THE SUN RISES
IN THE EVENING
Prelude: Time to Eat My Gun
It was twelve years since he had first said, “My name is Randy and I am an alcoholic”. Twelve years of struggle, progress, inspiration and then stalling, stalling, stalling until stalling became falling.
He looked at the gun in his lap. It was his friend, a friend who would bring him the escape, the oblivion he craved. He, or an automaton called Randy, coolly brought the gun up to his mouth. This is it, I have nothing, no-one, I’m a worthless fraud. Time to eat my gun.
Something broke through into automaton-Randy, his hand began to shake and the gun clattered against his teeth. The something was a feeling, a slender stab of thought, a tiny flash in the darkness.
He didn’t know what it was, but he found that he had put the gun down and a few seconds later the safety was on.
Ten minutes later he was on the highway to a destination twelve hours away.
He arrived suddenly at my office; I had not seen him in half a decade and I hardly recognized this old man as the vibrant, energetic Randy I used to know.
I told him to go have lunch in the downstairs cafeteria, while I shuffled my appointments and made time to be fully with him.
An hour later he was sitting in my office.
He was exhausted, at the end of the line, no energy left in him. His black, burnt out ‘Dexter energy’, as his wife called it (after the TV serial killer), had a draining, life-denying effect on her. There was no real intimacy, no fun, no growth in their marriage. She grew tired of trying to connect with him during evenings spent together staring blankly at the TV and she went back to her hometown without him.
After his wife left he had tried to work through the problem at home on his own, but he felt oppressed by the stifling proximity of his small town neighbors. And now here he was stuck in an ominous black energy deep in his being, a horrible hell realm that he had carried inside him for so long, but always avoided.
No-one would have guessed that he would reach this dark place. He seemed to have done everything right since that first, “I am an alcoholic”. Yes, he had stopped going to meetings after a couple of years, but he had done group work, opened up to his feelings, catharted his anger, and embraced the power of the now. He had explored the works of Eastern meditation teachers and delved into mindfulness.
He had got a degree and then worked as an addictions counselor. His last post was as a wilderness addictions counselor in First Nations communities. His girlfriend moved in with him and they got married. They lived together in a northern community, where he was loved for his non-stop devotion to his job and the people.
Yet slowly over the years he grew more than tired. He was burnt out, exhausted, and the underlying black energy seemed to emerge more and more in his life. Even though he was still successful as a counselor, he was running on empty. Now his wife had gone, he was all alone in his cabin. Something was clearly wrong at the core of his being, he was immersed in blackness, an inescapable dark hell pit. He had been on a quest for recovery and wholeness, but now maybe he had to face it: his efforts had ended here, in the abyss. It all had gone wrong and the time had come for him to check out. He was at the end of the line, doomed, forsaken, and the only logical thing was to blow his brains out.
At the last moment, he had a reprieve — from where it came he could not tell — and instead of blowing his brains out he drove 700 miles. Now here he was in front of me, recounting his long tortured tale of woe, looking like an old man on the edge of a gray death. We just sat in this place together, the place of utter exhaustion and falling down.
I had no trouble being in this place with Randy, as I too had faced this hell, the moment of suicide or surrender when a person is swallowed up by the black void, the valley of the shadow of death. I knew that I had had to face it head on and that Randy, too, would need to face it before he could move on to become whole.
All the emotional work of recovery does not prepare a person for this moment. It is taking things to a different level, a depth that may have been glimpsed in the past and quickly avoided, as the whole self is now on the line.
At the time I went through this, I felt that my existence was doomed, suicide seemed like the logical answer and, like Randy, I needed to check out. Somehow, though, I knew that suicide would not resolve anything, but at the same time, I realized there was no way out or escape from this black abyss. I decided to face the terrifying darkness head on with no effort to escape, or to save myself. I simply gave up. And miraculously, the stillness of black annihilating eternity, where nothing exists, was transformed almost immediately. The beloved existence revealed itself with a brilliant all-encompassing light radiantly flashing from underneath the darkness. I knew then everything was fine.
So, as I looked over at Randy, I was relaxed and wanted to share with him both my own experience and this predicament he was in. I pointed out that he had been here before and escaped. “Now you just need to sit in this black death energy, with no judgment, and no effort to resolve it. No help is needed, and you need to stop trying to save yourself. Give it all up!” I told him.
We sat there in the silence with the ticking clock, at this end-of-the-line place with no help or hope available, and with nothing we could do, and no answer from the mind. Within minutes Randy was giggling. He found that absolutely giving up was serene and very relaxing. We just continued to sit in what some have called the valley of the shadow of death. We did not make one effort to help ourselves, we just accepted death in the moment.
Time passed quickly as we sat together. When an hour had gone by, it became apparent Randy was very relaxed — but now I needed to send him on his way. He needed to go back to his motel room so he could embrace this himself in his own aloneness. So, he bid me good day, and said he would check in with me in the morning.
The next morning, he showed up a completely different person, a radiant being, twenty years younger. I asked him how it went, and he said it was surprisingly easy. He just sat in the black energy. What we did in my office he did all alone. He did not listen to his mind trying to get him to escape. It took him only a few minutes and he was letting go and relaxing into the black energy which quickly once again had turned into vast radiant light. He did it all by himself… “Beautiful,” I said to him. It was apparent all that he had needed was an invitation from me. That was enough for him to do it in his aloneness. He had gone with his perfect storm, sat in the dark valley of annihilation and death, surrendered, and the brilliant light of existence revealed itself. I said to Randy, “Welcome to abiding in non-dual being.”
