the power of the will

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the power of the will

Postby Karl R » Wed Nov 18, 2009 8:27 am

Another from the Grapevine digital archives.

This one touches on third step, surrender, the power of the will, and spirituality. Please read the whole thing. It took me several readings before I could understand the author's points if not completely agree with them.

Copyright © The AA Grapevine, Inc. (April 1947 vol. 3 no 11 ). Reprinted with permission.


"The fact is that most alcoholics. . .have lost the power of choice in drink. Our so-called will power becomes practically non-existent. . . We are without defense against the first drink." (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 35).

We reject the view that there is nothing about a drinker that the exercise of a little will power won't cure. We accept the dictum that whatever will power the alcoholic does possess is impotent to curb the urge to drink. We assert that alcoholics are compulsive drinkers. Our program starts at these hypotheses. It is on these premises that the alcoholic in some degree has been absolved from moral responsibility for his conduct.

The foregoing notwithstanding, we offer to the alcoholic a Program of Recovery, the central point of which is that he makes a decision to turn his will and his life over to the care of God (as he understands Him). At the outset, therefore, we suggest to the alcoholic that he make a decision, that is, that he make up his mind. He is called upon, without reservation or qualification, to make an election, to exercise an option, to choose between alternatives, to resolve a dilemma. He is expected to reach a conclusion, to make a determination, to render judgment, to choose the right fork in the road.

Does not the 3rd Step (to which we have been referring), presuppose a modicum of will power; is it not linked, like all morality, to a hazardous theory of free will? Or is there a distinction between the two? Indeed, it has been heretofore suggested in these columns that once the alcoholic realizes the nature of his malady and that "there is a solution," an element of moral responsibility enters into the situation, so that the alcoholic may no longer plead his "sickness" in extenuation of wrongs committed. (See "What Is the Alcoholic's Moral Responsibility?" A.A. Grapevine, November, 1945).

Is there, then, a conflict between the doctrine of free will insofar as it is implicit in the program and the theory that the alcoholic is deficient in will power in the domain of alcohol?

Answering these questions, it is submitted that there is no such discordance. On the contrary, examination of the concepts of free will and will power and related human attributes reveals a potential inner harmony in man corresponding to the moral order of the universe. It supports the validity of the program.

Such an inquiry does not, as one might suppose, involve a consideration of controversial theological speculations based upon scriptural texts and dogmatic postulates. Nor does it require a study of the hair-splitting formulae of mechanistic psychology. We learn much, however, from spiritually minded psychologists who have not excised the "psyche" (soul) from their psychology. And we obtain the answers from writers in the Christian tradition who give an adequate account of the observable facts of grace and inspiration and imagination and their relation to be observable facts of free will.

In its psychological aspect, as David Seabury demonstrated a generation ago, we must discard the common notion that the will is a sort of psychic muscle, which, like the biceps, can be exercised and developed into a powerful and combative instrument. We must also abandon the notion that the will can or should be restrained, repressed or coerced. For these ideas, there must be substituted the basic doctrine of reliance and self-development.

This doctrine is based on the principle that the will is not a separated or insulated organ, but "the total expression of the impulsive energies of the human being, and thus inseparable from instinct, desire, emotion, sentiment, interest and the deliberative processes which lead to determination." These are the motive trends of the psychic. Therefore, if volitional expression is found to be vitiated by misdirection of unspent emotion or obstinate misunderstanding, common sense dictates a thorough self-examination, possibly reaching into the past and exploring hereditary and environmental factors in order to locate the congestion. Then, the blockages must be dynamited, memory cleaned of its debris, the mind opened to new attitudes and the life given new aims. By a series of successive, tangible steps of this character, the will may be liberated.

Liberation, however, is not enough. There must be direction and guidance. "The soul guides the will and is not mastered by it, which is only another way of saying that the soul may direct itself with wisdom; for if the will is a union of all primary forces, it can be but a union of the soul's energies."

Guided as it is by the soul, the will is nevertheless a reflection of the imagination. It might be said that as a man imagines so he is. As long as he calls before his gaze an image of sickness (alcoholism or whatever else), his responsive organism will obey the pattern of his mind. If the image is one of well-being, his will answers accordingly. "The inner picture of today creates and recreates the man of tomorrow." When the formative power of the mental image is recognized, and its influence on the will is understood, the problem of will power is virtually solved.

