Twelve Steps to TransformationBy Paul Murphy
The twelve steps, traditionally associated with Alcoholics Anonymous, are a powerful tool for life transformation. They enable a person to move from personal ideals to transpersonal ideals. This is a shift from self-seeking self-centeredness, to a way of life that incorporates an ideal larger than the survival of the self. The steps support us to develop a sense of spirituality that connects us intimately with the people in our lives, the environment and generates awareness and concern for the well-being of humanity in general.
The immature masculine persona is ego-centric, meaning it is focussed purely on fulfilling its own needs and desires. This is a natural stage of childhood development, built on our survival instinct. Children assume they are the centre of the universe and need to be treated this way for a time, in order for the healthy development of their psyche.
When this need goes unmet, the child grows into a self-seeking adult on an unconscious mission, seeking desperately to create a world in which he or she can find peace, power or happiness. This is shadow or false transcendence. Rather than experiencing the internal transpersonal shift that guides us into maturity through a healthy transcendence of our base instincts, we try to create it with our actions and words, in our relationships and communities. This results in power struggles, obsession, competition and conflict, addiction and all forms of avoidance as we attempt to replicate the genuine transcendence experience through the strategies of the immature ego.
The twelve steps support radical personal change and transformation from this disempowered state of individualism and bring us into a sense of peace, wellbeing and oneness with the whole. Transcendence is the process of moving from our lower (or immature) ego, which responds to our animalistic instincts that are primarily linked to survival, to having a sense of the bigger picture, a sense of our connection with the whole and a healthy vision of our own potential.
Bill Wilson, the founder of the twelve steps, was an alcoholic trapped in this very struggle as he searched for personal transcendence. As a result, he designed the steps specifically for the alcoholic, in order to save men and women from the life or death struggle with alcohol and to provide a way out of the self-destructive patterns of behaviour that cause so much pain and suffering in family systems.
The twelve steps need not only be applied to alcoholics and addicts. It serves a much greater purpose to society by providing a pathway to deeper maturity and personal transcendence through a genuine spiritual awakening. The steps have proven through time and experience that they have the power to reach into the darkest corner of an alcoholic’s suffering to bring about miraculous transformation when nothing else has worked. But the steps are not limited to helping the alcoholic. Every man and woman can have the transformational power of these clear and concise steps applied to their own life, if they so choose.
We need transformation in our society now, more than ever before. We have evolved as a species of self-seeking, self-centred and addictive personalities. With technology moving at an incredible pace, human beings are becoming more detached from each other. The twelve steps support fellowship, community, and more importantly, connection with other human beings. What you have read this far is coming from my own experience and understanding. I found the steps as a lost, homeless ego-centric adult male. They have transformed me into a mature, responsible and spiritual human being. The life I live today is one beyond my wildest dreams as I experience the joy of living out my true purpose. This radical transformation happened under the guidance of the twelve steps.
As I have already mentioned, Bill Wilson founded the steps. It is also important to note the people who made an impression on him during this formation. Carl Jung, the great psychologist of his time, known today for his work with archetypes, was influential both in Bill’s life and the development of the twelve steps. His influence will become evident as we explore them further. There was another great psychologist by the name of William James, around the same time as Carl Jung, who wrote an article in the Alcoholics Anonymous text book (known as the “AA Big Book”) called "Spiritual Experience." Both of these men made a great contribution in writing the prescription for the twelve steps.
As we explore the deeper meaning of the steps, I hope you will sense and feel the transformative process as it unfolds. So let’s take that journey and like all journeys, we will start at the beginning. As the steps were originally written for alcoholics, I am going to change some words to assist you to apply the principles to every aspect of your life, but I will also talk about them as they have been written in their original form.
The Twelve Steps
Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.
Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Step 7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
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.
Step One - Unveiling the IllusionPaul Murphy and Tim Drown
The first step towards life transformation targets the false reality of the ego – the idea that I have everything under control and my life is just fine.
Most of us work really hard to create this impression. As a result, we repress the shadows, emotions and defects of character that challenge this façade in order to keep up with the pace of life. All the while these subtle forces sabotage us from behind the scenes, robbing us daily of the fulfilment and happiness we seek and from the realisation of our potential.
For most people, denial is two-fold. We deny our limitations, failing to accept that we don’t really have any power over our lives. Therefore, we certainly don’t need any help – especially not the help to change our lives. When we live in denial, the problems are always with everyone else. It takes a brave man to look within, confront his shadow and take responsibility for his behaviour.
In psychological terms this is called infantile grandiosity. It means a person has an immature sense of importance and power and is living in the illusion of control. This is shadow transcendence. It is an attempt to rise to maturity without walking through the initiation process. The reality is that any attempt at control is an indication that one is out of control. When we grasp for control we create devastating fall-out in our relationships with others and ourselves. This fall-out is reflected in the phrase “our lives have become unmanageable.” We become unmanageable in a mental, physical, and spiritual way, as well as having to face and deal with the repercussions of our attempts to control the world around us.
The second denial is in the opening word of the step, “WE”. This word has several meanings. It includes fellowship, connectedness, community and the collective strength implicit in the word “together”. People often live with the illusion that they are different to each other.
The ego, in its ignorance, thinks it knows all there is to know, or in its disempowered state thinks it is useless and worthless. As a result, people struggle to reach out for help and remain separated from the very thing they need most - other human beings.
Shadow transcendence breaks down community and relationships. It leaves us believing we are vulnerable and we shouldn’t mix with those who are a threat to us (most everyone!). Alternatively, it cuts others off through our juvenile grandiosity. People need us, but we don’t need them.
