking much here about how to get a job or a girlfriend, or how to get through the holidays with a smile and without a drink. All of that has its place, but it’s place is not here. Here we are fishing for the Big Fish. So get in the boat if you want to cross the water. Our only requirement for membership is a desire to stop thinking!
FRED DAVIS studied and practiced Eastern wisdom for twenty-five years prior to 2006, when his seeking ended, and his true awakening commenced. He is the creator and editor of Awakening Clarity, editor of Beyond-Recovery.org, and author of Beyond Recovery: Nonduality and the Twelve Steps, which will be published in December by Non-Duality Press. He is also a frequent reviewer of spiritual titles on Amazon. His work has appeared on Advaita Vision and Nonduality Living, and shows up frequently in Nondual Highlights. He is very happily married, loves cats, dogs, and birds, and lives as a chiefly ignored, urban hermit deep in the heart of the American South. He is currently at work on a companion volume to Beyond Recovery.