Step 2, Alternative Twelve Steps
To get a grip, I need to find a gentle and open way to be with myself.
Original wording (AA): Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
The following audio is a draft of the commentary on Step Two for the 5th edition of the Proactive 12 Steps. Please help improve it by sharing your comments.
See written transcript immediately below the audio player.
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Transcript (edited for clarity):
So you're coming out of Step One with the powerful realization that you're stuck, really stuck. Step Two is about the possibility that you can move, from that to the opposite of "stuck:" something that is flowing, something that is growing, expanding. And this kind of possibility, from the place of feeling stuck, feels unattainable. Impossible to believe. So no wonder that, in the traditional Twelve Steps, Step Two is about the intervention of God.
It takes a miracle?
If something is tough to believe, it feels like it must be a miracle. And then it takes God to make it happen. So, if you believe in God, the traditional wording of Step Two is meaningful. With the concept of an all-powerful, benevolent God, the possibility of miraculous change is not as impossible as it might have seemed at first.
But what if you don't believe in God? Does it mean you're even more stuck?
Well, no. You don't have to believe in God for seemingly miraculous change to happen. Let's remember the context. While the Twelve Steps use the language of God, the bulk of the steps is about you changing your attitude and behavior. If the Twelve Steps were just a religious program, they would be just about the power of prayer. That is the power of God to make changes without you having to do anything. But the context of the Twelve Steps is that you make the changes. You do the hard work.
Faith in human nature
In this context, Step Two is not so much about faith in God as it is faith that all this hard work you're doing has a chance to pay off. So it need not be a belief in a divine power that can take you out of the insanity of being stuck. It is essentially a belief that making hard changes is part of human nature.
So why not just say it that way? Well, when you feel stuck, and you've tried hard, it's hard to believe that there's something you haven't tried that's going to work. It is even harder to think that what would work consists in no longer pushing so hard, no longer relying on willpower. So the idea of stopping to push so hard, the sense of letting go of how you've been doing things, seems downright crazy. So the only way it would happen would be through a miracle? Well, it may be so, but then call it the miracle of human nature.
By the way, believing in human nature need not mean you have to stop believing in God. You can thank God for making human nature what it is. The same way as you think that it is God who made the sun and the earth, and made the earth revolve around the sun. Your belief in God can go together with the idea that the capacity to heal is part of human nature.
Faith in the collective experience
Another good thing to remember is that, at this point, for years and years and years, people have been using this kind of program actually to make changes. And there is a track record of these changes helping people transform what they do and who they are. So what is the essence of Step Two? As I said before, it is to stop trying so hard, relying on willpower. Still, letting go into what is more of an organic process and letting go of this pushing and striving and tightening. Finding a place inside of you that is more open and calmer.
Now that might seem entirely crazy, but let's use a metaphor for this process.
The cord metaphor
Let's take the analogy of a cord; let's say a chord from your headphones or a power cord. It's very long, and it's been all tangled up. So how do you disentangle it? If you are impatient and you try to pull, all you succeed in doing is getting it even more tangled. The only way to disentangle it is to go very slowly and to find ways to create an opening between all the various strands. Little by little, you untangle it. So that is the kind of attitude that works for changing deeply rooted habits. It is to find how all of these strands are entangled. Then, you can disentangle the various strands of your life.
Now, this is the view of it from the outside. In other words, this is what you'd see if you're watching a person in the process of disentangling a cord. What is happening from the inside? If you go inside the person who is untangling the cord. To be able to do that, we're talking about patience, which in other words means a sense of calm. There is a sense of pressure to get the cord disentangled. Still, to be able to do it, you have to be able to push back against that sense of pressure to be calm enough to untangle it.
The inner experience is one of pushing back against the pressure, making internal space, having more calm. And when I'm talking about open, see for yourself what it's like when you feel a sense of pressure: Your shoulders tend to be more hunched up. Your elbows, your whole body is held tighter. And when you get a little bit more patient, there is that sense of having more air inside of the shoulders, opening up the chest, opening up. It is as if you are expanding, and you have more air inside. You have less pressure inside. And so you're more open and calmer.
So that's what this process is about: Finding a space inside yourself, that is more open and calmer. Of course, it isn't straightforward. So the idea is not that you're going to stay in Step Two until you've been able to find the open and calmer space.
Step Two is an aspirational goal. You start to have a vision of that as a possibility. You little by little, you experience moments of finding a little bit more space. It might be a fleeting sensation. It might disappear very quickly. But having that experience, having that goal in mind little by little, throughout the process of this work, you expand more and more your ability to find that space.
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