Introduction: From Addiction,
the Counterfeit Quest for Wholeness,
to Embracing Non-dual Being
This intense and at times painful craving is a deep thirst for our own wholeness, our spiritual identity, our divine source.
~Christina Grof, The Thirst for Wholeness
We are all on the quest for wholeness — that wholeness that seems so vast, sometimes so tantalisingly close and then so unattainable. But in the Western world, we have gotten lazy, we want it fast, and we want it now. I call this the McDonald’s approach to wholeness, the counterfeit path. We want it like drive-through food, we want it convenient and easy. Many of us remember the day we got hooked into that counterfeit quest for wholeness through an addictive path of one sort or another.
My twin brother was like that. He was shy, insecure, socially awkward. Once he had that first beer everything changed for him, he was in the groove, he could connect. From being an alienated outsider, in an instant he was part of the club, he was an insider. He was spontaneous, fun, the life of the party. His partying ways started in high school and really picked up while he was in university. By the time he made it to law school, while everybody was busy studying, he was holding ‘Let’s get sloshed’ parties. Instant wholeness!
The problem is that this artificial quest for wholeness through addictive remedies can end up costing our whole lives. My brother’s addictive ways did not stop at law school. As a lawyer he combined 80-hour work weeks with late night relief drinking and binge drinking on weekends. He just wanted the release, the high, the painless remedy without doing any of the work. So when his life crumbled into a predictable midlife crisis after two decades of over-the-top legal practice work, he dived harder into alcohol, and escalated into cocaine, one night stands, and then escort services. Of course, soon he had lost his wife, his connection to his children, and then even his law practice. He went through overtly compliant trips to treatment centres in which he pretended to see the light. He used to relapse back to hardcore drinking even on the way home from the treatment centre. Then one evening, with a mixture of pharmaceuticals and booze, he went to sleep, and never woke up.
He would rather die than leave the comfort of his addiction and the pseudo relief it brought him. I miss him. He was my twin, we shared so much — and he is gone.
Myself, I never was a chronic addict in the true sense. My addiction was not to some sort of substance or process addiction, but to an underlying narcissism. I had the classic case of the American Dream; a rugged individualism through which I was going to show the whole world how very special I was. It is like that little joke: when we are born, God whispers into our ear, “You’re special, you’re so special” I believed it. I took it on board, hook, line and sinker. So, narcissism was my addiction. And this is why conventional second stage recovery was not enough for me, and it’s likely that it’s not enough for you, because as I worked on all of the pain of trauma, abandonment, disconnection, inauthenticity and emptiness, one significant insight was missing. There was a lynchpin that held it all together, and that was my fundamental narcissism, my separate self specialness. It was only when I met this narcissism head-on, and I saw how fake and shabby it was and let it all crash into the chasm of being, that I was truly able to embark on a third stage of recovery to embrace wholeness, to embrace non-dual being. This may sound strange to you, if you have been struggling with recovery from addiction, but if you have an underlying sense that there could be more, that there is another dimension to your established recovery (or your shaky recovery), then this approach can fill your unmet and almost undefined need.
Non-dual being is a coming home. Not going home, but coming home. It means that we don’t need to look outside ourselves for what we need when, at the same time, ‘inside’ we are clutching onto the sense of apartness, of isolation, grasping onto that oh-so-special ‘me’ with its bogus sense of entitlement. We set ourselves up to see everything as ‘other’ and seek to assuage our longing for completion, for wholeness, for we know not what, using substances and behaviors to soothe and reward. You will learn in these pages that there is a way to let go of addiction (and I do mean addiction) to our separate, special, entitled self. We can get free of the disheartening woundedness and mortality that drive us to seek outside for surcease or gratification. We will no longer feel the need to fight for survival as a separate self against all of the objects in existence that we see as ‘other’.
As we let go of the grasping and identification with our separate selves, we see that our busy minds could never have saved us, and we relax into a welcoming, spacious being. Rather than escaping into the false freedom that is the prison of our addiction, we make our home in existence itself.
In this coming home, we discover that we are, and have always been, part of the mystery from which existence originates, and to our surprise we realize that there has actually been no separate self all the way along. The separate self may drop away or be seen through, but for what we lose, so much more is gained: our hearts open up into a loving intimacy with everything which is — the antithesis of addiction. Those busy minds let go of all concepts and stories to embrace a beautiful, transparent immensity and lucidity.
It was not always this way for me. When I started my journey towards non-dual being, I did not know it at the time, but I was still caught in my narcissistic stance towards existence. I was addicted to showing how special I was. When I left law to embrace transpersonal psychology and Eastern contemplative ways of being, I carried this demand of my specialness with me. Because of early successes— graduating and practicing law at 23 — I thought I was a brilliant person, and the doors of life would always open up to me. I never could have predicted how wrong this was and how truly I was a misguided fool. Only as my journey towards awakening progressed, did I start to realize that I had replaced my concrete Western individualistic narcissism with the ultimate trip of narcissism, that of awakening and enlightenment — what a paradox! Even as I racked up some utterly blissful experiences, moments of ecstatic cosmic consciousness, and witnessed the vastness and eternity of existence, there was always a separate ‘me’ having these experiences, and so awakening escaped me. It was like the time-honored law; wherever you go, there you are. The ‘me’ was trying to get beyond the ‘me’.
