12-Steps and the Autonomic Nervous System.

Understanding is the booby prize. (Werner Erhard 196?)

An understanding of something is not very significant unless action is taken on the basis of the that understanding

Invitation to Twelve Step Aficionados to be Honest, Open Minded and Willing.

None of the material that follows is anywhere close to being conference approved. However we invite you to be WILLING to read the material below, to be OPEN to the ideas as they are presented and then to be HONEST with yourself as to whether they might be relevant to your recovery.

A Basic Concept in the Twelve Step Philosophy.

In the Twelve Step philosophy , there is an idea of a state of mind called Ego where dominates self-centeredness , anger, resentments and fear are unwanted emotions which happen when the alcoholic is being self-centered . These unwanted emotions are considered to be likely to cause the alcoholic to drink again. Drinking alcohol can relieve the pain these emotions cause for an alcoholic.

There is also the concept of Serenity , a desired state of mind., often sought by saying the Serenity Prayer. The word serenity is mentioned eleven times in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and seems to denote a state of peace, calm, trust and acceptance with little fear and anger. Humility is prized.

The Basic Concept of the Autonomic Nervous System.

The Autonomic System is a set of nerves which are independent of the mind ( Central Nervous System.) Two major parts of the Autonomic Nervous System are the Sympathetic Nervous System and the Para Sympathetic Nervous System.
When the Sympathetic Nervous System is activated, the amygdala has been triggered by the perception of danger . The mind goes into a Fight, Flight or Freeze mode . Some times emotions of anger and/or fear arise. Hormones circulate though the body and the body prepares itself to survive in the face of perceived danger. Fear of loss of survival (i.e. death) dominates.

However activation of the Para Sympathetic Nervous System is necessary for the body to recover from the effects of an activated Sympathetic Nervous System. Rest, Digestion, Healing and Connection (used to be called Sex) take place and feelings of peace, acceptance , trust and interest in the well-being of others dominate.

Is Serenity the same thing as an active Para Sympathetic Nervous System?

What do you think?
Are you willing to believe that when one is in the ego (self-centered) state, the Sympathetic Nervous System is dominating? (They do both have feelings of fear, anger and danger). We will identify this state as being SELF-CENTERED
Are you willing to believe that when one is feeling serene, the Para Sympathetic Nervous System is dominating? (They do both have feelings of peace, calm , trust, acceptance of what is)?
We will will call this state as being SERENE

Can the 12-steps move an alcoholic into more activity of the Parasympathetic Nervous system?

The 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are a series of actions which alcoholics are encouraged to do so that they can remain sober.
The alcoholic works the steps by getting into action by doing each step in sequence . Each step requires an action which is humbling.
Step one is when an alcoholic believes he/she is powerless over alcohol and his/her life in unmanageable.
and so on through the intervening steps until
Step twelve where the alcoholic tries to help some one else

Where in 12 step literature might there be encouragements to activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System ?

In what follows SNS is used as an acronym for Sympathetic Nervous System and PSNS is used as an acronym for the Para Sympathetic Nervous System,

Serenity PrayerGod grant me the serenity..Is this expressing a desire to move into the PSNS where every thing is calm and peaceful and there is little fear?
Slogan in Big BookEasy Does ItDoes this mean an encouragement to go from the fear based SNS into the serene PSNS?
There but the grace of God go IAcceptance and compassion come with PSNS acvtivation
Slogan in Big BookLive and let liveWhen I am in the PSNS nervous system, its much easier to me to accept other people’s behavior that I normally don’t like when I am in the SNS.
Slogan in Big BookTurn it overThats acceptance, no fear, which happens when the PSNS system is activated
Comon PhraseI can’t handle it god; you take overDeccision to go from Sympathetic Nervous System to Parasympathetic Nervous after experincing enough pain and suffering
You will intuitively knowPSNS does real well on intuition
Step 12 Carry the messageCaring for others, connection happens
practice an attitude of gratitude
we surrender to win

There is a god and you are not Him
Slogan in
Big Book
We Cease Fighting anyhing and anyone
Where in 12 step literature might there be encouragements to activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System ?

Can one experience more Serenity by activating the Para Sympathetic Nervous System?

One of the interesting things is that the Eleventh Step suggests seeking guidance through prayer and meditation. Praying is most probably important in activating the placebo effect as discussed by Lissa Rankin and is further explored here.
But as you will see in this page .
Meditation, Exercise, Yoga , Tai Chi Singing, Sex , Food ,Aroma Therapy , and a particular a specific kind of mindful deep slow breathing can greatly increase the activity of the Para Sympathetic Nervous System.
So just maybe, when we meditate we may be activating the Para Sympathetic Nervous system (Aka the Relaxation Response)

Where might the HP/God concept fit in with the Para Sympathetic Nervous System?

As we have discussed earlier, the 12-step system helps users to activate the PSNS. In this state intuition is readily available. This may be a result of the brain being in calm state where all parts of the brain are communicating well and the output is seen as intuition. This state can easily be called God-Consciousness.
If you are interested in some ideas about how the autonomic nervous system may related to religions, check out Speculations on the origin of religions

Finding a Nonreligious, Agnostic, or Atheist Addiction Recovery Program


To Bill Wilson who may have got deep in touch with his PSNS and used his creativity (and experience) to develop the 12 Steps and the Fellowship.
To Lissa Rankin, M.D. who introduced me into the world of Autonomic Nervous System in her book Mind over Medicine

This page may be found at http://steps.peaceeaseuse.com

This site offers educational information and is not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult your physician before taking any action on the ideas expressed in this page to ensure your safety and wellbeing.
All material offered on this page is copyrighted Compassionate Coaching,2021 and may not be used without written permission.

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