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How do you know if you are having a spiritual experience?

If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking (using or acting out in a obsessive-compulsive manner), you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic (addict). If that be the case, you may be suffering from an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer. (p. 44, A.A. 4th Edition)

If you are a 'real' alcoholic or addict and if only a 'spiritual experience' will conquer your affliction, then is not important to know what a spiritual experience is, how to achieve it, and and most importantly, how to recognize it when you have it.

What is a spiritual experience?

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, (pg. 567-568, 4th Edition) defines spiritual experience as:

  • "...the personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from alcoholism (addiction) has manifested itself among us in many different forms."
  • "...a profound alteration in his reaction to life; that such a change could hardly have been brought about by himself alone.
  • "...our members find that they have tapped an unsuspected inner resource which they presently identify with their own conception of a Power greater than themselves. Most of us think this awareness of a Power greater than ourselves is the essence of spiritual experience."

How do we achieve a spiritual experience?

By taking the 12 steps as directed in the first 103 pages of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Well, that's exactly what this book is about. Its main object is to enable you to find a Power greater than yourself which will solve your problem. That means we have written a book which we believe to be spiritual as well as moral. And it means, of course, that we are going to talk about God. (p. 45, A.A. 4th Edition)

Much to our relief, we discovered we did not need to consider another's conception of God. Our own conception, however inadequate, was sufficient to make the approach and to effect a contact with Him. As soon as we admitted the possible existence of a Creative Intelligence, a Spirit of the Universe underlying the totality of things, we began to be possessed of a new sense of power and direction, provided we took other simple steps. We found that God does not make too hard terms with those who seek Him. To us, the Realm of Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek. It is open, we believe, to all men.(p. 46, A.A. 4th Edition)

What does a spiritual experience look like?

Epistemology or theory of knowledge is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature, methods, limitations, and validity of knowledge and belief. (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

"As we understood him" -- which means when I speak about God, I am really referring to my own experience, which is all I know -- it has been revealed to me individually. It is like explaining sex to a virgin. If you have not had sex, you might understand it intellectually, you may have even watched a movie about it, but the personal experience in unknown--it is alien. But once you have had sex, you now have recognizable benchmarks to identify the experience. The same holds true for identifying what a relationship with God or the Higher Power is like.

The Big Book authors, men and women who have recovered from a seamingly hopeless state of mind and body, all who have claimed having a spiritual experience or awakening, describe it as:

Established on such a footing (Step 3) we became less and less interested in ourselves, our own little plans and designs. More and more we became interested in seeing what we could contribute to life. As we felt new power flow in, as we enjoyed peace of mind, as we discovered we could face life successfully, as we became conscious of His presence, we began to lose our fear of today, tomorrow or the hereafter. We were reborn. (p. 63, A.A. 4th Edition)

Once we have taken this step (5), withholding nothing, we are delighted. We can look the world in the eye. We can be alone at perfect peace and ease. Our fears fall from us. We begin to feel the nearness of our Creator. We may have had certain spiritual beliefs, but now we begin to have a spiritual experience. The feeling that the drink problem has disappeared will often come strongly. We feel we are on the Broad Highway, walking hand in hand with the Spirit of the Universe. (p. 75, A.A. 4th Edition)

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development (Step 9), we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. (p. 83-84, A.A. 4th Edition)

Love and tolerance of others is our code. And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone, even alcohol. For by this time sanity will have returned. We will seldom be interested in liquor. If tempted, we recoil from it as from a hot flame. We react sanely and normally, and we will find that this has happened automatically. We will see that our new attitude toward liquor has been given us without any thought or effort on our part. It just comes! That is the miracle of it. We are not fighting it, neither are we avoiding temptation. We feel as though we had been placed in a position of neutrality safe and protected. We have not even sworn off. Instead, the problem has been removed. It does not exist for us. We are neither cocky nor are we afraid. That is how we react so long as we keep in fit spiritual condition. (p. 84-85, A.A. 4th Edition)

According to the Big Book authors, these are the recognizable benchmarks that tell us we are having a spiritual experience or awakening.


