Who Are We?
“Who am I?” The perennial question. An enticing riddle. The most profound puzzle a person can endeavor to solve. In the rooms of AA, nearly everyone introduces themselves by saying: “Hi, my name is ____, and I’m an alcoholic.” An identity is immediately established in relation to alcohol, and why shouldn’t such an identity be proclaimed, since alcohol has played a central (and detrimental) role in the lives of AA members? But what kind of effect does forming this identity have on the hearts and minds of so-called alcoholics? Well, it depends on the person, but I think we can observe some universal dynamics at play here.
If I believe I am an alcoholic, then that identity immediately creates a sense of separation from others who are supposedly not alcoholic. A mental division arises based on criteria compiled through a process of behavioral analysis. In the same sense, if someone says, “I’m a Democrat; you’re a Republican,” there is a mental line drawn between two people based on ideological differences. Or, “I’m a Christian; you’re a Muslim.” Again, an imaginary stratification occurs based on religious belief systems.
So, the first pitfall of the mind is identification. That is, the identification of our awareness with all the things that are projected out into time and space.
In the case of the alcoholic identity, it’s a double-layered construct. First, we’re identifying as the human body-mind, then we’re piling on a second identity as an alcoholic, which can further distance us from who we actually are—at our core being. And who are we, actually? “What we are is the stillness behind and within all that is being projected.” This silent awareness is what’s cultivated through practices like Deep Meditation, and in the language of AA, this is the serenity we are seeking through the 12 Steps, which includes conscious contact with God via prayer and meditation.
There’s a significant difference between identifying as an alcoholic, and acknowledging that we lack the ability to drink moderately or responsibly. The first falls prey to the identity trap; the second is geared towards behavioral modification. For instance, if I proclaim I am a baseball player, such an announcement will not de facto improve my skills in the actual playing of baseball. Therefore, to proclaim I am an alcoholic will not necessarily help me address my problems with alcohol. In fact, getting lost in a conceptual identity can stifle my efforts to get to the root problem (and solution). The alcoholic identity often carries a heavy weight fraught with negative connotations, like being “wired” differently than so-called normal, non-alcoholics, or having a “spiritual malady” or “allergy” that makes alcoholics inferior by design. These self-imposed beliefs can limit our brilliant potential to shine forth with divine qualities of health, radiance, strength, intuitive wisdom, and so forth.
Are there advantages to identifying as an alcoholic? Well, there certainly can be a sense of comfort — at least in the beginning. “I’m an alcoholic, and I belong with others like me.” Everyone yearns for a feeling of belonging. Birds of a feather flock together. The identity can be like a secret membership — revealed only when in the clubhouse, or while amongst trusted friends. Furthermore, if the identity carries a belief of being “sick” on a deep level, such sickness might entitle a person to be cared for. Sick people more easily gain sympathy and generosity. Viewed in this light, the identity can be a crutch — something to be leaned on to acquire more caretaking or tolerance from others. “My disease kicked in again and made me do those horrible things. I hope you understand.”
Do the advantages outweigh the option of stripping the identity and getting a deeper look into who we are — beyond the concept? Probably not. If freedom and truth are what we’re after, that pursuit will require a surrender of assumptions, in favor of a more direct perception of our inner being, which is pure bliss consciousness, or satchitananda:
Satchitananda (existence-consciousness-bliss) is what we contact in deep meditation and it is what rises in us as silence, also called the "witness state," and stabilization of this transcendent reality as our sense of self 24/7 is the first stage of enlightenment. The phrase "pure bliss consciousness," used often in the lessons, is synonymous with satchitananda, inner silence, and witness. Bliss is a key word in this. The immutable inner witness is a blissful one, and so are we when we become it, and there is much more to come after that.