Here we point out a few examples of spiritual practices, which are ways spiritual principles can be applied in recovery from alcoholism and addiction to overcome the spiritual malady and propel the practitioner toward awakening to a brand new perspective.
Universal spiritual principles as applied in everyday life by the recovered/recovering, awakened/awakening
What follows is a sample list of how universal spiritual principles can be embraced by the heart and applied in everyday life. These realizations and practices serve as examples of the increasingly healthy, community-oriented, and service-minded perspective recovering folks move toward and actions awakening people take as they grow and mature spiritually. Such understandings and actions seem to be well-integrated into the lives of those with strong recovery after having experienced a spiritual awakening (aka psychic change, personality change).
When an individual has genuinely and diligently taken the actions prescribed by the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, s(he) is almost certainly in the process of realizing a major attitude adjustment (if you’ll forgive the term), or what amounts to the substantial change in perspective promised in Step 12:
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs. (Step 12, Big Book of AA)
These spiritual principles, mindsets, and practices have been taught and encouraged repeatedly by many of the world’s greatest spiritual teachers throughout history including Jesus (1st century CE), the Buddha (6th century BCE), Lao-Tsu (6th century BCE), Dōgen, Christian mystics, Sufis, Kabbalah practitioners, and countless others throughout the ages and today.
The truly amazing and beautiful part of the above spiritual teachers is that their messages all agree on how we are to think and act, how we should interact with and treat others if we are to attain happiness and inner peace, and so on!
[ Great Spiritual Masters and Teachers (A 58-page PDF by Devon Love; fascinating & refreshingly objective) ]
Spirituality can be a complex and sensitive topic, so we hereby issue a disclaimer that, like anyone else, we do not have all the answers, and, in an effort to cover basic aspects of spirituality in recovery in a reasonably open-minded manner, we fully accept that the points we make and the perspectives we describe may or may not represent ultimate reality or absolute truth. We’re not speaking authoritatively here; we’re just sharing some experience. May all our views continue to evolve and become more inclusive with ongoing experience, sobriety, and spiritual practice!
An appeal for open-mindedness
Isn’t it possible that real open-mindedness must include the genuine realization and understanding that, regardless of how attached a man may be to his particular worldview, beliefs, and opinions (e.g., those regarding religion, philosophy, politics, and everything else), they probably don’t mirror Reality or Ultimate Truth? Maybe genuine open-mindedness cannot exist without the understanding that, as humans, we are not privy to what’s behind the curtain of Reality. I have finally come to realize there’s a chance that anything I believe could be untrue. It is the same for all of us. Can one who clings and grasps tightly to opinions and beliefs, refusing to consider alternatives, really be said to be open minded?
There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance — that principle is contempt prior to investigation.
Applied spiritual principles: Spiritual practices
Most applied spiritual principles – spiritual practices, essentially – seem to fit more or less neatly into one of two categories: (1) Those centering in thought, mind, and/or heart, and (2) the action-oriented ones. Naturally, in reality things are not so black and white, so there is plenty of blur and overlap within each category and between the two categories. After all, there are many perspectives from which to consider such material, many ways to categorize them, any number of ways to apply or practice them, and so on.
1. In thought: Mind/heart-oriented spiritual practices
The applied principles here would perhaps be mainly based in the mind, in the thinking of the individual, and hence are more a part of the thought process than of overt action, per se. While the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous represent, above all, a series of prescribed actions, thought is always a precursor to action – at least, thought precedes the kinds of purposeful actions we are talking about re: working the steps and engaging in spiritual practices since they happen only with intent. In addition, purposeful and active thought, contemplation, and discernment seems necessary in the development and eventual attainment of new attitudes and perspectives. We mustn’t discount the applied spiritual principles/practices that lean heavily toward the cerebral!
At first, many of the spiritual practices in the heart-mind category may require “acting as if” one understands or agrees with them in order to put them into practice. Be patient; as the spiritual awakening happens, these healthy, selfless ways of thinking will be making the long journey from mind to heart.
2. In deed: Action-oriented spiritual practices
This category is self-explanatory and is perhaps what usually comes to mind when considering or discussing spiritual practices. These are the spiritual practices that, in many cases, at least – you can see folks actively doing in some way.
In thought: Mind/heart-oriented spiritual practices
Practicing quiet contemplation to develop and deepen insight
Practicing discernment: Deeply considering the nature of reality and the way things really are; contemplating how one moves toward freedom from attachments, fears, patterns, habits, etc.
