Self Will vs God’s Will

At my 12 Steps meeting last night, we each shared our thoughts about Step 3.

Step 3 of the 12 Steps states:

We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

It was really interesting to hear other people’s interpretations of what this step means.

For a lot of people, the use of the word “God” is problematic. I agree – for me it’s a significant intellectual hurdle.

As I progress on my 12 Steps journey, I’m constantly trying to walk a fine line of incorporating 12 Steps ideas into my set of beliefs, but without selling out or fooling myself into accepting ideas which, in my heart, I know I can’t accept.

Here are a couple of interpretations of Step 3 which I liked (I’m paraphrasing):

  1. It’s about learning to do the right thing, as opposed to indulging our impulses.
  2. It’s about learning to think of others, being self-less, rather than always thinking about ourselves and our own interests.

Both of those interpretations remind me of Dr. Jordan Peterson’s Rule 7:

Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)

In other words, do the right thing, rather than merely what’s fun, easy, interesting, or in your own self-interest.

That reminds me, I wrote a post about “doing the right thing” a few weeks ago.

12 Steps Without God

In previous blog posts, I’ve explored different ideas about what God might be (according to my own personal understanding).

Most recently I settled on a definition of God that’s something like this:

“God is something like the combination of 2 things:
1) The divine spark which resides in each of us – our potential for greatness;
2) The power of the community of people at 12 Steps meetings.

Bollinger, R. (2019)

… Buuuuut… I have to admit, in the last week I’ve really been losing faith.

I’m now finding it hard to believe in any kind of God at all, even one as loosely and generously defined as above.

It’s not God that got me where I am today, it’s me.

Does that make me arrogant? Does that make me full of self-will? These questions genuinely trouble me.

Don’t get me wrong, I really don’t think I’ve got everything figured out. Not by a long shot. Every single day I learn something new in my 12 Steps journey.

I’m trying hard to always be open-minded and humble. I want to always be ready to admit I may have been wrong about something. I want to learn from everyone I talk to.

But that doesn’t mean I have to believe in any form of God, does it? He just seems superfluous.

I believe in me… my ability to learn and change and grow.

I really hope that doesn’t make me arrogant. Personally, I find it empowering.

It reminds me that I’m not a useless, broken, unworthy soul. It reminds me that I am capable of greatness… if I put in the hard work.


Everything Collapses to Nothing

All maps of meaning are essentially meaningless. They hold no objective value. Their only value is what people decide inside their own minds… or that people have shared across multiple minds (i.e. culture).

All narratives, all thoughts, all feelings – they mean nothing… unless you decide they do.

When you collapse all meaning to nothing (like knocking down a house of cards), what’s left is a big black empty void. Nothing exists there, nothing has meaning, nothing has value.

Philosophically, lots of people reach this point… and get stuck. This is nihilism. And it’s fucking bleak and depressing.

If you inhabit Nihilism Land for too long, you risk becoming bitter, angry, resentful, seriously depressed… and for a very small number of people: murderous.

But there’s an interesting duality at the heart of this inner void.

Yes, on the one hand, it is the utter absence of anything meaningful.

But also, it is a great source of peace and comfort… Perhaps even the greatest source of peace.

When we are mindful, when we meditate, we are tapping in to the intrinsic peace in this great void. We become separate from our thoughts and feelings. We merely witness them from a distance, without engaging in them.

What a strange paradox! This void within the human soul can be the source of utter destruction, but also the source of ultimate peace!


Humans can’t live without meaning for long. Our minds are automatic meaning-creating machines, unless you suffer from certain types of brain damage.

So what’s the foundation of your maps of meaning? Is it religion? Spirituality? A commitment to your family?

A desire for material wealth or power?

A belief you are the centre of your universe (AKA narcissism)?

What I’ve realised is that there isn’t a right or wrong foundation for your maps of meaning. All of them can be collapsed to nothing at a moment’s notice, assuming one’s thinking is flexible enough.

Each of us is totally free to choose whatever foundation we want to build our lives on. There are consequences of course, both for ourselves and for the people around us. So the onus is on each of us to become aware of those consequences and decide if the price is worth paying or not.


Because we are conscious beings, we suffer. And to make the suffering worthwhile, we need a map of meaning which justifies the suffering.

Which map you choose to construct doesn’t really matter. In essence you’re finding positive delusions to give yourself which justify why you continue to live.

You build hope for yourself, even though part of you suspects you’re building on sand, and you acknowledge that this house of cards can be collapsed at any time.

Positive delusions are at the heart of being human.

