Updated: Aug 26, 2022
Bottom line: There are many paths to spirituality.
Aristotle said man is a social animal. I say, in addition, man is a spiritual animal. As such, each of us has an inherent desire to answer the bigger questions of our existence.
Ever ask yourself how so many religions came to be? My answer, culture and man as spiritual animal. Each culture or society (group of people) grapples with the fundamental existential questions to which every human seeks an answer. It all boils down to where and how we, individually and collectively, fit in to the bigger scheme. I’m including many and varied questions here, such as, What happens when we die, Do we have self-determination, and How did life begin?
The need/desire to answer some or all of those questions has driven the development of religions, which then serves the spiritual needs of its followers, though each reflects the values, practices and beliefs of the culture from which it sprang (springs). And as every individual has fallibility and blind spots, so do cultures, and thus religions. As a result, no one religion has the corner on spirituality. By that I mean every religion potentially can lead an individual to the same place, if only. . . . If only the cultural blind spots don’t inhibit that person. If only the individual can work their way through the weeds, the labyrinth of rituals and practices that create that religion’s blind spots.
If you're still with me here, I’m saying no religion has the perfect formula, nor a formula for everyone. As well, every religion changes over time as a reflection of its followers/cultural underpinning. No religion is the sole proprietor of spirituality. Moreover, no one religion is necessary to attain enlightenment/spirituality, nor any in that sense. Rather, finding and piecing together the commonality helps alleviate contradictions in any particular culture/religion and gets closer to the essence of spirituality.
Having lived a few years now, and been exposed to the 12-Steps, I consider those steps a good guideline, not only for those seeking relief from their struggles with destructive behavior, but a path to their spiritual development. I don’t see the 12-Steps as part of a cult nor a religion, though they can act as an adjunct to religion.
Though the 12-Steps originally incorporated the use of the term God, though higher power has supplanted that more recently. I’ve heard encouragement to newer members/attendees of meetings to consider a chair as their higher power, if that works for them. There is no dogma attached to anyone’s definition or determination of higher power, in whatever form.
The purpose of developing a personal higher power is to surrender one’s self in Step 2. That is, give up the idea that one controls and can deal with their problem(s) alone through their thinking and willpower. In psychological terms, I see that as putting the ego aside. The entire point of surrendering willpower is to give up on the notion of controlling that behavior which has been and is out of control for that individual. Imagine resisting drinking water when your dying of thirst! Most everyone attempting to overcome an addiction to a substance or destructive behavior can testify that they’ve quit many times, though never remained abstinent. Obviously, a significant focus of discussion in 12-Steps meetings centers around relapse, and the phrases, One day at a time, and, Easy does it, which are heard frequently.
Case in point: my father smoked like a chimney and stopped many times. Problem was he couldn’t stay stopped and succumbed to lung cancer.
Recently, someone claimed the 12-Steps and meetings were a cult. Here’s what I say about that. The Merriam-Webster dictionary includes several definitions of cult. To apply any of those to the 12-Steps or 12-Step meetings in any serious way becomes a considerable stretch, at least in any negative sense. The 12-Steps don’t extol a deity, nor the program have a leader. Instead, the steps point the way on a path that has worked and is working for others to avoid their destructive behavior. Absolute adherence to dogma isn’t required. Instead, recommendations are made and some best practices are followed, such as maintaining anonymity and utilizing a sponsor (a more experienced support buddy). The 12-Steps are voluntary, take ‘em or leave ‘em. Meeting attendance doesn’t require special clothing or tithing. There’s no hierarchical establishment, though there are fellow recovering members who have secured a meeting location, lead the meeting, purchase coffee and so on. Meetings can occur anywhere, wherever an organizer can arrange. Some meetings occur in a house of worship, though that isn’t a necessity and many don’t. The meetings are intended to provide safe places for attendees to share what they are doing that is working for them, unload emotional baggage, gain insight, and provide encouragement and support to others. The latter brings the steps full circle at Step 12: "Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs." (Substitute other destructive behaviors for the term alcoholics.) The meetings become a mutual self-help process utilizing the guidelines of the 12-Steps. I see this as a similar process to that of therapy/counseling, the final goals being the same or nearly so.
I believe answers to our existential questions are all around us. We are of them. We are infused with them. We are not, and have never been, separated from our spirituality, though we blind ourselves by creating walls within ourselves. And that if each of us listens and looks, maybe we can come to understand the above, arrive at an inner peace of grace and serenity, and live in the question without self-righteous judgment of others. Moreover, perhaps, we can abandon intolerance and the expectation that others follow our path.
Photo Credit: pexels - Adam Kontor