Spiritus Contra Spiritum

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Spiritus Contra Spiritum

Postby Sleddog75 » Mon May 09, 2016 1:01 am

In my opinion, one of the greatest historical AA pieces of literature is the letter from Carl Jung to Bill W. where he outlines the spiritual requirement for alcoholics to find recovery.

The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum (high spirit counters low spirit)

This letter to me is so amazing, I've spent many nights reflecting upon it. A non-alcoholic who masterfully describes the alcoholic need for a spiritual remedy. And it either coincides with our literature or inspired it as it states; counters not cures. Just like in our 10th step promises on page 84. We have been placed in a position of neutrality with alcohol. The balance in our lives restored. We can take it or leave it. I have experienced this. It's so much easier to stop drinking when the problem is eliminated. What else I like is the Psalm that he placed in the bottom of the letter.
As the hart panteth after the water brooks, So panteth my soul after thee, O God - Psalm 42:1
(as the deer pants for water, so pants my soul for god)

I have no religious affiliation, however, I have been quick to see where religious people are right. My belief mirror's Ghandis "God has no religion". I have talked to religious people and they have all stated that this psalm is stating the spiritual thirst for the presence of God in their lives. I go to hundreds of meeting a year and I hearit all the time "I keep searching..." I keep yearning. I keep filling the void. At a spiritual level this always reminds me of that part in our literature that states " deep down inside everyone is the fundamental belief in God" that's probably not accurate but close enough. I know that I spend a lot of time talking to sponsees about this letter during step 2 and we agnostics. Once we find a God of our understanding, and we get over ourselves and out of the way so this Power can go to work in our lives, we find the very thing we have been searching for all along. Our spiritual searching has come to an end. We have finally found what we have been looking for all along. God. higher power. the Creator. And when that Power touches our lives it forever changes us and our drinking problem is eliminated. Sorry, I could go on and on and on on. Anyone have any thoughts? Thanks!

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Re: Spiritus Contra Spiritum

Postby Brock » Mon May 09, 2016 8:04 am

I have read various commentaries on Rowland’s association and treatment with Dr. Jung, more recently we have some saying it really didn't happen. Upon investigating it is seen that this comes from those who would prefer AA to lean more to the side of atheism, this led to some good work by AA historians who uncovered even further evidence to dispel all doubt. I will put up the letter Sled refers to -
Dear Mr. W.
Your letter has been very welcome indeed.
I had no news from Rowland H. anymore and often wondered what has been his fate. Our conversation which he has adequately reported to you had an aspect of which he did not know. The reason that I could not tell him everything was that those days I had to be exceedingly careful of what I said. I had found out that I was misunderstood in every possible way. Thus I was very careful when I talked to Rowland H. But what I really thought about was the result of many experiences with men of his kind.
His craving for alcohol was the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God.*
How could one formulate such an insight in a language that is not misunderstood in our days?
The only right and legitimate way to such an experience is that it happens to you in reality and it can only happen to you when you walk on a path which leads you to higher understanding. You might be led to that goal by an act of grace or through a personal and honest contact with friends, or through a higher education of the mind beyond the confines of mere rationalism. I see from your letter that Rowland H. has chosen the second way, which was, under the circumstances, obviously the best one.
I am strongly convinced that the evil principle prevailing in this world leads the unrecognized spiritual need into perdition, if it is not counteracted either by real religious insight or by the protective wall of human community. An ordinary man, not protected by an action from above and isolated in society, cannot resist the power of evil, which is called very aptly the Devil. But the use of such words arouses so many mistakes that one can only keep aloof from them as much as possible.
These are the reasons why I could not give a full and sufficient explanation to Rowland H., but I am risking it with you because I conclude from your very decent and honest letter that you have acquired a point of view above the misleading platitudes one usually hears about alcoholism.
You see, "alcohol" in Latin is "spiritus" and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum.
Thanking you again for your kind letter.
I remain
Yours sincerely
C. G. Jung*
"As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God." (Psalms 42:1)

He mentions taking risks speaking openly about this spiritual approach, at that time the leading psychiatrists Freud being one, would have laughed Jung out of town for talking about a spiritual approach to anything. I have read that Roland asked Freud and one other prominent psychiatrist of the time before he asked Jung, Joe and Charlie speak about this as well. The others couldn't take him, if they had we can be quite sure he would not have got the message he did. Some may say it's good luck things happened the way they did, I prefer to believe that even then, the power that keeps us sober today was in charge of those events.
"Good morning, this is your Higher Power speaking. I will not be needing your help today."
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Re: Spiritus Contra Spiritum

