Module 4B

#4 WHAT MEANS WILL END IT? Design, develop, & execute a means to implement the solution.

4B: Transmuting Emotions into Usable Power


Within our Process-Creativity Explanation of Self, we move towards a new understanding of power as self-existent in the situation and not coming from within or without. At the level of Analyze & Synthesize, transmutation of ordinary emotional experience replaces engaging power by opposition or surrender. We will also show how to move from Knowledge to Power to access this self-existent energy. Note: The “forgetting” of self that launches the transition from anger to clarity in Module 4B Transmuting Emotions into Usable Power marks Passive Forgetting in its most rudimentary form.


4A Opposing Power or Surrendering to Power 4B Transmuting Emotions into Usable Power 4C Neutralizing the Power Source
We either attempt to dispel the mental obsession to drink with will power or try to enlist the aid of a power outside ourselves. Through a new understanding of power as self-existent in the situation—and not coming from within or without—access the power of perpetually occurring emotions. We no longer seek out more power to dispel the mental obsession to drink; we simply lower the energy required to dispel that mental obsession. We pull the plug on addiction rather than opposing it, tapping into a higher source of power, or transmute the power of perpetually occurring emotions.

To understand how we can move beyond either fighting or surrendering when confronted with our own weakness (Module 4A), we need only start with a simple emotion experienced by everyone: anger. Anger carried over time, even when managed, eventually festers into resentment, and the Twelve-Step approach to alcoholism treats resentment very seriously:

“Resentment is the ‘number one’ offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else. From it stems all forms of spiritual disease, for we have not only been mentally and physically ill, we have been spiritually sick.”

Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 64.

There has been some improvement on Wilson’s original, confused, and destructive take on anger. At any meeting that I have been where the subject comes up, someone invariably notes that there is a difference between anger and resentment—the latter being anger carried over time. A more constructive articulations on resentments as “re”-“sentir” or re-feeling old feeling over and over again sometimes emerges. But anger is still feared by most AA’s that I have met.

Fortunately, two esoteric traditions, one theistic and the other non-theistic, have developed a surprisingly similar elemental psychology that will help us go even deeper.

Anger (not wanting), desire (wanting), and ignorance (not caring—”ignore-ance”) are all linked in both the BuddhaDharma and in Sufism. A tree metaphor will serve us well here. In one Sufi tradition, anger and desire are roots that gave rise to the trunk of ignorance. Anger and desire must be eliminated to give way to the new roots of patience and temperance that will in turn grow a new trunk of knowledge. In one Buddhist tradition the psychology is reversed and modified, with the trunk of ignorance giving rise to the branches of anger and desire. Suffering will end only when the trunk of ignorance is fully exposed, which requires trimming down the branches of anger and desire. Just understanding the relationships between these three simple phenomena—anger, desire, and ignorance—will give you a psychological sophistication rivaling anything to be found in the self-help business or served up by mental health clinicians. And the reversed methodology of the Buddhist & Sufi traditions reinforces the importance of studying these causal chains both forward and backward.

It is in the tantric teachings of the Buddha that we find the clearest alternative to Other-Existing Energy and to any “Higher Power.” In 1984 a tantrist at the Association for Research and Enlightenment offered me a cryptic definition: “Anger is the union of clarity and emptiness.” He continued to explain that when one removes the egoic content of anger—looking past the reason one is angry and staying with the naked feeling—what is left is the emptiness of unconditioned reality, which in the case of anger can be experienced as clarity. Over ten years elapsed before I could experience this rather obtuse explanation directly: when anger dropped for me the pervasive energy of clarity had the “feeling” of cold sharpness, like icicles in winter. Since then, I have known a few non-tantrists who have visualized the “feeling” as a knife with the ability to “cut through the confusion.” Seen in this manner, anger is simply that state when you most clearly know what you do not want. Instead of being an offender, anger first becomes a source of energy, then a source of knowledge; but this is not the “Knowledge of Being” (existing in the entities of Body, Mind & Spirit) that plagues our provincial psychologies, this is the “Knowledge of Becoming” existing in the creative Process that by its very nature is transforming. The pervasive, self-existent energies of other emotions such as desire, jealousy, or pride have other textures and feelings that can be exploited in a similar manner.

Many outside the Buddhist tradition with whom I have discussed this energy give anecdotal support to the notion that the transition from anger to clarity most often occurs in a moment of blinding rage in which the person simply “forgets” why they are angry. (This is how it first happened to me.) All that remains after the “forgetting” is an unparalleled focus that sees everything exactly as it is, temporarily overcoming Ignorance of the transitory nature of conditioned phenomena. This transformation forms the Base Event for the program of Self-Existing Energy, and is analogous to the Surrender Event of Steps 1-3. The “forgetting” of self in a moment of blinding rage functionally mirrors a surrendering because of the unmanageability of one’s life. This forgetting of self, however, is neither ego-deflation nor spiritual experience. It is not the result of an accumulation of experiences, not even those that led up to the anger. It is not really an experience as we normally think of the term, but more of a “realization”: a major shift in awareness has occurred even though, paradoxically, it feels like nothing really happened. The released Self-Existing energy has not come from somewhere else; it has always been there.

AlertBoredom Alert!

But where?

