One of the ideas that puts off the godless in 12 step programs is the assumption that spirituality is a religious term.
This is not surprising when, if you look it up in a thesaurus, the synonyms are all religious – hardly fitting a secular program you may think. But one of these, devout, can also mean seriously and sincerely, my first secular meaning of spiritual – in other words devotion to the program (in my case AA) as it has saved my life.
In dictionaries out of the four meanings given half are religious and half not. However, even one of these non-religious meanings wouldn’t take us a great deal further in the context of working programs, certainly in the early stages. This is: refined/showing great refinement and concern with the higher things in life. The other non-religious definition of spirituality I take as my second meaning in the secular context: temperamentally or intellectually akin, connected by an affinity of the mind and/or temperament.
Therefore a spiritual awakening or experience is an uplifting feeling on realizing one is part of a larger connected group in this way. It is a new sense of belonging. For steppers – who probably never particularly wanted to belong to anything – it may be seen how this feeling could take a while to permeate through, especially in the early stages if senses are numb from years of addiction.
My third meaning follows on from the first: greater than the sum of the parts in the field of human interaction (deriving from the affinity one feels in a group.) As the prime example, this is how I see the process of arriving at the AA program in the Big Book – purely out of trial and error and human observation and debate among clever men and women. A second example is the same effect generated by each Twelve Step meeting all down the years.
My fourth meaning is virtues for vices. Having thought long and hard I decided that my spiritual development should come from substituting virtues for vices in my everyday living: calmness and self-restraint for anger; tolerance for envy; balance for gluttony; generosity for greed; kindness and love for lust; courage for laziness; and humility for pride (this is the twelve step definition of humility which is a right-size view of yourself, nothing to do with being ’umble, and the twelve step definition of pride which is an over-inflated idea of your own importance, nothing to do with a job well done). That this format is like the St Francis prayer has not escaped me. Readers may like to write their own version.
Another non-religious meaning of spiritual given to me by other steppers is: openness, being teachable, willingness to accept totally new views of the world.