Only through progressive disillusionment and through using my direct awareness and inquiry, did I begin to unpack the ‘me’. It was through experiencing absolute hopelessness and failurehood that the separate self was seen through. It had been quite the contradiction. I had all these lovely experiences, but at the same time I was trying to fulfill the needs of the self and survive. So, I still had to recognize that in the ultimate quest for wholeness the mind does not have the answer; I still had to work through the trauma and pain from the past in choiceless awareness, so that my heart could be loving and open; I still had to confront that central grasping and grabbing at survival in my belly. When I saw, at last, that this grasping for survival could go on forever, I was able to let go, embrace my death, and surrender to existence. Nothing to hang onto, nothing to know, nowhere to go to — and in this place, existence revealed itself.
I discovered a vast loving radiant existence that had been here all the way along — it was like a coming home to a wondrous iridescent mystery that just keeps going on and on, all revealed in this moment, ‘just this’. This is one of the grand jokes of existence, that we all can go on this epic journey to find out what life is all about, and in the end it is revealed that it was all here all the way along; we just could not see it as we were too busy seeking. As we burn through the seeker, to our surprise it is revealed that the seeker is actually the sought. And here in this place of not-two, all the apparent dualities of existence merge into oneness, life and death, light and darkness, white and black, good and evil, self and other. All is experienced in the stillness of eternity in which the radiant light of existence permeates everything. This is our home, we are in an ecstatic dance of infinity, in which nothing really is ever born, and nothing dies.
It is apparent that this is what so much alcohol and drug use is about. We are trying to come home but going about it all in the wrong way. To our surprise, our home already exists within us, we just have to tune in so it can be revealed. I remember a heroin addict talking to me about how much he loved the serene, sublime, oceanic stillness he could get to with heroin, and I laughed to myself, as I knew this sublime feeling of serenity so well. It is available through just exploring our own being very deeply. In his case, the drug was only giving him a short-term chemical revelation of an aspect of himself that was already available to him, he just did not realize it. So all the alcohol and drug use can be seen as the counterfeit quest for wholeness — good intentions, desiring wholeness, but going through it using artificial, temporary means.
As we recover, I am reminded of an old Twelve Step expression, ‘You don’t have to ride the garbage truck all the way out to the dump.’ For me, the addiction to my narcissism was so strong, so deeply rooted, that it was only when I rode my narcissism all the way to garbage dump hell that I could surrender and let go — for some of us, this seems to be our destiny. It’s important to understand that letting go, losing the separate self, does not mean retreating to an ivory tower of lofty detachment from life; later on we will be looking at this over-compensatory mindset, its pitfalls and how to work through it.
This book is an invitation to you to find completion and wholeness, to work through second stage recovery fully, including a necessary descent to let go of the separate self, and to embrace third stage recovery and abide in non-dual being.
The Paradox of the Journey
With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time
~T. S. Eliot, The Four Quartets
Before we start our exploration of the journey of recovery and awakening into non-dual realization, it is important to recognize the inherent paradox. The process is not a jouney from one place to another: it is really a journey from here to here.
Paradox is a word you may find often in this book. What puzzles people and seems like an inherent contradiction is that there can be an awakening, but still all the old stuff comes up and ‘someone’ has to let go of it. At the heart of this, is the tendency in the mind-body to believe that there is a ‘somebody’ to be awakened, a discrete person (and remember that the word ‘person’ comes from the ancient Greek word for mask). The assumption we make is that we are separate from existence, but this is not the case. We are not something different, something opposed; we are not an outsider looking in on existence. Awakening is a process of seeing that there is nobody there to be awakened and there is nothing to be awakened from. The belief in that separate self has been called hypnosis, conditioning or illusion. In any event, some of us apparent beings take a journey through time to realize eventually in this moment that there is nobody here. Later, some old habituated patterns of believing in a separate self come back, inviting a necessary re-visiting process leading to a seeing through of these patterns. There is just a seeing, with nobody here. We don’t surrender. We see that there is nobody here to surrender.
Together we will explore the journey of abiding in non-dual being and no-self, but the first sticking point we reach is the obvious question: if there is no separate Gary, how can he abide anywhere? To clarify, it is more the appearance of Gary, this apparent mind-body, which is existence itself appearing as something that seems to be separate. For example, in daily life, when I am teaching at the university, existence passes through me in the moment, and spontaneously gives a lecture, writes a proposal or an article; it’s as if the special flavor of existence that goes under the name of Gary permeates and informs each moment and there is a resting in the place of no-self awareness. So, Gary is only an appearance that seems to be abiding in non-dual being, but actually there is nobody here apart from existence itself. The appearance seems to be there and is seen to be there, but in reality there is just existence. No self is here. All of the steps of realization were actually gone through by an apparent being that took some time to realize there was nobody here all the way along.
The other side of the paradox is that, even though there was nobody here all the way along, this special flavor of existence called Gary was hypnotized to believe that it was a separate self, and so even though there was nobody here from the beginning, this apparent being had to go on a long journey of progressive steps to realize from the beginning nobody had been here all the way along. It was almost like the journey was necessary so this apparent Gary could get exhausted enough to let go of striving and grasping and slow down enough to see that in this moment there is nobody here. So, the great comedy is that I could have seen there was nobody here right from the start, but I believed something had to be done, or some effort had to be made, to attain some state, and off I went.
Thankfully — after a time — I came to a place of seeing that no amount of work, effort or self-improvement would bring awakening. With seeing the futility of effort, I could just relax into the flow of existence, see nobody was here, and rest in no-self awareness. Even in this moment, nobody is here, and nothing needs to be done.
