Spiritually Fit in Recovery

Monitoring spiritual fitness by how we relate to others
Woman testing insulin
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This is the closest equivalent of a spiritual glucometer I can create

In Twelve Step literature, my "fit spiritual condition" (a quite indistinct concept), is noted as the essential ingredient for the "daily reprieve" I get from the verdict of inevitable annihilation declared by my alcoholism 40 years ago.

The literature also notes "that a great many of us have never really acquired the habit of accurate self-appraisal." Therefore, it is critical that I have some reliable means—outside of my own flawed judgment—of sensing how fit (or unfit) my spiritual condition is.

As a Type I diabetic, I only get a daily reprieve (from the verdict of inevitable consequences declared by my diabetes 46-years ago) by managing a daily insulin program of action based on how fit, or unfit, my blood-sugar condition is. A small device called a glucometer makes it easy for me to have that critical information quickly and as often as I need it throughout each day.

Unfortunately, there's no such small device to measure my spiritual fitness. However, one of the best and most readily available means of sensing how fit, or unfit, my spiritual condition is turns out to be reflected in the quality of my personal relations with other human beings.

Early on, as a result of following the directions others suggested, I experienced spiritual progress through improvements in my relationships with people, places and things: I felt fewer resentments; greater appreciation of nature (rain or shine) and more patience with things that weren't working the way I expected them to.

"Since defective relations with other human beings have nearly always been the immediate cause of our woes," Bill W. writes in the essay on Step Eight in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, "…no field of investigation (of our harms to others) could yield more satisfying and valuable rewards than this one."

And so, as Emmet Fox points out in The Sermon on the Mount, "but it is a poor law that doesn't work both ways," we also know from our stories that wholesome relations with other human beings have nearly always been the immediate cause of our joy.

Thus, the ongoing examination of my personal relations—one of the five social instincts Bill W. references in his writings—provides a critical bellwether of the fitness or unfitness of my spiritual condition.

This is the closest equivalent of a spiritual glucometer I can create.

In a class I teach related to the word intimate, I survey our guests' definition of the word intimacy before discussing one of its Latin root-meanings. Most of us understand the word in the context of our closeness to others. Yet, intumus, one of intimacy's Latin derivations, actually means the superlative of inner; inmost. This opens up the concept that the most important way for me to work on healthier relationships in my life is to work on my healthier inner life—an ever more fit spiritual condition.

So when we say we're "working on our relationship" with someone, we're mostly doing what we can in the moment to not make things any worse.

The same work that sustains the daily reprieve contingent on our spiritual fitness continues to transform us based on the lessons we learn about ourselves through the ever-improving quality of our human imperfections, expressed in our lives with others each day.

For me, this makes clear why Bill W. continues to highlight the importance of our ongoing practice of the logically related and interwoven practices of self-examination, prayer and meditation (Steps Ten and Eleven) in his essay on Step Eight in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions: "Calm, thoughtful reflection upon personal relations can deepen our insight. We can go far beyond those things which were superficially wrong with us, to see those flaws which were basic, flaws which sometimes were responsible for the whole pattern of our lives."

Fred Holmquist has a 40-year career in the field of addiction and recovery services, leads several weekend retreats at the Dan Anderson Renewal Center since its inception in March of 2002. Fred draws on a variety of sciences and wisdom traditions in teaching the life principles of the Twelve Steps.

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