A Witch examines the unique intersections between her Witchcraft spirituality and Twelve Step teachings.
Cartesianism and the Third Step
“Made the decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” Step Three of Alcoholics Anonymous
“We now honor our connection with the divine, as we understand it, and we accept the process of change.” Step Three of The Spiral Steps
“Made a decision to align our Will and our lives to that of True Will and place the care of our lives into the hands of the God/dess as we understand Him, Her, It, or Them.” Step Three of The Twelve Steps for Pagans by Khoury
"Made a decision to connect the powers within and without and see them as One.” Step Three by Anodea Judith
As I mentioned in a previous post, independence is a hallmark of Pagans and Witches. We like to do things our own way, and we relish marching to the beat of our own drum. It is not easy, then, to confront this third step that tells us that surrendering our will is the way forward. For many of us, the fear that leaps into our mind is perfectly explained within the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions:
“Yes, respecting alcohol, I guess I have to be dependent upon A.A., but in all other matters I must still maintain my independence. Nothing is going to turn me into a nonentity. If I keep and turning my life and my will over to the care of Something or Somebody else, what will become of me? I’ll look like the hole in the doughnut.” P 36, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions
I’m so fascinated by this fear of being a nonentity because I think it speaks very deeply to the fear that the reality of interconnection and interdependence bring up in modern man and woman. To admit that we are deeply connected, on a spiritual and physical level, is to dismantle the idea of individuality itself. We’ve all heard about how we are made of stardust, and this can feel inspiring. But it also reminds us that we are not our own; that the very physical material of our bodies is borrowed and communal. it was once one thing, and it one will day be another. Many Pagans have worked hard to dismantle ontological dualism and Cartesianism (the philosophy perfected by René Descartes that the world is divided into three different areas of existence-that inhabited by physical matter, that inhabited by the mind, and that inhabited by God) and have placed enormous emphasis upon the sacredness of our bodies. Thus there is not one set of laws governing our material self and our spiritual self; the one is embodied in the other (they are the same). Thus, our whole selves dip from a common well, and if these energies can be said to belong to us in any way it can only be for a brief wink of the cosmic span of time. I breathe, but at what point can my breath be said to be my own? In those moments when it is held like a cup by the material of my lungs which is made from organic material that I am only borrowing? It feeds me and sustains me, but it is not mine. I can only dance with it.
Making a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understand him, is to embrace this idea that even things as seemingly all-consuming and steady as a desire or a want is washed away in the sea of all-beings. Surrendering our will is shorthand for behaving as if things are more deeply connected than ontological dualism asserts and that there might then be a higher purpose for us than what our desires dictate. This can be very frightening. This fear that our autonomy and sovereignty will be lost is described later in the 12 and 12 as “a fear of losing something we already possessed or failing to get something we demanded.” When we work the third step, we turn directly into that fear. What would happen if we didn’t get what we wanted? What would happen if we lost something we thought we needed? If we turn into these fears having surrendered to the idea that we exist less uniquely than we thought, the fear fizzles and, according to the Big Book, “we have been rocketed into a fourth dimension of existence of which we had not even dreamed.”
The discussion until now has gone along spiritual terms, but what does this look like in practical application? A chief indicator of our existential fretting in active addiction is the amount of energy and time we would devote towards trying to manage people, events and outcomes so that we would get what we want or avoid losing what we had. We also tried to manage our drinking or drugging like this, trying to imbibe the correct amount, or in the correct order, so that we could get to just the right place that would provide relief from pain but also avoidance of harsh consequences. Trying to manage is a deeply existential activity. it is built on the idea that we need certain things to happen in order to be happy or comfortable, and that being happy or comfortable is the chief aim of our lives. It supposes that we, in our infinite wisdom, are the best determinants of what is best for us, and that we should not cease to struggle until we make those things a reality.
When we work Step Three, we walk away from this idea. We cease our love affair with managing people, places, things, drugs, drinking and other behaviors. This might mean that Susan stops engaging in being a people pleaser all the time because she realizes that trying to make everyone like her is really just an effort to manage her own reality. Joey might cease trying to make Mom and Dad get along and accept that they hate each other. Rebecca might work Step Three by letting go of the idea that she has to be the one to play Devil’s Advocate in her office. For me, it looked like ceasing my efforts to play the victim so that others would feel sorry for me and take it easy on me.
From those examples above you might have gotten the secret about Step Three. This is a Step about responding in a different way we don’t get what we want or lose something we had. In this way, this is an alchemical step. We are turning dross into gold. Turning dross, or base metals, into gold was just one of the many aspirations of the alchemists. This is the alchemy we perform when we work Step 3. We take the dross of life- all the things and people that didn't turn out or act the way we wanted them to- and we turn our experience of them into gold by showing up in that situation in a fresh new way. What fresh new ways are possible? It could be an attitude of acceptance. It might be a focus on service (i.e. how can I make myself of use to others in this situation?). Gratitude is a very powerful attitude to show up with in the face of something disappointing or difficult. These are just some examples; there are many options. “Okay,” some of you might be saying at this point. “That makes sense, but why does ‘God’ with a capital G have to be involved with this? Now that I have a new understanding about my unmanageability and powerlessness from Step 1, why can’t I just begin to behave in a different way?” I welcome you to try, but I offer this wisdom from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
“If a mere code of morals or a better philosophy of life were sufficient to overcome alcoholism, many of us would have recovered long ago. But we found that such codes and philosophies did not save us, no matter how much we tried. We could wish to be moral, we could wish to be philosophically comforted, in fact, we could wish these things with all our might, but the needed power wasn't there. Our human resources, as marshaled by the will, were not sufficient; they failed utterly. Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves.” P 44, Alcoholics Anonymous
What does that mean, exactly? Logistically, it means we plug ourselves in so the current can flow from this power to ourselves. That can look very different to different people within different traditions. Some people might begin spending more time contemplating in nature. Others may take up a serious meditation practice, or engage in regular devotional work. You could begin to engage in trance work, or ecstatic dance, or simply praying. Probably we need to find a way to incorporate some service work into our lives, and take up a gratitude practice. These simple actions can have the effect of radically shifting our perspectives so that we can do what was discussed above-showing up in fresh new ways to challenging situations.
The Third Step, when understood and activated in your life, actually puts you into a very “Pagan” mindset. This is a world in which you are not the center of the Universe. Your needs and wants are not more or less important than those of your neighbor. You are neither queen or victim. You are part of a vast web, and you hold a responsibility to other beings in that web. You are willing to work with what shows up and flow with the energies present, not demanding that reality reshape itself to your preferences. As you encounter difficult people and situations, you hold a sense that there is a sacredness and a usefulness immanent in all things, and that possibility lurks behind every corner. I see this as in keeping with the life-affirming, interconnected conception of divine immanence that many people identifying as Pagan share. I believe this is a very holy and sacred way to live our lives, and in ceasing to struggle with the world I have actually had the freedom to be more myself as I actually am: an expression of energies in a unique configuration for a moment in time.
As always I look forward to what you think. What do you think about the Third Step? How do you work with it in your tradition? In what ways does the traditional wording create tension for you, and how do you resolve that-or not?
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