Such denial is rarely as obvious as described here. Most people still tend to mix socially, engage in friendship, giving and receiving support. It is usually more subtly nestled in the subconscious mind and evident only in our motivations and most secret thoughts. It is at this level that we can remain in denial for a lifetime. By appearance, we are engaged in community but in secret, we are starved of love and cut off from the world. Our shadow transcendence prevents us from rising into the fullness of maturity.
I have used the word denial frequently. This is a word that gets a lot of press but often without a deeper understanding of where it comes from, what it means and why it’s used so much in this step. Denial arises out of fear - the fear of understanding, the fear of facing reality and the fear of feeling our pain. It is strengthened by the fear of losing our false transcendence and the fear that I am not the person I work so hard to be. Our ultimate fear is that we are not good enough or in some way defective.
Fear drives us to avoid the truth, because if I am to honestly look at who I really am, I would need to take responsibility for that which I see there. If I don’t like what I see … I collapse into helplessness and despair. Thus the ego perpetuates the cycle of trying to prove I am something that I am not by generating a self-made transcendence. Our motive? The avoidance of our truth.
We need to move out of the self-created comfort zone I call container and move into the content that exists there in. The first step is to reach out and ask someone to be a mentor, sponsor or spiritual guide to help break down our denial and embark on the steps. When a person reaches this point, he would have developed the courage, honesty and humility that is both essential for and summoned by this step.
True humility has two components - a person admits and accepts his limitations, and secondly, reaches out for help. The paradox of this step is, when a person accepts that he is powerless over his life for the first time, he gains power. The power comes in the form of choice, willingness and acceptance. Up until this point, we live in the illusion of choice and are ultimately slaves of the ego.
This is also the beginning of an onset of feelings of shame, yet simultaneously the end of our need for it. When a man fully accepts his powerlessness over anything he is trying to control, his world begins to change. It is also the beginning and end of resentment, because resentment comes from trying to change something I have no right to change. Acceptance is what’s needed. It is also the beginning of transformation, leading to individualisation and personal transcendence as we work the rest of the steps.
A person now realises that he (or his ego) is not God and doesn’t have super human power. He comes to the realisation that he is a human being, with essential human limitations. This lays the foundation for a shift from personal ideals to transpersonal, moving out of self-seeking self-centeredness, towards a power greater than himself. So if a person has fully accepted this step in all it concepts and principles, he is directed to the transpersonal ideal which lies in step two.
Step Two - The Step of DesperationBy Paul Murphy and Tim Drown
The second of the twelve steps is the beginning of spiritual awakening. It is an initiation that guides us out of our self-centred world and gives birth to what we have called the transpersonal ideal.
The unitiated man is unconsciously of the belief that he is the centre of the universe. His needs, protection, desires and comforts come first in his mind and he lives his life accordingly.
You often hear men speaking angrily about the selfishness of others, yet they are all too often unable to see the same behaviour in themselves. This is a common human trait and is the mark of the psychological child who has not been initiated into adulthood.
The uninitiated man, governed by the unresolved child, believes he is entitled and makes unreasonable demands of his friends, of authority, his family and the world around him. He thinks ideally rather than realistically. He has lists of rules expressed as “shoulds” and “oughts” and is unconsciously loaded with expectations of life and others. His rules and expectations define his reality, constructing beliefs and expectations about life and his place in it. The uninitiated child struggles to take into account the diversity of community and the complexity of society. He sees in terms of black and white while living in a world shaded with grey.
Other symptoms of the immature masculine include the tendency to over-personalise. If his partner is angry, he fears it is his fault. The flippant comments and sarcastic digs of his friends and workmates eat away at his insecurities and stir him to silent anger. If the wrong person criticises or depreciates him at the wrong time, he is likely to lose his temper and violence may flare as he perceives it as a direct assault on his character. He has no separation from the ego and his worthiness is based on his achievements, wealth, gadgets and abilities. He is constantly competing to prove his significance and win the acknowledgment of his community.
Does it sound like men you know? If we are honest with ourselves, we easily relate to these characteristics because this is the dominant nature of the uninitiated male. Step two is the beginning of change. It is, when combined with steps one and three, a rite of passage and a recipe for transformation from the immature masculine to male maturity.
Step two facilitates a shift of our focus from the ego-self, built on our unfulfilled childhood needs, to a power greater than this false reality. In short, we awaken to the world around us. We become aware of the illusory world of the ego that we have been living by. This step reminds us that we no longer need to function in isolation. We are not alone and the pathway to well-being is through community, not isolation.
A power greater than ourselves can be discovered in many ways, but each and every way works to the same end. For some people this means a connection with a spiritual deity by whichever name or identity one chooses. Be it God, Krishna, the Universe, Source, Divine Self or any number of non-physical identities. For some, a power greater than myself means me plus one other - a mentor, a community or a group of people in whom I choose to place my trust and join in unity. Any of these ideals expand the focus of the individual beyond the separation created by the immature ego to shift one’s point of focus to a cause beyond oneself. This is the transpersonal ideal. I am no longer the centre of the universe; rather, I find my place in it.
The loneliness created by the immature masculine ego is intensely painful and very real. It is expressed powerfully in the myth of Adam and Eve and their two sons, Cain and Abel. In this story, Abel is the first-born – the divine child. He works with livestock, and Cain, his brother, works the fields.