Now, as we turn to the journey of recovery and awakening, we rest in this paradox. The fullness of what is is always available right now, even though we may have to take some steps to realize it. What follows are some steps to help you realize that no steps are necessary, it is all already right here.
If this makes very little sense to you, but you are longing to be rid of the addiction to a substance or a behavior, or struggling with a mindset that is inconsistent with your true values, then take this as a working hypothesis, a tool that you can use and then discard. It has worked for me and for others. My dearest wish is that it will work for you too and that one day you can say with T S Eliot, ‘These things have served their purpose: let them be.’
Part 1:Working through
Second Stage Recovery
Chapter 1: Stalling in Second Stage Recovery
If you haven’t dealt with your underlying living problems in any focused, consistent manner, pain, pure and simple, will keep you subject to the dry-drunk syndrome.
~Earnie Larsen, Stage Two Recovery
Ralph had been in recovery for over ten years and been in AA all of this time with not one relapse. He was sober, had a job as an addictions counselor, was in a relationship, continued to work on his communications skills and, in his own words, was a ‘good guy’.
Suddenly everything collapsed around him. He was 52 and his life was a disaster. By the time he came for counseling, the wagons were already circling at work; he had had many warnings from his supervisors, who were now preparing the necessary steps to have him fired from his counseling position. He was seen as a rigid, inflexible, self-righteous, self-aggrandizing troublemaker.
Furthermore, his fiancé had grown tired of his self-preoccupation and lack of empathy. She broke up with him after he would not let her father carve the turkey on Christmas Day as Ralph was ‘the man of the house’.
All this came about because Ralph had never really worked on his underlying pain, depressive ways and self-righteousness. Having his world collapse around him forced Ralph into counseling, but the long delay in working on his dry drunk issues had already cost him his job and his upcoming marriage. To his surprise, Ralph had ended up getting a second descent in recovery. He had thought all of this was behind him the first time that he accepted he was powerless over his addiction.
When growth turns bad
The issue with Ralph and many others like him, is that, just because people are in recovery and abstaining from their problematic addictive behavior, whether it be alcohol, drugs, gambling or sex, their recovery can still be very much in jeopardy. Curbing the behavior in stage one recovery is only the first step. The strategies to keep from relapsing — such as going to meetings, seeing a counselor, working on triggers, cravings and stinking thinking, avoiding addict friends, not going into pubs and casinos, finding new friends and activities, and taking care of yourself — are all helpful. But has the real problem been dealt with? No, not really, as it is the underlying emotional pain underneath the addiction that is the problem as it drives the addiction. We need to ask why we have all that pain in the first place. For Ralph, it was obvious that he had not even started to look at all of the emotional pain underlying his addiction.
These conclusions are borne out by the work of other pioneers in the field of addiction and my own research.
Seeing the need for a new phase in recovery from addiction, Earnie Larsen proposed a process of ongoing, or Stage Two, recovery which moves the recovering individual’s attention beyond a preoccupation with abstinence to dealing with other aspects of life.(1) Larsen himself saw this second stage of recovery within the vision of AA, but there are others who doubt that AA offers what is needed to foster second-stage recovery;(2) they maintain that there are too many limiting factors in AA, such as a rigid focus on group dependence and spiritual or religious tenets and the self-fulfilling prophecy of relapse if a person leaves the Twelve Step Fellowship. The white middle-class, patriarchal values and beliefs that dominate AA literature may also serve to limit potential.
Dr. Tina Tessina suggested that the development of autonomy is the next critical step beyond the traditional recovery process as exemplified by AA and other Twelve Step programs, and this was confirmed by a study which I carried out with a colleague.(3)
We interviewed people who were moving beyond the Twelve Steps into a second stage recovery on their own. They found themselves questioning the Twelve Step Fellowship vision of limited recovery; they needed emotional issues to be resolved; they wanted to embrace other literature, and to move forward on their own. This all culminated in people leaving Twelve Steps to embrace a further stage of recovery.(4)
Despite critiques of AA and the Twelve Steps there are many positive aspects to this approach, and it could be very limiting to throw the baby out with the bathwater in our search for autonomy and self-determination in our recovery. Larsen, for instance, argues that it is impossible to outgrow the Twelve Steps, as the spiritual wisdom contained within them is infinite. I can agree with Larsen that this applies for some people. I have met many who seem to continue to grow in the Twelve Step movement. It has been my experience, however, whether a person stays in Twelve Steps, or moves beyond them, or has been on their own path all the way along, that all paths lead eventually from the stage one focus on abstinence to the underlying emotional issues of stage two recovery. Stage two recovery is necessary no matter which path you follow — even though a person may not call it that.
Long-term recovery seems to be a dynamic process evolving over time which involves all the social and cultural, psychological and spiritual components which make up the whole person — there is no aspect of a person which can be seen in isolation.(5) As a result, recovering persons, clinicians, and researchers— all of us — are looking for a new way forward to meet the needs of a person in second stage recovery. We need a ‘meta-recovery’ model which supports the potential for growth in the Twelve Step Fellowship, but gives a map for those on the path to an expanded vision and new possibilities of recovery.
Second stage recovery: facing another descent
There is a logical reason for addiction. It’s a skewed logic but any addiction process can be seen as a method which we use to try and climb out of the realm of negative experience into a realm of positive experience. We use the whole process of addiction to escape unresolved painful feelings such as abandonment, worthlessness and emptiness, but at the same time as we try to escape them, these negative feelings fuel our attempts at addictive self repair. It’s paradoxical and it’s a vicious circle, but that’s what we do.