Postby PaigeB » Mon May 09, 2016 10:27 am

I like this part...
The only right and legitimate way to such an experience is that it happens to you in reality and it can only happen to you when you walk on a path which leads you to higher understanding. You might be led to that goal by an act of grace or through a personal and honest contact with friends, or through a higher education of the mind beyond the confines of mere rationalism. I see from your letter that Rowland H. has chosen the second way, which was, under the circumstances, obviously the best one.

"You might be led to that goal
1) by an act of grace or
2) through a personal and honest contact with friends, or
3) through a higher education of the mind"

#2 sounds like AA if you combine it with #1 ~!!

And he associates with our "action program" when he says it happens to you in reality only when you work for it, well he says walk on a path (a path, not the path) - so work it, walk it - either one.
Anyway, the action comes before the spiritual experience. Sounds a lot like "It works if you work it!"
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Re: Spiritus Contra Spiritum

Postby ezdzit247 » Tue May 10, 2016 4:07 pm

Good topic!

For me, "Spiritus contra spiritum" (literally: high spirit counters low spirit) is a statement which describes how natural phenomena like energy, frequency and vibration affects all humans, not just alcoholics. While Carl Jung didn't invent the concept, he certainly understood it, embraced it as a universal truth, and applied it in his research and work as a therapist. I don't think Jung intended "Spiritus" to be interpreted as meaning "God" or to imply that anyone had to believe in God in order to experience the effects of "Spiritus contra spiritum". In AA, all the good vibes that come from the positive energy generated by human feelings of love, happiness, gratitude, humility, compassion, patience, etc, qualify as "high spirit" can be found "in the rooms". These vibes tend to increase synergistically, making the total effect much more powerful than the sum of its individual parts. It is definitely very uplifting to anyone with a "low spirit" who happens to be in the room.
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Re: Spiritus Contra Spiritum

Postby Stepchild » Tue May 10, 2016 4:25 pm

ezdzit247 wrote:Good topic!
I don't think Jung intended "Spiritus" to be interpreted as meaning "God" or to imply that anyone had to believe in God in order to experience the effects of "Spiritus contra spiritum". In AA, all the good vibes that come from the positive energy generated by human feelings of love, happiness, gratitude, humility, compassion, patience, etc, qualify as "high spirit" can be found "in the rooms".


Do you think he was telling him? Meeting makers make it?

I like Roland H.'s story in the Big Book....

A certain American business man had ability, good sense, and high character. For years he had floundered from one sanitarium to another. He had consulted the best known American psychiatrists. Then he had gone to Europe, placing himself in the care of a celebrated physician (the psychiatrist, Dr. Jung) who prescribed for him. Though experience had made him skeptical, he finished his treatment with unusual confidence. His physical and mental condition were unusually good. Above all, he believed he had acquired such a profound knowledge of the inner workings of his mind and its hidden springs that relapse was unthinkable. Nevertheless, he was drunk in a short time. More baffling still, he could give himself no satisfactory explanation for his fall.
So he returned to this doctor, whom he admired, and asked him point-blank why he could not recover. He wished above all things to regain self-control. He seemed quite rational and well-balanced with respect to other problems. Yet he had no control whatever over alcohol. Why was this?
He begged the doctor to tell him the whole truth, and he got it. In the doctor's judgment he was utterly hopeless; he could never regain his position in society and he would have to place himself under lock and key or hire a bodyguard if he expected to live long. That was a great physician's opinion.
But this man still lives, and is a free man. He does not need a bodyguard nor is he confined. He can go anywhere on this earth where other free men may go without disaster, provided he remains willing to maintain a certain simple attitude.
Some of our alcoholic readers may think they can do without spiritual help. Let us tell you the rest of the conversation our friend had with his doctor.
The doctor said: "You have the mind of a chronic alcoholic. I have never seen one single case recover, where that state of mind existed to the extent that it does in you." Our friend felt as though the gates of hell had closed on him with a clang.
He said to the doctor, "Is there no exception?"
"Yes," replied the doctor, "there is. Exceptions to cases such as yours have been occurring since early times. Here and there, once in a while, alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences. To me these occurrences are phenomena. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them. In fact, I have been trying to produce some such emotional rearrangement within you. With many individuals the methods which I employed are successful, but I have never been successful with an alcoholic of your description."
Upon hearing this, our friend was somewhat relieved, for he reflected that, after all, he was a good church member. This hope, however, was destroyed by the doctor's telling him that while his religious convictions were very good, in his case they did not spell the necessary vital spiritual experience.
Here was the terrible dilemma in which our friend found himself when he had the extraordinary experience, which as we have already told you, made him a free man.
We, in our turn, sought the same escape with all the desperation of drowning men. What seemed at first a flimsy reed, has proved to be the loving and powerful hand of God. A new life has been given us or, if you prefer, "a design for living "that really works.