At the time of the seasonal sacrifice, Abel brings the fat portions of a lamb – a sacred offering throughout Hebrew history, representing the sacrifice of one’s life in submission to God and re-alignment with the will and ideals of God (a power greater than oneself). The shedding of blood served to remind the worshipper of the fragility of life. This is represented in step one through the acknowledgement of our powerlessness. Such fragility gives rise to the need for a power greater than oneself. Being confronted with the fragility of our lives and well-being is a powerful tool of initiation.
As primitive as it may sound, it is essential in our psychological and spiritual development if we are to shift from the immature, fear driven child to the trusting, empowered adult. Abel represented the latter, Cain the former. Cain’s offering was that of fruits and grains. An easy sacrifice that did not require the confrontation of his own mortality. It is the confrontation with our mortality that ultimately brings about transformation. The child believes brashly that he will live forever. The immature adult lives in fear and denial of his human limitation. The wisened King and Warrior has come to grips with the reality of death and even made peace with its inevitability.
It is often said among alcoholics and addicts that the real willingness to change occurred as they reached their rock-bottom. Driven by a devastating addiction, many end up losing everything of value in their life, including their own self-respect. It is this desperate confrontation with human mortality that awakens the true motivation and desire for radical change.
One does not need to be faced with such desperation in order to grow. Ritual rites of passage were designed to confront a young man with his mortality through ritual wounding and life-challenging quests within the support and container of his family and community. As he “faced death” and overcame it, the psyche shifted from an individualised state to a transpersonal perspective as the confrontation stripped him of his idealism, grounding him in the sobering reality of his humanity. This is the acknowledgement of limitation – of powerlessness.
Step two provides such initiation. As we surrender to our powerlessness in step one, truly acknowledging the deep reality that we have so little control over our lives, we are confronted by our limitation and mortality. It is this desperation that causes us to reach for a power greater than ourselves, initiating a shift from individualism to community; from being the centre of the universe to a part of it.
Returning to our story of Cain and Abel, Abel’s offering is accepted and Cain’s rejected. Cain’s insecurity (the shadow child) rises up within him and in jealously, he murders his brother. Here we see the suppression of the mature masculine by the immature ego. We will explore this further in step 3. In the myth, God punishes Cain by sending him out into the wilderness, exiling him from community. This powerfully represents the isolation, pain and fear of the uninitiated, ego-driven male, masterfully captured in Cain’s desperate appeal of his sentence. “This punishment is more than I can bear,” he cries, “for the rest of my days I will be a restless wanderer in the wilderness, and whoever finds me will kill me.”
The fear and loneliness of the shadow child echo through the centuries still. As uninitiated men today, we find ourselves as restless wanderers. We put on a false bravado, casting the illusion of confidence as we battle with the disillusionment of our disempowered souls. We duck and weave to avoid shame, embarrassment and rejection. We live as restless wanderers, afraid and avoidant of the inevitable wounding of life and our ultimate demise.
As we awaken in step two, to a higher understanding of our place in the world and in life, we are immediately freed of the incredible responsibility placed on our shoulders by the shadow ego and the need for control, defence, avoidance and protection. It is the beginning of a shift from fear to love, from control to acceptance, from avoidance to integration and fragmentation to wholeness.
The importance of a higher power is to externalise our own potential, and by externalising it, perceive it. Divinity is the ultimate truth of humanity. But in our uninitiated state, we struggle to identify it. As we view the world through the shrouded veil of our fears and limitations, our inadequacies, wounds and struggles, we see only hopelessness and fear. Some men respond with bravado, while others collapse into the darkness. Most of us hover in between, but all are driven by the shadow until we consciously align with our highest potential. Whether my higher power is a spiritual entity or takes human form, it reflects back to me the inner most qualities I am unable to see, and therefore cannot identify or align with.
Sadly, this radical growth and opportunity is often stymied when an unhealthy dependence is developed on a higher power. Divinity becomes objectified (assigning divine status to an external source), and my position as less-than-worthy is securely reinforced. A false security is created by the community that supports the objectification, and I sacrifice my highest potential for the fulfilment of the need to belong. Rather than undertaking the quest of self-realisation, extending the borders of my kingdom, I settle for the security of the crowd and do little to upset the status quo. This can be the end of spiritual development. Rather than being fully awakened, we rely on the herd to assure and affirm us. We settle for the container of transformation, rather than the transformation itself.
We see this in religion when the mystery of the divine is reduced to material relics and rules. We see this in spiritual movements when gurus arise, demanding loyalty and narrowing our vision to a specific path. This can occur in twelve step fellowships, when the group that gathers becomes the objective of attention rather than remaining a container for spiritual awakening and life transformation. The expression of divinity in the world is always a reflection of our own spiritual wholeness. While objectification can lead us to the awakening of our highest truth, it may also trap us in dependence, casting a shadow over our own potential.
This need not happen if we continue the journey of the steps, a journey that becomes yet more confronting before we are finally set free. It is the tendency to recline in the safety of the village, rather than venture out on the quest to maturity that chokes our growth. The journey to manhood requires a quest and calls to the courageous men of our era to forsake the comfort and security of our small communities to embark on the inner journey.
Step Three - The Step of TransformationBy Paul Murphy & Tim Drown
The archetype of transformation is deeply embedded in the human psyche. The story of the caterpillar slumbering within a carefully woven cocoon, biding its time until its emergence as a graceful butterfly has captured the minds and imagination of men and women for millennia. Tales such as the ugly duckling growing into a graceful swan, the frog turned into a prince with a kiss, a girl confined to cinders rising to the throne, all appeal to a blueprint buried deep within our sub-conscious – the innate knowledge that the most significant check-points in life are marked by moments of transformation.