Even before our addiction became fully fledged some of us were likely to use other self-defeating behaviors such as caretaking, people-pleasing or being a martyr, to deal with our negative experiences. For true recovery we have to go deep; we have to confront and examine such behaviors which seem quite benign on the surface. They are not as harmless as they seem, but they do serve to make our reality comfortable. We use old patterns of dealing with feelings to help define what is normal for us, but this is not living authentically or living from the truth of our being; we will remain ‘merely abstinent’ if this is what we do. For real change, we need to examine these habits very carefully. There is good reason for this.
Unexamined and unaddressed, these habitual methods of dealing with life, addiction and recovery lead to the precarious stability of the dry drunk. This describes the compulsive drinker who has put the cork in the bottle yet continues to think alcoholically.(6) There are grandiose plans and expectations while feelings of resentment are carefully nursed by ‘poor me’. The same ‘poor me’ will justify impulsivity, dishonesty, intolerance and a self-centeredness that masks an awful sense of inadequacy and low self-worth.(7) The problem with this precarious stability is that, with the active addiction overcome, the person has lost any perception of rock bottom, the nadir of experience which could lead to a surrender experience and true emotional sobriety.
Stalled recovery may follow the same patterns in any addiction. Patrick Carnes, the pioneer in recovery from sex, love and pornography addiction makes it clear that there is an underlying narcissism in people in active addiction and also within those in recovery; he describes this as a ‘Master of the Universe’ role, which we will examine in more depth later on.(8) Fuel for the addictive lifestyle is found in the deceptions, manipulations, conning, exploitation of others and attempts at escape from pain. The problem is that, when a person clears up their acting-out behaviors they are still left with all of these underlying self-centered patterns of specialness and a feeling of being beyond or above the normal rules of existence, which mask the underlying issues of inadequacy, incompleteness and not being good enough.
These qualities seem to perfectly describe the situation of Ralph, the fired counselor. Even Randy, the man with the gun to his head, in his crisis saw that his separate self was still trying to master it all.
Something is needed to take the recovering person from abstinence into authenticity, and what is called for is a second descent at the end of stage two recovery in which the whole narcissistic egoic self of the recovering person is let go of. Many of us have had meaningful surrender experiences up to this point, but only around letting go of the specific behavioral addiction or addictions. It is truly rare for people to have died to the underlying central addiction, that is their separate self. This means that it must be confronted at the end of stage two recovery so that they can make a passage into stage three recovery and abiding in non-dual being. To understand this process, we will now turn to Ken Wilber’s Spectrum of Development approach and the Transformation of Narcissism approach of A.H. Almaas. Please bear in mind that, while these approaches are useful tools to take us through, I am not asking anyone to take up the entire philosophy or teachings of either Wilber or Almaas.
Wilber’s Transpersonal Spectrum of Development and Three Stages of Recovery
Ken Wilber has devised a spectrum of consciousness model which incorporates conventional psychology and the contemplative traditions of both East and West.(9) He expanded this into a four quadrant model, but because we need a simple and useful map for the path to recovery, we will be looking at the original six psychological levels of Wilber’s Spectrum of Development model.
We will explore in succession second stage recovery issues for each of these developmental levels in the following six chapters.
One additional advantage of using a developmental model like Wilber’s is that we can deal with the problem of disowned aspects of self, which is crucial for addicted persons in recovery.
Initially in recovery, through hitting bottom by being powerless to their addiction, a person is forced to disidentify with the addict subpersonality and begins to identify with a recovering subpersonality. This shift is dualistic in nature, with the addict subpersonality seen as all bad, and the recovering subpersonality as all good; probably this is an essential crutch or tool for some in the process of early recovery.
However, during the recovery process it is common to experience depression, boredom, irritation, listlessness or agitation, loss of vitality and spiritual or existential restlessness, which are all manifestations of frustrated growth and lack of readiness to move forward. In early recovery these symptoms may indicate the danger of possible relapse; later in recovery they may point to the frustration of blocked growth as defined by Roberto Assagioli, the pioneer in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology. (10) For example, the wild risk-taking behavior of a person in the full throes of an addiction has a rebellious aspect that needs to be re-integrated later in recovery, so that a person can be authentically themselves in a healthy way and still take risks. In second stage recovery, people need to move to integrate disowned aspects of self in an often non-linear spiraling process.
The process of this integration involves a shedding or reframing of beliefs that no longer serve ongoing growth and wellness; thus an overall model like Wilber’s is very helpful in working through these difficult areas and coming to wholeness. Initially this wholeness will be experienced as a healthy integration, a flowering and a ripening of the psychological self, but we come to a paradoxically greater wholeness. where we let go of the separate self and are integrated with existence itself.
Almaas’ letting go of the separate self and embracing stage three recovery
The importance of letting go of the egoic separate self has long been recognized as essential in the non-dual journey to wholeness within Christianity, Buddhism, Sufism and Hinduism and by modern non-religious exponents of non-duality. This letting go is recognized by religious and spiritual frameworks, but is not dependent upon such frameworks, nor is it confined to a particular paradigm or world view. This egoic separate self can be described as a ‘contraction’ as it is the opposite of the expansive, welcoming wholeness that is non-dual being. Letting go of the egoic separate self usually entails some sort of overt or covert inquiry into the separate self-sense. In fact many of the modern ‘teachers’ see the addiction to the separate self, the ego, as the underlying addiction of the human condition.(11) The releasing of ego usually involves a process over time, going through a number of stages, but can, in some cases, be a sudden occurrence. To facilitate the movement from stage two recovery to stage three recovery we need an approach that maps out a process for working through and letting go of the narcissistic sense of a separate self.