Understanding that hatred and revenge never cease through returned hatred and vengeful intent, but by love alone are healed; facing hatred with compassion; loving one’s enemies; overtly moving toward equanimity toward all
Aware of the anguish caused by intolerance, zealotry, and attachment to views, choosing to remain open-minded, pliable like clay, and teachable like a child, as opposed to being rigid & closed-minded
Being a peacemaker; given to and encouraging pacifism and nonviolence; a dedicated stance against war and other violence
Remaining unattached/not permanently bound to one’s present beliefs and worldviews in order to be open to others’ insights and experiences, superceding discoveries showing old views to be errant/irrelevant, new/deeper realizations, etc.
Deeply realizing that everything is connected, that one is not truly separate from God, from others, or from anything; being aware of & our own deep connection to oneness, to God, to “the Source,” etc.
Moving away from dualistic thinking (dualism) and toward non-dualistic thinking (nonduality)
Letting go of the need to know details about, or to intellectually understand, God, higher power, etc.; relinquishing the need to objectively define it (it’s far too subjective, after all), regardless of what one name one prefers to use for it (God, Tao, Universal Intelligence, spiritual connection, Creator, creative force, the universe, Mother Nature, etc.)
Non-attachment, not clinging or grasping to things, people, places, ideas, habits, money, lifestyle, beliefs, organizations, worldviews, etc.); one must be able to walk away from it all if necessary, as Jesus, the Buddha, and many other spiritual teachers made quite clear
Developing humility through ego deflation
Understanding that spiritual and/or religious paths are not excuses for fighting, killing, or war
Understanding that experiencing God, coming to one’s own self, and moving though increasingly deeper and meaningful spiritual experiences and finally waking up spiritually is a completely subjective experience which cannot be directly taught or transferred to others
Being conscious of the fact that spiritual awakening is the result of an individual’s direct experience of the divine based on consistent spiritual practice over time, and does not occur from attending 12-step meetings, reading religious or spiritual books, attending church/temple/mosque on a regular basis, performing rituals, being taught by a priest, minister, master, or guru, etc.; these and other activities can be excellent tools but cannot replace the experience
Understanding the limited nature of language, that words themselves are only symbols, mere signposts, to the deeper experience and understanding behind and underneath language; words are like a finger pointing at the moon, in that the finger is not the moon
Understanding that walking the spiritual path has no graduation or point of arrival, that it consists of the journey and not any type of destination, as in trudging the path of (not to) Happy Destiny; the path itself is the goal
Expressing hope; maintaining a positive outlook even in the face of despair; deeply understanding that there is no need to worry about anything, ever
Focusing upon unity, oneness, and sharing rather than division, separateness, and differences; looking for the similarities; focusing on the common ground
Demonstrating open-mindedness, flexibility, willingness to learn and to objectively explore and study, rather than blindly accepting whatever one is told “should” be done or what one “ought” to believe
Applying common sense, and on a deeper level, giving objective critical thought to potentially consequential views and activities
Looking at oneself and one’s actions – and others and their actions – with eyes of compassion
Avoiding closed-mindedness in its various disguises and forms; symptoms of a closed mind might include indentifying with fideistic, rigid, fundamentalist worldviews that declare all others to be wrong, dwelling in us vs. them thinking, believing that other religions, spiritual paths, worldviews, political leanings, etc. are somehow less valid or less proper than one’s own; avoiding spiritual or religious elitism
Recognizing that the ego can use virtually anything to prop itself up and reassert its power over us, including spirituality itself, we maintain a heightened sense of awareness for spiritual materialism, cutting through it when it is identified
Aware of the hardship caused by imposing our views upon others, refraining from forcing others to adopt a set of beliefs through any means whatsoever, be it propaganda, indoctrination, money, authority, etc.
Taking the spiritual axiom to heart; understanding the folly of taking anything personally (e.g., any communication or action of another person or entity)
This is a list of applied spiritual principles, or spiritual practices. It is not based on any particular religion, spiritual path, or worldview. The practices mentioned here dovetail beautifully with the practical spiritual teachings of the world’s major religions and spiritual paths. The material in this article, although compiled for those in recovery from alcoholism and addiction, is certainly applicable to anyone on an intentional path toward ever-deeper spiritual experiences and realizations.
