Step 2, Alternative Twelve Steps
To get unstuck, I need to find, in myself, a calm and open space.
Original wording (AA): Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
The following audio is a commentary on Step Two. There is a written transcript immediately below the audio player.
If you see this text instead of the image of a sound player, click on the link below to play the file from your computer.
So you're coming out of Step One with that very strong realization that you're stuck, really stuck. And so Step Two is about the possibility that you can move, from that to the opposite of "stuck," to something that is free... Something that is flowing... Something that is growing, expanding... And that kind of possibility, from the place of feeling stuck, feels like something that's totally impossible. Something that's impossible to believe. So no wonder that, in the traditional Twelve Steps, Step Two is about the intervention of God.
If something is really hard to believe, it feels like it's some kind of a miracle. And then it takes God to change it. So if you believe in God, then Step Two is really helpful because: As you hang on to that concept of an all powerful, benevolent God, that possibility becomes something that's not as impossible as it seemed at first.
But what if you don't believe in God? Does it mean you're even more stuck?
Well, no, actually, because... Let's remember the context. The Twelve Steps, use the language of God, but the bulk of the 12 steps is about making changes in attitudes and behavior. If the Twelve Steps were just a religious program, they would be just about the power of prayer, 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. And moments like Step Two are about having a sense of faith that this hard work has a chance to pay off. So talking about believing in the possibility that God is going to take you out of that insanity of being stuck is actually shorthand for the idea that it is in human nature to actually have the possibility to change.
So why not just say it that way? Well, when you feel stuck and you've tried really hard, it's hard to really believe that there's something you haven't tried that's going to work. And even more so if it's couched in terms of no longer trying so hard, no longer pushing so hard, no longer having willpower and efforts that seem to go nowhere and that actually are going nowhere. So that idea, of stopping to push so hard, that sense of letting go of how you've been doing things, seems like completely crazy. And again, it kind of works if it's ascribed to a miracle. But if it is a miracle, it is the miracle of human nature.
So I'm not taking issue with you if you believe in God. If you believe in God, probably the good way to put it is that: The same way as say you believe that God made the sun and the earth and made the earth revolve around the sun, then you can also very much see that this capacity to heal is something that's part of human nature. And maybe you can thank God for it, but when you want to change something, you use that capacity in order to make the changes you want and need.
Another good thing to remember is that, at this point, for years and years and years people have been using this kind of program to actually make changes. And there is a track record of these changes actually 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, but 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 completely crazy, but let's a metaphor for what it is that this process is about.
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. So the only way to disentangle it is to go very slowly and to find ways to create an opening between all the various strands... and, little by little, disentangle it. So that is the kind of attitude that works for changing deeply rooted habits. It is to find the way in which they are entangled... All of these strands are untangled... And disentangle the various strands of your life.
Now this is the view of it from the outside, so to speak. 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 disentangling the cord... In order to be able to do that, we're talking about patience, which in other words means a sense of calm. Even though there is a pressure to get the cord disentangled, in order to be able to use it, you have to be able to push back against that pressure in order to be calm enough to make the effort to actually disentangle it.
So the inner experience is one of pushing back against the pressure, making inner space, having more calm. And when I'm talking about open, just 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 kind of 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 actually 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's difficult. 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. This 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.