Here we will turn to A.H. Almaas who has developed a model of growth based on the ‘transformation of narcissism’.(12) This model has exciting implications for long-term recovery as it gives us the tools to work through issues typically encountered at the end of stage two recovery, such as fundamental narcissism and the inflated egoic self. Almaas’ transformation of narcissism model includes such themes as discovering the empty shell and fakeness of our specialness gigs, becoming aware of the narcissistic wound, working through the great betrayal and narcissistic rage, falling into the great chasm of being, and discovering a place of loving beingness and essential identity. Almaas’ model, with its focus on moving from reliance on the false egoic self to falling into beingness and essence, is pivotal in giving the recovering person the tools they need to move into stage three recovery and abiding in non-dual being.
In this book, we look at how a recovering person can revitalize a stalled recovery by looking at stage two pain issues, and then transitioning into stage three recovery.
Firstly, we utilize the first six developmental stages of Wilber’s model as a map of the process of second stage recovery, to deal with all of the underlying emotional pain issues. Then we will move through the descent and hitting bottom of stage two recovery, by using Almaas’ transformation of narcissism model as well as other non-dual pathways, so that a process of moving into stage three recovery can be recognized. Ultimately, it is hoped that the recovering person can transition into abiding in non-dual being, and work on issues in day to day life as a form of stage three recovery.
We will now turn our attention to Wilber’s six developmental levels that explore the emotional underbelly work of second stage recovery.
© Gary Nixon, Non-Duality Press
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Gary Nixon is Director of the Addictions Counselling Program at University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, where he is an Associate Professor. Gary enjoys a celebratory ordinariness of the days living with his wife Marcia and going for daily long runs in the coulees. He maintains a private nondual psychotherapy practice working with individuals and groups — this complements the passionate legacy of his published academic work and his editorship of Paradoxica: Journal of Nondual Psychology. He hosts the annual Paradoxica Nondual Psychology Conference.
Amazon Book Reviews
Links to Gary Nixon and His Work
1) Brian Theriault
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind, the ultimate addiction April 30, 2013
By Brian Theriault
I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Sun Rises in the Evening! The title itself captures the transformational opportunity found in the trenches of addiction where the eternal light of our Being can be found even in the most difficult of states. The prelude was explosive and totally pulled me in as the reader. In many ways, the book read as a direct invitation for the reader, for me, to look at my own addictive acting out, particularly to the fixation of the self-identity project. Gary brings a nice mixture of heartfeltness and wildness throughout the book. His ability to be vulnerable in sharing his own journey, both peaks and valleys, adds to the book being incredibly accessible to the reader and makes his transformational points that much more rich and pointed. Gary doesn’t come off as a nondual weekend warrior, but one who embraces the journey moment to moment in all aspects of life.
It is refreshing to read a book that points to the ultimate addiction; that of the mind and the remedy found in abiding in and as no-self awareness. Gary brings to light the need to work through the issues found in stage 1 and 2 recovery and to go beyond them followed by the need to deconstructing the self in stage 3 to abiding in nondual being. He does so in such a way that embraces paradox. Paradox is often what is missing when writing about nonduality and recovery type books. So, this is no easy task to do, especially in relation to addiction, but Gary writes in such a way that carries the thread of paradox throughout. Most books tend to lean towards the “enlightenment lite” brand or what Gary calls the “McDonald’s approach” of getting awakened cheap and fast or towards the cultivation brand of investing vast amounts of energy into the technique driven approach of transcendence. Gary weaves in the paradoxical truth that although there are no changes in Awareness (the essence of who and what we are as beings), there are endless changes in consciousness. And it is these changes in consciousness where the nondual rubber really hits the road; bringing the gifts of awakening to the grittiness of everyday life.
The case studies are descriptive and thickens the potential possibility of inviting nondual being in various states of consciousness ranging from various addictions, trauma, anxiety, the need to be special, internal splits and relationships to name a few. As the reader, these narratives allowed me to track how such states play out in my own being and unpacking them or dissolving them through the invitational pointers of surrendering and embracing choiceless awareness. The exercises at the end of each chapter were a direct invitation. I found them to be intense invitations for readers to engage in and realize the truth of their experience at an experiential level. I particularly enjoyed “Exercise 13: Fear of no-self and not surviving”.
What I also found especially helpful were the last couple of chapters where Gary points out the subtle (or not so subtle) traps of awakening; of buying into our own myth of awakening, being aware of any uncooked seeds of “self” returning in the form of re-creating awakening experiences, waiting to be found out as the “next awakened guy”; hiding out in the void, or unresolved shadow issues. The paradoxical remedies of embracing failurehood and hopelessness cut to the core of the self-identiy project, exposing the root seed of separateness and the minds attempt at always needing to stand out and being seen as special. Gary points to the importance of relaxing into failurehood and hopelessness, not as a technique, but as an impersonal understanding leading to the potential of burning out the energetic charge of self-identity and separation.
The book is an intense, enjoyable nondual ride through the confines of addiction, dissolving the illusion of me and resting in the freedom of the moment, here and now.