We try to convince ourselves our lives have meaning, even though ultimately, there’s only a void. We dedicate ourselves to pursuing one or more of our core values: family; status; success; fame; wealth; relationships; religion; spirituality.

Most of us live our lives acting as though we’re never going to die. We do our best to bury our head in the sand. Any one of us could die within the next 24 hours, but we do our best to avoid thinking about that uncomfortable truth.

So we build our houses of cards, our maps of meaning, the foundations for our life… something to give us hope. Something to make the suffering worthwhile.


Is it possible to get comfortable with the void? Can we be mindful all the time (or at least the majority of the time)?

Can we collapse our maps of meaning down to almost nothing… and still survive, have peace, feel hopeful? Can we be mindful, focussing only on raw sensory input, and yet also manage to avoid nihilism?

Can we orbit around the event horizon of a black hole, without gravity sucking us in and destroying us?


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Mixtape Visualiser

I’m a drug addict.

Fortunately, thanks to the 12 Steps, I’m an addict in active recovery.

That means I can’t take drugs ever again, or I’ll be on the fast-track to divorce and homelessness, or maybe even jail, institutions and death.

Fuck, I can’t even drink wine any more.

Cheeky glass of Barefoot White Zinfandel? Nope.

Comforting sips of delicious port over the Christmas holidays? Not a chance.

I love exploring different ideas and experiencing new things. Something I used to love to do was to smash my brain into a different dimension with my drug of choice, DXM. I’d lie on my bed, headphones on, listening to my favourite music. And what I’d experience would be totally out of this world.

Music sounds even better when you’re fucked on DXM. It’s fucking awesome.

But, like I say, I can’t do that any more. Unfortunately.

So, what’s the closest I can get to being fucked off my face and exploring other dimensions inside my own mind, but without taking drugs?

This…


I listen to this mixtape every day. It’s now my favourite piece of music ever.

Bless you, Flume, you take me closer to God.

Where I am Today

So much has been changing for me recently. On certain matters it feels like I change my mind daily. But far from feeling uncertain or adrift, I’m feeling confident that I’m on the right path.

I thought it might be useful briefly to recap where I am today and some of my beliefs. These are subject to change and revision!


I’ve started reading about the work of psychologist Carl Jung – it’s fascinating. Many of his ideas seem to chime with intuitions or part-formed ideas I’ve been mulling over recently.

We each hold a divine spark within ourselves, in our unconscious mind. Some people can go their whole lives without realising it’s there. But others of us, myself included, keep getting hints and fleeting connections with our inner divinity.

This divine spark is potentially God-like. It’s like a physical embodiment of what we’re all capable of. It’s pointing the way to being the very best me.

Now, when I think of God, I’m referring to this God-like potential inside myself, this little slice of heaven.

One way (maybe the best way) we can get in touch with the God inside us is through meditation. When we’re still and pay attention… we can start to feel a deep inner peace. We “wake up” in a very real sense.

I now view meditation as an essential part of my spiritual journey.

In mid-August, I took a huge quantity of DXM. I refer to the following 2-3 weeks as a Spiritual Awakening. Chemically, something happened inside my brain which enabled me to become more closely in touch with my unconscious mind, including the spark of God or Higher Power within me.

My Spiritual Awakening isn’t just a singular moment in time. It’s an ongoing process. Every day, I’m waking up more. There’s also a tight correlation with another kind of waking up… every time I bring my conscious awareness back to the present moment (i.e. being mindful), that’s another form of waking up.

Through these two forms of waking, I’m getting closer to the real me and also the me that I’m capable of becoming – the best version of myself.

I’m now thinking that this true purpose of life… or at least the true purpose of my life. It’s to manifest the divine spark within me as much as possible in my everyday life. It’s to become Holy – the best version of me possible.

This won’t happen overnight. It’s a daily process, requiring continual effort.

I will make mistakes, I will forget things and need to re-learn them. I’m embracing a model of “two steps forward and one step back.” In other words, I’m being kind and patient with myself. I’m not going to quit just because things don’t seem to be working so well on a particular day.

I still have some reservations and reluctance regarding the official 12 Steps and the associated “stepwork”. I really dislike dogma – it’s necessary to be generic in order to deliver teachings in a way that’s suitable for the masses. But I am not the masses.

I’m determined to keep thinking critically and keep integrating the 12 Steps teachings in ways which resonate deeply with my other beliefs. I’m not just going to accept things on blind faith – that’s simply not who I am. I would be insulting my inner divinity by uncritically accepting everything I’m told.

I do have a “self”, but it’s not constant. In fact, in my case, it seems to change more frequently and more radically than most people’s. I don;t see that as a weakness, I see it as a strength.

