“Continued To Take Personal Inventory And When We Were Wrong Promptly Admitted It.”
-Step 10 AA
You made it through the meat and potatoes. The first nine steps have left you well-fed and plump. Emotional indigestion notwithstanding, I’d argue you’re in a much better position than you were when you launched this newly discovered spiritual pilgrimage.
Some people are disappointed once they reach this milestone. I suppose they were expecting some sudden change, an intense quickening of the Spirit as it were.
Granted, some of us do board the Boeing 747 Agape and travel to the third heaven with our pilot, Saint Paul (obscure biblical reference, I can’t help myself), most of us go by what I call the cumulative effect.
Step Ten & The Cumulative Effect
I highly recommend Stanley’s simple yet brilliant masterpiece. Not only does he demonstrate how the questions we ask ourselves mislead us, but he also was the first to bring to my attention the power of the cumulative effect. Permit me to break it down to the best of ability.
Addiction and other mental health disorders all have one commonality: short-sightedness. There exists this willingness to sacrifice long-term reward for short-term gain. Or, perhaps better said, the inability to see the long-term consequences of pursuing every short-term reward.
This pertains to every human being, after all, the book was written for people in general, not a specific demographic.
The inability to see long-term consequences of pursuing every short-term reward goes by many names: sin, dukkha, irrational core belief, cognitive distortions, Maya, the disease, pāpam, ego, flesh, and the list goes on. All of humanity is affected; this is important to note.
Nonetheless, in terms of wise decision making this element must factor into the equation. And it cannot wait until the last minute when the proverbial shit hits the fan. It must be practiced with the most minute of details.
For example, every night prior to bed I can either make the choice to delay gratification – which is going to sleep – and iron my clothes in preparation for the next day. Or, I can fall asleep and scramble in the morning to get everything done (I should mention that I officially enter sloth mode upon awakening, I literally am useless for the first hour).
In terms of my immediate future, it would be wise to handle it the night before. It might annoy me that night but I’ll be happy in the morning, and my clothes won’t look like I just pulled them out of a dumpster (more like one of those nifty donation clothing bins, not necessarily referring to the dumpsters at McDonald’s – not all dumpsters are created equal!).
Now let’s enlarge the scope here.
Let’s look at meditation. It’s proven, the results are in and the data is measurable and demonstrable; it does the following:
So, that’s it. Meditate once and the results are yours for the taking. Not!
No one seriously thinks the results are anything but incremental. You don’t step into the gym, bench press 60 pounds and then the next day kick it up to 250 pounds. It’s a process. It’s incremental, the value is cumulative.
Stanley remarks, “There is a cumulative value to investing small amounts of time in certain activities over a long period.”
To name a few:
- Spiritual formation
- Spending time with loved ones
- Church, AA/NA, or attendance with whatever community you are involved with.
The payout is in the long-term. Odd, the most rewarding and healthy activities – in terms of emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being – are built up over time. Brick by brick; slowly but surely.
Intellectually we know this, but the visceral pull of the present instant payout is so appealing we deceive ourselves into living unwisely. And since we intellectually understand this, we must sell ourselves a line of unadulterated used car salesman B.S.
Unfortunately, once we take that car off the lot it becomes questionable whether we are even in a fit condition to ask ourselves the greatest question ever. We can’t even trust our judgment!
The first nine steps prepare us to start asking the Greatest Question Ever: What is the wise thing to do?
Because we finally have the capacity to respond appropriately. In short, we’ve become proactive.
The 10th Step Creates Response-ability
Proactive individuals take full responsibility for their lives. As Covey brilliantly noted,
This is what separates the sheep from the goats as it were. Those who respond intelligently and those who react emotionally.
Bill Johnson, the charismatic pastor, once remarked, “the only thing more tragic than the situations we find ourselves in is our response to them,” of course, he is referring to the consequence of the same reactive mindset, which is the attitude that one is at mercy of mere circumstance.
However, if we are not chained to do fates bidding then we must have options…
Here are the basic options:
- Circle Of Concern – the political views of others, the economy, natural disasters, terrorism, national debt, weather, etc.
- Circle Of Influence – health, family, where one lives and works, etc.
The beauty behind the tenth step is the burgeoning cumulative effect of daily practice and engagement within the circle of influence.
The Big Book puts it this way:
“This thought brings us to Step Ten, which suggests we continue to take personal inventory and continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along. We vigorously commenced this way of living as we cleaned up the past. We have entered the world of the Spirit. Our next function is to grow in understanding and effectiveness. This is not an overnight matter. It should continue for our lifetime. Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone. Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help. Love and tolerance of others is our code.”
Before I wrap this up, I want to emphasize four specific points from the paragraph above:
How do you know you’re making progress? It’s simple, you’re making new Mistakes. Growth isn’t the absence of mistakes, it’s rather it’s learning from and correcting them. It’s a wonderful metric for progress: new problems.
Vigorous: characterized by or involving physical strength, effort, or energy.
For all of you “the tenth step is the maintenance step” folks I have some news for you. Maintenance usually entails a tune-up every now and again, not vigorous attention. Why such strong language? Because the power of the cumulative effect relies on growth, scaling and building upon new experiences.
Growth balks at monotony; it demands a consistently new experience. That doesn’t mean you need to travel the world, rather, you’ll soon discover that when you change internally, everything externally corresponds to that change. In short, you’ve created a whole new world.
This leads to the next point.
Understanding & Effectiveness
Naturally, as we progress through this “mistake > lesson learned > new mistake” cycle we begin to apprehend a heck of a lot about ourselves.
Yet, learning about your own emotional health invariably results in understanding the emotional health of others. The better you understand those around you the better service you can provide and the more effective servant you become.
Which brings us to the thrust of Step 10.
Someone We Can Help
Well, to be frank, this is Alcoholics Anonymous in a nutshell. On page 77 it states, “Our real purpose is to fit ourselves to be of maximum service to God and the people about us.”
Everything we do in this program is aimed towards this end.
What’s the knockout factor?
That the cumulative effect of your intentional response-ability brings your addiction to the 10-count.
If you are committed to living this way, if you are determined to continue to grow and perfect and enlarge your spiritual life, then it’s time to ante up.
You are now ready to advance to Step Eleven.