2) Shane M. Keher
5.0 out of 5 stars Profound, May 9, 2013
By Shane M. Keher “Shane” (Australia)
I loved this book and am in the process of rereading it, doing the exercises this time round – the exercises and meditations are great, they really open up and make the content vivid and profound. I believe this book is an important contribution to the growing titles on non duality and addiction. I’m a former alcoholic with a love of the 12 steps, and was introduced to Presence, a “higher power” through the program of recovery. That has led to my current love of non duality. This book reminds us there are “no half measures”, and the unresolved trauma and pain, buried deep in our bodies and psyches has to be faced. I loved the emphasis on unconditional giving up, surrendering the grasping in the guts for “more” – I may not drink any more, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t got unfinished addictive tendencies which can lead to the “reincarnation” of the separative self, grasping for its own existence and survival. This book offers a way to work with our unfinished trauma and grasping
3) Tony Wedge
Amazon review: 5 stars
Gary Nixon has written a remarkable book that echoes my initial experience of absolute hopelessness which brought about rapid recovery without any spiritual practice. This text has helped me see that any seeking after that was an attempt to find home from home which was why the 12-step program created more of a hindrance for peace than anything.
It was about four years ago when I realized the futility of escaping the living hell of alcoholism. After twenty-one years of different therapies, 12-step groups, hospitals and treatment centers, I was in a position where I wanted to end my life. As I sat in a room at yet another treatment center with about five other people, I declared that I was killing myself and I couldn’t stop myself and neither could anyone else. No prayer was going to pull me out and there was nothing left to discuss. It felt as if something within me collapsed and acceptance became a living statement for the first time. Inwardly, I knew there was nothing to grasp ahold of including everything I had learned in treatment centers and 12-step groups. It was the most uncomfortable experience in my life yet it freed me from years of mental anguish. I stayed up much of that night laughing with a couple of guys that were there and they were convinced I had lost my mind…because I did!
When I left the treatment center, I soon attended another 12-step meeting and was called upon by a member of the group and was asked how I was doing. I had no answer other than, “I’m here.” I continued to get with a sponsor and go through the steps because I felt that it was what everyone else was doing and insure my sobriety as an alcoholic. It felt inauthentic and I slowly got worse as every step toward what I believed to be true was another step away from Truth. Eventually I was led to non-duality through research on the internet and it immediately resonated with me. It soon became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to bridge the gap between 12-step work and non-dual teachings. Many people said they couldn’t understand me when I spoke at meetings and now I understand why.
Much of what Mr. Nixon has written here is not appealing to an “alcoholic” or “spiritual” identity or any identity at all, for that matter. If you are questioning why your life in recovery has become worse and all else has failed, I would highly encourage you to read The Sun Rises in the Evening. There is nothing misleading in his book as Gary Nixon is a professional in the field of recovery and is a Non-dual Psychologist and professor at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta.
4) Jerry Katz
5.0 out of 5 stars A Watercourse Way to Standing As Awareness April 26, 2013
By Jerry Katz
Gary Nixon says, “This book is an invitation to you to find completion and wholeness, to work through second stage recovery fully, including a necessary descent to let go of the separate self, and to embrace third stage recovery and abide in non-dual being.”
Although second stage, or stage two recovery, is never defined (nor is stage one), periodically Gary refers to addiction recovery pioneer Earnie Larsen who apparently made up the term “Stage II recovery.” Therefore I’ll quote from Larsen’s website for these definitions. They come from http://www.earnie.com/whoisearnie.asp#stageii :
“Stage I is about arresting the addiction or surviving the crisis. Stage II(tm) Recovery, which Earnie created in 1985, is about understanding the triggers and imprinting that left us vulnerable in the face of substitutes. … Stage II(tm) Recovery requires discipline, practice, and the ability to refuse to let the past rob you of your present. … Stage II(tm) Recovery answers will seldom be found in Stage I recovery groups. They have different focuses, and that’s okay. Keep in mind, one stage is not better than another. There can be no Stage II if Stage I has not been won. Recovery does not end with sobriety.”
Nor does recovery end with Stage two body/mind integration. As physically, socially, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually integrated as the separate self may become in stage two, beyond that stage is third stage recovery, which means the dying to the separate self.
Gary notes that separate self is a hard nut to die to: “It is truly rare for people to have died to the underlying central addiction, that is their separate self. This means that it must be confronted at the end of stage two recovery so that they can make a passage into stage three recovery and abiding in non-dual being.”
Something I like:
I believe we all want our nonduality books to hit us hard. We become sensitized to these books. What shook us a couple years ago is familiar territory now. Yet we probably don’t want to feel personally attacked by an author or teacher. There are some who may be self-realized but easily offended or exasperated by someone they imagine is celebrating separate-self indulgences. I like this book because I don’t see Gary being offended. You can read some hard-hitting stuff here without ever having to negotiate the gaping jaws of “I’m self-realized, you’re not.”
Something else I like:
This is a well ordered and clearly explained book. Gary lays out the importance of abiding nondual awareness right away. Then he shows where the journey out of addiction gets stalled and how to go beyond it through the methodologies/understandings of Ken Wilber and A.H. Almaas. However there is no demand that the reader, counselor, or client become immersed in those teachings.
Every chapter elaborates on a theme, gives one or more stories to support it, and closes with a doable exercise for the reader. Gary divulges a lot about himself personally. He also cites case studies. Sometimes to support his themes he quotes well-known current or historical teachers/sharers of nonduality. This strong personal component makes the book very readable.
About himself, Gary writes, “When I started my journey towards non-dual being, I did not know it at the time, but I was still caught in my narcissistic stance towards existence. I was addicted to showing how special I was. When I left law to embrace transpersonal psychology and Eastern contemplative ways of being, I carried this demand of my specialness with me. Because of early successes–graduating and practicing law at 23–I thought I was a brilliant person, and the doors of life would always open up to me. I never could have predicted how wrong this was and how truly I was a misguided fool.”
