Self-Power or Other-Power?

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A New Vantage Point 

In one of the twelve-step program meetings I attend regularly, we’ve been reading a book by Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Recovery – The Sacred Art. He’s a world religions professor with many vantage points as well as being steeped in the Jewish tradition of intellectual inquiry. It’s a very heady book, but to be honest, so much of what has fueled my psycho-spiritual practice has been material which stretches me.

So it was with some delight that I read his notions about the Zen ideas of Jiriki and Tariki, self-power and other-power. There is a long-standing debate in Buddhism about whether the source of enlightenment comes from our efforts, or from beyond them. Shapiro proposes a non-dualistic perspective. Maybe it is both.

A few of us talked about that idea for a while. We were flailing away at trying to understand how it could be that our human efforts eventually and necessarily fail us, that a Power Greater Than Ourselves is ultimately the solution. Yet, without our human efforts, nothing seems to happen. As one said, “You can’t just sit on the couch eating bon bons and expect a spiritual breakthrough.” To which another replied, “Actually, some of my big breakthroughs have come out of nowhere.”

There it is I thought. An acknowledgment that we need both self-power and other-power, Jiriki and Tariki. Just like the much adopted Christian notion that faith without works is dead. Presumably works without faith must also be dead.

Eventually I flashed back to the words of Bill W, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, who was asked essentially how the hell this spiritual recovery works. He acknowledged that we can’t claim to be responsible for Grace, and yet, “Somehow or another we have made ourselves ready to receive.”

That’s enough philosophizing! Let me explain how this works through my own personal experiences.

More than three decades ago, my life train-wrecked. By the time it was done with me, I was forced to confront alcoholism, mental health issues, a divorce and the loss of career. I lost most everything.

In some essential work with therapists and in various recovery processes, I was forced to see that my own self-willed efforts had ultimately been the cause of that train wreck. My very best thinking and efforts did not work. Truth be told, I have come to that reckoning multiple times since. Each time I come to see that I have been self-powering and it is failing. Yet the access to other-powering cannot be reached without it. I have to try, yet trying won’t solve the problem. A solution finds me after I’ve exhausted trying.

Occasionally, someone will suggest the problem is self-centered efforting, that service to others is the solution. Yet my experience tells me this is another dualistic problem. Other-focus and self-focus are both needed apparently.

No wonder the Buddhists have been arguing for generations!

While there does not seem to be a simple answer, experience tells me this. Effort is required, both that focused on myself as well as that focused on others. In the end, effort is necessary but insufficient. Somehow power beyond me is essential. Yet if all I do is pray and contemplate, that power cannot seem to find me.

Seeing True™

Pray as if it all depends on God. Act as if it all depends upon you.

 Seeing True™ in Action 

Pick a challenge that needs your attention.

·      What self-focused efforts seem to be possible?

·      What other-focused efforts seem reasonable?

·      What can you do to abandon your attachment to your efforts?

·      What are the ways you can seek power from beyond yourself?

Do them all. It doesn’t matter which can be said to work. It doesn’t matter what we think of them. It matters that something works. Call it what you will. Believe what you like. Just do them all … over and over again.