Successful human progress requires overcoming the dualistic thinking that separates individuals, genders, races, classes, sexual preferences, regions, political parties, religions, and nationalities from the truth of our mutual value, interdependence, and common needs and problems. It also requires the realization of humanity’s interconnectedness and interdependence with the non-human natural world, a non-dualistic realization that has barely scratched the surface of human consciousness.
– A Non-Dualistic Political Paradigm, by Bill Walz – Rapid River Magazine
We think that we are special, heroic, that we are turning away from temptation. We become vegetarians and we become this and that. There are so many things to become. We think our path is spiritual because it is literally against the flow of what we used to be, but it is merely the way of false heroism, and the only one who is heroic in this way is ego.
― Chögyam Trungpa, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism – Goodreads quote page
It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us. If somebody hurts us and we are sore, we are in the wrong also. But are there no exceptions to this rule? What about “justifiable” anger? If somebody cheats us, aren’t we entitled to be mad? Can’t we be properly angry with self-righteous folk? For us of A.A. these are dangerous exceptions. We have found that justified anger ought to be left to those better qualified to handle it.
– Step 10, Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions, p.90
In deed: Action-oriented spiritual practices
Praying “without ceasing”; maintaining one’s spiritual connection continually and purposefully
Living with integrity; being the same person/behaving consistently, no matter whom you’re with
Refraining from gossip; when speaking of an individual not present, speaking as though (s)he were present
Employing perseverance and discipline in the face of obstacles, the biggest of which is ego/self; doing what you know you need to do, when you need to do it, whether you feel like it or not
Following the suggestions of sponsors, spiritual advisors – especially the suggestions we really don’t want to follow, for growth occurs primarily outside the comfort zone
Doing what’s in front of us, what needs to be done, the next right thing – when it needs to be done, whether we want to or not, whether we feel like it or not
Seeking opportunities to improve the world by asking, How may I serve?
Practicing mindfulness meditation on a daily basis
Practicing love, tolerance, and acceptance; refraining from criticizing, condemning, and complaining (classic Dale Carnegie)
Forgiving others when we are wronged; this is how we forgive ourselves, and this is how we are forgiven
Displaying courage in the face of fear; acting out of love as opposed to fear; habitually walking through one’s fears and getting out of one’s comfort zone on a regular basis
Giving, acting, helping, and serving as anonymously as possible (a great way to practice humility)
Freedom from worry with regard to the opinions and beliefs of others; avoiding habitual conformity
Practicing silence; restraint of tongue, pen, electronic messaging, and so on
Refraining from egotistical descriptions of one’s own spirituality, good deeds, etc.; keeping spiritual practices and beliefs to oneself, choosing instead to demonstrate through action and lead by example; this is a demonstration of humility (that’s not to discourage teaching spirituality or spiritual practices to others, such as when feedback/advice/thoughts are requested by others, when teaching a class, etc.)
Doing one’s best in all situations, with all people, in all places, no matter the task
Doing what you say you’ll do; being impeccable with your word
Practicing what you preach (a component of integrity, honesty, etc.)
Practicing honesty: Telling the truth and avoiding lies while taking care not to cause harm through brutal frankness (generally requires experienced discretion)
Expressing genuine compassion; wanting as much or more for others as you do for yourself
Expressing gratitude and appreciation at all times; remaining grateful for everything and everyone you have in your life; also, being grateful for what others have in their lives
Service-orientation: Focusing on providing real service to others, in recovery, personal relationships, business, and all other areas of life
Practicing common-sense stewardship of nature/creation in its entirety; acknowledging the critical need to recognize, understand, and address the spiritual dynamics at the root of environmental degradation (aka Spiritual ecology)
Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.
 Closed-mindedness quote from the Big Book’s Spiritual Appendix
This now-famous, jarring quote is ostensibly from the nearly forgotten Herbert Spencer (an English philosopher, liberal political theorist, and sociological theorist of the Victorian era who developed an all-embracing conception of evolution which was novel at the time), who is most famous for coining the phrase survival of the fittest. It appears Herbert Spencer never wrote or said anything even resembling the quotation in the Big Book. The quotation was actually derived from a Christian apologetic work by the 18th-century British theologian William Paley. The variations of wording that have come down through the past two centuries only bear a skeletal resemblance to Paley’s original meaning and form.
Discernment is the act or process of exhibiting keen insight and good judgment; contemplating, identifying the true nature of reality, spirit, a given doctrine, practice, or group; distinguishing truth from error (as stated in the prayer of Saint Francis).