No spiritual tale is complete without the archetype of transformation. Buddha meditated under a Bodhi tree for many days and nights, in desperate pursuit of awakening, and emerged an enlightened being. Jesus fasted in the wilderness for forty days and nights (a number symbolic of transformation) before emerging a clear, conscience being with powerful clarity of purpose.
Baptisms of water, fire and spirit, ceremonial rites of passage, anointing with balms and oils are all expressions of our deep belief in the transformative experience of the human journey. These outward rites attempt to provide the physical expression of a deeply profound and mystical experience.
Step three is a step of transformation. Steps one and two are powerful precursors. They prepare a man for the moment of transformation as a tribal boy may be prepared to pass through the ceremonial rites of initiation. We must loosen the stranglehold with which we cling to our lives and begin to see the cunning strategies of the ego if we are to truly find freedom and empowerment (step one). We must come to believe in the benevolence of the universe (step two), if we are to begin to emerge from the fear-ridden world upon which we have established our lives, creating the opportunity to pass through the transformational rites of step three and lay a foundation for an empowered life.
Until this point, we live believing the lies of our ego. The lies fed to us by our parents, teachers and peers. The lies we perpetuated as we played them over and over again in our minds. Until this point, we have lived in reaction. Driven by deep wounds, bound by the promises we made to ourselves that we would “never let that happen again”. Until this point, we have believed that our strength, our rights, our hard work will get us through life; and we have lived in avoidance of the intolerable pain that we sense lurking just beneath the surface of our fragile psyche.
In step three, we initiate transformation as we let it all go. We begin to let go of the lies, the wounds, the promises, the rules and expectations. Say those words slowly. Feel them in your heart. We … let … it … all … go. Pause a moment. Humour me. Say them again. At this point, the warrior lays down his sword, the magician his wand, the lover his mandolin and the king his crown.
We recognise the flawed nature of the blue-print upon which we have established our lives and we choose, to let all we have established there-upon, be dismantled. We hand every detail of our lives over to a universal power – the God of our understanding, stepping out of the driver’s seat of our lives. Rather than fighting our way through life, we begin to allow the flow of life to guide us.
Taoism (pronounced Dow-ism) is an oriental philosophy of great beauty and transcendence. It speaks of the Tao (Dow) – the undefinable, untameable essence of life that is the basis of all things and flows through all things, manifesting in physical form as the visible universe, yet retaining its mystical nature.
Enlightenment and power are found by surrendering to the Tao and its course; by allowing the current to carry one through life, relaxing gracefully in its ebb and flow. To cling to the banks of life or set oneself against the Tao’s stream is the definition of suffering and a guaranteed source of pain.
Step three is where we take the plunge into life’s river. We surrender. Literally surrender. Like diving out of a plane and trusting the parachute on our backs to carry safely to the ground, we tend to hold various reservations and rarely surrender all that we are in one graceful bound.
To surrender is to believe in something bigger than ourselves. To surrender is to accept that my way is not the best way. To surrender is to recognise that my life has been driven by fear – that my every decision and action has been self-serving – especially the well-meaning ones. Surrender is the realisation that I don’t know up from down or left from right. It comes with accepting that I have lived with the wool pulled over my eyes – that the world I believed in is an illusion, and the strategies I employed, self-defeating.
You can understand that such a step requires intense humility – sometimes to the point of brokenness. Many men must reach the pit of despair before truly letting go of all they fight to control. This belief in control is delusional, the work of the ego, the only reality many men perceive until they find humility and surrender to a higher power. Though daunting, the choice to surrender is always less painful than leaving life to break down our ego. Incredibly, the choice to surrender is always free of regret.
To explore this step further, we are going to replace the following words. We mean no disrespect to AA and gladly explain why. The words we will change are WE, God, and Him.
The word God has many meanings and associations in our contemporary society. Some are enlightening and liberating, while others reek of bitterness and control. AA has wonderful metaphors in describing this word. It can be said to stand for “Good Orderly Direction”, or in alignment with the definition of “power greater than our selves” as discussed in step two, “Group Of Drunks.”
Let’s explore good orderly direction and some of its meanings. It may mean, for example, taking on the suggestions and directions of those who have travelled the path before you (a mentor/mentee or warrior/king relationship), conducting yourself in a respectful way or aligning your thoughts and actions with all that is “good” and “right”.
For me it meant directing the focus of my attention inwards to the discovery of the self that lies there-in. As I reflect on my past, I am aware of key moments of transformation that occurred when I stopped looking for answers outside of myself, and started searching within. Until this point in my life, I believed I lived in an unjust and unfair world. Terrible things happened to me and to others, and there was always someone to blame. I enjoyed a good rant with friends about the atrocities committed by governments, the foolishness of the masses (and secretly anyone who was not me) and the misgivings of even my closest of friends.
I rode this negative energy like a wave. Every time I dipped in for another thrill, the righteousness of my stance was reinforced and I fell deeper into this furrow. “But it’s true” some may say, pointing to the mess of the world we live in. It may be some reflection of what is, but all the while a distraction from the real source of the suffering within me.
Good Orderly Direction is a shift from an outward stance to inward vision. It began as I stopped blaming and mocking the world around me and began to explore the craggy ridges of my own uncertainty. Over time, I uncovered resentment and pain and reservoirs of anger and sadness I preferred not to admit to. The further I travelled, the more convinced I became that the suffering I saw around me was of my own creation. There was only one person truly responsible – that was me.
