It is 5:15 and you just got off of work. Your boss spent the entire day chewing you out for productivity, while you sat in crestfallen silence, wondering how you were ever going to improve upon your numbers. The minutes crept by until the big hand finally landed on the 12, and as soon as it did, you ran to your car in a hurried blur of anticipation. You could already envision yourself lying on the couch in your boxer-briefs, binge-watching Netflix and eating dry cereal. Oh, the glory. And then… it happens. You pull straight from the office parking lot into bumper-to-bumper traffic. Your face gets hot, your palms start sweating, the first traffic light seems to stay red for at least 20 minutes. Finally, you are next in line. As soon as the light turns green, you will hop onto the freeway onramp, and all will be well in the world. And then… wait. No. This can’t be happening. A homeless person manifests from nowhere, pushing a bag-filled shopping cart through the middle of the road. The light turns green and… No. No. He parks his cart right in front of your car, completely oblivious to your urgency.
What do you do?
When we reach the 12th Step in our program of recovery, we learn that we are to practice each of the spiritual principles we have learned in every one of our personal affairs. Essentially, we are to live and breath spirituality. What does this mean? Well, just as is the case with the majority of the text, it is somewhat open for interpretation. However, being creatures of convention (as most of us are), we immediately assume that living by spiritual principles means obtaining spiritual perfection – of which, let me tell you… there is no such thing. Without realizing that we are doing so, we allow convention to rule our lives. We go through life saying things and doing things simply because others say these things and do these things. We hear the slogans in the rooms and adopt them as our own, mindlessly repeating them, trying to pass them as valid responses to deep issues as if we fully grasp their meaning. When it comes to the principles, many of us will attempt to live by them without ever really working out what they mean on a personal and individualistic basis.
So what are these principles, anyways? Many of us will not be able to recite them off the top of our heads, so how do we expect to rigidly abide by them? They are as follows:
- Brotherly Love
- Spiritual Awareness
Pretty straightforward, right? Sure, but it is entirely unrealistic to expect that after completing the steps we will be transformed into spiritually flawless, transcendent beings of eternal grace and wholesomeness. We’re still human after all, and we always will be. And a big part of being human is being unique – unique in weaknesses, strengths, beliefs, needs, aspirations, and hundreds of other little variations and distinctions that make us… well, US. The principles that I know I need to practice on a daily basis, for example, are faith, realism, patience, and self-restraint. Of course I practice honesty, of course I am kind to my fellow man and I do my very best to remain a strong sense of integrity. Of course I perpetually strive to strengthen these assets, while simultaneously directing the majority of my attention to the areas that need the most improvement. Take an honest evaluation of your personal strengths, and consider areas that could use some increased awareness. When we practice spiritual principles in all of our affairs, we are not trust-falling into the arms of convention. We are paving our own way, and doing what we need to do in order to be the very best versions of ourselves.
The spiritual tools that work for some will not work for others. Your personal journey of recovery is all about finding what works best for you. Some may wait for the homeless person to finish crossing the street while praying to God for patience – maybe even praying that God bless this individual with the same loving kindness that He has shown them. Some may silently count their blessings, reflecting on how fortunate they are to have a job and a car and a home to return to after a not-so-good day. Some may roll down their window and scream every known expletive and then some, later contemplating how they could have handled the situation differently and vowing to make a change. Self-betterment – that is the name of the game. We strive for progress, not perfection, because perfection is an intangible ideal. Maybe we are naturally humble, and need to focus our attention more on discipline than humility. Maybe we scream profanities, maybe we don’t. But regardless of how we behave in the moment, we evaluate our actions and ask ourselves, “Is this the best that I can do?”