I think of my sense of self as like an eddy in a stream. Over time, it may appear to hold a mostly consistent form, but it’s also ever-changing in many small ways.

Having a loose sense of self makes it easier for me to ignore my ego, which often just gets in the way of my spiritual development. It’s important for me to stay humble and open-minded, willing to re-evaluate my thinking at any point in time.

I don’t need to be right all the time. It’s far more important for me to be kind, both to myself and to others.

I want to embody the spiritual principles of Truth, Love, Courage and Humility in everything that I do. Again, I don’t expect to be perfect. I will make mistakes. But these mistakes are necessary and I’ll welcome them. Every “mistake” is an opportunity for learning.

I’m going to keep building the gap between stimulus and response in my own mind. I’ll do this through a daily meditation practice. This will have a huge effect on reducing any feelings of anxiety, depression or addiction. In essence, I’ll become free.

I’ll take personal responsibility for my life. I’ll pray for guidance on how best to do this. When I pray, I’m praying to the inner God-like potential that lives in my unconscious.

I’ll use the Serenity Prayer – this seems to embody the concept of personal responsibility.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

The Serenity Prayer

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Manifesting Divinity

“Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this Divinity within by controlling nature, external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship, or mental discipline, or philosophy—by one, or more, or all of these—and be free. This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details.”

Swami Vivekananda (via Wikipedia)

Manifesting your own divinity – that’s the ultimate goal in life.

Be the best version of you that you can be. Take personal responsibility.

This is the core of all religion.

Clever chap, ol’ Vivekananda.

[Thanks to Richard Grannon (Spartan LifeCoach) for bringing this guy’s teachings to my attention.]

Eckhart Tolle: Why I Changed My Mind About Him

“Eckhart Tolle is a spiritual teacher. He is a German-born resident of Canada best known as the author of The Power of Now and A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. In 2008, The New York Times called Tolle ‘the most popular spiritual author in the United States’ “

Wikipedia

Trivia: Amazingly, Tolle is 71 years old… but looks much younger! Perhaps he’s a walking advertisement for his belief system.


The Power of Now holds the dubious honour of being the only book of which I’ve accidentally owned two copies… and also hated.

To be clear: I didn’t buy either copy; well-meaning friends gave them to me as gifts.

At the time, I considered myself a solidly scientific thinker. Richard Dawkins, the militant atheist, was one of my heroes. If science couldn’t explain something, I dismissed it as nonsense.

Blimey – how often I used to throw the baby out with the bath water!

So, many years ago, when I tried to read The Power of Now, but in the first few chapters Tolle started babbling pseudo-science such as ‘energy levels’, ‘frequencies’ and ‘vibrations’… I had to fight the urge to set fire to the book, hunt down the author and bludgeon him to death with the smouldering remains of his own manuscript.

In the end both copies of the paperback went to a charity shop, almost entirely unread.

I loved the main premise of his book… we spend far too much time worrying about the future (creating anxiety) or obsessing about the past (creating depression). And actually we’d all be a heck of a lot happier and more content if we spent more time being focussed on the present moment.

Beautiful and powerful idea, thoroughly padded-out book (my pet hate).

Or so I thought.


Since my Spiritual Awakening a couple of months ago, I’ve become far more open-minded about religious and spiritual matters.

I’m aware that different types of people use different words and semantics for explaining the same concept. That’s why we have Metacognitive Therapy (for the scientific thinkers) as well as Mindfulness (for more spiritual people), even though both are basically the same thing.

I’ve recently watched a few YouTube videos featuring Tolle. Here are my observations:

  • He looks like a garden gnome.
  • He speaks with calmness and peace, like a true master of mindfulness.
  • The percentage of his speech composed of woo-woo nonsense is far lower than I remembered.
  • For the most part, he talks an awful lot of sense.

I’m tempted to say that The Universe has been yelling at me for years to take mindfulness more seriously. That’s why I was given two copies of Tolle’s book!

It’s only recently that I’ve realised mindfulness isn’t some fluffy nice-to-have. It has the potential to radically reshape many aspects my lived experience. It’s not just a little happiness tweak, it’s an entire paradigm shift.

Creating Your Own Spiritual Framework

What’s the meaning of life? What principles should I live my life by?

Yep, let’s start with the easy questions today 😀

The Meaning of Life

What’s the meaning of life? There are perhaps as many ways to answer this question as there are people in the world. Here are just a few ways of answering…

Some might say it’s to decide for ourselves how we want to give meaning to our lives. This answer seems reasonable enough, but then it’s very easy to get lost in trying to decide how to add meaning to our lives. It’s a continually open question with ever-changing answers… it often doesn’t feel very satisfying. I’d rate this answer 6/10.

