“Having Had a Spiritual Awakening” ~ Carl G. Jung, Bill W., & the Apostle Paul

“Having Had a Spiritual Awakening” ~ Carl G. Jung, Bill W., & the Apostle Paul December 4, 2018

There are many things that the Apostle Paul and Bill Wilson, as well as AA and the church, have in common. In the next eight posts (12-19) of this year-long series, we will look at some of them, beginning with:


The “Apostle” Bill W.

At Towns Hospital in New York City in 1935, where he was being treated for alcoholism, Bill Wilson (Bill W.) had what has been referred to as a spiritual awakening. Years later, Wilson wrote a letter to the Swiss psychiatrist, Carl G. Jung, who had previously treated an alcoholic acquaintance of Wilson’s. In the letter, Wilson recalled his spiritual awakening:

“Clear once more of alcohol, I found myself terribly depressed. This seemed to be caused by my inability to gain the slightest faith… In utter despair I cried out, ‘If there be a God, will He show himself.’ There immediately came to me an illumination of enormous impact and dimension, something which I have since tried to describe in the book, Alcoholics Anonymous…

“My release from alcohol obsession was immediate. At once, I knew I was a free man… Shortly following my experience, my friend Edwin came to the hospital, bringing me a copy of William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience. This book gave me the realization that most conversion experiences, whatever their variety, do have a common denominator of ego collapse at depth… In the wake of my spiritual experience, there came a vision of a society of alcoholics, each identifying with and transmitting his experience to the next ~ chain-style. If each sufferer were to carry the news of the scientific hopelessness of alcoholism to each prospect, he might be able to lay every newcomer wide open to a transforming spiritual experience… This has made conversion experiences ~ nearly every variety reported by James ~ available on an almost wholesale basis.”

Bill Wilson spent the days and years after his spiritual awakening in deep soul-searching. He questioned the value and purpose of his life prior to his encounter with God. He questioned the meaning of his “illumination of enormous impact” that had made his life turn in a completely different direction. In a blinding flash, his sense of self, of God, and of community had changed dramatically and forever.

Spiritual transformations invariably shift the primary focus of the individual from a “me” to a “we” perspective. It is a realization of the connectedness of the part to the whole, of the individual to the group. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians that, when he was a child, he thought like a child but had since put away childish things. Those words are spoken most frequently at weddings which are a ceremony, a journey, a mystical union in which two become as one. Spiritual transformations of all varieties have that in common ~ from seemingly unrelated entities and isolated lives comes the realization of a common purpose, a common identity, a common bond. That is true in church as well as in 12 Step recovery programs.

Bill Wilson framed recovery from alcoholism in terms of spirituality, fellowship, and dependence on God. He spread the good news of spiritual recovery through sobriety throughout the world and was heralded by many individuals and organizations, including a tribute by the writer, Aldous Huxley, who referred to Wilson as the greatest social architect of the twentieth century. As much as AA is heralded as a “self help” group; it appears to many to be nothing less than a divine intervention (no matter how “divine” is defined) to make straight the spiritual paths of many. And in so doing, millions of lives have been saved.

Please ask your friends and colleagues to subscribe to this blog by entering their email address in the upper right corner of this page. Your comments may be incorporation into future posts. Please consider reading the eleven posts published prior to this one in this series called “Spirituality Within Addiction & Recovery.”

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  • Civilian Rose

    All of the punishments imagined in Hades entail the agony of a meaningless repetition–only something miraculous could release Sisyphus from pushing his rock, or finally offer Tantalus the nourishment eternally just out of reach. This is why recovered addicts often speak of the everyday “miracles of this program:” from the narrow circuit of self-punishing behavior, a vision is needed “of something greater than myself” for the faith of creative living to be restored. As Jung wrote in a well-known letter to Bill Wilson, alcoholism represents “a craving…on a low level of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in mediaeval language: the union with God.” Such a union, as Wilson wrote later in the Big Book, suggests more than following “a mere code of morals,” more than the literal, externally sanctioned rules of conventional religion. The mystical knowledge of gnosis (in contrast with agnosticism, or not knowing) implies a deep and direct, intuitive access to the Self–an idea Jung derived from Indian philosophy.

    Atman, soul, Self or Higher Power all express a sense of who we are beyond the limits of the ego’s daily experiences. Jungian psychology concerns itself less with God as an extrinsically defined entity, as it does with the image (or imago) of God as it exists in the Psyche, or, in the words of Twelve Step spirituality, God as you understand God. Whether or not a deity exists cannot be proven or demonstrated, but that people throughout history have believed in one can be–the belief in God, then, is a measure of what Jung called psychic reality. The invisible topography of the Psyche can only be inferred, glimpsed as if in mirrors or watery reflections, by our beliefs, by the characters and myths we create, by our poetry and song.

    When Nietzche declared God’s death at the end of the nineteenth century, he spoke an attitude that has characterized modern life, one that Wilson addresses in We Agnostics. But the philosopher could have added that, as water becomes vapor, becomes cloud, becomes rain, becomes new water, so we live in cycles of death, transformation and rebirth. Just as in childhood, we often reject the toys we loved, only later to reclaim them, so, often, a period of alienation is necessary for a new connection to be made, at a higher level, in consciousness.