The first job, then, is by analysis and examination to clear and free the will. The second is a matter of right direction. Intelligence will chart the course, but the power of the will must be animated by the impulse of live interests. These will be supplied by the inward vision of an imagination turned away from negative and despairing pictures and towards affirmative and constructive ones. The individual faces forward. As Mr. Seabury says:

"The individual who has experienced such a release finds all life transformed and himself in a new relation to it; nor is the miracle true only in bodily relations. As men are sick or well, first of all as a result of the way they have lived, and as this has followed the guiding images of the thought, so men are good or bad, strong or weak, brave or fearful, sane or insane, largely in obedience to the imagination."

This happy result follows if we regard the will not as an isolated faculty but as composed of a whole series of elements such as wishes, interests, attention and the like--elements which may be guided and directed in the choice and release of ideas--ideas that will be suitable stimuli to the will and tend to happiness and success. Mark how every Step in the A. A. program contributes to the creation of serviceable habits, the heightening of the imagination, the formulation of constructive and rational affirmatives, and so to the eventual liberation of the will on the highest level of being.

Thus viewed, the alcoholic's so-called lack of will power need not long stand in the way of his return to sobriety and of the opportunity of expressing his best self. He may, above all, attain the power of decision which is the highest expression of volition governed, however, by forces over and beyond the power of the will. This power of determination is not a function exercised for an instant, once and for all. It is rather a continuing process, evolutionary in development. It is "work in progress" as William James might have put it. It is based upon constructive and rational affirmations and the building of a forward-looking attitude.

Despite its immutability, truth is a jewel of many facets, set in diverse planes and positions, through which its essence may be observed in varied but consistent aspects. It is, therefore, appropriate to look upon the will not only, as we have said, as a reflection of the imagination but as a function of the process of extroversion. As Aldous Huxley says, we have been given free will in order that we may will our self-will out of existence and so come to live in a "state of grace." Defined in psychological terms, grace is something other than our self-conscious personal self, by which we are helped.

Of the three kinds of grace, animal grace is said to be that which comes when we are living in full accord with our own physical nature on a biological level. Human grace comes to us from persons, social groups (including A. A.), and from our own wishes, hopes and imaginings projected outside ourselves. Spiritual grace, with which we are here principally concerned, is derived from our ideals.

Spiritual grace involves, in its most perfect form, a willing away of the self-will to the point where it may in truth be said, "Not I, but God in me," and "Not my will but Thine." While we all fall far short of perfection in thus rendering ourselves capable of receiving the grace which is from instant to instant being offered to every soul, most of us do contrive to forget, if only partially, our preoccupation with "I," "me," and "mine," and do attain, from time to time and in varying degrees, a state of spiritual grace.

Turning to the book Alcoholics Anonymous, we find our analysis verified in the following passage at page 98: "Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God's will into all of our activities. 'How best can I serve Thee--Thy will (not mine) be done.' These are thoughts which must go with us constantly. We can exercise our will power along this line all we want. It is the proper use of the will. Much has already been said about receiving strength, inspiration, and direction from Him who has all knowledge and power. If we have carefully followed directions, we have begun the flow of His spirit into us. To some extent we have become God-conscious. We have begun to develop this vital sixth sense."

The "activities" referred to in the quotation are the activities of service and interest already discussed. The "vision" is the imagination which we have said colors the will. The "vital sixth sense" is the spiritual grace we have tried to describe in relation to free will.

Free will may be expressed in terms of surrender as Huxley does in this statement:

"All our actions must be directed in the last analysis, to making ourselves passive in relation to the activity and the being of divine reality. We are, as it were, aeolian harps, endowed with the power either to expose themselves to the wind of the spirit or to shut themselves away from it."

Or, more positively, in the following passage from the writings of St. Francois de Sales, a most extraordinary description of the psychodynamics of the soul:

"God did not deprive thee of the operation of His love, but thou didst deprive Him of thy cooperation. God would never have rejected thee, if thou hadst not rejected His love. O all-good God, Thou dost not forsake unless forsaken, Thou never takest away Thy gifts until we take away our hearts."

In summary, moral psychology and empirical religion supply the answers, the same answers, to the questions propounded at the outset. They begin with rejecting the "muscular" theory of will power and conclude that one's true free will is God's will. They declare that the will is not a single property of human nature but a union of the soul's energies. They emphasize the preponderating influence of mental images.

Progressive liberation of the will and union with infinity are phenomena which, when they happen, do so concurrently; it is as difficult as it is immaterial to tell which is cause and which is effect. Suffice it to say that there is no genuine conflict in man's many-sided nature. We are done with the old notions about "self-mastery" and subjugation of self. The new dispensation rests on self-direction and the power of self-reliance in the Emersonian sense. Our salvation depends upon the release and direction of the finer forces of human nature by the principle of their affirmative emphasis to ever higher levels of accomplishment. This is the process of psychosynthesis, beginning where analysis leaves off, recognizing and utilizing the soul as the dynamic core of human personality. Above all, let us not in the process be blind to the inner light which illuminates the limited wisdom of the secular and finite mind, for as George Santayana said:

"It is not wisdom to be only wise,And on the inward vision close the eyes."