In finally seeing the way I had sabotaged my life, in finally admitting my shortcomings and my errors, I was set free. I didn’t need to be right, anymore. I didn’t need to win, anymore. I didn’t need to prove myself or be better than anyone. I didn’t need approval or salvation. I had found GOD.
The word God in this step is inconspicuously substituted for the word power mentioned in step two. Here-in lies the truth and the promise. As we admit we are powerless, discover and surrender to a new way of life (Good Orderly Direction), we begin to encounter true power. The power that lies within. The power that is our unfettered life source. The power that is our true state of being. Such power is known in myth and legend as the Holy Grail. Arthurian Knights bled and died in the quest of the Holy Grail. Through commitment to their quest, they discovered the great reward that awaits the completion of the inner journey. The freedom, the magic, the power and the joy of the fully realised self.
The final word we will explore is the word “Him.” In this context it may be taken to imply that God is human, perhaps even male. Bill Wilson (the co-founder of the steps) is quoted as saying “the alcoholic must get rid of the notion that God is human”. A human God can only be the creation of the ego. Prior to surrender and the experience of transformation, the ego delights in shaping our spirituality in such a way as to subtly accommodate itself within it. True spirituality can only be found in the absence of the ego. To see God as human is to define the undefinable and limit the illimitable. To elevate man to the status of God through a genuine and humble transformation experience, is to return man to his source and remind him of his truest nature.
In order to personalise and take ownership of this third step, we may like to re-state it here: “I made a decision to hand my will and my life over to the care of this power as I understand it.”
As we have said, such a decision is not easy or without travail. Surrender is a process of letting go. Letting go invokes the natural emotional process we know as “grief”. Grieving is most commonly reserved for death, and in a similar way, this surrender evokes a death within us – the death of the false self. A great spiritual teacher once said “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
In this way, to reach our full potential, we must grieve all that we cling to as false security and the improper definition of our self. We must allow the old way of life to weaken and die, embrace an entirely new way of being, established not on the fear invoked by the pain and suffering of our past, nor upon the base instincts that drive us to survive, but rather on the belief in a benevolent universe built upon the principles of unconditional love. We must come to believe in a universe (or power) that is always seeking to guide us to the fulfilment of our highest potential, and understand how our suffering is caused by resistance to love’s flow, and the sacrifice of all that is good for the illusion of control.
Today, I gratefully acknowledge that I am powerless over every aspect of my life, and that such powerlessness is a precious gift. Today, I reach out to a power greater than myself. I surrender every detail of my life, every urge and desire and ask the goodness of all that is to fill me as I empty out of the pain, fear and resistance of my past. Amen.
The Step of Self-ExaminationBy Paul Murphy & Tim Drown
This is the beginning of what is known as the clean-up steps. It is here that many falter as the ego begins to sense its demise. On arrival at this step, a person would have experienced a shift in attitude brought about by steps one, two and three.
In step one, we discover a degree of separation from the ego identity. In acknowledging that we are powerless over our lives, we gain the power to silence the voice of the critic, constantly accusing us of worthlessness, presenting as evidence the foolish choices of our past.
By acknowledging our acceptance by a power greater than ourselves in step two, we taste the sweetness of unconditional love, initiating the ability to align with our true identity. Through our surrender in step three, we let go of control. We make the choice to sit back, buckle up and hang on for the ride. For it is in step four that the ride truly begins!
Steps one, two and three are somewhat like the early stages of a theme park roller-coaster. We tussle with the decision to buy a ticket. We wait anxiously in line, watching others and listening eagerly to their experiences and advice. Fear, along with a myriad of mixed emotions course through our bodies as we anticipate the thrill ahead. But it is not until our carriage nears the peak of the first rise that we realise we’re actually committed.
As step four begins, we feel the world drop away from beneath our feet, as if into a desolate void. Every time I begin that descent, the adrenalin courses through my veins and I wonder if I can actually survive this journey. Step four is often the first time in our lives that we turn our eyes inward to gaze directly upon the fullness of our shadow. To take a moral inventory is to thoroughly explore the light and expose the shadows of our humanity. Purposefully delving into the shadow is always an uncomfortable experience. We pass only momentarily into the darkness, but can be forgiven for wondering if we will ever again see the light.
It is tempting to make quick work of this step, to find enough acceptable misdemeanours to create a descent list. But the step calls for a searching and fearless inventory. This means venturing deep into the unknown of our subconscious, much like a climber belaying himself into a cavernous hole in the jungle floor.
A moral inventory is essentially about taking ownership of our shadow. This extends to much more than just our actions. Delving into the world of thought and emotion, we do ourselves a disservice if we do not shine the light of consciousness upon our lurking depression, simmering anger, negative and self-serving patterns of thought and dubious motivations that exist there.
Motivations are the most subtle hiding place of our shadow. For a long time I was busy serving humanity, giving humbly and tirelessly of myself to the great need so evident around me. I believed I was doing this in love – for the "glory of God" and the benefit of mankind. It wasn’t until my eyes were opened through one such inventory that I realised my motives were self-seeking. When I broke through my denial, I discovered to my horror, I was motivated by the longing to be liked, well known and popular. I wanted people to see the work I was doing and talk amongst each other about what a great man I was. I wanted to have a reputation for my depth of spirituality, my wise leadership and amass a quiet following as the mark of my value, worth and significance in the world.
I was devastated by this insight. But the confirmation of this reality was all around me. The egotistical kingdom I had established was crumbling before my eyes. I lost my job, my marriage hit rock-bottom and I came very close to falling into an affair. My reputation lay in tatters and the evidence that was emerging suggested that I was neither spiritual nor wise.
