Willingness, honesty and open mindedness are the essentials of recovery.  But these are indispensable. (The “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous) 


What is most important in recovery?

 A believer approached Rabbi Moshe of Kobryn and asked:  “How should I best use my days so that God will be contented with my actions?”

“There is only one possible option: to live with love,” replied the Rabbi.

Minutes later, another follower approached him and asked the same question.

“There is only one possible option: try to live with joy.”

The first follower was taken aback.

“But the advice you gave me was different!”

“Not at all,” said the rabbi.  “It was exactly the same.”  

Like spirituality itself, recovery cannot be defined, but it can be described.  Also like spirituality, recovery is an experience that involves a sense of “rejoining the human race,” of rediscovering one's basic humanity.  For in recovery, if we are open to the experience, we discover the place where we belong. This true story is from the A.A. booklet Came to Believe:

A man in a small Wisconsin city had been on the A.A. program for about three years and had enjoyed contented sobriety throughout that period.  Then bad luck began to hit him in bunches . . . At this point he cracked, and decided to go on an all-out binge.  He didn’t want to stage this in the small city, where everyone knew his sobriety record.  So he went to Chicago, checked in at a North Side hotel, and set forth on his project.  It was Friday night, and the bars were filled with a swinging crowd.  But he was in no mood for swinging – he just wanted to get quietly, miserably drunk.

Finally, he found a basement bar on a quiet side street, practically deserted.  He sat down on a bar stool and ordered a double bourbon on the rocks.  The bartender said, “Yes, sir,” and reached for a bottle.

Then the bartender stopped in his tracks, took a long, hard look at the customer, leaned over the bar, and said in a low tone, “I was in Milwaukee about four months ago, and one night I attended an open meeting.  You were on the speaking platform, and you gave one of the finest A.A. talks I ever heard.”  The bartender turned and walked to the end of the bar.

For a few minutes, the customer sat there – probably in a state of shock.  Then he picked his money off the bar with trembling hands and walked out, all desire for a drink drained out of him.

It is estimated that there are about 8,000 saloons in Chicago, employing some 25,000 bartenders.  This man had entered the one saloon in 8,000 where he would encounter the one man in 25,000 who knew that he didn’t belong there.

Recovery, spirituality, and gratitude are related because they begin in the same place and have the same essence: an orientation toward others, a pointing outside the self. Our un-spiritual selves are self-centered—turned in on self, attentive first if not exclusively to self and its supposed needs and real desires. An orientation toward others can take many forms:

One day Nasrudin Khoja and a group of his neighbors were going somewhere together.  They all rode upon their donkeys.  When they came to a hill, Khoja noticed that his donkey was sweating.  He got down from its back and whispered into its ear, “I am sorry that you are working so hard that you are sweating.”

His neighbors noticed Khoja get down from his donkey's back and whisper into its ear, and they were curious about this.  “Khoja, what did you whisper to your donkey?” one of them asked.

“I told my donkey that I was sorry that he had to work so hard that he sweated,” answered Khoja.

All his neighbors laughed, and one of them said, “Why did you do that?  Donkeys do not understand human speech.  They are not at all human.”

“What I do is what concerns me.I did what is expected of a human being, and I do not care whether or not he understood what I said.”

The Sufi tell a story:

Past the seeker on the prayer rug came the crippled and the beggar and the beaten.  And seeing them, the holy one went down into deep prayer and cried,

"Great God, how is it that a loving creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?" 

And out of the long silence, God said:

"I did do something about them. I made you."

“Purity of heart” means having a heart free from anger and ready to forgive. The antithesis of purity of heart is resentment, the internally festering fascination with some wrong, real or imagined, that has been done to us. One sign of purity of heart is the refusal to live with a sense of being wronged, of thinking of oneself as a victim, of recalling, remembering, and re-inflicting the wounds of the past upon ourselves, upon our very souls. As Wendell Barry reminds in his novel Remembering, the word conveys a second meaning: re-membering, putting back together something that has been sundered or broken apart.

When the Master was a boy at school, a classmate treated him with persistent cruelty.

Now, older and contrite, the former classmate came to the monastery and was received with open arms.

One day he brought up the subject of his former cruelty, but the Master seemed not to recall it.

 Said the visitor, "Don't you remember?"

 Said the Master, "I distinctly remember forgetting it!" and they both melted in innocent laughter.