R. F. S.
Montclair, New Jersey
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Re: the power of the will

Postby Tommy-S » Fri Oct 12, 2012 3:08 pm

Wow, Karl!

Kind of like s/he swallowed the whole dictionary... LOL. But into the breach I go...

“Show him, from you experience, how the queer mental condition surrounding that first drink prevents normal functioning of the will power.” (BB, pg 92) “I saw that will power and self-knowledge would not help in those strange mental blank spots” (BB, pg 42)

One of the first things I remember being taught about Alcohol was the futility of Will Power. As they put it, “Next time you have diarrhea, WILL yourself Not to go.” It was a crude but effective example, something I could wrap my head around, that emphasized the ‘disease’ aspect of Alcoholism.

“Alcohol, now becomes the rapacious creditor, bleeds us of all self-sufficiency and all will to resist its demand... There was, they said, no such thing as the personal conquest of this compulsion by the unaided will” (12 x 12, pg 21-22)
... this from AA’s immense experience, one of the facts of AA life.

Yet as the writer says, the Will is not thrown out, but redirected and channeled in AA.

We come to believe in the living demonstrations we see all around us in AA that If AA works for them, it will work for Me, Too, and naturally follow that up with the Decision to ‘do’ AA... This is an act of Will.

Throwing myself into the AA Program (Steps) with at least
“...One half the zeal you have been in the habit of using when you were getting another drink” (BB, Dr. Bob, pg 181),
started the process of clearing what self-will had blocked.

Like a pipe line that tethered me to my Higher Good, these selfish decisions and action had kept me from ‘The good we are seeking is seeking us’ (Meister Ekhart)

“Though our decision was a vital & crucial step (#3), it could have little permanent effect unless at once followed up by a strenuous effort to face and be rid of (correctly applying Will Power) the things which have been blocking us.’ (BB, pg 64)

“No one ought to say the AA Program requires no Will Power...” (12 x 12, pg 61)

Steps 4 – 9 required all the Will I could muster to go to any lengths to clear up the past regardless of the personal consequences for what I had done behind the Fatal First Drink. In doing so, I opened up a ‘trickle’, which, with time and practice, has lead to a sure stream to this Cosmic Good of 'being Happy, Joyous & Free' that I believe has always been a birth right.

The remaining steps, which I dislike calling ‘maintenance steps’ as we either Grow or Go, continue the renewed connection I began, which I think is best described as “putting the train (my Will) back on the tracks (the Creator’s design for my life...and we ARE created to succeed)

Step 10 requires the willingness for daily action to keep the baggage as empty as I can, allowing me to process new situations while keeping the tracks clear.
The 11th Step introduces the element of ‘constructive imagination’ ...” Perhaps our trouble was not that we used out imagination. Perhaps the real trouble was our almost total inability to point imagination towards the right objectives.” (12 x 12 pg 100)

Perhaps, my eye!

My problem was always figuring out a direction to head. Having figured out all the wrong directions to travel in through Steps 4 & 5 (cleaning them up in 8 & 9), and beginning to understand what Higher direction I should be heading for in the separation of ‘boys & men’ in Steps 6 & 7, this “constructive imagination” is using the connection of clear tracks to move forward towards the kind of man my Creator would have me be, to the best of my limited knowledge (and often checked with a Sponsor)

The Will before the Steps is dragging the train through the sand and dirt with No apparent destination. After the Steps, on clear track and with empty baggage cars, we can move to move with relative ease.
“We become much more efficient. We do not tire so easily, for we are not burning up energy foolishly as we did when we were trying to arrange life to suit ourselves. It works—it really does.” (BB, pg 88)

And from there, our journey begins in the “Fellowship of the Spirit, on the Road of Happy Destiny”

Providing, we continue to practice these principles daily to remain on the AA track, we naturally evolve into what Creation intended us to be. As the Program promises,
"...If practiced as a way of life, can expel the obsession to drink and enable the sufferer to become happily and usefully whole". (12 x 12, Forward)
Sober, Sane, and of Service :)

Thanks... Tommy
Together, we don't have to cave in or wimp out to that Fatal First One, no matter what today!
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Re: the power of the will

Postby Karl R » Sun Oct 14, 2012 1:01 pm

Probably ten dictionaries Tommy.