Tell us about your experience with the a 'Spirit of the Universe underlying the totality of things'. How do you know you are having a spiritual experience or awakening? Does it look like what the Big Book authors tell us or is it something different?

4 Responses

  1. Cameron F. says:

    On page 64 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous it reads, "When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically".

    Since working the 12 steps, I have had a personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from my addictions. It has been many years now since the obsession to drink or use has left me and has not returned. I also have ended a very nasty self-harming obsessive-compulsive behaviour of nail-biting. Furthermore, I would lose my temper on a daily basis and terrorize my family. I have not lost my temper in almost 4 years now. Occasionally I may become irritated about someone or something, but that feeling is quickly wiped using the spiritual tools of the 12 steps program. In addition, my days are filled with ‘centered’ thoughts and feelings towards others – quite a change from my days of intolerance, prejudice, and condemning judgment of others. This has been my experience of my spiritual awakening.

  2. Scott Finan says:

    I would like to mention three of hundreds of changes in my personality which could only have been brought about by a Spiritual Experience.

    1) I spend most of my time bringing joy and love into the live of others… as a result I am incredibly happy almost all the time.

    2) I have faced my fears and had me fears removed by a Power greater than myself after a lifetime of constant dread and panic and anxiety attacks … today I live in a state of peace and serenity.

    3) The three most important people in my life today are God (as I understand Him), my family, and my fellow man… they used to be me, myself, and I.

    All the best,

    (416) 941-9784

  3. Kevin S. says:

    Now let’s look again at page 20 and 21 of the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous. You see there’s no sense proudly displaying that book at the front of our AA or Ca meetings if were not going to follow the directions in it.

    The book clearly says, Then we have a certain type of hard drinker, remember folks it does not describe him as an alcoholic, he may have the habit badly enough to gradually impair him physically and mentally, it may cause him to die a few years before his time. If a sufficiently strong reason ill health, falling in love, change of environment, or warning of a doctor becomes operative, this man can also stop or moderate, although he may find it difficult and troublesome and may need a period of medical attention.

    Plain English folks, if you can stop because your doctor tells you to or you fall in love or you’ve had a period of medical attention and you were able to stop completely, something like a treatment center, you’re not an alcoholic or drug addict. It’s safe to say that all are welcome in 12-step fellowships and we’d like to be of assistance to everyone. The travesty begins when a heavy drinker calls himself an alcoholic and offers his feeble advice to a to a real alcoholic drug addict, stuff like "just put the plug in the jug" or "what don’t you understand about don’t pick up the first drink/drug".

    My advice to you is the addiction research foundation in Toronto has a program of self help that You people can join. Just don’t drink and go to meetings won’t help a real alcoholic or drug addict you’re killing them with that type of advice. Our program of recovery comes from the big book of alcoholics anonymous not from the opinion’s or advice of some well-intentioned people who have no idea what they’re talking about. I’m tired of watching a 12-step fellowship turn into a Rotary club with no alcohol or drugs. Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m sorry to say this programs about finding a power greater than yourself and in nearly all instances that power must be centered in a power greater than yourself, the book doesn’t talk about God because it sounds good, it talks about God because that’s what it’s about!

  4. Matt 42 says:

    Hi my name is matt and i am a grateful recovering alcoholic. For me i had a spiritual awaking of the educational variety. When i look back to 6 years ago and my first contact with AA meetings a seed was firmly planted even though i didn’t realise, i didn’t have the tools to nurcher these emotional changes, ie the 12 steps. Its only from attending meetings, getting a sponsor, doing service and listening i have educated myself to understand how this program works. I am now able to deal with problems on a daily basis, always looking at my part, not judging others and having this power to ask for guidance. I belief god was always in me, i think i should probably be dead as i got into some potentially live threatening situations whilst drunk but here i am, sober and free. I know i have to work this program daily and surrender to god,HP its my conception my power greater than me to live a happy, useful life, and for that i am truly blessed and grateful. Matt, Luton, England.

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