Pages 26-28
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Re: Spiritus Contra Spiritum

Postby Brock » Tue May 10, 2016 5:23 pm

For me, "Spiritus contra spiritum" (literally: high spirit counters low spirit) is a statement which describes how natural phenomena like energy, frequency and vibration affects all humans, not just alcoholics.

If this is what Dr. Jung had in mind he surely wouldn't have been so guarded in speaking about it, telling Bill in the letter “I am risking it with you.” If he really felt as EZ says “all the good vibes that come from the positive energy generated by human feelings of love, happiness, gratitude, humility, compassion, patience, etc,” he would have said that without fear of ridicule from fellow psychiatrists, because that is something any psychiatrist would agree with.

Read the letter again, there should be no doubt in anyone's mind, that the spirit he believed was Rowland's only hope, is the same one we in AA depend on for our own salvation. And it is quite clearly documented in the literature, how we awaken to and remain connected to that spirit, it mentions nothing about going to meetings and feeling good 'vibes.'
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Re: Spiritus Contra Spiritum

Postby ezdzit247 » Tue May 10, 2016 6:08 pm

PaigeB wrote:I like this part...
The only right and legitimate way to such an experience is that it happens to you in reality and it can only happen to you when you walk on a path which leads you to higher understanding. You might be led to that goal by an act of grace or through a personal and honest contact with friends, or through a higher education of the mind beyond the confines of mere rationalism. I see from your letter that Rowland H. has chosen the second way, which was, under the circumstances, obviously the best one.


"You might be led to that goal
1) by an act of grace or
2) through a personal and honest contact with friends, or
3) through a higher education of the mind"

#2 sounds like AA if you combine it with #1 ~!!

And he associates with our "action program" when he says it happens to you in reality only when you work for it, well he says walk on a path (a path, not the path) - so work it, walk it - either one.
Anyway, the action comes before the spiritual experience. Sounds a lot like "It works if you work it!"


I agree. It does sound a lot like "It works if you work it!"
“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children...to leave the world a better place...to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
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Re: Spiritus Contra Spiritum

Postby Stepchild » Wed May 11, 2016 4:32 am

well he says walk on a path (a path, not the path) - so work it, walk it - either one.


Maybe you can expand on this for someone new....I have to admit...Five years in AA and it confuses me. Maybe you could even back it up with a part in the Big Book where this is discussed....I think that would be helpful.
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Re: Spiritus Contra Spiritum

Postby PaigeB » Wed May 11, 2016 10:24 am

Sure I can back it up! But it is just my experience and not-so-humble opinion...
it can only happen to you when you walk on a path which leads you to higher understanding.
From Jung's Letter

And a reference to Tradition 5, page 151 of the 12&12 "The only thing that matters is that he is an alcoholic who has found a key to sobriety."

"A" is an indefinite article (vs "THE" a definite article.)

Both lead to spiritual growth and leaving open the option to use different vehicles and a different inner path, IMHO.
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Re: Spiritus Contra Spiritum

Postby Db1105 » Wed May 11, 2016 10:49 am

As Dr. Bob summed it up, it's about love and service.
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Re: Spiritus Contra Spiritum

Postby ezdzit247 » Wed May 11, 2016 11:00 am

Db1105 wrote:As Dr. Bob summed it up, it's about love and service.


I agree.
“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children...to leave the world a better place...to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
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Re: Spiritus Contra Spiritum

Postby Stepchild » Wed May 11, 2016 11:05 am

Sure I can back it up! But it is just my experience and not-so-humble opinion...
it can only happen to you when you walk on a path which leads you to higher understanding.