This is the reality of life lived under the ego. Ego is conditioned by the environment from which it was born. As the social vehicle by which we interact with the world, the ego is designed to function as a small part of the collective self. However, our society appears to be plagued by a disorder of epic proportions. It has become so common that we are largely blind to it. In this disorder, the ego – the social and relational vehicle designed to serve our higher purpose – has taken over the consciousness of humanity and we have come to believe that it is the full extent of our identity.
The wonderful news is, you are truly an incredible being – more so than you can ever imagine. The exciting reality is that you have access to everything you ever need to know about life and beyond – and not as fact or information, but as deeply integrated wisdom. The real you is unlimited potential squashed into a limited capacity just for the fun of seeing how you can make it all work! This is the blueprint you were born with – your true identity. The ego is merely the social vehicle provided to navigate relationships and interactions with others like yourself, in this physical world.
In order to fulfil its role, the ego responds to and is programmed by the senses, dominant values and popular beliefs of society. Its primary mission is to find acceptance and belonging at all costs – that includes the cost of being aligned with your true identity. Like a super-computer that has grown too powerful for its own good, the ego takes over our lives ‘in our best interests’, but ultimately to our painful demise. As a result, anything that is a threat to its reign is plunged deep into the shadows and darkness. Any aspect of self that threatens our societal status or reveals potential weakness is rejected and hidden. You can imagine the initial shock of the ego as step four brings you, like a stranger, knocking at its door.
The denial of the shadow is sadly, a chronic act of self-rejection. This self-rejection deepens our vulnerability, undermining our self-confidence and automatically triggers the ego to delve into its repertoire to cast yet another illusion of our wellbeing and strength. Sadly, the bag of tricks is limited and we find ourselves stuck in a never-ending cycle of questionable behaviour we can’t shake. The ego is no master at its game, and its sub-standard work throws us into conflict with the world and ourselves on a daily basis.
Because we live in a world of separation, brought about by the fragmentation of our self through our denial of the shadow by the ego, we are in constant judgment and criticism of each other. This judgement and criticism that is projected onto others arises purely out of the act of self-rejection that feeds the shadow self. The ego’s trump card – that of criticism and blame – is played over and over again as we find any reason to not turn our eyes inward and take ownership of our shadow. It is so much easier to criticize the shadow we see in others, albeit a reflection of our own, than ask the bold and probing question “what is my part in this?”
On the flip side, it is easy to become obsessed with flushing out our defects by hunting down the shadow. There is the appearance of spirituality and a degree of nobility that comes with such a quest. Even here, the ego has found a way to rise to a place of dominance. Not unlike the witch-hunts of the middle ages, we become attached to the mission of seeking out and rectifying all that is wrong with us. Though well-disguised, the mark of the ego remains visible in the self-righteous judgement of those who are not as spiritual or as proactive as ourselves. The separation widens and the loneliness deepens as we set ourselves apart in an act of martyrdom and self-declared enlightenment.
This can be remedied by including in our inventory, the positive qualities that we find in our character. Step four does not indicate that we must take stock of only our shadow qualities and defects, however this is how it is often understood. Once we break through denial and are comfortable owning our shadow, the greatest challenge is to honour our light. The more immersed we are in the shadow world, the greater the risk of losing sight of our light. When we seek to identify and own the more noble qualities that are our birthright and truth, not as an exercise of the mind but of the heart, we open the door to light and love and begin to discover the beauty in ourselves, our world and in the brothers and sisters around us.
It takes a warrior to challenge the ego’s grip on our lives and to dare to gaze into the dark shadows beyond. It takes the lover to embrace, forgive and restore the exiled fragments of our fragile selves unto the whole. It takes the magician to walk with confidence in the light of our truth.
Uninitiated, these archetypes remain powerless to help us. When finally invited to participate, each archetype is strengthened and deepened through its own work. To take responsibility for and embrace our shadow is a true step of humility that shakes the foundations of the false ego. To acknowledge and embrace our goodness and strength is to walk in the spirit of enlightenment. It is through a searching and fearless inventory that we begin to awaken to a reality once masked by the illusions of the ego.
Step 5 - Getting RealBy Paul Murphy & Tim Drown
The fifth step is the beginning of true Kingship in a man. During this step and indeed our lives, the ego will fight to stay in control. As long as it maintains its dominance, the seeds of maturity, lying dormant in our souls, will not germinate and we will not grow. The dominant ego is born of the shadow. Maturity is coaxed forth by the light.
It is in this step that the first signs of the king emerge, as a man now begins to take responsibility for his shadow. It is the warrior that sustains us in the early stages as we wrestle with the ego, empowering us to expose it to truth through a fearless inventory of our attitudes and behaviour. It is the humility and willingness to take responsibility for our shadow, breaking the power of secrecy through honest confession, in which the early rumblings of kingship resound.
Confession is an ancient and powerful tradition through which grace, relief and healing are activated. Its power is in the unconditional acceptance of the listener – a selfless act that reflects our value and goodness back to us, filling the inner void. As children, we relied on the world around us to form an adequate and realistic identity. As we grew into the body of a man, our experiences formed beliefs and convictions about life and its content, but mostly about ourselves.
A child who does not experience unconditional love reflected back to him is emotionally starved and fails to make the transition from boyhood to manhood, remaining unresolved. Such an immature (or incomplete) male continues desperately to seek the approval and acknowledgement he craves from the external world in order to validate himself and fill the void that only unconditional love can fill.