More more information about discernment as it applies to various disciplines:
Discernment – Christian Apologetics Index
Discernment – Wikipedia
Interfaith dialogue – Wikipedia
Criteria of Discernment in Interreligious Dialogue edited by Catherine Cornille
Discernment – Buddhist Christianity
 Dualism, nonduality
In the context of spirituality, nonduality refers to the principle of not-two: one. In truth, nonduality is merely another name for what Reality is doing all the time: being a single thing. Of course, it usually doesn’t seem this way to us, and that’s because the notion of nonduality is counterintuitive to thinking based in ego/self – which is precisely the thought mode of most of us, most or all of the time. Nonduality is closely associated with the concept of awakening.
Unity and oneness are inherent in non-dualistic thinking. Non-duality can make sense for the religious and non-religious alike in that virtually any worldview or belief system has everything in existence originating from the One – one place, one point, one being, etc. – whether the One is seen as a traditional God, the universe, Creative Intelligence, a mystery, or anything else.
Division and separation are inherent in dualistic thinking. Moral dualism is belief in the perceived conflict between the benevolent and the malevolent. It simply implies that there are two moral opposites at work, independent of any interpretation of what might be “moral” and independent of how these may be represented. In Western religious thought, the most common example of this might be God/good vs. Satan/evil. Implicit in dualism is a sense of separation at best and an us vs. them mentality at worst.
Dualism – Wikipedia
Dualism – The Problem of Evil, by Norman Fischer – Lion’s Roar
A Non-Dualistic Political Paradigm – Rapid River Magazine
Total Effort, Total Surrender: The Way of Nonduality – Science and Nonduality
Mission – Science and Nonduality
Nonduality – Science and Nonduality
Nonduality – The Awakened Eye
 Deflating the ego
Ego deflation could be seen as a central pillar of genuine, thorough spiritual practice; it could also be viewed as one of the most substantial fruits resulting from spiritual practice.
For more information:
The 12 Steps as Ego Deflating Devices – SoberRecovery
Deflating the Ego Through the 12 Step Program – Inner Self
AA History – The 12 Steps as Ego Deflating Devices – Barefoot’s World
A.A. Recovery – The Elimination of the Ego-Self – Barefoot’s World
The spiritual principles behind the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous
We will look more deeply into the principles behind the steps in the next article in the spirituality series.
- Step One: Honesty
- Step Two: Hope
- Step Three: Faith, open-mindedness
- Step Four: Courage
- Step Five: Integrity
- Step Six: Willingness
- Step Seven: Humility
- Step Eight: Brotherly love; discipline/self-discipline; action
- Step Nine: Justice; forgiveness
- Step Ten: Perseverance; acceptance
- Step Eleven: Spiritual awareness; awareness of God; spirituality
- Step Twelve: Service; gratitude
The principles behind the 12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous
I’m not sure if all of these qualify as spiritual principles, per se; but then again, I have not examined the traditions in a very long time.
- Tradition One: Unity
- Tradition Two: Trust
- Tradition Three: Identity
- Tradition Four: Autonomy
- Tradition Five: Purpose
- Tradition Six: Solidarity
- Tradition Seven: Responsibility
- Tradition Eight: Fellowship
- Tradition Nine: Structure
- Tradition Ten: Neutrality
- Tradition Eleven: Anonymity
- Tradition Twelve: Spirituality
Resources: Spiritual principles
The items listed in this section of web resources for spiritual principles are NOT referencing twelve-step programs in particular.
Principles of Spiritual Activism – a list of thirteen (13) spiritual principles – Satyana — These principles emerged from several years’ work with social change leaders in Satyana’s Leading with Spirit program; offered not as definitive truths, but rather as key learnings and guidelines that, taken together, comprise a useful framework for “spiritual activism”…
Principles of Spiritual Evolution (Part I) – a list of nine (9) spiritual principles
Resources: Spiritual principles from a 12-step recovery perspective
NOTE: This section of resources for spiritual principles relates to 12-step programs originating with A.A. (Alcoholics Anonymous), and later, N.A. (Narcotics Anonymous), O.A. (Overeaters Anonymous), and hundreds of others. It should be noted that the separation of general spiritual principles (above) from these 12-step-recovery related links is not because the latter are any less valid or helpful. Simply, many people these days are searching for spiritual principles that are stressed in 12-step recovery.
Spiritual Principles in Action – Recovery Life – One of the more detailed posts on the subject
In my experience thus far, it seems the majority of web resources resulting from searches for terms like “spiritual principles” have been written from the perspective 12-step recovery programs.