Some might say it’s to enjoy yourself as much as possible, maximising your short-term happiness and pleasure. Roughly speaking, that’s known as hedonism. Initially this approach seems quite appealing, but eventually you realise that chasing after good times comes with some pretty hefty costs. Often people find that the physical, mental and spiritual costs of enjoying yourself all the time are simply not worth it. People who follow this path often end up addicted, lonely and broke. I’d rate hedonism at 4/10.

Some might say life has no meaning; everything is meaningless. This is known as nihilism… and I think it’s very dangerous. On the surface, nihilism can seem quite appealing… it seems realistic in a sense. However it’s easy to go from nihilism into depression and suicide, or the destruction born from resentment, anger and bitterness. I’d say that nihilism is only one step away from hell. I’d rate it 1/10.

Some people advocate aiming for contentment. In other words, find ways to live where you’re trading off your short-term interests against your long-term ones. It’s quite a balanced approach and compromise is required. You accept that nothing in your life will be perfect, but you’re aiming to get all the important parts of your life good enough so that they at least feel acceptable to you. This is a very utilitarian approach – you’re looking to maximise utility (or benefit) for yourself and the people around you. I’d rate this 8/10, and it’s roughly how I try to live myself.

Systems of Ethics and Principles

How should we live our lives on a day-to-day basis?

One option might be to choose to be utterly selfish. We’d manipulate and use other people to maximise our own benefit. But I think being Machiavellian isn’t a particularly satisfying way to live. You might fool some people, but the chances of you having stable, reciprocal relationships with others is pretty low. If you don’t give a shit about anyone else, maybe that’s fine for you. But most people deeply value the trust they feel with friends and family. I’d rate selfishness as 1/10.

Maybe we could attempt to live ethically according to a particular religion’s doctrines, such as Christianity. I think this isn’t a bad start. It’s helpful for people who just want to be told what to do without having to sit and study, working out their own system of ethics. Religion definitely has its flaws, but overall I’d say it’s a force for good. At least most religious people are trying to do what they feel is right. I rate religion 7/10.

We can attempt to come up with our own system of morals and ethics, perhaps based in part on certain ancient spiritual or religious ideas, but adapted for modern times and with a hefty dose of rationality chucked in. I really like this approach – it’s how I try to live my own life. I’d rate this approach 9/10, and it’s what I strive for personally.

Which Spiritual Principles Should We Choose?

Great question! There doesn’t seem to be one definitive answer. Again, different people choose different starting points.

Religious people usually take the word of God (The Bible / Koran etc) as the ultimate resource in deciding what’s right or wrong. But there are many difficulties here. I think books like The Bible are meant to be interpreted, not taken literally. And there are many different ways of interpreting The Bible… hence all the different Christian denominations.

And then we have translation issues… how do we know that our translations in English are accurate to what the original authors intended?

And then we have the fact that ancient cultures can’t possibly have predicted what life in modern society would be like, with our smartphones and social media. Are we so sure our religious principles are still valid, bearing in mind they were created hundreds or thousands of years ago?

Truth / Love / Courage

Right now, I really like the spiritual system of Truth, Love and Courage invented by Richard Garriott and used in the Ultima series of videogames.

Richard performed considerable research into various real-world religions. He was looking for underlying principles.

The 8 Virtues

From the 3 principles of Truth, Love and Courage, Richard derived the 8 virtues.

In an interview with Computer Games Online, Richard Garriott revealed some things about how he developed the Eight Virtues for Ultima IV:

“I started with a whiteboard and wrote down all of the virtues and vices I could think of, the seven deadly sins, many, many others. Obviously I wanted to talk about a few of these, but I couldn’t address them all.”

“As I did more research, I began to notice things like greed and envy would have some overlap, so I needed to create a core set. You can easily split them up into virtues and vices, and eventually arrived at three primary aspects, which became the principle virtues of Truth, Love and Courage. Truth became Honesty, Love became Compassion, Courage became Valor, and I created the eight possible combinations of these three. Truth tempered by Love became Justice, Love and Courage became Personal Self-sacrifice, Courage and Truth became Chivalric Honor. Truth Love and Courage was kind of arbitrary, so I thought, “What is the all-encompassing virtue?” I said, “Spirituality,” whether or not you’re doing good or bad deeds in the world.”

“And what if you do none of the above? If not being virtuous is part of your psyche, I call it pride. Pride is not a virtue, so I decided to use the opposite, Humility. Since the eighth combination created a non-virtue, I began to create bits of pseudo-science I was pretty pleased with.”

