There is an old Zen story about a finger pointing at the moon. Here’s how it goes: A wise teacher points up at the moon and asks his young student, “what is this?” And the pupil responds “that’s the moon.” The wise teacher then corrects him: “no, that is a finger pointing at the moon.”
It’s sort of a silly little story, but there is much wisdom in it if you care to extract it and apply it to your recovery. So many times, we mistake the pointer for the “thing” itself. The biggest example of this is with the whole religion/spirituality debate. The great spiritual teachers of the world (Jesus, Buddha, etc.) tried to convey the spiritual experience to us, but their words were documented and turned into religious dogma. As time goes on, we get further away from the core of their teachings (the spiritual experience) and focus more on the traditions and words that they used to convey their meaning. We get wrapped up in the dogma and become obsessed with the finger pointing at the moon, instead of focusing on the moon itself.
This idea also comes up in recovery. The solution is the spiritual experience. That’s the solution. That’s the key to recovery. But there are all of these fingers pointing at this particular moon, at this spiritual experience. People blather on about sponsorship or how meeting makers make it and so on. All fingers pointing to the moon, confusing the newcomers and overloading them with information. Someone might suggest that “the solution is in the steps” and then ramble on to another list of suggestions. Many of them useful, yes, but they distract from the thing itself–from the spiritual experience. The experience which is needed to overcome addiction.
“The solution is in the steps.” Now there is a finger pointing at the moon. Work the steps and achieve a spiritual experience. But even the 12 steps are a pointing finger. Ultimately, the 12 steps of AA are but a path to a spiritual experience, they are not the thing itself.
Taken a step further, there are many people in AA that pay lip service to the steps, and work a program of recovery that is dependent on a number of “tools.” They will even tell you about all of these tools in meetings. “You need to get a sponsor,” they will say to the newcomer. “You need to get a Big Book and read it.” “You need to do 90 meetings in 90 days.” All good suggestions, no doubt. But they are overwhelming the newcomer with information, and they are confusing all of these “tools of the program” with the key to success. The key to overcoming addiction is the spiritual experience. That is the moon. But we have become obsessed with “working a program,” which unfortunately involves using a number of tools. What a complicated mess for the poor newcomer.
Now don’t get me wrong. AA is extremely useful, because it is a concentration of like-minded people who can help you to recover. If you have a desire to stop drinking, AA is a great place to go. That’s where all of the support is concentrated at. But even AA has dogma, and the meetings are filled with those who mistake the moon (spiritual experience) with the finger pointing at the moon (“meeting makers make it!”). Be aware of the difference there. For a really good read that frames this topic in a slightly different manner, I highly recommend you check this out.