Step five brings us before a wisely chosen individual in whom we have at least some trust and confidence. Even then, to expose the depth and breadth of our shadow is a gut-wrenching experience, as demons leap from the written to spoken word, released once more to torment us.
In the past we have experienced nothing less than rejection, anger and pain when our shadow has been exposed. The experience has rarely been pleasant. Thus we learn to fear and submerge it, yet the shadow repressed grows only darker.
To purposefully expose the shadow strikes terror into the heart of the man who still lives from his unresolved child. Why shouldn’t he be afraid of more rejection and pain? Yet in the loving acceptance of a mature mentor who having agonised through his own confessions, has learnt not to judge a man as good or bad, the void of the unresolved child begins to fill.
Who is this man who sits across from me and empathises with my deepest pain? Who is this man who accepts my most horrific of actions and my darkest of motives, yet can still look me in the eye and tell me I’m ok? Such confession is a powerful moment of transformation and the ego chokes, as it loses further hold over our maturing lives.
At the source of the shadow, and therefore the ego, is the unresolved child. It is the insecurity and weakness of the child that the ego rises to fill. The ego’s job is to help us navigate the world, and a child in a man’s body does not get far. So it comes to our aid and fills in the gaps by projecting the opposite of that which we are.
A man struggling with insecurity may appear bold and brash – projecting false confidence out to the world. A man who is afraid may seek to maintain control of himself and his circumstances, including the people in his life. A man abandoned will be driven to prove his value, and a man unloved may hunger needily for love in all its forms.
Such action does not occur without serious side-effect. The insecure bully sows and harvests insecurity. The ever spiralling attempt to maintain control only creates more and more fear. He who was abandoned will abandon those he loves in his endeavour to prove his value, and the needy unloved man will drive potential love away.
In some cases, usually in the presence of hopelessness and despair, our wounds cause the ego to collapse. In this situation the insecure man will hide away, the fearful man will live with anxiety and disorder, the abandoned man will not seek anyone to love for fear of irritating his wound, and he that is unloved may wallow in self-pity and misery.
As we identify and confess the errors of our past and the dark attitudes that haunt us, the shadow will slowly begin to clear. To create a shadow, there must be light. Our light is the divine spark that dwells deep within us. I live believing our essence is holy, beautiful and good. As we adopt mistruths and judgements of ourselves, they stand between our conscious identity and the unconscious light. Thus a shadow is cast that does not truly reveal us. As we are caught in its cycles and routines, we begin to believe it is who we are.
To confess is to look clearly and honestly at what I have done. When I explore my divorce or my failings as a parent, the emotion of the conflict often re-ignites and I am tempted to excuse my behaviour or cast blame. This is affectionately known as “taking the inventory of another”. The steps at no point suggest this. Pointing the finger will not resolve our shadow; only bury it deeply in the illusion of self-righteousness.
To take responsibility for my shadow is to explore my failings, my pain, my guilt, regret and shame. It is to sit with my feelings and honour this truth I have long buried. In doing so, I set it free and the light of my true being has room to emerge.
An inventory on paper is only the beginning. It is confession and sharing of this truth that sets us free. As with all of the steps, the power of step five can be lived daily. In response to conflict I may examine myself and my part. I find a ready listener and share what I have done. At times this may be those I have wronged, at others, a wise mentor or caring friend.
As the words leave my mouth so does the brewing guilt and shame, making room for loving acceptance to flow in. As this discipline was repeated I have gradually learnt, I am not my actions, my behaviour, my thoughts or my pain. I am something much more, and I am ok.
Step Six - Into the Ego's LairBy Paul Murphy and Tim Drown
In the words of the AA Big Book “this is the step that separates the men from the boys”. The passage goes on to say that any person, capable of enough willingness and honesty to repeatedly work step six on all his faults – without any reservations whatever- has indeed come a long way spiritually, and is sincerely treading the path to maturity.
Steps six and seven are closely linked, yet clearly separate. It is easy to pass quickly over both, taking them at face value with little exploration. Yet step six is the crucial preparation for the long and challenging process of transformation that occurs when we evoke step seven and request our defects be removed.
The potential exists in every step to fall short of the depth and richness it has to offer. In step one we tend to acknowledge our powerlessness over some things and not others. In step two, we may identify a power greater than ourselves and then fail to embrace it. In step three, we are tempted to surrender aspects of our will and lives, rather than “our will and our lives”. In step four, the temptation exists to do a little less than a “searching and fearless” inventory, and in step five, we may hestitate to be entirely honest in our personal disclosure.
In every step, the ego looks for ground to hold. In step six, we can fall into the belief that once we’ve dealt a defect, it has gone for good. Sadly, this is not so. If this were the case, there would be no need for the daily inventory and admission of our wrong-doing in step ten.
All twelve steps are woven together with an ingenuity that could not be fashioned purely by the human mind alone. They depend upon one another, each reliant on the preceeding step, and each new step guiding us deeper into the layers of the psyche. The ground work for steps six and seven is masterly laid in steps one, two and three, which we shall briefly revisit.
“We came to believe we were powerless…” In this admission the power and obsession of addiction is lifted. Until this point, we may war with addiction, attempting to out-smart or overcome it, believing we have the strength to do so. Alternatively, we may deceive ourselves into believing that “we drink because we want to”, or “we’re treating ourselves with just one”, and of course the well-worn “I’m going to stop next week.”
Both positions are subtle and dangerous forms of obsession. In the former we attack the symptom, seeking a cure. In the latter we unconsciously fuse our identity with the object of addiction. At this point, we are almost entirely engulfed and cannot imagine life with any form of abstinence. We remain in denial, believing we are choosing such a life, all the while at the mercy of the shadow ego and our addiction.
