I heard this quote from Lao Tzu (an ancient Chinese philosopher) the other day from a DA H.O.W. member and thought it was fantastic:
Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.
To me, it embodies the essence of what happens when we work the steps. Especially in thinking about Steps 6 (“Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”) and 7 (“Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”), I think this is invaluable. For years, I found those steps simple in theory, yet impossible to figure out in practice.
I was looking in Step 7 for a magic fairy to tap me on the shoulder and BOOM all my defects would disappear. And it never happened. And then, one day, it clicked for me. I understood how to work this step and it’s so simple.
All I need to do in Step 6 is make a decision to take the action of Step 7. For Step 7, all I need to do is:
- Become conscious of my defects as they arise, and
- Not act out on them.
Seriously, that is all it takes. Think about it. If I know that anger is a defect of mine, and I am willing to work on allowing my Higher Power to remove it, then when I feel myself getting angry, I don’t act out on my feelings.
There is nothing in these steps that says I will not FEEL the feelings, but that doesn’t mean I need to destroy everyone and everything in sight when I do feel destructive emotions. As it says in the Big Book on page 60:
We are not saints. The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. The principles we have set down are guides to progress. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.
I know that once I am angry, it is probably too late to stop that freight train from barreling over the person who has incited my wrath. BUT with practice, I can learn what triggers me, what may come BEFORE the actual anger, and learn to move away, instead of to, the defect.
If I start to feel a resentment and ruminate on it, then it grows bigger and bigger. But if I start to feel a resentment and instead, look at where I may be at fault, look at what is good in the situation, look at something else, I am learning that I am not a slave to my defects. Haven’t you ever been upset about something, but then got involved in something that took your whole attention and you totally forgot about it?
Gradually, I can change on the inside. But for me, it starts on the outside. If I do the external work, my Higher Power can heal me on the soul level. No one said it all happens at once. The point is that with practice, I can be a partner with my Higher Power to reduce and ultimately remove my defects of character – first the action, and then the emotion.
And one more thing. Nowhere in the Big Book does it say that our defects would be removed permanently and instantly, never to return. As with meditation, it’s the practice of learning how to be in the quality rather than the defect that is recovery for me.
When I feel angry and turn that into love I feel much better about myself than when I vent and cause harm and pain to those around me. I don’t mean to sublimate anger, I mean to transform it. And for me, that only comes with practice. I am not free from anger, but I now know, from experience, that I do have a choice. I am no longer a slave to my defects as long as I am willing to grow along spiritual lines and practice doing the opposite of my defects when they arise.