To learn how to move from knowledge to power at the level of Analyze and Synthesize, we must breakdown our limiting conceptions of “power” and rebuild something more useful. We must, however, be cautious from the outset about how we use terms such as “power” outside their normal scientific context. “Personal power,” “spiritual energy,” and “inner work” are all common phrases used by brokers in the personal transformation business. These terms certainly create an emotional climate that many self-help experts find useful, but what do they really mean? Do they represent anything real? We are certainly being fair in taking umbrage with the annoying looseness of a declaration that claims that someone who is “working at a lower vibrational energy” should seek “higher vibrational levels.” At the very least such statements have absolutely no practical meaning (superstring theory aside!) and qualify as a perverse and seductive misuse of the language for effect. We should, of course, understand and appreciate metaphor, but we should also be offended with conceptual laziness. We are not being pedantic in objecting to slothful misuse of the language; in fact, an appreciation for what such co-opted scientific terminology means in its technical context may help us create metaphors with even greater transformational and pedagogical clout.

In that spirit, and for the purposes of this section, I will re-introduce three simple terms for clarification: work, energy, and power. Long before Einstein made the phrase famous, Roman philosopher-Emperor Marcus Aurelius remarked that “Nothing happens until something moves.” Work simply means the application of force such that something will move. Energy is the capacity to do work and power indicates how much work is done or how quickly energy is transferred. Take, for example, a tall, heavy box resting on the floor. As I begin to push it, no work is done on the box until it actually moves. The farther I move it, the more work is done; the faster I move it the quicker energy is being transferred and the more power I am exerting on the box.

These technical notions about work, energy, and power are quite intuitive. The common denominator is movement, and as such forces us to visualize, to think spatially. If we are to transplant such a conceptual package into the spiritual realm we should be very careful about some preconceptions that we may unknowingly bring along. For example, when most people raised in modern “Western” Culture think of “power” they imagine power as emanating from a source, such as an electric plug or a generator. Theists who transplant this mindset to the spiritual world consistently imagine their Higher “Power” as emanating from a transcendent source that they usually identify as God. Non-theists with such a view often visualize their personal “power” located in a Higher “Self” that must somehow be tapped into in order to use. In either case, when we see power as emanating from a location or source, we must either see ourselves as having to work to acquire it, or see our source as having to work to transmit it to us. (Module 4A)

In this manner, we are always alienated from power, separated from power, even power that we ourselves may possess. Reconnecting us to that power is big business in both the secular and the sacred worlds. The Catholic Church offers the sacraments as specific points of connection with God’s power. The generic guru offers us more pedestrian ways to reconnect to “the source of power from which we all emanate.” The latter often portray this power as a creative force that is simultaneously everywhere, yet responsive in an active way to our localized intent. In alliance with this ultimate power source, we thus become co-creators in our own reality. Whether or not this is a useful characterization or nothing more than a personal God, disguised and watered down to make it palatable to a secular audience I will leave to the reader to judge.

As the capacity to do inner work, the Higher Power source is more accurately identified as energy. From this subtle adjustment in thinking comes a major shift in focus: “God as we understood Him” is neither a transcendent source of energy nor a creative force that is simultaneously everywhere; “God as we understood Him” is the vehicle for the immanent manifestation of energy that is immediately and always available. Thanks to developments in Physics over the last several decades, a secular version of this idea—that of an impersonal, non-theistic, non-localized energy—has been a much easier sell in Western culture. Diluters of quantum theory have even peddled this idea as evidence for an impersonal, non-localized God by backing it up with pseudo-physics designed to give it an air of legitimacy and technical rigor.

Making such a distinction between energy and power is not semantic horseplay, but forces us to stay aware of two complementary issues: the theoretical possibility of spiritual energy, and its practical application as spiritual power. But what does this say to the immediate pain of the addict reaching out their hand for help? The disconnection between the addict and their world is real, and the gap between them and their “source” is a chasm that cannot be bridged with a few word changes. Within the context of an unmanageable life, the addict still has difficulty imagining recovery without an external energy source that has transforming power. Transferring their loss of control to this ultimate ontological function allows the believer to access a power greater than self, and thereby effect change where self-will cannot. We will be challenged to find something that can replace the simple directness of this paternalistic relationship.

So we return to the proposition that started this Module, but in a significantly advanced form: How do we transmute the dissipative power that lies within emotions into power sufficient enough to dispel the mental obsession to drink? Fortunately, there are many psychological and spiritual traditions from which to choose plausible solutions. In our first concession to the primary message of AA, we must allow the line between psychological and spiritual experience to be blurred somewhat. There are those who would argue that any personal transformation that does not involve the AA God is by definition psychological and not spiritual. I will not re-engage that debate here, but will instead continue to use the terms psychological, spiritual, and psycho-spiritual when, in my best judgment, the distinction seems appropriate.

Body, Mind and Spirit reinforce the idea that power is directional, not self-existent within the situation.

EXERCISE 4B: EXPERIMENTING WITH THE SELF. Two useful exercises called “Exaggerating the Self” and “Polarizing the Self” will aid us in seeing the difference between factual Self and Self-Image and our pathological identification with the latter. Level One: Exaggerating the Self: We consciously attempt to intensify an emotion of wanting, not-wanting, or not-caring until it detaches from its object. Level Two: Polarizing the Self: We consciously shift back and forth between extremes of “wanting” and “not-wanting” the same thing until we see that both impulses are equally me, in that they reinforce the details of both Self-Image and Factual Self.

Congratulations! YOU ARE FINISHED STAGE I-IV, LEVEL B: Troubleshooting a Failing Transformational Process


START AT THE BEGINNING OF LEVEL C: Creating your own Transformational Process 1. What Is Happening To Me?


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