I'm so glad that some of the strong language in Alcoholics Anonymous was left in place. Like this on page 30. (AAWS...)

We learned that we had to fully concede to our innermost selves that we were alcoholics. This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed.

Had too?
fully concede?

or what?

This bit sounded to me like someone who knew their way around the insanity/malady. Like me they didn't, try as they might, have the needed Power to stay sober in the face of the insanity of the mind.

The answer is put remarkably well in the third step section of Alcoholics Anonymous on page 63.

When we sincerely took such a position, [to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him] all sorts of remarkable things followed. We had a new Employer. Being all powerful, He provided what we needed, if we kept close to Him and performed His work well. Established on such a footing we became less and less interested in ourselves, our little plans and designs. More and more we became interested in seeing what we could contribute to life. As we felt new power flow in, as we enjoyed peace of mind, as we discovered we could face life successfully, as we became conscious of His presence, we began to lose our fear of today, tomorrow or the hereafter. We were reborn

Later in the book we are reminded that willpower is often less then helpful at times in ridding us of self, fear, resentment, (name your bedevilment). We have to have help in doing the deal on those too.

In essence, the power of the will is redirected in the AA program from fighting the compulsion to take the first drink over to staying spiritually fit and keeping the Power pipeline open between myself and my HP. A positive rather then a negative use of the will. In this way the compulsion to drink, fear, resent, (name your bedevilment) is superseded by something better.

One of my favorites is on pages 84 and 85 and bears repeating often.

And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone - even alcohol. For by this time sanity will have returned. We will seldom be interested in liquor. If tempted, we recoil from it as from a hot flame. We react sanely and normally, and we will find that this has happened automatically. We will see that our new attitude toward liquor has been given us without any thought or effort on our part. It just comes! That is the miracle of it. We are not fighting it, neither are we avoiding temptation. We feel as though we had been placed in a position of neutrality - safe and protected. We have not even sworn off. Instead, the problem has been removed. It does not exist for us. We are neither cocky nor are we afraid. That is our experience. That is how we react so long as we keep in fit spiritual condition.

This piece from Alcoholics Anonymous represented what I wanted when I got here. I'd had enough of fighting the queer mental twist and a whole lot of other things when I got here.

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Re: the power of the will

Postby Tommy-S » Tue Oct 16, 2012 12:33 pm

Thanks Karl,

(One of my favorite readings... The release from Alcohol)

On page 85 (Big Book), it is suggested,
"Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God's will into all of our activities. 'How can I best serve Thee - Thy will (not mine) be done.'... We can exercise our will power along this line all we wish. It is the proper use of the will."

Once having aligned myself with this Higher, Better Good, this Designed Success I was brought into the world for, I can pour on the coal and go as fast and as far along the tracks as possible.

I was taught by an AA sponsor, who was also a minister, that a sure sign I was 'on the track' was "Green Lights & Open Doors", a relative ease of gliding over track than dragging through the sand.

I can always take my will back again, and the resultant derailment has provided some spectacular 'crash & burns' in sobriety, but even those aren't wasted as they become the basis for those "...New lessons for living, new resources of courage were uncovered, and that finally, inescapably, the conviction came that God does 'move in mysterious ways His wonders to perform." (12 x 12, pg 105)... Providing further proof of the AA 'design for living that works in rough going'.

And 'Depth & Weight' for those suffering, for if I didn't have to drink over it, then neither do they. The Power of "Me, Too"

They begin with rejecting the "muscular" theory of will power and conclude that one's true free will is God's will. They declare that the will is not a single property of human nature but a union of the soul's energies.

Surrender is the rejecting of the idea that MY will gets stronger as I exercise it. It's the process of laying down my weapons and going over to the winning side... With the knowledge the Winning Side wants me today as I once thought maybe even AA wouldn't work for me. But as I happily found out, when I ceased my debating and and started my DOING, giving myself to this simple program (and continuing to do so) I stay a satisfied customer.

Also, Not knowing what an Aeolian Harp is (or bothering to look it up), I do get the analogy.

A musical string, through a separate and distinct entity from the musical instrument it is attached to, MUST vibrate in a relationship to the whole in order to perform the function it was designed for.

If it were to insist on playing it's own note, it's own way, the discordance throws all out of whack... A producer of confusion rather than harmony.

Only by submitting itself to the great whole does it truly shine in performance in the Hands of a Master. It's will submitted to the greater Good, fulfilling the purpose of its existence.

Keep on the tracks.

Thanks... Tommy
Together, we don't have to cave in or wimp out to that Fatal First One, no matter what today!
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