Finally, a step taken right from the AA list that needs no adaptation. Excited by this one, I believe this is one of the reasons for the success of AA throughout the years. Despite my dislike for short intro paragraph, getting right to the point serves me well today.
Step #4: Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
#Boom! Been waiting for this one since I saw it on my first reading of the original list. So, let’s get to it.
I practice this step daily, moment to moment some days. This allows me to present one of my most powerful tools—playback. I don’t just mean observing the self in the moment, but rather observations via some form of recording or writing. As a 24 year veteran of stage performance and studio recording, I am a big fan of audio recordings; as a developing writer, I am also a big fan of the written word; as an 8 year veteran of video, I like video logs as well. There are many tools to get this done, most of which are now on every smart phone in existence, therefore we have no excuses in the affluent, Western world. If you don’t have access to those tools, then one has writing to fall back on. Regardless of method, turning step four from idea to behavior is one of the most important steps we can take in this life. Even if one isn’t into my 12 step program, this can help us all self-actualize.
Once again, this refers to the situation of deception by the brain in moment to moment existence. Observing the self, being impossible in the moment, this allows data to be recorded without the cognitive biases. We open the door to others commenting and observing us, giving us even more tools with which to see ourselves.
I won’t lie. This is one of the most difficult steps. Some folks who need this the most will terrified at the prospects of trying, especially if their behavior would be abhorrent to who they wish they could be. I remember going through the process. It is not pleasant. One must not give in to the impulse of shame, and believe me, if you truly wish to change yourself, shame will be at your doorstep reminding us of those we’ve wronged and the behaviors involved in wronging them. Shame ended up being my most powerful enemy. I am reminded of Morning Meditations #10 that I wrote back in August of 2015. This is the edition I revealed the worst day of my journey into practicing mindfulness meditation. Let’s just say my shame gained a voice that day, which felt separate from myself. Looking back, it may have been the first day when my shame and rage were not able to feed off my emotional states without being considered “who I am.” Now, these emotions had become left outside of my self-actualization, understood as only parts of my personality rather than mandatory for existence. MMs were a source of playback during some much-needed changes in my life. Over several months, I was able to read about and make public some of the things I needed to be able to see outside of the moment. Reflection upon my past behaviors forced me to hear them from a “me,” which had since dissolved away through the erosion of time. One can never cross the same river twice, and one can never be who you were even a millisecond in the past. This is indeed our hope and hard determinism brings the “salvation.”
This step continues to motivate me, even in the present. A commentary on some of the first steps has tried to poke holes in my definitions and techniques. Offering heartfelt criticisms. Calling my language “incoherent” and “paradoxical,” one will find his kind of push-back from the ranks of combatibalisim. One of my favorite writers and academics, Daniel Dennett, is also among the ranks of the compatibalists. Claiming, despite the truth of determinism, there is still enough play in the nature of physics and causality to find an adequate version of free will to keep our hands at 10 and 2 (or 8 and 4 depending on your driving habits) of life allowing for things like the current justice system and versions of morality intact, at least as a basis. I once again urge you to consider this as false. It won’t make very much difference if you admit the truth of determinism while still holding on to your previous reality bias. I seek to unhinge this addiction to where you think you know your thoughts and actions to come from, and instead place yourself into the vast variables of external and internal environments. Remember, I am attempting to help you rewire neruo-circuits in order to remove shame, pride, agency based guilt, and any other filter that may have you believing you, this ever-changing you, is the genesis for thoughts and action. Sure, your meat sack did things, but you technically and undeniably became aware of behaviors just after they happen. As Sam Harris said, “The experience of the present moment is, in a very real sense, a memory of the present moment.” If all we can really do is remember what we’ve done, compatibalists are ignoring this in favor of the status quo. We, together, are moving past this hang up.
Now that we’ve heard about the failure of combatibalisim, we can avoid being ensnared by the failure of imagination generated by it to take Step #4 into the realms of behavior.
If you are having problems getting started with this step, let me give you some easy homework. Just make a list that you can watch, listen to, or read. You don’t want to see yourself on camera, dictating is awesome. You don’t want to hear yourself either, write. No matter which format you use there are some simple templates to apply. Many people like lists. Use a bullet point or numbered list to take your moral inventory. It might look something like this:
Lost patience with close friend when they offered a little advice.
Kicked the neighbors dog because it destroyed some of my flower bed.
Ignored my husband’s text, which was time sensitive.
Sexually harassed the waitress at lunch, which obviously offended her.
Didn’t take care of my body even though I felt pain when I woke up.
Bribed my kid with sugar poison (candy) for a task they need to be responsible for.
Cut off someone in traffic endangering all motorists around me.
These are all “negative,” and I am not suggesting that you focus on negativity. But, those are often the things we seek to change in ourselves. I encourage you to also include things that you believe are examples of your positive morality. We are taking an inventory of all moral “items,” so don’t leave out the altruistic and kind things you have done. Also keep in mind that you don’t have to cover your whole life in a single sitting. Cover yesterday, or even just the last couple of hours; anything will be good enough to set you on the path. This step isn’t going to “fix” you. It is a necessary part of the process, and the more you practice, the better you’ll get. This is true for all the steps. Speaking of, let’s get a reminder of the steps thus far including #4.
1. We admit we are addicted to free-will and the notion of “the self”–that our minds have become trapped and fooled by this addiction.
2. Come to believe that determinism is more valid than our subjective intuition, and could give us a more moral outlook.
3. Make the decision to turn our cognitive biases in life over to the evidence of determinism, as we have vast amounts of data to depend upon.
4. Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Good luck, keeping discovering, and remember your brain will change as you feed it more and more information. Till next time, tschüss!