If you’re going to read a nonduality book, yes, it should from someone like that. It makes it easier to look at and admit one’s own foolishness so that one’s energy is free to … be free. Gary says it differently: “It seems essential that a person has to become aware of, to fully admit and let in to their consciousness, the fakeness and empty shell of their narcissistic pursuits of specialness, so that the fall into being becomes a possibility.”
What is this “fall into being”? I hope you don’t mind a longish rant.
This book is all about that fall into being. But I do have a question about it, a question of discernment. Because I’m not sure what is meant by a fall into being. Nonduality writers these days all talk about the realization of “just this” or taking one’s stand in awareness. That’s fine, but something is missing. That’s not the only way to describe a fall into being.
From my own experiences as an innocent boy between the ages of 7 to 10 or so — not as an older adult looking for something spiritual that would ease the pain of being a fool in a foolish world — but as a boy, I involuntarily took my stand in what I called “I am.”
When the “I am” thing dissolves there is the standing free, standing alone, or standing as awareness. That’s been my experience. Although there were a few years in my early twenties where I tried to attain something like enlightenment, it was only when I remembered “I am” that I saw no need to do anything other than to keep remembering it, or, as Nisargadatta said, to “follow the I am.”
But no one talks about the “I am” anymore. Everyone “Tony Parsons” it away. I say hang out there a little while. Live life from there for a few years. Let it dissolve in its own time. Don’t listen to the people who want to yank the “I am” out of you and pull you into their “standing as awareness” understanding.
You never have to take your stand as awareness in any sort of going-to-a-retreat-to-talk-to-unmani-so-that-I-can-be-freer sort of way. Or in a going-on-a-seven-day-silent-retreat-with-Adyashanti-so-that-the-hockey-game-in-my-head-can-settle-down-and-i-can-say-hello-to-awareness-itself kind of way.
Coming from the “I am” you see that the business of standing in awareness isn’t yours anyway. It’s “I am’s” business. You’ve released into “I am.” When “I am” dissolves or goes away, you’re taking your stand as awareness whether you like it or not. Of course there’s no “you” and no “your” nor is there “standing as awareness.” There just is. But now I’m sounding like a nondualist, which I’m not.
I’m more of an “I-am-ist,” if you want to know the truth. And there are two kinds of “I-am-ists.” Since living as the “I am” means living as the flow of life, it can be swung like a backpack onto one’s psyche in order to manifest stuff. You want a successful business or book, fancy car, hot gf? Bring your psychic energy to the I am. That’s the fill-your-backpack-with-stuff kind of “I-am-ist.” If you’re into that, Wayne Dyer is your man.
The other kind is the one who doesn’t want or need anything and simply gazes at the suchness of “I am.” That’s what I eventually came to. You don’t gaze at the suchness as a technique in order to manifest a higher understanding or to start a nonduality website. You gaze at the suchness of “I am” because you have no other choice. You don’t want to manifest anything. It’s enough to just be. There’s no gazer in that process because it is clear that the “I am” is gazing right back at you. There is only the gazing. This gazing at suchness — it’s a gazing of suchness upon suchness — when it arises naturally, does eventually lead to the dissolution of the whole “I am” thing. What is left is what we call awareness, consciousness, just this, abiding as nondual awareness, etc. Wayne Dyer would never talk about this because there’s no fame, money, PBS, or Oprah in it. But believe me, he knows all about this nonduality stuff. So does Deepak Chopra. But they live out their missions to be mass communicators, and that’s fine.
Have I been digressing?
It’s very powerful and effective to live your life from “I am.” It’s what I would call stage three recovery. Stage four, then, would be abiding in nondual awareness. Am I re-writing Gary’s book? Oops.
Back to the original question, “What is the fall into being?” In my experience you can fall into the “I am,” you can fall into the gaze of suchness upon suchness, and you can fall into abiding as nondual awareness. I suppose. And although Gary has his own terminology he does talk about different depths of giving up or “falling into.” A description of the gaze of suchness is seen here:
“Having given up striving, a deep relaxation takes place as there is no place to go, and nothing to do. Understanding that all is perfect as it is right now means we do not have to strive to change anything or anyone in this place of neither me nor you. Everything is okay in suchness as it is right now. In this isness it is all here, right now. This isness is it. There is no method to let go, it is just a seeing in this moment.”
At a deeper level of “falling into” there is no seer of the moment. Gary writes:
“The true panacea for suffering lies in awakening to reality and what is, as we realize there is no such thing as a permanent self, as in actuality no one exists. And as one goes deeper into this, one starts to enjoy what has been called the original medicine and that is ‘never born, never died’.”
In the construction of this book you can see the increasing depths and ways of giving up and you can practice them through the exercises.
I only wish there was more of a line in the sand when it comes to the “I am” knowings and the place beyond, which in this book is called abiding in nondual awareness. But my wish applies to all nonduality books.
The sound bite
So I have to sum up my feelings, my opinion, and give a sound bite, right? Look. We’re all addicts. Addicts to our little self. We all need help. Raise your hand if you don’t need any help. (Anyone mind helping me raise my hand? I’m getting older.) Gary Nixon’s book is a watercourse way to standing as awareness. Each chapter flows along a water bed and cuts deeper and deeper as it flows along. The question is, “Do you float on top and look down into the depths, or do you dive into the abyss?” It’s truly your choice.
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