If step one has the power to release us from the obsession of addiction, its power is amplified by step six, providing the means by which we may then achieve freedom from every other defect or affliction. Addiction has the power to warp our natural instinct and evolutionary drive, culminating in the most unnatural of acts. Sapping us of our natural spiritual desire for all that is good and beautiful, addiction harnesses our life-force energy, channelling it towards self-destruction. As we sink deeply into the shadows, a radical shift is required to re-align us with our light.
The foundation for this shift is laid in step one and built on in step two. What we believe about our higher power is crucial to the process of steps six and seven. Such a power is often referred to as “the god of our own understanding”.
Every religion impresses the archetype of the tyrant upon their god or gods. Even where no god is represented, the tyrant’s presence is felt in strict ideologies of karma. While the purest concept of karma has nothing to do with fear or punishment, it has been warped by the human mind in some traditions to reflect something very similar to the tyrant.
There is a powerful story of the spiritual master, Jesus of Nazareth, who was presented with a woman “caught in adultery”. The religious leaders and zealots challenged Jesus about her fate, clearly punishable with "death by stoning" in accordance with their ancient law. The Nazarene is said to have picked up a stone and offered it to the crowd, stating “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. Quietly the crowd dispersed, aware of their own defects and unwilling to be the one to pass judgement. Jesus lovingly blessed the woman and sent her on her way, stating “neither do I condemn you”.
A power greater than ourselves, who neither condemns nor judges, is a welcome healer as the process of steps six and seven unfold. As the crowds gather in our mind, casting stones and exposing our shame, it is essential to have the unwavering presence of such a power to guide us toward forgiveness and freedom. Instead of cries of judgement, it is helpful to recall the powerful words of the ancient master – “neither do I condemn you”, allowing them to find resonance within our souls. As time passes and we increasingly give this higher power a voice in our lives, we internalise the reality that our failures are not futile. We stand neither judged nor condemned for the defects we bare.
Steps six and seven rest heavily upon step three and are an extension of step four. Handing over our will and our life must become a daily practise. Step four, while harrowing, is only the beginning of the deeper work of step six. Having identified our behaviour, we have only loosened the soil for a thorough exploration of our shadow’s source. Our defects give rise to our behaviour, and our behaviour will unlikely change until intensive work is undertaken to address them.
When we initially handed over our will and our life in step three, it is unlikely we were conscious of the defects lurking beneath the layers of our psyche. Step six takes us deeper into the reality of that which we are handing over. We now enter the lair of the ego itself. It is our shadow that feeds the ego. As we seek to compensate for our inadequacy and shame, the ego is activated. When we expose that which remains hidden to the light, with the gentle support of a loving and compassionate higher power, the ego is deflated and takes its rightful place in the kingdom of the psyche.
Every fleck of shadow will give the ego a foothold upon which it will assert its power, even in the smallest of ways. Thus step six is an on-going work, ever incomplete, contrary to what the ego would have us believe. Our defects are established upon the deeply engrained core beliefs that have formed in our lives. Our core beliefs are rarely erased, but as we shift into the light, they may grow inactive. Life has a way of activating such beliefs from time to time, especially during periods of complacency, causing our defects to emerge once more. During such a time, it is necessary to return with humility to step six and step seven.
If we have found some relief from our defects, their re-activation may trigger denial. As we reap the benefits of the steps and begin to experience positive change in our lives, it is not uncommon to forget the powerful message of step one and fall under the illusion that we are have mastery over our lives. The journey to maturity does not involve the eradication of the shadow, but the deep acceptance of its presence. This too, begins with step one.
Such activation may also rouse the once silenced crowds in our minds, jostling eagerly for position, each member holding a stone to cast. Such activity leads to self-pity and despair. In these moments we need to return to our loving higher-power who disperses the crowd, releasing us to freedom once more.
Step six is not for the weak-hearted. We must approach it disarmed, guided by openness, honesty and willingness. This step is no place for the warrior, magician or king. It is the realm of the lover who holds us in our tears and nurtures us through the process of dismantling our ego as we peer into the darkness of its shadowy lair. The warrior may lend us the courage to begin, but it is only the loving acceptance of our failings, our pain, our past and our shadow that allows our defects to truly emerge.
As we turn our attention to the shadow within, only the obvious defects will initially be seen. As we sit patiently in the darkness, held by love in an attitude of willingness, the more subtle shadows will begin to emerge. Like small night creatures, these defects quickly scatter as we come clambering in to the depths of the psyche. As we silently allow our eyes to adjust, that which is hidden shall emerge for our observation and gentle exposure.
Thus, it is absolutely crucial, that we make ourselves “entirely ready”. It is the quiet observation, the deep exploration, the overcoming of denial and the nurture of our willingness that requires enough work to fill an entire step. To think “I am ready” is not enough. To assume, “we are ready”, does not suffice. The roller coaster ride that begins at step four is about to reach a whole new level as we embark on step seven. Unless we are deeply rooted in the gentleness of the lover and closely embrace a forgiving higher power, we may not survive the ride ahead.
Many times I have found myself trapped in unhelpful cycles in my life, only to realise the work of step six is required to set me free. It is tempting to put this step behind us, but to do so is to allow the journey to stagnate and the ego to form like a crust around the humble and honest work we have done. It is the depth and richness of the steps combined that keep us spiritually and psychologically alive, ensuring we continue the journey of transformation we have so enthusiastically begun.