“Ultimas are big in mathematical pseudo-science and alchemy, so I invented the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom to graphically illustrate their relationship. Then I associated the cities with the virtues, with the eighth one – which I called Magincia, the city of Pride – destroyed. Having these seven positive things with one eighth one that had to be flipped made for a nice variety of quests you could create.”

“Once the eight virtues were created, I needed to come up with quotes that expressed why each was important. And had to think of tests for people to see if they were supporting that virtue. Honesty was easy – I let you cheat shopkeepers and steal things, but the game kept a record where it could, later in the game, come back to haunt you. Just like the real world. Why is it you don’t steal from people? Because if you do they’ll throw you in jail or disown you. So that’s how I designed the game – people will reject you if you’re not honest.”

“So I went virtue by virtue and tried to craft these types of experiences.”

From the Ultima Wiki: https://ultima.fandom.com/wiki/Eight_Virtues

Implementing the 8 Virtues

Here’s my rough stab at how I might choose to implement these 8 virtues in my day-to-day life…

Honesty

Honesty is pure Truth. “Tell the truth… or at least don’t lie,” says Jordan Peterson in his 12 Rules. Trust is so fundamental to human relationships. I’ve promised my wife I will always tell her the truth; this strengthens the bond between us. A customer at work overpaid me by £10 the other day. I could easily have kept the money for myself, but I decided it was better to live according to my principles and I gave the money back.

Compassion

Compassion is pure Love. It’s about helping others, especially those in greater need than you. I can be compassionate to others when I give them my time and attention. Simply listening to others is a form of compassion.

Valor

Valor is pure Courage. It’s often thought of in violent, militaristic terms. But there are plenty of ways we can be brave in modern life, even if you’re not engaged in combat. For example, I feel that facing up to difficult situations takes great Courage. Facing your own dragons voluntarily – that’s Courageous. Valor is also about being willing to explore different points of view and opinions.

Justice

Justice is Truth, tempered by Love. For me, it’s about setting healthy boundaries and sticking to them. It’s also about being prepared to face the consequences of my actions.

Sacrifice

Sacrifice is the Courage to give of oneself in the name of Love. It’s about putting other people’s needs ahead of your own, at least some of the time. It’s about focussing on the greater good for all concerned, rather than just being selfish.

Honor

Honor is having the Courage to seek and uphold the Truth. Sometimes it takes great bravery to stand up for the Truth. This is about standing up for what we believe is right, even if it’s risky for ourselves. For me, honor means being proud of myself and my actions (in a good way).

Spirituality

Spirituality is to seek all of Truth, Love and Courage, both from oneself and from the world. It’s the sum totality of living ethically, according to a code of values. I am spiritual when I live in accordance to the 3 principles and 8 virtues.

Humility

Humility is the opposite of Pride – the absence of Truth, Love or Courage. We are humble when we accept that we don’t have all the answers. Being open-minded is a form of humility. We need to always accept the possibility that we might be wrong. We need to be aware of our own ego… and willing to put it to one side. I am humble by always being willing to learn.

Picking & Choosing

I’m not that keen on Honor or Justice, they seem like the weakest of the 8 virtues in terms of their usefulness for real life.

If I strip down Richard Garriott’s spiritual ideas to their bare essentials, I’d just have: Truth, Courage and Love, plus the virtue of Humility.

The other virtues seem a bit redundant as they’re just combinations of other virtues or ways of re-stating the 3 main principles.

Spiritual Principles in the 12 Steps

I was curious to see which spiritual principles crop up in my 12 Steps fellowship and how they might relate to the 8 virtues above…

  • Open-mindedness. I think this is closely associated with the virtue of Humility. But it also seems linked to Honor – having the bravery and Courage to explore the Truth.
  • Willingness. This is surely Valor – it’s about having the Courage to try out new ideas and behaviours even in the face of fear or doubt.
  • Honesty. This is the same idea as in the 8 virtues… telling the truth even if it’s uncomfortable, not misleading ourselves or others.

(I may come back and update the list above as I learn more from the 12 Steps).

Summary

To summarise, I think it’s well worth each of us having a system of ethics and personal values. These can help us navigate life’s trickier episodes – help us choose between right and wrong.

When you’re deciding on which ethical ideas are important to you, there’s a huge variety of choices: religious, spiritual or even secular/humanistic.

Maybe it’s less important which system you choose, as long as you do choose one. It seems to me that evil (pride?) often comes from nihilism or an absence of solid beliefs.

So, don’t leave a hole in your soul which the devil can exploit! Fill yourself with goodness, however you define it!

Personally, my beliefs and values are always open to future revision. This is my way of trying to be humble.


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