From Jung's Letter

And a reference to Tradition 5, page 151 of the 12&12 "The only thing that matters is that he is an alcoholic who has found a key to sobriety."

"A" is an indefinite article (vs "THE" a definite article.)

Both lead to spiritual growth and leaving open the option to use different vehicles and a different inner path, IMHO.


I know you stress this "a" and "the" difference a lot. I believe the word used in the book is "our"....But that's besides the point. I'm just trying to figure out if you are suggesting there are many ways...Or even more than one way....To become recovered in AA?
I do know they talk about trying to find an easier softer way...But they could not. And when suggesting what worked for them they word it as...

Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery:
Page 59

Does that leave the door open that there are many ways to do this?

You're very consistent on this...And I'm just trying to figure out why?
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Re: Spiritus Contra Spiritum

Postby Stepchild » Wed May 11, 2016 11:28 am

Db1105 wrote:As Dr. Bob summed it up, it's about love and service.


He also said this...

If you think you are an atheist, an agnostic, a skeptic, or have any other form of intellectual pride which keeps you from accepting what is in this book, I feel sorry for you. If you still think you are strong enough to beat the game alone, that is your affair. But if you really and truly want to quit drinking liquor for good and all, and sincerely feel that you must have some help, we know that we have an answer for you. It never fails, if you go about it with one half the zeal you have been in the habit of showing when you were getting another drink.
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Re: Spiritus Contra Spiritum

Postby PaigeB » Wed May 11, 2016 12:45 pm

Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery:
Page 59

Does that leave the door open that there are many ways to do this?

You're very consistent on this...And I'm just trying to figure out why?

Yes it does leave the door open. This is a "suggested" program. Slight variances are expected such as the fact that Bill had a "white light experience" where others have more of an "intellectual variety".

WHY? Not your business to ask why... but because God saw fit I suppose... Ask Him.
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Re: Spiritus Contra Spiritum

Postby ezdzit247 » Wed May 11, 2016 1:14 pm

Brock wrote:
For me, "Spiritus contra spiritum" (literally: high spirit counters low spirit) is a statement which describes how natural phenomena like energy, frequency and vibration affects all humans, not just alcoholics.

If this is what Dr. Jung had in mind he surely wouldn't have been so guarded in speaking about it, telling Bill in the letter “I am risking it with you.” If he really felt as EZ says “all the good vibes that come from the positive energy generated by human feelings of love, happiness, gratitude, humility, compassion, patience, etc,” he would have said that without fear of ridicule from fellow psychiatrists, because that is something any psychiatrist would agree with.

Read the letter again, there should be no doubt in anyone's mind, that the spirit he believed was Rowland's only hope, is the same one we in AA depend on for our own salvation. And it is quite clearly documented in the literature, how we awaken to and remain connected to that spirit, it mentions nothing about going to meetings and feeling good 'vibes.'


Carl Jung was a brilliant, highly educated man who trained as a medical doctor, interned in psychiatry, and became a highly esteemed research scientist as well. We know indisputably that Latin is a very precise language, that Jung was highly proficient in Latin words and phrases, and a very detail oriented physician and scientist. It is logical to assume that if Jung meant to imply that the "spiritus" he was referring to was God, instead of writing the phrase "Spiritus contra spiritum", he would have written the phrase "Spiritus dei contra spiritum". The fact that he used the former phrase instead of the latter in his letter to Bill W. led me to assume Jung did not intend "Spiritus" to be interpreted as meaning "God" or to imply that anyone had to believe in God in order to experience the effects of "Spiritus contra spiritum".

There is no factual or anecdotal evidence that would support a suggestion that Jung had any "fear of ridicule" whatsoever from his fellow psychiatrists or that he was implying such when he wrote "I am risking it with you.” Jung's major critics were all traditional Jewish or Christian theologians and philosophers or evangelical fundamentalist religious leaders, not his fellow psychiatrists or fellow scientists. One of Jung's most controversial assertions was that God does not exist independent of the psyches of human beings. Jung certainly took precautions to protect himself and his career from these critics, like refusing to treat anyone who was also a member of the Oxford Group, but I interpret those protective actions as applying the wisdom of "discretion is the better part of valor" in recognizing that his ideas had created powerful enemies among the religio-political establishment. He remained a truthseeker and continued to publish in peer-reviewed scientific journals, continued to be a much sought after lecturer in academic circles, and continued his work almost up to his final breath.
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